Get off the fence!!!

“You gotta get off the fence!” I cannot hear these words without hearing the voice of Dave Marcum, my Sunday School teacher and friend. It is an exhortation to believe in God with all your heart.  Dave calls those who shy away from fully committing to Christ as “Fence-riders”, people who sit on the fence by refusing to commit to a position until they are sure they are on the right side.  These are people so concerned about being wrong or looking foolish that they remain silent.  Yes, they may identify as a Christian, but they would not tell another person about Jesus.  They may call themselves Baptist, but it is doubtful that they would take a hard stand on any doctrine.  They are just there… unless they are somewhere else! Unfortunately, we live in a climate where Christians can no longer “ride the fence”.  Even in the last few months, groups have entered Hardin County and demanded that schools and churches have no interaction.  Prayer has been challenged, Christian groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes are being discouraged, and ministers are not allowed to be present on school campuses. While we do want to honor the separation of church & state, we must also make it clear that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and nothing is going to prevent us from praying, worshiping, and living out our faith in public! Ironically, this is not a new problem.  Even in Jesus time there were those who wanted to follow Jesus, but they were not sure if they wanted to give up everything.  Let’s look how Jesus handled them.  (Luke 9:57-62)

  1. “I will follow you wherever you go!”
The first person that Jesus encounters in our passage is said elsewhere to be a Scribe. (Matt 8:19) His exclamation in this passage seems harmless enough.  He is professing that he will follow Jesus ANYWHERE!!!
Yet Jesus’ response tells us a great deal about this man’s heart.  “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  Jesus reveals in his response that this scribe saw God as an employer.  If he followed Jesus wherever He went, then he would be cared for.  He was hoping that following Jesus would be a life of comfort or success.  Jesus is letting him know that it was not so.  This man made the declaration, but there was an unwritten caveat.  He would not have stayed with Jesus on the open road.  He would not have slept outside, and he would have left the moment Jesus was betrayed.
Many Christians today are quick to sing, “Every move I make, I make in you.” Yet they would never let Jesus take control of their business, finances, or comfort.  We cannot be silent about our faith, even if it means being ostracized from the in-crowd or missing out on business opportunities.  Jesus is our hope for life everlasting; not our means for comfort in this life.
  1. “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”

Again, we see a relatively reasonable request.  Most of us cannot imagine that Jesus would not allow a man to attend his own father’s funeral.  However, there is more to this excuse than meets the eye.  First, it is highly likely that the individual’s father was not dead yet (possibly not even near death).  Second, the concept of burying one’s relative included all of the business that surrounds the death of the person.  In other words, this person wanted Jesus to put his discipleship on hold until his father had passed (possibly years) and he had been able to collect his portion of the estate!

In contrast to the previous person who wanted Jesus to take care of him, this person wanted to make sure he had secured his own provisions.  He wanted to make sure that he first took care of himself.  Therefore, Jesus response is fitting, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”  We cannot wait until we take care of every other area of our life before we get to following Jesus.  People who wait for the “perfect time” to start following Jesus will probably never do so.  Instead, we need to remember that “Now” is always the perfect time to trust in Christ and be about His work.

  1. “First permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”

The last reasonable request from the fence-riders is to be able to say good-bye.  Many of us would hope that we would be given the opportunity to tell our families good-bye if we were leaving for a long time.  Again, Jesus sees into the heart of the individual and calls them to truly follow.  In this case, Jesus responds by saying, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What is it about saying good-bye makes this man unfit for the Kingdom?  Simply this, this man wishes to go back because he wants the approval of his family before he leaves.  Going home to say good-bye means that he can give his family one more chance to talk him out of it, and he can make sure he has their approval in case things don’t work out.  This person is planning his exit strategy.  He wants to be sure that he has a home to go back to.  He is not willing to risk everything to follow Christ.  He needs a safety net.
Many Christians today are the same way.  We want to follow Jesus but not at the risk of everything.  We still want people to approve of our decisions.  We want to believe, but we don’t want to be one of “those people”.  We will follow Jesus, but we won’t do it if it means losing family, friends, reputation, or status.  We want to follow, but only if society approves.  In doing so, we miss out on what the Kingdom is all about.

People ride the fence for many reasons.  Some ride the fence until they know Jesus will take care of them.  Others ride the fence until they can take care of themselves.  Still others ride the fence in hopes that following Jesus will not cost them anything important.  Whatever the reason, those who ride the fence are not doing anyone any favors.  The last thing the world needs is more nominal Christians.  Whatever may have you on the fence, I challenge you to take that leap.  Trust in the Lord; trust in his provision, timing, and promises.  Yes, it will cost you something; it may cost you everything. But it is always worth it. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

(Mark 8:34-35)