from the desk of…My end-of-year reading

By Douglas O’Brien, Lt. Colonel

My end-of-year reading often includes articles with “transition” themes. They are usually articles about well-known people who died during the previous year. As I read one of these pieces, a phrase caught my eye: “died of complications.”

During the last year and a half, lots of people “died of complications,” among them, Supreme Court Nominee Robert Bork, Retired Army General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf, television actors Larry Hagman (“Dallas”) and David Nelson (“Ozzie and Harriet”), Former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter,  “Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak, and even Apple founder Steve Jobs. All of them “died of complications.”

Complications can kill you.

I remember how the response by three men to Jesus’ claim on their lives was complicated by their personal priorities and self-serving interests. Luke reports that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he met these three men and called them to follow him. I have long wondered whether the complications by which each man qualified his response to Jesus resulted in gaining life with Christ or whether the complications cost each one his life.

The first man claimed he would follow Jesus anywhere. But Jesus warned him that he should count the cost before he made such a sweeping statement. Following him anywhere, Jesus said, would complicate the man’s life in unsettling and uncertain ways (Luke 9:57).

Nevertheless, Jesus then turned to the second man and urged him to follow. But this man’s willingness to follow Jesus was complicated by the expectations of others. He was expected to fulfill his obligations to his father (Luke 9:59), and that expectation seemed to take precedence over following Jesus.

The third man volunteered that he was willing to follow Jesus—but he had some personal matters that needed his attention. Jesus’ message was, “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). This man responded, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family” (Luke 9:61). Jesus felt that if this were the man’s response, the man was unfit for service in the kingdom of God. It was one complication too many.

My life is full of complications—complications about the cost of discipleship in my own life and particularly as it impacts my family. There are complications because of my need to please people and to meet their expectations. Complications because I’m selfish—protective of my own pleasures, defensive of my own place and eager for recognition and affirmation. All of these things complicate my life and keep me from Christ’s side.

I always hoped that the first man did weigh the cost and followed Jesus in spite of that cost. I have wanted to believe that the second man did let the dead bury their dead and decided that sharing the good news about Jesus had priority. I have imagined that when the third man heard Jesus question his fitness for service he decided not to turn back and instead kept his eyes fixed on Jesus.

I keep hoping, believing, and imagining the best for these men because the alternative is so awful. The complications might have cost them their lives. In Christ there is life, but without him there is no life at all. I also like to think that if one of these men made the right choice in the end—then just maybe I’ll make the right decisions on my journey to the new Jerusalem.

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