ƒ Christianity for Thinking People: January 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lessons From Would-Be Disciples

Let's face it. Jesus doesn't want everybody as a disciple. Now I know that goes against the grain of the ideal image of Jesus as a nice guy that we hold in our postmodern minds. But then why would we expect Jesus not to explode our conceptions of him. If the ancient world in which he was born didn't understand him then what makes us think we will do any better? Do we think that we have an advantage because we have two thousand years of Christian history behind us? As if the church has never been wrong about important spiritual things before. Anyway, if you can at least entertain the thought that our popular notions about Jesus could be wrong then consider the following.

In Luke 9.57-62 Jesus actually said some discouraging (I might even say cruel but I know that might really explode your conception of the master! so I won't!) things to a few men that wanted to follow him. At least they said they wanted to follow him and for most people in the leadership business that is good enough. I mean, it's not easy to even get people to want to follow. As one leadership guru used to put it, "If you are leading but no one is following, you're just taking a walk!" So Jesus is really doing something to just stimulate the desire of other people to follow him. And yet this passage in Luke has him making unreasonable demands of those that want to follow him. Listen in on these three conversations:

First conversation:
“Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Second conversation:
Jesus said to another, “Follow Me.”But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”

Third conversation:
And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Note four things. 1.) Two of the men that want to follow Jesus have other things they want to do first. These are not bad things. In fact, they are actually very good things, honorable things that they wish to do out of a sense of duty and responsibility. But the good is the enemy of the great. And good things can especially get in the way of God-things! Sometimes even doing our duty can take us far from the will of God. Just think of the pilot of the Enola Gay just doing his duty and dropping the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. And for the soldiers that crucified Jesus it was just another day in the imperial office!

2.) For two of the men that wanted to follow Jesus the focus was on "my house" and "my father." Don't miss this. The patriarchal family was the source of the greatest threat to the mission of Jesus and the kingdom of God. Family is good but it's not the ultimate good or the absolute good. Do we allow our lives to be shaped by family values in such a way that we miss the faith venture of following Jesus?

3.) What does a man that doesn't even have a "place" of his own have to offer those of us that are essentially defined by what we have? Is it possible for consumers like us to follow Jesus?

4.) These three conversations take place at the point in Luke's story where Jesus makes his crucial move toward Jerusalem. Jesus simply didn't have time to coddle disciples that weren't ready for the heat that was quickly coming. That may be tough but then Jesus was no cupcake!

If we're looking for soft and cushy we probably won't want to fill out the application to follow Jesus. We wouldn't make the cut anyway. And that would be a shame because we would miss out on the adventure that is known as the kingdom of God!

© Paul Fisher

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Called to Discipleship by Jesus

Jesus' call to that first brave bunch of disciples was pretty amazing. That simple phrase, "Come, follow me" is packed and loaded with meaning. I wonder if we haven't emptied that radical call of its threat as well as its promise of adventure.

Jesus said (and says) "Come." This going toward Jesus required a leaving of some things, if not all things, behind. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. And it seems to me that the only people that are willing to leave things behind are those that are dissatisfied with the status quo. The status quo may not even be that bad but it may just not be enough to satisfy anymore. I remember a church in the early 1990's that intentionally wanted to reach "the bored, the burned, and the bypassed." It was tapping into the discontent of its target audience and offering something better. That's just beautiful.

Jesus said (and says) "Come, follow me." This is challenging and exciting. Jesus is on the move and following him means that we have to move to keep up. One of my favorite lines in the movie "Lord of the Rings" is when Frodo says to Sam at the start of their epic journey, "As Bilbo used to say, it's a dangerous thing to step out your front door Mr. Frodo because you just don't know where you might be swept off to." Following Jesus is a journey not a destination. And when you follow Jesus you just don't know where you might be swept off to because if you know exactly where you're going it's not a faith journey your're just taking a walk. A faith journey can be messy and exhausting, but the adventure far outweighs the risk. And there is risk. I recently heard a clip of a speech given by Sir Edmund Hillary. He was the first man to reach the top of Mt. Everest and he passed away last week. He said in effect, "If you set off on an adventure in which you are absolutely certain of success. Why bother?" If every step we take just takes us one step closer to death, why play it safe? So we can safely arrive at death?

Jesus said (and says) "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." My brother-in-law Robert and I participated in a prison ministry event in our community last November. The group that organized the event gave us about 45 minutes of training and provided an inspirational concert on Thursday evening and then on Friday took us into a maximum security prison to share our faith and lead the inmates to Jesus. I told the men that I talked with that I was way out of my comfort zone but had come because God had moved me to do it. They laughed and then one of the guys said, "You know I wasn't going to come out here today and talk with you people. But then I got to thinking why would you guys take time out of your weekend to come and visit us. Nobody comes here unless they have to." With tears in his eyes one of the guys told me, "Thanks for coming to visit with us man."

The organizers of the event, Bill Glass ministries, told us that the church is a locker room. And the only purpose of the locker room is to prepare us to get in the game. Following Jesus is about getting in the game. It is risky, messy, and even dangerous but the reward is greater than any other thing that we can do with our lives.

© Paul Fisher