The chilling effect of the power of the gospel

I have taught, preached, and led in a way over the past decade or so that has tried to prepare me and my church for the cultural shifts and the challenges of living out a gospel that will sometimes have consequences. I never taught it in a way where someone just doesn’t say, “Merry Christmas” to us and we cry, “PERSECUTION!”

It’s been an awareness, as James Smith would put it in Desiring the Kingdom, of allegiances. When our allegiance to the Kingdom is solid, the allegiances to other things in this world get minimized, and that doesn’t make those other kingdoms happy.

In a small, but significant, way, that warning of the Spirit is starting to play out. We have a young woman in our church who came to faith and it is now costing her physically. Her family is rejecting her. Physical harm… in the United States… for converting to Christianity. And we are doing our best to make her safe.

I am not going to lie and try to make this heroic on our part. I am sobered. I am anxious. Yet, I realize that over a decade of preparation has brought us to this point and I serve a church resolved to walk in Kingdom allegiance. This is a moment where the power of the gospel has really sunk in. All other issues in this moment seem really, REALLY, small.

 

Jesus and crowds

The interesting picture in John 6 with Jesus and crowds is that Jesus knew they were following him because of the signs and the food. He then worked to thin it down. If they didn’t understand the full ramifications of the Kingdom, he wanted them to quit hanging around.

He is working on them to get away from the shallow pursuits. It works so well… it thins the crowd out to where he’s looking at his disciples and they are thinning out as well (Jn. 6:66).

Are we looking for words of life… or just the next big flash we can have “leave us in awe?”

WHY are we attaching ourselves to Jesus?

 

Jesus may NOT “want you”

I have been walking through Luke 9 the past few days. It is a roller coaster ride of the disciples “getting it,” then NOT “getting it.”

They can’t transfer the power of one day to the next. They wake up and it’s like their minds are erased!

I am not trying to be too hard on them because I know every one of us hit that same wall. The challenge is that at some point in time we have to STOP hitting that wall. The disciples were able, which is why Luke points it out in his gospel and then writes his follow up in Acts.

We seriously need to “get this.” Jesus is deadly serious about following him. He is deadly serious about the power he gives us.

But we have to give up our petty thoughts of power and influence. We have to give up the traditional loyalties that may call to us… even family at times… to understand the COST of following him.

There IS a cost to following Jesus. There is also a cost to NOT follow Jesus.

And we need to SERIOUSLY consider all of it when we come to a place of saying, “I’m ready to follow you, Jesus.”

He may very well look at you and say, “Um, I don’t think so. Not right now. Go think about this some more. ”

If you don’t think that’s truly possible, you haven’t read the end of Luke 9 yet.

 

The Call of Discipleship is the Call of Care-Free Living

From Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship on Matthew 6:25-34 —

Do not worry! Earthly goods deceive the human heart into believing that they give it security and freedom from worry. But in truth, they are what cause anxiety. The heart which clings to goods receives with them the choking burden of worry. Worry collects treasures, and treasures produce more worries. We desire to secure our lives with earthly goods; we want our worrying to make us worry-free, but the truth is the opposite. The chains which bind us to earthly goods, the clutches which hold the goods tight, are themselves the worries.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

Salt and Subversiveness

The call of Jesus is to be the salt of the earth. Bonhoeffer has some insightful thoughts on salt in Discipleship. They are some good reminders for us.

Too often, as conservative evangelicals (my “tribe”, so to speak), the focus has been on heaven. Basically it’s an attitude of “Just get me out of here!”

Salt penetrates the earth. We don’t lose sight of heaven. But we have a mission on earth. Jesus calls his disciples to be salt. It is not Jesus himself, but the presence of his disciples. We are to live transformed lives in this world.

The community of disciples must remain what Christ’s call made them. That will be their true efficacy on earth and their preserving strength.

The call is be salt. You can’t “do” salt. You have the Kingdom DNA and live it out. As we live out the power of the Kingdom of God in this world, the world is preserved. The world will have a preservation only the Body of Christ can bring it.

This is also an area of great debate. Do we make Christian governments? Do we make secular governments behave in some Christian way? (This is something both “liberal” and “conservative” Christians try in our country.)

Here is what is necessary to remember: The Kingdom of God is powerful no matter what the government. Jesus lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire. Our Chinese brothers and sister today live under a totalitarian regime. Salt is salt. It is not dependent on what kind of government on this earth rules over it. But when salt IS salt, no form of government can stop it.

I think when we allow our views of what government should do in some “Christian” way (liberal or conservative), we are asking the government to be something it is not. And as a result, we, as the Body of Christ, as backing away from being what we are called to BE: Salt.

Joseph, Esther, Daniel…. Paul… serve as examples of salt in places that didn’t act very God-like. They serve as incredible examples of being the preserving agent to a world that so desperately needs help.

BE salt.

Following Jesus… Let the Negotiations Begin!

In Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, the focus is on obedience. Jesus calls… respond.

We hear the call of Jesus and we want him to get in touch with our legal department.

One classic parable on the call to obedience and the human desire to negotiate is the parable of the rich young ruler. He wants to follow Jesus, but not exactly follow Jesus.

(It reminds me of a great comic strip once where a lady was saying, “Well, I haven’t actually died to sin, but I did feel faint once.”)

Jesus lets the man know keeping the commandments, obedience, was essential. The guy is feeling pretty good, because he’s done what he can to follow the Law. But, then, the lawyer in him rose up.

“Which ones?” (Lord, could you specifically delineate in this addendum to the contract precisely which ones will help keep me on the road to heaven? Then, could you initial here… here… and here…)

Bonhoeffer takes off on the question of “Which ones?”

Satan himself is hiding in that question. This was the only possible way out for someone who felt himself trapped. Of course the young man knew the commandments, but who should know which commandment is meant just for him, just for right then, out of the full number of commandments?

Here is our problem: We don’t want to follow Jesus. Not really. We want to follow our image of Jesus.

Following Jesus is just about, well, following him. He commands or directs, we get after it. We don’t follow when we’re good and ready.

We allow negotiations to begin and then double-minded thinking takes over. That is not the place of discipleship.

 

Christless Christianity — Bonhoeffer

Christianity isn’t about adhering to a set of doctrinal beliefs as much as it is simply following Christ.

“Discipleship is commitment to Christ, because Christ exists, he must be followed.”

Bonhoeffer saw a Christless Christianity in his day. He came to recognize that following Christ was the very root of true Christianity

“…a Christianity without discipleship is always a Christianity without Jesus Christ.”

To say one is a Christian without actually following Christ in obedience is simply one choosing their own path. There can’t be a gap between Jesus and obedience. If he bids you come, the response is to come!

Bonhoeffer lays out the call to discipleship. First is the response. The call comes from Christ and you go. When you step toward Christ you create a separation between Christ and your former existence. You are truly stepping into a new situation.

The second step is to realize this is a situation where faith isn’t made by human hands. Discipleship is not a human offer. Then, the disciple understands the call alone creates the situation. You didn’t do this on your own. Christ called you. Faith alone created the situation. Faith alone enabled a response.

But there must be a response. When Jesus called his disciples, they responded. They didn’t always know what they were getting into, but they responded. The offer came, their hearts knew it was something they needed, faith arose and they followed.

Only the obedient believe. A concrete commandment has to be obeyed, in order to come to believe. A first step of obedience has to be taken, so that faith does not become pious self-deception, cheap grace. The first step is crucial. It is qualitatively different from all others that follow.

We need that urgency to obey Christ again. Create that first step separation that makes all the difference. It is Peter leaving his nets, Matthew closing up the tax booth, or Saul going into Damascus and waiting. That first step of obedience opens up the door for new direction.