It has only been a few months since “Graduation Season.” Which, by the way, is neither a climate or hunting designation (bag a few graduates and everyone gets all huffy). As a
glutton for punishment seemingly perpetual student, I’ve sat through too many graduation speeches. The best are funny (e.g., Coco, John Stewart, or this guy) and the worst are freakishly dishonest.
Usually, some numskull will pander on and on about “chasing your dreams.” Despite the ridiculousness of such an assertion, it plays well to the sentimental and naïve among us. My basic problem with this sort of advice is twofold: it is both unrealistic and unbiblical.
No matter how passionately R. Kelly croons, the assertion that seeing and believing equips one to “do it” is ridiculous. No matter my belief, I cannot (as space Jam indicates) dunk a basketball. Faith is not blind and unrealistic: faith has truth at its core. Some people won’t be astronauts. Why do we insist on pretending that everyone is equally intelligent, capable, and able. Certainly, God uses the weakest among us but strength in weakness requires humility and honest appraisal of shortcomings.
Finally, and more importantly, such blind and self-centered optimism is unbiblical. The purpose in life is not about chasing your own dreams. As I told some graduates in June, “life is not about pursuing your dreams, it is about pursuing God.” Don’t chase what you want, chase what God wants for you. As you grow in Christ, your desires will begin to align with his. You will never find satisfaction in pursuing your narcissistic passions; only in Christ will your satisfaction be made complete. As Chris Wright has reminded us, stop trying to fit God into your life but, rather, ask where your life fits into God’s story and God’s mission. Don’t waste your time applying the Bible to your life but, rather, conform your life to the Bible.
Don’t chase your dreams, chase your creator. He has prepared a path for you to walk that is more glorious and satisfying than you could dream on your own.
The Bible does talk a lot about public evangelism. In Acts, for example, the apostles preach to large crowds of unbelievers on many occasions. Their preaching is often direct and, even, confrontational. (e.g., Acts 2:14-40, Acts 14, Acts 7:1-51).
However, there is also a component of relationship and community that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. (1 Thes. 2:7-12, Acts 19:9, 1 Thes. 4:12).
In my own life, daily discipleship is much harder than one-time events. I don’t particularly mind large, attraction-based, event-oriented evangelism (though I question their effectiveness in today’s culture). However, one-time evangelism must be accompanied by daily, sacrificial, authentic, missional living. I find it much harder to mentor a student weekly than take teenagers to camp once a year. It is much more time-consuming to volunteer in the local middle school than throw a Superbowl party. I have to be vulnerable when I share my life with other people and that scares me. When you share life you share success and failure, strengths and weaknesses.
By God’s grace I will strive to demonstrate the gospel not just once in a while but every day.
In responding to Jesus’ call to follow him, I must ask myself what it is I can do to get serious about kingdom-focused living. Am I really willing to seek the lower place at the table rather than the place of preeminence and respectability (Luke 14:1-11)? Am I really willing to give to the poor out of my abundance (Luke 19:8)? Am I really willing to touch sinners (Luke 7:36-39)? Am I really willing to proactively use my possessions for the good of God’s kingdom (Luke 6:38)? Everything in me balks at this kind of love and sacrifice. I recoil at the thought of forsaking the world and its values — whether religious, political, social, educational, or vocational. To be “sentenced to death,” to become a “spectacle to the world,” to be “fools for Christ’s sake,” to be “held in disrepute,” to go “hungry and thirsty,” to be “poorly clothed,” “persecuted,” “slandered,” “the rubbish of the world,” “the dregs of all things” — the apostle Paul might endure such suffering (1 Cor. 4:8-13), or maybe Ethiopian Christians. But I, Lord? Yet if I , as a Christian, do not practice what I preach, if I continue to major in the minors, if “poor in spirit” remains but a meaningless platitude in my own life, then I am merely an admirer of Jesus and not a true follower.
— David Alan Black
“‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’” he said, “‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’”
Wow! Talk about powerful stuff. Jesus is telling his disciples about the brutal death he is going to endure and about his miraculous resurrection that is to come. A casual Bible reader is well aware that the disciples never fully grasp the idea that Jesus is going to rise from the dead. They are clearly taken by surprise when he actually is resurrected.
In this passage, however, what struck me as particularly amusing is the request from the Zebedee brothers that follows.
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’”
Seriously?! That’s your next question?! Jesus says he is going to die a terrible, miserable, painful death and then be RAISED FROM THE DEAD and all you can ask is “what’s in it for me?”
Before I am too harsh on the disciples I better look at my own life. How often do I try to make Jesus my genie. Instead of pondering how I can sacrifice myself for the glorious cause of Christ, I too often spend my time asking Jesus for physical comforts. Rather than making salvation all about the glory and power of God, I try to focus it all about. After all, it is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Stop and think about what Christ has done. Focus on how to respond to the beauty of the gospel. Do not follow Jesus merely for temporal blessings. Rather, follow Jesus because of who He is and what He has done by dying and being raised to life.
Today I received a wonderful little volume by D. A. Carson entitled Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. I figured this to be an appropriate exegetical supplement to the passion narratives that I read at this time of the year. It didn’t take Dr. Carson long, however, to deliver a powerful body-blow to my spiritual apathy when he described the calling of Jesus to the disciples. Read for yourself:
It is at this juncture that Jesus universalizes the principle that is at stake: “If anyone would come after me,” he says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (vv. 24-25). This expression “to take up one’s cross” is not an idiom by which to refer to some trivial annoyance — an ingrown toenail, perhaps, or a toothache, or an awkward in-law: “We all have our crosses to bear.” No, in the first century it was as culturally unthinkable to make jokes about crucifixion as it would be today to make jokes about Auschwitz. To take up your cross does not mean to move forward with courage despite the fact you lost your job or your spouse. It means you are under sentence of death; you are taking up the horizontal cross-member on your way to the place of crucifixion. You have abandoned all hope of life in this world. And then, Jesus, says, and only then, are we ready to follow him.
— D. A. Carson
In the last few weeks I have had a couple of opportunities to teach teenagers about “discipleship.” We talked through what the New Testament says about being a follower of Christ. I am still learning what it means to be a fully committed disciple of Jesus. Here are the three preliminary conclusions I have distilled from the Scriptures about “discipleship.”
1. Discipleship is costly.
2. Discipleship is full-time.
3. Discipleship is worth it.
Jesus emphasizes over-and-over that following Him is an all-or-nothing proposition. I think of how the first disciples immediately left their livelihoods and relationships to follow Jesus. They were by no means perfect and had a lot of room to grow but they did not let that stop them from following Jesus.
October 23-25 Nansemond River Baptist Church (Suffolk, VA) hosted a D*Now weekend for young adults (“Disciple Now” for those unfamiliar). I wanted to bring in a few good teachers so I convened the “unlikely disciples” triumvirate. All of the Bible Study materials and worship services were directly focused on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The result was a chance to hear, explain, and apply the gospel while modeling how to read a meaningful unit from the text of Scripture.
Below are the four main teaching times from Bryan and Andy (apologies that Bryan’s second message was truncated due to technical difficulties on the recording end).
This summer I am teaching through the gospel of Luke. Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God is so radical compared to my concept of Christianity as hobby. Jesus’ words are haunting:
“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — even one’s one life! — can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27).
Many people followed Jesus (Lk. 14:25), some for selfish reasons. He was a wise teacher and he healed diseases. The large crowds loved Jesus as entertainer. Today many persons self-identify with Christianity for ulterior reasons: social value, political expediency, personal guilt, family tradition, and more. The crowds are not always genuine disciples.
A genuine follower of Jesus — a disciple — participates in every aspect of the life of Christ. As Paul says:
“I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it” (Phil. 3:10-11).
Being a follower of Christ is more than paying God off with a few minutes of Bible reading and prayer. Discipleship is more than a little doctrinal acumen. Discipleship is nothing less than giving every part of my life to the full service of Jesus (Lk. 14:33).
Am I cut out to be a follower of Christ? Do I want to suffer for the glory of God? Do my financial, relational, and temporal priorities reflect a life in which I have renounced all personal ambitions for the sake of the Kingdom of God?