From Fans to Followers. Jesus calls us out of the crowd.

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Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23

 

Its great to blend in and disappear in the crowd sometimes. There is an almost cellular compulsion to just be like the other. Part of maturing is the acceptance that I’m a lot like and a lot different from folks in a crowd. I can be a part of crowd, enjoying the music, the art of another, or the vibe of a public event. Most artists are going to be just fine with that. But, when Jesus gets in front of crowd he calls people out. He doesn’t seem to be content with “fans.” He wants followers.

His invitation is winsom. He truly does assume the best about the crowd. “If any of you wants to be my follower.” I like that. Jesus knew that being about the Father’s love-work would create attraction. You like hanging around together in this movement? So, you want to be a follower? Jesus is actually looking to move people from being “fans” to becoming “followers.”

Jesus also clarifies what its going to take to be a follower. Followers of Jesus have a disruptive calling: “You must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily and follow me.” People who have become fans like to look at and observe The Gospel at work. People who have become followers like to become participants in The Gospel work. It starts in them. Jesus transforms all of life and relationships through HIS life, death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel changes everything.

I’m naturally resistant to the Gospel changing everything. We all are! We are all infected with this resistance. So it does take the work of the Spirit to move us into a sacrificial, submitted-to-God, kind of life. There is an ease to the Christian life — Jesus said it himself — “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly.”  But there is also a narrowness to the Christian life that does constrain against my selfishness— “Enter through the narrow gate for wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many enter through it.” Selfishness — the desire to be lord of my life when Jesus is the Lord — will be against what Jesus wants. Fans can do what they want. Followers do what Jesus wants. So, when I’m trying to live the Christian life in my own strength because “its what I should do” its really going to be a slog! On the way to the new life that comes from Him, I’m going to have to also attend to the death and burial of a “thing” resisting Jesus. That’s the cross of discipleship — the movement into obedience. There’s so much blessing on the other side of being aligned with Jesus! There’s no other way to be in His joy.

Beating sloth and eight other thoughts on discipline.

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If you love sleep, you will end in poverty. Keep your eyes open, and there will be plenty to eat! Proverbs 20:13

1. Discipline harnesses your capacity to focus in order to bring about a sustained change.

2. Discipline about the “right” things in life is as important as having the capacity to focus.

3. You can’t be disciplined about everything at once in life at the same time; so discipline multiplies itself through the creation of habits; habits are disciplines and systems built into your life or organization over time. Disciplined people have lots of “good” habits.

4. Discipline is the capacity to delay gratification in order to achieve greater success. (Bill Hybels)

5. Excellent people with sustained discipline tap into deep wells of reverence for what matters most in life.

6. Reverence beats sloth’s reluctance to embrace pain associated with discipline and brings honour and love to our relationship with God, self, people, and the stuff of earth.

7. Disciplined people decide ahead of time on how to use their focus, time, and resources in order to advance an area of their lives. They “research” best practices and experiment along the way.

8. Discipline in some areas of life will mean you disappoint people for a time because you will be unavailable for everything. Discipline is a kind of purposed and selected neglect. Wisdom required!

9. Discipline at its best accepts scarcity for a time in order to tap into the abundance of God’s provision.

Questioning our Desire

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick,but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.
Proverbs 13:19

 

Disappointment.
It can crush the soul and ruin us for a time. This kind of heart sickness generates its own dis-ease and apprehension. It’s an internal crisis that ripples into every relationship.  I remember a season in leadership and life over a decade ago when “hope deferred” felt like the absolute loss of a dream — even the death of a dream. I thought I was finished, undone, and of no use! God met me through that season by reshaping the desires of my heart — particularly God reshaped my understanding of those dreams. Essential to my own growth, even my own survival, through that season was the willingness to acknowledge and enter into the pain of these unmet and shattered expectations.

 

A desire fulfilled.
The wisdom teacher in Proverbs says of a desire fulfilled, “It’s a tree of life” and “It’s sweet to the soul.” Sounds like success and perhaps it is. But when our desires sit only on the surface of production, achievement, or the applause of people it doesn’t last. It is not a tree of life and cannot be a tree of life for us. Sweet to the soul — only for a moment. So what kind of desires fulfilled can be a tree of life? I believe these tree of life desires must be rooted in relationships and a deep purpose planted in our hearts by God. Love and the delight of God must be at the root of “tree of life” desires.

 

To turn away.
The teacher uses the phrase “to turn away” identifying a capacity to discern between our desires. A fool refuses “to turn away” from an evil desire. The fool, considers such deferral and refusal to be “an abomination.” In other words a fool considers it to be the last thing in the world she or he would consider doing — choosing not to fulfill a desire.  Ugh — foolish moments. We’ve all had our foolish moments.

The danger looms when such foolishness becomes the habituated pattern of our lives and the very nature of our character. Its important that we learn to discerning the evil in desires. The desire may be wrong in the eyes of God — it may be a perversion of something He made to be good. The desire may be inappropriate for the nature of our relationships. Or perhaps the desire may have to be deferred for a season because of other commitments in this season of life,fulfilling the desire would actually wreck havoc. This is a timing issue and is truly at the heart of wisdom.

I have a theory about spiritual formation and the seasons of our lives.  Perhaps each major developmental movement from being a child to young adult, from young adult to adulthood and then the seasons of re-evaluated adulthood coming almost every decade, must be accompanied by a renewed commitment to the process and an expansion of our capacity to discern and sift desire. Maybe we must relearn aspects of this process over and over because of the changes that take place in us and in the world around us. Here’s my process:

Naming: Acknowledge the desire.

Binding: Discern the desire’s impact in relationships – to God, to self, to people, and to the stuff of earth; reshape and limit accordingly as a disciple of Jesus in the grace and truth of His Lordship. This may actually be a binding process that comes from God as He brings healing to us in regard to our desires.

 

Loosing: Take steps to move toward a desire fulfilled. This is probably not a straight line as it may involve: prayer, conversations, partnering, a long series of small steps in the right direction, and then absolute surrender to God for Him to accomplish something that’s actually bigger than we are and beyond our capacities.

 

Personal Reflection — What do you think?
Have you had any experience with these two proverbs?
Have you gone through a naming, binding, and loosing process before? What have you learned in the process?
How has Jesus redeemed deferred desires?
Are there desires that you have “nailed to the cross?”
How has God shown up to do more than you thought possible?
Are there desires that you have been ignoring?
Are there desires you have been gracefully fulling with Jesus for the glory of God?

Following Jesus into science

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I’ve been reading through Walter R. Hearn’s book, Being a Christian in Science. He spent twenty years as a researcher and professor of biochemistry. Below are some of his thoughts on science as a “calling.” Perhaps his thoughts will generate some consideration and appreciation of a scientist or a budding scientist close to you. At UBC I have been getting to know several students who aspire to the research scientist lifeform. Most feel the tension between the lab and the draw of other possible loves. Christian faith enters right into this tension with them but learning how to navigate it does seem to require wrestling with what we call “calling” and the ability to hold onto several ideas at the same time.

Dr. Hearn writes:

It is not improper to speak of having a gift for science. To test that gift, take all the mathematics and science courses you can, and work hard at mastering them. Think of your studies as mind-building, the way athletes and bodybuilders benefit from physical exercise at a gym. For most of us, the challenge of mastering science courses in school will either develop our interest or reveal that God has another direction for us. Good grades in math and science courses serve as reasonably good indicators of our attitude toward science as well as our aptitude for it.

As a rule of thumb we can expect God to call us into a life’s work that we will enjoy. Scientists generally work extremely hard, partly because it is expected but also because they tend to enjoy what they do. Any scientist needs emotional resilience, determination and self-discipline to keep going through long periods when joy is hard to come by. Sometimes theoretical calculations just will not come out right. The most carefully planned experiments can keep going haywire. The atmosphere in a lab can be discouraging because we may be surrounded by colleagues with similar frustrations.

Few Christians in science would expect to solve problems in the lab without putting in the same amount of effort as anyone else. Yet many testify that at least on occasion they have experienced God’s special present in the laboratory. Sometimes that means seeing the breakup of a mental logjam that has held back progress. More often it means being sustained by hope when things are not going well.

 

The apostle Paul referred to faith, hope and love as the “greater gifts,” with love being the greatest of all. Any individual able to exercise those gifts can make an outstanding contribution to a scientific laboratory. A Christian who demonstrates resilient hope biased on an abiding faith, and who can lovingly pass a spirit of hope on to coworkers, can have a salutary effect on the morale of a whole research group.

 

Flexibility is another important characteristic. Studies of psychological profiles indicate that successful scientists have a strong desire to find solutions, but can tolerate a lot of ambiguity and delayed gratification along the way. The most creative scientists can carry around in their heads a dozen competing hypotheses, seriously considering ideas that may turn out to be false or even ridiculous. Scientists must able to play with ideas even when they know that not everyone of them can be correct.

 

Thoughtful Christians often display that same kind of intellectual flexibility. Anyone who has grappled seriously with apparent theological paradoxes comes to realize that each extreme position may hold some partial truth but neither tells the whole story.

 

Scientists are trained to withhold judgement, to remain objective until all experimental results are in. Of course all possible results of all possible experiments are never in . Flexibility can harden into overarching scepticism, reluctance or inability to commit ourselves to any position. In practice, scientists will vigorously support an appealing hypothesis, the one they consider least likely to be falsified, because they believe in it.

 

In theory, at least, a scientists’ commitment to any hypothesis remains tentative. Yet no one gets to be a scientist without making a serious commitment of his or her life to the scientific community. Those who disparage religion caricature it as taking blind leaps of faith. Those who actually live by faith generally keep our eyes wide open — to see where we are going to land.

Resurrection People have been disrupted by Jesus.

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5Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:5-11

 

Jesus is the master of disruption. He disrupts our lives so we can love and connect by first being loved and connected to God through Him. When His disruptions begin we may be troubled by the challenge we feel to our beliefs, behaviours, and attitudes. We may worry — what do others think of us? We may fear — what we are going to miss out on? But surely as we engage faith and become curious about the rumbling in our mind, body, and soul we will see a new day and a new life emerging.

Disruption is required! Its required so we can enter into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Gospel life is not a life of dual citizenship. Really! Today many countries allow “dual citizenship” and people are walking around with multiple passports. But the Kingdom-life with Jesus is not like that. We must surrender our passport to the “old life” and the “old nature” in order to fully receive and live into the new life of the Kingdom of God. That’s disruptive! We have to die to the old life and its claim on us. Turning over a passport may initially seem limiting and scary if you have retained deep connections, hopes, and dreams fuelled by a residence in the “old country.” But life in the new country, as my father who immigrated from Ireland declared to me, “cannot be lived looking over your shoulder.”

We must reckon with with this truth about the Kingdom of God: it is not meant to be lived looking over our shoulder. Life in the Kingdom of God is meant to be looking forward to Jesus and what He redeems and plants anew in our lives.

Discipleship, then, is a continual process of consideration of our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. We are intended to be Resurrection People so we must

“consider [ourselves] to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.”

Why would we bother with the hard work of waiting and wading with Jesus? Because He is the master of disruption; He disrupts death!

“And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God.”

So now, we too may live for the glory of God as Resurrection People!