Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Discipleship and Loyalty

Well fearless readers, thanks for hanging in there while I took a brief hiatus from writing. My guess is that your lives did not immediately take a nose dive from my lack of blogging… but if they did you have my deepest apologies! Also, thanks to those who reached out about Zach’s allergic reaction! He’s good to go now and we have epi-pens at the ready should we have another fire ant encounter.

Now, let’s get down to business! Since Easter I’ve been wrestling with the significance of the resurrection for discipleship. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how the resurrection defines the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. We often (whether this is intended or not isn’t important here) define the relationship between Jesus and the disciple through the cross. When we do, we usually come up with a relationship defined by Jesus’ loving action and our inaction. After all, we can’t save ourselves or deal with the consequences of our own sin. In itself this isn’t a problem- it’s an absolutely vital piece of the disciple’s relationship with Jesus. However, if the relationship is defined only in this manner, then all we as disciples are left to do (since we can’t really DO anything, we’re simply recipients) is to think rightly about his sacrifice and feel rightly about it. Unfortunately, I think this is largely what “discipleship” is often boiled down to… if you have the orthodox beliefs and the right emotional attachment to Jesus (displayed in worship and devotional practices) then you are regarded as a disciple.

But what if we define the relationship of the disciple to Jesus in light of the resurrection?
Let’s begin exploring this through the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

Take a hard, long look again at verses 24-27, and particularly the words I but in bold. If nothing else is clear in this passage, we should understand that the Apostle Paul believes that the risen Christ is now God’s reigning king. The ideas that God "putting all things in subjection under his feet" and that Jesus will destroy "every ruler and every authority and power" point to Jesus as God's chosen king. While his rule is not established in its entirety now (that starts “at his coming,”) its validity and completion are already established as a fact in God’s eyes. If we are to believe Paul then, our relationship to Jesus is defined by his kingship and by our being his subjects.

This then raises the question: what do kings want from their subjects?

Allegiance and loyalty, that’s what kings want. Do kings want their people to “believe” that they are king? Of course they do. But that’s not enough to make someone a faithful subject of the king. What about feeling? Do kings want their subjects to feel right about them as as king? Sure, because that goes a long way to creating loyalty. But again, we can love an authority figure and still not be loyal to them. Right thinking and feeling are important parts of the picture, but they each fall short of allegiance and loyalty.

Discipleship is about allegiance and loyalty to King Jesus. That means, in my opinion, a few basic things:

Obedience to the commands he gives,
Following the example he sets,
Treating his other subjects (other disciples, our world, our neighbors) as possessions of the king,
Consideration in every area of life how our thoughts, actions and words might benefit, or hinder, the king’s agenda.

All of these are difficult for me. But I think number four is particularly challenging, as our  lifestyles are usually based on reasoning that does not take into consideration what King Jesus might desire of us. Usually we make decisions about the big, hard questions by asking things like:

What’s best for my family?
What’s best for my country? Or city? Or state?
What’s best for the market?
What’s best for the business?
What’s best for the shareholders and the customers?
What’s best for my social class?
What’s best for me? (One we don’t like to admit)

If we ask these questions before we ask what’s in the King’s interest in these areas, or if we make any of these areas a priority over the King’s interest then we have an issue of divided loyalty. Divided loyalties are a problem for kings, and they are in fact the ruin of discipleship to King Jesus. Next time, I’ll write a little bit about one or a couple of these that seem particularly intractable. For now, I just want to leave us with an idea. What if we changed all of the above questions to read:

What does King Jesus want from/for….. (fill in the blank with the above prompts)?


How should my (fill in blank with above prompts) serve King Jesus’ interests?

If we were to start asking those questions in community, I bet we’d come up with some interesting answers…

Monday, April 2, 2018

Post-Traumatic Easter

 Image result for pieta michelangelo
The image to the right is the Pieta by Michelangelo. It is a sculpture of Mary holding the body of her son Jesus after he is taken off the cross. This past Good Friday I found myself thinking of that image. As a father of two little boys I am now, in a very small way, beginning to comprehend the grief of Michelangelo’s Mary as she holds Jesus, her dead son.

The following day, Holy Saturday, we were at an Easter egg hunt when Zach got into a fire ant nest. It turns out he is highly allergic to fire ants and we quickly had to rush him to the ER, as his little body was covered in hives and was swelling badly (eyes nearly swollen shut). He was ultimately okay- we spent the rest of the day at the hospital but were able to make it home in time for bed, and we were beyond thankful for God’s grace through the process and for the amazing staff and doctors at the hospital.

Obviously, the incident was a terrifying and painful experience for all of us. Watching our dear son’s body swell and discolor is something I hope to never again witness. By the time we made it home that night we were completely exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. You can therefore imagine that Easter was not a big celebration in our home this year. We all woke up thankful, but still very tired and traumatized and overwhelmed… ready to sit for a while, smile at the fact we were all together at home, and perhaps cry because we just didn’t have much else left in us.

All of this made me think about the first resurrection; about the trauma of Jesus’ friends and family watching him get crucified and die. It made me re-think the easy triumphalism of our celebrations, and our dismissal of their disbelief and their struggle to adequately (in our estimation) celebrate his return. They must have been utterly exhausted and traumatized by his death, and of course afraid that their deaths would come soon as well. So while I don’t doubt that there were moments of joyful celebration when they finally “got it,” my guess is they probably needed to sit or sleep for a while, drink a glass of wine or two, and just be still and quiet because they didn't have the strength for anything else. My guess is that the Mary who is so beautifully rendered in the Pieta, would, after a joyful greeting of her son, need to sit for a good while longer as she continued to struggle with the horror of his now reversed death.

What all this reminded me of is that it is possible to be both filled with joy and thanksgiving and tiredness and confusion all at once. My guess is that many disciples of Jesus feel this way even this post-Easter morning. The festivities have faded (though perhaps some candy is left over), but the painful memories and traumas still remain. And though they may not be as sharp in the light of the resurrection, they are still present.

If you find yourself in that place, then I invite you to simply rest in the resurrection today. You don’t have to smile and cheer and sing happy songs or eat cake or play nice with relatives. You can sit alone for a bit, or sit with friends. You can drink a glass of wine or share a meal. After all, that’s what those first disciples did. And if you’re confused and tired and overwhelmed, that’s okay. The beauty of this resurrection thing is that through God’s grace life does go on and it doesn’t depend on us. There will be plenty more time to celebrate. If a stillness born out of trust is the extent to which we can testify to the resurrection at the moment, then let us be still until the Resurrected One moves us back into action.

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...