Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Missional Discipleship Pattern

Jesus tells us "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me" (John 14:1). This is a great verse of comfort and encouragement. It makes for great material for a refrigerator magnet and bumper stickers. That is until you read the verse that comes before it and see the context of Jesus' words. We don't often do this because we separate the content of chapters. But the original books of the Bible were not divided into chapters and verses. So when John penned chapter 14, it was meant to be connected the end of chapter 13, which reads:

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times" (John 13:36-38).

Honestly, I like the opening of chapter 14. I'm not sure about what comes before because this means that I can't go applying the first verse of chapter 14 however I want. This is not a general verse about having faith in trying times like sickness or financial trouble. (There are other verses that can direct me for those situations.) This verse is about discipleship that leads to the cross because Jesus was talking about his journey to cross. This verse is about learning how to follow Jesus by picking up our cross and dying to self. This is about being formed and reformed and the pain that comes with that. Yes. I said it "pain."

We like the comfort of God, but the reality that our lives need to be reshaped ... which we try to avoid. We can't put Jesus on top of our life and thereby grab hold of the benefits of God while avoiding a life that looks like sacrificial love. The mystery of God is that the benefits of his love come as we live out sacrificial love. Jesus told Peter that he could not follow him to the cross "now" but that he would "afterward." Then he challenged his pride. Peter needed to be changed from the inside out for God's mission in the world.

We cannot jump to God's comfort (his benefits) until we hear God's challenge, then we get on the path of God's mission. This is trust.

The church in America, the one that is so addicted to nice words and comforting thoughts, needs to get this. The pattern here is:
Sometimes this correction is a direct challenge to a pattern of sin. Sometimes it's a call to a new formation for a new task. Usually it means the tearing down of pride and self-sufficiency. All the time, it's the next step toward a life that cruciform. And it always reshapes our character.

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