And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:27 (NIV)

We enter a new season this week.  From now until mid-January we’ll be talking about and practicing discipleship.[1]  Let me be straightforward: if discipleship does not lead us to enact the character of Christ within ourselves then I have no idea what the point is.  Much of my church experience has been saturated in a worldview that defines discipleship as reading your bible every day and praying for those who are ill in your church.[2] I was just on a church website today who phrased discipleship this way: we have four bible studies a week that we might fulfill what God expects of a church.  This blows me away.  If the American Church was a sports team we’d be the worst.  Why?  Because the major emphasis has always been on studying the playbook.[3]  I promise you, if you do not practice the playbook you cannot be an excellent team.  

Jesus straight-up told us to replicate some things that he did; crazy, counter-cultural, frankly, humiliating things.  I for one am just not interested in the window dressing that has either replaced or distracted from the lifestyle Christ keeps beckoning me toward.[4]  I cannot read about my God stepping between an angry self-righteous crowd and an adulterous woman and then be convinced that the type or quality of music on Sunday mornings matters.[5]  Or when I think of Jesus shattering Zacchaeus’ self-loathing by inviting himself to dinner I just cannot be convinced that my sitting over the Bible in the morning is the end of the road.  

No.  Discipleship must mean the deep rooting of Christ’s character in my life.  And character means nothing without action.[6]  I have expressed this view in a lot of settings and it astounds me the measure of pushback I receive.  I once mentioned these ideas in a seminary classroom and I was accused of preaching a theology of works.  I either misspeak often or something crazy happens when the Church starts to think about discipleship.  My inkling is that the Church has been so shaped by the ideas of independence and individualism that they think what I’m saying will take away their personal liberty.[7]  And maybe it will. 

But thirty feet outside the door to the room from which I now write I can find hurting people.  Often, I don’t even have to leave my office; to my everlasting astonishment they come to me.[8]  And when they sit in my office or they lean out their front door to chat what do they need from me?  They need Jesus Christ resurrected in my life; alive and well.  They need the Jesus who would stand between them and the angry crowd.  They need the Jesus who would dine with Zacchaeus, tormented and greedy soul that he was. They need the Jesus who would carry a cross on their behalf.  They need me to follow Jesus. 

The question for this series is how do we do that?  How do we help the roots of Christ’s character ground themselves in our lifestyle?   This will consume the direction of my teaching, writing, and leading. 

[1] In one way or another, I hope that’s what we’ve talking about all along.
[2] And maybe the occasional evangelistic event.  Too be sure these are important things, but let’s not kid ourselves, having journeyed through Luke and Acts this last year we should be well aware that discipleship is a much broader proposition.
[3] Of course there are major exceptions to this, but the prevailing winds have for centuries emphasized personal bible study.  Again, I’m not advocating a dismissal of the practice, just a harsh reminder that such devotion is not an end of itself.
[4] Actually, I really don’t want to be an “I for one.”  I want to be team.  I want to live like Christ together.
[5] Okay, music matters.  But music matters to the church the way toothpaste matters to your social life.  It probably doesn’t matter what brand you use, but you better use it.  On the other hand, if it becomes the centerpiece of your conversation topics you’ll garner a reputation for being irrelevant. 
[6] Action doesn’t define character altogether either.  So that your mistakes do not necessarily make a major impact on your character.  But character without action is like a race horse confined to the stable.
[7] I have other theories, but this one seems applicable most often.
[8] In fact, one of my many hopes is to deconstruct the idea that you and I have to go anywhere for discipleship to happen.  It seems to me that in scripture, history, and my own experience people live like Christ in their daily lives.  Perhaps less than one percent are called to travel.


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