Rap artist and church thinker Propaganda gives a great analogy for discipleship and how we as Christians should come alongside those who are weaker than us.
One of the biggest things that stops someone from living a visionary life is the question why. Why do we wait for God and people? Why trust God and people? Why live in community? There is no flaw proof answer that logically answers every why question. The only answer that comes is not one based on any logic or any sense of self actualization. The answer is love. It’s an answer that gives all of our heroes their power. It is the one things that can make us strong and willing to take this hard life and live it. And let’s face it, living out the bigger vision is not easy. Just one look at Jesus, Jeremiah, and Paul shows that this life gets messy, crazy, and dangerous. There is no how to manual of how to do this in your life, but the one thing that is expected of us by Jesus is to love relentlessly.
Mark 10:17-23 shows us how we should sacrifice the things that make us stable and secure if they block us from expressing love. This story of the rich young ruler lets us know that we are not alone in our struggle to do this. It’s easy as humans to take the easy road of luxury because it makes sense to us. Suffering and struggle does make sense. We want houses, retirement, and security. Love,however, is not logical. It is beyond that. It represents a logic far beyond what we can reason. It seeks a deeper security that is grounded in the future coming of God. It takes an imagination and bravery to accept this kind if life.
This kind of living is what Jesus did by coming to earth. In John 1:14, John tells us Jesus was love come down to us in ultimate representation of love. We learn through Jesus that having glory and power should not be our goal. According to God, love should override those things. Jesus gave up the recognition to come to us and convince us that love is a viable path. Jesus even tells us in John 14:23-24 that He expects us to follow His example of love. This is the same guy who died for His teaching and lifestyle. What encourages me was that He was resolute enough to follow His own talk. What makes me want to live like Jesus is that He was vindicated through bodily resurrection for living out the love of God. He was literally raised from the dead. He came back in His body. This is worth following. Forget gaining all you can just to survive longer. Eternal life in a kingdom founded on love is much more promising.
John 21:15-18 shows that Jesus knows that we are prone to fail. We just have a knack for it. When Jesus questions Peter to love Him, He sets up the conversation in a very interesting way by asking if Peter loves Him. The greek usage of love in all three moments is interesting. The first two references use the word agape. This word is usually used to reference God’s love. Its the love that is fully committed in loyalty and will stand so close in faithfulness that the recipient cannot help being overwhelmed. The third one gets tricky to understand. Jesus uses the word philos. This word is used for brotherly love. This is a step back from the norm of what God calls people. Generally it is expected that we would practice agape. Jesus practices understanding. He knows guilt and shame are still bugging Peter. Jesus steps out to Peter because Peter’s guilt was going to keep Him from seeing Jesus’ desire for Him to live out the Vision. What’s amazing is that Jesus reaches out and moves in the direction if Peter to let Him know that he can live in this Love. He has permission and has always had permission.
God meets us where we are in order to push us towards His vision for us. He wants us to love, but He also wants us to see that no matter how much we fail, He believes in us enough to pick us up and send us on the mission again. Peter failed, the Church failed, and we will fail. I hope you find that God is challenging you, but that He is for you. We should continue to love, but we should know that when we fail at it, we can rest in God’s love. And remember, God is still working on you. You will one day get it right and love freely. Keep going. Don’t stop.
Everyone wants to chase the vision that has been put in them. It’s part of our design to dream and make that dream happen. A major tragedy in our culture is that we think we are supposed to do this alone. The Western culture teaches that every person has to take on a John Wayne persona, being a self-made man and forcing life to work. Even the great folk duo Simon and Garfunkel said, “I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.” The problem is that no person is self-made. So much happens in life to everyone and those events always involve other people. Without other people, what would be the purpose of dreaming big and improving things. Life is filled with community. We cannot escape it. We are created for it.
Another truth we alway forget is that we are limited beings, so by nature, we cannot completely do everything on our own. Just think of all the dumb things you have done: ran out of gas, forgot the most important deadline at work, left your cell phone near your three year old. We do dumb things and those things affect the nearby community and at times affect the entire world. The great thing about community is that someone is there to be your safety net. The people in your carpool notice the gas light on your console. The coworker asks how the report is coming. The wife snatches the phone before the kid can make the two hundred dollar amazon purchase. It’s amazing how community can make a better world.
Community can also make a terrible world too. Most history books make it seem like the holocaust just happened out of the blue. The reality was that it took a community experience many years to get to that day. So many events made Germans ripe for the suggestive words of Adolf Hitler. It did not take much for Hitler to gain overwhelming support for the slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and handicapped people. Community needs a source of life and peace to prophetically negate death and destruction. Without that, the world eventually becomes an agent of death and destruction, the very things God is trying to get rid of.
The Early Church understood this balance between developing community and being influenced by events. The struggle in the book of Acts was between Jewish and Gentile believers. Jews viewed Gentiles like dogs and Gentiles did not see Jews as much better. When Christ kicked down the doors of segregation, people did not know what to do with that at first. It took the leadership of Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles to finally get the two groups eating with each other without a fight breaking out. The Church understood community very well. It was hardwired into their experience, but the events could have very easily been different. Had people not spoken up for the gentile believers against the jewish believers and sometimes vice versa, Christianity would have looked much different today.* But thankfully, the leaders made a better community. Scroll through the book of Acts and look for those moments where it seemed one group of people were complaining against the other. Now look at the creative acts of the Apostles to help bring those groups together in peace. We can thank our founding fathers of the Church, and even more so the Holy Spirit, for giving us one spirit and one love.
If we listen to the Spirit as the great men of the New Testament did, we can find a way to break down barriers in our community. We can start in the Church. There is a song that says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I believe that is unarguably the point of faith in Christ. We have to have love for our fellow believers. If we do that, we can begin to show the same kindness to everyone in the world and build even more communities of love. I hope that every builds community like this around them just as the Early church did. I hope that we find that Christ is loving everyone and is leading us to love everyone.
*I understand that some of Church History revealed a failure on tearing down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, but it proves the point that inclusive community is a must in the Kingdom of God.
If you want an example of a prophet who had a rough time, go to Jeremiah. The man was never listened to, was jailed, and was even dragged into a form of exile when he ended up being right. He was recognized long after his death and never during his life. He was, without a doubt, a prophet that suffered.
Why would someone suffer this much for a people?
Jeremiah, throughout the book about his life work, is a man of intense vision. Its neither a vision of destruction and judgement nor one of his own triumph and vindication. It’s not even his own vision. The entire book up to being taken to Egypt is filled with tension with a stubborn group of people who want to do things their way and against God. Even when he is in Egypt, the scene keeps playing out. Confrontation is a major theme running through this man’s life because God placed a vision in him.
In chapter 20, Jeremiah begins to describe his life vision like a fire in his bones. He is describing that feeling of wanting to stop what he is doing, but then realizing that he just can’t. It points to something profound and unstoppable in Jeremiah’s identity. God keeps sending, and Jeremiah keeps going. There are more verses I could quote for you here, but they would be too many. Besides, you get a better view when read the entire book in one sitting. If you do not like reading, have it read to you, there’s an app for that.
The best thing about Jeremiah is that I can see myself in Jeremiah. He acts and then struggles in confrontation with people who normally would have loved and cared about him. Being told no so many times can make a man go mad and lead him to be depressed, especially when he is trying to speak meaning into other people’s lives. Whether you are trying to speak a challenging word to believers or just trying to do something important, the word no is devastating, especially when you invest a good portion of your life to the effort.
Have you even been in confrontation because you were trying to do the right thing? I’m not talking about just disagreeing with someone and stubbornly saying you are the one who is right. That sounds more like the wayward Israelite. The struggle here is about something that has been put inside you and is from somewhere outside of you. It’s not an emotion, it is an identity found in a vision and a mission. If you have that, you will always find that patience is something that is needed. You cannot just run this race and expect it to be easy. It’s not a playground experience. It’s the Spartan Race. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Running Man…okay, terrible movie to use as an example, but you get my point. If you walk that path, you will have to struggle.
Jeremiah is a legend to Bible readers. No one forgets a good story of struggle. You can hardly make some of the stuff in Jeremiah up. It is a book of a great teaching for those trying to live meaningfully for God and His mission. Live out the struggle with patience and you will get to the place God wants you to be. It might not be today. It might take years. But a day of hope is coming.
When you talk with truth and grace and meaning to people, know that some will take it. But always remember that there are those who won’t take it; who can’t take it.
Some of these people are outside of the Church and some are in the Church.
You just have to keep speaking love and meaning to these people. Speak patiently and love patiently. It will hurt, but I think that loving and hurting will make our stories better than living distanced and lonely. Because that is what our heroes of the Faith like Jeremiah did.