By Paul Detterman –
There is a true story in my family about a sibling a generation before me who, when caught misbehaving, would often say, “Well, I’m not as bad as the rest of the kids!” Any armchair psychologist can recognize denial when they hear it! The point, of course, was not what everyone else was or wasn’t doing, but that she was fudging one of the family rules or somehow not living up to her potential and the expectations of the loving family that was nurturing her. I understand her line of defense never really worked for her—not should something like it work for any of us!
Although we probably use different words, many times our reaction to living the life of a disciple can be similar to the cop out used by my relative. If we have been around Scripture at all, we know there are expectations for the way we who are followers of Jesus are to live—not to earn God’s love or our salvation, but because of God’s love. Most of the time we know when we are fudging one of the “family” rules—not living up to our potential and the expectations of the loving God who is nurturing us.
It’s easy to lay blame for our shortcomings: if my church would just offer the right Bible studies, if my pastor would just ‘feed me’, or if my schedule just allowed me more time….” But, at some deep level, we know these too are just cop outs. The choice of whether or not we will follow Jesus in a life of missional discipleship is ours alone to make and ours alone to act on.
Oh dear—there’s that pesky word again, missional. “If someone would just explain ‘missional’ living, then maybe…”
OK. Missional living simply means intentionally following God and participating in his mission—living for God and living for others. Jesus’ last words to his closest followers commissioned them (and us) to go into our world and show people the difference following Jesus can make by the choices we make, the way we deal with suffering and discouragement, the way we respond to people and situations around us, how we use our time, money, sexuality, influence; the way we live.
For each of us, this requires intentional change in our priorities, our focus, our “loves,” —a change we can embrace as a “new way” or a change we can dismiss with an emphatic, “No way!”
Our “heart” is not our friend—at least not at first. Our unattended heart will always lead us to think first about what is best, long term, for us. Our “will” is not our friend either—at least not at first. The part of us we know as “will” is inclined, by default, to help us maintain familiar ways and habits, as anyone who has tried to diet or kick an addiction knows(!) Jesus’ commission means we need to make a decision that will begin to let the gospel change our heart and refocus our will. It is a decision we have to make repeatedly. C. S. Lewis believed it was a decision we need to make in every conversation and every situation of every day.
What it comes down to is this. We are called and equipped by God to be followers of Jesus living in this specific time and place, living the day that lies before us as a winsome witness to the power of Life over death, Light over darkness, Beauty over ugliness, Freedom over oppression, Truth over lies, Compassion over selfishness and greed. Each day we have to choose to embrace this new way, or say, “no way—I’m living just for me.”
There is a tradition in some monastic communities that in each monk’s room there are two hooks: one has his street clothes, representing life on the world’s terms, and one has the clothes of his order, representing the new way of life to which he was called and for which Jesus redeemed him. Every morning, each monk has to decide for himself which garments he will wear. There will always be “the rest of the kids” who can make us look better than we are. The question is, are we choosing, even for just this day, to live a new way—as followers of Jesus?