Christian Discipleship 10 (series finale)

When I was little I understood my vocation in life was to be a disciple for the one I couldn’t see, but could feel. To me, my life seemed to be a playground that I got the privilege to play in. I was in love with life because I saw it as a gift. I knew God early on. I’m actually not quite sure how I knew Him. My mom prayed with me before I slept each night, but He was there before I started praying. He was there when I couldn’t sleep at night. He was there with me in my room when I got chickenpox on my first birthday. I could feel the warmth of His love when walking was still a fun activity. But, as I grew older, I became numb to His presence. I lost sight of the Holy Spirit, and was convinced that God had gone silent. But, anyways, this is the introductory paragraph. So, to sum it all up, I came back to the God I felt in the old days and now I’m relearning how to respond to the universal vocation that comes from God, which is to be His disciple on earth.

After taking Christian Discipleship there are a number of things I have come to understand that I didn’t know before. First, I learned that eternal life is now. We are resurrected here and now to a new life, an eternal life. Heaven is when all things happen accordingly to the will of God and when we experience unmediating fellowship with God. The key point to all of this is that we get to experience little bits of Heaven now. I immediately thought back to junior year when my affair with nature was most prominent. I remember me, “solemn, no-friends Nolan”, resonating with the notions of Ralph Waldo Emerson. His idea that divinity pervades humanity and nature made sense to me. Looking at it now from a Christian standpoint, it makes some sense. The forest gave me a sense of freedom. I felt a wave a peace sink into my soul when the wind blew past my face. All the big trees smiled down on me, and if I was lucky, a leaf from their arms would land in my pocket and I’d take it home with me. I do remember hating the ventures back in to society because it was noisy and excessive, unlike the lovely silence of nature. But, I believe I was getting snippets of eternal life when I was alone in nature. God’s voice seemed so prominent to me. And, I didn’t understand it at the time, but the whole notion of discipleship, about eternal life, and about Jesus is that life starts now. I had been living a life of reflection, and a life of imagination, but I shouldn’t have been that much of a dreamer because half of the dream had come true when I asked God into my life and said yes to a new life with Him. Life has less to do with the quantity of time and more to do with the quality of time, thus eternal life starts now.

Second, community is a good thing; it’s how God accesses us. I had no idea before taking this class. All the Old Testament is God working with all of Israel. God is mediated to us through other people. That’s why we need community. That’s how God accesses us. We’re supposed to be in community. We’re also made to mediate God to others through community. The body of Christ does not function properly unless it has all of its prerequisite parts. It’s a deep biblical and theological truth. Looking at Jesus, the importance and virtue of community is apparent. He sought out the outcasts and ate with the kings. The problem is that I was waiting to be a better Christian before I started my discipleship to others. I didn’t understand that nobody is qualified to bear God’s spirit, and that if we’re waiting to be good enough, then we’re going to be waiting a long time. God uses us now. We’re not going to rescue the world. We have to trust that God will work things out. So, if being a disciple is being converted into God’s image, and it is, then I need to build more relationships and work to be an agent of love to everyone.

Before, I thought I could honestly feel whole by living in solitude within community, but I couldn’t. That’s somewhat of a contradicting notion. I tried to free myself of passion because that’s what the Buddhists and Hindus tell you. But, nothing, not even the rain filled me.  I couldn’t do a whole lot of anything with eyes wide open for forty-eight hours at a time.  It’s a lot like holding one’s breath, a lot like dying. The safest way to live is to not love anybody, but God has made Himself vulnerable by loving us, and that’s reason enough for me to love. He’s constantly running after us. He’s this proactive lover, and that quality is a key ingredient to being a disciple. I had lost sight of this in high school. I realize now that it’s not like we’re looking all around and not finding God, it’s that we’re really not looking around. Our eyes aren’t open and our ears are sealed off. God has not gone silent; God’s people are hard of hearing. The Holy Spirit is with us now. This is why when we’re feeling spiritually dry we need to pray for eyes to see God, not that the Holy Spirit would begin to work because God’s been at work since before we can remember. The reality of God and the fact that I get to participate in the creative advance of His kingdom is what has sparked my vocation of discipleship into action.

I wasn’t always a follower of Jesus, but ultimately, I came back to the fact that Jesus Christ was a real man in history.  I read about him in my European history textbook my junior year.  One has to personally decide whether to believe that he was a complete lunatic and lied about everything, or that He was exactly who He said to be, the son of God, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, with the whole world in His hands, and more importantly at the time, with my life in His hands.  I loved the idea of a God who loves everyone unconditionally, and Jesus’ idea of forgiveness and salvation. I didn’t know these things before. I’m done staying out at night to try and feel more alive. I used to run all day never stopping to catch my breath.  But, even now, in my physical weakness and blurred vision, I have something eternal to live for here and now.

I checked out other religions, but none of them resonated enough with me because they didn’t give me hope.  I believe in Jesus because I believe in truth.  I believe in the hope that there is more than this.  I believe in justice and peace, and the power of love.  I believe because I see. I’ve seen enemies embrace, victims forgive, and oppressors repent.  I’ve seen a beautiful sunrise, shining stars in the sky, and humans brought into it all.  I believe because I experience the power of the Holy Spirit.  I feel the Truth of the Bible make the hairs on my neck stand.  I feel the peace of Christ overwhelm me in times of need and in times of want.  I believe in Jesus because I am broken and He desires a relationship with me, so much so that He died for me, only to rise again to a triumphal victory over my sin, offering a new and good way to live that rewards me with glimpses of eternal life.

So, what is discipleship and what does it mean for my life? I think discipleship is learning to live life for someone greater than oneself, and admitting that God is smarter than you are and more capable than you could ever be.  It’s living intentionally so that you can live an abundant life. It’s loving God and loving others. It’s being the hands and feet of God. And, it’s a journey. I can run using every last ounce of my energy, but I cannot run from God. He is hiding inside of my heart waiting to wake me up to eternal life. Discipleship is being converted into God’s image. You really have no idea where He’ll take you, and that’s part of the beauty of going to bed with the smile of God. The rest of the beauty lies in the moment you wake up in bloom and bring color to the world.

Christian Discipleship 9

Memory is important. It’s one of the weaknesses of our culture. We don’t have many rituals in our lives that remind us of eternal truths. Remember how God was faithful to Israel and to you? Baptisms are a good reminder, but we don’t have much else. The stuff that happened in the Old Testament is our history too. It’d be cool if we recognized that. It’s the same God that we have now.

First off, I tend to forget why I do things or believe in certain things. Obedience to God confuses me sometimes, but I’ve learned from the readings that obedience comes from hope. We obey because we believe it’s leading us to the best possible thing. God’s not this cosmic tyrant where if we disobey we’ll be punished. So much joy comes from the joy God has in us. Something happens when we open ourselves up to the joy. It’s very expressive of hope. Death, fear, and pain don’t have the final say. There’s hope in Jesus Christ, which is precisely why we obey God. Hope and a release of control comes from having faith. I need this reminder.

Second, God works with community. This is perhaps the greatest truth I’ve come to internalize as a result of this class. All the Old Testament is God working with all of Israel. God is mediated to us through other people. That’s why we need community. That’s how God accesses us. We’re supposed to be in community. We’re also made to mediate God to others through community. The body of Christ does not function properly unless it has all of its prerequisite parts. It’s a deep biblical theological truth. One can’t just be hanging out with a bunch of elbows. God needs the body to not only access me, but the world, and I’ve always taken a liking to the change of the world. However, this notion of community is not natural for me. It would be much easier for me to live a “Christian” life in solitude. But I think we should beware of the person that constantly wants to be alone, and beware of the person that constantly wants to be in community. The Kingdom of God is a happening, not a place and we can help make that glory happen. We can be apart of that. We’re given the privilege of being mediators of God’s glory. It’s like praying for other people. We do it because we’re called to community. God works with community. We do it because it works. There’s this dialectic between God being infinitely far away and infinitely close, and I think I’m coming closer to making peace with that fact. I need a god that transcends my flaws, that goes beyond what I know because I know so little. But, I also need a god that I can follow, and God is the King of Kings. He’s just what we need. I forget that the Creator of the universe loves me. The closer I get to fully understanding this, the more my life is bound to change. We discover our true selves in love. I need to wake up and choose that love rather than my fear. Fear immediately erects a wall that pushes us away from relationships, but our lives are transformed when we learn to live in relationship with one another. This is so profound to me because I’ve hidden myself from people for so long. Love is a long-term commitment. It takes patience. Our relationships become shallow and so short-lived because we’re impatient and afraid, but we can all relax because God calls us to love, and He loves us always. God is relational; therefore I am called to be relational.