Reacting To Jesus

I don’t know when I first learned about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests.  It seems like I have always been aware of them.  What I do know is that I just learned they will be in my area.  According to a local ministers’ group, they are planning on picketing a couple local churches.  Here’s is the flyer they are apparently putting out to notify people of this planned picketing:

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The person who made the group aware of Westboro’s presence in our area leads an interfaith group.  Not an interdenominational group (of group of people from different Christian denominations) but an interfaith group (a group of people from different faiths).  He says he is “envisioning a world of interfaith peace”, and he signs his emails with greetings from several faiths (i.e., “Shalom, Peace, Salaam, Om Shanti, Solh, Amani” etc.).

As I read the email about this situation last night, I felt conflicted.  I obviously don’t side with Westboro Baptist.  I don’t want to attack them (I think attacking anyone, no matter how deserving, is wrong), and I probably won’t participate in the counter-protests being organized (I think protesting is lowly, a “weapon of the world” rather than a tool of Christ; 2 Corinthians 10), but I don’t want to be consider of them, on their side.  I don’t want to be considered on the side of the interfaith group either, though.  “Interfaith peace” sounds good on the surface; if by “interfaith peace” or “coexist” you mean not killing or hating people of other faiths, then I’m all for it, but if you mean (as I largely suspect most do) not affirming your own faith or taking it that seriously, then I’m not.  In fact, when I see a list of greetings such as the one this interfaith person signs his emails with, I’m reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

So I find myself between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.  I find myself pulled between two extremes, both of which are certain they are correct and both of which, I assume, think I’m incorrect in some way.  I know Westboro Baptist thinks I’m incorrect; according to a fellow minister, they picketed my denominations annual gathering in Cincinnati, holding signs that said, “Your pastor is a whore.”  So I don’t have to imagine what their opinion of me is.  I do imagine the interfaith person likewise thinks I am seriously wrong in some way; he might not call me a whore, but he probably calls me “narrow”, “bigoted”, “closed-minded”, etc because I believe that Jesus is who and what He said He was: the only way to the only God.

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And I can live with that, I suppose.  I have been living with it all my life in one way or another.  I’ve always been aware that there are people who find my faith or my way of expressing my faith wrong in one way or another, and I’ve always been told I just have to deal with that.

If I could make a wish, though, or, even better, if I could speak some sanity into the insanity I see coming into my community in the next couple of days, it would be for those people on these extremes to see that I am reacting to Jesus.  The things I do (many of them, anyway, possibly even most of them) I do in reaction to Jesus and the things Jesus taught and the way Jesus laid out.  That, I believe, is the basis of discipleship (as I already showed here).  And that is undeniably what you find in me.  I may not be reacting to Jesus perfectly (I don’t know anyone who does).  I may not be reacting to Jesus as either Westboro or the interfaith group thinks (rightly or wrongly) I should be.  But I am reacting to Jesus.  The decisions I make every day…make that every hour of every day…are influenced by Jesus, by what I think Jesus would want me to do.  Jingoistic though it may be, I truly am a WWJD guy.

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I believe that makes me a disciple.  An imperfect disciple to be sure.  A different kind of disciple or at least different-looking disciple than some others.  But a disciple nonetheless.

I’d like to think the same is true of Westboro.  I’d like to think the same is true of the interfaith group.  I’d like to think the same is true of both these extremes and every other extreme I encounter.  It may not be true of them; I understand that; I know that there are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” among us, “deceitful workman” who are not genuine followers.  But I’d like to think it is.  I’d like to think that most of the followers of Jesus who differ from me in one way or another are WWJD people, influenced by Jesus, reacting to Jesus, true disciples by this measurable definition.

And if we all recognized that about each other, wouldn’t there be more respect?  Wouldn’t there be less protests and counter-protests, less accusations, less suspicions, less attacks?  Wouldn’t there be less extremes?  I think there would be.  I think there should be.

Being Friendly

I am about to start a new discipleship group.  My church leadership and I believe The Faith is best spread by making disciples in small groups.  Some of our nearby congregations believe this as well, so this is what we do: we meet with others in small groups to discuss how to hear from/walk with God.

I told my mentor about this, and he said something surprising to me.  He suggested I be more friendly to the guys I invited into my group.  Actually, he suggested that I start the group not as a disciple-maker but as a friend.

And I understood a little of what he was getting at there.  He once shared this little picture with me:

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This little picture illustrates the three levels of intimacy that a disciple-maker can have with the people who interact with him/her.  Some will be friends; they will serve (or share is a word he sometimes uses), but they won’t do much more.  Followers go deeper; they submit.  Family goes even deeper still; they surrender.

There’s a lot that could be said about that, but the big point for me is that I needed to start at friendship.  My mentor told me that I am very serious and ready to get down to business, but that I needed to back off that a little, that I needed to befriend people before discipling them.

Again, this was surprising to me, not just because I am eager to get to the disciple-making level but because I think I’m a fairly-friendly guy.  I am a Celt, after all (by descent, anyway), and a common Celtic saying is:

I think I really do regard people in that way.  I am open to most anyone that wants to be open to me.

Still, my mentor said this and I think there is some truth in it.  While reading Matthew 9 recently, I noticed that Jesus is having dinner with some “sinners and tax collectors”:

Picture2What I realized while I read this is that many of these tax collectors and sinners must have kept Jesus on the “friend” level.  They “friend-zoned” Jesus, in other words.

But Jesus still interacted with them.   He must have wanted more.  He must have wanted to disciple them.  That’s one of His primary objectives, after all.  But He still interacted with those who friendzoned Him.  He was willing to be friend to those who stopped at that level.

I’m not sure what this looks like for me.  I’m not even sure I’m capable of doing.  I will always be the serious, down to business guy, I think.  But I am sure it is a part of disciple-making.  Maybe that’s the best way to think about it.  Being a friend isn’t all there is to disciple-making; it certainly isn’t the goal.  But it is part of it, and I have to be as open to it as Jesus was.

The Definition Of A Disciple

I was listening to the Get Religion Podcast, as I do just about every Monday.  In that podcast, journalist Terry Mattingly talks about the way in which issues of religion and/or faith are covered in the press.  As you can imagine, he often talks (maybe even most often) discusses the way in which issues of religion and/or faith are miscovered by the press (I believe that is the idea behind the name Get Religion; with that name, Mattingly is saying many journalists don’t get religion, a fact which comes through in their reporting).

In this episode of the podcast, Mattingly was talking about the political ambitions of TV personality Oprah Winfrey, an issue which has been in the news following the Golden Globes (I think; I don’t watch or care about award programs) and which touches upon religion/faith.   As he talked about that, he started talking about discipleship.

And that is where he really caught my attention.  Discipleship is a word and a concept which is very important to me; it is my way of life, in fact.  As Mattingly started talking about discipleship (and about how fidelity to Oprah can be seen as discipleship), hegave a definition of it which I had never heard before.  He said discipleship was “how you spend your time, how you spend your money, and how you make decisions” (around the 24 minute mark of the podcast).  He said, actually, that how you spend your money, how you spend your time, and how you make decisions reveals who or what you are a disciple of.

Now that is a different definition of discipleship than many I’ve seen.  It is a different definition of discipleship than what I would have personally given (I would have said something like, “Discipleship is following and becoming more like Jesus”).  But it is nonetheless an accurate definition of discipleship in general (maybe not Christian discipleship; that definition would get more specific; but definitely general discipleship).  As such, it highlights one very important element of discipleship: activity.

Discipleship requires activity.  Actually discipleship does, anyway.  Discipleship is not an intellectual or passive thing.  It is not having a belief or putting your name on a role or joining an organization.  It is much more than that.

Let me give you an example: I am a member of the Clan Mackay USA society, a society of people descended from the ancient Scottish clan MacKay (which I, a McCoy, am).

 I became a lifetime member of that society the first time I went to the Scottish games and found out what clan I belonged to.  That privilege cost me $300-some dollars.  And I’m very happy with that.  I’m happy to belong to this clan for life.  But I’m also aware that I don’t participate in this clan in any meaningful way.  I don’t go to their meetings.  I don’t vote on their spending.  I don’t even read their newsletter most of the time.  I am not changed in any way by being a lifetime member of this clan.   It does not affect my life.  It cannot be demonstrated in my actions.

Discipleship, on the other hand, is demonstrated by actions.  Discipleship is all about action.  The challenge for me, then, as well as for all people, is to answer Mattingly’s three questions.  The challenge is for me (and you) to determine how I’m spending my money, how I’m spending my time, how I make my decisions, and thus what I’m really a disciple of.

How To Be Humble

A couple days ago, I posted some thoughts I had about humility.  I said there that while I understood the need for and goodness of humility, I did not know how to achieve it.  In other words, I said that it is hard to be humble.  Somehow, I restrained myself from adding this song to the post:

As it turns out, I did come across one way to be humble.  I think I did, anyway.  I was practicing guitar after I wrote that post.  I’ve been struggling with the guitar since at least 2002.  I taught myself to do the open chords back then, but I stopped messing with it once I moved to California because I wasn’t needed; all the players in the church were better than I.  It came back into my orbit a few years ago, though.  Last year I got an electric guitar for Christmas (a present from my wife; I gave her the money to buy it for me!).  I got a few lessons as well and have been learning to do lead.  I’ve gotten much better at it over the past year.  I’m very pleased with how I’ve learned to “see” the scales on the fretboard and to understand enough music theory to get by, both of which were things I never thought I’d ever do.

But while I’m pleased with my progress, I’m not overly-pleased by it.  I know that there are guys and gals out there who are lightyears beyond me and always will be.  My guitar instructor said as much, in fact.  He said there are seven-year-olds on YouTube who can smoke him, and if those kids can smoke him they can annihilate me.  (I can’t show you the video in which he says this because it’s behind a paywall, but here he is doing a song with his daughter.)

What he further said, though, is that it doesn’t matter how better other people are than you, and that it also doesn’t matter how better you are than other people.  All that matters is that you are growing.  And I totally dug that.

Here’s the thing, though: I think I dug it so much because I know I’m not good at guitar (which you can see in the final video; I was forced to play an unfamiliar shape that night, which is why I made as many mistakes as I did, but truth be told, I probably would have made mistakes even if I had been playing a familiar shape).  Knowing that I’m not that good, knowing that there is no way I can win any type of comparison or contest, frees me from ever thinking about being good/winning.  It frees me to be happy in the moment.

I think what I need to do, then, is apply that same idea to the things I’m good at (or think I’m good at).  If I realize I’m not nearly as good at those things as I think I am, if I realize I’m not really “good” at them at all and will never win any meaningful comparison or contest with them, then I might be freed from all pride and all vanity.  Then I might be able to be humble, hard as it is.  Then I might be able to do what I was made by God to do: perform the best I can and be happy with that.