D is for Discipleship (an alphabet for penitents)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? -Matt 16:24-26

Discipleship is just one of a preponderance of Lenten “D” words. “Denial,” “Difficulty,” “Death,”  “Delay” each name parts of our Lenten journey. Even “the Devil” would have brought to mind Jesus’ forty-day-wilderness fast when Satan came a tempting (Matt 4:1-11).  “Discipleship” is a broad term applied to “following Jesus.” He is the master to whom we apprentice ourselves to on our spiritual journey.

And yet in following Jesus, those other “D” words come into focus:

  • Denial-The first order for would-be disciples is: deny oneself. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves . . . When you are an apprentice, your will is not your own. You do the bidding of your master, the tasks or projects you are given. Not many of us have been apprenticed, but maybe we’ve been interns or at least know how a job constrains our freedom to act out our every whim. What Jesus is saying is that, as our master, his will, will guide us, his mission will become our own, and that he sets the agenda for our life. 
  • Death– Would-be disciples take up their crosses and follow Jesus. When Christ was compelled to carry a cross at the end of the gospel, he was on the way to Golgotha. Cross-carrying is a vivid image of joining Jesus on his death march. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship, 89). This language is stronger than ‘denial.’ Following Jesus is a lifestyle of total self-sacrifice.
  • Difficulty– None of this easy. Following Jesus is hard. Again, following Jesus is hard.
  • the Devil– We remember in Lent, Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Forty days of fasting culminated with a visit from the Prince of Darkness who tried to push God’s Son off His mission. It is interesting to note that the things the devil tries to tempt Jesus with are the antithesis of Jesus’ call to discipleship:
    • “Make bread from stones”—You’re life doesn’t have to be difficult. There is an easy way.
    • “Use God’s angels to save yourself” You don’t really have to die!
    • “Bow to me and You will have power, riches, and anything you desire”—you do not need to deny yourself.

If this is the way the Devil tried to get Jesus off track, how much more his disciples?

  • Delay– Would-be disciples know about delayed gratification. Jesus predates pop-psychology and the ‘marshmallow test,” but he offered a challenge of his own. You know those psychological experiments where they place a child in the room with a marshmallow and tell them if they don’t eat the marshmallow for amount of time, they will get two marshmallows? Jesus version was to forgo life now to gain Abundant life for all eternity. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  Would-be disciples are confident that blessings, resurrection, and glorification await them if they follow Jesus; however, they know that these things come by way of the cross. It is in losing our lives we find it but first the dying. 
sebastiano_del_piombo_-_christ_carrying_the_cross_-_wga21099
Sebastiano del Piombo – Christ Carrying the Cross

Our Redemption in Ruins: a ★★★★★ book review

What does God’s redemption look like?  God’s kingdom comes in fullness and all that is wrong is set right. But what about  in the meantime? How is the gospel hope for broken? The oppressed? The abused?  Matt Bays observes that many modern Christians have this working definition of redemption:

Redemption n.—A state of existence in which the faithful to God receive what they expect to receive out of life (and out of God), and what ails them is converted to something fresh and new. (Getting the desires of one’s heart.) (26).

135468lgBut the reality is that the faithful suffer: miscarriages, mental illness, bankruptcy, loss of jobs, doubt, grief, etc. Sometimes God doesn’t seem to come through and even the redeemed carry the scars of the past. In Finding God in the Ruins Bays opens up his own hard journey and shares this experience of hope and redemption. God didn’t remove the brokenness and the pain but stepped into it with him.

The impetus behind the book came when Becky, a cat-loving-coworker succumbed to a deep depression and committed suicide, taking too many pills and leaving a note. Bays wrote in his journal I hope they saved the pen she used—that the leftover ink inside will be used to write words of love and hope (32). At her funeral, Becky’s husband John gave Bays the pen and told him to ‘write beautiful hope-filled words’ (34). In the pages which follow, Bays weaves his own painful journey with the tales of other broken doubters and beat-down saints.

At the age of twenty-eight, Bays was several years a pastor, but the pain of his childhood caught up with him. He had been abused by the Step-Dad from Hell. Beyond the physical and emotional turmoil he experienced, he also experienced the confusion of incest.  He turned to alcohol. When it didn’t anesthetize the pain, he found a counselor and began to work through his issues. Bays also shares of his doubt and struggle watching his sister Trina fight stage-four breast cancer.

Bays story is hopeful. He experiences real healing in his life and he points to the unlikely places  God met him through broken people (i.e affirmations from a pedophile band teacher). But this is a raw account of what it means to have faith in the midst of some pretty blankety-blanked-up-stuff. Bays rages against God, talks about the ways that Jesus felt distant from him— i.e “When God was thirteen, he never faced any kind of trial” (63). Ultimately Bays experiences the grace of God through family, through learning to face his pain and share vulnerably,  learning to tell his story and seeing how much God-in-Christ truly experiences and enters into the pain and struggle we face:

God wasn’t staring on in the brothels of Mumbai; he was stuck on the dirty floor with a pedophile on top of him. And he wasn’t leaning against the laundry machine in my basement; he was being pierced, crushed, bruised and wounded so eventually I could be healed. It happened to him every time it happened to me.  It was him, the same as it was me. (197).

This is not Hallmark-Channel-Jesus. Jesus doesn’t ride into an unbeliever’s life with a saccharine sweet ending, tying off all loose ends and making it all work out. The kind of redemption that Bays points to is more personal. Jesus steps our heartaches and experiences all the horrors we do. He brings  us to redemption by going through the pain with us.

This is a great book, but emotionally heavy. At a different stage, I wouldn’t have been ready for it. Bays lie story allows him to speak empathetically to those of us who likewise struggle. I appreciate the radical honesty he advocates. Bays helps us face ourselves (all of us), face our pain, and be honest to God about our struggles. This doesn’t give our doubt the final word, but allows for real faith to grow. I give this book five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for my honest review.