Do you ever wonder? Really wonder? Not just an average daydream or flitter of the imagination, but wonder. A deep and deepening wonder. A mind, spirit, and soul churning wonder. The kind of wonder that keeps you up at night, or unexpectedly awakens you at 3am. The kind of wonder that catches you off-guard and holds your brain hostage. A wonder not so easily pacified, placated, or pushed aside. A wonder for which there are seemingly no easy answers; but instead, only increasingly difficult questions. A wonder void of solutions and saturated with dilemmas. A nagging. Wonder.
Do you ever wonder? Really wonder? About the deeper aspects of life. About beauty, meaning, and relationships? About food, art, and what your grandchildren will call you? About changing the batteries in your smoke alarms, how to end violence, and the giver of your eulogy? About paper, plastic, or your own reusable grocery bags? About Jesus, life, and faith? About the Bible, sin, and hope? About where you’re going (or not going) to church, or about where your church is going? About the end of the world, the economy, or whether or not the sermon will go over the allotted time limit? About your job, your kids or the job you don’t yet have or the kids you haven’t met yet? About where you’re eating after church, or whether or not you should sit through Sunday School, too?
Do you ever wonder? Really wonder? More specifically, have you ever asked yourself or people you care about the following question: “Is this all there is?”
Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’ve asked silently in your mind. Maybe your head hurts and you are tired of reading already. Regardless, “Is this all there is? Could there be more to this life out there somewhere?”
Let me explain: with a story.
CHRISTMAS BASKETS, A STOP SIGN, AND DISCIPLESHIP
As the sermon continued, I walked into the foyer looking for a water fountain. Unexpectedly, I made eye contact with a friend I had not seen in a while. Sheepishly, he “quick-smiled” me while “mall-walking” after his 3-year old daughter who was skipping through the wide-open meadows of the foyer. After watching him catch her from behind and simultaneously catch his breath, I wandered over and we exchanged pleasantries. He remarked about how he was glad to run into me. Through various life experiences over the past few months, he had come face-to-face with several difficult questions; and for whatever reason, felt like he should ask me about them. Until now, he had put it off, but seeing me flooded his mind with them again.
So, we noticed an open classroom and took the conversation inside. He continued by telling me a story.
“At Christmastime, last year, my wife and I volunteered to help with our church’s turkey basket giveaways. Each year, we pitch in canned hams, green beans, corn, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pies filling up 5-10 Christmas baskets, and we give them away to struggling families in our town. Excited for the opportunity to participate in something meaningful, we agreed to deliver 3 of the baskets to pre-determined families.
During our first two stops, we shared wonderful exchanges with each family. Smiles, hugs, and ‘thank yous’ were plenty, and we received way more in terms of being uplifted and encouraged then we were able to offer. While still swapping and retelling stories of our first two encounters, we drove off in search of the third house. As we approached the curb out front of what we thought was the third house, we realized a discrepancy with the address. As a result, we drove up and down the street checking each house number to ensure we had not made a mistake like copying down the address incorrectly or incompletely. At a loss, we called the coordinator of the Christmas baskets to explain our dilemma. She verified the address, and we responded by telling her that the house did not exist. A mistake was made somewhere along the way, and we were not sure what to do next. Eventually, she suggested that we give the basket to someone we knew that was in need and would be blessed by such a gift. Great idea! Relieved, I thanked her for the wonderful suggestion, hung up, and quickly explained the action plan to my wife. In an accomplished tone, she responded, ‘Fantastic! Why didn’t we think of that?’ With renewed inspiration, we sped away.
As we approached the first stop sign, I asked, ‘Honey, to whom should we take the basket?’
‘What?’ she retorted, ‘I hoped you already had somebody picked out. I’m not really sure.’
So, we sat there at a 4-way stop. In the dark. In the cold. The engine hum and heat blasting from the floor vents were the only sounds we could here. We thought and thought and thought and thought.
In reality, we probably sat there for 2-3 minutes, but it felt like 2-3 hours. Finally, in desperation, with tears welling up in my eyes, face-to-face with the obvious, I admitted it. Out loud.
‘We don’t know any local person or family in need of this Christmas basket. In fact, we don’t know any needy person or family at all. Period.’
In a swift attempt to completely squeeze the pain out of the car, my wife responded, ‘Why don’t we go home, leave the basket out on the counter, and think some more about whom we could give the basket? Surely, we’ll come up with someone.’
‘Surely,’ I responded with dejection. Feeling close to the size of an ant, I shifted the car into drive and turned for home. By the way, the Christmas basket still sits where we left it that night…on the counter by the door to the laundry room. We even put the rolls and pumpkin pies in the freezer for safe keeping. There’s just one problem: it’s June.
How is this possible, Chris? My wife and I have gone to church most of our lives. We show up on time, give our money, and have even taught Sunday school classes a time or two. I’m just left wondering, ‘Is this all there is? Could there be more to this life out there somewhere? And is our lack of knowing anyone in need of a Christmas basket evidence that we are missing out?’
Not only that, but I’m left looking at myself in the mirror here. Who am I? Wasn’t Jesus a poor, homeless person? I am claiming to be one of his followers and I don’t know any poor, homeless people!
I’m really beginning to wonder over this one, Chris. I’m asking myself hard questions, and not having any fun in the process. I mean, I go to church. I know a little about the Bible. I love Jesus. But…do I know him or just know some about him? Do I just know what he is like, or am I becoming more and more like him? Am I truly…could I be described like…you know…a disciple? Am I really a disciple of Jesus?”
On September 12, 2011, Mike Breen, Director of 3DM (www.weare3dm.com), published an article on his blog entitled, “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail.” In the article, Breen proposed discipleship as the engine of the church that powers the car of mission. Paragraphs 3 and 4 read, “So, what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples. If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the mission thing. Always.” (author’s emphasis)
This is not specifically about missional church. It is very much so about discipleship, and in agreement with Breen (and others), I am suggesting that the church finds herself in the midst of a painful discipleship crisis. As Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch state in their book, ReJesus, “…what is the church if not a community of disciples, of people devoted to following Jesus?” Is that not the crux of our crisis? Can we truthfully describe ourselves this way? If we are to live out our identity as the church, we must be a community of disciples growing daily in devotion, likeness, and followership of Jesus. Of course we stumble, fall, and find ourselves off track. However, I am attempting to struggle with discipleship at a much deeper level. Is this the overall, all-of-self, all-of-us posture of our hearts? We sing in the Chris Tomlin song, “Jesus, You are all to us,” but do we really breath, eat, drink, and sleep the possibilities and probabilities of growing in devotion to Jesus?
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
We cannot avoid this discipleship call for as Bonhoeffer reminds us, “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Christianity must include the living Christ. We know discipleship to be difficult, necessary, and impossible without God. And there is hope.
Just like my friend from the story shared above, many people have been hit with the unpleasant reality of their own relationship with the Lord, and they are searching for answers. That’s encouraging, because it seems that the Spirit might be stirring a hunger within them…within us. In regards to discipleship, most of my friends are asking the following two questions: 1) “What does discipleship look like, and 2) Where should we begin?”
***How would you answer one or both of those questions?***