Our worship service today included a short video of street interviews with 20- and 30-something Americans. The interviewer asked all of them, “What is your purpose,” or “do you have a purpose.” Responses ranged from “just being happy, having fun, and living one day at a time” from the 20-somethings, to “getting through life without killing anyone and being happy” from the 30-somethings. Folks in the congregation laughed, and applauded the one young man who said he was a Christian. He never really answered the interviewer’s question either, but he got audience points for saying he was a believer. At least he seemed to know that he should have a purpose larger than his own gratification.
Our pastor never asked the congregation directly what they understood about their own purpose. That might have put an embarrassing spin on his message. I’m not sure any of us have a grip on who we’re supposed to be or do, or what it means to be His disciple today.
Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matthew 10:1, 8.)
These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; they will pick up snakes with their hands, and whatever poison they drink will not harm them; they will place their hands on the sick and they will be well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. They went out and proclaimed everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through the accompanying signs. (Mark 16:17-20)
Jesus’ final message, before He went home, about what He expects of all who call themselves believers, should bear some real weight in the discussion right? I hear Jesus telling his disciples what they are to do and be, if they want to be His disciples, and I even seeing them doing it themselves, with varying degrees of success, depending on their faith and chutzpah. But those accounts are two thousand years old. You’d be hard pressed to find actual disciples, real “doing-what-Jesus-called-us-all-to-do” disciples in today’s church. We just don’t buy the “discipleship” lifestyle anymore.
Our shepherds have led us, through the centuries, away from Jesus’ final mandate and into a powerless, disciple-less, doing-only-what-is-humanly-possible corruption of real Christianity. Maybe the challenges of teaching us to be real disciples are too much for them to shoulder. Maybe training believers to exercise His authority in the world is too big a job for shepherds who can’t get it right themselves. Maybe burying all our discipleship talents is the wise decision. Maybe obedience only applies to Christian duties we can manage without His power, authority, or presence. Maybe that word “all” throughout the New Testament really *was* a mistake.
Maybe His demands are too radical, maybe they take us to the end of our own resources, to that place where if God doesn’t come through, we’re lost. Better to be in control of a manageable “christian” life from a safe, plastic, back-yard swimming pool than to fling yourself into the raging, uncontrollable currents of the River of God. Only God knows where that would take us!