Much of the church in the U.S., including my own, needs change, change, and more change.  Even a quick glance at what is happening around and among us should be enough to convince us that the church simply must change.  In the U.S., most denominations are in decline and some of them must “pull up” soon or they will “crash and burn.” 

Denominations that are growing in the U.S. often show modest growth at best.  A closer look, however, is not as encouraging.  Many of these churches are growing thanks to new church plants, “out-of-the box” ministry initiatives, and outreach to an increasing number of ethnic groups around them.  At the same time, an alarming number of their existing churches (as many as half or more) are “stuck” or in serious decline.  Thus, even for “growing” denominations, many local churches are headed for certain closure unless something changes.  Unless they change.

Why should this be so alarming?  What’s wrong with just maintaining?  Where does the Bible say that change is good, and more change can be even better?  Especially if it’s just “change for change’s sake?”  Well, let’s take a step back, a deep breath, and consider such questions more carefully.

First, though, note how very different it has been in other parts of the world.  In Africa, for example, at the beginning of the 20th century, something like 2% of sub-Saharan Africa could be called Christian in any sense.  Then the “modern missionary movement” began and in less than 100 years more than 50% of the same region has become Christian.  The movement of Jesus there has experienced exponential growth.  Similar stories can be told about South America and much of Asia during this same time period. 

In other words, during the 20th century in most of the world, the “church” has multiplied incredibly.  Yet in our part of the world, the “church” limps along.  This prompts another question: Which experience of church tracks most faithfully with the story of church we read in our Bibles?  You can google it, if you want, but I think the answer is obvious.  The story of most of the world and the story of the Bible, when compared with the more recent American story of church, powerfully suggests that the church in America must change. Then, change some more.

I am not talking about change simply to change, and I am not assuming that just any change would be good.  Neither does the Bible, which describes the kind of changes the church here—our churches—must make.

Of course, we begin with Jesus.  When the time was right, Jesus steps on the scene and calls for huge, massive change.  He declares that the time of fullness has arrived, and the Kingdom of God has come near.  In response Jesus calls people everywhere to “repent.”  “Repent” never happens without change.  Change in thinking, change in direction of life, and change of heart that prompts not only the first steps but continuing obedience on an entirely different life-path (see for example Mark 1:14-15ff.).  Change, change, and more change.

Immediately, Jesus begins to call people to follow him.  The people he called did not come to him; rather, he went to them, interrupting their lives with a call to follow.   Imagine the changes of those first followers who had been fishing with family and friends, who never thought they’d do anything else until they heard, “Follow me.”  More than once we read something like, “They got up, left their place of work and associates and even family, and followed.”  Not just for an hour or afternoon, but the foreseeable future and beyond.  In fact, they began a journey of more changes than we can count.

Once a small group began to follow Jesus, there was continuing change.  The group of followers became a new peer group for one another, they entered an apprenticeship for work and life, they received new teaching, and practiced new ways of relating to friends, others, and eventually enemies, to name just a few of the changes.

One of the more profound of these changes was a deepened call from Jesus to join him in his public ministry, which in time would extend to the ends of the earth.  In other words, their “conversion” not only brought them into intimate sharing with Jesus and his followers—so intimate that it took priority even over their natural families; it also included participation in Jesus’ own mission.  Jesus came to do something and following him meant joining him in whatever that was.  So, again, imagine the changes wrapped up in learning to orient and organize the whole of life around the things Jesus came to do.  Could anything really remain the same, for long? 

The Gospels make it clear that these changes were intended not only for the first disciples of Jesus.  In Luke 10:1-20 Jesus sends 70 (or maybe it’s 72) others into various villages.  These are not the 12 Apostles, who were sent earlier (see 9:1) but many others who were following.  I believe Jesus sends them to do the kinds of things Jesus expects the church to do.  Not just pastors and “foreign missionaries” but members of the church as well.   I cannot give a full account of what he tells them to do, but please make these observations with me (from Luke 10:1-17):

  • He sends them two by two, to say and do what Jesus said and did. Wherever they go, they are charged with making Jesus’ message known and sharing Jesus’ ministry among the people.
  • There are not enough of them to do all Jesus asks. Not enough workers.  Not enough resources.  Simply, not enough.  But this must not deter them.  Still, they are sent.  Evidently not having enough is just the reality not an excuse, whether it is enough partners or money. 
  • When they experience their lack of workers or resources or whatever, they must pray that the Lord will supply. They carry out their mission fully aware they are totally dependent on the Lord.
  • They will encounter opposition, danger, and threat. Jesus says he sends them as sheep among wolves, knowing full well that all sheep are afraid of wolves.  Still, he sends them, and expects they will go.
  • They are told to expect some rejection. If the wolves do not get them, others might!
  • They will have the power and authority, not to mention the resources, they need if they will go, praying to and depending upon the Lord of the harvest.
  • They went under such circumstances, and came back marveling and rejoicing, reporting that even demons were subject to them.

Note the elements of change stated or implied in all that Jesus says.  Contemplate being under resourced, encountering wolves, rejected by some or many, and still going.  Imagine the changes to the typical human psyche such that deprivation, legitimate fear of mortal danger, likely rejection, and possible injury and death do not deter them from following Jesus’ instructions.

You may be thinking that these words are not meant for every Christian at all times and places.  No doubt, that’s true.  Even so, the gospels conclude with Jesus’ words that do apply to all followers of Jesus at all times and in all places.  These words speak of making disciples and teaching them to do all that Jesus taught the first disciples.  Clearly, then, the instructions to the 70 are among those instructions and commands.  The details may change here and there, as will specific circumstances, but in general the profile of following sketched above at least points toward a series of radical changes in so-called normal human being and living.  That profile in general characterizes all true following.  And, this is a profile of change, change, and more change.

By its very nature, then, following Jesus leads to ongoing, significant changes of one sort or another and, thus, from time to time we would expect that “the church needs change, change, and more change.”  The point of such change is not simply to get bigger and make a show.  Rather, to find ways to declare and demonstrate the reality of life under the loving lordship of God.  Jesus sent them to call others into this kingdom by following Jesus. In the process, people and places were changed.  Indeed, throughout the history of the church, a changed and changing people have brought godly change wherever they go.  That has always been the norm and the plan of Jesus our Lord for the people called church.

What must we do when the church declines and fails to participate in the ongoing mission of Jesus?  Isn’t it true we quite literally must choose between changing and dying?  Under these circumstances wouldn’t you agree that the church—we—need change, change and more change?

(Think about it and stay tuned.)


Given the current condition of our culture—both inside and outside the church—I think as many of us as possible should seriously consider changing churches!  Let me explain.


Some time ago, Lavone and I were driving somewhere, not on the interstate, but on a two-lane highway through the countryside.  We came up over a bluff and immediately before us we saw the most lovely country church.  It struck us as a perfect model for those idyllic country church paintings you see from time to time.  As we drew nearer, however, we were stunned to find it was not a church at all, though It had been once.  Now the sign outside read, “Antiques!”  From a distance it looked picture perfect.  Up close it turned out to be a place to browse and buy old stuff (some would say, “junk”).


Once I was in Houston for a church leaders conference, and had an opportunity to interact with a number of colleagues and friends.  We stayed at a nice hotel downtown, plush lobby, forty or fifty floors, and glass elevators to lift us to our rooms.  After one session a friend and I walked to the elevator to return to our rooms.  As we entered the elevator and the doors closed, we were having a stimulating conversation, sharing our concerns and joys.  Our fellowship deepened and continued.  Indeed, only after several minutes of animated dialogue, did we realized neither of us had pushed a button.   There we were in the glass elevator, closed to all but us, having a delightful time together in the full view of Houston, but going absolutely nowhere.  We were like too many churches: small, warm, exclusive clubs not moving in any direction in the full view of the world.


Here’s a third picture of “church.”  I have never seen it literally but have experienced a comparable reality with painful regularity.  Picture a “state of the art” surgical suite, thoroughly equipped with the latest technologies, machines, instruments, and with world renown surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and staff, kept in a state of preparedness 24/7.   This is a picture of exactly what you hope to have should you ever need a serious surgical procedure.   Now, however, consider this surreal discover: Over an extended length of time no patients in need of surgery enter the suite.  Seriously, the only action comes occasionally when someone already in the suite discovers a hangnail or rash.  Though neither condition requires surgery, plenty of “help” is at hand for them.   The dedicated personnel of the surgical suite, with unparalleled expertise, maintains the scrubbed, sterile, amply equipped “healing” environment, but is never bothered by a patient.


Three pictures of the church we hope never to be, but which sometimes we are—churches with celebrated pasts but now functionally extinct; churches organized to meet the needs of its own with warm connection and such engaging insider-dynamics that no one notices the lack of direction and movement; and churches prepared and poised to bless their world with desperately needed expertise, resources, and experience but never doing so for whatever the reason.


To whatever extent our churches resemble these images, we must confess we have lost our way and stand in the most profound need of God’s mercy and grace.  Having lost our bearings, we do not know which way is up or down, north or south.  Further, even if we should learn our directions, we have no power to go anywhere or do anything.  Compared to the stories of Acts, the great awakenings in history, and our own origins as a church, we are at best a dim shadow.


But here’s the good news: When God’s grace is sought and received, things change and people change.  We change!  Not change for the sake of change, but change into the likeness of Jesus, corporately as well as individually, so that the work of Jesus can be done in and around the buildings we sometimes wrongly call “church.”  For we—not our buildings—are the church, destined to be the living, growing, expanding and multiplying People of God!


Every church can move to a place of deepened and awe-filled awareness of what God intends for his people, and for them.  Then, all willing hearts can learn how to cooperate with God in love and power as God works among them and in their communities.


As I said, we should seriously consider changing churches!


More to follow, stay tuned.


According to the Pew Research Center, just under 88% of members of Congress identify as Christian (87.8%) compared with 63% of the U.S. population.  In addition, less than 5% of the Congress identify as religiously unaffiliated (e.g., humanist or unwilling to say) compared with 33% of adults in the U.S. today. **

Let the findings of this research sink in for a moment: Congress is significantly more “Christian” and way more religiously aligned than the general population of the United States of America!  In fact, according to what congress members profess about themselves—in most any city, town or village across the country percentage-wise fewer of the people seek to align with Jesus, his teachings, and example than in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Here’s a thought and prayer experiment.  Let’s assume the polling conclusions accurately reflect the posture, attitude, and priorities of the elected leaders of Congress.  That is, assume Congress is at least as Christian in profession than any city, town, village, or rural area across the country.  And assume, given the current trends, in another five or ten years the halls of Congress will be one of the most “well-churched” places anywhere.

Imagine it!  Over the next years, when individuals and even churches want to see what it is like to lead Christianly one trusted option will be to observe congressional leaders going about their work, doing such thigs as:

  • Seeking to legislate effectively not simply what is “right” but what encourages and invites (rather than coerces or demands) our citizens to respect people and prioritize them over things;
  • Pursuing the wellbeing of all people who live among us as neighbors; providing as much opportunity as possible to all sectors and segments of our population;
  • Assuring safe and secure environments in cities, towns, villages, and rural areas throughout the land;
  • Recognizing that for various reasons not all of us have the same opportunities and capacities and then working to assist those who have less of these than others;
  • Protecting the weak and vulnerable, especially those without voice or agency to act for themselves;
  • Designing and implementing systems and structures that allow people to act on their principles and convictions without denying the same to others who disagree with them;
  • Cultivating intelligent compassion toward many places and peoples who suffer around the world, and promoting efforts to bring relief and resources that empower them to help themselves;
  • Responding to adversaries and enemies in balanced and measured ways deterring threat while showing better ways to pursue their interests than violence and aggression; and
  • Disincentivizing hostility and aggression globally by incentivizing U.S. individuals, organizations, corporations and non-profits to share intellectual, human and materials resources with under-resourced people-groups and nations. ***

Imagine it!

Of course, this is by no means easy to do.  Our Congressional leaders belong to different political parties, prioritize the concerns common to us all in different ways, and in varying degrees have come to their congressional leadership with the help of different alliances and interest groups.  In many cases, other than their remarkably common way they identify with the Person of Christ (some 88% of them members/adherents of Christian churches!) they may have little else in common.  Yet, as difficult as it seems, just imagine that common allegiance to the person of Christ somehow, at least sometimes, would indeed be sufficient for them to work together, problem-solve together, and achieve together such things as I’ve listed above!

Granted, a common allegiance to the Person of Christ does not guarantee they will all agree with one another, nor that when they disagree they will avoid offending one another, nor even that every matter can be resolved.  Even so, actual allegiance to the One we confess to be “Prince of Peace,” who blesses those who make peace, and calls us to forgive one another freely as Christ has forgiven us—such allegiance would or should trump all else!  At the least, it would seem appropriate for us to imagine that such coming together, finding common ground, and acting for the good of others becomes possible to the degree that allegiance to the Person of Christ truly prevails.  So, just imagine it!


One of the values of so-called thought experiments is they can help you get outside yourself and your typical ways of thinking so you can see things you might not see otherwise.  Here are some of the things this particular experiment helps me see.

Clearly, membership in a church, even a good one (however we understand that) does not in itself guarantee one is a “Christian” or the same kind of “Christian.”  Just as clearly, the term “Christian” has no generally agreed upon meaning when used in common discourse.  To some degree, congressional respondents understand the term in different ways.  I do not doubt that respondents are telling the truth—“This is how I identify myself religiously,”—but I suspect the truth they’re telling may have little to do with how they serve and lead as members of Congress.

Originally followers of Jesus were tagged with the name “Christian” by their opponents (see Acts 11; 1 Peter 4:16 for the only use of “Christian in the N.T.).  They were called “Christians” because they shaped their lives around Jesus whom they called their “Christ” (or Messiah), because they accepted and endeavored to follow the teachings and example of this “Christ” often against the social, cultural and religious party lines of their time.  And they did so even if it cost them dearly.  So, their adversaries ridiculed them as “Christians,” which meant “little—or wannabe—Christs.”

Today it works quite differently.  In common use, to be “Christian” is to identify in some way with a Church that belongs to the historical line of those first followers of Jesus.  In this usage, what it means to be Christian will be determined by the church with which one associates and the degree to which one embraces whatever that church teaches. Thus, we cannot assume any particular meaning or reality when hearing that a Congress member is “Christian.”

Therefore, what the Pew Research reflects is not necessarily encouraging.  But it is helpful.  Here are three ways.

First, at the end of the thought-experiment, it seems more impossible to me that our Congressional leaders would or could see from the others’ perspective, hear opposing views, look for or create common ground, and discover ways to govern that empower people to live well, or at least better in the future than now.  Given the current realities, this is quite beyond merely human capacity.

Still, this is helpful because many of us approach elections and governmental processes as though electing the “right” people is the key.  But if 88% of our legislators are “Christian” and still unable to rise above partisanship in the interest of doing as much good as possible, especially for the neediest among us, we should adjust our expectations.  Merely human governance will always disappoint.  Ultimately, the governance we need cannot be elected.  It can only be given and received.   And the good news is that such governance has been given in Immanuel; indeed, “The Government shall be upon his shoulders,” (Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33), even if today’s self-identifying “Christians” in Congress fail to realize or act in light of it.

Second, if 88% of the members of the Senate and House profess to be Christian and yet are hopelessly partisan so that every attempt to govern invariably leads to another round of fighting, then it should be clear where the problem lies and where the makings of solution might be found.  Who is responsible for clarifying what it means to be Christian?  It is not members and leaders of Congress; It is members and leaders of Church.  The Pew Research revealing the “Christian” majority in Congress should be a wakeup call to churches everywhere.  No one can think seriously think that the “Christian” presence documented in Congress represents the best our churches can do.

Third, churches everywhere might want to ask: What does it mean to identify with the person of Jesus the Christ?  What sort of Person was He and is He?  How can we learn and live—or learn to live—in His ways, and how can we align ourselves with Him so that His ways become our ways, whatever the circumstances of our lives and the challenges we face?  It seems to me if we want to change things in Congress, we might begin in our churches to pray, plan, and work to send them Christians whose lives are themselves clear and more compelling answers to these questions.

**(See The Religious Composition of the 118th Congress | Pew Research Center )

*** This list is not the main point, just my suggestions as to how allegiance to Jesus might shape important functions of the governing authorities in Congress.


Picture take by Syed F Hashemi


How Lent Leads to Kingdom Blessing

The Kingdom that begins with Lent leads us to blessing.  There is the call to turn—repent!—which is Lent.  There then comes a pronouncement: “Blessed!”  Consider how stunning this is.

When Jesus begins to teach about the Kingdom of God, the first word is “Blessed!”  This is not what we expected, not from God almighty in the season of Lent.  We understand it’s the time for sober and brutal assessment; time for acknowledging our failures; time to confess we are moral losers, spiritual losers, and relational losers.  Time to gather it all up and own the truth: Our human condition is failed.

Our natural default, sometimes even after long association with Jesus and his friends, leads us to expect that renewing our participation in the “Kingdom of God” necessitates a fierce facing of our many failings.  We really expect the first word to be something like: “Wrong!” or “Woe!”

But Jesus begins teaching about the Kingdom that calls for repentance, for Lenten sojourn, with a very different word: “Blessed!”  Then, to make sure no one can miss the point, he repeats that same word 8 times.  Again and again he announces blessing.  (I’m reflecting especially on Matt. 5:3-12, but this is entirely in tune with the other gospel portrayals).

That must mean God is not angry.  Jesus has not come as the last straw before God does something rash.  No, he comes precisely as the rash thing God has done for us, which is to bless.  “Blessing” is the first word, and the first order of business for the kingdom Jesus declares, demonstrates, and for which he dies.


If we can let that word work its way into us, several things become clear.  As a start, God does not enter the world in Jesus our Lord because God is angry.  God does not approach as one “armed and dangerous,” weaponized with wrath.  If that were how God was and is, God wouldn’t need to bother with personal appearance.  Long before anyone could imagine or say “drone,” God could have authorized a strike.

God is not driven by anger and, characteristically, God is not angry.  God is the creator of what is good and beautiful, which is why our creation accounts provide the first setting for the first utterance of blessing.  God made it and then God blessed it—all.  That Jesus begins his Kingdom teaching with this blessing makes us think that the Creator may not be done creating.

God is not angry.  But God is determined to salvage and rescue as much of his creation as possible.  So, God calls a family to bless, and to become a source of blessing for all other families the world over.  In fact, God binds himself to the family of blessing so that eventually through this family blessing would flow.  God binds himself by making a holy pact, a covenant, with one people—Abraham and Sarah’s people—for the sake of all people.  Thus, when Jesus begins with a nine-fold pronouncement of blessing, we are right to think about God’s vow to purge the world of curse.  We are right to think that holy promises are coming to pass.

God is not angry.  God is King and is rightly fed-up with the unending failures of curse-shaped human governance and so God sends the Only begotten One, Jesus, whose throne is unrivaled and whose rule is right.  It is this One and Only, enthroned over all who speaks blessing back into the world.  Therefore, God is not angry.  The first word is “blessed!”

Yet, to say God is not angry does not mean there is no reason to be angry.  There is plenty wrong in our world.  Everywhere we look, including into the mirror and maybe sometimes especially there, we see things that should not be.  Further, to say that God is not angry is not to say that God is never angry.  The ancient people of God confessed their God as gracious and kind, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (see Ex. 34:6; Nu 14:18; Neh. 9:31; Psa. 86:5, 15; Psa. 103:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

That God is not angry suggests, rather, that anger—even the righteous anger of God—is not the remedy.  Since God is all about the remedy, angry words are not among the first out of Jesus’ mouth.  Instead, from the heart of God, who is love, come words that express the reality and the remedy we need.  That word is “blessed,” directed and targeted to people who like us were not expecting such a word, certainly not first and perhaps never.

Imagine being sick for several days hoping you will just get over it, and when you don’t you finally go to your doctor.  You endure the check-in procedures, you wait to be called in, you enter the exam room, wait some more, and finally the doctor enters.  At first you are relieved until you look into your doctor’s face.  You are stunned to see a face that is red, veins in the neck that are bulging, and hands that flail wildly in the air.  Then you are shocked to hear: “Idiot!”  You are sick and the doctor calls you an idiot.  You are feeling rotten and now the doctor is having a bad day and yells at you.

This is not a likely scenario and if it did happen once it would not happen again!  But let’s be fair.  You might have done something to contribute to your illness.  It could be entirely your fault, in fact.  Even so, the doctor is there to figure out how to make you well again.  That’s who doctors are and why they do whatever they end up doing.  In the case of human doctors, first words would intend to welcome you into a space where your condition can be known as fully as possible, where everything wrong can be thoroughly identified, not to shame or berate or punish, but to inform, correct and point the way toward healing responses—from both doctor and patient—that lead to fullness of health and vitality.

God does no less.  Thus, our God whose Kingdom comes in Jesus, created us in love and wants us well and whole according to heaven’s own exacting standards.  So Jesus welcomes us not in anger, not fed-up and about to go ballistic.  He welcomes us and announces his intentions toward us by declaring words of blessing.  These initial words of blessing should catch our attention, turn us around, draw us in, and heighten our wonder over what it might mean to live under a word of blessing.

In the season of Lent, we are called to repent, to turn from our ways toward God’s ways.  Indeed, we are called to repent of our tendency to think that God is mad.  That this way of life—following after Jesus and already beginning to experience eternal life—is an elaborate anger-management program for God.  As if God were saying, “Just do this and my anger will not be a problem.”

No, the first word is “Blessed” and in the rush of words that follow, within a few moments you will have heard that word nine times.  Jesus means it.  This is the time to turn his way, look fully into his face, listen to what he says about God’s good governance.  Turn and try it.  You might sense a coming together of heaven and earth, a way of flourishing you never knew, a rethinking of what it means actually to be human and alive.  Amen!



Why and How Jesus’ Kingdom Requires “Lent”

What kind of a kingdom begins with Lent?  Well, a good and godly one.  In fact, the gospel story begins with Jesus announcing the presence of God’s kingdom, and then proposing our proper response in “Lenten terms.” christian-clipart-desert-free-lent-5

“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced.  “The kingdom of God is near!  Repent of your sins and believe the Good News “(Mark 1:15, NLT).

At least at the beginning, all who enter or participate in the kingdom Jesus announces will do so in Lenten terms.

Most of my church friends will agree that this makes sense.  All have sinned … .  So, yes, repent of your sins if you want anything to do with the kingdom of the God who is holy.  I do not disagree with this, although I will observe that this way of speaking is hard to find in the story.

What I mean is the announcement of Jesus appears to be public and directed to any who might be there to hear it.  Jesus doesn’t assume that some people might be disinterested in the kingdom of God, and therefore not affected by his announcement.  Rather, Jesus says, the government of God has been formed and is assuming power.  Therefore, “repent and confidently trust this good news,” (a more literal and perhaps more helpful translation).  The presence of God’s government calls for “repentance,” or “turning” from your way (whatever that may be) to Another’s way, to God’s way, which Jesus then began to reveal.

But the revelation only helps those who turn.  The revelation affects everyone.  It impacts us all.  But only those who “turn,” who “repent,” will benefit.  So, welcome “Lent,” as a season of turning in the light of the kingdom-revelation Jesus has brought us.

I quoted Mark 1:15 in the New Living Translation above, because I like the NLT.  It reads, “repent of your sins,” though “of your sins” is not in the text.  The NLT adds it to express the idea.  Again, I do not disagree that we need to repent of our sins, but we should take care to understand “of your sins” in ways fully informed by the ongoing story of Jesus.

The tendency we all have is to plug and play our most informed understanding of what the sins are, especially “my” or “your” sins.  Then, we do our best to turn from them.  Once again, I’m not disagreeing with that.  By all means, if it’s sin then the right thing is to repent.  But here’s the question: are these the sins Jesus had and has in mind when he calls for repentance?

In Mark’s gospel, the next paragraphs give us a picture of what Jesus had in mind, at least initially.  He encounters some people who are fishing, two sets of brothers, and he tells them to follow him and they do.  Literally, they turned from what they were doing at the time, and those with whom they were doing it, and whatever else their occupation at that moment demanded of them.  They turned from all of that toward Jesus and then went with him.  Now, there is no mention of sins in this story, which is one reason it might be better not to add those words to explain what Jesus meant by “repent.”  Jesus does not cite any sins in his call, nor does the writer note any in describing the brothers’ response.  There is just the call to turn and to follow.  Most fundamentally, then, we turn toward Jesus from where we are and from what we are doing, with all these entail, to face Jesus with the intent to follow.  That is where the Lenten turning begins to lead us to kingdom welcome.

If you are looking for more specific sins, however, it’s not hard to name some of them that the first followers and we might turn from in order to walk with Jesus.  Here is what occurs to me in that regard, as we consider Lenten responses.

We do not know if “it was a good time” for Jesus to walk by these brothers and call them to follow.  Time was not in their control.  In particular, when they had to turn toward Jesus and follow came when it did, whatever else they might have planned to do.  I don’t know about you, but I like to organize my own time, schedule things according to a plan, and then work it.  I prefer not to be interrupted, not to be caught off-guard, not to discover double-bookings, or to run out of time for lack of planning or any other reason.  Clearly, however, never mind what I prefer, Jesus came when the “time was right” and called.

I need to repent of my insistence on saying “when” for myself.

Furthermore, Jesus didn’t say “where.”  He said follow and they followed.  But the initial followers had no idea where.  All they knew was “with whom.”  They were to follow Jesus first with each other, and later still others.  They didn’t know where and had no say in the company they would keep, other than Jesus.

If I will not go until I know where and if I am picky about who else is on the journey—I will need to repent.

The matter of companionship has special force, I think.  Jesus called them to be with him, clearly, but in time there were others.  And the call to be with some was also a call not to be with others, at least not the way they had been with them before the call.  The call to turn cuts both ways, compelling them to join with and separate from.  To some extent “following” required leaving relationally as well as geographically.  And, if we jump ahead a bit, we see how this works outs somewhat disturbingly.  Because some of the people we join are the people we’d as soon keep at a distance; and some of the people we leave are the kind we count most dear.  It can feel sacred or a matter of fate to be with some and not with others.  But the call of Jesus leads us to a turn from such “sacred” or “fated” urgencies.

I am understanding, I think, that following Jesus requires me to repent of my preferences for folks like me and turn toward others not like me but dear to Jesus.  

Finally, Jesus didn’t specify any particular purpose or reason or pace in their following.  In Mark’s story, Jesus told them they would fish for people, but once the intrigue wore off they had to follow to find out what on earth that was about.  We now know considerably more about the goals and purposes, but we shouldn’t let that dull the fact that central to whatever may be accomplished is being, sharing, participating and interacting with Jesus and with one another in the company of Jesus.  As the story continues, we find out there was plenty to do but often this is background to a foreground filled with personal interaction between Jesus and his followers, between followers with each other, and between followers and those yet to follow.  Clearly, the following made possible by the turning, by repenting, was relationally deep and wide.

This means I must repent of my obsessive need to be busy, to be doing something, and make space for whatever happens when Jesus is at the center of the gatherings I am in, which is basically all of them.

Lent and the Kingdom.  Jesus brings it—the kingdom, and calls us to turn:

  • Toward the voice and face of Jesus, expecting and willing to follow
  • Away from trying to determine matters of timing
  • Away from a spirit and practiced habit of discriminating in the company I keep
  • Against the grain of natural sin-defiled preferences for some and not others, and
  • Away from busyness that distracts and blinds me to the alluring, enlivening and transforming presence of Jesus.