In 2012, Jesus is calling us to re-enroll in
the school of discipleship.
Besides being the Year of the Dragon in
China, 2012 is full of global observances. World Peace Day was Jan. 1, World
Rabies Day is Sept. 22 and the World Day for Laboratory Animals (huh?) is
April 24. There is also Global Hand-washing Day (Oct. 15), Star Wars Day (May
4), International Cat Day (March 1), and—for all Johnny Depp fans—International
Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).
I don’t know who comes up
with these odd celebrations, but I’d like to add one more. Can we declare 2012
the Year of Discipleship?
“When Jesus started talking about repentance and the necessity of the
cross, people lost interest. Crowds always thin out when the message gets tough.”
This would be an appropriate
time for it, since Jesus had 12 disciples, and that number won’t be showing up
for a while as far as years go. But I doubt 2012YD would inspire much more than
a corporate yawn. Discipleship is just not popular, even though the word
figures prominently in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples
of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19, NASB).
Notice that Jesus did not
say, “Go therefore and make converts,” “Go therefore and gather crowds” or “Go
therefore and build churches,” even though those things aren’t wrong. The
mandate is very specific. Jesus wants disciples, or “taught ones”; He wants
followers who know Him intimately, who have surrendered fully to His will, and
who can impart His life to others. He wants mature sons and daughters who
reflect His character.
As I have reread the gospels
over the past few months, I’ve noticed the Scriptures offer a clear contrast
between the fickle crowds who followed Jesus to get something from Him, and the
small group of disciples who turned the world upside down after He left the
planet. It’s no different today. Jesus has tons of followers on any given
Sunday, and those crowds know how to fill seats, make noise and “have church.”
Our problem is not quantity. What we lack is quality.
In Jesus’ day, the crowds
chased miracles while the disciples hung around for private mentoring. The
crowds showed up for the free lunches; the disciples fed the crowds after Jesus
blessed the loaves and fish, and they learned about faith in the process. The
crowds listened to a few sermons, and oohed and aahed over Jesus’ amazing
authority, but when He started talking about repentance and the necessity of
the cross, people lost interest. Crowds thin out when the message gets tough.
It was German
martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “Salvation is free, but
discipleship will cost you your life.” He was troubled by the lack of
discipleship in the German church in the 1930s, and he blamed it on a flimsy
message coming from pulpits. He wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of
forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline,
Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap
grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without
Here in the United
States, cheap grace is just one of many methods we use to draw crowds. We’ve
also twisted Scriptures to promise people prosperity, and we’ve manipulated the
Holy Ghost to entertain people who need an emotional high to get them through
another week. Since people are not interested in the discipline of prayer, or
in developing personal integrity, or in how to resolve marital problems, or in
crucifying the flesh, we offer a smorgasbord of exotic charismatic delights to
put Band-Aids on wounds. We turned church into an ear-tickling show and worked
everybody up into a frenzy, but in the end nobody’s character was changed.
In some churches,
regular prayer and consistent Bible study are viewed as “religious” and unhip.
We prefer something sexier in the age of attention deficit disorder. We want
the Word shortened into Tweet-sized sound bites, and we want our pastors to
keep the message under 20 minutes because we have places to go. We want the
gospel spoon-fed to us on our terms. And we don’t want any of those politically
incorrect “hard sayings” about hell or sexual morality.
In 2012, I believe
Jesus wants us to repent of our selfish, adolescent ways. He is calling us to
grow up. Let’s stop chasing miracles and become miracle-workers; let’s stop
manipulating God to bless us and instead submit our lives to His surgery. Let’s
abandon cheap grace and return to the Cross. Let’s re-enlist in His school of
discipleship, even if it means we have to leave the crowd behind.