I posted yesterday the video of Francis Chan speaking earlier this month at Azusa Pacific University. He made headlines by saying he and his family were moving to Asia next February to become missionaries. No doubt this was considered headline-worthy news because Chan is a celebrity pastor, well-known for pastoring a megachurch, an author of many books, and a featured speaker at conferences all over the world. Who has heard of a person of such status give up a comfortable life to become a missionary? Few, if any, in modern times.
So, I understand the attention his announcement received. However, as I listened to his message yesterday while working out at the gym, two things impressed me. First, his announcement was no more than two minutes of a nearly 28-minute talk. This is what all the media hubbub was about. Second, what he said for the other 26 minutes was the real news that needed headline treatment, and was the subtext for his decision to leave the US for the mission field.
In those 26 minutes, Chan put out, in his straight-talk way, a challenge to the Church in America. His overarching challenge was to take the Scriptures seriously and as truly authoritative for our lives. I graduated from seminary and have been involved in local churches my entire adult life, and I have heard repeatedly, and have read in many “What We Believe” sections of church websites, that they believe in the authority of the Scriptures. Yet, Chan argues, and I agree, that many churches cherry-pick the Bible to fit what they want to believe and do, or just ignore much of what they proclaim for practical reasons. Most churches will put near the top of their lists, and rightfully so, that they are committed to the Great Commission. Yet, how many churches actually implement an effective strategy of discipleship? I have met many church members who are Scripturally illiterate, afraid to pray aloud and in public, are unable to explain the Gospel to an unbeliever, and whose life priorities vary little from the cultural norms. And where I minister, the same is true of emerging adults on the college campus who grew up in the church and claim to be Christians. As Chan laments, they are carried along by the cultural currents that emphasize self-fulfillment, believing what they want, and living as they please.
What this has wrought is to reduce God to, as the National Study on Youth and Religion describes, a moral therapeutic deity, expected to stand back and allow us to evolve naturally, but then swoop into rescue us when we find ourselves troubled; something akin to a cosmic therapist. As Chan points out, the Scriptures describe the Lord in a very different way. He is the supreme God who is Lord over us and to be worshiped and obeyed. Yes, he loves us; yes, he is our friend; yes, he is our Savior; but on his terms, not ours. C.S. Lewis describes it well in his classic tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, regarding the Christ-like Aslan:
Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
As Lewis describes in another book, Aslan is not a tame lion. The message is God cannot be tamed to do our bidding. Instead, we are to be trained to do his.
And what he bids us to do is to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him. (Luke 9:23). Yet, what, by and large, the American Church has proclaimed is we can live as we please because we have a loving God, full of mercy and grace. The Church has rightfully welcomed anybody, but there is little call for repentance. “We love you as you are” is a common refrain. But is that really what pleases the Lord, that we remain stuck where we are?
Clearly, where he wants us headed is in the direction of denying ourselves—our wants, desires, comforts, our plans, our status—in order to follow after him. He may indeed bless us with many of the things we want, but it is at his discretion. I am sure Chan, in his flesh, would prefer the comforts of a secure life in California where his children can be around their grandparents and friends, and where he is admired and respected. But he is laying those down because he loves the Lord more.
That’s really the question the Church and all that belong to her must ask: Is Jesus enough for us? Is our love for him greater than the desires of our flesh? Is it great enough to submit to him and his Word even if we would rather not? The essence of discipleship is obedience to the One who is both our Savior AND Lord. We obey him because he is Lord, but we can trust he has our best interests in mind. Whatever we want or desire is nothing compared to his glory and life with him in eternity. He calls us to obey and deny ourselves because he knows it is worth it in the end.
For too long, the Church has chosen to lessen the demands, the costs of discipleship. People have been told a simple prayer will do, or that they can live as they please because God loves them. Many church leaders want to appease rather than lead, to fill the seats rather than risk offending many with the call to repentance and the very real demands of following Jesus. As Chan exhorts, it is time for the Church as a whole and us as individuals to submit to Jesus and the authority of the Word of God. Our minds and lives are to be subject to him and shaped by him as clay is by a potter. To have Jesus as Savior and Lord is to understand we are the lump of clay in need of saving and shaped by a loving Potter. Submission to him is truly the only course available to us that will lead to eternity, and we must realize that that is all we truly need. It is enough.
© Jim Musser 2019