Don’t Look Both Ways

A couple weeks ago I preached on Jesus’ call to his first disciples (Jn 1:29-42). In reality they were not-yet his but rather John the Baptist’ disciples. Perhaps I’m being a tad too provincial and anachronistic, but I think it’s altogether possible Jesus persuaded them to leave the flock of his crazy Baptist cousin, and join his implicitly-held though undeniable, Reformed world and life view.

If there was a sarcasm font, the previous sentences would be written in it. Here we have it! Jesus is a proponent of indeterminate transfer growth!

Nah, but seriously, what struck me in preaching this text is how Jesus calls these men to follow him.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (Jn 1:35-39)

Come and See. Now that’s a methodology. Lately, I’ve been trying to discern what it means that Christ perceivably calls us here, to cross the road before looking both ways. Man, that’s dangerous! And it’s not what I was taught. I was taught to look left and right and then make my way. And preferably find a crosswalk if you can, mmkay?

But what if I so trusted the person I was following, that I wouldn’t even think to look both ways? What if I just felt so compelled to step off the curb and onto the road with the faith of a child? Hand in mom or dad’s. Now this doesn’t work in that old Atari game, Frogger and I don’t suggest you make a habit of “on-coming and seeing” how it works crossing your local hwy but somehow it works for us in following Jesus.

Note: it’s not, “Okay, you’ve seen, now come!” It’s remarkable that here in what is the dawn of Christian discipleship, Jesus says “Come, and you will see.” He, quite matter-of-factly, puts it to us. When Jesus invites us to follow him, he leaves all this room for exploratory faith, for seeking, for wonder and curiosity.

The pedestrian ‘walk’ sign has been flashing for a solid 20 seconds and we haven’t moved an inch. But he waits. He’s not going anywhere. Not without us.

Why would Jesus do this? Why ask someone to take steps before they know where they’re going? It’s certainly not to find something that their intelligence, wit or tenacity alone could lead them to ‘cause then what would be the point of following Jesus or anyone else? Following Jesus is not akin to a treasure hunt where vague clues combine with specific knowledge of the landscape and result in pointing you in the right direction. To extend the analogy, you’re not in search of treasure or God himself, for that matter. You are, for some inexplicable reason, the treasure and God has found you.

With that, Jesus can confidently say to the curb-sitters; all of us who are risk-adverse, come and you will see. And the best part: his invitation doesn’t leave us with cold clammy hands, breaking out in a nervous sweat. Because we know we’re already found in him and now in following we can set-out in search of the ever pregnant and growing promise of the not-yet. Jesus, where are we going? Where will you lead? Will I find purpose, healing, rest there?

Faith precedes understanding. It takes a few steps into faith before we can ask what’d I get myself into? And God intended it this way. Faith requires having skin in the game. In Christian faith, there exists a preamble of trust with which the disciple ventures out to follow Jesus. Before all else, discipleship is a proper exercise in trust; that what we believe about God will determine if we can cross the street without looking both ways. After all it’s not so much about where we’re going, as it is about who we’re with.

Mowing Lawns at Midnight

I have 20 minutes this morning. From the moment I ply my two year old son with Cheerios and picture books to when he tires of them and lets me know with substantial volume. 20 minutes of silence. 20 minutes of me.

There are some people, who have a difficult time determining where they end and their work begins. Boundaries. I’m not one of those people. I’m not a workaholic. You won’t find me at the office burning the midnight oil, mostly because I don’t have an office.

I’m a church planter. A church planter doesn’t have a 9 to 5 and therefore a church planter doesn’t have a 9 to 5 to flout. There are no regular hours that would mark a reasonable expectation of work accomplished. For the church planter, there are no regular hours to exceed. There’s no such thing as overtime because there’s no defined time to work over. The truth is a church planter cannot over work. You won’t find a church planter “staying late”, precisely, because they never leave work.

So much of what we do is intrinsically tied in to who we are.

A friend of mine once shared how ridiculous the life of a church planter can appear to onlookers. My friend was in the first year of a fast-growing independent plant and he had been burning the candle on both ends. Services needed to be planned. Sermons needed to be written. People had to be visited. He was routinely up before dawn and regularly returning home after 10pm. Chores around the house were piling up and his to-do list was growing fast, as was the grass in his front and backyard.

On several occasions, returning home after work, and after dark my friend took to mowing his lawn with a flashlight held high above his head. With one arm wrestling the self-propelled mower and the other lighting his way, it wasn’t long before he met the burning stares of his neighbours. And with that, the absurdity of his work/life balance.

Something tells me this wasn’t what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light shine before others, that they might see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

“The most tragic thing,” my friend said, “…about mowing my lawn at 10pm is now that’s what I’m known for. To my neighbours, I’m the guy who pastors people and tends to their spiritual care and wellbeing, only I’m also the guy who doesn’t know how to punch out his time card. All work and no play. It’s effected my witness.”

It’s true, it isn’t exactly a picture of the abundant life, is it? It’s not Christian witness at its best.

Hey everyone, come and see Jesus at work in me… at work doing lawn care at some ungodly hour!

My planter/pastor friend understands what a lop-sided, imbalanced work/life conveys about the gospel. Namely, that it’s not enough – that you can follow Jesus and yet have your life say it’s not enough. There’s a particular kind of striving that Christians, most notably church planters and pastors, seem to have mastered. The innocuous need to catch up on some work or go in on Saturday or the quizzical ministry mantra of being all things to all people in a consumer culture (1 Cor 9:22) – a burdensome prospect to be sure (something tells me this wasn’t what Paul meant). The malcontent of one who compulsively works to prove their worthiness of Jesus’ love, it appears in mowed lawns at midnight, in the cot beside the desk or the incandescent glow of a computer screen from the study. These are the excesses of not trusting that Jesus Christ is enough.

My friend’s working to change how he works, how he plants churches and pastors people. And so am I. Thankfully the kingdom of God does not solely depend on his, or any one of our much-to-be-desired previews of it. We’re learning to work and live from God’s love and acceptance, as opposed to for God’s love and acceptance.

I identify deeply with my work. In fact, it’s a constant challenge to remind myself that I am not only what I preach, not only the sum of my pastoral care, not only the efficacy of my leadership.

While suggestions of finding a work/life balance might still be drowned out in laughter by planters and pastors like myself, I’m optimistic that we can find a rhythm of work/life that honors the life of Jesus at work in us.