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Meditation: The Impossible Mentor

Like any writer, the narcissist in me believes you would enjoy a peek into the book I plan to release this fall, The Impossible Mentor. Advance praise for this book comes from my wife, my children, and the stray cat we keep feeding at the back door. They all agree: this will be the finest book on spiritual formation ever to come out of Campbellsville, Kentucky. Just because these witnesses are deeply biased doesn’t mean they are wrong, it just means they will buy the first thousand copies.

This week and next I’ll share the opening passages of the first few chapters. Today, a bit from the opening of chapter one:


Chapter One: "I'm Not Jesus"

I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left my mouth. Sitting in my office was a young man who had been cheated out of $200 by someone else in the church. Both men attended our church, and one guy really did owe the other $200. But the guilty party wasn’t in the office, the other guy was--and he was full of anger and frustration because of his loss. That’s when I made my hasty suggestion:

“You could forgive him his debt,” I suggested. “Jesus told us to do just that.”

Big mistake.

“Well I’m not Jesus!” he nearly shouted back at me.

End of discussion, end of ministry time, end of opportunity to take the yoke Jesus offers. It was my mistake. Not for suggesting a perfectly Biblical remedy to his anger and frustration, but for expressing the solution in such a way that he would consider it impossible.

It’s impossible to be like Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus was perfect. He led a sinless life. He was God-come-to-earth and his life sets the bar impossibly high for any of us.

I believe that the central problem in nurturing followers of Jesus in North America is our view of Jesus as the Impossible Mentor.

It’s a paradox: nearly everyone is willing to acknowledge Jesus as a worthy role model, but almost no one seriously believes it is possible to live up to his example. Our esteem for Jesus’ life of obedience to the Father and our desire to be “just like Jesus” does battle with the deep-seated notion that it is impossible to be like him. Who would choose a mentor who is impossible to imitate?

Some passages in the Scripture inspire fill us with confidence. Some light the fires of hope in our hearts. Other passages seem too idealistic, too fantastic to find their way into even our dreams, much less our daily lives: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8: 29) Is this possible? Does God really look at each one of us and see a destiny in which we look like Jesus?

Whatever our theological foundations regarding this passage we should all recognize that it is about God’s intention for each of one us--to become “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Simply put, God desires to have more children like Jesus. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, but we become his sons and daughters by adoption. The destiny of those adopted into the family of God is that we, too, should bear the family likeness. That is: we will look just like Jesus.

In a conversation with a dozen young Christians this week, I asked them if they felt it was possible to live a life without sin for even one day. No takers. So I rephrased the question and asked if it is possible to go for an hour without sinning. Only one of them thought it was possible to stay within the will of God for a single hour.

These questions are not academic. They go to the heart of our life “in Christ.” If our intuition tells us that following His example is impossible, for one day or even an hour, how can we have the confidence to pursue his vision for us? The bottom line is that God has a greater vision for what is possible in our lives than we do. Perhaps the reason the Apostle Paul instructs us later in Romans to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” is so we can see the possibilities of a life lived in harmony with Jesus. A practical, day-to-day moment-by-moment harmony capable of generating the rest and peace he promises.

Let me encourage you to ponder the foundations of your commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. Here are a few suggestions for meditation and prayer:

  • Is it possible to learn from him?
  • If Jesus is my mentor, have I committed myself to failure with no possibility of success?
  • What kind of Master would invite me to be his apprentice if he thought there was no possibility to follow in his footsteps?

The answers spoken from our heart will determine whether discipleship is possible.

Reader Comments (13)

Great start, Ray.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason B. Hood

Thanks, Jason. Your opinion matters! One endorsement from you will probably mean a thousand books sold :-)

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Thank you! Write the book that has been in my heart for 20+ years. Jesus would not have called us to be like Him if it were not possible. Yes, I sin. But I can go a day without sinning when I keep my eyes and mind fixed on Him. The problem is that we are too lazy, apathetic, and busy to put out that effort. We do not love Him enough. We have the sin nature for now - but His blood released us from that bondage to sin. The tendency may be there - but we have the strength through Christ to resist that tendency. Write the book, brother! I will hand out one every time I hear someone surrender to that feeling of "impossible." Jesus said "Go, and sin no more!"

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat McDanal

Hi Pat: *Thanks* for your enthusiasm. For me, the tension comes when we *want* to follow Jesus, but we've been told all of our Christian lives what miserable losers we are. I plan to focus on encouraging people that the the Father, Son, and Spirit are actually on our side, providing what we need to find fulness in Him. For example, take a look at my post from last Thursday: http://studentsofjesus.com/imported-20111230192554/2012/4/26/thunderstruck-by-power-glory-goodness-promise.html

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Wisdom is all about knowing how to apply knowledge, and that's what I'm reading here. Great stuff. I'm always encouraged by all of the stories of the disciples who just didn't figure Jesus out so many times... It's great that they recorded those stories too!

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEd Cyzewski

Hi Ed: I love your point. The disciples were ordinary guys, who certainly didn't have it all figured out, but they experienced radical transformation--not all at once, but through on-going exchange with Jesus. I love that the New Testament records their shortcomings--I take it as an invitation to put myself in their place. If they can experience such change, why not me? Not all at once, not by magic, but by sharing life with Jesus. It was available to them; it's available to us as well.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

I'm in. I want to buy a copy. You write well and also because you started with the word "narcissistic" and I believe this is the viral epidemic that keeps us impervious to Christ being formed in us and us to be formed in Him.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelody Rhode

Hi Melody: I'm thrilled you're "in." And the narcissist in me will be sure to remind you when the book is released in September. This Thursday: and excerpt from Chapter Two.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Ray, here you raise questions of great importance to all of us. I look forward to the depth and breadth of what God has to say through you on these matters. And, by the way, my father would have given a resounding yes to the question of whether we can be like Jesus. He believed unequivocally that God raises us to walk in victory over both sin and death in this life, not just the life beyond. The pastor of our church has emphasized this message again and again over the last ten years. I am so pleased that your voice will join the chorus of victory in Jesus through this book as it has through your blog.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Hi Rebecca: I've had many teachers--your father was one!

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

So excited about this book, Ray. Your first chapter - really, the entire premise - is fantastic. Congratulations!!! I know it represents a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Thank you for sharing it with us.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Bessey

Thanks, Sarah: I am equally excited about your latest project. More people need to hear your voice. If you don't mind, check back here over the next two weeks. I will preview little slices of each of the first four chapters.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Trangressions are different than "debts" -- only the Roman Catholic influence on our collective mind's understanding of the Lord's Prayer would move us to think this way. -- Not saying that forgiveness is not *essential*. And forgiveness only means that you don't hold the offense -- not that you *must* trust or respect someone or let them abuse you. I forgive the Vineyard pastor who sent me away for asking questions. It doesn't mean that I trust him; or for that matter, you. As you say, we are called to be like Him. This is a different idea than being like the "Him" we see in precious moments figurines or Thomas Kinkaid paintings.

I'm looking forward to your book. To be frank, if it contains the kinds of ideas that are in this blog, ultimately you will have a conflict with the organization that "ordains" you.

Spoken, I hope, with hope for your well-being and growth; and no trace of rancor. I hope there will be a Kindle edition.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercharles

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