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A Slice from The Impossible Mentor: Is Obedience Possible?

Earlier this week I released my book, "The Impossible Mentor: Finding Courage to Follow Jesus." Here's a slice. If you like it, it's available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook versions. Just follow the link on the right side of the page.

Imagine this scene: a man lies naked, hungry and cold. A stranger approaches and offers these words, “I wish you well. Be warm, and filled.”  Then the stranger walks away. Now imagine the stranger who walked away was Jesus.

Unthinkable, right? Too many Christians possess just such an image of Jesus when it comes to the issue obedience. God wants us to obey his will. It’s good. It’s necessary. The problem is many of us see ourselves as incapable of obedience.  We have failed too often. We find ourselves naked and cold, in desperate need. And into our helpless situation, we imagine that Jesus walks up to us and says, “be obedient” without offering any practical help.

Would the grace God demand from us something we cannot give? If we were “miserable sinners” before turning to Jesus, why does Jesus expect his followers to become obedient to his will? How do we become something other than “forgiven miserable sinners?” Some believers find themselves trapped in a Christian existence of forgiveness, more sin, and more forgiveness.

The good news is that God’s grace does something more than say, “Be warm and filled.” Jesus calls us obey, but he does not leave us on our own. He demonstrated how to become the kind of follower who is not trapped in the forgive-sin again-forgive cycle.

The Jesus way of teaching believers how to obey is contained in the famous verses we call The Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
The Great Commission does not command obedience, but rather discipleship, which makes obedience possible. Discipleship is God’s plan to grow in obedience. Jesus breaks discipleship to two functions--immersing believers in the three revealed identities of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and instructing disciples in how to obey everything he commanded. To separate obedience from teaching how to obey would be the same as merely saying “Be warm and filled” to a naked homeless person, and Jesus wouldn’t do that.

The church, however, has fallen into the “Be warm and filled” fallacy. We attempt to “teach” obedience apart from relationship. In fact, obedience cannot be taught apart from relationship, it can only be demanded. Sitting in church listening to the demands of obedience usually results in guilt--a guilt incapable of producing fruit.

A better pattern is the family model. Good parents teach their children to obey in an atmosphere of mutual love and commitment. Fathers and mothers love their children, and children love their parents. Relationship and obedience grow side-by-side. The love felt by both parents and child provide the motivation for discipline from above and effort from below. Healthy families provide examples of obedience. Day-by-day children can witness whether true obedience lives in the household.

New life in Christ means the Father has provided a new family for each of us.  We become a part of God’s household. If obedience resides in the house, it becomes a way of life--something for us to enter into, not something imposed from the outside. Obedience becomes the natural response of loving hearts.  The family of God becomes the context for learning how to obey. Our obedience helps provide a setting for others to discover the way of life. This is one of the reasons that our obedience is not merely a personal matter. It’s also why some Christian mystics describe God as Father and the church as the mother of our obedience.

Could you be God’s means of grace is someone else’s life? If you respond to the Great Commission by making disciples, the answer is yes.

Reader Comments (4)

The bit I read is very interesting and I would love to read the whole book. I leave in Maputo, Mozambique. How can I get the electronic copy of this book to buy?

September 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMadukauwa David

Hello, and greetings to Maputo! The Impossible Mentor is available on these sites for electronic download: Amazon Kindle (amazon.com), Barnes and Noble (bn.com), and Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/228980). I hope this book will bless you!

September 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Ray, great book and I hope everyone reads it in the Spirit.

I am 27% through The Impossible Mentor and because of it have understood more of my relationship with our Creator and Sustainer. As I read much of what I have come to understand as reality in relationship over these 68 years is being made clearer and I can’t thank you enough for your efforts and talents (which you invest so productively).

I will continue to savor your truth in relationship with God but I had to stop to share some of what your words have tickled in my growing value system. You know that I subscribe to “KISS” (keep it simple stupid) and have found such a place in the New Testament to test all else for validity and truth; Luke 10:25-37. The reason I believe in the simplicity and trustworthiness of this scripture is Jesus says simply, “Do this and you will live.” What I have read so far tests right on although my KISS litmus test expands on your relationship with Jesus as an attainable mentor. I know, how can simple expand on what you have shared through your book?

Your book has taken the word grace and tied it to mercy as in, “go and do likewise.” I have living examples of what it is like for children to grow up Christian believing God has no grace. If God had no grace the proverbial “lightening bolt” would strike us dead when we broke any of the Ten Commandments. As a Christian parent I showed no grace when I responded immediately and fully with a promised consequence to my children’s disobedience. I showed grace when I insisted they must live to be more responsible another day. Very, very, very rarely do we survive irresponsibly stepping over the straight down thousand foot cliff even though the further down it is the longer we have to consider the consequence to our certain error. The physical law of gravity on Earth shows no grace without horizontal support, though it keeps us well grounded with horizontal support. It is a law that demonstrates how we get stronger when climbing away from it and find some restful relief when walking down toward it.

As I was reading I was struck with how much grace in mercy must be reciprocal so that we can allow our neighbor to grow and that we may grow from the grace of our neighbor. It makes Matthew 5:48 seem possible if we “go and do likewise”.

Thank you for making it clear that the first disciples of Jesus did not have the New Testament to learn from. They had each other but most importantly each told us in their writings and by their fruits that they had Jesus as their direct and fully accessible mentor, as we each do today.

There are a few examples I want to share of how my life has changed through His direct relationship in my life. No, I’m not going to tell of any of the many times I have been called to minister in His name to people I would have not otherwise known were in need, much less receptive.

I have full responsibility of ownership over my heart, mind, strength and soul and the consequences derived from how I choose to use that responsibility.

When I see a banana peel on the sidewalk I do not search out and/or blame the irresponsible perpetrator; I pick it up and throw it away where those not paying attention will not slip and fall.

When I use a public bathroom and find it with paper towels on the floor or the toilet not flushed (or plugged) I do not just turn around and walk out. I now own that responsibility from awareness and must do all I can to rectify the problems so that the next participants can do what they must without unnecessary distraction. I can always wash my hands after to remain hygienic.

When I park in the grocery store’s parking lot I will take the randomly parked shopping cart(s) to the store with me to save another car from hitting them (or vice versa) as well as saving the number of clerk trips it takes to retrieve the carts.

Do I want a pat on the back from my fellow mankind or God in recognition for my actions? I do not because that is not what motivates me. It isn’t about me being flattered or ringing up another star on my do-gooder’s report card. In fact, I more often hope that no one even notices what I did to make life a bit easier and safer for them because I would be embarrassed. In each of the above examples I learned over time in relationship with Jesus that showing anonymous mercy to my fellow man makes it easier for them to “go and do likewise.” In that I love myself equally as with my neighbor life has the potential to be better for both of us over the long run, maybe even eternally, when we both “go and do likewise.”

Do any of us consider all the possibilities of what Jesus did anonymously to make each of our lives a bit easier and safer during His mortal life on Earth?


2 Corinthians 8:7
7 But just as you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-- see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
(NIV)

2 Corinthians 13:14
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
(NIV)

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Hi Herm:

I'm deeply grateful for your kind and encouraging words. I know my understanding is far from perfect, and I've benefited from your observations. My hope is that The Impossible Mentor will continue to be life-giving to you, and those whom you share it with.

Grace (and mercy!) to you,

Ray

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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