I spent years in church buildings without being able to get a handle on what the word discipleship meant. I knew it meant, “to follow a teacher,” and was typically used in reference to Jesus. However, I couldn’t really grab hold of what this meant. How do we apply discipleship to the words of Jesus read from scripture or taught by someone? After years of wrestling with this I downgraded my view of discipleship. I started to feel like the “discipleship events” were just the less fun events in our church calendar. I had an event-based view of discipleship. Maybe you’ve felt that way before. Maybe you’ve felt like you were watching a room full of people discuss something that didn’t hit home to the deepest parts of you. Maybe you felt like you were the one missing it. Sitting on the outside. You knew it was meant to be something great and believed that it could be transformational but didn’t see a physical proof of that belief.
A couple years ago I realized maybe I was asking the wrong questions. Maybe we were asking the wrong questions about what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. Recently, I’ve been asking a question about our discipleship to Jesus. If Jesus lived in my city, had my job, made my salary, had my privilege, drove my truck, lived in my home, and had my friends, how would he live? It’s simple, but deeply personal and invites me to challenge every layer of my life. Over the course of the next few posts on my blog I’m going to be breaking that question down to each part and invite you to ask the question as well.
What’s my city? I live in Ocean Beach, which is a neighborhood of San Diego. I’ve described it before to out-of-town family and friends as the closest thing to a fully restored Eden that I’ve ever seen. I think that when Jesus said, “surely I tell you, this very day I will be with my father in Paradise.” I think he was describing sitting at Ortiz's eating a Cali burrito and then walking the pier. Just up the hill and down the cliffs is Point Loma, a large, mostly suburban community that is predominantly wealthy. Around the harbor is the city of San Diego, the 8th largest city in America.
If I’m going to ask the question of if Jesus lived in my city then I have to think about not only the things which make my city unique but the things which Jesus most stood/stands for. The overarching storyline of scripture is restoration. The Bible is popularly described as the story of God’s love for the world. While that’s partially true its also lacking depth. Let me explain. The deep undercurrent is God restoring all things back to an Eden-like world. In the beginning of the storyline God creates a perfect world with humanity ruling over it. Humanity and God exist in perfect relationship. Genesis 3 is popularly described as “the fall” and for many preachers is where they get their starting point. When the bible is preached from Genesis 3 onwards it is easy to read it as a story of sinful humans that need to accept the love of Jesus through a passive, inward acceptance called “receiving Christ into your heart.” I prayed that prayer as a 4 year-old and in many ways set the foundation for me to be who I am today. That’s a good starting point but it’s missing something. It’s missing what I believe God created us for. God created us for perfect communion with God. That’s what eternity will be.
Jesus called it the renewal of all things in Matthew 19:28
Paul called it the kingdom of God and eternal life (1 Corinthians 6:10)
Peter called it the time to restore everything (Acts 3:21)
In order for that eternity to exist we have to be about the work of restoration because we live in a world that needs restoration of all things.
Throughout the Old Testament we see time after time where God gives humanity the opportunity to thrive in a restored relationship. They keep missing the mark. Jesus’ life represents a pivotal point in God’s restoration plan. In Jesus, the love of God becomes Emmanuel; or God with us. This shifts the perspective that the Israelites were God’s people and instead invites everyone into a restoration that is both personal and communal.
So, as it relates to my city I have to remember that Jesus was very much about the restorative work of God in the world. Jesus came to establish a kingdom of God on earth that came in Jesus and is still coming through the people of God.
This leads me to believe that if Jesus lived in my city he would be deeply rooted. He would work for a restoration of culture. Restoration of nature. Reconciliation of relationships. Restoration of all things. Jesus would work to elevate the voices of those who have been stifled. That’s the way of Jesus in San Diego.
The thought of if Jesus lived in my city is the easiest one for me to process because it's less personal than talking about my possessions. But it's also deeply convicting. If Jesus lived in my city it would involve a radical way of living that is so much less comfortable than I am used to or always okay with.
The more I think and look at North American Christianity as expressed in where we live and serve I feel that so many of our faith practices are distinctly more American than they are Christian. The realization that today we gathered and celebrated the resurrection of Christ stirred a lot in me. I think that one of the results of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection is that it invites us into a 24/7 lifestyle that works towards restoration as the story God is telling in the world, recognizes/loves/sacrifices for our neighbor - the one next door and the one around the world. To really, truly live that way would be a lot more radical than anything I see. If I fully lived that way towards my city, in the way of Jesus, then it would be wildly sacrificial. It could mean choosing to forgo power and privilege to elevate the voices of those who have been stifled - and have the courage to listen.
The realization that Jesus would be actively working towards the restoration of all things is challenging. It means that all of my actions are invited to be re-framed towards the perspective of their role in restoration. I get to ask questions like how do my actions and words love my city well? How do I invite other people into the healing, restoring work of God? How am I part of cultivating the “new heaven and new earth” here on earth in San Diego, CA?