I want what they have.
Most of us gathered are young adults in our twenties. We sit in an oblong rectangle, one girl sitting on a wooden swing suspended from the ceiling. The air smells like leather.
“If we want to change the culture, we need a change in perspective.” Our speaker is a professor from the University of Minnesota, about 60, with a bald head and a relaxed smile. “Discipleship must become our key focus. We need people who are willing to lay down their lives for the Gospel.”
It’s easy to say that, but so hard to live it. We didn’t know it at the time, but hours after we would finish our meeting on Thursday night, three black SUVs in Egypt would surround a bus filled with Coptic Christians and open fire.
Disciplines and the Practice of Love
Last week I talked about how to maintain joy in developing spiritual disciplines. Taking a step back, we need to understand the practice of disciplines as spiritual formation in discipleship.
The Coptic Christians in Egypt have faced incredible persecution over the last several months. In December of last year, an attack killed 29 people. Another 47 died this year after two suicide bombings on Palm Sunday. And on Thursday, 28 Christians were killed.
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.
Why does it matter that we give up everything we have? Why did Jesus talk about picking up our cross? Why would He use such strong language?
After hearing about the ambush, I sit at my computer at work and read articles. A story from Christianity Today run after the Palm Sunday attacks leads me to this video. The speaker is Amr Adeeb, a prominent talk show host in Egypt.
Being a disciple means following in the path of someone else—emulating their life. The most dedicated Muslims follow in the way of Muhammad, who was a warrior and conqueror. The most dedicated Christians follow in the way of Jesus, who was unjustly put to death and loved His enemies.
Jesus asks us to give up everything because He knew the truth of His own death: Only unconditional surrender creates the capacity for unconditional love.
While I sat in the leather shop on Thursday and considered discipleship, I had no idea what was about to happen on the other side of the world. I still don’t know what it will take for Christians in America to model this kind of love.
In my reading, I come across a new piece by Keller on The Gospel Coalition. He’s talking about cultural transformation and summarizing how Christians can effectively engage our culture while maintaining our identity as a counterculture. This bit stands out to me:
We should be pioneers in civility, in building bridges to those who oppose us. The earliest Christians were viciously persecuted and put to death, but the church practiced forgiveness and non-retaliation. Nowhere in the West are Christians facing this, yet many respond to even verbal criticism with like-toned disdain and attacks. Christians should be peacemakers instead of pouring scorn on our critics and ‘sitting in the seat of mockers’ (Ps. 1:1).
Our lives are meant to model a countercultural love. Yet this unconditional love isn’t formed overnight.
Think about a pianist. When they know a recital is coming, they practice consistently. They practice until they know their piece by memory. When it comes time to perform, everything is muscle memory. They don’t have to strain to remember in the moment; whatever is inside them simply comes out through the keys.
The Egyptian Copts were prepared for martyrdom before it came. After persecution rebounded in 2010, the Copts had to ask whether they were willing to follow Jesus, even if it meant following Him to an unjust death.
They considered. They talked. They taught. They learned. They grew. They prepared themselves, so if the time came for them, they were ready.
I’m not saying we should prepare ourselves for martyrdom. However, we should recognize this: The strength of our foundation today will determine the strength of our love tomorrow. The forgiveness shown by these Copts shows their foundation was firm.
When they were broken open, love and forgiveness flowed out.
Sitting in the leather shop, we didn’t come to any miraculous conclusions. We didn’t unlock the secret to transforming culture. But we did recognize the need for transformative relationships to prepare one another for faithfulness in the present age.
I challenge you to consider, as I do myself, whether the habits you’re developing now are preparing you to be a sacrificial disciple or only a “fair weather” Christian.
By learning unconditional love and preparing ourselves now, I hope and pray the world can be shocked by the love and forgiveness they see in followers of Jesus in my country, too.