Of Discipleship and Destiny

It was a fresh, autumn day. "Fresh" is that euphemism that Scots use to describe utterly terrible, grey, rainy weather that most other places in the world would deride. Call it a coping mechanism.

Anyway, it was fresh with a bit of sun that day.

I just moved to Edinburgh with my wife, our three-month-old daughter, our dog, and her grand piano. I was 21, she was 22, and we'd been in country for a few weeks. All our earthly possessions had been delayed, not to arrive for another couple of months. But, it was time to get to work.

We'd moved to help a team of men and women plant a new church in the city, and the work couldn't wait for my couch to arrive. So, off to the train station I went to get to Edinburgh Uni. My job was to reach out to incoming freshmen (or freshers, as they're known there. Boy, they love that word "fresh,"...) I arrived to Teviot Square. I was to tell students about Jesus. This was the moment I'd prayed for, worked for, hoped for, and raised a small pile of money for. It had all come to this. I stepped into the square, teeming with students.

I was terrified.

I probably walked around that square for an hour, praying and asking God to open a door, to give me courage — to make it easier. Then, I spotted a Georgia Tech hat.

As a graduate of FSU, I knew what that meant. I'd found a southerner — a dude who rooted for an ACC school, no less. This was my man, so I approached him. "Are you from Georgia?" I asked this dude. Confused, he tilted his head and replied, "no."

As it turned out, this fellow had gotten the hat from his roommate, who was (and is) American. He borrowed it and stepped out to play a bit of frisbee there in the square. We struck up a conversation. He attended an outreach we were sponsoring. He and I began to get together for coffee. I told him about Jesus, and about the destiny and calling on his life. After a while, he began to believe me.

Weeks later, this young man found his way to the first few worship gatherings of our newly formed church — Every Nation Edinburgh — meeting weekly at the Dominion Cinemas. He joined our setup team. Then our worship team. This young Scot became one of the first men I had the privilege of discipling. By the end of his first year at University, God had done quite a work in his life.

For the five years that we lived in Scotland, I enjoyed this relationship with Gordon. I was mentoring him in the faith, and in a bit of life, too. I played music with him (since I was the worship leader), and I did a bit of campus ministry with him (since I was the campus minister, too). I got to watch a teenage boy who wandered to university become a man of God stepping into his destiny.

Seven years ago, I said goodbye to Gordon, to Scotland, and to many other young men into whom I had the privilege of investing a bit of my life. Hope and I packed our bags, a few more kids, and her grand piano, and moved home.

This week, I got to return.

The occasion was to be one of the many men who witnessed Gordon become the Lead Pastor of our church in Edinburgh. The dream of any missionary is to hand the work over to locals, and for the many of us who invested our lives into this place, it was a glorious occasion of thanksgiving to see this young man and his amazing wife step into leadership. Missionary dream come true.

I had the chance to catch up with many old friends this week, pray with many, encourage many. Now that I'm on my way home to Boston again, I can't help but draw a few conclusions.

Discipleship is About Destiny

Twelve years ago I could have never known that Gordon would become a pastor. That's not why I spent time with him. I invested my life and faith into this young man because Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples. The fun part, only known to the Lord at the time, is the result. I'm convinced, however, that if we'll stick by our calling to make disciples we will never cease to be stunned at the destinies that are walked into.

Discipleship is Not Automatic

I'm tempted to make discipleship a class or a program. And, while classes and programs are indispensable, discipleship ends up being about relationships. Those don't just happen. They aren't automatic. They require a high degree of intentionality.

Destiny is Up to God

We don't make disciples because we see their destinies. We never know what will happen, only God does. I think it's safer that way. God wants us to be faithful to invest in others. We embody faith in the gospel and trust in the God of the gospel when we leave the results to him.

I'm proud of Gordon. I'm grateful to God. And, I'm really humbled and stunned that this is the kind of work I get to do. By grace, it's work that, for me, will never stop.

3 Ways To Be A Good Son

I'm learning how to be a good son. Family is for me — like many of my generation — a difficult idea. All my parents have had rough marriages, and walked through circumstances that have been extremely challenging. The wrong way to respond to all of this was the way I responded for many years.

For many years, I disdained my family on multiple levels. I looked down upon their poor choices, confident that I, were I in their position at the time, would have done the right thing. I thought myself smarter, better, a cut above, and was therefore eager to leave my hometown. And so I did. As I expected, I accomplished a lot of good things. But on the way I learned something, too. I learned that, while I'd been very good at school, work, and achieving my goals, I'd not been a very good son.

On a recent trip back to my hometown, it all came very much together for me. Here are three things I learned:

A Good Son Celebrates The Good

I love my parents and grandparents. And, I'm learning that part of honoring them means honoring the good I received from them. For instance:

  • Mom taught me diligence. I get my fiery personality from her. She never quit, raised me well, even though it meant working late and missing moments with me. She taught me to be an adult, and never liked the kind of parenting that tried to pal around with progeny. "My job is to teach you not to need me," she would say. Powerful stuff, I think. I appreciate that.
  • Dad is the reason I build. My father is an actual builder, and he's really good at it. I don't think he knows how to do anything but his best work. He taught me that quality and details matter. He was a great provider. He taught me how to work with my hands. Yesterday, in fact, I built a table from scrap wood around my house. Couldn't help but think of him and to be thankful.
  • My grandparents are all amazing. From them I learned entrepreneurship, art, music, manners, and more. My grandfather (we call him "Papa Bill") is a greatest-generation man's man. He has started more business and released more people into more prosperity than anyone I know. As a church entrepreneur, I love that. He's also one of the most generous people I know. My grandmother (we call her "Jay Bird") taught me how to love music, art, and the stage. She was always taking me to plays and musicals, and I fell in love with music in many ways through her. She also taught me manners and how to set a table. My other grandmother ("Granny") is everything great about the South, made flesh. She is the sweetest, most vibrant grandmother ever. No one makes better fried chicken, or breakfast. No one is more kind, either.

I can go on and talk about how great my step-parents are, my siblings (natural and step), my in-laws, and even my spiritual fathers. But, this is a blog, not a book. All that was probably more fun for me to write than for you to read. The point is this, a Son celebrates the good he got from his family.

A Good Son Rejects Cynicism

Man, this one is hard. All of us go through that moody, teenage phase. Some of us never emerge from it.

Every family has junk. When faced with family junk, we have some choices. First, we can embrace the junk and carry it forward. This is not wise, but it is normal. Cynically, this choice says, "this is who we've always been and who we'll always be." This is part of how destructive behaviors like alcoholism, violence, passive-aggression, and all kinds of brokenness get passed onto the next generation. A good son doesn't do that.

Another choice might be to eschew the whole family for the sake of the junk. This was more my style. But very little good has ever come from throwing babies out with bathwater. The image of God resides in every person, along with their brokenness. It's no good to reject the image on account of the sin, except in the most extreme cases. Good sons avoid this move, too.

A Good Son Embraces The Best Son

So what is this, just good advice I'm spinning? May it never be.

The gospel means that I've been adopted into the only perfect family. Just as I was born into my natural family, I needed to be born again into this one. And, just as I did nothing to merit being born into the Mabry household, merit and good work didn't get me born into the family of God. I've been adopted. I've been embraced, despite my sin. Jesus bled to rescue the image of His Father in me. If this is the cost that the best Son paid to reunite me with His family, then I can do likewise.

The best Son saw the good in me, and loved me, despite all my sin.

The best Son rejected cynicism about me, and loved me instead.

To be a good Son, I can look at the best Son, and do with my family what He did with me.

I'm learning how to be a good son. The best Son is teaching me.