Living In the Ordinary, Living Out the Extraordinary

 To my faithful pastors who preached hundreds of sermons on discipleship over my 57 years, I am sorry. To my Sunday School teachers who faithfully prepared lessons on being a fisher of men and to youth leaders who shared engaging and moving illustrations on following Jesus, I am sorry.  To the excellent presenters who shared stories and slides at various seminars on being more like Jesus and to the talented authors of countless books and articles on the power of mentoring, I am sorry. To the creative podcasters and YouTubers who crafted inspirational and imaginative media about the life of the disciple, I am sorry.

I’m sorry that I have forgotten the three points to your sermons, I’ve forgotten the illustrations, I’ve lent out the books and can’t even remember the title or who borrowed them. The podcasts, though more recent, have faded into my ever-diminishing memory bank. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. In fact, I’m sure most, if not all, of my sermons preached over 27 years at churches and camps and retreats and chapels—and likely this article too—will fade into the realm of the forgotten.
But what I remember is you.

I remember you. I was a small child who had recently lost his mother to illness, and you joyfully sang Jesus Loves Me over and over again. Sometimes in a group at preschool you held me on your lap, because I just needed to be held. Thank you! You are not forgotten.

I remember how you took time to work side by side with a preteen boy as we fixed doorknobs and oiled hinges on countless Saturday mornings at Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church and how, in your soft and familiar Norwegian accent, you spoke to me of the privilege of being a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. Thank you! You are not forgotten!

I remember you. I remember how, as I worked for you as a freshman at Tuscarora Inn, you encouraged me by conveying the value of my role. As I was washing pots and pans into the evening, you showed me that families were hearing the gospel without distraction. Lives were transformed for eternity as sin was confessed and forgiven, as relationships were healed through new life in Christ. Thank you! You are not forgotten!

I remember you, when you invited me—a high school student at Hillcrest Academy—into your home with my classmates for many home-cooked meals and conversations about faith and life. It happened so effortlessly over plates of spaghetti and boxes of pizza. Thank you! You are not forgotten!

I remember you. I remember how you took time out of your busy week to tinker on my seldom running car in the evenings. The car has been sold (or junked, I can’t remember that either!). But as we replaced alternators and distributor caps and things I still know very little about, we talked about what was most important—my spiritual journey. Thank you!

I remember you. I remember that I wasn’t alone as I walked through the cold valley of grief, because you made time to talk to a young father about loss and love and the unfathomable goodness of my Father in seasons of darkness and silence. Thank you!

My point is this: the sermons and lessons were theologically sound and Christ centered, the illustrations were thought provoking, the seminars were encouraging, and the podcasts inspiring. I’m thankful for all of it. But when I think of mentorship and discipleship over my 57 years, I always recall people first. Men and women freely and joyfully shared their faith and lives with me, pointing me to Jesus because they loved Jesus and loved me, especially when I wasn’t very lovable.
When I think of discipleship, my mind immediately goes to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

In my life, discipleship seems to have happened less through extraordinary discipleship events or programs and more in the everyday routines and common events of life. In my experience, discipleship has been and is the extraordinary spiritual work and process that takes place in the arena of the ordinary. It is extraordinary because it deals with the supernatural essence of God in the world of his natural creation. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”—an amazing statement of the supernatural God! R.C. Sproul wrote:

The Christianity of the Bible is a religion that is uncompromisingly supernatural. If we take away the supernatural, we take away Christianity. At the heart of the worldview of both Testaments is the idea that the realm of nature is created by One who transcends that nature. That God Himself is “supra” or above and beyond the created universe.1 

So, thank you, Ruth and Olga, thank you, Haakon and Jon, Herb, Helen, and Allen. Thank you, Steve, Erik, Ole, and Yvonne. Thank you, Ken, John, Kevin, Martin, Stephen, Larry, Mike, and Owen. The reality is that there are dozens more of you that I don’t name. It takes a lot of people to do discipleship.

You were with me along the way. I hope I’m doing it as well as you did.

Dear reader, as you go through the routine of life, know that your demonstrations of grace matter. They matter to the young man in the driveway next door, trying to get his car started. They matter to the teenage boy invited over for a home-cooked meal. They matter to the kid using his gifts to fix the doorknobs at church. And they matter to the small child sitting in your lap, grieving the loss of his mother.

As you walk along the way today, you live in the ordinary. But you live out the extraordinary grace of God as you invest time, truth, and love into the people around you. You are making disciples.

Rev. Brad Hoganson is President of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
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