It's hard to miss all the coverage on Pope Francis, formally Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. And you may wonder, What's the big deal? I'm not Catholic. Regardless of our differences, the choice of Pope Francis represents lots of changes that many Christians are excited about. Already, the pope is open to relationships and discussions with Orthodox and Eastern rite believers as well as Protestants. In fact, his installation tomorrow is expected to draw upward of 1,000,000 people including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I—the first Istanbul-based Patriarchate to attend since the Great Schism in 1054—and leaders from many major world religions. It's a clear sign that people from around the world respect Pope Francis, even if they don't share his religious beliefs.
He's focused on poverty, known for simple living, and is committed to living out the Christian faith—especially by caring for the social outcasts. He is well-respected in Buenos Aires, even though he's spoken out strongly against the government. And he's a Jesuit, an order in the Catholic church committed to accepting God's orders for their lives, even subjecting themselves to extreme living conditions, for the sake of ministry in Christ's name.
Regardless of what you think of Pope Francis (or the papacy in general), one thing is undisputed: the mission of Pope Francis' life is clear, and people are standing behind him because his actions show his beliefs.
This has me thinking, If someone were to watch me live my life, to see what I'm involved in and where I spend my time, would they have a clear picture of my mission? Would they see me as someone sold out to the mission of Jesus? It's a tough question to consider, but it's an important one. If our lives were our only testimony, would others know our mission? Would they know that we have surrendered our own desires in order to commit to Jesus' mission?
As I've pondered this question, I've found I desire to be more intentional in my faith, to spend even more time with Christ so that his love and grace will flow out of my life and will cause me to live radically obedient to his calling. And while that calling is scary—it does mean that we have to die to self, over and over again—it is, no doubt, the greatest adventure we could possibly have.
Explore this idea with your small group:
1. When you think about following Christ, what are the first words to come to mind? Do those words focus on a benefit to you or a benefit to the world? (Focus on getting the answer to these questions: Does following Christ mean that things will always go well for us? Or does following Christ mean that life may actually be more difficult—but that God will be glorified in some way?)
2. Do you see following Christ as adventurous or safe? Think about our Christian brothers and sisters in countries more hostile to Christ such as China or India. Following Christ in their contexts is anything but safe. Why do you think they remain true to Christ amidst such hostility?
3. James 2:14–26 is clear: faith without expression through actions (changed lives, changed priorities, etc.) is meaningless. In other words, the people we encounter should be able to look at our lives and know without a doubt that we are following Christ. If someone simply watched your actions from this past week, would they know that you are on mission with Jesus? Explain.
4. To clarify, James isn't calling us simply to do the right things. Instead, in chapter one, he insists that we must listen to the Word. And Paul points out in Ephesians 4:22–24, we are "to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds." For Christ-followers, new actions flow from a changed mind and heart. Why is it so important that our actions flow from the changes the Holy Spirit is making in our hearts and minds rather than from sheer will to change?