First Chapter Christian Book Excerpts

One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

  • Scot McKnight Author
  • Updated Aug 09, 2011
One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Scott McKnight’s One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan).

Chapter 1

It was August of 1972, and I was sitting in my first college class. It was called, if I remember right, Bible 101. The teacher’s name was Joe Crawford. His lectures mesmerized me three times a week, so much it often pained me that class even ended. From the first day of Joe Crawford’s class I had a dream, and that dream pulled me into the future. I wanted to do what Joe Crawford did; I wanted to teach the Bible to college students. Without that dream I don’t know if I would have made it, because it took a long time to finish all my education — I was almost thirty-three by the time I finished.

College. Seminary. Doctoral studies. Jobs to keep our young family afloat. It was hard to live on very little income with small children, but Kris, my wife, believed in me and we went for it together. I gave my one and only life to that dream, even if I had some major lessons to learn in living into that dream. Now, I’m living my dream, doing exactly what I dreamed I’d be doing — and perhaps the only thing I should be doing.

Students sit in my office almost every week describing to me what their dreams are, though they don’t always use the word dream.

Julie once told me her dreams. A year later, on her way to school with her mom and dad driving, she realized she no longer had that dream and it almost crushed her. She wept before me in my office, and she struggled for an entire semester until she could find a dream in her soul deeper than the other one. She did find a dream and now she’s flourishing. People with dreams can fly.

When you stop dreaming, you begin dying.
When you chase your dreams, you begin to live your dreams.
When you find the dream of all dreams, you flourish.
Chasing your dreams is the way you find them.

But . . .

You have only One.Life to chase, find, and live your dream.
Let your One.Life be consumed by the dream.

I believe God speaks to us through our dreams. Yes, of course, some crackpots have dreams that caution us about chasing crazy dreams. But I think you’ll agree our dreams give us direction and hope. Our dreams give us life itself and make our One.Life matter. We summon courage to try something different, move to unknown places, start new jobs, and take on more education because our dreams are sucking us into those dreams. Kris and I had the courage, after seminary, to head off to England to work on my doctoral degree at the University of Nottingham, because we believed this was what God wanted for us and because our dream drew us into its future.

Where do you get your dreams? I wonder if you think about God giving you the dream you have. People who have accomplished great things were driven by their dreams. Like Wangari Maathai, a woman who wants to reforest the mountains of Kenya. Or Bono, who wants to end poverty. Or Paul Farmer, who as a college student saw the needs of Haiti and became a medical doctor. But the one who made this so clear is Martin Luther King Jr., whose dream became a speech: “I Have a Dream.” I remember listening to his dream when I was a kid, and I wonder who you might be listening to right now who will become the next dreamer to make a difference. Maybe the dreamer is you!

What is your dream?
When you chase your dreams, you live.
When your dreams begin fading, hope tells you to keep dreaming.
When you stop dreaming, you begin to die.
When you find the dream of all dreams, you flourish.
Devote your One.Life to those dreams.
When you do, everything else in life falls into place.

But . . .

But let’s be real.

Tom Rorem is a tall and handsome redhead with dreams — one of which is to be a singer. One semester Tom came to my office every day before our 8:00 a.m. class. Correct that. I should say Tom shuffled up the stairs to my office and plopped into a comfortable chair, and I made him a cup of coffee and we chatted until class time as his body moved from sleep to a semi-awake state. Tom’s a singer and I like his music, and during that semester I spent most of my commute listening to his album, and one of his songs burned its way into my soul. It’s about the (realistic) dreams of a generation that is now officially wondering if its dreams are becoming the problem. Is Tom’s generation hoping for too much? Tom sings how his dreams haunt him but they won’t go away and they won’t quit:

We’ve wasted time we wasted away dreaming that we can change
I’m losing hope I’ve wasted away the chances that I had to change . . .
But I am breaking down inside to understand what’s going on
Been trying hard to satisfy the questions that keep holding on
It won’t quit till I’m gone, it won’t quit till I am dead and gone
In my grave it won’t quit till I am dead and gone.

Tom’s next lines haunt the studious listener:

But I’m too scared to go all in to give up my life and keep up my chin
I’ve been waiting far too long for this ship to sail
I’ve been waiting long for a song that will let my dreams prevail.

Tom’s honest and he’s right. And he’s getting at the heart of it all: The best dreams you have call for every bit of you. And they won’t let go. Why won’t they let go?

My Questions for the Dreamers

Why do you think we dream? Why do you think we dream so big sometimes? Does your dreaming ever give you what one of my former students, Amanda Munroe, calls “possibility overload”? Possibility overload is imagining so many massive changes in the world and in your life that you can’t hold it all in. I love it when my students are caught up in a reverie of possibility overload. Have you ever been lost in a dream when you suddenly realized you were smiling or crying out of joy? Or a reverie that got your heart going so fast you had to jump out of your dream? Or that fired you up so much that you had to go for a run to burn off the energy? None of us will ever realize all of our dreams, but I have a suggestion I’d like you to consider about why it is you have such wonderful dreams:

You dream big dreams because that is how God speaks to you about what God wants you to accomplish in your life.

In our reveries we can learn about what God wants us to become and about what God desires for this world. There is an old argument by philosophers and theologians that, since we can conceive of someone greater than ourselves, there must be someone greater than ourselves. Namely, God. Perhaps we can think of our big dreams in an analogous way. Since we can conceive of a life and a family and friends and a neighborhood (and a college roommate) and community and a country and a world that is vastly better than the one we have right now, maybe there is such a world that God has planned.
What God has planned can be called the dream of God, and God made us to give our One.Life to that dream of God. Jesus called that dream the kingdom of God.

At the core of every dream you have,
Behind every dream you have,
Ahead of every dream others have,
And in the center of every good dream every human has . . .
We will find the kingdom dream of Jesus.
We are designed to give our One.Life to that dream.

Forget “church” and forget “Sunday morning service” and forget “Christians” and forget church history’s major mistakes, and for right now just connect these terms: Jesus and dream and your One.Life.

What do you want to do with your One.Life? Better yet, what is worth so much you’d be willing to give your One.Life to it? I’m persuaded that the religious life won’t satisfy. It leads to legalism, it wipes out Jesus,and it leaves us parched and panting for the elixirs of God’s life itself. I’m also convinced that the business life and the successful life and the good-looking life won’t satisfy. There is a dream behind all of these dreams, and it’s the kingdom dream of Jesus.

An Observation That Became My Rule for Life

It was the summer of 1975. Kris and I were in Belgium at a huge Christian event called EuroFest. I was sitting at a panel discussion and someone I admired, a British pastor and minister to college students all over the world, John Stott, was one of the panelists. A longhaired young man to my right asked John Stott a question we were all facing and that we all face: How can I discern the Lord’s will for my life?

John Stott made an observation that clarified my dream for me, and I’ve pondered his answer over and over in my life. I’ve used his answer in countless talks and conversations. Here are his words as I recall them: “Here’s how to determine God’s will for your life: Go wherever your gifts will be exploited the most.” I can recall the moment as if it was yesterday, and I can tell you exactly what coursed through my whole body:

Scot, you’ve got one life.
Do what you’re called to do.
Do all that you’re called to do.
Don’t settle for anything less.
And, give your whole life to what God made you to do.
Teaching is part of it.
(At that time, the zeal of my legalism was part of it.)
You’ve got One.Life.

In this book I will argue this: The only thing that “exploits your gifts” or that taxes you to the limits or that fills your soul or that challenges you to live the dream the most is following Jesus. Some days you may do pretty well; other days you may flub up.

Christianity isn’t enough. Religion isn’t enough. Being accepted in a church isn’t enough. Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t enough. Solving intellectual problems isn’t enough. Chasing the American dream isn’t enough. Finding the person to love isn’t enough. Sex isn’t enough. Friends aren’t enough. Science isn’t enough. Politics isn’t enough. Money isn’t enough. Clothing isn’t enough. Food and drink aren’t enough. Fame isn’t enough. Nothing’s enough. The only thing that is enough is Jesus, and the only way to get to Jesus is to follow him, and that means one thing: giving your One.Life to him and to his dream.

In what follows, I want to sketch how Jesus understands the Christian life, or what Jesus means by following him into the kingdom dream. What we will discover, first, is that the “accepting Jesus” approach is the starting point but is not sufficient. Jesus wanted far more than to be accepted into one’s life. He wanted to take over, and his essential call was to trust him enough to surrender one’s entire being to him. Second, we will also see that the personal practices of piety, like Bible reading and praying and going to church and other spiritual disciplines, have a place but they are a means to the end.

They are not the goal, and they can’t measure adequately who is a Christian or who is a follower of Jesus. Instead, we are called to follow Jesus and this means we are called to be swept up into something we can give our One.Life to: the kingdom of God. In the chapters that follow I will sketch the major themes in what Jesus means by “kingdom of God.” These themes will show that my old answer — believer’s personal practices of piety — was shallow and selfish and superficial compared to the huge, glorious vision Jesus had when he spoke about God’s kingdom.

This word kingdom is being used so often today it’s getting muddled and fuzzy. It has been internalized by some into an inner experience, it has been socialized by others into a program for ending poverty and creating better laws and saving the planet, and it has been downsized by yet others into little more than a personal spirituality. So we have to go to Jesus and to the Gospels, and we have to ask how Jesus understood this word kingdom.

Copyright © 2010 by Scot McKnight
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This title is also available in a Zondervan audio edition.
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