Discipleship


In 2013, Thom Rainer (President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) released a little book to help churches called I Am a Church Member in which he suggested 6 pledges members could make that would help them and their church to grow. I think that perhaps an appropriate substitute title for the book might be I Am a Disciple of Christ; after all, one would hope that if someone were a member of a church they would first of all be a follower (or disciple) of Christ.

This poses for us the question: just what is a disciple of Christ? A disciple, by definition is a person who follows (as closely as possible) the teachings of a particular leader. Often these followers take on not only the characteristics of the leader, but adopt their name as a label as well. Thus, followers of Christ who are truly disciples have through the ages been known as Christians.

So, what do Disciples look like today? They are committed to Christ-likeness: caring for the poor and needy, loving toward those who may be different from themselves, encouraging in their interaction with other Christ-followers, practicers of integrity at home and in public, and (probably most of all) forgiving of others when wrong has been perpetrated.

If you want to become a better church member, read Rainer’s book and apply the principles encased in the pledge. If you want to be a better Christian, read the Scripture and follow the example given by the Savior.

“And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”  —Acts 11:26b

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I worked my part of my way through college and seminary as a sales associate at Kmart. I started with the company as an after-school worker in as a high school junior. One of the things I learned on that job were that the successful stores had one of two kinds of managers: those who you knew because of the impression they gave knew what they were doing and you were willing to do whatever they asked you to do, and those who, when they asked you to do something, got down on the floor and did it with you. At one point, a local store manager said that the in-store snack bar/café needed a thorough cleaning. When he asked me to use a couple of hours after closing to get on my hands and knees to scrub the floors by hand, he handed me one of two scrub brushes and proceeded to use the other himself.

Living the Christian life is like that. People need to know that we either have already gone through what we are asking them to go through, or that, although we’ve been there before, we are willing to get our hands and knees dirty while we serve with them.

The Christian life is not lived in isolation, but in community, and sometimes community gets messy. When it gets messy, we roll up our sleeves and serve. As Chuck Swindoll once observed, we need to “improve our serve.”

  “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  –Jesus  (John 13:14)

The Internet is a wonderful tool. We have grown accustomed to using it for work and play. We can do our research on-line. We can purchase almost anything we use around the office or home on-line. If we are unfamiliar with some idea, news item, or person, we can just “Google” it on-line and become better informed. A growing number of people have jumped on the bandwagon of social media to stay in touch with long lost friends, and even develop new friendships with like-minded people. We like to be connected via the Internet.

One thing that making these connections—business or casual, old or new—requires is our connection. One might say that our connections rely on our connection. If our connection to the information super-highway is slow or (worse) broken, then we miss some of the connections that we want to make with our friends.

The same is true for good discipleship. In order to grow we have to be connected. Certainly, if we want to grow spiritually we must have constant connection with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. But this is only half of the necessary connection for growth. To be truly connected to God, we must also establish and keep connection with God’s people. This is usually done best through small groups in the local church. Get connected today, and stay connected for the future.

  “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – (1 Corinthians 12:26)

Often when we think of the title “disciple” our minds go directly to the Twelve Chosen to be called Apostles. Truth be told we hardly ever think of ourselves as disciples. We like the label Christian, even with the modern baggage that has been attached to the word, because it identifies us as part of the group who believes in Jesus. For that matter, some people are more comfortable with the label “believer” because it focuses on the belief and not the following.

Then there are those of our number who have latched onto the label “Christ-follower” to emphasize the difference between what we believe and what believers in other faiths believe. I’m still partial to the name Christian because – regardless of the stigma (or maybe because of it) that has latched onto that name – it still means “one who is like Christ” or “Little Christ.”

In any case, we are still called by the One we follow to be and make disciples. So what does that look like? To begin with, a disciple is a person who initially comes to Christ for life. And he continues to come—daily, weekly, constantly—to Christ for his existence. Won’t you come to Jesus today?

  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” –Jesus (Matthew 11:28)

And there has been a whole lot of hoopla surrounding the new summer blockbuster movie “Magic Mike”. I’ve not seen it, so this is not a review. My wife hasn’t seen it because the thought of it turns her stomach. So, here’s a link from a Christian woman’s perspective that should help you address the hoopla –

http://melissajenna.com/2012/06/30/50-shades-of-magic-mike-in-which-i-am-very-uncool/

You should read this article before you see the film (or read the book addressed in the article). Thanks for speaking up, mj.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s deep thoughts (and because I promised more on this) I thought I’d post about dandelions today. Let’s start with a reminder from Steven Curtis Chapman:

God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God (from “God Is God” on 2001 Declaration)

Without a deeper understanding of our standing in the presence of a Living, Loving, and Active God we begin to consider that He exists for our pleasure and not that we exist to please Him. In turning the truth upside down like this, we misinterpret how important we are and how magnificent what we have to offer is.

Still today, my five-year-old daughter will enter the house from an excursion of play and joy outdoors with a handful of half-wilted yellow offerings to give to her mother or to me. “I picked these pretty flowers for you,” she beams. And we graciously smile our thank yous back to her all the while trying to figure out how to discreetly dispose of the unwanted and useless weeds. What she doesn’t see and what her mother and I both know is that these “pretty flowers” are really lawn-destroying weeds–pests to be obliterated all the way to the root–not precious gifts that bring joy.

For the uneducated in such matters, dandelions are small, broad-leaf plants with a bright yellow bloom that quickly, almost magically, and seemingly overnight (sometimes not even taking that long) shifts to puffy white seed tops that when slightly agitated scatter themselves. These seeds are spread by getting caught in animal fur, on clothing, or by a stray wisp of breeze. They are then deposited willy-nilly wherever they fall and produce a better crop than any grass seed ever wished to do. Once one of these plants takes root and bears fruit it is not only nigh-impossible to remove, but it multiplies faster than rabbits in springtime. No lawn mower is powerful enough to wrest it from its base of operation, and with an immediacy that rivals lightning flashes on a stormy night, carpets a well-tended lawn with thousands of its brethren.

And so, like a five-year-old with grubby hands, we bring to the throne of glory our offering–which we esteem great and beautiful–to present to God with the expectation that he is grateful (and well ought he to be) because we gave him a second glance. Perhaps it would be worth our while to remember that God was not created for our benefit although so many times that is how we view him–as our golden-clad maidservant to come running at our beck and call. Instead we are created by him and for his good pleasure. Certainly he is not a petulant toddler stamping his foot when his way is not followed. Instead he is holy God, totally worthy of nothing less than our best (which our dandelion gifts bestowed as afterthoughts are not).

The challenge of today is to stop strewing dandelions and move toward a total surrender of what Christ desires–the flower that is our complete existence. He then can prune away that which is unhealthy and tend us into true and beautiful growth.

Finally getting around to reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and I don’t want to jump the gun (because I don’t know for sure where he’s headed) so this is not (repeat not a review). I must admit that I’m thinking–which is why I read and why people tell me to read Chan and Chandler and Piper and Dever and Driscoll and on and on and on–and having to re-reassess my belief system. I don’t expect to go down a primrose path after reading this and a couple of other Chan books that have hit my Nook. However, I am already expecting a challenge to my traditional mindset to be replaced (yet again) with a biblical one. So let me throw a couple of thoughts at you that have surfaced in the midst of the first three chapters of the book.

All of what’s been lurking the last few days in the recesses of my mind hinges on one’s (particularly my) view of God. I don’t think that I’ve gotten it wrong all these years about who God is and how he is Creator and Righteous and Powerful and etc. What’s troubling to me about my own approach (and that of the majority of what has come to the front of the class as the modern church) to God is that while I know about him and what I know about him can be written down. What I mean is that while I know that he is all-powerful, I treat him as though he is all-ignoble; understanding that he is perfect, I project my imperfection onto him. Chan addresses it this way:

When I am consumed by my problems–stressed out by my life, my family, and my job–I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice [Philippians 4:4].  In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities. . .

Basically, these two behaviors [worry and stress] communicate that  it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. (p. 28)

So, I begin to make God smaller than he is (and sadly, myself bigger than I will ever be).

This now relates to my personal walk with Christ and my place in the family of God. What am I to do? And the big question: What does it mean to be saved (church-ese for being part of the church)? becomes even more real to me as a person, to me as a Christian, and to me as a pastor. In an effort to share the good news of the Gospel with people outside my faith, I have learned to promise people all kinds of things–most significantly their place in heaven–in order to “close the deal.” What is most hazardous about this approach to evangelism is that it makes heaven the goal, and me the object. All of this when God was always meant to be the object and his glory the goal.

Realization 1: God is God. He is worthy of my worship–regardless of what happens to me. He is perfect–without regard to my own personal preference.

Realization 2: In order for me to be a “good Christian” I must be satisfied with God. He doesn’t have to do what I want in order for him to be good, righteous or just. He is not hampered by my limitations. I must ask myself these probing, burning, difficult questions in order to help me adjust to his desire:

  • Do I believe–REALLY believe–that God loves me?
  • Do I love God?
  • Why do I love God?
  • Would I love God even if I got no reward for it?

My answer to these questions will determine whether I really begin to grow or if I will stagnate in the pool of self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-aggrandizement. And it seems to  me if there is so much self going on, I can’t really be giving God glory. So, perhaps I ought to take a cue from three young men–Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah–who once told a very powerful ruler, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (see Daniel chapter 3 for the whole story)

As I process all of this, I must conclude that when faced with the thought of “would I be a Christian even if I didn’t get anything for my trouble (i.e. Heaven)?” I must come to the place where I would say, “yes” for my Christianity to really mean anything–hard to say and harder to hold on to because we’ve been so taught that the purpose of Christianity is to allow God to do something special for us. And what I’m discovering is that the real purpose is so that we might get the rare and pleasant opportunity to toss our riches–which amount to little more than dandelions (I’ll address it on another day) at his feet.

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