Matthew 16: 24

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

We discuss discipleship much in the church, but it can be a difficult idea to fully wrap your head around. The reason is that it is not a concept which is common in western culture. In fact, it kinda flies in the face of our individualistic approach to life.

We can begin to understand discipleship when we think about Jesus’ disciples. When he called them, they not only followed him, but they left their way of life and essentially took on a new way of life. When we talk about following Christ, we have a loose idea of “being Christian”. In other words, we have some pre-conceived, though esoteric, ideas about what it means to be a Christian and we overlay those nebulous ideas over the word discipleship. The result is that we do not have a clear idea of what it means to be a Christian much less a disciple. Looking back to Jesus’ followers may help us refine our picture of what a disciple is.

A good example of discipleship comes from when Jesus said, “Follow me,” and his soon to be disciples left what they were doing, left their businesses, arose and literally went with him (Matthew 4: 19 – 20). They literally walked in his footsteps, literally laying aside their old life in favor of the new life in him. The key here is that following Jesus radically changed these people’s lives. Ultimately discipleship means transformation. Being a disciple of Christ should change us. It should reform us in his image.

We sometimes hear people discuss discipleship in terms of being a student. That may work in other cultures but not in western culture. The word which I believe fits better is adherent. We are to adhere to the ways and teachings of the mentor. When I think in these terms, I find myself thinking of glue or some other adhesive. Adherents stick to their mentor so that the one is inseparable from the other. We are to be transformed or changed by our teacher. We are to follow them so closely that we walk in their footsteps. We do as we see them do. We leave our ways behind and adopt those of the teacher. This is not the western idea of a student. Thinking about movies about Asian Monks creates a closer model to Jesus’ experience with his disciples. And, just so you don’t freak – remember that Jesus did not live in a western culture. He lived in the middle east where Asian ideas were understood and lived.

In western culture, students learn, academically what the teacher gives. There is not a discipline involved nor is there a requirement that the student adhere to the teachers’ beliefs, only that he/she be able to regurgitate what has been taught. There is no assimilation required. The student does not have to agree with the teacher. The point I am trying to make is not that the western ideas of education and student/teacher relationships are wrong, but instead, that they are different. We cannot understand discipleship through a western paradigm because discipleship is a non-western concept. If we can shake ourselves free of our intellectual restrictions, we can see what it means to Jesus that he has called us to be disciples.

It is my hope that this will not so much answer questions for you as stimulate your own musings. We should perceive discipleship in its light as a transformative process. Discipleship implies leaving our ways and devoting our lives to obedience, discipline and following our Lord and teacher in surrendered subservience. Boy, that is a word we don’t like. However, discipleship means surrendering our will to that of the master and walking in the way he chooses. It means he gets to make the decisions and we respond, “Yes Lord.”

I hope today’s devotional blesses you, but also that it stimulates within you a desire to draw more closely to Jesus. I pray you find within you the ability to lay aside your “stuff” and follow him wherever he may lead.

Get a Life

John 8: 31              Amplified

So Jesus was saying to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word [continually obeying My teachings and living in accordance with them, then] you are truly My disciples.

We looked at abiding in Jesus yesterday. I posited that a key way to dwell in him was to meditate in his word. This idea is not new. Over 2000 years ago, Jesus taught that we should abide in his Word. The road to becoming a disciple of Christ is paved with Jesus’ words.

Discipleship programs are very popular. Churches host week and month long programs on discipleship. The crux of all of those programs must be abiding in Jesus’ Word. Today’s verse reveals there is more to discipleship than only reading the word. The Amplified Version highlights the active component of discipleship. We must be doers of Jesus’ Word just as Jesus’ brother, James, intones in James 1: 22. In fact, James taught those who are not doers of the Word delude themselves.

Jesus instructs us through today’s verse that we must continually apply his teachings. Disciples of Jesus live according to his Word. Meditating on the scriptures helps us to abide in Christ. The natural result of abiding in Jesus is that we follow his teachings. Our lives begin to reflect his ways when we abide in and obey his teachings. All of these ideas fit together to give us the abundant life that Jesus came to earth to give us (John 10: 10). Jesus did not come down to the earth to give us a bunch of rules. He came to give us life. One of the key ways he imparts life to us is through his Word. There is life in the Word. Let’s go get some.

Christ’s Disciple

John 13: 34 – 35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

This is a familiar bit of scripture. It is called the new commandment, the one commandment, or the love commandment. It is another thing too. It is the entire discipleship class. Or let us say it is the answer to the final exam. If you love one another, if you demonstrate the Jesus kind of love for one another, then you have passed the discipleship class. 

Much is written about discipleship and many churches even offer discipleship classes. It seems to me that Jesus offered a discipleship class too; it was the observance of his life, of course, but he sums up the whole thing with one little sentence. It all boils down to love. I sure wish he had said the evidence of a true disciple is faithfulness, diligence or perseverance in the faith, but he didn’t. The only way anyone will identify me as a disciple of Christ is if they see the love of God issuing from me. The apostle Paul said that without love, anything else, everything else is meaningless (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3). He got it. He understood Jesus’ message.

Stating it a different way would simply be to say that Christianity is: “loving one another as Jesus loves us.” That’s it. You can take every book on theology ever written and boil it down to that one sentence. There is your entire thesis in one sentence. I wish it was as easy to live it as to say it. 

The Apostle John said it this way, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4: 20 NIV). In other words, if I do not love my brother, then I am not a disciple of Christ. To be more accurate though, Jesus said that we must love one another as he loves us. That is to say, if I do not love others as Jesus loves us then I am no disciple of his; not a follower of the way (Jesus); not even really a Christian which means one who follows Christ.

What kind of love is this then? “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3: 16).  It is a sacrificial love. It is others centered, putting the needs of others above my wishes. That is a tall bill to fill and I cannot do it in my own strength. In fact, it is in the surrender of my strength that I can do all things. But guess what, Jesus couldn’t do it in his own strength either. That is why he sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. None of us can do what God has called us to do in our own strength that is why God empowered us through His abiding presence living inside of us. We must live through the presence of God in our hearts. Jesus allowed the father’s compassion to flow through him. We don’t have to be super heroes. We just have to allow our abiding in Christ and his dwelling in us to be expressed. We learn to let go of our desperate grasp and to let God flow out of our inner being. It is a hard thing to do when we are still wedded to our flesh but as we learn to live out of our spirits we will find it increasingly easy and joyful. When Jesus told us to live this way it was because he had a revelation from God that we could. His early disciples did and we can too. As we are transformed through the renewing of our minds we discover a radical trust of God inside of us and that trust empowers us to let go and live beyond the means of mortal man. We will soar on wings as eagles and nothing, by any means, shall be impossible to us. It is the power of love.

Disciples of Truth

John 8: 31 – 32

Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The most telling part of these verses may be the first phrase. Jesus was saying to those who believed in him that there was more to follow. Just hearing him speak was not the answer. He told them that they must abide in his word. Some translations say to continue in his word. I believe what Jesus is saying is that it is not enough just to hear Jesus word once. Instead we must learn to live in his word. Those who stay in his word will have truth and that truth will set them free of every sort of hindrance.

Let’s close the circle on this and see how it works. From the first chapter of John we know that Jesus is the word, the incarnate word. The word was with God since the beginning but then came alive in the form of a person and dwelt among mankind. We also know that Jesus is the truth (John 14: 6). Jesus is the word and he is the truth. We also know from John 14: 6 that Jesus is the life. Therefore, if we want life we must dwell in the word and we must dwell in truth. Let’s go one step further though. In John 6: 63  Jesus tells us that the words that he spoke are spirit and life. So, life is in the word, spirit is in the word, truth is in the word and freedom is in the word. If we want to live a life worth living, really if we want any life at all then we must abide in the word of Jesus and lest we deceive ourselves, the entire Bible is the word of Jesus. Remember he was with God in the beginning so all the word of God is Jesus.

Further, if we want to be disciples of Jesus then we must abide in his word. To abide does not mean a casual glance at the scriptures now and then. It probably implies a daily residence. If you abide in your house, then doesn’t that mean that is where you live? It is the place we call home and to which we always return. While travelling we even think of that place which we call home. This is the place of habitation and rest. Jesus is trying to get us to think of his word the same way we think of our homes. His word should be the place to which we always return. It is the place of comfort and rest. It is our secure haven and only when we have learned or decided to take up residence in his word can we be his disciples.  

There are so many pieces of church life these days and it is easy to get bogged down in all of the things we feel we must do but there are only a few things that Jesus calls needful. So, when you cannot do it all do those things which are most important. Chief among them is attendance to the word. There is no truth, there is no life, there is no discipleship or freedom apart from a habitual abiding presence in the word. There is a reason why ministers beyond me send out daily devotionals. We all know that liberty and life are contained in the daily consumption of the word. The word, Jesus, is our shelter and our daily bread. It is the presence of God in our lives to bring his truth alive within us. There is no life apart from the word. It is just that simple. And do not let anyone mislead you. There is no doctrine, no 7 step program, no teaching series that can replace the Word of God. They are all complimentary, meaning that they are intended to illuminate the Word for you but it is the Word which has the power to change lives. Abide in that almighty presence of the Word of God. Receive life, truth and freedom.

The Essential Prayer

2 Samuel 7: 18

Then David the king went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?

I would like to continue some thoughts on prayer from yesterday’s devotional. Prayer is an interesting topic because everyone knows what prayer is and yet doesn’t seem completely comfortable with their knowledge. All across the country and the world ministers continue to teach on prayer, as did Jesus, because there is so much room for deeper insights.

I like this passage from David because David asks such a basic question, one that probably most people think about at some point in the relationship with God. Who am I, Lord? Another way to think of this is, who am I in relation to you? What is my standing with you, Lord and why do you even show me such kindness? When I wish to study this mystery of an interpersonal relationship with the Lord of Hosts I most often turn to David. He loved God and God actually called him “friend”. Yet, David pondered these same questions that we too stumble over.

When we say the prayer of salvation acceptance and confess Jesus as our Lord and savior a new creature and a new life is born. We are born anew and begin a journey of transformation with our Lord. Being born again is far from the end. It is supposed to be a beginning. We accept discipleship to the Lord Jesus and begin to allow ourselves to become unified with him. This is a fascinating process and not all together easy or comfortable at times, which brings me back to prayer. 

The most powerful prayer we can ever pray is a prayer of submission. In that prayer we can even daily ask the Lord this important question, “Who am I?” Perhaps the question we really want to ask, though, is, “Who am I becoming?” This can be a challenging question, but I know the answer. We are called to allow ourselves to manifest the beautiful creation that God first created. You were made in the very image of Christ himself but as we live in this world that perfect child begins to take on the corruption and taint of the world. That is not to say that you are corrupt but rather that the things of this world get on us and they can be difficult to shake off. Jesus, though, has come to our rescue. He has saved us out of the mire of this world and given us a beautiful new garment. That sounds great, and it is true but how many of you know that there is a transition period? That is why the scripture says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3: 18).

There is a period of time wherein we allow the transformation to take place within us so that we become the version of ourselves that God saw in the beginning. You will not be changed into someone else. You are just expected to allow the Holy Spirit to work out the transformation within you that reveals the glorious you. We are transformed from glory to glory, from one little success to another. It is a process. It would be great if the Holy Spirit just swept into our hearts and recreated us into that perfect manifestation of Jesus but that is not how it works. None of the three persons of the trinity are ever going to do anything within you without your permission and your participation. Furthermore, transformation does not come from God waving a spiritual wand. As I said, transformation is a process. A caterpillar does not transform into a butterfly in an instant. Now, here is the key piece of information. We are in charge of this personal metamorphosis. We are the captains of this ship. God is not going to change you while you sleep. I wish it worked that way. Instead this is a process of conscious surrender and determined purpose. We have to be dedicated to this process and we must put the car in gear. Having so done, God always supplies the power. This is where prayer at its most basic and perhaps most powerful level is engaged. We must go to the Father in our prayer time and ask for Him to change us. We must prayerfully surrender all of our idols, whether they be our ego, previous injuries and the subsequent scars, our protective walls, our schedules and everything else that would interfere with the transformation process.

This is essential Christianity. It is so easy to get caught up in all of the business of modern life and fail to recognize that Christianity is far more than a one-time prayer. It is not about receiving salvation and accepting the Lordship of Christ in a singular prayer and then never allowing that lordship to impact our lives. Our prayer lives could be much better spent if, instead of praying for our needs, we humbled ourselves before the Almighty and asked Him, “Who am I? Who have you created me to be? Father, I beseech thee, transform me into the image of that vision you have had for me since the dawn of time.” Then we must stop, listen and be honest with ourselves. God will meet you on this sacred ground. He does want to change you and although that sounds very uncomfortable, the truth of it is healing. God will restore you to that healed and perfect you.

As you think about prayer today or when you enter your prayer time think of what significant and important conversation you can have with the Lord. You have the ear of the Almighty; do you really want to talk about trivialities? Look into the heart of God and your own heart and begin to pray this most powerful prayer, “Help me, Lord, to be changed. Help me to embrace this transformation process so that I can be a disciple of yours and follow you wherever you lead.”

My Kingdom for a Leader

Proverb 13: 10, 13, 14, 18, 20                        NIV

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

I prayed many years for a mentor and when one appeared I learned a quick lesson. This learned and wise man suggested that I participate in a conference call which occurs weekly. Even as I clicked on reply to affirm my acceptance I realized something very important, I had already eliminated the option to say “No.” When you ask someone to mentor you or you ask God to provide you with a mentor, then “No” is no longer an option. This is called discipline and obedience and although they are very alien concepts in our modern culture, they are part of the bedrock of the Judeo-Christian ethic. We talk about discipleship a lot in Christian circles but one of the things it seems that we fail to realize, much less underscore, is that discipline is at the root of discipleship.

What do you think about when you hear the word discipline? Many of us think of punishment. I do not. I think of athletic prowess. Athletic competition taught me much about discipline, for which I am, to this day, grateful. When I hear the word discipline I think of the well-honed athletes that we admire. They have had to discipline and deny their flesh. They have had to discipline their minds, overcoming every negative thought, fear and impulse that would constrain them. And they have submitted themselves to coaches and trainers in order to become excellent in their chosen field. This, I believe, is an ideal model for discipleship.

No one attains any great level of success on their own. You may hear people claim that they are self-made but it is not true. When you pull back the veneer of their success you will find that they had mothers drive them to practices at ridiculous times in the morning, dads pitching the ball with them into the twilight hours and wives who have taken care of every detail of their lives so that they could focus on their one central goal. Neither do we become spiritual giants of our own merit. We must always lean on those who have gone before and we are just foolish if we try to learn it all on our own. Why spend 80 years of your life learning what the guy who went before you learned. First learn what he can teach you and then take that wisdom on to the next level. This is how it was meant to be. This text says that whoever walks with the wise will be wise. Why? It is because they share their wisdom with you so that you may avoid the potholes which cause misalignment and also because you get to stand on their shoulders. I remember when I was a small child and we went swimming, I would stand on my dad’s shoulders. All of a sudden the water wasn’t over my head. Instead I was well above it.

I can only think of two reasons why we do not subject ourselves to authority more readily, perhaps you can think of others. The first reason, I suspect, is just ego. We do not want to bow to anyone. That is pride and you know that nothing good comes out of pride. 

The second reason is fear. Anytime there is a spiritual problem if you look behind the curtain you will often find fear lurking. Fear comes from not having a full realization of the love of God. In here is weak self-esteem, anger issues and about everything else but including not being able to submit oneself to authority. It is hard enough to submit ourselves to our bosses and pastors who have legitimate positional authority over us. How much more difficult is it to willingly submit yourself to the authority of someone who does not exercise any substantive power over you. Fear makes you feel that you will be made small when you submit yourself to another but that is a lie. Willful submission to a mentor or intentional discipleship will make you stronger and wiser. Is there ever an occasion for a rebuke? Well sure. If your mentor loves you, they will correct you and correction is okay. It helps us to grow and to make right choices.

So this is my suggestion, if you are the locomotive of your train, find someone who can be a leader and an advisor for you. The people following you need for you to be a good disciple to someone else so that you can be a good leader to them. Leadership always begins with followship (if you will allow me to coin that word). If you have never allowed yourself to be led, mentored or discipled today is a great day for you. Do not delay. First ask God for a mentor. Second, recognize that one may appear quickly and humble yourself. Do not let the fear that they may take advantage of you or “Lord” it over you prevent you from receiving that person and their wisdom. Just keep your mouth shut and learn everything they know. If you outgrow their knowledge, God will assign you a new mentor. Just remember, if he has not yet assigned you a new leader then there is still something that He wants you to get from the one you have. The person that God wants you to shadow may be in your life right now and in fact, probably is. They won’t be perfect so stop looking for the perfect but they have something you need.

Lastly, if you perceive yourself as the leader of your group I suggest this little exercise. Stop leading for a moment. Turn around and see who is behind you. Who is following you? If your following is not what you want it to be or expect it to be, then run quickly to find your mentor. Submit yourself to their direction. Never let yourself be a leader without a leader. Make sure that as you lead others there is someone leading you. Foremost that is Christ but God has also provided people to disciple and mentor us. If you do not have someone filling that role in your life, pray to the Father for your leader and make it your determined goal to receive that person. 

Wisdom, honor and success accompany discipline.