Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Graduate Already!
(The Church, the Holy Spirit and the Disciple)

As my understanding of discipleship and the simple life is developing, I feel the leading and providence of the Holy Spirit to certain resources, passages of Scripture and discussions with friends. Over the last week I came across a Messianic Jewish website called RabbiYeshua.com that gives some great insight into first century discipleship. I also came across an article by a fellow named Robert Brow on the role of the Holy Spirit as teacher or rabbi in the life of a Christian disciple. Both of these resources were very insightful, pointing my thoughts down the road of first-century discipleship as a context for understanding our mandate to follow Christ today. (However, I know very little about either of these sources and do not endorse or necessarily recommend them.)

A few days ago I searched for "Celebration of Discipline" on iTunes and found it in audiobook format and also discovered a sermon by its author, Richard Foster, given at a chapel service at Seattle Pacific University in the late 70s shortly after the book was written. The message was INCREDIBLE (I do highly recommend getting it - it's under the podcast section of the iTunes store). I began to search the digital library of SPU chapel services and found a message by Rob Wall entitled "Scripture and Jesus," given recently. In this message, Rob teaches from John 13 & 14 and gives great insight into the disciples' struggle to understand Jesus' impending departure and the gift of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling teacher (or rabbi).

I wrote all of that to give the back-story to my current thoughts and to assign credit where it is due. Now on to my thoughts...

What is the role of the church and the Holy Spirit in the life of a modern-day disciple? Rob Wall painted a gripping picture of the anxiety that Jesus' disciples must have felt when he announced his leaving; they were to become disciples without a rabbi, learners without a teacher. They had given their whole lives to follow one man, sacrificing their reputations and laying aside the normal responsibilities of life to align themselves with this radical teacher. What were they to do without him? Who would be the rabbi for this group of orphaned students?

Jesus had a plan! "I will not leave you as orphans..." Our Savior needed to leave so that the next stage of their discipleship could begin. Until this time, they followed a physical person in attempts to garner wisdom from him and live life as much like him as possible. Their three years of following Jesus were riddled with frustrating moments for their rabbi; often he would say things like, "How much longer do I have to put up with you?" or "How long have I been with you and you still do not know me?" The disciples were trying their best to follow Christ but had not developed "eyes to see and ears to hear" what God was doing in his kingdom. Rarely one of them would have moments of revelation; when Peter identified Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior replied "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven!" Jesus was eager to initiate his disciples into their next stage of learning because they would receive a new, much needed type of instruction - learning from a teacher within. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who would remind them of all he said and lead them into all truth. This teacher would take them to places they had yet to go (and would not be able to go) following an earthly rabbi. This was the beginning of the best...

Believers today long for the opportunity to follow Christ as the disciples did. "If I could spend three years with Jesus I would really get things right!" There is a stage of discipleship that requires a season of following an earthly teacher and, in Jesus' absence, the Body of Christ fills that role. Christians rightly look to the church (local and universal) to lead them in learning about God and all things spiritual. However, we make a grave mistake when we see the church as our primary source of spiritual learning. Jesus intended for the twelve to graduate to a new level of discipleship and he intends the same for us today. There comes a time when we must wean ourselves off of the church as our substitute rabbi and lean primarily on the indwelling Teacher that Christ died to provide.

This concept can be frightening for both the disciple and the church leader. What might happen? Will people stop attending services? Will error creep in as people seek to find truth "on their own"? Yes, these things will happen to some (hopefully slight) degree. However, the power of Spirit-led discipleship is explosive! Imagine an army of Christ-followers who are united as a body but dependent primarily on the Holy Spirit (not the pastor) to lead them into truth! Imagine the impact as we follow Christ in pursuit of the lost, listening to his Spirit and living by his Word!

What role does the church play in helping disciples graduate to the next level? That's another post...

John 13:36-14:31

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Ministry of Philip

"The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.' Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'" John 1:43-46

I feel like I am called to the ministry of Philip. After meeting Jesus and being called as his disciple, Philip found Nathaniel to share the news of Jesus. He not only "evangelized" but also urged Nathaniel to come and see Christ for himself. Philip did not attempt to become Nathaniel's teacher but, instead, wanted to personally introduce him to Jesus so that he could "taste and see" the Lord's goodness first-hand.

I love to teach and I enjoy preaching, but I feel that my calling is to urge others to meet Jesus personally, to experience him for themselves and to answer the call to discipleship by which I myself am challenged. I am learning who God wants me to be - a disciple-maker in the model of Philip.

John 1:43-46

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ready to Learn (The Simple Life)

"Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying..."

Jesus served in the role of rabbi in his Jewish culture. Rabbi means "great one" or "teacher"; Jesus is most definitely the supreme fulfillment of both of these titles! A rabbi called to himself a handful of disciples or "learners" who would follow him for a season, setting aside other interests or commitments in order to learn from the teacher. For this group of disciples, daily life would become a classroom in which they learned spiritual truths as the rabbi lead and taught them on a continual basis.

A rabbi would sometimes draw a crowd interested in hearing his presentation of truth. When the teacher wanted to address a large crowd, he would find a location where the large number of people could see and hear him well. As a signal that official teaching was about to begin, he would sit down. This was a more formal method of presenting truth than the "live and learn from me" format in which his closest disciples engaged. This is the model we see in "The Sermon on the Mount."

As disciples taught by the Holy Spirit, we experience both teaching environments: the classroom of life and the formal teaching time. As we walk through our daily routines we need to practice the presence of God, listening to the Holy Spirit, having "eyes to see and ears to hear" in every situation so as to glean the truth of God in the classroom of the normal. However, we also need to make an effort to approach Jesus in a formal sense, to seek him out for the purpose of putting aside the mundane duties of life to sit and listen to what the teacher has to say.

When Jesus saw the crowd forming to hear from him, when he became aware that the people were ready to learn, he sat down and began teaching. Today Jesus is looking for those who would seek him out as a rabbi, those who would gather at his feet and give him undivided attention. What can I do to show Christ that I want to learn from him? How can I posture myself so Jesus will "open his mouth" and teach me?

Some type of formal time with Jesus is necessary for the simple life to flourish. What should it look like? This formal teaching time has been referred to in the Christian community as "quiet time." However, this moniker carries connotations of quickie, tip-of-the-hat devotional readings and prayers that don't really posture us well to receive from Christ. Here are some suggestions I offer from my own struggle to develop this discipline in my life:

1) Make a daily appointment.
Like the children of Israel gathering manna every morning, we must gather fresh strength and truth from Christ on a daily basis. We cannot go for days without posturing ourselves to learn from God and expect our spiritual lives to be fresh and growing; we will become rotten and full of worms!

2) Find an environment that you enjoy that is free of distractions.
What is your favorite alone spot? I vacillate between the table in my backyard (during warmer times of the year) and the counter in my kitchen. My recliner does not lend itself well to a learning posture; it's more specifically designed for a sleeping posture!

3) Choose disciplines to practice.
Try different disciplines in different seasons - solitude, fasting, journaling, silence, worship, study, meditation, etc. Find a good book on spiritual disciplines and experiment. Incorporate the practice of a discipline in your time with God. Some disciplines may become regular elements in your time with God (I journal almost continually), while others will gain your attention for a while only to fade off for months and return to the surface at a later date.

4) Pray.
Regardless of which disciplines we are experimenting with, we must pray at all times. Prayer is less of a spiritual discipline and more of a survival tool! We must be in constant dialogue with God. Talk to him! However, don't forget that prayer is as much about using your spiritual ears as it is your mouth!

5) Change it up.
If your time with God becomes uninteresting or less fruitful, try something different. Read from a section of the Bible that you don't frequently go to. Find a new location for your learning time. Try a different time of day. Change your routine; if you normally start with prayer, begin instead with journaling or worship.

Matthew 5:1-2


Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What is a disciple? (The Simple Life)

Tonight my family had a discussion during Bible study about discipleship. I asked Lexie, "What is a disciple?" I absolutely loved her answer! She replied, "A disciple is someone who loves God. Jesus teaches a disciple to live like him."

In The Great Commission, Jesus presents us with a clear responsibility to go and make disciples. This process has two parts; 1) baptize them in the name of the Trinity and 2) teach them to obey his teachings. In other words, we are to help others cross the line from darkness to light, from death to life and then to help them learn to walk with Christ in daily life.

How am I a disciple? How am I following Christ? Am I learning from Jesus to live like him? Am I teaching others to do the same? I love Jesus, but I want to learn more from him about following in his steps. I want to learn to grow in faith and engage the world the way that he does. I definitely want to learn to live like Jesus. I want to be a disciple.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Simple Life

For years I have heard God speak the word "simple" to my heart and I have understood it to be an invitation to a lifestyle of intimacy with God and influence in a world that needs him. I feel a distinct call to be a disciple and to lead others down the path of following Christ in daily life. As I work to become more obedient as a disciple and work to teach my family and others to do the same, I will take note of thoughts and experiences with the hope to eventually publish it in some sort of book. The title of the book will most likely be "The Simple Life" and the premise would be "Following God is not easy, but it doesn't have to be complicated." I don't have a clear outline for this project; just a general direction.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Eyes to See (Matthew 18)

As we read through scripture our minds break the passages into bite-sized chunks and remember them by particularly poignant or colorful content. However, God has arranged his Word with incredible wisdom to teach us through over-arching themes and lessons. Matthew 16 contains one such lesson.

This chapter contains four sections that all point toward the same idea: we need eyes to see what God is doing in his kingdom. The Pharisees and Sadducees have aligned themselves to eliminate Jesus and approach him with a request for a miraculous sign. Jesus responds, "You don't have eyes to see who I am!" Jesus asks his disciples how others identify him, following with a pointed question; "Do you have eyes to see who I am?" When Jesus outlines the events of his death, Peter rebukes him and the Lord responds, "You don't have eyes to see what the Father is doing in his kingdom!" And finally, Jesus challenges his disciples, saying "If you want to follow me, you cannot see things with an earthly perspective. You need eyes to see what it takes to make it in the Kingdom of Heaven!"

My heart is drawn to Jesus' warning to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two Jewish sects held vehemently to opposed views on particulars of their faith. Each group had become so sternly focused on non-essential tenants of Judaism that they were completely unaware that Yahweh was standing in flesh before them. I'm sure their obsession with their favorite religious details started innocently enough. However, the leaven of the non-essentials grew in each sect to the point that their members' identities were built on these distinctives.

In the same way, the Church and we as individual Christians need to be very careful to avoid the leaven of the non-essentials. Sadly, it seems that we may have already become victim to it on a corporate level. By nature, denominations are what they are because of non-essential differences. Why do I describe them as non-essentials? Because the only true essentials in Christianity do not allow for any variance. If you don't hold to the essentials, you're not practicing true Christianity! The essentials are a precious few beliefs (i.e. salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone), whereas there exists a myriad of non-essentials from which Christians choose their favorites to align by (i.e. "once saved, always saved" or speaking in tongues). As a Church, we have divided ourselves and become so focused on non-essentials that we often completely miss what God is doing in his kingdom. This is an ailment that the Body of Christ desperately needs to see healed by the Holy Spirit in order to regain her health, intimacy with God and "saltiness" in the earth.

Jesus, give us wisdom to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Help us have eyes to see what you are doing in your kingdom, unobstructed by things that don't matter!

"Unity in essentials. Liberty in non-essentials. In all things charity."

Matthew 16