Friday, February 4, 2011

Are we disciples? Or just Christians?

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? I mean really and truly a disciple in the fullest sense of the word. And whatever it means, are we really living it? Are we disciples? Or just Christians? It seems to me that there is an awakening in our time, perhaps especially among young people, in regard to the true meaning of discipleship. Many are sensing that modern Christianity isn’t the same as discipleship, that our “religion” does not really measure up to the demands and model of Jesus, that we have watered down Christianity so that it is safe, comfortable, easy, and undemanding. The popularity of such books as Irresistible Revolution and Radical  give testimony to this sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo of a Christianity that manifests itself in going to church and living clean lives even while we indulge in consumerism and display general apathy toward the oppressed and the poor.

To be a disciple must mean more than merely believing in certain teachings and going to church and being a good person. A disciple is one who not only follows the teachings of their teacher, but models their life after their teacher. If we want to know if we are truly disciples of Jesus, we must look at how Jesus lived. For example, once he devoted himself to his ministry he left everything, giving himself totally to his mission. Did he ask a similar thing of his disciples? Luke 9.57-58 seems to suggest it. Yet, we counter, Jesus does not ask every disciple to literally sell all their possessions, for we would all be destitute and homeless. And in Acts we learn that, in fact, selling all your possessions was not expected of everyone. On the other hand, Jesus does say that every disciple must renounce or give up all of their possessions (Lk 14.25-33). What does that mean? In the same breath, Jesus had urged all prospective disciples to “count the cost” of being a disciple of his, so there must be a cost that is so great that it demands serious consideration before one “buys in.” That cost is everything (vs.33). It’s your possessions, your time, your resources, your talents, your loved ones, your desires, your allegiances, your priorities, your very life—everything! Can we really say we are even close to giving up everything to follow Jesus?

It seems like whenever Jesus laid out the cost of discipleship in specific terms, people made excuses and left (compare Lk 9.57-62; John 6.41-66). It wasn’t that his demands were difficult to understand, just difficult to accept (cf. John 6.60). He asked too much. I wonder if we are asking as much of ourselves today?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Profound Sense of Calling

I began journaling this past week. It seemed like God kept leading (or pushing) me to this, because in the past couple of weeks various voices (I don't mean the strange kind in your head, but rather articles, chapters in books, conversations, etc.) kept telling me I should practice journaling. I've tried it before, but never stuck with it. But this time I'm approaching it differently, thanks to the example of my good friend Colter who inspired me when I saw him with his journal everywhere he went, taking notes in it during classes and small group sessions, church, etc. So instead of keeping a journal on my desk and desperately trying to set aside a time to write my thoughts, I just take it everywhere and jot down whatever I feel like putting in it. So far I really like it. At my age, I need to jot down any thought I think is worth keeping, or else it is quickly gone.

So here's a thought from my journal, which I took from Dr. Dave Bland's lecture notes in the class I'm currently taking: Our role as ministers is "to equip the church to be a priesthood of believers who have a profound sense of calling from God." I love that latter phrase: "a profound sense of calling from God."

Have you thought of your life in such terms? Do you feel a sense of being called by God? Maybe that is not language you are used to. Maybe you think it is language just for prophets in the Bible, or just for preachers or those who go into full-time ministry. Of course, all Christians have been called by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2.14). But we are also all called to ministry (Ephesians 4.12: "the work of the service" = "the work of the ministry"). We each have different gifts and talents, and different life situations in which to respond to God's call. But that calling ought to be profound for each of us, as profound for you and me as it was for the prophet Ezekiel or Jeremiah or the apostle Paul.

"Profound" means "1. penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding; 2. originating in or penetrating to the depths of one's being." Have you discerned such a call from God? Has it sunk deep into your being so that it defines who you are? It doesn't have to be an audible voice or direct command or a vision like it was with the Biblical prophets. God calls us through experiences, mentors and models in our life, the word of God, our life situation, and the Holy Spirit working on our hearts. Those things all work together to bring us to a place of responsibility and stewardship as servants of Christ.

I love to climb mountains. Whenever I see one, it's like it calls to me. And that calling is profound. It has penetrated deep into my being. It defines who I am (at least in part). Likewise, I feel that God has called me to serve him by teaching, preaching, and exhorting with the word of God in various ways. He has called me to church planting. He has called me to lead a wilderness Bible camp in Canada called ARWC. He called me to China and that call still is strong on my heart. Ministry and service cannot simply be a career choice. It has to be a calling. But whether you do it full time or not, whether it it involves teaching or leading or showing mercy or giving liberally or taking care of physical needs or whatever (cf. Romans 12; Acts 6), every Christian needs to hear God's call, and to let it penetrate deeply into their being.