Disciple

I think the concept of discipleship is really foundational to living the life Jesus calls us to live. For years I’ve found myself rather disgruntled at the way Christian culture tends to trivialize really important things like belief, community and following Jesus.

It’s not enough to think the right things. Even Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again so humans can re-connect to the Father, but he won’t have a place in eternity with God at the resurrection for that belief any more than we will for merely thinking the right thing. That’s not Christianity, it’s Gnosticism. We can think the right things all we want, but Jesus asks us to believe in him, and that is much more simple, and much more costly, than an education or a choice alone. Belief in Jesus isn’t only mental. It’s life-changing. Belief in Jesus involves learning to trust him with life and soul and heart and being, in this life as much as the next. It’s certainly not instantaneous the moment we accept him as our God, but true belief brings us into the embrace of the one who will gradually turn us into disciples. If we trust the bus driver to get us to our destination, we’ll at least get on the bus and let him take us there, even if it will take time to get there.

It’s also not enough to gather once or twice a week in a crowded and controlled environment where only a few end up finding the communal family bond with one another that God offers us through Jesus. Where many are able to enter in to the worship and prayer sessions, but many others aren’t, because they haven’t had a chance to become intimate with the people gathered there enough to step into that zone with them. We have the potential for a rare form of connection as the adopted sons and daughters of God to bond deeply and become a family. I’ve seen it in AA meetings, in therapy groups, in mommies-of-young-ones meetings, and in smaller, tighter settings of faith communities gathering to do life together in celebration and love. Where there is intimacy and safety, there is a rich opportunity for discipleship.

I believe it’s not enough to eat a teeny cracker and drink a teeny tenth of a shot of grape juice in a brief, solemn, although heartfelt, symbolic act, when Jesus said to dine together in celebration of his life and resurrection whenever we get together. We’ve lost a powerful, uniting demonstration of joy by losing the tradition of the love feasts. For me, it’s like the difference between a family gathering for dinner and a family gathering for a tiny snack. There’s a richness that’s missing from the snack table, that can only be found in the more sustaining dinner table–regarding the potential for relationship as much as nutrition.

Noah Stepro pointed out in his recent sermon series on Discipleship that “disciple” isn’t a common word in our culture. It’s not one of those words that everyone just understands upon hearing. It’s something that has largely fallen by the wayside in understanding and use. For example, our educational systems are largely filled with book learning and lectures, as opposed to hands-on learning at a master’s feet. Our religious systems are also largely filled with the same. I’m not berating sermons. I just cited one by Noah above. But they’re supplemental to a life lived in the dust of the one we’re following. We don’t get very dirty in a classroom, but when we walk in the footsteps of a great leader, we end up with dust all over us (especially where I live, where more dust grows than trees).

Brennan Manning writes in the March 25 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins, “Until I lay my head on Jesus’ breast, listen to his heartbeat, and personally appropriate the Christ-experience of John’s eyewitness, I have only a derivative spirituality. My cunning imposter [the fake self we project] will borrow John’s moment of intimacy and attempt to convey it as if it were my own.”

I would like to see a return to Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, wherein Jesus asks us to make disciples, to teach people how to actually live the life he had just modeled for us. He doesn’t ask us to make sure everyone has right thinking, regardless of right living. He didn’t go through all he went through from his early experiences with his chosen people, to his incarnation, humiliation, torture, and even the worst kind of human death of the day, so we will believe academically that he did it all for us and then live without him anyway.

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The Illusion of Following Christ

Before I begin my upcoming series, I want to share a related conversation by Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart. In a chapter called Spiritual Change, he asserts that knowing the right things about God isn’t the same as believing them. Believing something involves acting as though it is true. If we act as though the teachings of Jesus are true, we will intend to follow them, for among them is the call to do so. We don’t truly trust our mechanic unless we order the parts he insists we need and let him install them, nor our doctor if we fail to follow his or her advice.

Willard writes, “The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving ‘Christian culture'” which undermines efforts to actually live a real Christian life.

The upcoming series involves an exploration of what it actually means to follow Jesus. I find it fascinating that I would read this page in this book on this day, as I prepare to explore in writing what it is Jesus actually wants us to do in this life “Much Like the Life Jesus Led.”