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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My Journey as of Today

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my husband recently about my journey as of today. At a glance, it seems so basic, and unlike what a woman who has been walking with God for decades would write. Then again, coming to accept and intend to live the teachings of Jesus takes a lifetime.

Three years ago, I did more than deconstruct my beliefs. My entire self shut down, and I began a major reconstruction process. It has been a very, very slow process, and I have only recently begun to see progress toward any hope of future vibrancy in Christ and his kingdom.

Our Father has been showing me a foundational portion of what it means to live with him. It means dying to self, which does not involve self-destruction (the means by which I have generally died to myself over the past two decades), but rather a denial of myself as being on the throne of my own life—a denial of my perceived need to be right, in control, or even accepted or accommodated by others. Giving up the perceived primal needs of my self, I naturally endure some level of suffering, which God then enters and dwells in with me. This is one way in which I take up the cross of Christ and follow him. I’m coming to understand that God doesn’t so much have a path for me to walk, as a design and mission for who I am to be, and how that being will manifest in my life.

In the past two weeks, God has been saturating me with this message of self-denial versus self-destruction.

I’ve realized that I am not nearly the woman I would like to be known as. I saw at Bob Lexin’s funeral the same legacy I wish to leave when I go to sleep to await the renewal of all things. I want to be known as a woman after God’s own heart, who sits at the feet of Jesus, delves deeply into the things of him, listens well to others, and graces the people around me with compassion, mercy and understanding. I want to be known as bold enough to follow Jesus even when nobody else is willing to do it, without reacting in the flesh to the suffering that naturally follows living the life Jesus calls us to live. I want to be known as generous and kind, not this angry, pent up, unresolved person I am in major portions of my life today. The only way to do that is to bury myself deeper in the One who loves me best, and let him continue to heal me in his own ways and timing….

All in all, I am a broken woman, not only from the wounds I’ve suffered, but from the evil that has reigned in me at different levels through different times in my life. I am learning to suffer with my Lord, and to let him be my God, my king, my lead. I have a long way to go before reclaiming the vibrancy that he has placed in me. But I have a certain peace, finally, in the journey, while at the same time having a certain discontent with the place I’m at (the discontent being a good thing, a driving force to continue in the path of Jesus toward our Abba).