Discipleship and Obedience

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Jesus to His Disciples in the Upper room.

John 14:21 “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Jesus to His Disciples in the upper room.

John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” Jesus to His Disciples in the upper room.

John 14:31 “…but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Jesus to His Disciples in the upper room.
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Discipleship, like it or not, is about obedience. However, to reduce discipleship to mere obedience is to flirt with, if not entirely stumble head long, down the wide road that leads to destruction.

As I study and understand discipleship, it does not begin with obedience, it begins with a love [agape] relationship. A relationship with Jesus, where we realize our need for forgiveness, we accept grace, and we seek to become more like Jesus each and every day. Discipleship is all about becoming like our Rabbi, Jesus. [see my very first post if you want to know more]
May you be Covered in the Dust of Your Rabbi

This relationship of [agape] love does not excuse my disobedience. Rather, it informs my obedience.

To understand this it is worth exploring the two basis upon which most human beings choose obedience or disobedience.

Basis 1 of Obedience is fear. This is the most common of all choices for being obedient. I obey the speed limit, because I don’t want [fear] a ticket. I don’t touch the hot stove, because I don’t want [fear] the pain. I obey the commandments because I don’t want [fear] to go to hell. This has been one of the primary manipulation tools used throughout Christian history to convince people to profess Jesus as Lord. The disconnection with this basis of obedience is that the fear of hell lessens over time and becomes less persuasive an obligation for obedience.

Basis 2 of Obedience is Love… this the real basis for obedience. Our obedience to the commands of Jesus, come from our love [agape] relationship. We love our Jesus, so much that the thought/temptation of being disobedient has less and less influence over us. Our obedience to the commands/teachings is informed and bathed in the fellowship that we enjoy with the God-head.

Notice in John 14:15, Jesus sets the stage that love is the basis of obedience. “If you love me, you will obey…” Again in John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” Jesus could not be any clearer about why we obey Him. But this is the “narrow gate”; it is the harder choice.

With fear the basis of obedience, if I disobey, the consequence of my sin is usually delayed and if experienced by myself I can explain it away.

With a love [agape] basis for obedience, when I disobey, I have to look my Savior in the eye and own up to my selfishness and sin. In my repentance, I come face to face with the depth of my depravity, and see the wounds that I have caused to others, to myself and to Jesus.

Yet, in this face to face meeting, Jesus still loves me. Jesus calls me to experience his grace and mercy and to come closer to Him, so that I might become more like Him.

Consider this…
– What is the underlying narrative for my obedience to the commands of Jesus? Is it fear, manipulation, or love?
– What areas am I struggling with in obedience to Jesus commands? How does a relationship of love inform those areas of struggle?
– Who do I know who so well, that I could assume that they mostly follow Jesus out of fear? What could I do to share with them the idea of obedience out of love?

As always I welcome your questions and thoughts as together we journey toward Jesus.

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What is the big deal about Transformation?

Transformation is a term that is thrown around a lot these days.

We find it in the mission statements of churches, on T-shirts and web sites.

Seems like everyone wants to be transformed: business, medical practices, body image, computer industry, and even a movie series that really probably shouldn’t have been made. [My apologies to those of you fans of the Transformers movies. I’m not trying to offend, just be transparent with who I am and my journey.]

The obvious question to ask is: transformed into what exactly and why? The cultural connotation is that what I am or what I have is not good enough, and a transformation needs to happen so that I will be happier, smarter, faster, richer, better, etc.

A follower of Jesus, a disciple, is called to transformation into the likeness of our Rabbi, Jesus. It is not because we can’t be happy as we are. The truth is, we are not as we were created to be. Just as Adam was the first, so Jesus is the true Adam, as we were created to be. The first Adam; abandoned his relationship with God for a lie. Jesus; chose to never abandon His relationship/fellowship with His Father. It is this relationship, between humanity and God, through Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, that enables real transformation to happen.

In my reading I was led to this quote by James Bryan Smith:

    The glorious Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) is on a mission to transform every one of us. That does not happen by anything we do of ourselves. Jesus did it all. And Jesus does it all—by continuing to pray for each of us. But we do participate in this transformation. We set our minds on these truths: we are forgiven, and Jesus is praying for us. And when Jesus prays, things happen. He will not stop until he has made us all new people.

James Bryan Smith

Pivotal, for the disciple, are two verses that Paul writes, the first from Romans 12:2 NIV – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The second from 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

The Greek word here is metamorphoō, which means to change into another form. The first part of the word stresses the inward change that is to happen, and the preceding verb adds the stress on the outward change. The present continuous tense indicates that this is a process. Thus, for me, transformation is both an inward [my thinking, my attitude, my choices] and an outward [my behavior, my speech, my body language, my choices] journey into being more like Jesus. This takes time. [See my earlier post Discipleship Priorities: Time & Energy ]

Most disturbing to me is when churches talk about transformation, but they are not pursuing Christlikeness. Churches want their attendance numbers transformed, their church life cycle trajectory transformed, their budget numbers transformed. These are trivial, secular goals and far from Gospel transformation.

Transformation is a big deal. It is what we celebrate because we are resurrection people. Transformation is the entire ball game. Transformation is reversal from sin and death to life and being made new. Let us be clear what kind of transformation we are talking about: transformation into living and thinking like Jesus. Anything else is a cheap substitute that will not bring real joy, and thus our joy will not be complete.

This kind of transformation changes individuals, families, and communities. Jesus has changed my life. Jesus wants to change all of our lives, but not according to our agenda.

Consider these thoughts:
– What narrative from the world, about who I am in my life, do I believe, and needs to be transformed?
– Am I being consistent in working in concert with the “Holy Trinity” to transform me?
– How or where in my life have I sidelined real transformation, for a poor substitute of transformation?

As always I welcome your dialogue and thoughts as we journey toward and with Jesus…

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Do vs. Be – Law and Relationships

There is a long term debate running, going back centuries, between religious people and Jesus followers.

If you have been around the “Christian” organism for any length of time you have been exposed to this virus.

The division has many descriptors: works righteousness, saved by faith, law vs. grace, etc.

As I live and journey in faith with my brothers and sisters, I often refer to this debate as “do vs. be.”

The two camps, that represent the two positions, mostly talk past one another. But here is a brief synopsis.

The “do” side; represents law, doing the law, doing good works, obedience, right beliefs, right thinking, with the emphasis upon ‘me’ doing the law. The big idea is simply this: reduce following Jesus to “do this” and “don’t do that.” The dangerous side is this: legalism, self righteousness, a sense of “God owes me” for all my ‘right behavior’ and defining who is in and who is out. Why do so many people end up in this camp? Because it is easier.

The “be” side; represents relationships, growing in the likeness of Jesus, relating to others through the lens of Jesus’ love for them and us. The big idea is: Relationships define our existence – our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with others. The dangerous side is this: a blind eye to truth in the name of maintaining relationships, co-dependency, self reliance and self righteousness. Why do so few people choose this camp? Because it is harder.

Doing the Law is always easier than being in a relationship.

We humans trend toward sloth. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

From the Garden of Eden on down we have chosen to ‘do’ God rather than be in a relationship with God. One of the blogs that I follow is by a guy named Casey Tygrett. You can find the full post here: Casey Tygrett

In one of his more recent posts he wrote this:

    In a culture that prizes law over wisdom – yes, even the Christian culture – we are constantly looking for what we can and cannot do because it makes things easier. It makes it easier to figure out who is with us and who is against us. It makes it easier to rate our day on a scale of 1 to 5 (well, the anger today was in the 2 range, so I’m going to turn off the divine wrath radar for today) and it makes it easier to read sacred texts that challenge our assumptions because then we can simply find the legality and push ourselves to believe it.

    Then, in a stunning reversal, life happens. The law stops short, here and there, leaving cliff-like gaps between belief and action that take the very breath – the very pneuma out of our lungs.
    Law doesn’t keep our relationships together. Law doesn’t save our marriage. Law doesn’t help us know what to do when we feel different when we feel for God.

Powerful words. Poignant. As I said, most trend toward law, because it is easier. The problem is that we humans also trend toward choosing either or, when what really is needed is both.

Many begin a relationship with Jesus, but then it becomes difficult and challenging. Discipleship of Jesus requires becoming less like us and more like Jesus. Next “most” look around and they see their own foils and fables in most other so called Christians, and they seem to not be working on their relationship. Rather they have chosen the path of law. So the newer believer, assumes the mantle of law, because it is easier, and because it looks like the thing that s/he is supposed to do, because most others are ‘doing’ it that way.

A disciple of Jesus; begins with a relationship with Jesus, and never lets go. The law comes in not to define the boundaries of the sandbox, but as a means of faithfulness and love and devotion in light of our relationship with Jesus. We are transformed into a follower whose inclination toward sin is deterred by the thought, “I love Jesus too much, my relationship with Him is too important to me, to abandon it for a temporary thrill.” It is the relationship with Jesus that informs our view of sin, and as the relationship grows, that sin that was once so attractive, has now begun to tarnish.

There is so much more to understanding discipleship and doing vs. be, I will be exploring more in future posts.

I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on your struggle with doing faith vs. being in a relationship with Jesus.

    Consider the following…
    – Where have I chosen “doing” in my faith rather than “being” in a relationship with Jesus?
    – How do I live out a relationship with Jesus that ‘fulfills’ the law but does not value the laws above relationships?
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Patience With Your Discipleship

Sunrise over mountainOne morning, I decided to get up early and watch the sun rise over the mountains. I was on retreat with some brothers in the faith, and as we rolled out of bed at 4:30 am, there was a mixture of excitement for how God would meet us, muffled by the cobb webs of lack of sleep. I arrived at my spot in the dark and sat down to spend time in silence and solitude. As the dark gave way to light, I was distracted by the thoughts of wishing the sun would come up, and break the top of the mountain that blocked my view. The sun was up, behind the mountain, so I could see all the landscape around me; but the sun still had not broken the mountain. I was growing more and more impatient. How much longer? How are the rest of the guys doing? My silence and solitude had turned into competing voices in my head. When I was finally able to quiet the voices long enough, a “still small voice” said to me “be patient with Me.” I had heard from God and I resolved myself to quiet my spirit and to be patient for the Sun/Son to break the mountain top. It finally happened. The sun broke the mountain top, beams of light spread around me, warming my face, like a soft touch. Then the small voice said, “Be patient with me, because I am patient with you.” I broke. I wept bitter tears of sorrow and grief for all the times that I had rushed my journey, seeking “spiritual growth” on my time table with what energy I had left over.

“Be patient with me, because I am patient with you.”

In our world, there are precious few moments of silence. Even less are moments of stillness and solitude. Most seek to avoid all three. Our world lies to us that when we are still, we are unproductive. When we are silent we risk being “not heard.” When we are alone, there is something wrong with us.
Jesus practiced all three silence, stillness, solitude. We are to practice all three. It takes being patient with ourselves. We can not be perfect at spiritual practices over night. Doing the hard work of discipleship takes practice and patience. The voices that tell us that we are not not “spiritual” enough, usually are the voice of then enemy trying to derail our discipleship journey.

If in your journey to be more like our Rabbi, Jesus, you find yourself frustrated with the pace, be patient with yourself, and be patient with Jesus, because Jesus is patient with you. You will find that the beauty of the journey [in silence, solitude, stillness] will deepen your intimacy and become the strength of your relationship with Jesus.

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Discipleship Priorities – Time and Energy

Time Energy manipulationWhen I think of priorities, I think, “keeping the main thing, the main thing.”

Discipleship is all about time and energy.

Time with our Rabbi, Jesus.

Energy expended in the daily journey of following in His foot steps.

Radical obedience to His teaching.

There is no short cut. There is no quick fix. There is no fast tracking a relationship with Jesus.

Discipleship has always been about time and energy.

Today’s world is set up against discipleship. Yet, discipleship is what our world needs above all else.

Dallas Willard; once said, “There is nothing wrong with the church, that discipleship won’t fix.” Take out the word “church” and substitute any noun or pronoun and the truth still remains. There is nothing wrong with the world, with me, with you, with our small group, with this job, with our politics, with our families, that discipleship won’t fix.

“There is nothing wrong with our personal lives that discipleship won’t fix. The only caveat is that it takes time and energy.”

In the same life pumping artery, there is nothing wrong with our personal lives that discipleship won’t fix. The only caveat is that it takes time and energy. A “fix” may be what we desire, it may be what we have been shaped by our world to expect, but discipleship does not work that way.

From the very beginning, we humans, were designed for relationships. God told Adam, it was not good for him to be alone. God was in fellowship with Adam and Eve. A relationship can not be fast tracked.

In one of my other posts, KISS Principle For Discipleship or It’s All About Relationships I outlined the process necessary for building any relationship. Honesty builds trust and trust builds love. While one can look at this and see the truth of the journey, most tend to ignore the Time & Energy factors.

Think about how a relationship is built with a spouse. A person spends time and pours energy into getting to know someone. They open up and risk a small amount of honesty with that person. Then they sit back and observe, what does that person do with my honesty? Do they honor it, protect it, or do they make fun of or criticize me? If the honesty is received, they begin to build trust. With trust comes more honesty. With more honesty comes more trust. This pattern is repeated over time, with above average energy. Questions come to the surface, “Is this the one? Do I love them? Could I love them? Do they love me?

Eventually, a love relationship grows. This relationship journey happens the same way with our Jesus. The infatuation stage in a human relationship tends to mute our awareness to the amount of time and energy that it takes to build the relationship. Conversely, in discipleship, we become painfully aware of the amount of time and energy required to be in a relationship with Jesus. We want to be fully developed spiritually, rock solid in our faith. We detest being prone to painful sin patterns that we have practiced over many years.

I am reminded of the stanza from the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” where it says, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it, seal it for Thou courts above.”

As you journey in discipleship, reminders are needed along the narrow road, of the time and energy that is a prerequisite of every relationship. Nothing can be substituted for time with Jesus. Nothing is more deserving of our energy, than Jesus. In Jesus’ day, discipleship was a full time occupation. Today, we are called to nothing less.

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Holy Week and Discipleship

Jesus cruxified and the cup
Holy Week – the time period of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday morning, exists for those who call themselves disciples.

But why? Because disciples are called to remember, but with a purpose.

Allow me to unpack that statement.

Historically, Jesus asked his disciples to remember him in this way, when he at the Passover meal [Luke 22:15-22], transformed that meal into a tool/symbol for us to remember him and his sacrifice.

For thousands of years has used this time as a way to remember and to prepare new members of the faith family for inclusion in the life of the body of Christ.

Today, disciples are called upon to remember. It keeps us grounded in at least two aspects of our journey. First, we remember who Jesus is. Second, we remember who we are in relationship to what Jesus has done for us.

This is where Paul can write in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that we were bought at a price. A disciple wants to be like Jesus. We remember who Jesus is – what he has done. We remember his attitude, his prayers, his humanness, his faithfulness to His Father’s will, his grace. Each and every word and action of Jesus from Psalm Sunday through the resurrection, informs our journey.

Disciples are made, in the remembering, to remember with a purpose.

But remembering isn’t simply an exercise in motivation for right living; for that only serves to end up in living like Pharisees. We remember that the point of all that Jesus did and said, in this intense time, was for us, personally. Jesus came to save the world, yes. But Jesus also came to suffer for you. Jesus also came to be tortured for me. Jesus lived out his words in John 15:13, Jesus laid down his life, for you. Jesus laid down his life for me. You and I are that valuable to Jesus.

We are valuable because we are valued by Jesus

Living as a disciple in today’s world means a constant barrage of messages that we are not valuable unless we look a certain way, have a certain talent, drive a certain car, wear certain clothes, and are adored by people who want to be like us. And while most of us never attain value, as defined by the world, a disciple remembers that our value is derived not from who we are or what we do, but from Jesus. We are valuable because we are valued by Jesus.

During this Holy Week, join me in the journey of discipleship as…
– We cheer with the crowd, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
– We continue to cheer, Hosanna, even when the journey doesn’t go where we want it to go.
– We gather around the table, with the apostles, and we give thanks, take and eat the body, and drink the blood.
– We gather around with those whom God has given to us to pour out our lives into, to disciple, knowing that betrayal is a risk and misunderstanding is likely.
– We join in horror, with the disciples, at how cruel the powers that be treat our Savior.
– We join in horror, like the disciples, at a world that teaches war to children and traffics in human beings.
– We feel the depth of despair, disbelief and fear as the disciples run and hide for their lives.
– We know that our Jesus understands our despair, disbelief and fear and does not condemn us, but journeys with us to “over come the world.”
– We wonder, along with disciples of the past, present and future, at the true meaning of the resurrection. Can it be? Death defeated!
Disciples are made, in the remembering, to remember with a purpose.

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