Thursday, August 30, 2007

Making Disciples (Part 2)

Here's part 2...

Three questions need to be answered in regards to making disciples before we proceed.

1. What is a disciple?
2. What is discipleship?
3. Where does discipleship begin?

We will look at the first question today?

What is a disciple?
Michael Wilkins, in his book Following The Master, A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, addresses this issue from the perspective of the ancient world, Old Testament and New Testament. He lists several ways the word “disciple” was used in each of these time periods. Tracing the development of the word disciple will give us an idea of what a disciple is.

- Someone learning or under a leader of any kind. In a religious sense, this could refer to a disciple of a certain Pharisee, John the Baptist, Moses, or a certain Rabbi. In a secular sense the word could be used to describe a disciple of a certain philosopher in the Greek culture (e.g., Socrates, Plato) or a disciple of a trade of some kind (e.g., woodworker, mason, farmer, shepherd).

- Disciple is used in the Gospels to denote general followers of Jesus.

- Disciple is used to refer to the twelve disciples Jesus chose. The twelve disciples were called to be Apostles (sent ones) in Luke 6:13. The Apostles were Christ’s handpicked leaders.

- In some of the Gospels (e.g., Luke & John) we see disciple being used to describe superficial followers of Jesus. These disciples left Jesus when His teaching became too hard for them to understand.

- Judas was a disciple of Jesus. He was a known traitor who was called a disciple.

- We see Peter, a disciple who denied Jesus, called a disciple.

- Jesus puts the possessive pronoun (“my”) before disciple to distinguish his marks of true discipleship. Jesus requires belief in Him, love of Him, obedience to Him, and asks us to abide in Him daily. Wilkins defines a disciple of Jesus as one who has come to Jesus for eternal life, has claimed Jesus as Savior and God, and has embarked upon the life of following Him. Wilkins states that this is the primary way the word disciple is used in the New Testament.[1]

This list shows us a vast array of possible meanings for what a disciple could be. Thankfully, the last definition spelled out by Jesus narrows our search down to what He had in mind for a disciple. This is the definition we are seeking to build discipleship principles upon. Once again, when we talk about a disciple we mean someone who has placed their trust in Christ, believes in Him, loves Him, obeys Him, and is abiding (living) in Him daily. This captures what Jesus said in Luke 9:23,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

[1] Michael J. Wilkins, Following The Master; A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) pg. 40.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Making Disciples (part 1)

This is the beginning of a new series on discipleship.

The great military leader of Israel, Joshua, had just destroyed the walls surrounding the Canaanite city of Jericho. God then commanded the Israelites to destroy and burn every man, woman, child, and animal in the city and bring to Him the gold, silver, bronze, and iron for His treasury. Achan, a member of the army disobeyed God’s command and took for himself a beautiful piece of clothing, some silver and a bar of gold. As a result, the Israelites were embarrassingly defeated in their next battle against the people of Ai. This defeat caused the people of Israel to lose hope. Finally, God pointed out to Joshua that someone in Israel had been unfaithful to His command. God gave Joshua the command to burn the one responsible for this. Eventually, Achan and his entire family were stoned and burned for their act of disobedience to God’s command. Afterwards the Israelites were able to continue their conquest and successfully defeat the people of Ai.

Obedience to God’s commands is essential. The story of Achan teaches this truth in an unforgettable way. However, was this degree of obedience to God expected only from those in the Old Testament? Didn’t Jesus expect His followers to obey Him in this way? His followers, known as the church, were given specific commands. One of those commands was to “make disciples” of all the nations (Matthew 28:19). Has the church acted like Achan or Joshua with this command? If we have acted like Achan, our disobedience will lead to God’s people suffering defeat at the hands of Satan. If we hold fast to God’s commands like Joshua, God’s people will be equipped to defeat Satan. This is what we must strive for as a church.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Real Religion

James 1:19-27

First, let me welcome home Jenny, Chuck, and their new son, Joshua Curtis. They just got back from Africa Tuesday. Welcome home! Also, congrats to Janella and Aaron Stronczek on their new girl Jarie Stronczek. A lot of babies born this year!

Chapter 1 of James can be broken into two sections. The first section (1:1-18) focuses on trials, temptations, maturity, God’s wisdom (which is kind of a running theme throughout the entire book of James), and God’s generosity. We serve a very good God. The second section (1:19-27) focuses on doing God’s Word. James gives a clear definition of what true religion is in verse 27. He writes,

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In this we see the principle of love for God (keeping oneself pure and unstained by the world) and neighbor (providing for orphans and widows who can’t help themselves). Here are some other tidbits of practical advice from verses 19-27:
Believers should…
­ Be quick to listen to others
­ Be slow to speak
­ Be slow to get angry
­ Put aside all filthiness and what remains of wickedness
­ Receive the word in humility
­ Prove themselves doers of the word.
­ Put the word into practice
­ Abide in the perfect law
­ Have a tame tongue
­ Visit orphans and widows
­ Keep themselves unstained by the world

I think verse 22 is the key verse of this section. It reads

Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

This verse holds us accountable for what we do with God’s Word. To be a “hearer” only is to deceive ourselves and forget what we look like. If we only hear we miss out on God’s blessings. There is a reward for obedience to God’s Word. Verse 25 says we are blessed (Makarios). To be blessed in this way means we have the favor of God upon us. Jesus told His disciples that the poor and poor in spirit were blessed (Matthew 5:3). Wouldn’t it be nice to know God is pleases with you? If yes, be a doer of the word. Obey God because you love Him.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Faith and Works

James 2:14-26

This section of James gives us his stance on faith and works. Real faith, according to James, will be accompanied by action. In verses 15 and 16 James presents us a scenario in which real faith and dead faith are contrasted. The scene is someone in need. More specifically, that someone needs clothes and food. Real faith would clothe the brother or sister in need of clothes and give them food. Dead faith would give them lip service accompanied by no action. When I think of someone with dead faith, the picture of a person getting “knocked off” in a mafia movie comes to mind. Their feet have been put in concrete and they can’t move. I like James’ poignant remark towards dead faith at the end of verse 16, “what use is that?”

James gives a couple of real life examples as we read along. In verses 21 through 23 he talks about Abraham offering Isaac to the Lord as a sacrifice. In verse 25 Rahab the prostitute is praised for lending a hand and helping the messengers of Israel take the city of Jericho. Apparently some in the early church (Jews and Gentiles?) believed faith could be alive without works. These real life examples (Abraham and Rahab) remind Christians of the thread between faith and works.

James teaches us that faith and works go hand in hand. If we leave faith alone it will die. If we nurture it with works it will thrive. Just like watering a plant or feeding a dog, faith is kept alive by action. I do not believe our works save us, but our works come as a result of us being saved. Verse 22 says, in regards to Abraham offering Isaac to the Lord as a sacrifice,

Faith was working with his works,
and as a result of the works,
faith was perfected.

James gives us the impression that our works perfect our faith. They make it the real deal. Faith is God working in us. Works are about us working with and for God. We team up with God when we receive Jesus. Christians must be careful to avoid the extremes of thinking they have to do absolutely nothing because they are saved for life and trying to do everything because they think salvation depends upon what they do. There is a balance between faith and works every Christian must strive for. Jesus was clear that we can’t save ourselves, but He was also clear when He said a Christian should bear fruit.

Interested in studying James 2:14-26 further? Here are some words to do word studies on from this section (I wrote only brief definitions for each).

- Faith (pistis) – Confidence and trust in God.
- Works (ergon) – Employment and working.
- Dead (nekros) – Dead, dead to sin, separated from God’s grace.
- Righteousness (dikaiosune) – Being declared right by God.