Thursday, December 06 2018
In today's conversation, we will continue asking ourselves questions about Discipleship. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, today's thoughts are directed at the purpose for our Discipleship and where it takes us. To do this we must first consider Who is the source of our discipleship.
Our Faith is not a formula or philosophy, not merely a way of life, list of commandments, set of rules, a social status, community, or an institution. It may include many of these elements and we often get these out of balance, but all of them are dependent on and flow from our relationship to a “Person”. He is a Divine Person, but a real Person nonetheless who revealed Himself in flesh and blood having a body, face, voice, and personality in the Person of Jesus Christ. And because we were made in His Image, we innately know how to relate to Him and to others made in His image. Through our conscience and the perception of our spiritual need, we know that He is a “Divine Person” and has superiority over us. He is the ultimate “Person” in the universe and the trustworthy example of what it means to grow in our own “personhood”. So, our apprenticeship in His example is with a “Person” in a never-ending and eternal relationship, not merely in a goal to be accomplished in this present life. This “relationship” is what it’s all about and the tutelage in that relationship is what it will all be about throughout eternity. Through our spiritual rebirth and adoption into His family, this “Person” has become our good and everlasting Father.
“As our Maker is our Father, so our Savior is our Brother when we come into the Family of God. Now, just as the knowledge of His unique Sonship controlled Jesus’ living of His own life on earth, so He insists that the knowledge of our adoptive sonship must control our lives too.” (J.I. Packer)
No one expresses these thoughts about whose Disciples we are and the motivation behind our Discipleship better than J. I. Packer in the chapter on "Adoption" in his book Knowing God. So, we will quote extensively from it on pages 200-210.
"What is a Christian? The richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as his Father…
'You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.' (Evang. Mag 7, pp. 19-20)
The following quotes are taken from Knowing God by J.I. Paker:
"…Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. …The revelation to the believer that God is his Father is in a sense the climax of the Bible.
The whole spirit of Old Testament religion was determined by the thought of God’s holiness. The constant emphasis was that human beings, because of their weakness as creatures and their defilement as sinful creatures, must learn to humble themselves and be reverent before God….
…But in the New Testament we find things have changed. God and religion are not less than they were; the Old Testament revelation of the holiness of God, and its demand for humility in man, is presupposed throughout. But something has been added. A new factor has come in. New Testament believers deal with God as their Father. Father is the name by which they call Him. Father has now become His Covenant name -- for the covenant which binds Him to His people now stands revealed as a family covenant. Christians are His children, his own sons and daughters, his heirs… To those who are Christ’s, the holy God is a loving Father; they belong to His family; they may approach Him without fear and always be sure of His Fatherly concern and care. This is the heart of the New Testament message…
… God intends the lives of believers to be a reflection and reproduction of Jesus’ own fellowship with Himself... All this extends to God’s adopted children. In, through, and under Jesus Christ their Lord, they are ruled, loved, companied with, and honored by their heavenly Father…
All this is possible because of our Adoption into God’s Family
…adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. This may cause raising of eyebrows, for justification is the gift of God on which, since Luther, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress, and we are accustomed to say, almost without thinking, that free justification is God’s supreme blessing to us sinners. Nonetheless, careful thought will show the truth of the statement we have just made.
That justification, by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with His acceptance for the future, as the primary and fundamental blessing of the Gospel, is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. As sinners, we all stand by nature under God’s judgment, so we need forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God more than we need anything else in the world. The Gospel offers Jesus' blood to us before it offers us anything else so that God may look on us sinners without condemnation and wrath.
But this is not to say that justification is the highest blessing of the Gospel. Adoption is higher, because of the rich, personal relationship with God that it enables and involves.
Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as Father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs! Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater. The entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of it. Sonship must be the controlling thought because all of our Lord's teaching on discipleship is cast in these terms.
It is clear that, just as Jesus always thought of Himself as Son of God in a unique since, so he also always thought of his followers as children of His Heavenly Father, members of the same divine family as He Himself. As our Maker is our Father, so our Savior is our Brother when we come into the Family of God. Just as the knowledge of His unique Sonship controlled Jesus’ living His own life and mission on earth, so He insists that the knowledge of our adoptive sonship must control our lives too.“
We are called to be Disciples not merely to be obedient servants, but for the high purpose of learning to be the very Son's and daughters of our Father in Heaven. We have come home to a Family and are learning the Family character and ways. The joy of this truth is captured in The old hymn "Be Thou my Vision".
Be Thou my Vision
1. Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night; waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
2. Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father, and I thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
3. Riches I need not, nor mans, empty praise, Thou my inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my treasure Thou art.
4. Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. –
Thou my best thought, by day or by night; waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
5. High King of Heaven, my victory won. May I reach Heaven’s joy, bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Next we will continue on this theme as we look at the "Promise of Discipleship".
Wherever in your journey these comments may find you, may they encourage you to make the next positive step, to take the HighRoads with our Lord toward the Sunlit Uplands.
Monday, November 26 2018
Hello again Everyone,
Continuing with our question "Are we Disciples", and do we wish to be? We can know that if, in our hearts, we desire to please the Lord and be apprenticed by Him. Even though we may be weak in confidence in ourselves, we can know that His hand is extended towards us, that He will be our confidence, strength, and reward if we but give our assent to come with Him and endeavor to obey Him.
The first step into discipleship is both our first step and every other step thereafter will be new in our journey as we are training to reflect His image. It inevitably involves at least four things: hearing with faith, sacrifice, (making the positive choice over the lesser), presevering in discipline, and resting in the reward. As we do this over and over in the course of our lives, we are being matured into the person and purpose for which we were created. In order to take these steps, disciples in faith discipline themselves to: Seek, Listen, Ask, Trust, Apply, and Rest His teachings to themselves and their lives.
They seek to hear God’s call to them, they seek to be with the Lord, they seek to learn from the Lord continually. It is an occupation of mind, heart, and body. School is in session 24 -7 wherever and everywhere the disciple is. Class was always in session with Jesus. Discipleship was a way of life. Jewish disciples were expected to observe their teachers/rabbis as they lived with them continually, to learn by asking questions, and then by applying, to their own lives, what they had observed. They learned by walking with someone, and then discovered/understood truth themselves as they applied in it their lives in the real world. What was learned in the classroom was meant to be realized and validated by experience. Teaching + experience = wisdom.
Disciples take time to listen to God by Reading Gods Word, meditating on the application of God’s Word to their life, by hearing faithful teachers in person, through books and media, and through the counsel of faithful family and friends. They believe Jesus when He says, “…the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” John 6:63, and “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deut. 8:3. Listening for the disciple is abiding in the life of Christ. (John 15:4); “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom.12:2) ; "…did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2)
Disciples Pray for wisdom and grace to understand and apply what they learn. Disciples depend on God for their spiritual and material needs through their prayers. ‘But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5); Give us this day our daily bread.’ (Matt. 6 :11)
Disciples receive as truth, and as settled in their minds, whatever Jesus tells them. Trust is the exercise of “Faith”. This life of faith and trust becomes their lifestyle.“But the righteous man shall live by faith.” “Romans 1:17
Disciples apply what they have learned: First to their own minds, hearts, and lives, then to those things in their lives for which they have responsibility and authority. And then, as there is opportunity, to the broader world around them. “Observe all that I commanded you.” Matt.28:20
Disciples rest in the Reward of their faith. "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11); He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6); His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matthew 25:21)
At the heart of the pursuit of Discipleship is the work of disipline of at least these practices. But not just disipline for disiplines sake, disipline for a greater purpose. The Apostle Paul compares the disciple to an athlete in the book of 1Corinthians when he says, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." We seek to be the Lord's Disciples for a purpose and a result much greater than merely our own benefit. Understanding this purpose and how it gives lift and energy to the pursuit of personal Discipleship in our lives now will be the subject of our next blog entry.
So, wherever in your journey these comments may find you, may they encourage you to make the next positive step, to take the HighRoads with our Lord toward the Sunlit Uplands.
Sunday, November 18 2018
Hello Brothers, Sisters, Family, and Friends,
Did you know that the first name for Christians was not "Christians" but “Disciples?”
The question above,” Are we Disciples?”, might also be posed,…are we personal in our relationship with the Lord, or are we …institutional? The people of God have always had to be wary of incorporating too much of the culture that they live into the practice of their faith lest they begin to lose the sacred difference between themselves and the world around them. As Jesus warned us, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.” We are worthless to our culture if we do not maintain our healthy distinctions, and yet, we are to be in the world and not part of it. So, it should not be surprising that living in a materialistic, rationalistic, pragmatic, industrialized society, dependent on and surrounded by nonliving machines to do our work, impersonal corporations to work in, and government to manage some of almost all aspects of our lives, that our understanding of the church and our relationship with our Lord might begin to take on similar characteristics. Are we sometimes mechanical, institutional, detached, maybe even somewhat entitled?
Jesus came to do many things but at the heart of the question of what he came to do for each of us is the question of Discipleship. There is no doubt that He came to save us from our sins, restore us to right relationships to our Heavenly Father as His adopted sons and daughters, give us an inheritance for eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth, and so much more. But, until and unless each of us are willing to listen to Him, seek to learn from Him, and intentionally apply all He has for us to learn, we will be more like spectators to our professed Faith than actually players in it. And Disciples are players. You see, when Jesus told the Apostles that they were to carry His message to the world, they were not told to make followers, churches,…or even what we call “Christians”, but they were told to make …….Disciples!
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt 28:18-20
Here is why this is such a big deal:
Being a “Disciple” is at the heart of what Jesus call’s us and all the members of the church to strive for.
But wait, aren’t followers, “Christians”, and Disciples all terms for the same thing? Maybe, that is if what is meant mean by being a follower, or Christian, means doing the same thing as a Disciple. So what is a Disciple then? The term "disciple" comes from the Greek word mathetes, which means a pupil (of a teacher) or an apprentice (to a master craftsman), in English through the Latin word discipulus it means a learner but the more common English word is student. In the Jewish culture it referred to people committed to following a leader “Rabbi”, imitating his life and passing on his teachings. To them discipleship meant much more than just the gaining of new spiritual information, it referred to internalizing the teacher’s values, recreating the model of his life in their own, and reproducing and promoting his teachings.
A Disciple then is someone who is actively engaged in learning and applying their teacher’s instruction to their life.
“A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice, --a practitioner…disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth…The disciple is one who, intent upon becoming Christ- like and so dwelling in his “faith and practice”, systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end. By these decisions and actions, one enrolls in Christ’s training and becomes a pupil or disciple. There is no other way.” “The Great Omission” Dallas Willard
So, a Disciple then is someone who has entered into an active personal relationship with the Master Teacher in order to learn from, imitate, and apply his teacher’s wisdom and instruction to his own life and world.
The key is an active relationship, not merely following along as an observer, or holding an identity.
So, are “WE”... Disciples…of the One we claim to believe in and trust for our salvation? Our Lord Jesus? Are we what Jesus told his Apostles He wanted for His Church? Or are we what the world calls …”Christians”…”church” goers, who in reality are only going along with the program, doing the right things, saying, the right things, “believing” the right things, showing up at the right times, in order to “get into heaven”, ….institutional believers….depending on the program to save us, but with no regular relationship of learning/applying with our Lord? Have we as “Christians” just become members and supporters of “institutions” almost like movie goers, or are we instead trying to be engaged in a relationship with a “Person” and the “persons” that He is engaged with? We often hear that we need to have a “personal relationship’” with Christ for our salvation, but somewhere along the way for many of us, that gets squeezed out in the grind of life and we begin coasting with the crowd, feeling assured we are Ok because we are in the ‘right crowd’. For some of us we have yet to understand the difference. And as blessed as the church might be, we should not substitute it for a learning relationship with the Lord Himself. Being a Disciple of our Lord, begins with our own personal, individual, response to His call to us to repent of our sins, to trust in Him for our salvation and life, to be with and learn from Him by His grace, every day of our life, for the rest of our lives. It is a call for us to prefer His company over all things and seek His company in all things.
Ouch,…. and yet we know in our hearts if we are honest that this is really something we cannot do! Without His enabling we are incapable of this kind of disciplined commitment. The good news is that it is only by His Grace day by day that we can do this, and this is only received as we seek daily to trust and place our faith in Him. “…Without Faith it is impossible to please God”. No,… having begun by the Spirit we are not now being perfected by the flesh, but He calls us to seek and trust, to have Faith in His Grace to accomplish this through us. Through His Grace He calls each of us to seek a vital learning, practicing relationship with Himself in our daily lives. To seek to “discipline” ourselves by in and through His Grace.
So are we disciples? How shall we know? Who determines this? While we might list evidences seen outwardly, ultimately it is a matter between each of us and the Lord Himself, the Lord bearing witness with our spirit, giving us assurance of our relationship as we faithfully seek Him. As one of the great confessions of Faith says, “God alone is Lord of the conscience”, and “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Cor 5:10. This is a personal matter between each of us and our Lord from the time we start out and each day afterward and ultimately it is a matter of our hearts. Do we have that spark of desire to be be all that he wants us to be or are we holding back, quietly deciding the terms of what our relationship with Him will be? Do our hearts cry out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” or are we more like those whom "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Mk 4:19." Are we allowing the institution of the church with it's outward trappings to carry us in our dull relationship with the Lord, or are we getting on with really seeking to be His Disciples? What do you hear in your heart?
Wherever in your journey these comments may find you, may they encourage you to make the next positive step, to take the HighRoads with our Lord toward the Sunlit Uplands.
Monday, October 01 2018
Dear brothers, sisters, family, and friends,
This month will mark the 38th anniversary of our wedding for Ellen and I. Those many years ago, when we were first married, Ellen took me to a high mountain road and a steep narrow mountain trail that ends at a beautiful mountain vista overlooking the North Georgia Mountains. It is difficult for a car to get there as the road up to the hiking trail is full of switchbacks and is not paved. Further, once you reach the trail, it ascends at a high grade for most of its length. But the task of climbing it is well worth the effort, because once you get there the rock ledges open up to beautiful, soundless, majestic, panoramic vistas overlooking all the surrounding mountains. The kind of scene that inspired one person I know of to spontaneously utter “there must be a God” sometime before he ever became a believer. A similar type of musing was expressed in a lyric of the song, “Southern Cross” by CSN, about beholding the Crux Constellation, the “Southern Cross”, in the Southern hemisphere. “When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way.” The total of the reward is greater than the sum of the parts (the effort) it takes to accomplish it.
So, the reason I relate this story has to do with the name of my blog, “HighRoads”. It is my hope that here on “HIghRoads” we will discuss and examine many things, but at the center of that will always be our quest for an increasingly faithful discipleship to our Lord Jesus and the “rewards” that the effort of that “upward call” on “the narrow path” will bring.
May God Bless,