Victory on the Summit (2)

In order to celebrate our victory on the summit, we must lay aside anything that would hinder our quest to get there.   And so we remember the Spirit’s words:

Do not fear those things that you will suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested. And you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life (Rv 2:10).

All preparations must be made to climb through all the trials that we will incur along the way in our quest to grow as disciples of Jesus. We seek to be aware of our hindrances in order to change or rearrange, or simply discard unnecessary baggage. Every successful mountaineer has a rucksack full of all those things that are necessary in order to be successful. And because weight is one of the most critical aspects of a successful climb to the summit, it is important to discard any unnecessary articles that would weigh one down in his or her quest.

We must be willing to break out of the bondage of past religiosity. Religiosity must be sacrificed for Christianity. Those things that obscure one’s vision of the summit of spiritual growth, must be left behind. Old appendages of religiosity may encumber our growth in Christ. We must be willing, therefore, to make all changes that are necessary in order to establish a greater relationship with King Jesus on our way to summit. There can be no growth in the knowledge of Jesus if one remains in the bondage of biblical ignorance or laden with fake religiosity (See 2 Pt 3:18).

There is no cheap trek to the peak where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15).   Some have held up or stalled their accent by claiming to have reached a “personal relationship” with Jesus.   This statement is never made in the New Testament, and thus, we need to be cautioned about the use of the phrase lest we deceive ourselves into reaching a spiritual summit that is far short of greater heights above. We may be claiming a victory that is short of what God has offered for us to enjoy.   In claiming a “personal relationship” with Jesus, we are actually weakening the authority of Jesus’ word in our lives and His promises that we must experience. And if we do this, we weaken the strength of His word and promises to empower us in spiritual growth (See Hb 4:12).

The claim of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is commonly made in a world of confused religionists who have little knowledge of the Bible, especially those passages that read with the meaning of what Jesus said in John 12:48: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him.” The Judge is Jesus. The standard of judgment is His word. If one uses the phrase “personal relationship” to define his relationship with the Judge, then he must seriously consider a very important point lest he establish for himself a manual on discipleship training that is weak and inactive, and thus will hold one up and stalled on a lower summit. In other words, if one does not consider the word of the Judge authoritative in determining his beliefs and behavior, then certainly he will not respectfully respond to it as the final standard for discipleship training.   One’s “personal relationship” with Jesus would make Jesus equal with everyone else with whom we have a “personal relationship.” Doing this is a similar theological apostasy as the Hebrews who were making Jesus equal with angels, but no greater (See Hb 1).

We have a “personal relationship” with our friends and spouses. In this relationship we are buddies. We are partners. We have one another’s back in times of crisis and trials. This definition of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is usually based only on one’s understanding of who Jesus was in His incarnate state with the early disciples who knew Him as they walked down the Galilean pathways. They talked with Him. They conversed, and possibly they played a game or two with Him. They had a “personal relationship” with Jesus on earth. Our relationship with Jesus is all this, save for the personal encounter with Him. But our relationship with Him is far greater.

On the night of His betrayal, and during His final hours with His disciples, Jesus prepared the disciples for a paradigm shift in their relationship with Him. He said, “You call Me Teacher and Lord. And you are right, for so I am” (Jn 13:13). During His personal ministry with them, the disciples grew to the point of calling Him Teacher (Rabbi). They had also progressed spiritually to calling Him their Lord. But before making this statement to the disciples, and on the same occasion, Jesus had said to them, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him. The word that I have spoken, the same will judge him in the last day (Jn 12:48). Our friends with whom we have “personal relationships” would never say this to us. Our wives or husbands with whom we have “personal relationships” would never say this to their spouses. Only one who was God could make such a statement, and our relationship with God is far different and greater than our personal relationship with anyone on this earth.

What the disciples of Jesus did not know at the time when Jesus was personally with them, was that He was about to ascend to the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul later confessed that God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained” (At 17:31). It is this Judge who is coming again. And it is with this Judge that we must establish a relationship. But the relationship is beyond simply “personal.”

By the time Paul made the preceding statement, his relationship with Jesus had changed from the time when he thought Christians were only a religious sect of this world. At the time he made the statement, Paul had an obedient relationship with the Judge who was King of kings and Lord of Lords. He had this relationship in mind when he wrote,

 The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Th 1:7,8).

Now when we use the phrase “personal relationship” in reference to our discipleship of Jesus, it is this Lord Jesus Christ before whom all men will give account of their sins, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Co 5:10). In order to stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus, we must have an obedient relationship with Him in reference to His word by which we will all be judged (Jn 12:48).

Discipleship of Divinity must move beyond the “personal relationship” that the disciples had with Jesus before He ascended to the right hand of God. Our knowledge of the Lord Jesus must include more than the information provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One must move on to the ascension of Jesus, and then into the epistles wherein it is declared that the Father raised Jesus . . .

. . . from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not in this age, but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet …” (Ep 1:20-22).

We must not settle for a cheap discipleship that sparks no fear deep in our souls in reference to standing before the Lord Jesus in judgment. Our personal friends may forget a multitude of sins because of their love for us.   Our spouses may do the same. But if one is not obediently walking in the light of the word of the Lord Jesus, then His blood will not cleanse him of sin (See 1 Jn 1:7). And if we stand before the Lord Jesus in judgment, then we will have serious trouble.

As the first disciples who walked with Jesus moved on from a personal to an obedient relationship with a reigning King, we too must move on as disciples to the summit of our King Jesus (See Ep 1:20-22).   This the early disciples did.   And because they did, the word of King Jesus empowered them on to higher summits. This we also must do. Jesus is now the ascended Judge at the right hand of God who is coming to judge the world.   It is this Judge with whom we must now have an obedient relationship. When this relationship with Jesus is established, then we too will be able to declare with Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Ph 4:13). And to mountaineers this means, “We can reach all spiritual summits through the One who empowers us.”

The early disciples of Jesus made this paradigm shift. Paul explained this transition in the lives of the first disciples: “Even though we have known Christ [personally] according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more (2 Co 5:16). The first disciples had a personal relationship with Jesus when they walked with Him “according to the flesh” during His earthly ministry. But that all changed when Jesus ascended on high to the right hand of God. Knowing that the Lord Jesus now has all authority is comforting (Mt 28:18).   Knowing that the Lord Jesus is head over all things is empowering (Ep 1:22). Knowing that the Lord Jesus upholds all things by the power of His word is reassuring (Hb 1:3).

Our discipleship with Jesus is based on love, but it is a love about which John wrote: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). Our love must go into action. We know that we are God’s “little children,” therefore, “when we love God and keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:2). “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:3).

Our discipleship of Divinity is now based on our obedience to the commandments of our Lord. Our obedience is always flawed, but our flaws are covered by His grace. We cannot ignore commandments by focusing on grace, lest we turn the grace of God into a life of disobedience (Jd 4). True disciples of Divinity love God through their love of His commandments. It is for this reason that a true disciple is discovered by his or her obsession with the word of his Lord (See At 17:11). A true disciple seeks to be knowledgeable of the “climbing manual” of the Judge before He shows up at the court house for judgment (Hb 9:27).

When the love of God’s commandments reigns in our hearts, fellowship between Bible loving disciples happens. And when the fellowship of obedient Bible lovers happens, then we are brought together in assembly to sing the praises of our Lord and Savior.

Once we clear away all the religiosity that may have been handed down to us through our fathers, we are then on our way to the summit of an unadulterated relationship with the Judge who is seated at the right hand of God. The first disciples transitioned in their relationship with Jesus from personal to the One who reigns as a king over all things (At 17:31). If we would have an obedient discipleship relationship with this Lord Jesus, then we too should say as Eli instructed Samuel the next time he heard the still quiet voice from the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Sm 3:9).

Do not forget these words from Jesus: “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). When times get tough on “discipleship mountain,” and when you think you have spent your last efforts to scale the slopes, having dressed yourself with Christ, have handy also a comb and some lipstick.

[End of series on Disciples of Divinity. Download the book from www.africainternational.org, Biblical Research Library, Book 71. If you would share the book around the world, it would be appreciated.]

Victory on the Summit (1)

When we were in high school, one of our new school classmates who grew up in the city, and after observing our stout physic, asked my brother and me, “Do you guys work out on weights?” We answered “no,” realizing that our father had “grown a gym” on a Kansas farm where he “worked us out” every day. We grew up on a farm just this side of horse-drawn implements—our father had walked behind a horse pulling a plow in his early years.   But on our “farm gym,” we had 35 kilogram hay bales that we had to deal with from hay cutting time to cattle feeding throughout the winter months. The advantage we had in growing up on the “farm gym” of our father was that we developed arms and legs for mountains.

My wife, Martha, and I eventually moved to Africa in 1989. In our early years in Africa we climbed our share of mountains, but none as Mount Kenya and Kilamanjaro—they are on the bucket list. (Fortunately, I have lost that bucket.) Nevertheless, in our adventure to climb mountains in South Africa, one particular mountain almost did us in.

Knowing that we liked to hike and climb mountains, a good friend of ours studied a particular mountain that she thought would be a challenge for us. So a team was put together, plans were made, and the day arrived for our assault on a mountain summit in 1992.

It was easy to get to base camp. We drove our cars. (OK, we cheated.) But with a good night’s sleep at base camp, we were up at 6:00AM, rucksacks packed, and the team of eight trekked toward what we thought was the summit of a challenging mountain.

Hours went by as we trudged a rocky pathway around the mountain that gradually steepened as we made our way up the southside.   The temperature that day at base camp would eventually rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). After laboring and sweating in the lower rising heat, we began to climb into the cooler temperatures of higher altitudes.   But we were a long way from the “summit” that we could see at our level.

After eight hours of laborious struggle, I looked back at Martha and saw that she was somewhat fatigued, but gallantly trudging on in good spirits. Such could not be said for some of the other team members. Nevertheless, we were all determined to carry on.

The wife of one team member was almost at the end of her endurance. So I offered, as any strong-legged farmer, to carry her rucksack. I placed it on my chest, which balanced out my own rucksack on my back. We continued to climb.

From the lower altitudes, we could see what we all first believed was the summit of the mountain. So onward we encouraged one another to go. Because I was the faster of the lot, I went on before the team to walk the way up in order to encourage the exhausted mountaineers below that they could make it to the summit. So for about an hour I labored on up the mountain toward the top. But as I neared what we thought was the summit, I realized that it was not the summit at all. It was only a high ridge that hid the real summit that was much further on up. As I neared the summit of that ridge I was amazed at how much higher the actual summit extended into the heavens.

It was a moment of emotional deflation. I was somewhat disheartened about my discovery.   I stopped to ponder the predicament of the exhausted team below. I calculated that the rest of the team was nearing the end of their physical abilities, as I was close to mine. I looked back and could not see them beyond a ridge over which I had just climbed.   So with my best yell at the top of my voice, I cried out, “Go back! Go back!   This is not the summit!” I cried out the command over and over.

I then assured myself that they had all heard my pleas that they return to base camp. Nevertheless, I was determined to conquer the real summit of this mountain.   I convinced myself that I could do this mountain. So on I went, up to the “deceptive summit,” and then down into a valley on the other side.   Fortunately, in the valley there was a small stream of water. I was in desperate need of water because I was at the end of my supply. I drank like a camel and then threw myself on the ground exhausted just to have a moment of recovery. That was a mistake. Cramps set in and my “farmer legs” stiffened with excruciating pain. I was there alone and surmised that rescuers would eventually find this forty-five year old body sprawled out on the ground with a distorted face lying stiffened by a creek of water.

After some time, however, I recuperated, stood up, and worked out the rest of the pain as my body emptied the toxins that had cramped my belabored leg muscles. I remember, however, having this feeling of peace because I was sure that the team had surely heard my pleas that they return to base camp. I could go in peace alone to the summit, and then make the descent the following day to reunite with them at base camp.   Solitude at the time was truly the best company.

It was now about 6:00PM. I finally reached the real summit and celebrated my victory with a cooked can of beans from a camper’s rucksack cooker. I was at peace and exhilarated by the fact that after eleven hours of climbing I was victorious over the mountain. It was now time to sleep a full night in the tranquility that only summits can offer.

So at about 7:00PM I laid my worn and wasted body down with the setting sun for my prayers of the night. During my conversation with God, I heard this still small voice. It was as if it were coming from a great distance away.   “Rooooger! Rooooger!” the voice cried out. It raced across my mind, “God, is that You?” And there it was again: “Rooooger! Rooooger!” After I theologically readjusted myself, I perceived that the voice was that of Martha, my beloved wife. What?   How in all the world, I thought, was the voice of Martha making its way up from the base of the mountain to the summit where I had convinced myself that I was alone with God? Had I become delirious in my fatigue?

After coming to my senses and overcoming my shock, I jumped up and headed through the twilight hours back down the trail toward the echo of the pleading voice. After over about a half kilometer of hurried walk, I saw in a distance this woman seated calmly on a rock. As I hurriedly drew closer to the “woman on the rock,” I identified her in the twilight as my devoted wife. Thoughts raced through my mind: What in the world is she doing up here? Did she not hear my plea that the team return to base camp?

But there she was, having trudged on before the other team members, two of whom had to give up the quest and return to base camp.   She was somber on that rock. She had neatly combed her hair. She had put on lipstick, straightened her clothing, and sat there calmly on that rock. When I approached her, she had this solemn appearance, being totally exhausted of all emotion and physical strength, but totally ready to give herself over to God.   She was at the edge of the agony of defeat.

She later explained to me her mental state of mind at the time, “I knew I was going to die on that mountain. And when the search party found my body, I didn’t want to look bad.”

To say the least, that was the day that I truly understood that there was more in the woman that I married than I thought, more than even she herself knew. (Mountains have a way of revealing to ourselves who we really are.)

Having not heard my pleas to the team to return to base camp, through some marital instinct she had followed her adventurous husband to the summit of a mountain where she was willing to give herself in death that she be by his side. And by his side she was that night on the summit that both of us had conquered.   And when darkness eventually crept upon the face of the earth that surreal night, and as we lay cradled in one another’s arms, both of us had a greater admiration for the other, me more than she.

[Next lecture in series: May 7]

Envision the Summit (3)

B.  The bondage of unrealized preparations:

When some Christians make their assemblies all that there is about being a disciple, then they will seek to establish a theological outline of order by which each assembly is validated as legally correct.   When one has walked through the legal performances of the assembly, then his discipleship is confirmed. He can step outside the legal assembly after the “closing prayer” and feel that he is a legally validated disciple, and thus has no responsibility to work for Jesus.

What the legal assembliologist has forgotten is that the assembly of the saints is the result of our discipleship.   We are disciples of Divinity before we show up at any assembly. If the validation of our discipleship were based on assemblies, then we would be forced to establish some theological basis for what would be a “scriptural” assembly. Once we performed the “scriptural” assembly, then we would feel reassured that we have scripturally proved our discipleship without manifesting our faith through ministry to others (See Js 2:14-26). The result of this thinking has in the past led some into a quagmire of debate as to whose assembly is scripturally correct, regardless of how one behaves outside the “hour of worship.”

If discipleship is determined by the doctrinal correctness beyond fundamentals, and in the area of religious opinions, then we are still in the arena of debate because we too often try to sneak into our theology our opinions as fundamental, and then make our opinions a standard by which we determine faithful discipleship. This leads us to make judgments concerning whose opinions are “scriptural,” and whose opinions are “false doctrine.” And the debates continue endlessly.

Two contexts of discipleship in the New Testament might help settle most of the debate. The first is Acts 2 and the second is the book of Hebrews. In the first, there were about 3000 on the day of Pentecost who were added by God to the number of disciples, the number of which was only about 120 at the beginning of the day. But by the end of the day, God had added to this number about 3000 who believed on Jesus as the Son of God and were baptized into His name (At 2:38,41). Their knowledge of “New Testament doctrine,” therefore, was quite limited.

The second case scenario is on the other end of a lifetime of discipleship. These were the Jewish (Hebrew) disciples who had been Christians for many years (See Hb 10:32,33). These disciples were on the verge of forsaking the fundamental truths concerning who the ascended Jesus was and what He now does in the life of the Christian. They were Jewish disciples who were returning to the Levitical system of the Sinai law.

Now compare these two cases. The new disciples in Acts 2 were added to the number of existing disciples upon their belief in what Peter announced on that day for the first time in history, the message of the gospel of the reigning Son of God (At 2:22-36). They were disciples of Jesus before their first assembly of the saints the following Sunday. They were added to the church of disciples by God before the church had its first assembly.

Other than their knowledge of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, and what Peter preached in Acts 2:22-36, the 3000 responded and were baptized. After Peter’s message, the audience responded to the apostles, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (At 2:37). Then came the instructions of Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized.”   And, “with many other words he testified and exhorted …” them on that same day (At 2:40).

Now in a brief time—Peter had to leave room in the day for the actual baptism of 3000 people—these 3000 heard, believed and obeyed, and were subsequently added to the body of disciples (At 2:47).   There could not have been much time for the continued schooling in the truth on that day since 3000 were baptized.   It seems that their initial discipleship was not based on a great deal of knowledge in reference to who Jesus is or what the church was.

The point is clear. These initial 3000 disciples had little teaching concerning the new covenant before they were claimed as disciples by God and added to the other disciples (At 2:47). Discipleship does not depend on knowing a complicated outline of “proof-text scriptures.” Knowledge of books on “theology” are not necessary to be a disciple of Divinity. No church manuals or books on “church doctrine” are necessary to be a disciple. All that one needs to get started in his or her trek of discipleship can be communicated in a matter of minutes, or at the most, an hour or so, for that was all the time Peter and the apostles had on the day of Pentecost before they started immersing about 3000 people in the same day.

Those who heard the gospel were discipled to Jesus (See Mt 28:19,20). They were subsequently baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   In response to what they initially heard to become disciples, was the beginning of their lifetime of discipleship that involved continued study of the word of the One after whom they claimed to be disciples.

Now consider what the Hebrew disciples were changing in the context of the book of Hebrews. These disciples were going back into the bondage of the Sinai law.   And in order to do this, they had to give up the fundamentals of what the disciples on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 had accepted. The reason for their turning back from the One into whose name they had been baptized was that they failed to study as disciples, and thus, grow in the faith (See Hb 5:11; 2 Pt 3:18).

The Acts 2 disciples accepted the fact that Jesus was the prophesied Son of God who was resurrected from the dead and was sitting at the right hand of God (At 2:24-28). They accepted Him as the only Lord over all things (At 2:34). He was the Messiah (Christ) who fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning His coming and priesthood (Lk 24:44; At 2:36). Because of their lack of spiritual growth, all these things the Hebrew disciples were giving up. And for this reason, they were going back into destruction (Hb 10:39).

If one gives up those initial fundamental truths concerning who Jesus is and what He now does, and fails to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pt 3:18), then he will lose his discipleship. All the 3000 who were baptized on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 were Jews, many of whom were visiting from locations in Asia Minor. The book of Hebrews was written many years later to Jewish Christians. It makes one wonder if many of the 3000 Jews who were baptized in A.D. 30 on the day of Pentecost failed to continue their growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. At least this was the exhortation of Peter when he wrote to Jewish Christians who were living in different provinces of Asia Minor, some of whom may have been among the 3000 during the A.D. 30 event (See 2 Pt 3:18).

One may be added to the body of saints upon acceptance of the fundamentals of who Jesus is and His function as our high priest.   But if we do not move on from the first principles of the faith (Hb 6:1-3), then we will fall back into our past religious heritage as those to whom the Hebrew writer was addressing his warning. If one does fall back into his old religious heritage, then he will lose his discipleship of Jesus, and thus fall back into destruction (Hb 10:39).

The Acts 2 disciples accepted the fundamental truths concerning who Jesus was. The Hebrew disciples were forsaking these fundamentals. Therefore, our discipleship in reference to belief is based on the fundamentals of who Jesus is and what He presently does in reference to His high priesthood. Our response to who He is generates discipleship by what He does through the continual cleansing of our sins by His blood (1 Jn 1:7).

We begin our journey as His disciples, not because of a knowledge of a complex outline of scriptures on the “identity of the church,” but on the fundamental fact of who Jesus is. Once one is discipled to Jesus as the reigning Son of God, he is then baptized into Christ in order to begin his or her life as a studious member of a universal body of disciples who have likewise responded to King Jesus (See Gl 3:26-29). The Holy Spirit’s letters of the New Testament were written to help us climb the mountain of discipleship. They were not written to prove that we are disciples of Jesus. According to what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, we are baptized disciples. One is discipled to Jesus, and then baptized.

We commit ourselves to follow Jesus before we apply His cleansing blood at the point of baptism in order to have our sins washed away (At 22:16). The letters of the New Testament were written in order to give us the road map to continue growing in our discipleship until we reach the summit of where He is on high.

C.  The bondage of a past religious heritage:

If one’s faithfulness to his religious heritage (traditions) is the validation for his discipleship, then he can identify with the Jews of Jesus’ day who had almost 2,000 years of heritage from the day of Abraham. Of course, between Abraham and the Jews who lived at the time Jesus came into the world, a host of traditions had been added to the Jews’ heritage. These traditions of their heritage posed a significant obstacle for most Jews in reference to becoming disciples of Jesus.

During one encounter with Jesus, the guardians of the Jewish heritage (the Pharisees and scribes) complained to Jesus about the behavior of Jesus’ disciples: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders …” (Mk 7:5). Jesus’ answer was quite unsettling. “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own tradition” (Mk 7:9).

Our traditional religiosity (heritage) has an significant influence on how we define discipleship. In fact, if our heritage in some way comes into conflict with our relationship with Jesus, then we often display a greater commitment to our religious heritage than we do to Jesus. At least this is what happened in the lives of most of the Jews of the first century.

Our traditions often become a crutch for our discipleship, if not the definition of how we relate to Jesus. However, we must keep in mind that any tradition of our heritage that conflicts with our discipleship of Jesus must be sacrificed in order for us to be the living sacrifice that God desires of us as disciples of Jesus. Discipleship, therefore, often calls on certain necessary sacrifices that must be made in order to become and maintain one’s discipleship.

The problem with the traditions of our heritage is that submission to traditions perpetuates our religious heritage. And if our heritage is in some way contrary to the commandments of God, then we are in trouble if we are not willing to sacrifice any conflicting traditions. Without Jesus, our heritage is simply a religion that has been fabricated according to our own traditions. When our religious traditions are the foundation of our faith, we are simply being submissive to the “traditions of our fathers.” This was the challenge of the Jews when Jesus walked into their lives.

When submission to Jesus came into conflict with the traditions of the Jewish fathers, the Jews had great difficulty in making the sacrifice that was necessary in order to become disciples of Jesus. But because the initial disciples of Jesus were willing to exalt Jesus over tradition, the Pharisees and scribes recognized in the disciples’ behavior some things that were contrary to the religious practices of their fathers. We would rightly conclude, therefore, that it is not wrong to have traditions, but when those traditions that support our faith are contrary to being a disciple of Jesus, as were some of the traditions of the early Jews, then those traditions must be sacrificed. Any religious traditions of man that would hinder our discipleship must be sacrificed in order to submit totally to Jesus.

Each person comes to Jesus with the baggage of his or her own religious traditions. Any of those traditions that would hinder our discipleship must be sacrificed in order that we obey the will of God. Only those traditions that are not contrary to the will of God may remain, as long as those traditions do not divide disciples from one another. If a particular tradition is used to divide disciples from one another, then that tradition also must be sacrificed. It must be sacrificed in order to maintain unity among the saints.

Each potential disciple, therefore, must sacrifice some religious traditions that were once valuable in maintaining a past religion that was contrary to the will of God. But if one is not willing to make these sacrifices, then he will remain in the bondage of his own religious heritage, as well as infringe on the freedom that we all have in Christ (Gl 5:1).

[Next lecture in series: May 6]

Envision the Summit (2)

No summits can be reached in our quest to be the best disciples of Divinity that we can be without great struggle and a concentrated effort to mold our lives after our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the message that older disciples gave to new disciples in the first century: We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (At 14:22). Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tm 3:12).

In order to stand on spiritual summits, we must bear down and prepare. We must release ourselves from past obstacles that hinder spiritual growth in order to make our way up torturous slopes. Jesus ascended on high in only a few moments. It will take most of us a lifetime of struggle to get there. In our quest, we must remember that we must first escape the prison of our past in order to free ourselves for the future.   It is so with our past life of religiosity that was often wrapped in the rags of superficial validations of what we considered discipleship. It was in this context of religiosity that Jesus came with a new vision for His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another …. By this will all men know that you are My disciples (Jn 13:34,35).

Love was not new, but the extent to which the disciples would be called on to love one another would be new. They were to love one another as I have loved you (Jn 13:34). Every time a disciple looks at a cross, he must envision the extent of the new love that he or she must have for other disciples.

Because the commandment is new, Christian discipleship is a paradigm shift in love. It is not something magic that happens in one’s life upon obedience to the gospel. It is something into which one grows. Remember what Jesus said to husbands? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ep 5:25). This is the summit to which we must stringently aspire. An aged couple who have been married for decades may putter around the house mumbling to one another and manifesting no “jump-up-and-down” excitement about being together. They may not lavish one another with passion and carry on as a couple who have been married for only a week.   But they are still there together after decades, after passion has turned to sacrificial love, and even when sexual drives have faded into a distant memory. However, if a stranger would break into their house and threaten the wife, that love “just-as-Christ-also-loved-the-church” would instinctively break forth in the husband to protect his wife at even the cost of his own life.

This is a love that is beyond even a friend dying for a friend. It is beyond loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is a love that has, over the years, grown into a response that is as natural as scratching an itch. It is into this paradigm of love that disciples of Divinity seek to venture.   It is a summit of love that blinds one to the multitude of faults in our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a love with results that have matured over years of constant focus and struggle. It is this love that moves us out of the bondage of the past in order that we reach the peaks of being a true disciple of Divinity.

Unfortunately, the paradigm of the new love into which Jesus calls His disciples is hindered by some skeletons of past religiosity.   Our “churchianity” of the past has often bound our efforts to love without shackles as we seek to walk with Jesus as His disciples. So the Hebrew writer exhorted some disciples who had been held up at base camp for too many years:

let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith … (Hb 12:1,2).

Discipleship involves identifying those weights and sins that have come over us and have entangled us in our struggle to scale away obstacles for spiritual growth. We have sought in this book to identify the “weights” and “sins” in order to successfully mature in our efforts to reach the summit of the new love. We must now identify some of the most difficult shackles of bondage that increasingly hold us back from reaching the spiritual peaks with Jesus. These are hindrances to spiritual growth into which we often grow. We find ourselves held up frustrated at base camp and cannot seem to get beyond stagnation. We see the summit of where Jesus wants us to be. But to get there, we must recognize those areas of religiosity that often hold us back, and are often very deceptive. They are deceptive because we are tempted to excuse behavior that falls far short of the summit we seek to reach. We satisfy ourselves with residence at the base camp when we should be making an assault on the summit.

A.  The bondage of base camp:

The base camp is established by mountaineers as the supply depot from which they make their final assault on the summit.   The climbers will awake early in the dark hours and begin their final climb to the summit, and then they will return to base camp in the same day.

We have often cursed ourselves with a “base camp” of four walls and a roof in which we have boxed in our discipleship.   It is comfortable at this “base camp.”   It has pews or benches, and as long as we occupy space on one of these pews or benches once a week, we judge ourselves to be faithful disciples. Outside this “base camp” box, and after a “closing prayer,” we feel free to carry on with our former lives before we entered the “church house” box a little over an hour before. We have conveniently boxed Jesus in there with the “church house furniture,” and thus, we can leave Him there when the box is locked. And as long as Jesus stays in that box, we are free to behave as we please throughout the week.

Some may feel that we have focused in this book too much on our time in the box. We have for good reasons—and we are not concerned about being redundant.   When “leaders” are sanctimonious during the “hour of worship,” but turn into ravenous caged wolves after the “closing prayer” when they meet during the “business meeting,” then we know that something is definitely wrong in our definition of discipleship. When prayers and hymns are characteristic of these “leaders” during the “worship hour,” but power and harm are vented during the “business meeting,” then we must challenge ourselves concerning what we understand discipleship to be.

What a “dichotomous disciple” does is validate his discipleship by what happens in the box. We may validate that we are disciples by what we might call “serial performances” (“the order of worship”). We legally establish for ourselves a series of “acts” that must be performed in order that we be classified as the “scripturally true church.” We would even argue over the “order of worship”—during the business meeting, of course—in order that everyone eventually feels comfortable that the rituals of the assembly have been faithfully performed.   In this way we can claim that we are faithful disciples or righteous leaders. Once the performances of the assembly have been successfully conducted, and signed off with a “closing prayer,” then we can leave the box with the satisfaction that we are faithful disciples of Jesus. We can even enter the “business meeting” and argue at will.

There are others who have trashed any order in assembly by running through Jerusalem to emotional chaos. These are those who seek to generate in the box an emotional euphoria in order to validate their discipleship until another concert is conducted the following Sunday. The attendees of this boxed worship do not focus on a system of legal acts to validate their discipleship. They claim discipleship on the basis that they can unleash an emotional outpouring in a charged assembly of energetic performers who entertain the boxed audience.   Unfortunately, while the youth may enjoy this system of validation for their discipleship, the older folks appear to have “lost the Spirit” in their quietness and inability to manifest any exuberant outward appearance of euphoria. They thus show up at the box that is designed for “senior worship.”

When one seeks to use any assembly of disciples as the validation for his discipleship, then he or she will have great difficulty in transitioning into the paradigm of the new love by which Jesus has loved us. When assemblies are focused on us, then they train us to be religious narcissists in the Sunday morning box. What should be worship of God turns into assemblies that are focused on what we want.   This is true because our discipleship is being validated by the presence and performance of others, not by falling to our knees in worship of God. We must be careful about seeking outside influences in order to generate inward worship.

Some churches bring in and prop up a cross in their boxes in order to give a pretense of their “cross-bearing in the box.”   But Jesus’ cross was not in a box.   It was outside the city on a hill, a place where thieves were crucified. He drug His cross up the slope of Mount Calvary in order to be crucified outside. A boxed in validation of discipleship often loses its power when we walk outside the box doors in order to reach the summit. Disciples cannot lock the cross in a church house. They must drag it daily in their struggle to the summit.   Jesus reminded His disciples, “And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple (Lk 14:27). On another occasion He said to His audience, “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23).

It would be axiomatic to say that the more we use our assemblies to validate our discipleship, the less our discipleship reflects that for which Jesus calls. If one feels a sense of release after the “amen” of a “closing prayer,” then he or she should know that something is wrong. When we feel a sense of release and freedom from the “hour of worship,” then we know that something is wrong when we step outside our boxed religiosity. Discipleship is about daily living, not legal assemblies or euphoric performances.

We must be honest with ourselves. If for some unfortunate reason, maybe because of travel or sickness, we were not able to be in a regular weekly assembly with the saints for several weeks, would our faith grow? Or, would it weaken?

Remember Acts 8:4? “Those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” At the time this migration of disciples happened, there were no assemblies of the saints “everywhere” they went. Think about Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (At 13,14). The first part of the journey was at least one year in length. On this journey, the two disciples did not go from one assembly of the saints to another assembly. There were no assemblies of the saints in the places to which they went! They were initially alone in towns and cities, as all the other disciples in the Acts 8:4 case who went forth because they were scattered throughout the Roman Empire.

The discipleship of Paul and Barnabas was not validated by either a legal performance of assemblies, or by some emotionally charged hysterical euphoria. There was no “two-or-three-gathered-together” in the places to which they went until someone obeyed the gospel. And yet, in being alone in their travels, the faith of these early disciples did not diminish. The results of their evangelistic success proves that their faith actually increased.

If our relationship with Jesus must be validated by some assembly of the saints, then we have not yet stepped into the paradigm of daily discipleship into which Jesus calls us. Christianity is not about assemblies. It is about daily cross-bearing which means daily discipleship.   It is a life-style.

Some will say, “You are discouraging people from attending the assembly.” By posing the objection, they have proved the point. They have confessed up to their attendance-oriented definition of discipleship. And this is the problem.   We have relegated discipleship to be a check on an attendance chart at “base camp.” We have moved from daily discipleship to weekly “hour of worship” discipleship. The assembly of the disciples is a problem only when the disciples make the assembly all there is about being a disciple.

[Next lecture in series: May 5]

Envision the Summit (1)

“And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain. And when He sat down, His disciples came to Him (Mt 5:1).

“And after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).

In 1942 Felice Benuzzi was gazing intently at Mount Kenya through the barbed-wire fence of a prisoner-of-war camp in Nanyuki, Kenya. He was in the World War II prison camp because of the Allied conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1941.   After the conquest, the Italian population of Abyssinia was rounded up and taken to British prison-of-war camps in Kenya.

But there was Benuzzi, gazing at the majestic summit of Mount Kenya. He reminisced of his early years as a young boy who was the child of an Italian man married to an Austrian woman, both being very accomplished mountaineers.   He too became the same as a young man, and thus his hypnotic gaze at Mount Kenya stirred within him childhood memories as he longed to stand on the mountain summit.

Over a period of weeks his infatuation with the mountain became too much. So in the middle of 1942, he made a determined decision to escape and climb.   But in order to do this, he first had to escape from a prison camp. He knew that a great deal of preparation was needed, and so for six months Benuzzi prepared to satisfy his urges to escape bondage and find freedom on Mount Kenya.

In the prison at the time, cigarettes were the units of “monetary exchange.” So he stopped smoking in order to use the camp issued cigarettes to buy supplies and make equipment for the venture. Unbeknownst to the prison guards, Benuzzi orchestrated fellow prisoners into helping him make the necessary ice-axes, crampons, save food, make rucksacks, and collect together all other needed supplies for a team of three prisoners to make a fourteen day excursion up Mount Kenya. During his months of preparation, he also recruited two other adventurous prisoners to make the adventurous risk with him.

And then on Sunday night, January 24, 1943, Benuzzi and team left a note for the commander of the prison camp that read, “We’ll be back in 14 days.” He did not disclose where he and his team were headed. The team of three left their identity cards with the note so that the commander would not have to fret about who escaped, but also to relieve the other prisoners from having to “spill the beans” on their three fellow inmates at roll call.

For the first six to seven days, the team could climb only at night, lest they be spotted by someone in the area, or through binoculars by guards at the camp. With their heavily laden rucksacks of food for two weeks, they laboriously trudged through knee-deep marshes, squeezed through bamboo forests that were almost impassible, waded up streams and conquered glaciers. It was an extremely tortuous climb.

They knew of only two or three people who had climbed the mountain before. Their only “map” to scale the mountain was an artist’s drawing on a Kenylon brand meat and vegetable can, and what Benuzzi had mapped out in his mind in his observance of the mountain through binoculars. It was thus a formidable trek of nightly struggle, coupled with unbelievable tenacity, just to get to the treeline. Nevertheless, the team was determined to realize their dream of conquering the summit of Batian, the highest peak of the 17,040 foot mountain.

After establishing their base camp, Benuzzi, with fellow team mate, Giovanni Balletto, would make their assault on the summit. The third member of the team, Enzo Barsotti, remained in the comfort of the base camp. On their attempt to reach the summit of Batian, the two exhausted men eventually called it quits. A relentless snowstorm had broken out on the mountain and subsequently drove them back to base camp. When they finally returned to base camp, they fell to the ground exhausted after an 18-hour day of climbing. Though food supplies were severely low, they determined to try for the sister peak of Lenana the following day, which was unfortunately not the highest peak of the mountain. But the two men had starved themselves for lack of sufficient food, and thus felt they had no strength to make another assault on Batian.

It was on the ninth day after they had escaped the prison camp, and after a day to recuperate from the previous struggle for Batian peak, on February 6th at 1:30AM, Benuzzi and Balletto began another assault, but this time for the summit of Lenana. After hours of laborious climbing, they reached the summit of Lenana at 10:30AM. The months of preparation, and the days of struggle had paid off as the two men stood victorious on Mount Kenya. They planted the flag of Italy to memorialize their feat. (No Picnic On Mount Kenya, 1952, Felice Benuzzi.)

[Next lecture in series: May 4]

Multiple Discipleship (2)

E.  The Wife/Husband:

Make no mistake on this point, our spouses know who we really are … usually. Husbands and wives have their individual secrets, especially of those things in their past before they met. However, strangers do not know the person to whom we are married. And certainly, the person our spouses know is different from the perception of our enemies. True friends are close, but our spouses know us when all the shields are down when we are at home alone with them.

One of the assets of a good spouse was mentioned by Peter: “And above all things have fervent love among yourselves, for love will cover a multitude of sins (1 Pt 4:8). This statement was made in reference to the relational function of members of the body with one another. It is a statement of wisdom that is also true in good marriage relationships. Our spouse knows that we have a “multitude of sins.” And yet, our spouses still love us. Relational love keeps spouses together for life. Through all our faults and arguments, a loving spouse will hang in there.   Our spouses will stay with us regardless of all they know about us. It is what fervent love does.

F.  You:

This may be the person who has the most difficulty in knowing who we really are. This is true because James said that we can “deceive yourselves” (Js 1:22).   Jesus had this in mind when He said, “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your bother’s eye” (Mt 7:5). Because of many unfortunate motives, we have great difficulty in extracting that beam. And because we are blinded by that monstrous beam, we reveal to others someone we are not.   And truly, Solomon pronounced the correct judgment upon every “beamer”: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Pv 21:2). One feels he is right in his own eyes because he cannot see past the beam.

If we are true to ourselves, then we will confess our weaknesses. Discipleship is about reexamining oneself. Self-examination begins first by each one of us not thinking “of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rm 12:3). If one thinks of himself too highly, then he will be guilty of doing what Paul wrote to the Galatian disciples: “For if anyone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself (Gl 6:3).

If we think too much of ourselves, then we have the tendency to magnify our own virtues while we minimize the virtues of our brother or sister in Christ. We must guard against “empty conceit,” Paul wrote, “but in humility of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Ph 2:3). These are often difficult words for the conceited person to follow. But Paul goes beyond these words: “Let each one not look out merely for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Ph 2:4).

As a disciple of Divinity, we seek to see ourselves for who we really are. “To our own selves we seek to be true.” We must not be as those who compare themselves with themselves (See 2 Co 10:12).   If we compare ourselves with others, then we run the risk that others may be off their spiritual track, and thus, we would lead ourselves astray by trying to stay on their wayward track.

Over half the New Testament is written of Jesus, His teachings and behavior. The Holy Spirit was trying to send a message. Our standard for discipleship must be Jesus. We are to examine ourselves (2 Co 13:5), but our examination must be made according to the measure and stature of Jesus. In doing this, we can discover who we really are, and then, make life corrections according to the standards of Jesus. We must always seek to live up to the description of who we claim to be, that is, “disciples.”

G.  God:

God knows us better than we know ourselves.   This is true because of what the Holy Spirit stated in Proverbs 21:2: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” The Spirit continued,

And there is no creature that is hidden from His sight. But all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him to whom we have to give account (Hb 4:13; see Ps 90:8).

Others may not know the deep demons within us.   And we may deceive ourselves into justifying inner unrighteousness with which we struggle to overcome. We may admit to ourselves that we are overcome by those emotions that are not in tune with a Christlike spirit. But we must take comfort in the fact that God knows all these flaws. Regardless of all our emotional inadequacies, we can be assured of one very beautiful reality concerning our walk as a disciple of Divinity. The Holy Spirit wants us to remember our very precious covenant that God has made with us. Paul worded it in the following manner: “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rm 5:8).

If God so loved us while we were unrighteous in sin (Jn 3:16), and before we signed up as His disciples, then how much more does He love us as His children, regardless of our frail humanity? This truth brought amazement in the mind of Paul as he inscribed the following words from our Father:

If God is for us, who can be against Us? He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is He who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, rather who was raised again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (Rm 8:31-34).

Since the Son of God died for us while we were still in sin, He will not let us go as we walk in His cleansing blood (1 Jn 1:7). Even though God knows us better than we know ourselves, He will allow nothing of this world to separate us from Him (Rm 8:35,36). God loves us regardless of our dysfunctions as His disciples. People around us may at times have difficulty knowing who we are. But God knows who we really are, and at the same time, continues to love us.   He is not willing that any of His created creatures should perish (2 Pt 3:9).

[Next lectures in series:  May 3]

 

 

 

 

Multiple Discipleship (1)

An English writer was once writhing in a dream.   His distortions and slurred speech were so that his wife became quite concerned, so she awoke him. Once the man had come to his senses out of a deep dark dream, he complained to his wife as to why she had awakened him. He told her that he was having a scary dream that would be a great plot for a book. And so it was. From that small spark of an idea in a dream, Robert Louis Stevenson began to write.   In 1886, he eventually published the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll was a person of refined qualities who sought to do that which was good. However, when his environment changed into darkness, he became the evil Mr. Hyde.   Stevenson’s concept in print has become a part of worldwide literary culture, for we all often confess up that there is a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in us.

If we were to ask different people who we were, we would receive different answers. Depending on the occasion, circumstances, and our company, we are different people. It is the task of the disciple of Divinity to be the same person at all times, and in all circumstances. But this is sometimes quite difficult. The following people would judge us differently according to the situation in which we find ourselves:

A.  The Stranger:

When we meet a stranger, we are often different in our first contact than after we get to know that person. Therefore, we should ask the stranger, who might becomes our friend, what his first impression of us was. Were we focused on him? Were we avoiding direct conversation? Were we shy and introverted? We must keep in mind that a stranger often knows us differently than who we really are.

If we were the stranger being introduced to another person, how would we be judged by the person we met for the first time?   One principle is always true in reference to meeting a stranger: First impressions are almost always inaccurate. They are inaccurate because we naturally seek to make a good first impression. But in doing so, we often put on a show. And it is hard to keep up the show. It is a good principle never to judge a person by first impressions.

Since our first contact with someone can be flawed, there is a particular principle to remember. One should not assume that he must trust every word of a stranger.   Paul had this in mind when he wrote to Timothy, “Lay hands hastily on no man” (1 Tm 5:22). A stranger will judge us according to first impressions, but we should not be so presumptuous to expect him to place his trust in us as we would a lifetime friend. After all, Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Mt 7:15). It is not that we question every stranger who comes our way. It is simply wise to first “get to know” someone before entrusting ourselves to them.

There were once two of us in a vehicle driving across Africa. One of the common officiating practices of African countries is to have police road blocks at different locations along the roads. So here we were, two preachers, approaching a police road block.   We pulled up to the policeman who would check our papers, rolled down the window, but continued our conversation with one another. The first thing the policeman said was, “Are you two preachers?” Maybe we looked like preachers. Maybe we had a preacher look on our faces. Maybe we talked like preachers. Whatever the case, our first impression by the stranger was that we were preachers. We have tried to look and talk like preachers ever since.

B.  The Enemy:

Because of our reaction to our enemies, usually no person is what his enemies think he is. Nevertheless, our enemies judge us to be a particular person. They do so because we have the tendency to react to our enemies, and thus, we are usually not our real selves. Our response to those we think are our enemies is often a distortion of our real personality. Our negative response to the attacks of our enemies sometimes stirs up hatred or prejudice, so much so, that our virtues are hidden behind our reactions.

The evidence of our wrong reactions to our enemy is that we usually feel a sense of guilt after we have encountered our enemy in a manner that is not characteristic of our true self. This was certainly behind the reason why Jesus made the following instructions in Luke 6:27: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.”

Loving one’s enemy is an opportunity to be consistent in our response to others. A loving reaction may change the attitude that our enemy has toward us. Though our enemy perceives that we are a certain person, a loving response will usually confuse our enemy, or at least make him question his impressions of who we really are. At least, a loving response will encourage our enemy to reconsider his relationship with us. The best way to destroy one’s enemies is to make them our friends.

C.  The Neighbor:

In the Western world our neighbors are often close, but distant. We can live in a house across the street from our neighbor, but the closest we are to our neighbor is a friendly “hello” from a distance, with the wave of a hand.   Our neighbor recognizes us as friendly, but not as a close friend. There is the occasional conversation, but no secrets are revealed or commitments made.   There is a common courtesy between neighbors that one neighbor will not dump his or her garbage on the other’s garden.   And when we are in trouble, our neighbor often comes to our aid. Our neighbor is there when we need him. But this is an estranged relationship that we have with our Western neighbor. It is a relationship that does not allow him into the deep recesses of our true self.

D.  The Friend:

We confide in our true friends. We trust them. We spend time with them. The result is that our friends usually perceive who we are on a day-to-day basis.   Santayana was right when he said, “One’s friends are that part of the human race with which one can be human.”

Masks fall off in the face of true friends.   If not, then the friends will see hypocrisy, and in a kind manner, will ask us to be “real.” When the mask is off, then we can perceive that one is a true friend. When we make our inevitable mistakes, it is then that we will know who our true friends are, for they will still be there for us. True friends always hang around even when all masks are off. And then it might be as someone said of a true friend who really knows us, “When a friend won’t loan you $50, then he’s probably a close friend.”   True friends know who we are.   They will stay with one even when all our warts are revealed. We will give to the true friend, but it will usually not be a loan. The gift is simply given without conditions.

It is the function of fellowship among members of the body to move past masks and pretenses. If the function of the body of members does not allow members to know one another as true friends, then there is a dysfunctional relationship among the members. “Church” must function in a way that others can know us as true friends, not just “Sunday morning acquaintances.” True discipleship will move us beyond “foyer friendships” to become friends for life.   Solomon would conclude, “A man who has friends must show himself friendly” (Pv 18:24).

Being friendly comes with a great amount of responsibility in reference to loving one’s neighbor as himself. It takes a great deal of work to create a true friend, and it takes even more work to maintain a true friend. So it is sometimes as E. D. McKenzie said, “Some people make enemies instead of friends because it is less trouble.”

Jesus’ instructions to start a friendship were expressed in the following words: “For I was hungry and you gave Me food. I was thirsty and you gave Me drink. I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). Every person seeks to have those friends who stay with one when the world falls apart. These are people who increase our joy, but also share our grief. These are the friends who know us. Remember the old Russian proverb: “An old friend is better than two new ones.”

 

[Next lecture in series: May 2]

 

Militant Discipleship (2)

D.  They believed that the message of the gospel was not just another religious philosophy of men.

In the 1930s, H. W. Tilman rode a bicycle alone across the middle of Africa from Mombasa, Kenya to the west coast. He encountered several people along the way and had many fantastic experiences with people in the 42-day trek. In 1938 he published a book on the adventure that was entitled, Snow On The Equator, which book we have in our library and have read twice.

When riding through the French regions of the Congo, Tilman spent one night with a radically committed missionary couple, a Norwegian with a Swiss wife. Tilman related that the couple received him with great hospitality for the one evening he spent with them. He also wrote that at the time of his visit the wife was holding their very frail-looking child. When he asked about the child, the couple told him that they had buried four of their other children “out back.”

As part of the Basel Missions of Africa, this couple was totally dedicated to the message that they were bringing to Africa.   They knew their message would change Africa. And it did. Africa is a better place today because thousands of dedicated missionaries as this buried their children and loved ones “out back.”   Their commitment to get the job done changed the entire continent of Africa. Some might question such commitment today. But the missionary Paul would answer,

What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem [and in Africa] for the name of the Lord Jesus (At 21:13).

Paul once walked into Athens with the message of the gospel on his heart. At least this is what the Athenian philosophers perceived, for they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is about which you speak? For you bring certain strange things to our ears.   Therefore, we want to know what these things mean” (At 17:19,20). The Athenians “spent their time in nothing else than to tell or to hear some new thing” (At 17:21). And what Paul was speaking was something they had never before heard.   It was new, and to them, it was strange.

If the center of philosophy of the world at the time was Athens, then the world had never before heard something as the message of the gospel. The early disciples believed that the gospel was the sole medium unto salvation (Rm 1:16).   And because it was something that they had received directly from God through Jesus, they would never compare it with any philosophy of this world. There were no philosophies or religious systems of either thought or works that could be substituted for the gospel. Because the early disciples were totally convinced that the gospel was God’s power unto salvation, they were totally convicted to preach it to every creature on earth. And for this reason, they had a great number of conversions because of the greatness of their conviction in the saving message of the gospel. They too were willing to bury their children “out back” in foreign soil.

E.  They preached the gospel everywhere.

Acts 5:42 explains the daily schedule of the early disciples in fulfilling the requirements of their job description: “And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”   Acts 8:4 explains the territory into which they journeyed in order to preach that Jesus was the Christ: “Those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” And Acts 8:12 explains the results of their preaching: “When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

We would certainly conclude from their evangelistic life-style that the first Christians were excited about preaching Jesus as the Christ because they were excited about the fruit that God produced from their preaching. God could do His job because they did theirs. And because they migrated across the first century world, God was able to increase the body of Christ throughout the world.

F.  They were loyal to one another as the body of Christ.

One of the most important relational concepts concerning the dynamic of the early church was that everyone was on the same page in their objective to be the one organic body of Christ. “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common” (At 2:44).

Peter once addressed a letter to Christians throughout five different provinces of Asia Minor (1 Pt 1:1). In reference to all the Christians in these provinces, he exhorted them to “love the brotherhood” (1 Pt 2:17). The early Christians were loyal to one another in a hostile world that was contrary to what they believed. They encouraged one another by being committed to one another as the one church.

All disciples of Divinity compose the worldwide body of Christ, over which Jesus is the only head and center of reference (Ep 1:22,23). Every Christian has been baptized into this one universal body (1 Co 12:13). Since each member was baptized into the one body, and the body is composed of many members, then each member was baptized into a relationship that demands they all work together as one organic body (See Ep 4:11-16).

The church is the called-out assembly of all those throughout the world who have committed their lives to Christ. In committing their lives to Christ, they have committed themselves to one another. As His body, Jesus has purchased them with His own blood (At 20:28).   And thus, He is the Savior of all those who have been baptized into the one body of members (Ep 5:23). Knowing this truth spurred the early members on to bring as many people as possible into this worldwide community.

The early members of the body knew that there was no salvation outside the body, and thus, they were eager to give everyone an opportunity to be a member of the body that Jesus will save when He comes again.   They believed that every soul was a mission field, and this made every member of the body a missionary. For this reason they were willing to bear their crosses for Christ (Lk 9:23,24). They were willing to die for the One who died for them, and if necessary, to bury their children “out back.”

[Next lecture in series: May 1]

Militant Discipleship (1)

When James said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works,” he essentially said, “I won’t believe what you believe until I see how committed you are in putting your faith into action” (Js 2:18). “Walk the talk” is more than a cliche when applied to Christianity. In reference to the disciples of Jesus, the commonly used phrase is crucial to identify those who are truly disciples of Divinity.

In today’s political use of the word “militant,” people usually cringe with visions of terrorism, guns and bombs.   But preachers have been using this term for centuries in reference to the diligent actions of the disciples of Christ. And before the preachers, there was the Holy Spirit. We do not, therefore, shy away from using the term, especially since the militancy of the disciple of Divinity is almost the entire opposite of the actions of carnal terrorists who kill innocent people.

Both the carnal terrorist and the disciple of Jesus are moved by intense beliefs. However, the outcome of each is entirely different. One reaches for a gun or bomb, but the other reaches for the word of God in order to better his own life and the lives of others. One strikes fear in the hearts of citizens, but the other generates love. One repels and the other attracts.

The New Testament is loaded with military terms that are used as metaphors to explain the militant zeal of the Christian.   The disciple of Jesus understands that the metaphors are simply figures of speech that are used by the Holy Spirit to ignite our faith into action. The metaphors were never given as a motive to implement a carnal military crusade as was typical of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. In fact, the metaphorical meaning of the military terms are opposite to someone generating any carnal warfare based on one nation or faith militarily conquering another. On the contrary, the implementation of the mighty force of Christians makes the world a place of peace, not fear.

The dictionary definition of “militant” would be one who seeks to fight for his faith by engaging in war against the enemy.   As a soldier of his commander, the militant maintains a combative character in order to engage the enemy.   He is ready and willing to fight for his faith. In reference to the disciple of Divinity, the militant soldier of the cross seeks to engage the enemy of all unrighteousness. And thus, his life as a disciple is constantly in conflict with the powers of evil. Paul explained:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but powerful through God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Co 10:3-5).

Christians “put on the whole armor of God so that” they may be able “to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ep 6:11). They are willing “to fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tm 6:12). And thus, they are willing to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tm 2:3), so at the end of their lives they can say as Paul, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tm 4:7).

The nature of the disciple’s life, therefore, is conducted under the shadow of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus used the word “sword” as a metaphor to indicate that those who would become His disciples would suffer persecution because they, with the “sword” of the word of God, would engage the world of unrighteousness.   When the early evangelists went throughout the world preaching the gospel, they taught the new converts “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (At 14:22).   When the sword of the Spirit is swung across the world of evil, tribulation will ensue.

The result of the militancy of the early church was amazing. For two thousand years, preachers and Bible teachers have used the example of the New Testament disciples to illustrate what it means to be a totally committed living sacrifice. While living under harsh oppression, the gospel went forth throughout the Roman Empire.   By A.D. 61,62 Paul could write from a Roman prison that the gospel message “was preached to every creature that is under heaven” (Cl 1:23). The early disciples “turned the world upside down” for Jesus (At 17:6). We today often wonder how they did this, when at first they suffered from the oppression of the Jewish religious establishment, and then by the state opposition of the Roman Empire for over two hundred years. We offer the following reasons for their success:

A.  They exalted the one God.

Christianity was born into a world of idolatry. This idolatry was the religion of most people of the world at the time when the early Christians proclaimed that there was only one true and living God. In fact, it could be stated that only the Jews maintained a belief in only one God. The rest of the world was idolatrous.

At one time on one of his mission journeys, Paul went right into one of the seats of idolatry. He went to Athens, Greece. He encountered there the most rigid idolaters of the day, that is, philosophical idolaters. Nevertheless, these idolaters reasoned that for there to be a true God, then this God must be beyond the comprehension of man. The Greek citizenship believed in many gods, but the Greek philosophers reasoned that there must be out there only one “high” God.

When Paul passed through the streets of Athens, he noticed many idols that had been made to honor the different gods of the Greek’s imagination. But when he stood before the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, he said, “… as I passed by and observed your objects of worship, I found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO THE UNKNOWN GOD’” (At 17:23). These Greek philosophers were wise enough to know that if they could figure out the behavior of the gods that men conceived in their own minds, then they certainly could not conceive the “god of gods” through the reasoning of men. Therefore, Paul said to them, “The One whom you worship in ignorance, Him I declare to you” (At 17:23). This statement sparked their interest.

If a disciple of Divinity would be militant for Christ, then there must be no doubt in his mind concerning the existence of the one true and living God (Ep 4:6). This God must be defined by the revelation of His description (the Bible).   Any other source of definition will not do. In order to endure the tribulation that comes with bearing the sword of Christ, one must be totally committed to the one God of heaven. One’s faith in God must be the foundation upon which he or she will stand in the heat of any persecution.

B.  They believed that Jesus was the only Savior.

The early disciples believed that there was eternal salvation only in Jesus Christ. This was an absolute in their thinking. Peter expressed this belief in the following proclamation before some unbelieving religious leaders: “And there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (At 4:12). In order to be militant for Christ, there can be no compromise in this belief. If Jesus is one of many options, then He is no option at all. The salvation of all men since the cross will be determined by people’s response to the word of Christ (Jn 12:48), for through His word will all men be judged (At 17:30,31).

We live in a world of “acceptable multiple religiosity.” It is the belief of the political liberal to accept all faiths as valid, Christian or non-Christian. This movement is especially true in reference to modern-day democracies around the world. In a democracy, every faith must be respected and accepted, but when approaching God, only the faith that is defined by His word is acceptable to Him.   God is no respecter of persons. “But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (At 10:35). It is the responsibility of every man on earth to find this God whom all men must fear and obey.

God accepts all those who manifest their fear of Him through their work of His righteousness. This means that no man has a right to invent his own righteousness by which he would seek to be acceptable to God. Christians are militant to teach the righteousness of God, for they know that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).

C.  They took ownership of their Christ-ordained jobs.

The early disciples received their job description from what Jesus said in Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This is exactly what they did. “Therefore, those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (At 8:4).

In order to accomplish their job description, Paul outlined in 1 Corinthians 3:6 what the early disciples did: “I [Paul] have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

  1.  The disciples’ job was to plant. Paul first planted the seed of the kingdom in Corinth (At 18:5,11). His first message wherever he went was to preach the gospel, which thing he did in Corinth and Achaia (1 Co 15:3,4). The result of his preaching the gospel was that men and women were “brought forth through the gospel” (1 Co 4:15).

After the example of the early disciples, it is our job to preach the gospel to the world. It is about this job that the early Christians were concerned, because they knew that no one could be saved without obedience to the gospel of Jesus.   Only He was the way, truth and life (Jn 14:6). They knew that Jesus would eventually come “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 1:8).   And if the righteous are scarcely saved through their obedience to the gospel, then there was no hope for those who did not obey the gospel (See 1 Pt 4:18). They believed, therefore, as Paul: “For woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Co 9:16).

Since the early Christians knew that there was salvation by no other means other than through Christ, then their commitment to accomplish their job as disciples was expressed in the words of Paul: So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15).

 2.  The disciples’ job was to water: Apollos encouraged the saints whom Paul had fathered through the preaching of the gospel (At 18:27,28). It was his job as a disciple to build up the body of Christ through teaching (See At 20:28). What was on the mind of every teacher and shepherd of the first century was the thinking of the shepherd who stood up and said before the assembly, “We ain’t what we ought to be, and we ain’t what we’re gonna be, but thank God we ain’t what we used to be.”   In realizing this, Barnabas was the “son of encouragement” in action. He, as well as many others, assumed their job of edifying the body of Christ because they were thankful that they were not what they used to be because of the grace of God.

The ministries of the word of God that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:11,12 were for the purpose of edifying the body of Christ.   As newborn babes in Christ (1 Pt 2:2), the early teachers of the body built up the body by teaching the word of God (At 20:32). The early church grew across the Roman Empire because the early disciples assumed their job to build up the body with the word.

 3.  They trusted that God would do His job by giving the increase:   Paul reminded the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that it was God, not them, who gave the increase. He said this in the context of some who were trying to take credit for the increase of the church throughout Achaia. These presumptuous leaders, who sought to take glory for Paul’s work, needed to be reminded that it was Paul who planted the seed which came forth in their hearts (See 2 Co 10:11-16). It was Apollos who watered the seed. But it was God’s job to give the increase.

Christians must worry about their jobs, not God’s.   Unfortunately, too many Christians do not do their jobs (planting and watering), because they are worried about God doing His job. Therefore, they conclude that they should not do their job because they figure that God will not give an increase to their labors. As disciples of Divinity, we must never forget that we are only the vessels through whom God works to accomplish His job. If there is no planting and watering by the vessels, then God cannot do His job of giving the increase.

Christians should desire to do as Jerry McCaghren once wrote in reference to his ministry in the slums of the inter city:

Some people want to live,

within the sound of church and chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop,

Within a yard of hell.

If no one in our area is obeying the gospel, then there is only one reason why they are not. The Christians in the area are not doing their jobs of teaching the gospel and edifying the newborn babes in Christ. We need to have less worry about God doing His job, and more about us not doing ours.

[Next lecture in series: April 30]

Food Discipleship (2)

F.  Carrot disciples:

 Carrots are hard and brittle. Because of their nature, they have little taste. Carrots are usually eaten only when mixed with some other food, or when cooked.

There are disciples like uncooked carrots.   One might say that they have a stilted personality that is hard and crunchy. They may be suffering from a hardened heart because of past experiences.   They are as Pharaoh who hardened his heart against the work of God (See Ex 7:22). Nebuchadnezzar also hardened his heart (Dn 5:20). Those disciples to whom the Hebrew writer was directing his admonition were in danger of hardening their hearts as the rebellious Israelites who came out of Egyptian captivity. The writer admonished, “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hb 3:8). On the contrary, the Hebrew writer exhorted, “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hb 3:15).

The carrot disciple must allow himself to be cooked in the aroma of Jesus in order to loosen up. Once loosened up, he is palatable. When one finds himself becoming hardened by the circumstances around him, then he needs to be cooked by Christ. He needs to give himself over to God, and allow God to mold him after His holiness (See 1 Pt 5:5,6).

G.  Wild olive disciples:

 The first time we tasted an olive directly picked from the tree was the last time we ate an olive directly from the tree.   It was so bitter that we could not get its remnants out of our mouth fast enough. It is the oleuropein in the olive that is tremendously bitter.   Therefore, the olive must be “cured.”   It must be soaked in brine, salt or lye, with the added flavoring of wine vinegar, before it is transformed into a delightful food to be eaten. Once processed, olives are just great in a host of foods.

There are some bitter olives in the world.   They are as rotten apples, bitter in personality, and just grouchy. They often carry a “chip on their shoulders.” But something great will happen in their lives when they become disciples of Jesus. They can be transformed from a sour and bitter olive into that which is palatable.   When one encounters and obeys the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is changed into something that is delightful.   Paul wrote of some of these former bitter olives. After explaining their former toxic character, he reminded them,

Now such were some of you. But you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God (1 Co 6:11).

These former bitter olives, who “once behaved in times past in the lusts of our flesh,” had allowed themselves to be morphed (transformed) by the renewing of their minds (Rm 12:2). Those who have transformed their thinking are no longer wild olive disciples. They focus their minds on those things that are above, and thus they become the living sacrifices that offer up a sweet fragrance of worship to God.

H.  Banana disciples:

One word could be used to describe a banana … pleasing. It is not hard like a carrot.   It is not hot like a radish. It is not bitter like an uncured olive. A banana is simply delightful to eat.

People like to hang around a banana disciple.   They are not afraid of something being said that will offend. They are not afraid of offensive words that either embarrass or hurt. This is the disciple who always speaks with grace (Cl 4:6). The reason for this mellow and appealing personality is that the banana disciple has given heed to Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12,13:

Therefore, put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another. If anyone has a complaint against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also should you.

We all come to Christ as wild olives. We are often bitter, being embittered by the world. But the beautiful aroma that comes from the Son of God will mellow us in Christ. We will be transformed into the living image of Jesus.   Our personality changes because our character is changed as the word of Christ richly dwells in us (Cl 3:16).

 I.  Mango disciples:

Many people in cold climates have not had the privilege of tasting a mango. They have missed out on a little bit of heaven on earth. All we have to say about mango discipleship is that this is what we would be. If you have eaten a mango, you will understand that our characters should be as mangos. Yummy!

Sometimes we use a particular fruit or vegetable in one phrase to explain the character or personality of different people.   Ever hear this: “He’s a rotten apple”?   Or maybe on the positive side, “She’s a peach.” And then there are those who are simply “sour grapes.” Or simply, “He’s fruity,” or just “full of beans,” or “nuts.”

The objective of every disciple of Divinity is to allow his or her personality and character to be transformed into the aroma of Christ. This is a lifetime project.   It is spiritual growth that takes place over years of constant struggle. We thus study continually the behavior of Jesus in order to be as He is.   By being as Him, we draw others closer to Him. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Ph 1:27). And when our behavior is worthy of the gospel, it is then that the words of Paul are understood in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ.”

[Next lecture in series: April 29]