“Am I A Disciple?”, part two

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In my first post on this subject I wrote about the need to ask a different question of ourselves, something other than “What benefits do I accrue as a Christian?” I presented the idea that the real concern for a follower of Jesus would be his/her walk and not the perks of salvation. I want to explore the implications of the Church’s failure to be concerned about discipleship in greater depth in this post, and for one vital reason:

I’ve come to believe that most Christians don’t have a clue as to what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I know I don’t. And I am sure that we, as a church, don’t know what being a disciple meant to Jesus and the Jews of the first century. In Mt. 28:19–20, Jesus gave his disciples, and the subsequent church, its Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Makes Disciples, Not Converts

I attend a Methodist church, and the motto of the UMC is Making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. But as I observe the activities of my denomination, I can’t see them making the first attempt to do so. Instead, I see a lemming-like headlong rush to become society’s sycophantic sounding board. And when I look at other denominations and churches, I’m not much heartened there, either. We Christians, whether mainline or evangelical, are good at making converts to our churches, but disciples of Jesus? Not so much.

Converts, CSL? Aren’t they one and the same? No, not even close.

One of my favorite Christian albums of all time is Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, and on that album is one of Dylan’s best songs ever, as far as I’m concerned: Gonna Change My Way of Thinking. I love that song; it’s got a hard-driving beat that doesn’t quit, phenomenal guitar work, and, of course, spot-on Dylan lyrics. I mean, who wasn’t shocked back in 1979 when, upon putting that album on the turntable, hearing such lyrics as this come from a Bob Dylan song:

Jesus said, “Be ready,
For you know not the hour in which I come.”
He said, “He who is not for Me is against Me,”
Just so you know where He’s coming from.

While I think that Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking is a great song, I believe the title is indicative of the Christian mindset as to what constitutes becoming a disciple. We change our thinking, not our actions.

Converts are merely convinced of the truth of a proposition; their minds are changed into giving mental assent to a theological premise that they may or may not have agreed with previously. Quite often, such assent will prompt converts to become adherents to a church and certain practices, maybe causing them to go so far as to adopt lifestyle changes to be part of the new group.

But Lifestyle Christianity isn’t discipleship, is it? It is merely accessorizing.

Gonna Change My Way of Livin’

Disciples and discipleship are not a new phenomenon, created solely by Christianity. Teachers and leaders, ancient and modern, have had disciples whether they be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tze, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, Freud, Saul Alinsky, Jean Rousseau, etc., have all had their followers, devotees and practitioners.

But Judeo-Christian discipleship has a different ring to it. Based on a morality revealed from above, sages and rabbis both present a life AND live a life, based on the holiness that God calls us to. Disciples, both Christian and Jewish, followed their rabbis/teachers because they not only wanted to know what the rabbi knows but be what the rabbi is.

This desire to be like the rabbi, to live as close to God in following him, is the distinguishing characteristic of a disciple. The heart of a disciple isn’t satisfied with “receiving” the rabbi, or “accepting” the rabbi, as we say in our common Christian parlance. Instead, if I am a disciple, the realization that my ordinary live-for-myself life is far from the love and desire of a holy God drives me to be so close to the rabbi that I learn how to live like him.

“Walk After Me”

That was Jesus’ call to Matthew to leave his taxing booth and to come and learn how to live by God’s righteousness. “Come and see” he replied to two of John’s followers when they asked him where he was staying. “I will make you a fisher of men,” Jesus told Peter when he called him from his boat. In every instance, Jesus told his would-be disciples to follow him, to be close to him, in order to learn to walk in God’s holiness.

What was Jesus doing when he called these people to follow him? When he called to all, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” was he issuing a radical call that was totally unheard of before? No, he was doing what Hebrew rabbis and sages had been doing for many years; in fact, what rabbis and sages were supposed to do, which was to “raise up many disciples.” (Pirke Avot 1.1)

The role of a rabbi/sage was to imprint his life on his disciples. According to the very first verse in the Teachings of the Elders (Pirke Avot), creating disciples was one of the three things a rabbi was supposed to do. Rabbis believed it was their religious obligation to live for the glory of God, and to teach their disciples how to do the same.

And what were disciples supposed to do? Learn from their rabbis how to live a life holy and pleasing to God, and then to share this same teaching and life with those around them. This is what I believe that we fail (abominably so!) to do. Today, we teach people that Jesus loves them just as they are, and that he didn’t come to change their way of living. Instead, Jesus came to be their fire escape.

Back in the 1930’s, Richard Niebuhr (Reinholt’s younger brother) described the essence of the liberal Christianity of his day,  in his The Kingdom of God In America:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

Today’s church goes Niebuhr one better–we invite people to come to an indulgent God who looks out upon his children and chuckles at the playful shenanigans of the little rapscallions. As a church, we today ignore Jesus’ life-encompassing emphasis on the need for discipleship, obedience and devotion to God and His ways.

We want to think about being a King’s Kid, a child of the King. The truth is that kingdom living isn’t beer and skittles. Jesus wasn’t concerned  that we live as “King’s kids”; instead, his concern was that the kingdom advance in the lives of his disciples.

CSL

 

 

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Are You Where You’re Needed?

As my last post told you, our church is going through a time of grieving and coping, having lost our pastor suddenly. For the past three weeks, Rev. Rob Colwell, the district superintendent of the James River Conference of the VA UMC has been filling the church pulpit and helping the church transition during this interim time, and we have certainly been blessed and helped by his ministry to us.

This past Sunday morning, Rev. Colwell shared a story with us that actually happened to him, and I got his permission to share this story on my blog, so here goes.

One of Rev. Colwell’s ministerial duties was to be an on-call chaplain for a mental institution, and one day, he received a page saying that an inmate wanted to speak to him, personally. Uncomfortable with this aspect of ministry, Colwell went, doing his Christian service as a good Christian minister should.

Continue reading

Unexpected Goodbyes

I attend a Methodist church in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and this past fall, our pastor announced to the congregation that, as she was approaching the mandatory age of retirement in the UMC, she would be retiring from ministry at the end of June, 2018. (This is the traditional time for assigning ministers to congregations in the UMC.)

Of course, she set about accomplishing final tasks and solidifying initiatives that would be her continuing legacy to our church after her retirement–such things as implementing a new, contemporary worship service, strengthening the local anti-poverty organization that she was instrumental in establishing, etc. And she began the months-long task of saying her good-byes to many in the area and in the congregation.

Our church has an e-newsletter, and of course, as pastor, she has a panel in which she writes a small monthly homily or message for subscribers. The February issue was emailed a couple of weeks ago, and this was her message for this month:

PRAYING OUR GOODBYES
No matter what the circumstances, there comes with the act of farewell a feeling of uneasiness. This sense of loss is connected to change. It can be associated with the unknown— of wondering about what is to come. I find myself in a season of farewell now as I prepare to complete a journey as an active clergy after serving over 30 years. This has been a rewarding, fruitful experience as God’s ambassador.

Coupled with the details of the daily operation of the ministry, I find the need to nurture my spirit; and the best way I know for this to happen is in intentional prayer practices. So in the next 182 days, I will be specifically praying for ways of healthy separation. I am asking God to show me the best way through this process of change, and I trust God. In these days ahead, I invite you to join me in praying our goodbyes!

Yesterday, Thursday, after a satisfying and tiring day of work at the church, our pastor made her way back to the parsonage and sat down to rest in her favorite armchair. In the time before her husband came home, our pastor went to be with our Savior, “claiming the resurrection” as we Methodists are wont to say.

Our pastor wrote of feelings of loss and unease, of concern about change. Such is the nature of our impermanent lives. Kermit the Frog said it best in Muppet Christmas Carol: “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” He’s only right, isn’t he? But between the meetings and the partings are the joys of fellowship. And knowing God assures us that our partings are only temporary, that there will be a grand meeting one day.

So please keep us in mind, our church, as we find ourselves having to say an unexpected good-bye. And pray that we will be comforted in knowing that the good-bye is only temporary.

CSL

Sow Where You’re Planted

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This past Sunday, our pastor spoke on the Parable of the Sower, and told us the story of the illustration, above. She and a friend, about 13 years ago, created the banner to go along with this parable when she was serving as a district superintendent for the Virginia Conference of the UMC. They purposely left the face unfinished, using it as the hook for the congregations she was visiting, telling them that they should picture the sower with their face, as it is every Christian’s responsibility to sow the Word of God in their situations.

As she was speaking about the parable, and as I was looking this banner, the old adage about growing where you are planted popped into my head. Only, it didn’t come to me as “Grow where you are planted,” but “Sow where you are planted.” Continue reading

Methodistical Anti-Semitism

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Last year, when I first started this second blog, I wrote about my concern for chicanery in the United Methodist Church. Just a quick update, Bishop Ough (pronounced “oh”) announced last month that a Special Conference was now called and will occur in 2019, just as promised, and just in time to avoid giving votes to the new African bishops, who would be against any changes regarding homosexuality to the Book of Discipline. Of course, how much of the UMC will remain after that special called conference is anybody’s guess, but that’s a matter for another post. Continue reading

A “Method” To Their Madness

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Because of my heretical unorthodox heretical views, for over a decade I’ve found myself most comfortable as a Methodist. After all, anyone who hates John Calvin and Augustine can’t be all bad, right? But the events of the past year in the United Methodist Church have me worried. Did I say past year? How about four decades?

Okay, let’s just stick to the past year. I attend a UMC church in Virginia, which puts me in the Virginia Conference. Last year, for the first time ever, the Virginia  Annual Conference voted to petition the General Conference (quadrennial world-wide UMC gathering) to change the Book of Discipline (the UMC book of faith and practice) to eliminate statements saying that homosexuality is antithetical to the Christian faith. Continue reading