Discipleship Training Materials

I’ve been assembling, writing, and producing Discipleship Training materials for many years.  The illustration below is ONE image (thanks to Bob Logan) of a process from which we journey as disciples to faithfulness to our identity as Jesus followers as well as action that is consistent with that identity.  If you want to check out those resources (especially the bible studies related to this illustration), check out THIS LINK.

what does a disciple look like OSLC.001

Advertisements

Underlying Themes in Richard Rohr’s teachings…for your consideration

Many of you know that I am a Richard Rohr “fan.”  That word, “fan” is not meant to cheapen Rohr’s work…it is rather to indicate to you how much I admire Rohr’s thinking and bravery in stating spiritual realities and truths.  Rohr has been used by the Lord to challenge and encourage my thinking and deepen my desire to delve deeply into an experience of God.  Below are some of Rohr’s “basics” that are communicated in all of his writings and teachings.  See what you think!

SEVEN UNDERLYING THEMES OF RICHARD ROHR’S TEACHINGS

First Theme: Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview. (METHODOLOGY).

Since the Reformation in the 16th Century, much Christian infighting and misunderstanding has occurred over the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on Tradition (which usually got confused with small cultural “traditions”) versus the new Protestant emphasis on Scripture, even “Scripture alone!”

(which gradually devolved until each group chose among the Scriptures it would emphasize and the ones it would ignore). Both currents have now shown their weaknesses, their blind spots, and their biases. They lacked the “dynamic third” principle of God Experience: experience that is processed and held accountable by both Scripture and Tradition, and by solid spiritual direction and counseling.

Perhaps it is worth noting, on this feast day of John the Baptist, that he let his personal God Experience trump both Scripture (which he hardly ever directly quotes) and his own Tradition (which is why this son of the priestly class had to move his show down to the riverside). Maybe this is why Jesus both builds upon him and yet clearly moves beyond him and, in effect, critiques him (Matthew 11:11 [1]). Jesus clearly uses and respects his own Scriptures and his Jewish Tradition, yet interprets them both in light of his personal experience of God.

Second Theme: If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side (FOUNDATION).

This theme summarizes the solid, but broad and inclusive, Christian doctrine (“the Perennial Tradition”), that underlies much of Rohr’s work.

If we want to go to the mature, mystical, and non-dual levels of spirituality, we must first deal with the often faulty, inadequate, and even toxic images of God that most people are dealing with before they

have authentic God experience. Both God as Trinity and Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” reveal a God quite different—and much better—than the Santa Claus image or the “I will torture you if you do not love me” God that most people are still praying to. Such images are an unworkable basis for any real spirituality.

Trinity reveals that God is the Divine Flow under, around, and through all things—much more a verb than a noun; relationship itself rather than an old man sitting on a throne. Jesus tells us that God is like a loving parent, who runs toward us, clasps, and kisses us while we are “still a long ways off” (Luke 15:20). Until this is personally experienced, most of Christianity does not work. This theme moves us quickly into practice-based religion (orthopraxy) over mere words and ideas (orthodoxy).

Third Theme: There is only one Reality. Any distinction between natural and supernatural, sacred and profane, is a bogus one (FRAME).

Almost all religion begins with a specific encounter with something that feels “holy” or transcendent: a place, an emotion, an image, music, a liturgy, an idea that suddenly gives you access to God’s Bigger World. The natural and universal response is to “idolize” and idealize that event. It becomes sacred for you, and it surely is. The only mistake is that too many then conclude that this is the only way, the best way, the superior way, the special way that I myself just happen to have discovered. Then, they must both protect their idol and spread this exclusive way to others. (They normally have no concrete evidence whatsoever that other people have not also encountered the holy.)

The false leap of logic is that other places, images, liturgies, scriptures, or ideas cannot give you access. “We forbid them to give you access, it is impossible,” we seem to say! Thus, much religion wastes far too much time trying to separate itself from—and create “purity codes” against—what is perceived as secular, bad, heretical, dangerous, “other,” or wrong. Jesus had no patience with such immature and exclusionary religion, yet it is still a most common form to this day. Idolatry has been called the only constant and real sin of the entire Old Testament, and idolatry is whenever we make something god that is not God, or whenever we make the means into an end. Any attempt to create “our golden calf” is usually first-half-of-life religion, and eventually false religion.

Fourth Theme: Everything belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded. Evil and illusion only need to be named and exposed truthfully, and they die in exposure to the light (ECUMENICAL).

We now know from cultural studies and historical experience that groups define themselves and even hold themselves together largely negatively—by who they are not, what they are against, and what they do not do. We need a problem or an enemy to gather our energies. We usually define ourselves through various “purity codes” to separate ourselves from the “impure” and unworthy. Pure worship (“what we are for,” or in support of, and what we love) is much harder to sustain. Thus, most reformations and revolutions need someone else to be wrong much more than they need any discovery of a higher level of consciousness themselves. This is an absolutely core problem.

Thus, Jesus never affirmed opposition or contrariness, because he knew that it was merely a same-level or lower-level response to the problem (even when empowered by some new and good ideas). The new group was infected by the same hubris and oppositional energy, and would soon engender the same kind of “reformation.” Thus, the endless progressive-conservative pendulum continues to swing and yet we do not move forward spiritually. “Emerging Christianity” is trying not to make this mistake, and hopes to be an inclusive notion of religion that is not against this or that. Evil and sin do need to be named and exposed (not directly fought!), however, and this is the prophetic role of religion. Without prophecy, religion is uncritical of itself and ends up being largely self-serving. Jesus’ starting point was never sin, but human suffering.

Fifth Theme: The separate self is the problem, whereas most religion and most people make the “shadow self” the problem. This leads to denial, pretending, and projecting instead of real transformation into the Divine (TRANSFORMATION).

It is really shocking how little Jesus is shocked by human failure and sin. In fact, it never appears that he is upset at sinners. He is only and consistently upset at people who do not think they are sinners. This momentous insight puts him centuries ahead of modern psychology and right at the center of rare but authentic religion. So much so, that most Christianity itself never notices or addresses this pattern. It is an “inconvenient truth.”

Early-stage religion is largely driven by ego needs: the need to be right, the need to feel morally superior, the need to be safe, and the need to project a positive image to others. At that point, religion has little to do with any real search for God; it is almost entirely a search for oneself, which is necessary—and which God surely understands. But we do this by trying to repress and deny our actual motivations and goals. These are pushed into the unconscious and called the shadow self. The shadow is not the bad self, but simply the denied self, which is totally operative but allowed to work in secret—and never called to accountability from that hidden place.

Most people (not just religious people) focus on their shadow self—to keep “feeling good about themselves”—and their ego enjoys a perpetual holiday. It is a massive misplacement of spiritual attention. You can be a prelate or priest in the church with a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow—which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.

Sixth Theme: The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines (PROCESS).

Although related to earlier themes, this is also building upon them in terms of development of conscience, recognition of grace, concrete practice, and spiritual direction. In other words, how does transformation actually and concretely happen?

Ladder-climbing Western culture, and the clinging human ego, made the Gospel into a message of spiritual advancement—ascent rather than descent. We hopefully do advance in “wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2:40), but not at all in the way we thought. Jesus again got it right! He brilliantly and personally taught the way of the cross and not the way of climbing.

We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.

Seventh Theme: Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL).

Reality is “not totally one,” but it is “not totally two,” either! All things, events, persons, and institutions, if looked at contemplatively (non-egocentrically), reveal contradictions, create dilemmas, and have their own shadow side. Wisdom knows how to hold and to grow from this creative tension; ego does not. Our ego splits reality into parts that it can manage, but then pays a big price in regard to actual truth or understanding.

The contemplative mind will be at the heart and center of all teaching in our new Living School. Only the contemplative mind can honor the underlying unity (“not two”) of things, while also work with them in their distinctness (“not totally one”). The world almost always presents itself as a paradox, a contradiction, or a problem—like our themes of “action and contemplation,” “Christian and non-Christian,” or “male and female” first did. At the mature level, however, we learn to see all things in terms of unitive consciousness, while still respecting, protecting, and working with the very real differences. This is the great—perhaps the greatest—art form. It is the supreme task of all religion.

We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.

What if we sold all our church buildings? What would happen?

7cfa7-livefaith_2Yesterday, I gave a message at our Outdoor Worship experience in McCall on the IDENTITY of a disciple. I posed what could be a threatening question but is a question that, nonetheless, is one that clarifies and recalibrates our understanding of WHO we are in Jesus as His Body. I started out with this story:

A few years back, some leaders in our faith community were exchanging ideas through email on some creative strategies on how to keep our spiritual focus on the mission of God. In the exchange, one of our leaders simply stated, “why don’t we CELL the church?” Unfortunately, when his autocorrect program on the email program he was utilizing “saw” the word “cell,” it “corrected” it to read SELL. So, the question was accidentally posted, “why don’t we SELL the church?” Well, I must say, I was surprised and (truthfully) excited for a bit that one of our leaders would be so bold. What is interesting though is that question DOES “clear the deck” on some preconceived ideas and long-held misunderstandings of what it means to be the Body of Christ in our time being faithful in our sphere to the call and mission of Jesus.

Imagine with me, what if we did sell? What would we do? What is the nature of the Church?

You see, answering that question will give you a clear opportunity to see what it means to own our identity as disciples of Jesus. Because the BOTTOM LINE is this – the church, the Body of Christ is an organism, alive and well, of people living the life of Jesus…being disciples and making disciples.

Faithfulness, Living in Grace and by the Holy Spirit, obedience, being the Body of Christ – those are the non- negotiables of “church” – of our faith gatherings. Buildings are icing on the cake. They are nice to have but not a non-negotiable – the early church lived happily and powerfully without them.

Here’s what would happen – when Jesus followers, filled with the Holy Spirit, moved by that which moved those early followers of Jesus 2000 years ago, we would:

LIVE – We would live our lives as followers of Jesus – we would be incarnational, embedded, indigenous – we wouldn’t be following personalities, historical movements, or pursuing membership in a religious We would be quickly discerning what it means to be a Christian in our time and place…as Followers of Jesus, that would be our passionate pursuit.

CONNECT – We would find ways to connect with others who follow the same    In  Ephesians  4, Paul says, we are of “one faith, one Spirit, one Father, one baptism”…in other words, ONE. It is in our spiritual DNA to seek out others who follow the same Lord.

INTEGRATE – We would seek out the other gifts of the Spirit because there is something that we are missing when we don’t have all the gifts, the other parts of the Body of Christ alive and well in our midst. We know that – if I’m a hand, I know I need more to be complete – YES, I am complete in Christ but I am also a part of HIS We need equipping  and releasing  in understanding  who  we  are  in Jesus  and how God has “wired us up” to take our place, that  significant place, within the  economy of God and His  “strategy” for mission in and through us.

INTENTIONAL – We would rely on ourselves for spiritual. There was a study done by a HUGE megachurch a few years back that showed that all that the church “does” for people does not create followers of Jesus but followers and “addicts” of church programs.  Jesus calls EACH OF US  to follow him – to be dependent upon him – we cannot create addictive organizations that feed off of making disciples into co-dependents. We must rather train, equip and release people to know experience and plumb the depths of God’s grace and love through their own growing relationship with Jesus. We must grow “self-feeders,” if you will…people who take responsibility for their own growth in Christ. Fellowship and being faithful in the context of community is important…creating spiritual co-dependents is not.

WORSHIP – GROW – SERVE – WE would find ways to worship, grow, serve – in other words, we would do something together to honor God in all we are and ..that’s in our spiritual DNA as well.

DISCIPLE – We would disciple others naturally – we would go and be amongst, people we knew, neighborhoods and meetings places in town we already inhabit and we would share our lives and gifts. We wouldn’t have to depend on “someone else” to do what Jesus is calling US to do.

DEPENDENT UPON JESUS – We would be ultimately more dependent upon the Holy Spirit and NOT co-dependent upon the church.  The transfiguration story is an important paradigm in this regard – we got it wrong – Jesus NEVER INTENDED for us to set up “booths”…Jesus never intended for us to memorialize and attempt to repeat spiritual experiences. The rear view mirror in our cars is the size they are so that we can KNOW where we’ve been but also so that we can see where we are and where we are going. We are not to idolize our past otherwise our God becomes our past. Jesus is moving NOW…how is that true in our lives? When we know that, we know that Jesus is calling us again to a renewed sense of dependence upon him.

BUILD – You see, what would happen, and I say this in love, eventually, we would build another building and eventually get to the point where another pastor or leader or teacher or prophet would have to ask the same question we began ..

WE WOULD BE THE CHURCH INSTEAD OF GO TO CHURCH

This is a wake up call type of a question meant to snap us back to reality – just like the churches of Revelation who are called to return to their first love, resist compromising our Kingdom calling as well as to be and to be “HOT” for things of God, so we too must always embrace the fact that WE are the Body of Christ released into our world to make a difference in people’s lives to God’s glory! Are you GOING to church…or are you part of THE church, the one that is moving and active…the one that is the manifestation of the presence of Jesus in our lives?

Living as a Disciple during a HOLIDAY week! BLESS others, pure and simple!

1Being Defined by Being and Doing in Jesus!
This is a fun week ahead…there are people galore to run into…celebrations to be had…meals to be shared in addition to the TONS of “guests” that will flood your life – people you will see and meet at campgrounds, neighborhoods, stores, etc.   Here’s something powerful to consider this week – all that we do and say that alerts others to the reign of God in our lives.  YES, you read that correctly, you are a walking and living “Billboard” of the presence of Jesus in this world.  Who you are in Jesus and how you live, as one missiologist David Bosch wrote, “Mission is more and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God.”  You joining Jesus on HIS mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ.
In this instance, we are not trying to say that every Jesus follower is gifted with evangelism gifts…because that is far from the truth.  EVEN SO, every Jesus follower CAN foster habits in our lives that draw us out into the lives of unbelievers and invite the kinds of questions that lead to sharing our lives in faith. If our only habits are going to church and attending meetings, it’s not going to connect us with unbelievers nor invite their curiosity about our faith.  The big idea is to develop habits that unite us together as Christ followers, while also propelling us into the lives of others. We also need habitual practices that don’t just deplete our energy and burn us out, but which re-energize us, replenishing our reserves and connecting us more deeply to Jesus. I have seen the following habits do just that. The five habits of highly missional (mission driven…those joining Jesus on HIS mission) people are:
 
BLESS
I will bless three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member
of our church.
EAT
I will eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a
member of our church.
LISTEN
I will spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit’s voice.
LEARN
I will spend at least one period of the week learning Christ.
SENT
I will journal throughout the week all the ways I alerted others to the
universal reign of God through Christ.
 
Permit me to share a couple of more truths – each of these habits is designed to release a certain value in the life of the person who practices them. If you bless three people every week, you’re going to become a very generous person. If you eat with others, you’ll develop a greater capacity for hospitality. If you foster the habit of listening to the Holy Spirit, you’ll become an increasingly Spirit-led person. If you’re learning Christ, it’s fair to assume you’ll become more and more Christlike. And if you’re journaling the myriad ways you’ve been sent into your world, you’ll increasingly see yourself as a sent one, or a missionary in your own neighborhood. In other words, each habit shapes us around a particular missional (mission driven) value:
Bless
Generosity
Eat
Hospitality
Listen
Spirit-led
Learn
Christlike
Sent
Missionary
 
The point is this: If you want to be a generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike missionary, don’t just try to learn those values. Foster these habits! The way you “foster” them is to practice them.  Indeed, I know for certain that most churches have a mission or vision statement that says they are committed to something similar to this. I also suspect most members of churches read these and agree with them in theory but have very little idea of what exactly it means for them to live these out under the noses of those who have not yet been set free in Christ.   So, instead of being overwhelmed this holiday week, try JUST ONE of these habits and see how Jesus meets you!  
 
I will bless three people this week-at least one of whom is not a part of my church.
 
Here’s your holiday challenge – bless AT LEAST three people this week. Jesus followers use the word “bless” in a variety of ways. In most respects, it means to confer prosperity or happiness upon another. Even blessing someone who has just sneezed is an expression of goodwill and a desire for continued health.  Someone that I know told me that part of the etymology of the term “blessing” is “to add strength to another’s arm.” Therefore, to bless someone is to build them up, to fill them with the encouragement for them to increase in strength and prosperity.
 
This week, try giving people around you, not just people you know, words of Affirmation.  It may be the simplest way to bless someone. Send them a note, write them an email, text them. Send them some words of affirmation and encouragement.  Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” I’ve heard it said that a word of encouragement is like oxygen to the soul. A word of affirmation helps our souls to breathe more easily.
 
In addition, try some acts of Kindness.  Nothing gets people’s attention as much as kindness does.  Most people in our culture do not practice kindness because kindness demands that we act contrary to our own self-interest…we actually are concerned MORE for the other than ourselves.  Acts of kindness literally speak “love” into people’s lives. They lighten the recipient’s load. Look for ways to perform an act of kindness in someone’s life.  You will be surprised how FEW people are kind – let someone in front of you in a check out line…help someone who may need some help with their family at the park…let that waiter or waitress who is working hard for you at your restaurant table know that they are appreciated.  Exercise your soul and bless people this week. I say to do it at least three times…better yet, get “addicted” to blessing others this week.  Be a BLESSING MACHINE and see how those acts not only bless your soul, but will also provide practical assistance to another and hopefully give them a glimpse into another “Kingdom”…let people see the reign of Jesus in your life!  
When we live unexpected lives (which clearly includes the blessing others), we find ourselves being noticed by others. Put it this way, that may be the ONLY Jesus that they may see all week!  I pray that these people that YOU bless see Jesus in you!  

Why do YOU go to church?

thumbnail

thumbnail

This is a message that I gave last week at both our Long Valley, Idaho faith communities.  It encompasses thoughts and feelings that I’ve had for quite some time but have not specifically addressed in the context of our congregations.  So, if you are curious, think through what I’m posting.  Ask yourself, if you do attend church regularly, “why do you go to church?”  Once you have that on your mind, read a bit of what I shared.  If you have feedback, I’d love to hear it! 

“Why are you here?  

Why do people go to church?”

An interesting question was posted last week in a Discussion Board in one of my Concordia U classes.  A Mixed group of people was talking online and the subject of “church” came up, which it sometimes does.  One student at the very outset of the Discussion said, “why and the heck do you waste your time going to church?”  Now, one of the things that you probably have gotten to know about me – not defensive – not one who gets put off easily – and by no means, don’t get me started on the Offense thing (we did a few messages on that several months ago).  So, when the question came up – several reacted…I responded the best way I knew how – avoided answering immediately…let the discussion hang out there for a week – then I decided to talk to you about the subject!

SO – you “church goers you”…let me tell you something that you may not know about yourselves – You are outliers – reason why?  Church attendance is on the downslide – every major study done over the past 25 years – church attendance is declining rapidly.

Now, I don’t know why each of you are here, but here you are…we live in one of the most beautiful recreation areas in world – but you’re here – and the culture at large is SHOCKED!

The fact that you’re taking Sunday church attendance seriously…that is so counter-cultural because you may take Sunday church attendance seriously but…

  • Television doesn’t take Sunday’s seriously (from a church perspective)
  • Sports teams – schools – kid’s activities which used to avoid Sundays like the plague, that’s off the table
  • Post-Christendom has created a sense of “ok-ness” with not participating in a local church
  • What used to be a given – no longer a given

I don’t know if you realize this – but up until about 10 years ago, no one that I knew in any capacity of church leadership even contemplated for one moment the question we are going to go after today, that being, WHY are you here?  WHY do people attend worship experiences?

They never gave it a moment of consideration because church attendance WAS so ingrained into people’s lives and even the culture, never had to ask the question.

No real reason to – I know for me, until last maybe 15 years or so, never bothered to ask that question – issue wasn’t why people go to church but why aren’t they coming to OUR church?

Well, all that said – let me ask you again the question – have you ever wondered, “why”…why do you come here on Sunday?

Now, before you get all weird on me – let’s say that this is a VERY important question.  If you and I are not clear about this – then how can we have a compelling reason for asking someone to join us.  If we don’t know what it is that draws us together – what makes Sunday morning worship experiences so invaluable that it takes precedence over every other life priority – then we relegate our attendance to either mindless habit, appeasement of guilt, or pure consumerism.

Each of which has massive problems when you start to think about it.

So, let me explore some reasons why I believe we come together – what could be foundational teaching for all of us to draw us JOYFULLY together on a week to week basis.

The remainder of the message is on the “notes” link below.  

Why are you here? Message Notes

Are you one of Jesus’ Talmidim?

3Robin’s Note – this past Sunday in our faith communities in Long Valley Idaho, I taught on first-century discipleship.  If you think that may sound “interesting” but irrelevant, you are in good company.  I know when I first started doing research on this topic about a decade ago (for my doctoral dissertation), I felt like I was in for some intellectual punishment.  Yet, was I surprised.  
 
There are TWO THINGS that I call to your attention:
 
First – a quick summary of this topic:
 

Jesus is looking for Talmidim…Jesus is calling disciples in which joining Jesus on his mission is their consuming passion.  Jesus is looking for disciples who long to be with the rabbi and live by the rabbi’s teaching (see, “the yoke of the Rabbi” in the article).  Your Rabbi Jesus believes you can be Just like Him – remember when Jesus said, “you didn’t choose me, I chose you.”  That is still true!

Our Rabbi says we can do greater works than HE.

 

Our Rabbi wants us to perpetuate “His yoke” (again, see the downloadable article).

Our issue in our time is that we’ve reduced discipleship to knowledge – 6 steps, how to’s, and simple methodologies.

Well, the shock of my life came several years ago when I discovered that discipleship was a life-long journey of learning and growing in the Spirit of Jesus.  It was at that time that I made a fervent decision that I had to change.  I would never stop teaching and sharing the good news of Jesus but I would I apologize for not giving sharing the full truth of what it means to be a Jesus follower.

 

Secondly, I would challenge you to roll up your intellectual “sleeves” and spent a bit of time reading about discipleship from Jesus’ perspective.  Then join me in praying that all of us would join the Talmidim of Jesus, our Rabbi.  Galilee – a place of the majority of the ministry of Jesus.  Our Rabbi invites disciples to follow Him..disciples follow their Rabbi so close that they are to be covered in (important phrase) the dust of their rabbi.  The question is always – not only WHO you are following but what is Jesus calling you into?

 

Read more, pray and discover more!

Every Follower a Sacrament

1It was right before Christmas and, after a long conversation on the phone, I walked into a hospital room…surrounded by a loving family was the small bundle of a baby.  What should have been a room filled with smiles and joy was rather immersed in contemplation and watchful sadness.  It was not a tense situation, don’t get me wrong.  The room had the air of hope but also had been saturated with a life-altering reality – the baby was stillborn.  Instead of anticipating days and moments of life, the mom and dad and their extended family were embracing the wrap of swaddling clothes that encapsulated a lifeless, their lifeless, child.  I looked at little Olivia and I didn’t see those newborn’s eyes that are searching, trying to make sense of their new world…I didn’t heart the groans, coos, and squeaks that normally accompany such joy-filled seconds of new life.  What I beheld was that of a lifeless body…that “look” that is unmistakable – death.

As I walked into the room, I thought to myself, “why am I here?”  What possibly could I bring to this situation and to this grieving couple and family?  What words of hope?  What action of love?  What presence is needed?  As you might imagine, it is at moments like these that a follower of Jesus depends on only one thing – the love and grace of God.  It dawned on me as I crossed the threshold of the room that I was going to have the honor, the humility soaked, spiritually called and privileged honor, of being a “means of grace” to this couple and to these moments of their lives.  Yes, it occurred to me as it has escaped my consciousness and awareness before that I was bringing something into that room that was definitely of God’s heart – His presence, His mercy, His love, and the potentiality of transformation and hope.  No, it wasn’t about me…it was about what God wanted to do through me…to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know how and what the Spirit was going to do…all I knew is that I had the awesome responsibility and call to be His means of grace and hope in those moments.

That brings me to the “bigger picture” that is the subject of this article.  Ok – so here’s some things I’ve been thinking about…I’ve been teaching a bit on the sacraments while I’ve been helping families prepare their children for the receiving of communion in the worship experiences of Peace (by the way, that is the foundation of how decisions are being made in our faith community regarding communion readiness…they are being made by parents in consultation with me).  Yeah, for some of you, you have no idea what I’m talking about…but that’s OK.  Let me school you for a moment:

A classic definition of a Sacrament is this (straight out of Martin Luther’s Catechism, mind you):

A Sacrament is a sacred act – instituted by God Himself; containing certain visible means connected with His Word; by which God offers, gives and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins…essentially a sacrament is a means of grace”  

Also, another quote on the means of grace (these from the Book of Concord – yeah, look that up too if you need to, the BOC is a collection of confessional documents that provided and provide the doctrinal framework the historical Lutheran expression of Christianity) “a means of grace is a way God creates faith, bring about conversion, justification, and sanctification.”

Again, from a historical perspective, there have been debates denominationally on how many sacraments there are and what specific acts are defined as sacramental (or if sacramental theology even is relevant because, in some denominations, it is not).  Even so, I’ve come to the conclusion, after having a plethora of conversations and debates over the years, that I am not only one who proactively embraces this whole notion and deep theology of how God reveals Himself sacramentally to the world through and in the acts of ekklesia (that being the gathered faith community, i.e. baptism, communion and the Word of God) but also that those who follow Jesus, in other words, the WE of the Body of Christ are sacraments.

Oh, I know that there may be a few naysayers out there…so hear me out.  Look again at the definition of a sacrament – realize that God created you and me…that not only has God created us but God is always the initial “mover” in terms of a relationship with us.  In other words, the only reason we can know and love God is that God is the one who made the first move…He INITIATED and INSTITUTED our relationship.  Ephesians reminds us that we are “chosen” and called by God…established in a new identity because of new life in Jesus.  In fact, the whole Body of Christ idea…the whole discipleship thing…the whole mission and purpose of living our lives in and through His Spirit?  God’s idea!  So, we are instituted by God…secondly we, as people who love and follow Jesus, are a visible means that God uses to communicate the truth of His Word.  In other words, when you think of “visible means”, you think of the word, “incarnation.”  Jesus Himself was the incarnation of God’s love, will, purpose and heart for His world.  Jesus was God with skin in the “game” of the world…He was God made flesh and He who “moved into the neighborhood.”  Now, through the Holy Spirit, who is the contemporary “incarnation” of the presence of the Lord?  You guessed it…we are!  God is alive in and through us…we are the “temple of the Lord”…we are the hands and feet of Jesus today.  WE are the Body of Christ in the world…that isn’t just some mysterious, mystical definition but His Word made truth and made real in our lives.  So, second sacramental issue spoken to…how about the third?  Have you ever read about us being “God’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5)?”  I bet you have…we are agents of reconciliation…we offer the love that Jesus gave to us to others…we love because He first loved us.  We love “one another as I (Jesus) have loved.”  We forgive each other…extend God’s healing hand through prayer…oh, the list goes on and on.

Just to underscore…read about the sacraments sometime – they are “outward signs which have God’s command and promise” – isn’t that what our identity is to be all about as followers and lovers and children of God?  “The chief thing about sacraments is God’s Word” – isn’t it true, that this Kingdom deal isn’t about you and me but really all about Jesus, the Living Word?  “Sign of the covenant of grace” – aren’t we called as followers of Jesus to embody God’s covenant?  Light and salt to the world…a city set on a hill…go and do likewise…those are words of Jesus given to challenge and encourage you and me to bear His Word and will into our world.  I don’t know…I don’t want to make TOO BIG of a deal of this, but it is making more sense to me as I go along.  I don’t think God uses only a handful of means to communicate and reveal His grace to the world…He uses a multitude of expressions of Himself and His love through people who are part of His Body…you and me.  I underscore this doesn’t mean that WE do the actual work…we just bear the presence of the ONE whose work has been, is being and is going to be done in our lives.  Jesus is the one who saves, justifies, and sanctifies…His work alone.

So, I’ve been coming to this conclusion…we are a means of grace.  In fact, the more you think about, the more sense it makes.  The classic definition of a sacrament actually helps you and me (if we are followers of Jesus) to embrace our God-given purpose and call…we are “sent” to the world to “go and make disciples.”  We are a means of God’s grace in and through our mission…in that way, every follower is a sacrament…every person who loves Jesus that which is poured out, broken, bringing the washing of new life that only comes through Jesus into the presence of the relationships in which we have been blessed.

How’s that for clarifying who we are in Jesus?  We (as the gathered community of faith) not only handle the means of grace, we ARE a means of grace!  Every follower a “sacrament”…I don’t know, it seems to work for me.

More on Discipleship…

discipleship-treeEvery day something crosses my desk or my computer screen that promises the “silver bullet” to our desperation in ministry.

There are the inevitable – 10 ways to stop driving away visitors or 8 Reasons why people aren’t coming back or 12 signs of mediocrity in the church or 7 ways to respond as people attend church less often or 10 reasons why young people don’t like church or 10 things you can do now to make sure your church will grow.

It’s out there every day…

So as you might guess…many people are looking for that Silver bullet – that one thing that could turn things around for the contemporary church.

Many are convinced…if we just have that one program…or that one doctrinal secret…or something that can “poof” and solve our problems than we will embrace it with all our might and turn this baby around.

But you know what?  There is NO Silver bullet – well, at least there isn’t a silver bullet that is something is easy to apply to our lives.

The ONLY silver bullet that exists out there is something called discipleship and trust me, discipleship…building disciples…building disciples that are not only faithful to Jesus but also are, by nature, reproductive is darn near impossible in what most of the contemporary church has become.  Discipleship takes a while.  If it wasn’t for the power of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit of God, I think it would be fair to say that we would be lost.

Discipleship isn’t about landscaping schemes or building blueprints…it isn’t about getting that right staff person or dynamic pastor…it isn’t really about a style of music or whether or not we celebrate communion this week or not.

And discipleship is definitely not about doing another church program or having the right sermon series…it just isn’t.

Discipleship is about ONE person who desires to follow Jesus learning from Jesus how to follow Him and then teaching and demonstrating to another how to do the exact same thing  And instead of this thing happening once in a while, it happens daily not in church buildings but in coffee shops, living rooms, break rooms, and restaurants around the community.

1 Corinthians 11:1 “be imitators of me as I am of Christ.”  1 Corinthians 4:16 “I urge you then be imitators of me.”  I don’t see this as overly complicated – Paul seems to be saying plainly that imitation is a core part of being a disciple – you see everyone needs to be trained to be like his or her teacher, Jesus.  That’s what the disciples of Jesus did…that’s what we need to do – be about the process of imitation – that’s how we learn and that’s how we grow.

It’s always been that way – since we were little kids – we learned by observing and watching and listening and then ACTING out what we saw someone else “do.”

Friends, don’t let discipleship in your life be all about information – information doesn’t change the world.  Disciples are made on the mission field, not in classrooms.

So, this challenging dynamic boils down to TWO questions:

1 – Who are you watching?  In other words, who’s mentoring you…who do you have in your life whom you say, “there I want to love and follow Jesus JUST LIKE THEM.”

I’m getting to the point these days where I don’t feel any compulsion to teach you more information about God…but I do feel a HUGE accountability to make sure that you are mature in Jesus as His disciple and that you start acting on what it means to be a disciple.

2 – Who’s watching you?  Is your life worth imitating from a Kingdom perspective…and if not, why not?

Friends, it has taken us centuries to get to where we are today.  For many of us, we have spent our lives learning how to run a church, design a worship service, run a Sunday school or other church program…we are experts on budgets and buildings.  It will take us a while, in fact, we have to be completely retrained when it comes to relearning what it means to be a dynamic, organic community that is dependent on the Holy Spirit to see if new life can be breathed into us again.  A DNA or paradigm shift is occurring and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Discipleship … learning how to be disciples, train disciples, release disciples and make disciples will take some time.

In the meantime, we’ve got to learn to love and follow Jesus – be His disciples and pray that He will energize us to disciple others as He is discipling us.

 

 

More on Discipleship – Discipleship as JOURNEY

1Discipleship as Journey

Phil. 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it”
Phil. 2:12 – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
Matthew texts – the parable of seed growing secretly, mustard seed parable, the parable of the sower, fruit/growth principle
John 15 – Vine and branches
2 Peter 3:8 – “one day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years are like one day”

Thesis – Discipleship is essentially and definitely defined as “following Jesus”. Discipleship is more of a journey than a destination. It is a journey of grace, mercy, love, and power through the Holy Spirit. It is a journey that closely accompanies the “ups and downs” of a person’s emotional and chronological maturity. To say that spiritual formation or growing “maturity” as a disciple “trumps” ones normal development would unfairly thrust a person into adhering to a performance-based maturity paradigm. A disciple never “arrives”…the gospels are a story of disciples being called, responding to that call, and engaging in a journey of discovery and discovering more of the “new and abundant life” that comes in and through Jesus. Discipleship is a journey that is specifically Jesus dependant…it is a move from immaturity to a growing maturity (that can be observed and monitored as it is “lived” out in one’s life). Discipleship cannot be reduced to a list of spiritual benchmarks. Even so, many people continue to describe discipleship as a list of “to do’s” that eventually reveal a performance-based discipleship paradigm.

Essentials of Discipleship

“Christianity who the living Jesus is inevitably Christianity without discipleship and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

“Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.”

A disciple is someone who follows Jesus.

Bonhoeffer commented on discipleship in Cost of Discipleship:

“Follow me” means “run along behind me”
Jesus gives us no intelligible program for a way of life. He gives us no goal or ideal to strive after…no cause which human calculation might deem worthy of our devotion…Jesus calls us to discipleship purely for the sake of discipleship…for the sake of that call and a relationship with Him.
A disciple “burns his boat and goes ahead.”

A disciple is:

Called out of their old life.
Completely surrendered to Jesus.
Called out of “finite and into infinite possibilities.” (Bonheoffer)

Is not a “mere theological, doctrinal system which renders discipleship superfluous and following Jesus inconsequential.”
Is called to a life of love and obedience to Jesus.
One who embraces a life of obedience to Jesus, suffering with Jesus and sacrifice for Jesus.
A disciple’s character is transformed (made clear through traits exemplified in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5).
A disciple is a part of a “visible community” – salt and light to the world.
A disciple practices the “righteousness” of Jesus – the Kingdom lifestyle that is made real in and through a Kingdom LIFE in Jesus.
Lives a Kingdom “call” where the reign of God is experienced in every area of life (e.g. seen in how we care for others, love God, experience/share peace, experience and share wisdom, it is one that is rooted in God’s story, lived out in memorial experiences, seen in our values and worldview, and lived through our vocation and relationships). A Kingdom life permeates all aspects of life.
A disciple grows in Jesus Christ…”making disciples” is at the core (in the very essence of one’s spiritual DNA) of a disciple’s identity.
Being a disciple involves denying self, picking up a cross-marked identity, and following Jesus.
Being a disciple involves the disciplines of prayer, bible reading and study, worship, growth in the knowledge of God, growing clarity/ownership of one’s identity in Jesus, being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, being obedient to Kingdom living as revealed in Christ and His Word, experiencing spiritual warfare and sharing of the resources that God has given graciously.
Being a disciple involves INCARNATIONAL, MISSIONAL, and RELATIONAL living (Leonard Sweet).

Being a disciple occurs in the context of our REAL lives…we experience physiological development (we have bodies); we experience emotional and relational development (we are inherent “image based” beings – multi-faceted, spiritual, emotional, complexities that are a reflection of the God in whose image we were created); we are fragile and have life experiences that can derail us in our growth and development; frequently change/transformation occurs following times of “wilderness” (i.e. emotional, relational, or situational breakdown); we are connected with other life “systems” that require us to change. Frequently, each “breakdown” in life throws us or propels us to embrace issues and developmental realities that have occurred in our past. In other words, we return to “younger” or “less mature” stages in life as we process life’s challenges. That’s why growing spiritual maturity/discipleship can never been seen as a linear process…it is a journey filled with joys, sorrows, victories, and defeats…it is not an ascending into perfection program but rather a lifestyle of dependence upon a loving and transformative God in whose life we have discovered our true identity.

“In, through, over and above so-called normal development the human spirit surges, struggles, sustains, submerges, and reemerges with the newness of life. Those who have seen spiritual transformation in its wondrous and joyful intention to transcend linear expectations and repeatedly reconfigure life’s set patterns, yet without loss of continuity in selfhood, have little difficulty in recognizing and accepting the analogy between this and the rebirth of life after death according to God’s promise of resurrection and redemption for all creation beyond time and history…in actuality, human development is never experienced as a cycle or a sequence, it often feels more like a few decades of searching, finding, and losing an uncertain fulfillment…when the longing for that intimacy is satisfied by the spiritual presence of Christ, the face of God…a lifetime is an unfinished act of God’s love….as each life unfolds, gets torn open, stripped of its survival techniques and its passing pleasures…it appears from under the surface that we have been created for nothing less than the pure love of God…” James Loder, Logic of the Spirit

Human life unfolds over time – clocks, calendars, “to-do” lists, benchmarks of spiritual performance and maturity “lists” cannot supply a definitive framework for spiritual formation.

The Holy Spirit causes transformation of a disciple’s life IN THE REAL LIFE of the disciple. New life and our new identity IN JESUS takes shape over time but does not necessarily “trump” the God’s creative process and the miracle of human development embedded into each unique individual. God is in the sanctification business yet that work is NOT a linear work…it is best described as a journey…a circuitous journey that closely parallels the ups/downs of one’s growing, emotional maturity. Can a “miracle” of growth that astounds one’s emotional development occur? Yes, most definitely. Even so, spiritual formation appears to be closely related to how a person grows and develops emotionally and psychologically during the duration of their lives.

Significant questions – what can we realistically expect out of a person’s growth as a disciple? What transformation potentiality is there at any given emotional development stage? Could it be that we are expecting something to happen in one’s spiritual, discipleship maturity than we can realistically anticipate given one’s emotional and chronological development? Are specific spiritual formation traits more apt to emit and demonstrate their “aliveness” in one’s life given the specificity of their age and maturity in development?