the call to complete discipleship not only to those in ministry, but to us all in Jesus

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

We often think that only pastors or those in “full time Christian service” are called to be completely set apart for ministry (2 Timothy 2), while the rest of us will even necessarily be engaged in the affairs of this world.

But Jesus’s call to discipleship is to us all. We remember that Jesus himself was fully involved in the world he was raised up in. Doing carpentry or whatever kind of work it was (whatever the term actually means) up until the time of his call to ministry at around the age of thirty. But that time did not exempt him at all from complete devotion to his Father, which we have inklings of in the narrative before, when he was a twelve year old in the temple (Luke 2). The world system or aspects of it which are opposed to God (systemic evil) we must be completely opposed to. But the everyday matters which can occupy our lives, and so much of our time, we’re to be fully engaged in to the glory of God. And to do so as those who are followers of Christ by the Spirit.

This certainly involves so much as spilled out and spelled out in scripture. And only possible by God’s grace through the Spirit. Through God’s call we can overcome and follow fully. Even though along the way we will stumble, and we won’t do it perfectly. But we want to endeavor to get back up, keep going, and keep on following no matter what. Given to us, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

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dependence on God

I am looking forward to reading this book: Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower. We so often think life depends on us; in fact that is our default position to which we regularly go. Unless we’ve trained ourselves with the help of the Holy Spirit in God’s grace to learn dependence on God, so that we regularly practice that. Until it becomes more and more a part of who we are. This is what I think of when I think of Dallas Willard.

I have read at least three of his books, and heard him speak at a church, I think I remember shaking hands with him afterward, and on retrospect, given what I’ve heard of him and his life, I feel blessed. A humble, gifted man, who above all else practiced an utterly dependent life on God through Jesus, in the context of God’s will as given to us in scripture, and especially the New Testament.

Just the mere thought along with pondering it is a blessing to me. We need those who have gone before us and have practiced this. A true mentor in the faith knows what they’re talking about firsthand. Otherwise it’s completely empty, and will help no one.

That is my goal, relatively late both in my life, and Christian life. To learn utter dependence on God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. I guess I would say the most upfront goal, so to speak, the rest following out of that. Growth in compliance to the first and greatest commandment and the second like it: to love God with one’s whole being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, will arise out of this. Only by faith can we enter into the love that God is in Christ, experiencing that for ourselves, so that we can love others with that same love.

Of course there’s much too the Christian life: the church, continuing through trial including “the dark night of the soul,” etc., etc. What we have to learn to do is to trust God more and more. Which goes along with a passage God seemed to impress on me a few years back, Proverbs 3:5-6. In and through Jesus.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Luke 14:25-35

Jesus didn’t care about popularity, or even about being misunderstood, it seems. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to understand and follow. It’s simply that he knew better than to think that everyone would, in fact, just the opposite. He assumed most people would not (Luke 13:22-30; Matthew 7:13-14).

This passage fits into the “hard sayings of Jesus”. Hating loved ones, as well as one’s own life is not to be taken literally. It is a way of helping one understand just how supreme one’s allegiance to Jesus is to be. So that the disciple who does love their family, and in the proper sense their own life as well, does so out of their supreme devotion and allegiance to Jesus. And ironically to not love Jesus in that way would mean that one loves others and one’s self all the less. But when push comes to shove, there’s only one God and one Lord that we give our hearts completely to. And in so doing we find that there’s plenty of love to go around for everyone, even for, as Jesus taught us, our enemies.

We might as well face reality, because there’s no escape from it. Following Jesus in this world is not always going to be easy, and sometimes will end with the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed that was what Jesus was referring to in this passage, that whoever wants to follow him would have to take up their own cross, which meant one thing at that time: crucifixion. Jesus knew that only those who understood something of what they were getting into, would persevere. The call is stark here, but it is in the rest of scripture. We’re to have no other gods before God, and we’re to realize that the world in which we live is no friend of God’s. This is throughout all of scripture from almost the very beginning, to close to the very end.

Jesus calls us to count the cost. And to realize that unless we give up everything we have, we cannot be his disciple, which means his follower. It’s a matter of allegiance, as well as trust. It involves giving our all to the One who gave his all for us on the cross.

Jesus deserves all of this devotion because he is God. But also because he as God is completely human, one of us. So that he takes us with him on the one true way to life, through his death and resurrection. May we have God’s grace to follow, and keep following to the very end. In and through Jesus.

scripture, the gospel and the church, and paradigmatic changing books (and *Our Daily Bread Ministries*)

One of the reasons I very much like the ministry I’m working for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, is that it doesn’t get fancy and try to impress, nor does it get tangled up in controversial matters, but it faithfully teaches the truth of God’s word, with an emphasis on its fulfillment in the good news in Jesus. The stated mission of the ministry is “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.” And the vision: “to see people of all nations experiencing a personal relationship with Christ, growing to be more like Him, and serving in a local body of His family.”

It is home of possibly the most well known Christian devotional in the world, Our Daily Bread, but there’s much more, as you’ll discover when you visit their/our website (see first link above). The devotional in my opinion, by the way, is great by itself, but there’s much more, and it’s all good. I listen everyday to Discover the Word which is an approximately 14 minute conversation in matters grounded in God’s written word, scripture.

I have worked there since December of 1999, and am glad to be part of this ministry. It frankly has grown on me. I have a propensity to ask hard questions and be open to different ways of interpreting and seeing things, and I tend to do that. Though as I get older, I am less apt and happy to do so. But sometimes that’s needed, and not just individuals doing that, but believers together. So I’ve found that the influence of working for so long at this ministry has grown on me for good. The ministry is strong in terms of scripture, the gospel, and the church.

It doesn’t at all for a second, by the way, matter what I think. I would much rather say what we believe as Christians and let it go at that. But I also share on this blog my thoughts, so it’s hard to avoid expressing it that way. We all have our unique perspectives from our experiences which we bring to the table. It is best by far when we listen well to each other, all in the mix together.

I have had paradigmatic shifts through various books, the first I can recall being N. T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, then Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed along with another book of his, The King Jesus Gospel. Add to that Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness. And now I think I may be on the cusp of another paradigmatic shift through Greg Boyd’s book, Cross Vision. I have in recent years thought that my theology of the cross is not strong enough. If nothing else, Boyd’s book should help me that way. I’m not sure precisely where I’ll land, but I very much like where he’s going and what he’s trying to do in the book.

Theology and science have plenty of similarities. They’re open ended in their search for truth, so that the quest continues. While at the same time, they’re solidly based in certain givens, in theology (I mean Christian, of course), the truth of the gospel. Like hypotheses being tested in science by peers (peer reviews), so it is in theology both by professional theologians, and by the church at large. So I look forward to praying and thinking through with others Boyd’s thoughts in days to come. All of us likely won’t agree on all the details, including Boyd’s. But we want to all remain united from scripture in the centrality of the good news in Jesus, and the mission the church has in helping us receive that good news for ourselves, and come to share it with others. That is our hope, our goal, indeed, our passion. By God’s grace in and through Jesus.

part of the problem with church today

Church has been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh rhetoric, often in favor of Jesus, but in disfavor of Jesus’ professing followers. And it is in decline in some places, holding its own in other, while exploding in growth in the southern and eastern parts of the world.

This piece is certainly worth considering. The clash he says is between God and Mammon (the love of money):

That’s the real clash of civilisations: the shopping centre (now moved online) versus the temple, a battle between those who are wealthy enough to think in terms of the first person singular and those forced to think in terms of the plural collective. There are only two globalisations: God and mammon. And they will never fully be reconciled.

Although there is church growth in this part of the world, this seems tenuous at best. There are, in my opinion, very good churches, which in numbers may be just holding their own at best. While there are what is called megachurches, which either have grown, and could well still be growing in numbers of those attending, yet may or may not really be centered in the gospel, and God’s will in Jesus, in which the church has a central part. Many times such churches are valued in significant part because of personalities, as in good pastors; those attending often focused on such things as whether or not they get much out of the sermons, good worship music, good programs for their kids, good fellowship (and coffee), etc. And that can be all well and good in its place. But the critical question is whether or not such churches are about making true disciples of our Lord, as well as being Christ’s body in the world.

Churches which seem to be treading water may actually be doing better in making disciples at least within their ranks. Of course new disciples in turn should eventually be making other disciples, that practice and dynamic going on exponentially. In the Spirit’s moving in power in the global South and East, this most certainly is the case, Africa and China being prime examples.

It is good to try to understand better what we’re up against in the limitations of our own personal perspectives, and within society at large. Church planting is a difficult calling here, I think, and for more reasons than touched on in this post. But the Spirit of God is still active, and can penetrate even through our dullness in the western world. We dare not lose hope, but rather should aspire to be in the Lord, even if it’s on a relatively small scale, a witness in word, deed, and life of the transforming and distinctive work of God through the gospel. Remember how the prophet says that God does not despise the day of small things, and that small is where the kingdom of God in Jesus begins. We should work at growing in the life that others need, that we all need, together in and through Jesus.

becoming part of the answer

I jokingly told someone yesterday that I would make a good Buddhist. What I was thinking about is what one Roman Catholic spiritual director in my past was trying to help me with, but which I probably wasn’t getting: the need to become integrated, or one in and of ourselves, something scripture talks about in a number of places, and exemplifies especially in the life of our Lord, who reflected in his earthly life the life of the Trinity. And for us in him, we are to wait on God to help us to this, so that we’re no longer double-minded (double-souled, perhaps more literal) in all of our ways, through faith in the midst of trials and through receiving the Lord’s wisdom in answer to prayer (James 1).

Neither the world, nor any of us needs someone who has all the answers, unless you’re talking about the Lord himself, who in a real sense is the answer. But both for ourselves and for each other and for the world we need to begin in and through Jesus to become something of the answer.

The answer lies in God, and a signficant part of that will be simply not knowing, but having peace, along with the knowledge and understanding which brings peace. Instead of running around and anxiously giving everyone answers, even as we continue to search for them ourselves (which I fell into doing yesterday), we need to settle down, and into the one source for all answers, and more importantly for all of life, so that we can begin to flourish while inevitably not having all of the answers. I can’t help but think of the story of Job, and how it ended.

Back to Buddhism, for a moment. It is said that  Siddhartha Gautama didn’t promote any teaching until he had come to thoroughly live in it, and not without numerous setbacks along the way. While I’m not at all advocating Buddhism which I understand to be a philosophy seeing life in terms of both physical and metaphysical, and hence indeed a religion, I think the point of being integrated, though we believe for different reasons, is one where some convergence can be found. We need to become something of the truth we promote. The good news in Jesus is to be truly good news in our lives, helping us toward flourishing, to be the witness we’re called to be to the world.

In Jesus’ words which we in him are to follow: We’re to make disciples of all nations, disciples meaning followers of our Lord, who in turn will make disciples of others, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. And we’re to follow Paul’s example, even to follow him and others like him as they follow our Lord.

To become integrated, fully one in our Lord and with others in him. Everyday, at least once, and probably more, I need the Lord to help me back to that. To be still, to cease striving and know that God is God (Psalm 46). Something I want to live more and more in along with others who are a part of that whole in and through Jesus.

Lent and the cost of discipleship

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

In the gospel account, Jesus and his disciples are headed toward Jerusalem where he has told them he is to suffer and be killed, after which he is to be raised to life. This was beyond their understanding. The idea of the Messiah suffering and even be put to death was completely foreign to them, in fact an oxymoron. But they had been around Jesus long enough to realize that one can’t go on one’s own understanding as his follower. That sooner than later something Jesus says or does will throw them for a complete loop, so that the ground they were standing on before is suddenly gone. Not that their experience was entirely that. God’s word was being fulfilled in Jesus, just not in the ways people supposed it would be.

We know that Thomas is the disciple who after the resurrection couldn’t bring himself to believe that Jesus had rose from the dead apart from seeing and touching the risen Lord, himself. So that he at least struggles in his faith, even if he is neither the pessimist or cynic by nature many of us have taken him to be, “doubting Thomas.” Some see his statement quoted above as an example of his pessimistic nature. Others see it as a declaration of devotion from a committed even if seriously incomplete disciple. I used to naturally read it in the former way, since to an extent I can identify with that point of view, the need to verify. But I prefer now to see it as paradox or “irony” (as Gary Burge says in his commentary on John). Thomas’ commitment and devotion were just as real as the other disciples, in spite of the weaknesses (like the rest of us) he had.

We would like everything to be easy and just a certain way, ideally, even along with the acknowledgment of our commitment to follow Jesus in the way of the cross. We may be used to being buoyed up by grace so that even through some hard places, it didn’t seem hard at all. And that’s all well and good. But we have to face the fact that in following our Lord life often is not going to be like that, even as we see from our Lord’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the rest of the New Testament.

And so our call is to follow come what may in our circumstances and experience to the end with no turning back. We go on, wanting to be near the Lord in all of this, all the more in our struggles, together in him and by the Spirit.