Discipleship-More than Your Church Told You

Sunday Afternoon Musings

clarence-jordan
Clarence Jordan

I quoted this passage from Stanley Hauerwas’ theological commentary on Matthew this week as I exposited the text from Matthew’s gospel (4:12-25).

He was relating a story about Clarence Jordan. I just might spend the rest of my life studying the life of Clarence Jordan. What a great man of God! I’m looking forward to meeting him in glory one day.

Thank your Lord, for such men and such preaching.

Clarence Jordan, the founder of the Koinonia Community, an interracial farm in Georgia . . . illumines the difference between being a disciple and those who simply admire Jesus. In the early 1950’s . . . Clarence asked his brother, Robert Jordan, who would later be a state senator and a justice on the Georgia Supreme Court, to represent Koinonia Farm legally. His brother replied:

“Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

We might lose everything too, Bob.”

“It’s different for you.”

“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

“Could that point by any chance be–the cross?”

“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”

“Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”

“The question,” Clarence said, “is, ‘Do you have a church?”
(First reported in McClendon 1990, 103)

Cited in Matthew, Stanley Hauerwas
(Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), p. 57

Questions

  • Are you taking discipleship as serious as Jesus did?
  • If not, how can we call ourselves His followers?

Great Quotes for a Sunday Morning

I love opening older books and finding new gems to energize and inform my life. This week I had the pleasure of finding such a gem in a devotional book. Lloyd Ogilvie writing on Mark 6:5 where the gospel writer tells us about the time Jesus did no great works because of the people’s unbelief says this:

“Tell me what makes you discontent and I will tell you what drives you. Show me your indignations and I will show you the imperatives by which you live. Tell me what stirs you enough to change things, and I will tell you whether you are living while you are alive. This inventory can show us quickly whether we are dealing with soul-sized issues or piddling about in the eddies of irrelevant self-pity.

In a devotional published in 1981, Ogilvie writes words that seem tailored to the world situation in 2017.

Jesus affirms a creative discontent as a major characteristic of discipleship. This is a part of life as it was meant to be. A driving dissatisfaction with ourselves, our relationship with God, and the world in which we live is evidence that we are in touch with the Holy Spirit. If a dominant desire is in us to grow, to live more fully, to heal the wounds of the world, to bring justice to the dispossessed and suffering, [emphais added] then the Lord is at work in us. Too few of us have a fermative unrest, disturbed with the inconsistency in ourselves and society.

Jesus took His listeners from an abstraction about God and brought them to the concrete evidences in them and society which indicated that they had no right to be satisfied. They were proud of their growth, but He showed them that they had hardly begun; they were proud of their Hebrew heritage, but He showed them the tremendous responsibilities they had in sharing the secret of God’s love with the world. When our dissatisfactions are in harmony with Christ’s, then we know that we can depend on His power to find an answer.

God’s Best for My Life: A Daily Devotional, (Harvest House Publishers, 1981), devotion for February 18.

Let’s stop “piddling about in the eddies of irrelevant self-pity.” Let’s change the world for Jesus and the hurting, the hunted, and the suffering of the people around us. Let’s be the change that so many are unconstructive complaining about. Let’s love better and serve better than those who don’t know Christ. Let’s “really live while we live.” Let’s live passionately for and like Jesus.

When a Knock on the Door Changes a Life Forever

 

paul-becker
Paul Becker

Paul Becker is the founder and President of Dynamic Church Planting International, probably the most prolific and effective church planting ministry in the history of the church. When I was a young church planter Paul used the galleys of the book that eventually became Dynamic Church Planters Handbook to mentor me as a church planter.

For a week I stayed with Paul and his family and then Paul encouraged me and acted as a sounding board for some of my crazy ideas during the months of our pre-natal development of the new church.

That was 27 years ago. Today, The New Dynamic Church Planting Handbook* starts out with this story on page 2.

Paul was leading a day of community surveying with forty college students. After worshiping the Lord, they prayed for receptivity as they prepared to go door-to-door in the target community. The group then dispersed into the community in teams of two.

Paul and his partner went from house to house, listening to people and tabulating their answers to survey questions. By mid-afternoon they were ready to head back to the bus and return home. But they decided to knock on one more door.

A smiling woman in her late thirties greeted them and said, “I am so happy you’ve come. I’ve been looking for a church.”

Brenda, a single mother going through a divorce, had two children—Justin, age 15, and Bettina, age 12. Within a short time all three put their trust in Jesus.

The small family became regular in church activities. Justin was a fine young man, and helped organize and build the youth group.

After a year, Paul’s ministry in the church plant came to an end. He moved on to plant another church. [Marty’s note: This was from a period of Paul’s life when he planted four churches in eight years while living in the same house! Basically, Paul would take a church through it’s pre-natal year and its first year of growth and then turn the church over to another pastor and start all over again.]

A year passed, and then Paul recieved a call at his office.

It was Brenda, and she was weeping. Through her sobs she was able to say, “Justin was driving with three other boys, and they had a terrible accident. Justin is dead.”

Paul’s first reaction was shock. A vibrant young man was gone so quickly, so unexpectedly.

But then he thought, “What if we hadn’t taken the time to do one last survey that day? And what if that new church hadn’t been planted at all? Would Justin have heard the gospel in the two brief years of life he had left to him if it weren’t for that new church?

Justin is home in heaven now. He is saved for all eternity, in the glorious presence of Jesus. And that’s all because a new church reached out to his community with the good new of Jesus Christ.

Some lessons for all of us:

  1. Never underestimate what God can do with the simplest of interactions.
  2. The hope of the gospel is a real balm in the hard realities of life below heaven.
  3. Church planting and all the work it takes to make it happen really does make a difference.
  4. Nothing done for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is wasted. Nothing.

* The New Dynamic Church Planting Handbook is available as a free download in pdf format from the DCPI.org website.

Sunday Musing

What I’m Thinking about This Evening

Green Fields in Allegheny Mountains

“It is true that those in the first flush of faith often are given unusual graces of the Spirit, just  like a new baby is cuddled and pampered. It is also true that some of the deepest experiences of alienation and separation from God have come to those who have traveled far into the interior realms of faith. But we can enter the bleak deserts of barrenness and the dark canyons of anguish at any number of point in our sojourn.”

Since there is no special sequence in the life of prayer, we simply do not move from one stage to the next knowing, for example, that at stages five and twelve we will experience abandonment by God. Of course, it would be much easier if that were the case, but then we would be describing a mechanical arrangement rather than a living relationship.”

—Richard J. Foster
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 19

I preached on Psalm 51 today at the Chinese Christian Union Church in Chinatown, Chicago. It is always a sobering text. David describes his remorse and his desire for forgiveness in raw language that lays bear his soul and reveals that he has come to grips with the evil and wickedness of his choices. 

He had lusted, committed adultery, murdered, and covered it all up. But God had seen it all. He knows his sin has the character of Pesha–an open rebellion against the will and ways of God. He uses the word Chata–a moral failure to do the righteous thing. And finally, he uses the word Avon–a deliberate choosing to go in the wrong direction. He examines his heart and finds out that he has been this way (a wayward, rebellious, and a moral failure) all his life and so he asks that God might blot out his transgressions and hide His face from all of his sins (vs. 8). He asks God to give him a completely new heart, creating something that was never there before (cf. vs 5 with vs. 10).

I want a heart like David’s. 

I just don’t always like the process it is going to take.

Men and women of God who mean business with God take sin very seriously (Jeremiah 4:1-4). And when they find sin in their heart, they do what David did:

  1. They plead for mercy  (1-2)
  2. They confess their sin (3-6)
  3. They request forgiveness (7-9)
  4. They express a desire for renewed relationship (10-12)
  5. Express a desire to be different (13-15)
    and when they do those things
  6. They gain a new perspective on life (16-17) and a
  7. New vision for life (18-19)

And that means a life of prayerful confession, a life of constant seeking after God, a relentless pursuit of holiness through all the battles of life. Through the battles that are thick with moment and importance and through all the mundane moments, the everyday-ness of life.  

I’ve written about the constancy of the battle in other places, most notably perhaps in a post titled, Why I Hate Prayer

David knew the battle was constant too. That’s why he prayed, “renew in me a steadfast spirit (vs. 10b). 

Let’s wake up every morning called “today” and pray the same prayer.

What is the Value of the Kingdom?

rembrandt-parable-of-the-hidden-treasure1

They are two of the simplest, shortest, and most profound of Jesus’ parables.

The text comes to us in a chapter filled with parables of the kingdom. In these three verses, two parables hinged together by a common phrase appearing in both. Read it again.

44The Kingdom of heaven is like the treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field 45Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

—Matthew 13:44-46

These are easy pictures, aren’t they?

A farmer, plowing a rented field, unearths a treasure of unspeakable value, bigger than anything he has ever seen, bigger than he imagined any treasure could ever be and so he goes and he begins to make plans to make the treasure his. The law of the land says, “finders/keepers,” as long as the land belongs to you.

So he buries the treasure again. He makes sure no one has seen him. Then he goes and sells all that he has to purchase the field. His joy is so great, he can’t think about anything else.

He has spent his life in this blue-collar job, slaving away at a job that exacts its toll in shortened years, arthritic hands and an aching back and now a treasure of unspeakable value is his.

While those images are swirling around in the disciple’s minds Jesus starts into a second, similar parable.

45Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

If the first parable blue-collar written all over it this one is the white-collar version of the same point.

Here’s this white-collar guy, a merchant of pearls, going from town to town, looking for the best deals he can get on pearls.

One day he finds the best deal of his life. All he can think about is the value of that pearl and what his life would be like if he owed that pearl of great price. He can’t think of anything else so he goes and sells all that he has so he can own that pearl and maybe someday, sell it to the highest bidder.

It is hard to know all of what must have gone through the minds of the disciples when they heard this parable for the first time. Jesus seems to have told his parables in such a way that their truth was apparent to those who had open hearts, but veiled to those who were not serious about doing the will of God.

Perhaps some people thought of the farmer in images of disappointment and dashed hope. They saw in the image of the farmer all those who barely eke out an existence and whose entire history has been a series of disappointments.

These are one-point parables with an infinite number of implications for life. Each hints at one probing question for our lives. So what was Jesus trying to drive home? 

In both parables, something is found and then valued so highly that everything is sold to obtain what was found. So let’s pull the parables apart so we can put them back together with understanding.

First, let’s eliminate some things.

This parable is not about buying salvation.

                  It’s not about buying the kingdom.

                  It’s not about selling everything and giving it away.

                  It’s not about hiding valuables in the ground.

                  It’s not about going out and buying a metal detector.

                  It’s not about investing in real estate, or becoming a pearl merchant.

Look for what is common in the parables as a clue to Jesus’ point. None of those things have anything to do with what Jesus is trying to get across to us.

Look at the end of verse 44 and 46.

Goes and sells all that he has and purchased the field.
Went and sold all that he had and purchased the pearl.

In both cases, the finder values the commodity they find more than anything and everything else they possess. More than the sum total of all they possess. Nothing keeps them from exchanging all they own.

                  All that they know

                  All that they are familiar with

                  All that they have worked to accumulate

                  All that they have trusted in

                  All that they had been given by others

                  All that they had inherited

                  All that they have previously desired

All of that stuff is counted as unworthy of possessing any longer when the two finders, find the real treasure, the pearl of great price. That’s what the kingdom of God is like to those who find the kingdom.

As you look at the simple phrasing, and the stark, bold, brute reality of what Jesus says, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that something really big and worthy is going on here—something that demands our attention.

Don’t get hung up on how the two finders come to their prize. The farmer is surprised by his great discovery. The merchant is filled with the joy of a search fulfilled. But in both cases, the men are mesmerized by the great value of the discovery they have made.

One pastor put it this way:

“The climax in Jesus’ stories of the man finding the buried treasure and in the merchant finding the pearl of great price is the eagerness with which each possessed their discoveries. Each, when he made the discovery ‘went and sold all that he had.’ Each did it joyfully. Neither felt he was making any sacrifice because the treasure he was possessing was worth so much more than what he had to offer for it that they did not hesitate.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like that. Once we see what it is worth to have God in our hearts, to have His spirit empower our lives, to follow His will, we realize that no matter what the cost, we want God above and beyond all things else.”

                                                                                (Charles L. Allen, When the Heart is Hungry, 19)

These are parables about the value of salvation, not the means of obtaining it. Jesus seems to be making a telling point:

If and when you do find the treasure, its value to you will eclipse everything else in your life. Everything.

Does the Kingdom mean that to you?

Let me suggest two implications of what Jesus is saying and try to apply it to our situation:

If the Kingdom of God has an incomparable value …

  1. Does your attitude and activity toward others reflect that incomparable value?Sometime, read Romans 12:9-21 and it’s list of imperatives about how the people of God are supposed to live. It is “a blizzard of commands” (not my phrase but an apt description) that the apostle Paul expects Christians to embrace with joy. Then ask yourself this question, “Who lives that way?”Answer: No one lives that way. It is certainly not what you see in media and entertainment venues. No one lives this way unless they are convinced of the value of the Kingdom.But, if you know the value of the kingdom, you are committed to growing in every one of those areas that Paul mentions.In fact, to not desire to live out this kind of lifestyle is to devalue Christ and His love. It is a slap the face of Christ and to devalue the sacrifice for sin that He made on your behalf.
    …..
  2. Does your attitude and activity toward stuff reflect the incomparable value of the kingdom?

Are you using your talents for Christ?

Are you using your time for Christ?

Are you maximizing your days for Christ or for yourself?

Every week there are people in your worship services, wherever you went to worship this week, who do not yet believe. They are looking to see if you are authentic. They are looking to see if there is any substantive reality to what you say you believe. Let me ask you a question.

“What are you doing differently as a result of last week’s message?”

Are you becoming a doer of the word or are you deluding yourself into thinking that merely hearing the word on Sunday is enough but applying it Monday through Saturday is optional?

The great John Chrysostrom, an early church expositor, was so eloquent that people would applaud his messages.  One day he stopped their applause with this comment.

“Stop your applause. You think that when you have appreciated you have applied. It is not your applause I covet but your application.”

Remember this, we invest in what our heart values most. What are you investing in?

You know what I think a legitimate question Jesus might ask Americans if He were to come back today? I think He might ask, “What are you doing with all that stuff? I blessed you with what you have to be a blessing to others. Why are you stockpiling it yourself?” 

Is it fair for me to ask readers these questions based on just these three verses?

Remember how parables are constructed. They are primarily about one thing and they should not be used to judge others but ourselves.

So if these parables are about the gospel of the kingdom being so valuable that no sacrifice is too great, then the probing question that is suggested by Jesus’ words is this:

“Do the exertions of my life reflect the surpassing value of the Jesus and His Kingdom?”

Does your attitude and activity toward God’s kingdom reflect the incomparable value of the kingdom?

You see, “spiritual poverty can be taken away at once.” (Allen 20).

Two young men in the Scripture:

                  Stephen (Acts 7:55,59)                 gave his life to gain the glory

                  Result:                                                             sees the glory of God

                  Rich Young Ruler (Mt. 19:22)     held on to what he had and left emptier than ever

                  Result:                                                             went away sorrowful        

What is it that will cause …

   comfort-loving,
                  convenience seeking,
                  passionless,
                  experience driven,
spiritually apathetic Christians

to embrace the incomparable value of the forgiveness offered in the gospel of the Kingdom?

“… a treasure so valuable, that at any price
(even the price on one’ life, it would be a gift.”

—(Robertson, EBC, 74.)

That is the superlative worth of the kingdom.

“The kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon everything else to secure it.”

Expositor’s, vol. 8, 328

The disciples left all to follow Jesus. Paul said he counted all the things he left behind to be rubbish (Phil 3:); actually, he used a much less polite word.

Have you discovered the treasure in the field?

Have you discovered that Jesus, a relationship with the God of the Universe is worth everything you ever hoped for, and everything you have, and everything you might have?

Your life is wasted if you don’t embrace the glory of the gospel. Here’s how Jesus put it: “What does it profit a man or a woman, if they gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Luke 9:25)

You have a good answer to that question?

No. You don’t.

Because nothing, nothing is more valuable than what Jesus offers to us in the gospel of the Kingdom. 

 

Ours is a God Who Satisfies

Sunday Evening Musings

The glory of bread is that it satisfies. The glory of living water is that it quenches thirst. We do not honor the refreshing, self-replenishing, pure water of a mountain spring by lugging buckets of water up the path to make our contributions from the ponds below. We honor the spring by feeling thirsty, getting down on our knees, and drinking with joy.”

A Godward Life: Savoring the
Supremacy of God in All of Life

—John Piper, 23

A Godward LifeRest in Him.

Trust in Him.

Know that He is sovereign.

Love being held by Him.

Cherish the reality of belonging to Him.

And may you find Him supremely satisfying as you give yourself to Him who gave Himself for you.