I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.
He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:
“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”
He shook his head yes.
“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?
He shook his head again.
“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”
Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.
This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.
So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Peter and John were uneducated and untrained men. In this way they are almost the exact opposite of the kind of people we would prefer to serve our churches or share the Gospel. We like people to be educated and trained–we believe they are better to lead and to guide others. Instead, Peter and John were the construction worker, the pizza delivery guy, or the car salesman of their day.
The difference was that these two men had been with Jesus. They had both trained underneath of Him as followers while He was here on Earth and by the presence of the Holy Spirit, they had been with Jesus in an ongoing way since Pentecost. It was the fact that they had been with Jesus that made these guys different from the other unlearned and untrained men that the rulers and Elders were used to.
Often in Christianity, we do this backwards. We select workers who are trained and educated but haven’t been with Jesus. We’re content with well-trained men who know theology and how to teach, but don’t bear the marks of having been with Christ.
On the other hand, we cannot just look to people who are untrained and uneducated to serve and proclaim the good news apart from Jesus. We have to teach people, trained or untrained, to be with Christ. They have to understand the vitality of a life lived close to the resurrected Jesus.
The sweet spot…the place where Christianity becomes alive and infectious and reproducible…is where we can equip normal, everyday people who many would look at and call untrained and uneducated to be with Jesus. If we can put the Gospel and the truth of Christianity in the hands of a common man who knows how to be with Christ, we are that much closer to turning the world upside down.
God desires to be known.
Yet, often in modern Christianity, we settle for less. We settle for meetings, teachings, books, conferences, and running through the motions. A worship service may be exhilarating, God may feel near, but the real work of drawing near to God can remain undone.
God desires to be known.
Yet, often in even house churches and organic churches, we focus much on how we meet together, what we do when we gather, who should or shouldn’t be leading, or what gifts are manifesting as we gather. We work to make Christ the center of our meetings, but sometimes in all the work we miss drawing near to God.
God desires to be known.
So we tell other about Him. We go on missionary trips, we spread the message, and we hone our Gospel presentation. Yet, often in our attempts to make Him known and tell others about Him, we become a weary worker…more like a publicity agent for Christ than a friend who introduces Him to another friend.
Still, God wants to be known.
Some of the things listed above aren’t wrong. In fact, some of them are good things, but they are designed to be fueled out of a relationship with God. God desires friendship with His people. He desires not just to be obeyed but to be loved and enjoyed. He wants friends who know His heart and base their actions out of this friendship, not out of duty.
Don’t just give yourself to duty, Christian. Give yourself to Christ. Let your obedience flow from knowing Him. Talk to Him. Draw close to Him. It’s why He came in the first place.
God still wants to be known.
Christianity in the West has settled for something significantly lower than a culture of discipleship. Our “spiritual” members are typically those who have consistently read their Bible and maintained a devotional private life. The most honored among us are those who have brought their spiritual life to bare on one area of their public life, be it their job or their friends. The point is, much of this falls significantly short of what Jesus intended for His church.
One of the sayings of CMA, an organic church planting fellowship I’ve learned a lot from is “we need to lower the bar on what it means to be a church and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.” They believe that if church is simple enough for anyone to participate in it and everyone is a committed disciple, churches will begin to be established quickly and repeatedly. My question then is, how high should we raise the bar? The following is my list of seven benchmarks for discipleship:
- Intimacy with Jesus- Every spiritual reality in the Kingdom of God is born out of a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus. When a person is truly born into the Kingdom, they are immediately grafted in to a real relationship with a resurrected Lord. But we never graduate beyond that relationship. There is no level of spiritual maturity where listening, loving, and abiding becomes something you did when you were young in the Lord. Cultivating this ongoing relationship with Jesus becomes the basis for every other Kingdom activity we do. (Matthew 22:34-40, John 14:15, John 15:1-10)
- Ability to Follow the Holy Spirit- Jesus expected the ministry of His Son to be carried on through those who followed Him. Jesus-style ministry did not stop when He ascended to Heaven. It continued on in the lives of those who had followed Him and in the lives of those who would come to believe in their testimony. The Holy Spirit led the expansion of the church, the direction of its mission, and fueled the internal growth of holiness in His people. It’s not necessary to take a class on following the Holy Spirit, but we all need to grow in understanding how He leads individually and practice obeying His leadership. This will include knowing His voice, following His promptings, and manifesting His gifts. (John 20:21-22, Acts 2:33, Acts 2:38, Acts 9:31, Acts 13:52, Acts 16:6-10)
- Growing Character- We all come to Christ as enemies of God and it’s the work of God to cause us to surrender to Christ. This change from a captive of Satan to a citizen of the Kingdom of God will have ramifications on our lifestyle. As we develop intimacy with Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit there will be continual change of character reflected in our lifestyle. This is fueled not out of religious pressure but the work of God in the soul of man. Jesus called us to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect, Paul told us he pressed on to the upward call of Christ but had not reached it. Our lifestyles are to grow up into the image of the One who saved us. (Romans 5:8, Colossians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:22-24, Matthew 5:48, Philippians 3:12-15, Ephesians 4:15-16)
- Retelling the Gospel with Relevancy- Anyone who has been to a third world country and seen effective ministry being carried out by the illiterate and unlearned will understand that it doesn’t take a seminary degree to be a disciple. But the ability to grasp the Gospel is essential in coming to Christ. The ability to retell the Gospel is crucial if we desire to see others come to Christ. So every believer from the newest to the most mature should be able to retell their story of Christ meeting them (their testimony) and the story of how that was accomplished by Jesus (the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, otherwise known as the Gospel). (1 Corinthians 1 :26-31, Romans 10:14-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
- A Commitment to the Body of Christ- When Jesus saves us, He sets us in spiritual families that corporately represent Christ. We lose our individuality and gain a corporate family more amazing than anything we have ever participated in. This family is at the same time a universal brotherhood and a specific and local group to which we belong. We begin to tangibly demonstrate our love for Jesus and our status as disciples as we demonstrate love for other broken humans redeemed by Jesus. (Psalm 68:5-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, Romans 16:3-5, 1 John 3:14-18, John 13:35, Romans 12:9-21)
- A Commitment to Care for Orphans and Widows- God found us when we were unwanted orphans (spiritually) and adopted us into His family. Truly following Him, then, means we take care of the weakest and most broken parts of society, whether they are believers or not. We demonstrate the reality of our Gospel by caring for widows and orphans. (Romans 8:15, James 1:27, Galatians 6:10)
- A Commitment to Reproduction- The Gospel and and it’s effects were designed to spread from person to person with little difficulty. Our commission from Jesus is to teach whole nations the realities we’ve learned from Him. If we miss this element, we cease to be a discipling culture. Paul wanted Timothy to not just teach other people, but to teach people in a way that they could pass his teaching on to others. It was this commitment to spreading both the Gospel and it’s associated lifestyle that allowed it to reach most of Europe in a short period of time. The same will be true today. (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2)
Simply put, we are to be people who know Jesus deeply and follow the Holy Spirit. This will cause us to grow in character, express the Gospel in word and deed, care for fellow believers and take care of widows and orphans wherever we find them. When we commit to reproducing this lifestyle in those that are following Jesus around us, we begin to see a discipling culture take root.
One thing to know is that none of these characteristics require extensive schooling or training. Most of them are just the result of you following Jesus and learning to trust His leadership. All of this can be taught (and more likely caught) in the context of the body of Christ on mission. That has deep implications for our current training systems across the body of Christ, but that’s a topic for another post….
Now the question today is this: What would you add? Let me know in the comment section below.