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First off, let me give you a picture of my spiritual life so far. So often in my Christian walk, I've prayed that God would make me a better follower, make me grow closer to Him, and make me a more mature Christian. And I would wonder why I seemed to stay in the same place spiritually most of the time. I didn't experience growth. I would go to church camp, or some other great worship time and experience that spiritual high, but then go right back into living life as usual. Continuing to screw up, continuing to fall short, continuing in this seemingly never ending cycle of ups and downs. Yeah, God was always there to forgive me when I messed up, but I couldn't help but wonder, "where's the growth?" So recently I've been realizing that the Christian life isn't lived on the high mountaintop experiences with the valleys in between, just waiting for the next mountain. The Christian life isn't about not trying to become better because God's grace is always there for us when we screw up. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." This is the idea where grace fixes everything, so nothing needs to change on our part. We can continue to live our lives the way we want to, because grace has taken the consequence upon itself for us. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? We get to live life how it's comfortable to us, and we get a free ticket to heaven. This is cheap grace. One of the most profound things that I've learned recently is that grace is proactive, not just reactive. It's not merely there as our safety net to catch us when we mess up and put us back on our feet. Grace is not merely to erase our record of sin. It does this, but I really don't think that's the main purpose of it. It is proactive. It seeks us out and seeks to change us. Jesus did not die on the cross purely to cancel our debt of sin. He did it to change us, to allow us to become something other than what we've known before. His grace is proactive. His grace is about transforming us to be like Himself. Jesus has called us to be more than forgiven people. He has called us to be a transformed people. He has called us to be his disciples. We throw around that term, "disciple," a lot, don't we? It's even a part of the mission statement of this church--to attract, build, and utilize disciples. I like that. But it wasn't until recently that I think I really understood fully what a disciple is. Back in biblical times, there were these highly respected teachers called rabbis. These were men who knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, who specialized in interpreting the Word of God to teach His people how they should live. These rabbis would go around and try to spread their teaching to the people of Israel. They would gather up bands of followers who wanted to learn from the rabbi and be just like him. These followers were the rabbi's disciples. A disciple was one who desired to learn from the rabbi and become just like him, in every way. I'd like to use this biblical culture example and look at the disciples of Jesus to inform us of how we need to live as disciples. First off, a disciple was a follower of the rabbi. Someone who goes with the Teacher wherever he goes. Usually, back in the day, the student would pick the rabbi they wanted
to follow, and after close examination, the rabbi would either accept the disciple or not. The weird thing about Jesus is, he picks his disciples. In the gospels we see a few stories illustrating this. One of my favorites is in Mark, chapter one starting at verse 16: "As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." There are several events like this that occur in the gospels that show Jesus handpicking his disciples. Isn't that cool to think that--if you are here right now, in church, listening to this--God has handpicked you? He has extended that invitation to you--"Come, follow me." I think it's also interesting to note how Mark words the new disciples' reactions: "At once they left their nets and followed him." Simon and Andrew were fishermen. They lived off their business of catching fish. But at the call of this new rabbi they left their nets, their business, their old lives "at once." To leave all else behind in order to become a disciple of this Rabbi--that's a crazy thought. And scary. It wouldn't have been the same if Simon and Andrew had taken their nets along with them, dragging them behind them as they followed Jesus. They left everything behind. Now, to us--have we given up all of our old lives to follow Jesus, or have we chosen to merely integrate Jesus into our old lives? Now, I don't think this is a call for everyone to leave their jobs and their families behind to follow Jesus now, but it is a call for us to give up our way of living to follow Jesus' way of living. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." To deny ourselves, lay down our nets, only to pick up a cross. That's a heck of a call. But if we remember that we are handpicked by this rabbi, we know that he believes in us that we can do this. Next, a disciple is a student. The word "disciple" literally means "learner" or "student." A disciple is one that wants to learn everything that the rabbi knows. A disciple carefully studies the rabbi's teaching and applies what he learns to how he lives. As disciples of Jesus, we are full time students. And as students, we have to place ourselves in a position to be taught. Let me explain this: As a college student, I'm pretty familiar with what being a student and a learner entails. In order to learn, I have to take several steps: I have to register for classes, pay tuition, buy my books, go to class, pay attention to the lecture, do the reading and homework assignments, study for the tests, etc. All of these things I do to put myself in a position to learn. The main point is that I can't learn just by doing nothing. That's what I didn't get for so long. As Christians, we have to do the work necessary to place ourselves in the position for Jesus to teach us and transform us. That's where growth happens. How do we do this? How do we put ourselves in this position? This is part of what I'm still learning, but a large part of it is in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, study, fasting, service, etc. There's a great book I just finished reading on this called "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster. He goes through many spiritual disciplines and explains how they are merely the things that place us before God so he can transform us. But all of this is unique to every person. We need to find out what best helps to put us in a position before God to be transformed. Another aspect to being a learner is to study the Rabbi. To study what Jesus taught. I would encourage all of us to really study the gospels and the words of Jesus. Don't just assume you know. Because let me tell you, the "American" Jesus who hates gays, wears
red, white, and blue, and supports a political party is not the Jesus we find in the New Testament. I won't go into this now, but if we are students of this rabbi Jesus, we have to really know and understand what His teachings are. The ultimate purpose of a disciple is to ultimately become like the rabbi and to spread his brand of interpretation and teaching around the world. Jesus attests to this in Luke 6:40, where he says, "A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." It is our job as disciples to grow to become like our Rabbi and to spread His message. To teach others what He taught us. To live like He lived. That's why when Jesus ascended to Heaven, he left his disciples with this command: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). It is our call to make more disciples, to teach the things that Jesus taught, and to teach them how to obey these things. To teach others how to follow, to learn, to obey, and to spread the Word. Jesus is our ever-present Teacher. Our job as disciples is to be ever-present students. To always be learning, always be growing, always be sharing the Good News--that's the job of a Christian who strives to be a disciple. And it's not exactly going to be easy. It's going to require us to leave behind our comfortable ways of living life the way we want to, to do the work necessary to learn, to obey the teachings of this Rabbi. Discipleship is a journey. It's a continuous process of growth and learning. And it's all worth it.
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