February 21, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Discipleship

As a kid...I loved those Kung Fu and Karate movies. I watched all the Enter the Dragon type movies and the ninja movies and Chuck Norris putting the hurt on some bad guys!

The classic storyline is the show Kung Fu starring David Carradine. As he enters the monastery to study Kung Fu, the master tells the young student he will be ready to leave when He can snatch the pebble from his hand. After years of learning and Kung Fu preparations, the Young Grasshopper snatches the pebble from his masters hand and sets out into the world.

I always wondered what it would be like if the student never got the pebble from the master’s hand...thankfully, Jim Carrey helps us out a bit...take a look...

As corny as these movies are...they teach us the definition of discipleship. In every Kung Fu movie there is a master teacher, who is not just teaching a martial art, they are teaching a way of life. A young student is dissatisfied with their previous way of life so they leave everything behind them, and dedicate themselves to following and learning how to be like the master.

And that is how Mark describes being a disciple of Jesus Christ...someone who follows and learns to do life like Jesus. Check out these passages from Mark 1 and Mark 2

Mark 1:16-20
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 send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
Mark 2:14
“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”
These two passages of Scripture lead us to our first point...Being a disciple means we follow.
We are called to follow Jesus. There is a lot wrapped up in that one little word, “follow.” And part of the problem with being able to grasp this idea is our use of the word follow.

For some, following simply means, “I like what Jesus says...most of the time.” They like the idea of Jesus, they quote some of His teaching...especially on love and forgiveness, they really like that quote attributed to Gandhi about liking your Jesus but not your Christians...but they have not, like a Kung Fu student, taken on his teaching and example as the pattern by which they live their lives. They have taken bits and pieces to heart and tried to learn from them, but their lives as a whole are really unchanged. They may even identify themselves as Christians...but their lives do not demonstrate that they are disciples.

For some, following means, “I said a prayer and asked for forgiveness.” This really is a great starting place for all of us...recognizing we have sinned and need his forgiveness. The problem with this is that many are content to leave things at this level. They ask for forgiveness not because they have decided to follow Jesus, but because they want to go to heaven when they die or they don’t want to go to hell...they really just want insurance for the after-life. So being a “follower” of Jesus is really just an extension of their sin-selfishness. They want to make sure they are happy and safe so they say the prayer, and believe they are good to go.

For some being a follower is taking up the Christian culture. They listen to the right music, go to the right places, speak the Christianese, and have all the right beliefs and politics expected of a Christian. They go to church every time the doors are open. They bought the big Bible with all the notes at the bottom. And yet this isn’t real discipleship to Jesus Christ either.

And this is where the biblical idea of disciple is so different from many ways we understand it. A disciple wants to be like the teacher...a disciple wants to do what the teacher does. A disciple or follower of Jesus has taken His teaching and example and made it the pattern by which they live their lives. They are actively following.

If we look at our Scriptures a little more closely we see some similarities across the stories...
1. Jesus approaches the men in the midst of their everyday lives.
Peter, James, John, and Andrew are working in their boats or on the shore after a long night of fishing. Levi is sitting at the tax collector’s booth. There is no hype. There is nothing really spectacular about all of this. But in the midst of their everyday world Jesus makes an appearance and calls them to be His disciples.

2. Jesus simply asks them to follow.
Just as the situation isn’t all that spectacular...neither are Jesus’ words. He simply says, “Follow me!” Rabbis were revered and honored, and it was a special thing to be invited to be a rabbi’s student. So they knew that they were either going to stay put and be fishermen or a tax collector the rest of their lives...or they were going to get up and follow. They didn’t know where it would lead, but that didn’t matter. And that leads to our last observation.

3. They left everything behind.
Following for them meant their lives would never be the same. They were going to take all the teaching and examples of this rabbi and make them their own. Peter and Andrew left their nets, their income, their security, and followed. James and John left their father in the boat and followed. Levi left his tax collecting booth and followed Jesus. Their old lives were now gone. The longer they were with Jesus, the more their thinking was challenged. Everything they learned as children about faith and God and religious practice was challenged and often shattered by Jesus. Their old ways of thinking were now gone.

They left everything because that is what it meant to follow.

Jesus does very much the same things with us. He comes to us in some very common ways...a church service...a simple thought in the back of our minds...the words of a friend...a still small voice...and He simply invites us to follow. We don’t know, at that time, what “following” him means or even where it will lead, but we somehow know that this is the most important decision of our lives.

But while being a disciple begins with following...

Being a disciple doesn’t mean we have everything figured out.
As we read the book of Mark we see a growing, learning group of disciples...that still needs a good bit of work even after 3 years of being with Jesus. They get things wrong on a regular basis. They misunderstand what Jesus is teaching. They constantly ask Him to explain what He just said. One minute they are preaching and healing like Jesus, and the next they are stumped by a child with a demon because they fail to pray. They watch as Jesus feeds the 5,000, then the 4,000, and then believe Jesus is concerned because they only brought along one loaf of bread on the boat. One minute Peter is proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God...and the next minute Jesus says to him, “Get behind me Satan!” because Peter doesn’t understand what Jesus’ real purpose is.

They get it wrong all the time...which I, personally, find as a big relief. Because if you are here looking for the pastor who is going to get it right all the time...you are in the wrong place. There will be times when I say the wrong thing and come off as insensitive or stupid or uncaring...and I won’t even know it. There will be times when I fail and will have to apologize. I am following, but I am able to recognize that I have not arrived at my final destination. There is a lot of work God has to do in my life.

This is what so many outside the church fail to hear from us inside the church. They hear us talk about the main goal and all the moral standards, but they never hear us say we don’t have everything figured out. We aren’t talking from a point of superiority or completeness. We are still a work in progress heading toward the goal that Jesus Christ has laid before us...we don’t have everything figured out.

As a church we have to say, “Come as you are you will be loved” because we come as we are...but at the same time we can’t wallow around in our sinfulness.

Sometimes when people hear that a church takes grace and forgiveness seriously and accepts people where they are...they want to accuse them of being soft on sin. When we say “Come as you are...” this isn’t to say we have no morals, no direction, or we allow anything to go...no we have a goal. We have a standard laid ahead of us by which we are called to press toward, and that is Jesus. Being a disciple means we follow...and in order to follow...someone has to be in the lead. For us that lead is Jesus. He is the one against which we ask...How does my life compare to His?

And Jesus ultimately leads us to a cross.

Being a disciple leads to a life of sacrifice.

Listen to Jesus words in Mark 8:34-38
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’”
What started off as a simple call to follow...is now recast within the shadow of the cross. What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means living a sacrificial life. Notice Jesus calls his disciples to three things...deny self...take up a cross...and follow me.

In asking people to deny self, Jesus isn’t calling us to self-hatred. He points out the value of human beings by reminding us that someone can gain the whole world and lose self, and that losing self is a costly mistake. He is calling us to lay down our lives in service of others for a redemptive purpose.

For Mark, to be a disciple means we follow Jesus as represented by the cross. A life that is sacrificial. A life given up for others. And he reminds us in what seems like the most paradoxical of statements...”For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

That statement is why much that goes for salvation today is not salvation. Being “saved” isn’t about making me better. It isn’t about being a good citizen. It isn’t about getting into heaven. It isn’t about Not going to hell. Being saved is about following Jesus...learning to pattern our lives and thoughts and actions after who Jesus is and what He wants accomplished in our world.

Salvation is about being a disciple not making a decision.

No where in the Bible is salvation a one time prayer and then someone going on with their lives...no in every instance the person’s life is radically changed from the inside out. Some like Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Paul are called to completely change their vocation and become leaders in the church. Others don’t leave their vocation, but become examples of Jesus’ sacrificial life in that role.

You remain a business owner...but you do business differently. You are an employee...but you serve your employer differently. You are a soldier, a housewife, a husband, a child...it doesn’t matter...you now fulfill those roles in a sacrificial way that imitates the life of Jesus Christ.

We are followers.

In 1896 Rev. Charles Sheldon wanted the people in his church to pattern their lives after Jesus. He wanted to find a way to make it easy and memorable for them, and help them learn to follow Jesus better...so he created a very simple question, “What would Jesus do?”

In the 1990’s it was reduced to a trite phrase on wrist bands and bumper stickers, but the heart of what he envisioned should not be forgotten. When Rev. Sheldon asked himself this question he began treating Jews, Catholics, African Americans and women as equals. He worked to allow women to vote, African Americans to worship wherever they wanted, and worked for equality in the workplace. None of which were easy stances to take in Topeka, Kansas in the late 1800’s because while these seem normal for us today...many on the conservative side saw them as part of the politically liberal agenda.. Rev. Sheldon simply saw them as the way Jesus would treat others around him.

I remember as child being frightened to death of going to hell. I went to a turn-or-burn type of church, and knew that I was going to burn for my sins. Heaven sounded so wonderful, and all I had to do was say that simple little prayer. So I did, and nothing in my life changed.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I realized that God loves me and wants me to follow him, not out of fear, but out of love, not because of what I could get from him, but inspired by the life He was calling me to...that I was able to really give myself to the Christian faith. I realized that I was called to follow Jesus not to earn salvation or a place in heaven or to keep from going to hell...I got to be part of God’s plan to redeem the world...starting with me.

This morning, maybe you are new to this whole church thing...we want to give you room to really be able to follow Jesus. Not because we have falsely produced guilt about something you have done or not done, but because Jesus is calling you to follow Him, you hear him calling, and you know it is time to follow.

Maybe some of you needed to hear this because you are under the false impression that salvation is like a contract or purchased ticket between you and God. You did your part, and now you are waiting for Him to do His. Being a disciple is a relationship...it is us following. It is not a contract or a ticket. If we stop follow, there comes a point where we are not following any more and we have chosen something else. I challenge you to start following...

The challenge that lays ahead for all of us is this: are we willing to pattern our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs, and our actions after Jesus Christ...

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