Tag Archives: Discipleship

Discipled to Christ in a Post-Christian World

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According to missional leader Mike Breen, a disciple is someone who is learning to have the character and the competency of Jesus. It’s about faithfulness and fruit. Or as Dallas Willard once described it: a disciple is what it would look like if Jesus were you.

“As a disciple of Jesus… I am learning from Jesus to live my life as He would live my life if He were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything He did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that He did all that He did.”
Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy

This requires that we exercise our spiritual muscles so that we might flex our God-given imaginations, seeing ourselves in what the New Testament calls our “glorified” state, where and when we are fully formed into the image of Christ.

A New Identity in Christ

Have you ever considered that? What would it look like for you to live like Christ? If Jesus were living your life, what would it look like?

If we can’t see in our mind’s eye what that would look like, to live into our new identity free from the power of sin and death, how can we ever hope to become like Christ? What are we aiming for if it’s not the image of Christ?

I’m convinced that visualizing our inclusion into Christ was everything for the Apostle Paul. The mistake we make in the West is only to think of an abstract, theological position. But instead, Paul is advocating for disciples to actually “see” themselves in Christ with a disciplined imagination.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Romans 6:3-5 NIV

You see, when our sights aren’t really on Christ, we run the risk of settling or selling out for a more culturally palatable message that says you should merely seek to be a better version of yourself.

But please understand, that message is much different than saying you should die and become like Christ, which is the calling of all disciples.

The gospel and the culture are still very much at odds when it comes to our identity. Who are you? What about you is to be accepted? What is to be rejected? And what does the Lord Jesus think?

When Peter watches Jesus miraculously provide fish, despite his skepticism, and then recognizes that Holiness is in the boat with him, he tells Jesus to go away from him for he is a sinner (Lk 5:1-11).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny this. He doesn’t try to affirm Peter with, “No.. no.. you’re just the product of your environment” or “I like you just the way you are, Peter. Besides, all those impulses you have were given to you by God.”

Instead, Jesus invites him and the others in the boat to a life of discipleship. He wants them to embark on a life-changing journey that will result in “catching people” up into God’s Kingdom, a path that begins in cross-bearing and the denial of self (Lk 9:23-26). The cross will be a help or a hurdle to you.

Christ gives us a new identity. Please hear that. You’re made in God’s image, but you’re also broken and not as you should be. Don’t expect to hear that message from the world, cause you won’t.

Jesus loves you the way you are, but he cares too much to leave you that way. Yes, Jesus affirms that you’re a product of the divine, but you’ve also been born into a world that is presently groaning and longing for release from its decay (Rom 8:18-22). Therefore, be prepared to lose some things.

So you can’t become like Christ as his disciple without repentance, divine power, and a little imagination. Imagination is critical as we visualize for ourselves what it would look like if we lived in love and in perfect faithfulness to God, if we grew up into Christ. We can do this work together.

Make Disciples, Not Converts

Discipleship is the word we use to describe that journey of becoming more and more like Jesus. It isn’t optional for Christians. It is the very reason for which we’ve been included into his Kingdom, and of course is visibly made manifest in the community life of the local church.

If you’re not cool with that calling, if you’re not willing to sacrifice your life and agenda to walk this road of discipleship, I’m afraid that you’ve misunderstood Jesus and his eternal purpose for the church.

Then Jesus came to them [his disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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.”  Matthew 28:18-20 NIV

Jesus isn’t interested in religious converts or simply acquiring members for your church roll. He isn’t looking for a few conservative pew-sitters, nor is he looking for progressive social activists only interested in baptizing their justice efforts with Jesus-lingo. Far from it.

Jesus is interested in your self-denial and radical regeneration. 

He is calling disciples to follow him daily and take on a new identity and a new allegiance with others in the church. It’s his authentic recipe and his sanctifying way for seeing all things made new in the world. Period.

Discipleship is about taking off the old and putting on the new (Eph 4:22-24). We are called to manifest new creation right here in the midst of the old one.

If we’re going to be obedient to Christ’s command to go and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), we must first be personally undergoing the sort of training that leads to our own inner transformation.

Disciples are learners. But we do not make disciples by teaching folks abstract concepts in a classroom. Discipleship is about learning from Jesus in a real master-apprentice relationship and learning from others who are a few steps ahead of us in the pursuit of Christlikeness, mentors if you will.

We need faithful (not perfect) examples of Jesus that we can engage in relationship and emulate as we’re working out our salvation.

Are you being discipled this way?

This way of discipleship demands humility, teachability, patience, and perseverance—the kind where you put your hand to the plow and don’t look back (Lk 9:62). This was Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples.

Discipleship isn’t for the faint of heart or for those who are only interested in keeping up appearances in church by attending some worship services, participating in some meetings, and going through the religious motions.

No, Jesus wants more than that. The world can do all of that “religious stuff” in its own strength. Nothing to see there.

As Jesus modeled for us with his first disciples, we need churches that are intentionally calling people out of the social and public spaces where we “fellowship” and enjoy corporate worship. Jesus invited people out of those spaces, be it in a synagogue or on a hillside, for the deepening of discipleship within intimate and personal spaces.

Who do you think knew Christ best? Was it the fans who followed at a distance, only showing up for some singing and open-air preaching, or those who met around the campfire with Jesus? Why would it be any different today?

Let’s be clear. Jesus wants you to do everything with him.

Jesus invites you into his inner circle with other disciples. He is interested in followers, not fans. He isn’t looking for folks satisfied with religious services. If you don’t come closer than that, you’re not putting yourself in any relational context that allows for deep spiritual growth.

It’s within the intimate and personal spaces of the church where we can build trust and discover what it means to confess, practice accountability, discern the Scriptures, share our joys and struggles, and learn to pray together.

Where are those places in your church? Are you present and active there?

Abiding in Christ

Jesus wants you to abide in him; to live and move and have your being in him. He isn’t to be contained in a family or an ethnic tradition; our faith isn’t to be relegated to a Sunday morning or whenever it suits our schedule and level of comfort. Jesus must be more if we’re going to be his disciples.

To be a disciple, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “he [Jesus] bids a person come and die.” Your person, your plans, and your preferences must be nailed to the cross with Jesus if you want to follow him. He becomes Lord over all of your life, not a therapist for some of your life. And this is good news!

Jesus said he has come to give us life to the fullest (Jn 10:10). If we want to experience the abundant life of Jesus, we must first recognize, as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). If we want to live, we must die first.

We must be willing to say “No” to all that conflicts with God’s best for us. This means we must surrender our lives to Christ.

It’s in this state of surrender that we are able to abide in Jesus.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 NLT

Jesus makes it crystal clear that if we are not abiding in him, we cannot bear the fruit of discipleship. For every Christian that hears that, there should be a deep concern to not only understand this “abiding” business, but to be about whatever this practice looks like.

So what does it look like to abide in Jesus like branches in a vine?

It’s simple, really. It’s an answer that might seem ho hum to those who have grown up in the modern church, but nevertheless, it’s still the way the historical church has always taught we come to have an active relationship with Christ.

If you want to remain in Jesus like a fruitful branch getting its life from the tree trunk, you must be practicing some basic spiritual disciplines. These practices shape our identity, our character, and bring order to our scattered lives. Only then can we become competent like Jesus and be about the Father’s work in the world.

They are the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer & meditation, Scripture reading and study, fasting, worship, communion, etc. These practices exist for our spiritual formation as disciples, for the deepening of a real relationship with Jesus. Without them, we invite the world to shape us instead.

Discipleship Requires Resistance

Without a regular practice of the spiritual disciplines, we will inevitably fall prey to the spirit of the age and the forces of culture that are always at work to form us into the mold of the world. You literally must do nothing to be formed by the world. If you live in it, it’s working on you.

While not all of culture is malevolent and hostile to our faith, much more of it is contrary to Christ than we’re often comfortable admitting today.

Therefore, if we aren’t intentional about doing contextual theology and working at the discipled-life together, we will succumb to the prevailing secular liturgy of the day. At most, the church will become a nicer version of our fallen human selves–no good to Christ and no good to the world.

Like the decline of mainline liberal Protestantism has shown us over the last 50 years, people eventually wake up and see if all we’re calling them to is to be nice and care about social justice, then Jesus isn’t really needed. You don’t need to believe in the resurrection or in resurrection living brought about through discipleship. You don’t need the church calendar, communion, or her liturgy.

If all that is needed for energizing people spiritually is to read some poetry or hear a motivational speech one day of the week, you can get that in a book club or by watching TED Talks on YouTube.

The sort of church that discards the commands of Jesus and opts for a more user-friendly, do-it-yourself spirituality, is powerless and pointless, according to Jesus. It’s there that spiritual disciplines and Christian theology and liturgy in time become irrelevant. You won’t find disciples there. Not for long, anyway.

But, if Jesus and what we call the Christian faith is about becoming like Christ, in character and competency, through the process of discipleship, then we must hold fast to what rests at the heart of our faith: an insistence that being a Christian is about knowing the resurrected Christ in community and becoming like him in everything. All of this to the glory of God for the sake of the world.

And we can’t be disciples and do what disciples do without being intentional in resisting the pattern of this world.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Romans 12:1-2 MSG

Church, if we aren’t abiding in Jesus regularly, if we aren’t being disciplined in our spiritual formation, we will have nothing to help us discern and filter out all of the messages thrown at us today. We’ll have nothing to offer the world.

If we aren’t full of prayer and Scripture, if we aren’t committed to worship and Christian discipleship, we step out into the world spiritually unarmed and unable to discern what God’s will is for our lives and humanity.

What happens when we’re not being discipled? We are left with no choice but to operate off of our own sin-saturated thinking, our own feelings, and what is acceptable and deemed tolerant by society and culture at the current time. We then forfeit our power to shape the culture for Christ.

Throughout the history of the church and her engagement with the world, it has always worked this way. We will be discipled by Christ through our intentional efforts to be spiritually formed, or we will be discipled by the world.

Where We Go From Here

I suspect this has much to do with where we are today.

When I look at the current state of the church in North America, I think to myself: Why does the church lack the life-changing power of the early church? I know it’s really multi-faceted, but the simple answer is:
We’re not being discipled to Christ.

It’s not that the church isn’t doing some good things. On the contrary, many folks in the church are running crazy trying to make a difference in the world. But this is what I’m getting at: we have put the work before the worship; the doing before the being; busy religious life before discipleship.

If we want to influence our world for Christ and do the faithful work of disciples, we must first be a disciple. We will go out with power if we’ve been consistently living life as a disciple. Jesus sends out his disciples only after they’ve spent significant time with him in the intimate and personal spaces.

A simple reading of the book of Acts reveals that the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers a movement of God. The Spirit comes upon those who are committed to Christ as his obedient and submissive disciples.

Discipleship is how we raise the sails so that the Spirit has a way to move the church forward into God’s good future.

Jesus shows us that discipleship propels mission and evangelism. In other words, it’s transformed disciples that transform the world. All good things follow from discipleship. Really? How so?

When folks are being discipled to Christ they are getting in touch with God’s voice and his will for them and the church. It’s from that place that he sends us out to continue his mission in the world.

So where do we go from here?

(1) I think the church needs to recognize that she has largely lost sight of the Great Commission; (2) we would do well to repent of the many ways we’ve tried to change the world without first being willing to change ourselves; (3) we must seek to prioritize our lives and our local churches around the matter of discipleship–seeking to be disciples who make disciples.

Finally, I think our increasingly pluralistic and secularized culture will present us with some exciting new opportunities in the years ahead.

I’m hopeful that after losing the culture wars and whatever Christian power and privilege once existed in the US, we may soon be led by the Spirit to return to our primary calling that will surely revive the sacredness of our assemblies: making disciples.

So in the meantime, while we wait expectantly on a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for a movement of God to sweep the dry and barren landscape of American spirituality, my prayer is that we recognize that now is the time to return to our first calling to do the patient work of being discipled to Christ.

I’m looking forward to being a part of that kind of Kingdom revolution.

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


Mike Breen on Discipleship

Christians know that Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). It’s easy to nod our heads or give a hearty “Amen” when we hear the word “discipleship” and that the church should be making disciples.

But what does that actually look like? Are we really making disciples?

I’d like to introduce you to someone who has helped me in this area. For the last two years, with help from my own discipling mentor, I have been gleaning from his writings and seeking to implement his ideas into my life and ministry.

Mike Breen is an author, speaker, and innovator in leading missional churches through the US and Europe. Mike isn’t just a thinker, he is also a practitioner that works to see established churches and church planters become missional by helping them to create a discipling culture.

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.”
Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, pg.11

Listen to Mike share how churches are to make disciples who make disciples.

Are you doing more than receiving information? Who are you working closely with to imitate? Do you have a spiritual father or mentor(s)? What is the Spirit speaking to you about this?

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


It’s a Christian “Walk,” Not a Sprint

Walk-SandTo put it simply: The point of being a Christian is to become like Christ, the perfect human being.

If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any length of time you know that this process isn’t easy, and it takes much longer than any of us like. We don’t call it the Christian “walk” for nothing.

So the Christian journey is a lifetime of inching closer to Jesus. Disciples know that this can be frustrating. As Paul said, we’re not what we want to be.

“So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Rom 7:14-17 NLT).

We become acutely aware of this struggle during the season of Lent, which begins today with Ash Wednesday. We are sinners in the process of becoming saints. Self-help books and positive thinking aren’t the answer.

We need a living savior to give us power over our sinful selves!

“Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24-25).

In the meantime, our culture of hurried living makes this process all the more frustrating. We want results now. We fail to recognize the way of Christ is much slower than what we’ve been conditioned to find acceptable.

But folks, Jesus was and is seldom in a hurry.

In his book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, Alan Fadling reminds us that Jesus was relaxed and lived life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Jesus wasn’t in an ambitious hurry.

“After waiting thirty years to begin his ministry, his first ministry act was to follow the Spirit into forty days in the wilderness. His own brothers urged him to do some publicity if he wanted to be a public figure, but Jesus didn’t bite. He seemed frustratingly unhurried on his way to heal the synagogue official’s daughter and to visit his sick friend Lazarus, who died during Jesus’ two-day delay. His sense of timing often puzzled those around him.”

Fadling says, “The Spirit of God has been working in my heart to teach me how to move at the pace of grace rather than at my own hurried, self-driven pace.”

That’s tough to hear. I don’t know about you, but I’m a driven person. We just had about 8 inches of snow fall here in Virginia, and it has thrown off my schedule. I feel like I’m always on a race against time. I’ve got things to do! Last week it was bronchitis, now it’s winter weather slowing my roll.

It’s so easy to miss the Lord in our rush to get things done.

Believe me… I understand. Whether it is something hampering my hurry, or frustration that I’m not “walking” faster in my journey with the Lord, I too must surrender myself. While I do have control over my responses to life through my choices, there is much more that I don’t control.

But I was never meant to “control” anything outside of myself. Instead, I am meant to learn self-control through the power of a Person, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a “fruit” of the Spirit, evidence of his life at work in us (Gal 5:22-23).

When it comes to our Christian walk, T. Austin-Sparks said:

“So it is that people find the Christian life burdensome; they long to know real victory, true deliverance and the joy of the Lord, whereas they experience the ups and downs of a constant struggle. The Christian life depicted in the New Testament seems so different from their actual experience that the Devil is never slow to pounce in with his suggestions that a life of constant victory is quite impossible, so that all their hopes are but unreal dreams. Satan wants God’s people to despair of knowing His power. But there is an altogether different life, different because it is based on the entering into something already completed in Christ; not something to be attained to but rather that which has already been accomplished. It is not a standard to be lived up to, but a Person to be lived with. It is impossible to measure the vast difference between these two kinds of life. The former is one of self effort and defeat, while the other consists in enjoying the reality of Christ the power of God” (Christ the Power of God).

I pray that we will resist our culture of hurried living that makes our souls restless, and learn to find rest in knowing that we already know the One who has the power to slow us down and enjoy the very presence of God.

We are complete in Christ. Live in his love today.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


Biblical Faith (More Than A Feeling)

The Christian life is hard. I’d never tell anyone anything different.

Why is it hard?

Well, first off… life itself is hard. We all experience pain, loss, disappointment, heartache, heartbreak, trial, and tribulation.

In our most cynical moments, life can feel like we’ve fallen out of a really tall tree. The goal of life, or at least one subconscious desire we have, is to hit as few branches as possible on the way down.

The truth is that nobody is immune to or safe from the hardships of life. We must all experience them. We are fragile beings living in a world that is groaning from her many afflictions. And we’re never allowed to forget it.

From the increasing complexities and the magnificent mysteries of the universe, we can’t help but feel very small and insignificant. Of all the billions of bodies made up of dirt and water that have ever lived on this pale blue dot, I’m supposed to believe that I matter in some way to the unfolding of time and human history? I know how difficult it can be to believe that.

Now add to that a belief that requires that I move in the opposite direction of the post-enlightenment herd of empiricists and rebuke the modern systematic attack on faith—the gospel that says God became flesh, was crucified for my sins, and was resurrected from the dead to give me life everlasting.

Sorry, Karl (Marx). That’s not an “opiate” for me or the masses.

In that sense, being a person of faith isn’t making life easier. In fact, I could easily argue that it makes life much more challenging, as it necessitates that we believe in more than what we can see, touch, and put in a test tube. The science lab is no help in that respect. The “proof” I’m looking for isn’t there.

I suppose that if a person’s idea of “faith” is simply to stop all critical thinking, become anti-science, and just believe a bunch of mystical teachings in an ancient book, well then, it no doubt seems absurd, even psychotic, to embrace such a view. That sort of “faith” is like gouging out your eyes and trying to convince everyone else that you see. But that’s not biblical faith. And we should stop promoting it as such.

I know that it’s much more complicated than this, but I’ll sum it up this way. It has been the anti-intellectual voices of the church that helped to fuel this cultural confusion with faith. The response of the “enlightened” to this anti-intellectualism was to run in the opposite direction of mystery and accept a worldview that leaves no room for God. That’s unless “God” is a scientist.

But what if biblical faith isn’t about numbing the pain, dodging the hardships of life, or inventing a myth and wishing it to be true in order to create meaning and purpose in what is nothing more than a cosmic hiccup?

Instead, what if biblical faith is about opening our eyes to the meaning and purpose that’s already there, right in front of us? In that regard, faith is all around us. All we must do is reach out for it. And I believe it begins with accepting that life (and faith) is hard, ambiguous, and a perplexing paradox.

Therefore, biblical faith might best begin by coming to terms with this truth.

I don’t mean to say that everything we experience or that happens to us is from God. Of course not! Rather, we live in a world where the Creator’s original intent and design was derailed long ago. Even now, we are free, but we often use that freedom for destructive ends. We are the culprits. It isn’t the God we often love to blame (or hate) so much.

Think about this. We repeat the fall from Eden every day. That story in Genesis 3 isn’t primarily about a primal pair sinning against God and violating their own conscience, only then to find themselves naked and alone.

No, it’s about you and me. And it happens every day. In an effort to cover our own nakedness and shame, we end up covering our eyes from seeing the truth that God loves us and wants to bring good out of our evil.

We must factor this in when trying to understand the darkness in our lives and our world. No sufficient explanation can be given to the problem of evil without a theology of the fall. If you’re blaming God for the problems in the world, then you haven’t encountered the God revealed in Jesus.

So biblical faith is about facing up to our own sin, brokenness, and limited understanding. It’s this humble path than unlocks the door to peace, forgiveness, and hope. Christ, our redemption, is found here.

I’ve known many people who have never been able to overcome their feelings in order to go deeper in their faith. Their emotions drive them, even when they believe it’s their logic and reasoning. Actually, their feelings cloud their vision and judgment. They are cut off from the faith that unlocks peace because they fail to persevere in their doubt and hard times.

These folks want it easy, and they want it their way. If these people don’t get it their way, they quit. And they step away from faith, sometimes for good.

But Jesus said that if you want to find your life, you must lose it (Matt 16:25). Believe me… there’s nothing easy about that. It’s hard. It hurts. But it works.

In other words, you must learn to press on through your momentary fickle feelings by clinging to what you believe to be true, indeed what the Scriptures say, about the God revealed in Christ. If we trust him regardless of circumstance, that is biblical faith. If we don’t trust him, we have no faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Perseverance is about pressing on to find life, even when you feel like you’re losing yours. Perseverance is about busting through the stopping places! Just an ounce of faith is able to produce a pound of faith if we’ll allow it.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4

I have personally discovered that my faith increases and I’m given access to more of Christ when I exhibit this trust. No matter the hardship or trial, I can testify that when I hold to what I believe is true about God’s character, displaying my faith, he will carry me through my feelings. I come out on the other side a better person. I’m more mature and complete.

What is needed for a biblical faith? More than feelings, that’s for sure. Faith is for those who wish to be strong. There are no quitters in the Kingdom.

If you want to go deeper in your covenantal faith with Christ, I encourage you to do these three things in community: (1) “hunger for righteousness”—for more of Jesus; (2) memorize Scripture about God’s love and faithfulness; (3) make up your mind to persevere despite your hardships. Then you’ll get your proof.

This is your part. It’s out part. Do this and give God the opportunity to prove his faithfulness to you. Follow Christ and let him reward you with his peace. Let him grow your roots down deep into the soil of his own faith.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


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