Thursday, March 31, 2005

Discipleship Test

I have focused my self study over the past several months on true discipleship. I guess God approved of this study and decided some testing was in order to measure my progress. Three amazing but easily dismissed incidents have occurred over the last week that caused me to carefully consider my actions and to assess if some fundamental changes in me have occurred.

Test 1: last week I was surprised by criticism over my participation in a worship service. No one complained directly to me, in fact, all the direct feedback I received was very positive. However, one of the worship leaders informed me that someone had questioned the appropriateness of one segment of my part in the service. I handled this well when first confronted and was sincere in my responses of apology and surpise. But as I stewed over the situation, it became painful. Upon reflection, I felt the method in which the complaint was presented to me was not fair nor was it straightforward. I thought about several methods of response to voice my pain and concern. Yet through the whole process and in discussions with my wife, I kept coming back to my study. I constantly questioned what my response as a disciple of Christ should be. This questioning was reactive, that is it just naturally occurred. In the end, I have made no response and tried to put my hurt and indignation aside. I pray that I will continue to be involved in this service and can participate in the way that serves God. I will be honest, this was not my natural nor desired response. There is still a part in me that wishes to express my hurt and concerns, but it has been checked so far.

Test 2: yesterday one our college life-group members called wanting to borrow a large quantity of tools to take to a mission effort in Appalachia for a construction project. The fundamental me is a type-A, control freak who is very possessive. As a rule, there are three things I rarely ever do. Lend tools, lend books, or lend CD's. I am so adamant about this, that he prefaced his request with, "it won't bother me if you say no." I immediately told him I would help. I have to admit that I was uncomfortable, and I still am. However, my first response was not to make excuses, but to say yes. This is not the norm for me and I suspect it would not have been my response several months ago. As we loaded the tools, we joked about this. I expressed that I always viewed the items I own as my possessions, but I have come to realize that they are His possessions provided for His use. My wife looked over at me, tearing up, and said, "I am proud of you. It is so true that you are acting out of character. You really have changed." At first this made me feel good, but then I felt humbled and sad, realizing just how un-Christian this "christian" has been most of his life--especially in handling small, everyday matters.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not boasting with these examples. I am just amazed that as God has led me through this spiritual growth, He is also putting tests in front of me to exercise any growth that has occurred. I am not necessarily saying He laid out specific tests, but they are all around us, all the time. I am also amazed at the power of Christ to change me. The small changes in my nature our not mine, done by my self-discipline. They are His changes, that is, Christ living in me. When I truly sought God's will and sought change in my life as a deep response to His grace, I opened the door of my heart just a little. When this door is opened to God, small bits of me exit and Christ fills these empty spaces. I have not been able to change myself.

For me it is hard work to open that door just a crack. Spiritual discipline and diligence are required. Prayer, submission, fighting my desires and my nature, these are the efforts I can put forth, then Christ will make the real, substantial changes that I just cannot make.

Now, the third test. That happened today as I read the blogs of two young men who are struggling mightily with health issues. They have endured so much pain and agony, and they both have a long road ahead of them. They will both bear the permanent effects of their trials. They will never be physically what they were, but I pray that they will be spiritually more than they ever would have been. As I read through their blogs, I realized that my worst days would be unbelievable days of celebration in their lives. The test? What am I going to do with this realization and this grace?

I still plan on a blog about Discipleship and Athletic Allegiance. Maybe next week.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Prayers for Matt Ward and Article

If you visit this blog, please follow the link to Matt Ward's blog and leave him a note of encouragement or prayer. Keep him in your daily prayers as he is mightly tested in this world.

FYI -- I was fortunate enough to have an article published in New Wineskins Online Christian Magazine.

In Christ,


Saturday, March 19, 2005

What do people see when they look at me?

What do people see when they look at me? The first thing they probably notice is that I am male. They might notice that I have dark hair or brown eyes, or that I am pigeon toed. If they observe for a while, they will take note that I am left-handed. O but if only people could observe me and recognize that I am a Christian.

Now the first problem with this statement is that due to our broken humanity and to the natural diversity of humankind, Christian has many different connotations depending on the observer's experiences and exposure. For this discussion, let me re-phrase with “recognize that I am a disciple of Christ” in the purest Biblical sense.

Skirting around semantics, do people quickly detect some subtle difference in me from others—a positive difference; a difference in spirit, demeanor, and actions towards others? Do they smell the aroma of Christ? [ 2 Cor. 2:14-17]. Have I gotten to the point where my discipleship is no longer the external actions of someone trying to be a good Christian (conscious behavior), but to which it has become the fundamental me (subconscious behavior)? Is my Christianity no longer a claim or allegiance, but as much a characteristic of my being as is being male, brown-eyed, and left-handed? Have I evolved to where discipleship is a natural, inherent part of me thereby driving my emotions and actions more subconsciously than consciously?

The answer is no I have not. It is very rare that any human can obtain this level of discipleship, but I won’t say one cannot because I have witnessed a few such people. I also do not believe this is a matter of perfection. It is a matter of letting Christ live completely in me. The transformation available to me through His incarnation. This is neither an easy process nor an automatic one. The process takes hard work, study, and prayer, and spiritual discipline— permanent vigilance. I have found that I rarely have the stamina for this process. Nevertheless, is important that I continually strive for this state. I learn through the effort, even when I fail, maybe more so when I fail. Most importantly, I progress.

I was challenged last week in my personal study by this statement: “We need to stop telling our non-believing neighbors how wrong their way of life is, and we need to start showing the power of the gospel in the way we live.”
-- Bill Tibert, unpublished sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, CO., 23 May 1993. Cited in Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation (San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 458. Cited in Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press), 45.

I have found Lee Camp’s Mere Discipleship to be an important resource for challenging my understanding of discipleship. It has also been very beneficial in eliminating the brainwashing I have undergone by society and unfortunately by the Church at times (Church in the larger sense, not necessarily individual congregations). I also have added James Woodroof’s The Aroma of Christ to my book wish list as part of my walk in (toward) the Spirit.

NEXT WEEK: Discipleship and Athletic Allegiance (maybe I will have a better title by then.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What do our co-workers witness?

My wife and I host a college life group for our church. I have been leading them through a study of Thomas Merton's No Man Is an Island. In my preparation for last week's study, I read this:

The Christian has rejected all the values of the world. He does not set his heart on temporal security and happiness. But it does not follow that he cannot continue to live in the world, or be happy in time. He works and lives in simplicity, with more joy and greater security than other men, because he does not look for any special fulfillment in this life. He avoids the futile agitation that surrounds the pursuit of purely temporal ends. He lives in peace amid the vanity of transient things. -- (Chapt. 6:13, par. 2, pg. 113; copyright Trustees of Merton Legacy Trust; Harcourt, Inc; ISBN 0-15-602773-9).

This passage hit me as a lightning bolt of self-questioning, that I unfortunately have not tested myself with daily. The question I ask is, do my co-workers, associates, and friends witness such behavior in me? Do they see someone who works and lives with simplicity--someone not concerned with glory, personal achievement, and materialism? Do they sense a peace or security even in the midst of stress and chaos? Do they see calm and magnanimous behavior even in the face of anger or hurt? Do they see quality and deliberateness of effort?

Or do they witness aggressiveness? Or someone concerned with personal glory, material trappings, monetary success? Do they see agitation and restlessness? Do they see someone who reacts with anger or bitterness when wronged? Or, worse someone always on the look out for being wronged? Do they endure lack of effort or less than my best?

If they witness the latter set of characteristics and know of my claim to Christianity, why in the world would they want to be a Christian? What glory am I giving God and my Savior?

We are not to hide our light under a bushel. However, being a witness in the world is more than telling others that I am a Christian and telling them about Christ. First I must show them the positive effect it has on my daily life. Then demonstrate care and concern for them. Then when they notice a difference that is desirable, I can tell them it is not me, but Christ living in me. Only then is my light not a apparition, but a flame.

What is the picture I am projecting to my everyday world of Christ and of Discipleship--not with words but with my life?

Pray for me to be a true witness and not a hypocritical heretic.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Initial Musings

Well, I have posted on blog sites and have now ventured into having my own blog site. As part of my first foray, I am posting my favorite scripture. One of the family's at my church whose blog has chronicled the trials of a serious injury to their child, asked for scriptures today. I posted this one:

Isaiah 55: 6, 8-13.

If anyone has a notion to read this and make comments, it is a start to my blog.