Discipleship Machines?

I have a friend who makes YouTube videos. Peter goes out to his shop in his garage almost every week and does some wacky thing with wood or epoxy or gummy bears or any combination of the three and creates a video of his project. Usually these projects end up being reduced to a set of steps that a fairly intelligent person could take and reproduce themselves. Just follow the steps, duplicate the process, and you can possess a fancy ring made out of colored pencils, super glue, and resin coating.

Often we think of discipleship as being something like that. Follow the steps, do what we’re supposed to do and we’ll be a saint in no time. Or we might see our spiritual formation to be something like climbing a ladder. One rung at a time we take the next step and move forward. Or, our growth spiritually is like a journey to a far away place. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates for us what we imagine this development to be like. One step in front of another, from here to glory as we trudge along. “Upward and onward!” might be the battle cry.

As helpful as those images can be to our imaginations and pursuit of spiritual growth, I often wonder if they are failing to tell the entire story? Don’t get me wrong, Christian living is biblically envisioned as a pursuit or a goal, even a race. We are called “sojourners” in this world. But when we think about spiritual growth we often merely allow it to be a linear project. And when something is defined by linear steps it can become very easy to think that by taking those steps we can mass-produce a project. Consider our “Automation Alley” environment. Ford and others were clever in building not just a automobile (which had already been done). They were geniuses for automating the process of building thousands of automobiles. It worked for machines. I’m not confident however that this sort of automation is possible in making disciples.I don’t think the New Testament writers had this in mind either. There doesn’t seem to be a “one size fits all” process or class to discipleship.

Paul, instead, envisioned it this way. He called our spiritual formation saying, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15). Paul describes our maturity as growing up. He describes the end result of our discipleship just a few verses earlier by saying that we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13, NIV). To put these two verses together Paul is directing us to the fact that our discipleship process is to grow up to the fullness of Christ. Elsewhere he comments that our transformation is “into the same image” as we behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). Simply put, discipleship is growing up to look like Christ.

This helps me because it allows me to grow into a person instead of trying to reach a far away goal. The little “wins” that come along today won’t ultimately determine my spiritual success. Nor will the temporary and momentary sins and sufferings that slow my progress and my growth. I will grow to become like Christ. I’m not some project that is either a success or failure. I’m called to a person, to be like a person, and to grow as a person. Not a machine. The plan of discipleship is to be like Christ. If that means taking a class to know his Word better, good. If that means spending time in relationship with others who are wise and helpful, good. If that means walking into the valley of the shadow of death through some difficult providence, this is well and good too. I am growing up into Christ. I am not being molded into a machine.

Everything That's On My Mind (Almost) - Sept 6, 2016

  • Reading Why Write? by Mark Edmundson lately. Gotta figure out how to wake the muse.
  • Football season is here. I love college football! 
  • My children are "back to school" today. It's been a good summer, but the third grade calls.
  • I was asked to teach Latin this year. "ikay Okay".
  • The degree in which we attempt to make discipleship a formula is the degree in which we disconnect discipleship from relationship. 
  • I am more convinced that the more the evangelical church ignores the doctrine of Union with Christ the more likely we are to make up other things to mark our "holiness". 
  • I love how Stephanie jumps in fright watching Stranger Things. 
  • So far Need to Breathe's HARDLOVE is the album of the year. 
  • I think my fantasy football teams will be abysmal this year. Actually I'm pretty confident they will.
  • I'm grateful for the pastors that see far beyond attendance numbers and budget size into the very heart of the gospel – people being formed into the image of Christ. 

A Disturbing Lack of Effectiveness

God in his dealings with the church betrays a disturbing lack of interest in effectiveness as we have defined it. He does not seem interested in numbers. The people he sends to us are not strategic at all. They are a rabble who look more like the laborers, hookers, and marginal people that Jesus consorted with in the Gospels than the gifted individuals we had hoped would fill our ranks. And they are far from effective.

John Koessler, The Radical Pursuit of Rest31-32. 

The Bohemian Temptation

This temptation [knowing better than God] presents itself today. We can sit and watch the Twitter feed, critiquing the methods, models, and ministries of others; from the comfort of our couches we can speculate on how it could be done better. We can devise all kinds of theories, read all the right books, engage in online debate, blog our opinions, yet the whole time be disconnected from actually having skin in the game. Even when our heart is for God’s kingdom, if we are not careful we can find ourselves critiquing from the sidelines of God’s activity within history. There is a world of difference between pundits and prophets.

Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014). 157.

Dear Woodside… Reset Your Reading

“But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”” (Matthew 4:4, ESV)

It’s April 21st. Do you know where your 2016 Bible Reading Plan is? You know, the plan you dedicated yourself to on January 1 and that you promised yourself you would get through this year? The plan that was going to be the plan to end all plans and demonstrate your growth and discipline and ability to comprehensively read the Bible in the entirety of the year. The plan that maybe got sideswiped by a week of sickness, busyness, and maybe a day or two of indifference? Yep - that plan… 

Now before the tidal wave of guilt crashes down upon you, let me encourage you; I’m right there with you. Not that I’ve given up or am so far behind in the plan that I’ve abandoned it. But I do know the difficulty of keeping up with the plan, and the frustration of getting behind in it. I will confess, I am behind myself in the plan too. But I haven’t given up. 

A few years ago I was encouraged to just keep working at these kinds of plans. Actually, the encouragement was to daily make some progress. Just read one chapter a day. Even if you only read one chapter a day you will still get through the Bible in the space of three years. How many people do you know who have read through the Bible in the space of 10 years, let alone 3? 

I want to encourage you in this because our hearts can lean a few different ways when our spiritual work lags behind. On one hand we can despair, give up, and fail to make progress because we feel the hole has been dug so incredibly deep that we will never catch up. If this is your present state of mind, you may be in danger of thinking that your acceptance before God is based on your performance. Remember, Christ has completed the work you failed to complete so that in him you are identified as perfectly acceptable because of Christ’s work. Don’t despair, continue to press forward because you are already accepted. 

On the other hand we can see the “law” of the Bible reading plan and believe that if we get back at it, catch up, and complete our Bible reading plan this year then we are really special. We might look with proud sorrow upon our meager friends who haven’t kept up like we have, and who haven’t performed like we have, and feel a tinge of judgment that they aren’t as close to God as we are. The reality is that even our righteous accomplishments are insufficient, and even filthy in the light of God’s holiness. We must repent of our self-righteousness. 

These two perspectives can be applied to any good work; we either despair of not doing the work, or rise up in pride because we did do something good! But our hearts need something greater — we need a righteous one who gifts his good, perfect work to us and we need a superior one who humbles us to see our need and call us to repentance. 

This is why the gospel must be central to all things for us. Christ must be the center. Our Bible reading is a means, a vehicle, by which we get to Christ and know Christ and grow in Christ. But it is by no means a substitute for having Christ. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for keeping up on their Bible reading plans but failing to see him in them (see John 5:39). And Jesus encouraged sinners to be sustained and nourished and grow by every word that comes from the mouth of God (see Matthew 4:4).

Let me encourage you, as I have, to reset your Bible reading plan and more importantly, reset your heart. Why are you reading? Why are you failing to read? What motivations stand behind your pursuit of engaging and embracing the Bible? May it be only because you long to see Jesus and be nourished by His word. May it never be to check off a box of superiority and self-righteousness. Let’s allow the gospel to reset our lives in every way. 

This Sunday

Sunday we will continue our pursuit of wisdom by receiving from the Proverbs instruction in regard to wealth. Our ambition is to allow Christ, who is our wisdom, to shape every area of our heart to be in alignment with him, including our money. To help you be ready to sing on Sunday be sure to check out our setlist that we’ve put together on Spotify to be ready on Sunday.

  • Mighty Warrior
  • Even So Come
  • Place of Freedom
  • O Praise the Name
  • Restore My Soul

India Mission Opportunity

Also, we wanted to be sure to remind you about the India Mission meeting this Sunday at 12:30. Lauren from our Life Impact team will be hosting the informational meeting in the conference room for any who are interested in going on a short-term, overseas mission trip to India with Woodside. The trip will take place in October this year and we are excited to see how God will use us to advance the gospel in India among those in need. 

May the Lord bless you as you head into this weekend. I am eager to see his grace speak into our lives again as we gather. Please let me know if there is any way I can be in prayer for you.

In Christ,
Jeremy