By Rob Renfroe-
We all need the same things: air to breathe, food to eat, a place to sleep, a sense of security, a feeling of self-worth. When it comes to needs, we’re all the same. It’s your wants that make you different. It’s your wants that determine who you are and the choices you make. It’s your wants that create the life you live.
What do I want? I want to glorify my Lord and Savior and bless the world he died to save. And there is no greater way of doing that than letting him use me to make passionate and purposeful disciples of Jesus Christ. That is my calling, but more than that, it’s the calling of the church. Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who will bring salvation to the nations and social holiness to the world. How does the church make disciples? Let me suggest three ways.
1. Truth. We preach the truth. We teach the truth. We live the truth. We do all we can to get our people into the Word and to get the Word into them. Why? “If you continue in my word,” Jesus said in John 8, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
I was heartbroken to read a prayer that one of our bishops asked his churches to pray for our denomination as we struggle with questions of unity and sexuality. Here’s how it begins: “God help us! Help us … to take the next faithful step forward not based on … doctrine, tradition, or theology.” He goes on: “God help us! Help us … to take the next small faithful step forward that is neither … right or wrong; good or bad; for or against.”
In other words, Help us to be faithful – but faithfulness that is not based on theology or doctrine, faithfulness that is not based on right or wrong, good or bad. Can you imagine the apostle Paul writing to Timothy, “Watch over the church in your care, help them to be faithful, but tell them not to worry about theology or doctrine.”
Can you envision Jesus giving his apostles the Great Commission, “Therefore, go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them … ah, forget that teaching part. All that stuff I told you these past three years isn’t all that important. Just tell them God is nice and they should be, too.”
What is theology? What is doctrine? It’s what we believe about God and how we are to live in light of who God is. The bishop suggests that we act simply out of love. And who can be against that? But how do we know what love is? Do we let our hearts tell us what it means to love? The hearts within us that are fallen and self-serving? Do we let our hedonistic, materialistic culture define love? Of course not. Instead, we go to God’s word which tells us; “By this we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Without theology, we wouldn’t know what love is.
What is our hope? That the word of God is living and active, cutting deep within our souls. That the word of God will confront us with our sin in a way that we must be honest with ourselves and with God. As a pastor for 35 years, I have learned that real spiritual and emotional growth is impossible unless we are willing to be honest with God and ourselves about ourselves.
The problem is, as T.S. Eliot wrote, that “humankind cannot bear very much reality.” We don’t want to see the wrong things we do, much less the wrong things we are. We don’t want to be naked before God or others or even ourselves. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we cover up, hide, and pretend. And when we do, we live lives that are false, stop growing spiritually, and fail to become disciples of Jesus who are growing into the likeness of our master.
That’s why Jesus came with grace and truth. Because we need both. That’s why the first words on his lips in Mark’s Gospel are, “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.” In other words, look at the truth of who you are. And where you’re wrong, get right with God. That’s why Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” People need the truth about God and the truth about themselves. Change begins when we get into that truth and we get that truth into us. We need to make certain our people know that we do not change the Word of God; it changes us.
2. Time. If we are to make disciples, we must encourage and make opportunities for our people to spend time with Jesus. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you,” said Jesus. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. … Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:15).
The first duty and the greatest privilege of a disciple is to spend time with Jesus. Take special notice of this verse: “Jesus appointed twelve as apostles that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14).
These are the big boys. These are the apostles. They are going to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. But the first privilege they are given is “that they might be with him.” That’s first. That’s where the power comes from. That’s where lives are changed.
Whenever a kid gets in trouble, the first thing his momma will say is: “He fell in with the wrong crowd. They rubbed off on him.” And if you’ve had trouble with your children, one of the things you pray for over and over is that God will bring someone into his or her life that will be a good influence. Why? Because we know that our relationships change us. We become like those we spend time with.
Just being with someone has an effect on us. Remember when Moses spent time with God on Mt. Sinai and he came down to meet with the Israelites and they were afraid of him. Why? Because his face was glowing. He spent time in the presence of God and he began to reflect the nature and the character of the God he had been with. This won’t sound very theological, but the simple point is that the more time Moses spent with God, the more God rubbed off on him and the more Moses was changed into the image of God.
If we want to make disciples of Jesus, we must teach them to spend time with him. Worship, prayer, reading his word, holy communion, fasting, and meditation – the means of grace, the spiritual disciplines. The Christian life is not something we live for Jesus, it’s the life Jesus lives through us.
3. Terror. By terror I mean we must get our people into situations where they are in over their heads. Where they come to the end of themselves so they have to depend upon God in ways that are new and frightening.
You and I need to be uncomfortable. We need to get into situations that raise questions that don’t allow for easy answers or a shallow spirituality. We need to have experiences where we don’t know what to do and we don’t know what to think.
We need to get out of a world that is isolated and safe and churchy and into a world that is so needy and so full of pain that we feel what we’ve never felt, ask what we’ve never asked, weep like we’ve never wept, pray like we’ve never prayed, and experienced God like we’ve never experienced him before.
We can read about poverty and we can read about a God who loves the poor, but until we have been among the poor, we won’t understand poverty and we won’t really understand God’s heart for the least and the last.
We can read about a Savior who healed the broken and loved the despised, but until we have listened to their stories and cared for them ourselves, we won’t truly understand Jesus or the power of what his love can do in a life.
The same experiences that keep us in our comfortable, predictable worlds where our ideas are safe and unchallenged, where our skills and our knowledge are sufficient, will never produce a life that is adventurous or a heart that is wise.
They only create lives that are complacent and hearts that are small. How do we make disciples? We encourage and make opportunities for our people to care for the sick, the poor, the broken, and the lost. Not just so they will become disciples of Jesus, but so we will.
What do you want? I want my life to count. Eternity is in my heart. God put it there. I want my life to count for eternity. And the best way I know to do that is to make passionate, purposeful disciples of Jesus Christ. If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand. And let’s change the world together for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.