Discipleship Essentials Introduction
All authority everywhere is mine, so:
Apprentice everyone everywhere!
1. Immerse them in the revealed Triune (Love God)
2. Teach them to do what I said (Love People)
3. Don’t worry, I’m with you!”
- Jesus’ Great Commission
Quality discipleship is the Holy Grail of Christian living. We all want it. Some of us feel like we have almost had it. Few of us feel like we have had it well enough to confidently provide it for others. I’d like to help change that.
Crown-Heart-World is not the ultimate discipleship program. In fact, it is designed with the awareness that there is no such thing as an ultimate discipleship program. What Crown-Heart-World offers is a way to understand the framework for any good discipleship that takes place.
Love is the Alpha and Omega of discipleship.
God’s love is why there is something instead of nothing, God’s love expressed through his creation is the result.
God’s love, personally expressed in Jesus, shapes us in three essential ways. These three always interact with one another: our thinking, being, and doing.
We continually rethink life through the revealed story of God revealed in Christ.
We process experiences, ideas, values, priorities… everything this way. What we learn is that the way of love goes from death to life. We will explain this later, but the essential point is that sacrificial love is what matters more than anything in life.
As we keep rethinking how sacrificial love defines a meaningful life we continually realign ourselves to identify with Jesus.
We see him as the source of the love we receive and the source of the love we want to share. Our faith in him needs to be clear and simple, that he is our highest authority. We can express it in many ways, including proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord”. If that seems too foreign for people to understand we simplify it by saying we trust that Jesus is right about life.
That simple and clear allegiance to Jesus as the ultimate authority for wise living is rooted in the Biblical Story. Our convictions about him deepen like tree roots that support the trunk of the tree as we grow. No matter how deep and complex our understanding of Jesus gets, our identity stays simple:
We trust Jesus is right and that shapes how we live.
Continuing the tree metaphor we look at how our identity branches out in our actions. Our rooted identity in Jesus extends to others as we follow his patterns for loving others with integrity.
Focusing on our DNA as people in Christ we treasure him, putting off our old ways in exchange for his ways. This ethical and relational growth takes time, but it is intentional. Our focus is on continually moving from now to next.
In due season God’s love bears fruit in and through us.
The seeds of love from God are fed by the stream of thought our rooted convictions draw up. This strengthens us to raise the trunk of our identity higher as we branch out progressively, season after season.
Love, cycled through our thinking, being, and doing, produces love that reproduces in others. That is the basic pattern for organic growth as a disciple of Jesus.
Our apprenticeship (discipleship framework) will focus on these essential concepts listed below. They will be repeated often as we develop them in increasing detail.
God’s love shaping our Think/Be/Do cycles shows up in and through our lives to his glory.
Think Death to Life
The Bible is about facing death through sacrificial love and finding life.
Be Simple to Deep
Personal faith provides a simple identify while growing deep convictions.
Do Now to Next
Pursuing maturity involves branching out intentionally over time.
Crown-Heart-World uses a diagram inspired by Psalm 1 to keep the framework before us as disciples who make disciples. It helps us to pay attention to how growth only happens when God is working through each aspect of our lives.
Thinking about theology, doctrine, experiences and so on matters. It matters because God’s revealed truth is essential to establishing our identity in him. We will keep that in mind as we cycle through our understanding of God’s Story as we go. The details will expand the theme of sacrificial love and its implications, but the details will not overthrow that theme. By learning this theme early we can enhance our personal growth significantly.
Identifying with Jesus as the Lord who prioritized sacrificial love is the essence of our devotional life. Everything we learn is meant for us to take to heart personally first. Jesus warned about religious people who imitate Jesus on the outside but have not done so from an internal foundation. We never outgrow the need to deepen our personal convictions about Jesus’ authority over our own lives.
Doing everything Christ commanded is for us and those we disciple. The truth we take in should also be lived out. The goal is for us to be saved from futility and saved to usefulness. The most useful thing we will ever do in life is to love others well. Surprisingly most of the letters in the New Testament are actually designed to show us how to pursue this. Keeping the relationship of truth, identity, and actions in mind helps us to have a faith that works.
Love is the Alpha & Omega
-Think Death to Life
-Be Simple to Deep
-Do Now to Next
Think Death to Life
The Bible starts with a famously odd story about a couple in a garden who make a fatal mistake. The essence of the story is that their is an oughtness to human life and creation as a whole. Goodness is from God and humanity is supposed to be a connecting point of Heaven and Earth.
The Bible moves forward from this story of paradise lost to explore a relentless series of questions we all ask in one way or another:
Why do we sense an “oughtness” in life that too often is “not”?
Why does life lead to death?
What can we do about it?
Life to death is the problem.
Life as it ought to be is presented in the Bible as a proper ordering of God, humanity, and creation.
By disrupting the order God intends for us we experience anxiety. That anxiety is not unfounded.
The solutions to the problem of life to death range from delusional optimism to despairing pessimism.
Delusion avoids the problem. Childlike hope in avoiding negativity, or in finding a way to get back to paradise, is tempting. But it is costly. It requires stubbornly resisting evidence to the contrary.
Religious systems are often obviously delusional to outsiders. But the same can be said of many non-religious efforts at achieving paradise. “If we only do everything right…” only works so long.
Despair abandons the hope of a solution. Like a teenager shifting from childish simplicity, many of us have responded to the hardships of life, the suffering, the injustices, the incoherence… with cynicism.
Why shouldn’t we give up hope and just live for the here and now? We live, we suffer, we die. Many do give into despair, but even in despair we get prompted by signs of beauty and meaning to remember that sense of “oughtness”. We question our resignation to despair but we don’t want to become delusional again. If there is a God that makes sense of Life that keeps leading to Death, where is he?
Death to Life is the promise.
From Genesis 3:15 to John 3:16 God promises to do for humanity what we cannot do for ourselves. Abraham becomes a hero for believing that God will do what he promises. God affirms his faith and makes it clear what should be the outcome of Abraham’s faith: he is blessed to be a blessing, to all peoples.
God, at various times in various ways, spoke to the ancients in the past through the prophets, but in these ultimate days He has spoken to us in Son. Jesus is presented as the climax of God’s self-revelation. The peculiar history of Israel was always intended to be linked to the future of all mankind.
Jesus comes as the second Adam, the promise of a new humanity. Where the story of the first Adam moved from Life (a blessed paradise) to Death (a cursed wilderness), the story of the second Adam reverses everything.
Jesus overcame temptation and maintained the role humanity was intended to live, faithfully linking Heaven and Earth.
Progressively Jesus provoked a confrontation with the ruling system promising a solution to the problem of Life to Death; the Temple. The Temple conspired to arrest and kill Jesus, but ultimately had to turn to the power of the State. Jesus freely gave himself into their hands. Why?
The dominant human response to the problem of Life to Death is to fight for control. Religious or political control, often a strange combination, seems to display so much power that it becomes people’s greatest hope.
Jesus deconstructs power narratives in his life, his trials, and his execution by crucifixion. He displays sacrificial love for his disciples, but more shockingly, even for his enemies. Though he taught this relentlessly and lived it out to its grim conclusion, too many people still miss this point. Any system of control, even in Jesus’ name, is the opposite of what Jesus promised.
What Jesus did was show that God is already in charge. That is why he had joined the call of John the Baptist:
“Repent (rethink)! The Kingdom of Heaven (God in charge) is at hand (here and now already).”
Rising from the dead Jesus shows that his confidence in God, not in any system of human control, is the way to overcome the problem of Life to Death. Only then did Jesus’ disciples begin to understand what he was telling them about loving our enemies, even to the point of taking up our cross and following Jesus. The promise to overcome the problem comes through trusting God’s way of sacrificial love.
Death to Life, that is the promise.
How should we respond?
Be Simple to Deep
This is the message of faith the apostles proclaimed:
If you pledge allegiance to Jesus as the ultimate authority, believing from the core of your being that he has actually overcome the problem of Life to Death with new-Life, you are rescued!
All who invoke the revealed identity of God this way are rescued.
Death is constantly the problem being addressed in apostolic preaching and teaching. The promise is that as when we trust in Jesus (his teachings, identity, and actions) we experience new life. The irony is that we have to stop running from what we fear to overcome that fear. We turn and face our mortality and helplessness. Defenseless we stand exposed, but trusting. Jesus said that God was in charge already, and in his death and resurrection he showed us how good that news really is.
We fear what we do not control. That is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Life is not solved by control. God, who is Life, is not subject to the control of religion, politics, wishful thinking or arrogant defiance.
But the end of the matter is different than the beginning. The fear of the Lord means that we realize we cannot control him. Jesus reveals God in a way that moves us from fear to love. We cannot control God, but we do not have to. God is love, and that means he loves each of us. By trusting Jesus as the revelation of God as love that overcomes death with life, we move from death to life.
Simple faith is that Jesus is right.
What is Jesus right about? He is right about everything that matters. We are not to be strangled by the effort to untangle every mystery in Heaven & Earth. I don’t know everything that I wish I knew, but I trust that Jesus knows. I stick with him.
That simple faith begins with a declaration in prayer to God and publicly with other people. It is symbolically displayed in the act of baptism.
Jesus was baptized to to display his allegiance to the message that God was in charge, here and now. Baptism makes it clear that we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.
When Jesus made his declaration of allegiance he did not have to denounce a previous allegiance. That is where our baptism is different from Jesus. We renounce our old allegiances, confessing them as sin, and then declare our new allegiance in God’s Kingdom through trust in Jesus.
This announcement of our new identity brings us into a community that studies the thinking of Jesus shared through the apostles. We also show our belonging by sharing the bread and the cup of communion, honoring the past faithfulness and looking forward to a feast with all who trust in Jesus.
These celebration of thinking and being leads us to do what Christ called us to do. We embark on serving a broken world with sacrificial love that comes from Christ.
This simple view of faith is never replaced. Rather, its simplicity is strengthened as we grow deeper in understanding through study, prayer, and service.
What does that service look like?
How does this gracious gift of salvation work itself out in actions?
Do Now to Next
God begins a good work in us with the intent to bring it forward to full maturity in when Christ is fully revealed. We are exhorted to branch out from our experience of saving faith in the form of increasingly healthy words and deeds. Just like Abraham, we are blessed to be blessings. We are loved so that we can grow in our ability to love better and better. This becomes the point of our Christian life.
Growth in Christ begins with paying attention to Christ. His great commission to the disciples included apprenticing people to do all the things he commanded. Jesus understood the Old Testament to be saying two essential commands: Love God and love people. Jesus showed what that looks like and now empowers us to pursue that.
By focusing on Christ’s life and teaching we become increasingly aware that we have developed a lot of ways of thinking, being, and doing that are different from his.
When we see ways of control, domination, manipulation, deception, etc. still at work within us we see opportunities. What we need to do is to prune the branches of word and deed that are contrary to the way of Christ. This is done through a variety of ways. These include studying what is true, choosing to identify with what is right and against what is wrong, and then actually practicing cutting off opportunities to use the old ways.
The old ways of coping with life worked at various levels. We don’t just want to get rid of the old ways, we want to replace them with new ways. This can be very uncomfortable and frustrating. Having other people who are also working to develop new habits can help.
What does it look like as we go forward? Increasingly human relationships become transformed. Even when others do not cooperate with our changed approach of mercy, compassion, and other forms of sacrificial love, God does a work in and through us. What we end up experiencing, even through persecution, loneliness and rejection, can be deeply satisfying love and a sense of peace that is beyond fully explaining.
An apostle’s prayer for one group of his disciples was that they would keep growing in love that is wise and informed. Why? So that they could see the realities of life and the wisdom of Christ’s ways better. That would help them to make better decisions. When that happened it would mean that rightness, the oughtness we always sensed, would actually show up. And that would be because of their reliance on Christ Jesus. The result? God gets glorified as the goodness that ought to be actually becomes.
So, how long does all of this take?
God’s Love is the Alpha & Omega
God’s love is why we all exist. God’s redemptive love works in and through us to bring his creative love into time and space. We experience this at every movement through our thinking, being, and doing.
We never stop cycling from love to love. Our studies of God’s word and the world we experience, continually brings us to explore the depth and breadth and glory of love.
Our personal devotions grow season to season. Even during drought or hardship we can find our roots going deeper as we seek to remember and rest in the fact that we are loved and that our calling is ultimately to love.
Our interactions with others goes from now to next, and then a new now and the following next. There is always room for improvement, not to validate ourselves or to become accepted. Rather, the strength our convictions that we are loved give us greater strength as we age to love others better and more bravely.
The fruit that God produces through us becomes the seed of faith that will be used by God to generated life in others. We never stop our discipleship process. We are always learning from others. And we never stop discipling others. We always present ourselves as students of Jesus who are eager to share what we are learning with anyone wanting to learn.
Love leads us from death to life, with simple faith and deepening convictions, which branch out now to next yielding fruit in due season.
That is discipleship.