December 2015 / January 2016 - Vol. 83

following Jesus today
Missing the Point
by Bob Tedesco

Many years ago, while considering the crowd following Jesus, I thought that I could identify types of people in the crowd, and I noticed that Jesus sometimes addressed them directly. There were twelve apostles with Peter, James and John as a special subset. There were disciples: radical followers of their master, Jesus. There were believers: basically positive toward Jesus and benefiting from his teaching and ministry. There was (I imagined) a group which was undecided...interested but basically neutral. They could wave palms one day and shout, “Crucify him!” the next. There were also enemies that were clearly intending to catch Jesus in an error that would disqualify him and eventually be used at his trial.

When Jesus taught, he might identify one of these groups and supply an answer to their questions. “You might think this...but I say...”

I have always thought that nominal Christians look like the “believers” in the group. We believe, but only allow the belief to impinge upon our daily lives to a limited extent.
*(We have to be very careful since the Scriptures use the term “believer” in a sense more like disciple. To use the word this way can seem negative or elitist, but I’m hoping it calls us on.)
The Rich Young Man
In the middle of all of those groupings was a rich young man who comes up to Jesus saying,
 “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
- Matthew19: 16-22
I have heard many teachings and sermons on this story, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’re missing the point. This is one of those, “What must I do to be saved?” scriptures that Jesus takes to another level. He answers, “If you would be saved, obey.” “If you would be perfect, follow me!” There are a few distinctions here: 1) saved is improved to perfect; and 2) obey is improved to “follow me.”

missing the point

Now, it truly is a warning about possessions and their ability to impede the call. It even leads into the “camel through the eye of the needle” story about riches. But we can focus on the warning about possessions and miss a main point: the call.

“Follow Me”...Background
“Follow me,” or similar phrases appear 19-20 times in the New Testament and it signifies the invitation to discipleship. The dictionary definition for the word disciple is simply: learner, pupil, student. Jesus’ disciples were more like joining an army; your life was at risk; giving up your life was a requirement.
And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.”
- Luke 9: 23-24
There was no school building; they literally had to follow him. It was a whole life commitment. The abundant life of John 10:10 follows the death of the grain of wheat.

One teacher had these main qualities for a disciple:

Faithful: You have to know that the treasure that you’re passing on will be treated with respect and shared with others.

Available: You can’t pass on life and wisdom if the disciple is never there, the 50-60 hour work week is eliminating some good candidates for Christian discipleship.

Teachable: We will be learning things throughout our lives. Our Lord knows much more than us, and he reveals things as needed and when we can handle it. The Navy Seal Creed states: “My training is never completed.” So the discipleship starter kit is: faithful, available, teachable.

A key event in the discipleship process is when a person becomes other-centered. This might be triggered by an event or happen more slowly by process.

In the miraculous feeding of the 5000, Jesus said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat!” Then he basically said, “I’ll give you the stuff and you distribute it!” Another example is when the 70 were sent out to minister the so-called “little commission.” And then, of course, The Great Commission is to disciple others.

To sum this up, self-centered spirituality (or discipleship) is “doomed”. I can go to a retreat where I get the most out of it or go to a different retreat where we get the most out if it. Some individual recharging is necessary, but making too many decisions based on what’s best for going in the wrong direction. The switch from self-centered faith to other-centered faith is a necessary part of the discipleship process.

Another distinction: Believers are informed and impressed by faith. Disciples are informed and impressed by faith and act on it!

Follow me...the questions
This kind of challenging approach to discipleship raises some immediate questions. It was clear that the rich young man was saying, “No!” to “Follow me.” “No!” to “if you would be perfect...” But, for us, Jesus is not so clearly before me...challenging me. How do I follow him? How do I hear his voice?

We have always had one talk in our beginning foundation course on guidance. One of the earliest teachers to write about guidance was Bob Mumford. He said his approach was similar to the harbor lights of navigation...when the three lights are aligned you’re on the right course. His three lights were: the inner witness, the scriptures, and the circumstances. He sited an example: as a young pastor and teacher, he believed that the Lord was showing him that he would preach in South America (inner witness). So, he packed his bags and went down to the docks expecting the Lord to provide passage to South America. Nothing happened. He went back home having learned something about guidance: the inner witness seemed clear; it was not in violation with Scripture, but the circumstances did not line up. Years later, he preached and taught in South America!

Anytime that I have taught his example, I add two additional harbor lights: pastoral input and our corporate life. “Personal” leadings should be discerned and influenced by a pastoral leader or pastor. We can also get input from the wider body and its mission. More important leadings and decisions merit more serious pastoral and corporate input.

Note: the call to discipleship is different from the apostolic call, but the beginnings are the same: “Follow me!” We are called to pursue, to imitate, to absorb, to embrace and to live out the life of Christ.

Paul was a discipler and he expected Timothy (and others) to imitate him, even as a parent expects to raise up a son or daughter to adult life.
I urge you, then, be imitators of me.  - 1 Corinthians 4:16
Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.  - 1Corinthians 11: 1
Good, better, best
The U.S. Navy Seals strive to be the best. As mentioned earlier, their training is never completed.
“My nation expects me to be...stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time...I am never out of the fight.” These are not “Beetle Bailey” soldiers; they are striving to be the best.

We, too, are in a battle; we will need to be better than our enemies...if God is for us, who can be against us. I believe that we are called to be the best. “Good” is a good man; “better” a believer; “best” a disciple.

In a battle, would we want good, better or the best armament? The answer is the best; the armor of God.

The key to community and mission is committed disciples. A community of “believers” (or nominal Christians) will not last. The mission is too dangerous for “good” or “better” armor.

The key to Christian family and Christian parenting is radical discipleship: parents who embrace radical discipleship work to raise their children to be radical disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Slippage: a human talent
There is something about human nature that seems to fall back, to backslide, and to return to its old ways. “Good enough”, “close enough” and other mindless constructs become cracks in our armor. Our tendencies remind me of an electrical example: we can have a steady state voltage that defines the circuit. The voltage can drop below or rise above the steady state, but always return to its “steady state”.

The nature of slippage can happen in many areas such as understanding the Word of God and its application to discipleship. Millions of renewal Christians have returned to their steady state...but the Lord is calling us on. The spiritual life is never completed but a call upward and onward!   
“I know your works: you’re neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!...Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten...He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” 
- Revelation 3: 15, 19, 21.
One more thing from the rich young man story: Jesus connects “perfect” with “follow me”. It seems tome that there is something “perfect” about following him. I think we tend to see the call to perfection as something resulting in an inhumanly flawless disciple. There is something “perfect” about his disciples who just say, “Yes Lord, I will follow you.”

The Point: Total dedication is what he called for

If we’re too busy, too rich, too successful, too fit...
We should ask: “Am I missing the point?”

Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit. He is a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 40 years.

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