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Discipleship – it’s not complicated

I'm in Houston at a Discipleship Conference and I've been sitting all day listening to facilitators help us learn more about how to become a disciple-making church. I have a friend back in Kentucky who would ask me right about now, "OK, so what did you learn?" And then he would add, "Don't give me any of that churchy-seminary talk. Just tell me in every-day language what you learned, and make it short." (My friend usually wants me to get right to the point.)

So here it is. Discipleship is not rocket science. It is not about programs. It is not complicated. Follow Jesus. Let Him change your heart and life. And bring others along with you.

As someone who has spent his entire life in the "church world," I know how easy it is to keep the focus on the machinery of ministry and maintaining the organizational structures of Sunday services, adult Sunday school classes, mid-week classes and programs, children's church and classes, and everything else on the surface that looks good. People are happy (for the most part), tithes are coming in, bills are being paid, missionaries are funded, and weddings are performed, along with some funerals. 

If we're not careful, we can take the Spirit out of our spirituality and make our Christian experience more about the routines of religious expression than the dynamics of a life lived intentionally with Jesus. And this goes for pastors, too. I can do my "job," perform my religious duties, receive a paycheck, and all is good with the world. Or so it seems at first. But if we digress in our devotion, we are no longer fueling our spirit, and our love for Jesus grows cold. We keep going through the motions, but we find ourselves possessing a cavernous heart that was created to be filled with God's Spirit but settles for spirits of other kinds. And, thus, we keep on searching.

The remedy to this malady is authentically returning to our first love. The Apostle John records the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus: "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:3-5).

The Ephesian church was faithful to God's Word. They were patient and did not grow weary. They stood against false doctrine (Revelation 2:6). And yet they abandoned the "why." May we never forsake the "why" which is our love for Jesus. Jesus said, "Abide in my love" (John 15:9). This is the bedrock of discipleship. Obedience flows out of love. It doesn't create love; it manifests it. If we don't have love, we are not remaining in Jesus, and we ultimately will live lives devoid of bearing fruit.

Right about now my friend in Kentucky would say, "I thought you were going to keep it simple." So I return to where I started. Discipleship is not a program, and it is not complicated. If you want to discover why you exist, the meaning of life, and the fulfillment of daily existence, follow Jesus, let Him change your life, and then bring others along with you. This you cannot do in isolation of others. Love for Jesus leads to love for others and becomes the defining mark of a disciple. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

Let's take those daily steps, in friendship with others, to love God, follow Jesus, and serve our world.

Caution – New Traffic Pattern Ahead

I was driving east on I-465 today, and as I neared the Meridian exit, I saw a construction sign that said, “New Traffic Pattern Ahead.” If you’re familiar with that exit, you know the construction off I-465 reroutes you through large orange traffic canisters and cones. It’s really not that difficult to navigate, but it’s helpful to be given the “heads-up” before you take the exit.

Could you imagine what life would be like if you were given signs telling you that you’re about to enter a “new traffic pattern”? It would be nice to be given such helpful notices that the road ahead is about to change. The problem is that most of life doesn’t work that way. In fact, most of the time we’re not aware of the new pattern until we’re trying to navigate our way through it!

Yes, there are a number of more subtle signs indicating new patterns in our marriage, with our children, and at our jobs. And we should become good students to learn how to watch for those understated road signs of life. If your teenager all of a sudden becomes distant and doesn’t want to talk with you anymore, you don’t need a bright, flashing sign to let you know you’re entering a new traffic pattern. If your spouse starts slamming the kitchen cabinets closed, be aware you have some pretty big construction cones through which to navigate in your marriage.

But what if the signs aren’t so obvious? What if your marriage seems to be moving along o.k., but something just seems to be off and you can’t put your finger on it? Maybe your boss has been a little reserved lately, and you’re not sure if this is a new traffic pattern on the horizon or something bad he ate for lunch. Whether it’s your marriage, raising children, work or personal faith, here are some driving practices to help navigate a new traffic pattern in life.

First, slow down. Some people can whip right through the construction cones, because they’ve traveled that way many times before. But if you’re entering a new traffic pattern in life, the road never stays the same. People are not robots, and we don’t always act in predictable ways. Thus, slow down and take your time navigating through the cones. Maybe this is a bump in the road or a major new roadway. But you won’t know that until you slow down in order to survey your surroundings. Pray. Breathe. Meditate on Scripture. Don’t get in a hurry. Psalm 37:7 encourages us to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”

Second, if you’re unsure of which way to go, pull over. There’s nothing more dangerous than someone assuming he or she knows the way, only to miss the directional cones and run into a concrete wall. After you’ve slowed down, and you’re still not sure which way to go, pull over and regroup. We don’t always have to keep moving in order to move forward. Sometimes the best way to advance is to pause, re-orient yourself, and then pull back out on the road. This is why Christian marriage counseling can be so helpful, because there are times we need to pull over and get out of the heavy traffic in order to talk and make sure we’re moving in the same direction. We need the Lord’s presence to calm our souls and clear our minds. “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

Third, ask directions. This is the hardest step for me personally, because I don’t want people to know I’m not sure which way to go. Call it pride or an independent spirit, but it’s wrong. It’s healthy to ask people who have been down that road before to give you directions. More importantly, we need to check our “GPS” through the Bible to discern which way the Lord is calling us to go. Talk with others. Seek godly counsel. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Fourth, pull back on the road slowly and proceed with caution. Once you have clarity on the new traffic pattern, it’s time to get back on the road, but do so with caution. Be deliberate, and wise. Don’t rush ahead where you fail to see future road signs clearly, because, guess what? Most likely, by the time you have your current road figured out, you’ll see another sign saying, “New Traffic Pattern Ahead.” But this time, you will be prepared, because you will know how to slow down and pull over if needed, how to ask for directions, and how to pull back on the road and continue on the next path God has for your life. In so doing, you will be a living witness of a person the Bible calls “wise,” for it says, “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:16).

New traffic patterns or not, let’s keep moving wisely down the road.

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