What Does It *Really* Mean To Be A Disciple Of Jesus?

Quick quiz, and I want you to take a moment to really consider it and answer it. I want you to think of a definition that (1) doesn’t use “churchy” words or technical terminology, (2) is simple enough for a reasonable person to understand, and (3) is accurate and helpful. Ready?

 

How would you define what a disciple or follower of Jesus is?

 

Stop reading a moment and think. Have you ever had to actually define what a disciple is? Have you ever had to actually define discipleship? See, finding this definition is really, really important because in order to tell if we are actually disciples of Jesus, we have to know what defines whether a person is a disciple or not! Then we can consider how successful we are and whether we are making progress in being followers of Jesus.

 

Let’s start by defining some terms. First, let’s define what the word “disciple” means because it is a “churchy” word and doesn’t mean much in our world. The word our English Bibles translate as “disciple” (Greek mathetes) means “apprentice” or “one who is closely associated with a particular teacher and their way of life.” We might say “student,” but in American usage that just means someone who learns information from someone.

 

Jesus, though, in Luke 6:40 gives us a great working definition of what the relationship between an apprentice and their teacher is: “ A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Notice that when a disciple is fully trained, they don’t just know what the teacher knows. They don’t just have the teacher’s expertise. They are like their teacher. They adopt not just their teachers’ knowledge, but their way of life. They are more than a modern student, but more like a modern apprentice or intern.

 

A disciple of Jesus, then, is a person who is learning to be like Jesus, from Jesus! I love the way that Dallas Willard puts it in “How to Be A Disciple” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=336): “I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I.” What a great definition. A disciple of Jesus is someone who is learning from Jesus to live their life as Jesus would live life if He were them.

 

Now, let’s be real. Not all believers in Jesus are learning to live their life from Jesus like He would if He were them. (we know this from John 12:42, if nowhere else) I know plenty of believers in Christ, children of God bound for eternity in heaven (John 1:12), who aren’t really engaged in the process of internal change and growth that is the mark of someone who is learning and growing. Maybe they did for a time, but then they got comfortable where they were. Now they’re not learning; they’ve learned (past tense). But a disciple is not someone who has learned, but is learning!

 

How about you? Are you learning? Are you growing? Are you coming to Jesus, day after day, and seeking how He would live life if He were you? That’s what it means, as a believer in Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus.

 

If you say you’re learning, when is the last time that He changed something inside of you to make your life look more like He would live it? Have you changed your heart toward an enemy, or altered your daily routine, or changed the way you saw God or yourself such that your life moved a little? That’s the mark of apprenticeship (or discipleship).

 

So, while there is much to say about the path of learning from Jesus to live our lives like He would live them if He were us, in the meantime, today…

 

Are you an apprentice of Jesus?

 

A Little Help

Sometimes, a little help from someone with knowledge and ability goes a long way. And sometimes God uses a problem in life to remind us about spiritual truth.

I’ve had a headlight out on my truck for a long time. It’s never been that big of a deal to me, but it’s not really safe either. I replaced the bulb and that wasn’t it. I checked the fuse and that was fine. So, knowing that it was somewhere in between and not knowing how to proceed, I left it. That was all well and good until Thanksgiving weekend, when I got pulled over and given a fix-it ticket by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. No more ignoring the problem!

I don’t have the owners manual for my truck. I used to, but the truck got stolen a few years ago and when it was recovered the manual was missing. But that’s okay, my Google Fu is strong so I looked up the problem and found the right fuse in the fuse panel on a reputable forum for my truck. I checked that fuse (which was good) and the bulb by switching it to the other side. (also good) I knew it was in the wiring and had no more ability to check it from there.

Sigh. This would be expensive. A good mechanic with electrical knowledge is about $120 an hour.

I also have a man who just started attending our church who loves cars. He owns several project cars and wanted to help me solve the problem. So on Sunday afternoon I took it to him and showed him what I had done so far. I told him that I had checked the bulb and the fuse output and it was somewhere between them. I told him that I looked it up online and that I knew it was fuse #23 on my fuse panel.

Oh no, he told me, that’s wrong! He had looked it up in the actual manual (he has an online subscription to a library of manuals as a mechanic) and it was actually fuse #47 we needed to check. And lo and behold, there was no fuse in the spot for #47. He put a 10A fuse in it and viola! Good as new.

10 seconds. A ten cent part. A simple fix. And a world of difference between the guy who thought he knew what he was talking about and the guy who actually did. With a little help from a pro and a bit of knowledge, my fix it ticket was taken care of.

As I drove home with both headlights functioning I got to thinking about how this is a great analogy for the Christian life.

  1. I needed to know truth but had been fed a falsehood. Jesus said to some new believers in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We need to know what God says about life and everything, and there are plenty of people who think they can tell us what God says who really can’t. Without the truth of God’s Word we are in trouble and can think we know what the problem is while in reality being misled.
  2. We need leadership and community. In Luke 6:39-40 Jesus says, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We all need mentorship and guidance from those who live for Christ in authentic and appropriate ways. (Hebrews 13:7 says the same) If we try to make it in the Christian life by ourselves, we fail. And just like I needed someone older and wiser in the ways of cars than I was, we too need mentors and leaders who we go to for help with living for Christ.
  3. I waited a LONG time to fix a problem that was simple and easy to fix. That was dumb. Likewise, how often do we put up with sin or problems in life when the answers are available?
Have you experienced this kind of thing? Where have you needed some truth and a little guidance to solve what you thought was a huge issue that in reality was pretty simple?

 

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 3: Mentors)

Part 1 of this series may be found here; Part 2 is here

Yesterday I shared the concept of mentorship with my students at ACU.  From the chagrined looks and the blank stares I could tell that this was a topic that not many had taken seriously, which really made my heart hurt.  How much of the Christian life do we miss out on by not taking advantage of the godly influence of mentorship?

If you’re a fan of the NFL, you’ve seen this in play recently.  Mike Vick did some heinous stuff, and part of his reinstatement after prison was having Tony Dungy as his mentor.  While he hasn’t been perfect, he has cleaned up a lot, made amends to many, and just won the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.  I think his relationship with a godly man like Dungy was a big part of that.

I say this knowing that it sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t: A mentoring relationship is likely the most important relationship after marriage that any Christian builds.  Without mentorship and guidance and help, it is highly unlikely that we can be everything God wants us to be. 

In the previous posts in this series I mentioned the circle of family and the circle of friends, but they can only help us so much.  They are so close to us that at times they can’t help us grow in Christ.  Often they have to be careful not to say too much, or they have to stay out of a situation so that they don’t get backlash or hurt our feelings.  Mentors are required to get in our business a little, step on our toes when we need it, and give us guidance about how to apply biblical truth to our lives.

Mentorship was critical to the Apostle Paul:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

 
He wanted the people in his circle of influence to have a mentor.  He wanted them to have someone who they could see following Christ, not just hear about it.  He wanted them to have a pattern or mold to follow.  And he expected his great protégé, Timothy, to follow that pattern and mentor others as well:
 

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

 
Mentoring is so INCREDIBLY critical to a successful walk with Christ.  Lest you think that I am just whistling Dixie, I can tell you from experience the power that mentorship has on my own life.  I know what it is to have someone pour Christ into me by example.  Mentorship is CRITICAL.  Mentors give us “handles” to hold onto in our Christian walk by showing us what authentic Christianity looks like.  They help us see issues as God sees them and speak biblical truth into our lives.
 
So if you do not have a mentor, how do you get one?
 

  1. Pray and ask God for help in finding a good mentor (or two) to follow.  Ask Him for wisdom and for discernment in finding someone you can follow.
  2. Look for someone who is “the real deal” as a follower of Christ.  In 1 Cor 11:1 Paul says “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  Find someone to imitate who is imitating Christ! (as a caveat, that means you have to know who Jesus is and what His priorities are)
  3. Get closer to them.  Be proactive and take some steps to get to know them.  There are hypocrites out there, so get closer while continuing to evaluate a potential mentor.  See how they relate to their family, their job, their church, etc.  Look to be sure they are not a fake, which means finding their weaknesses and flaws too.  There is no such thing as perfect, but a mentor should be walking with Christ honestly.
  4. The more you see the good in them, ask them to speak into your life.  See what is important to them and ask for advice.  Get some input on how you can be more like Jesus.  That might be over coffee or after church or on the phone.  It can be formal or informal, but it must be intentional.
  5. Check their advice against Scripture and take what is good.  Apply it and see what happens.  That builds trust and confidence, and even if it doesn’t work perfectly that can be more of a chance to continue to build and grow your relationship.
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat #3-6.

Mentorship is a critical component of our walk with Christ.  Without it, we will have a terrible time in walking with the Lord. 

How about you?  If you have a mentor, how did you build the relationship?  What attracted you to your mentor?  How does your mentoring relationship work?  If not, what is holding you back?

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 2: The circles)

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)

 
We quote this verse, but do we believe it?  Do you have multiple counselors, or just a gang of “yes men” who reinforce what you already believe and do or are unwilling to rock the boat to help you change?  The verse above speaks clearly that when we chart our own course and go our own way, we will fall.  However, if we will invite circles of counselors, from friends to professionals when needed, into our midst to speak into our lives we can experience the victory that God wants for us.
 
You see, the Bible teaches that we should have a concentric set of circles of counselors, pastors, mentors, friends, and family around us to allow us to succeed.  Picture it like this: (no hating on my amazing clipart skills!)
 
Concentric Circles Counseling
 
As the circle gets wider, it includes more people who are perhaps not as close to you.  While it may seem like those closest to you can help the most, in reality many times those who are a little farther away can help you see with perspective and clarity that is simply impossible from those who are closest to you.  At the same time, having people close is critical so that we do not isolate ourselves, have no guidance, and as the above verse says “fall.”  So all of the circles are needed:
 

Family:

 
This circle is foundational.  The first relationship that God established was the marriage relationship (Gen 2:18-25), and that relationship is critical to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We have parents as well who God tells us to honor (Exodus 20:12) and promises us that if we do, our lives will go well.  Family is powerful, and a necessary ingredient in a healthy group of counselors.
 
Not every family is a good family, and not every person is blessed with parents, siblings, or a spouse who is godly, warm, caring, and helpful.  The Fall marred our relationships for sure and many times family can be the source of hurt and not the solution to it.  So we must have more than family, even though in the best case our family is a source of support and care.
 

Friends:

 
The next circle out is our friends.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we must have those around us who encourage us and help us live for God:
 

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NAS)

 
The job of our friends is to encourage us, and while many of our friendships can be shallow Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Those friendships are absolutely critical so that we don’t close ourselves off to what God is doing in our midst.  These kind of “friends who stick closer than a brother” are the ones that really count.  They are the friends who through time and experience earn our trust.  They are the ones who are there for us when times are tough and when we are not at our best.  They help us pick up the pieces and start again when we fail.
 
It is absolutely critical that we bolster these kinds of friendships.  If you have a friendship that is a strong one, thank God for it.  Even more, make it stronger by investing in it!  Take that friend to coffee, or go have breakfast at their house and talk about important stuff.  Invite them into your life and ask them for help.  This is what is known in church as “transparency” or “accountability,” when in reality it is more like just good old fashioned friendship. 
 
If you need more accountability or help walking with Christ or overcoming a sin or just being a better person, look around and start with asking your good friends to become better friends and help you.  And if you take inventory and realize that your “friends” in reality hurt you more than they help you, maybe it’s time to upgrade your friends and realize that maybe you need to let some relationships go so you can spend time building new ones.
 
Some more advice for these close friendships: be mindful of boundaries.  I don’t build close friendships with women other than my wife.  I have women friends (almost all married to my guy friends), but one-on-one time is not appropriate for a married man with another woman, period.  So in that vein build close personal friendships with others in an appropriate way.
 
Also, you have to be proactive about taking these kinds of friendships from casual to significant.  Naturally you don’t have time to do that with a hundred people, so choose carefully.  But once you know you’ve got a trustworthy friend, go out of your way to be significant in your friendship.  Occasionally ask to sit down and talk about important stuff, not just the weather.  My wife and I have friends we each go to for “peer mentoring” like this, and a couple of couples who we get together with to talk about the important issues of life.  That doesn’t have to be heavy or boring or super-serious, but it does have to be intentional and it does have to be regular.
 
In the next post we will talk about the next circles, but for now I challenge you to identify the strengths in your inner circles.  Where can your family help you in your walk with Christ?  Who is there in your circle of friends who is close and could get closer to help you be who you want to be?  Who can you confide in, and how can you build that confidence?  By being proactive and reaching for the relationships that God has given you, you can navigate life successfully.

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 1: The problem)

100_1023It blows my mind how many people in American Christian culture resist the idea of counseling.  We give lip service to the idea that we are broken vessels and that we need healing from God, but as soon as someone suggests that we seek out significant professional help for an issue we are facing we react like they asked us to play frogger on the freeway!  The social stigma of seeking counseling is an unfortunate American phenomenon for a number of reasons, and in my opinion Christians face pressure from both sides.

First is the cultural side.  Our culture says that counseling is for sissies and that counseling is for people who just need to “get over it.”  We see counseling as useless psychobabble and endless and worthless laying on a couch talking to a stranger.  Only the truly perverted or sick go to counselors, and then only when forced.  We lampoon the role of counselor and caricature what counseling really is:

We owe our cultural heritage to the British primarily, and the “stiff upper lip” of the Brits definitely invades the American mindset.  That mindset got pushed to the next level in the 1950’s in America with the Cold War and the great effort that we all put in to look successful and to win against the communists.  We won the “war” by beating out the Russians with our prosperity, and part of our prosperity was having it all together in our perfect families.  That combines with our sitcom-saturated society which teaches us that all of our problems should be able to be solved in 30 minutes with two commercial breaks to form a toxic brew!

We as a culture want to embrace the American dream of health, wealth, and prosperity, and unfortunately have been duped into the idea that if we exhibit any brokenness then we are weak.  Everyone else around us is healthy and perfect and happy, so if we aren’t then it’s our own fault; we should, in Bob Newhart’s words, “Stop it!”

Some Americans can get over these hurdles, but it doesn’t stop there for Christians.  Christian counseling is a whole new dilemma, and for Christians the cultural pressures don’t ease.  In fact, they tend to intensify!  We still maintain our cultural associations whether we walk with Christ or not; becoming a Christian does not remove the cultural upbringing or the cultural conditioning we have, and in this case that culture distrusts counseling.

What’s more, for Christians there is the pressure to simply “give it to Jesus” and to be healed by Him directly and immediately.  We read verses that people will tell us should free us from any and all bondage that we experience so that we can simply “get over it” and live the victorious Christian life that every Christian ought to somehow automatically have:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. ” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NAS)

 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 4:6–7, NAS)

 
For Christians there is unfortunately a double whammy!  If we admit that we are struggling to our church and our sphere of influence there we feel the stigma of not overcoming sin and struggle in our life.  We get pressure from our culture that we are not meeting the standard of success and are a big crybaby.  The pressure can get pretty intense!
 
The problem is that life is more complex than that.  Some people may have the ability to simply read a verse of Scripture and have it transform them instantly, but for others it’s not that easy.  We all experience the pull of sin and find ourselves doing what we know we shouldn’t. (remember, our sin nature is like a zombie!)  We need help to accept, appreciate, and apply the truth of what God says in the Bible.  We need someone who can hear us out, help us understand our thinking and our behavior, and chart a course toward authentic and real change from the inside out. 
 
This help is quite literally found all over the pages of Scripture.  One of the titles for Jesus that we proclaim is, in fact, Wonderful Counselor:
 

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ” (Isaiah 9:6, NAS)

 
Counseling is interwoven into the fabric of God’s character, and as bearers of the image of God we reflect that character.  In fact, I would argue that the Bible paints a picture for us of a life filled with counseling. 
 

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. ” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)

 
Not only does the Word of God say that Christian counseling is a good thing, it says that counseling is mandatory.  Further, I think that there are concentric circles of counseling, support and care that we absolutely need in our lives to succeed in Christ, but that will have to wait until the next post.
 
For now, I leave you with a thought: What is your view of counseling?  Do you think deep down that most people just need to suck it up?  Does counseling just mean talking about feelings and getting nowhere?  Should faith in Christ solve our problems and our fears without the need for help?  Or is a circle of counselors a valuable and necessary tool that God uses to make you who He wants you to be?