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Eric Meyer Discipleship Plan

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Running head: DISCIPLESHIP PLAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discipleship Plan: Implementing Lessons Learned in CMN 8263

Eric Meyer

John Brown University

 

CMN 8263: Discipleship & Evangelism

Professor Lanker

6/17/2008


! Discipleship Plan: Implementing Lessons Learned in CMN 8263

    To achieve a goal, one needs to start with a plan.  Enjoying life is a basic goal to which most people aspire, and like all other goals, a plan needs to be in place in order to achieve that goal.  Jesus teaches that He intends that we don’t just struggle through life, but that we, “May have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, 2002, p. 1390)  Having life abundantly in Jesus is a gift, but one that must be earned.  22 times it was recorded in the NASB Gospels that Jesus told His audience to, “Follow Me.”  However, Jesus did not expect us to follow Him blindly.  He spent 3 years teaching His first disciples a plan.  It is the responsibility of current disciples to learn that plan and to teach others what Jesus meant when He told Simon and Andrew to, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 5:19, 2002, p. 1247) 

Discipleship is a word that has tremendous meaning.  It is a personal relationship with Jesus, the cost of entry to the Kingdom of God, and requires constant attention and practice.  It is a process that will last the entire life of the disciple.  Discipleship means recognizing that one’s whole life belongs to Jesus.  He tells potential disciples that following Him will require a cost, and that cost must be considered before making the decision to follow.  Jesus bluntly stated a cost when He said, “So then, none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” (Luke 14:33, 2002, p. 1352)  Jesus defined another cost when He said, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39, 2002, p. 1257)    The key point to understand is that Jesus wants to build a relationship with people.  He has created a magnificent plan, and fulfilled His part of that plan.  He wants His followers to understand the endless depth of His love for them, and they can only do that by participating in His plan.

Discipleship is a process of moving from being self centered to being Christ centered.  “The vision Jesus set into motion meant finding and training more people like the Eleven, a lifelong experience where imperfect people would be shaped into his likeness-marked by progress, not perfection.” (Hull, 2006, p. 33)  Jesus created us with the gift of a free will.  A person can freely choose to love Jesus by following His commands, or live a life without Jesus that is dominated by self interest.  Oswald Chambers describes this process by using the example of how Jesus liked to give His disciples nicknames.  This is a beautiful insight into the kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with His disciples.  A nickname indicates an intimate level of friendship.  “Thou art Simon, thou shalt be called Cephas.”  “God writes the new name on those places only in our lives where He has erased the pride and self-sufficiency and self interest.  The disciple is one who has the new name written all over him; self-interest and pride and self-sufficiency have been completely erased.” (Chambers, 1963, p. June 12) 

 Jesus wants an intensely personal relationship with His disciples.  He wants more than just followers; He wants every part of a disciple’s life to be lived with His Spirit.  To reach this level of intimacy, Jesus says to never stop seeking Him.  Jesus teaches that people will find what they seek, “For everyone who asks receives, and He who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8, 2002, p. 1251)   One who seeks evil will find it, but Jesus promises that if He is sought, He will be found.  However, He wants His disciples to do more than just seek, but to abide in His love.  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7, 2002, p. 1399)  To understand these words though, the disciple needs to continue reading the chapter.  Jesus defines what it means to abide in Him, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10, 2002, p. 1399)  Another aspect of abiding with Jesus, of developing that intense personal relationship is the practice of the spiritual disciplines.  Bill Hull notes that, “The key to inner transformation is to make spiritual disciplines habits.  Being trained is a product of practice.” (Hull, 2006, p. 206)  A deep and rewarding friendship takes effort from both parties.  God has done His part.  A disciple must actively participate to reap the rewards.

The key to life with Jesus as a disciple is the word “obey.”  It is a word with negative connotations for many, but in a life with Jesus it is a word that brings peace, love, joy, and comfort.  In order to begin this life with Jesus, a person simply needs to obey.  Belief is not a prerequisite for following Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer states, “Only those who believe obey …and only those who obey believe.” (Bonhoeffer, 1959, p. 68)  Jesus told His disciples that they would have work to do in following Him.  He never tried to hide the fact that following His commandments would be difficult.  However, He made this beautiful promise to those who obeyed, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 2002, p. 1258)

The last recorded words of Jesus while He walked on earth were, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 2002, p. 1290)  If disciples must obey, then a key part of their job is to teach others.  While the word is not used specifically in the Bible, today the teaching of Jesus’ commands is called evangelism. 

Evangelism must be done with care.  Jesus’ plan requires His disciples to teach others as he taught, and that teaching was done with love as the most important consideration.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another.” (John 14:34, 2002, p. 1397)  Becoming a disciple means significant change from a life dominated by sin.  The evangelist needs to lovingly consider how He presents the Gospel.  It is a process, and the evangelist is not to force God’s words on people without understand the person to whom they are speaking, “If you want people to change, you must first accept them as they are.  Jesus did exactly that; he accepted sinners and challenged them to change.” (Maricle, 2007, p. 40) 

A key point to remember is that the evangelist is only the messenger; God does all of the work.  The point is not to try to convert someone to Christianity on the spot, but to introduce them to the word of God.  Mike Breen give a great example when he says, “Checking the corn every day to see if it’s gotten taller does not bring the harvest time any sooner.  Jesus says the harvest is plentiful.  There is always an opportunity to see people come to Christ when it is the right time for those people.” (Breen, 2005, p. 212)  Being a disciple is a life long process, and introducing the word of God to someone is a similar process.  The evangelist needs to rely on God because, “He gives us his message of truth, he indwells us with his presence so we may mediate his divine love to our neighbor, and he fills and renews us with his Holy Spirit.  Evangelism is something that God does in people’s lives; we are only the instruments he uses.” (Pippert, 1999, p. 137) 

In order to receive the Holy Spirit, people need to hear the word of God.  Jesus gave His disciples a wonderful tool to use in that introduction; He gave them the Gospel.  Immediately after Pentecost, Peter used the story of Jesus, the words of God, to exhort the audience to save themselves from their life of sin, and it is recorded, “So then, those who had received his words were baptized…” (Acts 2:41, 2002, p. 1413)  The words that the early Apostles were preaching were more than just the verbatim sentences spoken by Jesus.  They were teaching what they had learned by living with Jesus throughout His ministry.  Robert Coleman states that it was not just the words Jesus used, but how He lived that convinced the first disciples that He was God, “But what we sometimes fail to realize is that the revelation of that life in Christ includes the way He lived and taught others to live.  We must remember that the witnesses who wrote the books not only saw the truth; they were changed by it” (Coleman, 2007, p. 16)

The Gospel is the story of Jesus’ life.  It has been spoken, is meant to be lived, and is the living word of Jesus Himself.  It has a rich history, and was not always written.  The first disciples were preaching the Gospel very early after Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul indicates that the Gospel is something one tries to live; to work at ahieving.  He says, “And we sent Timothy, and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2002, p. 1532)  This story was lived and spoken for many years before it was written down.  Paul Barnett gives this description of the activities of the early disciples, “Furthermore, they were engaged in missionary activity from before the time of the first Easter up to and beyond the writing of the earliest Gospel.  No glass wall separated the oral from the written Gospel…The Gospel the eyewitness Peter preached, assisted by his amanuensis Mark, seamlessly became the Gospel Mark wrote.” (Barnett, 2005, p. 181)  The Gospel, the story of Jesus’ life and teachings has the power to change the life of any who hear it because it is more than just words.  It is the living story of Jesus filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is, “The joyous proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on Behalf of humans enslaved to sin.” (Elwell, 2001, p. 513)

Jesus’ plan is orchestrated so that everyone has a chance to enter the Kingdom of God.  His first words as a teacher as recorded in Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, 2002, p. 1291)  Jesus clearly defined the Kingdom as available to men at this very moment, yet the pain of the world today would indicate that we are far from living in the utopia of God’s Kingdom.  Bonhoeffer describes the body of Christ, His church, as being evidence of the Kingdom in place in the present, “Like a sealed train travelling through foreign territory, the Church goes on its way through the world.  Its journey is like that of the ark, which was “pitched within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6.14), so that it might come safely through the flood.” (Bonhoeffer, 1959, p. 278)  This train that Bonhoeffer describes is traveling in God’s Kingdom even while in enemy territory because it is under the rule of God. 

The recognition of the authority of God is critical to understanding the Kingdom.  Jesus won His victory over Satan at the Cross.  He declared His victory over the ruler of the earthly Kingdom when He stated, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”  (Matthew 28:18, 2002, p. 1290)  Author George Ladd says that Jesus described this aspect of the Kingdom being God’s rule when He taught His disciples how to pray, “This prayer is a petition for God to reign, to manifest His kingly sovereignty and power, to put to flight every enemy of righteousness and of His divine rule, that God alone may be King over all the world.” (Ladd, 1959, p. 21)

Jesus offers the Kingdom to all who will obey Him.  His instructions are very clear throughout the Gospels and the Epistles.  While life is difficult now, He wants people to know that it could be wonderful if they would only give their life to Him.  Yes, the magnificence of God’s complete and total rule waits.  But until that time comes, we know the future Kingdom has been partially manifested in tangible ways.  Again, Ladd writes, “The age to come has entered this age.  The life of tomorrow is offered to us here and now.  Heaven, if you please, has kissed the earth.  What are we to do?  One thing.  The Kingdom of heaven has come near.  Repent!” (Ladd, 1959, p. 108) 

The year I moved to Arkansas, and article came out in Harpers Magazine that hit me very hard.  It’s not that I regularly read Harpers, but I found it doing a search for a percent of American who had read the Bible all of the way through.  My pastor had mentioned a number that seemed really low, and I wanted to verify it.  As I skimmed the Harper’s article, I read, “Only 40% of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can name any of the four authors of the Gospels.  Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.” (McKibben, 2005, p. 1)  The article goes on to describe the very unchristian behaviors of the most admittedly Christian nation on earth.  We live in a country that is at once fabulously wealthy, and at the same time incredibly resistant to share that wealth.  As I read the article’s examples of the self absorbed citizens of this country, I started to clearly see my name etched on many of those behaviors.  I had become a typical American, and I wanted to make sure my children did not end up the same way.

The lessons I have learned in this class can be applied directly to my family life.  While I have prayed with my children every day, several times a day, I had never thought of trying to apply specific Bible passages to the events of the day.  Our evening prayer time has now become devotional time where we discuss a passage from the Bible.  I am constantly rewarded by the interaction from my children.  They ask great questions, and are learning that the Bible can speak to them.  It is not just dry dusty words in a book they are forced to read at church.

It is almost cliché to talk about a Bible passage that you have read a dozen times, and suddenly find new meaning.  Such as passage for me is Matthew 18:6, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drown in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6, 2002, p. 1269)  It recently occurred to me that Jesus did not mean He would punish anyone who hurt a child, but anyone who caused a child to stumble in their faith.  As a disciple, I need to place all of my attention on following Jesus.  If I don’t, and my kids are watching, will that cause them to stumble in their faith?  If it does, my hypocrisy will earn me a millstone, and I will have hurt my child.  Applying the lessons learned in being a disciple means that you understand that your actions can have repercussions that are not instantly recognizable. 

I have also learned to repent with my family when I am wrong.  My wife and I now ask forgiveness from each other when we are wrong, and every once in a while our kids will do the same without being prompted. 

Another lesson that I need to apply is that of abundance mentality.  Author Christopher Maricle states, “This perception that there is enough connects directly to our willingness to share compassionately.  It flows from being detached from our possessions; when we want less, we have enough.”  Maricle goes on to say that we, “Need to learn a new definition of fairness:  everybody does what they can, and everybody gets what they need.” (Maricle, 2007, pp. 76, 77)  My children are typical.  In every store they ask for something.  I am the same.  In almost every store I want to buy something whether I really need it or not.  Being a disciple means setting a good example for those who are watching me.  Part of my discipleship plan is to be careful about buying things I don’t need so that I can teach my children that “things” are not important.  How we live our life is what is important.

The most fundamental change I can make regarding discipleship at home is to identify and eliminate those times when I am being selfish.  Rebecca Pippert says, “Evangelism involves taking people seriously, getting across to their islands of concerns and needs, and then sharing Christ as Lord in the context of our natural living situations.” (Pippert, 1999, p. 28)  While she may have been focusing on discussing Jesus outside of the home, it works just as well in the home.  Listening to my wife and children, really listening to determine what is behind their behaviors is not something I am good at.  At the end of the day, my wife is just starting to be able to articulate the events that happened to her during the day, while I just want to offer a platitude so I can get some sleep.    My children’s behavior may be predicated on anxiety, excitement, or fear, yet I treat them as if they are just misbehaving.  Understanding what is happening emotionally with my family will go a long way towards making me a better parent and husband, which will give me a better chance of showing my family how God is working in our lives.

At this stage of my life, I am in the process of positioning myself for the work that God is calling me to perform.  At the moment, I am not working for a salary, but preparing myself for my career in ministry.  As I prepare for a career serving others, Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians has been weighing heavily on my thoughts, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11, 2002, p. 1519)  At some point in the last few months it became clear to me that Paul meant put on the armor by studying the scripture.  My epiphany may be obvious to others, but it has been a powerful for me.  The living word of God is my armor if I learn how to use it.  Bill Hull says the same thing in a different way, “God wants us to be good stewards of our intellectual ability and use it to the fullest for the purpose of his kingdom.” (Hull, 2006, p. 87)  Studying was not something I found all that appealing, but God has made it an amazingly rewarding experience.  I begin everyday with excitement, wondering what God will teach me in the next 24 hours.    Dallas Willard says there is no way to get around studying if we are going to build our relationship with God, “Our early relationships may be so full that we neglect to study.  But relationship with God, as with any person, soon requires contribution from us, which largely consists of study.” (Willard, 1988, p. 176)

Deep in my soul, I have known for some time that God wants me to be an evangelist.  The thought of standing on a street corner with a Bible in hand declaring the Good News is not even remotely my idea of fun, so I started searching for ways to place myself in position to teach people God’s word.  The first step was to become trained as a Stephen Minister.  The training program is 52 hours of class work, and quite a bit of reading.  Once commissioned, a Stephen Minister must attend monthly continuing education regardless of whether or not they actually are ministering to someone.  A Stephen Minister is assigned a care receiver for the purpose of allowing God to work through us to heal the care receiver.  We care, and God cures.  While I can only reach one person at a time, I am able to practice ministering on a weekly basis.  An interesting aside to this aspect of my lay ministry is that male Stephen Ministers can go for long stretches without having a care receiver because we are only assigned to receivers of the same sex.  Since men typically have a difficult time asking for help, the male care givers tend to be without receivers frequently.  I was commissioned in April, and received a care receiver prior to actually being commissioned.  That care receiver is moving shortly, and I am being assigned another care receiver immediately after the first moves.  God seems to be affirming the direction I am taking.

The next step in my ministry goal at the moment began with a conversation with a Chiropractor.  This doctor uses his practice to introduce every new potential client to the fact that he can help them, but a deep relationship with God is essential if they are to be healed.   This idea along with the love of Stephen Ministry is leading me to think seriously about a career in marriage and family therapy.  My hope is to offer therapy services from a Christian perspective, and let my clients know that I can help them, but God can cure them.  Bill Hull reaffirms this idea with his statement, “In safety, people will open up to others who will care for them, understanding their struggles, and encourage them forward. The actual healing work belongs to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, who know exactly what will heal the soul.” (Hull, 2006, p. 259)

I love to speak, to tell stories, and to lead groups.  My energy in life comes from leading groups.  At the same time, I struggle with anxiety that can lead to panic attacks.  While attending a conference with author Mike Breen, he looked at me and said, “2 Corinthians 12:9-10 will have a fundamental importance in your life.  I’d meditate on that passage if I was you.”  It was like the guy was seeing a part of my life that I had not opened up to anyone.  How could he possibly know that a thorn in my side was driving me crazy?  As I have become more active in lay-ministry in my church, those words have become a comfort and a reminder that I am not to be performing when I speak, but simply relaying a message for God.  Oswald Chambers said it beautifully in one of his lessons, “What a wonderful personality!  What a fascinating man!  Such marvelous insight!  What chance has the Gospel of God through all that?  It can not get through, because the line of attraction is always along the line of appeal.  If a man attracts by his personality, his appeal is always along that line; if he is identified with the Lord’s personality, then the appeal is along the line of what Jesus Christ can do.” (Chambers, 1963, p. November 9)  My appeal as I work for God in church must be through my behavior.  I want others to recognize that Jesus directs my life.  If He needs to remind me of that through a thorn in my side, I am happy for the thorn.

The Kingdom of God and Spiritual Disciplines are two subjects that rarely are taught in the churches that I have attended.  I am blessed to attend a church currently that is run by a pastor who is actively teaching the Kingdom of God.  One of my new goals in my church is to practice and teach spiritual disciplines as a method for introducing people to the Kingdom of God.  Dallas Willard states, “The disciplines for the spiritual life are available, concrete activities designed to render bodily beings such as we ever more sensitive and receptive to the Kingdom of Heaven brought to us in Christ, even while living in a world set against God.” (Willard, 1988, p. 252)

Jesus had a plan shrouded in mystery since the dawn of time.  Slowly, surely, with patience, and much rejection, God has been executing His plan.  While it may still be very mysterious to us, a time is coming when we will completely understand.  George Ladd says, “The mystery of the Kingdom is this: that the Kingdom which will one day change the entire external order has entered into this age in advance to bring the blessings of God’s Kingdom to men and women without transforming the old order.  The old age is going on, yet men may already enjoy the powers of the Age to Come.” (Ladd, 1959, p. 67)   

 

 


! References

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1 Thessalonians 3:2. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Acts 2:41. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Barnett, P. (2005). The Birth of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Bonhoeffer, D. (1959). The Cost of Discipleship. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Breen, M. (2005). A Passionate Life. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications.

Chambers, O. (1963). My Utmost for His Highest. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing.

Coleman, R. E. (2007). The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

Elwell, W. (2001). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company.

Ephesians 6:11. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Hull, R. W. (2006). The complete book of discipleship. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

John 10:10. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

John 14:34. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

John 15:10. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

John 15:7. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Ladd, G. E. (1959). The Gospel of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Luke 14:33. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Maricle, C. (2007). The Jesus Priorities. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books.

Mark 1:15. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 10:39. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 11:28. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 18:6. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 28:18. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 28:19. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 5:19. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Matthew 7:8. (2002). New American Standard Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

McKibben, B. (2005, August 1). The Christian paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong. Harper's Magazine. Retrieved from http://harpers.org/archive/2005/08/0080695.

Pippert, R. M. (1999). Out of the Saltshaker. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Willard, D. (1988). The spirit of the disciplines. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

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