Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.
Now, the topic for this hour is, you’ll see on your sheet there, life in the kingdom—Discipleship As Life In The Kingdom. There’s so much to say about the kingdom; we’ve tried to get a good bit of it said, but questions do come up, and I’m going to reinforce that today, is why don’t we hear more about the kingdom? Why is that? And I remember Peter Wagner, the rather famous teacher and practitioner of a few decades ago—is he still going? Do you think? Peter Wagner? [Yes]—I think you’re right. He’s come to Colorado Springs, which is the doorstep to heaven.
But sometime ago he made a statement to the effect that, well, every New Testament scholar will tell you that what Jesus taught was the kingdom of God, and discipleship, and all of that. But he said, I can’t quite believe this, but he said, “I’ve never heard anyone preach on it.” And he said, “When I dig through my own sermon barrel, I don’t find anything on the kingdom of God.” Peter was into big gifts, and church growth through the presence of gifts and all of that, and still, there it is. It’s not there.
So, that’s an interesting question. You might want to ask yourself that question. Do I preach on the kingdom of God, do I teach on the kingdom of God? Same thing about it. Many people think the church substitutes for the kingdom of God. They honestly think that, and you go back, you find that the Roman Catholic Church in its heyday identified itself with the kingdom of God. So, you don’t need to say anything about the kingdom, we just talk about the church. [2:49]
So, that’s something worthy of thinking about, but I can’t think about it very much now. I’m going to have to go on to some other things, but that’s going to be the background question now with what we do in this hour.
The Great Commission: Making Disciples
So, we start with—we’re going to talk about discipleship, and so we’ll start with Jesus’ statement here. You will recognize it: “I have been given say over everything in heaven and earth.” Power—I’ve been given power. The word is exousia—it’s probably better translated as “authority.” “I have been given say.” I like that language, because that’s what it means. So, “go”—really, “as you go” is the best way of understanding that passage. So “as you go, make apprentices to me among people of every kind.” All nations. The reference is primarily to Gentiles, non-Jews. “Submerge them in the reality of the Trinitarian God, and lead them into doing everything I told you.” Ok?
Now, notice how that’s worded, and put it over against the old wordings, and try to get the sense of what is being said. “Now look! I am with you every minute, until the job is completely done.”
Now in order to understand what’s going on here, you have to take that back to the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham’s covenant. God said, “I will multiply you and make you a blessing to all of the families of the earth.” [5:05] This is how it works. This is how the Abrahamic covenant comes into the modern world.
Now, the first step is “make disciples.” So we have to talk now at length about what that is, and something about how you might do it. But if you were going to make disciples, you would need to know what you were making, wouldn’t you? You would need to know when you had one made. So, if you disagree with me about that, at least if you think we’re going to do that, you need to understand what you mean by disciple. What is a disciple?
Now, you get many, many complaints about the church today, right? And it’s almost like the constant background noise in religious circles: “What’s wrong with the church?” So let me say something to you up front, and then I’ll go back to it at the end. There isn’t a thing wrong with the church today that discipleship wouldn’t cure. Not a thing. And if you don’t get discipleship into the mix, you’re just going to create another church with all of its problems, and unfortunately that is how it turns out for many people who are ready to get rid of the church. They’re not talking about making disciples, they’re talking about having different kinds of services, and maybe saying something different in their message, and so on. That’s fair game. But if it doesn’t come to discipleship, you’re just going to create another organization that will have all the human problems of the present mess.
Most of the things that get in trouble in churches shouldn’t even be there. Like, for example, who’s mad at who? Right? See, that shouldn’t even be an issue. But, that’s not in the package as it’s presented. So now, I word “disciples” here “apprentices.” You could translate it “students.” “Make students to me among all people of every kind.” And that is actually, that has happened, and it has tremendous effects. And it has varying degrees of intensity through the ages, but that always marks the high points, and the people you tend to read about as having done it are people who were disciples. Right? So you look at someone—take the obvious case of St. Francis of Assisi. What do you see when you see him? You see a disciple. Madame Guyon? A disciple. John Wesley? A disciple. John Calvin? A disciple. And see, that’s what marks the high points. That’s because, implicitly, everyone knows what it’s about.
And with all of these people, you have a wave that follows, goes on sometimes for generations. One of the remarkable things about the Wesleyan movement was how long it lasted. But that’s because Wesley was a real genius at simple organization, and he more or less was able to farm out the church to the Anglicans, which he remained all of his life. And he let them take care of church, and he did some things that really mattered. Right? The assemblies, the class meetings, the band societies, and so on. Man, those are world-transforming things! And they proved that. It created a great wave that went around the world. I know when I first started going to South Africa; in 1985 I think it was, the Methodist churches there still refused to call themselves churches. They called themselves “societies.” See?
And, for example, you have cases in this country, in North America, that we’re doing the same thing. Like, why is the Christian Missionary Alliance called an alliance? Because it couldn’t be a church. It’s an alliance. Now, you see that same thing over and over again, and what is held up is always discipleship. [10:25] You never have a movement that says, “Well, come and be a nominal Christian.”
So, it is very important how we understand this. Apprentice to me people of all kinds, no socio-political distinctions or other kinds of cultural distinctions, and bring them into the presence of God, the Trinitarian reality; submerge them in that. You can get them wet if you want to. But that’s not what this is talking about. It’s not talking about getting people wet in various and sundry ways. It’s talking about submerging them in the Trinitarian presence, see.
Jesus said when two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst. And he brings the other people. He brings the Father, the Holy Spirit—they all come together. Two or three gathered in my name, there I am. Now when do we usually say that? When two or three people show up. Right? But he is in the midst when two or three thousand gather in his name. And it’s just an illustration of how we’re apt to forget him if we’ve got lots of people. But the Trinitarian reality—now once you’ve done that, then you’re in a position to teach them how to do everything he says. Don’t go there first, or you’ll get up some legalistic scheme. You go first to discipleship. Make disciples.
Now, it’s a deep decision for those of us who lead and teach and pastor and administer, and all that, is whether or not we’re going to do that, or we’re going to do something else. He didn’t say, “Go make Christians.” He sure didn’t say go make Baptists. That would be ok if they were disciples…nothing wrong with being a Baptist or a Christian. But you want to be a disciple, and then everything else will take care of itself.
So now, this is your mission statement. This is your church growth plan. And there’s never been a church growth plan that succeeded with anything close to the success of this plan. And you can check that out historically. Some of you may know the writings of Rodney Stark, but others have done a lot to make clear how well it’s succeeded, and how it’s succeeded. It’s succeeded in simple ways. Like the Christians wouldn’t desert the city when the plague hit. Now, that’s pretty impressive. That’s being your light shining, isn’t it, in the darkness? Right? And they found out things like if you took care of people who were sick; they were more apt to live. And so the idea of caring for people, institutionally and otherwise…they picked up the abandoned babies, usually girls, and they stood against that. And they stood against the “games,” so called, in the Coliseums, and they gradually then had a terrible effect on the old society because it killed it. And it had to be reformed, and by that time the leadership was powerful enough to inject this.
Who Is An Apprentice Of Jesus?
[14:28] But, now, we do have to just work on this idea of a disciple. And as usual, I want to say to you, you don’t have to believe what I say. Ok? But do have something. So, who is an apprentice of Jesus? You have to start with the biblical model. Who were the disciples of Jesus in his day? Well, they were people who were with him. They were with him. Someone in this group has been talking about “The Dust Of The Rabbi,” which is a wonderful picture and helps us get a new impression of what that was like, because we really don’t know much about how that worked. But the idea of the dust of the rabbi is you walked with the rabbi, and got covered with the dust he kicked up as he walked down the road. And the idea of being with—why were you with him? You were learning to be like him. That’s the original picture of a disciple. With Jesus, learning to be like him.
Now, of course, he is with us in a way that is actually better than how he was with the original disciples. He has arranged for that. And when he comes to tell his people he’s going to leave them, he says, “Now don’t worry. I’m going to send another Paraclete.” I’m going to send another—we translate it “comforter,” but that has too much association with that nice fluffy thing that you sleep under. And Paraclete is more like the cleats on your shoes—it grabs things. A Paraclete. And he’s going to be with you, and he’s going to make me present to you. He’s going to never leave you. He’s always with you.
And so we can be with Jesus now; we have to choose to do that. We have to choose to do that, and we have to learn how to do it. And what are we learning? We’re learning to live our lives in the kingdom of God, as he would lead my life if he were I. Now, see, try that on; just work it through, see what you can get out of it. A big point in my wording it that way is to help us understand that the focus is our life. Not his life, our life. I am learning to lead my life in the kingdom of God as Jesus would lead my life if he were I.
See, we have to really think that thought; how could he be me? Could he be me? And it’s only if you believe that he could do that that you will be prepared to be his disciple in everything you do and everything you are. Otherwise, you’ll park him in some special place and then you’ll walk off and do stuff on your own, and most of your life will be devoted to you and not to God.
So, when we come to this point in the discussion, we have to be careful to remember what the kingdom of God is. It’s God acting. Where I am in the kingdom of God, I’m living in his care and provision and his power is working with me, and everything that I confront, good or bad, I confront as standing in the kingdom of God. And that, of course itself, is a large part of what we’ve been learning more of as we lead our apprenticeship time with Jesus.
Learning To Be Like Him
So now. “I am with him in all of my circumstances learning to be like him.” Now, that is not easy to translate into our habits of thought and feeling, so we have to understand that’s something you work at. What is it to do that? And we get a lot of help just from looking at how the people did and talked about it in the Bible. For example, in Isaiah—is it 26?—“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Now, trust there is expectation. I expect him to be with me. How do I do it? I keep my mind fixed on him. And we’ll talk a little bit tomorrow about Frank Laubach’s game of minutes and other ways that people have learned to do this. And I’ll always have my mind fixed on him. [20:08]
Psalm 16: “I have set the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand”—now if you’re left-handed, when read that you say “my left hand.” Ok? “He is at my right hand; I shall not be moved.” You know that verse? It’s a good one, isn’t it?
Casting “all your cares upon him because he cares for you.” That’s a good one. “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and when the time is right, he’ll lift you up.” Those are wonderful words, aren’t they? That’s the solid core. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will smooth your paths.” Proverbs 3, 5 and 6 I think. That’s close, anyway. See how that just comes up over and over? We learn to do that. We learn to do that. We have to want to do it, and we have to decide to do it, and then we learn to do it.
But the core is expectation. We expect God to be with us, and we expect that that will be manifested in terms of what happens, in us and around us. Things will be given to us in our thoughts. Burdens will be lifted in our emotions. Circumstances that we can’t understand and figure out what to do about will resolve themselves. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in you.” See, that’s the heart of this, now, and as we do that in all of our circumstances, then we experience the kingdom of God with us, and we look at those verses like Hebrews 13: “Keep your lives free of covetousness. Be content with such things, as you have, because he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ Therefore, I may boldly say, ‘God is my helper. I will not be afraid of what men will do to me.’” See? Open secret. That’s what it’s all about.
And then the people who move on in discipleship go on to receive the wonderful life of the kingdom; they’re the ones that constitute the high mountain peaks of Christian history. And we look back at them and we know we ought to be like that. Sometimes we think maybe we can’t be, but it would be good if we read perennial classics like Brother Lawrence, The Practice Of The Presence Of God, Thomas a Kempis…see, that’s the hard stuff, the good stuff. Some I mentioned—Madame Guyon, many people don’t know about her as they know about Thomas a Kempis and so on. But she’s a wonderful illustration of this kind of life.
What Are We Learning As Disciples?
So now then, maybe in question time you’ll want to raise some questions about this. But let’s go on. What are we learning as disciples? [24:06] The three kinds of things we’re learning, these are not separable, so don’t think it. You know, when you teach, you separate stuff for purposes of analysis and discussion that often are not separable.
Now, the first part is not surprising to people. You’re learning to do as he did and what he taught. So you’re learning that. You have to learn how to do that; you don’t do that by willpower. You don’t learn how to ride a bicycle by willpower. You may need some willpower to get into it, but your learning is in the process that results. You are interacting with the reality of the bicycle and the road and all of that. That’s a learning process, and of course what happens is that your body actually learns, and what you tried to handle by thinking about it when you started, it soaks into your bones, and you hardly could manage it by thinking about it anyway, but now then you just get on the bicycle and go. You don’t think about it.
And that’s what happens in any learning process at all; that’s a general life structure. Human beings are constructed so that they learn by habituation and have a choice about what they learn, and are able to learn in such a way that they can then build on top of that and do other things while this is going on down here. A singer, Pavarotti, when he was at his height, did beautiful things, and he did it because he had trained so that he didn’t have to think about his breathing. So, well, “I have to make sure that I breathe right!” No, no, he’s into his song, and his breathing takes care of itself, and provides a foundation for him to do something unbelievably beautiful.
And that’s how learning in human beings works. They are unique in the capacity to learn. They are different from all other living things in that regard, in the degree to which they can actually learn and grow mentally and integrate that with all of their lives. Now, living in the kingdom of God is like that. Same sort of thing. You’re learning, and as you learn, you have certain practices that help you, and some things become automatic, and then you are able to live interactive with God in the kingdom as Christ teaches you.
Ok, so that’s the first part. Now that shows up in the Great Commission, doesn’t it? Teach them to do everything I said. Now, see, any church or church group should be prepared for someone to come in and say, “I want to learn how not to be disgusted with my colleagues.” And the response should be, “Sure, we do that. Let’s make an appointment. Now here’s where we start, and here’s how move next, and if you do these things interactively with God, you’ll be helped in all of that, and within six weeks you’ll stop being disgusted with your colleagues. That sound ok?”
It shouldn’t take three years, should it? So you would think, now, any church would be prepared to do that. Well, it might occur to you to say, “But they’re not.” And then if you said that, the next question would be, “Why are they not?” Is that something that just fell out of the sky and hit them? Why are they not thinking in those terms?
Now, I’m kind of mean about this, I guess, but I’ve been saying for many years I don’t know of a single organization that has a plan to teach their constituencies to do what Jesus said. [28:47] And I’m still saying it. I’m looking for people who will say, “Oh yes, we do that. Someone comes to our place, and says, ‘I want to be able to learn how not to have contempt for my colleagues,’ we have a program that we can take them right into, and a fellowship that will support them, and within a short while they will no longer have contempt for their colleagues.” Or maybe someone who just wants to get rid of contempt.
You know, among the many useless things we pick up is contempt. Now it’s true that the way human organizations work, if you’re not contemptuous of the right people or things, then you’re contemptible yourself. And what nearly every organization teaches, human organizations, is who to be contemptible of. And those of you who live in those situations, I think you know what that means. Could you teach someone to be free of contempt? Teach them in such a way that they would be free of contempt? We’re not just talking about saying, “No, no, you should not be contemptuous.” I mean, you might teach them that, but the question is how can you teach them in such a way that they are free of contempt? That’s the path of discipleship.
Now secondly, what we are learning is to handle the ordinary events of daily life within the principles and power of God’s kingdom rule. There are a lot of things that Jesus didn’t say anything about. He didn’t say anything about driving the speed limit, did he? I don’t mean to…it’s just an illustration of what he didn’t talk about, for obvious reasons. Right? Their vehicles were not very fast, and I’m sure there were some rules that needed to be observed, but there are just lots of things he didn’t talk about. Some, I think, not because they weren’t there, but because they were covered by what he did say, or something of that sort, but sometimes you need more instruction. It’s one thing to know that you should love your family or your neighbor, but then how you do that? And what your neighbor is like, or what are the different particular circumstances, or in business. You’re running a business, you need to be able to do that as Jesus would run that business if he were you. [31:40] Not quite the same as “What Would Jesus Do?” That’s a little different. It’s not a terribly bad idea, but for one thing, you need to sort of not have to ask that question in a lot of circumstances. You need to know what he would do, and just do it, and you would learn that by being with him. So a difficult committee meeting, a family dispute, a church fight, writing a book, living through some political dispute: how would he do all that? That’s discipleship. That’s what you’re learning as a disciple of Jesus.
Now, you’re learning all this in ways that will simply lift the burdens of life off of you. This is not something, an extra job. This is something you learn as a part of what you’re going to do anyway. So you have to make a living, you have to deal with people in various ways in real life. You have to get an education, you have to enter a career: finding someone to be wedded to, and raise a family, and all of that. That’s where you want to understand that Jesus is your teacher.
Now then, that means that our churches with leadership and teaching and special responsibilities would be directed outward, towards life. They would be teaching people how to do that. The problems of the world eventually come back to the doorstep of the church for solutions; there isn’t anyone else who has the solution. So we’re training people to live in the world in a way that’s good. And that’s what we do at church. The church is not the kingdom of God; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, and it extends the kingdom of God through its influence. [34:02] That influence is primarily the transformation of the people who are there. That can keep you out of the mistake of worrying about the people who aren’t there. See, in church we want to deal with the people who are there. We can do something for them. I’ve preached to a lot of empty chairs in my life; some of them may have been converted and gone to heaven by now, as far as I know. But what we need to do is pay attention to the people who are there. Now we need to do that in a loving, gracious way, with the anointing of the power of God on us. And we need to be able to get to know their lives and talk to them helpfully about living in the kingdom of God wherever they are.
Acting With The Power Of God
Now, the third thing that is mentioned here, and again I say these are not actually separable; you have to learn all of them. Because obviously, for example, if you do one without two or two without one, that’s going to create some serious problems.
So, now we have to learn to act with the power of God in bringing the kingdom to bear. Sometimes that is as simple or complex as simply learning how to pray. Because prayer is a major part of what you need to learn. See, prayer is a power-sharing device for a world of recovering sinners. That’s what it is. Prayer is a power-sharing device for a world of recovering sinners. That’s what it is. And you know, all that power can’t be turned loose without some preparation; you have to learn how to do that. [36:01] You read the wonderful promises in scripture, and if you don’t understand that, then you read something like what Jesus said in John 14, “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
And you know, he makes that statement, and “The things that I do, my followers will do also, and greater things than these will they do because I go to my Father.” And you just want to say, well, he must not be talking about me. But see, that’s a learning process, and the promises that are given along these lines are designed to help us understand there is nothing impossible.
But of course, there’s some things that would be better if they didn’t happen unless you can handle them. Think of what would happen in your life if you started raising the dead. Are you ready for that? You would have lots of business, wouldn’t you? People would be showing up at your door with corpses. So, maybe I don’t want to be that powerful.
Now I actually spend significant time in my own prayer with the Lord asking him to make sure that I don’t ever have enough power that my character can’t stand it. [37:49] See, power without character is another one of the lessons that you learn as you read your Bible. That’s where you get your Samsons, and your Sauls, and that’s where you get a lot of failures in public leadership, as people who have got more power than they have character. You say, well, why does God do that? Well, actually, God gives power to help people.
And I remember a very famous man out in Southern California there who decided to trade in his wife for a younger model, and a lot of people had been led to the Lord by him, and they were asking, “Well, am I saved, since this man led me to the Lord?” Actually it’s an old question. Donatism, if you know that controversy in North Africa in the early church. Are the administrations of a sinful priest efficacious? Well, they are, but it’s not for the priest’s benefit. It’s for the benefit of the people who need help. And sometimes when we think about gifts, we want to remember that. They’re not for the benefit of the bearer; they’re for the benefit of others. And so when we think about prayer, you have to understand that character is always involved with prayer. You don’t want someone who can make a lot of things happen unless they’ve got the character to stand it. [39:22]
So, if we want to get involved, we say, well Lord, lead my character on. Very few of us, I think, come to the point where we have our ego in such abeyance that we could do anything very big and live through it. So that’s why I say prayer is a power-sharing device for a world of recovering sinners. Right? Learning to act with God’s power in bringing the kingdom to bear on obvious human need, individual and social.
So, for example, if you haven’t come to the point to where if you pray for something you’re not wondering about whether or not it’s going to be answered, well, you need to grow a little. I remember a pastor, and I think he’s characteristic, just hated to visit sick people in the hospital, and he thought, “I’ll have to pray for them, and what if I pray for them and nothing happens?” Well, maybe the issue isn’t you. You’ve made it the issue. And see, you have to learn how to move beyond that so you’re not thinking about yourself when you’re engaged in that.
And that has a lot of implications for the use of power. We said this morning that kingdoms work by words. Remember that? And that’s how kingdoms work. And do you remember that wonderful passage in Matthew 8, where this Roman centurion came to Jesus, and he had either a son or a servant or both sick, and he came to Jesus and asked Jesus to heal the person? And Jesus said, “Well, sure. Let’s go to your house.” And this was a sensible man; he knew that if Jesus went into a Gentile house that would make him unclean for three days. And so, “Oh no no, you don’t need to do that. Just say the word.” And you know he gave a reason for that, didn’t he? This is very instructive, because it was his knowledge that founded his faith. He said, “No, I’m a man under authority. I know what this is. I say to this person ‘Go,’ and he goes; another person ‘Come,’ and he comes.” Other people say to this guy, “Go,” and he’ll swat you, because you don’t have authority over him, you’re not a part of the system, the kingdom.
So it isn’t just the word, it’s the standing that makes the difference. That’s how kingdoms work. Well, that’s something we have to learn how to do. And when Jesus came down to his people after the Mount of Transfiguration, and they ask him, “Why couldn’t we throw him out?” he said, “Well, this kind does not go out without prayer.” But he didn’t pray. Did you notice that? He spoke. Now there’s a continuum there, and we have to learn how to live with that and work with it. And we can do that. And that’s what number three here is about.
Now we’re going to need that if we go back to number one. Because if you’re not consciously working with the power of God, number one is going to be impossible, and number two will be a total mess. See, that’s—the presence of the kingdom is present with us mainly in God’s action with us, that’s power. [43:03] Not force, but power. That’s what we’re learning as disciples.
Where Is The Place Of Discipleship?
Now, where do I do it? And the important thing is to understand the place where I learn this. You get some help at church, hopefully; if it’s not a bunch of disciples you may not get much help. But if it’s a people who are operating on Jesus’ charge to us, then they would be ready to help us with these things. Now I know many of you are leaders, pastors, related to churches and organizations, and so I’m really throwing a challenge right in your teeth. Is this what you do? Is this what you teach? Is this where you put the pressure?
So the place of discipleship is wherever I am. It’s now. It’s whatever I’m doing now. That is the place of discipleship. It may be home, work, play, or the church—the church is a wonderful place for discipleship. How would Jesus do what I’m doing? I want to know how he would do what I’m doing right now. Now I’m not worried about whether he would walk back and forth, or what he’d wear, but I am concerned about this attitude toward the people who are listening, and what he’s depending on and counting on, and I want to be able to do that. I’m concerned about the content of what I’m saying; is that the content he would give? And I’m sure I must be wrong in some of it, but I want to say, “Teach me, Lord. What should I say? Should I really say to these people that they would be teaching others how to do what he said?” Yeah? You think Jesus would do that? Is that what he would do? [45:30]
Our work or job is of special importance in discipleship for that is where we put most of our time and effort, and to leave God out of that is to exclude him from most of our life. So I need to learn how to learn when I’m working—and some of you have been talking about things that are real serious issues at your work, where you’re being pushed in a direction that you don’t believe is godly. That’s a part of what we have to learn. How would Jesus deal with that? So we go to him and ask the question, and listen, and study. We listen in our community, and we try to learn how to do the things that he would do.
So then, you have this great statement that is put by Paul in Colossians 3. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through him.” Whatever you do. Now how many things does that leave out? So now, it’s good to know that the kingdom is here, isn’t it? Wherever you are, there it is. And the habit of relying on ourselves rather than the kingdom is one of the things we learn to step out of. So we still do our best; we do everything we can that’s right, but we don’t trust our best. We’re trusting God. We do our best and trust God. Right?
And sometimes that means that we don’t fit it, that others disapprove of us. We still go right ahead, we do our best and trust in God. “Whatever you do in word or deed.” Now that comes at the end of a long teaching. It begins Colossians 3:1, and one of the passages I encourage everyone to memorize is Colossians 3:1-17. It will put some starch in your spiritual bones. I mean, it’s really tremendously helpful to have some passages, and this is one of the best, I think. I personally think that Paul was trying to give it to the Colossians in the best possible way he could think up, because you know, he never went there. But he wrote this message to them. But I think he was—I’m just so stunned and thrilled by the clarity of that particular letter.
So now, if you’re in church, you have people who sometimes will say something like that: “It’s come to my attention that you have a life outside the church.” Right? Well, actually you do! That’s you, right? So now if you’re a pastor in the church, that’s still true. A leader in the church, that’s still true. And if you are a leader or pastor or teacher in the church, it’s above all important for you to know this. Because your job is not your life. Your job is not your life. Your ministry is not your life. In fact, your work is not your life. You are your life, and that’s what God is interested in. God is more interested in me than he is in my job. He’s more interested in you than he is in your ministry. And what God gets out of your life is the person you become. [49:40] Right? That’s what he gets. That’s the main thing, is the person you become.
What Kind Of Gospel Am I Preaching?
Ok, let’s move on here just a moment now. And the next thing we want to ask ourselves is, am I preaching a gospel that leads to this: “Does this gospel I preach have a natural tendency to produce disciples, or only consumers of religious goods and services? Does what I preach free people of me? So they don’t need to come back to me?” It’s fine if they do, if I’m useful for them, that’s good. But the object is to make people dependent on Christ, and to set them free to walk in fellowship with him wherever they may be.
So now this goes back to the various gospels that are heard that I put up before; the gospels that are heard. And we now then have to look at those gospels and ask ourselves the question, Do they make disciples? Do those gospels make disciples? That’s a question of fact. We need to look at it carefully; that’s a part of evaluating what we do and why we do it. And it is hard, it is hard to do. It is very hard to do. People have traditions, they have habits, and they tend to just do things because that’s what we’ve always done. Right? You know the seven last words of the church, right? “We’ve never done it that way before.” And that’s a powerful barrier to change.
And now we go back to where we started yesterday, spiritual transformation. It’s wonderful to talk about it. We almost have to talk about it. As I say, the high peaks of Christian history are reflections of people who have been transformed spiritually. But is that where we are? And that will come above all to a head on this question: Does the gospel I preach have a natural tendency to produce disciples, or only consumers of religious goods and services? [52:56]
And often we see groups that are competing as consumer-oriented groups; they’re competing with one another. And, well, is that where we’re supposed to be? So just to kind of drive that home, let’s look at this now. We must hear his gospel, not a halfway version of what he had to say, some partial treatment. And we have before us a gospel that speaks of believing the right things about Jesus. That is important that we do that. Faith, believing the right things about Jesus, and that secures heaven when you die. That’s one picture. There’s no real connection between that and discipleship. Special religious efforts are nice but not necessary. Ordinary life: work/play/family/community—well, one is supposed to be Christ-like, or at least do the right thing, but it is not necessary, and maybe not possible. No natural bridge from faith to obedience on that model. So if that’s the gospel you’re preaching, discipleship doesn’t connect with it in a natural way.
Now then, in contrast with that: Jesus’ gospel of Kingdom life from above, now. [54:49] If I’m being too repetitious, I apologize, but this is so important that I can’t not drive it home. What is Jesus’ gospel? You can now live in the Kingdom of God with him. And the Kingdom of God is this great world in which there are all kinds of things going on, but it’s all God in action.
I do wish I’d had more time to talk about the Kingdom of God; there’s so many dimensions of it. Nature, for example, is by and large an expression of the Kingdom of God. That’s why it’s so refreshing to go look at a rock. Or what is it about a mountain? When you’re in nature you are brushing elbows with the Kingdom of God. And that’s why there’s such release, and people say, “Oh, that’s so peaceful.” Why is it so peaceful? Well, God, right?
Chesterton, you know, has all these wonderful jokes. He says the most embarrassing moment for the atheist is when they feel thankful and have no one to thank! And you know, in the presence of beauty, it’s like that. Beauty just dispels gloom and depression. Next time you’re feeling down, go find a lovely rose and just get right close to it, and look at it, and smell it. See, beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses. That’s beauty. And one of the terrible things that has happened in the last 75 years is the emergence of a theory that says, well, art has nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is not an aesthetic category. So you see, over the last couple of centuries, a sustained assault on truth, goodness and beauty. That used to be what all of our educational systems were organized around: truth, goodness, and beauty. No more, no more.
[57:23] So now, the Gospel of the Kingdom: faith is confidence in Jesus and his present Kingdom that naturally leads to seeing my whole life as the place of redemption, interactive relationship, and to discipleship as learning from him how to lead my life as he would lead my life if he were I. Ok?
Now, in talking about transformation, we cannot bypass discipleship. We cannot do it. Discipleship is the key to transformation. And that’s a part of the good news of a life from above. And given all of this, you would expect perhaps if you came in from Alpha Centauri or someplace else in the universe, you might say, well, I’ve been reading the Bible, you know, on the trip down. And so I assume that when I find a local congregation of Christians they will be entirely devoted to spiritual formation of those who are in attendance. And unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way. There’s so much distraction. The demands of the organization, our traditions, our faith and practice, and often there is a realization that what we wind up, quote, “having” to do in our role is not what we really feel it should all be about.
And that actually is true across the professions now, in the medical field, in law—I have so many of my students that go on in law, and they come back two years later and they say, “man, this was not what I had in mind!” or maybe they get past law school and get into practice, and they thought they were going to do justice, and they find out that justice is now “due process.” When you’ve had due process, you’ve had justice, and you sit there and blink your eyes and say, “Is that what that was? Was that Justice?” So it’s very discouraging to be pulled away from the ideals of what you thought your work was about by the traditions and practices that are prevalent. [1:00:00]
The “Golden Triangle” Of Spiritual Transformation
Now I’ve got just a couple of things to lay the foundation for the next move here. And one of them is I want to give you this idea of moving now into method and procedure, and I want to call your attention to this; this is actually in the Divine Conspiracy. I forget which page, but I think you can find it. And the idea here is if we’re going to, as disciples now, we’re disciples, and we’re going to move towards putting on the mind of Christ, or putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and what are the things that are involved in that.
Well, we always emphasize the action of the Holy Spirit. That’s involved, but that’s not something that we do. But it’s involved, and we can’t get along without it. So the action of the Holy Spirit, John 3:5, the birth from above. Above is God. You may not know that in the later chapters of John, John 19, where Jesus is having this little dialogue with Pilate and Pilate says, “You’d better answer me, because you know I have power to kill you.” And Jesus says, “You wouldn’t have any power at all unless it was given to you from above.” From the same place the new birth comes from.
See, that’s God in action. The wording there is the same. The Holy Spirit brings new life into the individual’s life and begins to create around them and within them different things, and of course you have the mind of the flesh and the disciplines that turn us toward, as Romans 8: 10-13 talks about—“if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” And again, we could do a whole sermon on that, because you do not want to mortify the deeds of the flesh by the deeds of the flesh. And the practice of that is why we don’t talk much about mortification anymore, is because it was done in a brutal way, a legalistic way. “If you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh, then you live.” See, that’s discipline, that’s training in dependence on the Spirit. And then again, the Galatians passage that talks about the Fruit of the Spirit—love, joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness—see, that’s all a major part of what’s going on here.
But now there’s also the ordinary events of life. Those are sometimes called temptations; they’re trials: temptations not in the sense necessarily of solicitation to sin, but trials that put you to the test. And if you don’t take those rightly, they can turn into temptations in the other sense. This is just ordinary life. That’s what I’ve been saying—where do we learn this? Ordinary life; at work, at home, in the community, and so forth. At play. Ordinary events. And so we have James talking about that—“Count it all joy when you fall in all kinds of troubles.” Romans does the same thing: “We exult in troubles.” Why? Because we know that we are going to see the Kingdom at work in those troubles. [1:03:59] That’s why we welcome whatever comes. Now, remember, that’s only for the person who’s already got it clear: God is here, no matter where “here” is. You can’t do that just because you think you ought to do it. You read the Bible and say, “Well, I ought to be happy.” No, you don’t start there.
Then you have Planned Disciplines to put on new bowels, otherwise known as guts. When I was writing the Divine Conspiracy, I wanted to use this verse but I had a squeamish editor. A very lovely woman, and she helped me a lot with the book. And I finally gave in to her, and ok, “heart.” “Put on new heart.” But “heart” was not where the action was for the people who wrote the Bible, and there’s a lesson there for us. I mean, where does our stuff come from? Why do we talk about guts?—“You got no guts!”—right? See, that’s the part of us that has the heavy weight that pulls our life, you know?
And, “Put on new bowels.” These are planned disciplines. I give you some references there to Colossians 3 that I’ve talked about, but also 2 Peter 1; that chapter is simply a description of the process you go through as you are transformed. I think 2 Peter, everyone seems to agree it was one of the latest letters in the New Testament, and I think that when that was written it was a reflection of the practice that the church had adopted about spiritual growth. So I don’t have time to go over that now, but I encourage you to look at it and to think about the progression that is there. It tells you what to do: add to your faith knowledge, for example. Virtue, sorry. Add to your faith virtue. Add to your virtue knowledge, and so on up the line. And in these progressions, which you will find not only in Colossians 3 but in Romans 5, the top of the line is always agape. In Colossians 3 after listing a lot of wonderful things, he says “Put on agape, which is the bond of perfection.” And agape is something that has a lot of different parts, and we learn to cultivate them.
Disciplines And The Process Of Spiritual Growth
Now, what are these disciplines? Disciplines are activities that we choose to engage in. We have to be able to undertake them; things like going into solitude or silence. Worship is a discipline. Some of the things like prayer is more than a discipline, but it is also a discipline. And the key now to understanding a discipline is it is an activity that we can engage in. Disciplines are not the answers for everyone. Some people can’t do them. When we get to this point, we’re talking to people who are in relatively good positions spiritually. But for some people you can’t get into disciplines; they simply can’t do them, their lives are so shattered they need ministry, they need prayer, they need teaching, and they need someone to just be with them. But gradually you can work them into some things they can do. Discipline is something in my power that enables me to do what I cannot do by direction, by direct effort. [1:08:01]
So the word you want here is indirection. Disciplines work by indirection. You stop trying to do the things that Jesus said, and you do the things that will enable you to do the things that Jesus said. For some of us, more sleep would be a spiritual discipline. Right? For some of us, a practice of solitude might enable us to stop hurrying. Hurry is not good. You can work hard without hurrying, but hurrying always involves an attitude of worry, of fear, of pride. That’s what drives worry. Being busy is often an ego thing. If I’m busy, I’m important. And if I go sit on a rock, I don’t feel very important. Well, maybe that’s what you need, right?
So, indirection. Do things you can do—that’s direct—to affect things you can’t do—that’s indirect. And you find that you can do them. Right? So now when we think about being a disciple in the Kingdom of God, we want to keep these factors in mind. And very often what we find is that when we are having trouble over in this corner [Ordinary Events] we have to go to this corner [Planned Discipline] to deal with it.
[1:10:10] Ok, now just one more screen, I think. And this, again, is a kind of little diagram that I try to use to pull some things together, and this is what I call the VIM. And this is a structure of personality, to begin with. This is not just for the spiritual life. It is a structure of personality. Anything you want to change, you need to go through this. You want to lose weight, get rich, speak French or Arabic, dance the tango…then you need a vision of the goodness of what you’re thinking about.
Now that’s where we go back to our gospel. Our gospel is what creates the vision. If you want to make disciples, you have to communicate a vision of the goodness of living in the Kingdom of God. You have to create that vision. You do that by preaching the gospel of Jesus. You present the Kingdom of God in a winsome way and you present Jesus in his loveliness as a person, and his availability. So you have to communicate that. You think about the character goals: would I really like to be a person who had integrity? The ability to be open to people? Whatever character goals you might have. Suppose I wanted to be an entirely truthful person? That would be a character goal. [1:12:36]
Then, of course, power, and empowerment. Those are things that are part of the vision. Now if the vision is strong, you can form the intention to be that way. And if that intention is there, you can make a decision to do it. [1:12:58]. All of that has to happen. You cannot slide into that. You do not become a disciple by accident. You have to decide that is what I am going to do. Now, if your vision is not strong, you will not be able to do that. [1:13:21] And it may lead you to getting a bunch of means, which you will never use. Think of all those programs of learning French that sit on shelves unused. Someone thought that would be a good idea and they bought the program but they did not have a strong intention and they didn’t get there. That is especially impressive to me as someone who is involved in education because in general, we do a miserable job of teaching languages. Almost no one goes through the language requirements in our universities and comes out able to say much more than, “How do you do?” At USC, we have a whole floor in a big building. I don’t know how many millions of dollars it takes and you know what, a few people are really learning. They are the ones that are there. They are there regularly and they do all the….make all the sounds and all sorts of stuff and they come out spouting French or something. Of course, you all know how much easier it is if you go to France, but you have to take the steps. But, you are not going to France if you haven’t really decided to learn this. So I hope you see the connection down there and I believe you are reading William Law at some point in your studies. And I do hope you will look at that chapter on intention in there because it’s such an “eye opener.” [1:15:00] He talks about the fashion In his day, especially for young men was to curse and that’s a way especially for young men approved of being something; at least in those days. And he would ask, “Why do you curse?” And of course there are all kinds of excuses but what he comes out with is well you don’t intend not to. If you were standing before your prince, you wouldn’t do that. The lack of intention is the key to the condition of the church. [1:15:56] The intentions based on that particular gospel will not lead to the fulfilling of Christ’s character.
And then, finally, means. You have to have means. That again is a part of God’s plan for people with free will. People with free will have the option of where they’re going, and that involves steps, and taking those steps, and realizing that if you choose to be conversant in French, you can’t just do that. So your choice then is in terms of the steps that will lead to that. Right? So you do certain things; that’s the means. You do them because you have the intention and you have the intention because you see the goodness of the vision. [1:17:05] And that works. Always works.
So now the means here, of course there are many different kinds of means, but for example going to church. It’s a means, not an end. It’s a means. What is it a means to? Well, that’s what we need to ask, and we need to relate the means to the end. I love the church; I’m not giving up on it, you know. I have people who will say to me—Jane and I, when we’re not somewhere else, we’re there. And we love the church, and we love the people, and they love us. That’s what church is about. That’s why we go. People say to me, “well, you’re so smart, why do you still go to church?” Well, that’s why I go to church! You know, but they have this idea that somehow it’s a burden and it’s problematic, and all of that. No, no, that’s not it. I go to church because it is a wonderful means to a wonderful end. It’s a wonderful means to a wonderful end.
Now, I’ve had to train myself how to go to church for that, because among other things I don’t go to inspect the preacher. I go to love the preacher. And I love to pray for the preacher, and I visualize Christ standing back of him with his hands on his shoulders, blessing him as he preaches or she as she preaches. That’s a means. It’s a means to the end, but you need to go to church to love people and be loved. That’s why we go to church. To be together with others, to be ministered to, to minister.
And then of course you have things like fasting, and scripture memorization, singing songs, worship, fellowship, confession. Now there’s no final list on that. See, you have to get the concept; the list will take care of itself. There are many things that we do, we don’t do them as disciplines or means; we could if we understood it. Service, for example, is a wonderful means to humility, to love, to blessing others and helping them. So that’s how the means come in.
[1:19:56] Ok, well, I’ve run over time as usual, but I wanted to say, you know, here’s what discipleship is, these are the things that are involved in it, and we will have to go into more detail in the morning.
Q: I have found a great deal of comfort in the Psalms in the great variety of feelings that come out of the Psalms [Yes]…the legitimacy of being in those really dark places [Yes} and so, my question is, I guess I would like you to reflect on that in light of, I hear from you often the l joy that we are to know that it is all supposed to work and I venture to say, and in fact, I know that there are people in this room that are not in that place and have worked really hard at trying to be in that place [place of joy?]…..place of joy, place of following. They have read you for years. They know what the idea is but we get in those really dark places and so I wonder if you would comment on that and how that works in this whole process.
Yes, I really try to encourage people not to be joyful and there’s a lot of…..in fact, there is a little song, “Sing and smile and pray, that’s the only way, for if you sing and smile and pray, you will drive the clouds away, and so forth. People almost lay on you an obligation to be joyful. Joy is a fruit; not something you do by effort. It comes as a fruit and the Psalms are especially good because they cry out of the darkness. “Out of the depths, have I cried unto thee, Lord, hear my voice. Let your ear be attentive to the voice of my supplication.” So, the Psalms are especially good because they go the whole range of emotions and suffering as well as joy. I am not sure what I can say to that except that you do not have an obligation to be joyful. Joy is a profound and pervasive sense of well-being, closely related to peace. It does not come by effort; it comes by indirection and you can learn how to take the times when there is no consolation if you have the broader vision that God is there too. God is in the dark and when you are in the dark, you don’t want to doubt in the dark what you saw in the light. So, if you are doubting it, then you just say, “Well, God will take care of me.” But, there are awful things that happen in these striking passages and in the whole Bible. I think it’s Psalm 78 on “how the dark places on earth are filled with violence.” I guess what I would like to say is that I regret it if my writings gives the impression that you ought not to be sad, unhappy, and so on. If that comes, accept it and complain about it to God. See, that’s one of the good things about the Psalms…..a lot of complaining. When bad things happen to us, we want to go to God and complain. That’s one of the things the Psalms teaches. Go to God and complain and when one loses a loved one or has a serious illness or a failure, just take your burden to the Lord and leave it there. Stay there with it. Now, to be able to do that, you have to have some practice. So, we want to think about how we can come to the place by our teaching, our learning, our disciplines where we can undergo depravation and not get what we want and be peaceful about it. [Talking without the microphone and can’t here this comment.]
Q: I sure appreciate The Golden Triangle and VIM; thanks. Comment on how to help us and us leading others to be really engaged in the Trinitarian presence because I know that’s central to the whole thing of being a disciple and coming into obedience so that it doesn’t become for us or others, as with human tendency, a natural application in our own life so that there is an ongoing spiritual energizing of the process of spiritual formation. [Are you talking about how we engage the Kingdom?]
No, the spiritual dynamic to stay connected to the vine in this process so there is not just an effort of the will but by the spirit and our union with Christ. How do you encourage that in this so we just don’t take certain steps and run with certain steps?
If I get what you are talking about, that is where I encourage people to do specific things; it might be to memorize a Psalm and dwell in it (let your mind go into it) or it might be to engage in some service for someone, or to practice solitude and silence for awhile telling them how to do that and then to reflect on their experience because we don’t make the experience happen and we open ourselves to it; then we experience the action of God in our lives. That’s, I think, the essential thing is to put yourself in a position where you will know the presence of God with you. That need not be in solitude and silence; it may be “on the run.” For example, I find that fasting is more effective when I am engaged in ministry, not when I am not doing something because of the peculiar nature of fasting. I think it works better with action and you experience the difference and then you go back and maybe you read John 4 again and you look at Jesus saying to the guys who brought food back, “I have meat to eat you know not of. My meat is to do the will of my Father that sent me.” He is saying he was nourished by something and on there and I think that is the point where you get specific and you say, “Well, (and of course you need to sit with someone if you are trying to minister to them and find out where they are) but you want to encourage them to do specific things and come to experience the presence of God. That’s what I would recommend. I hope I hit the question.