Disciples Imitate their Master

September 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

i am a disciple LOGOIn our series, I am a Disciple, we began with a sermon on the meaning of following or imitating Christ. Our modern use of “Imitate” might take us to thoughts of “cheap imitation” or mimicing someone’s accent or mannerisms.  But to imitate Jesus is very different! Mark’s Gospel, though it doesn’t have long sections of teaching or dialog like the other Gospels, strongly demonstrates imitation. To follow Jesus will mean walking in his steps.  A cross-shaped life of self-sacrifice. As Jesus – so his followers. (e.g. Mark 8:34-38)

Jason Hood, (Imitating God in Christ,shows that Imitation in the New Testament doesn’t mean trying to copy specific details like clothing, it means “actions and mindsets that reflect the actions and mindsets of another.” It is following the patterns of Jesus creatively; akin to walking, following, “putting on Christ,” apprenticeship – and therefore is at the heart of discipleship. (p. 12)

Referring to the great Church Father Athanasius, Graham Tomlin says: “…the whole point of God becoming human was that we might be reformed into likeness to God, so that we might become images of God and imitators of Christ.”

Of course, imitation is not a means to becoming a Christian. It is an overflow.  It is grace that brings us into God’s family.  As Martin Luther reminds: “It is not imitation that makes sons; it is adoption that makes imitators!”

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT “APPRENTICING WITH JESUS TO BE HUMAN AGAIN.”
(Hood, p. 84) This is God’s ultimate purpose for us – to be “conformed into the likeness of His Son!” As The Message puts it: “The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.”

How will you and I “creatively imitate” Jesus today?

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MY THANKS TO CHERYL LAVORNIA FOR THESE HELPFUL REVIEWS

Have you ever read a book that captured your imagination in a new way…that makes you change the way you interact with life? What if you found a book that did just that AND it somehow helped you read and understand the Bible better? This past spring, I found two such books. This fall we will be working through two sermon series that will help us understand how to become better followers (disciples) of  Jesus…and as better disciples (followers), we can become a more engaged church. These two books can be chosen as small group material or can be read alone. The Mark book would be a great read for families as well. Below, I’ve given a review of each book.

Card - markMark: The Gospel of Passion (The Biblical Imagination Series) by Michael Card.

Because I’ve read this gospel multiple times, finding a new way to read it was very appealing. The Gospel of Mark (in the Bible) is a book of action and passion with events happening one after the other, describing the life of Jesus in vivid detail with a sense of urgency and immediacy. This gospel was written by Mark, a young man who was a friend and interpreter for the Apostle Peter. He gives first hand glimpses of what was going on during Jesus’ ministry. Even though this is the shortest gospel, it was written to give the early Christians encouragement in all their sufferings. Michael Card wrote this book, as well as the series, not as a devotional or as a commentary, but with both in mind. He uses the most current resources and historical materials to comment on each section, but does it with a sense of imagination. He calls this informed way of reading “biblical imagination.” What this means is that as you read each section, the characters and settings come to life. It is a must read if you want to renew your passion for Jesus and your love and awe of how He works in and through all of us (1st century or 21st century)!

Keller - KingJesus the King by Tim Keller.

Timothy Keller, New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and the man Newsweek called a “C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century,” unlocks new insights into the life of Jesus Christ as he explores how Jesus came as a king, but a king who had to bear the greatest burden anyone ever has. Jesus the King is Keller’s revelatory look at the life of Christ as told in the Gospel of Mark. In it, Keller shows how the story of Jesus is at once cosmic, historical, and personal, calling each of us to look anew at our relationship with God. It is an unforgettable look at Jesus Christ, and one that will leave an indelible imprint on every reader. Jesus the King is an excellent book for personal growth in discipleship or small group use for moving forward toward ‘the full stature of Christlikeness.’

These books will be available at the Christ Church Welcome Center or you can order them from Amazon or Kindle.

WillardOn three consecutive Saturdays, the Christ Church community celebrated and mourned at the death of beloved fellow-believers. Just prior to these weeks, author and fellow disciple, Dallas Willard died of cancer. Willard was known for his wonderful work of deepening the Christian Church’s understanding of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship.

In light of our fall series, I am a Disciple! I want to share some quotations from conversations and writings of Dallas Willard worthy of our serious rumination.

Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.    (Renovation of the Heart)

The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place.

Willard taught me that a disciple is a student who sits at the feet of Jesus day in and day out. A disciple is someone who is with Jesus, learning to be like him, so that when we encounter the world around us, we do exactly what Jesus would do if he were in our shoes.

We cannot be Christians without being disciples, and we cannot call ourselves Christians without applying this understanding of life in the Kingdom of God to every aspect of life on earth. (The Great Omission)

When asked, “What is death? “ Dallas responded:
Jesus made a special point of saying those who rely on him and have received the kind of life that flows in him and in God will never stop living.

Willard also challenged us to take the Sermon on the Mount more seriously, especially the parts about seeking first the Kingdom of God.  He called it “The cost of non-discipleship,” referencing Bonhoeffer’s famous “Cost of Discipleship.”  He put it this way:

“If you think it’s hard being a disciple of Christ, you should try living the other way. Living to make a name for yourself or secure your own future is way too expensive. Stop now before you ruin yourself utterly. Jesus was talking in these stories about the cost of non-discipleship, and it’s breathtakingly high.” 

“So then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord!”  (Romans 14:8)

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE ‘COST’ OF NON-DISCIPLESHIP?

bestkeptsecretEvangelism is a good word (“Announcing the Good News!”)  but it has a bad rap in our culture at present – for some good reasons of course! When people feel tele-marketed or coerced, it betrays the love orientation that God demonstrates in Christ. The Gospel is good news because God, in Jesus is reconciling and restoring the world to relationship with himself!

Let me suggest two resources for authentic evangelism: one is the book by John Dickson that is a wonderful corrective to the false models and misconceptions about evangelism. It’s called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips.

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 1.05.22 PMThe other is a tool from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship based on material from True Story by James Choung. It is an APP for smart phones or tablets that can be used to help share the Good News in language for today.

It’s called New World and uses the story of Scripture that humankind is: Designed for Good; Damaged by Evil; Restored through Christ; and Sent together to Heal.
Check it out at Intervarsity’s Evangelism site.

I’m not keen on “canned” tools for sharing Christ, but this is flexible and follows the “Six Act Drama” of Scripture that I so often use when seeking to explain more about what it means to follow Christ and use as the basis for my class, Biblical Thought, at URI.

NOTE: two sermons by myself and Nathan Albert can be accessed here.

LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK WHEN YOU HAVE LOOKED AT IT OR BETTER YET – USED IT – TO SHARE THE GOOD NEWS WITH SOMEONE ELSE!

It was George MacDonald, quoted in an anthology by C.S. Lewis who said that “unforgiveness is spiritual murder.” Jesus did not mince words when he said,

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mat. 6:14-15)

In a recent sermon, we explored the nature of true forgiveness. Part of our “Mind the Gap” series. I think you’ll find some very practical help with the complexities of maintaining a forgiving spirit.

O holy Jesus who didst for us die,
     And on the Altar bleeding lie,
Bearing all Torment, pain, reproach, and shame.
     That we by virtue of the same,
     Though enemies to God, might be
     Redeemed, and set at liberty.
          As thou didst us forgive,
So meekly let us Love to others show,
     And live in Heaven on Earth below!

_Thomas Traherne, 1637-74, from “Christian Ethicks”

photoThis is a more personal post born out of our trip to Saipan for the wedding of our son Nathan and Isa our new daughter (who was born and raised in Saipan!) The poem below may only be for me to capture the experiences of culture, history, beauty, and family. But hopefully it can speak to you as well. The picture here relates to the poem.

Saipan is the largest of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The native people group and language is Chamorro. The culture is wonderfully hospitable and family oriented. The island was occupied by the Spanish, Germans, Japanese, and is now a U.S. Commonwealth. A decisive and terrible battle was fought here in World War II with American forces defeting the entrenched Japanese army. The Island of Tinian, 3 miles away, was the place from which the Enola Gay took later flight to drop the first atomic bombs.

Three large military cargo ships are stationed off shore and have become a part of the landscape. They were part of the lasting impression that became a metaphor of sorts. Here’s the poem.

Saipan ~ Summer 2013

Another taste of Pacific paradise:
Sunset addictions satiated
Encore after encore…
“Just wait – there’s more!”

Cultural sensations brimming
History to learn, and learn from
Familial cup keeps overflowing
New daughter, new village.

And these giant ships offshore?
Keepers and Intruders of the Peace
“USS Never-move”
dubs the Chamorro Elder!

Yet each evening’s masterpiece
Melts them into strange beauty
Outdated specks on the canvas
of New Creation
coming.

For many years I’ve commended The Jesus Prayer as a form of learning continuous prayer. In my time away this week I was reminded of a beautiful modification by N. T. Wright emphasizing the Trinity. I’ll post the main part of it here:

I want, in this brief epilogue, to suggest one form of prayer in particular that seems to me to encapsulate all that I have been trying to say.  It grows out of several concerns and backgrounds, and I believe it may be helpful to some who are wrestling with these issues and seeking to do so in a Christian way, that is, not by mere intellectual effort alone, but through prayer, meditation, and a settled and steady seeking of God’s will and way.  I am aware that prayer and temperament are intertwined, and there may well be some who, for perfectly good reasons, will find my suggestions incomprehensible or unnecessary.  I trust that they will excuse this short chapter, and leave it for those who may find something in it to their profit.

A word, first, about the traditions of prayer upon which this form seeks to draw.  The Jews, at least as early as Jesus and probably much earlier, used various prayers on a regular basis.  One such may well have been that in which, in Isaiah’s great vision in chapter 6, the angels were chanting: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  Another, which formed the basis of regular Jewish daily prayer, was the Shema, which starts: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  This might strike us as something of an odd “prayer”; it looks more like a credal formula followed by a command.  (The rest of the Shema, which continues to verse 9, and then adds Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41, includes still more commands.)  But by Jesus’ day it had already sunk deep into the consciousness of the Jewish people, not only as a formula to be repeated three times a day but as a badge of loyalty, an agenda to be followed, a statement of faith that set the compass for another day, another hour, another minute of following the true God wherever he might lead.  The noble old Rabbi Akiba, one of those who stood against the Emperor Hadrian’s anti-semitic legislation and died horribly at the hands of his torturers, went on reciting the Shema quietly until he could do so no more.  Like the angels ceaselessly chanting “Holy, holy, holy,” the Shema had become, for Akiba, as habitual, and as vital, as breathing.

A different tradition is that of the Eastern Orthodox church, which I mentioned in chapter 12.  There the “Jesus prayer” has been rightly popular: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  (There are variations, but this is perhaps the best known.)  This, like the Jewish Shema, is designed to be said over and over again, until it becomes part of the act of breathing, embedding a sense of the love of Jesus deep within the personality.  This prayer, again like the Shema, begins with a confession of faith, but here it is a form of address.  And instead of commandments to keep, it focuses on the mercy that the living God extends through his Son to all who will seek it.  This prayer has been much beloved by many in the Orthodox and other traditions, who have found that when they did not know what else to pray, this prayer would rise, by habit, to their mind and heart, providing a vehicle and focus for whatever concern they wished to bring into the Father’s presence.
 
I have a great admiration for this tradition, but I have always felt a certain uneasiness about it.  For a start, it seems to me inadequate to address Jesus only.  The Orthodox, of course, have cherished the trinitarian faith, and it has stood them in good stead over the course of many difficult years.  It is true that the prayer contains an implicit doctrine of the Trinity: Jesus is invoked as the Son of the living God, and Christians believe that prayer addressed to this God is itself called forth by the Spirit.  But the prayer does not seem to me to embody a fully trinitarian theology as clearly as it might.  In addition, although people more familiar than I with the use of this prayer have spoken of its unfolding to embrace the whole world, in its actual words it is focused very clearly on the person praying, as an individual.  Vital though that is, as the private core of the Christian faith without which all else is more or less worthless, it seems to me urgent that our praying should also reflect, more explicitly, the wider concerns with which we have been dealing.
 
I therefore suggest that we might use a prayer that, though keeping a similar form to that of the Orthodox Jesus Prayer, expands it into a trinitarian mode:
 
 
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth:  Set up your kingdom in our midst.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God:  Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: Renew me and all the world.
 
I would like to say a number of things about this composite prayer by way of explanation.  First, as to its emphases.  Its opening echoes that of the Lord’s Prayer itself, which catches up Israel’s longing that her God should bring in his kingdom of justice and peace, and extends these petitions, in the light of Jesus’ whole work, to the whole world.  Paul does much the same in Ephesians 1, turning older Jewish prayer formulae to new use with a focus on Jesus, meditating on and exulting in God’s work in Christ until, with the mention of the Spirit, the trinitarian picture is complete.  In the same way, in the prayer I am suggesting, we invoke the one Creator of the whole universe, the one who alone is the source of all things, the one parodied by so much paganism.  As we do so, and pray for the coming of his kingdom, we enfold within that prayer our hopes and longings for justice and peace, for the hungry to be satisfied, for the poor to have their needs supplied.  This prayer can be used wherever one faces a situation that cries out for God to come and reign as King.  In particular, of course, it can be used in what we call evangelism.  To present Jesus as the Lord who claims the allegiance of men and women is to seek to bring the kingdom of God to bear on their lives.

By itself, this first clause could become triumphalistic.  It could lead us to imagine that we knew exactly what the kingdom would involve, and that we were merely enlisting the Creator of the world as the necessary power to achieve the program we had mapped out.  How wrong such prayer would be.  Indeed, it is as we pray the heartfelt prayer for the kingdom that we are faced, if we are honest, with the deep realization of our own confusion, inadequacy for the task, rebellion, distortion of God’s will, and frank, no-nonsense, old-fashioned sin.  It is therefore vital that we keep the middle segment of the prayer much as the Orthodox use it.  If, by itself, this part could become self-centered, without it we could become hollow.  No Christian can afford to lose the daily and hourly sense of dependence on the free mercy and love of God, mediated through the extraordinary love and grace of Jesus.  This prayer, too, can of course be used in the context of particular penitence for particular sin.  God knows we will have enough need of it.

But we cannot stop there.  Once we have been grasped afresh by the love of God in Jesus liberating us from our own idolatries so that our work for the kingdom may be free from distortions of our own making, then we must lift our eyes to the world around and see the new work that awaits us.  Faced with this, we can and must pray to the Spirit, as Ezekiel was commanded to call for the wind that would come and make the dry bones live.  We must pray to the Spirit who alone can give life not only to us but to all the world. And with that prayer we are praying at least three things.  We are praying that we ourselves may be healed and renewed, in and from the depths of our own beings, with a healing that will culminate in the Resurrection, but which may be anticipated in all kinds of ways during the present life.  We are praying, secondly, that others may come to abandon their idolatries and find the truth about the world and its Creator in worshiping the God revealed in Jesus.  And we are praying, as we must, that the whole creation, nonhuman as well as human, may find the full rejuvenated life for which it was made.  We are praying, that is, for the final coming of the kingdom, only this time seen in terms of the living God flooding his creation, by his Spirit, so that it becomes as a whole what the temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be: the place where he is present, where he is worshiped, where he meets his human creatures in love and grace, the place from which there flow rivers of living and healing water.  This is the reality, glimpsed in hope in the gospel, which is parodied in pagan pantheism.  This prayer would be as appropriate in ecological as in evangelistic work.  It would be appropriate as part of a healing ministry, and would be equally at home in the context of the quest for personal or communal renewal and revitalization.

Second, a word about the use of this prayer as a whole.  Obviously anyone is free to use it as he or she wishes, but two ways in particular have commended themselves to me.

The first is its use within a litany.  The first line of each part can be used as a versicle, and the second as a response.  Put together, the three sections cover so many of the areas that the church should be praying for that it would make sense to group different areas of petition under the three heads, repeating each phrase as often as necessary to effect a good rhythm and balance in the whole.  The singular “me” in the second and third clauses could of course become “us.”  And the prayer, thus used, could include praise and confession as well as petition.  There are many possibilities here that could be explored, which could help a congregation to turn the concerns of the present book into serious corporate prayer.
The second relates to more personal use.  I have spoken of the way in which, in the Jewish and Orthodox traditions, some prayers have become, as it were, embedded in the personality by constant use.  I appreciate that some Christians might initially be alarmed by this, for reasons discussed in chapter 13.  Personally, I can see no reason for anxiety, and every reason for welcoming such a practice.  If the angels constantly repeat their “Holy, holy, holy,” I cannot see why Christians should not repeat words about the threefold and glorious God.  It is vain repetitions that we are called to forswear.  I suggest that, for some Christians at least, a prayer such as the one I have suggested can become, by constant repetition, the very center of their human existence.
This is in part because it builds on two features that are common to humans in general.  The first of these concerns human breathing.  In Genesis 2:7, it is said that God breathed into human nostrils the breath of life, so that Adam became a living being.  There is a strange truth here which we do not usually grasp.  If we even think about the act of breathing, we probably regard it as a purely “natural” or “scientific” phenomenon. Genesis regards it as part of the gift, to humans, of God’s own life.  Breathing sets up a rhythm that quietly gets on with the job of enlivening and energizing us.
This habit of prayer, with phrases such as I have suggested, takes up this fact and builds on it.  The first clause of each couplet can be said in the mind while breathing in. We are drawing in God’s breath. God’s gift of life:
 
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God . . .
 and particularly, of course,
Holy Spirit, breath of the living . . .
 

Then, having in each case, as it were, “inhaled” the truth and life of God himself, the miracle occurs.  God’s own life becomes ours. Just as God’s breath becomes our breath, so the prayer that has invoked the living God becomes prayer that is both God’s own prayer, part of the constant, loving, and joyful prayer of the Trinity, and our own prayer.  As John 14 makes clear, the closer we come to understanding the threeness of God, the more we are summoned to fully Christian prayer.  We respond, exhaling the breath that has become our own:

Set up your kingdom in our midst.
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Renew me and all the world.

If we thus capture the God-given rhythm of breathing itself, a new wholeness results.  It is as though breath becomes more fully what it already is by becoming prayer, and as though prayer becomes more fully what it already is by becoming breath.

The second feature upon which such a practice can build concerns the human semi-conscious mind.  Most humans, most of the time, have comparatively empty minds, which fill themselves from moment to moment with vague snatches of memory, of odd words and phrases, odd hopes and fears, odd snatches of songs or music.  Indeed, it can be a thorough nuisance to have something, as we say, “in the head” and not to be able to get rid of it.  The use I have suggested for this prayer gently takes this fact about our humanness, this habit of the mind to be continually murmuring on to itself, and woos it with the gospel.  It takes responsibility for the times when the mind is “in neutral.”  It replaces the casual, irrelevant, involuntary mental chatter with a quiet, glad repetition of words whose content is incalculably challenging and at the same time incalculably consoling.
Such a manner of praying is not acquired overnight.  Indeed, for many people, such a habit might well be inappropriate.  For such, there will be other prayers, or other methods of praying this one.  But it could, I suspect, be of help to many more than have at present tried anything of the sort.  Paul, after all, tells us to “pray constantly,” and though he may simply have meant “morning, noon, and night,” the regular times of Jewish prayer, he may also have had in mind the sort of praying I am describing.
The important thing is to start.  Perhaps the best way is to use the phrases one at a time: either the first during the morning, the second during the afternoon, and the third during the evening; or possibly the first one day, the second the next, and the third the next.  There are no rules.  Having begun, perhaps during a regular time of prayer, one can return to the prayer, quietly drawing strength from God in the process, during the busyness and the idleness of the time that follows.  Gradually, if we persevere, we shall discover that the prayer rises unbidden to the mind and the heart.  It has become part of who we are.  And the potential results of such a gradual and quiet change are incalculable, both for oneself, for the church, and for the world!