Archive for June, 2011

Precious Citizenship

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Discipleship, Freedom

In his 2010 memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair included the following story:

“A friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe who came to America in search of safety, told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York. They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time my friend succeeded and became wealthy. He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside America. She never did.

“When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there another box. There was no key. So they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel must be in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most.”

Tomorrow our nation will mark its 235th anniversary of our nation’s beginning. Though all Americans do not agree politically or theologically, we live in country where our founders prized freedoms. Two great documents – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – have provided guidance for our nation and protection of our freedoms. As citizens of the United States, we should know the contents of these documents. Many, not all, of the signers of these documents were Christ-followers. The language certainly points to affirming our dependence on God, for which I am grateful.

While we should treasure our citizenship of the United States, as believers we have a citizenship that we should prize above all. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21, ESV).

Long ago men sacrificed their blood so that we might prize our U.S. citizenship. As precious as their gift to us is, it pales in comparison to the sacrifice of Christ’s blood on Calvary’s cross. Jesus provided the ultimate precious citizenship – a “forever relationship” with God through Christ. I urge you along with Paul with this verse, “Therefore, my brothers [and sisters], whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1, ESV).

Over the past several weeks, I have been talking and writing about a biblical discipleship process. Jesus had an intentional method of disciple-making that He modeled for the disciples. For the past couple of months, our staff has been working with small groups of people to begin a transfer process of intentional disciple-making. We’re indebted to Jim Putnam, a pastor in Post Falls, Idaho, and author of Real-Life Discipleship.

First of all, Jesus made it clear that we exist to reach the world with Jesus. A disciple, then, will share Jesus. The Great Commission makes this abundantly clear. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

Next, Jesus made it clear that every Christ-follower is a disciple. A disciple is not a “super-saint” or someone who have been endowed with special supernatural abilities. (However, the Holy Spirit does endow every believer with spiritual giftedness. These spiritual gifts must be developed.)  This meant that a disciple have received an invitation to follow Christ. Therefore, a disciple is one who follows Christ, is changed by Christ, and is committed to the mission of Christ. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he aw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the oat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them (Matthew 419-21, ESV).

We need to remember that disciple will continue to grow in maturity. I’m afraid that because we have not consistently followed Jesus’ model for disciple-making that we have unintentionally stunted the growth for many. Every Christ-follower begins his spiritual journey a babe in Christ. Ignorance will characterize the language and behavior of spiritual infants. They need spiritual nourishment from God’s Word and from godly mentors. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2, ESV). Without spiritual nourishment, a Christ-follower will not grow and will continue to act like a spiritual baby. Without someone to care for them and to nurture them, spiritual infants will remain ignorant of what they need spiritually and what the Bible says about life and life’s purpose.

As a spiritual infant grows, he becomes a stronger in his faith and becomes a spiritual child. However, the spiritual child still needs to mature. Without spiritual growth and development, a spiritual child can fall to Satan’s traps. We need help spiritual children to grow spiritually so that they may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of  doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15, ESV). I probably don’t need to tell you that a spiritual child behaves immaturely, often displaying self-centered attitudes. They often think that feelings are most important, which leads to spiritual highs and lows. They attend church and small groups for what they might receive from it. And if they don’t receive what they want, they begin to look around for something better. Could this be the reason that so many churches seem to focus on serving the needs of the members rather than serving in the cause of Christ’s mission?

The next phase of spiritual development moves the disciple to spiritual young adulthood. In this stage of growth, Christ-followers have the desire to serve for the good of others and for the glory of God. They feel responsible for how others respond to the gospel. They grow because they have moved from their self-centered outlook to ministering to others. The writer of Hebrews said, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:13-14, ESV). Believers at this stage will say things like, “I love my group, but there are others who need a group like this,” and “Bob and Mary missed our class today, so I called to see if they were all right. Mary’s mother had to be hospitalized. Let’s see if we can help them.” The focus of spiritual young adults moves them into ministry.

Jesus’ goal for disciple-making brings His followers to spiritually mature adults or as Putnam calls them, “spiritual parents.” Spiritual parents no longer depend on someone to feed them. They don’t wait for a pastor or teacher to give them spiritual nourishment each week, but rather they read and study the Word for themselves so that they can minister and disciple others. The apostle John wrote, I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:13-14, ESV). Spiritual parents will intentionally find someone else to disciple. They actively share, connect, train for ministry, and eventually release maturing Christ-followers to disciple others.

Where are you in the discipleship process? Every follower of Jesus Christ has both the privilege and responsibility to grow in Christ. We begin by giving testimony of our faith and sharing the gospel. We continue by sharing our lives in the context of ministry and disciple-making.

Today I’m re-entering the blogging world. A few years ago, I experimented a bit with the concept but never really seriously made much headway with it. However, recently I started using Twitter and Facebook more to connect more with a wider audience.

I have several reasons for re-entering the world of blogging. My primary reason: to add another forum and audience who I might engage with the good news. My passion for sharing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ drives me. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who do not have a saving relationship with Christ. Perhaps by reading something I have written, they might move closer to Christ. At least I’m praying to that end even as I write.

I also enjoy writing. (My high school English teachers would find that shocking!) Over the years of my pastoral ministry, I have written thousands of sermons and hundreds of newsletter articles. For the past several years, I have written a “five-day-a-week e-devotional” which many people read and forward to others. I have written Sunday School lessons occasionally for LifeWay. (My next set of lessons will appear in January 2012 in the Leader Guide for LifeLessons: Bible Studies for Life. I also have a couple of book ideas in mind and have begun working on one of them with a couple of chapters completed in rough form.

Some might question whether or not I have time to add another thing to my plate. However, I see this as an extension of my responsibilities as a pastor but more importantly as a Christ-follower. I look forward to hearing how God uses this blog to further you along in your walk and how He might draw others to faith in Him.