The Essence of Discipleship

In Christian circles (and especially among homeschoolers) there is a great emphasis on discipleship. What exactly does that mean? I found it interesting that according to Dictionary.com, disciple in modern use is most commonly a noun. Here is one definition:

a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; follower.

On the other hand, there are two definitions in the verb form for disciple, one listed as “obsolete” and the other noted as “archaic.” Here is one:

Obsolete. to teach; train.

Do you see the difference? In its archaic (more traditional) sense, a disciple is made through teaching and training–a hands-on investment of one life into another. In the modern use, there is some sense of “teaching,” but to me the definition speaks more of one who simply agrees with the doctrines or teachings of another; it can be informational rather than transformational.

Jesus commands us to

“go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

His interest is not in making converts or intellectual adherents. His desire is that we each would take a personal interest in the life of another and show them how to live a life worthy of, and pleasing to, Christ.

This is on my mind because of a particularly good illustration today. All of our garden potatoes and tomatoes were suddenly hit with blight. My husband decided to run to town and get some spray to try to save them, but while he was gone he needed the older children to cut off the blight-affected leaves. He gave them brief instructions and showed them a few pictures on the Internet of what they should be looking for. Then, he got in the car and left.

Since he was in town he did some other shopping that needed to be done, so it was a while before he returned. He expected to see most of the lower leaves removed (as that was where the damage was localized). Instead, however, he discovered that the children had only attended to six plants–but those six plants were severely cropped, to the point that they will likely not survive. The children had cut off not only the blight but also many (if not most) of the healthy leaves and even some branches. They had worked diligently, believing that they were doing the right thing, but they had probably done more harm than good.

So what’s the lesson? It would have been better for my husband to do what he usually does: go into the garden with them and show them the areas they needed to pay attention to. Work with them for a while, see how they performed with some supervision and encouragement, then release them to work independently. Unfortunately, he was in a bit of a rush and thought that an “informational exchange” would be sufficient. In this case, it wasn’t.

My oldest son was the one who brought the discipleship analogy to my attention. When he came in after his Dad had gotten home and surveyed the disappointing damage, he commented, “Well, this is a good example of what discipleship means. Dad should have probably showed us what to do more so that we wouldn’t have messed up. I think it’s the same as making disciples for Jesus. We can’t expect people to learn just by telling them things.”

We can’t expect people to learn just by telling them things. And that is what Christian discipleship is all about.

A Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

One night about a week ago, Marc and the older boys were out for men’s Bible study, so I was sat down for evening devotions with the younger children. I had just been practicing sewing with the girls, so I thought it would be a good time to read and discuss the story of Jesus and the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30:

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
18“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

We focused on Jesus’ statement, ” it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” because we had just been sewing and I thought it was a good object lesson. I asked, “How easy was it for you to put a small piece of thread through the eye of the needle?” (Not easy–they still needed some help from me!) So I asked, “How easy do you think it would be for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle?” (They simply laughed at this idea.)

Going deeper, I asked, “What do you think it means to be rich?” And my five year-old very quickly replied, “It means to have a lot of stuff!” After another few seconds of thought, she waved her arms emphatically to show all that was in the living room and said, “You know…like US!”

Now, I don’t consider us rich. At all. We are nine people in a 1400 square foot house, and we intentionally sold many of our possessions last year when we moved into this home, pretty much in obedience to Jesus’ teachings here. I know we still have a ways to go…and, I know that we are filthy rich compared to people in other parts of the world. So it was a little convicting for my five year-old to say that she still considers us rich. As we continued to talk about Jesus’ words, we were challenged by the thought that our accumulating material possessions could keep us from entering the Kingdom of heaven.

It’s easy to justify accumulation and materialism by saying, “It’s not what we possess, it’s our heart that counts.” Or, “it’s OK to have things, as long as you’re not attached to them.” But what happens if we take Jesus’ words at face value?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)

New Year’s Resolutions

Do your New Year’s resolutions only last ’till February? Yeah, mine, too. That’s why I usually don’t make them. This year, however, I’m going to cooperate with God in setting some goals and I do believe that the Holy Spirit will help me to make progress…and hopefully well past February. So here goes:

  • Complain Less. When those “big things” happen, like the washing machine pouring water all over the basement floor or a child falling out of the bunk bed and breaking her leg, usually there’s no time for complaining. And anyway, I typically can surrender those things to God because of course they happen in His Providence and for my good (Romans 8:28). However, it’s the “little things” that get me, and which I am prone to complain about. You know, like getting the wrong kind of juice for the coupon you planned on using and not wanting to go back and get it because the toddler is laying on the floor in the middle of the checkout line begging for water and the other children are starting to get glazed over looks based on how long you’ve already been in the store, and you just can’t believe they wouldn’t volunteer to send someone to get it for you.

    Ahem. Of course these are all just hypothetical situations. I do resolve (by the power of the Holy Spirit) to complain less this year, especially about those little things. “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16).

  • I also want to focus more on Scripture memory this year, for myself and for the children. We are supposed to wear “the belt of truth” and, in fact, our only defensive weapon against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (see Ephesians 6). I believe that the time is coming that we will all need to be equipped to stand firm in the Truth, and Scripture memory may well be our anchor. Regardless, it is also important for our own personal spiritual growth.
  • I want to carve out more time in my schedule/routine for personal reading, Bible study and prayer. I tend to get too busy and I do crave to spend more time with the Lord growing in my relationship with Him. Sometimes my quiet times are more for the sake of “doing” them than for the purpose of “being” with the Lord, and my attitude about that is changing. I’m realizing that I need to be more flexible about some things so that I can prioritize time with God. I also want to encourage the children to do this.

What are your resolutions this year? Judging from our recent sales of Values-Driven Discipleship: Biblical Instruction and Character Training Manual, I would guess that many of you are hoping to get back on track in the discipleship of your children, making the Word of God a more constant presence in your training, encouragement, and correction.

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Have a blessed New Year as you grow in the Lord!