>Discipleship…Is A Journey of "We."

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“Jesus-shaped spirituality hears Jesus say “believe and repent,” but the call that resonates most closely in the heart of a disciple is “follow me.” The command to follow requires that we take a daily journey in the company of other students. It demands that we be lifelong learners and that we commit to constant growth in spiritual maturity. Discipleship is a call to me, but it is a journey of “we.”

— Michael Spencer (Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality)

>When Benchmarks Become the Goal — A Pedometer Parable

>PedometerImage via WikipediaYesterday I got up dutifully with my son to make sure he got to the bus at 6:10 AM.  Then I was on my way to the gym to work out…something I’ve been trying to do for a few weeks now to lose weight (because I need to) and get healthy (because it’s a good thing).  I can’t say I’m always ready and willing at that hour, but I was good to go yesterday and I was looking forward to some time on the elliptical trainer and some weight lifting.

An added driving force is this new pedometer I have through “Virgin HealthMiles.”  It’s something through our insurance company where there’s cash and other bonuses for folks who are taking their daily steps, with challenges against other clergy in other areas and personal challenges.  And, let’s face it…it’s a good thing.  Getting clergy active, considering our generally poor health record, has got to help.  Last time I tried to set up one of the pedometer accounts it wasn’t compatible with Mac Computers, so I didn’t sign up.  That’s changed now and I’m counting my steps…and trying to get 7499 steps per day (I don’t know where the number comes from.  But it’s a goal.

Yesterday after my son was on the bus I made my way to the hotel, slid across the ice in the parking lot (since I had forgotten my grippers in an act of poor planning), and made my way to the hotel.  As I got to the door my heart sunk because I realized I had forgotten my pedometer at home.  But…but…but…I was going to miss all of those steps on the elliptical trainer!  I was going to miss all of those steps on the long walk to the health center in the hotel!  I was going to have trouble meeting my pedometer goal for the day!  Literally, my heart sunk.  I could feel it.  And I actually questioned, for a brief moment, IF IT WAS WORTH GOING THROUGH WITH IT AT ALL!

What a silly thought.  Even after just a short time with the pedometer in my life, keeping track of the benchmark of the number of steps taken through the day I had, for a moment, mistaken the benchmark for the goal.  I had placed my recording of steps in front of the ultimate goal of getting healthy.  I had forgotten to keep the main thing the main thing. 

Benchmarks are important.  They are measureables.  I think keeping track of steps is a good indicator of health.  But there are other ways to get healthy and this is just one of the factors. 

I think benchmark testing in schools is a good thing.  It gives an indication of how education is going across a large spectrum.  But it’s possible to come to the realization that some teachers end up teaching to meet the benchmarks and not to educate the children.

And benchmarks are important in church life, too.  What is membership like?  Is it going up or down?  What percentage of a church’s budget is going to missions?  How many persons were baptized last year?

But sometimes clergy and churches try to protect their benchmarks to the detriment of ministry.  Many a pastor has kept long-gone members on their membership rolls to pad their membership numbers.  And I was told about a pastor of mine who, when counting attendance on a Sunday, used to add about 10% for all the people he believed were in fellowship hall getting coffee.

As our church deals with some financial realities about being in our new space, we have some benchmarks of our own.  They’re dollar figures.  And I confess that, with them looming over our heads, it can be tempting to think of ministry as “HOW CAN WE MAXIMIZE OUR INCOME” and not “HOW CAN WE MAKE MORE DISCIPLES FOR JESUS CHRIST IN THE WORLD.” 

For instance, yesterday at a clergy gathering, it was mentioned how Girdwood Chapel has taken one or two Sundays “off” each year to engage in service projects in our community.  It’s a way to be reminded of our community and also, through service, to be reminded of how Christ has served us.  And we’ve done so willingly, with lots of participation.  However, it has meant a hit to our finances…no offering collected.  One of the other clergy asked if we were doing it this year and I said that it will be a challenge because of what our finances look like.

In other words, our need to show an increase in income was getting in the way of faithful ministry.  Our benchmark may be getting in the way of the goal.  We might be forgetting to keep the main thing the main thing.

That said, I’m gonna keep my odometer on me today.  Sure, I want to be healthy.  But I also don’t want to lose any “steps” along the way.

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>Importance of Community — Trying to Build a Toaster

>The foundation's logo.Image via WikipediaI was reading over at Kruse Kronicle yesterday about a TED talk by Thomas Thwaites…a nice British-sounding name for, apparently, a nice British guy.   Here’s a guy who looked at the world around him and, in a great moment of reflection, wondered how all of it came to be.

In particular, he looked at a toaster and pondered all the many pieces that have to come together to make that toaster that sits on your (or my) kitchen counter.  Think, for instance of all the parts and pieces.  Think of the molds that need to be made, the materials mixed, the wires pulled and tested, the coils.  Think of the regional and international trade that comes into play just to acquire the metals and plastics and everything.  I mean, really, this thing sitting on your kitchen counter is full of parts from all over the world that people had to make from some raw materials and fashion into this contraption that you can buy for $25 and pops up your Pop-Tart in the morning.  No more roasting it over an open fire to get at that Brown Sugar and Cinnamon goodness.

Here’s the video in full:

Here’s a shorter version if the 11 minutes seems too long:

But what I think is so great about this is what we can learn about community and discipleship.  As I think of the saints in my life, the great Christian disciples I have known, I have to realize that that completed body of work, their life, is the result of so many other persons and tasks and practices and influences over the years that have made them what they are.  For them to become the disciples they grew into being would be like one person trying to build a toaster…it really can’t be done.  And, even if it could be done, it would probably be a poor imitation of what true discipleship, true sainthood, looks like.

In short, we need community.  We need it for discipleship.  We need it as we go about the process of making disciples in this world of ours.

It takes a whole economy to build a toaster.

It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a community to make disciples.

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>"Jesus is Not A Self-Help Guru"

>Cincinnati - Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum...Image by David Paul Ohmer via FlickrThe following is a quote from Jeff Dunn over at Internet Monk.

Let me just say this straight out. If all you are interested in is becoming is a better person, then Jesus is not your best avenue to get there. You can find lots of self-help books—and in Christian bookstores without embarrassing references to Jesus to worry about—that deal with marriage, health, finances and life-issues you find yourself dealing with. They are piled high on tables leading into the temple. As a matter of fact, you can buy them in many temples every Sunday, credit cards accepted.

Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck. Sign up for all the seminars, workshops and marriage improvement weekends that you can, because you’re going to need them.

The Gospel is this: We are dead in our sins. Jesus, too, is dead in our sins. But because he is very God of very God, death could not hold him. He conquered sin and death and rose again. And the only life we are now offered is the life he lives in us. Period. He wants us dead. He’ll do the rest.

How many churches are preaching that these days? How many signs do you see in front of churches inviting you to “Come and die with us”?

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>Discipleship in Small Groups — Quote

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Group prayerphoto © 2008 The Sharpteam | more info (via: Wylio)

The longer I walk the spiritual journey, the more I realize that–while every square inch of our lives is potential ground for the movement of God–profound change and growth most often happen in the context of relationships with others. 

I’ll even go a step further: I’ve come to believe that if you’re seeking a sustained experience of God–not just a flash of insight or inspiration (though those are certainly nice things)–the best place to look is a small group that meets regularly. Worship can be powerful. Your own prayer life can be committed. But there is absolutely nothing like meeting with people who dare to share their lives over a longer duration of time.  There’s just something about being real with others, slowly lowering defenses and letting yourself be known and liked, and learning to trust others with your stuff that clears the way for us to experience God. It’s pretty amazing. Spiritual experiences can’t be guaranteed anywhere, but my money is on small groups.
This is a quote from Trey Hall of Urban Village Church

(HT to my two colleagues, Jenny Smith and Jon Disburg).

>Discipline — From Henri Nouwen

>Nave of Salisbury Cathedral, with Sibirica Min...Image via Wikipedia“The word discipleship and the word discipline are the same word-that has always fascinated me. Once you have made the choice to say, “Yes, I want to follow Jesus,” the question is, “What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?” If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life.

“By discipline, I do not mean control. If I know the discipline of psychology or of economics, I have a certain control over a body of knowledge. If I discipline my children, I want to have a little control over them.

“But in the spiritual life, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life; discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on…”

Nouwen, From Solitude to Community to Ministry

(HT to NextReformation)

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