Maybe this will be the first of a series of posts about Discipleship and what it is exactly. As if I have it figured out already (NOT!). I resonate more with men and women who are still asking questions and fumbling their way through it. But, at least we can commit together to talking it out, right? Talking it out is what a family does after all.
Discipleship is an on-going conversation. We are at our best when we are interacting with one another in humility and curiosity. So, I pray you and I can approach this subject with both. Christians have a reputation for receiving low marks for both. Are we humble in our sharing of opinions? Are we as a community showing our intense curiosity about the things of God? I’ll let you answer that.
I wanted to approach the question, “Where does discipleship begin?” This is a question to seriously consider as millions are intrigued by Jesus the person but aren’t interested in becoming a Christian, attending a church, going to a Bible study, or putting a fish emblem on their car. They don’t want to be a part of that culture. They want to know Jesus. They aren’t religious. They are just interested. I see young people denouncing their “faith” too which causes the community concern. They are done with the institution they have been raised in and don’t yet know where they will land. But, they still love Jesus.
When does a person become a disciple of Jesus? We could turn in three directions to answer this question. Two are subjective and one is sacred.
First, we turn inward and look at what is going on inside in terms of our spiritual stirrings. Where am I on the totem pole of discipleship? Am I disinterested, curious, intensely curious, or passionate? Am I dating Jesus or am I ready to marry him? Do I love him but keep going back to these gnawing questions and doubts that present themselves as hurdles to going further? Or, am I full-on, eye-level on board with Jesus to take on the world? We work these questions out on the personal level where no one else can see or hear. And, the process is messy and captivating at times.
We also can look outward at the lives of others we are hearing about or reading about. People of faith who aren’t perfect (or some who seem perfect) who have gotten our attention. We see the thread of discipleship weaving its way through their stories and we are drawn to them. We want that. We watch them rise and fall like meteors and wish we had the courage to be like them. Perhaps time with them could give us that courage.
Finally, probably the best direction to turn is toward the experience between Jesus and his disciples. We find this playing out in the four “Gospels” in the New Testament of the Bible. Matthew-Mark-Luke-John give us a window into the life of discipleship as Jesus became more familiar to these men from the Jewish community. It’s hard to go wrong when we go to the source. We can find there the purest form of discipleship and what it looked like.
This should be helpful, too, because we have complicated it. Is that any surprise? That humans could complicate something outrageously simple? That we of all creatures could talk ourselves off the ledge and into the pit? That we could take a single command and turn it into a book of laws? Yep, that’s us. So, let’s go to the source and see where discipleship begins.
In John 1:35-42, we see the life of discipleship begin for two men. They had already been helping John the Baptist as he was preaching and baptizing at the Jordan River. And, one day Jesus himself appeared. He was John’s cousin, and John had always known who Jesus really was. When he saw Jesus, he said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” No one knew what that meant exactly. But these two men who had been helping John began to “follow” Jesus as it says in verse 37.
“When the two disciples heard [John] say this, they followed Jesus.”
What did “followed” mean there? It looks pretty basic in comparison to what we see today. Here’s the thing. Jesus heard what John said about him being the Lamb of God and kept walking. He didn’t stand around with his hands on his hips, feet planted widely and a grin on his face. It’s a cool moment, actually. It’s an anticlimax to be honest. John makes this glorious announcement about Jesus and Jesus barely looks up. He turns around and starts walking up the hill. So, these two men take off after him. They start “following” Jesus.
It’s as basic as seeing Jesus up ahead and wanting to be with him. Running fast enough to catch up with him and then finding out where he’s going. Notice at this point they didn’t make any lifelong commitments. It wasn’t a perceived sacrifice at this level. It was curiosity.
If we look at following Jesus in this refreshing way then our eyes can be opened to a new vista of truth. That not only Christians can be disciples. Not only churchgoers can be disciples. Not only people of a particular denomination can be disciples. The community of Jesus followers is much larger than we could have originally imagined. And, it doesn’t look well put together. It doesn’t feel cozy like a church service. But, at least everyone is curious.
I think of the young Muslim man for example who has always had a deep regard for Jesus but grows up seeing him as a prophet. Then, one day, he finds a New Testament and starts to read. Inside the gospel records he finds a Jesus more dynamic than he has ever seen. Someone who performs miracles of healing, raising people from the dead, and even coming back to life himself after crucifixion. He sees Jesus professing to be God himself. After reading these words, the young man doesn’t know if he can commit to believing this but he is curious. This curiosity develops in intensity and he finds himself unable to put down these scriptures. This young Muslim man is a disciple.
He hasn’t committed yet to a Sinners Prayer as we have prescribed people do in the Western church. He hasn’t yet stepped into a church and perhaps he never will. He hasn’t started evangelizing on the streets or even among his friends. Yet he is a disciple. Why? Because he saw Jesus walking up ahead and chased him down. He wanted to know where Jesus was going, so he went along.
The same is true for anyone from any faith, any culture, and walk of life. Becoming a disciple doesn’t mean looking like Western Christians. It looks like them chasing Jesus down and following him.
Jesus asks them a leading question in verse 38, “What do you want?” And, I will leave you with this same question. It was a pragmatic question. Not heavy with spiritual implications in the moment. But, consider it yourself. Here’s the question for you if you find yourself in this camp of people who are chasing Jesus down. You’re not a particularly religious person and that’s ok. You don’t see yourself attending a church and that is ok. You may not become a Christian and that is ok. But, what do you want from Jesus? Do you want to merely date him for the rest of your life, or do you want more? Do you want to stay on the merely interested level or attach yourself to him for all of eternity? Can’t honestly see that far yet? Ok. But consider the question. What do I want from him?
That is my friend is the journey of discipleship. Daily answering the question of whether you want to catch up with Jesus and follow him. Deciding whether you want to go with him. Letting your curiosity remain open to become something more.
I bring up this topic because this is what he Williams family will be doing in Italy. Not planting a flag, but planting a seed. Being willing servants of Jesus who hopefully can spark curiosity in those who don’t yet know him. Showing them what a disciple is. Chasing Jesus alongside them.