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Archive for November, 2012

The Making of  a Disciple: Accepting the Challenge

Regarding Discipleship …

Where I am - there my disciple will be also ...

Where I am – there my disciple will be also …

Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12:24-26)

Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Gal 2:19-20)

And …  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

 And… “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom. 13:11-14))

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

Coming into a True Discipleship Relationship with Jesus can only come by dying to one’s self-life so that the Christ-life that us in us through conversion and baptism can work through us to bring Forth the Father’s Kingdom in this world. The yielding of our very selves to Him as an act of Love enables us, who are nothing, to be His partners in bringing forth His eternal reign of Love, both in what remains of our life here on earth, and in the next life with Him in eternity.

This post is a sequel to my previous overview on discipleship.  In that discussion I gave an overview to the overall topic of what I believe Jesus meant by the term, “disciple” and what it should mean to us, in whom the Lord has placed a calling to be His disciples. I also made it clear that being a baptized believer does not automatically make you a “disciple”.

While every believer is called to be a disciple, not every believer responds to the call to discipleship. A call to discipleship is a call to yield ourselves to the Spirit of Jesus that is in us so that He can bring forth the Kingdom of God through us! It is a call to place our “old man” on the cross with Jesus and “put on the New Man” (Rom.12:14), the life of the resurrected Jesus, so that He may continue His ministry (service) to humanity directly through us – for the Glory of the Father and In His Name, NOT ours!

The Way of True Discipleship

Those of us, “wannabe” (want to be) disciples, who deep in our hearts, want to respond to the call – are faced with a life-changing challenge – in order for His Life to be manifested through our lives, we must willingly empty ourselves out so that the Holy Spirit may activate His Life in us.

The process of emptying of ourselves is the daily cross we are asked to bear. This is the process by which we die to “self”, that is, to living a self-centered life.! The Way of the Cross is the Way of Discipleship.

Right now, most of us who are sincerely trying to be disciples, are doing it out of our own fleshly zeal – attempting to emulate Christ in our lives. While, our intentions are to be admired, the manner with which we are carrying it out leaves something to be desired. You see, while attempting to imitate Christ with our own internal drive and ambition, we are actually frustrating the work of GRACE the Holy Spirit wishes to work in us and through us!  You cannot have Grace and Works operating at the same time. One excludes the other! You MUST deny your “self” for Grace to be operative!

Let us very clearly understand this: WE CANNOT IMITATE CHRIST! What we are being called to do is, out of “agape” Love, permit the very Life and Spirit of Christ to express itself in us and through us! The only manner that the Spirit Of Christ can be activated and manifest through us is if we willingly accede to Him and lovingly empty ourselves of all our personal ambitions (even though they be religiously motivated) so that His Spirit which is already in us through conversion and Baptism, may use us as earthen vessels to bring His Presence and His Gifts through us. But in order for our earthen vessel to be used by God we must first empty it of our self-willed motivations.  It is just as John the Baptist said:  “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30)! The Holy Spirit can only use us to the degree that we empty our will of our own desires and ambitions. The process of emptying our earthen vessels takes time but it is the process the Spirit uses to conform us to Jesus (Rom.8:29).

This process by which the Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ is a transformation that involves the renewal of our minds. Our minds (and souls) must be cleared of all of our self-centered motivations and reactions to a God-centered and God-directed approach to living to the point where we no longer have to ask: “what would Jesus do” because our “new self” is, in fact, Jesus – for “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16).

The Father does not want us to be merely imitators of His Son, His desire is that the unique Life of His Only Begotten Son be manifested in us and through us so that the HOLY SEED that was planted at Calvary (Jn 12:24) may multiply and bring forth His Kingdom in this world. We are called, not to be imitators, but rather REAL EXPRESSIONS of the one and only living Christ in every part of the life of this world! This is how His Kingdom will come!

This is a hard concept for Modern Christians to accept, because it involves yielding control of our lives to God – yet this is the fundamental principle behind true discipleship.

At this point, in order to refresh yourselves as to Jesus’ teaching on the phases or steps in approaching discipleship I would recommend you review my articles on the Beatitudes, as this teaching by Jesus summarizes not only the process of transformation but the basic personal cost to those who would follow Jesus as His disciples. The following are links to those articles:

Reflections on the Beatitudes  (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), and (Part 4)

Assessing the Cost

Now comes the even harder part – assessing the cost to you personally.

Francis accepts his call to dsicipleship

Aside from St. Paul, one of the most astounding stories of how the Holy Spirit working through the faith of one individual led him to not only assess the cost of discipleship but gave him the spiritual courage to accept the challenge and overcome the world and its attachments by giving himself totally to Jesus to the point where it was evident that many understood that Jesus Himself was living through this individual. I am, of course referring to St. Francis of Assisi who literally disrobed himself before the Bishop to emphasize the sincerity of his acceptance of the call to discipleship and his renunciation of the world ( cf., please read the biography of St. Francis in the Catholic Encyclopedia).

However, I do not want you to be discouraged if you feel overwhelmed by Francis’ story. In fact, the less worthy you feel, the more qualified you are to entering into such a commitment – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3) . The Kingdom of Heaven, being the metaphor Jesus uses to describe His ministry here on earth and the discipleship for those who were called to operate under His Ministry. It is a truth that Francis understood and for which he gave up everything in order to enter in! It was a truth that Jesus offered to Nicodemus but who did not enter in because of His attachments to his position in the Jewish Sanhedrin.

In order that your decision be made lovingly and freely in Love, you need to understand that your salvation is NOT contingent on your decision. – The Free Gift of Salvation is solely based on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross while we were yet sinners (Rom.5:8) and not on any works or decisions of service that might be attributed to us, so that no man may boast (Eph 2:8-9). All that is needed to receive the gift of salvation is to repent and believe that Jesus, the Only Begotten Son, of the Father, freely and willingly gave His life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice not only for your sins but for the sins of the whole world.

The decision to enter into a discipleship relationship with Jesus is separate from your repentance upon accepting Jesus as your savior. It is basically your acceptance of giving yourself to Him to act as a stand-in for Him in this world, as your response to His loving sacrifice. The gift of yourself must be based solely on a deep desire to give yourself totally to God for the Love the Father demonstrated towards you in giving His Only Son as an offering for your sins.

To be a disciple you must make a choice ...

To be a disciple you must make a choice

In making this free decision you must be totally aware of the cost of your decision and your assessment, in faith, as to whether you can keep it (cf., Luke 14:28). You must determine, in Faith, whether the strength of God’s call on you is stronger than your attachments to the world, the flesh and the devil. You must determine whether you are willing to place Jesus and the Father’s will above your own and above your personal attachments to all interests in your life – including, family, relationships, job, hobbies, intellectual interests, and so on..

At the same time, don’t assume that the Lord, necessarily, wants to separate you from what you consider the primary, and moral, aspects of your life – He may, in fact, want to use you in exactly those things and circumstances which form the ambience of your life. He just wants you to surrender what you believe is your right to them – mainly your over-dependence and attachment to them. He wants you solely depend on HIM! He needs this yielding from you as evidence of your Love for HIM and so that, in whatever situation in Life, He has your total obedience and are completely receptive and free to do His Will in anything He asks. Anything that has a hold on your life beside God is in competition with God and you cannot other gods before HIM and still be faithful to your commitment.

Other fundamental teachings on the cost of Discipleship may be found in the following links:

Walking the Walk, Enter In by The Narrow Gate, The Cost of Discipleship, Yielding to the Kingdom Anointing.

Making the Commitment

I personally, recommend that you make your commitment in private, and not like St. Francis in the city square. There are exceptions, of course, but in general it is best not to call attention to ourselves or to how we intend to live for God. It is best to keep the deepest part of our spiritual development between our selves and God.

The minimal exceptions are those required by your state in life. For instance, before making this commitment, it is wise if you discuss your desire to make such a decision with your spouse, if you are married or, if not, with your parents. As the Lord has said,  “person’s greatest adversaries will be His Family and friends”. When you do so, and obtain their opinions, I guarantee that, like Francis, you will begin to understand the true “cost” of the decision you are proposing to make.

It is also important that you have a person close to you to partner with in making the decision – if married, your wife or husband would be the best choice. The reason for this is that we are all blind to our own mistakes and to the direction the Lord is guiding us. It is best to have someone close to us who can hold us accountable when we begin to deviate from our commitment. Note that when Jesus sent out “the Seventy” He sent them out two-by-two (Luke 10:1).  When we operate as a pair the Lord will work through both of us and permit us to check out our directives from Him with each other.

When you make a decision to enter into this “unofficial” type of discipleship, except for your similarly committed partners, keep your commitment between yourself and God. Do not look upon discipleship as a means of gaining favor or promoting yourself in the church, such motives go completely against the purity of heart you need to be a true disciple. You need to pray for a servant’s heart – heart that is ready to serve the Father in the most menial of daily tasks where you may get rejected and criticized rather than complemented and promoted. This self-denying type of Love is the kind of Love that is required to truly represent Jesus to the world (cf., 1 Cor.13 ff.).

When to make the Commitment

One of the best opportunities to make this commitment is when you receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in your church or parish.  Although your personal commitment to discipleship may be private, you may readily, and silently, incorporate your prayer of commitment at the time you attend a Life in the Spirit Seminar or Retreat, since all of the proceedings are very much oriented to entrance into a discipleship relationship, even though it may not be mentioned.

Jesus receives the Anointing

Jesus Baptized in the Spirit

One of the reasons for the appropriateness of this event to making your commitment is that “the Baptism in the Spirit” represents the time that Jesus Himself accepted His call to ministry in being baptized in water by John the Baptist and then receiving the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to carry out His Calling (John 1:32) !

Of course, if you feel reticent about receiving the Baptism in the Spirit, you should reconsider making a commitment at all. It is an indication that you have not yet surrendered your own self-consciousness and are not yet ready to give yourself totally to Jesus as His disciple.  If it is just an intellectual hang-up, that can be easily be cleared up by reading some of the following articles on the Sanctifying Gifts and the Empowerment Gifts as our legacy as disciples:

The Promise of the Father (Part 1) and (Part 2) ;

The Sanctifying Gifts (Part 1) and (Part 2) ;

The Empowerment Gifts (Part 1) and (Part 2) ;

Reclaiming Our Legacy In Christ

Building on the Rock

Living Out Our Commitment

Living as a true (yet hidden) disciple of Jesus begins right where we are in our lives at the time of our commitment.  Reflections on how one can carry out such a discipleship commitment in a marriage is given in the article: “Husbands Love Your Wives”. (My Postscript on Brother Lawrence and the Crucified Life [below] is another example)

You begin living for Christ as soon as you begin to live every event in your life “In His Name”, NOT in yours. In this way you acknowledge that He and He alone is working in you and through you in all that you do or say or think. Praised Be His Holy Name!

As for living out your commitment in the world I can personally attest that, If you have been sincere in your commitment to “enter into the Kingdom” and not as an ”ersatz disciple”, it will be difficult and, at times, even excruciating to the point of testing your faith. Remember Jesus’ exhortation to His Disciples …

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15: 18-21)

Yes, even if you are living your commitment as a “hidden” disciple just obeying the Lord in your current state of life, you will find all these things: rejection, criticism, hatred, envy, and so on. Take these things to be a confirmation that the Life of Christ is coming through to the world and the world will not accept you because they sense the Spirit of Christ in you – stand firm in your faith and love your enemies, forgiving them so that His Love will flow through all the more to them!

The Key to carrying out our service to the Lord is “the obedience of Love” – even in the smallest things. It is to pray, listen to His Voice, and heed the leadings of His Holy Spirit with joy and courage knowing that, as long as you persist in obedient faith, the Lord will bring forth fruit from your labors for His Glory, in whatever task you have been given, no matter how small or insignificant it may be.

In conclusion I leave you with St. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians:

“… if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory

“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  (Col. 3:1-17)

I pose the following Prayer of Commitment as something you might use to model your own prayer in your response to the “call” , of course, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

Prayer of Commitment:

Lord Jesus, I believe that you, the Son of the Living God came down from heaven to reveal the Father’s Love to me by suffering and dying for my sins. I believe that through your death and resurrection you have brought redemption and life not only to me but also all else who believe in you. I further believe that it is only through knowing you in a loving personal relationship of discipleship that I can know the Father.

    It is because I have a burning desire to know you and abide in you that I now yield myself completely to you and your love. I open the door to my heart so you can come in and sup with me and thus begin the special relationship with you for which you died and for which I hunger. At this moment I yield myself to your love. Enter in and activate my spirit with your Holy Spirit so that I can go beyond just mere intellectual belief in you to a personal spiritual knowledge of you and the Father.

    Lord, cleanse me from my sins and make me a fit vessel for your presence. Permeate my entire being with your life and your love so that I can truly be your instrument in this world. Be my Lord, Be My God, Be my King to rule and to reign in me. In faith and by your grace I receive you and I receive your word. Abide in me just as you abide in the Father and the Father in you! Thank you for giving yourself for me. Amen

(see also: Prayer to Receive the Holy Spirit)

My dear fellow pilgrims in Christ, in order to help you make a decision  I add a commentary regarding Dieterich Bonhoeffer,  pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis for his Christian faith and criticism of their racism:

“Dieterich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who died for his faith by opposing Nazism, contrasted cheap grace and costly grace: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves… the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate… Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

May the Lord shine His Face upon you and fill you with His Peace …

Bartimeaus

(© B.R.Timeo and Bartimaeus’ Quiet Place, [2008-2012])

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Postscript: A Note from the Crucified Life

Aside from Jesus Himself, there are many saintly souls in the church who we can model ourselves to in living a crucified life. To name a few: St, Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Therese of Lisieux (etc.), however, I, personally, have taken to a humble monk named Brother Lawrence, because  he exemplified to me how you can take any basic work or service for making a living, such as kitchen work, and  use that as your entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven by living out the Crucified Life within its limited constraints.

The Booklet about Brother Lawrence’s spirituality: “The Practice of the Presence of God” was compiled by Father Joseph de Beaufort, later vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris, after Brother Lawrence died. It became popular among Catholics and Protestants alike, with John Wesley and A.W. Tozer recommending it to others.

To find our more about Brother Lawrence’s biography see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_Lawrence

The Booklet may be obtained at the official “Presence of God” web site:

http://www.practicegodspresence.com/

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