I Just Want to Be An Authentic Disciple (Mar-Apr 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Lynn Anderson
March – April, 2002

One evening Carolyn and I flipped on CNN and found Larry King interviewing First Lady Laura Bush. First, King lobbed her an open-ended question about how the first family has coped with the monumental stresses since 9-11. Mrs. Bush calmly replied, “We have a strong faith, you know.” King’s body language shifted and his voice gathered intensity, “But how does all this carnage and hopelessness affect your faith?”

How indeed? I really needed to hear her answer.

A few days earlier New York Times weekend magazine had carried a story from Afghanistan. Writer, Mike Finkel chronicled his friendship with Naji, a Taliban soldier who had gone AWOL and fled north. Naji was sick of war, and deeply disillusioned with the Taliban. But his only education was rote religious memorization. He had no job skills beyond fighting. “And,” Naji explained, “all of my friends face the same blank wall. No war, no way to make a living.” Multiply Naji’s plight by the millions of young men in Afghanistan. Multiply that number again by the number of countries in the Middle East and Africa. Now tell me, where is the hope for world peace?

Many reputable globe-watchers see our world steadily polarizing into two major camps. Grossly oversimplified they are: a Muslim world bent on religious dictatorships and global conquest versus a “Christian” world, defending pluralism and democracy. Of course, this is less and less an East-West polarization. Radical fringe Muslims and radical fringe Christians are now sprinkled throughout both hemispheres. But as the future grows progressively more ominous, again we ask: Where is the hope?

Ah, do I hear a voice insisting, “It’s Jesus! Jesus is the only hope of the world.” Oh, is he indeed? And where is the hard evidence of this? We pray, “Thy will be done on earth even as it is in heaven.” But where is this happening?

Despair challenges our faith on the home front as well. One example: recently a disturbing television documentary tested the notion that “the greater the Christian presence then, the greater the benefit to the society at large.” The host defined Dallas, Texas as “the most Christian city in the world” (highest percentage church attendance). But when he put Dallas under scrutiny on crime, justice, health care, infant mortality, educational quality, jobs, racial and economic equity, and the like, ‘Big D’ rated toward the bottom of the heap. As one viewer observed, “By the time the host finished, no one would want to live in the “most Christianized” city in America.”

Then the other shoe fell when the host interviewed a number of Dallas’ most respected Christian leaders. After walking all the ministers through his grim findings, he asked each one, “What is your response?” Astoundingly, they all answered basically alike, “This is not my concern, I am a spiritual leader.” One person who watched the documentary observed, “My world began to crumble…for years I have taught that it only takes 20 percent of a society to influence the other 80 percent in a given direction…but Dallas has far more than 20 percent professing Christians. I reeled over the implications?”

Tell me again that Jesus is the only hope of the world?

Well, OK. I will. Let me take you by both hands, look you in the eye, and with a straight face say, “Oh, yes, I assert again that Jesus is, indeed, the only hope of the world.” The impotence of the modern church in the face of personal, national and global chaos is not, as G.K. Chesterton said, that “Christianity has been tried and found wanting.” But that “it has been found difficult and not tried at all.” For decades much of Christendom has not taken itself seriously as a viable character changer—much less as a world-changing force. Dallas Willard, in his now classic book Spirit of the Disciplines, says most denominations “do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned discipleship clearly is optional.” For several decades Liberals have tended to focus on social action to the neglect of life-change. And Evangelical Fundamentalists have tended to focus on forgiveness of sins and religious experience to the neglect of serious discipleship. So, from both the left and the right, many churches have tended to settle for “membership without discipleship.” Yet, the New Testament calls Christ-followers disciples 269 times, but calls us Christian only three times. Some of us church leaders do not even expect ourselves to change significantly, much less teach our flocks the skills to access life-changing power. Small wonder the church has affected little change and generated little hope in the world!!

The hope of the world, however, does not lie with ‘Christendom’ but with Jesus Christ! And when the real Jesus stands up—hope springs to its feet as well. Jesus has changed the world before. And will again. But he will work through people from all denominations who “just want to be authentic disciples.” People who actually take up the disciplines that Jesus practiced, through which he tapped heaven’s life-changing power.

“Disciplines” triggers caution, on the one hand, because the malpractice and distortion of Jesus’ disciplines has often thrown believers into legalism, guilt and bondage. Remember, our “living hope” is secure, “kept in heaven” and “shielded by God’s power.” It “fills us with joy” as we receive “the goal of our faith” which is “the salvation of our souls” (I Peter 1:3-9).

There is also caution, on the other hand, because “salvation” is not merely forgiveness of sin and assurance of heaven. We do not merely “have souls” we “are souls.” And salvation is not merely “getting our skinny little back-sides through the pearly gates.” Of course salvation includes forgiveness and heaven–but Jesus has already secured that part. Rather the “goal of our faith” of which Peter speaks is the whole life of the whole person—redeemed!

Persons can and do change! And changed persons can and have changed the world. But this usually happens soul upon soul, like a forest fire spreads from one flaming incendiary tree to the next–till the mountains are ablaze. The world changes block by block. Precinct by precinct. City by city. Nation by nation. And the most strategic place to kindle the fire is with the Shepherds (Christian leaders)–who shape the lives of the flocks (rank and file church folk) by authentically following in the steps of Jesus!

First: I must expect my life to change–and keep changing. If I am no further along today than I was this time last year, something is deeply awry! Jesus grew “in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and man.” And if His followers steadily “behold his glory” we too will be “changed from one degree of glory to another into his likeness.”

Second: I must learn from Jesus how to tap in on life-changing power: disciplines like prayer, fasting, study, solitude, worship, service, and simplicity for starters. “But,” you protest, “look at my schedule. I find no time for these antiquated notions.” Question: “Do you really have something to do with your time that is more important than what Jesus did – and said we should do?”

Third: I must train and empower others who can, in turn, train and empower still others to tap life-changing power sources, through these avenues we have learned from Jesus. This way of “making disciples” is at the heart of the Great commission—first modeled—then commanded by Jesus.

Ah, but I feel hope rising as a generation of Christian leaders emerge across the Christian world who will not settle for ‘optional discipleship’ nor fear the disciplines that open their lives to kingdom power. And hope rises as I hear a mighty chorus of authentic disciples resolutely singing, “Let us be the generation of reconciliation and peace.” My hopes rise as I see a growing army of leaders marching to the drum of a Jesus who loves us right where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there. An army whose mission is to tap the life-changing power of heaven, and passionately help others do the same—till hope spreads world-wide.” Yes, an army! Yet, indeed it may not take a whole army to change the world. One person strategically planted and God-anointed can bring hope back to millions. Just one ordinary person like you or me!

One September morning, Todd Beamer kissed his wife and headed off to work, boarding United Airlines flight 93. Minutes before the plane exploded in a Pennsylvania field, Beamer called GTE Customer Center alerting Supervisor Lisa Jefferson that passengers were planning to jump the hijackers—then asked her to pray with him. After reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Beamer and a few other passengers huddled in the rear of the aircraft and prayed those words that have comforted millions during disaster down through the centuries, “The Lord is my shepherd…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Then Beamer spoke his famous last words: “Are you guys ready? Jesus, help me, Let’s roll.”

The cockpit voice recorder captured Beamer’s words. But as Flight 93 hurtled towards destruction, Todd Beamer could not have known millions would ultimately listen in on this tiny prayer huddle—and that his faith and courage would help bolster faith and courage worldwide. Oh yes! One disciple of authentic faith still can impact a world. Will you make yourself available to be that one? A year from today will you be distinguishably different from what you are right now? Will the world?

Back to Larry King: when he asked Laura Bush how fallout from 9-11 had damaged her faith, the first lady replied, “Not at all. In fact our faith has only grown stronger.” Her next words hit a sweet spot in my soul. “On our Christmas card this year, my husband and I printed words from the 27th Psalm, ‘I am still confident of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’” Hope! Goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Still confident!

Me too, Mrs. Bush. Me too!New Wineskins

Lynn Anderson

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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