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Atlanta, 13 January 2016

For me the recent weeks have been a time of learning and producing. I aim to cut a channel between what I'm learning and anyone willing to read, listen, or converse. The teaching ministry is immensely rewarding, not just when people are learning, but especially when their lives are changing.

Just before Christmas I finished Answering Skeptics. Your positive feedback persuaded me to shape the evidences series in the newsletter last year into a book. This volume came together over a period of 10 months. It was quite a different situation with the second book, which was written entirely in December. (The final edits were made today.) It's called Campus Core: How to have an impact on your campus, get good grades, and figure out your future.  Both books should be out in the spring.

The third and final project has demanded a lot of creative energy, though different than writing a book. It's the podcast series advertised in recent newsletters, A Disciplined Life in 2016.  Since June 2015 I've been thinking about a suitable series to create to kick off 2016 -- and re-reading Proverbs twice a week. This got me inspired for the 31 devotional lessons of January 2016.

To so many of you, thanks for expressing your appreciation, and for allowing me to play a small role in your life as you strive to live a smarter, more disciplined, and more effective life for Him.
Discipleship, part 2
Last week we discussed the meaning of disciple. Although the Bible has a lot to say about this, the basic idea is simple: Disciple = student.

There are many right ways to explain discipleship (including various evangelistic personal Bible studies). Today I want to offer a simple study you can do with a friend. What's nice about this study is that it's all from the same book of the Bible. Jesus is doing the talking, and all three passages tell us explicitly what it means to be a disciple. No interpretive leaps necessary, and the whole study can be done in 15 or 20 minutes. Note: additional verses referred to are for your benefit; they aren't part of the study,

  • Explain that you don't want your friend to take your word for what it means to follow Christ. Mention that in John's gospel there are exactly three places where Jesus declares explicitly what it means to follow him -- using the word "disciple." Other passages make similar points (12:23-26, for example), but only in three places does Jesus lay it out with the phraseology of discipleship.
  • You may also want to ask how the word "disciple" feels: serious? Something for priests and monks and missionaries? Why do many so-called Christians shy away from the language of discipleship?
  • Note: this is the most common word used of Christians in the book of Acts, though it doesn't appear again in the remaining books of the N.T. There are multiple terms denoting a Christian, each with its own emphasis. Different studies might explore what it means to be a brother, saint, and so on.
  • Explain that "disciple" means student [as we discussed in Discipleship part 1 last week].
John 8:31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
  • After reading this passage, explain that Jesus is speaking to people with some degree of faith.
  • Mental assent isn't enough; we must hold to his teaching (literally, remain in his word). As students (disciples) of Christ, we have something to study (the word) -- really, someone to study (Christ).
  • In directing us to his teaching, Jesus emphasizes the importance of Scripture, as well as the urgency of obedience. The common idea that Jesus obeyed in our place is false; the Lord requires obedience from anyone who would follow him.
  • If you have time, you might want to continue reading on to v.34, where Jesus clarifies that freedom (v.32) is freedom from sin. Or maybe go to v.37, which gives the reason for resisting this truth: hearts without room for Jesus' word. The crowd rejected this teaching, even scheming to stone Jesus (v.59) -- all because he challenged them to obey the word!
  • Ask, "Has this been your attitude towards God's word?" or maybe "Have you been set free?" If the answer is no, gently show that there's a reason: disobedience to the word of God. Faith without obedience does not save (Acts 5:32; Rom 1:5; 16:26).
John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
  • The second time in John that Jesus explicitly explains what discipleship is about, he centers on relationships.
  • It isn't enough to love others; the Lord challenge us to love as he loved us. In the gospels we see how this plays out, and in the Cross we realize how far true love will go (1 John 3:16).
  • It is in the community of faith (brothers and sisters) that we are able to experience and demonstrate this sort of love. Indicators of this sort of love include dissolving of ethnic and economic barriers; forgiveness of those who've wronged us; involvement in one another's lives; welcoming personal questions; confession of sin; etc.
  • The world is meant to notice when we're following Christ. Our faith may be personal (of course it is!), but it is hardly "private."
  • Ask, "When have you been involved in a faith community like this -- where everyone loves and expects the best of each other?" Explain that commitment to the body of Christ is the key to such extraordinary relationships.
John 15:8
"This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be [literally, becoming] my disciples."
  • In addition to holding to Christ's teaching and loving one another, we are called to bear fruit. That is, he expects us to be productive. Actually, he wants us to be very productive (much fruit).
  • In the Bible we find there are at least nine different types of fruit, and we must resist the temptation to limit "fruit" to a single type. When we work together as God's people, a broad harvest of fruit is borne: the fruit of the Spirit, souls won to Christ, genuine worship, and more. (Note: In the light of 12:24, evangelism is a valid application of the passage, just not the only application.)
  • Ask, "Have you been bearing fruit for the Lord?" 
  • Ask, "When did you become a disciple of Christ?" It would be difficult to obey the scriptures, be deeply involved in spiritual relationships, and bear much fruit without being a genuine disciple.
  • If the concepts in this study are new to your friend, it's pretty certain he or she has never made the decision to be a disciple of Jesus.
  • Note: Expecting someone to live the same life as a mature disciple, let alone to expect this maturity before he/she even has the Holy Spirit, is hardly reasonable. And yet the initial decision to follow and learn must be made. It's a prerequisite to salvation, in that this is part of repentance.
  • Ask, "Do you want to be a disciple?" Explain, "If you do, Jesus has some expectations. Why don't you go home and think over these great passages. We can talk more tomorrow / after church / next week (etc)."
Next week
We will focus on a little-known word in the N.T. which will be of special interest to sisters in Christ. This short word study will conclude the Discipleship series. In the meantime, how about sharing the new discipleship study with someone you know? 

North River

Our local fellowship is the North River Church of Christ. Beginning in 2005 with a cluster of 60 families and 30 others, North River has grown to over 1100, and the leadership team is busy preparing for a regular attendance of 2000 sometime in 2018. It's a highly diverse congregation, too. Besides evangelism in the Southeast, the church is involved in evangelizing parts of Latin America, Europe, and Africa -- as well as hosting the AIM / Atlanta School of Missions. In such a dynamic fellowship, there are always multiple needs. We covet your prayers.

Yours in Him,
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