By AmbStew | Tuesday, February 7, 2017 | 11:01 AM
Holy Spirit let these words be your words and let them fall where they most need to be heard. Amen.
Who is Your Lord?
Discipline is not a very popular word. We may associate it with memories of our childhood and the consequences our parents chose for our misbehavior. Or we may think of it negatively in terms of exercise or diet, being forced to jog daily or eat more kale in order to stay healthy and fit. Even though discipline is also associated with spirituality and our Christian walks, I doubt we would grow First Presbyterian Church if we hung a banner proclaiming “FPC: Discipline Practiced Here.” Yet both disciple and discipleship have that same root word, discipline, which simply means an orderly conduct or pattern of behavior.
Several years ago, I stumbled across a challenging book called The Disciple Making Church: From Dry Bones to Spiritual Vitality, written by a Presbyterian minister from Indiana named Glenn McDonald. What made the book challenging was not a deep theology or progressive suggestions or even eloquent writing, none of which this book has. What made it challenging was, and is, how true its content is, how basic it is, and how scriptural it is. McDonald does not write about what he thinks disciples should be; instead, he writes about what Jesus Christ calls disciples to be.
Part of the book’s impact lies in the definition of what McDonald calls “ABC Churches.” We all know an ABC church, a church that focuses inordinately on A: Attendance; B: Its building; and C: Cash, items to which Jesus does not refer when speaking about being his follower. Obviously, for a church to function it needs people showing up, a place to gather, and money to operate, but when the congregation gauges its influence by its ABC’s, it risks losing its identity, its spiritual vitality, and its purpose.
To whom does the church belong? The Lord. What does the Lord want us, disciples, to be doing with his church? Growing in relationship with him and with others. McDonald contends there are six disciple-making relationships, six patterns of behavior, that congregations and individual members need to attend to, and I will be preaching about these six relationships over the next six weeks.
The word disciple comes from the Latin word which means “student.” It has the same root as the word “discipline” which comes from the Latin word for “teaching.” Student and teacher, teacher and student, are the necessary components of discipleship.
Be forewarned, though. Preaching discipleship is tricky because Jesus uses some tough words, unpopular words, words we wish, perhaps, he had not. As a minister friend once told me, “God doesn’t just comfort the afflicted. He also afflicts the comfortable” which is what talking about discipleship tends to do. If we really understand what our calling is, to be disciples, and the reason for that calling, to grow God’s kingdom, then we have to take an honest look at ourselves and at our relationships.
So let’s begin. The first relationship question that McDonald asks us is, very pointedly, “Who is Your Lord?” based on these verses from the Old and New Testaments:
"I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
There are no minced words in these verses from Exodus and Matthew. Discipleship clearly begins with this crucial question: “Who is your Lord?” In other words, who do you and I allow to set the agenda for each day of our lives? Who establishes our pattern of behavior?
McDonald suggests that the answer lies in our desire for possessions, pleasure, and power. We like nice things—buy this car and impress your neighbors. We like looking good—wear these clothes and people will notice. We like making good—earn this degree or make this promotion and climb the cooperate ladder. What we own, enjoy, and command are not wrong in themselves, unless we make them our gods, those idols that God warns us about in Exodus, and that Jesus warns us about when he states that wherever our treasure is, there our hearts will be found (Matt.6:21). What we own or accomplish or hold tightly to cannot give us true life. We cannot take the car, we cannot take the designer clothes, we cannot take the fat-free bodies with us when we die, and yet we are prone to exercise more self-discipline in gaining those things than in building our relationship with God. Think about what is on your calendar. Think about what is in your checkbook. Then ask yourself, “Who is my Lord?”
Discipleship also requires that our words match our behavior. Knowing the correct password, "Lord, Lord," will not guarantee our entrance into his presence. Students do what the teacher asks. Listen again to what Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Tough words. Not mine, not McDonald’s, but the words of our Teacher.
Jesus is blunt about hypocrites and lukewarm followers. His words wake us up from our complacent assumption that all we have to do to call ourselves disciples is to take a little bit of Jesus on the side. We have gotten comfortable with what the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace," the expectation that if we mouth the word, "Lord," and come to church most Sundays and give some of our discretionary money to the church that we will be okay with Jesus. The truth is that Jesus is Lord on his terms, not ours, terms that require obedience to what he teaches us, his disciples.
What does he teach? Read chapters 5, 6, and 7 in Matthew and find out. These chapters report the Sermon on the Mount and contain most of Jesus' teaching about prayer, about service, about being a good neighbor, about how to love, about honoring God. Those teachings can be summarized into two commands: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. No surprises there. The difference that those crowds surrounding Jesus noticed, though, was that Jesus practiced what he preached as do disciples who take seriously Jesus' lordship.
Imagine how our lives might be different if we began each day with this question: “Who is my Lord for today?” Would it be our boss, our spouse, our church, our children, our friends, ourselves? If we want the answer to be Jesus Christ, then we have to live with more awareness of what Jesus wants. What does Jesus want? Jesus always points the way to God, and he wants us to do the same. Jesus wants justice where we see injustice happening. Jesus wants truth when lies confront or tempt us. Jesus wants reconciliation when we would rather hold a bitter grudge in our hearts. Jesus wants mercy and kindness when we witness exclusivity or prejudice. Jesus wants generosity when our checkbooks reflect only ourselves. Jesus wants joyfulness when we want to complain or sulk. Jesus wants you—heart, soul, and mind—and Jesus wants me.
Discipleship is a lifelong journey of falling down, taking the wrong road, missing a cue, and then getting on the right path again as we grow deeper in trust with our Lord. Why do it, then? Perhaps the answer lies in another question for us ponder: Who is “the” Lord? Who is the Lord that we choose to follow? For Christians, our Lord is a powerful God who chose to humble himself by living on this Earth as one of us, who chose vulnerability and weakness over power and might so that he might meet us, and love us, where we are, as we are. The only definition that Jesus gives of himself in all the gospels is also found in Matthew, Chapter 11: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (29). The Apostle Paul wrote frequently of the foolishness of proclaiming such a God our Lord, a Lord who searches for us in our own vulnerability, fear, and brokenness, not to condemn us, but to love us back to wholeness. Knowing who is the Lord makes answering “Who is Your Lord” an honest and hopeful practice, a discipline, both as a community of faith and as individuals, each and every day.