The Essence of Cruciform Discipleship

One of my favorite summary statements of what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus is in 1 John 4:19 . . .

“We love because He first loved us.”

God made the first move to love us by moving toward us in Jesus. That love moves us to vertical love for Him and horizontal love for others. The cross-shaped love of Jesus creates in us a cross-shaped love that reaches up to God, reaches around to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and reaches out to our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation.

The Apostle Paul put it another way in Galatians 5:6 . . .

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”

FAITH . . . resting in, responding to, and relying upon Jesus, the One who loves me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20) . . . will (it has to!) express itself in love from me for God and for others.

Now, put the two verses together: “Faith in God’s first loving us will express itself in our loving Him and others.”

I like to think of it this way, “When by faith I fill up on God’s love for me in Jesus, I will overflow with a Jesus-like love back to God and out to people in the places He’s put me.”

This is the essence of cruciform discipleship: I am crucified and cruciform with Christ. The life I now live of lovingly giving myself for God and others, I live by resting in, responding to, and relying upon the love of Jesus, who loved me first by giving Himself for me (Galatians 2:20, 5:6; 1 John 4:19).

The Emmaus Model of Ministry

What can we learn from that “walk to Emmaus” about ministering to the people God has placed in our path? In Luke 24, Jesus gives us a ministry model worth imitating. Four ministries served two hopeless travelers on one road in a single day, yet they show us the history-shaping life and ministry of Jesus on a small scale. He walked with us, talked with us, taught us, and brought us to himself through the taking, breaking, and giving of his body for us. These are the ministries of incarnation, inquiry, interpretation, and ignition.

Read the rest of my latest article at Gospel Centered Discipleship . . . 

While you are there be sure to check out the many helpful resources GCD has produced to help the Church make, mature, and multiply gospel centered disciples of Jesus.

Not What I Want, But I What I Needed

Shane and Shane (my favorite Christian band) captured perfectly both the attitude of those Palm Sunday Jerusalem crowds and the me-first bent of my own heart in their song “Crucify Him” . . .

“I sing Hosanna when I want it all

Then I crucify the Son of God

‘Cause He isn’t who I always thought

Not what I want but what I needed.

I sing how great and mighty is the King

Just as long as He considers me

High above every other thing

Even His glory . . . 

 . . . . It’s packaged differently than Pharisees

Wrapped in sing-a-longs and Christianese

Empty alleluia’s to the King

When my heart is loving idols . . . “

Again, Jesus came to be the Messiah, but I try to turn Him into a ME-ssiah who will serve my me-first agendas. Look again at John 12:23-26 . . .

Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . “

Disciples: Here we go guys! It’s time! Let’s get ready to rumble, ’cause the King is about to bring it right here, right now. We can finally show Rome who’s boss. It’s time to make Israel great again! It’s time for a new Hebrew century!

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life . . . “

Disciples: Wait, hold on a second. What’s Jesus talking about? Die? Hate my life? Lose my life? No, we don’t get delivered by dying. We don’t win by losing. Do we?  He’s talked like this before. Remember He said something about going to Jerusalem to die? I’m not sure I like where this is going.

Jesus: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Disciples: Follow Him where? He means follow Him to victory, right? Follow Him to the throne? He’s talking about the honor of getting our place, our power, and our prestige back . . . isn’t He?

Jesus’ mission was not what they wanted, but what they needed. Jesus came to be crucified so that He might rise again, to fall dead into the ground like a grain of wheat so that He might bear fruit, to lose His life in order that sinners might gain eternal life, to serve in humility in order to secure honor from His Father.

And He calls all of His disciples, including us, to follow Him in this self-denying life of submission and service . . . If anyone serves me, he must follow me.” He is calling me to stop trying to customize Him and civilize Him, to stop demanding that He be the King I want Him to be, and to submit to Him as the King He is, to stop complaining that He’s not ruling and running my life the way I want Him to and begin trusting that He’s ruling and running my life the way I need Him to.

Again, Shane and Shane capture the heart of the Jerusalem crowds and my heart, too, with these words . . .

“A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief

He had no form, He had no majesty

How could He have the audacity

To ask me to give Him my tomorrows?”

In his short book What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me, David Platt explains . . .

“We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us. But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live (pp. 26-27)

Someone has said, “If your Jesus never corrects you, never challenges what you say, think, do, or desire . . . then he’s probably not the real Jesus, but one you’ve made in your own image.”

And so I find myself confronted by the Jesus in John’s gospel, the Jesus who says that living in His Kingdom, under His rule and blessing, means I will have to bury my life to see it bear fruit, to stop pursuing a life bound to earth in order to live a life bound for eternity, to humbly serve rather than seek honor from others.

To serve this King, I will have to follow Him through loss to life, through the cross to the crown.

What will those losses be? We’ll look at 3 of them in the days to come.


Clash of Kingdoms

Like me, the crowds on the first Palm Sunday wanted Christ customized or Christ civilized, but like me, they needed Christ crucified.

They wanted a customized Christ. The word “customize” first started being used in the 1930s in America (surprise!). To customize means “to make something to a customer’s specifications.” They wanted a Christ and a King who would serve their consumer wants and wishes. Me too.

They wanted a civilized Christ. The word “civilize” means to ‘citify’ someone, to bring them out of a barbaric, backwoods state and to refine, educate, and enlighten them, to “suburbanize” them. They wanted a Christ and a King who fit their norms and wouldn’t cramp their style.  Jesus was too wild and they wanted Him tamed.  Me too.

This was a classic case of a clash of kingdoms.

“The king has come for his kingdom and has issued a clear and direct challenge to the reigning structures of political, economic, and religious power.  The drama can only end in one of two ways.  Either Jesus will topple the reigning powers and establish his messianic kingdom — or he will be killed.” (Justin Taylor and Andreas Kostenberger, page 44).

In his convicting book A Quest for More, Paul Tripp describes the clash of kingdoms this way . . .

We are all kingdom builders. The issue is whose kingdom are we building?

Let me take you back to the garden one more time. In that devious conversation with Eve, the Serpent was selling her a “better” kingdom. In this kingdom she would be the one on the throne. This kingdom would be about her will and her way. What Satan said he was offering Eve was something bigger and better, but what he really offered her was much less and infinitely smaller. Ever since that fateful day, human life and history has been shaped by kingdoms in conflict.

The little kingdom wars with the big kingdom, the kingdom of this world wars with the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of man wars with the kingdom of God. This war goes on behind every human intention, decision, thought, word, desire, and deed. Everything everyone ever does is done in pursuit of the success of one of these kingdoms. This war is unceasing and inescapable because it is fought on the turf of each of our hearts.”

It’s the same ol’ clash of kingdoms we saw in the throne room of Heaven when “that ancient serpent, the devil” led a coup against Almighty God and got himself kicked out of God’s presence.

It’s the same clash of kingdoms we saw in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided that living as God’s Kingdom of Priests wasn’t good enough, so they rebelled “Um, listen God, thanks for all this cool stuff you’ve given me, but why can’t I have THAT one!”

It’s the same clash of kingdoms we saw in the wilderness after God saved His people out of slavery. While Moses was on the mountain receiving instructions from God, the people were at the foot of the mountain, frustrated that he was taking so long, so they worshipped a golden calf they had just made with their own hands, saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” “Hurry up, God, or we’ll take our business elsewhere!”

It’s the same clash of kingdoms we saw in the Promised Land when Israel rejected God as their King and demanded He give them a human king, a handsome warrior-king like the other nations had. “Why won’t you let US have a king, God?  Everyone else has one!”

And here we are again, the King has finally come, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, but they’re NOT the kind of King and Kingdom the people were expecting.

“The multitude waved palm-branches in token of rejoicing and of triumph. Now at last victory (prosperity, “salvation,” conceived along earthly lines) seemed assured, for if this Jesus was able to raise from the dead a man who had been in the tomb four days, where were the limits to his power? Under such a leader one could even shake off the yoke of the Romans! . . . at that time palm-branches were considered to be an emblem not only of rejoicing but also of victory and prosperity . . . Or, we might say, combining the two concepts, “The waving of the palm-branch was the manifestation of the joy of victory, of the feeling: everything is going to be better from now on.”  (William Hendriksen, Baker NT Commentary: John)

And I’m afraid that is exactly what I believed for many years after I became a disciple of Jesus.  I had “accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior” but apparently I believed that meant He would be my personal-IZED Lord and Savior, a customized Christ, a civilized Savior . . . a ME-ssiah who put ME first.

So, you can understand why, can’t you, when Jesus didn’t meet my expectations . . . when He doesn’t do what I want when I want it . . . when instead He gives me not what I want but what I need . . . you can see why I would start posting those nasty rants on His Facebook page, can’t you?

Tomorrow: “Not What I Want, But I What I Needed”