Rethinking Discipleship

We use programs to replace discipleship. Programs are distant. Discipleship is up close and personal. Programs are organized and planned. Discipleship is unpredictable. Programs are neat and clean. Discipleship is messy. What do I mean by discipleship? I mean imitating the model Jesus followed as we read the Gospels. Taking a few people inviting them into the rhythms of your life as you teach them, encourage them, and pour yourself into them, all in hopes of strengthening their spiritual maturity. Discipleship is personal. It is relational. It can't be done with just a program. It can't be done only through a sermon on Sunday morning.

Most churches make the false connection that discipleship and programming are the exact same things. It isn't. Churches do a lot of programs that don't produce disciples of Jesus. However I think there is a reason that most of us prefer awesome church programing rather than getting involved in each others lives in relational discipleship. The reason is, programs are way more comfortable. With a program I don't have to confront a brother or sister in sin. With a program I don't have to take a friend by the hand and pray for them. With a program I just have to sit and watch. I just have to sit in a bubble of my own personal spirituality.

We have such an individualistic understanding of discipleship. In our culture today, that makes the individual supreme, we've seriously forgotten how to live in community. While we are the most connected generation in the history of the world, we are also the most isolated. Most of us think that my relationship with God is exactly that, me and God. It is me and God versus the world. We think, "I don't need the church. I don't need anyone to grow in the faith. It is just me and God, and that's all I need!" Although that sounds incredibly good, and even righteous to us, the New Testament calls us a liar. We absolutely need each other. Community is essential to the very essence of what it means to be Christian! We are not chosen in Christ as individuals, but as a people, as a holy nation, and as a royal priest hood. We are a body. We are the bride. Notice that when the New Testament describes the church, the church, although it involves as many people, is a singular entity. The many Christians are one bride. The many believers are one body. The followers of Jesus are one nation.

As we think through discipleship in our local church, may our programming not hinder us from developing the sort of intimate and personal relationships with one another that foster discipleship. Older and mature believers grab a hold of a younger believer and disciple them. Meet weekly for coffee, invite them into the rhythms of your life, and pour yourself into them. Discipleship is messy. It is hard work. But if we are going to be faithful to the New Testament and the people God has called us to be, we can't keep doing what we are doing. There are many in our churches who are heavily involved in programs but completely unknown in their churches. This should not be the case. May we grab hold of one another, get involved in each others life. May we encourage each other, rebuke each other, and press on together as we seek our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Jonah Part 3: Jonah's Anger and the Lord's Compassion

 

Jonah is Angry at the Lord’s compassion (Jonah 4:1-4)

After seeing the city of Nineveh repent, Jonah becomes furious.  He was angry that the Lord would show compassion to this city.  In these first four verses, Jonah prays to the Lord.  This is the second of Jonah’s prayers.  The first one in chapter 2, took place in the belly of the fish.  The writer invites us to compare and contrast Jonah’s heart and attitude between these two prayers.  In this second prayer, we see Jonah’s real heart in this whole situation.  We get to see why he really didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place.  He was afraid God would be merciful to them.

You see, Jonah knows that God is a merciful and compassionate God.  He gives second chances.  He spares us his wrath.  Jonah prays and says, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting form disaster”.  Although Jonah loves this about God when God’s compassion is shown to him (Chapter 2), but is angry towards God when it is shown to Nineveh (Chapter 3).  You see Jonah wants to receive mercy from the Lord, but he doesn’t want God to show His mercy to others, especially the Ninevites.  In verse 3, Jonah gets a little over dramatic and concludes his life is not worth living.  He tells God it is better to die than to live.  Now Jonah isn’t suicidal here, he just is being so over the top it is comical.  He is acting just like a child here.  He doesn’t get his way so he pouts and says life isn’t worth living anymore.  He is trying to manipulate God with his anguish.  He is trying to get God to change his mind.  God responds with just a simple question, “Do you do well to be angry?”  I like the NLT of this verse, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”  In other words, God is questioning Jonah’s angry.  Jonah why are you getting so upset about this? Why is this bothering you so badly?

The Lord Teaches Jonah to be compassionate (Jonah 4:5-11)

After this prayer, Jonah goes up to the hill to sit down at the east of the city and look over it.  He is waiting to see what God will do with the city.  Jonah seems to be hoping that his manipulative pity party had changed God’s mind.  He waiting and hoping God will destroy it.  As Jonah is sitting there God appoints a plant to spring up. Notice this is the third time God appoints something in the book.  The first time was the the great wind God hurled upon the sea (1:4), the second was the great fish (1:17), and here the plant is the third (4:6).  The text is reminding us of who is in control over His creation, and it is the Lord of hosts.  He sovereignly appoints what he wills, and rules creation.  He can make a plant spring up instantly.  And the plant springs up over the head of Jonah and provides him with comfort.

This plant changes Jonah’s mood.  He goes from being angry, to being glad.  Then, the next day come and God appoints something a fourth time in the book of Jonah.  He appoints a worm to come and attack the plant, so the plant would wither and die.  Then we are told that God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun to beat down on Jonah’s head.  Jonah again gets upset and says that it is “Better to die than to live”.  Again, Jonah isn’t suicidal here, he is just being overly dramatic.

Then in verse 9, God asks Jonah a important question, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  Notice the parallel between God’s question in verse 4, in which God questions Jonah’s anger towards Nineveh.  But Jonah says to God, “It is right for me to be angry about this plant, angry enough to die!”  Notice also, that this is the first time Jonah desires that something not perish.  He didn’t care if the sailors perished.  He didn’t care if Nineveh perish.  But when it comes to this plant providing him comfort, he cares greatly that this plant not perish!  Then in verse 10, we get God’s lesson he is trying to teach Jonah.  Indeed, this is the climax of the whole book.

God tells Jonah that he pities this insignificant plant, and should God not pity Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people?  In other words God is telling Jonah, what’s more important a plant or 120,000 people perishing?  The answer is obviously people.  In fact, God closes the book with a peculiar phrase, “also much cattle”.  This is God making a jab at Jonah.  If Jonah will not pity the people of Nineveh, at least he would pity the animals!  If the plant is so important to him, maybe the animals are! God is making a strong rebuke towards Jonah.  Jonah who cared so much for himself, who cared so much for his own needs and comfort, needs to be rebuked.  Throughout this whole book Jonah has been nothing but a spoiled brat.  He wants to receive the mercy of God for himself, but he doesn’t want God to show it to others.  He himself doesn’t want to perish in the ocean, but when it comes to the sailors or Nineveh he could care less.

Now what does this mean for you and me?  When thinking about this book as a whole, and what God is trying to teach Jonah, what does this mean for us.

1. God has Compassion on All People, not just us

People are important to God.  God is determined to get Jonah to Nineveh.  He sovereignly orchestrates creation by appointing it to do his will.  He does all this to get Jonah to Nineveh.  God is passionate about the exaltation of his own name to the nations and to the ends of the earth.

2. We must repent of our self-centered hypocrisy

We must not be like Jonah.  We can’t be self-centered and concerned with ourselves.  We can’t expect to receive God’s grace, but then refuse to share it with others.  Our lives are not about us!  It isn’t about our comfort.  It isn’t about what we want to do.  We exist for worship, and spreading the worship of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  We exist to share the good news of Jesus with everyone!  However, so many of us live lives that are self-consumed.  We think what’s in it for me, or what can I get out of it.  The Gospel runs contrary to our self-sufficiency.  We must turn away from this and lay down our lives for his kingdom.

3. We must be willing to go where God tells us to go

For some of you God is going to ask you to do some tough things.  He might ask you to go some where that you are uncomfortable with.  He might ask you to leave behind home and family.  He might ask you to go to college further away that Wilson Tech.  He might even ask you to go to college out of state.  He might ask you live in another part of the country to be his ambassador.  He might ask you to live in another country to be his missionary.  Or it could be as simply as going to another lunch table or going down the street to your neighbors house to tell them about Jesus.  However, one thing the book of Jonah teaches us, is that we must be obedient to him.  When God tells us to go, we must go.

4. Remember that God gives mercy to those who repent

God is not hesitant to show us mercy.  God is eagerly wanting to show grace to people.  He wants them to come to know the joy found only in Jesus!  The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is an open invitation to those who are perishing to repent and believe in Him!  Just like the city of Nineveh, destruction is coming to this world.  God’s wrath will be poured out, but through Jesus God’s wrath is placed on Jesus in your place. You can trust in him.  He is our great Savior who is eager to save.  Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus!  Trust in him for salvation.  He is abounding in love and rich in mercy.

Jesus Saves Us from Legalism

If we are honest, there is a little bit of a Pharisee in each of us. We all have legalistic tendencies. We have our own standard that we hold ourselves to, and look down on all others who cannot measure up to our standards. Many who excel at keeping rules and abstaining for immorality become prideful and feel superior over their fellow man. The heart of a Pharisee tries to attain righteousness on his or her own strength and merit.

Throughout the Bible, Jesus has some stern words for the Scribes and Pharisees, but there is probably none sterner than Matthew 23. In this passage Jesus rebukes the Pharisees with seven different woes. Although there are several different areas Jesus rebukes them of, one of the main ones is this: The Pharisees care far more about external appearances while neglecting internal realities. In other words, the Pharisees were great at looking righteous on the outside, while ignoring the state of their own hearts.

It is like this for many Christians in our day too isn't it? We know what to wear on Sunday morning. We know good Christianese, and we can use big theological words. We have more merit badges for memorizing more Bible verses than the other kid. We give more in the offering than the guy on the pew next to us. We've attained that position of influence in the church and feel superior to everyone else. You see, many of us, just like the Pharisees think our external obedience can make up for our wicked hearts. We think if we could just be good enough, God must accept us!

Jesus tells the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26, "For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that outside may be clean." Jesus tells the Pharisees that they've got the order backwards. You can't clean up your outward behavior and expect it to transform your wicked heart. Transformation and righteousness starts within our hearts, and moves outward to external obedience. You see the Pharisees were so busy cleaning the outward part of the cup, all the while neglecting the inside.

Your outward religion and moralism will not save you. Period. You can't be good enough. You cannot give enough. You cannot serve enough. No matter how hard you try or how clean you make your outward cup, inside you are filthy. You see, we can't transform our own hearts. We are unable to clean that inward part of the cup. This is why we need Jesus!

Jesus died in your place for your sin. He takes on all your inward and outward filth, sin, and unrighteousness. For those who have faith and trust in him, he gives us purity. He gives us righteousness. Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, takes that dirty cup and makes it spotless.

Your own works cannot save you. They are nothing but filthy rags. You need Jesus. Don't fall for the lie of religion that you can clean yourself up. You can't. Only Jesus can. Don't be like the prideful Pharisees, but may everyone of us fall on our face in humility before Jesus. From the deacon to the porn addict. From the Sunday School teacher to the homosexual. From the Pastor to the drunkard. We are all unclean before Jesus, and only by his blood are we made clean. There is no room for pride, because only through Jesus can we be saved.

Jonah Part 2: Nineveh Repents

Click the link to read the first post in this series, Jonah Part 1

Have you ever seen someone’s life totally turned around? Do you have a friend who has come to Christ and it is like a 180 degree turn?  It is always amazing to me to hear the stories of these amazing testimonies of these people.  God has truly done the miraculous in their lives.  We might not always have such a radical testimony, but they are encouraging to hear none the less.  The people of Nineveh are a people with that sort of testimony.  The whole city makes a 180 degree turn when Jonah comes to preach the Word of the Lord.

Jonah Goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5)

Jonah gets a second chance at obedience.  After deliberately disobeying God and going to Tarshish, God calls Jonah a second time.  He tells him to go to Nineveh again.  God intends to use Jonah to deliver this message to Nineveh, whether he wants to or not.  God is going to use him.  Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh.  It was a big city.  The Scripture says it was three days in breadth, meaning that it took him three whole days to preach his message to the surrounding areas of the city.

What was the heart of Jonah’s message?  In 40 days, Nineveh will be over thrown.

Although I’m sure Jonah’s message was more lengthy than this one sentence, but this one sentence does reveal a little bit about Jonah’s heart.  Notice Jonah preaches the condemnation of the people without calling them to repentance.  Jonah doesn’t invite them to turn away from their wicked deeds, he just tells them.... You’ve got 40 days.

Jonah continues to remain apathetic towards the people God has called him to minister too.  He didn’t care for the pagan sailors on the boat, he doesn’t really care for the Ninevites.  He wants God’s wrath to be poured out on the people.  In some twisted way, Jonah desires that the city perish.  We don’t see that fully here, but in chapter 4 Jonah reveals to us his true heart and motivation.  The wretched hate in Jonah’s heart is despicable and describes the same hate in our own hearts.  We look at people who are different than us.  Who are maybe of a different skin color or a different nationality.  We see those who live in open flagrant sin, and we hate them.  We don’t want them to repent.  We don’t want them to turn to God.  We just want them to burn.

If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us think more like Westboro Baptist Church than we would like to admit.  We refuse to cross the rail road tracks to share the Gospel with another ethnicity.  A heart of racism runs through many Christians.  Although none of us would claim to be racist, many of us live that way.  We joke about racial stereotypes.  We segregate ourselves at our schools.  We even segregate our churches so often.  At the end of the day, we find ourselves wanting God to bring down his wrath on them rather than God’s kindness leading them to repentance.  Westboro Baptist Church is just like Jonah.  They preach condemnation and wrath, but the do not desire repentance.  The do not desire this nation come to Christ.  They hate this country and they hate the people who live here.  You and I must not be like this.  We are not to hate the very people God has called us to reach.  If God shows his love to wicked idolatrous people, so should we.  We shouldn’t hate them, but love them and share with them about Jesus in hopes that they would repent and believe the Gospel!

Yet, even though Jonah wishes ill on the city.  God does the miraculous.  Jonah preaches his fire and brimstone message of coming destruction, and the people begin to repent!  Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh believed God.  The fasted and put on sackcloth, which is a sign of humble repentance.  And this wasn’t just the poor and lowly people who were repenting.  All of them, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The whole city began to abandon their evil ways and trust God!

The People of Nineveh Repent (Jonah 3:6-10)

The word of God eventually reached the king of Nineveh, and something amazing happens.  He repents too!  He coveres himself with sack cloth and ashes.  The King of Nineveh publishes a proclamation that everyone in the city, including the beasts, fast and be covered in sackcloth.  He commands them to call out to God.  So the whole city, down to the animals fall on their face calling out to God to mercy! Imagine how extravagant this scene must have been to watch!  Seeing a whole city repent and believe God!  Imagine of something like that happened in your city. What kind of transformation would happen?  Can you picture the thousands and thousands of people falling on their face calling out to God. The whole city turned from their evil ways.  They pray that God might spare them from His wrath.  They do not want to perish!

The contrast between Jonah and the Ninevites could not be more stark.  The Ninevites do not want to perish, and Jonah could care less.  He did the same thing with the sailors on the boat.  Jonah is only concerned about number one.  He doesn't want himself to perish by being tossed into the sea, but when it comes to lost people, Jonah doesn’t want to see them saved.  He is completely apathetic towards them.  Then we see something even more amazing.  Not only does the whole city repent, but God shows them mercy (v. 10).  When God sees how the city of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, God has compassion on them.  He spares them from his wrath.  As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah isn’t going to respond to well to this!

Jonah Points us to Jesus

Despite Jonah’s failures, his life points us to the greater Jonah, Jesus.  Jesus succeeds where Jonah fails.  You see, Jesus the jewish Messiah, brings the nations to repentance and faith.  Jonah who has figuratively been raised from the dead after three days in the belly of the fish calls out to the pagan people and they come to repentance and faith.  Jesus who was literally raised from the dead after three days in the tomb calls out to the nations of the earth and they come to repentance and faith.

You see, a major theme that runs throughout all the Bible is God’s passion to bring every nation and people group to praise his glorious name.  He wants all the nations to worship him.  He says in Psalm 46, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.  So when God chooses the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel as his covenant people, God never intends to isolate his love and mercy only on them. The people of Israel were supposed to be a nation of priests interceding on behalf of the nations of the earth to the great and powerful God. However, Israel’s election as the people of God bolstered them with pride and ego.  They began to despise the very nations God had called them to interceded for.  They began to look down on all the other sinners, and feel self-righteous and confident.  The tragic mistake of Israel is that they would not repent of their idolatry.  They continued to become like the nations rather than reaching the nations.  The contrast between Israel and Nineveh is astounding.  Nineveh repents and turns to God at the word of the prophet Jonah.  Israel rebels and disobeys God.  The pagan nations repent, Israel rebels.

Israel fails all through out their history.  They are condemned because the do not repent.  This is why in Matthew 12:41 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  What is Jesus saying here?  He is telling the Jews that the Ninevites put them to shame.  The pagan nations repent, but the chosen people of God do not.  Jesus tells them the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jesus tells them “I am the greater Jonah and you, Israel, do not listen to me and repent”.  This stiff-necked people refuses to believe the Prophets of God.  Indeed Israel rejected their own Messiah.  They mocked him.  They tried him.  They crucified him.  They rejected THE prophet of God, Yet Jesus tells us that the stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.  The rejected Messiah of Israel is the Messiah for the whole world and now invites the nations, pagan, gentile sinners like many of us, to repentance and faith.

Jesus is the greater Jonah. I know the temptation for us is to look upon Israel with disgust.  How could the people of God refuse repentance?  How could the people of God reject their prophets?  How could they become so self-righteous and filled with pride?  How could they hate the people God asked them to reach? Be very careful Christian, your thinking indicates that you might very well be like the nation of Israel.  In fact, those of us who grow up in the church have a tendency to be far more like the people of Israel than we may know.   You and I have the Word of the Lord.  We have faithful pastors who preach it to us week in and week out, yet we deliberately disobey.  We look down on others because we think that we are more moral and superior.  We refuse to share the Gospel with others, and do not desire to see our friends come to repentance and faith.  You and I are much more like Israel than we care to admit.

May we be like Nineveh and respond to our sin with incredible repentance!  May we fall on our face and be humbled.  May we turn from our wicked ways and turn to Jesus and be saved!