Discipleship?

Had an interesting e-mail conversation among folks from church this week around the question: What is discipleship?

It’s one of those church words that gets tossed around, and for those exploring or unfamiliar with the church, it doesn’t mean anything. But even for those who are longtime members, you can get an interesting conversation going around that question. Fundamentally, it refers to being like a disciple: being like one of the original followers of Christ, who gave themselves to him and to spreading the word of God. But what does it mean?

On the one hand, discipleship can be a noun–it’s the process, the stages and steps, by which someone comes from the first inklings of curiosity about Jesus, through learning about him and what he did for us, through committing to be a follower, to growing and knowing what following Christ means, through to a mature disciple. It’s a process of spiritual growth and transformation that follows the threefold nature of grace.

Or is it? Or instead, is discipleship an adjective describing the state of being a disciple? Is it better understood as the end state on earth, the goal of the process if you will, in which grace is operating to bring us to that state?

What do you think? Should we think of discipleship as a process, or as a goal?

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Hearing From God

As Christians we are called to be in a relationship with God. And any successful relationship I’ve ever been in means both sides get to talk.

It’s true, isn’t it, that for the most part our prayer life is a monologue? And a needy one at that: we pray for this, for that. But how often are we able to actually shut up and listen for the other half of the conversation?

I confess I’m as fallible as the next man in that I still need to develop that listening skill more. My bride will tell you that too. But sometimes, if we allow ourselves, we can hear God’s word for us. Sometimes it’s in music, even.

Case in point: lately I’ve been kinda preoccupied with the health of both my mother and my daughter, and the effect each is having on their place of residence and schooling, respectively. Yesterday was a very tense day, with one path seeming to close for where Mom might be able to move next, and frustrations with my daughter’s progress mounting in me as well.

This morning, however, I kept hearing two songs alternating in my head: Jason Gray’s “Sparrow“:

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win

You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

If He can hold the world He can hold this moment
Not a field or flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow.

And Ryan Stevenson’s “Eye of the Storm“:

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm.

And when I stop to recognize what it is that’s going on in my head, I recognize it as God’s voice, telling me to let him be that anchor, and that I’m not alone in this–that he’s got my back, and will see me through. That’s powerful! It was so reassuring to know that even this sparrow isn’t outside God’s notice, and that he will guard my soul with all that’s coming against me right now. In those little moments, sometimes, we hear his voice. And we are in awe at how much we’re loved, even, or especially, in the eye of the storm.

Visiting College Boy

This past weekend we had our first chance to go and visit College Boy, seven weeks into his freshman year. It was so good to see him–he slept in a little Saturday morning, but still was sitting on the steps by the parking lot waiting for us when we pulled up. Lots of hugs, and in many ways it was like we hadn’t been gone.

And yet it was different. He’s maturing in his own way: he took himself out to buy new running shoes, instead of coming to us asking for us to buy them for him. He’s also learned already, as he told his sister, that “In high school, they just expect you to know stuff. In college, they expect you to put it together.” If he’s figured out that secret already, and can apply it, then he’s in good shape for the next three years.

Lots of time together throughout the day: in his dorm room, then to lunch at a place he’d always wanted to try but was too far to walk, and then to Wal-Mart to load up. Evening spent with him and his roommate, enjoying the free bowling, billiards, and ping-pong at the student center.

In the late afternoon, as the ladies relaxed, he and I sat for awhile as he showed me You Tube videos he’d found funny. In that hour, as we shared Internet laughs, it was like he’d never left and was still coming to me to show me something funny he’d found online. I savored that connection once more.

And yet it was different. Around 9:30, he announced that he was tired and ready to turn in. When we asked if we should come back in the morning for brunch, or just go home without seeing him, he said, “You can just go home.” Our brief time was over, and, like a dream, didn’t get to last to the morning.

We have these little tastes of love, these little moments of joy, and the disappointment we feel when they pass remind us that this isn’t where our souls are meant to be. One day, our joy will be complete. Until then, we have the imperfect–the quick visit, the touches of grace–that can only hint at the spectacular wonder we’ll savor when we’re all together with Christ forever.

The (Long! Slow!) Fade

Last time I alluded to some challenges I’m facing in my family. Over the last month to six weeks, my mother’s health has taken a turn. She’s only in her seventies, and has had Parkinson’s Disease for nearly half her life. For the most part it was a minor annoyance for most of that time, but about eight years ago it began to jump up and reduce her ability to care for herself. That led me to move her into an assisted living home about six years ago.

Lately, she’s been getting weaker, and falling more often, leading her assisted living home to be alarmed that she’s beginning to exceed their ability to care for her. So now I find myself in the situation of once again searching for a care facility for her. This at the same time that several other significant events are happening in other parts of the family and work, all clamoring for scarce time.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength,” Paul wrote to the church at Philippi (4:13). There’s two ways to read that, depending which half of the verse you emphasize. First is the idea that I can do everything, as long as Christ is with me. There’s a lot of truth in that. And emphasis on the second half reminds me that it’s Christ who gives me strength. I can’t handle everything that Mom’s declining health, my job, my family are all throwing at me all at once. At least not alone. We hear often that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” but that’s wrong. What Paul’s verse reminds us is that the truth instead is that God won’t give me anything I can’t handle with him through Christ. I have to surrender to Christ and God’s will in my life for me to be able to see something like this through.

I certainly pray that this latest twist in my mother’s health isn’t a harbinger of more to come, and that her descent into whatever it is that PD will have in store for her is a long, slow fade instead of a sudden decline like my dad’s. I also pray that Christ be with me throughout this ordeal. It’s a mad, mad, mad time to be me. At least I’ve learned the lesson that I don’t have to think it’s all on me: I have help beyond compare when I truly place myself in Christ’s hands.

A Night In The Spirit

Had a terrific, wonderfully recharging night last night at the Patriot Center (I refuse to call it Eagle Bank Arena) with the family (minus College Boy, of course) and good, good friends in a night of worship. Ryan Stevenson, Hawk Nelson and the Newsboys were in town, and we had a great time praising and singing along.

Every now and then, the soul just needs a good bit of praise. Every now and then it just has to scream “Yes!” to the Yes that created it, and for me, I needed that last night. Between everything happening with various family members (more on that later), I needed a recharge, and this night certainly gave it to me. Thanks be to God for the chance to worship, and for everyone for coming out with us to celebrate!

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Hawk Nelson’s Jonathan Steingard came about two rows over
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Newsboys’ Michael Tait
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After the show, Ryan Stevenson posed for pics with Sarah and her friend!

Adapting to College Boy

As described last time, our oldest has left for college, and I wanted to share an update of where things stand. Right now, I’m working my way through the stages of grief at not having him around anymore.

In these first two weeks, we’ve FaceTimed with him twice; the first time we caught up with him in the basement of another dorm “hanging out with my friends.” Well that didn’t take long. The next time, he was in his room with his roommate. The first time, he was monosyllabic–maybe didn’t want to be too expressive around his new friends. The second time, he was laughing and much more the young man I’d expected to hear from. But overall, clearly, he’s enjoying himself and off to a solid start in many respects. And yes, true to form, the only texts he’s initiated with me have to do with…money.

We’re still getting used to not having him around. It’s quieter, even though he often hung out in the basement anyway. My food bill collapsed. It’s easier to make a menu of dinners when only three have to agree on the meals.

But the silence still screams at me. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something funny in social media that I know he’d react to and went to call out, “Hey, D, come take a look at…oh.” It’s not being able to share the little moments of everyday life that I think bothers me the most at this point.

College Boy

This past weekend we moved our son into his freshman dorm at college. Our baby boy, our firstborn, is now College Boy, and we’ve found our world changed to an even greater degree than we’d imagined.

Of course we’d been getting ready, or so we thought. We’d been planning for college literally since he was born, and pointing him on this path since he began school. He’s been gone many times before–mission trips, Scout camp–and I thought I was ready for what this would feel like.

I was wrong.

I think what surprised me the most was the size of the hole that’s been left in my heart. The experts say that the most stressful life event is the death of a spouse; having a child move off to college isn’t even on their top ten list. But I can avow that this week has been one of the most heart-wrenching in the last several years. Of course, I love my son; my problem is, I actually like him, too, and I miss having him around. I’ve enjoyed being able to share something with him on the fly. That’s not as possible now.

We got him moved in, and managed to say our goodbyes without drama. Made it out to the car just fine, and even made the four-hour drive home without a problem. But when we got home late at night and I headed upstairs to bed, I saw under his door that he’d left his room light on. Grrr…so I opened the door to turn the light off.

And now I’m in his room. And there on the bed is what was his most beloved stuffed animal since first grade, sitting forlorn, waiting for a little boy who will never return–because he’s all grown up now. That’s when I lost it.

“Behold,” says the one who sits on the throne, “I am making all things new.” And I know this is natural, this is part of the progression of a healthy human being as he separates and starts his own path. But I also know I’m still selfish enough to want one more game of catch, one more Daddy-David Day, one more driving lesson, one more…everything. This is a glorious time, and we do celebrate it. But I’m also selfish enough to mourn what I’m losing, to miss what I don’t have anymore. And so my struggle right now is how to set that aside, and keep my eyes on the promise of renewal and growth that Christ brings. That’s going to be my challenge for the next few weeks.