UnComfortable: Discipleship

A series on topics we’d rather not discuss.

[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom of this post to listen using the Spotify Player.]


If you’ve ever been blessed to have living room furniture, you probably also have had it long enough to know it doesn’t stay pristine forever. About 9 years or so ago, Jacki and I made our first major furniture purchase: A full couch and matching loveseat. Both the couch and loveseat reclined at just a pull of a lever. It was simple but luxurious. We waited a while before we could buy it, as we saved up and paid cash, even for delivery. 

Over the years, sitting on those couches, loading them into moving trucks when God called us to new places and unloading them just the same, they began to show their age. A spring in one seat had fallen out, making you sink down when you sat down. Other various pieces within the couch and loveseat started to break down and dislodge. Even with all that, they were the only couches we had! We could tough it out. We could get used to it. We’d stuff pillows in the spaces where couch fluff and springs should have supported our weight. It got so bad that this past year, we finally did it. We got rid of our loveseat. It was so broken down, so worn out, so Uncomfortable. And we had reached our breaking point. We could not just ignore it. We had to deal with the problem.

In this new series, #UnComfortable, we will walk through six uncomfortable topics of life. We will cross reference them with scripture that is equally hard to deal with. Some of these are topics of social impact, things we perhaps would rather keep to talk about after church. Topics like Abortion, Government’s role in our lives, Self-Defense, Human Sexuality, Racism & Slavery, Killing vs. Murder, to name some of the areas we will try and cover over the next month and a half. 

Today’s topic is not as edgy or extreme as any of those topics. It’s actually a topic covered quite regularly in messages and bible studies. It is, however, UnComfortable because it requires something of us, something costly. What is this topic? Discipleship.

What does it mean to be a disciple?

A disciple is a “student, a committed learner and follower.” 

This is a person who can take instruction and learn from life experience, all the while being shaped by the one doing the discipling. For those early followers of Jesus, Jesus was discipling them. Many times we confuse the word “Apostle” with “Disciple.” Sure both words can and most cases do describe the same people, they have different meanings. 

Being a disciple is about learning. Being an apostle means “sent one.” 

Before one could be sent, he or she would need to be taught. To learn at the feet of their master. And so it was with the Twelve. They traveled with Jesus, gave up earthly possessions, walked out on family obligations – like caring for their father – and learned. They learned so much. Who is my neighbor? Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Who is on Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his glory? These and more were taught first hand to the disciples. There were some very UnComfortable teachings Jesus tossed out to his posse. Some did not stick around. 

Bear a burden of shameful death.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23 NIV

No promise of housing

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matt 8:18-20 NIV

Matt 8:18-20 NIV

Nothing more important than following Jesus.

21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matt 8:21-22 NIV

Why do we need to be discipled?

Because God desires for us to be made/conformed in the image of Christ.

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:29 NIV

PLAY-Doh!

Let’s do a little demonstration. A word of caution: material illustrations have their limitations. I’m trying to demonstrate a spiritual principle. It won’t be a perfect illustration. Alright, here we go!

Have you ever played with clay or Play-doh? When I was a kid we had Play-Doh. We could build little people, roll snakes with the dough, and even use old cookie cutters for specific shapes. When I take some dough and place it in this shaped item, it is being conformed to that object. There is even another play-doh toy called the “extruder.” It pushed the dough through smaller, shaped holes by applying pressure to the device. This may seem like a painful process, but as I’m playing with the dough, I am forming and using it as I would like.

God has plans for you and me. When we give ourselves over to His plans, it may be a bit  UnComfortable. It may squeeze us and shape us in ways we’ve never been shaped or squeezed before. We take on a form more like Christ, because that’s God’s intended desire for us. People who wander around, asking the question, “What is God’s will for me?” His will for your life and mine is that we would be conformed to the image of Christ. 

Because if we don’t, we can’t be set FREE

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32 NIV

Holding Christ’s teachings makes one his disciple. But again, you can’t just mentally ascend to his teachings, agree they are good but don’t live them out. That’s what HOLD means here in this verse. To truly follow a teaching, you can’t disconnect the belief from the way it’s expressed in real life circumstances.

I don’t think anyone likes saying they are “on a diet.” A shift in thinking was to say what you are doing is an “eating plan” that you followed. There was a time when I was on Weightwatchers. A very systematic approach to weight-loss. Identify the food you eat, keep them within a certain point range for you personally. Do that consistently, paired with exercise (which can get you additional points to enjoy that day.) And it worked…up to a certain point for me. The point where I hit my goal weight and no longer had to pay to go to meetings. It became easy to slip back into old eating habits and be less active. One thing I did discover about the meetings I attended, there were always folks who had come back to the program after going away from it. 

For me, while I was a part of it, I was all in. When I felt disconnected from it, the strict nature and systems I had adhered to and believed in didn’t matter so much to me. 

The interesting thing about Jesus when he brings up this “being free” concept is that his disciples don’t adhere to strict religious pomp and circumstance. They get called out for not ceremonially washing their hands before meals. They walk through grain fields on the sabbath and pick some up and have a snack. Jesus and his disciples spend intimate time around a dinner table with religious people and with sinners. They don’t do the things you would expect of a religious teacher and his posse. If something got in the way of Loving God and Loving People with all that they were, they would not be held down to it. They knew the truth and the truth set them free. Jesus offered that same thing to the Jews in John 8.

We need to be discipled by Jesus in order to know the truth and become free.

We need to be discipled because it’s God’s WILL for our life and because it sets us FREE (it benefits us).

How can I know if I am a disciple?

You are becoming more like the one discipling you.

“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” 

Luke 6:40 ESV

If you’ve ever learned a skill from another person, they can only teach you that skill up to their personal skill level. If I sat down with you and taught you computer coding, you could not learn more from me– more than I already know. This is why teachers make some of the best learners. To stay ahead of their students, they’ve got to learn things they don’t already know. 

What’s one of the key signs you are becoming more like Christ?

A Disciple of Christ has love for others.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 NIV

This one topic, this one verse is the centerpiece of so many messages and maybe down the line we can unpack them deeper, but for today let’s look at the original word used here. Agape. It’s one of several Greek words that get translated Love. Each word has different connotations. Phileo, for example, is brotherly love. Perhaps that’s why Philadelphia is called the “city of brotherly love.” Agape carries the idea of it being an active love. “Generosity, kindly concern, devotedness;”

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you [________] one another. [Give generously to one another, Have kindly concern for one another, be devoted to one another.]

Is that a kind of love you think you can pull off? Loving like that is hard. You aren’t just born into a family and expected to love each other. No, you choose to be a Christ-follower, and you choose then to Agape the people around you. 

Conclusion

Donna Buckmaster receives the Second Mile Award during church service on July 24, 2022.

Knowing I was going to present the Second Mile award to Donna today, I began to think about her impact on our church. And the various areas of service in the church all point back to this uncomfortable topic, the sacrificial topic. Discipleship. And as nice as Donna is, she didn’t get there on her own. She had other’s guiding her along the way. When she and Bucky were just a young couple, living a few blocks away from this church, she was pregnant with a baby girl. Unfortunately,  she and her unborn child were very ill and might not make it. The way I heard the story, the church PRAYED. They prayed and prayed and prayed. I’m sure they did other tangible things. Meals, childcare, what-not. But praise the Lord, both Donna and her daughter survived and are still with us today.

The Church, the people of our local congregation of Disciples, took it upon themselves to Agape the Buckmasters. 

The Buckmasters grew and served and ministered here and our church is blessed because of their legacy. 

But what if no one reached out? What if no one prayed? Donna and her family could have had a very different experience. A very different life. 

Discipleship is hard. 

  • It’s God will for us, something we might not always enjoy or agree with.
  • We’re formed into something else, the image of Christ, his likeness. It can hurt, like sanding off the rough spots of a piece of wood.
  • We’ve got to be discipled to be FREE. 
  • We’ve got to become more like Jesus, LOVE more like Jesus.

Discipleship is HARD. It’s hard and Uncomfortable. If it were easy, Everyone would be doing it.

It’s not just hard, but it can be UnComfortable. The early disciples had to become learners and givers. Know-it-alls and stingy people may have a problem with those ideas

Acts 2:42 NIV says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

New ones during the day of Pentecost began their discipleship training right away. 

A little while latter is says: 

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Acts 2:44-45 NIV


So what do you want to do about this UnComfortable topic of discipleship? Maybe just pass it by, like scrolling through bad news stories or clicking off the commercials on your TV. I recommend you let Jesus teach you who and what he is making you into. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. But you’ve got to approach God and one another with an Agape love.

Generosity. Kindness. Devotedness.

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