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If You Want to be a Disciple, You Must Go Through These Gut-Wrenching Phases . . .

First, a little back story:

Setting the Stage.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, the majority of churchgoers remain blissfully unaware of the pressures & challenges that their clergy face daily. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten that pastors need pastored as well. The statistics aren’t uplifting as we see more and more research put out about pastors losing faith, falling into egregious sin, and having their spiritual doors knocked down by the demons of depression & loneliness.

Some of this shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as one of the major tenets of Christianity is that humanity, all of it, is plagued by the sickness of sin.

Also, if we take the scriptural implications to heart then through the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2; Revelation 1:4–6; etc.) everyone should be getting ‘pastored’ so to speak. Those of us with the title are truly no more a pastor, priest, minister than anyone else.

Above all else, though, we are disciples. We are friends of the one true King, and we’re figuring out just who He is, how He works, and how much He loves day by day. If we already understood it all, well then God would fit in our minds, and I like to think God is a little bigger than a human brain.

Ok, the Real Story . . .

I believe there is still a Great Commission on the lives of believers:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19–20

We get discipled; we disciple. Some of us have a burden for a special place or people group and we see that flesh out in the wondrous work of missionaries and lovers of souls across the globe.

Maybe on some other occasion I can share with you my burdens for a certain people that are often feared, misunderstood, mistreated, and marginalized (especially in the United States). Nevertheless, in seeking to understand the misunderstood, I set out to grasp what they believe and why — it shook my own faith.

I began to question some VERY important, doctrinally fundamental things about Jesus such as his sonship, messianic reality, and whether or not the gospel accounts were reliable testimonies of him. I saw a growing Christology (the branch of Christian theology relating to the person, nature, and role of Christ) from Mark’s gospel account to John’s and I needed to know why. Mark wrote first (between 66–70 c.e.) and since earlier documents are generally accepted as more reliable I decided to see what he had to say.

This led me to a book I had shelved since seminary: Fortress Introduction To The Gospels, by Mark Allan Powell. Here I discovered that despite the guilt and shame behind my questioning, I was not, in the least sense, any different than the original twelve disciples. Powell explains this in the “Discipleship and the Cross” section (pp. 56–58).

In some unfathomably ordained manner, our destiny is to go through these gut-wrenching phases . . .

1. Unperceptiveness.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” — Mark 4:41

The disciples never seemed to understand who Jesus was or what exactly he was doing/teaching during his earthly ministry.

We constantly go through phases of misattributing things to Jesus and giving him a nature that isn’t truth. We view him as an angry God in the sky hurling down shame, blame, and punishment when we falter in some completely human way. This is a lie. He’s a perfectly loving father who has killed shame on the cross and gives us his Spirit to help & comfort us on this difficult journey.

We misunderstand his teachings in the scriptures just as the twelve failed to grasp the parables. We become self-absorbed, missing the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God just as the twelve were wrapped up in who would be the greatest with a seat at his right hand.

When the hurricanes of life threaten to destroy everything we have & love, we get scared and forget that our Lord is right there with us. The disciples did the same thing in a boat with a literal storm, and Jesus was literally right there, in the boat, with them.

2. Misconception

Even once the twelve come to the realization of Jesus as God’s son incarnate, Messiah, they fail to conceptualize the implications of that truth.

We, like the originals, seem to think that the Jesus-life will be a successful, happy, wealthy, healthy one. We fabricate this delusion out of our own selfish conceit. We’re told that the life of a follower will be that of serving, sacrificing, pain, and rejection. It’s heavenly treasure we’re after.

Jesus is not our Santa Claus.

We misconceive the truth as the twelve did when Jesus tried to fill them in to the gruesome end that was in store for him. Three times he tried to tell them he would be handed over, condemned, and killed — yet, they focused on menial things or tried to stop the will of God altogether. Jesus reveals the truth to us through his word and his Spirit, yet we twist it to either fit our needs or to be more convenient.

We don’t always love the truth. We don’t always want the will of God.

3. Rejection

This one hurts the most . . .

One betrays him to death.

Some scatter and run away.

One denies him altogether.

Not only do these disciples, his friends, fail him, but they fail him worse and worse to the point of total apostasy. Do you want to hear a bitter truth? You do this. I do this. When we walk past the marginalized, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, and we do nothing at all, not even give an encouragement, we betray him. When injustice occurs and we have an opportunity to stand for truth in the name of Christ, we scatter and run away. When we’d rather do what our hard hearts desire than deny ourselves and take up our cross, we deny him altogether.

We become ashamed of our Christian faith and let it be a secret in the workplace, in friendships, at the gym, on the bus, etc.

We choose worldly pleasures (i.e., drunkenness, sex, money, drugs, raunchy television) over the pure pleasure of the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. The satisfaction, the fulfillment, that comes from pure living is unmatched. Everything else leaves a God-sized hole in our soul. You can keep trying to fill it with ‘stuff’, but it will fail.

We will continue to do these things until we breathe our last breath, however.

4. Redemption

This one’s not actually listed in the book, but implied.

Through the cross we have been redeemed. We’re being redeemed. We will be totally redeemed in eternity.

I can’t say it any better than Powell, so here’s what he says:

“. . . Jesus never appears to regret his choices [speaking of the disciples], not even when he predicts that those he has called will betray (14:17–21), forsake (14:26–28), or deny (14:29–31) him. In short, he never gives up on them. He continues to teach them (4:33–34; 7:17–23), to correct their misunderstandings (8:34–38; 9:35–37; 10:42–45), and to empower them for the work he believes they will do (3:14–15; 6:7–13). Indeed, the message that goes out from the empty tomb is clearly that Jesus has not abandoned those who abandoned him. He wants them back (16:7)” (Powell, 58).

Jesus doesn’t regret calling you or me. He’s still teaching us how to make it through life, he’s still teaching us, still correcting our mistakes. God still has a mission for us to be co-laborers with him in fixing this broken world, and he wants to empower us to do it.

The empty tomb shows us that no matter how many times we’ve abandoned him, he has not abandoned us. . .

Jesus wants us back.

If you’re reading this and you’ve walked away from Christianity, the church, and Jesus for any reason — maybe you’ve been hurt, maybe you’ve misunderstood something, maybe it just didn’t seem ‘relevant’ anymore . . .Jesus wants YOU back.

We all go through these gut-wrenching phases, but in all I’ve learned I can sum it up in this:

“Jesus loves me — this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

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