The Centrality of Discipleship

Christianity centers upon Jesus Christ the Lord who, today and every day through the Holy Spirit, confronts everyone to whom the Gospel comes, summoning us to recognize and respond to him. He calls on us, not just to acknowledge his reality and the salient facts about him, but to exercise faith in him–that is, on the basis of the facts, to trust him–for the forgiveness of our sins; to repent–that is, to leave behind our present natural life of sin-driven bondage, and enter a new life of Christ-led freedom; and to become disciples–persons, that is, who conscientiously, as our life projects, walk with him, learn from him, worship him and the Father through him, and maintain obedience to him, conforming ourselves to his recorded attitudes and example up to the limit of the Holy Spirit’s enabling.

Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way (Kindle Edition) by Gary Parrett and J.I. Packer., location 118-28.

A Mother’s Ministry

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20

Has it ever struck you before that Jesus promises to come in and eat with you? I think this refers to the Eucharist, to the fellowship meal of thanksgiving that we share with Christ by virtue of His sacrificial gift. It makes me think also of Exodus 24:8-11:

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” [c.f. Matthew 26:27,28] Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.

So reads the first record of communion in Scripture. But what does this have to do with a mother’s ministry? I read this account of a daughter’s memories this morning:

When I thought of approaching the table of the Lord, I related it to the experience my mother had provided me day after day at supper: it was homecoming after the battles of the day; it was a celebration of one another; it was a love feast served with beauty and grace. – Kimberly Hahn

Typing that out just now brought to mind another moment from a fictional book—the phrase “it was a celebration of one another,” in particular, brought to mind the passage from William P. Young’s book, The Shack, where God (Papa), Jesus, the Holy Spirit (Sarayu), and Mack engage in “devotion” around the dinner table.

“Well spoken, Sarayu,” said Papa, her face beaming with pride. “I’ll take care of the dishes later. But first, I would like to have a time of devotion.”

Mack had to suppress a snicker at the thought of God having devotions. Images of family devotions from his childhood came spilling into his mind, not exactly good memories. Often, it was a tedious and boring exercise in coming up with the right answers, or rather, the same old answers to the same old Bible story questions, and then trying to stay awake during his father’s excruciatingly long prayers…. He half expected Jesus to pull out a huge, old King James Bible.

Instead, Jesus reached across the table and took Papa’s hands in his, scars now clearly visible on his wrists. Mack sat transfixed as he watched Jesus kiss his father’s hands and then look deep into his father’s eyes and finally say, “Papa, I loved watching you today, as you made yourself fully available to take Mack’s pain into yourself, and then give him space to choose his own timing. You honored him, and you honored me. To listen to you whisper love and calm into his heart was truly incredible. What a joy to watch? I love being your son.” (p. 107)

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a moment I’d like to be part of! Two things strike me; first, along with all that came about as a result of the Reformation, evangelical Protestants have largely lost this concept of the Lord’s Table as an intimate, family meal. One thinks of those fellowship offerings in the Tabernacle days when a family brought their sacrifice, the father and sons butchered the animal, the priest caught the blood, and placed a portion of the offering upon the altar, then the priest and his family and the worshiping family gathered together around the table in front of their offering to the Lord upon the altar and dined together in the presence of their Lord, Who was, after a fashion, consuming meat along with them. While the whole sacrifice part sounds foreign and perhaps even revolting to us, the idea of that intimate family dinner sounds great. However, that brings me to the second thought.

Many of us have no memory of family dinners around the table, and even more of us are not providing that experience for our children. How then are our children to have any concept of pleasant fellowship to associate with the Lord’s Table? How are they to think of “devotion” to God and to one another?

This then is the awesome opportunity of a mother’s ministry. Mother, consider yourself like a Levite ministering in the Dwelling Place of the Lord, laboring throughout the day to prepare a table fit for a King and his friends to dine together. Consider setting an extra chair to be Jesus’ place, and fill it as often as possible:

Then the King will say…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:34-40)

May we all embrace the experience of the Lord’s Table with a renewed sense of passion, with an invigorated intentionality, and with renewed delight. May wives and mother’s embrace the great ministry of service that God has blessed them with, and in so doing shape forever the lives of their offspring; may mother’s see in their service an opportunity to mold the spiritual lives and experience of their children.

Husbands and Fathers, sons and daughters, cherish your mother’s constant gifts: they can cost her dearly; though she offer them with gladness, it may be at the cost of her dreams. May a multitude rise up and call their mothers blessed this Erev Shabbat! (Sabbath Eve)

The Effects of Antinomianism

I’ve been reading some of the writings of a Puritan minister named Isaac Ambrose lately. First of all, let’s just say that these guys swam in the deep end of the pool–whewee! Digging through their thoughts is well worth it, but you are laboring for your reward–best not to read these guys on the Sabbath! (just kidding) Just to give you a taste of the character of these fellows–it was the habit of Rev. Ambrose to take one month a year and spend it in a small shack set up in the woods not far from his home, avoid all contact with other humans and devote himself to contemplation. Ambrose describes this practice himself in his diary:

I came to Weddicre [i.e., one of the woods to which he withdrew for his annual retreats], which I did upon mature resolution, every year about that pleasant spring time (if the Lord pleased) to retire myself, and in some solitary and silent place to practice especially the secret duties of a Christian: In this place are sweet silent woods, and therein this month, and part of the next, the Lord by his Spirit wrought in me evangelical repentance for sin, gave me sweet comforts, and spiritual refreshings in my commerce and intercourse with him, by prayer, and meditation, and self-examination, and discovered to me the causes of my many troubles and discouragements in my ministry….

Anyway, I became interested in Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664) because of an article in The Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, Vol 3, No 1 (Spring 2010). Indeed, this article was the first time I’ve ever heard of the guy. One of Ambrose’s works was titled Media: The Middle Things, In Reference to the First and Last Things, or The Means, Duties, Ordinances, both Secret, Private, and Public for Continuance and Increase of a Godly Life, (Once Begun,) Till We Come to Heaven, how’s that for a descriptive title!

The Puritans, who by the way, typically get an undeservedly bad rap, had a fascinating way of discussing various spiritual disciplines. They divided them up into three types: secret, private, and public. “Secret” described the individual’s personal spiritual practices, while “private” referred to what ought to be engaged in by a small group such as family or friends gathering in a home, and “public” referred to larger gatherings for the practice of corporate worship. Ambrose defined spiritual disciplines as “any practices that awaken, strengthen, or deepen a person’s relationship with the Triune God.”

But here, in particular, is what caught my attention: in Tom Schwand’s article about Ambrose, titled “‘Hearts Sweetly Refreshed’: Puritan Spiritual Practices Then and Now” I read the following:

He [Ambrose] acknowledges that spiritual duties were not popular in his day, due in part to the reality of antinomianism that was prevalent in his region of Lancashire. This tended to minimize the necessity for spiritual disciplines since they believed that Jesus had already accomplished all that was required and therefore, there was no need to spend one’s time in cultivating a deeper personal relationship with God.

My attention was arrested by the reality that the same theological error that plagues us today, also plagued the 17th century, and caused similar consequences then as it has today.

Scot McKnight’s Take on the Gospel

"God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.

But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.

The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you – so you all can live as the beloved community.

If you enter into Jesus’ story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.
Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God’s community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.

Those who preach this gospel will not deconstruct the church. Instead, they will participate in what God is doing: constructing the kingdom community even now."

I love how this is not focused on the individual, but rather on the individual’s place in the Body.