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Unguarded Discipleship

Have you ever wondered why you’re still here? I’ve often thought “Wouldn’t it be nicer if God would just teleport us to heaven the moment we accepted him as our Saviour?” We could be done with sin once for all and we could immediately enjoy the wonders of being with our Creator. That would be way better than staying here on this sin-soaked planet – enduring the pain and the hardships of life.

The Apostle Paul wrestled with this very thought of how it would be better to go and be with the Lord, but at the same time, he knew that God had a purpose for him to remain. He writes in his letter to the Philippians:

I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. Philippians 1:20-25

Paul recognized that he had a job to do. He had a purpose on this planet – and that was to make disciples – in Paul’s words, his job was “to help people grow and experience the joy of their faith.”

And our job is no different. We read in Matthew 28:18-20:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

God has chosen for us to be part of his plan of redemption. We are to be his messengers of this Good News. We are to be disciples who make disciples.

Last week we defined a disciple as:

One who is following Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus.

Those three elements are key to true discipleship. And the big question that we’ve been trying to tackle for the last several weeks is: how do we become and how do we make those kind of disciples as Jesus commanded us?

If that’s one of the main tasks that Jesus has given us to do, if that’s a major reason why we are still on this planet, then how do we do that effectively? How, in 2017 here in Canada, do we make disciples who are following Jesus, are being changed by Jesus, and are committed to the mission of Jesus?

Well, the Bible doesn’t give us a checklist to follow or a no-fail formula for disciple making – but it does give us all kinds of examples in the New Testament and in the old, of people making disciples – helping others trust and follow God.

And so for this message series, we’ve categorized those examples into 5 different contexts. These are five types of relationships in the Bible where we can see discipleship happening.

And so far we’ve looked at the public context, the social context, and the personal context.

And I don’t want to take too long to give you a full recap, but here are the keys points for those three contexts so far.

  • In the public context, disciples can be made in a crowd through teaching, preaching, and inspiration. A good modern example of this would be the Sunday Morning service. It is here that we are we are motivated, persuaded, encouraged, influenced, moved, stirred, spurred on, energized, and awakened in our journey with Jesus.
  • In the social context, Christianity is caught, more-so than taught as we see first hand from others what it looks like to follow Jesus. This sort of discipleship happens within a community – usually 20-70 people. For us this would include many of our church functions outside of the Sunday service – such as backyard BBQs or serving together in the town’s Fall Festival or our Mother’s Day brunch.
  • Then last week we looked at the personal context. If, in the public context we can be discipled by strangers, and in the social context by acquaintances, then in the personal context, we are discipled by friends who support and challenge us. These family-like relationships allow us to practice things like forgiveness and mercy and patience and all that other good stuff as we learn to love others like Jesus did. This is the kind of discipleship that happens in families or small groups of 4-12 people.

And now today we want to look at a fourth context – the Transparent Context.

The transparent context includes our closest relationships. It most often just includes two people, though there could be groups of three or even four.

This is the type of relationship that you’d see between a life-long mentor and mentee, a group of two or three best friends, or even husband and wife. It’s the kind of relationship where you don’t feel you have anything to hide. You can be honest and open – and just say it like it is. No need to flower it up or hold anything back. It’s ok for the other person to see you exactly for who you are – warts and all – because you trust them. You know that they’ve got your back – no matter what.

And even as I describe it now – there maybe be some of you who are thinking, “Man, I don’t have any relationships like that.”

And it’s true that these are pretty rare relationships. Most people will only have one or two people like this in their lives at any given time – if any! Many people never experience this kind of unguarded openness in a relationship.

But it’s in this transparent context where God can bring about the greatest growth in our lives. Because it’s here that we come face-to-face with our own weaknesses and failures – our fears and our hopes – our disappointments and our greatest joys – both in our lives and in the lives of others. This is an awesome context for discipleship because we’re not just dealing with things at the surface level anymore – we’re starting to deal with the heart.

Through out the Bible, its emphasized that becoming like Jesus requires a change of heart – not just a change of outward appearances. That was always Jesus’ major issue with the Pharisees – they looked righteous on the outside (on the surface level), but they still had that hard, rebellious heart towards God. Even in the early church, Paul had to address this issue – that it’s not the outward appearance or our surface level actions that God is so concerned about – it’s the heart. Paul writes in Romans 2:28…

28 For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. 29 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. Romans 2:28-29

We could easily adapt the language of those verses to say that we are not true followers of Jesus just because we’ve gone through the ceremony of baptism or we’ve prayer a pray or we go to church every Sunday – true followers of Jesus are marked by a changed heart. That’s why we see verses even back in the Old Testament where God talks about changing people’s hearts. When he speaks through Ezekiel about how He is going to restore Isreal, He says:

 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. Ezekiel 36:26

He doesn’t just deal with their actions – he deals with their heart. When David was called out by the prophet Nathan after he had slept with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered, in repentance, David cried out to God in Psalm 51:10:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 KJV

David recognized that this was a heart issue. If you change the heart, you’ll change everything! That’s why Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23.

23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

It really does! And that’s what makes this transparent context such a powerful place for discipleship – because it’s here that we really start dealing with the heart. We get beyond just the surface level stuff and we can be real with each other – and God can use that to change our hearts – and as this verse says, that will determine the course of our life!

And the Bible is full of examples of this type of discipleship. Just to list a few:

  • Moses & his brother Aaron as together, they learned to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the Wilderness. I think over time they grew to have this type of relationship.
  • Also Moses & Joshua as Joshua learned from Moses how to lead the next generation of Isrealites.
  • Adam & Eve – their relationship was the epitome of unguarded openness with each other – at least it was before they sinned.
  • Eli & Samuel as Eli raised Samuel basically as his own son and as an apprentice in the temple.
  • Elijah and Elisha – another example of apprenticeship
  • Paul & Silas, Paul & Timothy, Silas & John-Mark

There’s lots of examples, but I think probably one of the clearest examples is Jesus’ relationship with Peter.

And actually, Jesus had this this type of relationship with three of his disciples – Peter, James & John – and these three got to see and know Jesus in some pretty unique ways.

  • When Jesus brought back the little girl – Jarius’ daughter – from the dead, Peter, James, and John were the only one’s Jesus allowed to come with him into the house to witness her being brought back to life.
  • It was these three that were with Jesus when he was transfigured before them – they saw Jesus talking to Elijah and Moses and they heard God speak to them from a cloud saying “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
  • It was also these three that Jesus invited to come with him to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before his crucifixion. These were some very personal moments that Jesus shared with these guys.

But Peter, in particular, seemed to have an especially close relationship with Jesus. It was in this relationship that Peter experienced some of his greatest joys and greatest failures – and because of those, some of his greatest opportunities to grow.

It was Peter that Jesus invited to come out walking with him on the water. What a mountaintop experience that must have been! But it also came with Jesus’ rebuke to Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink and Jesus pulled him up and said to him, “You have so little faith – why did you doubt me?”

That whole event must have had a huge impact on their relationship. Peter’s faith must have grown tremendously that day – both through his unique experience of walking on the water with Jesus and but also through his failure when he began to doubt.

I’m sure Jesus’ words must have stung – “You have so little faith – why did you doubt me?” It hurts to be rebuked. But it was the truth and because of the close relationship the Jesus had with Peter, Peter was able accept that rebuke and grow because of it. I’m reminded of the verse in Proverbs 27:6 which says.

6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,

    but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6

It’s like how the wound from a surgeons knife is sometimes necessary to bring healing. Likewise, in the transparent context, when we open ourselves up to another person, the potential for hurt is certainly present. But if we aren’t willing to be open and honest with others, there’s a lot of issues that will never get dealt with. Sometimes we need those wounds from a trusted friend to help us deal with stuff that’s below the surface. And that’s the kind of stuff that needs to happen in the transparent context. 

So what might that look like for us? How do we make disciples in this transparent context?

Well, there are probably two things to focus on.

First of all, is that unguarded openness. Of course, this is not appropriate in every context –  particularly in the public or the social context. Everyone knows how awkward it can be when someone shares too much information in the wrong context. But at the same time, I think God has wired us with this desire to know others and to be known at the deepest level of who we are. We crave those relationships where we can just be ourselves – without fear or shame. Where we don’t need to hide anything or pretend to be something we’re not.

And I think that sin is reason why these kinds of relationships are so hard to come by.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the first thing they did was to cover themselves and hide from God. Fear and shame are probably the biggest barriers to these types of relationships. And so to counter that, building trust is huge.

The depth of your relationship with someone will only ever be as deep as the level of mutual trust. The more you trust someone, the more you’ll be willing to open and honest with them.

And the reverse is true too – the more you are open and honest with people, the more they will trust you. If people can see that you are being authentic with them, they are much more likely to be authentic with you.

So if you’re not willing to be open and honest with others, then you’re probably not ready to be discipled in this context. But when you can get to the place where you can share with unguarded openness, that’s when you can focus on the second element – and that is impact.

As I said early, because the transparent context can begin to touch on real heart issues, discipleship in this context can have incredible impact on your life.

For me, the people that have impacted my life the most have been the people with whom I’ve had a relationship with in this transparent context. But simply being in the transparent context doesn’t automatically make it effecting in making disciples. Its important to be intentional about  helping each other trust and follow Jesus.

We have the opportunity in the transparent context help each other understand and apply the teachings of Scripture to the most personal issues of our life. In these other contexts, we simply don’t talk about some of these very personal but real-world issues – our beliefs, our attitudes, our habits, our questions, our doubts, our fears, our struggles. But that’s where its most important to apply the truths of Scripture – to the heart – because, as we read in Proverbs 4:23, the heart determines the course of our life.

God’s Word applies to every part of our lives – even the most personal parts.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible speaks to every aspect of our lives.  God has something to say about every real-world issue that we wrestle with – relationships, depression, addiction, finances, fear, sexuality, self-image, questions about the future – or whatever! It’s so important that we have some of these relationships in the transparent context where we can help one another understand and apply the Bible to all the questions and issues we’re working through.

So this morning, I’d encourage you to actively pursue a relationship or two like this. Seek out a person or two – who, first of all, that you like to hang out with. Someone who you’ve seen be open and honest to a certain degree, someone that you trust, someone that can help you understand how to apply the Bible to some of these personal issues of life.

Then, to maximize the effectiveness of this relationship, I’d encourage you to do five things.

#1. Meet consistently. Probably a weekly meeting would be fantastic. That consistency builds momentum and keeps you engaged. It also keeps you up-to-date with what’s going on in each other’s lives – you can actually see how God is at work as he answers the prayers that you pray for one another, or as He changes attitudes or beliefs, as he breaks or builds habits, or whatever. But that consistent meeting together is really key to seeing progress.

For me, right now I have a weekly meeting for this purpose. We get together for coffee early on Tuesday mornings before work. Its not always easy to get up that early, but I value this relationship and so we make it work. We try to be as consistent as possible.

#2. Commit to transparency. If you’re not willing to share your struggles and your failures in an open and honest way, you’re not really operating in the transparent context. You will not truly be known and you’re not to going to touch on those real-life heart issues. As difficult as it can be sometimes, you’ve got to commit to being transparent with one another in this context.

#3. Keep confidentiality. We’ve mentioned before that trust is the cornerstone of this type of relationship. You have to know that what you share in this transparent context will not go anywhere else. If you break that trust even once, it’s very difficult to ever get it back. You’ve got to keep confidentiality.

#4. Make God’s Word the focal point of your time together. It’s not our wise advice that changes lives. God changes lives. God’s the one who changes the heart. And he does that through his Word.

So maybe you’d want to just spend some time reading the Bible together. Or maybe you want to go through a Bible study book or video series together. Maybe you just want to come prepared to share a verse that stuck out to you that week. But don’t neglect to make God’s Word a central part of your times together.

#5. Pray together. That’s a great idea regardless of your context, but praying for one another is particularly powerful in the transparent context. It really contributes building trust as you pray for some of these deep personal needs and issues. And it’s incredibly affirming to have someone pray for you like this. And as I mentioned earlier, it also really helps us grow in our relationship with God as we see Him answer these kinds prayers that we simply wouldn’t see in other contexts.  So make prayer a regular part of your meetings together.

If you begin meeting like this with one or two or even three others, and you follow these five guidelines, I will guarantee you, or your money back, that God will use those relationships to transform your life. It probably won’t happen overnight, but over weeks, or months, or years – as you build these relationships and focus on applying the truths of Scripture to the real, personal stuff of life, God will change your heart and with it, the course of your life.

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