Friday, February 07, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Graduation

This concludes a series covering the choosing and training of the twelve disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

Before His arrest, Jesus spoke these words to the remaining eleven:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. This I command you—to love one another. (John 15:5-17, The Net Bible)

Jesus made it clear that these words were for all who believe all through the centuries, but His closest associates heard it first. Certainly there are aspects of Jesus' words hear that apply most to the eleven, "I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father." This is their diploma for leaving everything and pressing on for more faith: an intimate friendship with Jesus, and through Jesus, the Father.

Obviously, my goal for this series was to nudge contemporary Christians to lay down more of their lives and press towards greater faith. You may be someone like Peter brought up in a believing home, living a good life, but fearful of His holiness. You may be someone like Matthew with a lot in life for which you are ashamed. He calls you both. It is only those who claim worth before Him that have cause to fear. Get to know Him and get to know His worth. Lay aside everything He asks you and follow His leading. Let Him challenge you to greater faith. Seek His voice and listen.

The disciples in Jesus' day had an enviable opportunity. They could hear the tone in His voice, watch His hand gestures, react to His posture and other body language cues. We do not have that today, and that actually is a better thing. On earth, Jesus was limited by geography. After His ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us to serve His Kingdom on earth. As Luke writes in the opening words of Acts, "I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach (Acts 1:1)" Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues "to do and teach" and that means through us.

Monday: Some random musings

Thursday, February 06, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Advanced Faith

This is part 8 of a series covering the choosing and training of the twelve disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

Perhaps you have heard, as I have, teachings that poke fun at the twelve disciples of Jesus. They are always bickering among themselves and Peter is always sticking his foot in his mouth. What such teachings really say is that these twelve men came from simple and common backgrounds. The time has come, however, to set the record straight that these were great men of faith before Jesus took them to a new level. Consider these facts:

  • They all left everything to follow Jesus. How many people have you known who have done this?
  • They all received, by faith, the authority to heal the sick and to cast out demons.
  • They stuck with Jesus even after many left. They were there until the arrest, which many anticipated

As you can see, these twelve men demonstrated a remarkable faith. A faith beyond what we commonly see. As part of the inner team, Jesus was not satisfied with this level. Here is the level He wanted from them:

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, because he is epileptic and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire and into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they were not able to heal him.” Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him here to me.” Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:14-20, The Net Bible)

Note Jesus' words "the littleness of your faith." He is saying this to men who left everything to be there and who have already seen and done powerful things. Jesus was holding them to a higher standard. Look at this story:

On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat, and other boats were with him. Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

Again note Jesus' words, "Do you still not have faith?"

Jesus was never satisfied with the faith the disciples showed. This was not because He was being overly critical, but it was because He wanted them to do great things. This was Jesus' goal:

Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:11-14)

The disciples demonstrated great faith in leaving everything and sticking beside Jesus in good times and bad. If Jesus had praised that, it would have ended there. Instead He counted it almost as nothing, the beginning point. Instead, he challenged them to believe truly great things.

The message for us is obvious. Let us consider the faith we have today as nothing, and ask Him to create in our inner selves, a faith that can do anything in His name.

Friday: Graduation

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Servant Leadership

This is part 8 of a series covering the choosing and training of the twelve disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

Servant Leadership

Luke records this event during the Passover before Jesus' arrest.

A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22:24, The Net Bible)

By this we know that the twelve discussed and disputed rank among themselves up to the very day of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. Being in the inner circle can go to one's head. Those years that they spent alongside Jesus were full of the expectation of an emerging Kingdom. Jesus would sit on His throne in glory and they would be the upper crust of His administration. But only one of them could sit at His right; one more could sit at His left; and the remaining ten would have lesser positions. They argued, seemingly often, about who would claim the most honorable positions. Even proud parents entered the fray:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked him for a favor. He said to her, “What do you want?” She replied, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Now when the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. (Matthew 20:20-24)

You can bet they were angry with this underhanded move. It is remarkable that this band of twelve men to not come apart at the seams. But who was going to leave with such opportunity looming.

In the meantime, Jesus taught and modeled a better way. Even though it did not connect before His death, it certainly became evident after His resurrection. To see this, let's continue the story of John, James, the meddling mother, and the disgruntled ten:

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

This is the course on "Servant Leadership." This is leadership that oversees the welfare of those entrusted to you. John Haggai defines leadership this way:

Leadership is the discipline of deliberately exerting special influence within a group to move it toward goals of beneficial permanence that fulfill the group's real needs. (Haggai, John, Lead On. Waco: Word Books, 1986 p. 4)

Contrast John Haggai's definition of leadership with Jesus' words, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them." Compare Haggai's words with "whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant." Servant Leadership is not the way the world sees things. Servant Leadership lays down its own life for the sake of the followers.

Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down. A Leader is responsible for the welfare of a group. Authority is given as a tool to bring about that welfare. Any other use of authority is corrupting. Note John Haggai's notion that a leader "excerpts special influence within a group to move it." He uses the words "influence" and "within" to describe the kind of leadership the world desperately needs.

In spite of Jesus' teaching, the disciples argued over who was the greatest up to the last supper. At that time, Jesus demonstrated Servant Leadership principles in an extraordinary way:

Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”) So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:3-17)

I love how this section begins, "Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him." Astounding! Because Jesus had all authority, He stripped to His undergarments to wash the feet of those entrusted to His care. He did what those clamoring for position expected someone else to do. This is the example Christian leaders must follow. This is the example that fathers must have in their homes. This is the example that pastors and elders must follow in their churches. We are to lay down our lives as Christ laid down His life for the Church. Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down.

Jesus taught and modeled Servant Leadership, but at the last supper it looked like every student in the class was going to fail. They still argued about who was greatest. Did it ever change and, if so, what brought it about? Change it did for several reasons. First of all, none of the twelve made a good showing the night of the arrest. Judas Iscariot betrayed Him. Peter denied knowing Him, and all but John ran away and hid. Who was going to claim right hand rights after that? Second, Jesus appeared to several people the day of His resurrection. The women saw Him first, and two disciples walking to Emmaus spent an afternoon in conversation. Ten of the eleven remaining disciples did not see Him until the evening. So, Jesus refused to give the inner circle inner privilege. Third, Jesus death and resurrection showed them in stark terms their destiny as leaders. Jesus had asked James and John, "Can you drink the cup that I will drink." Now they knew of what they must drink. Fourth, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost gave them power and enablement to walk the Servant Leader path.

Jesus taught and modeled the kind of leadership needed in life. As he surrendered His life, the flimsy foundation on which His disciples based their claims to greatness crashed and lay in shambles. When He rose from the dead, He sent news to them of this great event and left them to wonder about their place and position. These two actions made them teachable and with the Holy Spirit able to lead as those who lay down their lives for those in their care.

Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down. To those with a mind and heart to do so, lay down your life and lead on.

Thursday: A Course in Advanced Faith

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Kingdom Leadership Training

This is part 7 of a series covering the choosing and training of the twelve disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

Core Curriculum

The core curriculum of the twelve disciples was that which was open to all the disciples. What an extraordinary opportunity the men and women who followed Jesus had. The one thing they had, which we will never have is His physical presence. We have His words, but they had His body language. They had His tone of voice. They saw the full context of His words. We have the writings, they had the speaker. What a great gift.

They had His teaching and marveled at the authority that He had. Jesus did not quote the Rabbis. He was bold, "You have heard that it was said ..., but I say to you." You had to trust that Jesus was for real, and let us not think that was easy. To trust Him then was to hear His wisdom and watch Him live it out. By word and model, He taught the people who would hear.

When the Jewish leadership rejected Him, Jesus began to speak in parables to hide His message. To be one of His disciples meant having the inside scoop. Both of these notions are described by Mark.

When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, so that although they look they may look but not see,and although they hear they may hear but not understand,so they may not repent and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12, The Net Bible)

The disciples had the secrets of the Kingdom given to them by trusting Jesus enough to be with Him. They got to hear the parables explained.

The disciples also had ministry internships. First the twelve were sent out two-by-two. At a later time seventy-two were sent out. They heard Jesus teach, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Jesus taught the teachers and now they went forth on their practice runs.

For all this, and it must have been extraordinary, the twelve had more. Over the next days, I will cover the training unique to the twelve. I will show their training as Servant Leaders, take you through the lessons of Advanced Faith, and finally cover the unique intimacy that they had with Jesus.

Wednesday : Servant Leadership

Monday, February 03, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Kingdom Leadership Training

This is part 6 of a series covering the choosing and training of the 12 disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

In the past five segments, I have pieced together information from the gospels about the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. I showed that the calling of Peter and company occurred in three stages. They got to know who Jesus was and what His ministry was about. They moved from interest to taking short trips with Him, to leaving everything and travelling full time. The only other disciple about whose calling we have information is Matthew. This is seemingly because his background is such that we might have excluded him from the group. Jesus did not.

After praying all night, Jesus chose twelve men to receive more intensive training. Among these was Judas Iscariot, who would betray Jesus. With Judas, we have another ironic twist. The entourage trusted him with the money box, whereas they may not have trusted Matthew. In the end, it was Judas who betrayed Jesus.

It may be the same for many of us. We will finally leave everything to follow Jesus after we have known Him long enough to recognize His great worth. For many of us, Jesus will choose us from shady pasts. All of us must choose Him as our highest good, lest we become as Judas and later betray Him. Salvation is open to all, but discipleship is a demanding road. For this reason, the next segments in this series will cover the training the twelve receive. I will be using a college metaphor. As such, I will discuss the tuition, the core curriculum, and the "Master's" program.


Salvation is free. Along with salvation comes a plethora of continuing education courses that help us lead quiet and peaceful lives. These courses are also free. The Master's Discipleship program is different. The tuition, which requires payment on the installment plan, is quite steep as these passages show

Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to face the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions. (Luke 14:25-33, The Net Bible)

Then Peter said to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: in the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:27-29)

The tuition for the Master's Discipleship program is your life. We are to take up our cross and we are to renounce our possessions. This does not, necessarily, mean that we must sell all and give to the poor, because the Old and New Testaments show godly and devoted men and women who retained great wealth. It does mean that such possessions as we have must not have our heart. This is best achieved by focusing on the Person and Ministry of Jesus.

Such a focus is important. I became aware of this twenty-three years ago when I attended an advanced motorcycle riding school. I have never been all that coordinated, being the subject of many team picking arguments ("You take him." - "No you."). But after two weeks, I was doing tight figure eights while riding a large bike. The key was to focus my eyes ahead of the bike to where I wanted it to go. The brain, I was told, knows how to take eye focus and translate it into what the bike needs to do now to get there then. Ten years after that, I bought my first softball glove ever and joined our church's softball team. I asked myself, what happens if I just watch the ball? A marvelous thing happened over and over again. I would watch the ball and my glove would be in the right place to catch it. The brain knows how to take eye focus and translate it into what the gloved hand needs to do now to get there then.

If we look at our sin, or the sins of others, we will tend to move in the direction of sin. At best, we will only be able to put on the brakes and say, "I am not going there." Looking in that direction will never lead us on the paths of righteousness. Let me illustrate this, "When is a thief not a thief?" I love asking this question. Every time I have asked this, I have heard this answer, "When he is not stealing." At best I get, "When he is not stealing?" The question mark comes from those who see a trap on the path. Here is my answer, "A thief who is not stealing is a thief out of work." Now consider these words from Paul, "The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may share with the one who has need." (Ephesians 4:28) A thief is not a thief when he labors in order to have something to give. Spiritual eye focus on sin keeps you in the "not stealing" frame of mind and you fail to see the movement of soul needed to become generous.

If, however, we read the gospels and the scriptures and focus on who Jesus was, we will move toward Him. We will find Him to be of great worth. There is pain in even this simple step, because we will never be where He is in terms of character, Spirit, and power. But that is just the point. Our spirit, with our eyes on Him, powered and directed by His Spirit within, knows what we need to do now to get us closer then. As we find Him to be of increasing value, the value of our earthly things and endeavors shrinks. We learn to take up our cross and lay down our lives.

In this way, we pay our tuition each day for the rest of our lives. Of course, let us also remember the endowment that made opening this school possible. It cost Jesus everything He had too.

Tuesday: The Core Curriculum