Welcome to Day 2118 of Wisdom-Trek, and thank you for joining me.
This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
Becoming A Radical Disciple 5 – Dependence and Death – Daily Wisdom
Putnam Church Message – 08/29/2021
Becoming A Radical Disciple – Dependence and Death
My purpose in this series is to consider eight character traits of Christian discipleship that are often neglected and deserve to be taken seriously. In the past four weeks, we have explored Nonconformity, Christlikeness Maturity, Creation Care, and Living a Simple and Balanced Life. This week we look at the final two character traits of dependence and death. Let’s first explore the following:
I must admit that I continually struggle with one area of life: dependence on others. But I know in my heart that a radical disciple must depend on others to live a rich and satisfying life. As I reflect on the past 65 years of life, as an adult, there are four significant times when there was no choice but to depend on others.
The first significant time was when, after nearly 18 years of running a successful computer business that we had expanded to three locations and had over 50 employees, we were forced to close and lost most of our finances. I indeed take responsibility, and we made some unwise choices of growing too fast by acquiring two other computer businesses. We did not realize that the values and worldviews of the other owners were not as closely aligned with ours as we had thought. As a result, we did not do enough due diligence and did not have the financial strength required. The dot com boom of the day went bust shortly after those acquisitions, resulting in the financial markets drying up for technology businesses, and we went bust with the markets. During that time, we realized how valuable dependence on family, friends, and even Putnam church, allowing us to work with the youth provided the foundation to get back on our feet again. We had to work hard to overcome the failure, but I learned some valuable lessons.
The second time was when Hazel was diagnosed with Leukemia, and there was nothing we could do. But, again, dependence on God, family, and many friends, helped our family through those difficult days.
The third was when I made the unwise choice to combine a very large chain saw with an extension ladder. As a result, a not-so-huge branch snapped back and kicked me off onto the cement sidewalk below, fracturing my left femur right below the hip joint. It could have been so much worse, and I praise God that it was not. Right after the fall, I dependent on my nephew was required, who had to prop up my back, so I wouldn’t move my leg, which stuck out at an odd angle. Again, dependence on Paula, my brother, the ambulance, the entire medical staff, and the surgeon were all needed. I was once again reminded that we all are dependent on others.
The final story is more recent, and happened the same night I started speaking full-time at Putnam on May 16th. My Dad died that night, and the primary responsibility for all the funeral arrangements was mine, the oldest son living in Marietta. If it were not for my brother Jack, several other siblings, our kids, and, very importantly, our church family, there would have been no way to handle it. Being dependent on many people that week allowed us to have a beautiful church, graveside service, and family celebration afterward. It also allowed me time to prepare a message for the next day’s church service.
I have realized that God can use dependence on others during these experiences to bring about greater maturity in me. Through these situations, I am more sensitive to the financial plight of others. I am more sensitive to those who are going through terminal illnesses. I am much more willing to think through the consequences of my decisions, and realize that I am not invulnerable. I am also more willing to accept help from others.
While I will usually mask my feelings, and don’t often openly cry, my sensitive side is never too deep below the surface. At various times during the day, I find that even when I review my notes for these messages or listen to a hymn, it brings me to tears as the magnitude of God’s goodness penetrates my soul. I realize that I am entirely dependent on God, and by extension, on my family and you as my church family and friends.
Yes, the experiences where I made less than-wise choices caused personal humiliation. However, it did force me to be dependent on others. Humiliation, I have concluded, was the road to more humility. Without tasting humility and dependence, it would be impossible to climb the hill to place my confidence in God firmly. Humility also brings maturity.
So our dependence is grounded in our humility. Here are five takeaways focusing on becoming radical disciples through dependence.
- Thank God, often and continually. Thank God, carefully and with wonder, for your continuing privileges. Thankfulness is soil in which pride does not quickly grow. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
- Take care about the confession of your sins which is self-examination. 1 John 1:9, But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
- Be ready to accept humiliation. They can hurt terribly, but they help you to be humble. There can be trivial humiliations. Accept them. There can be bigger humiliations, learn from them. All these can be many chances to be nearer to our humble and crucified Lord. James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
- Do not worry about status. There is only one status that God wants us to be concerned with, and that is the status of proximity to himself. James 4:8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
- Use your sense of humor. Laugh about things, laugh at the absurdities of life, laugh about yourself and your stupidity. Enjoy the life God has given to you. We are all infinitesimally small and preposterous creatures within God’s universe. You have to be serious sometimes, but never be solemn because if you are solemn about anything, you risk becoming solemn about yourself and everything. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.
So a refusal to depend on others is not a mark of maturity but immaturity. It is not a sign of humility but pride. I know I struggle with this as much as anyone does. I don’t want to burden others. However, I am discovering that we are all designed to be a burden to others as radical disciples. You are intended to be a burden to me, and I am intended to be a burden to you. The family’s life, including the local church family, should be one of ‘mutual burdensomeness.’ The Apostle Paul teaches us this in Galatians 6:2-3 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Life Through Death
The eighth and final characteristic of the radical disciple is death. Let me explain. Christianity offers life, abundant life. John 10:10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
But it makes it plain that the road to life is death. It underlines this in at least six areas. Life through death is one of the profound paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life.
Both life and death have always fascinated human beings. There can be no doubt that we are alive and will die. Life and death are two indisputable facts with which we must come to terms. But they are also mysteries and hard to define.
The radical disciple’s biblical perspective sees death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life. This perspective is so different from the assumptions of the secular mind, so novel, so revolutionary in its implications, that we need to see it illustrated in the six different situations in which it operates according to the New Testament.
First, we see death and life in relation to our salvation. Salvation is often represented in terms of new life. Paul wrote that God’s gift is eternal life Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. John explained that those who have the Son have life 1 John 5:12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.
The same principle of life through death operates in discipleship as in salvation. Jesus himself used this vivid symbolism in Mark 8:34-35. Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.
This verse was the dramatic imagery Jesus used for self-denial. If we follow Jesus, there is only one place we can go, the place of death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ Luke takes it a step further as we are to take up our cross every day Luke 9:23. Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.
The Apostle Paul explains how we live each day through our new life in Galatians 2:20. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Mission (Vocation)
The third area in which the life-through-death principle operates is the mission or our vocation. If you remember back to the Sermon on the Mount, we who are now a citizen of God’s kingdom our occupation, what we do to earn a living is a means to an end. It is to provide the resources needed to share the good news with others so that they will become citizens. We are to die to ourselves so we can become the salt of the earth and the world’s light. John 12:23–25 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.
Physical persecution is the fourth area in which death is found to be the way to life. While we are so blessed to live in a country with little to no persecution and can worship freely, this has not been the case throughout history, nor is it in many other countries today.
Many Christ-followers, even today, can relate to Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 15:30-31 And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you.
The church in China and many African countries can relate to 2 Corinthians 4:10-11. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
We need to be prepared if this type of persecution ever comes to the United States; we have taken on the character traits of a radical disciple to endure the persecution.
In our consideration of ‘life through death,’ I am separating martyrdom from persecution. I realize there could be an overlap, but there is a distinction between remaining loyal amid persecution and being willing to sacrifice your life to stay faithful to God. Unfortunately, in the past few years, Nigeria is experiencing the worst reports of Christians being killed. A recent report from the end of July by a Nigerian human-rights group states: More than 3,400 Christians have been murdered by Nigerian jihadists in the past 200 days. This is an average of 17 Christians in Nigeria being killed every day this year. Of all the interventions in other countries that the US and its allies have had over the years, I struggle with why we are not doing more to assist countries like Nigeria. I pray that something can be done. Despite this, the church in Nigeria is exploding in numbers and strength. Out of the 206 million people in Nigeria, 48.1% identify as Christian, which is good news.
So far, we have considered five areas in which death is the way to life. Now, we will face mortality and the death of our physical bodies. Having experienced several deaths within families of the church this year, we all know too well that physical death will come to all unless Christ returns to finish setting up God’s kingdom on earth.
Death inspires terror in many people, and while we who remain are saddened, death holds no horrors for Christians. The dying process can be messy and undignified, and the decay that follows it is not pleasant. The Bible recognizes this by referring to death as the last enemy in 1 Corinthians 15:26, And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Jesus Christ has personally conquered it by his resurrection, so it no longer has any authority over us. Consequently, we can confidently proclaim 1 Corinthians 15:54-58:
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
The defeat of death is one thing; the gift of new and abundant life today is another; the promise and hope of eternal life with God is finality.
We have considered eight character traits of those who desire to follow Jesus, forming my portrait of the radical disciple. I hope and pray for each of us to apply what we have learned and continue on our trek to become radical disciples.
One last reminder – this week, commit to memory our theme verse for this series, Romans 12:2. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.