When we travel, we see the signposts on the road. Likewise, in our journey of faith, there are signposts. I introduced one of examples the Sunday before, which is suggested in The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith—Stage 1: Recognition of God. Stage 2: Life of Discipleship. Stage 3: Productive Life. Stage 4: Journey Inward. Stage 5: The Wall. Stage 6: Journey Outward. Stage 7: Life of Love. As we can see, Life of Love is the destination of our journey of faith. We begin with Recognition of God toward Life of Love. Where do you think you are? How far have you come? Today I am going to talk about the second stage: Life of Discipleship.
The Life of Discipleship
This is a stage of learning and belonging, where we are taught by others. There are some characteristics of this stage: Feeling Comfortable, Finding Answers, Having a Sense of Rightness, and Having a Sense of Security in Faith.
Firstly, we feel comfortable with being part of the church. While we can recognize God anywhere without anyone beside me, which happens at the first stage, we need someone or a group of people to learn and enjoy being part of the community—the church. While we do not need any sense of belonging at Stage 1, our being open to friendship and companionship from others on the journey is critical at Stage 2. In other words, if not open to friendship and companionship with others in the church, it might indicate that you are caged in Stage 1—not moving on, and not growing, actually.
Secondly, we find answers to our long-standing questions from others—particularly, from the church leaders. At this stage, what is clear is that we are not confident in ourselves, since we have just started this spiritual journey, to know what to believe, how to learn about God, or how to know God better. It is natural therefore that we are dependent on a more advanced person in the faith. The person may be a pastor, priest, minister, lay leader. We are entranced by their qualities, usually feeling deep inside that we would like to be more like them. So, we listen and reflect and follow what they say.
Thirdly, we have a sense of rightness. We confess that “I did not know, but I found it” or “I was lost, but I’m found,” which gives us a sense of strong confidence in the leader or the leadership team, to be our guide. The authors describe it “total confidence,” and write that “This is a good feeling that gives zest to life.” A sense of rightness enhances our sense of accomplishment and meaningfulness in life.
Fourthly, we have a sense of security in our faith. We feel comfort at this stage, knowing that we personally do not have to figure out the answers alone since someone else can help us with them. At Stage 2, we know that we are loved, and we trust our community of Christian friends. The authors emphasize that: “Whereas at Stage 1, The Recognition of God, we feel awe and a deep sense of love, at Stage 2, The Life of
Discipleship, we know more about why that is the case.”
Indications of Being Caged
There are Christians caged at this stage, particularly among those who have been Christian for a long time, those who have been part of the church for a long time. These are Christians who stopped moving forward in their spiritual journey—stopped growing, transforming and maturing, in other words. Then, how do we know if I am caged at this stage? The book The Critical Journey suggests three signs that tell us if I am caged: (1) Rigid in Righteousness. (2) We against Them. (3) Switching. From my faith journey for the last 47 years, I agree that these are valid indicators.
Firstly, Rigid in Righteousness, which means, there is a tendency to become legalistic, moralistic, rigid in our understanding what is right and what is wrong. It is very seductive at this stage that what is right for me in the faith is what is right for everyone else as well. What is happening is that no one caged in this lack of acceptance sees their own rigidity. It is impossible for them to see it, since they are so sure they are right. Unfortunately, an individual or corporate sense of arrogance develops, and they seldom notice their own arrogance.
It is a dangerous trap for most evangelical Christians or evangelical groups. Evangelicals are likely to fall into this trap and become caged unless they give much attention to critical self-reflection and self-examination. The Liberal Christians, on the other hand, are likely to be caught in a paradox: Being proud of accepting a wide range of views and behaviour, they exclude people who are narrower, or who think differently, from their circle of acceptance.
Secondly, We against Them. A strong sense of “we” versus “them” develops. Anyone in the group is right; those outside our group are wrong.
Anyone in the group is good; those outside our group are bad. A strong sense of belonging can change to caged behaviour in which one becomes stuck in a very closed and overly protective group, even to the extent to become paranoid. Along with suspicion, growing until it gets out of proportion, the final stage of paranoia produces cults, which is very destructive.
Thirdly, Switching. I join a group that looks very much alive and ready to meet my needs or beliefs as I have come to recognize them. I join, participate and live in the group for a time. But then gradually I come to realize that the group is not exactly what I had been looking for. I grow disillusioned with it and start to criticize it. I may initially try to make changes or voice our differences but to no avail. I feel betrayed. I feel my sense of security threatened. I then switch to another group that now appears to be more in keeping my needs, beliefs or ideals.
There are Christians who spend a great deal of time at this stage because they continually change from one group to another. They are not moving on in their journey, but moving around, and the movement gives them a sense of progress along the way. But they are caged, actually.
So far, I have talked about the second stage of our spiritual journey—The Life of Discipleship. Some of you might have just entered this stage, or some others might have just moved on to the next stage, Productive Life. I hope not, any of you may be caged in The Life of Discipleship, but keep moving on.
Growing and Maturing
Before we know who God is, we come across these challenging questions: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:21)
At first we ignored these question, but they were hovering over our head all the time, whether we were aware of them or not. Then, one day we realized that It is God of Creation who sits above the circle of the earth, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and who spreads the heavens like a tent to live in (Isaiah 40:22).
We also realized that Our God is so powerful that he brought kings and princes to naught, and made the rulers of the earth as nothing (Isaiah 40:23), and that He is so powerful that even the tempest obeyed him, and there is no one who is His equal (Isaiah 40:25).
We lifted up our eyes on high and saw what God Almighty created. And we saw how great and mighty our Holy One is (Isaiah 40:26a), and we see that there is no one who is beyond the sight of God of Grace. So we give thanks to God for His loving care (Isaiah 40:26b-27).
Then, eventually, we come across His promises that we shall run and not be weary because He gives power to us, that we shall walk and not faint because He strengthens us, and that we shall mount up with wings like eagles because He renews our strength (Isaiah 40:29-31).
At this, we confess, “Lord God, I am yours,” “Lord Jesus, I will follow you.” Then now we are at Stage 2, The Life of Discipleship. We want to learn more about who God is and what Jesus did, and experience more of His love and grace.
“If you love one another”
Earlier I said, at the stage of the Life of Discipleship, we are taught by others, and we enjoy a sense of belonging and a process of learning. As a matter of fact, we learn from each other because there is no one among us who always teaches and there is no one among us who always learns. We learn from each other. Now I want to close my sermon with what Jesus said to his disciples.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Hereby Jesus defines who is His disciple. He says, “Only those who love one another are my disciples.” It has been forty seven years since I came to church for the first time. It has been forty years since I was baptized. It has been thirty five years since I called myself Jesus’ disciple. It has been thirty years since I was part of lay leadership for the first time. It has been nine years since I started parish ministry as an ordained minister. And now I am doing my doctoral studies. But, it does not tell that I am a good disciple. Even it does not ensure that I am Jesus’ disciple. What matters is love. So, I ask myself every day, “In what ways do I share His love?”
Let us pray: Lord God, You are Creator who stretches out the heavens like a curtain. You are so powerful that kings and rulers of the earth are nothing. And yet You came to the world in a human form to save us all. So in Jesus Christ we see who You are. We give you thanks because You called us to be Your people. We give you thanks because we are called to be Jesus’ disciples. We give you thanks because You strengthen us as we move on gladly and joyfully in this journey of discipleship. Help us remember always what Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” in whose name we pray. Amen.
Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; John 13:31-35. “If you love one another.” Sunday 4 Feb 2018. Rev Joohong Kim. Crossway Community Church.