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Discipline, Discipleship and the Journey to the Cross ©

Take a quick test. What comes to your mind when you roll the word “discipline” over in your head? I submit that it is easy (even at the new age of 68) to remember the times of discipline for bad behavior at school. The phrase “in need of discipline” easily applied to me. (I can remember full well some 62 years ago meeting my Dad in the hallway at Washington Elementary School in Marengo, Illinois. I was exiled to the hall for talking out and “sassing” the teacher in first grade. Unfortunately for me my dad, the Superintendent of Schools for Marengo, just happened to walk by. I do not recall a happy evening at home that night (if you get my drift). Discipline often is equated with punishment for disobedience. And yet, then and now, I desperately need discipline. A second tale of discipline comes to mind. Back in ancient history when I was a high school student. I played varsity basketball at Onarga High School in Illinois. Onarga was the equivalent of a 1A school. Making the team wasn’t a spectacular accomplishment. If you could walk and breathe at the same time you made the team. I was number 11 on a 12 man squad. It was a great year! I was a 16 year old boy who sat on the end of the bench right next to the opposing teams cheer leaders! Even after all these years, I can still remember at all the practices Coach McGhee yelling at me to improve my free throw shooting. He hounded me to be trained, to be disciplined, to have the same motion every time I made a shot. He wouldn’t settle for a casual commitment. Practice and discipline were the stuff that made the game move from causal enjoyment to accomplished conviction. This is a critical juncture on the path to great living. Despite myself, I became a better player. Something like this discipline, only more involved, is vital in the Lenten journey to the cross. The church of today is enamored with the term discipleship. In fact, it is the centerpiece of our stated mission –“to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” What we often miss is the connection between discipline and discipleship. We won’t get to discipleship without discipline! This uncomfortable truth frames the climb up Calvary Hill. Check out some of the teaching of Jesus as he journey’s to Jerusalem.
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” . . . After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them (Mark 8:31, 34-35).
Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” . . . Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”  Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first” (Mark 10:23-25, 38-31). Inhale the emphatic connection between discipline and discipleship which the Apostle Paul offers:
“Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies” (1Corinthians 9:25). “I’m happy to see the discipline and stability of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5b).
Let the Prophet speak:
“She listened to no voice; she accepted no discipline. She didn’t trust in the Lord, nor did she draw near to her God” (Zephaniah 3:2).
The connection between the two cannot be avoided and dare not be dismissed. Spiritual discipline leads to true discipleship. In fact a good definition of discipleship is a disciplined committed follower of Jesus Christ as Lord. We know the core disciplines that combine to form the elements of true discipleship.
  1. Dedicated daily quiet time and prayer.
  2. Consistent hands on missional outreach to the hungry, hurting and homeless (whether it be spiritual, psychological, physical or some combination of the three).
  3. Regular praise evoking worship of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  4. Frequent habitual grace filled witness to Jesus as Lord and faith sharing.
  5. Generosity of heart, head and hands entwined with offering financial resources.
  6. Methodical Bible study and spiritual formation with others.
The Quaker leader Richard Foster has written, “Superficiality is the curse of our age.” So it is that as we journey to the cross and beyond, we are called to remember the connection between discipline and discipleship. The latter does not happen without the former. A different way to think about discipline is to reflect on discipline which leads to discipleship as the habits of holy living. I remember Jolynn talking me into to taking a country western dance class. I walked into class needing remedial work before we even started. I can still remember the instruct saying that we were “going to install muscle memory.”  Habits of holy living are like that. They form the discipline that can be welded into true discipleship – disciplined committed followers of Jesus Christ as Lord. “Our only hope is not for more willpower; it is for a new set of habits,” writes John Ortberg (John Ortberg, Soul Keeping, p. 150). He continues, “Richard Foster told me once that the theologian Thomas Aquinas [one of the great “Doctors” of the Church] devoted over seventy pages of his writings to the cultivation of holy habits. Also, the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps are all about acquiring new habits through which we have access to God’s power to do what willpower can never do.” Active spiritual discipline is forged into true discipleship – disciplined committed following of Jesus Christ as Lord. This is the way to the cross …. And beyond!