Friend, Disciple, Or Both?

Recently, our community spent time together at beautiful Suncadia Lodge in Central Washington. The sun was out, the snow was conspicuously absent, and our weekend was full of great laughs, meals, and hijinks with board games, the pool, the mountains, and a huge fire pit.

We were also able to get some time to sing songs to Jesus, and to have a conversation about what God is calling us to as a community, namely, friendship and discipleship. These discussions affirmed and solidified what we had expected. Those terms mean a lot of different things to each and every one of us.

What is a disciple? A friend? How do we pursue friendship and discipleship together, in Jesus?

When you hear these terms, what memories or visuals come to mind? Are they practical? Programatic? Free-flowing? Encouraging? Painful? Confusing? Perhaps, they conjure up hopes realized, love lost, fears overcome, doubts realized, or maybe even a relationship always desired or once had?

When you think about friendship or discipleship, what do you feel?

Do those words make you want to draw closer to Jesus and others, or to pull away? Is something stirred in you? Do your walls go up?

Across the spectrum of our experiences, feelings, and emotions about friendship and discipleship; it is my hope that these focuses will become an integral part of our A Seattle Church community's heart, soul, mind, and strength. That with open hands, they will be beautiful pictures of how we experience the gospel of Jesus' love and grace for all.

Why "friendship" and "discipleship"?

Why reclamation of these loaded ideas?  Why not new terms to describe our deepest hope for our shared pursuit of Jesus? The reason is that Jesus life demonstrated that he cared so much about these two things. His incarnation on earth was the "full manifestation of the invisible God". His life was the full picture of discipleship and friendship. His being and doing focused most of his ministry on the twelve guys who followed Him that were called his disciples. It was these twelve guys that he spent three years of his life with until the end of his journey, where he called them friends. 

The late Dallas Willard wrote the following, "If I am Jesus’ disciple that means I am with Him to learn from Him how to be like Him". 

If I am Jesus’ disciple that means I am with Him to learn from Him how to be like Him.
— Dallas Willard

This description of discipleship sounds a lot like interacting with a loving and personable friend, who happened to also be the God of the universe.  It focuses much more on relationship than on the programs that facilitate it.  It sounds like the honesty and difficulty that all of our relationships call us to. It reverberates the choice to trust and risk putting our confidence in the love another has for us.  What a crazy beautiful picture of discipleship.

I believe that friendship is simply an echo of the picture above. The Holy Spirit is inviting us to love one another as a reflection of a God that is lovingly faithful to us, His friends and disciples.  

Put another way, an early church hymn in Philippians 2:5-8 says the following about God's hope for our relationships with Jesus and each other:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 

Perhaps this could be our heart for discipleship and friendship.

Simply Being with Jesus, and then being with each other.  

Presence with and service to our city.  Presence with and service to our friends who follow Jesus and those who do not. And not just presence and service as an entity or an organization or a community or a program.  But real raw human closeness. Presence in personal form. Seeing discipleship encapsulated as pointing and going towards Jesus together as friends.

What a joy it would be to have friends who point out evidence of Jesus' movement and work in our lives, and to get to be friends who do the same for others. Being disciples of Jesus, who encourage each other to do the same.   

Let's simply receive discipleship and friendship as gift from God and one another.  No strings attached, except for a joyous invitation to closeness. Intimacy. Love. Freedom. Grace. Truth. Beauty.  Let's stand by the fire pit together, facing the flame of what Jesus is doing in our lives. Let's laugh together, sing together, cry together, mourn together, but most importantly...let's turn to Jesus together as friends hoping to be His disciples.  

Let's start over.

Let's try this new approach to friendship and discipleship. Let's wipe the dust clean off of our old slate, by returning to Jesus' hopes for both. Perhaps you abandoned the idea of genuine friendship with others because you've been hurt by past relationships.  Perhaps you abandoned discipleship because you felt like you could never "do" it well enough, fit the mold, or failed in your previous attempts to be intentional, faithful, or fruitful.

As we run our hand over cooled granite of our lives past, lets brush those residual crumbs to the ground to be trampled under our feet. Let's watch how quickly they disappear in the face of Jesus' discipleship and friendship in our lives...Let's be honest friends to one another as we help each other to be disciples of Jesus.