The First Disciple

During Christmastide (December 24, 2015 – January 6, 2016) my scripture reading our-lady-of-kibeho-rwandaand prayer led me to spend much time thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I think it’s unfortunate that the Protestant tradition pays so little attention to her. We tend to focus our attention much more on the twelve men who accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. The gospel writers list their names. Particular attention is given to the three who comprise Jesus’ inner circle: Simon Peter and the two brothers, James and John. Mary and the other women are given more tangential roles by the gospel writers. We need to remember they were also part of the community of disciples who followed Jesus. We also need to remember the women are the disciples who stayed with Jesus while he suffered and died on the cross. They were the first to discover the empty tomb, encounter the risen Christ, and report the incredible news of the resurrection to the eleven men.

Reading the lessons for the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmastide convinced me Mary is the first disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, I think Mary has much to teach us about discipleship.

First, Mary had the benefit of knowing her son is God’s son. This news was brought to her by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). She is an ordinary young woman with no social standing from a remote region of the Roman Empire. At first she questioned the angel. After listening to his assurances, and that her cousin Elizabeth had conceived in her old age, Mary accepted the news and gave herself to God’s mission: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary’s response brings to mind the promises made at baptism. She gave herself to God’s purpose without reservation.

Like Mary, Christians, and people seeking to become Christian, have the benefit of knowing who Jesus is. They know he is God’s son, the second person of the Trinity, the Lord of the universe, and King of kings. The Twelve did not have the benefit of this knowledge when they responded to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me.”

Second, Mary gave her whole self to God. She believed the promises given by Gabriel. Her belief led her to give her body to God’s mission. She felt her body change as the infant Jesus grew within her womb. This brings to mind the words of Charles Wesley in a hymn describing the nature of discipleship that culminates with “forms the Savior in the soul.” For Mary the Savior was formed in her womb and her soul. Her entire self, body, mind, emotions, and spirit helped to give birth to God’s Son.

Mary’s experience tells us that discipleship is much more than intellectual assent to belief in Jesus, doctrines, or creeds. Belief is certainly important. But on its own belief is not faith, which is the gift of a relationship with the crucified and living Jesus Christ. Faith involves the whole self: body, mind, and soul. Christian faith is necessarily relational and incarnational. This is what John Wesley meant when he wrote “…there is no holiness but social holiness.” Relationship requires physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual participation. Discipleship is a relationship with the living Christ that requires your whole self: body, mind, spirit.

Third, Mary was changed. Ask any woman who has given birth and she will tell you that the experience of pregnancy and childbirth changed her in multiple ways. The most obvious change is the physical. But women also experience emotional and spiritual changes during and after pregnancy. Her life after childbirth is different than it was before. This is obvious. Before she was singular. Now she is a mother, with all the responsibilities that come with motherhood. Before pregnancy and birth Mary only had to care for herself. Afterward she was responsible for caring for her baby and herself. Her life and her identity were transformed by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Discipleship also changes a Christian. Your sins are forgiven. God’s love brings a relational change when you accept God’s acceptance of you. Christ crucified and risen welcomes you into life in God’s household as a citizen of God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit works in you to equip you to walk with Jesus and join his mission in the world. The Spirit helps to form new habits and attitudes that reflect the way of Jesus. John Wesley called these “holy tempers.” The Apostle Paul called them “fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Spirit also gives you a community that promises to surround you with love and forgiveness, to help you grow in your trust of God and be found faithful in your service to others. They promise to pray for you, that you may be a true disciple who walks in the way of Jesus. When a person who does not know Jesus encounters a disciple of Jesus Christ they should get a glimpse of what God’s way of love and justice look and feel like.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is his first disciple. While the Eleven apostles have much to teach us, we also need to look to Mary. Her life teaches us much about the nature and cost of discipleship. Her life, witness, and song give us a glimpse of God’s love and life in God’s kingdom (see Luke 1:46-56). Let us remember Mary’s example as we reaffirm our covenant with God and continue our walk with Christ in the world he loves.

Balanced Discipleship

Living as a witness to Jesus Christ in the world requires a balanced discipleship that is empowered in Christian community shaped by a rule of life that is centered in Christ’s teachings and mission. The General Rule of Discipleship helps ground congregations in the life and mission of Jesus Christ because it encourages a balanced discipleship:

To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

             The General Rule of Discipleship helps us to be mindful that Jesus calls his followers to obey all his teachings, and not only those we are temperamentally inclined to practice. He knew that some are drawn to the first commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). They are drawn to fervent worship, prayer, and other works of piety. Some of these people are introverts who are attracted to the inward life with God. For example, as an introvert, I am more comfortable with devotional practices of personal prayer, reflection, study, and writing. I need the support and accountability provided by my Covenant Discipleship group be more balanced in my discipleship. Our covenant and weekly meetings help me to be conscious of my need to look for opportunities God gives each week to be a channel of grace in the world through acts of compassion and justice.

When I was a pastor in Duluth, Minnesota I started a Covenant Discipleship group with members of the congregation. Our covenant included a clause that said we would give four hours of service with poor and homeless people each month. After several weeks of listening to me tell how I did not fulfill this clause of our covenant, one of the group members informed me that I could expect a telephone call from the executive director of Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) inviting me to serve on the board. The group had heard that CHUM was looking for a clergy person to serve on their board. They recognized that I needed help with our covenant clause to be in service with poor and homeless people, and nominated me for the board position. My group strongly encouraged me to accept the invitation. When the call came, I said “yes.”

At my first meeting of the CHUM board I was assigned to be responsible for the Drop-in Center. Located in the heart of Duluth, “The Drop” serves as a living room for the poor. It is a safe place for people to spend the day, store their belongings, receive mail, do laundry, and bathe. Social workers are available to help guests navigate the social service systems of St. Louis County and the State of Minnesota. I made several visits to “The Drop” to meet staff and guests. During those visits I found much good work meeting the physical and material needs of the people. The only thing missing, given that it was run by a Christian organization, was pastoral ministry with the people. In conversation with guests I learned they needed someone to listen to them, to pray with them, visit them in the hospital and jail.

When I brought my report to the board, I also brought a recommendation to develop a weekly pastoral presence at “The Drop.” The board’s response was positive. They unanimously recommended that I be responsible for developing the weekly pastoral presence.

This led to me working with the Drop-in Center director to lead a Bible study every Friday morning. For the next four years he and I led a lectionary Bible study with Drop-in Center guests every Friday morning. I told the people of the congregation I served that if they needed me on Friday mornings they could find me at the CHUM Drop-in Center. Depending upon the week, we had 6-26 people show up for Bible study. We read and discussed the Gospel Lesson for the week. In addition to the conversation centered in the Gospel we sang favorite hymns and praise songs. I found that many of the homeless women and men knew their Bible and had plenty to say. We always closed our time with sharing prayer concerns and then a rich time of prayer.

The weekly Bible study led to relationships and building trust with the people. Most weeks one, or more, persons would ask me to stay to pray with them. I was asked to preside at an annual memorial service for guests who died during the year. I soon found myself looking forward to Friday mornings and to what God had in store for us each week.

I’m telling this story to illustrate how the balanced discipleship presented in the General Rule of Discipleship and reflected in the group covenant produces growth in holiness of heart and life. My experience at the Drop-in Center taught me that when I am helped to get outside of my comfort zone I am more vulnerable to the power of grace to form me into the person God created me to be. I received much more from the people at the Drop-in Center than I ever gave to them. They taught me more about the nature of discipleship and grace in their lives and friendship than I could ever learn from a book. I will always be thankful to the people of that Covenant Discipleship group in Duluth for lovingly pushing me out the door of the church. They helped this introvert to grow in holiness of heart and life.

 

Provoke One Another To Love

John Wesley describes the purpose of the church in Sermon 92: “On Zeal”

Lastly, that his followers may the more effectually provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works, our blessed Lord has united them together in one—the church, dispersed all over the earth; a little emblem of which, of the church universal, we have in every particular Christian congregation.

The church is the community, called and centered in the life and mission of Jesus Christ for the purpose of provoking one another to love, holy tempers, and good works.

To provoke is to stir or incite someone to act. Wesley is referring to Hebrews 10:23-25

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Typically, the word “provoke” is used with anger, wrath, fighting, and violence. But here the writer of Hebrews and Wesley use the word as a means to holiness. He is saying the purpose of Christian community is to incite imitate Jesus in their daily lives. Faith in Christ must be seen in acts of compassion and justice. If faith does not compel good works then it is dead (James 2:17).

We see this reflected in the words of the baptismal covenant when the congregation promises:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.[1]

This is another way of saying, that we are united in Christ “to provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works.” Baptism marks the initiation into the church and provides the ongoing shape of the Christian life. When the church is serious about baptism it is organized to provoke members to love, holy tempers, and good works.

You’re probably wondering, “What are holy tempers?” Wesley frequently used the term when he wrote and preached about discipleship. The holy tempers are the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Randy Maddox writes that Wesley “was using ‘temper’ … in a characteristic eighteenth-century sense of an enduring or habitual disposition of a person (Responsible Grace, page 69). Wesley believed that holy tempers were formed in the Christian as they participated in the life of the Church by habitual practice of the means of grace—works of piety and works of mercy. Another way of understanding the formation of holy tempers is they are formed in the heart of the Christian who habitually obeys Jesus’ commands to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.

This is what Wesley, and the writer of Hebrews, meant when he said Christ gathered his followers into the church to “provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works.” Christians provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works when they meet weekly to give an account of their discipleship, support, and pray for one another. Covenant Discipleship and other small groups, like the Methodist class and band meetings, are essential to the church’s disciple-making mission.

I was prompted to write this article by the responses to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Fear is the natural response to such senseless violence and tragedy. Unfortunately, political “leaders” are too often willing to use the people’s fear to their advantage. I put leaders in quotes because politicians who manipulate fear to benefit themselves in my mind disqualify themselves from leadership. They are not the leaders that are needed to help the people overcome fear.

In times such as these, when we are told to fear refugees and immigrants, I’m reminded of 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” This tells me that Christians who faithfully provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works will be the people the world needs to stand up to “leaders” who seek power by manipulating fear. The Christian response in times of fear is to show the world what love looks like by obeying the crucified and risen Lord who commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus said that our neighbor is anyone, anywhere in the world who is suffering, wounded, and homeless (Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 25:31-46). He goes even further when he widens the circle to include enemies and “those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-48). We are to love them too, because he loves them. This kind of self-giving, self-emptying love requires us to “provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works.” We can love as Jesus loves only when we stay close to him. We stay close to him in the company of the people Jesus gives us in his church, united in the baptismal covenant.

When Christians habitually meet in small groups to provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works the church will answer fear with love and hope in Christ. Christians are called by our Lord to be a people who profess to pursue holiness of heart and life, universal love filling the heart and governing the life; a people who habitually resist fear and respond to the world with Christ-like love.

 

[1] The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship, “Baptismal Covenant I,” page 35.

Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus!

Advent is an opportunity for the church to be in, but not of, the

christpantocrator

Christ the King

world. We witness to Christ whose birth we celebrate in Christmas when Christians and the church fully celebrate the four weeks of Advent. The season is time to reflect, pray, and prepare for the coming of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, the King.

John Wesley frequently encouraged the Methodist preachers to “preach Christ in all his offices.” Christ is Priest, Prophet, and King. Christ the Priest assures us our sins are forgiven and relationship with God is restored. Christ the Prophet restores awareness of God’s law, which awakens us to our sin and need for forgiveness and directs us to Christ the Priest. And Christ the King leads us towards new life as citizens in God’s kingdom. He destroys the power of sin and sets us free to live and love as Christ lives and loves. Christ the King is also Christ the Physician who heals the sin-damaged soul. He restores wholeness in us that we may become the persons God created us to be.

Advent presents Christ the King who is coming to consummate God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. The King who is coming is unlike any earthly ruler. He is the crucified Jesus Christ, the victim of imperial and religious fear. The One who is coming is the risen Savior and Lord of the Universe whose nature and name is Love. He sets the world free from the powers of sin and death. He sets the world free for self-giving, self-emptying love and justice.

Advent is a season for prayer, repentance, and preparation for the coming King Jesus. It is the annual opportunity for Christians to distinguish themselves from the world that worships the gods of commerce, greed, gluttony, violence, and fear. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are ample witness to the world’s loyalty and devotion to all these gods. What if Christians observed a holy Advent by refusing to participate in the orgy of consumption the world presents as “Christmas”? What if Christians used these weeks to pray, worship, and live as faithful citizens of God’s kingdom by serving with the poor, the outcast, the prisoners, and the sick?

Observing a holy Advent helps Christians, and the world, understand the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is the crucified and risen Savior and Lord of the universe. He is Christ the King who leads his followers in his way of love and justice for the world he promises to set free from the powers of violence, fear, and injustice. He is the Great Physician to restores the people and the world to wholeness. He is Christ the Prophet who proclaims the Law of love and justice. He is Christ the Priest who assures forgiveness and restores the world to right relationship God.

In the shadow of the unspeakable events of this week (December 2) in San Bernardino, California Christians are called by Christ the King to respond with love and compassion to the victims of violence and their loved ones. We are called to be agents of peace and reconciliation for the community, nation, and world. Christ teaches his followers to respond to violence and fear with self-giving, self-emptying love. When our Muslim neighbors are threatened with violence and are the objects of hatred, Christians are called by King Jesus to reach out and embrace them with kindness and love.

In a world filled with fear and hatred, let the followers of Christ the King repent of our sin, turn away from fear and turn toward him and his love. Let us keep a holy Advent by living as ambassadors for Christ who is coming (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).

No Holiness But Social Holiness

The General Rule of Discipleship (To witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.) shapes the life and work of Covenant Discipleship groups, class leaders, and the congregation. It helps them live as witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world as they follow his teachings, summarized by him in Matthew 22:37-40

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). The Christian life is shaped by obedience to Jesus’ teachings.

In the Baptismal Covenant you promise to “confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church ….” The congregation, in turn, promises to proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ; to surround you with a community of love and forgiveness, that you may grow in your trust of God, and be found faithful in your service to others; to pray for you, that you may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.[1] Living the Baptismal Covenant is how Christians obey Jesus’ “new commandment”

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

When Christians “watch over one another in love” and help each other to grow in holiness of heart and life they keep this new commandment. Congregations keep Jesus’ new commandment when they intentionally develop a path to discipleship that meets people where they are and provides guides along the way in the form of small groups and the guidance of seasoned disciples.

This is what John Wesley meant when he wrote:

Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.[2]

The General Rule of Discipleship is a practical guide for Christians to love God and neighbor together. It makes social holiness possible in that it helps Christians to center their life together in Jesus Christ. The rule points Christians, and the congregation, towards the risen Christ. It leads them to join in what he is up to in the world.

Holiness is social because God is social. He created human beings in his image to be relational creatures. We become fully human when we share in the relationships God initiates with us through the people he places in our way.

Social holiness is the practice of obeying Jesus’ commandments to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving one another one another (fellow members of your local congregation) as Christ loves.

When Wesley says that holiness is social he means that the depth of your love for God is revealed by the way you love whom God loves. The writer of 1 John describes the social nature of holiness:

We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:19-21).

If you truly love God then you must love your brother and sister in Christ and your neighbor. This requires you to be in relationships with the people God places alongside you in the church, and the people of your neighborhood, city, and the world. You need community, what Wesley called “society”, for grace to nurture you into the persons God created you to be. The Baptismal Covenant describes the relationship between God, the baptized, and the Church. The General Rule of Discipleship provides the means for living the covenant and becoming agents of social holiness.

[1] The United Methodist Hymnal, “Baptismal Covenant I,” page 34-35.

[2] John Wesley, Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), Preface, page viii.

Where Does Covenant Discipleship Fit?

Covenant Discipleship groups are part of the foundation of the Foundation3congregation’s disciple-making mission. This is why Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46-49, and Ephesians 2:19-22 are helpful reminders of the importance of the intentional Christian formation provided by Covenant Discipleship groups. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Covenant Discipleship is a proven and effective means of equipping the people who respond to the invitation to discipleship. They are the ones the congregation can count upon to hear and to act upon Jesus’ teachings. The process of weekly accountability and support for acting upon Jesus’ words, living the Christian life, forms these persons into leaders in discipleship the congregation needs to carry out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ equipped to join his mission in the world.

Covenant Discipleship groups are how congregations form the apostles and prophets Paul describes as being the foundation of God’s household in Ephesians 2:20. They are the leaders in discipleship working as partners with the appointed pastor to keep the promises the congregation makes in the Baptismal Covenant:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.[1]

The mission of Covenant Discipleship groups is to provide the disciples who disciple others in the congregation and in the neighborhood. These disciples who make disciples form the foundation upon which the congregation is built as an outpost of God’s reign, centered in Christ and his mission.

I’m reminded of a powerful line from Mike Breen’s insightful book, Building a Discipling Culture

If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.[2]

He goes on to explain that church leaders need to understand that discipleship builds the church, not the other way around. He correctly says,

We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause. If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professionals provide. [3]

Nowhere in Scripture does Christ tell his disciples to build a church. He mentions the church in only two places (Matthew 16:18 & 18:15-17). Jesus describes the job of his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”[4]

I’m quoting The Message here because Eugene Peterson provides an accurate translation of the Greek word most commonly rendered as “make disciples.” He clearly illuminates the words meaning as “train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” This is the work of disciples who make disciples, and by extension, the church. This is the job description of lay and clergy leaders in discipleship.    Discipleship (living the Christian life) and disciple making (training others in the Christian life) is the work of the church. When disciples do their job Jesus promises to build the church

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.[5]

Here Jesus tells Simon Peter the meaning of his name. Peter is “Rocky.” His name is a play on the Greek petros, which means, “rock.” Peter is the leader of the disciples. When Jesus points to him and says, “on this rock I will build my church,” he is saying he will build his church on the “rock” of discipleship.

This brings us back to Matthew 7:24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Discipleship is the “rock” upon which God’s household, the church, is built. This means the church must intentionally provide the means for forming its members as disciples of Jesus Christ equipped to join his mission in the world. To do this essential work, the church needs disciples who disciple others.

Covenant Discipleship groups are the part of the disciple-making foundation of the congregation dedicated to the formation of disciples who make disciples.

[1] The United Methodist Hymnal, “Baptismal Covenant I:8,” (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 35.

[2] Breen, Mike (2011-08-16). Building a Discipling Culture (Kindle Locations 100-101). 3DM. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible In Contemporary Language, Matthew 28:18-20, (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2005)

[5] Matthew 16:18 (NRSV)

He asked for a bottle of Gatorade

For as long as I can remember a homeless man has been hanging out Homeless Manevery morning just opposite the Starbucks parking lot near my office. I always look for him when I walk from my car to the building I work in. Most every morning I see him in his wheelchair “directing” traffic entering and leaving the parking lot. On the occasional mornings I walk to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, I do my best to avoid him.

I know, as a Christian, I should not avoid contact with this man. I know Jesus, and John Wesley, would expect me to go out of my way to do what I can to help him. But all I want to do is get my coffee and get back to my office as quickly as possible.

Today I was in an all-day staff meeting. We began the day with devotions led by one of my colleagues. He told us to take a walk for 10 minutes and think about what we are thankful for. I decided to walk around the block. I left the building and turned left, heading towards Starbucks. To save time I decided to walk down the alley. That’s when I realized I could not avoid the homeless guy.

As I approached he smiled and waved at me. When I got closer he asked if I had any spare change. I don’t like to give cash to people on the street so I declined to give him anything. He smiled and said, “Maybe next time.” Then he said, “If you’re going by CVS, I could sure use a bottle of Gatorade.” I replied, “I’m late for a meeting and don’t have time.” He said, “That’s okay. Have a good day.”

As I continued walking I remembered a passage in the Works of John Wesley. It may have been in one of his letters or in his journal. Perhaps it’s in one of his sermons. He wrote about how works of mercy are just as much means of grace as works of piety. In fact, at times, they may be even more important. Wesley wrote something to the effect that if you are on your way to a class meeting or worship service and encounter a hungry person, then you are obligated to stop and help; even if doing so means you will be late, or miss, your meeting. I suspect he also made reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Realizing that I would probably be late returning to the staff meeting, I ran into CVS, purchased a bottle of Gatorade, and brought it to the man in the wheelchair directing traffic at the Starbucks parking lot. He smiled and said, “Thanks! Have a blessed day.” I didn’t mind being a little late. I also knew that bringing him that bottle of cold sports drink was something I could not not do. It was my obligation as a professing Christian, and a long-time member of a Covenant Discipleship group.

As I reflect on the experience I am convinced my ability to respond as I did is the result of years of accountability for my discipleship. For years I’ve lived with a covenant clause that says, “We will seek out ways to show compassion to all people and all God’s creation.” This morning the Holy Spirit led me to a man in a wheelchair in the hot sun that needed a cold drink. The years of accountability for discipleship helped me realize helping that man was more important my need to get to my staff meeting on time.

How has accountability for witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world and following his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit changed you? How has it changed your congregation?