devotion, Previously Published

telling it like it is

Texts: Matt. 4:18–22; 10:24, 25; Mark 3:13, 14; 8:34, 35; Luke 14:25, 26

Jesus lived in a time where stories were used very specifically. A story wasn’t just something you read to put a child (or an adult) to sleep. Stories were used to derive a legal conclusion; teach a moral lesson; illustrate an idea in philosophy or in faith; or to share a wondrous or miraculous event. And these stories were told in three different styles: as in a dream and something that does not really take place in the physical world; as a real event but related as a metaphor, using symbols; or as a real event but related in an exaggerated manner to emphasis certain points.

In making His call to discipleship (Luke 14:26, 27, 33), Jesus goes all out on the story-telling tactic of exaggeration and draws a mental picture of a disciple —The man is standing at the doorway of his house, a new disciple ready to embark on a journey. To publicly display his total, 100% commitment to follow this radical man Jesus, he’s called the leaders of his community to bear witness of what he is about to do. The neighbors are there and so is the press. This is important because it is BIG and because it doesn’t happen often–The man writes off his parents forever; he is now dead to them. He gives his wife and children his permission; he blesses them into a new life without him. He executes his new will and testament; He donates all his things except the clothes on his back and the extra set in his satchel to Goodwill. And then as a final salute to his calling, the man calls to his neighbors to pick up the heavy cross made especially for him and strap it to his back. That cross, he claims, will remain on his back throughout his discipling journey! 

This severely exaggerated story of Jesus can scare the average Christian. It’s as though Christ is calling us to be suicide bombers—Forget yourself, your family, your job, your life—just strap a bomb to yourself and die for the cause, if that’s what it takes! Not many of us can commit like this so we end up feeling like we’d never live up to Jesus’ expectations of a disciple and therefore, we might as well give up right now.

What we need to do is to remember that Jesus was trying to make a point. He wanted there to be no doubt about the level of commitment He expected, the magnitude of the call, and the power of the Spirit that He had to offer each of us to be His disciple. Let’s convert the story-telling technique of exaggeration of Jesus into plain, today’s language to understand what Jesus was saying:

The urgency of the call. When Jesus called his disciples (Matthew 4:19) Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men there had to be something in His voice, in His body language, in His demeanor that expressed urgency. We know this was probably true because of what the disciples did: Immediately they left their nets and followed Him (v 20). This does not mean that they stopped being fishermen and husbands. There are numerous references in the Bible to their occupation and their homes after this call; they continued living like regular people and carried out their society and family responsibilities. But the key point is that the moment they said YES to Jesus, they put Him FIRST and everything else second.

When Jesus calls us to be disciples, the time to answer is NOW. The lifestyle of stewardship demands an immediate response. Besides, if Jesus didn’t think we were ready to be His disciples, He wouldn’t bother calling.

The prerequisite of the call. When He called them to be fishers of men in Matthew 4, Jesus had no intention of sending them in pairs at that very moment. That call was to walk with Him, learn from Him, abide in Him—until such a time came that He was ready to send them (Mark 3:13, 14).

The prerequisite then is to learn at His feet before following at His heel. Jesus is not a one with illogical expectations: When we’re called to be disciples, our creator God personally trains and equips us for the task. We need to remember that we are merely tools placed in His hands. We have nothing to fear.

The side effects of the call. This is the most amazing perk of accepting the call to discipleship—When the disciples recognized the urgency of the call and made it their priority, they were immediately placed in a training program of emulation of Christ. And in doing so, they experienced awesome side-effects—a) Cross-bearing (putting Christ above self, family, job, culture and everything) was a joyous, willing, and voluntary act; b) Witnessing was a natural way of life!

When we are true disciples, what was once difficult is now a piece of cake. What was once a burden is now the farthest thing on our minds. This is not because of our own strengths but because in imitating Jesus, we’re becoming more and more like Him each day.

So, what Jesus was really saying is that a true life of discipleship requires Him alone as Lord of our hearts and lives. He’s not calling us to a one-time zealous act of martyrdom; He’s calling us to a life-long expression and reflection of His love. The result: Everyone around us will yearn to be disciples too!


What are the privileges that come with being a disciple? (John 15:7-16)

Think of phrases that describe discipleship (Eg. growing in the image of Christ). Consider scenarios in your church where you can use these phrases to encourage Christian growth.

devotion, Previously Published

jonah: a study of God-reliance

Age Group: High School, College

Key Text: Ephesians 2:8

The story of Jonah is the story of every Christian. It is about transformation—from self reliance to God reliance.  It is about a journey—from skepticism to faith. It is about a relationship—between a wretched sinner and a forgiving God. The twists and turns in the life of Jonah are not unlike the ones we experience. But no matter how difficult the challenges we face, there is hope. Hope exists because we don’t journey alone. It’s about God and you—together.


  • Drawing a time line of the past 10 years of your spiritual life, color coding the ups and downs and twists and turns you have experienced.
  • Finding ways to offer hope to different groups in your community—latch-key children, the homeless, the elderly, school peers.
  • Planting a tree in your church yard to symbolize the spiritual growth of your Sabbath School class.
  • Molding an “original” sculpture with clay and then journaling your understanding of how this activity compares to the process of spiritual transformation.
  • Running an advertisement in your local newspaper about God’s offer to travel alongside us on life’s journey.
  • Collecting articles from this week’s newspaper that affirms the need for God’s amazing grace upon this sinful world.

Additional Reading: Calvin Miller, Into the Depths of God, chap. 9; Ephesians 2:1-9; Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 179