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Discipleship: It's a Wonderful Life!

Some of the last words of Jesus before He left earth were for those He left behind to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), but in our day, we wonder what a disciple is. We concluded yesterday that a disciple is a follower who embraces and assists in spreading another's teachings.

Some people become disciples as soon as they believe. It seems like they hit the ground running as soon as they turned from sin and accepted the good news. Then there are others that, as they grow in love for Christ, move from being interested followers to becoming disciples, disowning themselves and wanting to embody all that they see in the life of Christ. It involves a choice one makes with the will. In the New Testament, the name 'Christian' is discovered only three times as a title for believers, whereas the word 'disciple' is found more than 270 times. William Barclay writes:

“It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple, a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king, to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight. Someone was once talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, "So and so tells me he was one of your students." The teacher answered devastatingly, "He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students." There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. One of the Church's supreme handicaps is that there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few disciples.”[1]

Before all believers is the call to discipleship, embodying and passing on Christ's teaching. Our response will change our lives and the lives of those around us. There is a well-known Christmas movie that depicts this so well. It is called, It’s a Wonderful Life. This film has come to be regarded as a classic and a staple of Christmas television worldwide. The American Film Institute recognized the movie as one of the 100 best American films ever made. It is number one on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time. Philip Van Doren Stern wrote the original story, The Greatest Gift, in November 1939. After being unsuccessful in publishing the story, he made it into a Christmas card and mailed 200 copies to family and friends in December 1943.

It was not until the story came to the attention of RKO producer David Hempstead that it became the movie we know today. He showed it to Cary Grant's Hollywood agent; the rest is history. For those who do not know the story, it is about George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched, his contributions to his community, and how different it would be if he had never been born. The two stories are told simultaneously, and the viewer can compare these two lives; a life lived with others in mind and a life lived entirely for self. Although it may be on the extreme end of the scale, we all make a similar choice in reality. Imagine for a moment two movies are being made, both about your life. One would depict the story of your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and another about a life lived for yourself, a life of your choosing. Imagine how they may differ, the lives affected, and the rewards earned or lost. All of our lives resound for eternity in one way or another. Which movie will you star in? You will invest your life in making one or the other. Keith Thomas

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, Pa, Westminster Press, 1956), Page 203.


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