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The incident that spurred me to write this article is a confrontation which occurred with a potential disciple who was going to forsake all and join the community in Dallas. He is from Mexico, and knows almost no English. He came to us, asking to be allowed to straight-out join the community, starting in a couple of days. He had been coming to Bible studies with us for a few months. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Another disciple, ready to leave everything and follow Jesus.

But when it came time to forsake all, he said he could not forsake the money in his bank account, because he had earlier signed the account over to his rebellious wife (as though the account would not be available for him to use just because she was also given access to it). When we mentioned forsaking his possessions, he said that they were all in a house down in Mexico City. We said, "Go get them," and he came up with a story about how an evil lawyer who wants to kill him, is standing guard over the possessions in Mexico City, and this lawyer has a court order from the potential's mother to stop him from going down and getting his possessions. Okay. But there was still his car. His story there was that the car is not in his name, that it is in his brother's name, because his visa does not allow him to own a car in the U.S. (I don't know why, since the rest of us have owned vehicles in the U.S. and never been asked to show a passport to buy or register one!)

It was difficult for us to prove that any of his stories were wrong, and so we were inclined to take his word for it. Obviously it doesn't matter to us whether he brings any wealth with him. What matters is that he obey Jesus.

But like I said in an earlier letter, if people are allowed to just sleaze their way in, dictating their own terms, then they are going to be pains in the neck for as long as they are with us, if, in fact, they ever last for any length of time at all. If it doesn't cost them anything, they don't appreciate it. Familiarity breeds contempt.

I have been telling everyone to take a softer line on potential disciples. For years we blasted people away with the hard-line right from the start. And now that everyone has been taking this new approach, every base has begun to discover just how easy it is to find potential disciples. It's exciting.

But something that we should learn about this for ourselves, is that familiarity can breed a sort of "contempt" from our perspective too. When we realise that there are a lot of potential disciples out there, and that we can coax them into the community by patiently loving them where they are at, then we also should start to realise that we don't have to take every Tom, Dick, or Mary that comes along. We need to develop contempt for Ananiases and Saphiras. (See Acts 5:1-3)

We need to make these people aware that it is a privilege to even be considered as a potential disciple. We need to have the confidence to deal with greed, pride, fear, and dishonesty, if the Spirit is telling us that it is time to act.

This is particularly true when you get several people making moves to join at the same time. You need to make a bit of a spiritual race out of it, with the last person across the finish line being expelled. What I mean by that is that you look at how much the two, three, or more new disciples are hungering after the truth, and you eliminate the one who seems to be the least hungry. In fact, you could even include some of the older disciples in that kind of a competition.

Remember, that if you make an example of a few slackards, it will pay dividends in those who are left. If you don't, then what will happen is that they will each look at what the others have gotten away with, and they'll add everyone else's bad habits and sins to their own personal sins, and we'll end up with an army full of self-willed, rebellious trouble-makers.

This is not a holiday camp. It is an army, and we're involved in a war. There will be casualties. There will be costs. And for those who survive, there will be victories. But if anyone wants to be a part of this army, then they need to get it clear that they must obey orders.

Anyway, so we had this problem with our Mexican potential. So he changed his story. He said that he just wanted to go home and clear a few things up and then come and join us.

The Dallas base phoned me and my advice was, "Tell him it's all or nothing right now." If he was unable, because of circumstances, to forsake his material possessions, then we needed to give him a test to get him to forsake his pride. (Along with making excuses for not forsaking anything, he had been dictating the terms with regard to timing for every move he made, and then not keeping his appointments anyway.) I said that he should at least forsake whatever it was that he wanted to go back and "clear up" before he joined.

What was his response to such a direct order? He said that he needed to go away and pray about it for half an hour. Can you see what was happening? He was haggling, trying to see how much he could get away with.

But some people would argue, "That's not fair. He wanted to go and pray. Certainly people have a right to pray about such things." Read Hearing from God. I'm not interested in their talk about prayer; what I hear is "I want to go away..." You don't need to go away to pray. You go away to escape conviction. You go away to listen to the devil. You go away to hide something.

Anyway, I pretty much said all this before I even heard that he had gone away. I phoned Dallas, and sure enough, he had been gone for two hours and still had not returned. They wanted to know what to do if he came back in a day or two and had decided that he wanted to join. Do we take him?

No. Jesus says that no one having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven. Remember Fran's study... No More Mr. Nice Guy? Jesus loved the multitudes and he had compassion on them, but he was prepared to drop the nice guy mask when they needed discipline.

I suggested that if the ungrateful potential claimed he really wanted to join, then he would need to bring forth fruit suitable for the repentance that we require. I said that he could go down to Mexico and face the killer lawyer (or break into the house in the middle of the night if need be) and pack up his possessions, and either bring them or the proceeds from their sale back with him to Dallas, and then he would be considered for membership. (In fact, he never returned from the prayer time.)

We too often forget that we are not the ones on trial during the trial week. It is really the potential who is on trial. For the most part, we older disciples have already passed the tests that we are asking them to pass. We are the teachers. They are the ones on trial.

But it's amazing how often we get on the defensive and try to coax them into making the wisest decision that they could ever make in their lives. Yes, by all means coax them if necessary until they are close enough to see what it is that they are getting. But, if, after having seen what we have to offer, they are still haggling, we don't want them. They obviously don't appreciate what we represent.

I don't mean that we have to be cruel to them. We just let them know that we will do all that we can to encourage them to start their own community, but they obviously don't have what it takes to succeed in our community, because we are a community of people who are prepared to literally die for our faith and for one another. We don't have the time to fight and argue with them over every little decision. And neither does God.

Obviously, each team and each leader must pray for wisdom in how to use this hard line. I don't want us to go back to not even giving people a chance. But I think that we really do need to have our wits about us and to study the overall picture in order to mark the test paper accurately. We don't demand perfection, but neither can we accept every little excuse that people give us for not even sitting the exam.

Thanks for hanging in there, and for doing what you can to love the sheep. But don't be afraid to wield the rod on those sheep as well at times. As I understand it, the staff (or shepherd's crook) was used to lift the sheep up if it fell in a hole. But the rod was used to gonk it when it was doing something wrong. And both are described in the 23rd Psalm as a form of "comfort". If we are really acting in love, and not just blowing up at people, then our discipline, too, can be a source of comfort to those who really are "sheep".

Love, Dave

(See also Wise Doves, and Hard Decisions.)

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