You had one job.

broncos

Did you see the news yesterday, that the Super Bowl grounds crew accidentally painted both end zones with the Broncos logo?  It is humorously reminiscent of the Snicker’s commercial where the grounds man meticulously painted “Chefs” instead of “Chiefs” for Kansas City.   “You had one job”, the meme goes today.

Do you ever stop to think, as a Christian what is my “one job”?  We are all unique individuals, God has made some of us to be mothers, some fathers, some political leaders, some pastors.  We all have a variety of roles and hats that we will wear throughout our lifetimes.  But is there one overarching drive or job that we have?

To consider this question, we must look directly to Scripture.  We know that Jesus did not come to abolish the Old Testament Law, but He taught us grace and love, so did He give us any commands?  Scholars have actually counted up over fifty direct commands that Jesus gave.  They also have counted 1,050 direct commands given in the New Testament as a whole!

The vast majority of the instructions and commands that Jesus gave during His lifetime on Earth are directly related to how one is to act and feel as a Christian.  How to be a disciple.  Jesus entered the world in a time where Jews had the Law of God, and were following it – and had even added to it – out of a heart of legalism and pride.  The pious kept the Law well and judged everyone who kept it poorly.  But Jesus came in to teach them that they had missed the entire premise of God’s commandments, and that was love.  It was love for God that was to compel them to obey the rest of the Law.  When He was confronted as to which of the Laws was the greatest, His response was:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’.  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'”.  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

– Matt 22.37-40

Sometimes we forget that these are direct quotes from the Old Testament, Mosaic Law.  You can find them in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.  Jesus did not introduce a new teaching here, He simply stated that the entire premise of being a Christian is to love God, and by that love be driven to love our neighbors and obey the rest of His commands.  The rest of the commandments Jesus gives are similar to the rest of the commandments of the Old Testament:  they are instructions for how our love should be enacted.

The culmination of those commandments are Jesus’ final words, the Great Commission.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

As with the rest of the commands, the Great Commission is indicative of how a disciple should act, and it should be driven by love for God.  However, unlike other commands, it is our appointed job – if you will.  It is the climax of all the other commands.  Once we have met Jesus, repented of our sins, learned to be a disciple by walking in love and obedience to Him, we must replicate ourselves.  We must turn around and teach others what we have learned.  It is the circle of the Christian life.  Part of being a disciple is making disciples.

Now, we all have different personalities and different strengths.  We will not all make disciples in exactly the same way.  Some of us will teach Bible studies.  Some of us will mentor young believers one-on-one.  Some of us will be preachers who proclaim the Gospel to the masses.  Mission boards even send out missionaries who are in “support” roles – meaning they handle paperwork, housing, finances and the like.  These people, while their primary role is not Church planting, however, are not off the hook in sharing the Gospel and making disciples personally.  Whatever fills up your heart will be that which comes out.  If you can have a conversation, and if you love Jesus, then you not only should, but naturally will talk about Him.

We often put an emphasis on people’s dying words, or parting words.  You can read numerous articles on villains’ final words upon execution, or heroes final words on their death beds.  Jesus’ dying words were indeed profound, but His final words to us as He returned to Heaven and left us on Earth are life altering.  Go, make disciples of all nations.  When you meet Jesus face to face, if He were to ask you “Did you go make disciples of all nations?” what would you say?  Now, obviously, God knows everything and will not have to ask us for an account of our activities.  But perhaps His question will be, “Why did you not go?”  What will our answer be then?  I was too busy?  Too afraid?  I had to make money, raise a family, or buy that big house?

Part of discipleship is making disciples.  Charles Spurgeon ominously stated,

“The great question is not, ‘Will not the heathen be saved if we do not send them the gospel?’ but ‘Are we saved ourselves if we do not send them the gospel?'”

Let’s step back and consider our lives in light of this reality.  Jesus gave us a very clear final command.  How are we doing in obedience to it?  Are we ready to give an account of your obedience to Him?  When we examine the whole of our lives in light of this command, what do we see?  Let’s be disciples.  Let’s make disciples.  We have one job, let’s get busy about doing it.

Does mentorship have to be from an elder?

mentor

The natural process of life is that children are born into the world helpless and completely dependent.  They learn and grow quickly, always asking parents, teachers and other “grown ups” the meaning of a word or how to accomplish some goal.  As a child, you assume that grown-ups know everything, and you trust what they tell you to be the truth.  As a child, and even as a youth, I believed that all adults were very wise, mature in relationship skills and decision making, and Spiritually mature.  One day, however, my dad did tell me that sometimes obnoxious children grow up to be obnoxious adults.  My eyes began to slowly open.

I was in high school and college during the initial thrust of peer-led small groups and Bible study.  In school they were developing “Peer Mediation” teams, where I was trained over a few months to help other students work out their problems without having to go to an authority.  At Church, as a fourteen year old Freshman, I was coached to teach and lead a small group Bible study, with students that were even older than me!

I drew strength from verses like 1 Tim 4:12,

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

I read a lot of books, and learned much from regular and deep conversations with my parents.  But then in college, our campus ministry emphasized a discipleship program where peers mentored peers.  The upper classmen, by virtue of being one or two years older, had great wisdom and responsibility to perpetuate the cycle of Bible studies, community, and discipleship – all outside of a local church.

There developed a very real void and lack of understanding or respect for inter-generational mentorship and discipleship.  We already section off our kids by age for school, sports, events and Sunday School, and we train them to only know and interact with their peers.  Thus that is where they are comfortable.  Their worldview becomes very small and limited to whatever fad is big for their current life-stage.

This is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.  Throughout history and around the world, it has been common place that elders receive the greatest honor and respect.  They were often given the seat of honor at the table, they had the final say, and most cultures had a system of the eldest child living at home with the parents, thus having multiple generations under one roof.

“A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.”

– Prov 16.31

There is a fundamental and essential discipleship that must happen inter-generationally.  Struggles we are facing and questions we have have been experienced and answered successfully before us.  Sometimes we are discouraged in a phase of life, and we just need an experienced voice to let us know that it will not last forever.  And sometimes we actually need instruction for how to navigate new waters.

Paul taught us that older women must teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children!

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Love seems to be natural for a wife and mother, but sometimes we act foolishly believing it is best and loving.  Sometimes we spoil out of love and create a monster.  Those who have gone before us can offer us insight into those decisions.

But there will also come times when younger people need to speak truth into older people’s lives.  Like Timothy.  He was a young pastor, and found himself in a situation where he had to teach older men the truths about God and Jesus.

Consider the mission field, for example.  A missionary couple in their twenties or thirties is by very definition entering a foreign culture to teach a truth which is new and different from anything this host culture has ever heard.  They will have to teach people of all ages, and answer those extremely difficult questions about their long-standing beliefs and loved ones who have already passed away.

But here at home, too.  Any person of faith – at any age – can lead another person to faith – of any age.  A high school student can adequately know and communicate the Gospel to a senior citizen.  He can also teach basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Scripture memory, daily quiet times, tithing and church involvement.  He will not be able to communicate experiential knowledge of raising a family by faith, or making career choices by faith, but it can and should happen that we recognize spiritual wisdom and truth from people of any age.

We should also not let our age be a hindrance to us, no matter where we find ourselves in life.  If God is calling you, you are neither too old nor too young:

But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.

– Jer 1.7-9

In short, we all have something to learn from one another.  Truth can be communicated from any age, and sometimes a fresh perspective from another age will speak a truth to us in the way we need to hear it.  There is always a level of experience that can help teach through a situation, but age and experience does not always mean wisdom.  Thus we must function as a body.  We must know, interact with, and learn from people of all ages.  We must recognize truth and wisdom when we hear it and learn discernment for things that are not truth.

So let’s get out there and start breaking down some of our age-barriers.  Let God bring people of all walks of life into your world, and we will all benefit and grow.

“Come and See” OR “Go and Tell”?

go and tell

When Jesus came to the world, He radically transformed everything.  Pre-Jesus, the Hebrew people had been given structures for how to interact with God.  They were the chosen people, they had a central house of worship where God’s presence literally resided, and priests who served Him there.  The temple was ornate.  The kings were wealthy and wise.  King Solomon was the wealthiest and wisest ruler in history, and people (like the Queen of Sheba) came to see his wealth and hear his wisdom.  Outsiders were welcome to come and to incorporate themselves into Jewish tradition and faith, but it was a “Come and See” religion.

Jesus fulfilled the traditions and laws of the first covenant by being the only person to ever perfectly and completely obey the Law and then offered Himself as the final and perfect sacrifice for the sins of those who would believe.  With the completion of the Law everything changed.  God no longer maintains His presence in a temple.  There is no centralized city where the devout can more intimately meet Him.  God is no longer declaring Himself through an earthly kingdom and reign, but is establishing His eternal kingdom through the hearts of the devout worldwide.  It will take its fullest form in completion only on the New Earth.

Jesus transformed the faith from, “Come and See” to “Go and Tell”.  It used to be,

Come and see the works of God,
Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.

 – Ps 66.5

But now it is,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 – Matt 28.19-20

In general, Churches will affirm that they understand this mandate and structure that Jesus set up.  Most people will be able to name a handful of missionaries that they support, most churches will have a missions team, missions fund, and endeavor to be a part of the “kingdom work”.  But Jesus told us that you can test someone’s heart by examining their checkbook.  You can see what a Church considers important by a quick glance at their budget.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 – Matt 6.19-21

I grew up in a church of several hundred people in Philadelphia, PA.  The church owned a building that was built in 1914 and modified throughout the years to keep up with growth, but the church as a whole had a conviction for the great commission:  to go and tell.  Professors from the Philadelphia Bible College were members, board members from a variety of missions organizations were members, and the church was thriving and alive.  The heart of the Church was “Go and Tell”.  So they paid two staff and 70% of the budget went to missions.  People were being called to the field.  The biggest week and event of the church life was missions week when missionaries from around the world came to inform and encourage the church of what was happening around the world.  Every member had a book full of missionaries’ prayer cards to lift up before God, and there were so many that every calendar date had three to four missionary families for which to pray.  Children were discipled.  The community was being reached.  Disciples were being made.  People were going and telling.

To be clear, this church was not perfect.  But their treasure was Jesus and obeying the great commission, and they put their money where their mouth was.

What is the treasure of your church?  What percentage of your budget is designated to feeding the poor, supporting missionaries and reaching the lost?  And what percentage of your budget is spent on making your church cool, hip, and well staffed?  The Barna Group research company ironically informs us that Millenials, those born from the mid 1980’s to early 2000’s – those for whom we are trying to make the church cool and appealing – by 67% would describe their ideal church as classic.  Only 33% would describe their ideal church as trendy.  77% chose a sanctuary and desired ornate stain-glassed windows with pulpits that were overtly Christian.  Trendy, non-traditional rooms leave the unchurched unsure of what the space is.  Most shockingly, 78% of Millenials said that they prefer a quiet and reverent church, not a loud church.

The sad reality here, however, is the fact that we are researching how to modify our churches to draw people in.  Our society is well-entertained and the church cannot (and most assuredly should not) try to compete.  Our music will not be as good as a concert.  Our preaching will not be as engaging or entertaining as a TV show or comedian.  But that is not the goal.  Our goal should be to worship God.  The church is a place to worship God, a house of prayer, a place to learn and grow and to be held accountable.  It is not a place to draw in and wow the lost.  We are commanded to go and tell, not to bring them in to see.

So how are you doing personally?  Are you going and telling?  Does your checkbook show your treasure to be making disciples of all nations?  How is your small group doing?  How is your church doing?  Let’s transform our perspectives and take the world by storm.  There are 6,552 unreached people groups (clusters of people who are unique in language and culture who are less than 2% Christian) around the world.  If just one mega church in the United States was mobilzed, we could have a missionary amongst every. single. one.  If just one family from only 6,552 churches in the United States was mobilized, we could have missionaries in every. single. one.  There are more than 50,000 Southern Baptist Churches alone.  How many churches does that mean there are of every denomination?  We must learn to go and tell.  Come and see is no more, Jesus has given us a calling.  Let’s be obedient.  Let us treasure that which God treasures.

You cannot introduce people to Jesus if you do not know Him yourself.

introduction

Jesus gave Christians very clear marching orders:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

We can test our general obedience by asking ourselves if we are making disciples or not.  But We can only introduce people to Jesus if we know Him ourselves.  We can only teach people to know, love and obey Him as much as we know, love and obey Him.

Now, to be sure, there are times when God uses people who do not know Him to preach the Gospel.

“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”

– Phil 1.15-18

Paul was aware that there are people who preach the Gospel for the wrong motives, out of selfishness, envy and strife.  These people likely do not know Jesus.  But Paul does not care about their motives but rejoices simply that the Gospel is being proclaimed.  But these people cannot make disciples.  Preaching the Gospel leads to making converts, not making disciples.

To make a disciple is to teach one to observe all that Jesus has commanded us.  But we will only be able to teach that which we have developed as discipline for ourselves.  How do you have a daily quiet time?  How do you fight sin?  How do you encourage the body?  How do you share the Gospel?  How do you pray?  How do you love on God?

You will only be able to obey God by teaching others to do these things to the extent that you do them yourself.

So how are you doing today?

How can an introvert make disciples?

discipleship

Discipleship is a tricky bird.  There is no science or formula to successful discipleship.  Some people learn well by reading and example, some people learn well by trial and error, some people like a class room or big group setting while others prefer one-on-one interaction.  Jesus made eleven disciples by living life with them day in and out for roughly three years.  He showed the examples, He taught them out of Scripture, He let them try and fail, and try and succeed.  Jesus gave them the full gamut to learn and absorb what He was teaching them.

What is the Spiritual life in a nutshell?  It is enjoying God and obeying Him in order to bring glory to Him.  It is fighting the flesh.  It is dying to sin.  It is seeking to know God and be more like Him.

Discipleship is helping someone in their sanctification process, and since everyone learns and grows differently, you cannot put together a model and try to force everyone through the same plan or system.  It is, at the core, changing the heart, loving God and being transformed from the inside out.  And Jesus commands all Christians to make disciples.  So how does someone who is an introvert and does not feel gifted to teach make disciples?

There are many ways.  First of all, discipleship does not have to be a one-man-show.  It can be a group of three or four guys getting together and studying the Scripture and holding each other accountable.  Secondly, it does not always have to be someone teaching theology.  (Studying theology is of infinite value, and we must learn how to read the Bible and understand doctrine…)  You do not have to be able to defend the major and minor attributes of God by reference in order to make a disciple, you only have to be able to verbalize how you interact with God, how you study the Bible and how you fight sin in your life.  The younger believer can then apply habits that will work in his life, and you can hold each other accountable on those disciplines.

Introverts are those people who get drained interacting with other people and need quiet time to recharge.  There can be outgoing introverts, but they are people who tend to need more quiet time than others.  Not being a “people person” is not an excuse to not be active about making disciples.  It will lead such a one to a point of prioritizing his life so that he has time and energy to pour into other people.  But more often then not, discipleship is life on life, and it is every-day interaction, not a prepared lecture-type setting.  It can be that for people who learn best like that, but for the introvert, you can just take the new believer along with you as you live life and teach them as you handle daily situations how Jesus would handle them.

God has given us each unique gifts and abilities that allow us to obey the command to make disciples.  You might not be a theologian or a teacher.  But you also might not be a socialite.  Use the the skills and personality strengths that God has given you to pour into those around you and make disciples!

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

– Eph 4.11-13

The Fear of Flying.

airplane

Have you heard the news?  Planes have been falling out of the sky lately.  Malaysian Airlines lost a plane, Air Asia also lost a plane in the South Pacific, and most recently Germanwings had a pilot intentionally down an airbus in the Alps.  This, of course, has reignited for many a deep-seated fear of flying.

I have never been a very fearful person; I was always the child who was willing to try.  I climbed trees, straightlined down mountains on skis, taught myself how to do all sorts of flips off the diving board, and rode horses as fast as they could go; I enjoyed going fast.  As an adult, I ride a motorcycle, and travel wherever the road (or air) will take me; I just enjoy experiencing life.  In 2008 I moved to SE Asia.  Shortly before I arrived, there was an airline called Adam Air who lost two jets within a year.  Consequently they went out of business, but air travel was not the most certain thing in my host country.  Shortly after moving there, a few more planes went down, one even crashed in the city where I was living and killed 27 people on board.  I only lived a few miles from the airport and could often hear planes flying overhead.  The entire first year that I was in country I went to language school so that I could function in the country, and part of our discipline was reading the newspaper.  One day the local newspaper listed every plane and helicopter that had crashed in the past year in this country alone.  It nearly filled the whole first page.

Suddenly, one day, fear gripped my heart.  It was a new experience for me, as I used to love flying.  Heights never bothered me, and the excitement of going somewhere had me always ready to board the plane.  But here I was, as far away from home as I could physically be, terrified of air travel.  As I finished up language school, I began preparing for my job which required me to fly at least two, and up to six times a month.  I began scheming with my partner how we could drive instead of fly.  This was impossible, of course, in a country where there are no highways!  I had a slew of meetings where I had to travel to other countries back to back, and the simple act of driving to the airport would all but send me into a panic attack.

A well meaning Christian counselor prescribed me Xanax and a more potent medication to help.  I tried the meds, but they would make me fall asleep until the plane started moving, and as soon as we pulled onto the runway for takeoff, I was awake and as terrified as ever.  For one meeting I flew with a good friend and coworker who had three children at the time, and she joked as we boarded the plane that “God would not down a plane with such cute babies aboard”.  There was a slight comfort in flying with friends, but those 3 hours were still torture.

I started my job, and my partner and I decided that we would drive (a two day drive, instead of a 2 hour flight) for our first trip.  The day before the trip, plans changed and he decided that flying was the only option, so I chose to stay home.  At this point I realized there was a serious problem:  I was incapable of doing my job.

At the time I was working on my Master’s degree from Southern Seminary, and as part of the degree program I was required to take two counseling classes.  I signed up for my first one, and in the intro lecture the professor said we were each required to have a “Personal Sanctification Project”.  “Pick one thing in your life that you would like to change”, he said.  I knew exactly what I wanted to change.  I did not consider it sin, but I knew that I needed to conquer this fear in order to do anything – even if it was just to get home!

The personal sanctification project was an issue that we would bring to the Lord.  We were required to journal about the issue, anything the Lord was saying to us, any verses that He was pointing out to us, and how we were progressing with it throughout the semester.  The premise of the course was the assumption that any issue that was not a chemical or physical imbalance was truly a discipleship issue.  Two weeks into the course he addressed the “sin of fear”.  The second of the three lectures he actually focused on the fear of flying.

Now, in my mind, my fear was justified.  I am not an illogical person.  I like to think, reason, use my logic and make informed decisions.  The risk of flying in this particular country was higher than most, and planes crashed regularly.  I could have argued my logic to anyone, and many people shared my fear.  No one approached me and said, “Alison, your fear is a sin”.  But if they would have, I am confident that I would have defended myself adamantly.  But God had prepared my heart and readied me to hear this exhortation from a professor on a videotaped lecture.  Jesus commands us not to fear.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

He simply asked the question, “What are you afraid of?”  He than began to reveal the fact that fearing death is, at its root, a lack of faith.  “Do you truly believe that when you die, you will enter into eternity with Jesus?”  he asked.  Conviction hit me hard.  I had not stopped in my anxiety and terror to consider that if we crashed and I died, I would get to go to my eternal home.  Yes!  He was right!  The logic began to set in, but it did not alleviate the fear.

At the time I was reading through the book of Hebrews in my quiet times, and as I began the very first chapter, verse three stood out to me:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Jesus is upholding everything that exists in the world by His word.  He is continually speaking you and me into existence.  He is speaking the airplanes into existence!  If He were to stop speaking, we would cease to exist.  Poof!  We would be gone.

So there I was, left with a promise that God is sovereign, He is in control, and He is literally speaking me and the airplane into existence.  I was also left with a command to not fear, and the reality that letting fear take root in my heart was sin, it was disobeying Jesus and it was a lack of faith.  I began to pray that verse to God.  “God, I know you are speaking me into existence and that you are in control.  I am going to get on the next airplane and trust your plan.”

I did not have to wait very long to follow through.  The next week we headed off to the airport.  I did not sleep the night before.  My stomach was upset the whole morning.  I sat terrified in the waiting room.  And I got on the airplane.  I prayed, “God, I know you are speaking me and this airplane into existence.  If we crash, I am coming home to you.”  I prayed that over and over for the entire two hour flight.  I was terrified.  But I got through the plane ride.  For the next six or seven flights I prayed that prayer without a breath in between.  I was on a flight that landed so hard that the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.  I was on another flight that flew through the heart of a storm, but upon reaching our destination the airport had no electricity and therefore no runway lights (it was at nighttime), so we turned around and went back to our departure city.

I obeyed in fear.

But then, one day, just as suddenly as the fear gripped my heart, it was gone.  I was in the same country, had the same job, flew the same airlines, and suddenly God relieved me of the fear.  God gave me the faith to truly believe that if I did die, it was to my benefit, and the spirit of fear was overcome.

Fear is a type of temptation.  It can be a healthy reaction.  If an oncoming car swerves into your lane in traffic, adrenaline starts pumping and you react quickly.  If you are riding passenger when a car swerves into your lane, your fight or flight reaction kicks in, you might yell, you might gasp, you might grab the handle of your door.  This is a God-given response to danger.  But if you give in to the temptation to allow fear to reign or govern your feelings or actions, you have given in to sin.

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.14-15

When you experience fear, because you will experience fear, turn immediately to God in prayer.  Examine your faith.  Ask yourself what it is that you are truly fearing.  Claim promises of Scripture.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8).  “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4.19).  “All things work together for good for those that love God” (Rom 8.28).

God is in control.
He is speaking you, and your vice into existence.
Ask Him to give you victory.
He will direct you out of sin, and into faith.

You don’t understand…

discipleship

I have been mulling the last few weeks over the age-old question and dilemma of the Church, “How do we best disciple someone”?  Jesus Himself came and spent three years with twelve guys who knew the Jewish faith and traditions.  He spent three intensive years teaching them, empowering them, sending them out and helping them understand their successes and failures.  He taught them Scripture, He explained to them prophecies and revealed to them that the missing factor in the religiosity of the day was love.  If someone had purposefully set out to know the Old Testament Law (the religion and practices of the day, and the foundation on which Jesus came), he would see that the first commandment of the ten is:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

– Ex 20.3

God is concerned with our heart being first and foremost His.  The Shema, the foundation of the Jewish faith which is the opening of ritualistic prayers, is what Jesus quoted as the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

– Deut 6.4-9

It is a strange thing to command someone to love.  We know what love looks like, we equate it with an emotional experience, but how often do we expect ourselves and discipline ourselves to love someone?  We want it to be easy.  We want it to be natural.  If it is not easy, then we assume it was not meant to be.

And it is based on this commandment to love God that my thoughts have been affected today.  When someone newly comes to the faith, we must teach them how to read and study the Bible.  We cannot simply tell them what it says, for then they will be dependent on us.  Teach a man to fish, right?  There are historical facts and themes that are helpful to illuminate, and explaining how the pieces of the Bible fit together gives this new believer a foundation on which to build, but the primary factor is teaching and exhorting this new believer to love God.

Most people, when they first come to faith, have no problem loving God.  They realize the weight of their burden of guilt and their expectation of death and damnation, and the relief, joy and love that replaces that burden at the moment of salvation is almost tangible.  If a person truly understands his salvation, he is ecstatic about it.  Then we plunge into the discipleship process and we who have lost that passion force the new believer into a routine of loveless obedience and legalism.  Get up, read your Bible, pray for fifteen minutes, go about your day, pray when things go bad, go to church, and tithe 10%.  Or worse, we set an agenda to teach specific doctrines and cram weighty issues down their throats trying to make disciples of ourselves instead of disciples of Jesus.

“If you’re doctrinally correct, but don’t reflect the love of Jesus, you don’t understand the doctrine you’re correct about.”

– Matt Chandler

Doctrine is extremely important.  Paul wrote most of the New Testament for the sake of correct doctrine, and Jesus Himself praises the Churches in the end who maintained pure and right doctrine and kicked out false teachers.  New believers must be taught how to understand Scripture and interpret doctrine.  All of us are standing on 2,000 years of Church History, we have forefathers who translated the Bible, wrote study Bibles and concordances, who have written books and developed extra-biblical terms like “trinity” to help us understand deep and difficult truths.  We should not rob a new believer of these tools for the sake of letting the Spirit alone teach.  God has given us the gifts of language, printing tools, study tools, and forefathers to teach us, so let’s utilize them to their fullest and help people learn how to do the same.

However.

It all must be founded in love.  You cannot force someone to love God.  You can teach him how to study all day long.  You can teach him how to pray.  He might even develop the same disciplines as you and become a morally upstanding citizen and Church member.  But the main factor, the basis of discipleship is falling in love with Jesus.  And only God can affect that in someone’s heart.  It is the Spirit who calls.  It is the Spirit who breathes life into a dead body.  It is the Spirit who takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  It is the Spirit who convicts of sin, and it is the Spirit who enables us to die to sin and live to righteousness.

We must trust the Spirit.  If a person falls head over heels in love with Jesus, he will desire to be in the Bible.  He will eat it up!  He will be in it every chance he gets.  He will read the Old Testament and have a lot of questions.  He will study the epistles and desire to obey and apply the commandments expressed therein.  We must not focus primarily on the doctrine.  We must teach the doctrine – we cannot ignore it or consider it secondary.  But it can only be built on the foundation of love.

Do you love God?  Do you love His Word?  Do you obey as an outpouring of love?  Honor the doctrine that you hold so deeply by loving Him and your neighbor.  And if you do not yet know the doctrine, find someone to teach you, because in it you learn the heart of God!

Is Church for Christians or Non-Christians?

cathedral

21st century western culture is an historical phenomenon in regards to Christianity and religious freedom.  Throughout much of world history Christians have been persecuted.  Yes, the Roman Empire made Christianity the official religion under Constantine, but even in the subsequent generations we see various forms of persecution arise as the Church became more and more corrupt.  But at this moment in history, the traditional weekly gathering of believers in the church building has, for many congregations, morphed into a mechanism of outreach.  “Seeker sensitive” meetings are engineered for people who do not know Jesus or who have no faith.

The simple fact that this conversation would be had speaks to the unique society and moment in history in which we live.  Christians who are persecuted for what they believe do not organize their weekly gatherings around trying to bring in non-believers.  Christians who are persecuted gather together to worship and praise God, and to learn as much about Him as they can, and to seek the encouragement of other believers.

Now, to be clear, Jesus never sat down with the disciples and said, “This is how you should do church“.  Jesus was very clear about how we should act, love, serve and share the Gospel, but He never gave instructions for the regular worship experience.  Our three songs, welcome, greeting time, preaching, offering and invitation are completely traditional and applicational of principles that we glean from Scripture, not direct commands.

However, our weekly gathering is the continuation of the commandment of God when He set up the covenant with Moses, the Sabbath.  One day a week was to be set aside unto the Lord.  Very strict instructions were given for that day:  you were not to cook, but to prepare food the day before, you were only allowed a certain number of steps, etc.  The point was rest, but not for the sake of rest.  The point was to remember God.  To praise Him, to consider all of the things He had done, to glorify Him.  God commanded the Hebrew people to set aside an entire day every week to focus on Him.

“…but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.”

– Ex 20.10

When Jesus came, He rocked the boat because the Sabbath had become an issue of tradition and rule rather than of Thanksgiving and worship.  He was criticized for healing on the Sabbath and allowing His disciples to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But Jesus’ response was that the Father is working, and therefore He will work on the Sabbath – because the issue is glorifying and honoring God, not tradition (John 5.17).

Most Christians now recognize Sunday as the Lord’s Day now, because Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, even though the traditional Sabbath was Saturday, the last day of the week.  But the Sabbath, the day set aside for the Lord, was ordained by God as a day for His worship and praise.

One reason that we sing is because music has always been a form of worship, from the beginning.  And we see the instruction to do so here:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

– Eph 5.18-21

We encourage one another by expressing our feelings in Psalms, we deepen our cling of doctrine with the hymns and we exemplify and testify to our hearts in Spiritual songs.  And we make a thankful melody to the Lord in our hearts.  When we gather together, we encourage one another in the faith and we praise and thank God.

When the first church was started, the Apostles were devoting themselves to prayer and to teaching the new believers.  A dispute arose because some of the widows were not being served food.  The apostle’s response was,

“It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.  Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

– Acts 6.2-4

The apostles had spent three years with Jesus learning from Him, and had been sent out to teach and preach.  They did not neglect this responsibility, but enlisted others to do the very good and necessary work of distributing food.  But those who had been called, appointed and trained were the ones given the responsibility of teaching and shepherding the flock.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

– John 21.15-17

The depths of this passage are great, but my very simple observation is that Jesus appointed Peter as an apostle and preacher to shepherd the flock.  God appoints some men as shepherds to lead the flock.  This happens through instruction and preaching of the word, through accountability and through pastoral care.

So, if God has set aside one day a week as a day for His worship and remembrance, and if He has appointed men to shepherd and teach the flock, then our weekly worship service should be set aside for the preaching of the Word to deepen the flock’s (believer’s) faith and instruct them in how to live, and to worship and praise God.  The weekly worship service is not an outreach ministry geared towards non believers.  The weekly worship service should empower the congregation to go out and witness on their own, and as people come to faith, then they are invited to join in worship because only then do they have a reason to worship.

Yes, non believers are welcome to observe our worship service.  But we cannot forgo the worship of God on the day that He set aside for Himself to focus on the lost.  We have six other days of the week to be busy about that.  And we have small groups to focus on that!  Us lay people – everyday Christians – have walked through the basics of salvation when we came to faith, and we are learning to know and love God through the accountability of our small groups and fellow believers, and we are learning the depths through the teaching and preaching of the Word on Sunday mornings.  It is our responsibility to convey those truths to our non-believing friends.  It is not our pastors’ responsibility.

Small groups are for the low-hanging fruit.  Sunday is for the harder to reach.  That’s why small groups leaders do not need to go to seminary, but pastors do.

Do you have non believing friends?  Should you invite them to church?  Yes.  You absolutely can invite them to church.  But let’s not chicken out and expect our pastors and churches to focus on the fact that our friends are lost because we are too scared to talk to them on our own.  The weekly worship service is for the worship of God and the encouragement of the believers to know God more deeply and to get out and share more.  If you invite a nonbeliever to that, he is not going to understand.  Yes, the Gospel should be clearly preached every week for the sake of those who are not believers, but it is not the main goal.

So let’s man up.  Let’s not put off our responsibility of sharing and basic discipleship on the pastor, but let’s tackle that in our daily interactions and our small groups.  And let’s honor the Lord’s Day by setting it aside as a day of worship and deepening our knowledge and love for God.

There may come a day that we resemble the rest of the church throughout history; where our meetings are persecuted and we have to meet secretly.  We are in war time, Spiritually, and we need to protect our weekly gatherings as a time to focus on and remember God.

What is the chief and highest end of man?

As information becomes more readily available and individuals assume more rights based on nature of simply breathing, we hold ourselves and one another to lower and lower standards.  Some professions, like medical doctors and lawyers still require years of rigorous study and practice, but we award medals to children for trying, we declare no winner and loser over pee-wee games, and pass children through grades so as to not make them feel badly, even when they have not mastered the material.

Laxity and inclusivism has also compounded in the Church.  Did you know that in the early church they required a three year period of instruction before one was allowed to join?  The entire first year of one’s interest in Christianity was set aside for personal study and one-on-one instruction whereby the interested party became familiar with the Scriptures and practices of the Church.  The second year, the candidate became labeled as a “hearer” and was allowed to attend the assembly and listen to the preaching.  The third year, he became a “kneeler” and was allowed to stay after the preaching and through the prayer time of the church.  Only after those three years was the candidate allowed to join the Church, be baptized and partake in communion.  

This sounds extreme.  But Church membership was considered a sacred thing.  Parishioners knew that they were submitting to the leadership of the Church, and the leaders were taking Spiritual responsibility for the parishioners.  Scripture teaches us that pastors will give an account for those under their care, and in the early church they took that exhortation extremely seriously.  Members knew that allowing one in who did not believe or was divisive could cause problems, so everyone purposefully and carefully made sure that they were on the same page.  They wanted to protect the reputation, the sanctity and the honor of the Church.

When I was growing up, my father was approached by the chairman of the deacons at the church we were attending at the time to join the deacon board.  His sales pitch was, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything”.  Early church fathers had to memorize the Psalms, the Gospels, and multiple epistles just to be considered for Church leadership.  But now, we just need a warm body to sit on the committee.

I realize that not all churches are that lax in their approach.  Some churches excel in discipleship, mentorship, and accountability.  Some churches highly respect the authority of the leadership and leaders tremble at the reality of giving an account to God for those in their congregation and are intimately involved in the teaching and training of their flock.

One tradition that I respect and wish had been upheld throughout the generations is that of catechism.  Though many of our forefathers of the faith wrote extensive catechisms, one has shone throughout history as the benchmark for Christian discipleship, the Westminster Catechism (1647).  Converts, both child and adult, were taught nearly two hundred questions and answers to help frame their belief system and establish maturity and continuity.  

These are the first five questions and answers.  Meditate on these today.

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

westminster catechism

Vacationaries.

missionary

Imagine you work at your church.  One day you get a call and it is a pastor from Venezuela who wants to bring thirty eighteen to twenty year olds to your city to do a mission trip.    Two weeks they want to “partner” with you and your congregation.  You will need to provide housing and food for them, as well as transportation for the whole two weeks.  You will need to set up service projects to keep them busy, like painting, feeding the hungry, building a house for someone, and also a few tourist activities so they can experience and enjoy your city too.  None of the people coming speak English, so you will need to provide enough translators for the group so that they can communicate.  Oh, they will also take over your Sunday morning services to sing, preach through a translator and encourage your people for at least one week, if not both that they are there.

Would this be something that your church would consider a blessing?  Would it help the ministry of your church?  Would you even consider doing it?

What if you were walking down the street and a Mongolian man walked up to you, gets out “Good morning sir”, and then through his friend, a translator, asks if you can chat.  He then proceeds to tell you about a peace that can be found through a god whose name you have never heard, and asks you to convert.  He even gives you a little booklet that outlines the basics of his faith.

Would you stop and give him the time of day?  Would you have the patience to listen to him talk to you and respond to him through a translator?  Would someone from a different country, who speaks a different language and has no idea what your life is like, your values or concerns, have an ability to speak into where you place your hope and trust for eternity?

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

Christians have been given the commandment to make disciples of all the nations.  Every tribe, every people group, ever language will be represented in eternity (Rev 5.9).  And it depends on those who know Jesus to take Him to those who do not.  Crossing cultural, language and social barriers is part of the missionary calling.  Jesus said,

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”

– Matt 19.29

But this phenomenon of short term mission trips whereby we think we are changing the world by taking our vacation time in a country with a group of thirty of our closest friends is new.  And difficult.  It is permeated by our narcissism, thinking that we are truly giving these people a benefit by our presence, and our ethnocentricity, thinking that since we have so much, everyone else is unfortunate and lacking because they do not have what we have.

Would you believe that there are Christians in China who pray for the American Church because they think we have too much stuff and we are enslaved to our lifestyles?  They feel badly for us because we have too much.  We feel badly for them because they have too little.

If a mission trip’s predominant outcome is to bring home the missionaries praising God for what they have, then it was unsuccessful.  If the goal is to help the Americans appreciate the blessings that they have, the toys, the church, the house, the food…then it is most certainly not a mission trip, but a reality check.  Yes, it is important for Americans to get over themselves and to realize that the rest of the world does not live how the Western World lives.  But the solution is not the make them like us.

The more mature churches are living in war-time mentality.  What happens in war time?  People ration themselves.  They give time, energy and supplies to the battle lines.  Food is rationed, car factories are turned into airplane factories, people are sent to the front lines, and life revolves around the battle.  The persecuted church is not building mega church buildings.  They are harboring one another, praying for one another, digging into the Word of God and trusting Him for their provisions and salvation.  They do not have multi-million dollar sound systems, lights and a tightly scheduled service.  They love God.  They enjoy Him.  And they fellowship with others who do the same.  They are not on a schedule because to unite before God is a great blessing.

So who has the greater blessing?  The church who has to preform to attract outsiders, and get them out in time to beat the lunch rush?  Or those who give everything they have just to gather secretly to pray, sing and fellowship?  Who needs to learn from whom?

Can short term missions be successful?  Absolutely.  But a few things are necessary to understand.  First of all, we must partner with someone on the ground who wants and needs our efforts.  It is very possible that a missionary in Cambodia needs help building an orphanage.  But will paying for a group of teenagers who have never laid brick before be the best solution?  Or would sending the funds to hire a national mason to build it make more sense?  With what does the missionary truly need help?  What will make an eternal impact?

The second thing we must remember is that a mission trip, while it will impact those who go, should not have the focus of discipleship for the travelers but salvation for the lost.  We can not and should not make a spectacle of a foreign country or foreign people for the sake of our own Spiritual growth.  Will we grow?  Absolutely.  But we will grow by seeking their salvation and long-term discipleship.  So we must partner with those people on the ground who can disciple, teach, train and grow into churches those people who respond.  If we lead someone to the Truth and then abandon them without someone to teach and fellowship with them, we have done them a grave disservice.

So go.  Make disciples.  But you cannot do that in two weeks.  Discipleship is a lifelong process.  If you cannot stay long term, then you must, MUST partner with someone who will stay long term.  And ask them how you can best fit into their strategy to reach the lost around them.  Many missionaries groan to host teams.  Let’s become a joy and a pleasure to them by understanding their work, partnering in their work and furthering their effort by being humble, teachable, and realizing that perhaps we do not have to bring physical aid.  Perhaps the lost do not need our clothes, our money, our stuff, or workmanship – perhaps they simply need Jesus.