Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

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

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

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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.

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!

Without Fear.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

– Phil 1.12-14

My small group was chewing on this passage last night and we asked the simple question, “If one of us got locked up because of the Gospel, would it make you more bold to share?”  Heavy stuff.  But as I was meditating on the passage again this morning, this phrase stood out to me, “trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment”.

The actual fact of Paul being imprisoned for preaching the Gospel was grounds for the believers to trust in God.  Would you trust in God more seeing someone you know and love be locked up for talking about Jesus?

For me, a big part of the fear is the unknown.  If I saw a friend or my pastor talk about Jesus, get locked up for it, and then for the news of what had happened spread like wildfire, I think his testimony of faithfulness in that particular struggle would give me more boldness.  I would see God’s hand and faithfulness – even through imprisonment, and even death – and be more likely to be more bold.

But, knowing myself, I would probably still speak with a level of fear.

This principle is understood in most every facet of life and it is why we value and utilize internships, apprenticeships and mentorships.  If you struggle with boldness in evangelism, go out with someone who is experienced and skilled in it.  Watching someone else talk to a complete stranger about Jesus and inviting him to church can help you see how natural and easy it can be!

If you struggle with a daily devotion or prayer time, watch someone or ask for an outline of how someone who is regular in these disciplines does it, and get them to hold you accountable.

Seeing someone else uphold the disciplines that we desire to build is one of the best stimuli and learning methods.  Even perseverance through imprisonment!

discipleship