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G2g: Environment

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Key principle #5 for moving discipleship from great to good: Teach and practice discipleship in a safe, sterile environment to avoid dangerous encounters and messy situations.

One great bonus to being a follower of Christ is that transformation occurs. This is true not only in a person’s life, but also in a community. Missionaries share that when an entire village comes to Christ that the village is visibly transformed in terms of sanitation, meeting each others needs, etc. To take this reality and limit discipleship to the realm of good, then it will be important to ensure that discipleship happens in communities and with peoples that have already been transformed. Doing this will put disciples of Christ in situations where they can interact with those that are followers of Christ or followers of a moral code that mimics some of the changes of a transformed life. As a result, disciples pursuing good are safer and able to avoid some difficult, uncomfortable, or morally challenging situations.

Hermetic environments can include doing all discipleship inside the church, in homes of upper-middle class believers, inside conference settings, in cultural contexts that are familiar, etc. Additionally, for further good, extensive opportunities to disciple or be discipled in a safe context, believers can consider massing as residents in select neighborhoods. These could, once again, be in higher income areas or even gated communities. Also, this congregating of disciples can occur in a select country or countries.

Jesus walked. He moved. He got dust on His feet. The same dust that stuck to His feet also stuck to the disciples’ feet. Making a strong point, Jesus washed the dust off the disciples’ feet. He walked on the streets in the cities and into the homes of sinners and tax collectors. He walked through other towns that were not places that were normal for a Jew to walk. Places that may not have been safe. Walking with His Father and walking with others, he did not pursue safety. Interacting with the sick, morally depraved, and diseased, He was Truth and Love to a people that had not encountered Him before.

At the end of John’s gospel, we read of a setting when Jesus meets with His disciples while there appear to have been fish flopping on the ground. What an environment for teaching. This was a call to Peter and to the disciples to make a decision if they wanted to pursue a life of fishing for fish or for men. Either course would involve some real settings with real people. One pursuit would matter forever, while the other would matter for a few hours. After this, they understood that this was not a call to either equality or comfort. But it was a great call–the only worthwhile thing they could pursue.

both / and
I find that evangelicals have historically been very in favor of a Jesus who saves. But He said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.”  His life is emblematic of seeking the lost. He was also about saving the lost that He encountered. This is a both/and construct that He is passionate about. In the Great Commission recorded in Matthew He really calls us to “make disciples” “as we go.” According to his instruction and example, the going is a large part of the discipleship process. As a result, the environment in which discipleship occurs is constantly changing.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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G2g: Information

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Key principle #3 for moving discipleship from great to good: Celebrate learning and knowledge as both the process and the goal of discipleship.

G2gWhen pursuing good discipleship, it is helpful for the individual and the church to focus on learning as at least a primary objective. The number of Bible studies one has completed, books read, speakers listened to, and conferences attended can all be indicators of how well a person is coming along in their discipleship process. More advanced discipleship in the vein of the good may include: committing to memory arguments in apologetics, learning the beliefs of other religions, memorizing Scripture, pursuing some level of proficiency in systematic theology, etc.

Celebrations of the good seem to be effective when helping people understand they have graduated from some level of study through acknowledging their course completion publicly, presenting an object such as a certificate or a t-shirt, graduating from a course of study, etc. Stratifying disciples in levels of learning may help a group know that they still have a ways to go to become more discipled–to attain the good. For example if a person is sitting in a beginner’s course or a 101 level, he may look with a holy anticipation and inspiration at the people in the 301 and 401 levels. Press on.

The church can employ phrases to help celebrate and motivate disciples to learn the latest requisite information. Phrases worth consideration that may advance this motif could include being a “life-long learner” or talking about our quest as a journey “to know Him.” When emphasizing the data acquisition that is necessary to know more about Christ, these phrases may be helpful to achieve no better than the level of good.

Frankly, I don’t think Jesus excelled at putting together programs of curriculum. I can only remember reading of one pop quiz that He gave His followers. While verbally, Peter passes the test, his actions soon after show that he had not fully embraced the truth.

Instead of emphasizing information acquisition, Jesus talked about salt being salty and light having the properties and effects of light. He spoke about and lived a life of action. He shared that, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn 5). This was discipleship that was no less than great.

Jesus’ method of discipleship seems to have stuck pretty well with his disciples as they did a whole lot of Jesus-like actions after He returned to heaven. We find them writing about the same ideas. James puts it succinctly in his letter that we are not to be people who just hear the Bible, but we are to live it.

too much?
Thom Wolf states that in the West, “we are educated beyond our obedience.” In places where God is moving in miraculous ways around the world, there is usually (I am not currently aware of an exception) a large number of new believers that are playing integral roles in networks such as church-planters and leaders whether officially or unofficially. New believers that learn one thing and obey it fully are more obedient than seasoned believers that know 10 things and obey 7 of them. Also, the disciple that has just learned and obeyed one thing is then able to share this with someone who has not learned and obeyed this yet. Information in this situation is vital as it directly impacts obedience. Life-long learning here is essential as it is intertwined with transformation and obedience.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

Categories : Bible, discipleship
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Another New, Old Form of Proclamation

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There is no message more powerful. None. It cannot be matched. Though sharper than a double-edged sword, the Bible is a relatively little-used force in modern worship and discipleship. Often, a speaker will refer to a brief passage or verse as a launch point to make their own argument or explanation. At times, a preacher will belabor a single word study. While this is not wrong, it does raise two questions. First, for whose glory is the message given and the study done? Second, is there possibly a more effective mode? I hope that this first question will be wrestled with by all who teach the Bible. As for the second…


Read it. Aloud. To the community. Quote it. Share it.

There are numerous examples where this is done in the Bible. A few examples include:

  • Joshua reading the law to the people – Joshua 8
  • Josiah, who is convicted by the law when it is read to him, then, in turn, he reads it to the people – 2 Kings 22-23
  • Jesus reads from Isaiah in the temple – Luke 4

Promised that the Word of God will not return void, we are to proclaim it. This may be done simplest and best by letting the Word communicate for itself.

Last year I was in Germany when David Platt quoted the first 8 chapters of Romans to a group. Though I was unable to be in the meeting, I spoke with many afterward that were moved to tears and repentance because of the power of the Bible in context. Though presented as a different message and occasion, here is the essence of that time and an example of how powerfully the Word can communicate. It may be of value to note that he does not read this text, but rather quotes it. I encourage you to listen to the message in its entirety. It is really, really good…Scripture.

Note: This is the second post on the theme–A New, Old Form of Proclamation.

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If a tree fell…

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fallentreeSome ponder the question, “If a tree fell in the forrest and no one was there to hear it, would it make a noise?”  This raises a few questions. First, would it? Second, how would we know? Third, does it matter? Fourth, now what were we discussing again?

Often, the approach individuals, churches, and publishing houses take toward discipleship is as ethereal as the philosophical sophistry in the above paragraph. This is not, I believe, consistent with Christ’s approach. His teaching happens along the way in the midst of his travels and actions. As he goes, he is living out what he is teaching. As he is living it out, his disciples are observing, discussing, questioning, and at times even seeking to correct him. Ongoing, Jesus continues to live, model, and teach. Based on his model, it is all intertwined. Seamless. A life of integrity.

John wrote about Jesus turning water into wine. Through the disciples presence and participation at the event, they observed so many lessons that were key to their obedience and future faithfulness: Christ’s obedience to his mother, the miracle itself, willingness to use the sacred for meeting human needs, Jesus’ allusion to his purpose in the future, etc.

Skipping ahead a couple of chapters in the gospel of John, we read about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Once again, the disciples are there. Once again, the lessons are numerous and profound. Jesus is challenging the traditions and thoughts of man all the while explaining and living out the purpose and nature of God.

Sandwiched between these two stories is a conversation between the Savior and Nicodemus. This witty exchange provides an explanation of the gospel and is the background for the most popular sporting event poster in America–John 3:16. But how does John know this story? I propose that either some of the disciples are sitting in the room with Jesus during the exchange or Jesus later tells his disciples about the conversation. I can envision him talking with them over breakfast the next morning or during their journey out to the countryside retelling the story. Captured by the story, they will not forget the explanation of the gospel. Knowing the story, they will be looking to see what would transpire in Nicodemus’ life some short time later.

Categories : Bible, discipleship
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A Half Gospel

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drama-maskThere is a prosperity gospel and then there is an on your way to prosperity gospel. While, in my opinion, there may not be a big distinction between the two, I offer that we allow for one. A statement such as “God wants to bless you with lots of money” sets off warning bells for a significant percentage of followers of Christ. While a talk on “God’s plan for your success” is a bit more palatable. However, if this is THE message–the only message–then it is not the message of the gospel.

Having had two close relatives in the hospital over the past week, I can vouch for the reality of another aspect of the gospel–suffering. When one is close to death or with a loss of consciousness, what is one to do? Standing there watching while helpless in so many ways, often a person will cry out to God. Lying there on what may be a death bed thinking of the children and spouse that could be without a loved one weighs heavily and may lead one to cast all of their hope on God alone.

Jesus was the great communicator of the BOTH/AND. He shares that he came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. AND he also told his disciples to willingly pick up their crosses daily and carry them around…to carry a symbol and reality of suffering and sacrifice with them always. These two statements are shared on different occasions. Jesus did not leave this to complex hermeneutics to arrive at this conclusion though. He shares the both/and reality with his disciples.

29“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  Mark 10:29-31

Half of the gospel is not the gospel. The good news is both the abundance that God has for us through Christ and sharing in the suffering of Christ.

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Missio Dei

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iStock_000001921014XSmallBoth simply straightforward and overwhelmingly complex, the nature of God is comprehensible to a child yet ever fascinating for an adult (an idea fleshed out in “The Ethics of Elfland” chapter in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy). A range of books on the topic illustrate this fact as you can see this in books such as the children’s book What is God Like or adult classics such as J.I. Packer’s Knowing God or Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy–all great reads. One aspect of the nature of God that profoundly impacts an evangelical’s understanding of Scripture, worldview, life, family, etc. is the missionary nature of God. The Missio Dei or “sending of God” is key for us, I firmly believe, to “think rightly about God.”

This is a key theme that will receive space in this blog. The “sending of God” impacts church past, present, and future. The creation and implementation of Sunday School reflects the church’s understanding and identifying with the Missio Dei when it was instituted a few generations ago. The Willow Creek seeker-sensitive model also is consistent with the Missio Dei for its time and place. The future is now in the making. How we move forward will be consistent with how we understand God and our willingness to be passionate about the things he is passionate about (aka obedience).

Continuing to be impacted by this, I have been reading the Bible with Missio Dei as a filter for some time now. Recently, I had the privilege of sharing “The Missio Dei Story” (MP3 download) with the wonderful people at Northstar Church in Blacksburg, VA. This is available through their website (10/13/09) as well as on the mission resource page on this blog as a tool to further thinking about the “sending of God.”

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Spiritual SAT Scores?

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iStock_000005776090XSmallA few weeks ago my wife and I were visiting a weekly Bible study group for the first time. Everyone was kind and welcoming of us and the lost friends accompanying us. The teacher was both humble and prepared. The group responded to a ministry opportunity that was presented. And then it happened….

One regular in the group shared that she had brought a friend of hers to the group several weeks ago. This friend, she relayed, was someone that she had been praying would come to Christ for a long time. So excited to have her coming for the first time, the group participant conveyed that she could barely wait to find out what her friend thought. In the debrief between friends, the visitor shared that she did not feel that she could be a part of the group because she did not know enough about the Bible. She was convinced, probably accurately, that the other participants knew so much more about their Bibles. Sadly, she has not been with the group again, nor does it seem that she plans to do so.

Challenged with a charge of being too heady in the disciple-making process, the group shared their surprise and disbelief for maybe a full 60 seconds. Then it was back to trying to mine truths out of the passage being studied that day.

This seems to be in stark contrast with the gospel narratives. “Come and see” is an invitation to encounter the Savior. I can only think of one time where Jesus questions how much the disciples know–though this examination is more a challenge to their beliefs rather than their academic acumen. “Who do men say that I am…Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:13-20) Even at this point, Jesus provides grace in deficiency. Just before Jesus returns to heaven, we read that “they worshipped him; but some doubted” (Mt. 28:17). In response, Jesus commissions them to make disciples as they go. He does not mention or encourage academic emphasis or testing. Jesus’ instructions are to teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. Sounds like it could be turning academic, maybe. Perhaps this would be a good time to review how Jesus teaches, or better yet how he models, obedience to his disciples.

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Seeking Context

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  1. “Days went by, and I couldn’t seem to get over it. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t cry. I was all empty inside, but hurting. Hurting worse than I’d ever hurt in my life. Hurting with a sickness there didn’t seem to be any cure for.”
  2. “This is Saint Peter. The rock on which Jesus built His Church.”
  3. “We learn best in community. Our minds are sharpened and our consciences are deepened through conversation.”

iStock_000002303606XSmallBefore you read further in this blog post, let me challenge you to take time to consider each of the three quotes above. Each is from a different, well-known book that you very possibly have read. Answer these two questions: 1) What book is it from? and 2) What is the story that surrounds this excerpt?

The answers are coming, but what if we didn’t have the answers? What if this is all there was for us to read from these three works? These famous books would have been nothing but a Tweet. Our effort in seeking to understand them would have boiled down to seconds instead of the hours we invested in learning these writings.

A holistic approach to presenting / studying Scripture is more than helpful when discipling pre-believers or young believers (while the same is true for mature believers, this is another discussion for another day). Examination of a single verse or passage, word studies, and topical teachings all have a time and place. Deserving, in my opinion, of an even loftier and more constant place in the discipleship process is Bible study that is in its full context.

To understand that Jesus could die on the cross, it is helpful to have examined Jesus’ humanity in John 1 and Philippians 2. All gospel accounts of the birth of Christ as the Son of God are helpful when considering the resurrection. Understanding the need for the Savior is greatly facilitated by studying Genesis through Deuteronomy as well as the history chronicles of the Jewish people and the books of prophecy. The Old Testament books combined with Hebrews, etc. prove helpful again when seeking to gain insight on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ as outlined in the gospels. And so on and so forth.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.                           John 3:16

As a stand-alone, John 3:16 is powerful. In context with verse 17, the love of God becomes clearer still for the reader as we learn why Jesus did and did not come into the world. Put into the context of the story of Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John, we understand better the heart of Christ. When adding John 19:38-42 for consideration, the reader sees yet a fuller understanding of the transformational power of the gospel and the deity of Christ. Placed into context of the whole of the gospel of John, the disciple gains tremendous insight into the unity and constancy of purpose of the triune God. Still greater understanding comes when John 3:16 is examined as a part of the New Testament and then of the whole Bible.

Whether discipling, teaching or preaching, examination of context is at least important. We would all do well to examine our methods and effectiveness as accountability for those that teach the Word of God requires us to do it well. The Great Commission Jesus entrusted to us holds disciple-making as the measuring line for efficacy.

As for the above quotes, the first comes from the last chapter in the children’s classic Old Yeller. The second is from chapter 58 of The DaVinci Code. And the last quote is from Day 39 of The Purpose Driven Life. How did you do? Does knowing the context make the quote more meaningful?



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From time to time I will be posting original writings of guests from around the world. In this first guest post, Bob Royce, a missionary / church planter in Ontario shares about the necessity and urgency of repentance. For the past six years, Bob and his family have been missionaries in the Toronto area–one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Their heart is for awakening and revival at McMaster University and beyond. They have also been involved internationally in SE Asia, Pakistan, Kenya and other places as well. Thanks Bob!


Striving as the body of Jesus Christ in North America to be more Kingdom minded and missionally involved locally and globally, we need to get back to the basics…starting with repentance.

The command of repentance is the first message that Jesus started declaring when His time came to go public with His ministry[Matt 4, Mark 1]. While God has done some amazing things through the brief history of the church in NA [missions, media, literature distribution, eucation, etc.], my sense is we flatter ourselves a little too much and we are not as strong as we think we are. Though there are small flames of awakening and revival burning in a few places, for the most part we need to repent of the following just as a starting place:

1. Tolerating sin and disobedience
2. A self-centered, consumeristic gospel and lifestyle
3. A lack of spiritual power, anointing, vitality, and Kingdom appetite
4. Trying to market and advance the Kingdom with mere humanism and sociology
5. We really don’t know the Lord, like He wants to be known

Part of repenting will involve recalibrating ourselves around Jesus and His Kingdom. Here is a challenge:

1. Do a search on Biblegateway.com or your favorite search enginge and look up every reference for “kingdom” in the NT.
2. Prayefully digest what is revealed, and adjust accordingly, both personally and corporately.

There is a bit of urgency stirring in the Kingdom these days and there is excitement mixed with a sobering warning. If we respond to the Spirit’s call to repent, we will be more alive and burning brighter for His glory than ever. If we harden our hearts though, judgment is waiting…Hebrews 3:7-19.

So friends, let’s humbly move forward one step and repent by God’s merciful grace.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

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iStock_000004150295XSmallIt was a cookout. And I don’t mean the pretty kind on a gas grill in a backyard by a pool. It was just inside a dense forest outside a major urban center in Eastern Europe. There was fire, smoke, mosquitoes, mud, fallen trees used for seats…. There was no toilet, though there was (smile). No place to wash hands. Those who started the fire, both believers and non, had mud and rust and ash on their hands. Those who prepared the meat–one a believer for years, the other for days–had fat and marinade from the wrists down. All had clothes that smelled of smoke. All had a full sensory experience of the meat cooking, sizzling, and in places burning. All shared from the skewers as the meat was ready to be eaten. Some slightly burned their hands and mouths as they ate the meat that had just come off the coals. All could hear the birds singing and the passing of traffic just a quarter mile away. It was real. It was a wonderful time of being together!

Though our outing was not planned for this reason, I was reminded of Jesus’ time with His disciples at the end of His days on Earth. He cooked for them on a campfire. His clothes had to smell of smoke. Surely there was ash and the strong scent of fish on his hands. The subsitutionary lawn chairs were probably the ground or maybe some stones. For added ambience, it appears fish were probably flopping around on the ground. It was real. (John 21)

This was discipleship. It didn’t happen in a classroom. He didn’t hold conferences. What did He do? He walked with His disciples. They walked with dirty, dusty feet together. He ate with His disciples. They encountered both adoring crowds as well as angry religious leaders together. They lived life together. Jesus didn’t teach them about His heart for the lost until after they had repeatedly seen it lived out by Him. Then He sent them out. Then He returned to the Father. John shared that they had seen, heard, and touched Him. It was real. John challenged that if we are going to say “I know him,” then we must “walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 1-2)

This entry is not a call to roughing it, nor is it a challenge to ban gas grills (though I do prefer the charcoal variety for flavor). I am not calling for the halt of conferences. This is, hopefully, the beginning of a conversation about what discipleship is….

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