Archive for Bible ref.
“Am I crazy?” she asked with tears filling both eyes.
Following a breakout session this past week at the Sent Conference in Houston, Sandra shared with a friend and me that she had become discontent sitting inside her church when she saw so much lostness in her community. So many that would not come into the church. So many that were not able to find their own way to the Savior. Her disorientation was evident.
Seeking to find her purpose in taking Christ to the community, Sandra has prayed throughout her community, spoken with her pastor, and currently is meeting with a group of university students in her home. The conversation with this beautiful, gray-haired lady was the highlight of my conference experience. She is seeking to find ways that she can make her Savior known to those that need so desperately to know Him.
For her and others that can identify with her, I am thankful to share that “hope has two beautiful daughters” according to St. Augustine and Michael Frost.
Press on Sandra, I am cheering for you, praying for you, and ready to help in any way I can. To others like her, I encourage the same. May we join His purpose “to seek and to save what was lost.”
Key principle #8 for moving discipleship from great to good: Equate worship with song.
The music starts softly and builds throughout the verses as it crescendos to a grand, sustained chorus that celebrates the matchless glory of God. Beautiful. Fortissimo. It stirs the emotions causing some to stand, some to clap, others to raise their hands, and perhaps others to cry. It stirs the heart and provides an emotional release. It feels great. It is good.
Worship is beautiful in the realm of good. Trained musicians lead people through a set of songs that prepare people to hear from God. Creativity and talent abound. Churches providing a place to share a special worship song starts or advances the careers of many of the top names in today’s pop culture scene. These are the people who transition from worship to performance. As for worship, though, each set is prepared, rehearsed, and executed in the allocated time. It is a part of the church experience. It is part of a disciple’s life.
Jesus was both a practitioner and an advocate of worship. With 11 of his disciples, he sang after sharing a last meal with them. To the Samaritan woman, he spoke about the worshiper that God seeks–one that “worship[s] in spirit and in truth.” He worshiped the Father while in the midst of temptation in the wilderness. He worshiped as He proclaimed the gospel to individuals and groups; fed 5,000; sent the disciples out; told parables; healed people; and died on the cross. His was a life of worship. It was great.
Later Paul would write about the practical living out of our lives in light of how exalted God is. He writes: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” The idea was not new. The model of this lifestyle–Emmanuel–is there for us to examine and follow as we study the gospels. This is a worship worth passing to a disciple. A worship worth living. Worship that is great.
more and less
Worship includes music. It must. David, Asaph and others were fans in the Psalms. Miriam sang at length. John records a bunch of singing and praise occurring throughout heaven in Revelation. However, to share that the emphasis placed on song throughout the gospels and Acts is not a primary area of emphasis is actual if not an understatement. In the first five books of the New Testament, worship often takes the form of prayer as well as time together with both Christ followers and those that were not yet resolved to do so. Worship is recorded as personal sacrifice and even death. We see worship lived out in the life of the individual and in community.
(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)
The industrial revolution changed our world forever. Factories produced more product out the back end of the assembly line than several individual shops had been able to manufacture collectively. This changed so much. Levels of income were impacted, work hours, education for a white collar group of people, urban shift began, etc. Industrialization also changed the church. Caring for the needy (among other things) became a process that mirrored the assembly line schematics. Roles were given and systems put in place to facilitate the church’s ability to meet the needs of the poor. And it was good.
Through collection of tithes and offerings, some of the budget is allocated to caring for the poor. With funds collected, some staff or lay people go with huge hearts to buy food to stock a food closet for the poor. When hungry families come to get food, they have a form to fill in, a meeting with a pastor to hear the gospel, and a bag of food. Then, their names are recorded to start the clock for them to be able to return for food in 1, 3, or 6 months time. Through this good, there is a way for the hungry to be fed and an opportunity for one or a select few to be about sharing the gospel.
It seems that so much less could be so much more at this point. Jesus speaks to His disciples about a day when He will separate the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. The distinction between the two that He gives in Matthew 25 is that some fed the hungry and clothed the naked while others did not. He speaks of a personal accounting here, not of the churched and the unchurched. The expectation is clear. It is a daily outworking of the Lordship of Christ that causes a person to see with His eyes of compassion. The ramifications are enormous. It is the difference between being blessed or cursed by God.
If instead of the needy waiting in an office to meet with someone to learn about God to then have their physical need met, what would it look like if a family seeking to follow Christ showed up with a hot meal at the home of the needy? Instead of a meal delivered it could be a meal served up personally or a meal shared. While obeying Christ’s command to feed the hungry, the disciple is also obeying the command to make disciples. What if the homeless was invited to dine in a restaurant with a disciple-maker and a disciple or two. Then after dinner, more food is given to the needy. And the family or group of disciples that began to bless continued the relationship and blessed further and helped and served. Further help may come about in the areas of helping the needy find work, manage finances, care for children, and in the process learn about the One who sends others to bless. In the realm of great discipleship, the church is released into the community to serve and bless others and carry the hope of Christ into families that desperately need it.
a little on money
Serving the poor in this way does not mean that church funds do not need to go to serving the poor anymore. There still will be issues far beyond what a family or two or three can meet. This could be assisted through funds from a larger church budget. The discipleship process could start with a stock of food that the pastoral staff gives to the disciples going to bless and form relationship and a time for them to pray together for wisdom and multiplication of the resources. However, when a family gets involved, things are different–especially when children participate. It has been my experience that the children will want to give some of their own food and money to meet the needs of those that they are serving. Discipleship is inevitable at this point. It is great…it cannot be easily stopped.
(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)
A disciple communicates the hope he or she has in Christ to those who are without. In the realm of good discipleship, efforts to share the gospel often center around big events that attract the community to a church or group-hosted event. These events, designed for creating an opportunity to make a gospel presentation, take many forms. These include, but are not limited to: concerts, carnivals, circuses, living nativities, block parties, etc. These good events serve as spots in time that allow for a precision sharing of the plan of salvation. Ongoing opportunities to share the love of Christ and live transformed lives may happen in subsequent big events.
The writers of the gospels did not record any big-event evangelism in the gospels. While there were some gatherings of large crowds, these were not used as opportunities to share the 3 key steps to accepting Christ or the 4 spiritual laws. Instead, Jesus shared about his audience’s incorrect understanding of the law as well as the practical ramifications of a life placed in His trust during the Sermon on the Mount. Other key events included the trial of Jesus. He was silent. A third big event was His crucifixion. His words were few.
In the realm of great discipleship, we see Jesus interacting personally with a Samaritan woman at a well; in the cover of night with Nicodemus; meeting often with his disciples; visiting at someone else’s home along with his disciples or in the midst of a social gathering; and being a visitor at another’s home during a time of grief. In many of these cases, these were the beginning or continuation of an ongoing relationship.
Go BIG or go home
In what is usually referred to as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20 is Christ’s charge to His followers. Translated usually as “Go…make disciples,” I wonder if this promotes a big event, big production mentality. A command that often is viewed as being of primary importance–Go! What does it look like if we follow a closer translation? If we seek to “As [we] go, make disciples.” It is a process that is lived throughout the duration of our lives. It is daily. Constant. Ongoing. It is relationships. And context. Perhaps instead of “go big or go home,” our thinking should mirror the Energizer bunny. We are to “keep going, and going, and going….”
(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)
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.
Key principle #4 for moving discipleship from great to good: Plan a comprehensive, ever-expanding syllabus approach to making disciples.
A good discipleship program consists of the things a person needs to learn or know to be more Christ-like. The curriculum generally is sufficient for a number of months, a year, or more. Through detailed planning, leadership will equip followers to have the requisite knowledge for whatever may come their way. Once the prescribed curriculum is studied and possibly even mastered, it will be time to move on to the most recent iteration of curriculum and syllabus.
Graduation is possible and will happen in the realm of good when the need for another discipler becomes more urgent than the need for the individual to be discipled. At times this will mean that a dynamic disciple is developing other disciples. At other times someone who has experienced little transformation and possesses little passion will be responsible for helping others grow in the image of Christ. This is not cause for significant concern, however, as the prescribed curriculum is good and sufficient to offset the deficiencies of a non-transformed disciple-maker.
In the pursuit of great discipleship, Jesus was about showing the Father to the disciples and training them to obey. He prayed with and for his disciples in John 17: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world….they have obeyed your word.” How did he get to this point of maturity with his disciples? He lived life with them. When his mom told him to go and take care of the shortage of wine problem, he obeyed (Jn 2). And he transformed water into the best wine in the ceremonial pots. He could have arranged to conduct a series of lessons with the disciples on: obeying the 10 commandments including command #5; the deity and humanity of the Messiah; and the role of religion in the community. He did, however, teach on these things. Actually he lived in such a way that these were addressed effectively. It was great–a great life, and great lessons.
With the Discipler removed, graduation was a bit of a necessity. But these followers knew the Savior who had consistently pointed them to the Father. They had the core curriculum mastered. Jesus prayed, “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.” They did not have all of the information learned. But they knew where it came from. They had been promised the Holy Spirit that would continue to teach and convict them. It was time. Time for the Discipler to continue a life of submissive obedience that consistently impacted the lives of others. It was time for the disciples to start their journey at a new level of faith resulting in new expressions of obedience–resulting in new disciples. It was time for great discipleship to continue and impact more lives.
Less and More
It has often intrigued me that for collegiate studies a topic is taught for 16 weeks or for some 45 to 48 hours. Whether the topic is anthropology, astrophysics, computer science, or speech class it takes 16 weeks or 45 hours to cover. It seems to me that some courses may possibly do better with 2 weeks of instruction and others at 22 weeks. Systems dictate that what can be learned through a university program will take 16 weeks even if it is 11 weeks of content. This brings order to the system and a clearly defined point for graduation. This is good enough for many things in life.
This week The Upstream Collective is conducting a JetSet Tour spending time in a number of places including Copenhagen, Denmark. Seeking to make a small contribution to this week’s discussion and vision trip, I suggest a little reading…
Learning the literature of another people or country is key for a couple of reasons. First, the process aids the learner in acquiring cultural insight. This, I believe, fits with 2 Timothy 2:15. We are to have some insight into how the Scriptures may be perceived by other cultures. For example, in an animistic culture where people are seeking to understand how things began, the genealogy in Luke has proved powerful in some contexts. When working in a former Communist culture, use of a text that may have been used as a tool to disprove God (e.g. John 3:16) may not be the best place to start explaining the Word.
Second, being a student of literature communicates to the nationals that you are entering as a learner wanting to be enriched through their heritage. At some levels, the ethnocentric tendencies are suspended. Many healthy conversations may center around their national heroes. Not only does this firmly place the foreigner in the role of the learner and the national in the role of expert, but this can also lead to meaningful relationships and opportunities to deal with the big issues. These topics may include wisdom, social justice, love, the meaning of life, God, eternity, existentialism, hope, etc.
Thankfully, there is a rich trove of authors that are Danish and even more that are Scandinavian. Some authors to spend time reading would include:
- Hans Christian Anderson – a Danish author that is one of the premier children’s story-tellers in all of history. Some of his famous tales include The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid.
- Søren Kierkegaard – another Dane that was philosopher, theologian, and so much more. Exploring his frustrations with the state church among a host of other ideas may prove helpful for the individual as well as gaining insight and access to future conversations.
- William Shakespeare – though he is a touch less Danish than the two writers above, the famous tragedy Hamlet occurs in and around the Kronberg Castle.
Key principle #3 for moving discipleship from great to good: Celebrate learning and knowledge as both the process and the goal of discipleship.
When 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.
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.
Key principle #2 for moving discipleship from great to good: Disassociate the spiritual from everyday life.
To limit discipleship to the realm of the good, it is helpful to compartmentalize things that are holy or sacred as distinct from other common or secular things. The good allows for reduction of spiritual things to the eternal condition of souls and the church as well as the nature and worship of God. There is upside to this minimalization. The limited range of topics allows one to delve deeper into the cognitive learning as the focus reduces the scope of areas to address. Additionally, with emphasis on a narrow definition of that which is sacred, requirements for disciples and those that would make disciples are minimized. For example, how one conducts business, interactions with neighbors, and family relations will not need to be under scrutiny except for when it involves eternal soul issues. Ultimately, the categorization of sacred vs. secular allows those who are righteous to disassociate from those that are unrighteous in most areas. Ongoing, interactive relationships are not important except for the moments where the gospel is being proclaimed when seeking to make disciples in a way that is good.
Throughout His life, Jesus did so much to blur the lines of the sacred and the secular for the purpose of showing the mercy, grace, and glory of God. He did most of the teaching we read about in the gospels outside of the temple. He allowed a woman to anoint His feet with oil using her hair while reclining in the home of Lazarus. Interacting with the immoral Samaritan woman, He once again confounded the categories that religious leaders had established and maintained. Obeying His mother’s instructions, he changed water into wine in the stone jars that were reserved only for ceremonial washing. Also, he ate in the homes of sinners and tax collectors on more than one occasion.
Jesus was not simply content to come and be in the presence of the lost, but He made it His purpose. He shared that He came “to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” as well as “to seek and to save that which was lost.” His stories revolve around the lost coin, sheep and son. He told of the wealthy father that ran to embrace His filthy, stinky son who had squandered his wealth living as a hedonist. He provided examples and a lifestyle that belong only in the realm of the great.
In his awared-winning book Seeing God in the Ordinary, Michael Frost writes:
The truly converted souls know that gratitude is the stuff of life. Our eyes are wide open because we’ve learned to see God’s goodness in the most mundane things. We see God’s grace revealed in movies, books, stories, good food and drink, sport and hobbies, cooking, small talk, raising kids, shared laughter, and strong coffee. And for this we are eternally grateful. Such gratitude sets us free from using others as objects. It liberates us from codependent, needy relationships.
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.