Saturday, August 30, 2014

Disciples will teach

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  
Matthew 28:19-20

I love the phrase "teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you." In this one statement, Jesus issues a self-replicating command to the disciples to tell others to do everything Jesus commanded, including the telling of others to do the same. Paul issues a similar command to Timothy:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2

In 2 Timothy 2:24, Paul states that followers of Jesus must be "able to teach", and Peter tells his readers to always be ready to "give a defense" for what they believe (1 Peter 3:15), that is, to teach those who question the faith why it is true. In Colossians 3:16, Paul encourages believers there to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and the writer of Hebrews laments the fact that his readers are still struggling over basic doctrines and not already teachers themselves (Hebrews 5:12). Teaching others about Jesus and how to be like Him is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Probably the biggest obstacle for most people in embracing this idea to be teachers is thinking that they don't know enough to teach others. If this describes you, I would encourage you to spend some time looking at 1 Corinthians 2, especially verses 10-14. The essence of these verses is that no one understands the thoughts and ideas of God unless the Spirit reveals that understanding, and no one is able to speak in such a way to bring understanding about spiritual things except by the Spirit. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you meet the only qualification necessary to explain to someone else what God has revealed to you: being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 

This doesn't mean, however, that one can speak "by the Spirit" apart from or contrary to God's Word. God says He will be found by those who seek Him will all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13) and that the spirit of the "prophets", that is those who claim to speak on God's behalf, must be in line with or subject to the Prophets, in context meaning the Word of God (1 Corinthians 14:32). You cannot teach what you do not know, so spending time in the Word and living out what you learn is an important prequisite to teaching your understanding to others. But from the moment you read and understand anything of the Bible, by God's Spirit you are qualified to teach that new understanding to someone else.

As you seek God in both Word and deed, under the guidance of an older brother or sister, don't be afraid to be an older brother or sister to those not as far down the path of life and faith as you are. Paul not only learned from Barnabas, he taught Titus and Timothy and countless others. Timothy not only learned from Paul, he taught many others as well. The life of a disciple is never meant to be lived in isolation, and your younger brothers and sisters need you to teach them about your faith journey, both to follow in your steps to joy and avoid the paths you took that lead to hardships.

Disciples will teach, both as an act of loving obedience to the Father and as an act love to their siblings in the faith.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. 
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Disciples will learn

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17

One thing that I have found it easy to fall prey to in my walk over the years is the idea that learning about God and the Bible solely for the purpose of having the knowledge and understanding is sufficient to make one Christlike. There was a time when I found it quite irritating when others did not share this passion, thinking their faith was somehow inferior because they only wanted the "practical application" of a given passage. Many years down the road of my faith journey, I understand now that there is great wisdom in always asking the question, "How should I change or respond based on what I have read here?" In fact, there is an entire book of the Bible (James) dedicated to this one simple truth:

If what you know and believe doesn't change who you are and what you do, 
then your faith is worthless and probably won't save you. 

A major theme in Paul's second letter to Timothy is holding fast to truth that changes you. At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul warns Timothy that in the last days, there will be those who "hold to the form of godliness but deny it's power." In other words, they conform externally without an internal change of heart and mind that only comes by the power of the Spirit. He also refers to women who are burdened with sin and led away by their own passions as ones who are "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."

In contrasting these people with Timothy, Paul encourages him in verse 10 by observing that he is one who "[has] followed [Paul's] teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance". Timothy not only learned knowledge from Paul, he applied that knowledge to change his behavior. And at the end of verse 17, Paul states that one of the main goals of learning and studying Scripture is to be "equipped for every good work." 

I had a conversation with my father-in-law last night about the high costs of seminary training. He graduated from his seminary with a Masters in Divinity, and stayed with a church for many years, eventually becoming the pastor. One comment he made that I have heard echoed in many other places is that there was so much lacking from his seminary training in the way of practical leadership and ministry in a church. In contrast, a former church of mine trains all of their leaders from within. The current teaching pastor was saved in college by the ministry of the very church he now teaches and trains leaders at some 20+ years later. 

That's how Jesus did it. He took twelve men under His care for three years, training them to take up the mantle of proclaiming the kingdom of God once He was gone. He taught them plainly what the needed to know (e.g. Matthew 13:36-43), and once empowered by the Holy Spirit, those around them marveled at the fact that these disciples had no "formal" education. Their training consisted of daily lessons at the feet of the Master teacher (Acts 4:13). And this was not simply knowledge transfer, but even more their training consisted of seeing and understanding this knowledge translated into the practical faith of caring for the poor, orphans, and widows that Jesus ministered to throughout His ministry.

As a follower of Jesus, I urge you to emulate the examples of the very first followers. Find someone who is further down the road of faith than you are and place yourself under that person's guidance and training. And as you search for this person, don't be content to only learn things about Jesus and His Word, but also seek to learn to be Jesus to those around you through the life of an older brother or sister who is doing the same.

Disciples will learn, not only for the sake of having the knowledge, but also to be equipped for every good work the Father has prepared for them.

For we are His creation, 
created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared ahead of time 
so that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Disciples will give

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, 
and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith 
and pierced themselves with many pains. 
1 Timothy 6:10

The Church and money is a touchy topic for many people. The vocal and visible minority of money-driven "televangelists" and prosperity gospel preachers has combined itself with the inherent greed that many of us are predisposed to in our flesh to produce an idea in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike that "the Church is just after my money." Add to this the mountain of debt we are under as a nation and, for many of us, as individuals, and we see that money in general is a topic that if left unaddressed can skew, hamper, or even crush many people's faith.

Jesus understood this, and He talked a lot about money. Consider this quote from Howard Dayton:

Jesus talked much about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. (quoted from

I am convinced that one change of attitude would positively impact so many people in this area. As I am fond of quoting, the way we are to be transformed in the likeness of Christ is by changing the way we think to be in line with how He thinks. That is the essence of Romans 12:2. And in this area of money, we desperately need to understand that nothing, nothing, we "own" actually belongs to us. It all belongs to God and comes from God.

The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it. Deuteronomy 10:14

No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. John 3:27

Just like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we are stewards over the wealth God has given us, not owners, and He expects us to use that wealth to advance His kingdom, not to pursue our own pleasures or to do nothing at all.

One question I have faced a bit of late is whether this giving should be to worthy causes or ministries or to one's own local church body. There can be a hesitancy to simply "dump" your gift into a large pool that may or may not be used for ministry. Many of today's churches have a *lot* of overhead associated with buildings and debt, and if they are anything like my previous church, those buildings are 90% full only 10% of the time. This can be discouraging from an individual Christian's perspective. 

Effective use of church facilities is a whole other topic that I feel very much needs to be addressed in many, many churches. I encourage those who read this to have those kinds of conversations with their leadership. But in the meantime, I would have you consider this about giving to your local church:

7 “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?” 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: “How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. 9 You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. 10 Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. Malachi 3:7-10

There is much more here than just an "Old Testament command" that we "don't have to obey" because we are "no longer under the law, but under grace". That is an unfortunate attitude that many in the Church possess, especially about this verse in particular. However, God gives a very specific reason as to why He wants the Israelites to bring the entire tithe: "so that there may be food in My house". Why was it important that there be food in God's house? Among other things, those who were called of God for full time service to Him (the Levites) were given this tithe as their inheritance. It's part of what God intended to help support His priests (Numbers 18:21, Joshua 14:4). The tithe was also the means by which the poor, orphans and widows were cared for in Israel (Deut. 14:29). Every three years, the Israelites were to contribute the tenth to a common fund within each city's gates for the purpose of caring for the priests and the poor.

We see both of these paralleled in the New Testament: elders and those "who preach the gospel" being supported by the church (1 Tim 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14) as well as the poor and widows (Acts 6, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, Romans 15:25-28). A church cannot care for those that serve it full time and those who need to be served if its members are not contributing into a common fund administered by that church.

As a new friend of mine recently encouraged me, if you are struggling to give for this specific reason, or for any reason at all, I encourage you to be obedient to God and trust Him for the results.

Disciples will give where and when God leads them to give, trusting Him for the results, because they know that it all belongs to Him anyway.

Give to everyone who asks you,
and from one who takes your things
don’t ask for them back.
Luke 6:30

Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10

Monday, August 18, 2014

Disciples will love

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible at all knows that love is a popular topic. Famous verses on the topic include John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:16, John 13:35 and of course 1 Corinthians 13. I wrote a series about this passage last year. But when I think about following Jesus Christ as a disciple in the area of love, or what it means to love like Christ loved, John 15:13 is at the top of my list.

I so enjoy gaining new insight when I study the Word, especially from passages I consider familiar. And in gathering my thoughts for this post, as is my custom when studying the Word, I pulled up the context for John 15:13 to see the broader thoughts surrounding this famous verse. What I noticed that I had not really seen before is that verse 12 frames an entire line of teaching that Jesus is giving to His disciples, stating that He is commanding them to not only love one another, but to do so specifically as He has loved them. And the way He loved them, and us, is summed up in one simple yet potent word: sacrifice.

To be honest, the topic of love is really hard for me, not in understanding it from the Word, but in applying that understanding in everyday life. In one sense, I feel like I have it down. Every time I try to encourage my brothers and sisters to greater Christ-likeness, I am doing so motivated by a deep love for each of them that really can only be explained as coming from God. And no matter how many times I am rebuffed for whatever reason, despite the pain and frustration that usually causes me, I continue to persist in hope that the next time with the next person will be different. That is a sacrifice for me, as it would be so much easier to give up and just leave people alone. But every once in a while, my hope is rewarded, and I find no greater joy in my walk with God than those times when I can help my brothers and sisters take a step further down the path of becoming like Christ.

But from another perspective, I don't understand how to love people at all. As I wrote earlier, I have only just recently begun to realize that my complete lack of insecurity about myself and my total, unwavering trust in God seems to be the exception, not the rule. Like a broken arm or bruised rib, touching the wounded parts of people's lives to exhort them on in their walk with Christ requires extreme gentleness, a level of gentleness that is almost unimaginable to me. And like a gorilla trying to care for a wounded butterfly, more often than not what I leave behind is broken wings and fractured souls. I cannot even begin to express how much anguish I have felt over knowing the pain that I have caused so many people.

But still I persist, trying to learn from every interaction, failed or otherwise, believing that God will complete the good work He has started in me, that one day the love He has placed in my heart for my brothers and sisters will not be overshadowed by my clumsy, fat gorilla hands.

I imagine that those who read this have experienced times of being called to love when it's not easy. When you face those times, look to the example of Jesus. With every lash of the whip, every thorn in His brow, every clang of the nail, every labored breath on the cross, and every sin He took upon His sinless body, He was literally screaming I LOVE YOU! No hardship any of us face in loving those around us can even begin to compare to what He went through.

Disciples will love, even when it hurts, because that's what Jesus did.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!
Romans 5:8

Friday, August 15, 2014

Disciples will ...

Something my pastor said to me a month or so ago has infused itself permanently into my spiritual consciousness, which is rare considering how poor my memory is. I had in mind two ideas for ministries in our church that I wanted to build. One is a discipleship framework by which those who want to be discipled and those who want to disciple can be easily connected with one another. The second is an upgrade to the methodology of our current Involvement ministry. The Involvement ministry is responsible for teaching people the purpose of spiritual gifts, helping them to discover what those gifts are in themselves, and connecting them with service opportunities. Considering where we are as a church right now (a long story not for public consumption), he felt that it wasn't the right time to begin a brand new ministry. But seeing that I was approaching these two ideas as separate entities, he said three words to me that I believe have permanently altered my understanding of how best to teach, train, and exhort those around me to greater Christ-likeness:

Disciples will serve.

It is simple and yet profound, and I believe in that moment God was speaking through him to me. The point I believe he was making is this: Serving is a natural outgrowth of being a disciple, but it does not make one a disciple of Jesus. You can serve without truly following Jesus in your heart and your mind, but if you do truly follow Jesus, you will serve.

Of course, this got me to thinking, what else will a disciple do? The following is a list of what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Disciples will love. (John 13:35)
Disciples will give. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Disciples will learn. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Disciples will teach. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Disciples will serve. (1 Peter 4:10)
Disciples will obey. (1 John 5:3)

I will be writing on each of these in the coming days and weeks. If I think of more, I will add them here as well.

For now, I do want to reiterate this point. It is possible to put on an outward approximation of each of these qualities and still not be one who is following Jesus. As you read through these, if you don't see one or more of these qualities in your life, pray and ask God to change your heart and mind to want to follow Jesus in that area. If your inward desire does not match your outward conformity, you will likely become discouraged and miserable very quickly. The goal is not to simply conform outwardly but to be transformed inwardly. If you truly submit yourself to Jesus in your heart and your mind, external conformity to His teachings will naturally follow and will be a joy, not a burden.

Do not be conformed to this age,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you may discern
what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2