First Things First

C.S. Lewis writes, “Put first things first and you get the second things thrown in. Do second things first and you lose both the first and second things.”

The question I am asked most about disciple-making is, “What curriculum do you use to make disciples?” It sounds like a perfectly legitimate question to our Western ears but it is a “second thing” question. It is a question that would have seemed strange to our brothers and sisters in the first century, not dissimilar to asking a parent today, “What curriculum did you use to raise your children?” Or inquiring, “What curriculum do you and your friend follow to build your relationship?”

The “first thing” in disciple-making is love and although there is a place for curriculum in disciple-making, it cannot be the first thing. To place curriculum first there is the risk that spiritual formation will not happen. There is a higher prospect that discipleship will occur when your disciples experience your laying down your life for them.

The last night that Jesus was with his disciples he explained to them what they had experienced over the past 3 years. He had loved them the same way that the heavenly Father had loved him and he had created a setting where these twelve men could learn how to love one another. Jesus makes clear that the mark of a follower of Jesus is love for other disciples when he states, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another.” John 13:35

Jesus did not leave us a curriculum to follow but a compelling and effective model.

Where to from here:

  1. Ask the Lord to give you an opportunity to serve each of your disciples in a tangible way. (Ride to airport, paint a room, babysit a child, visit them or family member in hospital, etc.)
  2. Organize a group meal with those that you have been investing in spiritually so that they can meet one another or to get to know one another on a deeper level, whether if be two people or ten people.
  3. Explain your hope that they as a group will be able to love one another, using the teaching of Jesus and the example of his twelve disciples.
  4. Over a period of time have each disciple tells his story to the group. (Most will never have an opportunity to tell their life story.)

 

 

Teaching Your Disciple to Belong

Often people ask me what does making disciples of Jesus look like on a practical level?

The first thing I tell them is to create a space for your disciple to belong. How Jesus taught his disciples the love of the God was to draw them into a community in order for them to experience belonging with 11 other people. (If you make a place to belong the Holy Spirit will send people for you to disciple.) For those of you with families you already have a core to draw a disciple into.

Doug Cooper writes, “There’s a drive in a lost soul—in one that is searching for acceptance, companionship, belonging, whatever you want to call it. The slightest coincidence ignites a spark that one hopes will lead to something meaningful.” [1]

The depth of love that the Heavenly Father has for your disciple is same love that God has for his own Son, Jesus. Jesus said to his Father: Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”(John 17:23) This love of God is learned and experienced in community.

Your disciple’s understanding of the heavenly Father’s love is an essential first step for her to be engrafted into a community of disciples. This will enable her to love her brothers and sisters and to receive love from them. As Roy Hession observes, “The work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross was not only to bring us back into fellowship with God, but also into fellowship with one another.”[2]

It is the Trinity’s eternal love for one another that is our example on how we should love our brothers and sisters. Serving one another, placing the interests of others ahead of myself, and making room for others all flow from the love essence of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Doug Cooper, The Outside In (Austin: The Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013)

[2] Roy Hession, The Calvary Road (London: The Christian Literature Crusade, 1950), p. 11-12.

Making Disciples As Jesus Did

Disciple-making is a means to restore relationships as God intended for them to be at creation. Betrayal, selfishness, and sin separated mankind from God and people from one another as illustrated by the early murder of Abel committed among the first offspring of Adam and Eve.

Two-thousand years later Jesus came to earth to teach and show us what a love connection to God and to others should look like. He fashioned his disciples into a community that loved one another as he had loved them. “Men will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Their community was their witness and their witness was their community.

To make disciples of Jesus is to ask people to connect to the heavenly Father and to their fellow siblings in the family of God. Disciples of Jesus are made in community because it is not possible to love God and not love His children.

Establishing these connections is difficult for your American disciple for a few reasons. First, it feels wrong to him because Americans are taught to live our lives independent of others and are rewarded for doing so. Second, it is awkward because most Americans just do not know how to build relationships. Third, to consider others ahead of ourselves goes contrary to our selfish bent.

Professor Allan Bloom observes that the American student today is, “ . . . spiritually unclad, unconnected, isolated, with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone.”[1]

While individualism, independence, and isolation may feel natural to our culture it is unnatural to a follower of Jesus. To follow Jesus will be counter to the American culture.

In Closing,

  • A disciple-maker forms a community by drawing each of his disciples into a group where they can learn to love one another. Much of disciple-making is teaching your disciples how to live in community by loving others and by learning how to receive love from others.
  • You will have to help your disciples to build friendships with one another. It will not come natural for them.
  • Forming a disciple-making community takes a long time. Jesus took three years with his disciples.

[1] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 87.

Reliability and Disciple-Making

Disciples of Jesus are best made in a community of reliability where each member of the group can depend on the others.

For some, their church small group experience has been a disappointment because they were told that if they would be open, honest, and vulnerable with their group that they would find belonging. Although being forthright and honest are necessary parts of community they are not enough to establish the belonging that we hope for. The group must also be able to rely on one another.

Alferd Jepsen broadens our understanding of truth and trust when he writes, “In the Hebrew Bible truth ‘was used of things that had proved to be reliable . . .. Reliability would be the best comprehensive word in English to convey the idea.’

Trust is that on which others can rely. Faithfulness and reliability are personal and social terms. They describe the character of a person both as she is in herself and as she is towards others.”[1]

Early on Jesus introduced reliability to his disciples by teaching them to treat others as you would want to be treated. Yet even after spending three years with him, the twelve disciples committed the most unreliable of acts by betraying Jesus on the night that he needed them most.

Reliability takes years to learn and comes out of our greatest failures. Peter learned to be reliable by seeing how his unreliability deeply harmed Jesus and by contrasting his own failure against Jesus’s faithfulness to him even after his denial of the Lord.

In closing:

 

  • It is because God is reliable that I am able to be reliable to others.

 

  • In making followers of Jesus it can take months and years for a person to become reliable. This is learned in community with others. It can be a painful process as we learn to forgive one another in our unreliable moments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. p. 259.

Disciple-Making and Making Space

Disciple-making is based in the relational nature of the Trinity. The love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have for one another enabled them to open up and make space so that others could belong to the family of God.

Jesus came on earth to show in practical ways how God’s love should function among us. Jesus made space and drew12 men into his life providing for them a place to belong. He created an experience for his disciples that reflected the belonging, love, and self-giving essence of the Godhead. This is why disciples should be made in community.

Later the apostle Paul not only proclaimed the good news of Jesus but he also formed these believers into communities that reflected the nature of God. At the core of these communities were a servant’s heart, hospitality, affection, and self-sacrifice that enabled them to make space for others.

To make space for another comes at great cost. For the Godhead it meant the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, which was costly for all the members of the Trinity. For the apostle Paul it came at the price of years of extreme suffering. Though many things have changed since the first century, the way to make disciples is the same at it was 2000 years ago. Disciples are made only when men and women are willing to lay down their lives for another.

 

Why Small Groups Are Hard to Sustain

Small groups are difficult to sustain in the American church. Churches retool their groups every three or four years to keep interest. They change the name, try a new curriculum, hire a new staff member, and adjust the schedule but in the end groups continue to peter out.

Small group ministry exposes the gap between what we know community should be for the children of God and the American culture. “We are unaware that our culture has subverted our faith”[1] and so we continue to tinker with our small group ministry oblivious to the cultural values that are driving our people’s lives.

Joseph Hellerman writes, “We in America have been socialized to believe that our own dreams, goals, and personal fulfillment ought to take precedence over the well-being of any group.”[2]

When a group, even our family, hinders our ambitions we either abandon the relationships or ease them to the margins of our lives. Americans have established evasive maneuvers so that whenever relational commitment levels get too high we can escape.

To be a follower of Jesus is to put the welfare of others ahead of your own interests. Jesus placed the twelve disciples into a group and then demonstrated from his own actions how to serve and how to consider others first. He then expected the disciples to serve one another in the group and to lay down their lives for the others just as he had done for them.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23

[1] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. P.53.

[2] Hellerman, Joseph H. When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009)

Carving Out A Space

Saul could not establish a relational connection with his fellow believers in Jerusalem nor find a ministry toehold in that city after his conversion. The disciples in Jerusalem did not believe that Saul (later called Paul) could possibly have become a follower of Jesus. His reputation as a deadly persecutor raised the question whether this gospel could change the heart and mind of someone as notorious as Saul.

“When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” Acts 9:26-28

Barnabas took action and intervened on behalf of Saul convincing the apostles that he had in fact become a passionate follower of Jesus. Barnabas was so persuasive that Saul actually stayed with the apostles-there was now a place for him at the table.

Saul went on to boldly proclaim Jesus as Messiah in Jerusalem and the persecutor became the persecuted by the Hellenistic Jews so he fled to his hometown of Tarsus over 500 miles away.

Five years passed but Barnabas had not forgotten Saul. He made the arduous journey to Tarsus for the sole purpose to find Saul in order to connect him to where the Holy Spirit was working in the city of Antioch. For the next year Barnabas and Saul taught and impacted many people in Antioch.

Some thoughts in closing:

  • What if Barnabas had not intervened for Saul in Jerusalem?
  • What if Barnabas had not taken the trouble to travel to Tarsus to look for Saul?
  • Although Saul had been set apart by God for ministry (Acts 9:15-16), gifted, educated, and passionate yet in the kingdom economy the Lord used a human agent to intervene on his behalf to establish his ministry. (Saul would have been in his 30’s when he was in Jerusalem.)
  • Saul had already proven himself effective in Damascus and Jerusalem but the Lord used Barnabas to get Saul to Antioch, which then led to launch his lifelong travel ministry recognizing the potential significance to the spread of the gospel. (Saul near 40 years old at this point.)
  • Barnabas placed others ahead of himself.
  • Barnabas was willing to take risks in order to empower another.
  • Has anyone ever established you in ministry?
  • Have you ever established someone in ministry?

 

What Does God Look Like?

Disciples of Jesus are made by people experiencing God in relationship and not by curriculum or the transfer of information alone. To study and research about Abraham Lincoln is not the same thing as having been a friend of Lincoln.

Jesus formed his disciples into a community around him so that they could experience what it means to be loved and to belong and for us to be able to see what God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” looks like as Jesus with his disciples lived it out.

The character that Jesus’s disciples experienced from him were:

  1. Humility. Counting the others in the group as more important than yourself.

“ . . .He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8

  1. Servant’s Heart. To serve the practical needs of others.

“ . . .Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Philippians 2:7

  1. Self-sacrifice. To willingly lay down your life for your brothers and sisters.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

Jesus engrafted each man into the group of twelve for a three-year period for them to experience the essence of God so that they could become like Jesus. As the disciples were conformed to be like him they would grow in their love one another and their love for one another was the proof to the world that they were followers of Jesus. Their witness was their community and their community was their witness.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

 

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #10

Myth #10 Singles can be fickle and irresponsible.

Truth: There are singles that are trustworthy.

Nowhere else in American society are singles separated out as they are in the Protestant church. Although there are many aspects of our lives that we entrust to singles, our pilot, nurse, doctor, boss, and accountant all could be single, but when it comes to our spiritual lives we hesitate to submit ourselves to the leadership of singles. It is rare to find a single church staff member.

When we meet a single we automatically assume that something must be wrong. Yet in the first century a young single named Timothy proved himself to be trustworthy and he was able to lead others to follow Jesus.

“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:17

“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel”. Philippians 2:22

Not all singles are spiritually trustworthy, but just as married people will overtime establish their faithfulness to the Lord so a single can establish his or her reputation as a man or woman of God. The disciples in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra recognized his spiritual uniqueness and based on their recommendation Paul invited Timothy to minister along side of him, a partnership that lasted for 18 years.

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.” Acts 16:1-2

 

Blessing For Each Family Member

Below are the family blessings that our Jewish brothers and sisters have taught us. Our family members read these blessings over one another at the beginning of our weekly dinner together.

Blessing for Wife

Proverbs 31

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Blessing for Husband

Psalm 112

Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands.  His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.  Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.  Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.  Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.  He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.  He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor.  The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Blessings for Children

One of the most moving Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) traditions is the blessing over the children given on Friday night. There are many variations on how the blessing is made. The most common custom is for a parent to put his/her hands on the child’s head and recite the blessing. In some homes each child gets up at the table and stands before the parent to receive the blessing, and in other homes the parent walks around the table and blesses each seated child. Whatever method is followed, the blessing is sure to make the child feel special and loved, boost the child’s self-esteem and give the child fond memories of Shabbat-family-together time.

The Blessing for a Son

English: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.Transliteration: Ye’simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve’chi-Menashe.

Why? Just before he dies, Jacob blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe. He says they should become role models for the Jewish people in the future. On the day Jacob blessed them, he said, “In times to come, the people of Israel will use you as a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe’.” (Genesis 48:20) Ephraim and Menashe did in fact become role models worthy of emulation. Unlike those before them, including Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers, Ephraim and Menashe were not rivals. Rather, Ephraim and Menashe were brothers united by their drive to perform good deeds.

The Blessing for a Daughter

English: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Transliteration: Ye’simech Elohim ke-Sarah, Rivka, Ra-chel ve-Lay’ah.

Why? Each of the matriarchs has qualities that qualify them to be role models. The matriarchs were strong and laudable women. They endured difficult home lives, hardships in marriage, infertility, abduction, envy from other woman and difficult children. Nevertheless, these righteous women, through their individual passion, their partnerships with the patriarchs and their loyalty to God, succeeded to build a nation.

The Blessing for Children

After the above blessing is recited for a son or daughter, some people continue with this blessing for both boys and girls.

English:May God bless you and watch over you.?May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.?May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace. Transliteration:?Ye’varech’echa Adonoy ve’yish’merecha. Ya’ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.Yisa Adonoy panav eilecha, ve’yasim lecha shalom.