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

 

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #9

Myth #9 Singles tend to be strange.

Truth: Peculiarity is not limited to singles.

I admit that I have met some strange singles over the years but I have also known some pretty peculiar married people. Marriage does not eradicate strangeness and in some cases exasperates it.

Singles can serve as Godly role models for all believers to follow. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus as singles served as examples for the new believers to imitate in the first century. In more recent times David Brainerd, John Stott, Amy Carmichael, and Henrietta Mears have all inspired Christianity by their example.

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #3 and Myth #4

Myth #3 Singleness is not desirable for ministry.

Truth: Singleness has advantages over marriage in ministry.

I (Paul) wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 1 Corinthians 7:7

“Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I (Paul) and Barnabas who must work for a living? 1 Corinthians 9:5-6

Paul viewed his singleness as advantageous. A husband or wife is a good gift from the Lord but singleness is an equally good gift to certain ones of his children. God is not any less good to a single than he is to a married couple blessed with many children.

A single friend of mine said to me, “I just want people to stop feeling sorry for me because I am single! It is condescending for others to think that I am disadvantaged as a single.”

It is also an affront to the heavenly Father to feel sorry for a single to whom the Lord has given the good gift of singleness.

Should a person feel bad for desiring to get married? Certainly not, but neither should married couples assume that singleness is a bad thing for someone else.

 

Myth #4 Singles are incomplete and discontent people.

Truth: Singles (never married, widowed, divorced) are whole individuals because of the risen Messiah living within them.

“. . . but that you (unmarried) may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:34-35

“I have been crucified with the Messiah and I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me. The life I now lives in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

Over the past three months I have been interviewing singles that are in fulltime ministry and over 35 years old. One woman said in the interview, “Lewie, as a single I am not a 65% person or a 80% person but because of Jesus within me I am a 100% complete individual.” It is Jesus who makes a person complete and content not marriage.

Because a discontented single is more visible and memorable than those who are content there is a tendency to think of singles as overall discontent. Paul serves as an example of contentment even though single.

The early church did not view Paul or Barnabas as inadequate because of their singleness; rather as singles they served as leaders and role models for believers to follow.

“Join together in following my (Paul) example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” Philippians 3:17.

 

 

 

A Tool for Discipling Children

The New Testament says little about the family because the Old Testament says much. The Book of Proverbs is an extensive and important tool for parents as they raise their children.

Robert Alter’s translation and commentary of Proverbs titled The Wisdom Books will be a help to parents as they instruct their children in wisdom. Dr. Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

His translation brings fresh meaning to many familiar proverbs. For example: “How long, dupes, will you love being duped, and scoffers lust scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)

One sample from his commentary “Intelligence of the most practical sort, involving an alertness to potential deceptions and seductions, is seen as an indispensable tool for the safe, satisfying, and ethical life, and a fool is repeatedly thought of as a dupe.”[1]



[1] Robert Alter, A Translation with Commentary The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), p. 194.

Disciple-Making and the Dinner Table

Cultures are established and sustained around the dinner table. Each people group is distinguished by its food and table customs, whether Chinese, Italian, Jewish, or Ethiopian. In addition to daily meals there are the special holiday meals that are set apart to remember and retell the stories that have formed the beliefs and values for each culture.  Americans use the Thanksgiving Day meal and the 4th of July cookout to remind them of their heritage.

Rituals associated with these special meals are designed to help pass on the stories and values from one generation to the next. The Jewish people use the symbols of bitter herbs, bread, and roasted lamb from the Passover meal with the intent to help their children remember the story of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Each culture also understands (1) who is expected at what meal, (2) what behavior is appropriate at what meal, and (3) what food is fitting for each holiday. (Hamburgers are not on the Thanksgiving Day menu nor turkey and dressing at the 4th of July picnic.)

Luke in his gospel shows us the role of the dinner table in the ministry of Jesus and how he used the table to challenge the culture around him and to shape his kingdom. Around a meal Jesus demonstrates the good news of forgiveness, redemption, and belonging by eating with sinners and being the guest in the homes of the social undesirable.

A dramatic and powerful table scene in Luke is the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. Around the dinner table Jesus illustrated the high kingdom values of a servant’s heart and love by his washing the feet of his disciples and by the laying down of his life for them. Here he also established a dinner table ritual with the simple symbols of bread and wine to remind generations to come of his love found in the story of his life, death, and resurrection.

In closing:

Our families in Chicago are exploring the use of the dinner table for the spiritual formation of our children.

 

We are asking the question how we can use our dinner tables to engage the culture of Chicago with the gospel?

 

 

 

Hospitality Was Central To My Spiritual Ancestry

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This past year we had over 200 overnight guests and even more dinner guests in our home. We believe that Jesus demonstrated the inseparable link between hospitality and the good news of the kingdom of God.

Meanwhile this summer I began investigating my spiritual ancestry by interviewing my parents and Taylor Gardner who had discipled me over 30 years ago. He, along with his wife Jimmye, taught me the role of hospitality in disciple-making.

While interviewing the Gardners I asked where they had learned about hospitality. It all began in the 1960’s while Taylor was in seminary when a missionary named Dick Patty spoke on disciple-making and hospitality, which resonated deeply in Taylor’s heart. Dick had discovered hospitality through a World War II veteran named Jesse Miller whose life was changed forever when he experienced the hospitality of missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks while he was stationed in the Philippines.  A biographer wrote of Jesse Miller:

“Longing for Christian fellowship, Jesse joined other servicemen at the weekly dinner and Bible study hosted by missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks. He was so touched and overwhelmed by their hospitality, the Christian fellowship, and the teaching of God’s Word, that he prayed to God, “If I ever have a home of my own, You can have it for servicemen.”

Six months ago I was unaware of the existence of Dick and Margret Patty, Jesse and Nettie Miller, nor Cyril and Anna Brooks but now I see their spiritual DNA not only in my ministry but also in the lives of my disciples. Where would my life and ministry be today if Cyril and Anna had not opened their home to Jesse Miller 70 years ago?

I shutter to think how close I came to missing out on the richness of my spiritual heritage and not being able to pass it on to my disciples and to their disciples.

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Margret and Dick Patty

Margret and Dick Patty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Jesse Miller

Jesse Miller

How Faith is Formed

“What curriculum do you use?” is the questioned I am asked most about disciple-making. I want to tie this to the question “where did we do wrong?” asked by brokenhearted parents who raised their children in church but who now as adults want nothing to do with Christianity. I believe both of these questions reveal a misconception on how faith is cultivated in the life of a person.

Since God created us like him and therefore he has a understanding of how we work, I believe we should look closely at what the Lord instructed Israel on the spiritual formation of their children and at how Jesus taught his disciples. Looking not only at what was to be learned but the means by which it was to be taught.

The book of Exodus is the account of God delivering Israel from bondage to freedom. The story begins with the birth of Moses and then flows seamlessly through nine plagues until a hard stop at the plague of “The Death of the Firstborn” where the Lord breaks from the narrative to establish the commemoration of the Passover. This parenthesis in the storyline signals the importance of what is taking place and invites the reader to no longer be a spectator but to join in the redemptive story through the Passover practices (Exodus 12-13).

The instructions for the Passover are given to the parents to be celebrated as a family in their home as a means of conveying the redemptive story of God from one generation to the next. Everett Fox points out that “ . . . memory is clearly important here, with two passages stressing the continuity of commemoration through the following generations (Exodus 13: 8-10 and 14-16).”[1]

A couple of observations:

  • The redemptive nature of God is foundational to disciple-making.
  • Children were a key consideration for the Passover.

Exodus 12:26-27“And it will be when your children say to you: What does this service (mean) to you? Then say: It is the slaughter-meal of Passover to YHWH, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt, when he dealt-the blow to Egypt and our houses he rescued.”

  • The family is the optimal place to teach the redemptive story of God.

Exodus 12:3 “On the tenth day after this new-Moon they are to take them, each-man, a lamb, according to their Fathers’ House, a lamb per household.”

  • Stories and symbols play an important role in remembering the redemptive nature of God.
  • The means and method of the Passover were to insure the retelling of the redemptive story of God for generations.

Exodus 12:42 “It is a night of keeping-watch for YGWH, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that is this night for YHWH, a keeping-watch of all the Children of Israel, throughout their generations.”

 

 



[1] Everett Fox, “The Five Books of Moses”, (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), p. 322.

Relating to Your Children and Grandchildren

As Sansui, my brother-in-law, called out in a loud voice to his son inviting him from boyhood to manhood I was reminded of the baptism of Jesus and the heavenly Father calling out to Jesus telling him that he was loved and that he was pleased with him. Although I am sure that Jesus knew of his Father’s love and that the message could have been communicated telepathically, it is significant that the Father chose to express his affection and delight for Jesus publically for others to hear. Perhaps the reason why I was deeply moved at my nephew’s “Calling Out” ceremony was the Godlikeness of Sansui declaring before many witnesses his love and pleasure in his son.

For the ceremony Sansui read publically letters that he and dee, my sister, had written to my nephew explaining how the meanings of each of his five names were tied back to his paternal and maternal genealogy. (Again I was reminded of how the story of Jesus begins with his detailed genealogy.) For my nephew an understanding of his ascendants will form his identity and also prepare him on how to relate to his children and grandchildren.

There are two tribal ceremonies for a Nigerian child. The first is the naming ceremony eight days after his/her birth. Here the five names of the child are whispered in the baby’s ear so that he/she is the first to hear the names. The parents then declare the baby’s name to the gathering and explain the meaning behind each of the names.  In a Christian home the child is then given a life’s bible verse and the parents and community pray a blessing over the baby.

The second ceremony is the “Calling Out” from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Here the parents reiterate publically the meanings of his names to remind the child of his heritage as they launch him into adulthood. In both ceremonies the tribe/community is involved.

It has been said that our attitude towards our ascendants will be the same that we will have for our descendants. Could it be that our inability to connect to our own children and grandchildren, especially as they get older, is a direct reflection of our own attitude towards our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents? In other words our children have picked up the same attitude towards us that we have had for our ascendants, which may simply be called indifference.

The Calling Out

This past weekend was the “Calling Out” ceremony for my nephew. Sansui, my brother-in-law, is Nigerian and it is their tribal custom for the father, joined by the other men of the tribe, to “call out” a son from boyhood to manhood when he turns 13. It is a rite of passage of love, belonging, responsibility, accountability, and identity. Now living in the States Sansui has adapted the ceremony to include the significant men who make up their family’s American tribe. The men ranged in age from 83 down to 15.

The ceremony began with my nephew sitting among his peers wearing a colorful woven hat that identified the tribe to which he belongs. Sansui asked his son to rise and then in a loud voice called out his name inviting him to leave boyhood and to join the other men in the room to manhood.  My nephew acknowledged the call and expressed his desire to enter manhood.

He then moved to a designated seat where each man read to him a letter he had written concerning manhood and gave to him a gift that correlated to his letter.  The letters were autobiographical in nature drawing from the unique spiritual pilgrimage of each man. (Unexpectedly I was moved by what the 15-year-old men had to say.)  Woven together these letters made up a beautiful collection of wisdom, counsel, love, but also warning.

The clear messages from the 2-hour ceremony were: (1) you are loved and (2) you belong to us and we belong to you.

A couple of observations:

  • The “Calling Out” was initiated and led by a dad. It was a family event.
  • Although the ceremony was meaningful to my nephew, it also reinforced the importance of belonging for the adult participants. The older men were visibly moved as well as those still in their teens.
  • The ceremony made clear what in life is important and what is not.