What is a Disciple of Jesus?

Since the great commission is to make disciples of Jesus it is important to know what a disciple is.

The apostle John tells us that a disciple is someone that lives as Jesus did. “Whoever claims to live in him (God) must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2: 5-6 

Dallas Willard explains that a disciple is “a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus.”[1]

How Jesus lived his life on earth is well documented. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are biographical accounts of the life of Jesus from four different perspectives.

Joseph Hellerman says it this way: “The earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes the one time in history of humanity when heaven fully and finally came to earth. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have the opportunity to see the question What is God like? answered in the flesh-and-blood world in which we live. During His incarnation Jesus not only procured our way to heaven. He also showed us how to live on earth. Now we can pattern our lives after Jesus.[2]

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=53

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

Love-The Missing Ingredient

Last month I attended two separate trainings for disciple-making led by two different organizations. There was helpful instruction and insight in both seminars but over the 6 days of training the word “love” was not used. (I tend to listen for what is not being said when I attend seminars or read books.)

When it comes to disciple-making Americans think in terms of equipping, teaching, curriculum, and training. The training is usually done in a classroom setting and feels very much like school or business training.

One organization in our training called the discipler a “mentor” the other called him a “facilitator”, which both reflect an institutional attitude not too different from a relationship with a manager or professor.

Making disciples of Jesus in a word is love. If we could go back in time and ask Peter, Bartholomew, or Matthew to describe their time with Jesus they would say something like this, “I have never experienced love, friendship, and belonging like I did those three years with Jesus.”

Equipping, training, instruction, and curriculum do not make disciples of Jesus. The discipler laying down his life for each individual is what makes disciples just as Jesus laid down his life for his disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Form a Disciple-Making Team

Jesus came to earth and showed us “how God would do things” and one of the things he did was to form his disciples into a team. It was only natural then for his followers to build and minister in teams as he had done. Even years later Paul created and ministered in teams. He writes, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

Jesus used a team setting as a laboratory for instruction, an environment for kingdom values to be lived out, a platform for ministry, and a place for his disciples to experience belonging.

How to form a disciple-making team:

  1. Pray

Jesus spent a night in prayer before he chose the twelve disciples.

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot. Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” Luke 6:12-15

  1. Pursue

Pursue those you want to be on the team.

Love pursues. To build a disciple-making team you must pursue each member in contrast to individuals applying or requesting to be on the team. Jesus pursued each person on his team. He invited a tax collector, a religious zealot, and fishermen to join him for a 3-year adventure.

Each team member knew that he had been selected and pursued by Jesus and that the other team members had also been singled out and pursued. The team had been carefully chosen to create the synergy that Jesus desired.

Ten years later Barnabas pursued Paul and then Paul pursued Timothy.

This summer I have watched the FBI and universities pursue my nephew because of his leadership qualities. Sad to say Christianity has not pursued him even though he is one of theirs.

  1. Love

Solidify the team by serving and loving each team member.

Jesus solidified the team by him serving and loving each disciple. As he laid down his life for each member the team became bound together. Watching my leader lay down his life for another team member changes my relationship with the leader and that peer. If my leader laid down his life for this person should I not also love him? Jesus had instructed his disciple to do for one another what he had done for them.

One of our leaders bought groceries for a college student that was in his group. That simple act was the defining moment that changed that student’s life and cemented in his own mind that he belonged on the team.

 

 

 

 

Encouraging Timothy

I want you to picture a young man or woman in your acquaintance that has a genuine faith.

Have you ever told him of the qualities that you have observed in his life?

Have you affirmed her gifts and relayed the encouragement that she has brought to you and to others?

This week I met three seminary students. I would gladly serve along side any one of them and yet none of them has had an older believer to encourage their faith or to help navigate future ministry. No one has sought them out as Paul sought out Timothy.

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey . . . “ Acts 16:1-3

Maybe our rugged American individualism keeps our mouths shut as we think, “Well I made it on my own in my faith journey and so they too will be able to pull through with the Lord’s help.” Or a more frightening thought is that the reason we do not encourage the Timothy in our lives is because it just does not cross our minds to do so.

In closing:

  • Ask around and discover the young people that have a genuine faith.

 

  • Determine meaningful ways to encourage those young people.

(I shared this concept with a fellow church leader this week and he said, “Wouldn’t that be awkward just to go up to a college student tell them how I have observed his faith and appreciate his walk with God.” My reply was, “What will be more awkward is someday when you try to explain to Jesus why you didn’t encourage more young people in their faith.”)

  • Talk to leaders about how your spiritual family could empower these Godly young men and women.

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?

 

The Words We Use

My Bulgarian neighbor shouted to me with his thick accent as I was getting into my car late for an appointment, “Hey Lewie! Are you are Christian?” His question put me in a predicament. If I answered, “Yes” it could be disingenuous because what George understands a Christian to be is not what I am. On the other hand, if I answered, “No” he would assume that I am either Muslim, Jewish, or an atheist.

Evangelicals need to become aware that when we use the word “Christian” we mean various things relying on context to define our intent. Many of our listeners either do not have enough information to understand our meaning when using the word “Christian” or they have wrong information so they misinterpret our use of the word. An example of this is my Jewish friend thought that Jesus Christ was the founder of an anti-Semitic movement, so he assumed anyone or anything “Christian” was anti-Semitic.

If a Roman Catholic, Evangelical, or Mormon says, “My daughter is a new Christian!” they do not mean the same thing but to the non-Christian ear we all use the same terminology. The Jewish, Muslim, and atheist see the Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Christian Science, non-denominational, and Mormons all as “Christian”. A Muslim that became a follower of Isa (Jesus) told me that he still cannot tell the difference between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant let alone the difference between a Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran.

I live in a Chicago neighborhood made up of Jewish, Indian, and Pakistani people. If I would ask my neighbors, “Wouldn’t you like to become a Christian?” what I mean by that question and what they hear are poles apart. For many of them a Christian is a negative and confusing term.

The responsibility lies on us as followers of Jesus to seek to understand the perspective of our listener so that we can communicate clearly the good news of Jesus.

  • Have coffee with a Jewish person, Atheist, Muslim, or Hindu and ask him to describe his understanding of Christianity, a Christian, and Jesus Christ.
  • Describe your faith to someone without using the words “Christian”, “Christianity”, and “Church”.

 

 

Open Hearts

Hurt will cause your disciple to close off his heart from others and from God. Although counterintuitive to us, the Holy Spirit uses suffering in your disciple’s life to open up his heart to the Lord and to you. This suffering will come in two forms: the sprint and the long-distance run. Both are strenuous but each develops different faith muscles.

A sprint strains every faith fiber to the breaking point but it only lasts for a short time. It will take everything out of him but he will learn lessons from the experience that he will never forget. It is important to make yourself available to him, no matter how inconvenient, in the midst of that trial.

Marathon suffering, on the other hand, grinds on for years or maybe even for a lifetime yet it builds a strong faith on the insights gathered from years of perseverance. Just as physical endurance can only be built by running mile after mile so these faith lessons only come from the long haul. The natural inclination is to want to escape from this trial now! However at the moment that trial ends the rich insights gathered from that particular race ends with it.

Our heavenly trainer and coach is trustworthy and he knows exactly what regimen is best and what duration is optimal to conform each of his children to the image of Jesus.

In the apostle Paul’s attempt to have the disciples in Corinth open up their hearts to him, he opened up his heart to them by telling of his experience with these two forms of suffering.

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.” 2 Corinthians] 6:11-13

1. First Paul’s Sprints:

“I (Paul) have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again . . . I have been constantly on the move . . . 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:23-27

2. Paul’s Long Distance Run:

Later Paul tells of his ongoing torment that he begged God to remove but the Lord refused knowing what was best for the apostle. Paul then delighted in his suffering knowing that the power of the Messiah within him was a result of his perseverance.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

 

 

 

Home and the Holy Spirit

In thirty-five years of ministry I have stayed in hundreds of homes both in America and overseas. Three standout. The atmosphere was so distinct that I had to ask, “What makes your family different?” In each case I got the same response-the Holy Spirit.

The parents welcomed the Holy Spirit into their marriage and family. They were intentional to teach the children the nature of the Holy Spirit (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control -Galatians 5:22-23) and that he lives within each member of the family.

Talking of the Holy Spirit was natural in conversation within their marriage, with their children, friends, and guests in their home. To be in their home was an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul warns us that if we do not live with the help of the Holy Spirit we will “ . . . bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:14.

What should be the safest place on earth can become a house of devastation. No marriage begins with the intent to devour the other nor does any parent imagine children that hate and destroy.

Here is what love looks like:

  • Joy- There is a spontaneous happiness, laughter, and delight among the family members.
  • Peace-There is harmony between the husband and wife and an absence of strife, anxiety, or dissension among the family members.
  • Patience-Each member of the family shows awareness and regard for another’s feelings and circumstances.
  • Kindness-A absence of harshness or severity. The children are kind with one another and kind to each parent. The couple is kind to one another.
  • Faithfulness-There is a steadfast fidelity to the Lord, one another, and friends.
  • Gentleness-There is an absence of bad temper or belligerence and a deliberate kindness and patience in dealing with one another.

Stephen Covey has observed: “People are very tender, very sensitive inside. I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference. Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors, are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart.”[1]

  • Self-control. The family is marked by the ability to exercise restraint or control over their feelings, emotions, and actions.

 

 

[1] Covey, Stephen “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p.193.

Listening: The Duty of Love

I can speak to many people at one time but I can only listen to one person at a time. Listening is what makes ministry loving and personal. As a pastor people would “connect” with me by listening to my teaching. I even had some who thought of me as their friend and yet we had never met. It was a one-way connection, which is not a friendship at all.

Paul Tillich writes, “The first duty of love is to listen,” and yet how rare it is to have anyone listen to us, even though Christianity is supposed to be marked by love. Ministries spend thousands of dollars and work long hours trying to get people to listen to them. Our seminaries, colleges, and churches teach us how to preach, how to teach, and how to share our story, but not how to listen.

Listening well to others requires inner strength because it places the listener in a vulnerable position. Whether as an extrovert or an introvert we protect ourselves from possible rejection. Extroverts are capable of creating a multilayered verbal force field, which seems friendly but in reality is self-protective. Introverts on the other hand are masters at evasive maneuvers to avoid unwanted conversations.

To love I must boldly drop my shield or bravely come out from hiding to engage others in order to listen with an intent to understand what the person is saying.

Although Jesus taught large groups there are also recorded for us one-on-one conversations that he had with individuals, Nicodemus and the woman at the well being two good examples. Both were never the same after being listened to by Jesus.

 

 

To Listen Is To Love

My heart’s condition determines my capacity to listen. To listen necessitates the same humility and self-sacrifice required to serve others. Robert Greenleaf wrote, “A true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first. True listening builds strength in other people.”[1] To listen is to laydown my life for another.

The self-absorbed heart is deaf to the needs of others even when people are speaking (or shouting) directly to it. The problem is not a deaf ear but a diseased heart. A whole heart will seek to understand what is being said whereas pride sees little need to listen.

Jesus says it this way:

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.Matthew 15:13

God listens because God is love. God asks us to pray because without two-way communication there is no loving relationship. At great cost He restored his relationship with man so that He, in part, could listen. He loves to listen because He loves much.

To follow Jesus and to be Godlike is to willingly laydown my life for others by listening well.

[1] Robert K. Greenleaf, http://www.concordiaonline.net/what-is-servant-leadership/