The Beauty of Belonging

Man was created to participate in beauty and not just to be an observer. A lack of beauty rarely comes to mind when dealing with personal problems but when other approaches with your disciple have failed an absence of beauty should be considered.

There is beauty in belonging to others of which the Psalmist writes in Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” To paraphrase, being united to others is a beautiful thing.

This beauty flows from the eternal love between the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God designed man to enter into this beauty by being connected to Him and His other children. But sin in the Garden of Eden brought shame and a separation between God and mankind and man with one another, which resulted in ugliness.

A relational breach demoralizes and creates a void of beauty in a person which will compel him to desperately seek out perverted and distorted forms of beauty to compensate for this vacuum. This search will lead him to self-destructive attitudes and behaviors such as pornography, flirtation, sex, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, materialism, etc.

Your disciple will become confused and frustrated over the contradiction of this behavior. He desires to love, belong, and please the Lord and he is aware that his behavior is sinful and self-destructive but he continues it anyway and he does not understand why. He soon discovers that his self-determination and self-control cannot compensate for this void of beauty.

The nature of God moved Him to restore man’s relationship to Him and mankind’s relationship with one another through the death of Jesus.  So once where there was sin, shame, hatred, and discord there now can be the beauty of unity and peace. Although the story of relational restoration through the gospel is familiar to your disciple the implementation of this reality may prove difficult. A large part of the disciplining process is helping your disciple understand the beauty of how he is restored to God and how he can now be connected to others.

In closing,

  • Only make disciples in the context of community. It is in community that they will experience the beauty of belonging and how to love others.
  • As a community discuss how the group can help each member understand how he or she belongs to the Lord and to the others in the group.
  • Communicate regularly to your disciple how he belongs to his heavenly Father and also to the others in the community. (e.g. Tell him what you have heard from others in what ways they appreciate him.)

When Your Disciple Dramatically Fails #3

There is no simple formula for making disciples.  The Modern Western approach would like for you to think that to mix the right ingredients, at the right time, will result in a disciple.  I am humored at publishers trying to simplify the disciple making process into a step-by-step curriculum.  Disciples are made as a result of the triadic relational interaction between the disciple, discipler, and the Holy Spirit.  These relationships are complex, mysterious, and often risky; this is why many would rather choose a safe, non-relational approach to ministry.  Programs can be done without a relationship, disciple making cannot.

The bond of love between you and your disciple will not only draw you into his failures, but you may find yourself the object of his failure, even as Jesus was the object of Peter’s betrayal.  If Jesus’ disciples brought him pain, what makes me think that my disciples will not hurt me?  If Paul’s disciples brought anxiety and disappointment to his life, what makes me think that I will not experience the same questioning and betrayal?

Forgiveness is the nature of God and therefore an important lesson for your disciple to learn.    A disciple learns how to forgive by being forgiven by his discipler, just as Jesus forgave Peter after his very public failure.  (I can hear Jesus’ critics saying, “What kind of teacher is this Jesus guy anyway?  Look!  Even his own disciples have betrayed him!) To lay down your life for your disciple is to open yourself up to hurt, pain, and maybe even public ridicule.

Though we were an enemy of God, he took the initiative in seeking an adoptive relationship with us to become his children.  Paul writes: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). Your disciple’s behavior may not deserve your love, but that is beside the point.  Love reaches out to her enemies and to those who betray her.

A couple of closing thoughts:

  1. Your forgiveness of your disciple is an opportunity for him to understand the forgiveness and love of God.
  2. You are able to forgive your disciple because Jesus paid for his sin on the cross.  (Even his sin against you.)
  3. To Parents.  Children are a disciple of their parents.  Your child will fail somewhere along the way and bring you heartache, disappointment, and possibly public shame.  You are to forgive as Jesus forgave Peter.  (Be aware.  Your other children are watching how you handle the failure of their siblings.)

Generational Love

Lois Synder died this year, she was 96.  Mrs. Synder taught my 2nd grade Sunday school class and directed our Christmas pageant each year at the Christian Fellowship Church. I attended her memorial service with my mom and dad in the same auditorium where in 1952 Lois had decided to follow Jesus.  When the Synder family walked into the service that afternoon I was moved.  Before us stood 3 generations who follow Jesus nearly 60 years after Lois’ conversion.

In the service family and friends shared their memories of Lois.  It was in these stories that we discovered the reason why her family still follows Jesus today: Lois loved well.  She so loved her children and grandchildren in their formative years that this love overflowed to her great grandchildren.  Not only did Lois love her family, but each week she would load her car with teaching materials and go share the gospel with children living in the inner-city.

Lois’ seemingly endless ability to love others flowed from her understanding of God’s love for her grounded in the cross of Jesus.  God’s love for me will not be found in my circumstances, my heritage, my abilities, or my position, rather it is anchored in the truth that Jesus died for me.   “. . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

God shows me how to love others in Jesus’ death for me.  John writes: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16-17” Once I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love for me, I am then able to love others in sacrificing my life for them.  It will cost me to love my mate, my children, my friends, and my disciples.

How silly a question it would seem if we could ask Lois today, “Was it worth it?”  I can only imagine the joy in her heart in seeing 3 generations loving God and loving one another. 

Sin and Your Disciple

Sin is the principal issue in your disciple’s life.  Man was designed to love and to be loved, sin prevents both.  It has estranged him from God and alienated him from others.  It has opened his life to the dark force of shame; a shame that prevents him from drawing near to God and prohibits him from building authentic relationships.  When man lives a detached existence his behavior becomes unstable, erratic, and often self-destructive as he explores ways to attach to others and to belong.

As a discipler, one of your first concerns should be to gain an understanding of your disciple’s perspective of his sin, the cross of Jesus, and his relationship to it.  There are even those who grew up in Christian homes and gospel centered churches that have not been able to apply the gospel to their lives.  Pride and disbelief will cause your disciple to make himself the exception to the rule by believing that he has sinned beyond the patience of God. He must humble himself and acknowledge that he can do nothing to pay for his sin.  His forgiveness is a gift from God because of his mercy and love.

The truth of the good news of Jesus is best learned and experienced in the context of a loving relationship with a parent or a discipler.  The parent/discipler provides an environment of love and forgiveness which illustrates the gospel for the disciple as he explores the gospel and applies its truth to his sin.

A couple of closing thoughts:

  • Most people (including believers) will never have anyone talk with them about their sin and the application of the gospel to their lives.  If you do not discuss it with your child or disciple probably no one will.
  • Just because someone has “made a profession of faith” at some point in his life does not mean he believes he is forgiven by God today.
  • Your disciple’s behavior, rather than his words, is an indicator of his understanding of the gospel.  (Is your disciple comfortable with God? Does your disciple love others well? Does your disciple receive love well? Is his life style contradictory?)
  • Our God is love.  Our message of the gospel is love.  Our love for one another is an expression of the gospel.  Love is a reliable test of a person’s understanding of the gospel.

Pursuing Your Disciple

Love pursues.  Your first step with a disciple is to pursue him. Just as Jesus chose his 12 disciples and as Paul chose Timothy, it is important for you to take the initiative in pursuing your disciple. This first step is key because it establishes the tone of the relationship and sets a trajectory for discipling relationships for generations to come.  When others came to Jesus and reversed the initiative by asking to become his disciple he turned them away, which indicates the significance of the discipler pursuing the disciple.  (Matt 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62)

The good news of the kingdom is that the Father pursued man and adopted him into the family of God.  As I pursue a disciple I am demonstrating to him and the world the pursuing love of God in the cross of Jesus.

Recently I was at a gathering where several disciples shared their stories.  A recurring theme was the life change as a result of being loved by their discipler.  Not only will your disciple never forget being pursued by you, but it will serve as a point of reference for the rest of his life.  Because he has experienced the love of being pursued, he will pursue others.

Some closing lessons from the pursuit:

  • Pursuing is hard work.
  • Pursuing is deliberate.
  • Begin the pursuit by having your disciple tell you his story.
  • The pursuit of your disciple will take months.  Depending on the individual it may take many initiatives before you see a response.  (The pursuit often causes a disciple to face his deepest fears which he has avoided for years.)
  • The experience of being pursued teaches your disciple how to pursue others.
  • Parents, pursue each of your children. Children, pursue your parents. Brothers and sisters, pursue one another.  Friends, pursue your friends.

Friendship and Making Disciples 4

Restoration Through Discipling-Friendship

The kingdom of God is about relationships. Man was designed by God to be loved and to love. The sad news is that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s relationships were shattered, both with God, and with one another. There were now barriers of shame, self-consciousness, and fear between individuals and between man and God.

The good news is that Jesus has reconciled man to God, so that he can once again have a loving relationship with God and with others. Jesus came to earth to demonstrate how men can lovingly relate to God and to one another, both through His sacrifice on the cross, and through the example of His 30 month relationship with His own disciples. The discipling relationship restores individuals to God’s design so that man can be in relationship with one another as the Lord intended.

Here is how a discipling-friendship works:

  • God loved me first.

    The reason I can love God and love others is because He first loved me. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). I am now able to love God and others out of the reservoir of infinite love poured into my life by God at the cross.Religion tries to manipulates men to love God, but the basis of the kingdom is that God loves us first and we are grateful responders to that love. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

  • Relational restoration takes place in the bond of a discipling-friendship.

    A discipling-friendship relationship is vital component in the kingdom because it is means by which men learn how to love and to be loved. Jesus has given us the example of how to love by the laying down of His life for us. In the same way I am to love others by laying down my life for them. It is in a discipling-friendship that I experience being loved and then also having the opportunity to love another.