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.

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.

 

Disciple-Making is a Relational Experience

My conviction is that if Jesus came to Chicago in 2016 he would make disciples in the same way he did 2000 years ago. He would engraft individuals into a small community where they would learn how to serve one another and how to give up their lives for the others.

Disciple-making is a relational experience. Jesus called his disciples “friends” and he loved them with the same love that the heavenly Father had loved him. It is not easy for Americans to wrap their minds around Jesus’s method of disciple-making because we are not a relational culture. Joseph Hellerman observes:

“We have a base problem when we attempt to discuss relationships within our current cultural setting and that is the extreme importance of the individual. I suggest that it is the unique orientation of Western culture- especially contemporary American society- that explains our propensity to abandon, rather than work through, the awkward and painful relationships we so often find ourselves in. Social scientists…call it radical individualism…”[1]

Even our mother tongue betrays us. English has only one word for “love” whereas the Greek language, for example, has four. In America we “love” our wives and we “love” a good hotdog.

Disciples of Jesus are made by love. Love is the placing of the interests of another ahead of my own. “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 and sisters.” 1 John 3:16

It is a challenge to make disciples in a country where we “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] Or said another way, it is hard to make disciples of Jesus in a culture where the most important value is “me”.

Glenn Gray observes: “Men are true comrades only when each is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss.”[3]

A person that experiences the sacrifice of another laying down his life for him will never be the same.

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

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

[3] J. Glenn Gray, The Warrior: Reflections on Men in Battle (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 43,45,46.

 

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”.

 

 

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.

 

 

A Blessing For Your Husband

In a Jewish home at the weekly Sabbath meal the father says a blessing over each child, followed by the mother blessing each child, then the husband blesses his wife, and finally the wife says a blessing over her husband. It is beautiful experience even just to watch.

Many of the Jewish wives choose to read Psalm 112 to their husband as a blessing.

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 comes 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.

 

 

Hospitality Was Central To My Spiritual Ancestry

Image

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

Untangling Fear

Veterinarians at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium regularly run blood tests on their dolphins to check for disease since a dolphin conceals its illness because in the wild a dolphin that appears sick becomes at target for lunch to its predators.  In a similar way people mask their fears to avoid becoming the emotional prey in unsafe schools, homes, jobs, and churches.

A key component of disciple-making is addressing your disciple’s fear. It is not possible for him to follow Jesus and to fear because fear will inhibit him from forming a love relationship with God and others and it will keep him from obeying the Lord.  (Jesus leads his followers into the teeth of their fear.) But to come along side of your disciple to help him face his fears is one of the more difficult and challenging aspects of making a disciple for a couple of reasons:

1. People avoid fear.

Your disciple will avoid whomever or whatever he fears to the point that he would rather lie than face his fear even if it means his demise.  (As illustrated by the Priests and Elders lying to Jesus when he confronted their fear of people. For them to have followed Jesus would have meant that they would have to face their fear of people, which was the core of their existence. Matthew 21:23-27) Your disciple imagines that irreparable harm will come to him if he faces his fear when in reality calamity will mark his life and the lives of those whom he touches if he does not confront his fear.

2. To untangle fears requires perseverance and patience.

Your disciple has masked his fears for so long that it can be difficult for him to discern reality from a lie. One fear led to a lie, which led to the dread of getting caught, which led to another lie, and so the tangled knot was formed.  Although love, grace, and belonging, will provide a new perspective for him, you cannot expect him to be able to untangle years of fear in a short time.

 

 

Hard Time Making Friends

The tragedy is that we may go our entire lives without true friends because we have limited ourselves to a Western ideal of friendship. Since friendship is inseparable from making disciples (Jesus called his disciples his friends) a proper understanding of friendship is vital. Western Christianity, I’m afraid, has forced onto the story of Jonathan and David a cultural perspective of friendship that strips their relationship of its beauty and breath. We see what we want to see in their friendship and overlook other truly important aspects.

For example, Jonathan was 15 to 20 years older than David. We know this because Jonathan’s youngest brother, Ish-Bosheth, (who was the youngest son among King Saul’s six children: Jonathan, Abinadab, Malchishua, Merab, and Michal) was ten years older than David based on Ish-Boseth being forty years old when he became king of Israel (2 Samuel 2:10) while David was thirty years old in that same year when he became king of Judah (2 Samuel 5:4).

The usual perspective of their friendship is two college fraternity brothers struggling together through their years of self-discovery, but in reality David was a 17-year-old shepherd while Jonathan was a married father in his mid-thirties busy leading armies and fulfilling his duties as crowned prince.  Jonathan knew nothing but a royal life whereas David knew nothing but shepherding. Jonathan was the oldest child, David the youngest. Jonathan was held in high regard by others (1 Samuel 14:45) whereas David was ridiculed by his own family (1 Samuel 17:28). It is also easy to overlook the fact that they had become brothers-in-law.

Another important aspect of their friendship was its duration. Their relationship lasted for 13 years even though it was not an easy friendship to maintain due to the constant interference of King Saul because of his insecurity and stubbornness that fueled a hatred for David.

Some closing observations:

  • Your friend maybe 20 years older than you are or 20 years younger!
  • Your friend’s background and experience may be different from yours. Initially it may not seem like a good match.
  • Difficulty and endurance are part of any friendship.
  • Difficult people cannot disrupt your relationship with a true friend; they will only strengthen it.