The dinner table is about love and belonging. I use to see fast food restaurants as a threat to our families and culture but now I realize that they are actually the creation of our culture. Our rugged individualism, independence, demand for instant gratification, and minimum relational attachments find its expression in the drive-thru window. Unlike our predecessors we can now afford to circumvent the dinner table by grabbing a Quarter Pounder and a Happy Meal all in the name of convenience.
But building relationships has never been convenient. A meal begins with the self-denial to set aside the time required to have dinner together as a family. As parents there is not only the surrender of our own wants (and laziness) in order to make dinner with our family possible but also the struggle to teach the value of the meal to our children as they are pulled by the internet, homework, television, video games, music lessons, friends, sporting events, and school events. We make room for whom and what we value and because relationships and family are no longer important to us the dinner table is disappearing from our culture.
The love of the dinner table is activated by the sacrifice of purchasing or growing the food, preparing the food, setting the table, and the clean up afterwards. It is hard work but meals provide for us the opportunity to lay our lives down for one another that results in having the meaningful relationships for which we long and for which we were made.
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.
Recently we had a farewell cookout for Jeremy and Julia Quigley who have been part of our ministry in Chicago for seven years. The first time I remember Jeremy was the night Ryan Seibert had invited him to our apartment for dinner. Afterward I was cleaning up the kitchen and Jeremy said to me, “Lewie, I need to go home and study but what happened this evening is what I have been looking for my whole life and I am afraid if I leave now I will never find it again.” Well after seven years not only is Jeremy still hanging around but he and Julia have made many disciples and hosted countless meals in their home.
At the farewell we had a limited amount of time so I asked that only those who had been discipled by Jeremy or Julia to share their appreciation. There were tears as one after another men and women shared how their lives were forever changed because of the Quigley’s love. And then the unexpected happened-Peter spoke up and said, “Well I was not directly discipled by Jeremy but I am his spiritual grandson so I want to express my appreciation for him discipling Neal who discipled me.” Then Michael broke in and said “I was not discipled by Jeremy either but I have to say ‘thanks’ because Jeremy discipled my brother which made a huge impact on his life.” Then Derek spoke up and said, “I’m like Michael, though Jeremy did not disciple me he did disciple my brother which so changed his life that it impacted my family and my spiritual life.”
That evening we witnessed the multiplying nature of disciple-making. Jesus used agriculture to illustrate how the kingdom of God spreads and how only if the seed is placed in the ground with warmth and moisture does it germinate and produce a plant that will produce other seeds. Seeds sitting on the shelf do not multiply. Jesus said to his disciples:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:23-26
Over the years Jeremy and Julie have consistently laid down their lives for others by pursuing them, by listening well, by giving groceries, by having people in their home for dinner, and by frequent hugs. As a result of their love for others there are now men and women throughout the country and around the world who are making followers of Jesus.
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.
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.
My ministry report for January 2013 includes the following:
I was in two sword fights, made a tent out of blankets, played “Star War Legos”, lost three games of “Sorry,” “Candyland,” and “Hedbanz,” and slid down a hill on an “American Flyer” way too fast, which ended poorly when my sled stopped suddenly and I did not, smashing my face against the ice. (My nose is still swollen.)
Why, you may ask, would a 55-year-old man play “Candyland” and sled down a hill on a bitterly cold day? It is because children matter to God. Of all my ministry activities this past month I believe that the events involving the children in my life were among the most significant.
I have often wondered what was going through the minds of disciples when they tried to keep the children away from Jesus. Did they think that Jesus couldn’t be bothered with children? Did they see the children as unimportant or a disruption to Jesus’ ministry?
Adults forget what it was like to be a child. C.S. Lewis said of adults, “They are forgetting what boyhood felt like from within.” Who can forget the delight we had as children when adults showed an interest in us? The Clark children still talk of our fond memories of “Ice Cream Uncle Jim” who would give us as much ice cream as we could eat.
Jesus noticed children and showed an interest in them. My hunch is that the twelve disciples never saw children the same after being with Jesus.
Have your disciple share his memories of the adults who had a positive impact on his life as a child.
Discuss with your disciple the children in his life (siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, sons, daughters) and the spiritual investment he could make in their lives.
 C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspiration Press, 1987), p. 36.
As Jonathan and David’s story unfolds, we see deeper into Jonathan’s heart. He was in line to inherit the throne from his father, Saul, but due to Saul’s stubbornness and disobedience, his family lost the right of succession. Jonathan’s loss of the throne was due to no fault of his own, and yet he stayed submissive to the purpose of God even though it meant a lesser role for him. Not only was it a diminished role, but he submitted himself to the very man who was to take his place on the throne.
And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and
helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,”
he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you.
You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you.”
Even my father Saul knows this.” (1 Samuel 23:16-18,
Jonathan had the freedom to love and serve David rather than consider him a threat because he was surrendered to God’s purpose in all things. Viewing others from a surrendered heart removes all threat and gives us the opportunity and privilege to lay down our lives for our friends, first out of our love for God but also out of love for our friends and disciples. Also, David could trust Jonathan because Jonathan’s surrendered heart would never allow him to thwart God’s plan. A surrendered heart finds joy in making others a success, no matter the cost.
As a disciple-maker you must surrender to the Lord’s purpose not only for your life but also for your disciple’s life (or your child’s life if a parent) even if it does not fit into your ideals or desires.
Trust is built between you and your disciple and between your disciple and the Lord as he witnesses your continual surrender to the Lord’s purpose for your life and for his life. (David observed Jonathan’s life for 13 years.) Many have felt like pawns in the hands of others, sadly even in the name of God and Christianity, so it will be extraordinary for him to find someone who has God’s purpose and concern for his life over other agendas.
Your surrender to the Lord’s purpose will empower your disciple to surrender to the Lord’s purpose for his life.
You cannot expect someone to love who has not been discipled. To assume that your disciple has a desire to love God, you, and others can frustrate him because he is aware of the relational expectations you have of him but he knows that he cannot fulfill them.
Fear developed in your disciple because of a void of love. This fear disrupts his relationships, which inhibits love, which brings on more insecurity, and so goes the downward cycle. He is afraid of what he does not know how to do and so to ask him to love God or people is to ask him to face a deep fear. That fear leads to frustration and frustration to anger and you may be the recipient of his anger.
The inability of your disciple to build and maintain healthy relationships is a result of a detachment from God caused by a distorted view of God, which may have been brought on by his Christian experience. This distortion developed out of the contradiction of his hearing the message of God’s love in sermons, books, and bible studies that did not match up with his experience whether in his family or church.
As Jesus bridged this breach by the laying down of his life for his disciples so you remove the contradiction in your disciple’s thinking by the laying down of your life for him. The message of love now lines up with his experience.
You will experience your disciple’s inability to build relationships either by (1) his aversion to connect with you or (2) his outright rejection of you fueled by his fear.
Laying down your life for your disciple will cost you. It can be a painful experience.
Parents have the opportunity to daily demonstrate love to their children by the laying down of their lives for one another and also for each child.
A helpful piece of advice for making followers of Jesus is to meet the family of your disciple, no matter his age. Within minutes of meeting his dad, mom, brothers, and sisters you will have a deeper understanding of his behavior because it was within the context of these relationships that he developed his approach in relating to others.
Jesus told his disciples: “Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) To follow Jesus is to love others, which means a large part of the disciple making process is teaching your disciple how to love and how to receive love.
For many of your disciples the home was not a place of love. He developed dysfunctional ways of relating to men through his dad and brothers and dysfunctional patterns with women through his mom and sisters. His framework for all relationships was formed by his parent’s treatment of one another, their treatment of him, and how they guided the children in relating to one another or in many cases how they neglected to guide the children.
Usually any façade, concealment, or pretense by your disciple, whether intentional or unintentional, will be exposed by meeting his family. I am often humored at how a person’s disposition can immediately change in the presence of his mom, or dad, or sibling. More than once I have been surprised when I have met the family of one of my disciples. The sooner you can meet your disciple’s family the deeper your relationship will be with him and the more effective your counsel.
Beauty transforms lives. To follow Jesus is to pursue beauty because he is the embodiment of all that is beautiful. The story of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection is the most beautiful ever told.
Jesus demonstrates for us how to replace the odious with the beautiful through his interaction with his disciples. Beauty is cultivated in the life of a disciple by him experiencing the beautiful. Jesus taught his men the beauty of serving by washing their feet. Later they experienced the beauty of placing others ahead of themselves when Jesus laid down his life for them.
The cost of making a disciple is your willingness to sacrifice your life for your disciple in order for him to experience beauty. Just being taught about serving or being instructed about sacrifice does not change a life; rather it is by the laying down of your life for your disciple that he will come to understand spiritual truth. It is only in the experience of being served or in the experience of having another lay down his life for you does the life changing power of beauty take affect.