Teaching Your Disciple How to Forgive #4

Recently a guy said to me, “Lewie, what is wrong with me? I am doing the very things I swore I would never do!” His dad later asked me, “What has happened to my son? I feel like I don’t know him anymore.” A dramatic change in your disciple’s behavior is probably not as sudden as it appears. Though hidden for years a root of bitterness buried in the secrecy of his heart will eventually manifest its fruit in his life.

While young your disciple can manage his bitterness and keep it at bay. But as he grows older he accumulates more hurt and disappointment that if not dealt with properly moves him towards a tipping point where the bitterness overwhelms him and takes over his life. Even his future is now controlled by his past hurt.

There is an agenda behind all bitterness.  Your disciple targets his bitterness with precision. A son or daughter knows exactly what will hurt and disappoint his mom and dad, as any student knows the values of his school, and a parishioner understands what will get the attention of her church.  The bitter person uses this knowledge as a means to either get the attention of another, to seek revenge, or to cause a person to pay for a wrong done.

Some closing insights on bitterness and forgiveness:

  • Not only will it frustrate your disciple but it will also be futile to try and get him to change his behavior before he understands how to forgive those who have hurt him.
  • You will need to partner with your disciple as he confronts his past because fear will hinder him from facing his hurt and disappointment.
  • All bitterness is ultimately directed towards God.  (More on that later.)

Teaching Your Disciple How to Forgive #1

Sin generates tragedy. Gerald wept openly in the IHOP as he told me that he had gotten two women pregnant within a month, neither of whom he wanted to marry, and both mothers wanted to keep the baby. He said to me, “Do you know how scary it is to have your behavior out of control?”

It is easy to be preoccupied with your disciple’s destructive behavior and its consequences (How to pay child support for two babies for 18 years?) and miss its cause. The drama of his escapades can become a welcome diversion for both you and your disciple from the more difficult challenge of dealing with the root cause. I say a welcome diversion because to face the cause behind his injurious behavior will require trust, fortitude, perseverance, and courage for both of you.

For you there is the risk of your disciple pushing you away or rejecting you, as you edge closer to the shame that he has covered for years. For the disciple you are asking him to place himself in the vulnerable position of trusting you and the Lord as he faces his greatest fears and most painful memories. Many will choose to continue on the path of destructive behavior, no matter how grave the consequences, rather than to face the cause.   The root in most cases is bitterness that is tied to their hurt.

In closing:

  1. Expect your disciple to either lash out at you or to disappear as you begin to explore the hurt and fear in his life. This is normal.
  2. Although you have to deal with the consequences of his behavior, you must also keep a balanced approach of searching for the root cause.
  3. The process of discovering root causes will take months and years rather than days and weeks.

Using Symbols To Find Significance

As a disciple maker you may need to help your disciple discern where he has displaced God in his life and if so with whom or what.  Mankind is constantly searching for substitutes for God. The Israelites displaced God with a gold calf while Paul tells us in the book of Romans that man has exchanged the Creator God with created things.

Insecurity and delusional thinking will cause your disciple to attach himself to a symbol that represents for him a value that he believes will contribute to his own importance both in the eyes of others and in his opinion of himself.   He thinks that if he wears a particular piece of clothing, owns the latest cell phone, has a girlfriend, or belongs to a specific group of friends that somehow their importance will rub off on him.  He seeks to find value by association.

Discerning symbols is tricky because what is significant for one person may have no meaning to another.  For one man the type of automobile he drives is an important statement while for another a car is nothing more than a means to get from one place to another.

Insecurity comes from placing my trust in anything or anyone that can be taken away from me.  Good looks will age, abilities will fade, cars will rust, and relationships may fail.  Security for your disciple can only be found in his placement of trust and value in God.

In closing:

  1. The Lord will use suffering to wean your disciple off of misplaced trust.
  2. Help your disciple bridge to new friendships with people who are secure followers of Jesus.
  3. Read and discuss Israel’s distrust in God and their misplaced trust during the Exodus.  (Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 1 & 6)

Made to Belong

Within your disciple is a conflict between his need to belong and his fear of rejection.   He is constantly searching for a group to which he can safely attach while at the same time keeping his guard up because of the painful memories of disappointing relationships.  This double message he transmits to others confuses them to the point that they do not know how to respond to him.   He then senses their awkwardness and becomes even more insecure.  Sometimes in a brave or impulsive moment he may guardedly attach himself to a group with an optimism that these new friends maybe different, only to be disappointed once again. The more disappointments your disciple accumulates the deeper his despair, which opens the door to erratic and self-destructive behavior.

Man is made to belong.  Being an image bearer of God he is designed to belong to God and to others as demonstrated in the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The degree of your disciple’s relational pain corresponds in direct proportion to his need to belong.   Evidence of the importance of belonging is seen in the void he experiences in its absence.  The reason why rejection hurts deeply and its sting endures is because of the vast capacity God has given us to love.

The good news about Jesus is that he makes it possible for us to belong.   Paul explains:

For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:14-18)

Jesus destroyed barriers and walls of hostility so that we can be united with the heavenly Father and become one with one another.

The Manipulator #5

Hopelessness in your disciple’s outlook is another indication of a manipulator’s influence over his life. Hopelessness is a deep gloom arising from a belief of the uselessness of further effort.  It is a favorite tool of a manipulator to control another.  He creates the illusion that there is no way out.

It is important to remember that manipulators cast a long shadow so you may need to explore relationships from your disciple’s past that still have a control over his thinking and behavior.  It could be a parent, grandparent, past girlfriend, past teacher, etc.  John was a college student I discipled whose entire life revolved around a statement made to him by his second grade teacher who said, “You can’t seem to do anything right.”

In Daniel chapter 6 we have an example in how to deal with a manipulator.  Daniel’s manipulators had arranged circumstances so that without a miracle his situation was humanly hopeless.  Even King Darius, who was the most powerful man in the world, could not help Daniel.  Daniel dealt with his manipulators by focusing on the trustworthiness of the Lord.

The natural response for your disciple will be to focus his attention on his manipulator (who always wants to be the center of attention) and his circumstances.  As long as the disciple’s attention is on the manipulator or his circumstances the manipulator is in control.  Part of the secret of his power over a person is his ability to keep the attention off of the Lord and onto himself.  In contrast, a true friend will always seek to point the attention to the Lord and not onto himself.

Our God is the God of hope. Paul writes:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

The Lord always brings hope to a situation no matter how desperate or powerful the manipulator.

Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back #4: Understanding Disciple Growth Patterns

Love is never satisfied with status quo in the life of another.  Love inspires a discipler to “always hope, always trust, and to always persevere” (1 Corinthians 13) for the life of his disciple even when his behavior and attitude are to the contrary. Faith empowers love to look beyond the disciple’s backward slide to see who and what he can become through the power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit living in him.

The disciple growth pattern goes something like this:  (1) there is an initial growth spurt, which encourages the disciple and gives him hope.  (2) But old scripting, which is often tied to his fears, draws him back.  (3) Disappointment moves in at this point, which feeds his fear, (4) and he reverts to his familiar coping devices.  Just as Jesus dealt with the fears of his disciples, so it is impossible to make a follower of Jesus without him facing his fears.

Making a disciple is a long process so these growth patterns are best understood in terms of months and years.  Old scripting from childhood is crafty.  It may lay dormant for months, which lures the disciple into over confidence so that he lets his guard down.  As a disciple maker not only should you not be surprised at the reoccurrence of these scripts but you should be on the lookout for them.

Blinding Traditions

Could there be Christian traditions that are actually a danger to me?  Traditions have the power to shape my lens to see things in the Scriptures that are not there and to blind me to things that are there.  It is hard for evangelicals to imagine that we ourselves could be blind to truth within the Bible, but we need to go no farther than the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to see the power of tradition to blind men to the truth.

The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were rigorously trained in the Scriptures.  They had memorized and studied the same Old Testament that we say is inspired of God, powerful, and sharper than any double-edged sword…and yet Jesus said that their traditions had nullified the Word of God (Mark 7:13).  Joseph Hellerman observes that:

Tragically, Pharisees, chief priest, and others simply had too much invested in their own view of reality to respond to the prophetic challenge that God brought to their personal lives and precious cultural institutions through the words and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  So they had Him crucified…Contemporary Christians would be utterly arrogant to assume that we are somehow immune to similar theological blind spots. [1]

It is my pride and fear that will keep me from allowing my doctrine and my ministry practice to be tested against the Word of God.  I must be willing to admit that I may have been wrong and courageous enough to change a practice that I once held as a conviction but now realize was a preference.   When our desire is to be aligned with truth we will have no fear of examination but rather be inspired to continue a pursuit of knowing and living the truth.

In closing, N.T. Wright captures for me the attitude that I should have towards my traditions (some of which I love dearly) and the Scripture.  He writes:

For me the dynamic of a commitment to Scripture is not ‘we believe the Bible, so there is nothing more to be learned’, but rather ‘we believe the Bible, so we had better discover all the things in it to which our traditions including our “protestant” or “evangelical” traditions, which have supposed themselves to be “biblical” but are sometimes demonstrably not, have made us blind. [2]

[1] Hellerman, Joseph H., “When the Church Was a Family” (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009), p. 61.

[2] Wright, N.T., “The Challenge of Jesus”( London: SPCK Publishing ,2000)

Evaluating Your Lens

In my last post, I wrote that the lens through which I view my disciple speaks to him louder than my words or actions.  For this reason alone I should evaluate my lens, but it is also important for me to assess my lens because it effects how I perceive myself, others, and God.

Yet a personal lens is difficult to detect.    It was Thoreau who said:

It is as hard to see oneself as to look backwards without turning around.

N.T. Wright gives three questions to help me recognize my lens:

What are the stories I tell?

In order to identify the lens through which I view the world I must listen to the stories I tell others, the stories I enjoy hearing, and the stories I tell myself.  “Human life, then, can be seen as grounded in and constituted by the implicit or explicit stories which humans tell themselves and one another.” [1] A life is an unfolding story that fits into the larger story of God.  Just as I get to know someone by listening to their life’s story, so I must learn to evaluate my own story in order to understand my lens.  The movies I enjoy, the television shows I watch, and the books I read, give a glimpse into my worldview.

What are the symbols in my life?

Symbols are powerful.  The clothes I wear (e.g. A Boston Red Sox hat), the car I drive, the tattoo I display, the church I attend, my room decor, the bike I ride, my “green” grocery sack, the music I listen to; can all be symbols of my worldview.  Not everything in my life is a symbol, but there are certain things that have grown out of my worldview and become symbols.  One way to recognize a symbol is that “symbols can often be identified when challenging them produces anger or fear.” [2]

What is my characteristic behavior?

My dad and my aunt had major surgery on the same day.  The first question my dad asked when he could communicate was how is Pat? None of us were surprised at his question because my dad cares for others, even in his own pain.  What do I avoid? How do I fill my time? What excites me? What bores me?  My predictable behavior points to my lens.

One last thought.  Another challenge are the deep emotions stirred up when evaluating a lens.  Courage is required because you will have to face fears associated with your life experience and you will also need humility to admit that you may have been wrong in some of your perspectives.

[1] Wright, N.T., “The New Testament and the People of God” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p.38.

[2] Wright, N.T., “The New Testament and the People of God” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p.124.

Fear and Making Disciples 2

My fear obstructs the making of disciples. A discipler is to love his disciples, but if I am insecure it is difficult to love others. I have experienced the pain of rejection which has caused me to become fearful and leery of relationships, I even fear those who love me the most. The voices of insecurity and shame boom in my head something like this:

  • “I can’t even get my own act together, how can I help someone else?”
  • “I have disqualified myself from ministry.”
  • “If this person finds out what I am really like, they will not want to continue in this friendship.”
  • “I can’t afford to go through another relational disappointment, so I had better play it safe right now.”
  • “Why would they want to spend time with me?”

Christianity has tried to accommodate this fear by creating ministry systems and programs which require a minimal amount of relational investment. The problem with these approaches is that the kingdom of God was founded upon and still advances on sacrificial love. There is no place for fear in my life, because fear disrupts my relationship with others so that I can no longer love.

The obvious question is, “how do I remove fear from my heart?” First, I need to understand that wrong thinking is the cause of my fear. My view of God and my perception of how he views me are incorrect which has resulted in me having a fearful outlook on life.

So then, the antidote for my fear is a right understanding about the Lord’s love for me. Jesus takes the initiative to love me first, which in turn removes the fear from my heart, (because love drives out fear, 1 John 4:18) so that now I am able to love others as Jesus has demonstrated through his own death on the cross.

Fear and Making Disciples 1

The fears that your disciple is being forced to face is an indicator of where the Lord is at work in his life. One cannot follow Jesus and fear. Jesus confronted the fear in the hearts of his own men by leading them directly into their fears. One day a lake storm came up while he was asleep in the boat; he was frantically awakened by his disciples who were afraid for their lives. He was amazed at their lack of faith, for all fear is the consequence of a void of faith (Matthew 8:24). Even today, as a man seeks to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit will lead him into his deepest fears in order for him to face and root out those fears.

When your disciple faces his fear it can have an adverse affect on his attitude and behavior. People respond to fear differently, some lash out (possibly at you!), some withdraw, and others self-medicate. During these times of fear it is not only an opportunity for you to teach your disciple the power and love of God, it is also an important time for you to affirm your own love for him.

Here are a couple of suggestions as you walk your disciple through his fears:

  1. Pray for the faith of your disciple, that it will remain strong.
    • Luke 22:31-32 “Jesus said, ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.'”
    • 1 Thess 3:10 “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”
  2. Do not project you own fears on your disciple, nor minimize the object of their fear. We do not all fear the same things.
  3. Love and fear are incompatible. Clearly communicate both God’s love for your disciple, as well as your own.
    • 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.