Redeeming the Past #2

How your disciple remembers his past is more important than the actual events. He has a personal agenda, which not only determines how he will remember the past but also what he will remember from his past. He chooses which events to recall and which ones to forget, no matter how significant or insignificant the event may have been, in order to accomplish his aim. Israel conveniently forgets the parting of the Red Sea, one of the greatest miracles in the Bible, in their argument that God had neglected them; in contrast your disciple will harbor the hurt from a minuscule event such as of an unreturned text message from three years ago if it will serve his purpose.

The Godly characters from the Old Testament give us examples on how to remember the past. Although the facts of Joseph’s enslavement could not be change, he did have a choice in how he would remember his brothers selling him into slavery. The lens of doubt would have led him to despair, hatred, manipulation, and revenge whereas the lens of trust in the character of God led Joseph to peace, love, leadership, and forgiveness. Joseph was convinced that there was a larger purpose behind the betrayal by his brothers and his imprisonment. He did not seek to revenge the past nor change the events from his past but rather he placed them in the larger sequence of the purposeful sovereign acts of a loving God.

Once I had a disciple who sought to hold God hostage in order to manipulate him to change what had happened in his past. Though God redeems the past he does not change it and so he placed his relationship with God in an irreconcilable position. He had created a scenario where the only way his relationship with God could be restored is if God would change the events of his past. This position forced him to daily relive the pain of his past through the gate of his memory, which only increased his bitterness.

A couple of ideas in closing:

  1. We give an entire evening to each person being discipled to share his story with the whole group. Here different spiritual gifts can detect how the disciple remembers his past as well as discern what God’s purpose may be for his life.
  2. A priority for our ministry is to take the opportunity to meet the parents, siblings, and friends of each disciple to gain a complete perspective of his past.
  3. Help your disciple to look at his memories from the perspective of the sovereign purpose of God for his life.

Forgiving God #2

Your disciple is not the first child of God to encounter unfair circumstances in his youth. Joseph, David, and Daniel all faced unjust situations as teens. Rather than becoming bitter towards God, by faith they embraced the goodness, love, power, and faithfulness of God in spite of their circumstances. (As I have written in other places, I believe God expects much from teenagers and often requires of them a faith that not even their parents understand.)

Recorded for us in Daniel Chapter 2 is a prayer Daniel prayed as a teenager. This prayer gives us insight into his deep trust in the nature and ways of God even though he was young and in the middle of life threatening conditions.

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:20-22)

Here is how I approach bitterness with my disciple:

  1. Use the lives of Joseph, David, and Daniel as a backdrop to talk through with your disciple his history to help him understand that God’s wisdom and grace takes this history, no matter how painful or unjust, and uses it for His glory and the fulfillment of His purpose.
  2. Exhort your disciple to release God and others from his bitterness. There is no justification for the behavior of Joseph’s brothers toward him, but through the lens of faith Joseph was able to forgive and embrace his brothers and not hold their actions against them. (As Anne Lamott has said, “Not forgiving is like swallowing rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” [1])
  3. Bitterness, ingratitude, and discontentment are related and your disciple can counter these with thanksgiving. Have your disciple write out his points of bitterness (both circumstances and individuals) and then have him thank God for each of the situations.
  4. The best dad, mom, siblings, education, body, brain, etc. for him to have are the ones he has.

[1] Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994)

Forgiving God #1

Early on you may need to teach your disciple how to forgive God. I am not suggesting that God has ever done anything wrong to anyone. I understand the absurdity of a man forgiving God, but what I am suggesting is that your disciple may be bitter at the Lord, though unfairly, just as he would be at any person.

Man holds captive those who have wronged him in a debtor’s prison in his heart because he believes they “owe” him something.  He will even say, “They owe me an apology.”  He convinces himself that it would be “unjust” to forgive them for what they have done to him, or his family, or his friend.

As futile as it is for a human to try to hold God hostage in his tiny heart and tiny mind he still attempts it. He seeks revenge against the Lord so he withdraws relationally from him.  It maybe never going to church again, or to behave in a way that he believes is especially defiant in order to get the Lord’s attention, even though it is self-destructive. Not too different from what Harry Emerson Fosdick has said, “Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.”

Bitter at God #3

The absence of prayer and meditation on the Word of God in the life of your disciple is an indicator that he may be bitter at the Lord.  The lack of a quiet time is not a discipline issue but a relational one.

Our ministry has many young adults, which means a lot of dating. I am humored at how the same young man who struggles to find time for devotions will discover plenty of time for his new girlfriend. What motivates these couples to make time for one another is not a newfound discipline but love. We spend time with those we love and we make time to do the things that we love.

Man is created in the image of God and therefore we relate to him in a similar way that we do with our fellow humans. As we withdraw emotionally from those who have wronged or disappointed us so we withhold our hearts from the Lord when disillusioned with him. We are usually ill at ease around those who have hurt us and so it is awkward to spend time in prayer with the God whom we believe has let us down.

In closing:

  • The type of people with whom your disciple spends his time is an indicator of his heart condition. Bitter people usually do not spend time with Godly people.
  • Help your disciple understand that his relationship with the Lord is love centered and not just a discipline.
  • When your disciple is struggling with prayer and time meditating on the Bible check to see if he may be disappointed with some circumstance of his life that he has carried over into his relationship with the Lord.

Teaching Your Disciple How to Forgive #5

The problem may be that your disciple is bitter at God. Although he may be uncomfortable admitting it (because the idea does have a hint of blasphemy in it), as you dig into the recesses of his heart you will often find resentment towards the Lord.

Over Christmas break I spoke at the Christian Fellowship Church, which is the church in which I grew up and where my parents have attended for 55 years. I took a few minutes after the service and walked through the Sunday school rooms to reminisce. Lillian DeBoer’s preschool department has always held a special place in my heart. It had flannel graph, a table that converted into a sandbox, a goldfish bowl, and an endless supply of Kool-Aid and vanilla wafers.  It was in this room that the foundations for my theology and worldview were laid. Mrs. DeBoer would ask our class, “Boys and girls who made the flowers?” and we would answer “Jesus!” “And who made the trees?” “Jesus!” “And the birds?” “Jesus!” Each question was answered with an increasing enthusiasm until we reached the crescendo, “And who made me?” And we would shout “Jesus!!!”

It was and still is solid theology, but as I got older I was able to string concepts together and it occurred to me “So if God made me, then it his fault that I have the body that I do and the brain that I don’t.” Later other questions puzzled me, “Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen to me and could he not have protected me?”

We are created in the image of God and therefore we relate to him in a personal way not dissimilar to the way we relate to others as John describes:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20)

When I am hurt or disappointed with someone I can easily become resentful towards him or her.  When I hurt or disappointed with God I too can become bitter towards him as I would anyone, but maybe even more so. I say even more so because if God is all-powerful, loving, and wise why did he not intervene on my behalf?

Keep in mind that your disciple’s view of God was formed while he was a young child. Andrew said to me, “I pled with God when I was 7 years old to not let my parents get a divorce but he didn’t answer my prayer.” From that point on there was a wedge between Andrew and the Lord.

In closing:

  • The seed of bitterness could have been implanted in your disciple’s heart at a young age.
  • Usually if your disciple is bitter at someone or something you can be pretty sure he is also bitter towards God.
  • Distance from the Lord and having a hard time drawing close to him is a good indication of bitterness towards the Lord. (It is difficult to be intimate with someone at whom I am bitter.)

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)

Satan and Disciple Making #3: The Rite of Passage

A satanic test of your disciple is a rite of passage for him into kingdom ministry.  Not only should you not be surprised by this rigorous test, but you should expect it and prepare your disciple for it.  Jesus was tested by Satan prior to his ministry and Peter was sifted by Satan ahead of him being used powerfully on the day of Pentecost.

Jesus passed all his tests, Peter did not, and yet even Peter’s failure was turned into success by the grace of God.  Paul tells us that a messenger of Satan had tormented him but his anguish was what allowed Christ’s power to rest on him. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

A couple of observations concerning satanic testing:

  1. The test is conducted in solitude.  Your disciple must go through the test alone.  Circumstances will be set so that he will be isolated during the test.  (Do not try and rescue your disciple from the testing or the isolation.  Not only is this not possible, but it is a necessary part of the rite of passage.)
  2. Your disciple will have a deep emotional response to the test.  He will be emotionally and physically drained.  “And he (Peter) went outside and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75)
  3. Your responsibility is to frame for your disciple the satanic testing in the context of a rite of passage and then to point him to his kingdom ministry as Jesus did with Peter.  (John 21:15-19)

Satan and Disciple Making #2

There are some things that are not explainable in the life of your disciple apart from a satanic influence.   Not only can you become frustrated or confused with your disciple’s behavior if you do not consider the possibility of Satan’s involvement but imagine the disillusionment of the disciple who has never been taught about Satan’s activity in his life.    Peter and Paul both warned the disciples not to be caught off guard by Satan. (1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-11)

There comes a time in a disciple’s life when Satan tests him to destroy his faith.  For some the test was short but intense, as was Peter’s, for others it was over an extended period of time.  Some were young, some older.  In all cases, their faith was severely strained.  It is a frightening experience for him, his family, his friends, and you (!), wondering if he is going to pull through.

One clue to satanic involvement is contradictory behavior.   We have two examples of this paradox from the life of Peter.  The first is in Matthew 16 where Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah because the Heavenly Father had revealed it to him, and then a short time later Satan speaks to Jesus through Peter trying to dissuade from his mission. (Matthew 16:15-23)

The second was on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Peter passionately declares a loyalty to Jesus to the death, but hours later he publically betrays Jesus.  Both times Peter was unaware of Satan’s involvement in his thinking and actions, and in the second case he had even been specifically forewarned how Satan would test him.

A couple of closing thoughts:

  1. Pray for your disciple’s faith, as Jesus did for Peter. (Luke 22:32)
  2. Your disciple is probably unaware of Satan’s activity in his life.
  3. Ask yourself the question: “Could this present behavior and attitude in my disciple be due to satanic influence?”
  4. Frustration is an indicator of satanic involvement.  Your disciple’s frustration with his own behavior, as well as your own frustration with your disciple, is a sign that Satan may be at work.

When Your Disciple Dramatically Fails #2

Making disciples requires patience.  Not only is the process slow but your disciple will have setbacks along the way.  Often these failures do not occur until months or even years into the relationship.  I find encouragement in the fact that Peter failed even after spending three years with Jesus.  Here he had received life giving instruction, he had experienced a selfless love, he had belonged to a dynamic community, he had tasted personal ministry successes, and he was an eyewitness to many miracles.  If anyone should have “known better” it was Peter.

A disciple’s failure is not a disruption to disciple making, rather it is a crucial part of the process.  The Holy Spirit puts together perfect circumstances with precise timing in order to test the faith of your disciple.  As Fenelon wrote over 300 years ago:  “God’s way accomplishes His purpose quicker than anything you could think of.  God is able to seek out and destroy the roots of self love.  You, on your own, could never find those hidden roots…” [1] A discipler joins the Holy Spirit during these tests to instruct and demonstrate the grace of God in order to strengthen the faith of his disciple.

Rather than disqualifying your disciple, his worst failure serves as a reference point for the grace of God throughout his life.   I doubt the sting of his denial of Jesus ever left Peter.   The grace of God does not erase the memories of our sin rather it uses memories to channel our thoughts and emotions to the love of God.  A disciple’s failure gives him a benchmark of the depth of the mercy God.  No matter how deep his failure the love of God goes even deeper.

It was out of his experience of failure and restoration that Peter could write 30 years later:

“…You may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine…” (1 Peter 1: 6 &7)

[1] Fenelon, Francois The Seeking Heart (Jacksonville: Christian Books Publishing House, 1992) p. 10.


Love and Right Thinking

One of the first things to do as a discipler is to stabilize your disciple.  When someone is insecure because of rejection, loneliness, shame, or detachment, not only does his mind not think clearly, he can be irrational.  (A simple illustration of this was your inability to concentrate for a test or to make good choices after your college girlfriend broke up with you.)  What brings an inner steadiness to your disciple is an understanding of God’s love.  Paul writes of this stability in Ephesians 4 “…being rooted and established in love…” Later Paul connects love and right thinking in Philippians: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…” (This is not a quick process and usually takes months.)

I begin the relationship by asking my disciple to share his story so that I can listen for the points of suffering, rejection, voids, hurt, and disappointments in his life.  His life stories give me insight into his inner man and God’s approach in his life.  It is at these points of suffering that I introduce him to the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is made of up of three strands:

  • God’s Power- God’s power means God is able to do anything that is in harmony with His wise and holy and perfect nature.
  • God’s Wisdom- God’s wisdom means that God always chooses the best purpose and the best means to that purpose.
  • God’s Love- God’s love means that God eternally gives of Himself to others.  (This definition understands love as self-giving for the benefit of others.)

Stories are powerful conveyers of truth.  I refer to the life stories of biblical characters to illustrate the Lord’s sovereignty in the life of his children. (e.g.  Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, David, Daniel, Elizabeth, Mary, etc.)  Disciples relate differently to different biblical characters, so we explore the various characters until we find one that resonates with him.