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.

Hometown Disciple Making #2

One question I am asked frequently is “how do you know who to disciple?”  One criterion I use is that the disciple lives in close proximity.   Jesus selected Capernaum to be his hometown and base for his ministry.  He chose men to disciple who lived and worked in the same region.  As Michael Wilkins has pointed out: “Most of the twelve disciples were from Capernaum and Bethsaida…” [1]

Being near to your disciples is important in order for you to know your disciples, for your disciples to know you, and for the disciples to know one another.  (This is not to say that longer distances between you and your disciple cannot work, but generally living close provides a better environment to make disciples.)

Here are some reasons why it is better if your disciples live near you:

  • For the Discipler:
    • The discipler needs to have access to his disciples during times of their personal suffering.  Trials are important times because they are the work of God in the life of your disciple.
    • Living in close proximity allows the discipler to serve the physical needs of his disciple.
    • When he (Jesus) had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. . . “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-17).
    • “The pivotal pronouncement of servanthood in Mark 10:45 declares the essence of Jesus’ ministry.  By comprehending this, the disciples will comprehend the essence of discipleship as servanthood, including their motivation, position, ambition, expectations and example.  The disciple who is privileged to be a member of Jesus’ kingdom is a servant…” [2]
    • Life together allows the discipler to witness how his disciple responds to the circumstances of life and how he relates to people.
  • For the Disciple:
    • The disciple has the opportunity to imitate his discipler by observing the way he lives out following Jesus. (e.g. How he treats his wife, relates to his children, relates to others, and responds to suffering.) Paul became a model for others by first living among them.  “You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess 1:5-6).
    • “Even though it is probable that Jesus’ disciples memorized much of his teaching and passed it on as the tradition of the church, the disciples were committed more to his person than to his teaching.  Following Jesus means togetherness with him and service to him while traveling on the Way” [3].
    • The disciple has the chance to interact with your other disciples.

[1] M.J. Wilkins, Disciples. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1992) p. 177.
[2] Ibid p. 184.
[3] Ibid p. 187.

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.

A Servant’s Heart and Making Disciples 3

How are disciples of Jesus made?

New disciples are birthed when I die to my life and place others ahead of myself by serving them. It is not the act of service itself that changes the disciple; rather it is the death to self occurring in the discipler that produces spiritual life in the disciple. Jesus gives us the key to kingdom multiplication in John 12 when he says to his disciples:

“I tell you the truth, 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. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:23-26)

Paul viewed his ministry in this same way when he writes: “…so then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12). It is critical that a servant’s heart is cultivated in each disciple in order that the multiplication of the kingdom will continue. Most church growth strategies focus on expansion on a corporate or group level. Either churches begin other churches or a small group multiplies my growing numerically and then dividing. I believe that Jesus intended for kingdom expansion to be on the individual level; each disciple producing another disciple.

How long should I serve a disciple, especially when there does not seem to be any progress?

This life change and multiplication process in a disciple will take longer than you thought it would and requires the discipler to patient. The disciple is often unaware of the significance of being served by his discipler until later. Jesus served the twelve for three years and yet on the night before his crucifixion the disciples were still debating among themselves who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Once again the Lord used this opportunity to instruct and demonstrate the kingdom value of a servant’s heart. To be a follower of Jesus is to be servant.

A Servant’s Heart and Making Disciples 1

Taylor Gardner is the man who discipled me. His life is an illustration of a servant’s heart. One evening I received news that my dad had been severely hurt in a motorcycle accident hundreds of miles away. Though late at night, Taylor drove across the city to be with me and to make sure I was alright. I will never forget that act of kindness as long as I live. Taylor went on to serve me by opening up for me ministry opportunities, even when he knew he could have done a better job on his own.

As a discipler, serving your disciple is a necessary element in the relationship in order to cultivate within him a heart to follow Jesus. Unlike the world, the discipler is to serve his disciples rather than being the one served, as exemplified by Jesus himself. He not only taught about a servant’s heart, he demonstrated servanthood by serving his disciples in daily living, such as preparing breakfast and washing their feet, and in the ultimate act of service in laying down his life for them.

Disciple making requires more than a weekly Bible study with a disciple at Starbucks; it is living life together. As a discipler I must be acquainted well enough with the life of my disciple in order to see the opportunities to serve him and his family. I must also have the time available to serve my disciple when the opportunity does arise. This is why a discipler can only disciple a limited number of people. What good is it that I am aware of a need of my disciple, but I am not able to meet that need because I am too busy?

Here are a couple of lessons I have learned along the way about serving:

  1. The opportunities to serve your disciple will come at inopportune times. It is the sacrifice you make to meet that need of your disciple that empowers the act of service with love.
  2. Look for ways to serve your disciple in simple ways (like a ride to the airport), as well as a major event (such as a move).
  3. It is the responsibility of the discipler to cultivate such a degree of comfort in the relationship that the disciple is able to share a need with the discipler.
  4. An act of service says, “I love you.”

Understanding Childhood and Making Disciples

Kyle was a bright and athletic college student who lived an hour and a half from me. Periodically we would get together to explore God’s purpose for his life. One day he told me a story from his childhood and a memory about his Little League baseball team. The bases were loaded, with 2 outs. Kyle was up to bat, and he struck out. He had let his team down. We discussed the story a little further, along with some other topics, and then I drove back home. On the trip back the Holy Spirit got in the passenger’s seat next to me (not literally) and said, “You missed it. A semi-truck drove through the room while Kyle shared his story, and you missed it.”

The next day I drove back the hour and a half trip to locate Kyle on campus-needless to say he was surprised to see me back again so soon. I asked him, “Kyle, that Little League story you shared was really significant, wasn’t it? And I missed it.” He said, “Yes, it was, and yes, you did.” Kyle went on to say, “As a matter of fact, my life has revolved around that one incident, and I can’t seem to shake it. Every day I ask the question ‘Do I have what it takes to make it?'”

One of the best books I revisited this year was the autobiography of C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy.” Although he was 54 at the time of writing, most of the book is dedicated to his childhood. He felt that an individual’s world-view and personality is set by the age of fourteen. He writes: “. . .they are forgetting what boyhood felt like from within. Dates are not so important as people believe. I fancy that most of those who think at all have done a great deal of their thinking in the first fourteen years” [1].

God is at work fulfilling His purpose throughout the entire life of a disciple. He is no less present in a person’s childhood than He is in his adulthood. The Lord uses suffering in the life of a child to make him like Jesus and to fulfill God’s purpose through his life. The discipler/friend can see the working of God in a disciple’s life by exploring the suffering in his disciple’s childhood. C.S. Lewis believed that, “Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently. [2] He went on to say, “Why, by the way, do some writers talk as if care and worry were the special characteristics of adult life? It appears to me that there is more atra cura (dark, harsh care and concern) in an average schoolboy’s week than in a grown man’s average year” [3]. As a discipler/friend I need to be sensitive to the pain of these memories, but I must also point my disciple to the fact that the hand of a sovereign God was at work in those childhood events and relationships.

Here are a couple lessons I have learned about listening to childhood stories:

  1. Be Sensitive. Childhood memories can still carry with them the sting of fear, shame, and inadequacy. While listening to a successful, balanced individual, it is easy to pass over seemingly insignificant events (like a Little League strikeout), which in reality were defining (and sometimes painful) moments in the life of the disciple.
  2. Do not presume which events are significant or insignificant in the life of a disciple. For example, a parent’s divorce may not carry the same weight to a child as a Little League strikeout, as strange as that may seem.
  3. People will intentionally skip over painful childhood experiences until they know they can trust you. (Again, he may immediately tell you about his parent’s divorce but not bring up the Little League strikeout). Over the months as the trust between you and your disciple builds, they will have the courage to share with you some of their difficult experiences.
  4. Ask your disciple to indicate when they are telling you something from their childhood that is important. Some stories are just memories, others were life shaping.

[1] C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 36.

[2] C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 12.

[3] C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 50.