Category Archives: Discipleship

Experiencing Life

It’s an unchanging key to the Kingdom: life expands and contracts according to our preoccupation with self.  “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”  (Matthew 10:39)

We get stuck in our own needs and wonder why life isn’t “better” for us.  The solution is simple: Raise your sights and your concern to those around you, forget about yourself and ask what you can do for the person standing in front of you.  That is Christian maturity: the bearing of fruit.  Life is too short to be self-conscious, timid, and retiring.  A mature disciple of Jesus is one who has become outgoing, servant-minded, and others-focused. The question to ask is, “What can I do to help that man bear his load?”

Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, noted that the great problem in his psychiatric hospital was how to get the patients to do anything for others, “for they are not interested in others; they are interested solely in themselves – that’s why they are here!”

May God deliver us from the shallowness of soul-sucking selfishness!    

True Education

John Wesley used to exhort the early Methodist circuit riders to “Read, or get out of the ministry.”  Severe?  Perhaps, but I’m convinced that reading is an absolute essential to discipleship.  We are called, after all, to be lifelong learners; disciples of the Kingdom never master the curriculum.  There will always be more. 

Francis Schaeffer says “True education requires thinking across the various disciplines, and not just being qualified in one particular field”. Evangelicals are the worst at this.  We are often “experts” in evangelicalism and ignorant of history, philosophy, art, culture and government. Thus, one of the greatest failures of today’s church is our abandonment of the Christian mind.  “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge.”  (Hosea 4:6). Because we have abandoned the call to love God with our minds, we have stalled the advance of the Kingdom, and fallen into cultural damage-control.  We’ve become mental midgets facing the end of the world as we know it. 

The apostle Paul, with his sterling credentials asked Timothy to “bring the books” when he came.  (2 Timothy 4:13).  What books?  We don’t know, but we do know from reading his epistles that the apostle had a thorough grasp of history, law, culture, philosophy, and poetry.  “All things are Thy servants”, David wrote in Psalm 119.  “All things”.  If we have discerning hearts, we will see God’s truth embedded everywhere, from nature, mathematics, and beauty, to stories, literature, and poetry.

Saint Athanasius reminded the fourth century believers, “You will not see anyone who is truly striving after spiritual advancement who is not given to spiritual reading.”  If I could encourage young disciples of Jesus with one discipline, it would be to read! (Well… to read, and to PRAY!!)  We ought to read broadly, read critically, read with discernment, and read with humility. 

Here’s a link to a cross-section of books which have shaped my worldview and my walk with Jesus.    Perhaps you have your own favorites you could share in the comments section.  A good book recommendation can change a life and open a whole new world! 

DO YOU SEE?

Several years back I went into a local restaurant with an old and dear friend in Hawaii. Taking our seats, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and placed it, screen-down, on the table in front of me. Within moments the waiter appeared, looked me in the eye, and informed me, “I’m sorry, sir, but in this restaurant, we don’t allow cell phones to be seen. You’ll have to put that away.” Ha! Busted! It was a momentary embarrassment, but a beautiful policy and lesson!

Two nights ago, in another restaurant I walked past a table of eight diners. Six of them were staring at cell phones. How sad and demeaning to think that the image-bearers of God can sit face to face with each other and find more interest in screens and pixels.

We disciples of Jesus must do better; we must establish a higher, more beautiful culture. One of the very first names given to God in the Old Testament is El Roi, “The God who sees.” (Genesis 16:13). Certainly He sees all things, but he is clearly captivated by the sight of His own image in the face of his sons and daughters. “Turning toward the woman, Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do you SEE this woman?’” (Luke 7:44). I like that. Fussy, distracted Simon saw only an embarrassment at his dinner party, but Jesus was utterly enchanted by the street woman in front of him.

Often it’s the small things that set the disciples of Jesus apart as a “city on a hill”: our priorities, our focus, and the things that take our attention. At this moment, and the next, the most important thing in the world is that person standing right in front of me. Jesus sees her. Do I? Do you?

Live not by lies

We are living in times of dangerous upheaval; times which demand more from us than we have been used to giving. These are days for standing boldly for truth, and not giving in to intimidation, cultural pressure, and the ubiquitous deceit thrown at us by politicians and news anchors.

I’ve recently been reading some of the works of the Soviet Dissident, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent eight years imprisoned in the Russian Gulags for criticizing Josef Stalin in a private letter. The day he was arrested in 1974 he released “Live Not by Lies” to the Soviet people. The short essay seems especially appropriate for Christians in the 21st century. Below are a few teaser quotes from the piece, with a link to the entire article for further reading.

“Violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence… And therein we find… the simplest and most accessible key to our liberation: a personal non-participation in lies. Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule… let their rule hold not through me… For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only exist when attached to a person.”

“We are not called to step out into the square and shout out our truth; to say out loud what we think – this is scary, and we are not ready. But let us at least say what we do not think… Our way must be: Never support lies.”

“The more of us set out together, the thicker our ranks, the easier and shorter this path will be for all. If we become thousands, they will not cope, they will be unable to touch us. If we grow to tens of thousands – we will not recognize our country.”

Read more at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03064220408537357

Truth and love

Just about a month ago I posted a comment on Facebook, that my two greatest fears were that I might abandon love, or that I might abandon truth. “Either would be catastrophic”, I said. It seems to have resonated with a number of friends, and I received an unusual amount of feedback. I meant it, too, and I’m determined to stand by my commitment as long as grace enables me..

Love and truth are like the proverbial two sides of a coin. Just as you cannot have “up” without “down”, or “front” without “back”, you cannot have love without truth because they are both revealed to us in Jesus. If you have him, you will honor both:

Love without truth is not love.
And truth without love is not truth.

By extension, those who love most will see most, and understand the most. But the opposite is also true: Those who hate are blinded, and can never really know truth. “… anyone who hates his brother or sister is living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.” (1 John 2:11).

Christian author, Francis Schaeffer, taught that “true truth” is tantamount, and yet it is cold and cruel without love. “The local church or Christian group should be right, but it should also be beautiful.”

Here is my point in sharing this Kingdom principle: Serious disciples of Jesus ought to be deeply interested in knowing the truth about the events unfolding before us, from Covid, to politics to free speech. And though many seem ready to argue, accuse and offend, it seems few are interested in love, without which we can never begin to truly know truth.

Do you want to understand the truth about the world? Then looking through the lens of love will clear your heart and bring clear focus.

Judging a tree

“No one is so deceived as the person who believes
he has everything figured out.”

“Every tree will be known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33). Recounting his personal journey towards the end of his life, the brilliant British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton told of strolling through London as a young man in the turbulent sixties, and stumbling into an angry mob of demonstrators: “I saw a group of radicals destroying and throwing stones at policemen, and I said ‘Whatever these people are for, I am against.” That inflection point set Scruton on the path towards becoming one of England’s premier thinkers and cultural influencers. Sir Roger looked at a “tree” and judged it by its fruit.

Those who are serious about apprenticeship to Jesus take truth seriously; we want to stand squarely on the side of integrity. So it follows that faithful disciples will always live welcome correction, repentance and the opportunity to change our minds when necessary. (No one is so dangerous or deceived as the person who believes he has everything figured out). But when we live in a culture of contradicting narratives, censorship, disinformation, and media-shaming, it can sometimes be difficult to know which narrative is “truly” true.

I believe one reliable indicator of truth is the fruit test: Does this group, this news organization, or this ideology promote peace and order, or violence and chaos? Does it build-up, or tear-down? Does it produce anger and bitterness, or gentleness and love? Can I see in these people a humble hope in God, or the pride of arrogance? Even a child can tell good fruit from rotten.

Undeniably, two worldviews are locked in a brutal competition for the future of the world. It’s a terrifying sight. But the disciples of Jesus will remember that we are called to be a “tree of righteousness”, a tree whose fruit will be given for the healing of the nations.

“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” -Galatians 5:22-23

(A good introduction to Sir Roger Scruton is his timeless documentary, “Why Beauty Matters”)

Why do so few understand the Kingdom?

Today I’m reading in Luke 8:10 “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables…”  Almost every time I stand before a class I find a small group of students who gladly receive the Kingdom and walk away changed to the core of their being. Revelation does that; it rearranges the furniture of our soul.

But there is almost always another group who remains oblivious and unchanged, as if they cannot see what others are seeing.  I’ve often expressed my frustrated wonder that the entire class isn’t left standing on their chairs rejoicing and demanding to hear more glad news of the Kingdom. 

I think the key to these two groups may be found in our posture towards Jesus.  In nearly every group of Believers there will be a portion who are after God for what he will do for them.  In the Gospels we see crowds of the curious pressing on Jesus for miracles, healing, and bread in the wilderness.  Skye Jethani refers to these as believers who are living “from God.”  These beloved people see God as their butler and therapist, ever attentive to their own happiness, their own well-being, their own health, wealth, and desires.  And our gracious God often obliges them, (like the crowds in the wilderness), by meeting their needs.  But their relationship with Him is little more than what Jethani calls “consumerism with a Jesus sticker slapped on it.”  These are the ones for whom parables will have to suffice. 

But there are others, disciples who have left everything to be WITH Jesus, to apprentice themselves to Him because of who he IS.  These are the ones who are given eyes to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom, who are gifted with revelation into the nature of reality and Truth. When the crowds turned away and Jesus asked his disciples if they would leave as well, Peter answered , “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”  (John 6:68).

It’s up to each of us to classify ourselves: will I be a part of the crowd who presses on Jesus for what He offers me, or will I be a disciple who sees no other possibility but Him?

Vocation and calling

Skye Jethani tells us in his wonderful book, Futureville that every Christian has three callings: The “highest call”,  the “common call”, and the “vocational call.”  It’s an idea that brings welcome clarification to me, especially as we begin the new year. 

Our Highest Call is the calling to Jesus.  Human were specifically designed to function in a living relationship with Him.  “In Him was life, and the life was the light of man.” (John 1:4)  To attempt life apart from Jesus is an empty, dead-end street of frustration no different than trying to drive a car without gas.  The highest call is where everything begins, it’s where we discover our true personality and purpose for getting out of bed in the morning.

The Common Call: Once reconnected with the Source of life the common mission of every disciple is to apprentice himself to Jesus and become like him in every way.  This is our call to love our neighbor, to forgive our enemies, to pray and feed the poor, to serve one another and to bring glory to God in all things.  All believers have these first two callings in common.

But finally we have the Vocational Call:  This is where God reveals and develops His unique gifts and contributions in us to serve the world around us.  I’m a musician and a teacher. But as I write this post there’s a friend across the room who is gifted in business and hospitality.  He manages this little coffeeshop, makes each person feel like the most important person in the world and serves his customers with joy.  Others who come here are nurses, construction workers, truck drivers, artists, policemen, and sanitation workers.  The Kingdom needs every one of these vocations because each one brings order, beauty and abundance to the world around us.  And here is the mind-blowing thing about vocations:  They matter!  Where would we be if the cooks, the truck drivers, the plumbers and the musicians disappeared from among us?  In the Kingdom everyone and everything matters!

May you experience a fresh understanding of God’s calling in your life as we enter 2019. 

PS: Futureville is about the Kingdom.  It’s a great read and covers much more than just calling and vocation.

Stumbling disciple

Sleeplessness picked at my brain and tickled my body last night until I finally gave in and retreated to the recliner and my old journals. Stretching back over forty years, these journals have become my counsellors, my instructors and often my accusers. They remind me that an honest working title for my life thus far would be, “Stumbling Disciple.” I’ve vacillated from mountain heights of glory and inspiration, to lonely valleys of failure and despair; from exotic places and experiences of God’s faithfulness, right down into hopelessness and crushing doubt. I’m amazed at the glorious, giddy truths the Holy Spirit has given me, and appalled at the scope of what I’ve already forgotten. These writings keep my life in perspective.

Last night I noticed that under the steady passing of years, one cadence seems to drone like a soundtrack to my life: “Not enough!”: Not enough prayer; not enough worship; not enough accomplishment; not enough practicing, writing, compassion, exercise, serving, witnessing, faithfulness or creativity. The nagging voice of “not enough” seems to greet me in the morning and chatter on until I fall asleep at night.

Whether friend or foe I’m not certain, since it both condemns me and pushes me forward into action. But this I know: today my sufficiency is in Jesus alone. I am clearly and without question, inadequate without Him. I’m only a stumbling disciple trying to get it right.  Yet He has told me, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is perfected in (your) weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Today I’m choosing to boast in God and to rest in the adequacy of His promise: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” And my soul says “Hallelujah!”

Keeping it simple

I’ve been thinking recently how the teachings of Jesus can be captured in a few simple ideas that even a child can understand:

“Believe in me”:
Throughout history God has spoken through prophets, angels, scriptures, stone tablets, and even a donkey.   But in his final attempt to reach our darkened hearts He sent His Son.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us”.  He loved us, taught us, and showed us the true face of His Father.  God did not reveal himself as a philosophy, a set of commands, a book, or a religion, because none of those means could accomplish the task of “making all things new.”  Only Jesus could could accomplish such a thing.  And so He presented Himself in evidence and issued a simple invitation: “Believe in me”.

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  John 7:37-38

“Seek first the Kingdom”: (Matthew 6:33) 
Jesus didn’t come to simply save us from our sins.  He came to remake the world; to offer the human race a “do-over”.  He is not merely the Savior of my soul or the centerpiece of the church;  He is the center of ALL things.  “[God] planned to bring all of history to its goal in Christ. Then Christ would be the head of everything in heaven and on earth.”  (Ephesians 1:10)  We modern believers are still weak on this concept, wanting to reduce the gospel to a personal experience and roadmap to a future in Heaven.  But that is not the Kingdom! The Kingdom is that universal dream for a perfect world that every person carries in his heart.  Newsflash!  God carries that same dream!

Love one another: (John 13:34)
Nothing could be more simple.  Jesus said the world would actually recognize us by our love.  So they do, right?  Not quite.  They sometimes recognize us by our judgments, boycotts, and religious pride. Other times they don’t recognize us at all.  If we were to actually demonstrate this one thing – loving others supremely – the world would virtually throw open it’s heart to the Gospel!

Make disciples:
And finally – after we’ve begun to master these first three commands, we are called to make disciples of others who will make disciple of still others in this rich and living way that puts the world back together again and fills everything with glory.