Google This!

Information is everywhere. In fact, I have read that one weekday edition of today’s New York Times contains more information than the average person in seventeenth-century England was likely to come across in an entire lifetime. That’s not to mention what is available through one single Google search.

Can you say “information overload?”

I’m sure John felt a similar overload when he closed his gospel by explaining, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Think of the implications for discipleship. If a disciple-maker assumes that his/her job is to transfer information to a disciple, surely he/she will quickly become overwhelmed with the impossibility of the task. But that is ok. Jesus didn’t call disciple-makers to “teach everything [He] commanded,” but instead Jesus commissioned disciple-makers to “teach them to observe everything [He] commanded” (Matthew 28:19). There is a huge difference. Teaching everything is impossible; teaching to observe (obey) is transformational!

Information sharing has a limited scope. For instance, the final lesson of a Bible Study or the last meeting of a class completes the transfer of knowledge unless skills have been imparted to continue learning.

Transferring information alone is comparable to sharing a printed page with someone, while the teaching of skills is more like sharing a computer search engine –such as Google. If discipleship efforts are exclusively information sharing, like the printed page, they end with the last word (unless the disciple has already developed skills for learning). But like using Google, when a person has been entrusted with a skill, the learning has only begun. Greg Ogden explains, “As one who has been a pastor and a professor, I do not oppose acquiring knowledge. But information alone does not lead to transformation.”

The most important skill in disciple-making is implicit in the title, disciple. It means “learner.” Teaching someone how to learn is like adding yeast to dough. Unlike flour, salt, or other ingredients, yeast transforms beyond the chef’s initial design. That is what happens when a person is taught to learn rather than merely given information. This is not to downplay the importance of information. In fact, information is vital for learning how to learn. However, the end of information transfer is knowledge alone. In contrast, the end of discipleship, as exemplified and commanded by Christ, is a learner equipped for more learning.  Then, as the disciple spends a lifetime learning –but never exhausting- the knowledge of Christ, he/she will observe (obey).

That’s the idea behind discipleship. But don’t just take my word for it –Google it!

The Cost of Disciple-Making

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship is a classic. It powerfully describes Christ’s call for men to “come and die” in order to be His disciple.

In as many times as I have discussed that book with friends, I’ve never thought about an equally important concept –until now. Since a true disciple of Christ will become a disciple-maker of others (after all, that is Christ-like), we must also consider the cost of disciple-making.

Initially, we may think the cost is time and energy. Certainly this is true. Disciple-making is a commitment to open up your life to another person. It’s an act of service that requires long hours, late-night calls, inconvenient conversations, and out-of-the way trips.

But the cost of disciple-making doesn’t stop there. In fact, time and energy are actually just the beginning of the cost.

The real difficulty of disciple-making comes from the nature of the task: Helping a fellow redeemed sinner grow in Christ. Read that last sentence again. It implies (biblically) that every believer, while on this earth, is still growing. We still make mistakes, act selfishly, rebel against God, and hurt those who care for us.

Disciple-makers must accept the fact that there will be times when they will be hurt, let down, taken for granted, and used.  This is where we must realize that we are like a bridge –laying down our lives for the good of others. And, like any good bridge, we will be walked all over.

But don’t let that discourage you. In fact, let it encourage you. Why? Because in laying down your life for others, you are being Christ-like toward them (I John 3:16).

That’s why Scripture calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32), “bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2), “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16), and “exhort one another every day” (Hebrews 3:13).

Those aren’t words to pass over lightly. Exhorting, rebuking, forgiving, bearing, and admonishing are all painfully difficult. And at the same time, when in Christ strength, they are incredibly joyful. Why? Because there is nothing greater than identifying with Christ in His sufferings –especially when those sufferings produce disciples (3 John 1:4).

So, before you venture off into disciple-making, take a moment to count the costs. Just be sure to count them in light of the immense joy found in identifying with Christ –the master disciple-maker.

Taking the Lead at the Table

Whenever you go out to eat with a group of people, do you ever take note of what prompts everyone to stand up from the table to leave? There are several interesting cues from body language that can trigger everyone to stand up.

For instance, when the conversation comes to a natural pause, if someone will put down their napkin and begin pushing away from the table, chances are that everyone else will follow their lead. Just try it sometime.

Perhaps you’ve sat at a table after a meal wondering when will everyone be ready to leave? Now, you have a tool to help speed things up. The key is for someone to take the initiative and make the first move.

When it comes to our relationship with Christ –He makes the first move. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and 1 John 4:19 says that “we love because He first loved us.”

I am so thankful that even when I was in rebellion against God, Christ chose to make the first move by humbling himself, taking on flesh, and becoming the sacrifice for my sins on the cross. It means that I can never boast, “I was already a great guy with good intentions when Jesus ‘helped me out.’”

Instead, I have to admit that my salvation is totally dependent upon Christ’s intervention in my life! Therefore, as Paul says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”” (Galatians 6:14).

In addition to God making the first move, the Bible also tells us that He will not change His mind. We can depend upon Him to always be our Rock of Salvation! (Psalm 89:26). As Thomas Aquinas once said, God is the “unmoved mover!”

So the next time you attempt to move everyone away from the dinner table, remember, God has made the first move to bring you to His table (Revelation 16:7) -and that’s a table you don’t want to leave!

Be Sure to Remember

At one point in my life I had way too many speeding tickets on my record. I knew that I had to change my ways. So I put a small note on my dashboard that said, “Whoa down, Turbo!” Believe it or not, it worked. Turns out I just needed a little reminder to keep my speed under control.

I guess we all need reminders from time to time because we all tend to be forgetful. It reminds me of how some people tie a string around their finger to help them remember something important.

The idea of reminders has many variations. Some people wear silicone bracelets with messages on them like “Live Strong” or “WWJD” to remind them of a certain way they want to live. Other people write notes on their hands (which doesn’t last as long).

In Numbers 15:37-41, God actually commands the Israelites to do something similar. He instructs them to “make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner” (v. 38).

Why would God tell them to do such a thing? So that every time they looked at the tassels they would “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after” (v. 39). It was a great way to be constantly reminded everywhere they went.

In other passages of Scripture, God command His people to place other reminders in their paths such as stacks of rocks on the ground (Joshua 4) or excerpts of scripture on their doorposts (Deuteronomy 6:9).

God’s Word is profoundly practical. He knew that we have a tendency to forget His commandments and so He set up a small way to remind us to obey.

Placing reminders in our daily path is still a great idea. Whether its keeping our Bible in a place where we will see it or posting scripture on our bathroom mirror, the idea of keeping reminders in front of us is heaven sent!

In fact, the church has been given two visual reminders in baptism and the Lord’s supper. But the ultimate reminder we have is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Like the tassels, the Holy Spirit goes wherever we go to serve as a constant reminder of God’s Word. But instead of having to stitch the Spirit to the corners of our shirt (like the tassels), the Spirit resides within. That way, we don’t need to tie a string around our finger or leave out a note reminding us to take Him with us!

The Last Straw…

I would like to applaud McDonalds and Sonic for standing strong in the face of a modern fast-food tragedy. Although some of their peers (ie. Taco Bell) have given in, they have resisted the pressure to compromise on what makes them great: big, thick straws. You know, the kind that don’t break when you are trying to take the paper wrapping off.

Have you experienced the annoyance of a small straw-fracture that causes a strange slurping effect? Or what about the frustration of trying to carefully open the new “skinny straws” only to find out that the manufacturer is also skimping on the paper wrapper which is so tight that it won’t budge?

Am I the only one who has had the last… well, you know….

So maybe straws aren’t the most important things in life. But they do illustrate a great principle of faith. The amount of faith you are willing to exercise is directly proportional to the strength of the object of your faith.

In other words, I am totally confident when I strike a Sonic straw against the table in order to open it. Why? Because I know that it is strong enough to take the blow without breaking. I have faith in the strength of the straw.

But I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in a Taco Bell straw -I’ve been disappointed way too many times with that flimsy waste of plastic. It has been tried and found wanting. Taco Bell straws are too weak to be trusted.

In Scripture, the Philistines had an idol named Dagon. The Philistine people adored him and placed their faith in him.

In 1 Samuel 5, after the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, they “took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon” (I Samuel 5:2). They left the Ark in Dagon’s temple overnight. The next day, guess what they found? Dagon’s statue had fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark!

So, the Philistines set the idol back up and left. The next morning, Dagon was on his face before the ark again –only this time his head and hands had been broken off!

Talk about making a major statement –God basically said, your idol is nothing but a skinny straw! (that’s the fast-food international translation).

Seriously, God was making it very clear that it was foolish to place faith in Dagon for help because he couldn’t even help himself. He was just an idol made by men.

Of course, you and I would never be so foolish as to trust in anything made by men would we? Or would we?

Have you ever trusted in money? That’s man-made and flimsy.

Have you ever trusted in your career? That’s shaky.

Have you ever trusted in what others think of you? That’s fragile.

Have you ever trusted in an organization, government, or ideology? You’re just asking for it.

Just like the idol Dagon, those things are made by man. Therefore, they are prone to break like a skinny straw.

In Acts 17:24-25, Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

God is the only one worthy of our faith. He is not made by human hands. He cannot break. He cannot fail. He will not bend. He will not let you down.  You can press into Him with all your burdens, worries, cares, and fears. He alone is the Solid Rock of your Salvation! (Psalm 89:26).

So cast down all your idols… that’s the last straw!

Teach to Learn

In the mid-1960’s a research team worked with New York City schools to study improved methods for teaching children to read. During one part of their study, the researchers matched low-proficiency readers with older students in the school district. The older students were asked to tutor the younger students in reading for five-months. All of the students were tested for their reading level before and after the tutoring.

At the end of five months, the researchers couldn’t believe the results. The younger students improved their reading comprehension by 6-months. But that’s not the impressive part. The older students who did the teaching –in the same five-month period- improved their reading level by 3-4 years!

While the researchers had expected to discover the power learning from peers, they actually discovered something more incredible –the power of teaching for the purpose of learning!

We’ve all experienced this, haven’t we? By helping your child memorize a poem, you actually memorize it better. Or, when studying to share a presentation at work, you become the expert.

So why don’t we see teaching in the Church as a means of discipleship? Why do we only see the person listening as the learner rather than the person teaching?

Pastors, have you ever wondered, “Where am I going to find new teachers?” Maybe the problem is that we are look for teachers who are learned instead of giving people teaching opportunities to learn!

After all, when Jesus sent out the 72, they didn’t know everything. Instead, they came back with questions. And when Jesus ascended to Heaven, the apostles still had plenty of questions. But by becoming leaders who taught others in the early church, they grew in their maturity and discipleship.

Perhaps, instead of waiting for someone to learn how to teach, we should help people teach in order to learn!

What the Televangelists Won’t Tell You

I admit it. I believe in a health and wealth gospel. But not the kind you see on TV.

We are all familiar with preachers and televangelists who manipulate their followers into “planting a seed of faith” in order to reap a harvest of wealth in this life. Of course the “seed of faith” is always in the form of a financial contribution to the “ministry,” to use the term loosely. These scam artists prey on the poor and vulnerable in order to line their own pockets. They are wicked and disgusting.

Luke 6:38 is a popular verse the scam artists distort:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

In context, Jesus has been speaking of lending money without expecting a return, giving to those in need, being merciful, and forgiving enemies. These are all ways we sow seeds in the Kingdom.

To be clear, the principle of sowing and reaping is a biblical principal. But it’s not what you hear on TV. The real principle of sowing in reaping is simple: what you sow in this life determines what you reap now and for eternity. Notice a few things:

  • This is not talking about reaping salvation. Salvation is not earned or deserved. The only thing you sow for your salvation is the sin that makes it necessary. The “reaping” we are talking about refers to the return a believer receives on his or her investment in the Kingdom.
  • There are real rewards for Kingdom work. Nobody will be sad for what they don’t receive in heaven. However, some will have more to be happy about because of the rewards they do receive. This was important enough that Jesus told us to lay up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
  • Reaping is not just about heaven. We also reap Kingdom benefits on earth. Jesus said that whoever makes a sacrifice for the Kingdom will be repaid 100 times in this life as well as in the life to come (Matthew 18:30).
  • God’s rewards are greater than our desires. The problem is that our desires are warped with sin. We treasure the wrong treasures. Thankfully, God doesn’t let us choose the rewards we reap. That’s a good thing because 1) we would be tempted to choose potential objects of idolatry and 2) our desires are too weak. We fall for treasures that fade and don’t satisfy. God’s gifts are better and lasting.
  • God never gives a gift for the purpose of idolatry. His gifts are given to make much of Him, not you. He gives to build His kingdom, not yours.
  • The principle of reaping is not using selfishness to persuade. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus commands us to seek the Kingdom first! His point is that our sowing and our reaping should both be centered on His glory.

The problem is when we give in order to reap for our Kingdom rather than His Kingdom.

You may interpret this as saying, “Deal with the misery in this life in order to enjoy the next life.” In fact, just the opposite is true. But that would be a version of merit-based salvation, right? But God’s grace is obligated to no one. It is completely free. And that is the key to understanding our health and wealth in this life.

One of the greatest marks of a believer is the love, joy, and peace we demonstrate in the midst of this life’s circumstances. Whether we have a lot or a little in the world’s eyes, we enjoy the riches of Christ’s grace. And we rejoice in our afflictions because we have been healed by the Great Physician. We are free from the worry of want because we are citizens of the kingdom and our King owns everything. He has promised to care for our needs. And no matter the situation, we can be confident, by faith, that we are better off with Christ than if we had anything this world offers.

It’s a shame that we use the terms “health and wealth” to describe a gospel of greed and idolatry. Biblically speaking, the words “health” and “wealth” are great adjectives for eternal life.

Christians should define “Health” and “Wealth” biblically. Health, for the believer, is having been dead in our transgressions, Christ, the Physician, made us alive in Him with eternal life! Wealth for the believer is defined as being co-heirs with Jesus and beneficiaries of the riches of Christ’s extravagant grace.

It’s all a matter of perspective. The world’s perspective focuses on a fading Kingdom with fading health and fading wealth. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

A Kingdom perspective focuses on an eternal Kingdom with eternal life and eternal riches of God’s grace. Faith is not an opiate for the masses; faith is victory for the believer!

So ask yourself, if I were a farmer planting physical seed, how much would I sow? The answer is simple: as much as possible. Does that describe the way in which you invest in the Kingdom?

One last word for the televangelist crowd: It’s not too late. Repent of your greed and lay up real treasure in God’s Kingdom for true “Health and Wealth”:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (I Timothy 6:17-19).

Holy Voicemail!

“Dude, you’ve got to hear this!” My friend was holding out his phone and laughing hysterically.

“What is it?” I asked.

“A voice mail from your mom.”(I totally didn’t see that coming)

So, I took the phone and listened. I don’t remember the details of her message, but I’ll never forget the way she finished the call. It went something like this. “If you have any questions, just give me a call. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

Hilarious, right? I couldn’t stop laughing. My mom just closed out the phone call the way she closes her prayers!

As much as I enjoyed joking with my mom about her miscue, it got me to thinking: maybe we should all be committing more of those verbal “slips.” Wouldn’t that be a sign that prayer has become such a part of our lives that it naturally spills into our other conversations?

Paul encouraged the Thessalonian people to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). Obviously that doesn’t mean we refrain from conversations with other people in order to close our eyes, bow our heads, and pray all day. That’s not the example of Christ. Instead, it means that our conversation with God is an instinctive part of our lifestyle that flows freely as our day unfolds.

Instead of seeing prayer as a ritual to be performed at certain times in certain places, it should be an ongoing conversation that goes everywhere you go.

It’s sort of like the difference between conversations on a landline and a cell phone. The landline is very limited. You can only use it in one location. It requires that you schedule a time to be with the phone. In contrast, cell phones go wherever you go –making conversation available anytime and anyplace (if you have the right service provider!).

Our prayer should be more “cell phone style” with God. He’s always there, always available, and always listening –you don’t even have to leave a voice mail!

Save Your Jet Fuel

I’ve had this crazy idea since Jr. High.

If you could take off in a rocket going faster than the speed of light while carrying a telescope with unlimited magnification, I think you could replay the past. Theoretically, the reflections of light from all of history are still traveling through space. Which means, if you could travel faster than light –and get out ahead of them- you could turn around and watch the past through your telescope. (If you think gas prices are high, just think of the cost of the jet fuel necessary for this endeavor!)

The faster you go, the faster the past would rewind in front of your eyes. Then, you could slow down –slower than the speed of light- to watch history unfold in order.  And, by adjusting your speed, you could fast-forward through parts you don’t want to watch; rewind parts you want to see again, and even pause moments you want to meditate on.

I know, I know –What about asteroids blocking the view or black holes distorting the image? And, what about the limitations of one angle?

Well, we could discuss the idea for a multi-angle-refraction-satellite-driven-image-morph-processing-plan… but seriously –you don’t care.

The point is, although the whole thing may seem a bit far-fetched and sci-fi, it’s really a lame idea compared to what God has already done for us.

God has given us the ability to watch the past through His Word. He has recorded events in history –the exact events He wants us to know about- for us to study over and over. He doesn’t leave it to our faulty memories –He wrote it down in His Word. And, unlike any other history book, His Word is alive and active –working in our hearts for His purposes (Hebrews 4:12). As we read the History of God’s work in our world, His Word is working in our hearts.

That’s why, in Romans 15:4, Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

In other words, everything recorded in Scripture is written for a purpose. That means:

1)   We must not neglect the study of Scripture. “Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).

2)   We must not “pick and choose” passages while neglecting the entirety of Scripture “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

3)   We must read with an expectation for application “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

So you don’t need to travel faster than the speed of light or use an unthinkably powerful telescope in order to uncover something life-changing. God’s Word has been changing lives for centuries –without the cost of jet fuel.

Fluency in the Christian Life

“No comprende.”

My friend tried again, but was met by the same response.

“No comprende.”

I looked at my friend’s face. He has taken three years of high school Spanish and one year of college Spanish. Yet, nobody in Nicaragua could understand him.

I think what frustrated my friend most was when the Nicaraguans understood my English better than his Spanish!

Later that evening, I asked our translator why my friend’s Spanish was hard to understand. She explained that academic Spanish was different from conversational Spanish. It’s one thing to know vocabulary and grammar, yet it is a totally different thing to know how people use the language.

Linguists have known for years that the best way to learn a language is by immersion rather than the classroom. I can attest to that. Several students from the church I pastored spent a summer in Nicaragua and came back with the ability to speak Spanish intelligibly.

That’s not to downplay learning the academic side of Spanish. Certainly, there is great value in knowing how to conjugate verbs, identify nouns, and use prepositions. But without conversational skills, none of the grammar matters.

It reminds me of the difference between learning about the Christian life in a classroom or pew versus learning the Christian life by experience. Both are needed.

That’s why discipleship requires both teaching and experience. Most discipleship “programs” focus teaching. Notebooks, videos, and discussion questions help believers learn facts about the Christian life. These are valuable as long as the believer has real-life situations in which to connect the concepts.

Discipleship is more than a set of lessons. It must be a lifestyle.

Walking alongside more mature believers is the quickest way to grow (Proverbs 13:20). Just like a person learns to communicate faster when survival depends on it, a person learns to depend upon Christ when thrust into a situation that demands faith. Experience makes learning meaningful.

The Scriptures describe plenty of real-life situations in which Christ taught His disciples through life-immersion. Yet, rarely do we observe Christ sitting down with His men for a weekly lesson. And when we do, it is always as a follow-up to the life-situation in order to answer questions and give clarity.

Paul also made disciples this way. When writing to the Thessalonians, he recalled the investing in the Thessalonians through teaching and relational experiences.

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us (Thessalonians 2:7-8).

Paul points out that he shared both the gospel (teaching) and himself (life experience) with the people. In Acts 20:20 he similarly speaks of investing in the Ephesians in public (teaching) and house-to-house (life experience).

When a believer’s grows academically in the faith rather than experientially, they may know all the theological answers, but have no skills to implement them into life. They aren’t “fluent” in the Christian life.

On the other hand, those who have vast, real-life experience with mature believers, but little instruction, may follow their “gut” or “instincts” without knowing how to process each situation biblically.

Disciples need both: teaching and life experience.

If you want to be most effective in making disciples, spend time in real-life situations with your disciple. Hang out away from the small group or bible study. Let the disciple into your life.

But don’t stop there. Let your experiences together drive you to search the Scriptures. Spend time studying the God’s Word together.

Help your disciple learn by immersion and improve with study.