Making Disciples

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives what we now call “The Great Commission”:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV)

This is the command that provides our primary purpose as Christians and as the Church. The question I’ve been asking myself recently is, “How do I do that well?”  “Making disciples” of Jesus Christ is more than just guiding people toward faith in Jesus. It involves doing all we can to help them become fully mature and fully devoted followers of Jesus.  If that is my primary role and I want to do well with the work God has given me, how do I best accomplish that?

First of all, I want to acknowledge that it is God who does the growing in a person’s life. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 3:4-7

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?  What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

iStock_000000614771SmallSo then, my role is to plant and water seeds of faith in a person’s life and trust God to give the growth in His timing and in His way. For this I am extremely grateful! God knows best how to guide each person toward maturity in their life as a disciple of Christ!

As I have observed people grow in their faith, I have come to recognize three areas where we can focus effort to help make mature followers of Christ.

Training of the Mind

The first area of focus is “training of the mind.” I can teach people what the Bible says. This is where I find a lot of discipleship methods are focused. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “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.” Because of this, we need to help people understand what the Bible says. This helps us to know who God is, who He says we are, and what God wants from a relationship with us.

But training of the mind by itself isn’t enough.  I think we can all recognize that we don’t always behave according to what we know and believe to be right. I may know that eating a box full of cookies in one sitting is not good for me but still do it because they just taste sooo good! Something else has to change in us before we start doing what we believe.

Training of the Heart

For this we need to train the heart. This is really where God works on each person-changing their motives and desires and challenging them to love & trust Him above all other things; but there are ways we can help ensure this growth happens. In fact, I think this is something we MUST do in the church to really help people grow. It is possible for us to spend all our time focused on teaching knowledge and providing only a superficial level of discipleship.

In order to truly help make mature disciples of Christ we need to go deeper with one another; drawing out what lies deep within our hearts.  To do this we need to go beyond just studying the Bible and ask probing questions about why we don’t live according to what we know; or what fears or worries hold us back from fully trusting God.

 

We also need to be willing to be transparent with one another and confess our shortcomings. And we need to be willing to persevere when things get difficult: when frustrations arise with the Bible and with our relationships in the church; and when our hearts tell us to run away!cross

In order to provide for this kind of growth, we need to work hard to make our church be a place of deep love and overflowing grace. We need to let people know that we truly care about them, and we need to continue caring about them even in the middle of their struggles.

It also means we have to be willing to stand on biblical truth-all the while testing our own hearts to make sure we are not being prideful and selfish. When the people we love are wrestling with something in their heart, we must gently keep pointing them toward Jesus in order to help their hearts be trained.

In addition to all this, I believe there is one other area of discipleship we can provide in the church:

Training of the Mouth

Jesus’ command to make disciples is the command given to every follower of Christ. This means that every Christian is called in some way to help others know Jesus and grow their faith in Him; which means you will need to be able to say something about what it means to be a follower of Christ! This is what the apostle Peter was referrring to when he wrote, “ but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15).

Being able to speak about your faith with confidence requires practice! People tend to have a fear about speaking to a group or trusting they will be able teach correctly. The only way to overcome these fears is to gain experience, and I think a church with people who want the best for you is one of the greatest places to gain that experience!

Therefore, I can help people grow as disciples of Christ both by providing opportunties for them to teach and by making it an expectation that this is a normal part of maturing in Christ.

So how can I best work at making disciples of Jesus Christ? By training the mind, training the heart, and training the mouth.

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How Does a Church Grow?

file5351335317694.jpgI’ve been pondering “The Law of the Lid” lately. This is a leadership principle taught by leadership expert, John Maxwell. Maxwell points out that your ability to lead is the “lid” on your potential. Anything you lead will grow until it hits that leadership lid, and if you want to grow it any further you need to move the lid higher by growing in your leadership ability.

I can see this law at work in the church. After almost 10 years since we launched True North Church, we have been through several phases of growth and each one has required new lessons to be learned in order to handle the next level.

As I thought about this law recently, though, I wondered, “Is the whole point of leading something really just to make it keep growing?” We talk a lot about growth in the church, and we often think in terms of increasing numbers of people, more & bigger programs, or a larger budget. But are those really our main goals? Is success for us defined by continuing to get bigger? And is that really my incentive to keep growing as a leader? Do I pursue greater leadership skills just to lead more people? I ask these questions because I have also been in countless discussions about the fact that numerical growth is NOT the goal of a church; and focusing on it can lead to serious problems!

The fact is that we do want out church to keep growing, but we need to be careful how we define “growth.”  What does it really mean for our church to grow? To answer that I start with the primary purpose of the church: to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” (Matt 28:19-20) This is the command Jesus gave to his disciples. It is the foundational command of the Church, and as a follower of Christ, it is my own primary purpose.iStock_000000614771Small

So when it comes to growing the church, our goals are to continue growing in the depth of relationship we all have with Jesus and growing in our capacity to help others know Him. In other words we help people grow in maturity as disciples of Jesus; and we look for more opportunities to help other people grow as disciples of Jesus.

crossesThese two growth goals are connected to one another. There comes a point in every Christian’s life when further growth in their own faith only comes when they start sharing what they have already learned. Accomplishing our first goal, therefore, provides us with more people capable of pursuing the second goal! As a pastor, that means I need to do more than just teach people about Jesus and help them understand and apply the Bible to their lives.  I need to also ensure those people are being trained in how to lead and equip others!
This might result in a bigger church, but if our focus in the right place, we won’t be concerned about that.  Growth may also mean we train up a bunch of people to go other places in the world to make disciples.  It might mean we teach them to go be leaders in other churches.  And it might mean we send some out to start a new church.  The point is that in all of these ways we are helping people grow in their relationship with the Lord and growing the overall ability of the church to teach people about Jesus, too.

All of this brings me back to the “Law of the Lid.” It is vital for the kind of growth we are seeking that the leadership capabilities of the church increase,  and in order to do that, I need to keep growing as a leader as well.

Who Are You Listening To?

Paul wastes no time in getting to the point of his letter to the Galatians. Just after his greeting he writes,

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all.”

I believe I can empathize some with these people, though.  After Paul left, another group of people had come along to tell them a different story. Who were they to believe?

We experience the same kind of confusion all the time. Want to lose weight? Eat healthy?  Looking for ways to invest your saving? Want advice on raising your kids?  If there is anything we have questions about, we can be sure to find at LEAST two different opinions on the best way to do it.

It’s no different when it comes to asking how to be a Christian.  We have access to a number of different Christian teachers, and some of them have basic disagreements about what it means to live a Christian life.  Who are you to believe?


To answer that question we need to a little work to check our sources. One of the big lessons I learned in my time in scientific research is to check your assumptions, and this includes checking the source of the information you are using.

As Paul continues to write, he calls the Galatians to do just that. He first tells them to examine his character. He writes, “am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of God.” (Gal 1:10). Examine the character of the people you listen to.  What are their motives?  Who are they trying to please?  If they have a sincere heart and exhibit the fruit of a life lived for Christ, they may be worth listening to.

Paul then goes on to tell of his personal encounter with Christ; how he came to know the truth of who Jesus is; and how that revelation was approved of by Jesus’ closest followers. We have the great advantage today of having access to the stories of people who knew Christ personally.  The reliability of the Bible as God’s Word comes, in part, from the fact that the people who wrote much of it were people who experienced the events they record. For that reason, we need to consider how the people who speak and write about God today make use of the Bible.  Are they careful to faithfully represent what it written there? That is a question each of us needs to be able to answer for ourselves by having our own first-hand encounters with the Word of God.

There are all kinds of people ready to tell you how best to live.  Don’t just listen to whoever sounds most pleasing or convincing! Take some time to check out who you are listening to.

The Point

Easter is quickly approaching, and in the midst of all the different traditions and celebrations, you have to stop and ask yourself, “What is it really all about?” Some may say it is a Spring festival to celebrate the renewal of life, while others may call to mind images of an Easter Bunny delivering candy and treats.

The real story behind Easter, though, is the celebration of the most incredible event in history; the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This man of God, healer, and teacher was put to death on a cross.  Three days later he came back from the grave in a demonstration of power that provided proof to his claim: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)

To really appreciate the importance of this event, though, you have to also as, “why?” Why does it matter to you? What is the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection? In the opening few sentences of his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul gives us the point.

He writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Chris, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.” (Gal 1:3-5)

Jesus gave himself for our sins. That’s my sins, your sins, and the sins of everyone we know. Somehow this often gets missed in debates over Christian beliefs, but it is the starting place for everything it means to be a Christian. We argue about whether or not certain people are sinners when, in fact, the point is that we are ALL sinners.  No matter how we rationalize it, justify it, ignore it, or try to explain how we can’t help ourselves, we cannot escape the fact that we have all fallen short of the standard God established. Because we all fall short of that standard, none of us has any right to be in God’s presence and are doomed to eternal separation from Him.

The good news, however…make that GREAT news…is that God couldn’t accept that. We may complain that it is just too hard to live up to God’s standard, but God already knows that and was not satisfied with allowing us to just live with the eternal consequences of our sin.  He had a plan to help us. “According to the will of our God and Father, ” he sent His Son Jesus to give himself up on a cross and deliver us from the evil, sinful state of our lives. Jesus sacrificed His life so that the stain of those sins could be washed away from your life and you could begin a new life in God’s presence with His Holy Spirit to guide you. The point of Easter is that Jesus came to deliver you from your own sin. His resurrection proved that He was not a liar, but that there is real power behind the words He spoke and  the promises He made.

So this Easter, celebrate with your church family the great thing Jesus did.  If you don’t have a church, find one that understands the point of Easter and discover what it means that Jesus gave up His life for YOU!

Habits

I have been thinking a lot about habits lately. We truly are creatures of habit! It amazes me how difficult it is for me to change the way I live. In the morning, I may say, “OK, today is a new day! I am going to do things differently,” but in the midst of all the craziness of life, I seem to end up in the same old routines time after time. This seems especially true with our spiritual lives. In 1 Timothy 6:11, the apostle Paul encourages Timothy to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” I know many people who, once they commit their lives to God, truly want to  live by these values. They want to live fully for God, but find it difficult to break out of old habits and let go of old desires and expectations.  Our minds may want a change, but our hearts can’t seem to manage it, so we fall back on our old routines. What does it take to make an important change? Simply put, I think it takes two things working together: the power of God our participation with Him. First, we need to ask and invite God to change our hearts so that we may let go of anything that stands in the way of living for Him. God instructs us in ways we cannot do on our own. Second, we need to fully engage in the changes God wants to produce in us. Paul goes on to tell Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Timothy 6:12 NIV) Learning to live for God is worth fighting for. Grab hold of the life He is calling you to with all you’ve got and engage in the battle to make a change. Take a good look at your habits. There are probably some things keeping you from living fully for God. Turn them over to God and fight the good fight of faith!

Be Fruitful

As I sit here in one of my favorite Cannon Falls spots thinking about what to write, I see people going by and wonder what is important to them. What are they striving for and what do they want others to see in them? Of course then I remember that I need to consider my own life.
Now, I can think of a lot of things I want out of life. I want to be a great husband and dad. I want to do well as a pastor and leader of my church. I want to have places I can go to enjoy a cup of coffee and update my Facebook status without having to plug in to an outlet!
Deep down however, there something more that I want; something I want people to see in me. The words of a kids’ song we’ve written at True North are going through my mind right now. It’s called “The Fruits of the Spirit” and starts like this: “The fruits of the Spirit work best together, living and shining everywhere we go. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and, oh yeah, self-control.” These are the things I want more of in my life. What could be better than having a life that shines with characteristic such as these?

Multi Fruits with CherrysIt is the Apostle Paul who wrote about the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. He notes that “against such things there is no law”. These “fruits” bring value to others. Who could be opposed to seeing more of them in you? Isn’t it great that the things God wants to produce in our lives; what He wants us to develop in obedience to Him, are the very things that we all long for from one another. Is anyone going to tell you that they’ve had enough love and patience from you? Are they going to say, “You are way to faithful and self-controlled. Just cut it out, would you?” No! I think it is safe to assume that we all want and need more “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives.
As I consider how to produce more of this fruit, I do have to acknowledge that I can’t do it on my own. I need help! Notice they are the fruit of the SPIRIT rather than the fruit of ME. This kind of fruit results from a life lived in dependence upon God.
I want these things shine everywhere I go. May you also have a fruitful life

Freedom!

Freedom! Few words spark such emotion in people. The desire to be free beats within our hearts and courses through our veins. Some of the greatest moments in history are those efforts made to free people from oppression.
This deep desire to be free is the very thing Jesus Christ came to offer us. Jesus himself said,

“If you abide in my words you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul boldly declares,

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

But what is this freedom? How can we attain it, live in it and stand firm on it?
Freedom is not something that Jesus put into the world for all to simply declare for themselves. Freedom is a release from something; something that has been binding you and holding you back. A prisoner cannot stand in the middle of a closed cell and declare himself to be free. If he is offered a key, he must take it and unlock the door. In the same way we need to take the key Jesus offers in order to attain His freedom.
The prison we all live in is the prison of sin and guilt. Sin is simply disobedience to God. God’s will, His command to us, is to live a life of faith in Him and of love for one another. Can you describe your life that way? All of it? Search your heart and be honest with yourself. I know that I cannot; none of us can. We know in our hearts that we are guilty, but can’t stop ourselves. We are trapped by those selfish desires and cannot break free. We convince ourselves that it will be OK or that we are not as bad as others, and we trap ourselves more. God is just, and when He puts our actions and motives up against His law, he must charge us as guilty.
Jesus came to set you free from that guilt and from the burden of knowing that your life does not – cannot – be guiltless. Jesus paid the price for your sin. He took the punishment upon Himself. Because Jesus died on the cross for sin, you can be free! Free to live knowing that God has forgiven you and sees you as His perfect child.

freedomJesus stands at the door of your prison offering to open the door,
step inside and let you go free. Are you willing to accept His offer of freedom? Don’t try to prove you are worthy of this gift. He has already offered it. Simply recognize where you are. Admit your guilt to Him and your desire to live a changed life. It may take some humility, but why deny the truth? Then in faith believe that Jesus is able to offer you forgiveness. Take the key and be free!
Now that you are free, how to do you live and remain free? More on that next time. Until then know that Jesus wants you to be free. Seek it and grab hold of it!