Archive for discipleship

Individual Discipleship Plans

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 21, 2009 by gospel2live

Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Cor. 12:4-7

Becoming a Christian is a one-time event.  At some point in time, you must be born again.  When you were physically born, the doctor, a nurse, or your parents noted the date and time.  For those who are born again spiritually, there is also a point in time where God takes note that He has saved you – he has given you the faith to believe that Jesus died for your sins and He declares you righteous based on that faith.

However, the rest of the Christian life is clearly a process, not a one-time event.  Just like physical birth leads to various stages of growth, re-birth leads to spiritual growth.  Unlike physical growth which follows pretty set patterns and timeframes, our spiritual growth can often seem to be hit or miss.  We may go through great growth spurts where we mature by leaps and bounds, only to enter seasons where we seem to lose ground and become lethargic spiritually and seem to shrink farther away from maturity.  David Powlison describes this process by comparing it to a person who is using a yo-yo as he walks up the stairs – there is constant up and down motion, but it is ascending as it goes.  At least, we want it to be ascending!  We want to be able to see that there is progress being made and that we are becoming more spiritually mature, despite whatever struggles we may be engaging in at the present time.

So why do we sometimes fail to see any spiritual progress, either in self or in others?  First, growth follows birth.  One reason that spiritual growth does not take place is because there has been no spiritual birth.  Scripture admonishes us to examine ourselves to be sure that we are in the faith.  If you have seen no growth in your love for God, your ability to resist sin, and development of spiritual fruit, then you (or one you are concerned about!) may never have been born again.  It isn’t as much about praying a prayer as it is getting a new heart from God that is capable of loving God.

For those who have been born again, there can be problems in establishing consistent growth.  Sometimes a baby experiences “failure to thrive.”  In these circumstances, the child fails to gain weight, develop skills, or otherwise mature.  Often this is due to a lack of proper nutrition or nurturing.  In the same way, many Christians suffer from a spiritual “failure to thrive.”  They may regularly attend church, or even serve in some form of ministry, but they do not grow in their maturity.  They do not experience a growing love and passion for God, a progressive movement towards holiness, or a sense of their purpose and calling in ministry to the church or the world.

As our children grow, our parenting must change to accommodate their growth.  We make decisions about diet and activities so that they continue to grow to maturity.  As a church, we need to nurture people to provide for their individual growth.  This will NOT be a one size fits all plan!  Different people are at different maturity levels and are being given different gifts to perform in different ministries!  Most churches struggle to see that this is a process that will need different methods for different people.  It is much easier to focus on standard programs that individuals can customize to their own needs, than it is to focus on individuals and tailor make a discipleship program that takes into account their unique creation by God.

We, however, are not willing to be deterred by a challenge!  That is why I am putting together some basic assessments that you can work through, with me, to come up with an Individual Discipleship Plan.  We can look at your life and prayerfully examine where change and growth needs to occur.  Additionally, we can set goals that match up with your skills and abilities, so that you might move into a ministry that God is calling you to participate in – not just something you feel a need to do out of guilt or necessity.  If you want to become intentional in your spiritual growth, please set up an appointment to talk.  Whether you are a spiritual baby, or an aging veteran, there is always room to grow in our likeness to Jesus!

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Are You Goverened Increasingly By God’s Word?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2009 by gospel2live

This is question two from Don Whitney’s book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  For an index to the posts in this series, click here! 

The value of the Bible cannot be overstated.  Scripture refers to itself as water, food, light, a fire and tool, a weapon, and a seed.  The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

If this is true, why do so many professing Christians stagger through life without having the Bible make any clear difference in their day to day lives?  If you find yourself not having a love for the Bible, your spiritual health is likely to be very weak, if not dead.  One of the marks of a growing believer in Jesus, is a growing love for the Bible and an increasing role in how it shapes our day to day decisions and activities.

Whitney points to the example of Jesus, who routinely uses scripture to teach, to respond to temptation, and to settle disputes.  Although Jesus was fully God, it should be noted that the scripture he quoted throughout his ministry had been memorized as a man.  Jesus placed a tremendous value on the scriptures.

So, what does it mean to be increasingly goverened by God’s Word?  Whitney says, “Speaking in a practical way, you know that God’s Word is growing in its influence over you when you can point to increasing numbers of beliefs and actions that have been changed because of the potency of specific texts of scripture…. You remember various turning points where you stopped or started some action or habit as a result of a new understanding of biblical truth.”

Whitney gives several specific examples of how his life has been shaped and changed by the study of scripture.  The examples have a common theme of moving from practices that are simply assumed, to an intentionality in practice that arises from the exhortations of scripture.  Instead of having an attitude of accepting a practice on the basis of no scripture preventing it, he has moved towards a positive shaping of his actions by what scripture teaches.  This moves us out of an apathetic acceptance towards a proactive molding and shaping of our actions by scripture.

Whitney recomends the following practices to develop our dependence on God’s Word:

First, we need to deepen our DESIRE for God’s Word.  We do this through sitting under good preaching in our church, and through other available means.  He again calls on us to pray through scripture and to spend time to meditate on it, not merely read it.

Second, he recommends that me make time for God’s Word.  We diligently and faithfully take time to eat our physical food.  We need to exercise the same diligence in taking time to eat our spiritual food.

Third, read the Bible daily and do not close it until you know at least one thing GOd would have you do in response to your reading.  This gets us out of the trap of reading intellectually and moves us into application.  Don’t be only a hearer of the Word, but a doer of the Word!

Fourth, he urges us to list at least five areas we have not considered from a biblical perspective and to consider one each day for the next five days.  Whitney gives a long list of possible topics to prime the pump, so that you can practice exploring topics from a biblical perspective.

Finally, he urges us to train ourselves to ask “How does the Bible speak to this?”  Learning to ask this question about more and more areas of our lives reflects an increasing desire to bring glory to God and to submit to his will for us.  It will enable us to reflect not just an intellectual faith, but a faith the comes from authentic desire and affections for out great God and savior, Jesus Christ!

Godly Grief and “Good Grief!”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by gospel2live

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”  Isaiah 45:22-23

Sunday morning was quite the study in contrasts.  After the second service at Chisholm Baptist, a man sitting next to me approached me to ask me a couple of questions and to schedule an appointment to talk.  He was visibly distraught.  Turns out, he was being crushed under the weight of conviction of sin.  He is a brand new Christian, and he was dealing with a re-lapse into a pattern of sin that had enslaved him prior to his conversion.  He needed to know whether it is possible to be forgiven or if he could even still be right with God.  

It was a powerful moment.  There are few pleasures greater on this earth than these types of “impact moments.”  I had the privelege of helping him to distinguish between our justification, done once for all by the death of Jesus Christ, and our sanctification, the ongoing process of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus.  We talked about how we need to continue to examine our hearts and to repent when we sin.  I reassured him that we can only come to the Father by being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  His grief over his sin was, in fact, a good thing and that as we reflect on the Gospel, we should be first crushed by the weight of our sin, but find the joy of our salvation waiting to spring to life as we preach the Gospel to ourselves over and over again.  We were able to pray together before heading out of the sanctuary.

As I left, my wife asked me to help her adjust the car seat for one of our kids.  Before I could get down the hallway and out the door, I experienced the ultimate buzz kill.  

Another man was dealing with an issue of grief, and he caught me in the hallway to share it.  It turns out that our church janitor had taken a bunch of old softball trophies from a dust collecting nook in the upstairs hallway, and placed them on a table to be claimed or tossed.  I was informed that a vital piece of our church heritage was going to be thrown out with the trash.  How would our children know about all the good times these men in the past had experienced together on the softball fields?  These, he said, are trophies of our church and they just can’t be gotten rid of!  I tried to explain that the only trophy our church needs to hold on to is the cross of Jesus.  The softball trohphies are not necessary to remember times of fellowship, and only serve to remind us that we beat everyone else that particular year.  The more I tried to point his eyes away from the trophies towards Jesus, the more frustrated he became.  Sadly, our conversation ended only because he realized he’d get no support from me to end this “tragedy.”

The contrasts between these two interactions is astounding.  From one man, there is a deep humility and sense of being crushed under the weight of sin, and from the other an indignation from having his pride confronted.  The first man had come to worship the living God, and had been crushed by the fear of the Lord in light of God’s holiness and his own sinfulness.  The second man wanted to be able to worship the glory days of his past, and had been crushed by fear that men would not remember his exploits.  The first man went home blessed, having encountered the grace and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus, being restored to His presence, and having hope that springs forth from the understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The second man went home angry and frustrated.

Which man am I going to be?  Will I submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, be humbled, and find life and peace?  Or will I stubbornly cling to my idols, and be angry when my agenda is thwarted?  Truthfully, if I am not extremely careful,  I can roll my eyes at the guy upset by a handful of dusty old trophies, but fail to see that my own heart is just as prone to idolatry.  May God grant us his grace to fear Him rightly and worship Him only!

Meth and the Gospel

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by gospel2live

I recently spent an evening helping to get a young man, crashing hard off of meth, to go in to the hospital and sitting with members of his family while he was checked out and eventually admitted.  Because of my days in the public defender’s office, I am familiar with the stages of meth use and have dealt with people under the influence before.  However, this was the first time I was dealing directly with a meth situation in a pastoral role.  

As I have thought about the events of the evening, there are some observations about the Gospel at work that I would like to put out for your consideration….

First, the Gospel is at work in the addict.  I first met this guy in the jail.  His mom asked if I would go see him, so I did.  In the past two years, our contact alternates between chuch and the jail.  He will come to Bible study or services, when he is sober — usually after release, but eventually returns to his old friends, old ways, and old addictions.  He has had been taught about Jesus, and embraces his need for a savior, but he is still a slave to his flesh.  Although he just turned 21, in reality he is still a little boy who is looking to the women in his life to make sure that all the blame and consequences for his actions do not land on his shoulders.  Despite the rage and beligerence of his state, over the course of the evening something checked his rage long enough for him to submit and comply with what he needed to do.  My conclusion is that the war for his soul is very fierce right now.  He is at a crucial juncture where he will yield to the Lord Jesus Christ, or his old masters of drugs and violence will destroy him.  Please pray for his deliverance.

Second, the Gospel is at work in this guy’s family.  Over the course of the evening, our service of the Lord in assisting in the care of this young man was a witness of the love of Christ to his mother, his girlfriend, and his extended family.  God provided the opportunity to present the Gospel to his girlfriend, to exhort her to forgive the church people who have hurt her deeply in the past, and to try to convince her to come back to where the Lord Jesus is her first priority.  I pray that our involvement will provide a good witness to his siblings who have not embraced Jesus, and help his mother to grow in grace and to move towards a deeper maturity through the difficult situations shaping her at this time.

The Gospel is also at work in the hospital staff.  The nurse who served this young man was phenomenal.  She was fearless, despite being less than half the size of this guy.  Without her skillful control of the patient, he would have almost certainly ended up in the jail, rather than the hospital.  Eventually a control team and law enforcement had to assist, and yet the Lord allowed the situation to resolve peacefully as he finally yielded to the waiting wheel chair.  Several times I was asked “you’re his pastor?”  Granted, I am not necessarily a typical pastor, and certainly some of the incredulity could be negative — as in what kind of pastor would lead a guy to become a meth addict — but I hope that the result might be that their stereotypes about churches as stuffy places that have no impact in the real world might be changed.  

Fourth, the Gospel is at work in the man from my Bible study who I recruited to help.  He is a law enforcement veteran who buried his son a little over a year ago — due to a drug problem.  In addition to his training, experience, and connections as a police officer, he provided an empathetic support for the family as they waited at the hospital.  His growth over the past couple of years has been significant, as he has studied the Bible and persevered through some incredibly difficult circumstances.  These circumstances provided a unique opportunity to sharpen one another as we seek to not merely learn about the Gospel, but to carry it over into our real life situations.  I am optimistic that as his faith continues to grow, that he will be a highly strategic worker in bringing the Gospel to the community in ways that a vocational pastor cannot.  

Finally, the Gospel is at work in me.  I am so grateful that God would open my eyes to see the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus Christ.  I am so glad that he is at work in my life to convict me of my sin and to move me towards repentence and sanctification.  This experience reminds me of my own frailty and how, apart from God’s grace in my life, I could easily be in the shoes of the addict on this night.  It brings conviction of my own lack of self control and discipline.  I think of my “acceptable’ addictions — food in particular.  I am reminded that I also have a tendency, even if only in my heart, to make excuses and blame shift.  My heart is a factory of excuses that will continually convince me of my own self-righteousness — if I let it.  And so I come away from the experience humbled by my sin in the light of God’s absolute holiness.  I, too, must repent again and turn to Jesus for his healing and forgiveness.  In the process, I find the joy of his salvation and the peace that comes from knowing I don’t NEED to be self-righteous, because I am clothed in the far superior righteousness of Jesus, through faith in his sacrificial death for me.

Meth is an insidious evil.  For this season, God is allowing evil to continue so that those He is calling out of their sin and depravity may not receive the judgment due to them, but that they might be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus.  A day is coming when He will tolerate evil no more.  We do not know how long he will wait until that day, but it is coming and we all must be ready.  We MUST decide whether we will continue in our sin and self-justification, or turn to Jesus, submit to his rule in our lives, and accept that he alone can rescue us from our rebellion against God.  So meth points us back to the existence of the cosmic struggle against God’s good and loving rule of the universe and ultimately should remind us that we ALL need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Tithing Your Pastor

Posted in missions with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by gospel2live

Dr. Michael Oh delivered the missions address at the 2009 Desiring God Conference for Pastors.  I highly recommend that you listen or watch this presentation which took the approach “Missions as Fasting.”  You can link to it here.

One of the application points that I found challenging was for pastor’s to “tithe yourself to missions.”  Because the American church is so blessed with resources that are unprecedented in world history, Dr. Oh challenged us to give up some of our own comforts to help the cause of reaching the unreached people groups around the world.  This could mean taking five years out of a lifetime to spend on the mission field.  Another alternative would be to spend one month per year teaching and training other pastors at seminaries in remote parts of the world.

While there is still a desperate need for a more consistent and correct gospel witness in the West, the vast majority of our missions spending is used to support works that take place in largely Christianized cultures.  One can argue that Europe should not count as “Christian,” but the point is that less than 3% of all mission spending is used in areas of the world that have NEVER had a gospel witness.

I would challenge you to listen to Dr. Oh’s message and ponder how you and your church can become better supporters of reaching unreached people for Christ.  Also, consider whether you can do more to give financially, in prayer, and with your own time towards seeing the glory of Christ made known to the uttermost parts of the earth.  Consider whether you should help “tithe your pastor” to the cause of Jesus Christ in the coming year.

Leaders in the Making

Posted in Christian relationships with tags , , , on February 3, 2009 by gospel2live

It is a great privilege to be attending the Desiring God Conference for Pastors in Minneapolis.  This year, in addition to the blessing of attending the conference, I have the double blessing of attending with a couple of emerging lay leaders from my home church.  The conference topic is on evangelism and the role of the pastor and church in reaching those who are perishing.

Attending a conference like this with lay men who desire to grow in God is a tremendous opportunity.  It has given us an opportunity to spend time listening to very challenging speakers, but even more importantly, time to digest and discuss what we are learning throughout the day.  Some pastors simply need to get away and be minstered to.  However, for those who have the opportunity to bring key current and future leaders with to such an event, they will find a level of life on life discipleship that is very hard to duplicate.   I am very grateful to the men who came along that they were willing to take the time and make the commitment to attend.

I would encourage pastors and church leaders to multiply the impact of conferences by attending them as teams and taking the time to work through the implications of the teaching for your particular local church!