Disappearing disciples?

When you think of disappearing disciples your mind might fixate on what happened in the garden of Gethsemane when the close followers of Jesus hustled away as Jesus was arrested and taken to trial. In our country of Canada, with new progressive liberalism steamrolling traditional Christian values through legislation and funding directives it almost appears that our leaders assume that current disciples are ready to fade into the night as well.

Perhaps it is time to re-emphasize why Jesus called us to make disciples of Christ from all nations. I met with a denominational leader today who told me that most churches don’t have a strong focus or plan for discipleship. Jesus’ directive to go make disciples has fallen on deaf ears.

One of the reasons I hear as to why we don’t make disciples is that we don’t have enough disciple makers. A disciple maker is one who invests their life into another who is younger in faith and experience.  Those who are disciple often grow into leaders who can disciple others. John Maxwell claims that “Leaders develop daily, not in a day.”

Liz Selzer, in her book 3G Mentoring, explains what it takes to develop an effective mentoring relationship. She says “an effective mentor is a good listener, authentic, trustworthy, wise ( has something to offer), understands the power of a good question over a good piece of information, is skilled in giving feedback, committed, insightful, inspiring, has a tolerance for mistakes, shows flexibility and patience, is discerning, is able to set boundaries, has a learning attitude, and has learned from his or her own successes and failures.”

Okay, before you write yourself off as no longer available, a disciple is a learner who is willing to grow and who is willing to help others grow.

This is not the time to disappear along with the others who have written themselves off. Our culture is not the environment in which followers of Jesus are going to naturally birth and thrive. It takes intentionality from those who have already understood who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he has called us to do.

We are promised the Holy Spirit to be with us in the middle of our significant conversations and we have the Word of God to inform our hearts and minds. Now is the time to prepare and share.

Peter pushes us to try discipling those who haven’t even accepted Jesus yet. He says (I Peter 3:15-16) “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks ou to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Set apart Christ as Lord in your own heart and you’ll have one less disciple disappearing into the landscape around us. Who have you got in your social circle who you might start a significant conversation with as you try to make disciples for Jesus?

 

Have You Really Left Home?

This is an incredibly challenging time and place to find a new home – especially if you’re young. Spaces and dollars are few for many of you. It takes a reorientation of your expectations to find your roots and to dig them down so that you hold on and grow where you are.

This day is often focused on encouraging people to stretch themselves and their dollars to reach out and demonstrate your affection for others in your world. Dinners, cards, flowers and calls are intentionally shared. Those in marriages are encouraged to push their expressions of intimacy even deeper. It is sometimes easy to give something other than yourself to accomplish your duty.

Donald Harvey has written a book called “Love Decisions” focusing on a dad’s talk with his daughter about the potential for love and her preparation for it. The first question he brings up is “Have you really left home?”

His biblical focus is on Genesis 2:24 where we are told that a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife so they become one flesh. A person who is ready for lasting relationship both detaches and then attaches. Some who have been already married haven’t really effectively detached from their birth families and they find themselves constantly torn between two loyalties.

The issue isn’t only about moving your body out of a shared space with your birth family. It is about making the primary motivation for your mental and emotional decisions based on a foundation other than your parents. Of course, family will always be important and have some degree of influence on many of our decisions but it is the degree of that decision making which shows whether you have left home or not.

Preserving a healthy family relationship, while developing other positive relationships, is an important part of developing some level of independence. You don’t have to rebel or move far away to establish this readiness.

Here’s what Harvey (p. 18) tells us. “When you have truly left home, you will demonstrate independence versus dependence – you will act versus react. And your decisions will have more to say about you than about other people. The bottom line will always be, “This is what I think is the best thing for me to do,” and you will act accordingly. If, instead, your behavior is a reaction to others, then maybe (you guessed it) you still haven’t left and there’s still some work to do before you’re ready to make any real lovedecisions.

“Leaving home is not as simple as it sounds. It isn’t just a by-product of age. Nor is it always indicated by a change in address. It’s a process – one that requires many steps and encounters many interferences. Still, it is not only an accomplishable goal but one that must be attained before you are ready to make any significant lovedecisons. Assess yourself and your relationships. Have you made the break from home and dependence to self-sufficiency and independence? Are you somewhere “in process”? Or are you still clearly tied to your parents?

Developing a faith that is your own is an essential part of this readiness for intimacy. If your heart has learned to love God and to be loved by him then it is tuned to understand how love works in the human realm.

Blessed Bubble-Wrapped Believers

I still can’t find the verse. You know, the one that says believers will be bubble-wrapped and protected
from having a hard time in this world.
I did find what Jesus said in his sermon on the mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because
great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before
you.”
Francis Chan reminds us in a short video clip that we don’ t have to worry about what we need to say
when we’re called before those who oppose us because, as Jesus told us in Luke 12:11-12, the Holy
Spirit inside us will tell us at that time what we are to say.
Today, I received an email from one of our university students who had a pro-choice professor
expressing his views on gender fluidity and sexuality. He supported the Prime Minister’s cut of summer
grants to churches who will not support abortion or transgenderism. He mocked Trinity Western’s
contract encouraging students to stay sexually pure. This student spoke up in class and was amazed that
the professor listened. She said “This is my firsthand experience that God can and does proclaim His
truth through timid spokespeople when the time is right! Still, it’s so easy to just keep quiet… please
pray for faith, courage and love to testify to those around me, and also that I can act out my faith.”
If you know how to pray there are people who need you. If you are in the front lines facing the insults
and the bubble-wrap free zone then you need prayer warriors around you. The strength of our faith
comes not only in our quiet times alone but in our vibrant interdependence as members of one body –
one family – one church.
I’ll finish today with Peter’s encouragement to believers facing challenges in his day. “Who is going to
harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do
not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be
prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But
do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously
against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it God’s will, to
suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
I guess we’ll save the bubble-wrap for Christmas presents.

Why does God Choose the Foolish?

Growing up in today’s world, where you might get a participation ribbon for showing up and a hero’s reputation for doing anything thoughtful, it isn’t hard to start feeling like you are someone special – a cut above the average. Being somewhat, half-decently good as a prep for your eulogy seems to get you a pass by the judgement seat and straight on in to heaven – or so it seems to many of the tearful at our funerals.

The apostle Paul has a way of diminishing any pride we might have in who we are. In I Corinthians 1:25-31 he says “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one many boast before him. It is because of Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The message seems clear. God chooses people who can’t possibly live up to what he has designed for them so that it’s clear to others that the only way they can do it is because of Jesus. Sometimes, those of us in the church have forgotten that it’s only because of Jesus that we can live up to the life God sets out for us.

Brennan Manning, in his book, The Importance of Being Foolish (p. 21), says “As the sincere Christian opens himself to the life proposed by Jesus a life of constant prayer and total unselfishness, a life of buoyant, creative goodness and a purity of heart that goes beyond chastity to affect every facet of our personality – his sense of awe and wonder can quickly sour into cynicism and pessimism. The suspicion grows that the gospel ethic is impractical, impossible, and therefore irrelevant. The words are nice, but who pays them any mind? After all, I can’t be asked to do all that! I can’t survive in the jungle out there if I take Jesus’s revelation seriously. I can’t be always giving. There must be a limit. But Christ sets no limit.”

So, what do we do with this? How can we thrive in the jungle, flourish in the storms, grow through the impossibilities? How are you doing it?

We’d be foolish to keep trying to do it on our own.

Our Big Picture Thinking

Apologist Ravi Zacharias lays it out clearly in his book The Grand Weaver (p. 42) “What the brain is to the body, the mind is to the soul.”

Zacharias notes that what we call faith is “a thing of the mind. If you do not believe that God is in control and has formed you for a purpose, then you will flounder on the high seas of purposelessness, drowning in the currents and drifting further into nothingness.”

He further cites Essayist F. W. Boreham who declares that “faith is actually the mainspring of the universe, the sheet anchor of civilization. It lies at the heart of all negotiations and worldwide relations. All sound finance builds on it. When people clutch their money, thinking they have concrete reality, they are, in fact, clutching to faith. Money, in that sense, has no value without trust. It is all worthless paper without the promises and pledges of other people and systems. The entire financial structure depends on credit, trust, confidence, belief, and faith.”

Losing faith means the potential loss of hope and love. God’s Word has been given to us as a gift to build faith, hope and love in a world which has lost direction and control. It is food for our minds so that our soul gets clear truth in a world which hasn’t quite grasped it.

How is your mind grasping this thought? Does this make sense to you? Do you see the centrality of how we function from a core of faith?

The problem for many of us is that our faith is misplaced. We place our faith in the money Zacharias speaks of, or we place our faith in other people, an accomplishment, a reputation, a dream, or even in our own might, wisdom and intuitiveness. These will all fail us ultimately, but they will give us the illusion of exercising our mind for some kind of god-designed purpose.

How can you live so that you are operating by faith in Jesus and not in some other object? How will you continue to live that way in what you’re facing? May God grant you the discernment you need in this journey.

He sets the lonely in families -II

Psalm 68:6 says “God sets the lonely in families.”

 

The Vancouver Foundation consistently claims that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for people living in this city. Seniors isolated in their apartments, care homes or rooms are lonely; young moms struggling to raise children are lonely; refugees and immigrants are lonely; leaders are lonely; young professionals fixed to the internet are lonely; people riding in Skytrains and buses are lonely; even some married people shelter behind closed doors in their own loneliness.

It is hard to see loneliness as a part of our churches. We think that if we can get isolated people into groups of people that loneliness will take care of itself. Several people have told me over the years that the hardest thing is to come to a service, to stand in the middle of so many happy people, and feel all alone.

 

The United Kingdom has now appointed a minister of loneliness to deal with the issue among 2 million seniors who are isolated from community – 200,000 admitted they regularly go over a month without speaking to another human being. In our city, it isn’t surprising to see people drive or commute alone, shop alone, eat alone, order coffee alone, watch a movie alone, walk or jog alone, read alone.

 

Local studies say at least one in five of us experience the sadness that comes from social isolation – reaping the impact on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Surprisingly, social media seems partially responsible for the sense of separation and human connection we tend to thrive and flourish on.

 

Connecting to community is essential for our overall health. Being part of a small group where you can share your life, get prayer support, learn with others, enlarge your perspective on God and sense a personal connection with the life stories of others seems to be something God has designed when he made us.

 

When’s the last time you shared a heart connection with someone who really saw you for who you are? When have you taken the time to initiate a contact so you could see someone else for who they are?

Working It All Out

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? If you work, or have worked in the past, why spend your
energy and time putting out effort to accomplish anything? Who is going to remember what you did day
after day, week after week, year after year?
What a way to get depressed at the start of a year – Wondering if there is any purpose to what I do. All
of us want to accomplish something. Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we aren’t. But what
does our effort matter? Won’t it all eventually fade away as others take our place, as the new way of
doing things replaces the old way, as another generation focusing on the possibilities of the future set
aside the past like yesterday’s trash?
Oh, reality. How harsh and how hopeful.
Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York, writes something significant in his book
Every Good Endeavor (p. 29): He says, “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any
difference, and all good endeavors, even the best will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of
the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, even the simplest ones,
pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. That is what the Christian faith promises. “In
the Lord, your labor is not in vain,” writes Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse
58.”
Keller says that as believers who want our work to matter we need to answer three questions: “Why do
you want to work? (That is, why do we need to work in order to lead a fulfilled life?) Why is it so hard to
work? (That is, why is it so often fruitless, pointless, and difficult?) How can we overcome the difficulties
and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?”
Some of you will be looking to answer these questions from your past experience, some from your
current challenges and some from what is still ahead. You were designed to accomplish something
significant for God’s glory. If your heart is still beating the work isn’t done yet. Have you figured it out
and are you doing it. Take some time to share this with another pilgrim on the road with you.

He sets the lonely in families

Have you ever experienced loneliness – Deep, heart-throttling dread which squeezes all the joy, hope and sense of being loved out of you? Or perhaps, just a sense of wondering whether you belong – if anyone notices you or cares about you more than the ‘like’ you can give to their smiley ‘post.’

The Vancouver Foundation report this past year concluded that the loneliest people in Vancouver are aged 18-34. The generation that populates Facebook and Skype – who multiply friendships on-line – they are lonely. The claim from this group is that they have trouble making ‘real’ friends because of lack of time; family obligations; distance; finances; stress.

Most feel they don’t know their neighbours well enough to connect and at least half feel they will have moved elsewhere within five years so there’s no point in building relationships that aren’t going to last anyway. In the past 5 years attendance in churches has dropped by 50% among the younger generation. Is there a correlation?

David’s note in Psalm 68 seems significant when he says “Sing to God, sing praise ot his name, extol him who rides on the clouds – his name is the LORD – and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.”

This may be a reflection on what happened to David’s own great-grandmother Ruth who was welcomed into God’s family by Boaz.

From the first chapters of scripture we read that “it is not good for man to be alone.” People were made for relationship with God and with other people. J. Oswald Saunders in his book “Facing Loneliness” cites two historical figures with insight on our issue. “Blaise Pascal, the noted French scientist, held that in every heart there exists a God-shaped vacuum. Centuries before him, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, put his finger on the root cause of loneliness: “God created man for Himself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him.”

Know any lonely people? There’s a family waiting. Perhaps a creative invitation would help. Looking forward to how God will build community through you this year.

Is That Someone Watching You?

Do you ever feel that someone is watching you? As if your life is being lived out on a grand stage and there’s an audience taking note of your every move? It’s a new year but you’ve probably had this feeling before if you’ve had it. If you haven’t had this feeling maybe you should think about reality.

I’m not talking about the security cameras which are in every bank, mall, store, church and street corner – or so it seems. I’m not talking about some stalker or parent or preacher or government agent.  I’m talking about another unseen observer.

The Psalmist, David, says in Psalm 139:1-7 “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your and upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

Did you notice? The observation is closer than we feared. It is internal where our bodies have now become the very dwelling place of God. Every word is known before we speak it. Every thought lays open; every action is noticed; every motive of the heart is known. There is no escape – did you want one? – an escape I mean. Is there something at the start of the new year that needs realigning?

Apologist, Ravi Zacharias, calms our thoughts about this intense observation. “When God is our Holy Father, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, and immutability do not terrify us; they leave us full of awe and gratitude. Sovereignty is only tyrannical if it is unbounded by goodness; holiness is only terrifying if it is untempered by grace; omniscience is only taunting if it is unaccompanied by mercy; and immutability is only torturous if there is no guarantee of goodwill.”

He’s saying that while we are being closely watched and monitored there is a watcher without motivations of harm.

Unfortunately, He is not the only observer. Perhaps we need to be observing ourselves a little more often.