Everything around us is moving, isn’t it? A week ago we had been sitting on fewer than 2 new coronavirus cases a day in Croatia for over a month. Although we all knew a second wave could start any time, you’re not ready for it when it happens. Yesterday, 20 new cases. Today, 90+ already.
How is this going to affect our plans for the summer, for next week…for tomorrow?
Things are swirling.
There are protests and riots in the States. Mexico is trying to recover from a devastating earthquake. The coronavirus is wreaking havoc around the world. Lebanon‘s currency is tanking among nationwide protests. Mass graves have been discovered in Libya. And this is just from a few of today’s news headlines.
We all have stuff spinning around us. Life is so fluid, so difficult to grasp, so vaporous.
That’s why the biblical description of God as a rock is so helpful.
I need a rock. Don’t you?
Someone who doesn’t move when everything else does. Someone who is solid, strong, and stable. Someone who can save us from the fluidity of the world we live in.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.
Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
One of the least noticed parts of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is Jesus’ command to teach disciples “to observe everything I have commanded you”. It’s really quite a shocking statement to meditate on.
In light of the Old Testament though, it fits right in. That sort of phrase – obeying every command given to God’s people – is quite frequent in the Pentateuch and even Joshua and Judges. The prophets then recall the original exhortation to right living over and over agan.
God’s people have always been expected to be obedient to God’s commands.
But what about today’s Protestant Christians? ‘Grace alone’ is an important part of our DNA, after all. Isn’t grace opposed to the law?
It can be tricky to read the Old Testament in light of this perceived tension. Take Psalm 1 for example. The person who is blessed delights in the law of the Lord. They meditate on the law day and night. Can Evangelical Christians today fully affirm the message of Psalm 1?
Bonhoeffer’s comment on the First Psalm in his handy Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible is helpful here. He says, quite simply “It is grace to know God’s commands.”
It is grace to know God’s commands, isn’t it? Knowing the standard our Creator has set for us is unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. But for those who want to know God, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, knowing God’s statutes is refreshing.
1st John says God’s commands are not burdensome. This brings us full-circle. Our attitude towards obedience can be a test of sorts as to whether we are living in Christ. Do we delight in Jesus’ words on the Mount? Do we meditate on the Word of God day and night?
The promise in Psalm 1 is that those who do so will be like trees planted by streams of water. May our churches be overflowing with these sort of disciples who are anxious to live in obedience to everything Jesus commanded.
I have never encountered so many public figures in such a short amount of time openly confessing the need to self-examine. Here are a few quotes I’ve heard over the last few days:
I need to question my own assumptions, my own attitude…
Theo Epstein, Chicago Cubs President of baseball operations
I had to really examine myself, really examine myself in the mirror this week…
Jimmy Fallon, Tonight Show Host
…It is time for America to examine our tragic failures.
George W. Bush, former President of the U.S.
…It’s long past time we take a hard look at ourselves…
Derek Webb, musician
I ran across these quotes while skimming through the news or scrolling my newsfeed. No research went into this. I didn’t set out to prove a point. I just kept reading the similar sentiment over and over. And it wasn’t just limited to these four quotes. But they represent what I believe is a compelling phenomenon.
In this post-truth, self-promoting era, isn’t it refreshing to hear someone basically say, “I’m ready to change if need-be”? This conviction, if applied genuinely and consistently, has the potential to change the world.
Indeed, if there is going to be change, individual self-examination is where it must begin. No person, people group, or community can grow without consistently examining themselves.
From my perspective as a follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve noticed that the people I admire most are consistently involved in self-reflection. I am drawn to churches, leaders and pastors who understand the need to constantly reorient themselves towards God. The spiritual disciplines of prayer and reading the sacred Scriptures are invitations (among other things) to introspection. The more regularly we engage in these disciplines the more likely we are to live in obedience to our Master.
But this is one of the areas of life where a Christian principle lends itself to society at large. Theo Epstein isn’t going to change the world through a trade or draft pick. George W. is a former president. Fallon makes people laugh for a living. But in these quotes these men show that they understand that change begins with the individual. Their contributions may seem small but their openness to changing themselves offers the strongest potential to change the world around them. And the various platforms they speak from allow them to invite many others to follow their example.
Ultimately, I’m drawn to the example of Jesus, who so frequently went to his Father.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done…
Jesus, Matthew 6:10
…Nevertheless, not my will but yours, be done…
Jesus, Luke 22:42
This is the heart of examining ourselves, isn’t it? In Jesus’ case, he constantly aligined his actions to the standards of the Father. In our situation, self-examination means consistently checking and realigning ourselves to the standard Christ set for us.
There are voices calling for it. But will it just be a fad; a popular trend? I’m anxious to observe whether the U.S. moves in the direction of listening to the cries of justice and making significant changes.
I am also interested in seeing the global Church exercise and model a stance of self-examination. Our Lord showed us what it looks like. May we move to faithfully imitate our Master.
My parents are good parents. The older I’ve become, the more I’ve realized that fact. Having children made me realize that fact. Observing other parents made me realize that fact. But rather than listing all the things my parents have done right, I want to zero in on the thing they have done right.
That thing, though certainly not a secret, is often a mystery for parents – even Christian parents. Miroslav Volf, in an article called Will My Son Be a Christian? wondered aloud:
I’d almost rather [my son] be no Christian than an indifferent Christian, or, even worse, a zealous Christian manipulating faith to promote his own selfish ends. But I want him to embrace Christianity as a faith by which to live and for which to die. But how do I pass on that kind of faith?
After describing the fear he had in letting his faith “dribble away” as he tried his best to pass it on, and after pondering several solutions, Dr. Volf recalls:
Then I remembered my mother’s prayers. Right language about God matters; godly life matters even more. Yet neither will suffice. If the seed sown by word and deed is to grow and bear fruit, it will need the life-giving water of God’s Spirit. So I abandoned trust either in statistics about religious belonging or in the genuineness and strength of my own faith. I vowed to pray.
Thank you Mom and Dad for also taking that vow.
Note: This post was originally posted on my previous blog 10 years ago.
That’s what my seven-year-old yelled as we walked around our apartment showing off to his siblings. The irony of my son proclaiming himself to be superior to the person that was enabling him to be so reminded me of myself when I was a young believer. At times I was all too anxious to brag about how much I knew the Bible, too easily forgetting the various people who had invested in me.
I am certainly not greater than those who discipled me. Yet I sit on the shoulders of my parents who taught me to memorize Scripture, my Sunday School teacher whom I, to my shame, made fun of as a teenager, my youth group leader who took me out for dinner once a month, my college professor who agreed to be my mentor. The list goes on and on. I have benefitted from others’ obedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples. Their effort contributed to my growth.
That’s what we’re aiming for as disciple makers, right? Our goal is to obey Jesus by training others so they will grow. It takes effort, time and sacrifice. Often the results aren’t as measureable as we would like. Other times, it’s obvious when someone has gone through a growth spurt. Sometimes we even have the pleasure of seeing someone grow taller than we are, metaphorically.
In the end, this is one of the beautiful things about making disciples of Jesus Christ. There is no presssure for a disciple to be ‘greater’ than ourselves. Nor do we need to be disappointed when they aren’t as mature as we would like. Our responsibility is to consistently point to Christ, reminding them to remain in their Master. We abide in Christ together; He produces the fruit.
Have you ever left a conversation feeling drained because the other person talked the whole time? Did you feel ignored or uncared for? If you’ve experienced this, allow it to become a valuable lesson in how not to have disciple-making conversations.
Listening and being listened to carefully are helpful as we invest in one another. If we wish to care for and respect those with whom we converse, being present (though separate) as we listen is key. Fruitful disciple-making necessitates active listening. So what does active listening look like?
One key aspect of any disciple-making conversation is time invested in catching up on the happenings in one another’s lives. If these conversations are regular, it makes catching up more productive because we already have a sense of what’s happening. As we hear from one another it’s important to dig a little deeper. This is where active listening goes to work.
A sure foundation to active listening is to approach conversations prayerfully, asking the Spirit to guide our ears, heart, and mind during the conversation. Helpful questions will emerge that can foster vulnerability and honesty in the conversation. In doing so, fellow-disciples are able to point one another to the gospel. These are aspects of active listening.
But listening and really hearing should be followed by further probing. We would be wise to have the courage to speak up. But speaking up is more often in the form of a good question rather than a statement.
I recall numerous conversations in which questions helped me uncover feelings I wasn’t aware of or intentions I didn’t realize were behind my actions. This new understanding helped me reflect and pray intentionally for the Lord’s wisdom, discernment and direction.
Effective disciple-making and mentoring is less about talking and more about listening. It is important to understand what the other person really meant to say, not just what you think was meant. Ask the speaker to clarify; it will help you both. But to ask in a helpful manner, one must listen well. During social distancing, while on a call, listen carefully for voice cues where you might usually be looking for body language.
When we practice these key aspects of active listening, they will allow us to enter the other’s context and understand their situation. Let the other person know you’re paying attention by making appropriate verbal cues: ‘uh-huh…’, ‘okay…’, ‘yeah,,,’, etc. These acknowledgements help the person know that they are being heard.
It is also vital to make sure that what you heard was what they wanted to communicate. Ask, ‘Are you saying that…?’ Or, ‘Should I infer…?’ This will refine your understanding. Repeat the ideas that you have heard back to them and continue to ask questions that clarify meaning. This will help them think more deeply about what they’ve just said—or left unsaid. Listen for the teachable moment, then follow with a thoughtful question and quietness.
As a conversation progresses, when experiences are shared, and events are discussed, if I am listening carefully, I may discern something that indicates an open door to the heart and mind of my fellow-disciple. It is through this opening that Jeremy may apply a biblical principle to Tom either at that moment or even later. This is what educators call taking advantage of a teachable moment.
Let’s apply these to disciple-making conversations. The main point of the teachable moment is that, when something is said or, especially, when a question is asked, openness is demonstrated. This shows that our now open friend may be ready to hear something helpful, perhaps for the first time. This brings us to the next tool, being quiet.
Many people are uncomfortable with silence. But a brief pause after a probing question gives your fellow-disciple time to think about the implications of the question. So, don’t rush to fill silences. Take a sip from your cup, look up to the sky, and after a pause, make a “I wonder what if…” statement. Take another sip. Give the other person time to consider the question. I’ve noticed that it is often during periods of quietness that the Lord is able to be heard loudest. So, listen carefully for the teachable moment, ask a thoughtful question, then be quiet and allow for reflection.
Imagining a future conversation helps me incorporate these principles. Think about what it’s like to ask a probing question. Imagine what it might feel like to let the silence last five seconds longer than you’re comfortable with. Imagine how you might formulate a question allowing your friend to confirm that what you heard was what they meant. This sort of preparation should be filled with prayer so as to allow the Spirit to guide the upcoming conversation. Active, prayerful listening is fostered by prayerful preparation.
Even when we’re dutifully practicing social distancing, let’s remain committed to making disciples even when we can’t be in person. It has been suggested that we make calls to see how we’re growing in the Lord. This is pretty important during this unusual season as so many are struggling. If these calls are regular, and are filled with active listening, vulnerability and honesty will emerge and good fruit will grow in the lives of our fellow-disciples.
I’m not going to mess around. These are the books on Christian discipleship that have had the greatest influence on my life. They’re not “how-to” books by any means. If anything, what they all have in common is that they point back to the The Book and the person of Jesus Christ.
10. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman. At the heart of Coleman’s understanding of Jesus’ method is Jesus Christ himself; “He was his own school and curriculum”. The whole book is written around this theme. The combination of the Christocentric focus of Coleman’s approach, the accessibility of the writing and the focus on the realistic nature of discipleship makes this book so easy to begin our list with.
9.Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Simple, practical and deeply spiritual, this quick read isn’t what you expect from a German theologian. But it’s what we should expect from experts on the subject of discipleship.
8. Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee C. Camp. Camp offers a historical background to the phenomon he calls the ‘Constantinian cataract’. This insight sheds light on our own cultural presuppositions and helps us confront them. Despite Because of his more progressive perspective, this ought to be required reading for anyone seeking to follow Jesus authentically.
7. How to Be a World-Class Christian by Paul Borthwick. Perhaps the most accessible book on this list, Borthwick offers a global perspective on discipleship that is sorely lacking in the West today. Anyone who has heard Borthwick speak will know the excitement dripping from every page in the book is genuine and flows from experience. Rick Warren says this “should be read by every Christian”. I agree. Check out Paul Borthwick’s blog here.
6. Confessions by Saint Augustine. Augustine’s confessions helped me admit and deal with my own pride and double-mindedness at a very important point in my life. Indeed, his example pushed me to write my own confessions, an exercise that was both memorable and instructive. It’s a shame there aren’t more books older than 100 years on this list. Yet, Augustine’s classic is as relevant today as it was in his day.
5. As We’re Going: A Journey Towards Congregation Disciple Making by Thomas Foley. If you’re a disciple maker but haven’t heard of Tom Foley yet, that’s because he’s spent more time making disciples than writing about it. This offering comes from his personal experience as much as it does from his studies. As a mentor of mine who has traveled and discipled many around the world, I would argue that Tom has compiled a resource that is an invaluable part of any disciple maker’s collection. Go here for Tom Foley’s regular reminders to abide in Christ.
3.A Call to Die by David Nasser. After hearing Nasser speak when I was 20 years old, I fasted from several material things for 40 days while working through this devotional. It is still one of the most memorable periods of my life. Nasser doesn’t say anything profound that Jesus didn’t say. But the way he forces the reader to interact with Jesus’ words can be life changing. It was in my case.
2.Following the Master by Michael J. Wilkins. Wilkins has written a very accessible, yet theologically rich handbook. His goal is to “provide a resource tool from which practical ministries can benefit”. In order to accomplish this goal Wilkins explores biblical, extra-biblical and secondary sources while offering numerous personal anecdotes to illustrate his main points. In my view, Wilkins accomplishes what he set out to do and therefore offers an invaluable resource that I will use for the rest of my life.
1. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Don’t let the fact that this book is so often referenced keep you from digesting its contents. It’s a classic for a reason. No book more precisely connects Jesus’ words to his first followers to today’s Church. Read it slowly, underline and write down your thoughts. Then discuss it with a fellow disciple.
Tom Foley, Ruslan Maliuta and I collaborated on the following article forthe World Evangelical Alliance. The original can be found here.
It seems like everyone is hunkered down these days. This precludes sitting in a cafe and talking over coffee or breakfast. But social distancing doesn’t have to stop us from obeying Jesus in making disciples. How can we be involved in disciple making without being able to meet in person? Additionally, how can these ideas and practices be helpful to us as we move forward in disciple making post-pandemic?
The three of us have years and even decades of experience with virtual disciple-making conversations online. The pandemic crisis can open our eyes to ways of disciple-making that we haven’t considered seriously before.
For over two decades Tom has been having disciple-making conversations with fellow disciples. A ‘disciple making conversation’ (DMC) takes place when two or three disciples of Jesus make a commitment to walk together through life, pointing one another to the gospel as the Bible informs our discussion. We all need to be reminded daily that we are broken and Jesus is our only hope, this is the gospel.
The term ‘fellow disciples’ indicates a relationship where one disciple is no higher than another. Each disciple, no matter their age, or experience, can speak into the life of the other as the Holy Spirit uses each person in the conversation. As the Bible is our central source, the Spirit reminds us of his truth as we speak biblical truth to one another. Tom puts it this way: “I am a disciple of Jesus, not Jeremy or Ruslan. But both of these brothers speak the gospel into my life.”
Yet, we must recognize that there is also vertical disciple-making where one person leads another, or leads a group. Tom illustrated: “I have been deeply blessed to watch brothers grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus as we meet together over the years. I’ve seen biblical wisdom and discernment emerge from brothers as the Father used our conversations.” This is essential for new believers and even for those who have yet to believe and are being discipled into belief as Jesus did with his disciples and is being practiced in so many Disciple Making Movement communities.
Most of our conversations have been held via a device that allows the participants to speak across continents and time zones. It seems that this has been an effective process. Tom says that “I’ve traveled to visit fellow disciples two or three times a year for two decades where we sit face to face. But in the months between, most of that disciple-making happens by video or voice conversation. I’ve seen that, after hundreds of these conversations, we can profitably walk together in honest, vulnerable and regular discussions. This conversation model relies on regular, vulnerable and honest discussion.”
Regularity is key so as to keep up with one another’s lives. Vulnerability is essential as we truly open our hearts and minds to the gospel as God uses one another to speak that truth. Honesty is a core value of any DMC, but one can be honest and remain shallow. Vulnerability makes honesty really work. If I open my heart and mind in a vulnerably honest manner, my fellow disciple can be better used by the Spirit of Jesus to speak biblical truth into our lives.
One practical way to incorporate these regular conversations is by taking a walk together. Jeremy states that: “For over a year now, Tom and I have been literally walking together while we talk using an online app on our mobile phones. This practice of walking while talking has boosted our conversations. That is due to the release of endorphins that naturally occurs when we walk. But there’s more to it than that. I’ve found that walking while talking reduces both the external and internal distractions that other contexts inherently produce (cafes, cars, homes). This is because it provides activity for the body to engage in that doesn’t distract from the conversation while excluding the external distractions like other people, televisions and music.”
Tom agrees, “I often look up from the path I am walking in the hills and am surprised by where I am on this familiar trail, having become so engrossed in my conversation with Jeremy or Ruslan that I’ve lost track of the part of the forest I’m in!”
Tom and Ruslan have been speaking as fellow disciples for over twelve years. They have conversed as each was on different continents in their travels. Ruslan tells us that more recently he went through a major transition in ministry due to burnout. “I believe that those conversations were essential for my recovery and those talks helped my wife Anya and me discern God’s guidance.” Ruslan continues. “We all need someone who walks alongside us (even if it’s a figure of speech), who keeps pointing us to the gospel of God, and appreciates us for who we are and not for what we do. While some of this can occur sporadically in relationships, it’s much better to be intentional and plan regular conversations with someone who can join us on this journey.”
Here are some practical tips: Send a paragraph from Scripture to a friend and schedule a call. Invest time in catching up. A key feature of a regular conversation is that catching up will be more organic and flow because you already have a sense of what’s happening in their life. In fact, the Scripture text could even speak to what you already think may be going on. Once you’ve both had a chance to ask what’s happening, it’s time to probe a little deeper. A key to helpful probing is prayer; praying while listening helps a ton. Now, pick up the phone and do some disciple making!
Today we gave our 6-month-old boxer Schumann away. He is a very intelligent and mostly obedient dog. But he has one vice that kept him from remaining part of our family; he bit several of our children on various occasions.
As I took him to his new owner a few hours away from Zagreb, I thought about how quickly he had learned to obey my orders. He was anxious to sit before I put food in his bowl. He would lie down before I asked him to. He dropped the shoe or slipper he grasped in his mouth when I did as much as look at him. I was his master.
I hadn’t fully realized it yet when we met his new owner. She gave Schumann food before telling him to sit. He growled at her. He didn’t understand her foreign commands and therefore didn’t listen, biting her when she tried to control him. When I intervened and told him to come, he dropped everything and followed my instruction. I was his master. Knowing that made him comfortable. Making the shift to a new owner made him very uncomfortable.
Still, he would have to make the transition. From what I can tell, it hasn’t been easy for the new owner. And while I put humankind at a higher level than animals (the whole reason we insisted in parting with him), I can’t help but be sympathetic to what Schumann is going through. He’s in a new context, with a new master, new home, new friends and a new way of doing things. He has to learn a new master/dog relationship in order to survive. It must be really tough to go to a new master.
All these thoughts followed me today as I opened Psalm 23 in my daily reading. Sympathizing with my former pet allowed me to read the text from a new angle. Perhaps reading it from the perspective of a sheep was the way I was supposed to read it all along. As I read, I realized that I had all of the things Schumann was now lacking, and so much more. The promises are quite incredible. With Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd as my Master:
I lack nothing I need
My soul is restored
I am led on the way of righteousness
I am comforted in times of trial
My capacity for blessing overflows
I am with my Master for eternity
There’s no transition to a new owner; no end to the relationship. These promises are mine as I abide in my Master. Those are comforting thoughts.
The multi-faceted nature of the benefits we have in Christ is why, I believe, this Psalm has been such a well-known source of comfort to God’s people throughout history. May it be so today, as well.
Two weeks ago, my wife traveled from Croatia across the border to Hungary for the weekend without a hitch. She went to a women’s gathering while I stayed at home with our five children. My parents and my mother-in-law helped me manage the whole situation. Our life was completely normal. There were 12 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Croatia.
One week ago, Petra and I went out for breakfast in Zagreb to plan for the upcoming change in our schedule. The government had just announced that there would be no school for at least the next two weeks. With four of our children affected, we had to plan ahead. Thankfully Croatian officials were on the ball. They had already begun recording classes for pupils to watch on television and over the internet. There were 49 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Croatia.
Today, we’re not allowed to cross the border to any other country. We can’t go to a restaurant because they’re all closed. In fact, we’re not allowed to leave our apartment if we’re not getting necessities for my parents or ourselves. Today, or rather right now, there are 206 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Croatia – 78 more than yesterday at this time.
We’ve kept our eye on what’s going on in Italy for awhile now. They are, after all, a ferry ride or highway away from us. The Croatian minister of health has been incredible. He’s been one step ahead the whole time. Yesterday they filled an arena with beds to supplement the hospitals if this situation gets bad fast. Officials have been calm, but strict. Even today, with the high spike in confirmed cases, I feel confident I am in a country where the politicians and health officials are leading wisely.
I’m not sure I can say the same about myself. At home, with five kids between eleven months and eleven years, it has gotten chaotic at times. Sure, it’s nice not driving all over Zagreb to baseball practices, swimming lessons and parent-teaching conferences. But having 5 less-than-mature personalities around me all the time can be draining. So it has been nice having my parents around to help with the kids.
Last week, they enjoyed time with our 11 month old Mihej in the park on a daily basis.
But parks around the city were closed on Thursday. And my parents have been told to self-quarantine. So they are no longer able to spend time with their grandkids – one of the main reasons they decided to come to Croatia for a year.
I took the kids out to play baseball a couple times this week. But these sort of outings are also no longer allowed.
So we are at home together for the next 4 weeks at least. This is our new reality. It’s going to take some getting used to. Yet, as I write, I realise that if we are all at home together for the next 4 weeks, we’re going to be just fine. It’ll be challenging. But it’s a lot better than the alternative of one or more of us being hospitalized.
So I’m thankful; thankful for those whose authority we are under; thankful for a wife who has been so very patient during this time; thankful that my parents are close; thankful to more closely observe and interact with my children as they grow and learn.
As I edit this and get ready to post, Zagreb has been shaken by several earthquakes this morning. Among other damage, the first quake broke one of the spires on the cathedral.
A pandemic and earthquakes; it seems like a lot. But we’re still far away from many around the world who are dealing with wars, famines and other catastrophes.
That’s not to say we’re not affected as a family. We are. But Psalm 46 is an incredible help during this time:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
All the events of this week have made this command more relevant and important to me.
May I, may we, Lord, learn to be still and know that you are God.
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