Being Who We Are

For the last nine years I’ve had the privilege of going up to northern Hungary for a few days to get away for a period of renewal. Last week was 2020’s version. On the first day, my friend Tom and I went for a five hour hike up to the peak of Tót-hegyes.

The peak of Tót-hegyes

As we made our way out of the village, a dog joined us. I had been told about him; a young enthusiastic pup whose name sounded like ‘Choppy’. He immediately found a stick and laid it in our path as we began our hike. We took turns picking it up and throwing it or flicking it with our walking stick for the first fifteen minutes or so. I figured he’d tire soon. But he didn’t.

In fact, he walked with us for the first hour, then the second, never giving up on the stick even when we didn’t engage. By the time we reached the peak of the mountain, he was still there, stick in mouth, ready to play.

It occurred to me as I looked at his anxious face that he hadn’t had any plans for the day. He hadn’t known he would climb four miles up a mountain. He hadn’t prepared by drinking water or bringing energy bars. He hadn’t mapped his course out ahead of time. Choppy just found a pair of companions who were semi-kind to him and followed them wherever they went. In the end, he only went because he had someone to follow.

In fact, as far as I could tell, his only objective on our hike was to be with us. Sure, he wanted to play with the stick. But he followed even after we hadn’t thrown the stick for over an hour.

What if that were our main objective? As disciples of Jesus, what if just being with Jesus overshadowed everything else?

Of course, the dog didn’t have much else to do. He had no sermons to prep, no business deals to complete, no final exams to study for. That dog was just doing what most dogs in his situation do.

That, of course, is true. He was just being a dog. But I’m convinced God has surrounded us with simpler beings in order to remind us to simplify. Jesus’ words to his disciples about having faith like a child is the prime example.

In the end, Choppy reminded me of Jesus’ example of being with the Father. We often skip over them, but the Gospels are full of examples of Jesus withdrawing in order to be with the Father.

  • …Jesus withdrew from that place (Matthew 12:15)
  • When Jesus heard what happened, he withdrew… (Matthew 14:13)
  • Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:4)

Jesus’ main priority was being with the Father. Consider some of Jesus’ words:

  • Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (Luke 2:49)
  • And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…(John 17:3)

Jesus’ primary goal was to be with the Father and to do his will. He modeled it. And he taught his followers to do the same:

  • Follow me… (Matthew 4:19)
  • Abide in me, and I in you…(John 15:4)
  • If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.(Matthew 16:24)
  • And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)

We have the tendency to look at that last verse and imagine doing good things, or doing things like Jesus did. “Doing” is so engrained in our thinking about following Jesus. But I imagine Jesus is instructing us to be more like Choppy – just follow where the Master is going and everything else will follow.

What if, like Choppy, we as Christians were known for doing what we do being who we are – followers of Jesus?

Being and Making Disciples

In almost every respect, I have lived a very fortunate life.

Yet as I grow as a follower of Christ, I realize that my greatest wealth comes from the investments others have made as they have discipled me.

During my thirty-three years as a Christian, there have been only one or two years in which I did not have someone intentionally teaching me, asking me questions, or advising me. Someone was always praying for me.

Like most privileged people, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was until I became an adult. Having children also helps me appreciate what I received. For a long time, I just assumed that most people who attended church received the sort of godly guidance I had received. But that’s just not true.

There is a deficit of disciple-making around the globe.

Living in Croatia for more than ten years has helped me see that this country and its neighbors suffer from an acute lack of disciple-making. Of course this is a generalization; but the exceptions are rare.

Observing the lack of disciple-making globally and experiencing its effects locally, I decided to investigate the sources of the problem. I also began looking for solutions. My quest prompted the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree.

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The first half of that paper was recently published in Kairos, the evangelical journal of theology in Croatia. The English version is available here. I am thankful for the kindness of the people at Kairos who translated it into Croatian. That version is available here.

Disciple-making doesn’t become successful through a thesis or a paper, however. Making disciples happens when we are thoughtfully and intentionally obedient to the Lord’s commission.

This blog has had a slow start; but now I plan to write more regularly. Its purpose will be to continually remind myself of our task. I hope that it will prove to do the same for others.

Training in Discipline

Photo by Ivan Milić

Our National Training Camp in Orahovica had just finished. I stood in the middle of our campsite with my friend Danijel, who had led the camp. We were tired but satisfied.

“I can’t believe how quickly this place can go from thirty people living in self-made campsites—cooking, eating and sleeping—to empty in a matter of a few hours,” I commented to Danijel.

In the morning, the campsite had been bustling; mini fires heated pots of water for coffee while campers prepared the table for breakfast. Now, the place was vacant—as if nothing had happened.

The truth is, we had planned the transition before the camp began. The responsibilities had been divided up ahead of time. There would be a leader in charge of receiving the equipment from each team. Another leader would take charge of making sure all the wood was put back, while a third oversaw the packing of tents. Danijel made sure everything was happening as planned. Other leaders assisted in the deconstruction.

The newly trained campers untied their knots, took apart the wooden structures, packed up their tents, and “vacuumed” the campsite with their hands. Everyone had done his part. No one was over-burdened and everyone participated. In the end, I realized the quick transformation of the campsite was symbolic of the entire four days.

This camp had been successful because it had been an example of teamwork, learning and discipline.

Discipline. That’s the thought that has stayed with me. Our camp went from a fully functional living space to empty in less than two hours because we, as a team of Royal Rangers, had been disciplined.

Photo by Ivan Milić

Various images come to mind when we think of discipline. But I believe true discipline is most evident in its results. The Rangers who had participated in the camp take-down weren’t wearing military uniforms or bulging with muscles. Instead, the state of the campsite told the story in the end.

As we look to the future of Royal Rangers in Croatia, I would like us to be known for grace-filled discipline. I believe that means not haughty, self-serving, militaristic behavior, but constant growth in the various values Royal Rangers espouse. I’d like us to be known for the fruit we produce with the Lord’s help and guidance.

Photo by Ivan Milić

As Christians and as Rangers we have a standard. 

In his commission to make disciples, Jesus instructed his disciples to teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” That’s a huge command!

Royal Rangers is a tool that assists us in this task. Rangers are:

  • ALERT: mentally, physically, and spiritually
  • CLEAN: in body, mind, and speech
  • HONEST: not lying, cheating, or stealing
  • COURAGEOUS: brave, in spite of danger, criticism, or threats
  • LOYAL: faithful to his church, family, outpost, and friends
  • COURTEOUS: polite, kind, and thoughtful
  • OBEDIENT: to his parents, leaders, and those in authority
  • SPIRITUAL: prays, reads the Bible, and witnesses

It’s my desire that, as Royal Rangers, we grow in these values, trusting that the Lord will make us fruitful.

Photo by Ivan Milić
Photo by Ivan Milić
Photo by Jeremy Bohall

The Pool

His expression changed completely when I told him about the pool.  The toys, friends and comfort of the house which had satisfied him just seconds ago were quickly forgotten when prompted to search for a container of liquid refreshment. 

As we began, he led himself – despite the fact that the path was new.  The first obstacle was a steep incline. It proved difficult, but his anticipation pulled him up and the stronger hand behind him pushed when he needed it.  

There was no time to look behind him once he accomplished the climb, though he was proud.  “I did it daddy!” he said with his eyes fully focused ahead and his legs renewed with a simpler plane to walk on.  

He did not seem surprised that he didn’t need a leader, despite the fact he had never walked the path before.  His feet automatically followed the shape of the way and though there were rough spots and rocks his forward gaze smoothed over the effect they had on his stride. He walked confidently. 

“What’s that?”  A new sound was the first interruption of our expedition.  It even caused him to stop.  

“It’s the cars driving on the road ahead of us.” I responded. 

“But I can’t see the cars.” 

“Can you hear them?” I asked. 

“Yes”, he said with resolution and began walking again. 

“Soon enough you will see them.  After you see them, you will see ours.  Then we will get in the car and drive to the place where they sell the pool.” 

“Pool?” he said excitedly, “I see the cars!” 

We drove without any talk of the prize.  Though it had been used as a legitimate motivation for leaving the house without complaining, the fact that I had no idea what kind of pool we would find led me to believe it would be better not to bring it up.  And there was no need to. 

“Water!” he exclaimed as we descended on a scene of aqua clear sea.   The palm trees in the foreground were like fat exclamation marks punctuating the mood change that came with the new view.   “I wanna see more!” 

“Would you like to take a walk next to the water?” I asked, happy that the subject of the pool had been forgotten.  


I was convinced there would be plenty of pools at the store as soon as I saw the number of people along the water.  Beachgoers of all ages drank in everything that accompanies a hot day by the Adriatic.  We took a way that would lead us to the store.

The children splashing in the water made it hard for my son to remember that he didn’t have any swimwear.  We hadn’t come prepared to indulge in the temptation that was all around us.  The need for keys and a wallet had convinced me of the benefit of changing out of my trunks before we left.  

A tinge of irony set in as our view changed from that of the sparkling sea to a row of stores.  My son’s tone changed too.  Whining began.  He liked the thought of cooling off now.  He had witnessed the fulfillment others found and he couldn’t stand to leave.  Maybe he found something in common with the Adriatic – the fact that the rocks lining the sea could no more hold back the waves than his three year old body could contain his energy.  

As his cries filled the air, my reminders of the pool no longer satisfied him.  It had become just a symbol now – an inadequate symbol at that.  

He had seen the real thing.  There was no going back. 

Photo by Jeremy Bohall

Note: This post was originally posted on my previous blog.

Defining Terms

One of the things that jumps out to me when I read is how an author defines the terms she or he is using. This is even more true when reading a book about “discipleship”. As Dallas Willard has pointed out, “the term discipleship has currently been ruined as far as any solid psychological or biblical content is concerned.” Whatever the author has to say about discipleship won’t mean much at all until its clear what exactly they have in mind.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann in his book The Word That Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship has a fascinating definition of “disciple making”. He says this:

Making disciples means to bring others under the disciplines that mark the followers of Jesus.

But the following comment adds weight to his explanation:

It is assumed in such an enterprise that the primal core of disciples is indeed under discipline themselves, so that they can instruct new recruits into the practices and habits that will sustain life and mission…

Brueggeman has at least partially offered us a picture of what the disciple-making church ought to look like. It is a group growing in the disciplines as they endeavor to obey Jesus’ commands. And it is a body dedicated to teaching others to live the way Jesus instructed.

I suspect that this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned the earliest church on the mountain in Galilee.

Mission Impossible

I’m convinced that it is impossible to make disciples of Jesus Christ without prayer. Let me put it in even stronger terms:

If we’re not praying for those we’re discipling, we’re not discipling.

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This is a theme that ought to be developed further. However, if you are serious about a biblical vision of disciple making, it ought to be evident that prayer is an essential ingredient.

The reason I post this though is because it’s probably the thing I am worst at. I need a reminder.

So, if you and I are serious about making disciples of Jesus Christ, let’s stop what we’re doing.

Go for a prayer walk. Turn down the music in your car and pray. Put a half hour of time in your calendar to pray. Do whatever it takes to devote time to pray for those you are discipling.

If we can’t make time to pray, we’re not actually making disciples.

Goggles, Jesus and Losing Oneself

“I’m going to lose my goggles so I can find them!”

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We were taking a family vacation when my oldest son unknowingly contextualized one of Jesus’ sayings. I thought about responding to his remark with a lesson about Jesus but as soon as I saw him throw his goggles in the air and turn around with his eyes closed, I decided to simply observe. 

Usually we talk about the act of losing something as a mistake. When we lose our keys, phone, or glasses it’s always a matter of misplacing something or forgetting where we put them. But my son was making a conscious effort to lose his goggles. And not only that, he was trying to lose the one thing that would normally be most helpful in finding something lost at the bottom of a pool. 

Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 16 are about making an effort to lose something – namely one’s life. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.” Of course, the goal is to find one’s life. However the path to getting there is not as much in the finding as it is in the losing. 

Denying myself has always been difficult because I’ve always been a nice guy who follows the rules. And that, for most of my life, has fit in well with being identified as a Christian. I’ve always felt that denying myself was a step I could step over, because I’m really pretty good already. 

Except that is precisely what was wrong with the Pharisees. They were pretty good already. In that context, Jesus’ point about denying oneself doesn’t seem to be as much about doing the right thing as it does with allowing the right person to be in charge. It’s the difference between doing and being, the latter the more important part.  

Which brings us back to identity and losing it. Finding our life in Christ means losing whatever part of us believes we are good enough to be in control. We cannot reach God through our moral efforts. Christ is the only way to reach God and is simultaneously the only way we can truly find ourselves. Losing ourself means being vulnerable, giving up control and trusting God.

That’s not always easy. But it leads to the best and most joyful discovery.

Note: This post was originally posted on my previous blog.

Doubt on the Mount

Imagine following a guy for three years. You do what he says, listen to his confusing stories and watch while some of the most powerful religious men in the land challenge and test him. When all that tension comes to a head, they arrest the man you’ve been following. There’s talk of execution. You decide to cut your losses and get out of dodge. As crazy as those three years were, you believed what he had to say. But losing your life wasn’t what you signed up for.

It turns out, they did kill him. After hours of taunting and torture, they drove nails into his hands and feet, crucifying him as a criminal. After hearing about his death, you feel deep sadness. Still, you wonder if you were wise to leave when you did.

The strange thing is, your teacher doesn’t stay dead. Or at least that’s what a couple of women told you three days after Jesus breathed his last. They told you about an angel, an empty tomb and a meeting you’re supposed to go to on a mountain.

What do you do? You didn’t actually see him die, so maybe he’s still alive. But that’s the problem. If he did die, and the report is true that he was raised from the dead, you deserted your teacher at the worst possible time. If he’s alive, what’s he going to do with you? If he’s alive, what does that mean for your future? Actually, come to think about it, if Jesus is alive, what does that mean for…well everything? Your whole life changes if he is alive. And that’s true for everyone else around you, both friend and foe.

Fortunately, you have some friends who know how you’re feeling; ten of them in fact. Most, if not all of them, took off around the time of the arrest too. So the questions spinning in your head find resonance in the others as you plan the next step together. Besides the unknown of meeting a resurrected Messiah, it’s a risk just to go out the door given that the religious leaders are trying to contain the situation. In the end, you and your friends courageously climb the mountain.

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The way Matthew tells it, the disciples first encountered their resurrected Master on the mountain where they received the Commission to make disciples. Like the women when they met the risen Jesus, the disciples fell to their knees in worship and fear of their Lord.

“But some doubted.”

Is it any wonder, after all of the emotions the disciples have been through over the last three days, that they might be a bit unsure of what to believe and what not to believe?

Whatever led some of them to doubt, their doubt didn’t cause Jesus to back away. In fact, Jesus steps towards them and speaks some of the most well known words in the history of the Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” These words to the doubting, yet worshipping eleven is a command to the whole Church. Those who doubted weren’t excluded. The most well-known weren’t elevated above the others. Jesus’ Commission was to all eleven.

Herein lies the key to understanding the Great Commission today. It is a call to the fallen, imperfect and doubting Church of Jesus Christ.

It’s this realization that gives us confidence when we’re unsure, for it’s within the context of the Church that we can rest in Jesus’ absolute authority and constant presence.

As we seek to obey the Great Commission, our motto shouldn’t be “I need to make disciples”. Rather our motto should be “I need to join the Church in its effort to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

This distinction is important because Jesus’ disciples are citizens of heaven while living on earth. The Commission given on the mountain symbolizes this in-between state. Working with the mindset of disciple-making within the Church allows us to embrace the tension that may exist between worship and doubt. And it humbly confesses that no one person can make a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This framework is really key to everything else we’re going to say about disciple-making. We can talk about vision, mission and practical strategies but if the theological foundation isn’t set, our disciple-making efforts will slowly drift from the way of Jesus. The Great Commission is for the Church throughout history until the end of the age. Faithful obedience to Jesus’ words will depend on understanding and practicing this truth.

Be a Tree

I’ve never had a special affinity for trees. Excuse the pun, but to me they’ve never stood out among the other living things God created. It turns out though that other than God and humans there’s no other living creature mentioned more in the Bible. Trees play a central role in the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation.

And there’s a tree right in the middle of the Bible in Psalm 1.

This Psalm is incredibly counter-cultural, isn’t it? The blessed person is the one who is planted. In our hustle and bustle of trying to get a ton of things accomplished, staying put doesn’t seem like the best strategy for being fruitful. Growth is often thought of as doing this and accomplishing that in order to gain experience. So there’s an element of surprise for the modern reader in the first part of the Psalm.

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The tree is stationary but it’s not static. Just think about the roots of a tree that are continually nourished. They grow, spread out, thicken and even affect the things around them. Sidewalks can be severed by strong roots, tripping their hurried pedestrians. Roads at times have to be repaved if they lie too close to a thick tree with expanding roots.

Why? Because these trees are constantly being fed by the waters flowing beside them.

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That’s what leads to the fruit they produce in season. A tree produces fruit because that’s what a tree does by nature. Its position next to streams of water allows it to fulfill its potential. The tree doesn’t try to produce more fruit. It doesn’t frustrate itself with producing a certain kind or amount of fruit. It just yields the fruit it’s been designed to bear.

The two verbs the Psalmist uses in verse 2 indicate why the blessed person isn’t frustrated; because they delight in the Law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.

What comes first, delight or meditation?

I’m not sure there’s a right answer. Some might say that the first prerequisite to study the Bible and understand it is to love the Bible. But how can one love what they don’t know? There is no doubt that delighting and meditating are reciprocal. This is what contributes to the continuous flow of fresh water next to the tree.

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The conclusion is clear; the blessed, happy, fulfilled person is the one situated next to the source of true joy. That person is nourished by his or her constant interaction with the message of God. This is what our world, whether they know it or not, hungers for today. That’s why being like a tree is the best way for a follower of Jesus to influence the environment they’ve been put in.

A Few Thoughts on Spiritual Disciplines

The more disciplined we become the more aware of our brokenness we are.


In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumed that his listeners practiced the spiritual disciplines. Rather than saying “if you pray” Jesus repeatedly said “when you pray…” and “when you fast…” (Matthew  6:5-17) As Richard Foster notes, the disciplines were so frequently practiced that it wasn’t even necessary to give instruction as to how to practice them.

It is perhaps a happy coincidence that the words disciple and discipline are so closely connected in English. Quite simply, without discipline it is impossible to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In my own experience, the more disciplined I am, the more I notice my imperfections and my fallen state. That’s precisely what the spiritual disciplines are designed to do. I think Dallas Willard defines them the best. Spiritual disciplines are activities “within our power – something we can do – that brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort”.

In other words, they are things we do that affect who we are. A musician is not so without years of practice. A marathon runner cannot become such without miles and miles of training.

In the end though, the spiritual disciplines are not practiced in order to make one more disciplined or even a better person. Their designed purpose is to help disciples mature in their pursuit of their Master. And this, in the end, produces a joyful, fulfilling and fruitful life in Christ.

Here are a few resources that have helped me understand and practice the disciplines:

Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline

Dallas Willard: The Great Omission

Timothy Keller: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God