Category Archives: Miscellaneous

The Power of Like

Big Brother is watching you. That creepy idea has sparked movies, books, and conspiracy theories galore: someone, somewhere, knows what you like, whom you vote for, what you ate for breakfast. Marketing companies analyze your online habits and tailor-make ads to snare you, even varying the cost of potential products depending on your socio-economic status. “Like-farming” is a spammer’s delight. When companies can pinpoint a prospective customer’s vulnerable moments and pounce with confidence-boosting ad campaigns, or a candidate’s campaign can spin out fake news to lure new voters, we really have sunk to a new low…

Read the rest at godcenteredlife.org!

Perspective Podcast

Blessed to be a guest on Chris Arnzen’s “Iron Sharpens Iron” show this week!  Loved the opportunity to linger in conversation a while, and I hope it will give you some food for thought while you jog/do the dishes/drive a bus/bathe a dog.  (Does anyone do anything without multi-tasking any more?)    

64 Questions for Making Disciples

Our church has been focusing on the importance of building joyful, passionate disciples of Jesus.  The ladies were challenged at the If:Gathering to step up our discipleship relationships.  The whole congregation has walked through a “core commitments” sermon series focusing on… yep, discipleship.  And at our recent kick-off with the Calvary Family of Churches, we zoomed in on I Thessalonians 2:8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”  You guessed it, discipleship.

Anyone who’s been around church for very long knows that term.  A “disciple” is a student, a scholar, the follower of some great teacher—in our case, Jesus.  We attach to ourselves His very name—CHRISTian.  We are “little Christs,” imitators of the most perfect God/man who ever lived.  We want to understand Him, to worship Him, to obey Him, to smell like Him.  And because we want to multiply, to see the Body of Christ explode around the world, we want to “disciple” others.  We want to replicate what we have learned, and teach others to likewise go out and make Him known.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy.  But what does it mean, to disciple someone?  What does it look like?  Is there a difference between discipling someone and mentoring them?  Between teaching and sharing “our own selves”?

A bunch of us spent a leisurely evening discussing discipleship last week over enchiladas, but as we wrapped up, I couldn’t help thinking that practically, we’re a little lacking.  We have enthusiasm, dedication, even, but we need a plan.

Having been on staff for a number of years with Cru, Michael and I received a wealth of discipleship training, so much that I take it for granted that others have been equipped the same way.  In fact, a lot of campus ministries do this exceedingly well—the Navigators are brilliant at it—but if you weren’t part of such a ministry, you may not have been systematically supplied with strategies for discipleship.  You could certainly fill a library with books designed to explain discipleship methods, but I want to put in your hands a simple, brief starting place for your next adventure in discipleship.

I’m not calling it a plan, a procedure, or a how-to manual.  It’s just a jumping-off point.  But it’s easy enough for anybody to take that first, tentative step.  And before you know it, you’re off to the races.

Aim:  To Be Like Christ  

Our whole goal in discipleship is to become more Christlike ourselves (that’s a lifetime pursuit, obviously), and to help the next guy do the same.  Since Jesus gave us a nifty rubric for loving God (the most important task of a disciple), we’re going to borrow it for our discipleship strategy.  Mark 12:29-31 says, “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  So I’m going to give you a three-prong approach modeled on Jesus’ words.

Method:  Heart (and Soul), Head, and Hands  

The challenge of discipleship is to help a person grow, step by step, closer to Christ:  knowing Him, leaning on Him, and acting like Him.  Step one is figuring out where a person is spiritually.  Sit down for a cuppa and begin by asking a ton of questions.  Listen.  Make sure, for starters, that the person has in fact responded in faith to Christ and can confidently say they have put their trust in Him.  If not, begin there.  If so, and if they are ready to dive in, you can come alongside, thoughtfully help them evaluate their walk with God, help them to shore up their weaknesses and “excel still more” in their strengths.  We want to help people move along the spectrum from nonbeliever to Christ-follower to joyful, passionate, multiplying disciple.

You’re going to need to meet regularly.  How often and for how long I can’t say.  But it’s kind of like coaching a sport:  without intentionality and effort, progress is going to be spotty at best.  Every time you get together, you’re going to ask questions.  A lot of questions.   Sometimes you’ll focus on their head—their knowledge of Jesus, since you cannot grow to be like someone whom you don’t know.  Those days you might spend time studying God’s word, leaning in with them to learn together.  Sometimes you will focus on heart—questions of intimacy, priority, and prayer.  Those days you might spend a chunk of time praying with your disciple, modeling by your own conversation with God what prayer can be.  And some days you will focus on hands—serving God side by side; if possible, bringing them along to join you in ways you’re already putting love in motion.

Did you notice?  While we might mentor someone through questions and conversation, when we get serious about discipleship, those conversations turn into action.

Here are three sets of questions to get you started.  It’s going to look like a lot, but think of it like a big box of Crayolas.  The more colors you have to choose from, the prettier picture you can draw.

Anytime you discover that there’s room to grow, pause there, and make suggestions.  (You’ve never read the Old Testament?  Here are some of my favorite parts.  Here’s a reading plan you could try.  How about if we both commit to reading Genesis this month?  Or, You’re struggling with bitterness?  What would forgiveness look like?  What’s a step you can take towards reconciliation?  How can I pray for you this week?) 

Don’t rush past a sticky spot without taking time to get un-stuck.  Try to always leave with an action step:  How will you work on X this week?

Ready?  Here we go.

1.  Heart and Soul:  Pray like crazy!  Discipler, pray for your disciple.  Ask for wisdom — where do they need to grow?  For that matter, where do you need to grow?  Does your disciple P.R.A.Y. (love a corny acronym!) in the following areas:

Praise: Do you have a thankful heart?  Are you active in corporate worship?  Do you stay alert for God-sightings?  Where have you seen God working today?  Would you say you are lukewarm, red hot, or stone cold?  What makes you fall in love with Jesus?  How can you give thanks in difficult circumstances?  Are you joyful?IMG_2029

Repent: Do you keep short accounts with God?  Are you aware of your pet sins?  Do you confess areas where you have stubbornly disobeyed?  What about the areas where you’ve simply had a bad attitude?  Do you often ask God to help you recognize temptation and flee from it?  How does it affect your relationship with God when you try to brush past sin?

Ask:  How do you press into Jesus in times of trouble?  Do you remember to stay alert and ask for protection?  Especially when you are discouraged, do you ask for perspective?  Do you bring your anxieties to God and ask Him to replace your fear with faith?  Do you pray for evangelism opportunities?  Do you keep a running list of nonbelievers in your life to pray for?  What about your enemies?  Have you prayed through the Psalms?

Yield:  Are you in the habit of listening to the Holy Spirit?  Do you frequently ask for strength, power, and guidance from Him?  Have you committed a willing heart to obey and surrender to His will?  Are there areas you are reluctant to surrender?  Do you make vows to God that you don’t fulfill?

2.  Head:  Get to know Jesus!20170221_115152

Have you studied what He said?

Do you know why He bled?

Do you read what He read?

Have you thoroughly digested Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?  Have you committed His words to heart?

Do you understand the implications of the gospel —not only for your salvation, but for your sanctification, for your vocation?  Are you in the practice of studying the New Testament?

Jesus’ Bible was just the Old Testament.  Have you neglected this part of God’s word?

How often do you read the Bible?  Do you read both quickly for the big picture and slowly for understanding?  Do you memorize it?  Do you pray for insight before you study?  For strength to apply it?  Do you know how to study it well?  Do you use good tools to help you?  Do you rely more on other teachers or are you a self-feeder?  Do you check your conclusions against reliable sources?  Are you listening to any ear-ticklers?

3. Hands:  Follow where He led.  Obviously there are hundreds of ways to imitate Christ, since He was literally perfect in every way.  Here are five major hallmarks of His life that we can copy:

Holy lifestyle:  What are your pet sins?  Have you made an effort to root out unforgiveness, pride, laziness, and selfishness?  Whom do you allow to see you struggle?  Do you welcome accountability?  Discipler, be transparent and gracious.  You sin, too!  Pray for wisdom—when to be gentle, when to be firm.  Don’t try to fix them, and don’t confront everything at once.  Guide them to identify their own problem areas and agree to tackle them.

Love:  Do justice and love mercy.  To be Christlike, we need to be involved in compassionate action, as He was.  Where is there need in your community?  How can you be involved?  Get active—do the work of love side by side.

Take up your cross:  What might God be asking you to give up for the sake of His name?  How can you love sacrificially?  Where have you deemed the cost of discipleship too high?

Give grace:  Where do you resist forgiving others?  Has your understanding of the gospel penetrated your heart to the extent that grace comes naturally?  What prevents you from being gracious?  Do people perceive you to be kind and generous or stingy with praise?  If you will be forgiven to the measure you have forgiven others, is that good news?

Preach the gospel:  In season and out, using words when necessary, with love always, freely and naturally, as an overflow of adoration and compassion, with intentionality and forethought, with prayer and urgency, with skill and a continual pursuit of increasing excellence.  When was the last time you shared your faith?  How do you seek opportunities to do so?  What weaknesses need shoring up?  How often do you practice this skill?  How have you equipped yourself?

Patience and grace, commitment and follow-through.  That’s it.  Heart and Soul, Head and Hands.  One life pouring into another, simple enough for a bunch of fishermen.

Let me finally point you to some fantastic resources that others have put together if you want to take this further.

Here’s a resource from the folks at Lifeway.  Has a great video clip at the beginning.

This one comes from David Platt, and echoes my thoughts above.  I like his action-step questions.

Cru does a great job with discipleship, and is reliably straightforward.  They emphasize “transferable,” or easily-repeatable resources.

I haven’t read this book, but Francis Chan is such a neat guy.  He’s put together not only a book (Multiply) but an accompanying video series to equip disiple-makers.  And hey, there’s David Platt again!  (That guy is everywhere!)

And a classic, The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman.

Startled

Sometimes Facebook juxtaposes just the right pair of posts, just the right images to startle me awake, to catch a new glimpse of truth.  Today I saw a such a pair.

Post #1, a video:  colorblind people see color for the first time with innovative new glasses.  Now, I’m going to let you roll that around in your mind for a minute before I hit you with Post #2.  A stream of people unable to distinguish red from green, trapped in a world where everything is a muted, muddy brown, suddenly seeing all the great glory of a simple garden, overwhelmed.  You see them see colors and suddenly you’re seeing color through their eyes, and you realize how much we take for granted, how much beauty overload we live in all the time.  You wonder what else we can’t see, what else is hiding in plain sight.

Now.  Post #2:  women at the March on Washington hold a sign proclaiming “If Mary had had an abortion, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”  And it’s a kick in the gut, one of the few statements left that still has power to shock.  Really?  And it’s a flood of horrifying thoughts, one struggling to top the last—you’d trade the Christmas story for a coat hanger?  Jesus’ death on a cross wasn’t awful enough?  You have that level of hate for the Savior of the world?  You lay the blame for all that’s wrong at His feet—at ours?

But then I understand.  Post #1 is the explanation for Post #2.  There is rampant blindness in our culture, like a population struck with scarlet fever.  I am not exempt.

We do not see the beauty of Christ, because we are dazzled by rhinestone substitutes.

We do not see the Great Story of the world, because we are sidetracked by our own little dramas.

We do not see the long stretch of eternity, because we are caught up in the vapor of now.

We don’t see the struggle and pain of others (but stub a toe and we’ll nurse it all the day long.)

We don’t see the glory of people Not Like Us, because we’re too busy gazing in a mirror.

We miss the rich tapestry of the races.

We miss the quirky strength of the genders.

We can’t see the value and dignity and perfection of the disabled, the bent and twisted ones, the elderly, the mentally challenged, the helpless, unborn human beings whose presence causes us discomfort or inconvenience or shame.

We are so very blind.  And I wonder what it will take for us to see, like Neo to wake up in the Matrix.  But like our colorblind friends, we have been given a pair of nifty glasses; all we have to do is put them on.

So let me pop those puppies on, let me remind myself of Truth.

Back in the very beginning there was a Trio of Oneness, an everlasting symphony of Love.  And this Love, this triune God, His creativity and laughter and yes, love, bubbled over and made the vast and spectacular universe, from Milky Way to micro-organism.  And there in the middle of an extraordinary garden (red and green included in all their shades), He put a pair of people, and He called them very good.  But a snake slithered in, and the world was broken, and instead of choosing light, we craved the darkness.  All that is broken and hurting and wrong in the world traces back, back, back to that choice, that moment, leaving us crying out, “Vanity!  Vanity!”

But still He wasn’t done, and Love came down into the muck to be spat upon, mocked, beaten, rejected, and finally murdered.  But still He wasn’t done; He burst the bonds of the grave, defeated death, and made a way for blind eyes, my eyes, to see.

He is beauty.  All that is good and right in the world shines because He breathed on it, shines because it bloomed out of His imagination.

Those women, the ones with the sign—they were dreamed up and fashioned out of Love.  There is grace for them just as there was mercy for me.  And the babies they’d just as soon dispose of?  Each one a wisp of smoke that never was?  No.  Each one was painstakingly designed, seen, and adored.

Let’s be the people of color, the people who dole out compassion, joy, forgiveness, and kindness, who lend others our lenses and help them want to see.

Dostoevsky said beauty will save the world.  Thank the Lord, He already did.

Conversation Across the Airwaves

Writers are shy people who can spend long hours all alone.  We aren’t supposed to do terrifying things like give interviews!  But here for your amusement is my first radio show.  The kind man who interviewed me is Marty Guise from KSIV in St. Louis, and you can find him on Facebook at Lay Renewal Ministries.

 

Live free.

I am profoundly, deeply, absolutely and only human.  No surprise there, right?  But I think there are a lot of people who are confused on this point.  You see them all around — outraged, entitled, critical, and despondent.  People who expect other people to part around them like they’re Moses crossing the Red Sea.  (Although, truth be told, Moses was an incredibly humble guy, so maybe that’s not the best analogy.)  There are folks who feel inspired to crow about their triumphs and bullishly blast their opinions (thanks, Facebook.)  People who delight in grinding other people to dust under the spike of their ultra-high heel.  People… and here’s the sad part… who despair when they look in the mirror one day and realize they aren’t actually divine.antique-tiled-floor-mirror-o

But this old school Reformation doctrine is actually incredibly liberating:  I am totally depraved.  I’m a sinner, a screw-up, a miscreant, a nobody.  I can’t do anything to earn grace, nor un-earn it, neither (which I’m pretty sure sounds best in a purely redneck accent.)  In spite of my obvious, repeated, shameful failures, I am loved, celebrated, and empowered by the only one who’s Somebody.  Which is altogether great.

What baffles me is that there are a lot of other nobodies out there who gleefully understand this, who revel in this thing called grace, but still sorta think maybe they’re just a little more somebody than anybody else.  I mean, y’all, I do it, too — it’s kind of Total Depravity 101.  But it’s an ugly thing, a ruin-your-day stench that sits heavy over everything like a green fog.  Out of that prideful swamp comes a lot of hurt:  little smirking remarks turn into bruised egos and mean spirits and spite.  Roam around on the internet for five minutes and you’ll start to see it everywhere — people, Christians, just completely scornful of other people, supposedly in pursuit of truth but fully devoid of beauty or love.

HCH4KWE_mxThis is the world where we send our babies off to kindergarten, the world where we launch our books onto Amazon, the world where we brace ourselves to take a stand about anything sweet under the sun.  We have got to do better.

Next time I want to say something sarcastic, what if I just… don’t?  Next time I post a review, why not season it with kindness and not drown it in salt?  What if I held my tongue more often than I thoughtlessly spouted off, read that email a second time before I hit send?  Back in the day, people named their daughters Prudence and Mercy — time for a counter-culture comeback, y’all.

But here’s the other thing, the thing I actually do have some measure of control over (because I’m thinking no one is going to jump on the Prudence and Mercy bandwagon.)  Tim Keller calls it “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.”  Wow.  To get to a point where it really doesn’t matter what other people say.  To make like Elsa and let it go.  Not to define myself however I want or to pat myself on the back, but to really lose myself altogether, to be completely astonished and delighted and transfixed by Somebody — Somebody brighter, better, bigger than me.  Keller points out that in Christianity we get the verdict before the performance, so that now we can joyfully live out the verdict — live free.

“That He might become greater, and I might become less…”  That’s my prayer today.Untitled design-3

I don’t know the answers…

Lately I’ve been wondering:  How does God speak?

How does God speak to you?  Does He speak the same way to everyone?  Did He speak the same way to everyone in days of old?  Is Scripture the only way God speaks?

How can God speak through Scripture when it’s not in front of us?  If we have committed Scripture to memory just a little bit wrong, can that create a problem?  If He speaks to us in other ways, how can we hear Him?  How can we discern what is God what is Not God?  How can Satan distort what we hear?  What’s the danger of saying, “God told me…”?

If God’s Word is living and active, can it have both a primary meaning for the original audience and many layers of meaning for new situations and generations?  How does the Bible intend itself to be used?

How do you approach the study of Scripture?  Systematically?  Scatter shot?  Have you ever been surprised by the relevance of a passage you came upon in a regularly scheduled reading plan?  Does God have sovereignty over the calendar?

If you hear no direct answer when you seek God’s will, guidance, or counsel, what does this mean?  Is He not listening?  Does He withhold an answer sometimes?  What should we do in that circumstance?  Is it disappointing when He is quiet?  Can we find an answer in His Word?

Is it better to keep asking under the theory that it is good to persevere, or to remain silent under the theory that He already heard and is firmly in control?  How does His silence present an opportunity for relationship?

What does it mean that Jesus is the Word?  The Word is a person?  What’s the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer?  How does He assist in decision-making?  How do you know?  Jesus said His sheep know His voice — what does it sound like?  Is it easily duplicated?  Is ear-tickling the tactic only of bad preachers, or also of devils?  Does God speak through our emotions, our minds, our circumstances, or in our ears?  Does He still use visions and dreams?  Is there anything that constrains God to use particular means in speaking to us?

If you felt like God did indeed impress something on you, would you take action immediately?  What if you don’t?  What if you do?  Does God ever say one thing at one time and then contradict Himself?  If God never contradicts Himself, why do we, over time, stray from what we believe He first said?  If God never contradicts Himself, how can Scripture be useful in approving what we feel we have heard?

Do you listen to the Lord?  Do you expect to hear Him?  Do you diligently keep a pen handy to write down what you hear?  Do you expect to hear Him on a range of topics, or only certain things?  How detailed is God?

Does He care what cereal I eat for breakfast?

Does He care what music I listen to, which route I take to arrive somewhere, or whether I speak to strangers at the grocery store, or are certain things outside His purview?  If He does care about these things, do I ask His opinion about them?  How do I tune my heart to hear Him?

If you knew that God would speak to you 100 times today but you would hear him only once or twice, how would you feel?  Is this the state of things?  If you believed that the Bible had specific things to say to your situation moment by moment, would you treat it differently? If God spoke to you every day for thirty thousand days, would there be paper enough to write it all down?

If He spoke to me just once, would I be all astonishment?

Have I paid attention to the ways the created world speaks, giving God glory?  How does the Bible unpack the redemptive analogies present in nature?  Does God continue to speak in metaphor through advancing knowledge of creation?  That is to say, is there more to hear?

How do different faith communities approach these questions?  What is there to learn from different camps?  How did heroes of the faith, theologians, and sages, understand these things from different angles?  Am I dogmatic about this?  Should I be?  How earnestly do I seek wisdom in hearing God?  Is there perhaps uncharted territory for me in listening to Him?

What might God have to say to me today?

From Annie Dillard, The Writing Life:  “Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg, it was told, never really heard his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, finish a thought because as soon as the latter would say ‘and the Lord spoke,’ Shmelke would begin shouting in wonderment, ‘The Lord spoke, the Lord spoke,’ and continue shouting until he had to be carried from the room.”

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.