Saturday, January 24, 2015

Making disciples

When Jesus was finished with His earthly ministry, He gave us one job. Do you remember what that was?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Make disciples. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Partly because it's something our church struggles with a lot. We know it's important ... but how exactly to go about it? And partly because I know it's key to the young adults ministry in which God has placed my wife and I. How does one go about making disciples? Baptizing and teaching obedience to the commands of Jesus are obviously a part of it. And also, Christ's presence (with us, through the Holy Spirit) is absolutely critical. But is there more to it than that?

In Pulse we've been studying the Gospel of Mark, and I've been seeing some things there, in how Jesus interacted with His disciples, that I think are instructive to this discussion ...

There's no substitute for quality time. Jesus spent TIME with His disciples. His disciples occurred in four main "layers" ... first there was the big group of followers (estimated to be around 500 people, give or take). Most were probably "fringe" hangers-on. Nonetheless Jesus spent time teaching them and they followed Him, usually, but not to the same extent (and with the same level of commitment) as the next layer ...

The 72 apostles. What? you say ... weren't there just 12 apostles? Luke 10 records how Jesus sent out 72 of His disciples out to do ministry, two by two. The word "apostle" simply means "sent one," so these 72 could certainly be called apostles.

At the core of this group, however, were those specifically selected by Christ for the ultimate mission ... The 12 Apostles. These were those He spent all night wrestling with the Father in prayer about, whom He selected carefully. These were those in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover with Him. They went most everywhere with Him, spent most of their time with Him ... but not to the same extent as the next group:

The inner 3 Apostles. Peter, James, and John were the special focus of Christ's attention. During His Transfiguration, they alone accompanied Him up the mountain. They alone were invited to witness His most amazing miracles, like raising the little girl from the dead (Mark 5:37-43).

So, what does all this mean? I think it's a recognition that, as human beings called to make disciples, we surely must focus our efforts. You may be a pastor and may have a large church of 500 that you preach to each Sunday. But you will need to focus your efforts when it comes to disciple-making. Only a portion of that congregation (perhaps a fifth?) will be available and willing to be used for the next phase of disciple-making: sending out. Doing ministry.

And of course you won't be able to spend huge amounts of quality time with such a large group, of 72. Instead you must focus on a smaller group, say a dozen, and who comprises this smaller group should be a matter of very specific prayer.

Note that even in Christ's 12 Apostles, one (Judas) was a major, catastrophic failure, at least in the disciple-making sense of the word!

But, the bottom line was that even Jesus selected carefully whom He should focus his time and energy on. And there is no substitute for the time He spent with them, simply living life together.

Do you have two or three close mentoring relationships you are pouring yourself into? Leaders who comprise a core of a larger "small group" of believers, perhaps a dozen in size? And are you engaging with an even larger group in shared ministry?

Making disciples is all about doing ministry together. The people whose lives really are being changed in any church setting, the people who are getting their socks blessed off, are those who understand the principle expressed by Matthew 6:21: "... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Treasure? Substitute any resource which is valuable to you ... time, money, talent, influence, whatever. If you invest in something, your heart follows after that thing. You are changed by that investment. Your sense of personal ownership increases.

If you are investing in ministry, serving people ... if you take the time and trouble to figure out your spiritual gifts and how to use them on a regular basis to bless others ... then your own heart will begin to beat faster for those things that God's heart loves. You will be following in Jesus' footsteps, one step further down the path of being a true disciple.

So it follows that, if we want to make disciples of other people, we need to help them find a ministry "fit." We need to encourage them to invest their own resources in heavenly things, so that Heaven will begin to capture their hearts.

This was what happened with Christ's 72 apostles in Mark 6. He sent them out, two by two, without even a staff in their hand, to do ministry in His name, to teach and to heal and even to cast out demons. They returned -- tired but excited, invested, and thrilled to discover the joy of ministry.

Come away with Jesus for awhile. At this point, where they had invested in ministry and experienced some spiritual victory, Jesus knew they were vulnerable to Satan's attack ... either filling them with pride, or accusing them of being failures. So the solution was to "take a vacation with Jesus!" To go away to a quiet place, and debrief, and get some rest.

God knows we are vulnerable, weak, feeble, greatly in need of constant rest and renewal. Did you ever wonder why He invested so much in the creation of Sabbaths and Holy Days? We certainly need to be strengthened by these times of rest and renewal. And not just for the sake of taking a vacation, but to hear from the Master Himself. And this leads me to my final point. True disciple-makers help the people whom they are discipling to ...

Understand the End Game. Everything Jesus did had a purpose. He was quite clear, shockingly clear, about the end game when He spoke to His disciples. Mark 8:31 records:
31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
Christ had His eyes on the prize the entire time. The big picture for Him, the goal, the end game, was His death and resurrection. Only through His sacrifice would the entire world be saved. Only because of His resurrection would the hope for the eventual transformation of all of society into the coming Kingdom of God be realized.

Did His disciples "get it?" No, obviously not. Verse 32 says that Peter "took Him aside and began to rebuke Him" for such talk. But Christ was crystal-clear in His mission: "Get behind Me, Satan!" he looks directly at Peter and warns. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." The end game, for Jesus, was God's concern, God's plan.

Which is where I will leave off, today, because this is ultimately the most important test of true leadership, and (to me) its most rigorous challenge. Is your end game in sync with God's end game? Is what consumes your mind the plan of God for the people you are seeking to turn into disciples of Jesus?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State of the Union

Darlene and I experienced some real excitement during the State of the Union address last night. I normally try to steer clear of political stuff on this blog, and I'll try to give it my best shot this time too. Here goes nothing.

We had dutifully watched about the first half of President's Obama's address when the excitement arose. Before I tell you what that was, let me summarize the points I walked away with from the first half of his speech:
  • The state of our union is strong. Presidents for the last 30 years have ritually proclaimed those words to kick off the State of the Union address, of course, so it's hard to know for sure exactly what that means. To me, the U.S.A. doesn't feel quite unified about anything right now, except perhaps in our fear and disgust of Islamic terrorists (or, as Obama would refer to them, religious fundamentalist terrorists, since apparently "Islamic" is a bad word). Or perhaps in our mutual amusement at Energy Secretary Ernest Motiz' face and hairdo.
  • The vast Middle Class is unhappy and so we are going to give them more free stuff (health care, education, childcare, and special glasses so they can read our lips the way we want them to).
  • To pay for all this free stuff, we are going to sock it to those bad guys, those awful rich people in America.
Most of what I heard the President say, at least during the first half of the speech, seemed to be some variant of the above. Then, it happened.

Our cat, Carmen, ran through the living room with a live mouse in her mouth. Darlene and I both immediately jumped to our feet in applause. (Thankfully we don't have one of those Nielsen rating systems on our TV set, or else the President's popularity would have gone up by a full percentage point at that moment.)

At which point Carmen dropped the mouse, of course, and it ran behind the curtains covering the sliding glass door.

I ran and got a broom. Darlene started hurriedly moving delicate things out of the way, instinctively knowing that breakage might soon occur.

The mouse re-emerged from the curtains when I drew them back. I stood back (broom poised and at the ready) to let Carmen re-acquire the mouse. Which she did ... holding it ever-so-gently between her soft, declawed paws, as the poor mouse squeaked in protest. More applause. Then she let it go again and it ran under the couch.

I handed the broom to Darlene and lifted the couch. There was the mouse, sitting next to a companion who had apparently already died. We assumed it had died of boredom, watching the first half of the SOTU speech.

The cat reacquired the mouse, again, holding it ever so delicately in her mouth. The mouse squeaked. The cat dropped it apologetically.

The mouse ran behind the wood stove. This time I shooed the cat out of the room with the broom, fed up at her pacifism. "I'll handle this," I said bravely as I gripped the broom handle.

The rest of the SOTU address was spent with me pursuing the mouse between the wood stove and the curtains, then back to the wood stove again, then back to the curtains, etc.

Finally, in frustration, I got the bright idea of simply pummelling the curtains with the broom. Surprisingly, I did not shatter the sliding glass door, and I did indeed knock the mouse out cold.

We put it in a plastic bag next to its dead companion, smacked the bag with the broom for good measure, then opened it and let the cat sniff it, in an attempt to communicate with her that this was the desired result of all her mousing, mice that were actually dead and not free to wander the house at will. I'm not sure she got the message, though.

Speaking of message, we missed the entire second half of the SOTU address. Did we miss anything important? Anyone care to summarize for us anything else that President Obama might have said?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Need proof Noah existed and the Flood was real?

I posted something on Facebook yesterday that caused such a stir, I thought I'd better put it on ShBlog and develop it a little further.

Is the biblical story of Noah and the great Flood a myth?

Illustration courtesy
Many people assume it must be. "How could that be possible, scientifically?" they ask. They have all sorts of "sophisticated" objections. They may even laugh, and mock.

So I say, in response: Let's ask Jesus what HE thinks.

Matthew, chapter 24 ...
"37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."
JESUS believed in Noah and the Flood as a historical event. Either He was misinformed, or seeking to deceive us, or else His validation of Noah and the biblical account of the Flood means it really happened.

This is quite similar to C. S. Lewis' "Jesus: Liar, Lord or Lunatic?" trilemma. Jesus treated Noah and the flood as if it was real, historical fact. There really are no other options. Either He was deceived, or He was trying to deceive us, or He was right.

One of my Facebook friends asked:
"Does the fact that Jesus referenced the story of Noah necessarily prove he thought it was a historical event? My former pastor once effectively illustrated a sermon with the story of the three little pigs. I doubt he actually believed the piggy story was a literal account of real events."
This was a good question. In what appears to be a validation by Jesus in Matthew 24, could He have been, in reality, making reference to a fable?

I'd say that was possible (and even then, not even probable) only if all of His hearers clearly understood the account as a fable. But this couldn't have been so, because it wasn't presented in the Torah as fable, it was presented as history. And it's clear the Jews of the day understood it as such. In fact, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (who was born several years after Christ's crucifixion) clearly understood the Flood account as history. (See the Complete Works of Josephus.)

Jesus was very good at clear and accurate communication. When he gave parables, He typically prefaced his teaching with this caveat. (See Matthew 3:10;13;34-35, among many other places.)

I told my friend that I rather suspect his pastor (whom I trust less than Jesus) understood that his tale of talking pigs and huffing wolves would have been clearly understood by all his listeners. Or else he would most likely have prefaced it as a fable at the beginning of his talk.

Another friend asked:
If the Flood was a real event, surely there would be evidence in the fossil record?
Another great question. The good news is, There is evidence in the fossil record. Not all experts interpret it this way, of course, but the truth is that the fossil record is apparently open to widely varying interpretations of what is says about history.

There are some great sources of information out there, scientists who believe the fossil record does indeed support the idea of a global cataclysmic flood. (Simply Google "evidence for flood in the fossil record" and a number of good hits will come up. One of my favorites is the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas, which has done a lot of good work on this topic. For instance.)

Naturally they are heavily maligned by atheists ... but what did you expect? Simply think through some of the foundational things related to what we know about the fossil record and it will raise some fundamental questions. For instance, it's clear that a fossil (by nature) isn't created by an "ordinary" death of a wild animal, laying down in the grass somewhere and dying. No, fossils can only be created in a cataclysmic manner, when a sudden avalanche of mud or rock entombs the animal alive (or nearly so), in a manner that minerals from the material can replace the animal's tissues fairly quickly. Hence, a fossil. And then consider the fact that large numbers of fossils of all different types of animals are frequently found clustered together in the same strata.

But, isn't the Bible full of fairy tales?

One of the things I appreciate about the detailed records created by the apostles of Jesus' life and ministry is that His words frequently do validate stories that might otherwise be considered fantastical in the Old Testament.

For instance, the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. Many consider this a fable, but not Jesus. In Matt. 12:40 he said: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The second part of that was pretty literal, so the first part must have been too. Validation. But many people still brush off the Jonah story as a fable.

And just as he used Jonah's story to illustrate His very literal three days in the grave, guess what? He also uses the Noah/Flood story to illustrate the fact that HE'S COMING BACK again. Literally! He says that, in the days of Noah, people were carrying about business-as-usual ... eating, drinking, marrying, etc. ... up until the very moment Noah climbed up into the Ark (and God sealed the door behind him). Then, in the flash of an eye (or rather, the clip of a lightning-strike), everything changed.

In chapter 3 of Peter's second epistle, he writes:
3Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
So, scoffers, all of your pseudo-scientific sophistry will someday be burned away, won't it? Deal with it!

What About the "Noah" Movie?

Finally another friend asked my opinion of the recent "Noah" movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky. This gives me a great opportunity to cross-link to my earlier blog post on the subject.