Where Discipleship Starts

“Go and make disciples”

What goes through your mind when you hear those words?

Often, when I talk to people about discipleship their faces begins to change. Their expressions say something like,  “I know I should, but the idea is overwhelming.”

Maybe you can relate?

Maybe you want to take Jesus’ words seriously, but you don’t know where to start…because you don’t know where to find disciples.

But what if I told you finding disciples is actually easier than you think? What if I told you, you probably already have some?

In the first century, early Christians didn’t go looking for disciples. Instead they started with people they already knew. (And not in some kind of  Amway-like sales approach.)

They simply started with people that were already under their influence…people who naturally [because of birth or business] would listen to them…people who were part of their “oikos”.

Oikos is the Greek word for “household”. But it means a lot more than that. Win and Charles Arn write, “In the Greco-Roman culture, oikos not only described the immediate family in the house but included servants, servant’s families, friends, and even business associates. An oikos was one’s sphere of influence, his or her social system composed of those related to each other through ties of kinship, and territory.”[1]

And in the first century one’s oikos  was “A key element in [the disciple-making] process.”

For example, in Acts 16 when a jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household [oikos].”

Then look what happens next…

Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to [the jailer] and to all the others in his house [okia]. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household [oikos] were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household [okios]. (Acts 16:31-34)

For the “regular” New Testament Christian the discipleship pattern was not to first go out and evangelize and disciple strangers. The early Christian likely was not even thinking about how he could evangelize and disciple his pagan neighbor…at least not at first.

Rather, the priority for the early Christian was to evangelize and disciple those he already knew. People already under his care, people who were already a part of his okios.

So much was the focus of discipleship on “households”, that a Christian could not even be eligible to lead others in the church until he had a track record of discipling his “oikos.”

The Apostle Paul writes, a church elder “ must manage his own family [oikos] well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family [oikos], how can he take care of God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

In a similar manner, when it came to the early church evangelizing their non believing community, not everyone was called to the task. Instead early Christians specifically set aside particular church leaders to be  evangelists (Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 4:5). Much like what we do with pastors today.  This was because, the priority of discipleship in the early church was in the following order: Household, Church, Community/World.

So if you want to be faithful to Jesus’ words, “Go and make disciples” but aren’t sure where to start, may I suggest you start with those God has already given you. Start with your oikos.

Forget about the stranger for second, and don’t stress about not teaching in the church.  Take your cues from the early church and make your first priority your household.

If you are faithful there, then in time God may call you to disciple those in the church. And if you are faithful in the church, who knows God might just call you to make disciple of all nations…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

For now, just start with your oikos.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, if you’re wondering how to disciple your “oikos”, here’s a couple of links to get you started:

The Four Tasks of Discipleship

The Path of Discipleship

 


 

[1] Win Arn and Charles Arn. The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples. Second ed. p. 39 -40

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What Running A Half-Marathon Taught Me About Bible-Reading

Two weeks ago I ran a half-marathon. I use the term “run” very loosely. My pace waffled somewhere between slow jog and barely moving. Maybe it would be better to say I “completed” a half-marathon…then I don’t have to feel so guilty about taking a bathroom break just before the second mile.

Nevertheless, I did something that one year ago seemed impossible. At this time last year I literally (and I do mean literally) could not run/slow jog/barely move, more than a mile. So now on the other side of the half-marathon I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what it was that enabled me to be able to complete such a task.

Now switch gears with me for a second.

For many of us, consistent Bible-reading seems like an impossible task. Let’s face it, the Bible can be hard to read. It’s an ancient book written to people in ancient times, and, much like running, the activity, at times, can be boring.

So how can we motivate ourselves and those in our families to actually read it?

Here’s where three of my half-marathon reflections may be able to help us.

1. Get a plan

One big reason I was able to complete the half-marathon was because I had a running plan. The plan told me when to run and how far to run each day. It also started off super easy and gradually increased in difficulty as the weeks went on.

The same principles can apply to reading the Bible. You need a plan– one that tells you when to read and how much to read on each day. And you need a plan that starts at your currently ability. I love the “read through the Bible in a year” plans, but, let’s face it, for most people that requires a lot of reading each day. So why not start with a “read through the Bible in three years” plan, or five years. What’s the rush? It’s not about who can read the whole Bible first, it’s about  finding a daily routine that works for you where you are now.

2. Get a community

There is no way I would have stuck with my half-marathon plan if I didn’t have so many encouraging runners in my life. So many people who regularly asked me how my running was going. People who were “further along” that were available and very willing to give advice when I had questions.  And people willing to help and pray for me when training got tough.

When it comes to reading our Bible, we need a community that will encourage us, hold us accountable, answer questions, help us, and pray for us. Parents, be the community for your kids. Students, be the community for your friends. Christians, be the community for other Christians. Just like any other discipline, Bible-reading will happen when we feel we belong to a community.

3. Give yourself grace

During the half-marathon, I had a moment as I was running across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit into Canada. I looked to my left and watched the sunrise coming up over the city and it was just beginning to reflect on the water below me. In that moment it hit me, “I am not running this for time. I don’t need to rush through this.”  At that moment, everything changed. Instead of trying to get a “good time” or concern myself with how I was doing compared to others around me, I just focused on enjoying the race.

We often need to do the same thing when it comes to reading the Bible. We need to slow down and give ourselves the grace just to enjoy the Word of God as the Word of God. It doesn’t matter if we don’t read as fast or know as much as others. It’s okay if we miss a day or two (or, God-forbid, a week) of our reading plan. It’s not about “winning.” God still loves us. The Bible is God’s gift of grace to us.  We don’t read the Bible just for facts or even just for life application. We read the Bible to know God more to enjoy God more.

I pray these principles will help you as you read God’s Word more. And I pray, whether you’re reading at what feels like a slow jog or even just barely moving, you would feel the joy of completing a plan, being encouraged by your community, and resting in the grace God has for you each day.

The Need for Dominion

Have you ever thought about what were God’s first words to human beings?

In Genesis 1:28 we read “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God’s first words to Adam and Eve were a command. A command for them to exercise dominion over their world by filling it and ruling over it.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sadly, when a crafty little serpent known as Satan entered their world they didn’t exercise authority over it. Adam allowed the serpent to tempt Eve and lead her to sin.

What should Adam have done?

He should have killed the serpent. Or, at the very least, thrown it out of the garden.

The results of Adam’s carelessness were tragic. Adam and Eve sinned and were separated from God. Sin entered and contaminated all of their world. Adam and Eve lost their perfect life—literally their perfect life.

What does this have to do with us today?

There are days when I know I should read my Bible first thing in the morning, but instead I check my email and Facebook. I’m completely aware that I if I read my Bible first I will experience peace and have focus for the day. I’m also completely aware that if I check my emails and social media first, often peace and focus are nowhere to be found.

Why do I still do it?

There’s something about email and social media that calls to me. It says “you need to do this first, to make sure you haven’t missed anything.” Or “you need to make sure you’re prepared for the rest of the day.” Or “if you do this you’ll be getting a head start, you’ll actually be more effective.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

All for the Evil One… or least one of his henchmen.

So what’s keeping me from stopping? Dominion.

I lack dominion over my world. And my careless actions have led to my world having dominion over me. Change will come when I choose to do what Adam should have done: subdue my world and everything in it, including my phone.

That might mean turning my phone off completely (what? no!I know, I know, that’s drastic). It might mean asking someone to hold me accountable for how I use it (well, that would be awkward). If none of that works it could even mean getting rid of it (ok, now you’re just talking crazy).

In reality, none of those tactics will work until something else happens first. Dominion.

Not my exercise of dominion, but Jesus’s dominion over me. If I want to subdue my phone then I must first let Jesus subdue me.

It was supposed to work like this in the Garden. Adam and Eve were to rule as vice regents (little kings) under the authority and direction of The Great Regent, God himself. Their power to rule came from conforming to God’s rule, not by rebelling against it.

In the same way, our ability to have dominion over our world, phones included, comes only through the power and authority of Jesus Christ—the one true King over all creation.

That means I have to repent of my belief and actions that say “this little part of my life [my phone] belongs to me…and not Jesus.” Instead I must confess that if Jesus is my Lord, then he is Lord of all. Everything then, even my phone, belongs to him.

The story of Adam and Eve reminds us that the perfect life is found in the fully submitted life. A life completely submitted to God’s dominion. And it reminds us that apart from God’s dominion even the smallest thing—serpent, phone, or otherwise—is able to rob us of life and lead us to destruction.

 

Where or what in your life do you need to bring under dominion of Jesus Christ?

A Disciple’s Prayer

 

“O My Savior,

Help me.

I am so slow to learn,

So prone to forget,

So weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be

on the heights;

I am pained by my graceless heart,

my prayerless days,

my poverty of love,

my sloth in the heavenly race,

my sullied conscience,

my wasted hours,

my unspent opportunities.

I am blind while light shines around me:

take the scales from my eyes,

grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.

Make it my chiefest joy to study [you],

meditate on [you],

gaze on [you],

sit like Mary at [your] feet,

lean like John on [your] breast,

appeal like Peter to [your] love,

count like Paul all things dung.

Give me increase and progress in grace

so that there may be

more decision in my character,

more vigour in my purpose,

more elevation in my life,

more fervor in my devotion,

more constancy in my zeal.

As I have a position in the world,

keep me from making the world my position;

May I never seek in the creature

what can be found only in the Creator;

Let not faith cease from seeing [you]

until it vanishes into sight.

Ride forth in me, [you] King of kings

and Lord of lords,

that I may live victoriously,

and in victory attain my end.” [1]

 

 


 

[1] The original title of this prayer is “A Disciple’s Renewal”. It is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I slightly edited the original (updating “thee”, “thy”, and “thou” with [you] and [your].

Who’s My Neighbor?

I’m reading a very convicting book right now. It’s called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It begins by asking the reader to play the following game:

Think about your eight closest neighbors. To do this just imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe game piece. Then put your house in the middle. Next think about the eight houses in the sounding boxes. (Need a visual? Click here).

Now try to answer the following questions about each of your closest neighbors.

1. What are the  names of the people who live in the households represented by each of the other boxes?

2. What are some relevant facts about the people in each house? For example, where were they born? What is their job? What do they like to do?…etc.

3.  What’s something personal you know about each person in each of the houses? For example, what are their dreams? Do they believe in God? What do they fear? Or some other meaningful bit of information that you could only know after a meaningful interaction with them.

 

Take your time…

 

Now, how did you do?

 

Yeah, my sheet was mostly blank too. Turns out we’re not alone. The authors of the book report the following:

  • About 10 percent of people are able to name the names of all eight of their neighbors.
  • Only about 3 percent of people can share any facts about their eight neighbors.
  • And less than 1 percent of people know any personal information about their eight closest neighbors.

 

I’m not even in the 10 percent group.

 

Here’s the hard news (and the whole point of the book). Jesus said to love our neighbors. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus didn’t mean love our actual neighbors—people who physically live next door to us.

Which means if you’re like me, (you actually want to follow Jesus) then you need to make a change. So let’s do it together.

This summer let’s commit to praying for our eight closest neighbors. Let’s commit to building relationships with our neighbors. Let’s commit to learning something meaningful about our neighbors.

We all desire to see our neighbors have their lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is, so does God. That’s why he led you to live where you live.

God has put us in our houses so that we can represent (and be ambassadors for) Jesus to our actual neighbors. God wants us to step out in faith and begin to pray for our neighbors so that we might get to know our neighbors. So that God might open a door for them to one day hear and respond to the gospel.

I’m not gonna lie, this makes me nervous. I’d much rather share the gospel with 100 strangers then the person living 100 feet from my door.   But hey, if Jesus said “Love your neighbor” then I guess we ought to actually love our neighbors.

Who’s up for it?

 


 

To learn more about how you can love your neighbor join me this summer in reading the book, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Or check out their website http://artofneighboring.com/

Or watch this video for a little inspiration:

How do I know if my kids are maturing in their faith?

Every Christian parent wants their kid(s) to mature in the Christians faith. But often it’s hard to define what that looks like. Does it look like a student reading his or her Bible more? Does it look like a student being more involved in church programs? Does it look like a student just not walking away from his or her faith after high school?

All of those are good markers of growth. But talk to a few Christian parents with adult “kids” and you’re sure to hear a few stories of kids who once read their Bibles, loved going to church, left for college grounded in their faith, but now are completely apathetic about their faith or worse have no faith at all.

So what are we to do?

One helpful  thing to do is to first change the way we think about what “mature faith” looks like. Personally, I  like the comparison chart created by pastor and youth ministry coach Mark DeVries. It provides a clear distinction between childhood faith and mature adult faith.

 

Comparison of Childhood Faith and Mature Adult Faith[1]

Childhood Faith Mature Adult Faith
  • Good Christians don’t have pain or disappointment.
  • God uses our pain and disappointment to make us better Christians.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • God helps those who admit their own helplessness.
  • God wants to make us happy.
  • God wants to make us into the image of Jesus.
  • Faith will help us always explain what God is doing (things always work out).
  • Faith helps us stand under God’s sovereignty even when we have no idea what God is doing.
  • The closer we get to God, the more perfect we become.
  • The closer we get to God, the more we become aware of our own sinfulness.
  • Mature Christians have answers.
  • Mature Christians can wrestle honestly with tough questions because we trust that God has the answers.
  • Good Christians are always strong.
  • Our strength is in admitting our weakness.
  • We go to church because our friends are there, we have great leaders, and we get something out of it.
  • We go to church because we belong to the body of Christ.

 

As parents, our job is simply to help our kids move from childhood beliefs to mature beliefs.

So how do we do that?

Here are a couple options to get us started. If our kids are old enough we can share this chart with them, and then ask them what they think…likely, a conversation will take off from there.

If our kids are younger, (or we’re just not ready to have a deep conversation with them yet), then the best thing to do is simply hang the chart somewhere we’ll see it. Then we can begin regularly praying these things for our kids (and ourselves). God will take it from there.

No one is in a better position than parents to help their kids mature in their walk with Jesus. God wants to use you. I pray this chart will serve as a helpful tool in that effort.

 


 

[1] Mark Devries. Family-Based Youth Ministry. IVP Press. 2004. P. 27

Relapse: How can we stop doing the things we don’t want to do?

 

I’m not a “baseball guy”. I like the sport. But currently I couldn’t name more than half a dozen players. Yet, when I recently read that Angels’ player Josh Hamilton had relapsed with his drug abuse, my heart sank.

I don’t know him. I can’t even fathom what it is like to be him. But I can relate. Because I do know what it is like to relapse.375px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002

I know what it is like to do something you never thought you’d do again. I know what it is like to be overwhelmed with temptation. I know what it is like to have your mind switch into auto-pilot. I know what it is like to do a sinful action in a completely routine-like manner. I know what it is like to say “I’ll never do that again.” And I know what it is like to later do “it” again.

Relapse.

It’s not just a drug addiction thing.

It’s a gossip thing. It’s a cheating thing. It’s a yelling-at-your-kids thing. It’s a lying thing. It’s a lust thing. It’s a being-selfish thing. It’s a not-caring thing. It’s a self-comfort thing. It’s a sin thing.

It’s a thing every person, every Christian, goes through.

What’s the solution?

The answer is found in the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:15-25,

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul was no stranger to relapse. But he found freedom in Jesus Christ.

Freedom came when he acknowledged he was helpless to change himself. Freedom came when he saw his desperate need for a savior. Freedom came when he looked to Jesus Christ as that Savior.

It is the same for us today.

Freedom from relapse comes when we surrender ourselves to Jesus.

 

I thank God, that Josh Hamilton knows this. He surrendered himself to Jesus once before.

My heartfelt prayer is that by God’s grace he will surrender himself once again.

Pray for our brother Josh. And let us pray for ourselves that we will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40).