Friday, April 25, 2014

Rethinking Discipleship: You’re Simply Qualified!

What qualifies a person to make disciples? 
Depending on who you ask, you’re sure to get different answers. I tell my Perspective students all the time that only two things qualify us to “make disciples” – obedience and the Holy Spirit. That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

If, plausibly, that is all that qualifies a person to make disciples, why don’t we see more Christians making disciples? 

If it was that simple, you would think that many more us who call ourselves Christ followers would be following Jesus instruction to “make disciples,” right? That is after all what Jesus did do and instructed us to do. But only 1 in 100 Christians have any meaningful role in disciple-making (see Jason Mandryk - The State of the Gospel)

If we just doubled the number of disciples being made each year, we would quickly see the world transformed, the Great Commission completed and the “end” come (Matthew 24:14), just like he wanted – simple. 

The good news is that it is really is that simple. 

It was that simple for the woman at the well. Many Samaritans came to faith due to the simple testimony of a scorned woman who had an encounter with Jesus. Many more came to faith after meeting Jesus (John 4:39-41). 

It was that simple for the demoniac who had a transformational encounter with Jesus. After meeting Jesus, he simply went and told others about whom he had met and “all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:20). While we don’t know how many came to faith, we do know this newly transformed man was widely admired (the Greek sense of the word amazed). 

It wasn’t who these people were that made the difference, which made them qualified. It was who Jesus is that makes all the difference in the world! 

Allow me to suggest some reasons why many Christians are not making disciples today. It’s really not very complicated. 

First, many Christians have not had a power encounter with the Living Lord, like the above two accounts. That’s not their fault. Millions are born into a “Christian” home and enculturated into a Christian faith, taught to follow a Christian ethic and perform Christian duties – daily Bible reading, a quiet time with the Lord, go to church on Sunday, pray and live a godly life. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those things, in and of themselves - unless we're content with that.

Second, the ecclesiological model of the last 150 years short-circuited missional potential. Why do only 1 out of 100 Christians have meaningful role in making disciples? Could it be that the top down approach toward discipleship, the distinction between clergy and laity, the professionalization of the Gospel, placed limits, whether real or perceived, on what it meant to be a disciple and make disciples? The expectation for going and sharing became “bring a friend to church.” If and when that instruction was followed, the non-reproducing pattern would simply repeat itself. 

Third, systematic theology largely replaced a compelling love (2 Corinthians 5:14) and passion for Jesus. This effected how evangelism was done. Evangelism,which should be considered the first step in discipleship, became a 13 week study program, replete with illustrations and memorized scriptures, taking an “unsaved” person from a question to a rational decision. Evangelism became other than simply focused on who Jesus is always and what he has done eternally and became a road to lead people to a guilt decision, which later became ineffective as the American culture changed from Christian to post-Christian. 

Evangelism, while it was believed necessary became little practiced, in our culture of 'tolerance' and enlightenment. Many felt inadequate in their apologetic, so they remained silent. In his article entitled, Bad Reasons Not to Evangelize, Stephen Matteson points out that “Since spirituality is often considered private and personal, such discussions are avoided at all costs—especially with those who don’t share our beliefs and worldviews.” Many chose to listen to the culture rather than obey Jesus.

Then, it became more about service projects, with the unspoken idea that people will ask us why we are doing the things we are doing, which too often turned out to be short-sighted and not very helpful. This is not to devalue the important work of community development, there is much great work going on. But over this was laid the idea that we needed to earn the right to share a 'Gospel' message, which was then seldom done, instead of simply sharing Jesus naturally.

Somehow, over the past half century, discipleship then became an inwardly focused self-improvement program, for the best life now, instead of a joy-filled reality of living for a Person who defines everything and compels us to share his life with others. Is it any wonder than that so few, who said they were following Jesus, actually understood what it meant to “make disciples” – and even fewer actually obeyed? 

Matteson further suggests that, “In a society that revolves around logic, science and concrete data, and within a world that values wealth, power and fame, it’s often absurd to promote such a contradictory faith—it doesn’t make sense!” But that is the beauty and transforming power of simplicity – his ways are not our ways! 

Jesus’ final instruction was simple – “Listen guys, it’s really all dependent on me, so here is what I want you to do. As you continue to live your life tell others who I am, what I did for you, and teach them to do what I instructed you to do. And, not to worry, I got you covered and will take care of the rest, Okay? (Matthew 28:18-20 paraphrase mine). 

Jesus didn’t make his requirements complicated because he knew he was dealing with simple people – a scorned woman at a well, a very troubled soul, some fisherman, a tax collector and other “sinners.” 

What qualified any of these people to do what they did – lead a village to the Lord, go and share the Good News in 10 cities, become the leader of the first church of Jerusalem (Peter), write an account of all that Jesus started to do (Matthew)? One thing, one living person, the only one who can be trusted to get it right – Jesus! 

What qualifies anyone to make disciples today? Again, two things only: obedience to Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus taught that making disciples was about simple everyday life, empowered by him! 

What is fascinating and hopeful today, is that Jesus seems to be returning his Church back to this simple model of simply following him. He did say that he was going to build his Church and nothing could stand in its way. He may be simply simplifying things to remove the many spots and blemishes from his “Bride” (Ephesians 5:27).  

We have the instruction manual, the Word of God, to follow and that it is all many need around the world to make disciples. That’s not to say we need to look to the Bible for a complex theology, created by 16th Century men, to guide us. We have the simple parables and stories Jesus taught his disciples. We need to understand the letters Paul wrote not as doctrinal constructs but as from a missionary who was simply pointing people to Jesus. 

What many have already discovered is that by keeping it simple movements to Jesus grow quickly. Because the barriers to making disciples have been removed, organic movements just like what Jesus started are taking shape in many places, just like he promised (Acts 1:8). 

David Garrison, who has mapped many Christward movements in the Muslim world, said in a recent interview that his “sincere desire is that the body of Christ in the West would learn from the body of Christ in other parts of the world that has been effective.” Movements are growing because they are simply following Jesus. 

If you are not familiar with these movements, read Movements that Change the World by Steve Addison and visit 

It’s that simple! We are qualified to make disciples by our obedience and the Holy Spirit. It’s simply what living sent today is all about!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why all the Fuss??? Heaven is For Real!!!

For heaven's sake, what do you know about heaven?

Well, the only thing I really know about heaven is that heaven is the abode of God and one day I want to get there. Sometimes, I think sooner rather than later.

Some are claiming to have had near death experiences where they have seen heaven.  Some of these accounts are making news today. Books are selling and movies are being made. Are these visions true?

There are a few ways to handle that question. One way would be to simply ignore these episodes as irrelevant. Humanists might do so.

Here another way, "Heaven Is For Real - David Platt - Secret Church" - a speech by David Platt at a recent conference called "Secret Church." I find the idea of "Secret Church" more disturbing than the idea that some are having visions that are being talked about at a "Secret Church" conference. There is nothing secret or to be secret about the Church (In our American context. That is not to discount the necessity of the "underground" church in some parts of the world)!

But perhaps asking if these visions of heaven are true really is not the right question. Perhaps the better question is what can we learn from these experiences and our response to them? 

As much as I appreciate the ministry of David Platt, I think he is missing the point and the opportunity here in his recent talk (see Youtube link above). The experience of a little boy named Colton is personal - for Colton. I don't think it is necessary to make truth claims about personal experiences. Personal experiences are not testable or proveable but rather subjective and, well, personal.

These visions of heaven seem very real to those who have had them. I am not saying they are accurate portrayals of heaven. But rather that they seem very real in the moment to those who report them. I find it somewhat audacious to declare they cannot be true and then try to argue from Scripture like John MacArthur did recently.

MacArhtur, also known for his cessationist views, in an upcoming book dealing with this subject of visions of heaven, says:
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.
I have two problems with this line of reasoning. First, the first sentence in the quote is a red herring. The Colton ("Heaven is For Real") experience is not an in body experience, as we know that little Colton never left the planet to go to heaven and return, physically. Neither have any of the others who have reported their visions. Second, why is it necessary to discount the Scriptural evidence of visions of heaven we do have to make an argument against visions of heaven?

What can we understand about this place called heaven from the Scripture evidence that we do have?

Four authors in the Bible were blessed with visions of heaven and wrote about what they saw: the prophets Isaiah (Chapter 6) and Ezekiel (Chapter 1) gave us some amazing detail, along with the apostles John (Revelation 4). The apostle Paul also had a vision of heaven that he describes as indescribable and says, "I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord" (2 Corinthians 12:1-7). Two others, Micaiah and Stephen, got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is only mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55). 

That makes six accounts, but I only have five fingers on one hand. Hopefully you do as well.  That's fairly weighty evidence if we believe that these authors are inspired and making truth claims.

Isn't it short-sighted to discount these Biblical witnesses because we doubt the accounts of a young boy? To MacArthur's first point above, Paul says he does not know whether his experience was in the body or in the spirit - but only God knows (1 Corinthian 12:3). That's how it should be.

Jesus also gives us an other-worldly view in the story of the the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Obviously, it was important to our Lord for him to tell us at least something about how heaven is for real. We may accept by faith that heaven is our final destination but as we see pictured in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus not everyone enters heaven. And, that should always be the point!

We can take at face value that those who report these visions of heavens are expressing a subjective personal experience. We can also accept that because it is a personal experience it may not be an accurate account of what heaven is like. Is the Holy Spirit "kind of blue?" To one little boy that is how it seemed.

What all these books sales should tell us is that there is spiritual hunger in the land. That people are looking for hope - even most Christians.

What we should be talking about with respect to these various visions by those who have had a near death experience, which science cannot explain, is the reality of heaven and the only way to get there (John 14:6). Visions should point us to the God who is there and to the only way to heaven. What we should be talking about is Jesus! 

Randy Alcorn, author of "Heaven," expresses it well in his review of the movie, "Heaven is For Real" when he writes:
"My prayer is that God will use the interest around the movie to open doors for believers to be bold in sharing what Scripture has to say about Heaven and the need for everyone to place their faith in Jesus Christ."
When we focus on attacking the veracity of personal experiences, however, we can miss the opportunity those accounts present to share the Gospel. Could God be using these accounts to get our attention today? Let us pray it is so. God uses that which he wills to accomplish that which he purposes, for heaven's sake!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rethinking Discipleship: The Science of “Wine”

Let’s get scientific, shall we? 

Many secularists accuse Christians, especially Evangelicals, of being at best unfriendly to science. Some of our long held beliefs tend toward raising doubts, at least for some, about the lack of scientific integrity of our Christian faith. Dogmatism can be especially opposed to scientific inquiry. 

Of course, much of this is rooted in misunderstanding and can be challenged at the worldview level. Certainly, just because we can’t prove something doesn’t dismiss the possibility of it being true. Such an attitude would itself be unscientific. Science must maintain an openness toward the new and in the process of discovery.

Science (from Latin scientia), meaning "knowledge," is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about all things related to life in our universe. Not that all things can be explained and that’s not the role of science to do so, but all things can be examined and explored, which is the proper role of science. 

The problem is that the Church for too long has held to an “unscientific” posture, lacking knowledge, of how to best make disciples. We get stuck in an old paradigm that simply is not working to produce reproducing and multiplying disciples. 

Jesus addresses this “stuckness,” when he says in Matthew 9:17: 

 “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Jesus was explaining why the church leaders of his time got stuck and the need for a paradigm shift. 

According to Thomas Kuhn, in his influential book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962), a paradigm shift is a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science or knowledge. 

What Jesus was telling the church leaders of his time in Matthew 9:17 was that long held assumptions needed changing. The knowledge system, regarding God’s will and his ways as they were being expressed for God’s purposes by God’s people, was in need of change. What Jesus was starting– a new wineskin for new wine - would be different than what came before. 

Jesus himself is the new wine (Mark 14:23-25). He came to bring new knowledge (Luke 1:77). He also came to replace a religious system that was ineffective, broken and stuck for hundreds of years not accomplishing God’s purposes. The knowledge was outdated and not working. It was time to explore something new and workable. 

To the church leaders of his time Jesus said: 

 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52).

How unscientific of them! But let’s fast forward now to the 21st Century.  

Every indication is that the Church is failing at one key area that Jesus instructed his followers to do – “make disciples” – especially in the West. From only 1 in 10 U.S. Christians who have a Biblical worldview, to mega-studies of a mega-church that prove disciples are not being made, to studies that demonstrate just how “Unchristian” too many Christian are – our “science” should tell us that we are in need of a new paradigm – a new wineskin. 

In Steve Addison’s excellent book, “What Jesus Started –Joining the Movement Changing the World,” Steve shares a story about Julius Ebwongu, a Ugandan church planter, and about a paradigm shift that Ebwongu led. The case study Addison examines is of a disciple-making/church planting movement that is changing the Church of Uganda, at least for one denomination who embraced a new wine skin. The Ugandan Assembles of God grew from 240 churches in 2004 to over 5000 in just over five years. 

Why did this happen? God used Ebwongu to change the existing paradigm of church leadership. Ebwongu challenged the unspoken assumptions, the old wine skin, regarding the nature of the church and who was qualified to make disciples, plant and lead churches. They explored how Jesus made disciples. 

Perhaps we can learn a lot from Ebwongu’s example, as well as others God is using to change the paradigm and establish a new wine skin (see the most recent edition of Mission Frontiers). Is there any reason we should operate under old science when we have new knowledge of what is working?

The challenge of course, as Jesus points out in Luke 5:39 is that “no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” But shouldn’t we be scientific about it, use good scientific method to examine the available data, and make some new discoveries about this ‘new wine’? My friend J.D. Payne also makes this missiological point in this recent post.

Addison offers us two grace points to consider when he reminds us: “First, we should not be surprised when we don’t 'get it.' Our training, knowledge and experience do not guarantee clarity and accuracy…We can assume there are huge gaps in our understanding that by ourselves we cannot bridge….” Such is the nature of science. 

And, “there is a second reality…God is in charge of his mission. We can expect God to intervene, even shake us to the core, to reveal his purposes.” 

Science needs to ask good questions. Jesus asked lots of questions including, “Have you understood all these things?” (Matthew 13:51). Below is a comparative chart of the old wine skin and the new wine skin adapted from “What Jesus Started.” Let me know what you think.

The knowledge of what is working today should challenge all church leaders to rethink discipleship, as God reveals his purposes, for Living Sent Today.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Personal Reflection: Remembering April 13th

April 13th is a very significant day, for me.

It was 35 years ago today that my darling Debbie and I had our very first date, pizza and Superman (circa 1979). I still remember the small little peck she gave me on my cheek as she bolted from my car.

It was 7 years ago on this date that I was lying on an operating table and a cancer battle would begin.

Both happened on Friday the 13th - 28 years apart.

I would definitely choose the first again, for my darling Debbie has blessed by life in countless ways, as a faithful wife, best friend, life partner, mother of my two children, a truly Proverbs 31 woman of God, beautiful inside and out. My darling Debbie has stood by my side through life, through "good times and bad, in sickness and in health." She has made me "rich" in ways I too often don't express. Honey, I love you - always and 4ever!

I think I would also choose the last seven years again, of battling a rare form of cancer. Why? Because it was obviously God's will for my life. That doesn't make it an easy choice but I know that through this journey he has revealed his faithfulness time and again, deepened my faith, and given me a perspective of who he is for me that I would not otherwise have. Sure, it would have been nice to have not had to deal with the suffering and pain, the life sentence of a drug that keeps me alive, but the loss would be the work God has done in my life, the understanding of who he is even through the trials and tribulations.

My life verse is James 1:2-4:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

The "anything" cannot be purchased with money, it cannot be bartered for or acquired by any worldly means. The "anything" is not of this world but is rather an eternal reality, an abding faith, a deep assurance that can only be entered by a soveriegn work of God.

Have you considered that God loves you so much that he allows your suffering, your trials, your hardship? He does. When we submit to his will for our lives we gain a better understanding of our trials. God sets the standards for "testing" in our lives for one glorious purpose - so that we will be "mature and complete" - in Christ. He who has begun a good work will see it to completion, so that we are "not lacking anything." That is anything he wants for us. Can it get any better than that?

Thank you, Lord, for loving me so much that you gave me my darling Debbie to take this life journey with. Thank you, that you loved me so much that you worked through this seven year cancer battle to "mature and complete" in me your purposes so that one day I would "not lack anything." Thank you, Lord, that you are not finished with me yet and that together with my darling Debbie. we can trust in your good, pleasing and perfect will as you work out your plan for our lives. We love you, Lord, because you first loved us.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rethinking Evangelism: 8 Questions Jesus Asked

I got to thinking about asking questions this past weekend. That’s good, right?
With about 120 other pastors and leaders, I had the opportunity to participate in a four day training seminar with Kevin Greeson in Austin, Texas.

If you don’t know about Kevin’s work, he is the author of “The CAMEL Method – How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ.” I had heard of this resource for a few years now but had only limited exposure to it and have just ordered his book.
What Kevin does is simple and reproducible. He asks Muslims questions from their own context, their own understanding -- right from the Qur’an (or Koran). This is what is called ‘Qur’anic bridging.’ The idea is to use what the Qur’an does say about Jesus, or Isa, to probe what Muslims understand, as a bridge back to the Bible, which leads to sharing the Gospel – who is Jesus.
For some reason this method has met with some controversy and pushback, probably because some people just aren’t asking the right questions. Ya think?

We can think we understand how to present 'the Gospel' but do we understand where people are at? Do we think about how they might be thinking about whatever it is they are thinking about? What obstacles of understanding do they have to hearing Jesus’ message?
Greeson’s ‘CAMEL Method,’ a form of pre-evangelism, uses what a Muslim might, or might not, understand about his worldview and his faith, and about the Qur'an, to get them to think outside their “box.”
We all have a “box” we think in and we may seldom challenge our thinking, our presuppositions, to ask good questions. That is why we end up with the same results we’ve been getting. The working definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results, right? But if we are to be more effective at sharing with Muslims, or anyone for that matter, maybe we need to ask better questions?

There’s more to it than that, of course, so I got to thinking about Jesus or rather asking “what would Jesus do?” Isn’t that always a good question? An even better question is "What did Jesus do?"
Jesus always met people right where they were and Jesus asked a lot of questions. Being fully God, certainly Jesus knew what people were thinking but he asked anyway. Maybe we should as well?
The thing about asking questions is that those questions aren’t always meant for us simply to acquire knowledge. Jesus asked questions to get people thinking!  May we could use his model?
We know that Muslims really don’t understand Isa and that the Qur’an contains some wrong ideas about Jesus. By asking questions however we allow Muslims to discover truth for themselves. Yes, we need to be prepared to bridge them into the Bible but we don’t need to be experts in Islam, or for that matter Theologians, to share our faith with Muslims. We just need to love them enough to ask the right questions. Perhaps that applies to more than just Muslims?
Asking good questions allows us to come as learners and come from a posture of humility, if we are sincerely interested in the life of our Muslim friends, and others. It’s arrogance to just tell people what we know. We erect barriers to understanding by doing so. Jesus didn’t do this in his ministry. Rather what we see Jesus doing is asking good questions.
Below are seven powerful questions Jesus asked in different contexts in the Gospel of Matthew:
Matthew 13:51 - “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
Matthew 15:16 - “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. (Probably only Jesus should ask this question?)
Matthew 16:8 - Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?”
Matthew 16:13 - he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
Matthew 17:25 - Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?”
Matthew 20:32 - Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Matthew 22:41-42 - While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
I will get to the eighth question in a moment.  
The two questions that Kevin Greeson begins with in the ‘CAMEL Method’ are these, “Can you help me?” “and "Can I ask your thoughts behind the meaning of two verses in the Qur’an?”  The first question puts us in the posture of a learner, and I know I certainly have a lot to learn about Islam and Muslims. The second question leads into a discussion about  “was Isa only a Prophet?” toward answering Jesus' question “who do people say that I am?”
The third question Greeson asks is this: “What do you think this means?”  Without getting to this question, our Muslim friend is not challenged to think outside their “box.”

Like most Christians (only 1 in 10 having a Biblical worldview), most Muslims really don't understand their faith. Like most Christians, they only know what they have grown up with. But the good news is that many are seeking truth and willing to have a spiritual conversation, if only we know how to lead them their. Greeson shows that asking good questions is the way to accomplish that task.
In the West our teaching methodology, or pedagogy, as well as our evangelism and discipleship, is too often a one-way exchange -- telling others. This gets expressed in how we "preach" the Good News. While Jesus did tell us “that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached” (Matthew 24:14), and Jesus and the Apostles demonstrated this method as well, what we see Jesus doing frequently is asking questions.
“I believe the most important question of all is found in the annals of the New Testament and was aimed at Peter. Jesus asked, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15-16). I believe that if we introduce people to Jesus, he will take the responsibility of asking each person the same question. Jesus revealed himself to every person who earnestly sought him. Should we believe now that he has ceased to do so?”
Not when Jesus’ promise is, “I am with you always to the every end of the age!” (Matthew 28:20).
Are we willing to allow people to discover who Jesus is for them, by asking good questions?   
Asking questions will help us point people to Jesus, more than telling them what we know about him. Real relationships require asking questions for Living Sent Today.