make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.

what makes the difference in the Christian life? (not politics)

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:22-24

A cursory reading of Paul and his ministry makes it evident that the gospel is the heart and soul of what he was about. And it is clearly evident that Christians share in that, Philippians 1 along with the rest of that letter being a clear example.

When we read the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Amos, etc.) along with the rest of the Bible, it becomes clear that justice in terms of the love and righteousness of God’s will in totally loving God, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is front and center. It is not something on the side that we can get to if we are so inclined, or find the time, while simply evangelizing, getting people “saved” takes up the bulk of our time. No. Evangelizing and discipling involve inculcating people in the reality of God’s love and truth, the witness of the gospel, the good news in Jesus being made clear in the church itself in the forgiveness of sins and the new life found in Jesus.

Fastforward to the United States today, and politics. You find good people divided on virtually anything and everything, including Christians. But guess what? Jesus’s heart beat is not Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Progressive, Conservative, whatever. No. It’s God’s grace and God’s kingdom come in him. It’s essentially his own heart beat given as a gift to us by the Holy Spirit. So that in love we can live past whatever differences we have with each other, as hard as that might be at times.

When we buy into something less than that, then we’re into idolatry, pure and simple. Our passion, our heart beat, and frankly how we evaluate everything comes from God in Christ and the good news in him. We’re to do it in all humility and love. Not simply dissing the significant importance of earthly politics in its place. But knowing that what we have goes beyond that, so that ironically it can impact it in a heavenly way. Being heavenly-minded so that we can be of earthly good. But living through and for Jesus and the gospel. In and through him.

what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

I heard an interesting rather short presentation or lecture by a prominent evangelical theologian whose thought and writings I respect. But I came away not at all convinced by what he said, specifically in regard to the follower of Christ and creation care. He pointed to Deuteronomy which would provide context for the time Christ was here. It is certainly a call for humanity in general (Genesis). Not sure it’s actually taken up in God’s call to Abraham.

It seems to me to be a follower/disciple of Christ is cross-shaped through and through. And what it involves is spelled out in both the gospels, Acts, and the letters, along with Revelation, the entire New (Second) Testament. It’s to be a witness to the gospel/good news of God in Jesus. And it’s first to be impacting our own lives, but we also consider it in reference to all of life. In and through Jesus.

when it comes to the election and politics, first things first

I am thankful to live in the United States, a nation which in spite of all its problems (and you can’t escape serious difficulties in this world) does allow people to worship as they please. There is no question that there are serious issues which very much engage the public. And to list them would not be hard for anyone who pays any attention at all to the news.

I think it’s fine for Christians to be involved in speaking out on political issues, and especially to participate in voting, if they so choose. But of first importance always is to be faithful to the gospel, both in one’s personal life, and out from that, into the lives of others. Jesus called his disciples to make more disciples of all nations to the end of the age, with the promise of his presence. That is our calling, regardless of what happens in the political world.

I think it’s essential for Christians to take care in the political choices they make, particularly when it comes to alliances with any party or candidate. In a sense we should be for all the parties and candidates, and those in office, because we wish for the good of all, and for the good of the nation in which we live. Even when we stand in opposition to them on certain issues.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming election, and elections elsewhere in the world, Christ is the one who reigns, and God is sovereign over all. Christians where they can, can express their views, but we must get back to first things first. It is the gospel, the good news in Christ which is the power of salvation for all who believe. And we are to be disciples of our Lord, following him in all of life. Everything else is secondary to that.

We must beware of getting caught up into the political wind to the extent that it marks what we are all about, our identity, either in supporting or opposing this or that. I’m referring to Christians in general, not to those who are actually in the process as candidates themselves.

Following Christ as believers and as the church might well involve some public stands. But I wonder if it might be different if we avoid following either the conservative or progressive line. We can and probably should consider what people are saying from every angle. That is important, since as people of God it is good for us to understand our times, if we’re to know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). But what we do, including what we say and don’t say, how we act should all be dependent on one thing only: Christ, and God’s will in him, or the truth as it is in Jesus.

Let’s not lose the sense of who we are because of the strong opinions which we or others hold. We will be concerned about the unborn, immigrants, the environment, and other matters, and will have our views. What must not be lost in the shuffle is how first and foremost, beyond anything else, we are disciples of Christ, servants of the gospel. Our lives marked by that, come what may.

the best kind of teaching

There are gifted teachers who sometimes help us see things we’ve never seen before. Two of them who have influenced me in my lifetime are N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight.  Both have helped many. Interestingly, McKnight, who has been a professor for many years (as well as a scholar and writer) teaches in a way to challenge others to have to grapple with what he’s saying, and put it together for themselves. He doesn’t necessarily put everything together, but enough so that the listener can figure it out for themselves. He wants interactivity, might be the bottom line. I really hesitate to speak for someone else, but I think that’s part of what’s going on. McKnight’s books do present a coherent whole. But part of the best kind of teaching is to get the listener to work through it themselves, not simply give ready made answers, so that the listener just passively receives that. The goal is to make learners or disciples who in our way of putting it, will learn to think critically, to think for themselves, but at the same time know how along with others to begin to follow Christ, to be the church. Of course the anointing of the Spirit is present in Jesus to teach us as well (1 John 2) as we wrestle through what is being taught.

We have been taking our grandchildren to Ada Bible Church, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how much I have liked it, usually wanting to avoid mega churches. Their ministry to children, and their simple straightforward teaching of scripture, with an emphasis on application is most helpful. And what I think it gets the listener to do is learn to engage with the text in the same way as it’s being taught. Another example of the best kind of teaching.

The first from McKnight is more challenging, and especially important for an academic setting. But I’m sure McKnight engages in something of the same that Ada Bible Church does. It’s not like he doesn’t give answers, but it’s more like he’s drawing out students to work through it for themselves, so that they might not only find such answers, but come up with something fresh themselves. Ada Bible Church’s task as a church is in part to feed and take care of the Lord’s sheep. And a big part of that is to help us learn to help ourselves, of course while under and following the Good Shepherd.

Where I work, Our Daily Bread Ministries, I believe does something of the same in its worldwide ministry, which I have come to appreciate more and more.

All of this to help us come to faith, and grow up together toward full maturity in Christ.

 

being about the Father’s business in the politics of Jesus

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”

Luke 2:41-52

We are upon another US presidential election, but this election, on the face of it appears to be a possible game changer for evangelical participation in US politics. That said, I would hope that the divisions among us evangelicals might ironically actually serve to help us settle into the one true unity we have in Jesus, and in the politics of Jesus that comes through the grace and kingdom of God.

It was the case somewhere that the Christians in that country or area we’re known to be “the quiet in the land.” Now what are we known for? Are we known for our lives impacted by the gospel, and our witness of that? Or when people think of us, do they think about our affiliation with the Republican or Democratic Party, the Christian Left or Right?

Of course we will each decide just how we will participate as American citizens in the political process at the federal, state and local levels. We may be inclined to either not vote at all, vote on some matters and not on others, or as a rule try to vote on every proposal or race. And of course in some traditions the church lends its voice as to what should be our most important considerations in doing such. This certainly has its place of importance.

But by and large, we in Jesus ought to be known as people who are occupied with the gospel, witnesses to its life changing power, as those who are making disciples, and committed to the life and fellowship of the church. And from that, doing good works, both for those in the church, and for others in the world, outside the church. That should be our passion. As Jesus said later, even our food: to do the will of the Father, and finish his work (John 4:34).

Hopefully that would become the primary impact of the US presidential election of 2016 for us evangelicals. And to the degree that it is, that will actually impact the United States for much more good than before, and most importantly, not sully our witness of the gospel.

part of the problem with church today

Church has been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh rhetoric, often in favor of Jesus, but in disfavor of Jesus’ professing followers. And it is in decline in some places, holding its own in other, while exploding in growth in the southern and eastern parts of the world.

This piece is certainly worth considering. The clash he says is between God and Mammon (the love of money):

That’s the real clash of civilisations: the shopping centre (now moved online) versus the temple, a battle between those who are wealthy enough to think in terms of the first person singular and those forced to think in terms of the plural collective. There are only two globalisations: God and mammon. And they will never fully be reconciled.

Although there is church growth in this part of the world, this seems tenuous at best. There are, in my opinion, very good churches, which in numbers may be just holding their own at best. While there are what is called megachurches, which either have grown, and could well still be growing in numbers of those attending, yet may or may not really be centered in the gospel, and God’s will in Jesus, in which the church has a central part. Many times such churches are valued in significant part because of personalities, as in good pastors; those attending often focused on such things as whether or not they get much out of the sermons, good worship music, good programs for their kids, good fellowship (and coffee), etc. And that can be all well and good in its place. But the critical question is whether or not such churches are about making true disciples of our Lord, as well as being Christ’s body in the world.

Churches which seem to be treading water may actually be doing better in making disciples at least within their ranks. Of course new disciples in turn should eventually be making other disciples, that practice and dynamic going on exponentially. In the Spirit’s moving in power in the global South and East, this most certainly is the case, Africa and China being prime examples.

It is good to try to understand better what we’re up against in the limitations of our own personal perspectives, and within society at large. Church planting is a difficult calling here, I think, and for more reasons than touched on in this post. But the Spirit of God is still active, and can penetrate even through our dullness in the western world. We dare not lose hope, but rather should aspire to be in the Lord, even if it’s on a relatively small scale, a witness in word, deed, and life of the transforming and distinctive work of God through the gospel. Remember how the prophet says that God does not despise the day of small things, and that small is where the kingdom of God in Jesus begins. We should work at growing in the life that others need, that we all need, together in and through Jesus.