Lessons from Spiderman (Special Graces in Common Places, part 3).


But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers (Matthew 23:8, NIV).

In my last two posts, I shared that common and every day experiences were often what served as the springboards for Jesus’ lessons. Scripture was His textbook, life was His classroom. Over and over again we see that Jesus took advantage of “everyday life” to teach His disciples.

It is my contention that Jesus has not changed His methods, and that through the Holy Spirit, He is doing the same for us; giving us special graces in common places, lessons that He wants us learning to help us work out the grace that He is constantly working into us (Philippians 2:12-13).

As Jesus is constantly discipling us through our everyday life so that we can be learning to love Him and love others better (Matthew 22:36-40), we need to be learning to listen to Him so that we can join Him in helping others do the same (Matthew 28:19-20).

You see, love is not a concept to be understood but a relational commitment to be lived out with everyone you meet. And while you certainly have plenty of opportunities to be learning that here, most of the opportunities to do so are out there in the everyday.

What I want to do today and tomorrow is to share a little bit with you about what that looks like. After all, it is one thing to agree we are no less the church when we are “scattered” than when we are “gathered;” but it is another thing to be learning it. So much of the Christian life is just as much caught as it is taught.

I’m going to do a little “Pastor Dan: Unplugged” for you. I’m going to share a little about what God has been teaching me lately and some of the special graces that I found in some very unexpected common places.

I’ve been learning that the work that God wants me doing is not always the work I want to be doing, or thought I’d be doing.

I have felt a bit like Peter Parker in Spiderman: Homecoming.

Peter was recruited by Tony Stark to join the Avengers (of course that actually happened in Capitan America: Civil War, but they recap it—ha! Re-CAP, like Capitan America’s nick name! hahahaha!—in Homecoming).

Tony outfits him with a supped-up-super-suit and he holds his own against some powerful opponents.

When he gets back home, which is where Homecoming picks up, he is so pumped! He anxiously awaits the next call, the next mission. And he waits. And he waits. And he waits. But the call never comes. Even when he stumbles on a real legitimate bad guy, he doesn’t get the call. He has to stay in school, do homework, and trust that Stark knows what he is doing.

He’s got great gifts. He’s got the heart, the smarts, the courage, and the creativity to do great things. He’s got crazy potential to be a super superhero. But the call never comes. He’s going crazy just waiting. Have any of you ever felt like that?

After earning three degrees in biblical and theological studies and getting well under way on a fourth I thought I’d always be working in the church or teaching or writing and speaking. But for the last two years, God has had way different plans. I’m working in a cigar shop. I’m a co-host on a weekly cigar podcast.

I’ve been waiting for answers. How long is this season going to be? What’s the reason for this season? When am I going to get back to pastoring? When is the next call coming?

I have been asking questions like those a lot. I have been praying over them, asking God what, when, and why? I have been reading the Bible with an ear to those answers.

Psalm 37:7, Be still and wait for the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5 (NIV), Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

Have faith. Trust. Wait. Yeah, I get that. It is easy to understand. But how do you live that out in the everyday stuff? It is not always so easy is it? The way to live out God’s commands is not always clear.

Having knowledge of the truth is important. But that is not the same as knowing how to apply it, how to live it out in any given situation. That is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. That is why we need Jesus to give us special graces in common places. We need to have the Spirit’s leading to live out the truth we know.

I want to share with you how I have been discerning Jesus’ answers to these questions of mine over the last few months.

Now, the point of sharing these things with you is to give you an example of the special graces I have found in the common places of my everyday life. My hope is not so much that you take to heart anything I say. No, my hope is that the Spirit starts working in your mind and heart while I am speaking to make you realize that He has been no less active in the common places of your life.

Sunday night of this past Memorial Day weekend, I found myself at the hospital with Anna again. Her feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger had been uncontrollable. I was there with her all that night through Monday evening. It took that long to find an open placement for her. What a way to spend Memorial Day weekend right?

One of the things that God was teaching me that night was that right now I can’t be in formal pastoral ministry. In fact, a weird providential twist of irony, twenty years ago on that very day, I had graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. I was set to go from there into a lifetime of pastoral ministry.

Now on the 20th anniversary of that graduation, God was clearly saying: “Stop interviewing with churches. I don’t want you leading a church right now.” And as that thought sank in, so did reality. God had been saying that through a bunch of different ways for a long time. I had sort of surrendered to that, but had not submitted to it.

There is a difference you know, between surrendering and submitting. Never once in the Bible is the word surrender used in a positive light. Never once are we told to surrender to God’s authority. We are, however, a number of times told we are to submit to His authority. God doesn’t want you to surrender. You can surrender without agreeing to or liking His authority!

Now, it was unavoidable. It was clear to me I hadn’t done that. I needed to submit to His will for me. And now I was seeing the wisdom of it. I can’t give the kind of time and energy to Anna and the rest of my family and also look after a congregation. I need to focus on them right now, and for the foreseeable future. Family needs me too much.

Now, fast forward to two weeks ago, I was sitting in my home church listening to Pastor Chris’s sermon, and all the sudden “Bam!” Spiderman Homecoming popped back into my head. Not because I was distracted, but because something Chris said started a conversation between Jesus and I.

Now in order to share this conversation, I have to tell you a little bit about the movie. But don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you any more than what they showed in the previews.

At one point Iron Man has to come and rescue Spiderman. He had got tired of waiting. He was feeling ignored. So he decided to take matters into his own hand and things quickly spun out of control. He had made quite a mess of things you understand. And Tony Stark steps out of his suit and has a frank sit down with Peter.

Tony: I’m gonna need the suit back.

Peter: For how long?

Tony: Forever.

Peter: But I’m nothing without this suit!

Tony: If you’re nothing without the suit then you shouldn’t have it.

Then that passage from Matthew came into my mind:

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:8-12, NIV).

Now this passage isn’t against having formal titles like Rabbi, teacher, father, or pastor, or professor. It isn’t against calling people by titles either. Remember, Jesus gave twelve of His disciples the title “apostle.” The context of this passage is about the misuse and abuse of the Pharisees because of their titles. They were using the authority of their title and position to set themselves up over the people.

Leadership in the church—pastor, elder, deacons—is not based on having an office or title but on having influence though loving relationships with people.

The people who have titled positions in the church (pastor, elder, deacon), were the people who were incarnating God’s love in how they live life together. Leaders are not put into formal positions where they take leadership, so much as they are people where the people with whom they share life together affirm the leadership they already have, by virtue of their life, example, and reputation by giving a title.

It is relational, not hierarchical. I’m not saying that there is no authority or accountability structure, what I am saying is that the authority of the leaders and the accountability between the leaders and the congregations is founded and focused on love and submitting in love to one another, not primarily because of a person’s title or position.

And so, I really believe the Spirit started to speak to me saying, “Don’t get wrapped up in titles, Dan. You don’t need to have a pastor’s title to do what I have called you to do. If you need the title, then you’re doing it wrong. I have not removed My call by putting you where you are, I have put you where I need you to live out My call.” Leadership in God’s kingdom is not about doing things for God, it is about being obedient in doing the things God gives us to do.

Then I remembered, when I decided to go to seminary, I went with the attitude that there was no downside to it. At best, I would have the necessary academic credentials to pursue my calling into pastoral ministry. At worst (if you can say worst) I would be well educated in my faith and that would set me up to excel in my practice as a husband, father, and worker in Christ’s kingdom.

You see, there is no not being a worker in His kingdom. I don’t see myself as having been demoted or benched. In some ways I feel promoted! Or at least I think I should feel that way.

We sometimes are guilty of thinking that pastors and missionaries are the ultimate Christians. That, my friends, is not at all the case.

In truth the most influential Christian leader, mentor, and spiritual father I have ever met was an insurance salesman! Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. I have never met anyone who was more wise, more fun, or more thankful than him.

Some examples:

You will be the same person you are today five years from now except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read! Hang around thinkers and you’ll be a better thinker, hang around workers and you’ll be a better worker, hang around givers and you’ll be a better giver, hang around a bunch of thumb-sucking-complaining-griping-boneheads and you’ll be a better thumb-sucking-complaining-griping-bonehead!

You don’t give to get something, you give because you have something. If you give something to get something, you’re not giving you’re trading. What you get when you give is a greater capacity to give.

I hear people say I put God first. Don’t talk to me like that you thumb-sucker! Who are you to put God first? He is first whether you like it or not! You don’t put God first, you realize He is first and you quit putting Him way down the list when you realize He is first no matter where you put him.

…and I have never met anyone who loved God as well as he. I really can’t express how much influence he had on me (and Mandi too) over the 6 years I was his spiritual son. He held no titles, but he did more for the kingdom than most people with titles.

Never confuse a degree or a title or a position as necessary things to possess in order to do “real” work in the Father’s kingdom. Most kingdom work happens in the everyday, common, and normal places of life where none of those things really come into play… like spending 21 hours in an ER with your anxious and hurting daughter.

Do you see what I mean? Are you picking up what I am laying down?

Jesus is always discipling us, giving us special graces in common places. The question is: are we listening?

Personal Confessions (Special Graces in Common Places, part 2)


In light of these things I have been learning in my last post, I have some confessions to make:

While I have had some great insights, discussions, and breakthroughs in church, my most meaningful insights, discussions, and breakthroughs have happened outside the church. God is speaking to us and teaching us all the time. The question is: are we listening?

I need to confess that we Christians can get so wrapped up in wanting to learn about Jesus that we spend precious little time actually listening to Jesus. You are not going to be able to discern His voice and direction in your life if you don’t know about Him, but the whole point of knowing about Him is to recognize His voice so you can follow Him. The point of knowing your Bible well is so you can love God and love others well. But you don’t learn to love God and love others well by reading your Bible, listening to sermons, coming to church every Sunday, and going to seminars.

If it was all about what we hear, we’d all be a whole lot better than we are because we have all heard a lot of good stuff right? But it isn’t about what you hear. It’s about what you think and do as a result of what you hear isn’t it! Listening to the greatest preacher in the world week after week won’t transform you into a person who loves God and loves others well any more than spending your life in a chicken coup will transform you into a chicken!

The magic doesn’t happen in the church building. It happens outside the church. You don’t get good at golf by reading about golf; you get good at golf by playing golf! The magic happens in your kitchen, your bathroom, at the grocery store, and the place where you get your coffee. You learn to love God and love others by learning what it means to incarnate Jesus’ love wherever you are at, to whomever you are with, in everything you do.

Let me give you an example.

On Father’s Day 2 years ago, I was in the hospital with my daughter Anna. It was about 1:00am. I was sitting on one of those plastic-leather couches in the emergency room. You know the kind of couches I am talking about, the ones where the comfortableness wears off after an hour or so. The ER was busy that evening. From what I gathered from the staff, Father’s Day is usually an eventful day. The room we were in was a waiting room in the ER itself, not the waiting room outside. It was a small room just big enough for the little two-seater couch I was sitting on, and a couple of matching chairs.

My daughter Anna was sitting in a chair across from me fidgeting. Understandable. We had been there since about 7:00pm. I was there for her. She had made it clear that she was not feeling safe, that she was feeling like she would not be able to control the thoughts to hurt herself if we did not go to the hospital. We had been seen by the medical and psych staff, and all of us came to the conclusion that she needed that help. We were just waiting for all the arrangements to be made at this point, and had been told that we would most likely be waiting here till morning.

After I took the last sip of my iced-coffee, Anna looked up at me with sad, anxious, blue eyes and exclaimed, “I’m sorry I ruined your Father’s Day daddy.” Now, we had had company over that afternoon, and that ended up having to be cut short to focus on her. She was sure that I was not happy about that or having to spend all night with her at the hospital when I should have been enjoying Father’s Day, even though I had not said so.

I straightened up, shook my head, smiled at her and said, “No honey. You have not wrecked my Father’s Day. You have given me another opportunity to show you that I love being your dad, and what better day for that to be than Father’s Day? It is not possible for you to wreck it. I suppose I could wreck it if I had a bad attitude about it, but I don’t. I love you because God made you and gave you to me. Being here does not change those things. You can’t change those things. The way I look at it, God must really love me a lot to entrust me with being the dad to someone as special and awesome as you. I am not mad, or angry, or upset. I am glad to be here with you when you need me. You did not wreck my Father’s Day, by asking for my help you made my Father’s Day. Do you believe me?”

She nodded. Her eyes were not so anxious any more.

“I’m serious, now. I mean what I said. You did not wreck my Father’s Day. Do you believe me?”

She smiled back, “Yes daddy, I believe you.”

“Good,” I said. “Want to see if we can watch an episode of Flash on my tablet?” She nodded, and came over and sat with me.

Now, what’s the point? The point is that I have been learning how important it is to reinforce the fact that the love I have for her and my other two daughters is not based on what they do or on how they perform, but is based solely in who they are. That is the kind of love that God wants us to have for everyone.

But that is not often how people understand love is it? We seem hardwired for believing that we are loved, or are worthy of love, or are able to love, based on what other people think of us and on our own performance.

Let me tell you, if God’s love for me was based on my performance or on what other people think of me, He would have kicked me to the curb a long time ago! My heavenly Father loves me because He wants to, not because I earned it. We need to mirror that love to one another. We need to love people because God made them, because we see His fingerprints on their hearts and souls. The more we love like that, the more we understand the love God has for us in Jesus. The more we understand that, the better we love God. The better we love God, the better we are able to love other people.

Now that is not to say I did not have a hard time with that. It was painful to be there. It is painful to see your kid hurt so much in her soul. It hurts to not be enough. It hurt to know that for the time being she needed to be away to get the help she needed. It is very hard, and my heart is very heavy. But she did make my day by trusting her mom and me enough to let us know she needed help. I was glad for the opportunity to tell her that sitting with her that night was just what I wanted to do for her on Father’s Day.

Special Graces in Common Places


Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there (Matthew 19:13-15 (NIV).

Jesus here was not in the synagogue or any formal place of worship. He was out and about with His disciples. The disciples were fine with the Pharisees coming and debating divorce with Jesus in verses 1-12. But they drew the line at parents bringing little children for Jesus to bless and pray for. Youth ministry maybe, but Children’s ministry? That was a waste of Jesus’ time! After all the real stuff is adult ministry right!

I know what they were feeling. I often call my three girls monkeys. They can be loud, wild, unpredictable, and sometimes (let me be honest) they can act like wild animals! It seems like our house has not been clean and in order for more than a day or two in a row in the last 15 years! They can be loud, weird, messy, and downright distracting. I’m not alone in that right? This isn’t just me is it?

Don’t you parents love the idea of a nursery and children’s church going on during the service, so you can relax and worship and listen to the message without having to constantly answer questions, take your kids to the bathroom, listen to them ask when the service is going to be over, or bending over to pick up all the crayons that just spilled all over the floor?

Not only did Jesus think it was a good use of His time, He also used them to teach how His disciples needed to view the kingdom of God. It wasn’t about needing to be all grown up, or being all together, or even understanding it all. It was all about grace. Jesus graciously reaches out to us even when we cannot reach out to Him. As those children were dependent on their parents for everything they needed, we need to be learning that we are no less dependent on Jesus for everything we need. When we start picking and choosing who is worth sharing the Father’s love with we are missing the point. Jesus not only rebukes His disciples for thinking that way but adds, do not hinder them.

When you look through the Gospels for how Jesus taught His disciples, you see that common and every day experiences like this were often what served as the springboards for His lessons. Scripture was His textbook, and life was His classroom. Over and over again we see that Jesus took advantage of “everyday life” to teach His disciples.

When Jesus’ disciples saw Him talking with a Samaritan woman in John 4:27-38, that led to lessons on missions.

In Mark 10:35-45, when a fight broke out among the disciples because James and John wanted to have the highest places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus turned that quarrel into an object lesson about leadership.

When the disciples called attention to the beauty of the Temple buildings in Matthew 24, Jesus used that as an opportunity to teach them about the end times.

When Jesus passed through a vineyard on the way to Gethsemane, He used the grapevines as an illustration of how we are connected to Him and how we bear His fruit (John 15:1-17).

It is my contention that Jesus has not changed His methods, and that through the Holy Spirit, He is doing the same for us; giving us special graces in common places, lessons that He wants us learning to help us work out the grace that He is constantly working into us (Philippians 2:12-13).

I have been learning God knows no distinction between the so-called “sacred” and “secular” parts of your life. It is all one sacred life to Him. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that His Spirit is no less active with you and on your behalf when you are resting at home, working at the office, or playing with your kids than when you are at church, or praying, or reading your Bible. As Jesus discipled His first disciples throughout their everyday life and experiences, He does the same thing with us.

As Jesus is constantly discipling us through our everyday life so that we can be learning to love Him and love others better (Matthew 22:36-40), we need to be learning how to be listening to Him so that we can join Him in helping others do the same (Matthew 28:19-20). These special graces that the Spirit gives are not only lessons for you, they are for you to share as you disciple others.

Learning to listen for God’s voice, to see His special graces in the common places of everyday life, means learning to tune your ears to the Spirit’s voice.

The indispensable starting point for doing that is reading and studying Scripture. The Spirit’s voice is heard in every word of every page of all sixty-six books of the Bible.

The things you will be learning in the everyday will not add to Scripture, which is God’s revealed and inerrant revelation of Himself to the whole Church in all times and in all places.

Rather they are to help you discern that the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture is constantly at work in your life, and speaking into your life—in both the big things and the small things—and to show you how the truths we have in Scripture are lived out, played out, and affirmed in every area of life.

Be Like Mom


For Mother’s Day I thought I would share this message I gave a few years ago on Mother’s Day. I posted it back then in parts, here it is presented in full.

To all you mothers out there (especially mine) have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Grace,

Dan

Paul the Mother

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12, NIV).

Introduction

Mothers…

You can’t come into this world without one (even Jesus couldn’t come into this world without a mother). They are necessary.

Mothers, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their child on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Mothering is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that makes any fulltime job seem trite.

Mothering is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon that will not slow down for two decades or so.

Mothering takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because kids have none and seemingly live eternally in the “now.”

Mothering takes one way love. If you have been a mother for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a mother you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate you!” “I wish you weren’t my mother!” “I am so done with you!” Many mothers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then motherhood is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good mother.

Mothering requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for physical needs, but social, mental, and spiritual needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet mothers do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their kids. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that mothers don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of motherhood outweighs the pain. And so they keep going.

Moms do this so well in fact that very often when their girls grow up they have a longing to be mothers themselves.

I know some women who just can’t wait for it.

I know others who would give all they had just to be one.

I know others who struggle with the pain of losing their child, and they feel that with that loss and the loss of motherhood part of them died too. They would give anything to get them back.

Exegesis

Our text this morning is an interesting one and a good one to think about on Mother’s Day. Paul was only in Thessalonica for a short time a two or three months at best. But notice how he describes who he and his fellow workers lived, worked, and related to them: Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.

It is very interesting to me that Paul here uses the image of a nursing mother to describe his love and care for the Thessalonians. Paul often used the image of fatherhood to describe his leadership. In fact, just a few verses down in verse 11 he shifts his analogy to fatherhood. While Paul certainly knows he is not a woman and cannot be a mother, he was still led by the Spirit to use the analogy of motherhood in his description of how he related to the Thessalonians. The second half of verse 8 through verse 10 Paul explains what he means.

Verse 8b, Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Like a mother loves her child even before they are born, Paul loved the people of Thessalonica before they had been spiritually born. Love came first. Love was the motivation for going to them, for sharing the Gospel with them, and for sharing their lives with them. Love was not something that came later, or was given after there was proof that the gospel had been accepted but before.

Verse 9, Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. This is also very motherly isn’t it? Mothers work constantly day and night so that their children have all that they need and do not need to worry about caring for them. And as mothers work day and night to care for their children, Paul did the same for his spiritual children.

Verse 10, You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. A good mother shows by her example what is good and right by how she conducts herself in the truth and by how she responds in grace. In like fashion Paul and his companions did the same, not only teaching them the knowledge and idea of what it means to be holy, righteous, and blameless, but setting the example of it, showing them the practice of it, and mentoring them in the living of it.

Doctrine

The Church is called the family of God and the household of God. So it is no accident that the most often used picture to describe spiritual leadership, discipleship, and how we are supposed to relate to one another is that of family. What is the primary responsibility of mothers and fathers if not to nurture, mature, and equip their children so that they grow into adults who are able to do the same for their own children? So it should come as no surprise that motherhood and fatherhood were helpful analogies to understand how Christians are to nurture, mature, and equip one another.

We need to reach out to and share our faith with a mothers love. Mothers don’t wait to see their children grow up before they love them. Paul compared his initial coming to them as that of a nursing mother. Love comes first. It is not earned. It does not have to be asked for. It is just given. His nurturing of them started before there were believers and continued after. You cannot nurture a person without first loving them. We see this over and over in how Jesus related to people. He was very gentle with them. He was very compassionate. He healed them. Ate with them. Freed them from demons. He feed them. His doing so showed that He loved them and cared for them and drew them in to hear who He was and why He was here. He showed them He was the Messiah as He told them He was the Messiah. If we attempt to teach about Christ or witness to Christ without showing them Christ’s love and care we will have little fruit to show for our efforts. I have never witnessed anyone sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a person who had any success who did not love them first. Especially with people we are witnessing to and to new Christians we need to be like nursing mothers caring for their children.

That motherly love that Paul had for the Thessalonians drove him to give himself completely to their needs. A mother’s day is not really organized around her needs so much as it is around the needs of her children. In the same way, Paul ministered in such a way that the new believers saw that they were his first priority. We see the same in Jesus’ relating to the crowds. For instance in Matthew 14:13-14 we are told that when Jesus was given the news that His cousin had been executed by Herod He took the disciples away so they could be by themselves and rest and grieve. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (13b-14). This was the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with a few loaves and fish. He wanted to get away. He wanted to have time alone with His disciples. But His instead He met their needs. The work of nurturing, maturing, and equipping one another works best when we do it with that same attitude.

That leads right to the third truth this passage illustrates for us: that believers, especially new believers need spiritual mothering no less than children do in the home. Love and grace are understood in experience before they are fully understood in thought. So like a mother Paul shared his life with the Thessalonians. You’ve heard the saying, “seeing is believing.” If the people we share our faith with don’t see and experience the love of Christ why should they believe what we are saying is true? The only way that is going to happen is if we share our life with them.

Application

You can learn a lot from a good mother. And it is not only helpful for being a mother or for understanding mothers, it is helpful for understanding the kind of work it takes to nurture, mature, and equip one another in the church. I want to try and show this by taking that description of mothers I began with and putting it in the context of discipleship.

Christians…

You can’t come into the kingdom of God without one sharing the Gospel with you. They are necessary. The agents through whom God brings people into the new life of His kingdom.

Christians, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their spiritual children on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Discipleship is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that can make any fulltime job seem trite.

Discipleship is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon.

Discipleship takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because believers are tempted to understand heavenly realities through their present circumstances instead of the other way around, they often live in the “now.”

Discipleship takes one way love. If you have been a discipler for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a discipler you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate God!” “I wish God would just stop!” “I am so done with God!” Many disciplers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then discipleship is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good discipler.

Discipleship requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for spiritual needs, but physical, social, and even mental needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet in Christ, through Christ Christians do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that Christians don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so they keep discipling.

Do you see what I mean? Now I am not at all saying that this describes all Christians, or even most Christians. I’m not even saying that it describes me! But it should, shouldn’t it?

What if it did? What if we could all say,

In Christ, through Christ I do all this without a second thought. I gladly do it, because I love my spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to me a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when I despair. I do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so I keep discipling.

What effects would that have?

How would things change?

How would I see things differently? How would I see people differently? How would it effect how I see myself?

Might I see God differently?

What impact would that have on the kingdom of God?

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to find out. What do you say?

The More Things Change…


I have been struck—again—by the truth of the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We have cars instead of horses, instant messaging instead of message curriers, we meet in blogs and chat rooms instead of gathering at the city gates, but the problems, temptations, and challenges remain the same. Let me just mention two.

We are tempted to put our faith and trust in the things of God instead of in God. In 1 Samuel 4:1-3, we read about Israel reacting to losing a battle to the Philistines.

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

Instead of asking the Lord why He did not give them victory over an enemy He had promised victory over, they go get the ark. They assumed that they left God behind because they left His ark behind. While Israel was galvanized and encouraged by the presence of the ark, God was not more with them then without it, and they were defeated again. Instead of looking to God, they looked to his ark, “Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

How often we see the same thinking today! We do not have an ark, but we do the same thing with what we do have. Instead of asking God why the church’s numbers are dropping, finances are dwindling, and our influence is waning, we go looking for the latest program, book, strategy, conference, or retreat to fix the problem….as if we are just not working hard enough to figure it out. God does not need our best. When we give God our best, He isn’t getting much is He? We need to put our faith in Him, not in the things He has given us.

We are pre-occupied with how we look to others instead of being concerned with how we look to God. Israel asked for a king, not because they needed a leader when Samuel was gone (which they did), not because God had promised them a king (which He did in Deuteronomy 17:14-15), but because they wanted to look like everyone else. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5, NIV ). Instead of waiting for God to give them a king in His time, they forced the issue. The result was 42 years of Saul, which was a disaster because He was not a man after God’s own heart. Instead of acting out of faith in God and waiting for His timing, they acted out of anxiety and attempted to solve the problem themselves.

We are just as fixated on the need for a “leader” today. Like the Israelites we want a leader who will do the thinking and fighting for us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:19-20, NIV ). Today the “king” has been replaced with the “professional.” The prevailing attitude in the land seems to be, “If you can do it better, I would rather you do it.”

This thinking is very common in the church today. Families look to the church for teaching, discipleship, and passing the faith to their kids. Many people believe this is what the church is for. “After all they are the experts, they have the degrees. That’s what we’re paying them for,” they say.

This is also the thinking of many pastors and leaders in the church today. They expect families to support them in their programs, and see themselves and their ministry as the place to go for help, discipleship, and teaching. Families are generally very willing to give them what they want, and in many cases, expect that this is the case. Churches are often picked based on the perceived repute of the pastor and how well the programs being offered meet the needs and desires of the family that is doing the looking.

But this thinking is not biblical. Not only that, it doesn’t work does it? All you need to do is look around at the church today. The average layperson feels ill-equipped to do Bible study on their own let alone teach the bible to their kids, their spouse, or their friends. The latest study from Barna found that more than 60% of youth who grow up in the church leave the Christian faith by the time they get out of college.

Those who stay in the church have no great witness to the world either. God seems remarkably impotent to bring about the change the gospel claims to promise. We divorce as much, have affairs as much, become addicted to drugs and alcohol as much, even abuse our wives and kids as much as non-Christians. There is no statistical difference between evangelical Christians in these areas and everyone else.

Albert Einstein said, “The height of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” I think we need to admit that the way the church has been doing things does not work. The way we have been thinking about Church does not work. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples if we love one another as He loves us. The facts tell us that we are not succeeding at this.

Deeper


It’s throw back Thursday. Here’s an oldie but goodie from October, 2012.

The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV)

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

Paul makes clear in Romans 1:19-20 (NIV) what creation speaks and what knowledge it imparts.

What may be known about God has been made plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

But God was not satisfied with just allowing us to see His signature on creation. He went deeper in revealing Himself through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He went deeper in revealing Himself to His servant Moses, and revealed His love and faithfulness by bringing Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom in the Promised Land. Through miracles, signs, and wonders, Hew revealed His power, might, righteousness, grace, mercy, and a singular commitment to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He wrote the Ten Commandments and gave them to Moses and revealed His character through the giving of His Law.

But God was not content to stop revealing Himself by revealing His Law. He continued to go deeper in His self-revelation by sending prophets, priests, and kings whom He used to speak His Word to Israel, to be their representatives to Him, and to lead His people in life and work.

But even this was not deep enough. God wanted to reveal not only His mind, and heart, but His very Self. He wanted us to see not only His works and miracles; He wanted us to see Him with our eyes. And so He sent His Son, Jesus Christ.

Through Him we saw more than we ever wanted or hoped to see:

We saw the glory of a life lived fully in God’s grace and truth.

We saw Him live a life that God called us all to live in His Law, but because of our sin, never could and never would.

We saw just how lost and dark we are.

Left to ourselves He was detestable to us. His light seemed to us to be darkness. And even though we had no reason, we tried Him, condemned Him, abused Him, and murdered Him in the most brutal way we knew.

And yet God used our sin to bring about His will. 700 years prior, so that there would be no doubt or question, Isaiah 53:10 (NIV) declared,

Yet it was the Lord ‘s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

But even sin is no match for God. Where we showed we deserved nothing but death, God brought divine wrath, justice, mercy, and grace together making forgiveness of sins a reality. God supernaturally opens our eyes to this truth: that, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Now God is not known from the outside, but is known from within, because His Spirit lives in His people, uniting them to Him. This union reveals Him even more deeply and intimately than ever before. It is not only content to reveal more of God to us, but it draws us nearer to Him, changing and transforming us from the inside out so that our love, our character, our actions are driven by an ever growing passion for His glory.

And now we know that even all The Father has done up to this point was not enough. He plans to go deeper still. Soon and very soon He will bring His kingdom to completion and we will see the Father, the Son, and the Spirit even more clearly, hold Him more dearly, and know Him more completely, so that our love for the Triune God will be pure, spotless, and perfectly in harmony with His love for us.

And I am sure that even then, He will find a way to go deeper in His revelation to us.

I for one, look forward to that.

I hope you do to.

47


Well my friends, God has seen fit to see me through another year. It has been a real interesting one to say the least. Kind of an extended unplanned sabbatical from pastoral ministry. It is in some ways quite a change going from settled pastor to being a tobacconist and podcast host for the world’s largest privately owned cigar retailer. That said, ministry and discipleship doesn’t stop because you don’t have your name on the marque of a church; nor does it stop because you work at a cigar shop. In fact I am more convinced than ever that we need to be learning to be looking to see where God is working outside of the church instead of wondering how to get people to come into the church. We need to be learning to be like Jesus out of the church when we are at home, at work, and out and about in our everyday life. Worshipping Jesus in church should be a priority for us, but if we are not living like Jesus when we walk out the church doors, we perhaps need to think about the sincerity of our worship. Such at least is one of the things I have been learning in my 47th year.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
(Isaiah 58:5-10, NIV).