Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

climbing stairsOne way to look at spiritual disciplines is as stairs to climb to get up to heaven. This is the way Luther saw the Christian life in his early days. By his own account he almost killed himself with fasting, praying, vigils, confession, pilgrimage, even literally climbing up a venerated set of stairs in Rome on his hands and knees. It’s possible to come to prayer and Bible reading like this – as a work that gets me credit with God or gets me a bit further up the holiness ladder or ‘gets me into the presence of God’ or somehow tries to bring heaven down or at least makes me feel less guilty for not doing it.

window-of-heaven-The later Luther saw things very differently. The Scriptures had become to him a gateway to heaven. Prayer had become the cry of a son secure in his Father’s love coming in confidence to the throne of grace. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were wonderful assurances of a sure and finished salvation in Christ. Where before there had been a desperate striving to overcome the displeasure of a frowning God, now it became all about hearing the promises of a God who smiled on him in Christ. Spiritual disciplines in this paradigm are means of grace. The arrow is not pointing up it is pointing down. As we open the Bible or turn to prayer we are simply opening windows in heaven and standing under the waterfall of truth and love and grace.

And here’s something from Peter Mead on that…

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Even in the hitech corporate world, companies like Amazon are realising the value of writing – long hand, pen and ink and dead trees – particularly in getting your thinking clear.

“There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

You could delude yourself into imagining you understood Chaucer or organic chemistry until the exact moment you tried to sit down and write a paper on the topic.

(see article here)

That’s partly why writing a research paper on a theological or biblical or pastoral issue is part of the iServe Africa apprenticeship year. Below is something we shared recently with the apprentices on “Research as discipleship” – or to put it in other words: writing a research paper is (or should be) an expression of the fruit of the Spirit…

  1. Humility 
    • Research should be a humbling exercise in itself as we start to glimpse how much we do not know or understand.  Realise that these questions may have been discussed for thousands of years and thousands have spent lifetimes researching them.
    • Once you’ve done a fair bit of work it requires a lot of humility to accept direction and criticism and to cut stuff out (‘kill your babies’).
  2. Love
    • When interviewing or interacting with people don’t manipulate; get permission to use names, quotes, responses.
    • When writing about other people or arguing with an author you disagree with, imagine they are sitting there beside you and love them.
    • When writing, think about your reader – how can you make it as easy and clear as possible – i.e. clear structure, explaining technical terms, proof reading, not just getting it all out of your head but communicating clearly to someone else for their benefit.
  3. Peace
    • Respect those you engage with – ‘Honour everyone’ (1 Pet. 2:17), ‘bless those who persecute you… so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Rom. 12:16-18), write with generosity.
    • But ‘have no fear of them’ (1 Pet. 3:14) – ‘do not fear what they fear’ (Isa. 8:12) – don’t agree with a big name because he is a big name or with the ‘scholarly consensus’ just because it is the scholarly consensus.
  4. Patience and perseverance
    • Haraka haraka haina baraka.  Data collection, reading and writing can’t be rushed.  “The real task is much harder than to be intelligent. It is to unlearn all that, to relax and to slow down.”[1]
    • Better is the end of a thing than its beginning (Ecc. 7:8) – write down anything, keep writing, revise, revise, keep going, finish.
  5. Faithfulness and honesty
    • Don’t use fallacious arguments e.g. a ‘straw man’ or a false dichotomy.
    • Don’t make an assertion without evidence.
    • Don’t cut corners or pretend to have more evidence than you have.
    • Don’t just look for evidence that supports your argument – look just as diligently for counter-evidence and be willing to change to fit the truth.
    • Don’t steal words (Jer. 23:30) – When using sources (whether books, internet or spoken) reference properly with the author, the title, date of publication and the page number whether you are paraphrasing or quoting their words with speech marks.
  6. Joy – Research as enjoying Jesus. Never divorce mind and heart, doctrine and praise. It’s normal to use the third person rather than the first person and there must be evidence for what you say but never forget what and who you are writing about.
There’s some more on research papers to download here (especially for the current apprentices but may be of help to others).

[1] George Watson, Writing a Thesis: a guide to long essays and dissertations, Harlow: 1987, p. 11.

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Trying to get more familiar with Matthew’s gospel at the moment as we get ready to look at it in the next Ministry Training week. I’m still not feeling very at home in it but increasingly hungry to know it better. Read it through in a morning last week (I’ve always been scared of doing that sort of thing but it was great) and was struck afresh by a few things – all of which, I later realised, come together at the end (Matt. 28:19-20):

  • Discipleship – ‘make disciples… teaching them’. The dominant structure of the book is the five teaching blocks (chp. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25) each ending, ‘when Jesus had finished saying all these things’. This is a manual for disciples and disciplers.
  • Trinity – ‘baptising them in(to) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. People are to be plunged into the water as a sign that they are being plunged into the Trinitarian community. How can that be? Through union with Christ: “I am with you always” (a theme that begins at Matt. 1:23 with the mention of ‘Immanuel’). Perhaps John’s Gospel is a little clearer on relationship of Father, Son and Spirit (loving, sending, obeying, glorifying) but Matthew is great on the character of the Father and the way the Son alone reveals that character and how those who are sons of the Father in Him will display that character: peacemaking (Matt. 5:9), merciful, loving enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), generous (Matt. 7:11), humble (Matt. 11:27-29), compassionate, forgiving (Matt. 18:27). Extraordinary picture.
  • Future – ‘till the end of the age.’ I was familiar with the way Matthew looks back into Israel’s history and sees the ancient promises and patterns being fulfilled but I’d not noticed how often this Gospel looks forward. 7 times Jesus talks about the ‘age’ or the ‘end of the age’. It comes out really strongly in chp. 24-25 but actually the consummation / final judgment is a strong theme in each of the five teaching blocks.

Aren’t these really helpful emphases – the need for discipleship to be the core business of church (not entertainment, healing or politics); the need for a rich doctrine of God (not the Great Dictator but the Humble Giver); and the need for a radical future focus to our faith (not just the here and now but the New Creation).  And they’re not independent ideas – the three flow together: discipleship is life with the Good God looking forward to the end of the age.

Or something like that… work in progress…

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Ok, ok! I do still believe Philippians 2:13 (“it is God who works in you, both to will and to act”) and John 15:5 (“apart from me you can do nothing”). Any resistence to sin, any glimmer of goodness coming out of me, is not me but purely God’s doing. But that’s not what Titus 2:11-12 is talking about.  It does NOT say:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people, giving us power to say “No” to ungodliness…”

What it actually says is:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people, teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness…”

It’s not about grace giving power but grace teaching, training, being our mwalimu. This is really important because it is very common to think of grace as a special boost from God to overcome sin and temptation – like a spiritual adrenalin shot. So I’m struggling in sin and I get this boost of grace and now I can fight the good fight and leap walls and all of that. But what does grace mean here in Titus? Let’s look again at verse 11:

“the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people”

  • It’s the grace of God – who promised us eternal life before the creation of time itself (Titus 1:2), “he saved us” (Titus 3:5)
  • It’s appeared – past tense – grace has been made flesh and poured himself out on the Cross, historic justifying grace (Titus 3:6-7).
  • It’s about salvation – not discipleship or transformation, even less ‘realising your full potential’ – rather it is about being redeemed from God’s wrath and united to Christ as a people of “his own possession”, so that we can look forward to His next “appearing” not with dread but as our great, blessed hope (Titus 2:13-14).

That’s what ‘grace’ is here. That’s what ‘grace’ means in almost every case in the New Testament. It is not something that happens inside you (an injection of spiritual energy) – it is the historic (and the future) saving work of Christ outside of you.

It is this gospel of the death of the Lord Jesus and the promise of his return – that teaches me to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and live a self-controlled counter-cultural life. How does this work in practice? A few examples:

  • Imagine I’m on the internet late at night and I’m tempted to put something into the search engine that I shouldn’t put or follow some link I shouldn’t follow.  What I need to do at that moment is remember the gospel. Why am I tempted?  I’m seeking escape, excitement, a rush, I’m attracted by the hope of seeing a particular vision. The medcine: I need to have my heart captivated by a infinitely better hope and a better vision – “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (v13)
  • Or I’m in a town where nobody knows me and I pass a pub and I’m tempted to go in.  What I need to do at that moment is apply the gospel. Why am I tempted in this case? Maybe I’m feeling lonely, stressed, maybe I’m feeling like victim, that I’m having a hard time and I deserve a little something. I need to remember, “Jesus Christ gave himself to redeem us”. I’m not a poor victim, I’ve been given Christ and I’m freed from all this.
  • Or I’ve got responsibility for some money in an organisation or I’ve received a ministry gift and I’m tempted to ‘borrow’ a bit or not account for it properly. What I need to do at that moment is preach the gospel to myself. Why am I tempted in this case? Maybe it’s greed but more likely I feel insecure, scared, feel that God doesn’t care about me and I’m just going to have to sort myself out – I need to see afresh that becasue of the Cross, I am Jesus’ “very own possession” (v14) – I belong to Christ – my life is not my own and I am completely secure.

At times like this Law (“Just don’t do it or God and other people will hate you”) and physical restraint (computer filters, abstinence programmes, checks and balances) just aren’t powerful enough – often they won’t be able to keep me from temptation. Only the gospel can do it. What I need it to preach the gospel again and again to myself. Rub it in. Apply the glorious truths of the gospel to my festering wounds and itches. And that’s what discipleship is. Not telling people, “These are the Do’s and Don’ts,” but equipping brothers and sisters with the gospel armour with which they can withstand every assault of the world the flesh and the devil; displaying the glories of Jesus such that hearts and minds are won and lives change direction.

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Can’t we just get on with loving God, living for Christ, serving his people?  Don’t Bible colleges just mess people up?  Doesn’t doctrine divide?  Aren’t we supposed to have a child-like simple faith?  Why turn something living and joyful into something intellectual and boring?

Last week in Nakuru the iServe Africa ministry training course focused on the dreaded D-word: Doctrine. Why? Well for one thing – Mark 12:30.

“I love theology precisely because I love God. I love thinking about the one I adore. Theology is not the study of a topic. It is gazing at a Person.” (William Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, London School of Theology)

And who is this person? Jesus. As we were learning last week, Jesus is the full and only revelation of God, the only face of the Triune glory (Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 14:6-10; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 1:15 – see also the work of Glen Scrivener (mediating Luther) which I’ve found immensely helpful on this).  Why exactly is gazing at Jesus so vital and wonderful?

  • Gazing at Jesus is life – John 3:15; 17:3.
  • Gazing at Jesus is practical – Not pragmatic but practical. He is Wisdom so to shut our eyes to him is foolishness. He is the light without which we’re stumbling around in the dark, clueless to the point of life.  To see him is to see the one in whom all things hold together, The Great Story that makes sense of everything. To see him is to see an unexpected God – a humble-to-death-on-a-cross God – and that vision redefines everything: leadership, marriage, ambition, life itself.
  • Gazing at Jesus is humbling – Both because he is a so far above us – the awesome, sovereign holy one before whom Job, Ezekiel and Peter prostrate, offending our Me-centred-ness – and even more so because (incredibly) he puts himself so far below us – the one who washes our feet and serves us with sacrifice, offending our self-righteous DIY religiosity.
  • Gazing at Jesus teaches us to say no to ungodliness and to live godly lives – Titus 2:11-14.
  • Gazing at Jesus is how we keep going to the end – Hebrew 12:3.

Three more from Kris Lundgaard (mediating John Owen):

  • Gazing at Jesus gives rest, satisfaction and peace to our souls  –  Rom. 8:6; Phil. 3:7-11.
  • Gazing at Jesus whets our appetites for heaven – 1 Thess. 4:17-18; Phil. 1:23; Col. 1:27; Psalm 16.
  • Gazing at Jesus is transforming – 2 Cor. 3:18.

It’s also vital to faithful Bible reading

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“Most Christian programmes separate mission from discipleship, creating a faulty understanding of discipleship and mission. The significance of iServe Africa is that it is built on the understanding that discipleship is about mission and mission about discipleship. What blessing that young people can be helped to learn this early in their lives! I highly commend iServe Africa to Churches and Christian groups passionate about discipling young people.”  (Dr. David Zac Niringiye, Bishop of the Church of Uganda)

Isn’t that a brilliant observation? “Discipleship is about mission and mission about discipleship.”  You see that in Luke 9:57-62, at the beginning of the central journey-to-Jerusalem section of Luke: following Jesus = going and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  And then at the beginning of Philippians, the letter wisely chosen as the content of the Discipleship Explored course, Lesson #1: the Philippians were mission partners with Paul (praying, preaching, suffering, supporting) from day one! (Phil. 1:3-7)  Let’s think – what happens when we divorce mission and discipleship?  What do we end up thinking about mission and who does it and how we train for it?  And what do we end up thinking the Christian life is all about?

What God has joined together, let no man…

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