Discipleship? A Realignment Process or Product to Develop?

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “discipleship”?

If you’ve had any exposure to this concept, you may have had either a great, positive experience, or perhaps a negative one. If it’s the later, let me offer one possible reason why that was.

Discipleship was seen as means of creating a product, instead of a person.

Maybe it was a convert to a “tribe” or a leader in a particular “system”. The end, or the product, was another “part” added to something that probably had very little to do with you – who you are and what you were designed for.

That’s the difference between legitimate discipleship. It’s a process of realigning a person back to their original design of living as a human being – a creature in a true, good and beautiful relationship with his (or her) Creator.

In my reading and studies for the sermon on Mark 1:14-20 this week at Christ Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, I stumbled upon this great statement in the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. It’s rare that I find something truly significant in a one-stop study Bible, but this particular Study Bible has surprised me many times. This quote is but one example. It gets at the heart of what the call of discipleship is from Christ – a call to be brought back into alignment with the design for which we were created – to love and worship God, and have every area of life brought back into that alignment.

“In Christ, God calls people to return to “walking with God”—the creational design of human beings in the first place. Jesus’ call to discipleship is God calling human beings back to himself as the foundation of true and dignified human existence….This is the rhythm of grace. God does not respond to our wayward rebellion with disgust, throwing his hands up in the air. He pursues us in love. This is who he is.” – ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible, note on Mark 1:16-46.

Question: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “discipleship”? How does this line of thought add to your understanding of what we see as discipleship in the life and ministry of Jesus?

Links for the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible – Kindle and Hardcover editions.

The Resurrection Understanding of Things – “Just as”

Quote

“Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the ‘bondage to decay’. More glorious than this beautiful earth, more glorious than the earthly Jerusalem, more glorious even than paradise will be the glory of the new Jerusalem, whose architect and builder is God himself.” – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol 4, 720.

Review: Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard

Why Cities Matter by Um and Buzzard

Book Review: Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture and the Church by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard (Crossway, 2013)

Acknowledgment: I would like to express my gratitude to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Why do cities matter?

This is the question that drives the book as a whole.  Both Dr. Um and Mr. Buzzard are well versed and equipped to address such a question, as they both live and minister in world-class cities (Boston and Palo Alto), and are part of church planting movements that focus on ministry in a wide variety of contexts (Acts 29 and Redeemer City to City).

What is more, this particular book is a clarion call for effective ministry in any context, not just cities.  The focus on cities is certainly present throughout the book, but filled within it’s pages is a wealth of material to help any pastor, church planter or lay leader effective engage, reach and ultimately disciple people wherever they are.  One premise that I particularly benefited from in this book though, was that ministry is not just for individuals, it’s for cities themselves.  Each city (as defined by centers of density and diversity most generally by the authors) has a personality, and if we want to minister the gospel effectively to people in cities, we must know, engage and seek to influence the structures of the city with the message of the gospel.

The authors spend a great deal of time expressing what it is that makes cities what they are.  They do emphasize that they are primarily places of density and diversity (lots of people of different backgrounds and varieties), but in addition, they talk about the ideal of the city.  A city was a place where anyone could find safety, security and promise of hope.  This was true of cities in antiquity as they were known for their fortified walls and economic prospects, and it still hold true today.  People come to cities looking to belong (safety, security) and become (hopeful of a better future).  The authors address this in a winsome and comprehensive, yet still accessible way.  They also talk about what you find inside cities; centers of power, culture and ultimately, worship.  It is because of these centers that cities often attract what the authors label the “aspirational”, the “marginal” and the “explorational.” Each group is looking for life, meaning and happiness, and cities provide the context for finding it – whether directed towards God (as Creature and Sustainer) or other false gods (the creation and psuedo-saviors). For this reason, cities matter as a strategic place to proclaim by word and deed the message of the gospel.

In addition, their chapter on Bible and the City (ch. 3) is a masterful sweep of the Biblical portrait of cities.  Every aspect of Scripture is combed for an understanding of cities – their importance, their promise and even their dangers – and what one is left with is a biblically convincing case that cities are to be places that reflect God’s will and intention for all humanity.  Cities matter to God and it is evident throughout the pages of Scripture.

I also greatly appreciated their chapters on Contextualization in the City (ch. 4) and Ministry Vision for the City (ch. 5).  Both are treasure troves for anyone looking to make an impact in their context for the gospel.  Perhaps I was drawn to these as I am an aspiring church planter, but I believe anyone could take the principles and apply them wherever they are.  Perhaps the biggest single helpful item in these chapters is the principle that in order to reach and engage people and cities with the gospel, you must first take an interest in establishing the relationship to be able to speak intelligently into their lives.  In other words, listen, then speak.  Anyone can go anywhere and just start preaching; but to preach against the false gods and psudeo-saviors of a city as well as a neighbor, one has to take the time to think through and get to know what are the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears held by those we’re talking with.  Both chapters provide plenty of helpful insights and questions for doing just that.

The one weakness of the book as I read it was the somewhat cavalier attitude towards non-cities.  Now, in all fairness, the scope of the book was focused on cities, and no author should ever be expected to say everything and everything.  They had a focus, and overall I think they did an excellent job covering that focus.  But throughout the book, mention was made of cities as opposed to suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.   I don’t like the contemporary debate about which is more important to God and therefore ministry – cities or other places – as I think it misses the point.  God cares about every place and is redeeming all things to Himself.  There’s plenty of room under that umbrella for both cities (who granted have a greater concentration of imago Dei‘s than rural areas) and rural communities.

What I would have liked to have seen though, is mention and discussion of the relationship between cities and suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.  These divisions make for great sociological studies and discussion topics, but in real life, they are more integrated and related than we might like to believe.    Are you only reaching, engaging and discipling a “city” if you are located in the “city-center” part of that city?  Or are there ways of reading, engaging and discipling a “city” if you go to where the people live, work and play?  I think that these questions might lend towards greater nuance of the relationship between cities and other aspects of cities (suburbs, exurbs, rural) and provide a more holistic approach to ministry in our cities.

Despite this one weakness, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  In fact, it would be a go-to resource to anyone wanting to minister in a city context as it distills a ton of information in a clear, straightforward way, and has plenty of applicable and helpful points for anyone in ministry.  To end the review on the note the book ended:

“Cities matter. Let’s get to it.”

Link: Paperback and Kindle versions.

Everything Which is His, We May Call Our Own – Christ’s Presence and Our Union with Him

ImageYesterday I was finishing up some work and studies on the Lord’s Supper, and could not shake this thought from John Calvin on the “great exchange” that is offered up to us by being united in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. Definitely more robust than even I am naturally accustomed to thinking.

“Pious souls can derive great confidence and delight from this sacrament, as being a testimony that they form one body with Christ, so that everything which is his they may call their own. Hence it follows, that we can confidently assure ourselves, that eternal life, of which he himself is the heir, is ours, and that the kingdom of heaven, into which he has entered, can no more be taken from us than from him; on the other hand, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness…

“Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.”

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,

4.17.2  (pp. 896-897). OSNOVA. Kindle Edition.

God’s New Thing

Came across this quote while doing some research work this week and thought it

Courtesy of Jonathan Grassmick

worthwhile to share.

The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favour to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.”

N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Vol 2, (198-199), on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

What’s the best book for better understanding the Bible as a whole?

Cover of "The Jesus Storybook Bible: Ever...

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

People ask me often, “What is a good book to read to better understand the Bible as a whole?”

My answer has been for the past five years, “The best single book to better understand the Bible as a whole is Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Story Book Bible.”

And you can Pre-Order it for Kindle for only $3.99 by clicking the link below (this is a steal, trust me).

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name: Sally Lloyd-Jones: Amazon.com: Kindle Store.

Hardcover edition (click here)

Curriculum Kit (click here)

» The Affection of Christ Alone Keller Quotes

» The Affection of Christ Alone Keller Quotes.

This is a great one from Tim Keller.  Enjoy!

What makes us safe with God? Or, the Blessed Assurance of a Basic Theology

What makes us “safe” with God?

I was thinking of this after reading one of Spurgeon’s devotionals the other day from Morning and Evening.  Assuming that someone cares that they are (or are not) safe with God, its a pretty important question.

“Pleasant it is to the believer to know that God’s eye is thus tenderly observant of that work of grace which he has begun. He never loses sight of the treasure which he has placed in our earthen vessels. Sometimes we cannot see the light, but God always sees the light, and that is much better than our seeing it. Better for the judge to see my innocence than for me to think I see it. It is very comfortable for me to know that I am one of God’s people–but whether I know it or not, if the Lord knows it, I am still safe.”

Now don’t hear what Spurgeon is not saying.  He’s not saying that, “You have no response to Him to make,” or “There’s nothing you can know about God, and what He is up to in your life.”  Read the quote below for his thoughts on that.

But what he is saying is something I have adopted as a basic, underlying philosophy to life.  Its actually the starting point of all theological explorations for me and I encourage others to adopt it as well.

God is God, and I am not

It really is just that simple.  If God is God, then there are going to be things that He not only does, but even knows – about the world, life, and even myself – that I am not only unaware, but unable to estimate in the same regard as He does.  When doubt creeps in for whatever reason, I can still and always trust that God is God, and I am not.

 “You may be sighing and groaning because of inbred sin, and mourning over your darkness, yet the Lord sees “light” in your heart, for he has put it there, and all the cloudiness and gloom of your soul cannot conceal your light from his gracious eye. You may have sunk low in despondency, and even despair; but if your soul has any longing towards Christ, and if you are seeking to rest in his finished work, God sees the “light.” He not only sees it, but he also preserves it in you. “I, the Lord, do keep it.” This is a precious thought to those who, after anxious watching and guarding of themselves, feel their own powerlessness to do so. The light thus preserved by his grace, he will one day develop into the splendour of noonday, and the fulness of glory. The light within is the dawn of the eternal day.”

C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Day 5

Why I get excited about teaching the gospel…no matter what I’m teaching on specifically

Herman Bavinck

In case you ever wondered why I get so excited about the gospel, and particularly, teaching the gospel from any book, theme or issue from the Bible, here’s why:

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and recreated by the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God.”

Herman Bavinck

Why don’t they ever take the high road?

Why don't they just take the high road?

This past Sunday I was asked by a friend to help them understand what was happening in Genesis 19.  The event he was referring to pertained to the story about Lot protecting the “two angels” when they entered Sodom.

Apparently, the whole town found out about the two men and that he was with Lot in his home.  They came and surrounded the house and demanded that the two men be brought to them so that they could “know” them. This was not in a shake-hands and exchange business card sense of “know”.  It was an Adam and Eve sense of “know”.  The men of Sodom were demanding Lot’s guests, these two angels, be brought to them so they could gang rape them. Certainly, this would be the puzzling and disturbing part of the story, right?

What puzzled my friend – and it was a good question – was, “How could Lot respond the way he did?”

In the story, Lot doesn’t let the two angels go out of the house, or the men of the city to come in.  But instead, he offers up his two daughters to the men instead.  What puzzled my friend, and should puzzle us all, is “The men of Sodom are obviously wicked.  That’s why the angels are coming to deal with them. And if you’ve been reading the Bible this far, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we can take things to a very depraved level, very quickly (Gen 3-4 are proofs of that)…

But why is Lot offering up his daughters – his own family, flesh and blood – to be raped by an entire city?  How is that any better than the men outside his home?”

Its a great question.  Its essentially asking, “Why doesn’t Lot just take the high road? Why doesn’t he do the right, noble, heroic thing?”

My answer to my friend, and I offer it here, is two-fold.  First, we have to understand that the worldview of the Biblical characters can be vastly different than our own.  For Lot, it seemed more noble to protect the guests he was offering shelter and hospitality to than to his own daughters.  That wouldn’t fly today.  Truth be told, it shouldn’t have flown then, but it the way Ancient cultures tended to treat women, and Lot is no different, was to view them as commodities and property, instead of family.

But that’s the ancillary point.  The more significant point is to respond with the question, “Who said Lot was more noble, heroic or righteous than the men of Sodom?”  After all, Lot chose to dwell in Sodom.  He must have had his reasons.  When he and Abraham separated, Lot was motivated more by selfishness than anything in his choice.

What makes us think that Lot will be the guy to do the right thing?  Its a natural response, I think, to want to hope in somebody to come through when we need them most.  Its no different when we watch movies or read stories, even biblical stories.

But nowhere in the Bible do we find such men until we get to Jesus Christ.  All of them had their flaws, weak-points and failures.  No one was perfectly noble, all the time, every time.  Lot is no different than the men outside his door.

The only difference is the angels were in his house.  And this is the very surprising thing.  You see Lot was spared the fate that would befall Sodom.  He and his household were not destroyed with the rest of the city.  Why not?

It was because of his relationship with Abraham. In the previous chapter (Genesis 18) Abraham had pleaded with the Lord to not destroy the city for the sake of the righteous living inside Sodom. The negotiations were abysmal, as Abraham kept lowering the number to ten (from fifty).

We’re not actually told if there were, but judging from the history of the negotiations, we can safely assume there weren’t.  The angels were dispatched at the very end and headed towards Sodom at the beginning of chapter 19.  But Lot and his family are spared, and I contend that it was not because of his good deed of sheltering the angels from the men.

I believe it was because Lot – good old, despicable Lot – had a relationship with Abraham.  And Abraham was God’s covenant mediator, meaning that as you related to the mediator, God would relate to you (cf. Rahab hiding the spies in Joshua 2, and Achan in Joshua 7).

Lot wasn’t spared because he took the “high road” and was more noble, righteous or heroic.  He was spared because of the work of another, and it is no different for you or I today.