Practical Ways to Make Disciples

On Sunday I preached a sermon entitled “Go and Make Disciples” (You can listen to the sermon here). I tried to make the point that making disciples is not a convenient option for the Christian, but because it is a command of Christ’s, we must live as disciples who make other disciples.

After I finished preaching, I realized that one sermon was not really enough to really drive Christ’s command home. As such, I really want to add to the sermon by giving some practical suggestions for what it means to make disciples in our own circles and community.

To “go and make disciples” seems like an overwhelming task. Just the sheer magnitude of the command “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19) causes many of us to get overwhelmed. For this reason, it’s easier just to do nothing. After all, how could we as disciples of Christ possibly make that many disciples?

Rest easy, my dear friend. Jesus had no intention for his eleven disciples to travel to every nation in the world of their day and make disciples. I think what Jesus expected was that when His disciples set foot to invest in the lives of others till the point that those people become disciples, the whole process of discipleship would have a multiplying effect. In other words, when you and I reach and teach one, that person is then prepared to reach and teach one. And when each Christian seeks to faithfully obey Christ’s command, soon enough disciples will be made in “all the nations.”

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Living on Bread AND Water

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Have you ever gone without food for a period of time (other than fasting)? Maybe you were busy all day and had little time to eat. You kept yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water, but you didn’t eat. What began to happen to your body over that time? You became empty, weak, and irritated (i.e. “hangry”), even though you were well hydrated.

Have you ever gone without drinking water for a while? Maybe you ate a big meal or snacked throughout the day, but didn’t drink much. What happened? The longer you went without water/hydration, you became thirstier and more dehydrated – even though your stomach was full.  Clearly, we were created by God to sustain life by both eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water. They go hand in hand, and you cannot survive long with one and without the other.

It is my contention that we who are in the Church have been trying to live off of just bread or just water for too long. The Bible likens the Word of God to food/bread and sustenance (Psalm 119:50; Matthew 4:4), and the Holy Spirit to refreshing, flowing, life giving water (Isaiah 44:3; John 7:37-39).  And yet, so often do we seek after one at the expense of the other. Because of this, the church is weak – and it is dying of either dehydration or hunger (or both!).

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God is in the Hurdles

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My kids love to play a game on Michelle’s iPhone called Subway Surfers. Playing the game is pretty straightforward. You are a spray can-wielding teenager who’s been caught by a policeman, running to escape his arrest. Every so often, a hurdle gets in the way and you need to either jump over it or slide underneath it. Then there are subway cars that try to run you down, as well as various other obstacles that get in the way. The goal is to escape the clutches of the cop, collect coins, and eventually get to some intended destination (I’ve yet to see what that is. Yes, I’ve played it).

If you think about it, the Christian life is somewhat similar. (I don’t want to relegate the Christian life to the likes of an iPhone game, but I think the illustration is helpful.)  We are in a race, Paul says (1 Corinthians 9:24), all seeking for the prize.  We “run” through this life with the goal of arriving at our intended destination: Heaven, with Christ.  Paul then says, “So run that you may obtain [the prize].” In other words, live this life like there’s no other life to be lived. Fix your eyes on Jesus, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before [you]” (Hebrews 12:1). There must be unwavering determination in us to “grab hold” of Heaven.

Selah, and Amen.

But what about all those obstacles? The teenager in the game needs to be on his toes because if he isn’t, he’s going to get tripped up and captured by the cop.  I’m not going where you think I am. Sure, Satan is after us. Sin and the world are after us. We need to be careful that we don’t get ensnared by these things!  But, I’m thinking about those things in life that “pop up” – that get in our way, that are seeming “distractions” that are hindering us from running our race.  I’m thinking about those inconvenient circumstances that keep from getting to “where God wants us to be.”

I’m in a season of life right now where I need to make several decisions.  To some people these would be small decisions – but to me, I feel like if I make the wrong move, that subway car is going to run me down.  But, here’s the thing I too easily forget: the decision that lies before me is not outside of God’s sovereign rule.  He called me to be His son with the determination of bringing me to glory (Romans 8:29-30).  Though the decisions that I must make all have consequences, God will use these decisions – these “hurdles” to leap, to accomplish His sovereign purposes in my life.  I know this to be true because God works all things together for the good of His beloved children (Romans 8:28). ALL things!

If you are in the same season that I am, fear not.  Seek His face, seek godly counsel, be patient, trust Him.  But do these things with this wisdom in mind: “The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.”[1] That hurdle, though it might trip you up, was placed there by God Himself to work in you a deeper trust toward Him that will not waver with each new season.  With God, there are no 50/50s. With us there is, to be sure, but with God it is either 100% or 0%. He has declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) and His children are not the unfortunate victims of happenstance.  In fact, our prayers and choices bring about God’s purposes because He has willed them to do so.   And if we are in this for the long haul (though some hurdles seem impossible to cross!), we will one day turn back and see how God’s mighty hand was powerfully present in every “delay and detour.”

The best part is, though we are weary from the race at times, God’s faithfulness shines ever brighter with each new season and with every hurdle we cross, for “all the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Thank God that He is in the hurdles!

 

[1] John Piper, Battling Unbelief: Defeating Sin with Superior Pleasure

For Those Who Love Him

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“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, NKJV

The very essence of our faith is the deeply rooted understanding that what we now see and experience is not the end, but is only the beginning.  We do not, as so much of the world, walk as though blindfolded, hoping that we will not walk into a wall, hoping that tomorrow will be better than today. This is because, as those who have been redeemed and bought by Jesus Christ through His blood, our tomorrow rests firmly in the hand of God.

Paul said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, that the things which God has prepared for us are unseen by the human eye and unheard of by the human ear.  The world calls these things a fairytale, mere mythological prophecies that belong in an ancient Greek play. This is so, as Jesus said to His disciples, “because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11, emphasis added). As a result, because they have nothing to look forward to, the people of this world are ensnared by temporal pleasures and materialism – chasing after the wind in hopes that they might grasp some momentary peace and happiness. They are blind.

But notice who does see: the disciple of Christ, the one who “loves Him.” The people who belong to the true and Living God know that we have been rescued from the endless search for hope and joy that many millions today are searching for.  This is because we ourselves have been rescued from our own lost condition.  For years, we spent our “past lifetime” trying to become our own god, to lift ourselves up upon the throne of our universe, to control our final destination on the great ship of life. We repulsed the thought of a God who ruled over all – so instead of submitting to His Lordship, we jumped overboard and swam away searching for our own private island that we could rule over.

But then, at just the right time, God came looking for us. Our search for autonomy killed us, for we drowned on the way to our private island.  And yet, though we were dead and lifeless at the bottom of the sea, God’s Spirit came to us, lifted us up, and breathed new life into us.  At that moment, our eyes opened. The Jesus who we once rejected became beautiful, precious, and much to be desired.  The affections we once had centered on ourselves were mortally wounded, and we were no longer imprisoned to the insatiable hankering to rule and reign. We were free. Yes, we were given new hearts for God, and for the first time.

I write to remind you, O Christian, that you don’t have to search as those who have no hope, for there is infinitely greater joy ahead.  We so often forget the endless blessings of our great salvation, and we turn back to try and taste the darkness we once lived in. But the Spirit of the Living God yearns to draw you into “the deep things of God,” the place where every spiritual blessing in Christ is sweeter than the momentary joys that fizzle with the hour.

God loves to bless those who love Him – there is great peace and joy in the blessed presence of Christ that is reserved only for you, if you will again come to Him. So I challenge you: “Get your minds ready for action…set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:13, 21 NET).

Our Lives Are But a Mist

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“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

In 1861, Horatius Bonar penned a hymn entitled, “Nothing that My Hands Can Do.” (It was recently redone by Sovereign Grace Music.)  In verse 3, there is a little line which says, “My life is but a fleeting sigh / A tear within the sea.” Dr. Bonar understood, even over 150 years ago, something that many Western people fail to see.

We are all guilty.  Every one of us.  All of us are wrapped up in the here-and-now.  And we read over passages like James 4:13-14, giving them little thought.  But, the truth is, we have invested so much time into this life that we think very little of the next.  We Americans – especially us Americans – whether or not we claim to be followers of Christ, have come to believe one of two very great lies.

The first is that we have been deceived into thinking that caring for our families, our bodies, and our churches is unnecessary. Society constantly assaults us with the lie that our greatest end is to take all we can, doing what is best for ME, and doing so without consideration for anyone else.  It is true, you won’t hear an advertisement telling us not to do good, but we certainly do hear – on a daily basis – things like “live for the moment” and “follow your heart.”  The only problem with these voices is that “living for the moment” totally ignores the truth that eternity is forever, and that we “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Living for the moment, if fulfilling our own appetites, disregards an unending eternity. Following our heart doesn’t work either, because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), and will always lead us away from the things of God.  So, those who have believed this lie take little care to train their children in the things of God.  They eat and work to satisfy their fleshly cravings.  The poor and needy are cared for, only when it is convenient.  Those who believe this lie are living for the moment. And this moment is about one person: me.

The second lie is much like the first, but manifests itself differently.  The second lie tells us to really care for our bodies, protect our possessions, and give our children the best.  This lie tells us that our greatest end is to invest in the here-and-now by doing whatever it takes to stay healthy and stay happy.  So, those who believe this lie work to preserve their bodies.  They eat healthy and exercise constantly, then love what they see.  They, too, are living for the moment.  They ensure that their kids have the best of everything, and that their homes and valuables are insured to cover loss.  But you see, those who believe this second lie are also “living for the moment.” They say, “let us do this to improve our lives,” all the while forgetting that their life is but a mist – our days are numbered, and one day, this will all end.

Now then, where does this bring us? Well, we should now ask ourselves, “Have I come to believe either of these lies?” And if we are honest with ourselves, we will likely admit to the affirmative.  So, what do we do? Let me help us get some better perspective.

Friends, eternity is forever. This life we live is just a moment in the grand scheme of time. And everything we do in this life is shaping what our eternity will look like.  Paul says it like this:

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Without fully expositing this text, here’s what I believe the apostle is saying.  He is saying that the way we live our lives now is preparing a life for us in eternity.  We must first begin with the foundation, who is Jesus Christ.  If we do not start there, we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus Himself said that no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). We must all come to the place where we see that our sin is repulsive before a holy and righteous God, and then see that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to the earth to satisfy God’s anger toward our sin by perishing on a cross.  Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will gain eternal life (John 3:16; 17:3). Without the forgiveness of sins, we will perish in eternal damnation apart from God.  If however, we have trusted in Jesus to forgive us our sins, He will cleanse us and give us life anew (1 John 1:9; John 10:10).  This is fundamentally what it means to be a Christian.

And yet, we cannot simply claim a faith in Christ if we will not follow Him.  Ephesians 2 talks about how those of us who are saved were granted salvation from sin’s punishment through the grace of God (verse 8), but it goes on to say that we were created in Christ for “good works…that we should walk in them” (verse 10)!  This means that when God chose to save us, His intentions in saving us were that we might live lives that are pleasing to Him.  He intended that we work to help others receive the gift of salvation (by giving them the good news of the Gospel), and that we live in such a way that eternity is always before our eyes.

If, however, we have fallen into believing either of these two lies I’ve mentioned, we are building up our lives with “wood, hay, and straw,” things that will be burned up before God on the Day of Judgment. We must stop living in such a way that if we lost what we have built, we would have no reason for living.  We must stop living for the here-and-now, preparing our bodies and souls for this life only – this is a fool’s errand!  And yet, there lies before us a greater reward, far beyond the temporary satisfaction we gain in this life, if we will but start preparing our bodies and souls for the life to come.

How do we do this? Well, firstly, it is imperative that we trust in Jesus.  Without His forgiveness, everything we do in this life is worthless before God to save us.  Religion cannot save us.  Works cannot save us.  Only His unearned grace is powerful enough to forgive the blackness of our souls.  So, ask yourself, “Have I been washed clean by the blood of Christ? Have I been forgiven? Do I have true, deep-seated joy?”  These are all the result of trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

Secondly, once we have been given new spiritual life, we are motivated by the love of God to live differently.  This means committing daily to teaching our children the things of God.  This is building on our foundation with gold, whether or not we presently see results. We parents will all stand before God some day, giving account of the way we managed the divine stewardship of parenthood.  Let us care for our bodies, but only in a way that our minds and spirits are made alert to “redeem the time” we’ve been given (Ephesians 5:16).  We are building with gold when we see that our bodies have been given us to serve Christ – not our fleshly desires.  Let us consider, not only our own interests, but also the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). As we do, we are preparing for ourselves eternal reward!

Our lives are but a mist – a fleeting sigh.  Let us be careful how we make use of this short time.