To Be Eaten By Worms or Cannibals: In the Resurrection It Doesn’t Matter

A number of years ago I was introduced to John Paton through the biographical sermon of John Piper on Paton, “You Will Be Eaten By Cannibals: Life Lessons from John Paton.” In that sermon, Piper records a conversation that Paton has with an elderly man in his church that is at the same time humorous and inspiring.  In response to the concern expressed by Mr. Dickson that Paton, if he leaves his post in Edinburgh, Scotland to go to the South Seas, will be eaten by cannibals, Paton plainly states.

Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer (From Paton’s biography John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebredes,An Autobiography Edited by His Brother [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891], 56)

Might God grant the same kind of bravado to a younger generations of missionaries, myself included.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Skip Bayless Goes Biblical on ESPN

It is not everyday that the Bible is quoted on ESPN.  And it is even more rare that if the Bible is quoted it is handled correctly.

This week, both of those things happened.  In reacting to the controversy set off by Brady Quinn’s comments about Tim Tebow’s faith–which seem to have been reconciledSkip Bayless does a good job quoting Matthew 6 and explaining how evangelical followers of Christ are to be Christians in private and in public.

Against the cultural sentiment that Christ should be kept out of the public square, Skip Bayless does a good job explaining why Tim Tebow and other true followers of Christ cannot simply keep their faith private.  As Bayless points out, Christianity is a public faith. Check it out:

And just in case you are wondering, Skip Bayless is a professing Christian.  You can see his comments here: “Skip Bayless reflects on God, sports, and LeBron James.”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (5) Why Should You Make Disciples?

Thus far we have asked four questions about discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?  (2)  What is a disciple? (3) Who makes disciples?  And (4) How do you make disciples?

Today we finish by simply asking the question, Why?  Why should you make disciples?  Let me give five answers that will serve as great motivation for stepping out in faith to make disciples.

First, It is disobedient to ignore this command (Matt 28:19).  The Great Commission is for every born-again believer in Jesus Christ. To ignore this command is to ignore the heart of Jesus. Making disciples is not an optional aspect of the Christian life for a select group of Christians.  It is part and parcel of every Christian’s calling.  Some may be more gifted at it than others, but all are called to be participants.

Second, the presence of God is found in it (Matthew 28:20).  The promise of God’s nearness is not found in your daily devotion or in a cabin retreat. It is found in the ministry of making disciples.  While such personal times of reflection are sweet, God’s word promises more emphatically his presence when we are laboring with him in finding, winning, and growing the sheep that Christ has purchased with his own blood.

Third, the promise of success is given in this task. (Matthew 16:18).  Disciple-making is guaranteed to work.  Sure, there will be many who you meet and minister to whom may fall away.  However, there will be others who will have their place marked out in heaven because of your willingness to serve.  You cannot save anyone, but God has chosen to use means (you and me) to build up his church.  And like the Father’s promise to the Son that his death would effect the salvation of his children, so we are given the promise that our labors will not be in vain (1 Cor 15:58).  The word of God never returns void, God has guaranteed that his church will be built, and he has shown us that this building comes through disciple-making.

Fourth, your greatest Christian joy will be had in disciple-making (1 Thess 2:19-20).  Just ask Paul.  His glory and joy were found in the men and women that he won to Christ and established in the faith.  His greatest anxiety was seeing disciples he had invested in turn from Christ.  Truly, if you are a Christian, this will be the source of your greatest joy, too.  The treasure you are to lay up in heaven is people–those whom you lead to the Lord and help along the way will be your greatest joy.

Fifth, churches grow as we make disciples.  The truth is, only disciple-making guarantees church growth.  The one “product” that the church should be producing is disciples.  Just read John 15:1-8.  When the church abides in the Word of God (i. e. the gospel) and the gospel permeates that church, disciples will be born unto the glory of God.

All other activities must be subservient to this main purpose. Therefore, block parties, special events, Power Team performances, and movies may draw a crowd, but they do not make disciples.  Children’s programming, bus ministries, friend days will get people in our building, but they will not make disciples. A cool website, newspaper ads, and yard signs will announce a church’s presence,  but none of these things guarantee disciple-making.  All of these events must be linked up with slower, more intentional process of life-on-life discipleship.

What This Means

If you commit to making disciples, you are committing to doing church in a more simple fashion.  While many programs and activities may be going on at your church, only one thing is necessary–Jesus Christ and the preaching of his gospel in the context of loving relationships that are growing disciples.

Similarly, if you commit to making disciples, you are committing yourself to slow growth.  If you want an instant helper in the home, buy a robot.  Don’t have a baby.  Children take time to rear, but in the end there is great reward in seeing a baby become a boy become a man, one who receives and lives out all the priorities you instill in him.  So it is with making disciple-making.  While it takes time and comes with seasons of pain, slow growth in pouring your life (with the gospel) into the life of another will be impact disciples in ways programs cannot.

Finally, if you commit to making disciples, people may wonder what you are doing to grow the church.  After all, the point of church growth is larger numbers, right?  It is true that numbers do provide a means of measuring the ministry, but perhaps we should find a quotient that divides the number of believers by the time that they stay and grow.  Of course, this sort of metric is impossible, but in our discussions about numbers, we should add to the conversation not only how many converts are won to Christ, but how many of those converts are grown up to be soul-winners themselves.  Or to use more biblical terminology, how many of the disciples made in your ministry are reproducing themselves?

May we continue to let the Great Commission ring in our ears and reverberated in our hearts, so that disciple-making becomes a central feature of our personal lives and church ministries.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (4) How Do You Make Disciples?

As a sophomore in college, I was introduced to a little book called The Master Plan of Evangelism. After an eight week study with our Campus Crusade leadership team, I was convinced that Jesus’ pattern of disciple-making and spiritual multiplication is the way to do ministry.  More than ten years later I am still convinced.

In his book, Robert Coleman outlines eight steps for making disciples: Selection, Associatin, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction).  If you have not read Coleman’s insightful little book, get it today.  All the hype about The Trellis and The Vine a few years ago was simply a helpful reformulation of The Master Plan of Evangelism.

And Coleman is not alone in looking to Jesus for methods of disciple-making.  More than one-hundred years ago Scottish pastor and professor A.B. Bruce wrote the lengthy treatment The Training of the Twelve, in which he scoured the pages of Scripture to see how Jesus trained his disciples and this is what he had to say,

These twelve . . . were to be something more than travelling companions or menial servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were to be . . . students of Christian doctrine, and occasional fellow-laborers in the work of the kingdom, and eventually Christ’s chosen trained agents for propagating the faith after He Himself had left the earth.  From the time of their being chosen . . . they were to learn, in the privacy of intimated daily fellowship with their Master, what they should be, do, believe, and teach, as His training of these men was to be a constant and prominent part of Christ’s personal work (p. 30).

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, how should we make disciples? Let me suggest three commitments that are required for being a disciple-maker.

FIRST, MAKE A DECISION

You cannot invest in everyone, so you need categories for making decisions on how you will use your precious, limited time. While you should never reject anyone in need, when it comes to making disciples, you should prioritize those who Faithful, Available, Teachable–otherwise known as FAT people.

Faithful.  Paul instructed his faithful disciple to find faithful disciples.  In 2 Tim 2:2, Paul said, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  With great wisdom, Paul did not say, “Go chase down the sheep that are running away.”  He told Timothy to invest his life in “faithful men” who are able to reproduce themselves.  As you focus on the faithful, the fleeing will be found.

So too Jesus was selective in his disciple relationships (Mark 3:13-19). While we should love everyone, we should be strategic in the way we reach out to others.  If you are making disciples, you will have closer relationships with some and not others.  Look for the faithful ones!  Be a faithful one.

Available.  There are lots of sincere people who have good intentions to know God, but when push comes to shove, there are very few who are available.  Many start off strong, but the weeds of the world enslave them.  Busyness erodes faithfulness, and their schedules limit availability.  But a good disciple is one who is not enslaved to sports, family, work, school, hobbies, or sleep.  They may be deeply invested in these things–and should be–but they are carving out time and making themselves available.

Focus on those who available more than those who are able.  Take a lesson from Jesus.  He did not choose the powerful, well-off, or important people.  He invested in those who heeded his call.  He discipled those who would follow him.  One way to test this is to call people to hard tasks.  Don’t lower the bar on discipleship.  Like Jesus, make the call challenging and see who is left.  These are the ones to disciple.

Teachable.  In Matthew 7, Jesus warns us of throwing pearls before pigs.  This strange statement is essential for understanding disciple-making.  You have a short span of life.  Use it well.  Invest your time and energy well.  Don’t throw your energy at those who are unwilling to be taught.  Focuse on those who are submissive to God’s word.  Christopher Adsit, founder of Disciple-Makers International, is helpful: “Most of us are poverty-stricken when it comes to time. It’s a foolish extravagance to squander precious time teaching a person something he will never apply or pass on! It’s pearls before swine.”

SECOND, DISCIPLE WITH TIME, TRUTH, AND TRAINING

There is no substitution for just getting out and doing the work, but as you disciple be sure to include three key elements.

Time.  Discipleship is not complicated.  It is time-consuming, but not complicated.  Do life with other, younger believers in Christ.  Invite them into your home, into your families.  And as you walk through life talk about Christ.  Ask questions about God.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Discuss a book together.  Serve together.

Truth.   Discipleship is only Christian in as much as the gospel is present.  Christians spending time together is not discipleship.  It must have intentionality, and more than that it must be infused with biblical truth.  It can look like a regimented Bible study, a weekly time of Bible reading and discussion, or bi-monthly commitment to do evangelism.  It can also be less formal.  But whatever it is, it must center around Jesus Christ.

This is what Jesus did.  With a band of disciples, he preached, ministered, and made his way in and order Palestine all the while teaching his disciples about what he was doing.  Paul did the same thing.  Everywhere he went, he was taking Timothy, Titus, Silas, or other young men.  He gave them a model to follow and truth to learn.

Johnny Hunt is right when he says that every Christian needs a Paul, Timothy, and a Barnaba—a Paul to disciple us, a Timothy to disciple, and a Barnabas to encourage us. Personally, I consider it a failure, if I am doing ministry by myself.  I want to do everything with someone else, because I want to pass what I have learned to others.

Training.  Truth revolves around the gospel.  Training revolves around practical applications of ministry.  In church contexts, this means older men and women teaching younger men and women, respectively, the skills of ministry.  This could look like learning how to drive the bus route, preparing a funeral meal, teaching a Sunday School lesson, sharing the gospel, or planning a mission trip.

Every person in a ministry position should be looking and preparing there replacement.  Passing the baton is a necessary part of ministry.  The alternative is a latent self-centeredness that places all the weight of ministry on an individual.  When that individual leaves, dies, or moves, the work of that ministry goes with them.  By contrast, leader who trains another generation prolongs the work of the Lord for the edification of the local body of believers.

But this raises a serious question: Are you worthy of imitation? Paul constantly pointed to himself as a one who sought Christ, and he said, as he followed Christ, you could follow him.  Can you say the same thing?  Disciple-makers must first be genuine and growing disciples.  If you cannot call someone to imitate you why not?  What would it take to become a model disciple?  What is keeping you from growing in that way?

Do not be Charles Barkley Christian, who denied his role as a role model. If you are a Christian, you are a role model.  If you have taken the name of Jesus Christ, you are now one of his witnesses.  Witness him well.

Help those who come behind you by giving time, truth, and training.

THIRD, MODEL BEFORE AND MEASURE AFTERWARD

Modeled Demonstration.  When Jesus called the twelve, he called them to be with him.  Long before sending them out, he called them simply to follow, listen, learn.  They observed their Master in action, and when it was their time to lead they had years of experience to learn from.  Jesus was the model.  So too commanding others to do something, you should show them how.  And not just once–many times.

I was in conversation the other day with a family who after their conversion was immediately thrown into ministry.  Sadly, today they are having to pull back from ministry to retool their personal lives. Why?  They were too hastily thrown into ministry.  We need to be slower to commission, and quicker to model.  As church leaders we need to avoid the gap theory, where we see a gap and find a guy or gal to fill it.  Instead, we need to be people oriented, putting good people in places, instead of simply finding a warm body to fill a need.

Measured Delegation.  Following demonstration, Jesus’s disciples were called to action.  In his presence, the disciples were enlisted to baptize, they were sent out two-by-two, they were given errands.  In Jesus presence, the disciples tried and failed.  He gave them tasks and missions, that he could then use to teach and correct them.  This is wise strategy for parenting, pastoring, and for disciple-making.

It requires more than barking orders.  It requires that you know those whom you are giving spiritual leadership—their gifts, passions, abilities, and readiness.  It also means that we should be modeling for others everything we expect them to do.  Too often we move straight from instruction to delegation, without demonstration and supervised evaluation.

The result of activity without evaluation is a generation of workers who do more harm than good.  Imagine a surgical doctor given all the tools of the trade without years of residency.  The same is true with soul doctors, disciples, who are called to encourage and edify other Christians.  Just as doctors need training and correction in their surgical techniques, so disciples need the loving, hope-giving, correction of older Christians to help them grow into Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, outreach coordinators, and deacons.

All in all, the Great Commission is a vision for church ministry that never grows old.  It calls us to simply make disciples.  This is goal worthy of our entire attention, and it is a process that takes years to develop.  May we consider some of these priorities listed above, and go forward looking to find disciples who are FAT, with whom we can share life and the gospel, and who are willing to observe and receive correction as they become disciple-makers themselves.

May God give us great aid as we seek to make disciples, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (3) Who Makes Disciples?

Yesterday we considered what a disciple is, today we answer the question: Who Makes Disciples?  And I would suggest that there are two ways to answer that question.  First, churches make disciples; second, mature believers make disciples.  Let’s consider.

Churches Make Disciples

At the institutional level, God has created the church to be a disciple-making community.  This is not to say that parachurches, camps, publishing houses, or Christian radio cannot be involved in the process, but in his wisdom, the church is the ordained means of defending the gospel, proclaiming salvation, and making disciples (Eph 3).

Accordingly, churches would be served by asking: If Jesus came today and evaluated our church, on what would he evaluate?  What are his expectations?  I think the answer and expectation is simple.  Jesus would inquire “What are you doing to make disciples?”  I don’t think he is very impressed with all sorts of activities, fellowships, and programs that make us busy but fail to make disciples.  He has not called us to be active, but to be active in making disciples.  Since Christ is in the business of making disciples, that is what he expects of us.

God’s word on this is clear.  As the body of Christ, we are to be the hands, feet, mouthpieces of our Lord.  Accordingly, if God is going to make disciples in this age, it is through the church, by his Spirit.  If his greatest passion is to see the lost converted into disciples, then he expects that his body would be about the same work.  The Great Commission is the explicit statement of this truth. “Go into all the world and make disciples.”   Churches that excel in ministry but do not excel in making gospel-centered, word-saturated disciples who are able to reproduce themselves are not excelling as much as their numbers might indicate.

Big or small, churches are called to make disciples.  That is the first level.

Mature Believers

At the individual level, it is mature believers that make disciples. As in life, mature adults have babies, so adult Christians “give birth” (or rather, serve as attending nurses to the birth from above) to new Christians.  While young Christians, infants in the Lord, can and do witness with great zeal and effectiveness, it is mature believers who are in a position to “disciple” newborn Christians.

The Great Commission includes a call to teach all that the Lord has instructed.  New believers rarely know all there is in Scripture, or how to apply it.  This is why Scripture repeatedly demonstrates older believers mentoring or discipling younger believers (think of Paul with Timothy, Titus, and Silas, or Barnabas with Paul or John Mark).  Titus 2 gives clear instruction that older women are to teach younger women, and older men are to be models for younger men.

Thus, all disciples should strive for maturity such that they can disciple others.  This is not an optional calling, this is part and parcel of being a growing disciple.  Sadly, as Hebrews 5 laments, many who should be teachers are in need of learning the elementary truths again.

As a way of evaluation, we can say that mature believers are those who exhibit Christlike character and who are able and actually discipling younger believers.  Discipling others shows Christian love, an understanding of God’s purposes in the world, and a self-sacrificing, others-centeredness that behooves a mature believer.  By contrast, maturity should not be measured by the number of years a person has gone to church or even by how many studies they have led, how many committees they have chaired, or even by the number of Bible certificates or degrees they hold. Maturity is measured by ones personal Christlikeness and their reproduction.

May God continue to raise up disciple-makers in this generation, that more and more disciples would be born, raised, and sent out.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (2) What Is a Disciple?

Answering the question “What is a disciple?” is not as easy as it might first appear.

First, there is a shift in the meaning of the term disciple from the gospels to the book of Acts.  For instance, in John 6, many of Jesus’ “disciples” leave him.  These are the ones who follow him to hear his teaching and to eat his bread, but when he calls them to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they can go no further.  In this situation, disciples are simply those who followed and learned from him, but were not saved by him.  Likewise, you could say of Judas, that he was a disciple in one sense (he followed and learned from Jesus), but not a disciple in another sense (he failed to follow Christ until the end and he betrayed his master).  Thus, in the Scriptures themselves, there is some ambiguity in the term.

Why does this matter?  Well, the other day, I heard a radio preacher stating that the disciples in the Bible are just like us.  Yes and no.  There is much similarity between the followers of Jesus in his day, and in genuine believers today.  However, there is dissimilarity too.  Few are called to leave their fishing nets behind to become Christ’s disciples and none are called to to follow a wandering Nazarene through the hills of Israel.  Likewise, at a more doctrinal level, many of the followers of Jesus did not abide in him, and thus were not saved (cf John 6:66).  But this reality should not form the basis of our doctrine of discipleship.  True disciples today are those who are born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and will not fall away because through the Spirit and the Word, God will preserve them even as they persevere in faith.

That is the first qualification, but there is another. In popular Christianity, there interpretations of discipleship.  Perhaps two of the most helpful explanations of discipleship today to explicate these differences are Michael Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship and Jonathan Lunde, Following Jesus The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship.  Gleaning from their observations, I would posit a few ways that disciples are defined today.

(1) Disciples are COMMITTED believers.  Salvation is one thing, discipleship is another.  There are Christians and then there are disciples.  This posits a two-tiered system in the Christian life–with the saved and the sanctified.  The problem with this is that it rips apart the unified work of salvation, and it does not fit with biblical language.  In Acts 4:32, the church is described as a band of believers; but Acts 6:2 describes the church as “the full number of disciples.”  Disciples are believers; believers are disciple.  No tiers!

(2) Disciples are ministers.  Like the twelve, disciples are called to a special ministry of service.  This results in a view where churches  have clergy and laity, disciples and congregants.  This separation is often found in special dress for the clergy, or unhealthy veneration of church leaders.  By contrast, the Great Commission calls all people to discipleship and to disciple others.  Church work is for everyone.  Disciples are ministers, but if I am reading Ephesians 4 correctly, we are all called to various roles of ministry in the church.  Christianity is not a spectator sport.  Jesus calls us to join him in the work.

(3) Disciples are Christians.  Christians are disciples.  While we are at different phases in our journey with Christ, Christianity is not two-tiered, any more than your families are two-tiered.  While wisdom cautions against young disciples leading, there is no two-stage approach.  Rather, as in any family, there are babes, children, young adults, and mature adults.  The same is true in the church, and every age are called disciples.

A Definition of Discipleship

In light of these previous observations, here is an attempt at a definition: A disciple is a man or woman who is a new creation in Christ that no longer lives for self, but who has (a) believed on Christ for the forgiveness of sins, (b) possesses eternal life, and (c) lives to learn, follow, and imitate Christ in all areas of life.

To say it another way, if we take our cues from the Great Commission: (a) Disciples identify themselves with Jesus Christ in baptism; (b) Disciples learn AND practice all the words of God has given us; and (c) Disciples serve our Lord, going into the world to herald the message of Christ and to reproduce disciples.  This is the Great Commission.  This is what the twelve did, this is what Paul did (Acts 14:21), and this is what Paul called his followers to do (2 Tim 2:2).

Another place to get our bearings for defining a disciple is Mark 3:13-19.  There we find that discipleship goes all the way back to Jesus, and that three things stand out.  Those whom he calls to be disciples (and apostles– a calling that makes the twelves position different than our own), he gives three requirements:  First, the twelve are to be with him so that they might learn from Jesus, copying him, imitating him;  Second, the twelve are sent to preach.  So they are not passive learners but active servants.  Third, the twelve were given authority to cast out demons as is witnessed in the Gospels and Acts.

Now, on this last point, we may think that this is only for them, after all we do not cast out demons.  But I would suggest, that the calling we have to win souls and to nurture them in the grace and truth of the gospel is even greater than the commission given in Mark 3.  Just listen to John 20:23:  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  In the gospel, we have been given authority to declare forgiveness and eternal life.  We are not simply casting out demons, we are calling men to eternal life, and by God’s design, the effectual call that converts a man is conveyed through the general call of God’s human witnesses.

Thus, according to Mark 3–if we can use this text in any sort of prescriptive way–Scripture shows that disciples are those who are with Jesus, who serve at Jesus commission, and who are involved in Christ’s ministry of making other disciples. Certainly, more can and should be said, but this is a start.

Tomorrow, we will consider in more detail who is able to make disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?

A number of years ago, I followed the Christian crowd and wore the trendy WWJD bracelet.  For those who have forgotten (or never heard), the letters stood for “What would Jesus do?”  Developed from the book In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, a book that favored a social gospel and promoted a man-centered kind of Christian imitation, the bracelet asked an important question:  How should we live our lives in a manner that would please our Lord?  The question was meant to stimulate obedience and lifestyles that reflected the kind of things true believers should do.  While missing the beautiful, objective work of Christ for us, it did helpfully ask how we ought to live for Christ.

That is what we are after this week too: How do we adhere to the Great Commission imperative to “make disciples”?  What is a disciple?  How should we go about making disciples?  And why should we do it?  Those are the questions we will consider this week, but instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” which orients the Christian life around subjective obedience of Christ’s followers, our inquiry begins with the better question: “What did Jesus do?”

Putting Christ at the center, instead of our Christian obedience, we will be able to see how central disciple-making is to our Lord and then from their to see how we might follow him in the work.  Therefore, today as we consider what Jesus did (past tense), we will look at a number of purposes statements spoken by Jesus that explain why Jesus became a man (Cur Deus Homo?), and how each of these purpose statements relate to disciple-making.

Here are five reasons why Christ came to earth.

First, Jesus came to preach the gospel

The first thing to note is that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:38 records Jesus’ words, “And he said to them, “Let us go to the next town, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”  When we are introduced to Christ, in the Synoptic gospels, the first act of his ministry is to go out into the regions surrounding Galilee preaching the gospel and calling sinners to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15).  What was his purpose?  The answer is surely pluriform, but it at least involved the calling and creation of disciples.

Second, Jesus came to fulfill the law

Not only did Jesus come to preach the gospel, he came to fulfill the law—to keep covenant with God, so that he could establish a new covenant, not based on works of the flesh, but faith in the Spirit.  So he says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  In fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus made it possible for his disciples to one day be clothed with his righteousness (Isa 61:10). Likewise, he provided a perfect example of love and service to God that disciples are called to imitate (cf. John 13).

Third, Jesus came to provide salvation

In Luke 19, Jesus seeks out Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector, for the singular purpose of making this unlikely sinner a son of Abraham. Verse 10 gives a larger explanation of Jesus’ ministry: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Clearly, Jesus the lost, so to make them his disciples.  The same thing can be gleaned from Matthew 9:13, which states, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Here, Jesus explains that his target audience is not religious professionals, or even good people, but those who weary and heavy-laden with sin.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection served the purpose of making disciples.

Which leads to a question:  How can a righteous God who cannot stand the sight of sin or sinners (Ps 5:5; 11:5; Hab 1:13), extend blessings to sinners?  Again, the life of ministry and his biographical purpose statements explain.  In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The many harkens back to Isaiah 53:11-12, but it also bespeaks of the many disciples that Jesus is purchasing with his blood.

Fourth, Jesus came to judge the world

Jesus came not only to save a people for his own possession; he also came to judge the world, to cleanse the world from those who stand opposed to God.  In John 9:39, Jesus debates with the Pharisees concerning the healing of a blind man, and he says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Likewise, with greater graphic illustration, Jesus states in Luke 12:49, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!”   The fire is that of judgment.  While John can say that Jesus did not come to bring judgment; in another sense he did.  He is preparing the way for his return when he will call all men to account.

Even the demons recognize this, though they did not know how it was going to work out.  In Mark 1:24, Jesus heals a man suffering from a demon, and they reply “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?

Jesus is not directly making disciples with these judgments, but in another way he is. By judging the world, Jesus is creating a place for his people to abide with him.  Today, we do not yet see all things in subjection to Christ.  The new creation is not yet here in its geographic form.  However, Christ is saving me and women.  These are his new creations, disciples who are learning how to live in his kingdom–the kingdom that they will inherit at the end of the age (Matt 25:34).  Thus, Jesus purpose statements about judgment promise that all those who have become his disciples will escape his coming judgment, and will instead be protected by his sword.  This leads to a final point.

Fifth, Jesus came to create a new community of disciples

The final answer to the question of what Jesus came to do is this: Jesus came to call a new community of disciples.  Now indeed all the previous purposes are related to this.  (1) He preached the gospel to call people to faith; (2) he fulfilled the law and died on the cross so that he could remove the sin of his followers and clothe them with righteousness; (3) He announced his kingdom authority and his right to judge in order to assert the kingdom he was going to establish—a world free from sin, evil, Satan, and death.  Jesus came to create a new humanity.  He came to make disciples.

Significantly, this is what we find  then in Matthew 10:34-35.  In a context where Jesus has sent his disciples out to proclaim the message of the kingdom, Jesus explains his purposes after there return: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Everything Jesus did, he did for the purpose of making disciples.  His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and heavenly session are all aimed at bringing in the sheep of his fold.  While acquiring many names in he gospels (sheep, children, given ones, friends), Jesus did everything for the purpose of making disciples.  So should we.

In the days, ahead we will answer four more questions on discipleship, as we consider this central feature of our Lord’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Jeremy Lin’s Faith: Keeping Our Heads in the Midst of Linsanity

“Gods come pretty cheap these days.  You can make one by putting a leather ball through an iron hoop.”

Those classic words, spoken by Barbara Hershey in the movie Hoosiers embody what has taken place in the life of Jeremy Lin in the last 72-hours.  In less than half a week, he has gone from being a skilled bench warmer to an NBA superstar who just schooled one of the league’s best basketball players, Kobe Bryant.

However, it seems that Lin would want nothing less than to make him into an idol.  Instead of using basketball as a means of promoting himself, it seems that his greatest aim is to make much of Jesus as he plays basketball.  Give a listen.

It is doubtful that Lin, at the time of this interview, could have anticipated what took place in Market Square Garden last night.  Just a few days ago, Kobe Bryant had never heard of Jeremy Linn–and neither had the rest of us.  Today, Kobe and the basketball watching world knows all too well about the sensational point guard who came out of nowhere to outscore Kobe and to send the Los Angeles Lakers back to the West Coast with a defeat.  Here are the highlights.

As I watched the highlights, I was–and still am–amazed.  In four games, Lin has become a household name, scoring and 25, 28, 23 and 38 points–not to mention averaging over eight assists in those games. Because I have a fondness for basketball and underdogs, the Jeremy Lin story is great. Unrecruited out of high school and undrafted out of college, Linn’s success is even more amazing than the Heisman-winning, two-time national champion  Tim Tebow.

But there is more.  Not only is Lin a great ball player.  He rightly sees basketball as a gift from God, and he desires to use it as a platform for ministry.  To get a sense of this, read Timothy Dalrymple‘s eye-opening interview with Lin when he was still a college player (March 3, 2010).  In it Dalrymple asks Lin about how his Christian faith and basketball intersect. His interview, is called “The Faith and Fate of Jeremy Linn” (Part 1, Part 2).

A FEW REFLECTIONS

Now in all the media hype of today, fittingly entitled, “Linsanity,” let me offer a few sobering reflections.  As with Tim Tebow and other outspoken athletes, politicians, and public figures–especially underdogs whose rise is meteoric–it is wise to not hang our hopes on them.  Consider the case of Josh Hamilton, another Christian-athlete who recently admitted to breaking his vow to never drink again.  See Evan Lenow’s helpful post “When Heroes Fail,” as he issues a similar caution.

Trust in the Gospel, not media giants. While we ought to give thanks for the way God raises up modern-day Joseph’s (and Esther’s), we should be slow to trust in man (Ps 20:7-9; 118:8-9).  Often times, Christians get more excited about the craze of attention public Christians get, thinking “this is how we are going to make a difference in the world.”  And to be sure, God uses public figures with large platforms to advance the message of the gospel.  But ought we to think that these extraordinary means are what we need for Christian impact to take place?  I think not.

God uses great and small alike.  God usually uses slower, more mundare means of sending his message–like mothers and fathers imparting the gospel into their children’s lives as they pray bedside for years.  No one sees it.  Many surely wonder of if something more spectacular is needed, and yet by the slow process of gospel witness and example, children are brought to faith. Don’t miss it.  In the interview, Lin gives attention to the impact that his parents had on him in that regard.

Let the outspoken faith of public figures spur you on, not slow you down.  While Christians have every reason to cheer on this brother in Christ, we must be careful not to make people like him and Tim Tebow our evangelistic replacements.  Every member of the body of Christ is called to evangelize, not to fall prey to the idea that God has raised up big names to do our work for us.  In comparison with Lin, it is tempting to distrust our own ability to influence others for Christ.  The temptation arises: If only I had a greater testimony, than I could be useful.  But such is not the case.  The power of the gospel has never been in the vessels who herald the message, the power is always in the word itself.

Rejoice in Lin’s heavenly status more than his earthly stats. At the same time, we should remember that Lin’s superstar career is four-games old.  He has shot into the NBA like a comet.  It is possible that his career and impact will be just as brief as a shooting star.  Or it may be God’s good pleasure to make Lin a perennial all-star.  Whatever the case may be, might we give thanks to God that his name is written in heaven on the testimony of his faith, more than the fact that a good, moral brother has his name written in lights.

Pray. Last, pray for Jeremy Lin, for Tim Tebow, and others who are under enormous pressure to perform, constant scrutiny, and for all their fame are in grave danger of isolation and narcissism.  May God protect their purity, their biblical fidelty, and their hearts from pride.  Pray for their families and their churches to reach out to them and to draw be a safe environment for these Christians to understand better what God demands and promises, instead of being bombarded for another autograph.

In the end, I find the Jeremy Lin story compelling.  It has my attention. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the story goes.  But as I watch I will be praying that God will make the light of Jesus in his life outshine his own newfound fame.

MORE

For more on Lin’s life and faith, see Michael Luo’s “Lin’s Appeal: Faith, Pride, and Points” (HT: Jim Hamilton)

For a rap video on Lin’s approach to the game of basketball and some thoughtful reflections on Lin’s potential to impact Asians for Christ, see my friend Owen Strachan’s post “Linsanity! Ex-Ruff Ryders Rapping & Asian-American Christianity.”

Another post on this story is also Owen Strachan, who fills in as a sports writer for by The Gospel Coalition.  His latest is called, “The Basketball Star No Body Wanted: Jeremy Lin’s Unlikely Triump.”

David Mathis and Tony Reinke provide a nice quote from Jeremy Lin, where he talks about what God has taught him from Philippians 3 about basketball and the greater prize that is found in Christ — All Spheres of Life — Even Pro Basketball

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Beware of Many Lawful Things: A Word of Warning from J. C. Ryle

This morning we considered the lives of Martha and Mary. While silent, Mary gives the world a beautiful example of how we ought to respond to Christ. Simultaneously, Martha supplies us a counter-example of what happens when busy Christians get distracted by many good things instead of seeking the one thing that is needful.

On this subject, J. C. Ryle’s words are especially appropriate.

The fault of Martha should be a perpetual warning to all Christians.  If we desire to grow in grace, and to enjoy soul-prosperity, we must beware of the cares of this world.  Except we watch and pray, they will insensibly eat up our spirituality, and bring leanness to our souls. It is not open sin, or flagrant breaches of God’s commandments alone, which lead men to eternal ruin.  It is far more frequently an excessive attention to things in themselves lawful, and the being ‘cumbered about much serving.’  It seems so right to provide for our own!  It seems so proper to attend to the duties of our station!  It is just here that our danger lies.  Our families, our businesses, our daily callings, our household affairs, our intercourse with society, all, all may become snares to our hearts and may draw us away from God.  We may go down to the pit of hell from the very midst of lawful things (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Lukevol. 1, 386)

May we who feel the effects of distraction and busyness, repent and return to Christ, the only one who is really necessary.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gossip More: Because Gossiping Less Never Works

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

Gossip.  It is a common disease—easily contracted, hard to cure.  Yet, the surprising solution is not to gossip less.  Just the opposite: You need to gossip more.

Let me explain.

You were made to gossip.  God gave you speech and a heart curiously intrigued by other people.  How else could talk radio, talk shows, and talking heads be so popular?  They scratch a human itch—the desire to be in the know and to talk with Gnostic wisdom about someone or something.

There is a kind of pleasure that comes from hearing something known to a select few.  We love secrets, and gossip is the pipeline for passing them, though every carbon copy erodes the secret.  Therefore, we want more.

Now, in steps the religious professional who says: The Bible condemns idle talk and God hates gossip.  Therefore, stop!  His premises are right.  God does condemn idle talk and hates any speech that tears down another.  However, knowing the law never changed anyone.

No, pernicious gossip that plagues the human race does not need to reduced or discontinued; it needs to be converted!  It needs a new object, a new secret to keep and then divulge.

Enter the gospel of grace. Nothing is more hidden and revealing than God.  No person is more intriguing than Jesus.  No secret is more fascinating than the news that sinners condemned to death have been declared innocent, set free, and rewarded because another has volunteered to take their place on the electric chair.

Indeed, evangelism is simply gossip about Jesus.  This is what happened in Samaria (John 4).  Jesus, a man of marriageable age, conversed with the town’s loosest woman at the local watering hole.  Talk about gossip!  This conversation surely evoked a few whispers.  Even more, when the woman raced off to tell her town about the man Jesus Christ, she participated in God-ordained gossip.

The result was amazing.  The whole curious town lined up to hear Jesus.  And many were saved.

Here is the point:  If you want to stop gossiping about things that will pollute your mind and shrink your soul, start gossiping about Jesus and the scandalous grace that he offers.  This will mean that you need to know him, but that is what he loves to share with all those who come curious about his secrets.

This week, don’t gossip less.  Gossip more about the only one worthy of such gossip!