Discipleship Is Impartation, Not a Transfer of Information

IMG_2228I just got back from another Quest event and continue to see the value and benefit of relational discipleship. Where discipleship has all too often been interpreted as curriculum, information or programs, the heart of “come with me” is lost. Jesus invited 12 guys to walk with Him for three years, not enroll in a course.

Over the years, I’ve been invited and now invite others to come with me. The times where I serve on a Quest, speak at an event or just hang out for lunch or a cup of coffee I try to have men with me that are in a pursuit which is similar to mine. There is a mutual benefit in these types of relationship as discipleship and friendship overlap.

This is what was offered to me and I am attempting to offer it to others. When I was invited, however, the burden shifted. The invitation put the ball in my court and it was up to me to make time and prioritize the opportunity. If other things prevented involvement, there’s no guilt, shame or condemnation and, at the same time, there’s no real discipleship. The burden of discipleship rests in the priorities of the disciple.

One of the reasons Quest has been a valuable component to my experience as a disciple as well as a disciple maker is the raw and real unfolding of things that otherwise might take years. The intense focus of a 6 day journey together creates unique experiences that can be learned from and impartation can occur. Impartation is the goal of discipleship, whereas information is the cheap substitute.

In those life on life moments that can only occur where there is proximity and relationship, things can be called out, set in motion and affirmed. In those common experiences, there is a gradual but real process that works from within us. It takes time and premature promotion comes at the cost of character development.

When I was invited, it was modeled and I got to watch. Then, in time, my voice was increasingly trusted and I got to step out. From that real-time experience which was shoulder to shoulder, I received correction, affirmation and encouragement. With increased experience, there was decreased feedback and increased release. Then, after a season of experience, input, trust and release, I was on my own and I was ready for it. The “stuff” had gotten in me, more than I had simply grasped the information.

Quest is a great laboratory as staff comes back to serve and develop. The process is propelled beyond other “average” six-day periods. Quest, however, isn’t about a trip to a ranch and neither is discipleship. It’s day-to-day, week to week and year to year. It takes time and intentionality that permeates our life so one life can be invested in another.

Children Don’t Interrupt Our Purpose; They Embody It

photo 2-1croppedA few months ago I was preaching and something outside of the ordinary occurred. My wife and daughter were traveling so it was just our eight year old son and I at church. He got up in the middle of the sermon and walked up to the front. I was surprised to see him, but not at all upset with his interruption.

“Hey, are you OK?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “I just want to give you a hug.”

Of course I hugged him and asked him, “do you want to stay up here or go sit back down?”

“I’ll go sit back down,” he concluded.

That was it. Simple and sweet and child like. As I reflected on this interaction, I was thankful that the place we go to church is an environment where it wasn’t weird even through it was abnormal. As everyone was watching, a pause to interact with my son was natural. I hope and believe he felt no sense of shame or guilt for the interruption and saw me first and foremost as his dad.

I don’t want my kids to think ministry is more important than them because they are my most important ministry. I do this for a living now, but no vocation takes the place of our primary calling as disciple makers to our children. The practical details of how to walk that out are not always easy or obvious, so the heart of intention better be.

Someone shared with Julie that interruption for a hug was a picture of how God receives us. I like that and am thankful for the ministry that apparently occurred from this simple act. I didn’t, however, intend to minister to others as I received my son. I simply received him because I love him. He was my first priority in that moment, even though it took me by surprise that he had a need or a want in that particular moment.

We aren’t always going to get it right with parenting. There are demands and variables that challenge our desires regarding our children. Many of us have times and areas of parenting which leave us feeling inadequate. I know that I do.

I pray today that the spontaneous reaction of that day be a picture of meeting my kids in the moment every day. I pray that I always stop to make them first over any others that also may need ministry. I pray they always know that they are my ministry, no matter what demands my vocation may present.

The Outrage and Optimism of Christianity in an Election Without a Candidate

2004-election-results-by-countyThe recording of Donald Trump bragging about his inappropriate behavior has set off a firestorm. Republican leaders are distancing themselves and there is a call for others to do the same. I’ve heard faith-based leaders react and call for reactions as if there is a need to indict behaviors and attitudes that were evident for decades. The latest revelation is no revelation at all. There is nothing about Donald Trump that suggests moral alignment with the truth of God.

Meanwhile, there is nothing about Hillary Clinton that suggests moral alignment with the truth of God, either. She is outwardly and obviously opposed to the values that reflect the Christian faith. If elected, she will presumably appoint Supreme Court justices that agree with her perspective.

Perhaps more than ever before in the history of the United States, there is a need to represent the truth of Jesus in a culture that doesn’t value truth. It will be important for us to remember in the representation of the truth of Jesus, however, that He brought the truth accompanied by grace. John 1:17, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

The call to the church is not one of encouraging them to sound off with conviction or condemnation. The task at hand is to realize that the Kingdom of God is not found in the alignment of morals or virtues that represent truth in the first place. A moral code of behaviors is another form of the law. The Kingdom of God is found in the grace and life of the person of Jesus. Not a set of rules that we think will make Him happy.

The two trees in the garden were the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Jumping around on a branch of good to oppose evil doesn’t convince or deter evil at all; it mobilizes it. Telling others how bad they are or how good we are isn’t useful. They already know how we feel about the issues that we care about, anyway. What they need to know as much as we need to remember is how Jesus feels about them despite the stuff that is born of the wrong tree.

The Kingdom is not represented in governments or candidates, it is multiplied in people. The Kingdom was always intended as organic and viral fueled by the life and breath of God.

I feel safe in saying that no matter who wins, we lose. I feel just as safe in saying that no matter who wins, we win. We win because the pressure of a government that doesn’t agree with a belief system will force that belief system to survive without the assistance of the law. We’ll be forced to rely on grace. We’ll be forced to rely on Jesus.


The Power of Forgiveness

apologyLast week, I took a continuing education course on the practice of mediation. The group taking the course was diverse with numerous HR professionals, a minister and some federal employees that find themselves managing labor disputes and a number of lawyers. I’m a pastor and a lawyer so I hit a couple of the categories, I suppose.

One of the more interesting presentations was focused on the idea of apology as a tool towards reconciliation. Obviously, reconciliation will facilitate dispute resolution which is the whole point of mediation. The thought was easy enough; apology facilitates forgiveness which produces reconciliation and dispute resolution.

Apology depends on humility and courage for the apology giver to be willing to be vulnerable enough to admit a wrong. The admission of the wrong doesn’t assure forgiveness so the confession opens up the apologizer to the embarrassment and exposure that comes in the wake of their apology. Yet it is a powerful tool in breaking deadlocks of disagreement if one of the parties is willing to go there.

I’ve worked in dispute resolution in faith-based as well as secular settings for decades. While this training was predominately focused on secular mediation, the truth of faith was seeping over into the practice of the world. Faith, at least faith in Jesus, is based on grace and the receipt of forgiveness. To step into that forgiveness, repentance is the turn from one way of thinking to another. Repentance is a form of apology to God for wrong thinking and agreement with Him to realize His grace through Jesus.

Any of us that have experienced the joy of the freedom that comes in the wake of confession and forgiveness would likely endorse the power of apology. That’s with our rejection of and reconciliation with God, however. It may be harder to actually step towards forgiveness when hurts and offenses are fostered by others.

Here’s the thing; Jesus forgives us already. He died to forgive us. We don’t have to repent or apologize to be forgiven; we just have to repent or apologize to realize the benefit of His forgiveness. Eternal forgiveness is eternal; temporal realization of that forgiveness is available starting now and running into eternity. If we reject the availability of forgiveness now, we’ll miss the benefits of forgiveness eternally.

Apology is a powerful tool in dispute resolution derived from the eternal truth of reconciliation with God as Father. He is calling each of us to Him through Jesus and His grace. If we receive His grace, we are more willing to offer grace and where we know forgiveness, we are likely to give forgiveness. Where we know the power of reconciliation from the Source of reconciliation, we are likely to be agents of reconciliation.


The Courage of Grace

HFA XKRT KRT ENTERTAINMENT STORY SLUGGED: HEMINGWAY KRT PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE JOHN F. KENNEDY LIBRARY (KRT119-July 19) Ernest Hemingway writing at a desk while on safari in 1953. This picture is included in the exhibition "Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Times," on view at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through November 7, 1999. (KRT) PL KD (B&W ONLY) 1999 (Vert) (jak)

A gift is an offering, we don’t really have to receive it. We can reject well-intentioned presents and go without whatever benefit they may have provided us. If we accept them, however, the burden of ownership comes with them.

If someone were to give you a house, you’d be responsible for upkeep. If someone were to give you a car, you’d have to obey traffic laws and safety precautions. The receipt of the gift brought about the responsibility of ownership.

Grace comes with an invitation. The invitation of grace is not only more grace, but greater glory. If we can receive what God offers us through the grace of Jesus, we can increasingly step into greater maturity. Greater maturity comes with the stewardship of what we already have. That stewardship includes the idea of building the Kingdom of God, not just sitting back and receiving the benefits of grace. 

When we know Jesus, He is going to invite us into Kingdom building stuff. That stuff is often uncomfortable and challenging. We don’t get to do stuff that’s to our glory; we are invited into agreement with His stuff to His glory. That means that the ability to do the stuff is beyond our limitations and control.

That means grace requires courage. If we are willing to step out of our comfort zone to accept invitations into Kingdom building that exceed our capacity, we have to depend on an invisible God. We have to trust in faith and stretch our comfort beyond our fears and doubts. We have to expose ourselves to embarrassment and failure dependent on God coming through in the stuff He invites us into. That takes courage.

Within our “yes” to these invitations are opportunities for success as well as failure. Both success and failure accomplish the Kingdom purposes they are intended. The things that the world may deem “failures” work out the “us” that is within us to give way to God in us. We die to ourselves in failure to equip us for the successes. To the degree that we have adequately crucified our selfishness, we are prepared to walk into the successes.

There’s always more for us to develop and mature in. To the degree that we’ll allow for the discomfort that come’s with the stretching, we’ll be increasingly equipped to receive. The way we know our capacity for receipt is the degree to which we are willing to give glory to God where we might otherwise be tempted to think we’ve done something.

All Politics are Local

politicsPersonally, I don’t know anybody who is excited about any particular candidate for president. Support has been justified by stronger dislike for the alternatives than it has as an endorsement for a leader with a vision. “Yeah, but they are better than” is about the weakest support you can offer and it’s the catch phrase of this election.

Where that discussion takes place, it’s not uncommon to hear something like, “I can’t believe this is the best that we can do,” or “how did we get these candidates?” Unfortunately, we got them because they reflect us. All politics are local and local attitudes have bubbled up to the national level, leaving us with a reflection of our culture.

We have become an inflammatory, contrary culture of opposition. The idea of vision and principle based leadership is not even talked about. The reason for that is it reflects a culture that doesn’t value vision and principle based living. We aren’t nearly as interested in the perseverance of vision or the sacrifice of principles as we are the selfishness of comfort.

The new normal is outrageous polarization. The preferred alternative for discussion and even entertainment has become name calling, lying and grandstanding. Unless you agree, you are targeted for attacks as disqualified based on actual or perceived flaws in your character.

Unfortunately, the church is right in the center of this shift. Since at least the 1980’s, we have increasingly embraced the divide of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” as the basis for presentation of our beliefs. We yell just as loud, lobby just as passionately and dig in just as deep where we believe you have to agree with us to be right. The only difference is we typically try to invoke God as a validation for our imposition of ideas.

Attempting to impose beliefs on others is not Christianity. There is no grace in it. Jesus didn’t impose anything on us; He invited us by His sacrifice.

None of the national discord is going to change from the top down. When we allow Jesus to change our hearts, it will reflect towards the person next door or in the office across the hall. We won’t need them to vote like us because we’ll be more interested in them than we are ourselves by eliminating the requirement that they become like us to be validated. We’ll allow for disagreement from the peace of knowing His grace, not the knowledge that puffs up in attempts to codify what was intended to be relational.