I just read an article in ALife – one of the magazines I read on a regular basis. It was written anonymously since the author is working in a country which is closed to traditional missionaries. Be encouraged by these words:

“. . . no matter how much I strive to please my Heavenly Father, I don’t always get it right and often blow it. He loves me despite my failures, and has chosen to invite me into what He’s doing – despite my inadequacies. “

“The Father didn’t promise that following Him would be pain free; He simply asked for obedience. The ironic reward in setting aside my culture and language has been finding my place. Contrary to modern messages from my home culture, the journey of finding myself has absolutely nothing to do with looking inward, As I look upward, I realize that my identity has nothing to do with my location, my organization or my work – it has everything to do with my relationship with my Abba. “

How is your relationship with your Heavenly Father?

Romans 5:1-5:  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


“Is it a promise? Or a threat?”

That was the comment a fellow pastor shared after attending a seminar where Will Willimon asked the question following a reading of the Great Commission.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

What exactly does Jesus intend for us to hear when he says, “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age" (The Message)? When Jesus says he will be with us always, "day after day after day,” is that a promise or a threat?

Is it possible that we’ve mistakenly understood it only as a promise? Is that why materialism, sex, money, promotions, recreation, and personal fulfillment all rank higher in our priorities than disciple making?

Remember, to be a disciple is to be a learner; a life-long learner. The task is never finished in this life; the course cannot be completed; no certificate of achievement is awarded. Obviously, before we can make disciples we must be in the process of becoming disciples ourselves. Attending church doesn’t make a person a disciple any more than standing in a garage turns someone into a Volkswagen.

What does a disciple look like? Disciples are: Learners – both from teachers and from being self-feeders; Participants – fully engaged in the public worship of God; Givers – generously presenting resources to God in recognition that it already all belongs to Him; Outwardly focused – recognizing the people around us and around the world who have great physical and spiritual needs and putting on our boots, rolling up our sleeves and doing something about it.

How would our time and resource allocation change if we understand “lo, I am with you always” (NKJV), as Jesus holding us accountable, minute-by-minute, every hour, to making disciples by teaching them everything He taught?

Undoubtedly we would spend far less time in our efforts to maintain buildings, institutions, or traditions. If we could visualize Jesus demanding a daily account for how the breath he gave us was expended, we would most certainly give ourselves to prayer, studying God’s Word, and sharing the life-changing message with those who are far from God.

Jesus gave us a clear, uncomplicated, unmistakable command: “Go and make disciples.” He concluded the command with a statement, “I am with you always.”

Is that a promise? Or a threat?

No More Converts

The church should stop trying to make converts.

To convert something is to change US dollars to Canadian dollars – but its still money – or take liquid water and freeze it – but its still water. When we attempt to convert someone from Buddhism to Christianity all we’ve done is get them to change religion. 

Our preoccupation with making converts – getting people saved – has grown exponentially to become a serious blind spot. We have allowed the goal of conversion to distract us from real Kingdom work. We’ve become so concerned with getting people saved that we’ve actually forgotten the Great Commission. Jesus did not charge us with converting people; the Holy Spirit is responsible for conviction and regeneration.

Matthew 28:18-20 reads: Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

We’ve been duped. We piously sit in our church buildings waiting for people who are far from God to come to a service to hear a “gospel” sermon complete with 11 verses of “Just as I Am” for an “invitation hymn” and maybe be converted. We think people are being discipled just because they show up on Sunday morning. We conduct 13 week courses on discipleship and give people certificates of completion: You have been discipled. We who have been duped go right on duping others.

Jesus told us to GO.  Maybe we need fewer church services so we can concentrate on spending time building relationships with people who are far from God. They have to know we are real right along with believing that the God who dwells in us is real.

Then, after we witness the miracle of people deciding to follow Jesus, it’s our responsibility to make disciples. Jesus commanded us to teach these disciples everything He has taught and is teaching us! In other words, discipling is a life-long task.

The basic definition of the word “disciple” is learner. It is our responsibility to learn, to be taught, and then, in turn, to teach others. No 13 week course can produce a disciple because a disciple is never done. To be a disciple is to be a life-long learner who is both being discipled and is discipling others.

We need to make sure our attention is focused on making disciples.

Preaching on Sunday morning does not produce disciples. It may be a piece in the process, but it’s just one of many pieces. Small groups by themselves are not enough. Working in the food pantry does not make someone a disciple. We need a holistic approach for disciple-making that embraces listening, teaching, self-feeding, serving, and group interaction. 

And we must not be afraid of measuring results. We have to learn to use surveys, profiles, group inter-action and personal, one-on-one interviews to determine if people really are moving forward and growing as disciples.

It’s a bit of exaggeration, but let’s adjust our focus: No more converts! Make disciples!

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold”

Pastor Jon Allen went to a county fair. He saw a display of odd-shaped fruits and vegetables. He saw a cube-shaped watermelon. He saw a pumpkin that was shaped like a two-gallon jug. The grower of the two-gallon-jug-shaped pumpkin said, “As soon as it started to grow, I stuck it inside a jug. When it stopped growing, I broke the jug, and here it is!”

Don’t walk away from the celebration of the Empty Tomb without a new realization of the freedom and victory of the Resurrection. You are not done growing!

Life has a way of trying to shove you into a two-gallon pumpkin jug. When Paul wrote Romans 12:2, he was saying, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (J.B. Phillips). That is exactly what the world is trying to do to you every day. What does your two-gallon pumpkin jug look like? What shaping forces are molding your life?

The Incarnate One on the Cross

From my friend Doug Webster:

On the cross the Incarnate One hides his majesty in order to reveal his mercy. The will and purpose of the Son is one with the will and purpose of the Father. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). The forgiveness of the Father is found in the obedience of the Son.

And who did Jesus pray for? He prayed for the soldiers who nailed his hands and feet and thrust the crown of thorns upon his head. He prayed for Pilate, who washed his hands of Jesus and declared, “I am innocent of this man’s blood!” He prayed for the crowds who shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus prayed for the Sanhedrin, who sought to condemn him on false charges. He prayed for the chief high priest, who charged him with blasphemy. Jesus prayed for them all, even for his disciples who disowned him and fled. He prayed for you and me.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing?” And what were they ignorant of? Did the soldiers know they were crucifying the King of kings and Lord of lords? Did Pilate know that the placard he had written for the cross was true? Did the crowds know who they were mocking and jeering? Did the disciples know who they were abandoning?

Forgiveness is received, not imposed. Turning to God in repentance is important for accepting the mercy of God.

This is an excerpt from a Good Friday message Doug Webster is giving today.

A Comfortable Mouse

Last night I met Peter in Des Moines and we looked at mice – computer mice! Nine years ago I received a gift of a wireless, optical mouse. I tried to calculate the hours I’ve used that mouse when answering email, updating blogs, working on messages, and surfing the web to read articles and news items. It must be more than 10,000 hours! Now the mouse is acting up. Sometimes it charges and other times I start to use it only to discover its dead. Lately I’ve been charging the batteries using a plug-in unit but I know it’s only a temporary fix.

I like this mouse. It fits my hand and the finish is worn off where my fingers rest. I would really like another one just like it but have searched without success. I like what’s comfortable and familiar.

This morning, as I read Isaiah 53:1-12 in preparation for Communion tonight, I was struck with the thought that Jesus probably preferred comfortable and familiar, too. But he willingly left the grandeur of Heaven and lived a pauper’s life; scorned, ridiculed, rejected. More than 2000 years ago he ate a final meal with his disciples knowing that in less than 24 hours he would suffer and die. Because the Father loves him, Jesus loves us – and dies for us.

Father, teach us to go beyond appreciating what Jesus did for us and learn how to live like Him. Give us wisdom to know how to let go of the comfortable and familiar so that we can be more like Jesus. Amen.