Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Discipleship Fever: Disciple-Making as Treasure-Seeking (Luke 12:32–34)

rhythms-of-holiness

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
— John 15:7–8 —

Yesterday I preached a message on disciple-making that, for me, is the culmination of about 15 years of thinking on discipleship and Christian hedonism.

In college God used two ministries to shape the core of theological convictions. The first was Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). Through men like Phil Gillespie, Chris Sarver, and Robert Coleman (via The Master Plan of Evangelisma Cru staple), God gripped my heart with a passion to make disciples.

A few years later, after grappling with some theological questions related to God’s sovereignty and personal holiness, the Lord brought John Piper and the ministry of Desiring God into view. His book (Desiring God) was an answer to prayer, in that gave me a biblical vision for the glory of God that most satisfies the soul. As Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

After college the fusion of disciple-making and Christian hedonism continued. And while in Chattanooga, Tennessee the discipleship pastor at my church showed the relationship between glory-seeking and disciple-making from John 15:7–8. What is the pinnacle of glorifying God? As in creation, it is the making of an image-bearer who is learning how to live and love like Jesus—i.e., a disciple. Hence by making disciples who reflect the glory of God, God is most glorified in us. The question is, will we be most satisfied in disciple-making?

That was the focus of my sermon yesterday. For the last fifteen years, this paradigm of glorifying God via disciple-making has undergirded so much of my thinking. But I don’t think I have preached on it much—until yesterday.

In our series on spiritual disciplines, I made the argument from Luke 12:32–34 that the primary way we store up treasure in heaven is to make disciples. Just like the Israelites of old “stored up” treasure in the tabernacle (Exodus 25 and 35) and temple (1 Chronicles 29), so disciples of Christ store up treasure in heaven, God’s heavenly temple, by investing their lives in others. As we use our lives to help others walk with Christ, we become Spirit-filled instruments in Christ’s temple-building hands. Discipleship therefore includes evangelism and encouragement, leading others to Christ and helping them walk with him. This in turn magnifies the work of Christ and the glory of God.

All of this I argued is the way in which we store up treasure in heaven—by sharing God’s view that disciples are the greatest treasure. And therefore setting our heart on making disciples, so that God’s glory is magnified and our joy is multiplied. You can listen to the sermon online or read the notes here. Discussion questions are below, as well as a few resources to help you multiply your joy by making disciples.

Luke 12:32–34

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Discussion Questions

1. We have included disciple-making as a spiritual discipline. Why is that? Why is disciple making a discipline (and not a gift)? Why is not often included in lists of disciplines?

2. What is a disciple? What are the characteristics of a disciple? What do disciples do? What does a disciple need to know about discipleship? How does Luke 12 help us be disciples?

3. What is the context of Luke 12? How do we see discipleship in Luke? Luke 12? While the word ‘disciple’ is not in verses 32–34, what indicators are there that disciple is in view? Cf. Luke 9:57–62 and 14:25–34.

4. In our passage, what is the comfort (32), the challenge (33), and the counsel (34)? Why is it vital to mediate on the comfort of our identity as disciples (= sheep, heirs, children of God) before considering calls to follow and make disciples?

5. What does it mean to store up treasure? What makes this difficult (or easily missed)? How much do you think about storing treasuring? Making disciples? How can disciple making as treasure seeking help you follow the Lord?

6. Practically, what can you do to make disciples? How can you grow in your love for discipleship?  And how can you keep that vision of disciple making before you?

For Further Study

Randy Pope is the lead teacher at Perimeter Church (Atlanta, GA). His book on discipleship is called Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local ChurchOther books on personal disciple-making that are worth your consideration are

  • Robert ColemanThe Master Plan of EvangelismThis is the gold standard of disciple-making. To date, its abridged version has sold 3.5 million copies. Coleman is father of the modern “spiritual multiplication” movement. This is the first book you should read on disciple-making.
  • A. B. BruceThe Training of the TwelvePre-dating Coleman, this larger volume looks at the life of Jesus with this disciples and picks up a number of the same features as Coleman.
  • Christopher AdsitPersonal Discipleship-MakingChristopher is a Campus Crusade for Christ guy who gives a step-by-step approach to leading new believers to maturity in Christ.
  • Robby GallatyGrowing UpRobby the senior pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has an infectuous desire to make disciples and to help others make disciples too. His leads Replicate Ministries, a ministry devoted to inspiring and equipping others to help make disciples.
  • Bill Hull has written a number of important works on discipleship. To date, I have not read them, but have heard great things about them. They are Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker; The Disciple-Making Churchand The Disciple-Making Pastor .
  • Finally, a recent book that is at the top of my list for discipleship is Mark Dever’s DisciplingMark is a personal example of discipleship and his book makes the complexities of discipleship simple. If you read any book on this list, start here (or with The Master Plan of Evangelism).

May God gives us discipleship fever and be faithful make disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Disciples Must Make an Argument to Make Disciples

paulSome time ago, I sat in a Simeon Trust meeting with David Helm, pastor of Holy Trinity Church (Hyde Park) and executive director of Simeon Trust. He began by making this profound point: “disciple-making requires making an argument.” His point was disciples are not formed unless we can persuade them from the Scripture that their beliefs, actions, attitudes are out of sync with God’s will and in need of spiritual renewal.

Indeed, while discipleship is as plain and simple as helping others follow Jesus (Mark Dever’s definition in Discipling), the work is incredibly hard because calling others to follow Christ fully  means calling them to bear his cross in sacrificial ways. Thus, we must learn to make arguments that grip hearts, if we are to make and mature disciples.

Arguing in Acts

Recently, in reading through Acts, I was reminded how much Paul labored to make an argument. He was not argumentative (a mood); more constructively, he made reasoned arguments. In these arguments, he didn’t present the facts and wait for others to make a decision. No, he pleaded, persuaded, and persisted in making his case.

Consider just a few examples from Paul, based on four words used to describe Paul’s ministry. May the Lord use them to spur you to make biblical arguments as you make disciples. Continue reading

‘Cardiac Discipleship’: Five Ways to Pursue the Heart in Spiritual Formation

you-areYou Are What You Love is a needed corrective to overly cerebral approaches to discipleship. It is a challenge to followers of Christ to evaluate how ‘secular liturgies’ are training our hearts to love things other than God and our neighbor. And it presents a vision of discipleship that does more than just cement spiritual disciplines in new believers; it calls us seek first the kingdom and to live with hearts enlarged for Christ and his glory.

In what follows I share a few quotes where Smith speaks directly about discipleship. I hope they will whet your appetite for your book and pique your interest in how discipleship is a matter of heart cultivation.

1. Discipleship cultivates the appetite and curates the heart.

While discipleship is a matter of learning, it is more like learning how to cook than to read code. Disciples hunger and thirst for the things of God and know how to feed on him, and good ‘disciplers’ seek to cultivate cravings in the heart of new believers. So,

Discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our love and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the Kingdom of God.’ (2) Continue reading

The Testimony of Two: Why Baptism Requires a Harmony of Witnesses

baptism1In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.
— John 8:17 —

In recent months I’ve been in discussion about the meaning of baptism, and who is saying what when a believer is immersed for identification with Jesus. Is baptism an individual’s testimony (alone)? Or is it the church’s testimony? Or, is it both?

With this question in mind, I recently read John 8 where Jesus makes the axiomatic statement in verse 17: “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” In context, he is preparing to say he and his Father both testify to his messianic identity, even if the Pharisees in all of their well-studied folly could not receive this testimony. The point Jesus makes is that his identity is secured by multiple witnesses. In fact, John’s whole Gospel hangs on this premise, that there are a dozen or more witnesses testifying to Christ.

From this consideration, my question is, What role does the legal requirement of two or three witnesses play in baptism? If baptism is a legal act, whereby the disciple of Jesus is marked out and publicly identified, should this not include more than one witness? And have some churches misunderstood (or misapplied) baptism when they teach and practice that all that matters is the individual’s faith? Certainly, the one undergoing baptism is testifying to their allegiance to Christ, but what role, biblically speaking, does the legal requirement of two or three witnesses play in the ordinance of baptism? Continue reading

“You Will Be My Witnesses”: Five Truths About Witnessing From the Book of Acts

lionWhen I was in college and a young believer, one of the first Christian books I read was Bill Bright’s Witnessing without FearIt was a helpful introduction to evangelism and the call of disciples to be witnesses for Jesus. Just beginning to understand what it meant to follow Christ and make disciples, this book helped immensely to be a ‘witness’ for Christ. Today, I’m still thankful for that book.

Recently, as I read through Acts, the theme of witnessing came to the fore again. And how could it not?

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to empower them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Indeed, “witnessing” is something more than a spiritual discipline or a Tuesday night activity. It is the very essence of who we are as Christians. But what does that mean? And how exactly are we to speak about Jesus?

“Witness” and “Witnessing” in Acts

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to see how the apostles “witnessed” to Jesus in the book of Acts. After Jesus’ identifies his followers as his witnesses in Acts 1:8, Luke uses the word μάρτυς 12 more times to describe the witness-bearing of the early church (1:8, 22; 2:32, 40; 3:15; 4:33; 13:31; 14:3, 17; 22:5, 20, 15; 26:16). (He also uses the verb μαρτύρομαι twice, 20:26; 26:22).

From observing how this word is used we can begin to sketch what a faithful witness might look like. While a whole theology of witnessing could be written from Acts and the rest of the New Testament (e.g., see Allison Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness), let me suggest five truths about witnessing from the book of Acts. Continue reading

‘Seedtimes of Tears’: The Goodness and Necessity of Tears in Ministry

paul

When Paul called the Ephesian elders to himself in Miletus (Acts 20), he recounted his three years of service before them. His words focused on preparing the elders whom he loved and labored with for the challenges they would soon face. Just as Paul fought the beasts of Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 15:32), so too they would have to protect God’s sheep from the goats and boars who would come to ravage the Lord’s vineyard in Ephesus.

Reading Acts 20 recently, Paul’s words in verses 18–-20 struck a nerve. He writes,

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house

Humility. Tears. Trials.

As Paul faithfully preached the gospel, he encountered humbling trials, tear-filled circumstances, and strong opposition for simply doing what God has said to do. For Paul, this was business as usual (see 1 Corinthians 4:12–13), but Paul shares these difficulties to remind the elders that it was their calling too. For anyone called to speak God’s Word—one might think of Paul, or Jesus, or the prophets of old—is likewise called to a ministry of suffering and sorrow. Sorrow was and is a natural and necessary emotion for God’s servant of the Word.

Strikingly, in Acts 20, tears are mentioned three times: (1) as Paul recalled his fruitful ministry of the Word in Ephesus (v. 19); (2) as he called the elders to be alert of false teachers (v. 31); and (3) when the elders and Paul part, realizing they will never see one another again, they wept (vv. 37–-38). In all of these places, tears are the natural and necessary part of genuine ministry. Indeed, it is worth considering these tears, as they prepare us for service and alert us to the high cost of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard. Continue reading

Matthew’s Intertextual “Mashups”: Learning to Read Scripture from Jesus’ Inspired Disciple

matthewIt is well known that Matthew cites regularly from the Old Testament. He opens his Gospel by introducing Jesus as Abraham and David’s Son (1:1). He places Jesus at the end of Israel’s history—at least from Abraham to David through the exile to himself—and even frames this genealogy after the Toledōt structure of Genesis. Not surprisingly, the rest of his Gospel echoes, alludes, and cites the Old Testament. But one facet of his citations recently caught my eye.

In reading Richard Hays Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Hays shows multiple places in Matthew’s Gospel where the Evangelist (or Jesus) speaks from two (or three) passages of Scripture. Hays calls this metalepsis, “a literary technique of citing or echoing a small bit of a precursor text in such a way that the reader can grasp the significance of the echo only by recalling or recovering the original context from which the fragmentary echo came and then reading the two texts in dialogical juxtaposition” (11). It’s the way Americans often weave movie quotes into their everyday conversation. Only, in the New Testament, it is the Hebrew Scriptures which form the well from which the biblical authors draw. This is how Jesus taught and spoke, and it is the way his Spirit-filled disciples do too.

Therefore, in reading Matthew, what at first looks like a simple citation from the Old Testament is often a more elaborate conflation of two or more passages. In what follows I will list a consider three examples mentioned by Hays, cite a few others, and draw a couple points of application for reading as a disciple of Jesus’s disciple, the apostle Matthew.  Continue reading

The Necessity of Hardships: Why God Often Leads His Saints Into Dire Straits

sufferingFor we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
— 2 Corinthians 1:8–9 —

When Jesus announced his impending death, he just as quickly announced the kind of “death” required of his disciples. Luke 9:23–24 reads,

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

The invitation to follow Jesus is not road of glory, even as it leads to glory. And this is part of the plan. God tests the faith of his followers to prove its sincerity. As Peter learned from Jesus (see John 21:18), the path of discipleship is sovereignly tinctured with suffering for the purposes of glorifying God and purifying the saint (cf. 1 Peter 1:7).

Believers, young and old, often struggle with this fact. Often, when God rescues someone from sin and the consequences of sin, the general tenor of life improves. The fruits of repentance are love, joy, peace, etc. Yet, amidst such blessings comes divinely ordained hardship. Jesus spoke of Saul that he would “show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). And, indeed, God shows everyone of us differing degrees of affliction so we would refuse to trust in self and only trust in him (see 2 Corinthians 1:8–10). One example of this is found in Acts 16 and bears our prayerful meditation. Continue reading

The Disciple-Making Church: Teaching Disciples to Obey All Christ Has Said About the Church

 

htIn 2001 I took a summer job at the Harris Teeter in Virginia Beach. While on “project” with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), I sought a place to work and witness for three months. Harris Teeter fit the bill, and hiring me they knew I’d return to Michigan in August.

That being known, Harris Teeter invested 20 man-hours to train me, like they did every new employee. On top of the on the job training I received working in the deli, they sent myself and another project member to “night school.” Over the course of two weeks, they paid us for our studies in a corporate classroom.

If you’re not familiar with Harris Teeter, they are a grocery store that prides itself on customer service. It identifies itself as a “North Carolina based grocery committed to world class customer service.” Ask a manager and they will tell you they’re here to serve. Join their rewards program and you will become a “Very Important Customers.” Apply for a summer job—like I did—and they’ll train you for 20 hours.

I still remember some of the principles of customer service: “If a customer asks you for help finding a product, don’t point. Don’t explain the path to the product. Walk them to the aisle.” Harris Teeter was and is committed to giving customers the highest shopping experience. And all this for bread and meat that will go bad next week. Continue reading