We have been looking for the past couple of months at the theme of discipleship. Remember that our church mission statement is that we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In October I proposed the idea that discipleship is risky business. Of course, it is a risk-reward situation, and the rewards far outweigh the risks, but it is risky nonetheless. Last month we explored the key feature of being a disciple, that we are becoming like Jesus. This month, I’d like to take a ‘deeper dive’ on what it means to be a disciple-maker.
The following list includes some of the characteristics of a person who is a disciple-maker.
The disciple-maker is a servant.
Jesus came to serve, not be served. Among other things, He was a foot washer, a truth-teller, a time-giver (expended His discretionary time on others rather than on Himself). So, a disciple-maker willingly gives of themselves for the benefit and building up of others, even if they have to give up personal recreational activities to do so.
The disciple-maker is growing spiritually.
The d-m’s walk with God is increasing. Their relationship with Jesus is not in the past tense, it’s a present reality that is vibrant and evident to others.
The disciple-maker is spiritually mature.
Not to be confused with sinlessly perfect. The d-m has come to the place in her/his life that they react to the unexpected with biblical wisdom and biblical faith. They have an understanding of deeper truths from the Bible. Their faith is not shaken by tough questions; indeed, they know how to find the answers to tough questions. And their life is able to withstand the storms that come because it is founded on the rock of obedience to Christ.
The disciple-maker handles the Bible accurately.
She/he is a student of the Scriptures. The Bible is a vital part of their behavior and conversation. They read it, they study it, they hide it in their hearts. They understand the difference between essentials and distinctives. And they don’t argue or quibble over non-essential doctrines.
The disciple-maker is teachable.
They are open to God’s direction and redirection, His training and His discipline. They understand that they have something to offer to every person they meet, and that God has something to teach them from every person they meet.
The disciple-maker is a faithful witness for Christ.
The Great Commission as given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 is that we make disciples of every nation. In Acts 1:8 and Mark 16:15, Jesus told us to be His witnesses and preach the gospel to all creation. The d-m recognizes the importance of always being ready to share this good news with everyone. They also recognize the importance of serving those who respond to the gospel by nurturing their new-found faith.
This is not an exhaustive list. And, these character traits don’t line up in any particular order of priority. Every one of them is an absolute must if a person is to be effective in making disciples. Of course, also a disciple-maker is himself/herself a faithful growing disciple of Jesus. Make it your aim this month to fully cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His work of conforming you to the image of Jesus.
May your December be filled with the joy of the Lord as we celebrate His first advent and look forward to His second!
In Christ our living hope,
I ask what God wants me to do for the church.
As promised in last month’s article, I want to continue with the theme of discipleship. The key feature of the process of being a disciple of Jesus is that the disciple (you and me) is becoming like Jesus. And that process is not complete this side of heaven. Romans says we are being conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). Colossians says that we are being made complete in Christ (Col. 1:28). Peter indicates that we are to be growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2Pet. 3:18). John, that when we see Him, we will be as He is, but we are not there yet (1Jn. 3:2). We are in the throes of an amazing process that is moving us toward Christlikeness. In Second Corinthians, Paul describes it this way,
But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18 NAS20
How do we, as a church, make that happen? I have gone through some first-rate discipleship programs, but I have observed over the years that it’s not the quality of the program that determines success. What determines whether a person will mature, becoming more and more like Jesus in this growth process rests entirely with the person who wants to be a disciple of Jesus.
Remember last month I said that discipleship is risky business? Let me elaborate. To embark on that process of becoming like Jesus, I must let go of myself. I exchange my identity, my mind, my heart, my will for the person of Christ. Up to this point, I have been making my own decisions, now I submit all of them to the will of God. Somebody else is making the decisions for my life and that “somebody” is Jesus! What I risk is that Jesus might lead me to go places and do things that I don’t want to or that I don’t understand. But that is precisely the risk of becoming a disciple. Jesus said it this way,
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, this is the one who will save it. For what good does it do a person if he gains the whole world, but loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26 NASB 2020)
Deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. This takes me out of the realm of being a spectator of God’s work to being a full-on participant. Or to slightly modify the words of John F. Kennedy, I do not ask what the church can do for me, I ask what God wants me to do for the church.
Now, the truth is that when I make that commitment, I gain so much more than I give up! But what we gain is the subject of another article. In fact, what we gain in this discipleship process is pretty much the subject of every sermon and Bible study we do here at the church. Suffice it to say, to become a follower (disciple) of Jesus, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
We need to have discipleship programs that are user friendly and transferrable. And we already do have a couple of them. What we’re looking for are people who want to be like Jesus and are willing to commit their lives to be His disciple no matter what the cost. Next month I want to look more closely at the work of the disciple-maker.
In Christ our living hope,
Discipleship is risky business: deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life to gain it, leave (hate, Lk. 14:26) father & mother etc. Yet this is precisely the mission given to the universal church, and to our church by the Lord Jesus! Discipleship begins with some “easy” stuff: open the door, believe in and receive Jesus, take the water of life without cost, saved by the grace gift of God not of works. But once a person is born-again, she/he will never be the same. So, yes, discipleship is risky business, but in this case the statement is true, no risk, no reward.
Ideal discipleship takes place in the context of a loving fellowship of Believers with learners committed to learning and teachers committed to teaching. For the learners, they need to be teachable and obedient. For the teachers, they also need to be teachable, have a servant’s heart, and remain obedient. And when learning-teaching is taking place, there will be fruit bearing, both character fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) and ministry fruit (Jn. 15:16).
Discipleship training happens in both structured and unstructured environments. The structured environment includes accountability relationships between the teacher and learner. These accountability relationships seem to work best one-on-one or in a small group. The unstructured environment involves less direct accountability among the people to each other, but more accountability between the individual and the Lord. These unstructured events include our Sunday and Thursday worship services, the weekly Bible studies, and virtually every time “two or more” are gathered in Jesus’ name.
My appeal in this article is to get us thinking about discipleship and where each of us is in our discipleship process. Since our ultimate goal is to become like Jesus (1Jn. 3:2), then our primary identity here and now is to be a growing disciple of Jesus. Some have stopped with the easy stuff and never taken the next step. Some have taken that next step of life dedication but have become complacent in their walk with God and witness for Jesus. And some have truly embraced the call to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus.
Next month I want to “dive a little deeper” and “stay down a little longer” on this process of being and making disciples. For now, I urge you to make it your goal today to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus. Take that next step in this work of becoming complete in Christ. And may God bless you richly as you follow our risen Lord!
In Christ our living hope,
I have had some interesting discussions recently about the state of the church. One person commented, “Hey Pastor, the church seems to be growing.” Another whipped back, “Yeah but it’s nothing like it used to be.” One family expressed their appreciation for the good worship and feeding from God’s word that takes place each Sunday morning and Thursday evening. While another bemoaned that the services were too long for their comfort level. Many see the church rebounding from past struggles as others think we’re in the same old rut. So just how are we doing anyway? Is the church half-empty? Or half full? More importantly, “Are we doing what God has called us as a congregation to do?”
With that challenging question in mind, I began looking for some objective criteria for determining church health that was more than mere opinion. And I came across something very interesting. It was a flyer published by our denomination entitled The Ten Leading Indicators of a HEALTHY CHURCH. It included things like: Centrality of God’s Word, Passionate Spirituality, Fruitful Evangelism, High-Impact Worship among others. But what really got my attention as I read was that in a healthy church there is a common thread that connects all ten. That thread is a deep commitment on the part of the people in the church to build and not tear down, to edify and not dismantle, to help and not harm. In short, it is to approach the ministry of the church with a positive attitude, and to speak blessing to and about the members of our church family. Oh, I’m not talking about a sort of “Pollyanna” mentality that ignores problems and the sometimes painful realities of life and church ministry. I am talking about a basic heart disposition that recognizes and affirms we are on the winning side, that God has already secured the victory, and that He wants to bring about that victory in our lives individually and in our church family corporately.
Each one of the ten leading indicators is a wonderful goal on which we can set our sights. We need to be a healthy church. And I believe that is (or at least ought to be) the goal of every member of this fellowship. So I urge you to find ways to encourage and strengthen your sisters and brothers. Seize opportunities to bless and build up. Shun the temptation to entertain a critical spirit about our church family. I would remind you to recognize the incredibly positive message of God’s overflowing and everlasting love for each one of us! And, when it comes to our relationships with the other members of the family of God, keep in mind this passage in the book of Colossians.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,
Opportunities abound for useful service in the Master’s kingdom. God has blessed us richly here at Living Hope Church. Let us not be weak and tentative in serving our precious Lord. And let us heed the admonition of Scripture to “…Encourage one another every day, as long as it is still called “today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13 NAS20) May we each one know the joy of His fullness as we seek to do what He has called us to do.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM PASTOR'S DESK
How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Some of you will reply, “Quite well, thanks for asking.” For others, “I’m doing well with a couple of them, but that exercise program has really been an uphill climb.” And for most of the rest of us, “What resolutions?” As we roll into August, we approach what I like to think of as a second ‘New Year’. In the church for many years, we have approached the beginning of the school year as a new beginning in our calendar. A time to retool and start fresh with ministry. And our local school district is starting classes on August 23rd. So, this seemed like a good time for a newsletter article about new beginnings in our church ministry.
We are all aware that with the lifting of the Covid restrictions, it’s almost like we are coming out of hibernation. And for our church, I have had a strong sense from the Lord that He is beginning a special work among us and in our community. But I’ve also had to admit that from a ministry standpoint, we need to get our ministries up and running. While it is important that we make every effort to regrow our church, the spiritual health of our body of Believers is my greatest concern. Church growth has a direct correlation to church health. A church is healthy when her members are walking in the Spirit as a way of life. This would be reflected in the individual’s personal life by a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus, a deepening love for His Word, and ongoing evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of faithful ministry (church growth).
New beginnings and new ministries do not happen without prayer. So as we look at starting again, I want to devote this final part of my article to the church prayer needs. They include but are not limited to:
· Sewer hookup will cost upwards of $50,000.
· Staff needs in the church office
Education and training ministries
· Children’s ministries restart – Children’s Church needs more workers. Nursery needs workers. Mid-week club ministry needs workers.
· Youth ministries restart – workers for Junior High and Senior High ministries.
· Small group ministries restart– we need a coordinator.
· Discipleship training – both one-on-one discipleship as well as small group discipleship groups.
· Evangelism training
· Outreach events – men’s events, women’s events, holiday-themed outreaches, and just general events that welcome the community to meet Jesus.
· Hospitality team – workers.
Facilities maintenance, repair, and improvement
· Media team – livestream, computer display techs, sound techs.
· Music – worship team vocals, musicians.
· Greeting and Usher teams.
This is not an exhaustive list. In fact, my prayer is that we will see innovation and new ideas add to and even replace items on the list as we seek to make disciples of Jesus and develop a multigenerational community of His followers. So let us embrace this new beginning for our church. And let us resolve to obey what the Holy Spirit tells us in First Peter,
“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (1Pet. 4:7-NAS20).”
May He find us walking in the Spirit, diligent in prayer, and fervent in our love for one another when He comes.
In Christ our living hope,
I was working on a visitor letter recently to one of the newcomers to our church and had a crazy thought, what sort of things would Jesus include in a welcome letter if He were the pastor here? I don’t think it would be ‘cheesy’ comments such as “your needs are our greatest concern” or some ominous challenge like “get your act together bucko, you’re running out of time.”
Seems to me that Jesus would talk about the availability of living water or the provision of the bread of life that satisfies our deepest hunger. Perhaps a line or two about the promise of resurrection and life eternal. It just always seems like in the Scriptures that when Jesus met someone new, He told them about the love of God. And for the visitor, Jesus might mention that God really loves the world or say something about the New Commandment, that we should love one another with His love.
Perhaps Jesus would include an invitation to share a meal with Him. After all, He told the Laodicean Church (Rev. 3:20) that He was actually at their door knocking, waiting for them to open it and welcome Him in. Of course, He would likely be careful to identify Himself: the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the bread of life, living water, the resurrection and life, the Messiah, one with the Father, etc. And in light of who He is, He might offer the opportunity for the newcomer to self-reflect so as to see their own need for the Savior.
As it turns out, Jesus did write some letters to churches in the past (technically, He dictated them to the Apostle John, who wrote down the words, Rev. 2, 3) but He is doing His welcome letters a little bit different these days. In the book of 2 Corinthians, the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, describes the Corinthian Believers themselves as “a letter of Christ…” Here is the whole quote,
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all people, revealing yourselves, that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Cor. 3:1-3 NAS20
So, it turns out that we, the followers of Jesus, are His welcome letter to the newcomers to the church. And not just to the newcomers but to everyone with whom we come in contact. He is writing to this lost, dark, and hopeless world through the medium of us. That’s why it is so important that we remain in Him, vitally connected to the “Vine” so that the communication of His life and love can be clearly visible in and through our lives. And the great thing about being a letter of Christ is we don’t need a stamp. Jesus has already paid the postage in full!
May God bless us all as we live out the Gospel to everyone around us!
In Christ our living hope,
Jesus placed such a high premium on the importance of our love for one another that He called it a new commandment. The Old Testament had directed the child of God to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Lev. 19:18). Jesus’ New Commandment takes this a step further. He said we are to love one another just as He (Jesus) has loved us so also are we to love one another (Jn. 13:34-35). So significant is this expression of love that Jesus said this is how people will know that we are His disciples.
A logical result of that kind of Jesus-driven love is that we will live in harmony with one another. And indeed, the Holy Spirit encourages the followers of Jesus throughout the New Testament to be of the same mind toward one another (Rom. 12:16; 2Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2; 1Pet. 3:8). Jesus actually prayed for our unity the night before His crucifixion (Jn. 17:21).
My burden for the church, for our church is that as we come out of this Covid season we remain vigilant to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:11; 1Pet. 5:8-9; Jam. 4:7). We are not ignorant of his plans (2Cor. 2:11). The devil has used Covid against the churches to divide and conquer. From masks to vaccines our love and unity has been attacked relentlessly. Instead, we are to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), even in the midst of a pandemic shutdown. So, my call to us, the body of Christ is not that we keep wearing or stop wearing masks, but that we,
“…Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col 3:12-15 NAS20)
In the grand scheme of eternal life, when we stand before our Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we are not going to be evaluated on how correct we were in our response to the CDC guidelines, we are going to be evaluated on how fully we obeyed the New Commandment. As this season of reopening continues to blossom, may we, by our love for one another, display to everyone that we belong to Jesus.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR'S DESK
A few years back news outlets reported a heart-wrenching story. In Los Angeles, a car sped out of control and crashed into a house, killing a sixteen-year-old girl as she slept in her bedroom. Adding to the crushing sorrow for the girl’s parents was the discovery that the person driving the vehicle that killed their daughter was driving under the influence. This is, in every way, an absolutely senseless tragedy. While there are many lessons to be learned here, there are two observations I would make in light of this case.
First, as if we needed more reminding, we live in a fallen world populated by sinful human beings. Disobedience to God (sin) is far more than a mere personal matter, as was the case when the driver chose to get behind the wheel while inebriated. Often our sin does indeed affect others (as was the circumstance here). Our actions have consequences and so more than ever we need to keep in step with the Spirit, remembering that we were created in Christ Jesus not for sin but for good works (Eph. 2:10). So put off the old, sinful flesh and put on the new creation.
The other observation to keep in mind from this tragedy: none of us know what our tomorrow holds. Whether we are sixty or sixteen, for all we know today could be our final day. The psalmist (Ps. 90:12) prays, “…Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” The New Testament continues this theme in Ephesians 5:14-15, “So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” While certainly these verses issue a call to godly living and with that call a greater effort to obey God’s will, I think they also exhort us in our relationships.
We need to keep short accounts with the people around us. For most of us, we have families that we need to treasure not battle. That is true too for our church family. And they need to know that we love them. This month and next as a culture we set aside two days, one to honor our Mothers and the other our Fathers. If you still have yours, go out of your way to encourage them with your love.
Also, when it comes to relationships, this incident should be a reminder to parents that even though our children are a precious gift from God, He is still the One to determine the number of their days. As much as we want (expect) them to outlive us, we simply do not know if that will be the case. So love them enough to give them clear boundaries, to put aside your anger, to blend your firm discipline with copious amounts of laughter and reading and singing and talking. In short, prize the moments you have with them ‘making the most of your time.’
While stories like this one make us long for the soon return of Jesus, our work here is not finished until He says so. And that work includes not only the Great Commission but also the Great Commandment, to love one another even as He has loved us. So let’s redeem our time in the days ahead, walking in the Spirit and letting love and encouragement dominate our relationships. And when He does come, either for His Church in the Rapture or for us individually in death, we will have no regrets.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR'S DESK
There is lots of pressure on the church today. With all the shutdowns, many churches have seen their giving drop to unsustainable levels. Even as we begin to open a little, many churchgoers are unwilling to regather. Will the church survive? I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew Sixteen, “…I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” That promise is on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt. 16:16-18). So, the answer to the question as to whether the Church will survive is a resounding “YES”. While individual local churches may succumb to the pandemic shutdown, the body of Jesus Christ is growing in strength and maturity. He is building His church and government shutdowns will not overpower it.
It is important to understand something about the meaning of the term “church”. The Bible calls it the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23, 4:12; 1Cor. 12:27). And the body of Christ is made up of every born-again believer in Jesus Christ regardless of where they live or what local fellowship they attend. We are fellow members of Christ’s body with all the born-again believers in the Morongo Basin and throughout the world. And this is the church that Jesus is building. It is so much bigger than just one local fellowship.
Does this mean we are to be merely spectators while Jesus does all the work? No!!! In Ephesians Four the individual members of the body of Christ are metaphorically called “joints” and “individual parts”. So, in talking about the growth of this body it says, “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:16 NAS20)” Each of us needs to be working properly, supplying ministry to the rest of the Body so that it can continue to grow toward maturity.
I believe this pandemic is a plague, permitted by God to get our attention that the return of Christ is very soon (Lk. 21:11). Jesus compared His followers who would be alive just prior to His return, to the household staff who had been given jobs to do while their boss was away (Mk. 13:34-37). They are to do their jobs and stay alert for their master’s return. The job of the church is clear: we are to work to fulfill the Great Commission (Mt. 18:18-20; Mk. 16:15; Act 1:8). Our enemy has tried to use the pandemic to divide the churches and get the church members to stop working. But we are not ignorant of his schemes!
Join us for the Easter celebrations this month. Good Friday Service sponsored by the Pastors Fellowship will be at noon at Crossview Bible Church here in Yucca Valley. And Living Hope Church will be hosting the Community Easter Sunrise Service here in our Amphitheater starting at 6:00 a.m. By the way, this is the 70th anniversary of the Sunrise Service!
Indeed, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; and He will build His church! May God bless you richly.
In Christ our living hope,