BETA

Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for March, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

WHAT DOES A TRUE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST LOOK LIKE?

Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:18-20) But what does a true disciple of Christ look like? How do I know I am on the right track in my efforts to make disciples? Is there a way to measure such a person?

Does it have to do with standards of performance? Or a certain degree of church involvement? Or the length and intensity of ones prayer life? Who decides the criteria? Following are several Scriptural definitions of a disciple. We are on safe ground in our definition of a disciple if we stay with these basic, yet profound meanings:

A Disciple of Christ has forsaken all to follow Christ: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Lk. 14:33) (See Lk. 14:26-33) (Also see Luke 18:22,28-30; Phil. 3:7,8; 1 Jn. 2:15,16)

QUESTION: Has your disciple, in his quest to follow Christ, surrendered control of his rights?

A Disciple of Christ is a serious adherent of God’s word: "…Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn. 8:31,32) (I Sam. 12:14; Matt. 7:24-27; Jms. 1:22-25)

QUESTION: Has your disciple made the decision to build his life on the authority of Gods word?

A Disciple of Christ loves others unconditionally and sacrificially as Christ loves us: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn. 13:34,35) (See Jn. 15:13)

QUESTION: Is the life of your disciple characterized by selfish indulgence or sacrificial service?

A Disciple of Christ is growing in Christ likeness: "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Lk. 6:40) (See Jn. 15:20; 2Cor. 3:18)

QUESTION: Is the fruit of the Spirit increasingly operative in the life of your disciple? (Gal. 5:22,23)

A Disciple of Christ bears much, lasting fruit: "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last…" (Jn. 15:8,16) (See Prov. 11:30)

QUESTION: Are the lives of people being changed into Christlikeness through the influence of your disciple?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

WHAT KIND OF A LEGACY ARE YOU LEAVING?

Legacy: That which you pass on to future generations.

If you are intent on leaving an eternal legacy, it will be through the investment of your life in that of others for the Kingdom and Glory of God.  Anything less will crumble with time. 

No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this  foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (I Cor. 3:11b-15)

Let me suggest three qualities you need to possess if you are to leave an eternal legacy through the lives of others:

A willingness to allow God to superintend your agenda: Dietrich Bonhoffer, whose life was cut short by martyrdom via Nazi Germany, put it this way, We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by GodWe must notassume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.1

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called themThose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Act. 13:2a; Rom. 8:14)

A willingness to loose your life of self: I would like to travel light on this journey of life, to be rid of the encumbrances I acquire each dayThe most difficult thing to let go is my self, that self which, coddled and cozened, becomes smaller as it becomes heavier.2

Let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. For he himself endured a crossIf anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, carry his cross every day and keep close behind me. (Heb. 12:1, 2a; Lk. 9:23 – Phillips)

A willingness to be vulnerable: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no oneWrap it up carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemableThe only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. 3

And if my lifeblood is, so to speak, to be poured out over your faith, which I am offering up to God as a sacrifice–that is, if I am to die for you–even then I will be glad and will share my joy with each of youI am glad to give you myself and all I have for your spiritual good, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me. (Phil. 2:17; 2 Cor. 12:15 Living)

QUESTION: As you review this past week, which way does the scale tip in terms of focus? Has it been primarily on the eternal over the temporal? If so, you are in the process of leaving an eternal legacy.  If not, the legacy you are passing on will be hay, wood, and straw.  Not real enduring in Gods purifying test of fire.

1 The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoffer, 1937; 2 The Irrational Season,  Madeleine LEngle, 1977; 3 C. S. Lewis The Four Loves, 1960;

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

ARE WE HERDING OR DISCIPLING PEOPLE?

Within the Body of Christ, there often exists a serious disconnect between what Jesus commanded us to do and the actual accomplishment of it. A few months ago I lunched with a godly, accomplished pastor who is having a significant impact on his community for the Gospel.  Hes bright, educated, visionary and deeply concerned that people in his surroundings find Christ. His sermons are Biblically sound and thoughtfully crafted.  His church also offers a wide array of programs that seek to address the needs of the congregation and the community at large.

Last night I met with 7 or 8 of the men in his church all business and professionals, and asked them, What kind of a grade would you give yourselves in terms of your walk with God?Your time with God?Your intimacy with Christ. Your victory over sin?; Your fruitfulness in the lives of others? etc.  My heart sank as they came up with Cs and Ds.  These good men who sincerely desire to walk with Christ then expressed to me their frustration in not knowing how, in practical terms to live out the Christian life.

Obviously, there is an acute disconnect between the pastors perception and reality as to what is actually being accomplished in his ministry. Tons of people flock to listen to his sermons and attend well-crafted seminars on subjects important to the church body and the surrounding community.  Yet here are some of his best men living defeated lives, with little idea of how to get out of their spiritual funk and into a life of joy and victory with Christ.

One obvious reason for their stagnation is the fact that no one has singled them out to be discipled. Tragically, much of the thinking and planning in many churches boils down to a herd mentality, better known as the numbers game where bigger is better. Conversely, Jesus demonstrated the importance of individual and small group discipling.  Paul singled out Timothy and others for intense, personal help over a sustained period of time. Every mature person of God I have known over the years has had at least one individual who invested deeply into their life.  All of us have deep rooted issues that the herding approach cannot address. Talk to the average pastor, and he is overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of running the church:  Marrying, counseling, burying, budgets, etc., etc.  In fact, he has precious little time or energy to disciple anyone. Yet, the Creator of the Universe, Jesus, who made his primary ministry the training of the Twelve concluded his earthly ministry with telling his disciples (and us) to model his example in accomplishing Great Commission. (Matt. 28:18-20) Does this not strongly suggest that we, the church need to rethink our whole approach to the ministry? 

After hearing these mens grading of their walk with God in the Cs and Ds, I took an hour and walked them through John 8:1-11 (the woman taken in adultery), demonstrating how to meditate on a passage of Scripture. Taking a verse at a time, I asked questions like, What is happening here? What are you seeing? Feeling? What picture do you get when it says that early in the morning the people gathered around Jesus to be taught the word of God?  When they yanked the woman into the middle of the people sitting with Jesus, what did the people feel? How did the woman feel? What about the religious leaders? Why did Jesus write in the sand? What can we learn about Jesus in the way he dealt with the woman?  How did he deal with her? What application can you make from this passage? Etc., etc

They were thrilled at this simple but powerful approach to meditating on the Scriptures. No one had ever helped them on how to dig into the Bible.  I then encouraged them to begin to build the habit of daily meditating on Gods Word. As I parted my sense was that they would joyfully welcome someone coming along side and discipling them.

QUESTION: Are you also caught up in the numbers game, or are you investing in the lives of people?

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

IS THERE RELEASE FROM ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION?

In this mornings paper I read, More than 16 percent of Americans – as many as 35 million people suffer from depression severe enough to warrant treatment at some time in their lives. About 6.6 percent of the nation, or 13 million to 14 million people, experience the illness in a one-year period.+

Sohow do you deal with depression? Anxiety?  Low self-esteem? By deadening it with Prozac?  By going to more counselors? Resigning yourself to learning to live with it?

The other day I was gripped with anxiety over a personal issue that seemed to have no solution. Late that night I shared the problem with my wife.  Finally, with the quandary still stuck like a chicken bone in my throat, we turned out the lights and went to sleep.  Early the next morning in my time with God, I came across Psalm 131:1,2:

 God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. I’ve kept my feet on the ground. I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content.  Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.  Hope now; hope always!  (Msg.)

As I pondered this passage it seemed to me that there were four key points:

  Humility – I dont have to strive to be the top dog: trying to rule the roost (Rom. 12:16)

  Realism – I dont need to meddle in other peoples affairs or dream up grandiose schemes. (Rom. 12:3)

  Quietness – I do need to cultivate a quiet heart before God and settle down in Him.  (Isa. 30:15)

  Hope I also need to choose to put my trust in God on every issue of life. Total surrender. (Psa. 31:24)

After prayerfully meditating through Psalm 131, I felt the Holy Spirit impressing on me, Dwight, close the Book. Crawl back into bed (it was still dark outside) and let me love you.  So, I returned to bedworshipping and asking God to help me apply the truth of Psalm 131, along with Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God. Slowly, I sensed him quieting my troubled heart, healing my frazzled emotions, and reassuring me that everything I was concerned about would be OK. 

While in the car with my wife that morning, she commented, You are a different person today. Peaceful.  Is it too simple a thing for us to believe that the One who crafted our emotional make up cannot quell the inner storms of our heart?  Do we forever need to be reading more how to books, taking more pills, and consulting more counselors? Isnt God able to meet the deepest cry of our hearts with his peace?  Consider:

Jesus"O Jerusalem, Jerusalemhow often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate (Matt. 23:37a,c,38)

The Lord your Godwill quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singingYou will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in youPeace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world givesDo not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraidFor he himself is our peace  (Zeph. 3:17; Isa. 26:3; JN. 14:27; Eph. 2:14a)

+National Comorbidity Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

HEROES AND CYNICISM

In the wink of an eye it seems that many of our icons of virtue, strength, and leadership have fallen from their pedestal  into the abyss of disgrace: A national political leader is embroiled in sexual scandal. A much loved writer and T. V. personality who elevated the beauty of domesticity and homemaking for millions of women is indicted for insider trading. An educational and political leader who has written exquisitely on virtue and morals is exposed as a compulsive and indentured gambler. A major sports figure comes under suspicion for tampering with athletic equipment to enhance his ability IN breaking a long-standing record. As I stand on the sidelines and observe, my emotions race from rage to cynicism, to disgust, to deep disappointment. And only occasionally to moments of compassion. 

Tell me, how does one not become jaded and cynical?  Could it be that the process of turning skeptical occurs when we put our hopes and expectations in the wrong places?  On the wrong people? That is, we hope against hope that somewhere out there Forrest Gump and Johnny Appleseed really do exist. Theres got to be a bona fide Wizard of Oz somewhere!  Perhaps the disappointment started when we found out that Santa and the Easter Bunny were a ruse. In those tender years it slowly dawned upon us that our parents marriage had some cracks, and that Aunt Mary had had a baby six months after the wedding.  In increments our Pollyanna world of wonder lost its sheen. 

In our search for true heroes I think we find it difficult to believe the Scriptures claim that all men are liars, and that there is no one righteous, not even one  (Psa. 116:11b; Rom. 3:10b). Perhaps thats one reason why we are surprised when the paint peels off a media managed, air brushed, computer enhanced, market-driven national hero.  The lack of credibility becomes apparent when the gap between their public image and their private reality comes to light.  And thats when disillusionment hits us like a wet fish in the face.  Satan, the Scriptures remind us, is a liar, and many of our heroes who are outside of Christ, as polished and prettied up as they may be, embrace the values of the world he controls. (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 2:15,16) So why are we surprised?

Could it be that our admiration of those who seem larger than life is a misplaced focus that is displeasing to God? Could it be that we are mesmerized by them because they seem to have transcended where we have been bogged down. They seem to have gotten away with breaking the rules where we have had to pay. They seem to have achieved what most of us can only dream about.  In a word, they seem to defy gravity.  Could it be that our fixation on them is also based on our own unfulfilled dreams, aspirations, and yes, our (often secret) carnal desires that are vicariously lived out through them?

How would God have us respond when our heroes disappoint us? First, if our focus has been misplaced on people embracing godless values, we need to repent.  (Jms. 4:4) Second, according to Psalm 37:1,2, we are not to fret over their evil activities.  Third, we must not envy them.  And fourth, we should not be surprised when they fall:  Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

So, who should be our heroes? How about those unheralded folks who visit the infirmed, comfort the distraught, take the Gospel to the corners of the globe, and who get up morning by morning and go to work day after day when they would rather be sailing?  Such folks are rarely celebrated, but they represent the stuff of which true heroism is made: Virtue, humility, sacrifice, discipline, integrity, perseverance, and faithfulness. They in fact mirror the life Jesus intended us to live. (See Matt. 25:31-46; Jms. 1:27) Since God holds them in high regard, shouldnt we?

God"This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isa. 66:2b)

David: The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them! (Psa. 16:3 NLT)