What Old Disciples Owe the Young Ones

300px-MatthewHenry“…Until I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).

“It is a debt which the old disciples of Christ
owe to the succeeding generations to leave behind them
a solemn testimony to the power, pleasure, and advantage
of knowing Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s promises.”

— Matthew Henry

The Essence of Discipleship

John 12:26 – Whoever serves me must follow me…

J.C. Ryle offers a challenging word especially to us all:

“As the soldier follows his general, as the servant follows his master, as the scholar follows his teacher; as the sheep follows its shepherd, just so ought the professing Christian to follow Christ. Faith and obedience are the leading marks of real followers, and will always be seen in true believing Christians. Their knowledge may be very small, and their infirmities very great; their grace very weak, and their hope very dim. But they believe what Christ says, and strive to do what Christ commands.”

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, The Gospel of John

Reflections on “Those Who Mourn”

“Blessed are those who mourn” is, paradoxically, a more necessary message than
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” because there can be no true rejoicing until we
have stopped running away from mourning.
– Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes
The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of Him who
bears all suffering on the Cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in
communion with the crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of Him
who was so alien to the world that it crucified Him. This is their comfort, or
rather He is their comfort, their comforter…This alien community is comforted
by the cross.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship
Every suffering can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and
His comfort, which is infinite Joy.
– Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue

Three Family Faith Busters

Every Christian parent  desires to see their children embracing a vibrant faith in Jesus and serving well His kingdom purpose throughout their lives (3 John 4; Acts 13:36). To this end, our children’s ministry recently hosted a number of parents from both inside and outside our church to hear noted speaker and best-selling author, Vicki Courtney.

During our evening together, Vicki set forth three ways that Christian parents often struggle to pass the baton of faith to their children. She introduced her theme by sharing her concern about the alarming number of young people who are jettisoning the faith of their fathers and are leaving the church in alarming numbers. She quickly pointed out that this phenomenon is not a youth problem but a parent problem. She called the following three things “Family Faith Busters.” Here’s a quick recap.

1. The first family faith buster is failing to model for our kids that the Lord is our primary affection. Moses calls us in Deuteronomy 6:5 to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.” The Hebrew word for ‘love’ means ‘to have affection for.’ How often do we model for our kids that something other that the Lord is our primary affection? At times, we value the approval of our kids more than the Lord’s. We have to confess that at times other things and people are more precious to us than the Lord. She proposed that parents start by honestly assessing: “What are your top three primary affections?”

How easy it is to push our kids in athletic competition and academic performance due to our own idols of approval and control. How often we allow cultural standards of beauty to define our kids rather than God’s Word (1 Samuel 16:7). She challenged us to identify those things that are more precious to us than Jesus and to bring them to Him just like Jesus urged the woman at the well.

2. The second family faith buster is failing to acknowledge and embrace our role as the primary disciplers of our kids. Our consumer-oriented society coupled with our nagging sense of inadequacy cause parents to drop back and punt the spiritual nurture and equipping of our children to the children’s director, youth minister, and/or Christian school. Vicki urged parents not to look at discipling your kids as a classroom exercise, but asked us to anticipate and ask the Lord for discernment to seize those teachable moments when we are “walking along the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7). She challenged us to work on balancing being a protector without being a provoker. She parsed this out with two key scriptures (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4). Finally, she urged us to pray for our kid’s peer group. 1 Corinthians 15:33 cautions that “bad company corrupts good morals.” She proposed advising our kids to have weekday friends and weekend friends. We want our kids to serve as salt and light in the world, but they also need strong Christian friends to will encourage their pursuit of Christ and His will. This simple strategy serves as a way for our kids to foster friendships with fellow believers in our church family who can sharpen them spiritually (Proverbs 27:17). This way our church becomes our primary community, as it should be.

3. The third family faith buster is focusing on behavior modification rather than heart examination and transformation. Most of us parents settle too quickly for a morally restrained heart rather than pray and work for a supernaturally transformed heart. Her contention is that many Christian kids are being urged to obey apart from repentance and faith in Christ, which means they are rendering sub-Christian obedience. How often we use guilt and shame to secure our kid’s obedience rather than shepherding their hearts and ours with the gospel of grace.

All parents are tempted to settle for outward conformity. In recounting his own anguish with a prodigal daughter, Jack Miller wrote: “No one grows into grace through a Christianized environment. No one gets to God by moral self-improvement. [Our kids] only get to God by being transplanted from their natural soil into the life of Christ by a personal faith in Him” (Come Back Barbara, p. 30). We are all prone to unconsciously forget this foundational truth.

One of the ways that Vicki reminds her kids of this foundational truth is that when they leave home for school or an athletic event or just hanging out with friends, she reminds them to “RTC” – Remember the Cross. This is not just something for our kids to remember, but also a reminder we need ourselves as we confess our particular failings as parents, but also experience the pardoning grace of God revealed in that cross that motivates us anew to center our lives only on Christ, to embrace our parental calling as the primary disciplers of our kids, and to knead the gospel of grace into the hearts of our children and not settle for outward conformity. Let us rise up and “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Spiritual Friendship and Spiritual Direction

I led a group of men in our church through a study on Spiritual Friendship this summer. We used as a companion guide to the Scriptures David Benner’s book entitled Sacred Companions. He basically contends that every follower of Jesus needs two types of companions in their spiritual journey: Spiritual friends and a spiritual director. The book unpacks what he means by these terms.

Here are the discussion guides that I created for our group. They are in pdf format and are roughly two pages each.

#1 – The Transformational Journey

#2 – The Gift of Hospitality, Presence and Dialogue

#3 – The Ideals of Spiritual Friendship

#4 – Demystifying Spiritual Direction – What is Spiritual Direction?

#5 – Soul Attunement – What do spiritual directors do?

#6 – A Portrait of the Process of Spiritual Direction

#8 – Small Groups: The Most Readily Available Means

#9 – Developing a Spiritual Friendship in Marriage

A Few Distinguishing Features of Christ-likeness

Below are a few thoughts gleaned from James I. Packer in CRUX, the periodical of Regent College in Vancouver, Canada.

“With God’s blessing of our efforts, what kind of Christians will be formed by the kind of adult catechesis that we have in mind in our church community?  Catechesis is a word that summaries the whole process of teaching, discipleship and spiritual formation.

Answer: Christians whose lives display the following features:

Doxology, the habit taught and modeled by Paul of constantly praising God and giving him thanks;

Humility, the downward growth that comes by dwelling on the free, boundless,, almighty grace of God that achieves the salvation of sinners, including oneself, through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ;

Generosity, the whole-hearted giving of oneself and one’s resources in order to show love and render service both to God and to others;

Honesty, the refusal to cut moral corners, practice deception or come to terms with injustice;

Intensity, a spirit that rejects euphoric sloth and laziness in favor of maximum effort to further God’s cause, extend Christ’s kingdom, and make the Savior known, and that goes flat out with an eye on the goal as one does when running a race;

Bravery, which, though sometimes trembling in its shoes, stands firm for Christ against all forms of opposition, belittling and ridicule; and

Solidarity with the church, both worldwide and local, the people of God who are the body and bride of Christ and one’s one spiritual family, so that one never wanders off into any form of churchless individualism, as if one were the only pebble on God’s beach.”

  •  From the periodical CRUX, Spring 2007, vol. 43. no. 1, p. 6.

Here are a few questions that I have been asking myself:

Which of these features is most absent from my life right now? In order words, where do I need to grow the most? What is my specific action plan to do so?

Secondly, where does our church body need to grow the most? Which of these features needs the most shoring up at Trinity? What is our plan to help our church not only grow in that particular feature but also in each of these features of Christlikeness?