Luke Five - Following Jesus to deep waters

Making disciples of all nations.

Author: James Page 8 of 9

How bad was Billy Graham’s batting average?

Today, I want to talk about Billy Graham. I specifically want to talk about Billy Graham’s batting average. (Some of you are thinking, “I didn’t know he played baseball.” Stay tuned.)

Billy Graham passed away last week, and he was a great man. He was respected everywhere and by practically everyone. There were a few people who had some pushback, of course, and there was some push back for their push back as well. But, in general he was very well respected.  People that were not even believers in Jesus still respected him. Politicians respected him, even on both sides of the aisle. It did not matter if they were a Democrat or a Republican, every president from Truman to Obama met with Mr. Graham as a counselor and spiritual advisor.

The day Billy Graham passed away my wife and I did some reading about him. One of the things that really struck me first was that he had preached the gospel in person to at least 100 million people, with other estimate being as high as 215 million. In the course of his life he led 3 million people to the Lord Jesus. Imagine, 3 million people that said, “Yes, I want to be a follower of Jesus.”

That is amazing!

So, he shared the gospel with more people than any other person in the history of the entire world. That is pretty awesome, you have to give him that.  However, when I looked at that number I thought, “Wow! He led 3 million people to the Lord. I cannot think of anyone who has led more than 3 million people to faith in the Lord (or who’s been the instrument which God used to lead them to faith.”) So, he not only shared the gospel with more people, but he also led more people to salvation.

However, when I thought about it, something strange hit me.  I had to back up a minute and rethink. He shared with 100 million people, and he lead 3 million people to the Lord. So, he only led 3% of the people he shared with to salvation.  Only 3% of the people that heard him were actually coming and making a decision to follow Jesus.  

It made me wonder if I went and knocked on a hundred doors could I lead 3 to the Lord? Maybe.  Maybe not.  However, if I kept knocking until I had a hundred people who were willing to listen to me and have a dialogue with me would three say yes? I don’t know, but I think it would be reasonable.  

With that in mind, when we look at Billy Graham’s batting average it is actually pretty bad. For every thousand people he spoke to only 30 would believe.  That would make his batting average only .030. Now to give you a context for that number, the average for the Major Leagues in 2016 was .255. So, Billy Graham’s batting average would be so low he would not even make the minor leagues, much less the Majors. He would not make any baseball team because that percentage is really really low.

As I pondered this, a couple of things hit me in terms of my own walk and my own faith. One is I need to be sharing the gospel more. If the legendary Billy Graham had this tremendous legacy and yet only 3% of the people that he shared the gospel with actually believed, then the logical conclusion is I just need to share more.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Only 3%.

When I looked back at Billy Graham’s legacy, I think his real legacy was not that he was this amazing preacher of the gospel. (And I’m not saying he was not a great preacher). I think his real legacy was that he had at least hundred million people who were willing to sit down and listen to him talk about Jesus. There were one hundred million people who wanted to listen to what he said about this man called Jesus. There were one hundred million people who were willing to give him their time to listen.  Many of them traveling somewhere to hear him or setting aside time to listen to the gospel as proclaimed by him. That is tremendous!

I mentioned earlier about knocking on doors to share the gospel and we could do that.  However, I do not feel like in the context of American culture that is the best plan. I think there might have been a time when that worked well, but I do not feel like in today’s culture that would be the most effective way. If the Lord leads you to do it then that is great, and I won’t have any objection to it.  However, for myself I do not feel like that is what the Lord is leading me to.  The big question is, “How can I engage with people who are thinking about spiritual things? How can I be in more conversations about the gospel?

I want to refer to one of my favorite books, Contagious Disciple Making. One of the things the Watsons say is we need to live an openly spiritual life. People need to know we are spiritual.  They need to know we are followers of Jesus. They also say we have to develop relationships with nonbelievers. As we develop relationships and lead an openly Christian and openly spiritual life in front of non-believers we open ourselves up to opportunities to have conversations about spiritual matter. We are looking to move conversations from casual, to meaningful conversations, and finally to spiritual conversations. Somewhere in the spiritual conversations we can give people the opportunity to engage further with Jesus and His story. At Contagious Disciple Making they use a discovery bible study (which I really like), or we could also share the gospel at that point depending on a number of factors. If I presented the gospel to more people I think I would have more people believe. In reflecting of my own life, I think that is something I need to do more.

Another question I considered with Billy Graham’s life was why he was so much more effective than others. There were and are other people sharing the gospel. There were other people who would like to have the ministry Billy Graham had, and yet they did not have it. If we go back to some of his colleagues and some of the people who worked in the same time frame we still do not see people who had the same fruit from their work. Some of them had moral failures or other issues of integrity, but surely there were some sound men of God, as well.  Why Billy? 

Clearly, he was a man of integrity.  But, what was it about his preaching and why was it that people would come and respond to him? (I probably need to read some biographies about him and see what I can find out about that. If you have read a good biography leave it in the comments.)

In spite of the fact that he had this amazing ministry he was still only able to lead 3 million people to Lord. (ONLY 3 million, right?) Yet, during that time frame (since about the 50s) many millions of people have come to the faith in the Lord. In fact, in certain people groups in the world with almost no Christian witness available in 1950 the Lord brought millions of people to faith in him.  I think of the Chinese. Depending on the statistic used, there have probably been 40 million to one hundred million people come to the Lord in the same time frame that Mr. Graham ministered.

So, he had this huge ministry, and so many times we want to say, “Oh, if I could only be like Billy Graham. If I could only have the ministry that he had it would be so awesome and everything would be good.” 

However, there is a theory called the Long Tail that we should also consider. The Theory of the Long Tail is that our economy is shifting to where instead of just huge sellers or products at the head, there is now room for lots of sellers or products in the tail. These products are niche products that would have been impractical 30 years ago, when basically all the products had to sit on a retail shelf somewhere. The insight of the Long Tail is there are actually more products sold and dollars made in the long tail then there are by the high performers. (That’s my amateur description of it. You can read more about it here.) 

If we think about it with the Billy Graham example, on the left side of the graph there are these super high performers. At the top left you have 3 million people saved and Billy Graham is listed there. Then it goes down and there are some other really effective people. Finally, you have this long tail that goes out to the right and just goes on forever. It represents the people that lead 4, 3, or 2 people to Lord. Just as in the theory of the Long Tail, there are actually more people that are led to the Lord in the long tail than from the super high performers. The super high performers like Billy Graham have a lot of “face” and recognition, and everyone knows them. However, without the long tail the body of Christ would be much smaller today than it is. 

I am not writing this to take anything away from Bill Graham.  I would be lying if I said there are not times where I would love to have a ministry like his.  I would love to have such huge fruit. I would also be lying if I said there were not times I would like to have the name and the fame of Billy Graham. I would like people to talk about James and what a great ministry he has. If we are honest with ourselves many of us would say we would like to have a ministry like Billy Graham’s. However, the key is we cannot do everything needed in the body of Christ as “Billy Grahams”. Billy Graham and his ministry could not fulfill everything that God commanded the body of Christ to be and do. God designed the body in a way that it requires the entire body to be participating in order to fulfill the Great Commission and function as Christ’s body.  The body of Christ needs more than just Billy Graham… it needs the long tail of faithful followers.

After thinking about the Long Tail, the clear answer is I need to do more than just share the good news with more people.  I also need to encourage more people (I could even use the word to disciple more people), to share their faith with those around them, in their workplace, and in all parts of their life.  I need to encourage more people to be an active part of the Long Tail. If the average believer led a couple of other people (not counting their children) to the Lord in their lifetime and help train them to follow, we would have a huge enormous growth of the church.

Part of our problem in the American church is a we do not have enough people sharing their faith or really discipling other people to do the same. Instead we defer to the Billy Grahams. We defer to our pastors instead of being obedient to Christ. The bible says, “always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have…”  and that is what we need to do.

So, in my life I need to share the gospel more. I’m not sharing nearly as much as I should. In terms of batting average, I’m not getting up to the plate often enough. I need to do what I can to find people who are more receptive and willing to listen to the gospel or to have a spiritual conversation. Could I bat .030?  I think so.  I think it is possible.  The bigger question is how can I get more times at bat?

I’m grateful for the legacy Mr. Graham left behind him.  He was a great man of God, and God used him greatly. He ran a great race. But remember…. he only batted .030.

What could you bat if you were at the plate more often? Is your problem too low of a batting average, or is it not being at the plate often enough?  Let me know in the comments below.

The time is now for us to make sure we are not sitting on the sidelines when we should be up at the plate swinging away.

God bless Billy Graham, God bless his family, and God bless you. Catch you next time.

Is there evidence of God working in your ministry?

I was reading Galations 2 a few days ago when verses 7 & 8 really stood out to me.  In the old NIV it says,

“On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.”

From what Paul writes, it was clear to the pillars (Peter, John, James) that God was at work in Paul’s ministry.  There wasn’t any debate about whether God was working there or not.  The evidence was clear. Even though he was going to a group of people the Jews had historically considered off limits, and perhaps, even immune from the gracious touches of God, the pillars clearly saw God’s hand at work.

What kind of evidence was there? Gentiles were coming to faith, people were being healed, God’s Spirit was coming upon them, churches were forming. The young churches were enduring opposition and yet still filled with love and joy.  Paul was also encountering large amounts of opposition, and yet God was still clearly moving His message of Jesus’ love and redemption forward.

As I read that, I thought to myself, “Is there clear evidence of God being at work in my ministry?”

I’m not always sure that would be the case.  There are certainly times where I can see God’s hand working, and I do not think my ministry is without results or effect… yet, I’m not sure the pillars of our faith today would look at my ministry and say they could clearly see God at work there.

The pillars can see I have endured some suffering in my following of Jesus.  They can see I work hard at what I do.  They can see I am intelligent and use what I have for the Lord.  They can see I have been completely committed to the work. However, the question remains, is there clear evidence of God being at work in my ministry?

I cannot point to the fruit that Paul pointed to, nor can I point to the kind of opposition he encountered, perhaps thankfully. I cannot point to the number of lost believing, or to the establishing of churches like what happened in the places Paul was.

Is there clear evidence of God being at work in my ministry?  I would love to say yes to this.  I hope in the future I will be able to.

The question I am asking myself is, “What would need to change in my life or my ministry for that clear evidence of God’s work to be present?”

What about you?  Is their clear evidence that God is working in your ministry? What would need to change in your life or ministry for that clear evidence of God’s work to be present?

Leave your answers in the comments.

 

Comparing LOSTness

We just moved back to the USA from working with a UPG (Unreached People Group) in Asia.  The people are great, but they are LOST… I mean REALLY LOST.  There are only a few churches (less than 20) and the oldest churches are about 10-15 years old… as are the pastors. There are probably less than 3o cross cultural workers focusing on this UPG in this country.  About 6,000,000 LOST people. There is less than 0.5% who are following Jesus.  I mean that is LOST!

As we are settling back into America and looking at where to settle down and live we would like to continue living and working around the LOST and unreached.  So, in our perspective town I’m doing some research about areas with higher concentrations of people who do not know Jesus… LOST.  There is one area in the NE part of town where there are a bunch of refugees that continues to come up as an area of LOSTNESS, and it is. However, as we are looking it up there are about 16 churches within 2 miles of this area, at least some of which are focused on reaching the internationals who live there.  Maybe some churches are good and maybe some are bad.  Some are engaging them and there are probably some who are not.  But still, there are a number of churches there.

On one hand, we are so excited that churches are attempting to reach out to this area of LOSTNESS.  On the other hand, my heart breaks a little as I think about my people in Asia and others UPGs, many of whom will die without hearing the name of Jesus.

Jesus said He came to seek and save the LOST.

Let us engage the LOST here, but let us not stop there.  We can do better than that.  We are the body of Christ!

Discipleship in its simplest form

Discipleship in its simplest form can be summed up in this way.  Take the definition of discipleship from Matthew 4:19.

A disciple is one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and doing the work of Jesus.

In what ways do I know how to follow Jesus?  How can I teach someone else to do the same ways?

In what ways do I know how to let Jesus change me? How can I teach someone else to do the same?

In what ways do I know how to do the work of Jesus? In what ways am I doing the work of Jesus? How can I teach someone else to do the same? (Hint: this is basically what Eph 4:11-12 is talking about.  How can we equip the saints so they are able to do the work of Christ?)

I encourage you to set aside some time this week and honestly answered these three questions.  If you do you will be well on your way to make disciples more effectively.  There is more to it than that, but it is also that simple.

My favorite books of 2017

2017 has ended.  2018 is officially here, and so has ended all my chances to read more books in 2017.  When I look back on the ones I read here are a few that really stood out. If you have made a goal or resolution to read more in 2018 here are some good ones to start with.

Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery by David and Paul Watson.  Using personal experience with a people group in India and observation of other large movements of God, David and Paul break down seven different strategies Disciple Makers need to have in place in order to create a Disciple Making Movements.  When I read the book I realized I was only focusing on two of the seven.  I should do a whole post about this book because it has been very influential to me.  If you would like God to use you in a big way in your life then definitely put it on your reading list this year.

The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripken.  Ok, a little confession, I haven’t actually finished this one yet, but I’m on the way.  In this follow up book to The Insanity of God, Nik continues to focus on what it will take for the church (and individuals in the church) to take the good news of Jesus into the persecuted places of the world.

Larson, Duke of Mongolia.  Written in the early 1900’s by Larson this book gives a lot of great information about the Mongolian culture and living conditions 100 years ago.  Larson found himself often rubbing elbos with the leaders and princes of Mongolia, and writes from a very pro-Mongolian perspective. If you find Mongolians fascinating this is a great read.

Far from Cold (Our Stories Book 1) by Gillian Newham chronicles the birth of the modern Mongolian church.  I put this one on the list because Mark and Gill are good friends of ours and I respect them so much. This is her first book about the Mongolian church. They were in Mongolia almost from the beginning of the modern Mongolian church.  Her account is a very sincere account of God’s work in building His church in Mongolia.  Gill shares the goods and the bads in a very earnest straightforward way.  In reading the book, you see how God was working not just among the Mongols but also in Gill and Mark. I enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to her writing another one.

In the Arena by Isobel Kuhn.  I always love reading old CIM (now OMF) books of some of the earlier missionaries in China.  I usually find I am more encouraged and learn more from biographies than I do from other books.  I stumbled upon this one as I was packing up and deciding which books to take and which ones to leave behind.  I had gotten it from another worker who was making the same decisions.  The core idea is that God has us in the arena and the hardships we go through display His glory. Isobel goes through a lot.  I am always encouraged when I read how the old CIM missionaries lived out their faith.  I always find it challenging to me.

One last honorable mention, and just to show you I read some fiction also, I stumbled upon this book and enjoyed it immensely even though it is a little out of my normal genres. Pawn (The Strategy Series Book 1) by J.C Ahern.  Its a combo of chess, humanity being enslaved, and one girl who is still a slave but some how able to play outside the rules.  Its a great mystery to unwind as you figure things out along side the protagonist.

I wish you all a very literary 2018!

Luke Five – Reimagined

I have been fascinated with Luke 5:1-11 for about 24 months now. I know this because it first really jumped out to me while we were waiting for our 3rd daughter to be born. I enjoyed the passage so much I looked to see if there was a word in Mongolian that was pronounceable in English from the story that I could name her. Her name is Abigail… so clearly there was not.

I first started looking at it while I read a book about James Fraser who worked in Southwest China among the Lisu people. They were resistant to the Gospel for a long time, and then… finally… the nets began to break. Not when James was out with them, but rather when another newer missionary with less language and experience was out there with them. Suddenly the Spirit of God moved, and their nets began to break. It was a good problem to have. Clearly the hand of God was moving among the Lisu people. This started my journey of studying Luke 5 more in depth.

On the initial reading, it seems this passage is all about fishing for men, or evangelism. However, the longer I have read and meditated on it the more truths stand out to me in this story. Even in writing this article new questions have arisen in my mind. I think there are many truths about the Christian life, ministry, Jesus’ methods, and more.

This is the way I picture the story unfolding in my mind.

It is a still morning on the Lake of Galilee. The sun is up and it is just starting to warm the men washing their nets by the shoreline. Little beads of sweat are starting to appear on their foreheads.

There is a man walking down the shoreline. Nothing about him would catch the eye… until another man walks up and asks him a question. As he begins to talk with the man slowly people stop to listen. First five… then ten… fifteen… thirty… fifty… one hundred plus are listening to him speak. The waves lapping at the shore make it a little hard to hear and so the people keep crowding a little closer.

As they inch forward, Jesus inches backward until suddenly He feels water on His heel. Pretty soon His whole feet are immersed in the cool water. He looks around and spies two boats. He looks at the burly fisherman washing his net. “Need a break?” Jesus asks as he motions to the boat. Simon gives a wry smile and pulls himself up from his nets. He puts out just away from the shore the way Jesus asked him to.

Jesus sits down in the boat and as the waves gently rock the boat he begins to teach the people from the boat.

At first Simon-Peter just absentmindedly holds the boat in place. A little tug on the oar here. A push on the other oar. Doing what he has been doing since he was a little boy. His thoughts are not about the speaker in his boat, but rather on their poor catch from the night before. He replays the night in his mind. Where were those fish? Maybe he should have gone over past the rocks and fished on the far side near the shallow water. Maybe he should have…

Slowly. Ever so slowly… Jesus’ words begin to penetrate into Peter’s world and he finds himself drawn up into Jesus’ words and stories. Pretty soon he has completely forgotten about the fish, and he is enraptured at Jesus’ words. His teaching is so clear and compelling.

By the time Jesus finishes teaching the sun is high in the sky and the big burly fisherman is sweating profusely. Even Jesus’s face glows from the light moisture accumulated on His brow. Its past time for Peter to go home, and while helping the teacher may have not been Peter’s plan for the day he finds himself pleased with the what transpired. After all, it was some of the best teaching he has ever heard in his life. Who would not be willing to sacrifice a few hours’ sleep in order to learn more about God?

Peter is just preparing to get out of the boat, when Jesus turns to him and says, “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” (What the reader must understand is that in the original language Jesus did not say “let your nets down.” What he really said was “repeatedly let your nets down,” because the verb is plural.)
Inwardly Peter groans. He shakes his head imagining all the work it will take to do that. They will have to row back out to sea. Take their clean nets and throw them back in the murky water. After doing this for a while Jesus will finally realize they cannot catch fish in the heat of the day and let them go back in. Then they will have to re-clean their already clean nets. By the time they are done… it will be time to go back out to fish again the next night. He grits his teeth.
After taking a deep breath to calm down his growing frustration, he looks up at Jesus and says, “Master, we have worked hard (I mean really hard) all night long and haven’t caught anything.”
He pauses and looks at Jesus, hoping the good teacher will realize Peter is the professional fisherman. Jesus may be able to teach well, but what does he know about fishing. He hopes that Jesus will say, “Ah, you know, you’re right. It has been a long day. Maybe another time.”

But Jesus does not say that. Instead Jesus just meets Peter’s gaze. Unwavering Jesus stares at Peter and waits. Peter waits. Jesus waits.

After what seems like an eternity, Peter slowly continues, “… but because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Good.” Jesus says in his steady voice with His characteristic smile.

Peter calls his crew and tells them they are going out again. The observer can tell by the expressions on their face they are not pleased. Really? Again? Can’t we just go rest? However, when the boss calls the worker has to answer, and so they pack the nets back into the boat and begin rowing.

“Jesus, where do you want us to row to?” Peter asks.

“Anywhere it is deep is fine.” Jesus replies.

Again, a deep sigh and an inward groan. “Why am I doing this?” Peter asks himself? “Why didn’t I just tell him ‘No, I can’t today.’?”

They begin rowing, their lean muscles straining against the oars. What normally would have been a relatively easy row in the cool of the evening when they were fresh, is now a sweaty chore in the heat of the day.

Finally, they arrive at a place they could safely call “deep water”. They look down at their nice… clean… neatly stacked nets. Another collective sigh. They grab their nets and begin casting them out.

Jesus stands there in the boat. He neither seems bothered by their groans and grumpiness nor seems inclined to call it off. He just watches them… and watches… and watches.

They cast their nets out and haul them up. They do it again a second time. Then a third… “You never catch fish in the middle of the day.”

A fourth time… boredom… a fifth… a waste of time… a sixth… “Will this never end?”
Now they cast the heavy nets a seventh time… The sweat is pouring off of their bodies and their hair is matted to their faces as the sun beats down upon them. They toss it out an eighth time…

Suddenly, their nets jerk. All heads snap up in complete surprise as the nets give a massive jerk. The pull is so strong the boat lurches and everyone, Jesus included, has to catch their balance.

There is a mad rush of adrenaline as all the fishermen begin working the lines for what is obviously a large school of fish. Peter is shouting orders and the men are jumping to and fro trying to keep the nets in the best position to maximize the catch.

Suddenly they hear a sound…. Rrrrr POP! Rrrrr POP! Their nets are breaking. There are so many fish their nets cannot hold. They realize what is happening and Peter yells, “Stop pulling it into the boat. Just hold them.”

Then he spins toward the shore and lets out a sharp whistle. “James. John. Hey, sons of Zebedee. Hey!”

He is yelling, whistling, and flapping his arms trying to get his partner’s attention.

Over on the shore, James and John are just finishing up the chores and getting ready to go in for the day. Suddenly they hear a whistle. Their heads pop up and they see Peter whistling and flailing his arms. It looks like he is shouting, but they are too far away to hear what he is saying. Even without words it does not take long for two experienced fishermen to realize what is happening. Peter’s excitement coupled by the tilt of the boat clearly show them there is a big catch.
They holler to their crew, “Quick, back in the boat!”
They row as fast as they can out to where Peter’s boat is slowly being pulled along by the catch of fish. They throw their nets out and together with Peter’s nets they are strong enough to hold and they begin hauling the fish into the boat.
Men are grunting as they pull and tug the nets and begin filling the boats with fish. Everyone is giddy with excitement as they work. It is a flurry of activity.
Everywhere there is movement and excitement except one small cone of calm. Jesus. He stands there calmly watching the men get their catch. He wears a smile upon His face, but it is not the smile of surprise and excitement. It is just the smile of satisfaction.

The fish begin pouring into the boat. Flipping, flopping, and wriggling back and forth as they fight for water and life. They flop into the men’s feet and ankles. Then the fish are up to their calves. Soon they are up almost to their knees.

In short order, the fish begin to stack up and before the sailors know it the fish are up to the top of the boat. The boats themselves are riding lower and lower in the water. There are more fish in the nets, but Peter, James, and John realize if they add any more fish their boats will sink.

As they let the last fish swim away they are overjoyed with their catch. Everyone is still excited, but the men are starting to slow down and catch their breath. This has to be the largest catch of fish ever on the Sea of Galilee. Whoever heard of enough fish to sink two boats?

All of the sudden, in Peter’s heart dawns the realization of what has just happened. He looks at the catch of fish and then at Jesus standing calmly there. In a fraction of a second, he remembers his disdain when Jesus said to go to deep waters. He remembers the way he felt when Jesus told him to go back out again. Peter looks around at the catch of fish and then back at Jesus.

It is as though a small corner of Jesus’s robe was lifted and out of that small crack shot a ray of divinity. Peter is cut to the heart as he realizes this is more than just a teacher standing in his boat. While he does not fully recognize it yet, deep in his heart there is a realization that God is in Peter’s boat.

His body shakes as he suppresses a sob and he falls down at Jesus’ knees. His body wracks and his voice cracks as he cries out, “Go away from me LORD!”

Then in almost a whisper he continues, “I am a sinful man.”

His shoulders shake as he sobs silently before Jesus. His mind alternates between shear sorrow at who he is and near terror at realizing he is clinging to One who is far greater and more powerful than he can realize.
Jesus neither rebukes Peter nor corrects him. He just lets him be for a minute. Then He lifts Peter’s head up and looks him in the eye and says something that will forever change Peter’s life. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
They slowly row their big, now heavy, boats back to shore. They pull everything up on shore and tie their boats down.
Jesus starts walking away.

The men do not worry about their nets. They do not worry about their boats full of fish. They just leave everything behind them and begin to follow Jesus.

This is the way I imagine the story happening.

Originally, I thought this story was mainly about evangelism and I equated the fishing of men to leading someone to believe. However, the longer I study this story the more I realize how many wonderful things it holds. Over time I want to share these.

Inoculating Your Children from the Good News of Jesus

我不太了解耶稣。I must have gotten a funny look on my face because what that means is “I’m not very familiar with Jesus.”

The evening started with me calling a DiDi car (the equivalent of an Uber). Somewhere along the way I mentioned God and he proceeded to tell me that he was also a Christian. I was excited and I asked when he believed. He said his parents were Christians.

A long history here has led me to the point where the statement, “I am a Christian,” is no longer enough for me so, I pried a little deeper with a question or two. Then, I asked him to tell me his favorite story about Jesus. He replied, “我不太了解耶稣。” (Translated: “I’m not very familiar with Jesus.”)  In other words, “I am a ‘Christian’, but I don’t know Jesus.”

Unfortunately, this is not a completely unusual response. I have met a number of Chinese people in the last few years who said they were Christian and referenced their parents’ belief rather than their own. It is sad, but often these older believers have completely failed to pass on a faith to their children. Instead, what they have passed on is a cultural version of Christianity where the practitioner refers to himself as a Christian, but actually has no idea what that means and has no faith in Jesus. It is sad but true.

I can think of few things more heartbreaking than to have a grown child who professes Christianity, but has little knowledge of Jesus. Our children are our primary discipling responsibilities. We cannot delegate this task to a Sunday School teacher, pastor, or anyone else. We are to disciple our children. Other people can help us, but it is our responsibility.

The driver and I talked about faith a little more, and I told him it was not enough for his parents to have faith. He needed to have a faith of his own.

I do not know what happened with him, but I pray some of my words soaked through and made him re-examine his belief. However, he did not seem especially interested. Had he been inoculated from the good news by his believing parents?

What about you? Are you inoculating your children from the good news? What are you doing to make sure your children are really getting connected to Jesus and not just to a “Christian” cultural identity?

Power of prayer in a border town

There are times we pray and we do not see anything. It is only by faith we continue in prayer, believing God is working something we cannot see at the time. However, there are other magnificent times when God lets us see Him answer prayers in real time. Yesterday, I was recounting one of those stories to a couple of friends.

I had just finished college and some friends and I were on a trip overseas sharing God’s good news. After arriving in the provincial capital we took a six to eight-hour bumpy van ride to a rougher border town high on the steppes of Asia. The hotel had a sauna we visited, but we soon realized it was a rather seedy place.

Over the next few days we explored the city and tried to meet people, but it was as though the city was closed to us. People stared and people talked about us, but we could not get into a decent conversation with anyone. We were in the city, but the city was closed to us.

After a day or two of this we realized it was not going to work and we needed to change tactics. So the next day we split up into groups of two and prayer-walked the town. It was probably the most effective Spirit-led prayer walk I have ever had before or since. As my friend Dave and I walked down the streets we seemed to have no lack of words or things to lift up before God. (We also found ourselves holding sample products and taking pictures at a business opening, but that is another story.)

That night we went back to the square and it was like a completely different town. We were meeting people. People liked us. God had opened the doors of the city to us.

That night we met a Mongolian teenage girl named Gowa. There was one girl in our group, Brook, who lived in this country and so she and Gowa went off around the square to look at things and to visit. After a while the guys and I all kind of got tired and were about ready to wind up the evening and go to the hotel.

The two girls were still off visiting, when all of the sudden I got this strong sense that we should pray for Gowa and Brook. I told this to the guys and we begin to pray.

Meanwhile over on the other side of the square Brook had tried several times to turn the conversation to spiritual things, but each time Gowa had seemed uninterested and would change the topic. Brook looked over toward our group and thought, “It looks like they are praying.” (Mind you, we were not bowing our heads or holding hands as that would have been the wrong action in the middle of the city square.)

Brook realized we were praying and then turned back to her conversation with Gowa. From out of the blue, Gowa turns to Brook and says with all sincerity, “How can I believe in Jesus?”

Gowa became our sister in the Lord that day, and I can trace it back very directly to prayer. First our prayer-walk through the city, second our prayer right before Gowa asked about Jesus. It was awesome and we were all pumped up about it. We encouraged her while we were there, and then Brook stayed in contact with her after we left.

I have always been grateful for that trip and for the clear evidence of God directing us to pray and then to His answer of our prayers. As I write this it makes me wonder why I do not pray more often. I think it is because often I do not see the answers to my prayers. It is much harder to pray when we are only able to see the results through faith.

As we rejoiced in the border town that day, I am sure there were other people whose prayers had an effect on Gowa, but the majority of them never saw it. There were all the people back in America who were praying for us. There were the prayers of the missionaries who had lived and traveled through those areas over a hundred years ago without having much fruit.

Our prayers have a huge impact on the Kingdom of God. Sometimes God is kind and allows us to see their results, but often times we can only see the results by faith. We need to spend more time doing just that. Praying and praying and praying… even when we do not see results… praying and believing that God is answering our prayers even when we do not see the results with our eyes.

What is the number one thing you could do to start praying more?

Definition – a Disciple is…

What’s a disciple? A rather innocuous question, but one that receives a variety of answers.

I believe we would all put Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 as one of His most important commands. After all, it was important enough to give it a nickname… “The Great Commission.” People with better English than I, tell me that “make disciples” is the key command in this passage and the other instructions are all supporting this command.

In order to make disciples we need to know what a disciple is. Jim Putman, in his book Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual, said the best definition of a disciple comes from Jesus’ invitation to His disciples. Matthew 4:19 says, “And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

In this we see 3 parts that make up a disciple.

  1. Follow me – A disciple is following Jesus.
  2. I will make you – A disciple is being changed by Jesus.
  3. Fishers of men – A disciple is doing the work of Jesus.

A disciple is one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and doing the work of Jesus.

Once we accept this as a good definition of a disciple it allows us to do three things.

First, it lets us evaluate ourselves.  Am I following Jesus…. everyday…. in every area of my life?  Am I being changed by Jesus? Am I surrendering and letting Him change me?  Am I doing the work Jesus did/does?

Second, it lets us evaluate our disciple-making efforts. If I say I am discipling someone is he starting to follow Jesus more?  Can I see Jesus making changes in his life?  Is He doing the work of Jesus?  If any of those are missing there is a breakdown in the disciple-making process.  If what I am doing is not producing those results I need to figure out what needs to change so that those results become normal in my disciple-making.

Third, it lets us evaluate what our church’s discipleship.  Are the things we are doing as a church helping people follow Jesus more?  Are we seeing change in people’s lives?  Are they doing the work Jesus did?  Are we seeing a growing number of people with whom we could confidently answer YES to the three questions above?  If we cannot confidently answer yes, then we need to re-evaluate our discipleship plan in our church.

It can be easy for us to make excuses in each of these areas, but until we recognize the problem we have little chance to solve it.

How would you evaluate your disciple-making and your church’s disciple-making?

(If you have not already done so, I really encourage you to memorize Matthew 4:19)

What if, for one day, Jesus were to become you?

Right now, I feel like I have about three full-time jobs.  Naturally, none of them are going exceptionally well. Besides this my wife and I are raising our three daughters in a foreign country where everything takes longer to accomplish… if it can even be done at all.  It is not unusual for me to start the day at 8:30 and still be working on things at 11:00 that evening.

Besides all of that, I have some pretty serious back issues that make it painful for me to sit up for long periods of time or lift very much.  This makes my wife have to do more physically than is healthy for her.  Two of my daughters have dealt/are dealing with speech delays and the other daughter has been struggling with hives for about 6 months.  Getting good treatment anywhere near us is impossible.

You can imagine the range of emotions I experience regularly.

Then a few days ago, I ran into this quote from Max Lucado from his book “Just like Jesus: a Heart like His.”

What if, for one day, Jesus were to become you?

What if, for twenty-four hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, assumes your schedule? Your boss becomes His boss, your mother becomes his mother, you pains become his pains?  With one exception, nothing about your life changes. Your health doesn't change. Your circumstances don't change. Your schedule isn't altered. Your problems are solved. Only one change occurs.

What if, for one day and one night, Jesus lives your life with his heart? Your heart gets the day off, and your life is lead by the heart of Christ. His priorities govern your actions.  His passions drive your decisions. His love directs your behavior.

What would you be like?"

Ouch. What would Jesus’ heart do in my current life?

I have been mulling this over for a few weeks now. I do not have all the answers yet, but here is some of what I am mulling over. If I lived my life for a day with Jesus’s heart I would:

  • …not spend as much time thinking about myself.
  • …build better friendships with locals.
  • …be more engaging to the people I cross paths with throughout the day.
  • …be all present wherever I was.
  • …have better boundaries.
  • …ask more direct questions (with love).
  • …spend more time in prayer and let other less important things go.
  • …be more forgiving to those around me.
  • …be willing to stay in awkward cultural situations longer.
  • …be more patient with my children.
  • …stop worrying about what people think of me.

and the list goes on and on….

What about you?  What would change in your life?  What would you do?  What would you not do?  How would you treat people? Where would you be?

Let me know what you think would be different in the comments.

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