Simplifying Discipleship

Go and make disciples.

It seems like such a straightforward statement, and Jesus was clear in Matthew 28:19 that it’s not an optional activity. Yet the Church seems to struggle with the concept. When we take a fresh look at it, however, we can see that “making disciples” doesn’t have to be that hard.

I didn’t realize there was an issue until I began paying closer attention following a couple of conversations with friends. Six or eight months ago, I began praying about an idea I’ve had for a discipleship website that would provide a one-stop shop for resources, content and discussions on the topic. To vet and develop the idea, I started talking to people who are smarter than me. During one conversation, the guy across the table said something like, “Not many men are as involved in discipleship as you are.” He wasn’t feeding me ego biscuits; he was painting the bleak reality of how little is done when it comes to discipleship. And the more I’ve looked into it, the more I agree.

A month or so later, I mentioned my website idea to another friend. He liked the idea but said he probably wouldn’t use the site because he isn’t involved in discipleship. About a week later, however, he mentioned that he was coming back from an early morning Bible study where he (at age 59) had been the only guy not in his 20s. It had never dawned on him that spending time studying the Bible with those young guys was discipleship.

That’s when it hit me: Not enough men are involved in discipleship, and some are involved without even knowing it. In both cases, part of the problem is that too many people are intimidated by what they think discipleship involves. Most of them have over-complicated the definition.

So, here’s a simple definition of discipleship: Helping people grow like Jesus.

With that definition, discipleship can include evangelism, or what I call spiritually mentoring someone toward a relationship with Christ. For followers of Jesus, discipleship becomes all about sanctification – the refining process God puts us through until we join Him in heaven, or growing like Jesus. And we “make disciples” when we help ourselves or someone else experience that growth.

To become obedient to Matthew 28:19:

  1. Ask God to provide an opportunity to spend time with someone or a group of someones with the purpose of helping each other grow like Jesus.
  2. Act in obedience when (not if) that opportunity comes.

That’s it. It can be one-on-one meetings over coffee. It can be a small-group Bible study. It can be a discussion at halftime of a football game or while helping a buddy with a chore. It can look however you want, so long as it’s intentional and there’s an effort to teach obedience to the commands of Christ. (Matthew 28:20)

It’s really not complicated or scary. You aren’t responsible for the results – God is. And you don’t have to do it alone (because Jesus has promised to be with you). Can you ask for a better helper than God? So, go and make disciples. Let that step of obedience become the next step in your growth.

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The Rocks of Our Hearts

Is the soil of your heart prepared for growth? … 

Our home rests near the top of a hill, and we’re mostly surrounded by woods. Bermuda grass thrives on the sun-soaked front and one side of our lot, but the back remains very close to its natural state – it mostly grows rocks, not grass.

We need fewer rocks and more bird seed.
Tuck surveys the rocks of our yard.

I’ve been thinking lately about investing some time into the backyard – more to make it easier to maintain than for aesthetic purposes. What’s stopping me? Well, it looks like hard work. Over the last few years, I’ve removed most of the bigger, blade buster rocks. But several areas are covered in smaller stones that seem to multiply like rabbits. I pick one up and toss it into the woods, and two more emerge in its place. If I really want more grass, however, I’ll need to remove the rocks, prepare the hard Ozark soil, put out some seed, fertilize, water and wait.

Hard work. Just like preparing the heart. If we want to grow like Jesus, we have to prepare our hearts. As pastor/author Max Lucado says, we have to pull the stumps and remove the rocks.

“God’s seed grows better if the soil of the heart is cleared,” Lucado writes in Grace for the Moment.

How do we clear it? We don’t; God does. But we allow it when we come to Him in humble confession, seeking His help with our stumps and rocks.

“Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts,” Lucado writes. And, he adds, “Confession invites the Father to work the soil of the soul.”

This is hard work. It makes us uncomfortable, and the more sins we confess, the more we seem to find. Like the rocks in my backyard, they often are hidden just beneath the surface. If we ignore them, they emerge and clutter our lives. If we give them to God, however, our hearts are prepared to grow.


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Our Sanctification Puzzle

Sanctification lives at the heart of the Grow Like Jesus message, and it’s something we do both individually and in the context of our relationships with others.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that never stay the same but that somehow always fit together. We never know how or when our lives might provide the right fit for others or how and when someone else might provide the right fit for us. But we know we need each other to fully grow like Jesus. Our sanctification puzzle is incomplete, of course, without Jesus. His presence fills the voids and gaps, heals the wounds, and makes all things new. But He regularly uses broken human pieces during our earthly journey.

This helps me see myself and others in a different light. My sin nature often tugs at me to judge first and seek understanding later. When I remember that God might use me to somehow contribute to someone else’s sanctification puzzle, or that He might use someone else to grow me, then I become much more empathetic and far less judgmental. I want to know the other person’s pains, baggage, joys, and experiences. I want to understand who that person is and why, not focus on his outward appearance or actions. And I want him to understand who I am and how God has transformed me and is transforming me.

The Me Piece

The biggest, most complex and complicated part of my sanctification puzzle is me. My sanctification begins with my attention to my personal walk with and growth in Jesus. No one else owns it or is responsible for it. When God confronted Adam and Eve for their sins in the garden, Adam immediately blamed Eve and God. The woman you gave me – that’s the problem! (See Genesis 3:12) God, of course, knew better. Like Adam, we can’t shift responsibility for who we are and how we live. We have to own it so we can fully surrender it.

The Us Piece

The next most critical piece of my sanctification puzzle is my wife. God gave her to me, and me to her. While some pieces of our puzzle come and go, this one is ever-present. She adds to my growth, and I contribute to hers. She is my helpmate, which clearly means this: I need help! And I’m called to love her as Christ loves the church, which is no small deal – I am called to give myself up for her to make her holy, to cleanse her by the washing with water through the word, to present her as radiant, without stain or wrinkle or blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27). What an awesome privilege and responsibility when it comes to her growth!

The Others Piece

Finally, there are those pieces of my sanctification puzzle that involve “others.” Some are regular parts of my life, like my family and closest friends. Others are people I know but interact with less frequently. And others still are simply divine appointments – people God places in my life for a short period and then they’re gone. They all shape my spiritual growth, if I’m open to how God wants to use them. And I have an opportunity provided by God to fit some need of theirs, but it’s up to me to embrace that opportunity.

Every day, our puzzle pieces change. We’re reshaped by our experiences. Our needs are different. Our opportunities for growth are different. And what we have to offer others is different. Our challenge is to figure out how we all fit together for the glory of God as we strive to grow like Jesus.


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How to Define a Good Year

We’re nearly three weeks down the road known as 2017, and I still can’t quite shake the dust off of 2016. I’m not writing the wrong date on my checks. I don’t even write checks. Well, not very often. But I find myself strangely perplexed by this question: Was 2016 a good year?

What’s your initial response to that question?

The consensus across this great land seems to be that 2016 was a stinker. Many people were dismayed by the political rancor that reached an all-time low (or high, depending on how you measure your rancor). It was even worse for liberals, because their candidate lost the presidential election. And since liberals have the most microphones, their cries are heard the loudest. It was strange (to me) to see how many people seemed to have their self-worth tied to a political candidate. I know of one liberal who “unfriended” a long-time conservative buddy because that friend voted for Trump. He didn’t just unfriend him on social media, but in life. Seems extreme, and not particularly helpful to the healing process.

My immediate reaction to all the end-of-the-year angst was to take the opposite view. The presidential election was a no-win event for me, but we’ve survived many bad presidents over the years – some would say over the last eight years. So I didn’t define the quality of my year based on the election or the political campaigning.

But was 2016 really a good year for me personally?

Well, I made less money in 2016 than I made in 2015, and twice we had what the business folks call a “cash flow” issue. So, financially speaking, it could have been better. And while Grow Like Jesus and Forging Grit both hit the bookstores and were well-received by those who read them, well, frankly, not that many folks read them.

On the other hand, I was incredibly blessed by the work God gave me. I finished books with the CEO of a global PR agency, a former rodeo bullfighter, and the family of an incredibly inspiring quadriplegic; I interviewed the fastest man in the world in Jamaica; I wrote book chapters featuring (among others) a female Syrian refugee living in Boise, a film director who immigrated from Mexico, and the Indian-born CEO of Adobe; I started a project with a former Israeli super spy turned rabbi who teaches people to deal with stress; and I started another project with a couple from Australia who has created an amazing framework for understanding how the attitudes of our heart shape our behaviors.

On the home front, we added two kittens and a grandchild to our family. In addition to the work-related Jamaica trip, my wife and I visited South Padre Island, the Dominican Republic, and Hawai’i. While our income was down, we gave away more money than we gave in 2015, and we never failed to pay our bills, never went hungry.

But here’s how I really know that 2016 was a good year: I grew like Jesus. Not every day, but overall, I’m confident I grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). My relationships improved with my clients, my friends, family, and, most importantly, my wife and my God. I struggled through many, many days. I sometimes lost confidence in myself. I worried too much about the future. I battled the thing we call life. But I never felt alone. God gave me a wonderful wife to help me through it and His rod and His staff, they comforted me.

So was 2016 a good year? No doubt about it. And if I fix my eyes on Jesus, 2017 will be, as well.

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16 Lessons Learned in 2016

I guess this is further evidence that I’m getting old, but most of the lessons I learned in 2016 were lessons I learned earlier in life. In other words, things haven’t changed that much from my childhood: I need repetition for learning to stand any chance of sinking in. So, with that in mind, here are 16 things I learned (or re-learned) in 2016:

  1. The only time I ever hear from God is when I listen.
  2. You can never have too many grandchildren.
  3. “Trust God and do the next thing” (Oswald Chambers) never goes out of style.
  4. Gratitude drives attitude.
  5. Fake news is a real thing, and not just in The New York Times and Washington Post.
  6. There’s a reason the song says, “I surrender all” not “I surrender some.”
  7. God created squirrels to teach me humility and patience.faith_hebrews-11
  8. Hope is a good thing … as long as my hope is in the right thing.
  9. Jesus had “grit.”
  10. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Not challenging or difficult. Impossible.
  11. Doing little things to help others makes a big difference.
  12. My calling as a “follower” should significantly shape me as a “leader.”
  13. Our nation seems more flawed than ever and yet there’s still no better place on Earth to live.
  14. There’s no word in a cat ‘s vocabulary for “no.”
  15. I often resist giving to/sacrificing for others, but I never regret it.
  16. The worst day with my wife is better than my best day without her.

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Zacchaeus Conversations

Guest Post By Andrew Brill

Who’s your Zacchaeus?

You remember Zacchaeus? The wee little man who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see?

The scene appears in Luke 19 when Jesus is passing through Jericho and the local tax collector, Zacchaeus—short in stature but long on curiosity—climbs a tree to see this celebrity prophet. Jesus eyes Zacchaeus in the tree, calls him by name, invites himself over for lunch, and before you know it, Zacchaeus has repented. “See!” Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this man!” (my paraphrase)

But there’s apparently no invitation for Zacchaeus to travel with Jesus. No suggestion that the 12 apostles should become 13. Why not?

There are some big reasons—like the 12 is probably meant to represent the 12 tribes of Israel—but the point I want to make is that, for Jesus, discipleship looked different in different relationships.plane-709992_640

When we talk about discipleship, we often picture an old guy meeting with a young guy and imparting wisdom, modeling how to follow Christ, etc. “Look at Jesus,” we say. “Look at how He chose 12 and poured into them. Look at how He invested in Peter, James and John in particular.” We also point to other relationships in Scripture—Moses and Joshua, Paul and Timothy, and so on.

This is good advice. Mature believers should be passionate and intentional about making disciples who make disciples.

But if I commit to discipling one, two, three, or 12 people in this manner, what about the other 99.9999999999999 percent of humanity with whom I’m not in that kind of relationship? What’s my relationship with them supposed to look like?

As I write this blog, it’s 11:25 a.m. I’ve seen 30-35 people so far today and had phone calls with a couple more. Of those, only one is a man I’m “discipling.” So what about the others?

I think Jesus models an answer to this question with Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1 says He was “passing through” Jericho. He wasn’t looking for someone to disciple. He already had guys he was discipling. He was on His way somewhere else. But He saw the chance for a conversation and He paused.

At Lightbearers, where I work, we call these Zacchaeus conversations. It’s not a new idea, but giving it a name has helped us be more intentional in this area. We want to build impactful relationships, but we also want to have impactful conversations.

In other words, don’t compartmentalize your relationships into “people I’m discipling” and “people I don’t have spiritual oversight of.”

If I have the chance for an impactful conversation, I want to take it.  Whether it’s with my son, my friend, my co-worker, or anyone else, I don’t want to endlessly hide behind small talk. Sometimes these conversations will lead to more traditional discipleship relationships; but even if they don’t, the conversation may still be worth it.

Keep in mind, Jesus passed by scores in the crowd that day with whom He didn’t have lunch. But He did pause with one.

So who’s your Zacchaeus today?

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Andrew Brill lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife, Ashley, and their five children. He serves as the director of discipleship at Lightbearers Ministries, International, which uses residential discipleship communities to fund mission projects in Asia and northern Africa. Feel free to email him at abrill@lightbearers.com or to check out lightbearers.com.

7 Habits of Financial (and Spiritual) Success

Not long ago I came across a blog about the seven habits of self-made millionaires. And it occurred to me that most of the habits that help someone grow rich financially are the same habits that help us grow rich spiritually. We just apply the habits differently.

The blog was based on an interview with a Tom Corley, a researcher who has spent a dozen or so years studying wealthy people and writing about what he’s learned (e.g., Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals). Corley points out that “Your habits are the reason why you’re rich or poor. In fact, it’s often two or three habits that separate the wealthy from those who are financially challenged.”

That makes sense (and cents). Then I began to wonder if the seven habits Corley shared for financial success translate into habits that help us achieve something far more meaningful—spiritual success.

Let’s compare.

  1. Read, read, read. Corley says this is the number one habit. His study found that 85 percent of millionaires read two or more books a month. Not only that, they choose books that help them grow. As the author of a book titled Grow Like Jesus, I love this one. It reinforces the idea that we need to study and learn how to grow if we want to improve our lives. Start, of course, with the Bible. Read it every day. Study it. Learn from it. Grow from it.
  2. Pursue your passions. Corley points out that, “When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you work harder.” Are you passionate about Jesus? If you are His disciple, then you probably were on fire for God the day you gave Him your life and in the weeks and months that followed. Rediscover that passion, because nothing else on this planet is more worthy of our enthusiasm.
  3. Find mentors. Corley’s study found that 93 percent of self-made millionaires credit mentors for aiding in their financial success. Mentoring and discipleship, of course, are two sides of the same coin. If you want to grow spiritually, find someone (or a small group) who will challenge you, stretch you, teach you, and otherwise help you along the path. And, by the way, you’ll find that mentoring others is one of the greatest approaches to growth for yourself.
  4. Use dreams to set goals. Self-made millionaires apparently dream up what they want their ideal life to look like and then set specific goals to achieve each dream. They evaluate their dream and take action. When we grow our faith, we need to abide in Christ so we can discern our calling. Then we need to make specific plans to carry out whatever God is calling us to accomplish.
  5. Create a process. I see this as an extension of the previous habits. “When you create processes,” Corley says, “you don’t have to think, which takes energy and contributes to decision fatigue. Habits are valuable because they brain fuel that can be used doing something else.” To grow our faith, we need to have good habits. We need a process. Set aside specific times in the day for reading God’s word, for specific types of prayer, for reading other books, for meeting with mentors or protégés.
  6. Find multiple streams of income. Self-made millionaires typically have at least three sources of income. They diversify. For followers of Jesus, we need three in one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. If we rely on those three sources of spiritual income, our output will be phenomenal. We can support them with things like mentors and books, the teaching of great pastors, the community and fellowship of a vibrant church, but the ultimate source is God.
  7. Invest in time. It’s probably not surprising that self-made millionaires don’t waste time. They don’t watch much television, and they don’t spend much time on Facebook or watching videos on the Internet. I believe growing our faith requires a sense of urgency because we don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We should long to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23) Not, “Well, you were awesome at video games!”

So what’s missing from Corley’s list? Well, lots of things.

The one that jumped out at me first was “generosity.” I know this to be important to our walk with Christ, and, from all I’ve read, I believe it to be important to financial success. So I went to Corley’s website and here’s something I found that he said: “One of the hallmarks of the self-made millionaires in my Rich Habits Study was their generosity.” In other words, they gave their time and money.

I also wondered about faith. This isn’t spelled out as directly in what I found in Corley’s research, but I did see plenty of evidence that financially successful people tend to get that way in part because they have faith. They believe. In God? Not so sure. Certainly in something bigger than themselves.

Trusting God for the results, in my view, is essential to our spiritual growth, because it keeps us from adopting a works mentality. We can do His will and leave the results to someone more qualified than us – the God of the universe. That’s how we find joy and peace and true success regardless of our financial condition or any other circumstance. Because it’s never about how much we have, but what we do with what we’re given.