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Church Growth

Back in 1982, Faberge Organics Shampoo rolled out a commercial that forever stuck in my mind. The same year, as I wrapped up my Freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill, one of the staff members for Campus Crusade for Christ “challenged” me to be a part of their discipleship movement on campus. It was a fancy way of saying that I was asked to lead a discipleship group the next year. The commercial and the Discipleship Process are very simple, straightfoward, and very similar. Every time I think of discipleship, I think of the commercial. And every time I think of the commercial, I think of discipleship.

Paul summarizes the Discipleship Process in one verse as part of today’s Bible reading. Have you ever wondered what “discipleship” is? “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” ( 2 Timothy 2:2 CSB)

It isn’t complicated. It isn’t expensive. It isn’t un-do-able. All it takes is a pair of ears and a commitment to reproduce. It’s as easy as trying a new shampoo!

In the commercial, actress Heather Locklear says she liked the shampoo so much that she told two friends. And they told two friends and so on….

Paul tells Timothy to reproduce in others what he has heard from Paul. But it isn’t just that Timothy should teach someone. He tells Timothy to teach someone who can teach others. In other words, the Discipleship Process doesn’t stop with one generation of disciples. Obviously, Timothy followed Paul’s teaching. The Process continues to this day and will continue until Jesus takes all of His disciples to live with Him in eternity.

Here’s the commercial.

Application

Are you involved in discipling other Believers?

Discipleship doesn’t require a lot of training. It doesn’t require a lot of materials. Training helps. A lot. And good materials help. A lot.

All it takes is a pair of ears and a commitment to reproduce what you’ve heard. And that commitment to reproduce is the key to extending it to future generations of disciples.

Ask your pastor to take you deeper in your walk with Jesus. And ask him to help you reproduce what you’ve heard.

This devotional was originally published on September 19, 2019.

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nuclear_explosion

I will probably upset someone with this devotional based on today’s Bible reading. It’s because I don’t share the most popular view of eschatology. As a result, I see this passage very differently than many people. But we need to seek to understand and apply the Bible according to the Bible and not according to popular theology and popular Bible teachers. The majority can sometimes be wrong.

I recently got into a text discussion with a friend over this very topic, eschatology, the study of the End Times. It’s the only view that many Christians have ever been exposed to. The popular view of today’s passage looks to the future for the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, often with an America-centric slant. The popular view sees all of this passage as being in the future. But is this Jesus’ focus?

If you read Matthew 24, Jesus appears to deliver the entire chapter in one speech. In other words, look at the passage as a whole to seek to understand what Jesus is saying. He begins with a prophecy that the Temple will be destroyed. Next, He describes signs of the end of the age. The next three sections in the chapter deal with Jesus’ Second Coming, concluding with a strong statement that no one will know the day or the hour.

Obviously, the destruction of the Temple isn’t in the future; it happened in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem. But the rest from Matthew 24:3 could have happened in the past, are now happening, or will happen in the future. Is Jesus giving us a step-by-step description to guide our worldview? Or is He simply giving us a “watch for these signs and be alert” warning?

I believe He’s giving us a warning to watch and be alert rather than a timetable. The central application point is Matthew 24:12-14.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:12–14 (ESV)

Application

Jesus couldn’t be more clear that the timing of His return is unknowable. So why do so many seem to be obsessed with when He will return? Shouldn’t we instead be faithful with proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (v. 14) and stay alert (v. 42, 44, 46), faithfully loving and serving Him?

If you tend to focus on the timing, step back a bit and look at the passage as a whole. Look at the book of Revelation as a whole. You’ll find that our call is to make sure we’ve been saved (had a conversion experience) and that we will be saved in the end (ultimate salvation for those who endure and not fall away) as well as to bring as many to heaven as we can.

Make sure that your love for Him and His people doesn’t grow cold. (Matthew 24:12) Be faithful today. Be obedient today. Be watching today. Get to know and love God better today. Live to God’s glory today. Sure, watch for the signs. But concentrate on growing deeper in your relationship with Him today.

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The gospel is never bound.

When Paul was “quarantined” by prison, his ministry didn’t stop. He simply shifted his strategy, methods, and tools.

We’re doing the same thing right now at church: shifting our strategy, methods, and tools. We can’t use one of our tools (our building) right now. But Social Media, Zoom Meetings, and phone calls are still working just fine.

And like Paul, our message will never change.

Don’t lose heart. This temporary pause — this “momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18) — will end. We will meet together “in-person” again. In the meantime, we will continue being the church.

  • Pray for each other.
  • Pray for our church.
  • Pray for our country and its leaders. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
  • Call and text each other. Encourage each other. Pray with each other.
  • Invite your family and friends to join us for our online Bible studies.
  • Invite your family and friends to join us for our online Sunday Morning Messages.
  • Listen to and sing along with worship music.
  • Keep up with your Daily Bible Reading and Devotional readings.
  • Keep up with your monthly Scripture Memory.
  • Remember to be thankful.
  • Continue your financial support for our church. You can send your giving checks to the church or if you’re out, just drop an envelope in our locked mailbox.

At the end of today’s Bible reading, we see Paul being left in a Roman prison for two years as Governor Festus attempts to do the Jews a favor. (Acts 23:27) What might seem to be a bad situation, God uses for His glory and for Paul’s good.

Dr. Luke tells us that Paul was put in prison by Governor Felix. He gave Paul a great deal of freedom and he gave his friends access to Paul to tend to his needs. (Acts 23:23) Dr. Luke also tells us that Felix called for Paul frequently to talk with him and hoped that he might be able to exact a bribe from Paul (and his friends). One might think that a lot of time was wasted with Paul not out on the mission field. But this isn’t all of the story.

Paul’s ministry wasn’t limited to his travels telling people about Jesus and planting churches. Paul did a lot of ministry from prison. What might otherwise look like wasted time was time well-spent in ministering to the churches he had planted. How did he do that? Paul wrote a lot. As his friends visited him, he was able to send letters to the churches, raising concerns he had with bad theology to bad relationships between people to encouraging people in their faith.

During these two years, Paul was right where God wanted him to be, doing exactly what God wanted him to be doing: building churches.

Application

Do you ever feel that you’re wasting your time, especially when it comes to doing things God has called you to do? I’ve been there and done that. But it’s important to remember that it may not seem to us that anything is going on, God may be working behind the scenes to build into you things that otherwise might not be cultivated in you and those around you.

Ask God how He would have you to spend this time. What does He want you to do during this interim time? How can you maximize this time?

It’s during those times that God seems to be silent and we feel that we’re wasting our time that we need to press into Him and learn as much as possible about God and His ways. It’s during those times that we need to dig deep into our Bibles and spend extended time in prayer. And it’s during those times that we remember to reach out to other Believers and unbelievers to build relationships and tell them about Jesus Christ.

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Billy Graham

Several places throughout our reading through the book of Acts, including today’s Bible reading, various Apostles will stay in a certain area for an extended period of time. Today, it’s Barnabas and Saul who stay in Antioch for a year. (Acts 11:26) Why? Wasn’t it important for the Apostles to get as many converts as possible? Wouldn’t staying in one place for a while limit their reach?

It comes down to what is the purpose of a church. Is a church a place to make converts? Or is a church a place to make disciples? There is a huge difference between the two! Converts are people who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t charge His Disciples to make converts. He charged them to make Disciples. (Matthew 28:19) Nowhere in the Bible is anyone charged to make converts and immediately move on to the next place. And that’s why I have a problem with so many ministries that go into an area with an “evangelistic crusade” and quickly move on to the next city.

When I was a college student, Billy Graham visited our campus (UNC Chapel Hill) to deliver a series of lectures in Carmichael Auditorium. Carmichael is where the UNC Tarheels played basketball back in the day. His visit was billed as a lecture series, but it was essentially a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade. Being a college student with some well-connected Christian friends, I saw one of the keys to Graham’s success.

A year or so before Graham’s visit, students from several student ministries organized the event and worked behind the scenes to unite the ministries of Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Navigators. At Graham’s insistence, every person who responded to his altar call was to be contacted with a one-on-one visit within twenty-four hours of his/her decision. Why? Because Graham saw that disciples were more important than decision-makers. He wanted every decision-maker to become a disciple, someone who learned and became more like Jesus. It wasn’t enough to have several hundred or even several thousand people to make decisions to follow Jesus. Graham wanted people to follow and become like Jesus. And that can only happen when people who make decisions are connected with people who are already following Jesus.

New converts need to be fed and nurtured in their new faith. And for that to happen, they have to be plugged into discipleship ministries with other Believers who are growing in their faith, becoming more like Jesus. While learning about Jesus is important, becoming like Him is the most important thing.

Application

What about you? Are you plugged into a discipleship ministry? Notice, I didn’t ask if you went to church. I didn’t ask if you went to Sunday School.

Going to church is a very important part of discipleship. So is Sunday School. So are small groups. But more important is being plugged in, getting to know — and being known by — other Believers on a deep level. And that can’t happen by just going to big worship services in a big church. It can’t happen by just going to small worship services in a small church. You have to connect.

Are you connected?

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