Making disciples who make disciples is part of the commission Jesus gave us as believers (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus Himself told us to teach them to obey everything He commanded, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that a large part of making disciples involves all of us getting into the Bible and studying it together.
As I mentioned yesterday, our corporate discipline involves 2 or 3 people gathering together and reading large amounts of Scripture, somewhere between 20 & 30 chapters a week. Why are we so determined to study the Bible? Jesus said that His very words are Spirit and life (John 6:63). The message of the Kingdom contained within the Bible is like a seed in our hearts (Mark 4:13-14, 26-27). The more we can get that message of the Kingdom into our hearts and spirits, the more of the Kingdom we see take root in our life.
So, every time our groups of 2&3 gather, we pick a section of Scripture, usually 20 or 30 chapters in a row. This section is what everyone is reading this week. This week my 2&3 is reading the book of Mark, last week was the book of Revelation. Sometimes it’s multiple books like 1st and 2nd Corinthians. The point isn’t to finish the section every single week. Many weeks someone in my 2&3 doesn’t finish. When this happens, we start over, and read it again the following week. When everyone finishes the 20 or 30 chapters in the same week, that’s when it’s time to pick a new section of Scripture.
Why do we read the Bible together like this? The main reason is it’s good to be in the Bible hearing Jesus for ourselves. As Christians we believe the Bible is the only inspired message from God and because of that, it is fuel for us to grow up into the likeness of Jesus. But in addition to that, reading large portions of the Bible together keeps us from heresy. Mutual discipleship means there’s no authorized leader of a 2&3. If we read significant portions of the Bible together in context, each believer is able to say “Can you show me where you found that in the reading?” whenever a controversial statement is expressed. One final thought about reading together like this: It eats away at our carnal independence. Many people are content to read what they want, when they want. This process asks us to be formed as disciples together.
We want to be careful of a few things. The intent of this time is not turn our 2&3’s into a Bible study. Bible studies are good and have their place. But our goal instead is to figure out how Jesus encountered us in the Scriptures and is asking us to obey Him. This isn’t the chance for those gifted as teachers to break down whole chapters of the Bible for everyone else.
Also, we need to be careful of dead religion. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for reading the Bible but resisting the very One that the Scriptures pointed to (John 5:39). The goal is not to become an expert, the goal is meet the One who Scripture points to! But reading and immersing ourselves in truths within the Bible is the surest way to do that.
I think in the West, because the Bible is so available to us, it can become easy to grow cold to its ability to transform us. The words sound familiar and if we fail to take the words back to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to encounter us around those words, our hearts can grow dull to the Word. I believe the word of God has the power to change human hearts. Have you ever seen Chinese believers receive a Bible for the first time? It should humble us. We need to hunger for God’s word like these fiery believers who are being transformed by the Gospel.
What I’ve described here is a corporate discipline that we embrace to make disciples. But friends, the heart here is that we are soft towards God’s word and being transformed by it. We need not only to read it ourselves, but join with others and help each other find the divine truth God has hidden in its pages.
For the last few days I’ve written about how we invite existing believers into our house churches: we invite them into relationships, we invite them to lay their lives down, and we invite them into mutual discipleship. As I wrote, I found myself tip-toeing around the concept of consumerism in the church so I wanted to take a minute and explain the problem with consumerism.
Consumerism is a lifestyle built around the consumption of a product. It drives many economies, and in particular ours in the West. Car companies, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and countless other companies thrive, not because you need another car, phone, or computer, but because they’ve taught us to want the newest model. They’ve trained the masses to want the next best thing. Many people throughout the cultural West find their identity not in who they are, but based on what they have.
This is a problem by itself–We should find our identity in Jesus Christ and Him alone. With this shift in mindset, the church has increasingly adapted the methods of the world in order to “reach” society. I’ve known churches to offer iPads or similar electronic devices as a prize for the child who invites the most unchurched friends to Sunday School. All of this is in the name of the Gospel, but what it teaches us is to be motivated by stuff and not Jesus.
At a higher level, this infects churches and cripples ministry. The pursuit of many churches is growth. This means they have to continually move to the edges of a city where young families tend to live in order to attract new attenders with the money to sustain a ministry. Big buildings with crippling debt are the means to this end. And woe to the church or ministry who makes the wrong bet on a ministry direction and offends the wrong people. They are left with a building and debt that no one is around to pay for. This frequently hinders the proclamation of the gospel. I’ve literally seen churches (and by this I don’t just mean the building, I mean the ministry, the people, everything) sold to another minister. I refuse to listen to another church talk about their brand. I’ve watched viable churches closed because there wasn’t enough money. The list can go on and on.
Consumerism attempts to turn everything that we do into a transaction. It cheapens love. It never calls people sacrifice or to suffer. In everything, it encourages people to look for a reward in relationship to whatever they participate in, whether it’s physical reward or an ideological one (being part of the cool crowd/church/people). As you can probably see by this point, these attitudes are opposed to God’s Kingdom which is built on sacrificial love.
Don’t misunderstand me–there is a reward that we are offered in this age and the age to come for following Christ, but these are different than iPads or being part of the in-crowd. Our reward, first and foremost, is fellowship with the indwelling Christ. We get God! And then God gives us the reward of His Kingdom, spiritual family, and even possibly material gain for obedience. But these come from His hand and are attained through following Him in adverse circumstances (see Mark 10:29-30).
Friends, we serve Jesus. God the Father has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He was raised from the dead and promised to raise us with Him. We have access to the authority and power of God’s Kingship. We don’t need to be motivated by the things of this world: success, fame, power, money. But it’s not enough that we ourselves aren’t motivated by these things. As a church, we have to repent of building systems that motivate individuals by anything other than faithfulness to Jesus. At the end of the day, at the end of the age, those are the things that will keep us faithful, not our stuff.
So would you join me, church, regardless of what type of church you are part of, from building God’s Kingdom with the straw of this world? Can we say “no” to motivating people in the flesh to follow God? Can we together disciple a coming generation to follow Christ because He is good?
It may mean a decrease in your crowd, but the disciples you’ll have left will change the world.
One of the realities I struggle with many days in my walk with God is “How far is too far?” I know that seems like a weird question to ask when I’m talking about God. But the question is never, “Have I gone after Jesus too hard in a way that makes me unrelatable to the rest of the world?” More often the question is, “I sure feel like I’ve gone a long ways, but maybe there’s more of God and I’ve settled for too little. Could I have not gone far enough?”
Maybe you can relate.
But the mystery of God is this: God is unknowable and yet He invites us to know Him.
God is unknowable: He’s God because He is bigger and more complex than you. He measures out the universe in span of His hand. We’re talking about the God who laid the foundations of the world and taught the stars how to shine. He created the star and created the atom and everything in between and holds it all together through the word of His power. He knows you and your ways far better than you know Him. If you could fully understand God, if you could get your tiny human mind around Him and His ways, if you could know Him fully, He would cease to be God. You want a God that’s bigger than you.
God wants to be known: We first see Him creating a world where He can relate to people. Then people break that special bond they have with Him and hide and He goes to find them. He spends thousands of years beckoning and whispering to people that He will come and break the curse that we’ve put on ourselves only to finally end up shouting in fragile form of His Son, Jesus Christ. And with the final act of laying down His life Jesus atones for our sins against Him and the veil that separated God from man is torn in two, signaling an end to us being shut out from His presence.
So, yes, God is unknowable. But He wants to be known.
Which is why Paul prays in Ephesians 3 this prayer:
I pray that…you have the power to understand…how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is….though it is too great to understand fully.
Friends, God knows He’s too big for us. He knows we will never fully comprehend Him and His love for us. He knows that He is an ocean of love and our small, frail hearts are the size of a thimble. We can never fully hold the vastness of who He is.
But this, I think is a secret to God’s heart, that if you understand, will help you grow in Him:
He invites us to try anyways.
Friends, I don’t think the issue is to get a certain amount of God. That would be impossible. I think the answer is to keep opening your heart to receive more of Him, knowing that you will never be able to comprehend it all. Be okay with the God who is bigger than you. Who has more love than you. And keep opening your heart knowing it will never be able to hold everything God has to give.
Today, I pray that you would have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep the love of Christ is, though it’s too big for you anyways.
“We ought to make the best possible use of God-given opportunities and should not waste our precious time by neglect or carelessness. Many people say: there is plenty of time to do this or that; don’t worry. But they do not realize that if they do not make good use of this short time, the habit formed now will be so ingrained that when more time is given to us, this habit will become our second nature and we shall waste that time also. ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much’ (Luke 16:10).”
-Sadhu Sundar Singh
I’m finally getting around to reading Len Sweet’s book “So Beautiful.”
This amazing quote is pulled from the section on the missional life. The true nature of our missional life flows out of the nature of God. Sweet summarizes the nature of the God of mission so well, I had to share. Enjoy!
We don’t have a well behaved God, a polite God, a well-mannered God. God is not gentrified, made socially acceptable, or given to political correctness. The time until Jesus returns is not the time for long-range plans or for franchised dreams or for risk free strategies based on pre-approved to-do lists. This is the time to blaze new trails, to explore strange new lands, to build better spaces in which to live and love. If you want a quiet life, a life of peace and contentment, then don’t follow Jesus. If you want a safe life, a life of security and caution, then don’t follow Jesus. If you want a life that is all mapped out, a life you can plan and control, then don’t follow Jesus. Faith is the opposite of control.
If you’ve been following along, you know we just concluded a 23 day series reading A.W. Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy. One of the things I’ve noticed on my journey has been that when believers take some concentrated time to study God’s attributes, they don’t like stopping. This can be good or bad, depending on what is going on in the heart of each individual believer.
“Bad? How can it be bad?” you ask. Well, the answer is that if all we ever do is study the attributes of God, we can slowly give our hearts over to the subtle lie that having more information is the same thing as knowing God. In our Western, consumer-driven, data-focused culture knowing the facts about God can pretty much convince most people that they actually have a relationship with Him.
The truth is, knowledge inflates us with pride, but love builds the church. If understanding God’s nature increases our love for Him, then our study is a success because the church is built up as individuals draw nearer to Christ. But if we grow in our head knowledge but never bend our knee, surrender our heart, or draw close to God’s burning heart, then we have only become more like the Pharisees. We must guard ourselves from these tendencies. And we have to ask ourselves, “How Much Input Do You Need?”
With that said, reading more than one book isn’t a bad thing. So for those of you who have enjoyed our study in “The Knowledge of the Holy,” I thought I would point you to a few more resources that I hope will be helpful if you find yourself wanting to go deeper in these areas.
This is a great study written by A.W. Pink (don’t ask me why two guys with the initials A.W. wrote books on the nature of God). Pink was a pastor and a theologian who wrote a number of books and claims Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones as one of the people who learned from him. While he wrote a number of books, this one in particular focuses in on the nature of God through the lens of His attributes in a very similar way as “The Knowledge of the Holy.”
This book is written by Stephen Charnock, a puritan who lived in 17th Century England. He was a minister who preached to several different congregations during his life. His claim to fame is this book, which was assembled from a series of addresses that were given prior to his death. Charnock was never able to finish the addresses, but what was completed can be found here. When people at my Bible college gained a hunger for knowing more of God from “The Knowledge of the Holy,” they inevitably bought a copy of this book. But I warn you: This book is a mammoth book and is not for the faint of heart.
I thought this book might be a good follow up, not because it covers the same ideas as “The Knowledge of the Holy,” but because it is Tozer writing about what is required of the man who wants to pursue God. In a way, for the person who is firm in God’s nature but wants to put into practice what he or she understands, The Pursuit of God is a practical help to encourage hearts to truly encounter Jesus. I would highly encourage you to pick this book up.
Also, remember, I don’t endorse everything I endorse….
[Editor’s Note: This is a 23-Day Series exploring different aspects of God’s nature and personality, using Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy” as a discussion starter. You can read the introduction of the series here.]
How do you wrap up a study like this? So far we’ve talked about the knowledge of God, why the pursuit of it is necessary and possible, and looked at no less than nineteen attributes of God among many more. Where do we go from here? The answer is, we launch out from this foundation into our own personal journey. Knowing God at a deep level has immense implications and must be walked out, not just contemplated in order for us to be effective.
The critical need of this hour of history, just as when Tozer first penned the words we’re reading, is for the church to become what she’s been destined to be. And the only way for the church to come to life like she needs to is she must know God. This is not some kind of casual knowing like the way you know your accountant. The church must know her God in a way that transforms her from the inside out.
The difficulty comes in the fact that knowing God does not come from study alone. As much as I’d like to think this reading, blogging, and study has been helpful, it will only be profitable if we take what we’ve learned and apply it to our lives. Obeying and walking out these truths is the highest form of learning.
Tozer calls this the pursuit of the open secret. It’s a mystery so deep that it has eluded scholars, wise men, and the mystics of the ages. Yet, God hid this secret right out in the open for all to see. Tozer also calls the pursuit of the knowledge of God the easiest and hardest thing we’ll ever do with our lives. It’s the easiest because God’s word is a fountain of revelation and He is more than willing to shower the riches of Kingdom on anyone who asks (Isaiah 55:1). But it’s the hardest because our nature resists pursuing Jesus and we must discipline ourselves for this pursuit of knowing God.
Tozer gives us six key take aways that we must commit to if we want to grow in our knowledge of Jesus. To be clear, these are only positioning ourselves, they do not earn us privilege with God. But if our hearts have been struck by this journey and wish to go farther, we must do the following:
- We must forsake our sins. Everything that hates religiousness in us will resist this step. But Tozer quotes Jesus who clearly says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God, ” (Matthew 5:8).
- We must utterly commit our whole life to Christ in faith. Tozer quickly adds what this looks like: “keep His commandments, carry our cross, and love God and our fellow men.”
- We must welcome the inflow of the Holy Spirit. This can’t be said enough times and since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of [God] (Ephesians 1:17), then it only makes sense that this step is crucial.
- We must hate the world and it’s values. This doesn’t mean we hate the people of the world, but that we count as worthless the value system this world holds so that we can pursue what God values. If we become a friend of the world, we make ourselves God’s enemy (James 4:4) and that will not aid us in knowing Him more intimately.
- We must practice long and loving meditation on the majesty of God. And while this can look very pious and religious, at the end of the day, we need to train our minds to think about Him (Colossians 3:1-2). As we do, our hearts will grow in the ability to look on Him with wonder.
- All of these things combined and an increase in our true knowledge of God should cause us to serve those around us with more love. If we don’t, not only will we not be profitable, but our actual knowledge of God will be suspect.
I don’t have much to add other than this process is important. As I said when I first announced this journey, this book and the truths inside have had a profound impact on me and many others. Because the truths contained are from the Bible, they have great power to stabilize and equip believers who put these words to use. And it’s only in putting them to use that we truly show we have understood them.
The same leader who introduced me to this book also went on this pursuit many years ago. I listened to him speak once and he shared how he had come to understand Proverbs 2:1-5 as a pattern for growing in the knowledge of God. So I’ll end with by quoting that scripture:
My child, listen to what I say,
and treasure my commands.
Tune your ears to wisdom,
and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight,
and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,
and you will gain knowledge of God.
That’s my final takeaway of this journey. What’s yours? Leave a comment so we can all grow together!