Friday, August 21, 2015

What I Told My Wife Last Night

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I grieved yesterday when the story broke that the Ashley Madison website had been hacked and the list of its users had been published. I did not grieve because my name would be on the list; I grieved for the millions of lives it affects. This website was launched as a tool for married people to find opportunities to pursue the company's tagline: "Life is short. Have an affair." Obviously the exposure of these users is not the worst part; the worst part is that anyone was pursuing the website's services at all. But setting that website and any specific cases aside for a moment, let me respond personally and pastorally to the bigger issue here that affects all of us.

What this whole ordeal provoked in me is a more pressing personal need for purity and to be above reproach. I am not above any sin, so if I think _________ cannot happen to me then I am deceiving myself and setting myself up for failure. It also prompted me to say some things to my wife last night, and I want to share them with you here in the hope that it will spur similar discussions and transformations.

After a few minutes of chatting with sadness over the many difficult conversations going on that evening, as we went to bed I looked my wife square in the eyes and said these words: "You won't find my name on that list. You don't have to worry that I have a secret girlfriend. I'm not looking at anything on the internet. I don't want to go to Vegas by myself. I want you."

Now, thankfully I could say all of those things truthfully (if you can't, let's talk!). But clearly that is not the case for millions of people right now, and I am not naive to think that it is not inside the church body as well. And as a side note, my internet history is not spotless so I am not coming at this from a holier-than-thou angle. I have been broken in the war, but I am fighting the war! It has not been easy, it has taken a long time, and it is not over. But I am much further along the path than I was fifteen years ago, by God's empowering grace in me and accountability with my wife and others. Plus, I recognize the platform I have been given, one which all of us as Christians have to some degree, one that shows people what it looks like to pursue Jesus in every area of life--especially marriage, in the perilous times in which we live.

So here's my hope: I want our church and any person in my circle of influence to join me, to live a life of distinction--not for our own glory but to point to the glory of the Savior who has saved and transformed a broken sinner like me and you. I long for Christian men to be men, to pursue their wives (or future wife) with the same energy that they may have poured into hiding their sin. I long for Christian men to lead out in holiness, in warring together for the Holy Spirit's victory over temptation in their lives. I long for Christian men to not have any reason to worry that their sin will find them out. And I long for Christian women to set the example of true beauty that radiates from inside of them. I long for Christian women to find their joy in a husband who pursues them as Christ loves the Church. I long for Christian women to live freely inside the life God has given them--not a fantasy world.

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Most of all, I long for Jesus to reign in every heart and marriage. My story is not impossible nor unique. When you give Jesus the door to invade, everything changes. And that is possible for you today, no matter your history. Maybe, like we did, you need to have that conversation tonight. Husbands, I know your wife needs to hear something similar to what I told my wife. And wives, don't give your husband any reason for him to question your commitment to him. Then just think, when both of you do that, what joy and intimacy that creates in a marriage.

But for all of us, if you are trapped in sin's tentacles, get help. Walk with brothers and sisters who will point you to both truth and grace in Jesus. We are willing. Because listen: it is worth it to fight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fast Pass through Suffering?

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One of the ways that theme parks suck more money out of serve their patrons is by what they call a "fast pass" (or something similar). This extra purchased ticket/bracelet/gadget allows you either to reserve your place in line for a later time or even to skip the ride lines altogether. It is meant to minimize the pain involved in going to an amusement park where you feel like you stand around in the heat and wait for hours for one ride or show. An intriguing idea for sure, many people take advantage of this service and amusement parks increase revenues accordingly.

Now, this concept may work well at Six Flags or at Disney World, but I think the same idea has crept into Christianity. Here's what I mean: where do followers of Jesus get the idea that we get a "fast pass" through the incredibly challenging times of life? Why do we think we can skip the lines of suffering, when Jesus Himself suffered and even promised suffering for His followers?

The apostle Paul, no stranger to suffering, even wrote that he longed to "share [Christ's] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10-11). Is this some sort of psychological, masochistic complex that Paul had, that he enjoyed the pain in some way? No, for Paul the main thing he enjoyed was Christ, and what he found was that the suffering and pain and sorrow of life drew him closer to Christ. That's what he says God taught him in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Here's the truth: the Bible never exempts the believer from suffering. In fact, as mentioned earlier, Jesus promises it to those who are seeking to follow Him (see here and here). But listen to what else He promises for His children: that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), and that whatever is going on in your life is meant to shape you into the image of Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). I love the way Matt Chandler put it in a recent sermon: "For the Christian, difficulty is not God punishing His children, but God shaping and molding His children" (watch it here). So often (especially in America) we believe that if hard times are in my life then I am either doing something wrong or God hates me. True, you may be sinning and God is lovingly disciplining you as His child. But also, because we live in a fallen world, things may just go badly for you. But even when that happens, don't forget that God is sovereign. And He is good. And He is using this weakness, this heartache, this struggle, this difficulty, to draw your heart to deeper trust in Him and to take you to a place in your life which you could not reach on your own. All because He loves you, child.

So in suffering, Christian, remember that you are loved and that you have someone to love. That's what got Paul through his many difficulties, that's what sustained Peter through torture. They knew that they shared in Christ's sufferings by faith, so they could "share abundantly in [His] comfort too," looking forward to the day "when His glory is revealed." In their weakness it was Christ who was strong, which allowed Paul to write that "in all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy." When trouble strikes, are you still able to claim joy? The power to live a life of joy regardless of circumstances only comes through Christ alone. Don't be surprised when suffering comes, just make sure you land on the right foundation.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Tribute to My Wife on Our 10th Anniversary

Ten years. Nearly one-third of our short lives spent in covenant marriage together. It seems like just yesterday we were standing on the stage at Hillcrest's church building and committing together to honor Christ in our union. But at the same time, it feels like this is how it has always been, like we can't really remember how it was before that day.

And oh, what a day that was! I have one image seared into my mind's eye of Emily's beautiful smile and laugh (which occurred while the song playing during the Lord's Supper lasted way too long and we stood there awkwardly chatting while everyone stared at us...). But that picture reminds me of her joy and her trust in what was happening that day. But even more so, that image reminds me of the weight of the responsibility with which I have been entrusted.

See, the Lord saw fit to unite this incredible, gifted, godly, beautiful, loving, sincere woman (who is a sinner too!) with me, a sinful man. And He expects me to care for her like He cares for His Church. That is over-the-top difficult, even to do for a woman like Emily. Why is that so hard? Because we are selfish sinners married to selfish sinners in a fallen world. As Paul Tripp puts it: "What did you expect?!"

So for me to love my wife is a tangible choice I make every day, to die to myself and to give my life for her (as Christ did for us). My only ability to do that stems from my remembering of how He did that for me (which is where the term "gospel-centered marriage" comes from).

But let me be clear: Emily absolutely makes that as easy as possible for me to do. Her pursuit of Jesus, her repentance, her humility, her sacrifice for me and our boys, her kindness, her quiet spirit--all of who Jesus has made her to be--enables my sacrifice for her even more so. These last few weeks of chaos in our lives has only increased that. She has invested nearly countless hours in re-staining all the wood in our house, cleaning it to get ready to sell, now packing almost all of it as I finish my schoolwork. She works harder than nearly anyone I know, without complaint. In summary, she looks like Jesus (see Philippians 2:3-11).

So today, on our 10th anniversary, I want to honor and exalt you, my "excellent wife" (Prov 31:10). And by doing so, I hope to honor and exalt Jesus, the Savior and Bridegroom with whom we look forward to one day smiling and laughing with complete joy and complete trust forever.

Emily Kristin Wohlgemuth: I love you, more than you know.

(Here's what I wrote last year for our 9th anniversary. Still true today.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Praying through the Psalms

Last night at our Wednesday worship gathering, we took some time to pray through Psalm 34. It was a sweet time of worship through expressing our dependence on God, but it was also instructive to those who had never practiced that method of prayer before.

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It is not complicated. You take one verse (or a couple verses that constitute a clear idea), you read it, and you use its words as a launch pad for your prayers. Its benefit is that it gives you words to pray and subjects to pray for that you normally would not think of. It focuses your heart on the glory of God more, or His beauty more, or simple praises more, or grief that you feel but don't have the words to express it. In other words, it broadens your prayer horizons past simply asking God for a laundry list of items.

Here's an example of how it works (HT):

Psalm 1:1-2 - "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night." (ESV)
Prayer - "Father, I thank you that your law and your word is good. I thank you that you have revealed yourself to us through your word. I ask that you would give me the strength not to walk in the counsel of the wicked. Help me to find my delight and satisfaction in your word. Help me to meditate on your word day and night. Open my eyes that I may understand the power of your word for my life. I also ask that my children would delight themselves in your word as they mature. I pray that they would walk in the counsel of good friends and not in the way of the wicked. Place good influences in their lives. Thank you God for the blessing that comes as a result of delighting ourselves in your law."

See how simple it is? I encourage you to practice it regularly from the Psalms, as they were written as songs/prayers originally. Let it stir your affections for the Lord and give your heart language you never knew was there. I pray that you see abundant fruit in your life out of this simple tool.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Don't Judge Me!

I am pretty sure I read or hear this phrase at least once a week. It is usually in the context of someone saying something about someone else's sin (or just a specific sin in general), which ramps everyone up to the point of insults and false accusations. A sad picture, definitely, but it causes me some heartburn every time I hear it because that phrase is used as a trump card even though they are not using it properly. Let me explain.

First, let's understand where this phrase even comes from. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says "Judge not, that you be not judged." People rightly then give Jesus the authority He has and apply this Scripture to attack people who they think are judging: "See, Jesus said not to judge!" The problem lies in the fact that Jesus didn't actually say that. If we keep reading the rest of His statement, we see that He actually meant something other than simply "don't judge." He continues, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). Notice what Jesus is doing here. He is not saying not to judge; He is saying that if you do, you better be willing to have the same standard placed on you. In essence, then, Jesus is condemning hypocritical judgment, where I hold you to a higher standard than I hold myself, where I let myself slide on issues that I condemn you for or in areas of life where you struggle but I don't.
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Jesus then illustrates this hypocritical judgment powerfully: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-4). In other words, before you go around pointing out others' faults, understand that you have major issues too (see this funny movie short). So according to Jesus, having anything in your eye is not good, and everyone has something.

Jesus then gives His solution to the problem: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5). So notice again what Jesus has just done. He has not said not to judge; every one of us must make "judgments" every day about people and issues and food and about everything. No, Jesus has said not to judge hypocritically. The standard you hold for someone else should be at least the standard you hold for yourself. But don't miss this about His illustration: Jesus doesn't want anyone to have anything in their eye! He wants us to flourish, and having a piece of sawdust in your eye is a constant irritant, let alone having a 2x4 in it. You can't live the life you were meant to live with that foreign body in there, so He wants us to be able to see clearly enough to help others have clear vision too. This means that it is actually a loving thing for me to humbly help you see sin in your life, as long as I am open to receiving the same correction in every area of my life as well.

Here's where this leads us, though. What is that standard of judgment? Is it the shifting sands of the culture? Is it my constantly changing feelings? Is it what I like or don't like? If it's any of those subjective things then we are in trouble because what I think is a speck might be a plank to you and nothing to someone else. What we need is an objective, outside authority that sets the same standard for every person. And we have it in the Word of God. The One who created everything has the right to say how everything goes. He also understands the best way everything works. So why would we not want to submit to that? But since none of us (me included) can reach that standard of perfection that He demands, we are in danger of His wrath and need rescue. Even one sin separates us from Him. But thankfully, Jesus lived the perfect life I couldn't live and died the death that I deserved for my sin, then didn't stay dead but in His resurrection defeated the enemy of sin and death that I can't defeat--all in order to bring us into full relationship with the Father. Praise Him!

So the only answer to your speck and my plank is Jesus. We all have sin in our eyes that we can't wipe away. Only the blood of Jesus can wash us clean. My hope in humbly pointing out your speck is to direct you to the only One who can help us both, to the One who lived up to that standard in my place and who has an abundant life in store for us when we turn from our sin (our "specks") and turn to Him in faith and obedience. I pray that you would do that today--all of us.

(Trevin Wax also recently wrote an outstanding article on hypocrisy here.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Church's Worship Gathering

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Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

A worship gathering/service is meant to be a corporate expression of our constant praise and wonder for an all-consuming, awesome God who has come to us and offered us salvation by His grace in Jesus Christ. Every element of a gathering should direct our hearts toward exalting King Jesus in a reverent and awe-filled manner. Prayer should lead us to depend on His power, singing should lead us to praise Him in His glory, fellowship should lead us to point one another to Him, and preaching should lead us to deeper trust in Him.

The worship gathering should not stop, though, since Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” I do not mean we should indefinitely sing and preach and pray. But an effective worship gathering should not leave the congregation with only a warm and fuzzy feeling but should lead them to worship through greater obedience the rest of their lives in response to the mercy of God in the gospel and to His unshakeable Kingdom. This does not mean that we aim a worship service at the lowest common practical denominator; rather, we lift all people to the glory of God and magnify Him in order to bring our eyes up to Him. We should call people—through singing, welcoming, praying, and preaching—to a higher level made possible by the Father’s acceptance in the Son’s sacrifice with the Spirit’s power.

What an attractive idea.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Needing the Presence of God

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I love to spend time with people. And in most cases I receive life-giving encouragement and am built up by people. But they cannot sustain my life, and my life can function without them (though not very well, since we were created to be in relationship with people).

Not so with God. Jesus said in John 15:5, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." He is not overstating His case here. Moses understood the gravity of God's presence as well. In Exodus 33:15-16, Moses said to God, "If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?" Moses knew that if the real presence of God did not go with the people of Israel, they were doomed. And he knew that the only distinctive characteristic between Israel and the rest of the world was God's presence and covenant love. So he was desperate to stay with God and not move until God moved.

So why, today, do we go on about our lives and our ministries without stopping to consider whether God's manifest presence is with us or not? Why do we barge ahead without first praying and searching God's Word to determine His will? And here's the problem: we're good at manufacturing a pseudo-presence of God that looks and feels very similar. Few know the difference, yet after a while we start to see nothing of eternal substance happen and people begin to get run over by the enemy. But we're "doing church!" That's the problem. We have played some game without expressing our dependence on God to move then joining Him where He is moving.

Let's be a people who desperately waits for God and His presence to move before we move, who expresses that dependence in wholehearted devotion and radical prayer, and who walks in the power of His real presence in us as we live for His global mission. Apart from Him we are victims of the enemy, but with Him we are victorious over the enemy.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Church Is Full of Orphans

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The New Testament gives us an understanding of the "life cycle" of a Christian--from birth through maturity. First Peter 2:2 calls us "newborn infants" longing for "the pure spiritual milk" that helps us "grow up into salvation." I want us to think about that imagery not in a personal context but in the context of the church. If new believers are similar to babies, we must then begin to think about the healthiest way for them to grow up and to be nurtured.

Our world is full of orphans (one estimate puts the number at 153 million - or roughly half the population of the United States). Thankfully, many Christians and some others have organized funding and support for orphanages around the world. But every one of us understands that an orphanage is not the best nurturing environment for a baby. If no other option exists then it is better than nothing (that's why James commands true Christians to care for them in 1:27), but a nuclear family is the God-ordained best means for a child to mature, to be provided for, to be instructed, and to be loved.

This reality is no different in the church. For comparison's sake (and don't push this too far), we could compare the large church gathering on Sunday to an orphanage. Here's how this has worked in the past and even in the present. A person trusts Christ as Savior and Lord, and what do we often do with them? We invite them to "church" (meaning, the Sunday morning large group gathering). We hope that they will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love that they need, but in reality that often does not happen. That person gets lost in the crowd, gets enough to stay alive, yes, but never really flourishes in what they were created for. They feel more like a number than a family member.

Now compare that scenario to a different (seemingly more biblical) approach. Say that same person comes to trust in Christ. Instead of inviting them to an event, we invite them into our lives. We invite them into our "family," so to speak, where there are just a few of us in intimate relationship sharing life together. What I mean by this is a group of a few people not only meeting to study the Bible and to pray and to hold each other accountable, but people who go on errands together, eat meals together, serve the community together, etc. As these elements of life are shared, questions are asked, theology is clarified, and obedience to Christ in every area of life is modeled. There is no doubt that the new believer will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love they need. Not only do they get enough to stay alive, they actually flourish and mature as a member of a family.

Does it not make more sense to raise up a "child" in this way rather than in an "orphanage"? My challenge to us, church, is to take all of these orphans (physical orphans too!) into our lives and make them a part of a forever family, where they will receive all that they need to live the abundant life that Jesus has promised His children (John 10:10). You may not be the next Billy Graham, but you might be the one to disciple him. All it takes is one, so who is your one?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Eager for Christ's Return

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We know a number of couples/families personally in which the husband is in the military and has been stationed overseas for around a year (side note: thank you all for your service, and families, for your sacrifice!). One family was recently reunited and another will be in the next few days. To say either side was anticipating that day is an understatement, and we are so happy for them.

What causes us to eagerly anticipate those reunions? Drilling it down, it relates directly to the depth of loving relationship the two parties have. I am happy to see an old friend again, but it pales in comparison to the deep desire I have to get home to be with my wife in every way. The love and intimacy that we share magnifies the joy that we have when we are reunited.

Now, think about this: if that's true of healthy marriages and families here, how much greater should our desire be to see Jesus face-to-face one day? To gaze upon the beauty of the One who has taken away your sins by His blood, the One who shields you from God's wrath and brings you into eternal life with Him? Should this anticipation not be building in us more every day? Hebrews 9:28 clarifies: "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." Are you eager for Christ to return? Not only to leave this sin-stained world behind, but to see His face? I hope so, because that is who He is coming back for.

So what does it mean, then, to be "eagerly waiting for him"? When I was in North Carolina recently for a week, I desperately longed for that Saturday afternoon when I would be able to see my bride face-to-face. All week I could not stop thinking about her. And the closer that day came, the more I was consumed. I was still functioning in my day-to-day tasks, but it was all done with a forward-thinking mindset, with the goal of taking care of my responsibilities in order to allow me to get to her (I sure wasn't going to miss a flight!). I'm not meaning to discount the importance of daily life (see Col 3:23 and 1 Cor 10:31). I'm simply magnifying her preeminence over the rest of those tasks in my life. There is a joy in our relationship, there is a longing there. Why? Because of who she is and what she means to me and how deep our love and affection goes.

How much more with Jesus, then! Don't be deceived by a phony faith that simply wants to escape hell but has no affection and desire for Jesus. If you love Him and believe in Him then you will eagerly anticipate His return. And you will live your life differently in the mean time so you are ready for Him to come back. This world will take on less importance and will be less appealing. You will spend your money on things that matter eternally rather than trinkets and fleeting pleasures. You will purify yourself from all sin. All with the eternal perspective of your bridegroom returning from His work trip to take His bride into His house forever.

So, are you eager? If not, take some time right now to gaze upon His beauty. Ask Him for eyes to see how much better He is than anything else this world can offer. What joy we will have on that day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Steak and the Bible

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I love to eat a good steak. Honestly, a decent steak often will do. Rather than paying for them in a restaurant, though, I enjoy the savings and the excitement of grilling them myself at home. They seem to taste even better when you have handled them yourself, don't they?

But as much as I enjoy ribeyes, I understand that I must eat more than one meal in a week in order to maintain my health and energy. A steak dinner once a week will taste good for a while and will keep you alive, but you will not have the full nourishment you need. You will shrivel up. And in fact, that one huge dinner will end up sickening you and you will choke on it.

Sadly, this is how many Christians handle the Word of God. They might regularly attend church on Sunday where they receive a nice steak dinner from the Bible, but then they choose to fast the rest of the week, leading to undernourishment. Also, I have heard from some people that the Sunday sermon is just too much for them. If they are a baby Christian, that might be true (so we must mash it up and serve it in a form they can eat it--and make sure they have milk as well). But if they are a little older spiritually, the fact that they are starving themselves the rest of the week makes their "spiritual stomach" unable to handle the meat of the Word on Sundays. A healthy, balanced diet of Bible intake all week, feasting on the Bread of life, will enable you to enjoy that steak dinner more and it won't choke you. A few pieces of popcorn during the week won't cut it either. We must hear the Word, read the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, meditate on the Word, and apply the Word all week ourselves as the means of transformation--not just relying on someone else to chew it up for me and feed me on Sundays. 

A child has to have someone tell them what to eat since they tend toward junk food (my oldest son told me that he wants to eat tacos, hot dogs, and pizza for dinner in revolving order all week!). But mature adults are able to discipline themselves toward a healthy diet. Hebrews 5:14 says it this way: "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." The healthiest people are generally the ones who prioritize their health the most. It works spiritually too.

Now, some may ask, "Is it really worth it?" Think of a cost/benefit analysis. What does it cost? It costs you time and effort. We have 162 hours in a week, so yes, you could be doing other things with that time. That is a cost. But what is the benefit? Knowing God better, hearing truth against the lies of the world, and receiving hope and strength from God in the midst of a world full of despair and without peace. The result of our cost/benefit analysis? Incomparable. Absolutely it is worth it. Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7), and one basic piece of that is regular Bible intake all week. In fact, why don't you go grab a bite to eat right now? The Chef has some sweet delicacies waiting for you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Make, Mature, Multiply - A Review

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Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus, edited by Brandon D. Smith. Austin, TX: GCD Books, 2014. 238 pages. Reviewed by John W. Wohlgemuth.

Defining discipleship and all of its facets becomes a tricky and varied proposition. Nearly every book written on the subject takes a different angle on its basics. Brandon Smith and the team at Gospel-Centered Discipleship (of which he serves as the Executive Director) aim to simplify and to clarify the essence of disciple-making. This book, Make, Mature, Multiply, utilizes many different authors speaking on each one’s passion regarding disciple-making. A short and clear book, Make, Mature, Multiply provides both simple theological arguments and many practical examples to illuminate Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s mission.

While growing up and seeing a limited summary of what it means to a disciple of Jesus, Smith later understood what the Bible says about the fullness of discipleship. The title of this book stems directly from his definition of a disciple: “A disciple follows Jesus, invites others to follow him, and then trains them how to repeat the process. Simply put, disciples are called to make, mature, and multiply disciples” (10, emphasis in original). Smith summarizes his goal in collating this book as a desire for every person to become this fully-formed disciple of Jesus (11). As the name of their organization states, Gospel-Centered Discipleship uses the beauty of Christ’s gospel to compel people toward this mission of making disciples of all nations, and David Mathis, Executive Editor of, solidly sets this tone in his foreword.

Smith segments the book into three main sections centered on each facet of his definition of a fully-formed disciple: make, mature, and multiply. He readily admits that he adapted the chapters from articles previously posted on, which is their organization’s website (11). The chapters thus remain loosely connected even under the umbrella of the three categories, since overall cohesion was not the original goal for each writer. The principles given by each author, though, reveal his or her depth of passion and wisdom. The individual authors do not stand detached and aloof from the trenches of disciple-making; they have studied and have applied the truths of God’s Word to their context.

One could classify the first part of the book, “Make Disciples,” as the evangelistic section, even though sharing the good news filters every part of disciple-making. This group of essays focuses on proclaiming the gospel in every sphere of life and on building relationships for the purpose of this sharing. The authors here cover many topics, such as hospitality, boldness, story-telling, befriending neighbors, workplace evangelism, and making disciples of one’s children. Though often simplistic, these essays give enough biblical weight to spur followers of Jesus toward more faithful gospel declaration. Part one also addresses a number of reasons why Christians fail to share the gospel. In his essay, “What to Do with a Told Gospel,” Jonathan Parnell, a writer for, states that Christians “don’t tell the told gospel because we’ve lost sight of what it means to be forgiven” (23). This statement forms the essence of the gospel-centered movement, where Christians are motivated to obey Jesus, to love others, to parent, to worship, to preach—to do everything—by the extravagant grace shown to them by Jesus. First John 4:19 founds this concept well: “We love because he first loved us” (ESV). Thus, gospel-centered discipleship (specifically evangelism here) should result directly from a Christian’s deeper understanding of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, restates this idea in his essay, “Why Do We Neglect Our Neighbors?”. The rest of the essays in part one give simple handles for someone to grasp the basics of making disciples in every sphere of life.

Part of the church in America’s problem historically remains its failure to lead believers “to observe all that [Jesus has] commanded” them (Matt 28:20, ESV). The second section of Make, Mature, Multiply focuses on growing in Christlikeness as a critical component of disciple-making. This group of essays focuses on the nature of sanctification in the life of the believer—how it happens and why it is necessary. For example, stressing the necessity of obedience, Brad Watson, a church-planting pastor in Portland, OR, writes on “5 Lies that Kill Obedience,” building off of the Christian’s identity in Jesus to fuel gospel-centered obedience no matter the circumstances or results. Smith organizes this section to launch off of Jonathan Dodson’s essay, “Facing Our Identity Issues.” Dodson is a pastor in Austin, TX, and has written his own book on Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Dodson argues that all sin issues stem from alternate identities, and the goal for the believer should be “destroying the unwanted identity-of-the-moment (alter ego) and finding a better, stronger identity. This is what’s at stake in our discipleship, every, single, day. A better identity” (97). Smith’s own contribution to Make, Mature, Multiply is entitled, “Reflect Christ, Deflect Satan.” Studying through Ephesians 4:25–32, Smith helpfully simplifies the nature of sanctification in response to the gospel and in the power of the Holy Spirit as more often choosing to live to Jesus’s standard rather than the enemy’s (102). God intends a real and distinct difference to occur in the believer’s life today. Smith writes, “God’s will is not aimed entirely at the Christian going to Heaven, but rather for his people to represent him well and live according to his immutable standard in the here and now” (107). The remaining essays in part two illustrate specific ways believers can look like Jesus in day-to-day life and attitudes, including a helpful essay in dealing with doubt.

The final part of the book, “Multiply Disciples,” urges a reproduction mindset in all believers as a part of the disciple-making process. Christians easily can become inward-focused, even toward good things such as sanctification. Jesus’s Great Commandment and Great Commission, however, compel the believer toward multiplication. A main tenet of Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s organization is biblical community, which is their primary vehicle for both sanctification and mission. This section emphasizes the relational side of commissioning someone to reproduce their gospel-centered life into others’ lives. Concepts bleed over from the other sections often here, but it stands nearly impossible to categorize neatly the elements of disciple-making. This part gives the most practical advice, especially on building and maintaining biblical community for the purpose of mission and multiplication of leaders. The authors reference solid resources, such as Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism, and they address common concerns regarding multiplication, such as in Lindsay Fooshee’s essay on “The Unqualified Disciple.” Of this section’s essays, Seth McBee’s work shines brightly as theologically solid, eminently clear, and practically helpful. For example, in addressing how to turn the average church member into a disciple-maker, McBee writes this: “Jesus wants everyone to make disciples, but we have set up our people for failure because we only want leaders who look like full time paid pastors or professional party throwers” (210). The remaining work in this section simply amplifies various methods to multiply disciples.

Brandon Smith collated Make, Mature, Multiply due to a desire to create fully-formed disciples of Jesus. As a result of his role with Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s ministry, Smith had access to leading scholars and practitioners in the field of disciple-making. Each author’s essay began as a blog post on, and Smith edited them into Make, Mature, Multiply. These conditions bring both benefits and challenges. The variety of voices exposes the reader to alternative thought processes and to new applications. The simple style of the essays makes this book accessible for every Christian. The basic information should spur every believer toward self-analysis and introspection. However, this book leaves me wanting in a few areas as well. The variety of authors utilized understandably means some work will be stronger than others, but I perceive a distinct difference in professionalism between solid authors such as Seth McBee or Brad Watson and others. Also, multiple essays seemed out of place in this book, especially in part two regarding sanctification. For example, though Mathew Sims’s article on “How to Offer and Receive Criticism” includes solid material, it seems a stretch to include it in a book on basic disciple-making. The author argues that criticism is a part of sanctification, but this essay stands so different from its surroundings that it remains awkward. The scattered nature of the book’s arrangement does not remedy this problem either, as though it is a good book in terms of the practices of discipleship, it does not offer a clear theological understanding of discipleship. A basic definition of discipleship is perceived differently in different articles.

Finally, my largest criticism of this book remains that it is filled with grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors. Granted, mistakes like these do not affect the content of the message, but its delivery gets hampered severely and it calls into question the trustworthiness and professionalism of the organization. As a few examples, on pages 131 and 132 both Rich Mullins’s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s names are misspelled, and on page 189 the word “book” is italicized for no apparent reason. Also, the page numbers given in the table of contents often do not match the actual chapter page numbers. This book appears to have been adapted from an electronic version into the print version without fully adjusting for the format. The grammatical structure and editing of an online blog post is usually looser as well, but selling this print format demands closer editing.

Given that the basic message of the book is biblical, foundational, and practical, Make, Mature, Multiply offers the church a few applications. First, a church could use the book itself for an introductory course on disciple-making for new disciples or for beginning disciple-makers. They also could use selected portions for topical studies and to address relevant issues. Specifically, Seth McBee’s essay on “Leading Joe Blow into Mission” stands as a simple leadership development structure. A pastor looking to involve more lay people in ministry would do well to apply McBee’s principles of motivating them with the gospel, having realistic goals for them, sharing meals with them, and showing them how to lead. Also, the consistent thrust throughout the book regarding family-based disciple-making should encourage a church to train parents how to disciple their own children. The simple theories and principles in this book provide a solid foundation.

I would recommend Make, Mature, Multiply to all church members as either a refresher or a starting point for disciple-making. For pastors and church leaders, looking past the structural errors, the content provides a simple framework from which to understand the lay person’s perspective. For church members, these concepts will prove foundational for a lifetime of disciple-making. Though not a comprehensive textbook on disciple-making and its theology, this book’s unique collation of issues and authors prove valuable to this discussion. Other books remain needed to fill out the concepts, but Make, Mature, Multiply supplies the needed practical steps and encouragements to spark a movement in the local church.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Psalm 1 Meditation

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"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (Psalm 1, ESV)

We have a CD that we keep on repeat in our mini-van that has Scripture set to music for kids (find this great work and others here). One of the tracks is simply children quoting Psalm 1, which naturally gets into your head after a while. But as God has used that in my heart, I have grown to love this psalm even more as my go-to due to its simplicity and how it compares righteousness and wickedness.

The word "blessed" carries more than an eternal thought; it certainly has that but it also affects one's daily disposition. Like in Matthew 5 when Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, His beatitudes imply an eternal benefit no doubt, but, for example, when He says, "Blessed are the meek," He teaches that pride goes before a fall and that humility and servanthood are the way to go. If you want to avoid destruction by your own doing, be meek. And that's obviously better for you. So in Psalm 1, when David writes that God-delighters are "blessed," he is using that word in an eternal sense but also that a pursuit of God and a rejection of wickedness will benefit you in this life as well--"in all that he does, he prospers."

You also think of a healthy tree with deep roots due to its constant water source. When "the wind" comes against it, "its leaf does not wither." On the other hand, for a person who has not planted himself by the stream of God but instead by the poison of the wicked sinners and scoffers, "the wind drives [him] away" and he "will perish."

What simple thoughts here. You are either planting your life by Jesus' stream of living water or you are immersing yourself in the way of the wicked. There appears no middle ground here. You may just be a sapling in the course of growth, but your leaf is at least budding. A perished tree has no life and is not producing the fruit of righteousness.

So which one would characterize your life? Which tree would you rather have? Then, how can you better plant your life by the living water of Jesus in His Word this year? Get a plan and ask the Lord to empower you to delight in Him and His Word more fully every day. For His glory and your good.