A Day with Jesus

Spiritual disciplines are simply exercises that we can engage in which help to open our hearts to God’s work of transformation and change. Disciplines do not earn us favor before God–nor are they magic formulas which force God to bless us. Rather, they are training exercises whiFountainch put us in a place of dependence and receptivity to God’s sanctifying work in our hearts.

Solitude and silence are what I consider “primary disciplines”. They are not primary in the sense of having greater importance or significance than other disciplines. But they are primary in the sense that they lay the groundwork for other disciplines.

We live in a time and culture in which there is constant noise and constant activity, and we easily succumb to the lie that the level of activity in our life defines our level of worth. Then in church culture there is an added layer of self-righteousness attached to that, because surely if we are constantly busy in the work of God’s Kingdom, that must make us better Christians. So it is only when we intentionally break away from that constant busyness and clamor that we are able to engage more deeply with God in other disciplines like the study of Scripture and the practice of prayer and the cultivation of thankfulness.

That is why I believe solitude and silence can be so transformative in the life of a Christian. And this is not just something that I believe theoretically, but something which I have experienced in my own life and seen in the lives of many others.

With a little planning and forethought, it is not too difficult on your own to set aside a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon and find a quiet park or cafe to be alone with Jesus for a few hours. But I have also found that withdrawing in solitude with a small community can help enhance that time even more. Toward that end, I regularly plan what I call “A Day with Jesus“, where a small group of fellow Christians gather together at a location I reserve ahead of time, enjoy some time alone with Jesus, then come back together to share about our time of solitude. If you’d like to join me in one of these solitude retreats, you can find out more information and register here.

NOTE: I’m anticipating a ministry sabbatical this fall (Sept – Dec 2015) so I don’t have any retreat dates on the calendar for summer or fall, but if you’d like some help in setting one up for yourself or your small group, please contact me and I will see what I can do.

3 X 21 = Joy

Today is 3/21/2015. I just found out that today is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. March 21 is chosen because the technical term for Down Syndrome is “trisomy 21”, meaning that there are 3 copies of chrImageomosome 21 instead of the usual 2 copies.

Our daughter Anah has that extra 21st chromosome that the rest of our family does not. That is not a mistake. It is not some cosmic accident. No, it is part of God’s good design for her. And it is part of God’s good design for our family.

When we adopted her into our family 2 1/2 years ago, we gave her the name Anah Joy. Anah is a Hebrew name meaning “God has answered.” We wanted her to know that God knows the longings of her heart for a home and family, and He has answered her. And from what little we knew about Down Syndrome (from our experience with my nephew Ezra and our friend’s daughter Alina), we knew that there is a simplicity and joy that exudes from many people with Down Syndrome, so we gave Anah the middle name of Joy.

Our prayer for each of our children is that God would use them to bless others, both now in their childhood and later on in adulthood. It is that desire and prayer which then compels us to train and disciple our children in such a way that they will indeed be a blessing to others. And so that is our prayer for Anah Joy as well, that God would use her uniqueness to bless others in unique ways, and that her extra chromosome would result in extra blessing as she shares her simple joy with others. So to that end we labor, doing all we can to train her in the way of Christ, and trusting that God will do what we cannot to make her into a blessing to others.

Every Story Whispers His Name

Last night I was talking with my wife about a children’s devotional book for Easter that I had picked up, and our conversation eventually moved from that particular book to theJesus storybook Bible topic of children’s Bibles in general. In the midst of our discussion, I was reminded again of how much I love The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

The Bible story books that I grew up on–as well as many of the ones that my wife and I had for our children when they were young–were usually just a collection of the “typical kids’ stories” in the Bible (i.e. Noah & the ark, David & Goliath, Jonah & the whale, Jesus loves the children, etc.). And many of those books were like a Christianized version of Aesop’s fables: larger-than-life stories with a good moral at the end. From them I learned to be a good little boy so that God would love me and my parents would be happy with me.

But in those Bible story books there was no mention of a unifying Biblical theology–there was no Big Story of God’s redemptive plan that tied all the stories together. So I grew up seeing the Bible as just a collection of stories about various people, and the story of Jesus was just one of those stories. It wasn’t until much later in my life that God opened my eyes to see that Grand Story that all of Scripture is pointing toward…but wow, what a difference that perspective makes!!

So when I first discovered Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible and read it to our youngest child, I was blown away by how deeply I was moved by her re-telling of The Story. On more than one occasion (and not just on the first time reading through it), I had to pause in my reading because I was getting choked up and teary-eyed at the beauty and the wonder of what God has done to rescue His people (my son probably wondered what my problem was!).

My kids are getting older and I don’t get to read Bible stories with them as regularly as before. But every once in awhile (when no one is looking!) I pull The Jesus Storybook Bible off the shelf and just read some of my favorite sections, and my heart is moved again by the simple truths of the Gospel and the wonder of God’s amazing grace toward sinners like me.

Driveway Conversations

Back when I was serving as a campus minister with Asian American Christian Fellowship (AACF) at Cal Poly Pomona, I used to think that my most effective ministry was driving college students home after our fellowship meetings. I spent hours and hours preparing Biblical, relevant messages and training leaders and planning events, and maybe there was some fruit from all of that. But frankly, I don’t remember most of what I taught, and I was the teacher! So I don’t expect that many of the students remember much–if anything–from what I taught in those larger settings either.

But it was the conversations in the car on the way to someone’s home, or sitting in the car in their driveway at 11pm or later, which really seemed to hit home in those students’ lives. It was driving up the mountain to pick someone up who had just wrecked his car on the way to go snowboarding. It was sitting on the floor in my home with a few students, playing with my toddler. It was washing dishes while someone leaned on the counter and chatted. Those were the “unguarded” moments where real life was shared and I had the opportunity to point someone to Christ in a deep and meaningful way that connected with where they were at in the moment.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that those were the moments that seemed to be my most effective disciple-making times. After all, much of Jesus’ teaching with His disciples happened while they were “on the way” and as they simply shared life together.

Maybe that is why I love retreats so much (I just got back from one this past weekend, and it was awesome!). Because there are so many unscripted moments like that, where God opens the door for a deep and significant conversation with someone, which rarely happens in a large classroom setting. And because that conversation is happening in the midst of the messiness and reality of life (not just in the polite, put-together confines of a classroom), God’s truth sinks deep and real change begins.

I’m not serving with AACF anymore, but now my own daughter is in college…and I’ve had some significant conversations with her while driving her to or from her dorm. With other people, those disciple-making moments have come while standing on my back patio watching our kids play together, or in late-night “interruptions,” or in hallway discussions at a beach-house retreat.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not opposed to teaching in a large classroom or preaching from the pulpit or organizing a big event. Certainly God uses those platforms as part of His process of change in peoples’ lives (including my own). But I’m learning to make space for those unplanned, unscripted moments with just one or two people, because often it seems that those are the places where the truth that has been taught in the larger setting then gets applied to the reality of a person’s life. And that is an exciting thing to see!

A Disciple-Making Lifestyle

When I look at Jesus’ life in the Gospel accounts, I see an amazingly simple (i.e. not complex) strategy by which He made disciples. Then when He gives those who were already His disciples that great Commission to make more disciples, I see two foundational truths about a disciple-making lifestyle: 1) We must first and foremost BE a disciple of Jesus, and 2) As disciples, we are to MAKE disciples.

These are some of the principles that characterized Jesus’ disciple-making strategy:

Disciples are intentionally selected by Jesus.

Therefore, Disciple-makers intentionally select a few people to disciple.

Disciples spend much time with Jesus.

Therefore, Disciple-makers do life together with those whom they are discipling.

Disciples commit everything to following Jesus.

Therefore, Disciple-makers expect a high standard of commitment from their disciples.

Disciples are willing students of Jesus.

Therefore, Disciple-makers joyfully impart God’s truth to those whom they disciple.

Disciples mimic what they see Jesus doing.

   Therefore, Disciple-makers model in their own lives the very things they seek to teach their disciples.

Disciples carry out what Jesus gives them to do.

Therefore, Disciple-makers assign responsibility incrementally to their disciples.

Disciples submit to Jesus’ correction and discipline.

Therefore, Disciple-makers come alongside to assist and correct their disciples.

Disciples call others to be disciples of Jesus.

Disciple-makers teach their disciples how to replicate the process with other disciples.

These 8 principles are spelled out clearly and compellingly in Robert Coleman’s masterpiece called The Master Plan of Evangelism [© 1963, 1993, Revell Books]. He labels these principles as: Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, Reproduction.