Developing Holy Habits – Exalt, Encourage and Endure (Part 7)

We’ve come to the last in our series, using the Acronym PROMISE to describe healthy holy habits that must be taught and nurture among ourselves and those we disciple. The last letter ‘E’ stands for two important practices that should characterize the life of every growing disciple. These are ‘Exalt God’ and ‘Encourage each other’.

  1. Exalt God

We were made to worship God. It is perhaps no accident that the longest book in the Bible is the Hebrew hymnbook known as the book of Psalms. Heaven echoes eternally with the praises of worshiping creatures, angels, and people. We who are saved are called to praise the One who saved us. We find ultimate meaning for our being in the worship of our Creator, Redeemer, and King.

Worship not only fulfills who we are truly, but amazingly, God desires it of us, though he is the all-sufficient One. In John 4:23, Jesus told us that ‘the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.’ God is seeking a people who would delight totally in Him.

Jesus uses the imperative in John 4:24 – ‘Those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.’ Worship in spirit and truth springs from our spirits and must be done with complete integrity, touching our head and heart where we reach out in praise and adoration to our God. ‘To “worship in spirit,” is to worship spiritually; to “worship in truth,” is to worship truly’ (A.W. Pink).[1]

Worship in Scripture is always more than just songs we sing or acts of praise done before God and for God. It has in view the complete devotion, love, and obedience of head, heart, hand, and being.

William Temple, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury gives a succinct but superlative definition of true worship: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”[2]

So we should sing and dance (if so moved) at church on Sundays, and let us do so heartily and with reverence before God. But let us also teach those we disciple to worship God by a genuine attitude of heart the issues into God-exalting words and actions on say, Monday mornings and Friday nights.

  1. Encourage each other.

As we make disciples, we are calling and training them not simply to obey Christ in every way, but to seek to follow Him by belonging and participating in Christ’s community, the Church. If we are to exalt God by our worship, we are similarly to treat each other with respect and to encourage one another out of love.

The epistolary writings of the Apostles take pains to call us to work for the common good of each other. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul instructs believers to ‘let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’

This is echoed in numerous other letters – see Romans 12:10, 15:2; Galatians 6:2;       Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 3:13, 10:25; etc.

This has to be worked at as a regular habit, because loving saints today can quickly be bitter, resentful, and quarreling sinners come the morrow. If we don’t grow in the grace of our Lord, we can easily slip back into our old default mode of sin and selfishness, refusing to consider others better than us or before us (as Philippians 2:3-4 exhorts).

Therefore, Jesus taught us and spoke about it often – if we do not forgive each other, our heavenly Father would not likewise forgive us (Matthew 6:14,15 and 18:21-35). In like manner, if we claim to love God but hate our brother, we prove to be liars (1 John 4:20).

Exalting God and encouraging each other – two more habits of genuine discipleship. The practice of true worship of God and the practice of genuine love for each other are ultimate consequences of a life surrendered at many and frequent points to the lordship and rule of Christ.

In becoming like Jesus in every way through the transforming work of His Spirit and through abiding in His word, we will prove to be the kind of worshippers God desires, and the kind of people others love to be with.

 

[1] A.W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John – Vol. 1, e-book accessed at www.grace-ebooks.com, page 209

[2] William Temple, Readings in St John’s Gospel, First Series (London: Macmillan and Company, 1940), pg 68.

Developing Holy Habits – Exalt, Encourage and Endure (Part 7)

Developing Holy Habits – Share (Part 6)

Last week, we considered the ‘I’ for invest: the giving of our money and resources towards the community of faith we are a part of and for the spread of God’s kingdom. Investing is an essential act of worship that must soon be taught in the life of a new disciple of Jesus. Today we consider the S in our PROMISE acronym: Share, which must also be taught early in the discipleship process. I am referring specifically to the priority of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.

Witnessing is a forgotten command today, one many Christians do not give much thought to. We expect those gifted as evangelists and ‘professional’ Christians workers like pastors and missionaries to be doing the work of making Christ known, while the rest of us are fed, cared for, and busy with other ministries of the church. This is a defective, not to mention unbiblical, view of the witness of the whole Church. We cannot so easily ignore (or delegate to only a few) the evangelistic purpose and responsibility of the whole people of God (1 Peter 2:9; Mark 16:15; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:20).

Just prior to his ascension, Jesus instructed the disciples he had trained and commissioned to wait in Jerusalem, till they were cloth in power from on high. After the Holy Spirit empowered them, he told them that they ‘will be His witnesses’ from Jerusalem, where they were, to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). ‘You will be witnesses’ is an imperative statement, not a ‘could be’ or even ‘should be’ but a ‘shall be’, and this was one of the explicit outcomes of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus expected them to be witnesses. He expects us who are the spiritual descendants of the first apostles to do likewise.

We each have our own Jerusalems (those closest to us relationally), our Judeas (those culturally alike to us), our Samarias (those who are geographically near but culturally more distant) and our ends of the earth (those who are geographically and culturally distant to us). No place is to be out of reach of Gospel witness.

What does it mean to ‘witness’? A witness is someone who testifies to what he has seen and heard, who is able to recount to friends and strangers or a court of law, his first-hand experience of an incident he observed or participated in.

When a person is born anew by repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they immediately have a story to tell, of what they now know, however elementary: that God by his great love and mercy has rescued them from their sin and its eternal consequence of hell and separation.

We need to help new believers to know 1) they are called to be witnesses of their Risen Lord and 2) how to tell their stories.

In our work in Bangkok, Thailand, we have tried to teach those we disciple to write down and memorize their story or testimony of how they came to faith, and to be able to tell it in 3 minutes. Their story would consist of three parts: 1) what life was like before they came to faith in Jesus, 2) how they came to faith in Him, and 3) the difference that has resulted.

Additionally, as part of disciple-making in our groups, we have them make a list of 5 people they know who have not yet become followers of Jesus – whether family, neighbors, colleagues, or friends. They then commit to praying as a group and individually for each of the people in their list, asking God for opportunities to witness to them, inviting them to their discipleship group or bringing them to the leaders if they have questions or are interested or responsive to their stories. Every so often, the list is to be updated.

We make it a practice in our disciple-making relationships to regularly ask each other for updates about those on our lists, and to share encouraging testimony of people we’ve been able to witness to for Christ. In this way, we help disciples witness as a first step to becoming disciple-makers.

If hell is real and lost people without Christ are headed there, we cannot keep silent. If Jesus is Risen Lord, we must tell it home and abroad. If the Gospel is true, then we must bear witness to it.

On the morning of his execution, the English murder convict Charles Peace was read to about the fires of hell from the book The Consolations of Religion by the prison chaplain. Peace reportedly silenced the chaplain with these words: ‘Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say you believe, I would walk across England if it were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, even on my hands and knees, just to save one soul from the hell you so glibly speak about!’

Indeed, if today we found the cure to cancer, would we keep it merely to ourselves?

George Whitefield, the great Anglican clergyman and evangelist once said, ‘God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them.’ May God give us the same evangelistic zeal to witness by our words and lives.

 

Developing Holy Habits – Share (Part 6)

Developing Holy Habits – Invest (Part 5)

This is part 5 of a series on basic habits every disciple must be taught to live and practice, based on the Acronym PROMISE. Last week, we looked at the ‘M’ which stands for Meet with one another. Today, we will consider the ‘I’ which stands for Invest or giving to the work of the Kingdom.

“Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power,
the glory, the splendor, and the majesty;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
All things come from you,
and of your own do we give you.”

This wonderful prayer was said in the Anglican church of my childhood Sunday after Sunday, when the offering was brought to the Lord’s Table. It echoes words by King David in 1 Chronicles 29:14 and was a constant reminder that we give back to God what is rightfully His in the first place!

Martin Luther said, ‘every Christian needs a conversion of the head, of the heart and of the wallet!’ The new disciple in Jesus must soon adopt a new attitude in Christ towards the things we have, own or want. From this, the practice of the giving of our money, resource and time to God must be taught not merely as a matter of duty or due.

Giving is always seen in Scripture as a joyful act of worship where we get to participate in the life and service of God and his mission in the world. Indeed, we are called not just to give from our leftovers, but of our first-fruits, to God.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were taught by Moses to give a tenth of everything they owned back to God, because it belonged to Him (see Leviticus 27:30). That tithe was to be in support of the ministry to the Levites who served in the temple (Numbers 18:21) and for the poor, the sojourner, orphans and widows among them (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

When we come to the New Testament, neither Jesus nor the Apostles gave any command with regards to the tithe.

However, some Christians, including the leaders of NAMS, believe that the 10% tithe of our income (and offerings on top of that) should be the minimum amount we give to the Lord. This we seek to both model and teach to others. It is not a law we are duty-bound to follow but a call to establish healthy habits and standards of giving.

In fact, when we become disciples of Jesus, we gain a new perspective towards money. Jesus certainly challenged us to a new Kingdom-minded attitude towards our possessions and wealth. About 60% of his parables dealt with questions of possessions and money and our attitude towards it.

He often warned and challenged individuals to be wary of the hold of material possessions and money. In Luke 16:13, he said: “you cannot serve both God and money.” In Luke 12:15 (NLT), he warned: “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

He watched a rich, young ruler walk away from discipleship because of his slavery to his wealth (Matthew 19:16-30, though note that Jesus was not saying it was ‘impossible’ for the rich to enter God’s kingdom, but that it was hard. Many are blessed with riches who, seeking God’s kingdom first, have used their wealth for godly ends).

Perhaps the most important Apostolic teaching on giving towards the work of the kingdom and our local churches can be found in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. In his earlier letter in 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructs Christians to set aside money on the first day of the week, according to how much they had or prospered, and to collect it together ready for Paul to take to needy believers in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Note that in this context of raising funds to support of other Christians, he taught that their giving should be

1) regular – on the first day of every week (or in today’s context when you get your salary),

2) church-wide – each of them and so all of them were called to it,

3) planned – the money needed to be set aside, and

4) proportionate – according to what you earn.

At the end of the day, it is our attitude in giving that matters to God – how we give than how much we give (Luke 21:1-4).

But we are called, and so we must teach all, to give regularly as a holy habit, out of joy and in faith. ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).

 

Developing Holy Habits – Invest (Part 5)

Global Stories: A Fugitive No More – Shaun’s story

‘I have to leave. Please look after my family.’ Tears rolled down his face as Shaun* told me his decision to run away. Agents from his country were after him. They had twice tried to kidnap him.

As a refugee in Bangkok, Thailand, Shaun was ostensibly under the protection of the United Nations, but they could afford him little help. So he turned to us for help – to All Nations, the NAMS base in Bangkok that he was a part of. He entrusted the well-being of his family to the only community he could trust.

Persecuted because he belonged to a minority people group in a country where a bloody civil war had raged, Shaun once spent 21 months in jail where he was regularly interrogated in what was tantamount to torture. Though the courts cleared him of any wrongdoing and he was finally released, he faced continued harassments and threats. In 2011, he escaped to Bangkok with his family.

He had become a believer in prison through reading a Bible his father had given to him. Shaun subsequently joined us and became a key leader working among asylum seekers and refugees from his nation, seeking to help them become disciples of Jesus, as he had.

But now, the threat of forced repatriation to his country had put all of this in jeopardy. We wondered how his family would cope if he left them, and so we pleaded with him to re-consider while looking desperately for another way out for them. But a week later, Shaun was gone.

I would hear from him sporadically through short e-mails and even once through a Skype call with him from an internet café in an unknown city. We prayed desperately and provided as best we could for his terrified family over seemingly endless months.

Finally, in 2016, after a long journey involving cross-continental travel and people smuggling, I heard afresh from him. By God’s grace, Shaun had been received as a bona fide refugee into a country in Europe.

With the help of All Nations, his family was soon accepted by the same country and reunited with him, where they are now happily settled and thriving. I keep in touch with him and have been encouraging him to continue on as a disciple of Jesus to do all he learned from us.

This is the on-going work of all base communities, companions, and frankly, faithful Christians everywhere. To seek to bless, help and support those in and outside our communities who are lost, hopeless and helpless without our Saviour and Lord Jesus, so that the Kingdom of God may come in their lives. Through it all, we seek to make disciples made who can likewise make disciples themselves, as Shaun is doing.

* Shaun is not his real name.

Shaun - fugutive no more
Shaun (extreme right – face obscured) with NAMS Companions Manik Corea and Isaac Lasky in Bangkok in 2013.

Global Stories: A Fugitive No More – Shaun’s story

Developing Holy Habits – Meet (Part 4)

From the moment of regeneration into a newborn babe in Christ, the new disciple of Jesus needs to be helped to grow up to be dependent on Christ. In this series of blogs, I discuss the use of the acronym ‘PROMISE’ to denote and describe seven basic Christian disciplines that must become part of the on-going nurture, discipline and life-style of disciples. Today we are reflecting on ‘M’: the necessity of ‘meeting’ with other believers.[i]

‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ (Genesis 2:18). This was the first instance in the creation narrative that God said his creation was in any sense lacking. As Jon Bloom[ii] argues well, it was not just that Adam being alone was not good for him, it was in some, not good for God either. God knew Adam needed human companions to fully enjoy all the glory of God, and He was after not one but many companions who would live for and before Him. ‘One human would not enjoy God as much as many humans together.’[iii]

Therefore, when God intervened into the life of an Aramean from Ur of the Chaldeans and called him to become a pilgrim to a land God would show him, Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations. God started with one man who obeyed, so that he could ultimately have one people in worship (Genesis 12:1-3, Revelation 7:9). God was looking for a people for his own possession, a holy and peculiar nation manifold in language and culture but joined as one around His praise and purpose. From many, we become one through God’s Spirit in the perfect image of His Son, our Lord Jesus.

In this light, discipleship is the process of learning to be one in the midst of many by mirroring and seeking the unity in diversity of the Triune God we serve (John 17:21).

We who are born again are born into the family of God. We are related to one another even as we relate first and foremost to Christ. The Scripture never allows us to privatize our faith to the total exclusion of others. Therefore, meeting with one another must become part of the culture of discipleship.

From the moment a disciple repents of his/her sin and turns in faith to Christ, at least one other disciple must begin to regularly and intentionally help them hear, understand and obey—first the basic, then the full teachings of Christ.

We in NAMS have found that the process of discipleship begins when just two or three people meet regularly together to pray and read the Scriptures; with the intention and commitment to obey God’s word and bring others to know Him as well.

At the same time, discipleship is larger than the disciple-disciplee relationship or small group. We are part of a bigger church, indeed a world-wide Church, and so meeting with other believers in a larger setting must also be a priority, usually once a week on a Sunday.

Therefore, the early church consisted both of meeting together in small settings (i.e. homes) and in larger settings (i.e. public spaces) (Acts 2:46, Acts 20:20). Whether small or large, disciples constitute the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and the people of God. Though we are many, we are one body and we belong together (Romans 12:4-5).

Therefore the meeting together of the saints is not to be neglected, as the writer to the Hebrews extorts in 10:25. We learn, love, and grow best in community within the family of faith. Max Lucado[iv] waxes lyrical about this:

“Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess and pray, Christ speaks.”

I need you as you need me, and together in our meeting, there Jesus will be.

 

[i] In previous weeks, we have looked at Prayer, Read and Obey.

[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-we-shouldn-t-neglect-to-meet-together

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Max Lucado, Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear (Thomas Nelson, 2009), p. 144

Developing Holy Habits – Meet (Part 4)

NAMS Novena 2017 Report – ‘If you say go…’

It was the launch of a new chapter for NAMS; a glorious deepening of bonds between global companions old, new and unfamiliar; a new exciting phase in the global work that God has called us to; a time that will live long in our memories….

NAMS Novena

There are many ways we can describe the NAMS Novena that took place from 19-26 April 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand. What is certain was that it was a significant moment in our collective history, marked by laughter, joy and anointed times of worship, sharing, testimony and fellowship around tables and the Table of the Lord.

We were active participants, along with the congregation that met at Khlong Toey Church on 21st April evening, to the passing of the baton from founder/Servant General Jon Shuler to Manik Corea, the new NAMS Global Executive, and his team.

With one voice, 25 Companions and Spousal Companions, including 2 serving bishops, committed as to live and hold each other accountable to the NAMS Rule and Order, to work to fulfill Jesus’ final command (Matthew 28:19-20) by making disciples who make disciples, raising disciple-making leaders and planting disciple-making churches.

The retreat on the weekend of 22nd April, attended by 28 of us, was an exciting time of clarifying and agreeing to a revised Rule and Order, which outlines the principles governing our global order and their practical outworking around the world. We also had wonderful times of prayer, worship and fellowship over delicious Thai food. We were blessed by the serenity and beauty of the Garden of Gospel Peace, run by Franciscan Friars who looked after us with great care. Surrounded as we were by idyllic rice fields and fish ponds, we felt the sure presence of God’s Spirit calling us to venture further on to greater exploits, working with His faithful Church, till the earth is covered with the knowledge of the glory of God (Habakkuk 2:14) .

All in all, 13 different nations represented by NAMS companions, spousal companions, 3 bishops, aspirants and friends as far afield as Chile, Congo DRC, Egypt, India, Taiwan and England were present. A number of our other companions and spousal companions were not able to be there and we dearly felt their absence. Still we look forward to the next one in 4 years or so.

We were grateful most of all for the prayers of our Global Prayer/Intercessory Team led by Mary Garisson-Ruiz, and by many of you reading this who thought and prayed for us during those days. We certainly felt their and your prayers.

If there was one song that captured the thrust of the Novena, it was the song ‘If you say go’ – taught to us by our worship leaders – companion Pete Matthews and our new NAMS friend, Susheel John (Manik’s cousin from Singapore). There words are an apt summary of what we pray God will help us do following this Novena:

‘If You say go, we will go.
If You say wait, we will wait.
If You say step out on the water,
And they say it can’t be done;

NAMS Novena sessions

NAMS Novena 2017 Report – ‘If you say go…’

Developing Holy Habits — Part 3; Obey (by Manik Corea)

In this series of blogs, using the acronym ‘PROMISE’, we are exploring 7 regular practices that need to be part of the life and practice of true discipleship. Each word represents a ‘holy habit’ that helps us grow and be nurtured as disciples of Jesus. The first two words were Pray and Read. Today’s word is a corollary of last week’s – for you cannot read God’s word without seeking then to obey it.

O – Obey God’s word

My late father had green fingers. Growing up, we lived in a 2nd floor apartment with a balcony, and my dad filled it with plants of various kinds that he gently and often tended to. However, among his pots, he once placed a genuine-looking plastic plant complete with colorful flowers and real soil. It was very lifelike.

One day, one of my aunts came to visit and looking around the garden, she was very much taken in by the beautiful colors of the artificial flowers. So deceived, she requested of my dad the seeds of the plant in question.

My brothers and I so wished our dad had actually given my dear aunt some plastic seeds!

But filling a garden with lots of wonderful-looking plastic flower plants is the same as acting like a Christian without being one. No matter how lifelike, those flowers cannot be fragrant nor their buds fruitful. They are mere pretense.

The one thing that distinguishes true discipleship from the false is a readiness to hear and do what God says. Obedience is always God’s preferred response of us, more than all the juicy sacrifices the disobedient could bring (1 Samuel 15:22).

‘If you love me, then keep my commandments’ Jesus stated in John 14:15. Obedience, then, is the premier test and proof of genuine discipleship and relationship to Jesus (see Luke 6:46-49, Matthew 12:50).

For God’s word is more easily discussed than obeyed. This is most acutely a problem for those of us who are the theological descendants of Protestant churches, with their rightful emphasis on the Scriptures alone (‘Sola Scriptura’ or the ‘Scriptures Alone’ was one of the clarion calls of the Reformers) as the sole rule and plumb-line of truth for us. But one of the dangers of making God’s word primary to faith and order is that we have the tendency to put an unwarranted emphasis on abstract creeds rather than rightful deeds. Knowledge about the Scriptures so easily comes to be equated with its practice. Many evangelical Christians today are therefore more apt to speak of faith as a matter of what they believe, know, and hold to, as opposed to how they live and love.

It is no wonder, then, that many of our churches are filled with people who may know or hear a lot, but do little.

Former Youth for Christ USA president Jay Kesler argues that we have inherited a style of preaching in our churches that is information heavy. He observed that ‘preaching a sermon strong on information but weak on application is like shouting to a drowning person, “Swim! Swim!” The message is true, but it’s not helpful.’

What is needed then is not information and explanation (which often lead to inaction), but application of God’s revelation that leads to transformation in our lives.

And so, as we read God’s word, alone and with other disciples, and as we teach it, let us seek to put the emphasis on application and obedience (‘how do we obey this passage?’) rather than mere information (‘what does it say or mean?’).

Take time as we share the word, to challenge each other to articulate what actions are being called to take as a result of reading God’s word, then ask one another the next time we meet, whether we did them. Pray with one another to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. This is true accountability as disciples – holding and helping each other to do what God says.

Read and obey. They are habits worth having and are the proof of bona fide discipleship.

Developing Holy Habits — Part 3; Obey (by Manik Corea)