Tag Archives: discipleship

Jeff Rudy ~ When Simplicity Is Difficult

Simplicity isn’t easy.

I used to think that “simple” and “easy” could always be used interchangeably, like when asked about a particular task that didn’t require a lot of physical or mental sweat, one could say, “it was simple” or “it was easy” and both would mean the same thing: “No big deal!” But when it comes to what Richard Foster calls the “discipline of simplicity,” whatever other descriptors one may attempt to describe simplicity, “easy” cannot be one of them.

People who enter into a monastery take vows and they typically center on three virtues that become the benchmark for the life of a monk: poverty, chastity and obedience. A monastic community in the British Isles known as The Community of Aidan and Hilda has reworded the first two, such that their three life-giving vows are these: simplicity, purity, and obedience. At a conference on Christian revitalization I attended several years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, John Bell, a representative from Aidan and Hilda, described how these vows are life-giving. He said this: “Simplicity leads us into a deeper experience of the generosity of God; purity leads us into a deeper experience of the love of God; obedience leads us into a deeper experience of the freedom of God.” This sort of simplicity is of a centering sort and narrows our focus in a similar way with what Wesley called “The One thing Needful.”

It has been quipped about the modern tendency of humans in Western civilization that, “we buy things we do not need with money we do not have to impress people we do not like.” Richard Foster adds to this that the pressure placed on those who desire to live in simplicity when he said:

We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality…[Consider that] the modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl can do either!)…It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity.

So it becomes clear that simplicity isn’t easy!

A couple of years ago, I was honored to preach at the memorial service of a man who served as a Navy pilot in World War II. It wasn’t something that he talked about, for he was a very unassuming fellow who quietly lived out his days, not seeking attention or accolades for his achievements. But when I scripted his eulogy, I kept coming back to two characteristics that I felt defined his life: simplicity and perfection, both of which are central to Wesleyan theology and spirituality. Here’s why I say that.

There is a quote attributed to several people in the last few centuries, including Elizabeth Seton, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa: “Live simply so that others can simply live.” When I think of that man who exuded simplicity so well, of course I do not mean he was simple-minded. Even to the very end of his life as he struggled with severe Parkinson’s he had a sharp mind, keenly aware of his surroundings, of his identity, of his story, of Scripture and of his world. Rather, by simplicity I mean the way he lived and shared the grace of God he had been given. It was that trademark of humility and valuing the betterment of his neighbors rather than seeking his own prosperity. The man’s son said that he “feared of having too much money more than he worried of not having enough.”

This brings to mind the wisdom about simplicity and stewardship shared by John Wesley, who is (falsely) attributed to have said, “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly lest it find its way into my heart.” Though this statement is nowhere in his writings, I think we can say that it at least sounds “Wesleyan.” Wesley did, however, explicitly lay out three simple rules to guide about the use of money/resources: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Some will abide by the first two, but the mark of a true Christian is to follow it to the end, and give all you can. Whether this man knew that rule or not, he lived by it.

Now let me tell you one more thing about this Navy pilot and why he made me think of “perfection.” He flew fighter planes over the ocean that took off and landed on aircraft carriers. Because of the moving target that is an aircraft carrier, it is not that uncommon for a plane to be waved off, circle around and try again if the controller aboard the ship discerns that a safe landing is in doubt or question. Well, in over 900 landings, this pilot I knew never had to be waved around a single time. He always stuck the landing on the first attempt. Whatever negative connotations may be heard in the notion of “perfection” in today’s world, I can’t really think of any word to use to describe the fact of this man’s flawless landing streak other than “perfect.” Perfection, as any student of Wesley knows well, isn’t about an absolutist sort of ideal where there is no more room for growth. It is, however, about aiming at “the one thing needful.”

And so we come to see that living in simplicity goes hand in hand with a life in pursuit of holiness, or sanctifying grace. For if you do a word search of “simplicity” through Wesley’s works, you will quite often find that he speaks of it in relation to Mary’s action of sitting by Jesus feet, drawing deeply from the well of the “one thing” known as intimate discipleship rather than Martha’s actions of being concerned about “many things.”

To bring the point to a close, Wesley wrote in his sermon Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity the following:

Why has Christianity done so little good, even among us? Among the Methodists? Among them that hear and receive the whole Christian doctrine, and that have Christian discipline added thereto, in the most essential parts of it? Plainly because we have forgot, or at least not duly attended to those solemn words of our Lord, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me’…The Methodists grow more and more self-indulgent because they grow rich…many are twenty, thirty, yea, a hundred times richer than they were when they first entered the [Methodist] society. And it is an observation which admits of few exceptions, that nine in ten of these decreased in grace in the same proportion as they increased in wealth.

So it is that when more and more resources become available to be used and disposed by us, the more and more difficult it is to live in simplicity. But to live as Christ would have us live means that we ought to define ourselves not by what we consume or possess, but how, in modeling our God who gave of himself, we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ, giving ourselves for others.

That may be simple, but it isn’t easy.

May the Spirit empower us to live in simplicity!


This post from our archives originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2015.

The featured image, Cranes from Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing ca. 1823, is by Katsushika Hokusai.

Kelcy Steele ~ Let’s Go Fishing: How to Handle Empty Nets

After this, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea (the Sea of Galilee). This is how he did it: Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.” When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him. Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?” They answered, “No.” He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.” They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!” – John 21:1-7

Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, he had told his disciples that he would meet them at an appointed place in Galilee after he got up! But due to the disciples’ unbelief and their fears, they had remained in Jerusalem.

Because my Christian Brothers and Sisters, fear will always minimize faith. You can’t conquer something that you are scared to face.

And some of you think you have had a bad week, but these disciples had a week of hell! From Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, from them jockeying for positions with high hopes for high places in Christ’s kingdom; from them fighting over who would sit on the right hand and who would sit on the left hand – why must we have politics in the Kingdom? These disciples went through hell week! It shouldn’t matter where you are seated just as long as the Savior is present!

This was hell week. From a supper with Jesus that proved to be his last supper, to his friend Judas who flipped on him, surprised in Gethsemane by men with torches and weapons who had come to arrest them, this was hell week! The disciples had tucked tail and run; Jesus surrendered without a fight; Peter denied him three times; they crucified Jesus on a cross like a common criminal, then buried him in a borrowed tomb.

But three days later the undertaker had to issue a refund because Jesus got up with all power in his hand!

What was the crew supposed to do now? After a week of hell they did as they were told and returned to Galilee. But as they waited there, they remained unsure, confused. So they did what they knew how to do best—they went back fishing.

To catch good fish isn’t easy. Anybody can grab a pole and some bait and try. But do you have the character of a good fisherman? The Bible says that the disciples’ nets were empty. When daybreak arrived, they were tired, they were hungry, and they were frustrated.

It did not help that a voice called to them from the lake.

And I don’t know about you, but I thank God for Jesus’ voice!

In verse four we read, “just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”

Has anybody ever felt unproductive, frustrated, and on the brink of failure and all of a sudden you were surprised by Jesus? Jesus called out to the disciples, asking about their catch (they were only about a hundred yards out), only to receive the answer that they had caught nothing.

What do you do when you catch nothing? You keep on fishing until Jesus shows up!

He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. Y’all missed your shout! Peter and the other disciples were fishing on the sea, catching nothing.

Jesus showed up and Jesus gave a command to go out into the deep water.

Peter followed Jesus’ orders. When they obeyed, a miracle occurred! When Peter saw the miracle, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’”

And I’m like Peter this morning! Let’s go fishing!

Because Peter and his crew were experienced fisherman. In the Word, Jesus chooses fishing as his metaphor to capture the essence of the discipleship process.

It’s alright to be a Christian, but have you been discipled? It’s alright to come to church, but are you in the process? Because my brothers and sisters there is a difference between membership and discipleship. The membership is made up of church goers – those in the church – but discipleship is about those who are in the Word!

Discipleship is about a way of life; membership is more event-based religion. My relationship with God isn’t an event, it’s my lifestyle! The membership is more influenced by culture; but disciples are more influenced by the Kingdom of God. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added”!

The membership is more connected to God by ritual and the institution; disciples are more connected to God by a relationship. And you should never put your rituals above your relationship with God! Our main objective for coming to church should be to get closer to him!

The membership is content with maintenance, but disciples are driven by mission and the great commission. Go ye therefore and invite people to church and to Jesus! You should never come to church by yourself.

The membership looks to develop programs; disciples look to develop ministries. The membership considers themselves owners of material possessions; disciples consider themselves stewards of material possessions and don’t mind giving their offering, tithes, talent, and time for the advancement of the Kingdom.

The membership is content to give according to their own standard; disciples are committed to the tithe and give at all times and refuse to allow there to be a deficit in God’s house.

The membership stops with Jesus as Savior; disciples follow Jesus as Lord. The membership is Sunday-only Christians; disciples are lifestyle Christians.

Are you a member or are you a disciple?!

Because when calling Peter, James, John, and Andrew, Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus challenged these men, especially that thug Peter, because it doesn’t matter where you came from, it’s about where you’re going and who you’re following. Jesus called them from fishing for fish to fishing for men. Because if you are going to produce anything in this season you have to know the difference between your calling and your assignment!

We all have been called to follow Jesus. God has given all of us a mission and an assignment in this world. You’re not here to just take up space; you’re not here to just strive after your own personal goals. You are not here because your momma met your daddy. You have been called!

But there is a difference between your calling and your assignment!

Your assignment is a task or a duty to which you are appointed. Trustee, steward, choir member, musician, minister, usher, missionary, class leader, helper, volunteer are all assignments.

Your calling doesn’t change but your assignment will change; some of  the things you are doing right now will probably look different in ten years. You are called to more than being a pew warmer! And you want to be satisfied in Jesus until you find your assignment!

How do you know what God has assigned for you to do?

God will give you a passion for it and God will give you the tools you need to accomplish it. God wants you to win; is there anybody up in here who wants to win? Because when you win, we win!

Verse three declares that Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  Then they said to him, “We will go with you.”  Having returned to Galilee, the disciples did not know what to do next, so it was natural for some of them to return to their occupation. They went back fishing!

Simon, Andrew, and James and John (the sons of Zebedee) are now on their men’s ministry fishing trip. Please understand that fishing is serious business! By the way, it is interesting that at least seven of the 12 disciples were probably fishermen.

And I have a question for the text and I know you’ve been wondering the same thing.


Why did Jesus call so many fishermen to follow him? For one thing, fishermen are courageous, and Jesus needs brave people to follow him. Fishermen are dedicated to one thing and cannot easily be distracted. Fishermen do not quit! They know how to take orders, and they know how to work together.

No wonder Jesus called fishermen, because if you are not busy in your secular job chances are you will be lazy working in the Kingdom. And in order to catch some fish you have to understand the characteristics of a good fisherman. They all had experience fishing!

But I’ve discovered that just because you have experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the right characteristics. Because a lot of us have been around the church a long time and we still have empty nets!

Jesus is looking for some courageous, brave, dedicated, determined, and teachable people who don’t mind putting in a good days’ work. Ask your neighbor: have you caught anything yet?

We have titles but empty nets.

We have position but empty nets.

You are talented but you haven’t been tamed: empty nets.

You are gifted – with ugly wrapping: empty nets.

It’s not how much you know, it’s not about how smart you are, it’s not about how many degrees you have, it’s not about how long you’ve been here, it’s not about how old you are.

Are you catching anything? That’s experience. But God is looking for some people who have character. And if you are planning to catch something in this season you have to ask the Lord to work on your patience, persistence, and determination.

And a lot of us come to the lake every Sunday to fish! Tired, and stressed out, quick to throw in the towel, always going off on people, wearing your emotions on your sleeve and flying off the deep end when somebody looks at you wrong,

Why are you always in a hurry? You are too blessed to be a busy body. Sometimes you have to slow down, calm down, and tone down and ask the Lord to work on your patience.

You have to praise while you’re in process. You have to worship while you wait!

Because we live in a world where things are changing rapidly. And we want instant gratification. For many of us, we want what we want when we want it. But I don’t want a shake and bake blessing! I want a crockpot blessing – I want something that God has given time to marinate. Because if you get it quick, you can lose it quick. You have to have some patience!

That’s why I have to remind myself of Isaiah 40:31:

But they that wait upon the Lord

 shall renew their strength; 

they shall mount up with wings as eagles;

 they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Patient people enjoy better mental health! And if I were you, before I go fishing, make sure you are right before you mess up somebody else. And I would refuse to allow people to drive me crazy! And instead of cussing people out and running them down, just take a few minutes and slow down, calm down, and tone down.

And say your little prayer and turn them over to the Lord, because God can handle them better than you can!

You don’t have to blast them on social media—pray about it!

You don’t have to talk about them behind their backs—pray about it!

You don’t have to lose your temper when they are not even worth it—pray about it!

You can’t catch anything if you don’t have patience!

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” And they said to him, “We will go with you.” Fishing is serious business. Anybody can go fishing, but you have to have some character to catch some fish!

You have to know what you are working with. And if you are planning to catch something in this season you have to have the right equipment – the Word of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.”

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

“Yes, the grass withers and flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever.”

“The word of God is alive and active, the word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword.”

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but your words will by no means pass away.”

And if you are planning to catch something in this season you have to have the right bait – Jesus! “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

JESUS: his love,

JESUS: his mercy,

JESUS: his peace and

JESUS: his joy!

The Hymn writer asks the question:

How to reach the masses, men of every birth,
For an answer,
Jesus gave the key:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
Will draw all men unto Me.”

Lift Him up, lift Him up;
Still He speaks from eternity:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
Will draw all men unto Me.”

And if you are planning to catch something in this season you have to have the right attitude – the fruit of the Spirit!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

You can’t be nasty and negative.

You can’t be jealous and juvenile.

You can’t be critical and cynical.

You can’t be stingy and stuck up.

You can’t be sneaky and stubborn.

You have to have the right bait and the right attitude.

A good fisherman expects to catch fish!

Not running them away

Not looking down on them

Not talking about how short their shirt is

Not talking about how many tattoos they have

Not talking about how loud their praise is –

because you have to catch the fish before you can clean the fish.

A good fisherman has the right presentation – a spirit of grace. You are not arrogant but you understand that the only reason hell hasn’t sent for you is because of the grace of God!

It is God’s grace, his kindness, his undeserved favor that reached to us when everybody else gave up on us and counted us out, even when we were his enemies – he saved us.

It is his grace that covered our guilt with righteousness. It is his grace that keeps us. The Bible says, “for we were saved by grace,” through faith and kept by grace through faith.

It is his grace which brings us to the foot of the cross. We can’t brag, because all of us were like filthy rags in his sight. It is his grace that not only covers our failures, it transforms them into distinctive points of power and ministry.

My troubles are now my testimonies!

My messes are now my miracles!

My pain is now the fuel of my praise!

It is because of his grace that he gifts us, it is because of his grace that he has enabled us to experience the joy of service, the delight of laboring with Jesus as he builds his Church.

It is because of his grace that he puts resurrection power at our disposal, allowing us to persevere and prevail. It is because of his grace that he rewards us, even in our unworthiness.


It is because of his grace that he indwells in us, allowing us to experience the richness of moment-by-moment fellowship with the Spirit of the Lord.

It is because of his grace that he is returning for us, to transform us and allow us to experience the wonder of all he has prepared for us.

Thank God for his grace! And I stop by to tell you, keep on fishing! It’s that grace that we have to extend to other people.

You might be messed up—but grace.

You might be strung out—but grace.

You might have made mistakes—but grace.

You might have had some addictions – but grace.

“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t leave this place with empty nets! I’m going fishing!

And the Lord will provide!


Note from the Editor: The featured image for this sermon is “Plane-filling Motif with Fish and Bird” by M.C. Escher.

Carrie Carter ~ Waiting on the Holy Spirit

Waiting is not an easy task for me. I’ve been known to drive miles out of the way to avoid being delayed by a train. I’ve been caught sneaking food from the dish before it was placed on the table. I’ve evaluated the check-out lanes at Wal-Mart in order to choose the one with the shortest wait. I always choose wrong. Always. The microwave society that is the Western world has not helped to develop the fruit of patience (longsuffering?) in my life, and I find that it has done nothing to benefit our culture. I don’t have to drive in LA to know that road rage simmers on the pavement of I-5.

This week we celebrate Ascension Day. An interesting conversation happened on this last day of Jesus’ physical presence on earth. He was telling them to wait. He was answering their questions of, “is this when?” with a, “God’s times are none of your business.”

It’s funny that even after three years of walking alongside Jesus, living through the agony of his death, and celebrating his resurrection, they were still anticipating a coup on the Roman government (Acts 1:6). They had waited long enough. The nation of Israel had waited long enough.

“Wait,” he said. “Wait for the Father’s promise.” “Wait for the power you will receive.” “Wait for the Holy Spirit.”

And he was gone.

So they waited. They took care of some pre-church “business.” They waited some more.

Jesus didn’t tell them how long they would need to wait to receive God’s promise. Instead of grumbling, sighing, looking at their watches, complaining to the front desk staff, or checking for messages on their phones, they united in prayer. I don’t know what they prayed, but I don’t suppose it matters now.

They waited for 10 days. Ten days of not knowing how long they needed to wait and not understanding what they were waiting for but believing Jesus: that something was going to happen.

When it happened, they knew. All of Jerusalem knew. Pentecost came in a blaze of glory! Almost 2,000 years later, I’ve benefitted from that wait.

My reality makes this story painful. How often have I given up waiting on God’s promise because I didn’t see a “will expire on” stamp? How much have I missed because I was not submitted to God’s timeline? Like a petulant child, I’ve demanded answers right now, and I know, even within my own parenting, that a child who behaves in that manner rarely, if ever, gets that for which he or she asks.

The 10 days between Ascension Day and Pentecost is my yearly reminder that good things come to those who wait. That waiting is essential for growth within my spiritual journey. Those 10 days were not recorded as a time of uncertainty and frustration, but as a time of prayer and purpose.

My own prayer is that when God asks me to wait, whether for a week or for a season, I will do it well.

Tammie Grimm ~ Why Pilgrimage is Part of Discipleship: Discovering Lindisfarne


Nether Springs.


Holy Island.

For years I casually entertained the hopes I might visit the Northumbrian Community that produced Celtic Daily Prayer. Inquiries to the community recommended a minimum stay of two nights and three days. Required trips to the United Kingdom for PhD residency never quite afforded the wiggle room on either end to steal away for the time necessary. So, the hoped-for trip to the Northeast swath of England’s shoreline remained a will-o-wisp of the mind, never seriously contemplated, just a flirtation briefly considered for the merest of moments before the notion flitted out of my brain as effortlessly as it had entered. Even after arriving in the UK with an extended visa, I never dwelled on the thought, just placed the idea in a mental hope chest I labeled, “IF…”

Then, opportunity presented itself. The pipe dream became possible. Time and circumstances conspired so that I might travel and live among the Community. Not only was I going to go to Nether Springs, I was a registered participant on their retreat, “Celebrating the Saints.” The added dimension of being on a retreat with other Christians during All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day was of such significance to me, it’s hard to describe. Suffice it to say, the pipe dream was becoming a pilgrimage.

Despite cognitively knowing every Christian is a pilgrim traveling through this world, pilgrimage, to me, is something other people do. It is teens attending a winter youth event or persons who condition themselves to walk the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrimage did not seem to me to be part and parcel of our ongoing discipleship. I understood pilgrimage to be either a nice way to spiritualize tourism or an extreme commitment that wore out the soles of one’s shoes as the interior soul was similarly stretched to its limits.

And yet I knew I was doing more than simply attending a retreat. Something deeper within me than my casual hopes and dreams had been preparing for this moment. Even though I journeyed alone, walking a mere quarter mile to the bus stop that took me across town to the train station, where I boarded an express that carried me 180 miles northward towards the coast, where I joined others who arrived at the same platform by other routes, I began to sense that this was a pilgrimage of sorts.

A quote by Canon Stephen Shipley, discovered a few weeks after I had been to Northumbria after my first opportunity to explore Lindisfarne, confirmed that I was indeed on a pilgrimage:

Pilgrimage is far more than making a physical journey, it is being prepared to allow that restlessness which is in every human soul to entice us away from our security in search of something deeper; a clearer vision of the God who calls us to His service.

Viewed this way, pilgrimage is very much a necessary part of our discipleship. Pilgrimage might describe the whole of our Christian journey in this world, but the opportunity to experience a pilgrimage offers particular, defining moments along the way. Just as a person is justified when the heart is made right with God after prevenient grace pricks and prods the soul that may produce realized faith, I found a sacred centeredness after years of ephemeral hopes swirling about me. At last, I had, like Moses, been distracted from the daily demands and tasks “to turn aside and see” the work of God in an extraordinary way (Exodus 3:1-3). Pilgrimage to the coast of the North Sea provided me with a perspective about who I am as a child of God in ways I sincerely doubt I could have ever seen otherwise.

At Nether Springs and on the tidal island of Lindisfarne I encountered God in profound ways. Daily prayer with the Community. Meals shared with others. Conversation and new friends found. Retracing the lives of Aiden, Cuthbert and other Celtic monks on the island they first populated in the 7th century. Building a memory cairn from the weather-worn rocks at the prominent tip of the island. Walking over the grassy hillocks and along the rocky shoreline to which these men brought Christianity to England, I discovered spiritual roots that allowed me to draw deeply from the wellspring that feeds the soul of every Christian.

The nourishment I received alleviated a latent thirst that had gone unacknowledged for too long. My awareness was roused to understand pilgrimage as part of the rhythm of our ongoing discipleship. Experiencing pilgrimage allows each of us an opportunity for our lives to be focused afresh on our heart’s true home as we journey further towards our destination in God.

Carolyn Moore ~ From Dust and Ashes to the Image of God

Simcha Bunim was a Jewish rabbi who lived in Poland in the 1700s. He is best known for what might be called the parable of the two pockets.

The parable begins with two slips of paper. On one slip is written, “I am dust and ashes.” On the other slip is written, “For my sake the world was created.” These two slips of paper are meant to be carried around in two pockets.

Rabbi Bunim said, “Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: ‘I am dust and ashes.’”

The rabbi’s point was that we are at once both things. We are both sinners and saints, dust and treasure, limited but with tremendous potential, fallen but loved. And we ought to approach our goals and lives with that mindset. Christians would say we are fallen people for whom Christ died.

Dust, yes … but dust so loved by God that he gave his Son.

What if you entered into Rabbi Bunim’s exercise? Write these two statements on slips of paper, then spend time with each of them. Begin with the one with which you are less comfortable. Which of these two statements resonates with you?

Are you more of the mindset that the world was created with you at the center? Many of us live there a bit too comfortably, whether we admit it or not. We are the center of our universe. We will make sure our own interests are served and we will let pride keep us from learning the hard lessons. We are the ones who need a little more time with our dust-and-ashes reality — to understand that our value isn’t self-generated. It comes from God. And because our value comes from God, we have a certain responsibility to steward our days well, because even if we hit the ball out of the park today, we’re still going to die. Our time here is a gift, and our assurance of a life beyond this one rests not on our merits but on Christ’s.

Not all of us need more dust and ashes. Some of us have lost sight of the fact that we bear the image of God. We live in too much self-condemnation, self-hatred … self. We live self-protectively because we have not yet owned our value and strength. We short-change ourselves by low-balling our value. We who live too much in dust and ashes need to remember that we are not here simply to exist but to make a difference. For our sake, the world was created. God thinks highly of us! In light of that, our challenge is to stop making excuses for why we can’t do more and decide that even if we can’t do everything, we can do something.

Let me say that again: Even if we can’t do everything, we can do something. 

This is the mindset of abundance, which is at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. His victory over sin and death are my assurance that I don’t do any of this on my own effort, skills or abilities. I do all of life in partnership with God, the creator of the universe, and if God is in it then anything is possible.

Which is your mindset?

Dust and ashes … or abundance?

Dust and ashes … or image of God?

Limit, or possibility?

This is the shift I want for you this year. I want you to move from “why me” thinking to “what now” thinking.

Maybe you can’t do everything you’d like, but you can do something.

What will it be?


Reprinted with permission from www.artofholiness.com.

Making Disciples by Being Disciples

There are a variety of academic ways to define evangelism, but at its heart it is about making disciples of Jesus Christ. And yet, if we are to make disciples, we ourselves must be disciples. And that takes work. How are you attending to your soul in these days?

Here are some ways  to get you thinking… 

1) As Christians, we believe in a Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that there are a variety of ways to think more deeply about God. God can be known in the beauty of creation. God can be known in the faithful covenants we discover in Scripture – in the journeys of Abraham and Sarah, in the great escape from slavery in Egypt, in the experiences of judges, monarchs, and mighty prophets. Of course, God is most fully revealed in Jesus, God’s anointed one. And God’s presence is continually with us through the power of the Holy Spirit – God’s sacred breath within us.

Reflect on the ways you know God:

  • What are some passages of Scripture that speak to you most powerfully about the nature and work of God? 
  • What long-standing convictions about God do Christians pass on to the next generation? What are the core values of the faith we are handing down? 
  • Reflect on an experience where God has been a significant personal presence in your own life. 

2) At WME, we like to remind people that Christian faith is not faith in general. It has a very specific object – the living God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a spiritualized, mythic teacher, but was a real person. He lived in a particular place and time, and he is alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. In him, we are able to see the clearest, most complete image of what the eternal God is like that humans are capable of seeing. This is remarkable because Jesus is God among us in human form – God in skin and bones. It is remarkable as well because in Jesus we see just how far God is willing to go to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. 

Reflect on your response to God’s work in Jesus Christ:

  • If Jesus had never lived, how would your ways of understanding God be different? 
  • How would your motivation for doing good be different? 
  • How does gratitude for the gift of Christ fill you with joy? 

3) When my youngest daughter was small, she mastered the skill of throwing a peanut into the air and catching it in her mouth. She was excited to show me her newfound talent; however, the moment I began watching, she began missing. I told her I was going to leave the room so she could practice a bit more, but that I would be close by. As soon as I left, she was once again able to consistently catch the peanut. 

The disciples were never able to perform a miracle in Jesus’ presence; yet, after he left and they received the Holy Spirit, these same frightened and timid followers were transformed into powerful agents of the gospel. That transformative power was unleashed at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit has been remaking and restoring lives ever since. 

Reflect on your understanding of the Holy Spirit:

  • What works of the Holy Spirit can you identify in your own life? 
  • In your community? 
  • Around the world? 

Our witness for Christ is always strengthened when we become keenly aware of our journey in Christ. I pray that you will attend to your journey in Christ, so that others might be able to more clearly see him in you. 


Paulo Lopes ~ Essential Practices for Personally Making Disciples (Part I)

You and I are called to be personally engaged in making disciples of Jesus Christ.  

Actually, this is one thing all of us should be doing if we claim to follow Jesus. If you’re a church leader, this is especially important. You can’t expect the community you lead to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. 

(By the way, if you struggle with this assumption, you may want to start by reading THIS post from a few weeks ago.) 

To keep things simple, I’ll work with this definition of a disciple: A disciple is someone who spends time with Jesus, learning from Jesus how to become more like Jesus in character (who he is) and competency (what he does). At some point during this process, a disciple will confess Jesus as Lord. 

An easy way to figure if you’re currently engaged in disciple-making is to ask yourself a simple question: “Who are my disciples? Who is being led to spend time with Jesus, learning from Jesus how to become more like Jesus, because of their relationship with me?” This is the same question the Holy Spirit asked me several years ago. If, like me, you can’t think of someone who fits that description, there is work to do! 

The truth is that for those of us in full-time ministry, it’s tempting to think that our work equals making disciples. We think of things like preaching, teaching and leading our churches as our parts in the process. And that’s true! But there’s no legitimate substitute for developing friendships outside of church circles, investing in those relationships, sharing our faith, and walking alongside people as they discover a transforming relationship with Jesus 

It’s much less comfortable, and it challenges our sense of adequacy because it forces us to reflect on and adjust the ways we deal with our families, money, time, or any other aspect of our lives. Developing discipleship relationships exposes us for who we truly are.  

I want to share three simple elements that helped me make sense of disciple-making as something personal: a people; a place; and a plan.  

A People 

Disciple-making involves people. What we often fail to realize is that it usually involves a particular people. In the Bible, God chose a particular people to reveal God’s grace and purpose for the whole world. This choice had nothing to do with how good the Israelites were. It had everything to do with a God who refuses to be generic in approach 

Jesus didn’t just parachute into a Jewish community. He was born into and shared a history and a culture with a people. This is what being incarnational means. I’m always in awe of the lengths to which God was willing to go to act out his reconciling, redeeming love for us all. 

We can’t stop at this sense of awe, though. Jesus invites us to imitate him in our approach, to become missionaries 

But how do we go about this today? Here are a few simple questions to get us started: 

Who do I relate to naturally outside of church?  

You might have a tribe outside of church relationships already. They may be your neighbors, coworkers, teammates, hobbyists, or staff at the local coffee shop. If you relate to people in at least one of these circles, start there.  

If you don’t, then it’s time to set aside at least one day a week to get outside of “churchtown.” Find a hobby, meet a neighbor, or work from a coffee shop. It doesn’t take much to find people disengaged from church or faith. 

I moved with my family to Richmond, Virginia two years ago. We spent our first three months looking for the right home for us. We had a wish list for our house, but we also wished for the right people. We prayed for a community where we could develop friendships that lead to discipleship. God came through, and just a year and a half later, our most significant relationships are with our neighbors. We have hosted and have been invited to parties, we’ve gone out with friends, and we’ve gotten to know the stories of people in our community. In the process, we’ve come to love our neighborhood 

God is calling you to love a people. Start by spending some time praying for that people. Pray for God to prepare encounters, conversations, and opportunities to learn and share.  

Who are the “persons of peace” in my community?   

I was introduced to the idea of “person of peace” by Jo Saxton and Mike Breen (You can find them here and here). “Persons of peace” are people you encounter who a) welcome you; b) receive you; c) are open to you; d) are curious about your life because of Jesus; e) serve you. You will find examples in Luke 9 when Jesus sends out his disciples, or in Acts with Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Lydia, and Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  

“Persons of peace” are community insiders who open doors for you simply by becoming your friends. Because of God’s prevenient grace, we should simply assume that God was at work in people’s lives before we ever show up. “Persons of peace” are one of God’s ways of reminding us of this. They are ready to receive even before you arrive. Since many of us haven’t lived in our communities for very long, finding “persons of peace” is essential.   

Fourteen years ago, my mom discovered an illegal housing settlement just outside her church’s neighborhood. This is common in many Brazilian city suburbs. People come seeking opportunities, and end up in slums – often illegal land settlements – when they are unable to find decent jobs. She decided to reach out to that community only to discover they had been exploited by pastors who preached a prosperity gospel and were all too eager to receive their tithes and offerings.  

Then she met Mr. Dirceu, a local community leader who was a “person of peace.” People feared Mr. Dirceu but they also respected him. He welcomed her, introduced her to people, and vouched for her. For four years, all my mom did was visit people, hear their stories, pray for those who were sick, and share her faith.  

We eventually planted a church in that neighborhood. Today she is trusted and beloved by that community. In an area where police raids, killings, and drug-related violence are all too common, she is protected like one of their own. This would have never been possible without Mr. Dirceu.  

Who has God prepared ahead of time to welcome you? Could it be that friendly neighbor who knows everyone? The loud barista at your local Starbucks who’s always striking up conversation? Could it be your boss, your gym instructor, the super-involved parent at the local PTA? 

Do you have someone who comes to mind? Spend some time in prayer and ask God to lead you to persons he’s prepared in advance for you. 


Stay tuned for the next piece of this two-part series where we will look at a place and a plan. 

Paolo Lopes ~ Taking Discipleship Personally

About a year into my first experience as paid staff at a local church, I felt pretty good about myself. Our youth group had doubled in size and was as busy as ever. Our new mid-week contemporary service was beginning to come together, and young adults were getting involved in programs. I had even convinced a group of parents to go through a small group curriculum with me, the young and energetic leader they had always been waiting for! (That last part isn’t true, but I want you to get the idea that things were moving along just fine.)

Or were they?

For some reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I decided to pray about it. A few months later I was with a friend in Chicago participating at a leadership event. It could have been simply leftover thoughts from a conversation I had the night before, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit. I believe it was the latter. Either way, I heard something in my head: a question.

And it continues to challenge me today, almost seven years later. The voice asked, “Where are your disciples?”   

I thought of all the great programs, events, and all the people involved, but I couldn’t come up with a single person I would consider to be a disciple, someone I was deeply invested in.

After quite a bit of processing, I noticed a simple problem I had that kept me from personally engaging in discipleship. What’s worse, I found that the problem is pretty widespread.  

What I noticed is that we tend to emphasize individual Christian practice when it comes to things like prayer, reading Scripture, giving, serving in the church, forgiving, or loving God and neighbor (we say “I pray” or “I serve”). We actually consider all of these as signs of Christian maturity. However, when it comes to making disciples we instead have a tendency of emphasizing our corporate call to reach others with the gospel of Jesus (we say things like “we make disciples” or “the church makes disciples”). Unfortunately, many times we just decide to hire someone to do it (any discipleship directors out there?)!

The problem with this tendency is that by overemphasizing the corporate mandate to make disciples, we dodge our individual responsibility (and privilege) to engage in reaching our families, neighbors, and workplaces with the hope we have found in a transformative relationship with Jesus.  

That’s exactly what I was doing. I went through all the church motions and processes with the assumption that disciples would be made simply by going through my well-oiled programs machine. But I personally was not engaged in deep relationships whereby my friends would grow in relationship and obedience to Christ.

You see, we must realize that organizations, and in this case the body of Christ, can only reflect the sum of the people who are part of them. This is especially true when it comes to core values or purpose.

A couple of college interns at our office this summer decided to visit a church near where they are living. That church, they were told, is (supposedly) known for being warm and welcoming. So you can imagine their disappointment when only two people approached them to say hello during their visit.

Does this mean that people who are part of that faith community are simply not welcoming or friendly? I doubt it! But somewhere along the line, being welcoming became the job of a few people (committee?) in that congregation, as opposed to simply being part of their culture. The point here is that the organization wasn’t corporately welcoming because the individual members were not personally engaged in that behavior.

If the core purpose of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, then every person who is part of the Church must be personally involved in making disciples! If not, we cannot claim that the church is making disciples.

I was struck sometime ago while reading Matthew’s gospel. I noticed something for the first time. I call it Matthew’s “missional brackets.”

(By the way, I’m positive someone else smarter and more knowledgeable than I has already dissected this. I’m also aware that brackets [inclusio] are used repeatedly in Matthew as a means for organizing passages and making important points. I just hadn’t noticed this one myself.)

These “missional brackets” open with Jesus calling his first disciples saying “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matt 4:19) Here we find a clear invitation (“follow me”) followed by a promise (“and I will make you fish for people”). The bracket closes with Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples saying, “…all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

This time we don’t find an invitation. Because Jesus is now recognized as lord, he gives his disciples a charge (“make disciples”), and once again a promise (“and I will be with you always”). Simply put, I’m convinced that everything we find in between these two brackets can only fully make sense within the context of learning to follow Jesus, and helping others do the same.

I don’t mean to diminish Jesus’ mystery, nor do I mean to deemphasize his work on the cross and his resurrection. My point here is simply to say that as part of God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation and renewal of all things, the Church (you and I) is invited to follow, to be transformed through, and commissioned by Jesus to make disciples.

This invitation is just as personal as it is corporate, because at the end of the day, programs can inform people, but they can’t form or transform people. Everything we do must be placed in the context of discipleship. If developing a life of prayer, or growing in compassion for others, or even becoming diligent learners of God’s word doesn’t feed into our desire to be and to make disciples, then we are missing the point completely.

My challenge for you is this: avoid the temptation of thinking about the people you lead right now, and how you can help them understand their part in this.  

Instead, consider how you might set an example. Are you making time for neighbors? Do you have a small group of people you are investing your life in right now? What’s your next step? 

As for me, I’ll tell you more about a few steps I’ve taken in my next post.

Cole Bodkin ~ “Go Home” Ranch


Whether you’re reading this at home or at work, let me ask you a question. What sort of signal do you give your neighbors? Do you extend welcoming hospitality or have you constructed walls for your personal safe haven?

 Go Home Ranch 

My wife and I once hired a handyman to build a lattice fence that would enclose a giant air conditioning unit that we had installed the previous spring. This former shop teacher did an amazing job – beautiful work and to our surprise, priced extremely reasonably. On top of that, he was a nice, good ol’ guy.

Since he had recently transplanted from the Abilene, TX area to Memphis, TN, I couldn’t resist asking this Texan how the transition was coming along. I love asking that question to folks who relocate to the broader Memphis area not only because you get some great answers, but also because I love to hear the “newbie” perception, which fades or sometimes goes unnoticed by natives.

In the past, I’ve heard everything from “I love Memphis” to “Memphis is so boring and bland.” But I wasn’t prepared for our handyman’s response:

We’re adjusting to having neighbors. We didn’t have neighbors back in Texas


Luckily my mouth didn’t fall open, but I was shocked. I think I mumbled something like, “Really? That’s quite an adjustment I bet.”

I’d always grown up with neighbors, yet this guy had gone years, decades even, without them. Our handyman had lived on 160 acres. The nearest Lowe’s was an hour away, and to do any errands required a whole day’s planning.

Like many Texas ranch entrances – two massive beams on either side of the horizontal beam – our handyman had a sign dangling down designating the name of his ranch:


That’s an interesting message to say the least.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, are the rest of us non-ranchers any different? Even though 99% of us have neighbors, do most of us in the United States act like it? We’ve constructed our own “Go Home Ranch” signs in our front yards by daily retreating into our escape, shutting the garage door, and locking ourselves inside our safe havens. If we happen to go outside it’s to hang out in the backyard…away from those dangerous, scary strangers.

As I’ve been pondering what it means to take the second half of the Great Commandment more seriously, I’ve realized that to prevent the natural tendency to create my own “Go Home Ranch,” I need to replace my praxis.

I need to “move into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message) like Jesus and grow roots. I must become more specific and contextualized in my discipleship. All of this, of course, is grounded in the interdynamic relationship between humanity and land, which is quintessential to neighboring – to discipleship.  

So I’ve restructured my discipleship practices around place. I’m re-placing a disembodied lifestyle with a local, rooted one. This neighborhood nexus I’ve constructed is centered around 7 P’s*: parsonage (home), porch (welcoming connectional points), pathways (daily routes), pivots (stopping points, e.g., “third place”), parish (geographical district and people), polis (city), and periphery (outer limits).

In this post I’d like to focus on porch since I touched on interactions just outside of the home (i.e., “parsonage”). Hopefully, by giving a few pointers and examples, it’ll reinvigorate you to reclaim the porch.

 Porchin’ It

Most people try to play or enjoy the exterior of their home (what I call “parsonage”) via the backyard. The problem with this is that it usually limits your visibility. You can interact with your next-door neighbors through hanging out in the backyard (plenty of “Wilson” conversations over the fence), but ultimately you’ll be losing out on a myriad of opportunities to meet and greet neighbors on their pathways (“daily routes”).

One of my first neighboring experiences came through “porchin’ it” with my neighbor across the street, Mr. Sam Oakley. Sam (rest his soul) used to sit out on his porch in his rocking chair each afternoon reading his KJV Bible or the local newspaper, chilling in the shade, and spitting his chew. When I’d get home from work, Sam would wave, and I would go over and we’d shoot the breeze for 30 minutes to an hour, talking about anything and everything.

Sam taught me a major lesson in neighboring: the importance of being present. Consistently being visible and available is key to loving our neighbors as ourselves. You simply can’t engage with fellow neighbors if you decide to build a moat around your castle, which is our default mode in an individualistic culture.

Personally, I’ve met quite a few people in my neighborhood by just hanging out on the porch. But, I’ve also found that unless it’s Halloween or Christmas, not many people will approach you at your porch. So you have to meet people where they are and extend your porch to the pathways through the driveway, mailbox, and the front yard.  

 The Turquoise Table

Although I have many stories of utilizing the driveway, mailbox, and front yard as extensions of the porch, for brevity’s sake I’d like to highlight an excellent, ingenious idea from someone else, which has taken off like wildfire.

Ever get tired of spinning your wheels when you try to create community? (Pastors, can I get an amen?) After trying unsuccessfully for 10 years, Kristin Schell came up with a creative, simple solution. She decided to move the backyard to the front.


A picnic table. To be more exact…a picnic table that was turquoise.

Before you knew it, neighbors began suddenly stopping by for coffee, a drink, or just to chat at the table. It became a gathering place where people could connect. Clearly, it hit a nerve as its popularity spread and more turquoise tables began popping up throughout her neighborhood. A little later and now there are at least 40 states where the turquoise table can be found.**

All of this happened because a faithful Christian decided to love her neighbors where they were. It didn’t involve elaborate details, or even knocking on doors, but deciding to be present and available to others. In doing so, perhaps we see a glimpse of what it means to not only extend the “porch,” but also to extend the Table into our neighborhoods.


*Inspired by Woodward and White’s The Church as Movement (pp. 205-209) and the Scottish parish model.

** For more, see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElTq8PTm7rc and http://www.kristinschell.com/