Discipleship in December

We call them “the holidays,” but it’s really a stretch of weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in between. And it all can be exhausting.

Everything shifts during the holidays: more stress, more social events, more calories (“Tis the season to be pudgy”), more responsibilities (to shop, wrap, decorate). It’s enough to tempt us to put our spiritual lives on hold.

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Which is ironic, isn’t it? That the season set aside to remember and celebrate the birth of Christ becomes the reason we don’t have time to think about him.

How can we make time to be quiet with Jesus and be with one another during “the holidays”?

Sue Tell’s article “Discipleship in December” explores this question. She suggests four key strategies:

1.       The practice of being, not doing.

2.       The practice of listening, not reading.

3.       The practice of engaging in conversation.

4.       The practice of cultivating friendship.

If there ever was a time to set aside precious moments for solitude, silence, listening, and cultivating friendship, the frantic season of the holidays is that time. Don’t let the demands of the season rob you and your friends of the beauties of time alone with God and with one another.

 

Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life

I had a friend once who challenged me to spend an entire day alone with God, a sort of daily quiet time on steroids. Nothing but me and my Bible and maybe a journal and a devotional book or hymnbook. You get the picture, very low-key, very unplugged. I took a day off work and went to a local reserve where I could walk and pray and sit at the picnic table and read and pray and spend the entire day alone with God.

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That day changed my life.

But not in the way I expected.

I’m not sure what dramatic changes I expected. After all, would spending hours alone with God revolutionize your life? Surely it would!

What I discovered at the end of that day was that I was pretty much the same man I was at the beginning of the day. I carried the same burdens, I struggled with the same sins and anxieties. Whatever dramatic spiritual revolution I was expecting didn’t come about.

But I said that day changed my life, and it did. I realized that day that spiritual highs can’t be scheduled and manufactured; that day didn’t live up to my expectations. Yet I knew that over the years God had wrought changes in my life. There were (and still are) ways in which I am not the same man I was before. God is changing me, but slowly, over time.

That’s the day I realized that the way God changes us isn’t usually through dramatic experiences but through daily holy habits, things we do every day, the routines. I gained a new appreciation for the vital role that daily rhythms and routines have always played in my spiritual formation. Prayer and Bible reading every day, worshiping with the body of Christ every week. I gained a new appreciation for the ordinary.

We’re coming up on a new year, when many people like to start ambitious Bible-reading plans. But if you’re like me, you regard those ambitions with a mixture of guilt and misgiving; you know how you usually fade, usually before spring. And you always feel somehow that you’ve let God down.

Trevin Wax’s article “Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life” looks at just this difficulty. He urges us not to mount unreasonable expectations on ourselves but to commit ourselves to the daily habit of reading our Bibles. Not because the thunderbolt will strike every day, but to feed ourselves, to eat.

Why should I read the Bible even if “I don’t get anything out of it”? Why should I sit in church and listen to a sermon if “I don’t get anything out of it”? After all, how many sermons or Bible-readings have been truly memorable and life-changing?

Really, that question reduces our spiritual growth to a consumer experience; if it doesn’t thrill, it’s not worth the effort.

But that’s like asking why I should I continue to eat when so few meals have changed my life, so few dinners were truly memorable. I continue to shower and wash my hands and shampoo my hair even though these are not dramatic experiences. If I have established healthy daily rhythms that support my physical well-being, it certainly makes sense that I would commit myself to daily routines that will support my spiritual well-being.

No, committing myself to spiritual routines is not usually dramatic or memorable, but it is essential.

If you haven’t established a daily routine of setting aside a few minutes to talk to God, start now. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated; this is your Father we’re talking about, and He’s glad to spend time with you. Read His Word and speak to Him about what’s on your mind. Start there.

If you’ve started that habit, don’t give up, even if you feel you’re going through a dry spell. After all, it’s not about you and your experiences. The time you set aside to be with God is an act of worship, of sacrifice. It’s for Him.

And if you’ve come to the place where you look forward to your time with God, think about sharing your delight and your method with someone else. Show someone else what you do when you spend time with God.


Persevere,
Paul Pyle

Discipling by Mark Denver

If you’ve been reading our Discipleship Weekly installments, you’ve been seeing our unfolding vision for making disciples at Patterson Park Church.

·         We want to emphasize not just information transfer but life transformation.

·         We want to use our homes as places where we can cultivate friendships with people who are outside Christ.

·         We want to encourage mentoring and discipling relationships throughout the congregation, especially across the generations.

 

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Now I want to recommend a book that very nearly expresses our vision for making disciples. Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, has written a book simply titled Discipling.

 

Jesus left his church with these instructions: As you go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching them to obey what I have commanded you. Dever argues, correctly, that the local church is where Christ intended his mandate to be carried out, and he describes what fulfilling Jesus’s mandate looks like in a thriving, disciple-making fellowship.

 

For those of you who are curious about what “discipleship” is going to look like at Patterson Park Church, this book paints at least part of the picture.

 

Book-lovers like me know that when you’re thinking about investing the time and money in a book, you want to be fully informed. For those who are curious, here’s the Amazon link where you can read the Introduction. And  here is the Table of Contents:

 

PART 1: WHAT IS DISCIPLING?  

1 The Inevitability of Influence  

2 Oriented toward Others  

3 The Work of Discipling  

4 Objections to Discipling

 

PART 2: WHERE SHOULD WE DISCIPLE?  

5 The Local Church  

6 Pastors and Members

 

PART 3: HOW SHOULD WE DISCIPLE?  

7 Choose Someone  

8 Have Clear Aims  

9 Pay the Cost

10 Raising Up Leaders

 

Copies of Discipling are available at the Disciple Resources bookshelves outside the Family Life Center.


Reading this or any other good book on making disciples isn’t the goal; the information we gain from reading and study is a means to the goal: obeying Jesus’s command to make disciples.

 

May God make Patterson Park Church a powerful disciple-making fellowship.

 

Persevere,

 

paul

The Question Know One Asks Aloud

Why Should I Tell Others About Christ When My Life Sucks?

I know, the question is jarring, even offensive. It is offensive partly because of the language. But the question is jarring and offensive for another reason: It strikes at a secret shame we’d all like to keep hidden, especially around our church friends. We’re just not as put together as we’d like to think; we’re certainly not as put together as we’d like our friends to think.

When we think like this, we betray a profound misunderstanding of the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus. When we say that Jesus came to save us from our sins, we’re not saying that trusting Jesus means that everything about us is made right in an instant. Sure, there are stories of wicked people being dramatically changed and released from their addictions, instantly and finally, the moment they trust in Christ. But those stories are exceptional, not typical. It is more typical for us, after we begin to follow Jesus, to struggle to see sin subside and godly virtue grow in our lives.

So if the Gospel doesn’t mean that trusting Jesus means everything changes in an instant, what does it mean? The Gospel means 1) that we don’t have to hide our sin but can confess to God and to one another and find grace instead of condemnation. 2) The Gospel also means that when we put our trust in Christ, God’s Spirit begins that long, slow, painstaking task of re-forming our hearts, remaking our lives to look more like Jesus. When we are afraid for people to know about our brokenness, we confuse our present state (messy but moving toward wholeness) with the finished product of our sanctification (gloriously and finally made whole).

Which brings us to the question that started all this: Why should our non-Christian friends want to follow Jesus when our lives are so broken? C. Michael Patton, a pastor and writer, has his own issues, which he recounts in remarkable candor at the beginning of the post. He goes on to tell us two reasons to go ahead and tell our non-Christian friends about Jesus, even out of our brokenness. His answer, in a nutshell, the Gospel is for broken people, and who better to speak of its glories and grace but a broken person?

Like me.

Like you.

Paul Pyle

Pastor of Discipleship

Patterson Park Church

ppyle@pattersonpark.org

(937) 427-0130