Fathers, Rabbis, and the Way of Jesus

Fathers - hands

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” – the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:15-16

The followers of Jesus knew He was different. He loved the unlovable; He sought out the lost and the least; He was changing the world at the deepest possible level. His life transcended the ordinary in every way imaginable, and these disciples wanted to follow His lead. As they realized there was something pivotal about His prayer life, they asked Him to teach them the way. Jesus response? When you pray, relate to God like this: “Our Father…”.

Our Father? What? Jesus calls the King of kings and Lord of lords FATHER? Isn’t that a bit personal? Isn’t that reducing a transcendent God into a casual, ordinary being?

No, in actuality it was giving the disciples the greatest revelation of who God truly is and in doing so who they truly were. The following post is lengthy and in some places technical. It is necessary to get a deeper understanding of what it means for God to be Our Father. To know what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others.

“For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This admission by Paul in reference to his relationship to Timothy may very well be the most powerful verse in the New Testament and holds the key to the Church.

Fatherhood.

Paul expressed to the struggling believers in Corinth that they do not lack in teachers. They lack fathers. The principle that Paul was expressing was in contrast to their thinking. The Greek way of thinking was based upon a teacher-student philosophy. The teacher can pontificate their ideas which will then spark ideas within the student. Ideas begat ideas. The teacher was merely the deepest thinker and would provide the original premise that other ideas could be built. Unfortunately, this is the practice that has been in place within Christendom for generations.

But Paul was showing them a Hebrew principle of Rabbi/talmidim (i.e. disciples). The rabbi acted more as a father than he did a teacher. He would take his learner under his wing and replicate himself. Much in the same way that fathers would take their sons to teach them a trade. Sadly, today, Paul’s words still ring true. He could very well be speaking directly to the modern church at large and say, “you have more than enough teachers, but you do not have many fathers”. We desperately need fathers in the Body of Christ.

Paul was a rabbi and understood Jesus better than any of the other disciples. Although the twelve spent three years with Jesus as talmidim they themselves were not formerly trained rabbis. This is an important point. Paul was from a wealthy family and was sent to the best school in Jerusalem; Bet Hillel, under Hillel’s grandson, Rabban Gamaliel haZaken. Paul would have started school at the age of 6. There are three stages that a person undertakes as a student of Torah. Why is this important? In order to understand what Paul meant by father you must understand this relationship.

There are three stages of learning to reach the level of rabbi; Bet Sefer, i.e. House of the Book (ages 6 – 12), Bet Talmud, i.e. House of Learning (ages 13 – 15), and Bet Midrash, i.e. House of Study (ages 15 – 30). Those in the latter stage were known as talmidim. Only a few students – the best of the best – were selected to advance from Bet Sefer to Bet Talmud. The same was true from Bet Talmud to Bet Midrash. Once a student had reached the level of Bet Midrash the relationship was completely different. The rabbi would invite the talmidim to follow him. This was a choice to leave your old life and “follow in the dust of the rabbi”. To follow a rabbi was to “be covered with the dust of his feet.” That represented how closely you followed. It was not a distant relationship. It was very up close and personal. The talmidim would spend the next several years emulating their rabbi. They would learn his way of interpreting the Torah. They would do what he did even down to the most smallest and minute details. They would learn his mannerisms. They would do and understand everything the exact same way as their rabbi. In turn the rabbi would father them through this process and take great care to ensure they grew into being a rabbi themselves. Now you understand why Jesus didn’t start his “ministry” until the age of 30.

Understanding this process helps us understand the relationship that Jesus had with His disciples and their relationship with Him. This is why Peter walked on water. Why the twelve and seventy were sent out to do what Jesus did. Why Jesus said they would do greater works. It also helps us understand what a disciple really is and the expectation of discipleship. Rabbis make disciples. The Great Commission was all about Jesus releasing His talmidim to be rabbis and go into all the world to replicate Him. However, He did not send them alone. He gave them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He gave them the Spirit of the Father.

Recently I read a study on the effect of fathers being absent from the home on children and in turn our nation as a whole. (http://canadianepc.org/files/McLanahan-Father-Absence.pdf) The results of this 10 year study was shocking and in many ways parallel the Church in America. Children that grow up without fathers have a higher rate of suicide, behavioral and psychological problems, poor grades, drop out of high school, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, juvenile and adult prison terms, early sexual activity, and teen pregnancies. It is shocking. The result of absent fathers have crippled America’s economy. Unless we focus on securing the family unit and bringing fathers back into the house the overwhelming snowball effect from generation to generation will lead to utter destruction. The same is true in our churches.

Within the past 30 years we have witnessed the increase of mega-churches within America. We have moved from a local church society to mega-church society. This is due to the increase of the Christian celebrity culture that has permeated the church through TBN, Daystar, and other Christian Broadcasters. These Networks have perpetuated the culture of teachers/ preachers that pour into us teaching without the responsibility of shepherding. This culture has affected the local church pastors to a great degree. They have focused on teaching/ preaching without the responsibility of shepherding. It becomes all too easy to seek one’s own fame and glory. The focus becomes a new revelation, whether cool and relevant or deep and spiritual, to set themselves apart from the crowd. It is the new Christian celebrity culture that is leaving behind a generation of fatherless children. A generation of orphans.

The result of a fatherless (orphan) generation of church attendees has been an increase of Biblical illiteracy, unsound doctrine, lack of understanding and operating in callings and giftings, spiritual flakiness, New Age interpretations, feelings of hopelessness and confusion, faithlessness, and unbelief in absolute truth. You can always tell someone is a Christian orphan because they do not receive love well. They are church consumers; hopping from one place to another, lacking stability. They treat Church like foster care rather than an eternal home. They are far too quick to judge and ready to walk out the door when the pastor forgot to say hello to them on Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, the list of orphan behavior is more accurately given by Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verses 1 through 9. Within the context of 2 Timothy you will notice that Paul gives an antidote to this decline by commending Timothy for being faithful in following Paul’s teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, and persecutions. What is Paul talking about? He is referring to how he discipled (fathered) Timothy. In turn, Paul was encouraging Timothy to be a father and a rabbi to the next generation. We need to heed to Paul’s advice and let it ring loud and true to a new generation of pastors. We need fathers. We need shepherds. We need people that are willing to take under their wing spiritual children and disciple them the proper way.

Although we are immersed in a generation of fatherless children, God has sent the cure. God has promised that in the last days he would release the spirit of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). God will not leave us as orphans. He will raise up disciples in the generation of Elijah that “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” We must cry out for this upon our local churches. We must cry out for fathers to rise up. The five-fold ministries are categories of fatherhood for the equipping and perfecting of the saints. If you are lost and hurting and trying to understand your calling and purpose I encourage you to seek out fathers. Seek out a rabbi that will cultivate the gifting and calling upon your life. There has been an absence of fathers and a decline of sons and daughters.

One last beautiful point. There is actually such deep revelation in understanding the rabbi/talmid relationship that we totally miss today. When Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, James and John, “come, follow me.” The Bible says that they dropped everything and followed Him. In our way of thinking this does not make sense. There must be more to it than that? He must have said more and the writers didn’t include it. Our logical mind tries to fill in the gap of understanding. The truth is, that is exactly what happened. To the 1st Century Jew it made PERFECT sense. It is actually a beautiful story and provides the reader lots of hope.

Allow me to explain. When a young Jewish child would complete the Bet Talmud stage (around the age of 14 to 15) he would ask a rabbi if he could join his House of Study (Bet Midrash). The rabbi would ask the potential student a series of questions to be able to know whether or not this student could become just like him. If he had the potential to become a rabbi. If selected the rabbi would say, “come, follow me” and the student would leave EVERYTHING to follow him. BUT, if the rabbi did not select him, he would tell the student to “go home, learn your family business, get married, have children, and hopefully they can grow up to become rabbis”.

So, now, with this in mind, read the gospel account again. Realize that Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the entire crew were likely rejected. They were not the best of the best. They were ordinary. Ha! Then Jesus came along. Yes! He did not choose the best of the best. He chose the ORDINARY! The rejected! The least! He said to them, “come, follow me” and they dropped everything! Their dreams came true. That had been chosen. Imagine the excitement. Imagine the thrill for Zebedee, James and John’s father. It was an honor for your son to be selected by a rabbi. What an exciting day!

The conclusion is this; be a disciple and go make disciples. What does that mean? As disciples (i.e. talmidim) we realize our great need of being fathered. To be under a mentor and shepherd. To have someone take the time to disciple us. Then, in turn, we disciple others. This is the Great Commision. It is the heart and DNA of Greenhouse Church. It is the cry of this generation that has lived as orphans far too long. Being a disciple that disciples others is not a suggestion. It is the heartbeat – and genius – of God. You will never feel closer to your Father in heaven than when you allow yourself to be fathered well and in turn father others in the gospel. Then your heart will freely cy out, “Abba, Father!”

(Much thanks to Shawn Maynard for these thoughts)

Watch God move in silence

blog - dockA busy weekend is upon us, which has me thinking about Sabbath.

And silence.

Many of us don’t know what to do with our silences. And yet this is when God does some of his deepest work. His silence does not mean his absence. Delay does not mean impotence. Every lull does not require activity. Every vacuum does not need to be filled with words. Take it from an extrovert; excessive words are not a strength, but a liability. God moves more in our weakness than our strength, so let him do his thing.

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

Are you in a valley? Maybe you need to stop fighting it and start dancing with it. Carve out enough breathing room, shut out enough distractions, and watch God move in silence. Discipline your soul to engage in solitude. You just might be surprised at what you discover.

 

Don’t go to church to get fed.

Go to church to get hungry.

Don’t go to church to get fed? People say this sounds unbiblical. Didn’t Jesus tell Peter, “Feed my sheep”?

That’s the point.

We first hear this idea in Ezekiel 34 where God was speaking “against the shepherds of Israel” who failed to feed the sheep and instead fed themselves: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought … My sheep were scattered with none to search or seek for them …” (Ezekiel 34:4,6)

Imagine the scene. Peter swims up to a beach where the Messiah he denied is cooking him breakfast over a charcoal fire. Just a few days earlier he was warming himself around another charcoal fire when a girl gave him a chance to stand up for a suffering Jesus. He fails miserably, the cock crows, and he flees in shame, lacking faith to believe in a Redeemer who could beat death, much less his sin.

But Jesus thoroughly defeated sin and absolutely conquered death.

Peter now finds himself looking into the same eyes of the Man he betrayed, with the smell of his failure in his nostrils. He then hears the question he never saw coming, with a command that would change his life:

Do you love Me?

Feed my sheep.

When most Christians hear the words feed my sheep they tend to think of reaching in. Going deep. Finding a church that meets my family’s needs. They call it discipleship. For most people feed my sheep means improving existing believers.

But I don’t think that’s what Peter heard.

There’s no doubt that improving and caring for found sheep is part of what Ezekiel 34 had in mind. Strengthen the weak, heal the sick, have meaty Bible studies. One hundred percent necessary. But when you read the story of Peter, you do not find him staying in; he goes out. Central to God’s rebuke to shepherds was their characteristic neglect of lost sheep.

After 2000 years Christians still miss it. We still think feed my sheep means preaching good sermons. (And listen, I’m a sermon guy. I’m sold on well-prepared, expository, Christocentric, Redemptive-historical, gospel preaching) We still act like feed my sheep means helping already-found sheep shine a little brighter. (And just to be clear, I’m all in with with laboring for Christ-like sanctification by faith, a la Galatians 4:19.)

But what if feed my sheep is something more like the great commission.

You know, Go make disciples.

What if making disciples is like making a cake. It certainly includes the icing and the decorating, but it absolutely demands the cooking. Starting with nothing but ingredients and turning this nothingness into somethingness. Sounds a lot like God: “Let there be light.” What if making disciples is exactly what Jesus said it is: teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19-20) What if feed my sheep says loving Jesus means I’ll care about what he cares about. And he feels deeply about lost things.

What if feed my sheep is a lot more like an urgent search for your lost keys when you’re running late for work? Funny how I never hear people passively sit down and rationalize theology with their lost keys. Well, maybe I was predestined to never find these keys. If God wants me to have them, he’ll find a way. Let’s be honest, if we treated looking for lost keys the way we treat looking for lost sheep we’d be unemployed.

Feed My sheep.

I have eight children. That means every now and then I lose one. Can you imagine if I went home to my wife with seven out of eight? As my wife explodes in maternal concern do you think she’d be okay with me saying, “Ruth, calm down. We still have seven. Let’s not be all about numbers. Besides that, the more kids, the less the rest of us get our needs met. The less food for the rest of us. I don’t want us to be a mega-family, I like small-family. All these extra people make it harder to go deep.” My wife would go off.

Because that’s her sheep.

What if your wife-swapping coworker is His sheep, but he doesn’t know it yet? What if your annoying neighbor is His sheep, but she’s never been told? What if feed My sheep means we’re rubbing shoulders with lost sheep all the time, and God wants people with a heart like his?

Which is why He’s asking, “Do you love Me?”

And that’s why I don’t want to go to a church that “feeds” me, in the way a predictable American Christian hears the word feeds. I want to be a part of one that makes me hungry. Hungry enough to go all the way with this gospel I say I believe. And nothing makes me hungry like the uncompromised proclamation and demonstration of the substitutionary death and explosive resurrection of Jesus, among people who burn in white hot passion for their first love, and for the sake of the people He adores. In creed and deed.

Feed My sheep.Feed sheep

“I just want you to hold me.”

I just want you to hold me.

Those were the syllables streaming off the lips of my new bride on the first night of our marriage. Just to give you context, we waited. And waited. And I can’t overstate how ready I was to fully know my wife. Biblically. As Jesus followers we were saving our sex for our marriage. And as a Bible guy I knew that my strongest desire was supposed to be the Lord’s return, but I had a different prayer: Please wait until after my wedding night. I had nightmares about seeing my beautiful wife, in bed, giving me the look of desire as I leapt through the air, toward my lover, just as the trumpet of God sounded. You get the idea.

But when my long-anticipated night approached, my bride was far from the frisky, disciple of desire I had imagined. She froze up. She just wanted me to hold her. How do you define hold, I wondered. But it was no use. In the aftermath a dozens of well-intentioned Christians loading down my wife with every conversation and book about the holy-act-of-marriage-wild-woman-intimate-joy experience, I was done for. Maybe we could try in the morning, she suggested. I set the alarm for 3:00AM.

I tell that story because of the way I see so many Christians approach the Holy Spirit. All you have to do is thumb through the book of Acts or the writings of Paul, and you discover a far more intense relationship and openness toward the Holy Spirit than you see today. They treated Him like a person. They expected holy interaction. They approached Him as God. Because the Holy Spirit is I Am. Transformation itself “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) I hear many people profess a theoretical submission to Jesus as Lord; but how many have functionally allowed the Spirit to be Lord? Everything Jesus was to His followers, the Holy Spirit is. Helper, comforter, friend, advocate, counselor. For as much as we Bible-Christians pride ourselves on our commitment to Scripture, it’s stunning how shallow we have gone in the truth of the experience of the Spirit.

A little explanation.

Every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) Like a pilot light that will never go out, the Spirit begins to live in us from the moment we first believe. However, every believer is not always walking in a real-life experience with the Spirit. This is why Paul says in Ephesians 1:13 that all believers were sealed with the Holy Spirit, but then four chapters later he says to “not be drunk with wine … but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18).

According to Paul, the experience of being filled is something like coming under the influence of alcohol. You lose some of your natural inhibitions; you have more boldness; your tongue gets loosed; and you aren’t afraid of what people will think. It’s like what happens when the pilot light is allowed to grow into a fire source that boils your water. You don’t need a new flame, you need to go all the way with the flame you’ve got.

This is why in Acts 19 Paul’s opening question to a group of disciples was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2) A real relationship with the Spirit is a game-changer because you are different when you are under the influence of the Spirit. There are crucial conversations you should never have until you are filled. There are painful memories you should not even think about unless you are filled. There are some activities you were never meant to attempt until you get filled. There are commands in Scripture that are downright impossible without the influence of the Spirit. Forgive your enemies? Bless those who curse you? Articulate the gospel in an awkward environment? We spend too much time striving to do with a pilot light what can only be done with a raging fire.

And this is where all the controversy and family feuding is so counterproductive. It freezes people up. It turns the Spirit into an it about which we theorize instead of a Person with whom we relate.

We get tripped up over terms like the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the various manifestations of the Spirit. When Charismatics over-emphasize specific experiences, they fail to recognize that believers have Spirit encounters all the time. If you’ve ever walked into church cold and then walked out on fire; if you’ve ever been in an intimidating situation and an unusual boldness came over you to articulate the gospel; if you’ve ever felt lost and someone spoke a word of encouragement that had a God-centered effect you could not explain … then you have come under the influence of the Spirit. It’s almost like drinking spiked punch you thought was kool-aid; it just happened to you. You came under the influence accidentally. On the other hand, what non-Charismatic Christians under-emphasize is the biblical mandate to intentionally pursue this experience. Coming under His influence is supposed to become a lifestyle. So ask for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) Charismatics are correct in pointing out the possibility of an experience subsequent to salvation. But they seem so obsessed with the initial infilling that they under-stress the call to live a life of being filled again and again and again.

He wants to do more than seal you for the day of redemption. He wants to fill you today. Is fear closing in? Ask for the Spirit. Are you in trouble? Ask for the Spirit. Having trouble praying? Ask for the Spirit.

It really is tragic. While the world has become more spiritual, Christians have become secular. Natural. You were never wired to be satisfied with a purely natural life. Lay aside every unbiblical inhibition, set your gaze on Jesus, and wait for the Spirit.

HS-blog

Keep Hammering

images-7

Stop trying to do the impressive.

As if God needs something big.

Take the ordinary life you’re already doing, and do it in his name. In his power. In his presence. Give it to him. Thank him for it. Worship him in it. Acknowledge him in it, and you never know, he just might add to the agenda.

But the great lives aren’t great because of the size or the scope of their activity; it’s the Name in which they do it. It’s the worship that our day-by-day lives reveal.

I was so encouraged by the word from Robbie Johnson this past weekend, especially when he told the story of Jael the general-slayer. I’ve always been intrigued by the story of this courageous woman who nailed a stake through the skull of the wicked general Sisera. Yet it became practical when he described just how ordinary this task would have been. Just like every other nomadic woman, she had been hammering tent pegs for decades.

And then he said it: Keep hammering.

Man, that connected.

Keep seeking the face of God. Keep praying for the nations. Keep affirming your kids. Keep massaging your wife’s feet. Keep studying the Scripture. Keep opening your home. Keep making breakfast for the family. Keep taking your spouse out on a date. Keep submitting your singleness to God. Keep inviting your agnostic friend to church. Keep telling your daughter she’s beautiful. Keep believing in a book of Acts church. Keep asking for an awakening of the Spirit in your city. Keep telling your husband he’s the man. Keep throwing the ball with your son. Keep praying for the sick to be healed. Keep going to the gym. Keep giving money in secret. Keep desiring the best spiritual gifts. Keep fighting cynicism. Take your hammer, take your peg, and keep swinging.

Don’t stop. Don’t grow weary. You won’t be sorry.

There is nothing like a long devotion in the same direction.

And when you feel like you can endure no more, look “to Jesus … who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated by the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

 

Fasting is waiting

FASTING-3-150x150

Fasting is waiting.

In a world where we’ve been trained to look for quick and convenient solutions, fasting goes against the grain in every possible way. Fasting is about embracing the call to endure the wait.

Ever read the Bible and ask Why? Why did Jesus rise from the dead in Jerusalem, and then tell the disciples to go to Galilee to see Him, only to tell them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the Promise of the Father? Why all the drama? Why all the walking? We know Jesus  said, It’s better that I leave so I can send the Holy Spirit. But why not just ascend and instantly send the promised Spirit? Why send the disciples back to an upper room where they will have to endure another ten days of praying and wondering and waiting? And speaking of ten days, why does’t God tell them how long they will be waiting? Wouldn’t that be easier?

I like fulfillment. I like receiving. And yet in between the promise and the fulfillment, God schedules the wait. But like an impatient child shaking the gifts under a Christmas tree for days leading up to Christmas morning, it’s the wait that drives me nuts. But as hard as it is to swallow, waiting does what nothing else will do. There is something about a God-lover who has nothing but a promise and a commitment to sit in that upper room until the promise comes to pass.

Fasting is where we put our body, our agendas, and our strength on hold because we recognize the wisdom of this truth: My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness. Few things put you in touch with your weakness like a season of fasting. And waiting.

Listen to truth: Those who wait for Me will not be put to shame. (Isaiah 49:23)  No eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for Him. (Isaiah 64:4) Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles. (Isaiah 40:31)

Waiting is worth it.

When you’re in that upper room, all you have is a promise. A word. But you will receive power. You will receive strength. Because man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God. People go into the upper room one way, and they come out another, because it’s in the wait that we let patience have it’s full effect, that we may be complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4)

I dare you to join us in fasting this week as we seek the heart of God. Eyes on Jesus. Compelled by grace. But confident that this God keeps his promises.

I hope to see you in our prayer meetings next week.

A new year’s prayer

Here is my prayer for our movement on this first day of the year:

Your face O Lord we will seek.

Our deepest desire is not family or ministry or growth or mission or community.  We want You. Whatever we do, may it be the result of this experiment: What happens when communities of Jesus-followers set apart their lives to seeking the face of the living God? The outgrowth of that, then, is to seek the lost, the least, and a true expression of Church. But this is our ultimate dream: to engage in lives and mission defined by their pursuit of You Yourself, so that it is so very clear that you are glorious. This is first. You are our first love. And it is precisely our first love which orders all the others.

So we pray for harvest, innovation, leadership, health, provision, protection, creativity, unity, boldness, resources, gifts of the Spirit, empowered communication, incredible times of worship, amazing Bible studies, divine appointments, expanded vision, physical strength, open doors, great management…

But what we most want is You.

To know You. To be found in You. To do what we do – not out of an achiever need to accomplish, not out of an American need to compete, not because it’s what everybody else is doing – or because nobody else has done it yet … We long for a movement characterized by You. Not just business principles, hard work, ingenuity, and natural talent.  We don’t need another good church.  Or another missional movement.  Or another group of natural Christians. We seek You. This is our life.

Save us from the nonsense of “doing our devotions” or some sort of minimum requirement approach to seeking You.  Jesus, our whole lives are Yours and we set them apart to seek Your heart. Remind us who we are.

The promises are magnificent. Our call gets rediscovered while in pursuit.  Vision becomes  sharp in the secret place.  Mission comes alive when our hearts are set on seeking. Leadership goes deep when the leader brings direction birthed from burning in Your presence. Words have authority when the tongue has been silenced in a time of listening. Hope is rekindled, faith is stirred, peace is obtained, promises are embraced, fears are stilled, opposition is exposed. The evidence is astounding: those who make the sacrifice of seeking You inherit promises. May this be a year when we become “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:12)

This is central to our call:  to make people thirsty enough to drink living water and mobilize them once they’ve drunk. For the unregenerate we call this evangelism. But there is another form of evangelism needed for the believer. We get lost too. We fall asleep. We grow dry. We lose our way. We wander from our first love. But this we know: when we seek You we come back to life.

Let there be life.

In the name of Jesus.