Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Don't Lose Your Awe!

I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  It was a great place to grow up.  The city is well-known for being the coldest major city in North America.  It is also a place that is flat.  There are no hills in Winnipeg – it is built on some of the flattest land in the world.

My wife is from Montana and when we got married, we settled in the Missoula area.  And after growing up in a place with no hills, I never tire of looking at the mountains around me.  Whether it’s the Flint Creek Range south of Drummond or Snowbowl and Lolo Peak on my morning walks, I cannot get enough of mountains.  After almost 15 years of living in western Montana, the peaks never get old.

Are there things in your life that you never tire of?  Things that constantly amaze you?  Things that generate awe in your life?  Is God included on that list?

In his book, Dangerous Calling:  Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Paul David Tripp addresses the danger of losing our awe of God.  Pastors handle God’s word each and every day.  They talk about the things of God.  They counsel people on the basis of those truths.  They study and parse His revelation.  And in some cases, while familiarity may not breed contempt, it is easy for it to breed a sense of commonness toward God and the things of God.  And this danger is not just for pastors – I think any believer can fall into this danger of divine things becoming increasingly common in our lives.

Dr. Tripp lists a variety of situations where this can happen.  Read this list carefully and with a sense of self-examination:

You’ve spent so much time in Scripture that its grand redemptive narrative, with its expansive wisdom, doesn’t excite you anymore.  You’ve spent so much time exegeting the atonement that you can stand at the foot of the cross with little weeping and scant rejoicing.  You’ve spent so much time discipling others that you are no longer amazed at the reality of having been chosen to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  You’ve spent so much time unpacking the theology of Scripture that you’ve forgotten that its end game is personal holiness.  You’ve spent so much time in strategic, local-church ministry planning that you’ve lost your wonder at the sovereign Planner that guides your every moment.  You’ve spent so much time meditating on what it means to lead others in worship, but you have little private awe.  It’s all become so regular and normal that it fails to move you anymore….  (Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling, pg. 114-115)

Is that you?  And if it is you, what can you do about it?  The remedy Dr. Tripp suggests is to begin with one of the Bible’s awe passages, a passage like Ps. 145.

I will extol you, my God and King,
    and bless your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your saints shall bless you!
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them. (Ps. 145: 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 18-19, ESV)

Psalms like this make it clear that the deepest motivation of every human being is to live in awe of God.  It is an awe that should govern our reality.  That awe should shape our decisions, it should empower our marriages, it should guide our parenting, it should give direction in our walk with God, and it should dominate every aspect of our ministry.

Have you lost your awe?  Are the things of God becoming common?  Do you tire of walking with God or ministering to the people of God?  Seek God’s face, meditate on His character, praise Him for his work and wonder at His salvation.  Don’t lose your awe – you don’t know what else you will lose along with it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

An Old Idea Crystallized in a New Way

How do we make disciples?  Of course, ultimately it is God who makes disciples, but what role do we play in that process as a church?  What does that role look like and how can we participate in what God is doing more effectively?

These are the questions rolling around in my head after hearing Dr. Tony Campolo speak last Thursday.  Dr. Campolo was in town promoting the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative and he graciously took time from his schedule to have a session with about 50 area pastors.  He shared for about an hour, and then took questions from the audience.  It was a challenging time for me.  Although Dr. Campolo and I would disagree on a number of things, I know he has a heart for God.  His insights on our world and the impact of the kingdom of God on our society, especially those from a sociological point of view, were thought-provoking.

But out of all the good stuff I heard, there was one statement he made that immediately connected with me.  I pulled out my phone, opened my task program and typed it in so I would not forget.  (I hope Dr. Campolo did not think I was texting someone….)

The statement was made in the context of a discussion about making disciples.  Dr. Campolo suggested that a primary way of making disciples in churches today was didactic.  We have discipleship classes.  We hold catechism classes and membership classes.  We do one on one mentoring.  And for some, this is a very effective way of making disciples.  The challenge of course, is moving all that head knowledge – which can be substantial – into a heart knowledge that is lived out in daily life.

Dr. Campolo then mentioned a second method of training disciples, and he illustrated it with a story.  A few years back, while speaking in England, he was approached by two young men who were doing doctrinal theses on American cities.  After hearing about Dr. Campolo and his ministry work in the inner city, they asked if they could join his ministry for the summer as “missionaries.”  They added to their request with this bit of information – that before he said yes, Dr. Campolo should know that they were both agnostic.  Could they still come and work with his ministry?

Dr. Campolo enthusiastically invited them, but with one condition.  If they were going to be missionaries, they would have to participate fully in the spiritual life of the ministry.  They were expected to attend and contribute to morning Bible Study.  They were expected to attend worship services.  They were expected to do everything that was expected of any other missionary in the organization, despite the fact that they were agnostics.

And that is just what they did.  And you probably know the end of the story – before the summer was over both of them had received Christ as their Savior and Lord and both are now serving the Lord as Anglican clergymen in England.

The story was meant to illustrate Dr. Campolo’s second method of making disciples – becoming disciples by doing the work of a disciple.  That is the phrase that connected with me.  Not because the idea was necessarily new, but rather the way he crystallized it really got me thinking.  As a church, we need to be intentional about training disciples.  And one effective way of doing that is placing believers, especially spiritually young believers, in environments and circumstances where they are expected to act like disciples.

What does that look like?  Well, for our church, the first examples I thought of were encouraging believers to serve with AWANA or on our Mexico Missions team or at camp in the summer.  Each of those opportunities places them in an environment where they are confronted with the word of God, where they are serving alongside mature believers and where they are expected to do the work of a disciple.  Dr. Campolo’s words got me thinking about other places and opportunities where we can be intentional about training disciples this way.

Does this mean the teaching part of making disciples should be thrown out?  Not at all.  In fact, I cannot think of a better combo for training disciples – being taught and mentored by a mature believer while placing them in an environment where they are expected to do the work of a disciple as well. 

Is this a new and revolutionary idea?  Nope.  But God has a wonderful way of taking ideas we have heard before and repackaging them in a way that suddenly connects for us.  In this case, it is to be intentional not only in teaching disciples, but encouraging them to participate in opportunities where they will be expected to do the work of a disciple as well.