Discipleship and Miss Universe

Everything Shamcey worked for, everything she believed and thought about her whole life came out in the open the moment she stood in front of the international audience and the big cameras during the Miss Universe beauty pageant few days ago. Her beliefs, her convictions, her idea of life and religion and commitment were unveiled in that single moment.

I’m not sure if Shamcey will ever have that time in her life again when millions of people all over the world will hang on to every word she said. Her answer rocked, not just the entertainment and the fashion world, but the consciousness of Filipinos and the Christians who are confronted with the question Vivica A. Fox asked her: conviction or compromise? Here is a woman who unapologetically gave an unpopular answer in front of the whole world.

Few of us will ever have that moment when our faith and character will be tested out in the open, with cameras and millions of people to applaud us. Many will be tested in secret, without anyone watching the choices they make. Some are tested with a plate of food (Esau), others with a woman in a bathing suit (David), and still others with a few gold coins for extra cash (Judas). The real question, however, is not whether you are tested in public or in private. It is whether you will pass or not, whether you are ready to give an answer that will satisfy the Ultimate Judge or just please the crowd.

We are not all beauty queens, and for most of us, our test may not even involve carefully crafted sentences with the right kind of accent. For most people, the test is not about giving sharp answers to a panel of judges but making silent choices in the face of trials on their daily grind where most of the battles of life are either lost or won.

Discipleship and Captain America

I was talking to my victory group about the book of Ephesians tonight when another weird thought struck me: discipleship and Captain America. This is another one of the few weird ideas that came up in my devotional hour these past few days. In my previous post, I wrote about discipleship and nitrogen fixing bacteria. I have yet to write about thermodynamics when Captain America forced its way into my writing priorities.

You see, Ephesians 1.3 is still stuck in my head. I am literally blown away with the idea that before the world was ever created, God has already put into place every kind of spiritual blessing that I would ever need in this life. In verse 18, that idea is magnified a a few knots higher. Paul said that the “incredibly great power” of God is at work in the lives of those who believe. What does it mean?

It means that God’s power is in your life.

But that’s just the beginning. In verse 20, Paul said that the power you have in your life right now IS THE SAME power that God EXERTED to raise Jesus from the dead. Not only that, it is also THE SAME power that He used to put Jesus on the throne, high above all the powers and authority and dominion known to mankind.

When we think of it that way, it can sound so grand but so detached from human experience. But what if I tell you that the verses we read actually tell us that God has heavily invested so much in our lives that we can never afford to be defeated?

Like Captain America.

Contained within his buff body and strong physique is the millions of dollars of scientific research that would probably go to waste if Steve Rogers didn’t begin to use his abilities to win the war. Rogers had the enhanced body, he can do a lot more than what he was doing, he can be a deadly weapon, but what did he do at first? He worked as a clown!

Can you see the connection? The government invested all its scientific and financial resources on Rogers but he was living like a loser. Like so many Christians all over the world today. God put into place all the blessings they would ever need in this life and all the power of heaven is invested on them. Unfortunately, they live like clowns, downtrodden and defeated. They never really realize that they have within them the power to be victorious in Jesus.

In the movie, Captain America came to his senses and became the winner he was created to be. But that’s just Hollywood and pop culture. Your story is totally dependent on what you do now after reading this.

Discipleship and Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria

What does nitrogen fixing bacteria have to do with discipleship, or Christianity for that matter?

A lot.

You see, in leguminous plants like soybeans and mongo, there is a kind of symbiotic bacteria that lives in their roots. They are the ones responsible for converting atmospheric nitrogen into nutrient form that would help plants grow. Without these bacteria, nitrogen would just float in the air and is pretty much useless to plants and the soil.

In Ephesians 1.3, Paul said that God the Father blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing IN CHRIST. See the connection? Blessings are sort of floating in the air. God put them there before the foundations of the world, they are for the people of God, and they are just waiting to be appropriated to their lives anytime. The only condition is that these people have to be IN CHRIST.

Every spiritual blessing is there, floating, hovering over us. Like nitrogen, they are available in the air. Like nitrogen, we don’t see them with our naked eye. Like nitrogen, they are waiting for the right conversion agent.

In Christ. That’s the operative word there. All these are for you IN CHRIST.

Discipleship Versus Multi-Level Marketing

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Gen. 2.2-3

Even if you’re new to the Bible, you’ll definitely notice the redundancy of the word “rest” in those two consecutive verses in Genesis. God rested on the seventh day… God blessed the seventh day because that’s the day He rested. Why such strong emphasis on rest? With the magnitude of the work He did, don’t you think God should be a little more busy by that time?

Pastor Joey Bonifacio once mentioned that part of the reason why God created man on the sixth day and rested on the next is that He wanted Adam to see Him relaxed and approachable right after he opened his eyes. He didn’t want Adam to see Him buried with a thousand inter-galactic chores the first day humanity was awakened to consciousness.

He wanted to sit back, enjoy His creation and make Himself available to man, to walk with him in the garden and enjoy an unhurried friendship with him. Not that He is not available on some other days but to show humanity that He is available for casual conversations and coffee breaks. To set an example to us that resting is actually part of the pattern of life; that amidst the busy lives of endless work to do, there is supposed to be a time to sit down and enjoy the company of the people you love.

When we do discipleship, let us not forget that a greater part of it is on building godly, unhurried friendships, not to form groups that look more like multi-level marketing schemes or ad hoc committees. We’ve seen this in church many times before. People meet in small groups, discuss the word and run out of the door as fast as they can. Their goal is for each member to form his own group and to repeat the process for rapid multiplication. It is only out of godly politeness that we don’t call these disciples our “spiritual downlines.”

Slow down. As Joey Bonifacio often say, “slow is fast.” This is not church marketing, this is not a signature campaign for Jesus, this is life and we are meant to enjoy this.

Using Humor in Your Discipleship Group

The question of using too much humor in victory group meetings has been coming up a lot lately in our coaching sessions. “We are not clowns!” I insisted. But truth be told, I’m probably saying that because I am not the type of person who can crack a joke spontaneously, at least not in colloquial Tagalog. If I was a natural born jokester, I’d probably dislike my own advise.

My problem lies in the fact that whereas I could very well appreciate the place and value of humor in discipleship meetings (namely, to keep us awake), I am also well aware of our natural tendency to amuse ourselves to death if we are left to our own devices. Perhaps we have all seen discipleship groups that are dying precisely because the leaders had the mistaken notion that discipleship is all about fun and laughter. The Word of God and prayer were relegated to the backseat. I believe that somewhere, a line must be drawn. But where?

Today, Pastor Ferdie Cabiling of Victory Ortigas did a whole day lecture on preaching in our school. Naturally, humor was the first question I asked. I believe his counsel hits the heart of the matter: humor must only be used to illustrate a point and advance the flow of idea. Humor for the sake of amusement only distracts.

Leaders, when we exert more effort at amusing each other than doing the ministry of the word and prayer, we are wasting precious time that we will never get back. We may never have that same opportunity to reach a person with the gospel. May this sober us up of our mandate. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “do not squander time for that is the stuff that life is made of.”

Discipleship Lessons from the Garden of Eden

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. (Genesis 1.11)

This is a curious feature of God’s creation, each plant reproducing its own kind. Long before scientists discovered deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) to dictate the genetic make up of reproducing organisms, God was already at work at nature, ensuring us that His creation doesn’t surprise us with weird mutations.

But more than the biological aspect of creation, God actually gave us one basic principle of discipleship: you reproduce the kind of person you are in the lives of those you disciple. Your spiritual DNA is replicated in the people you lead. The kind of culture you live out in front of them will be the kind of culture that they will pass on to their followers.

This is the tricky part. As a discipleship group leader, you are actually in the position to pass on either a bad DNA code or a good DNA code to the people you lead. Each according to its kind. Each leader leads according to the way it was modeled to him by his leader. Whether the next generation will continue to be passionate about reaching the lost is actually up to you now. The ball is in your hands.

Discipleship Notes: Shepherding

As you lead victory groups, keep these in mind:

1. Learn to see things through the lens of eternity. Life is too short to be spent on trivial matters. Prioritize things that have eternal implications. Find the place where you could make the most impact and aim for it. Spend your life doing the things that could bring God the highest honor. Or put another way, spend your life in a way that could do the most damage to the kingdom of darkness.

Acts 20.24: I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

2. Never mind who gets the credit. As you do discipleship, you might come across people who would only be there for a season. Some of them move to other places or transfer to other Christian churches. It would be a lie if you tell me it’s not frustrating. Of course it’s frustrating, but only if you are more interested in building your “own” group than the Body of Christ.

In God’s Kingdom, you just need to be faithful with what is given to you. If you have one person to disciple, be faithful with that one. Pour out your life to helping that one person grow. In the end, it’s not the parade of numbers that matter to God but the faithfulness of your heart in embracing what has been entrusted to your care. And if that one person moves out, rejoice at the role you played in his Christian walk.

In the book of Acts, Paul was faithful in preaching the Word to the Ephesians even if he knew he will never see them again. He played his role and moved on gracefully. “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” (Acts 20.25)

3. Keep watch over yourselves. When you do discipleship, do not forget to take care of your own spiritual life. Don’t you ever buy into the delusion that just because you are fruitful, you are automatically holy. Successful ministry is not measured by numeric indicators. When Christ addressed the seven churches in Revelation, he did not commend the larger churches and rebuked the smaller ones. Instead, he hit at the heart of character, faith, endurance, compromise, idolatry, and immorality.

Acts 20.28: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…

4. Be shepherds. Don’t treat your victory group members as statistics to feel good about. They’re humans. They’re flesh and blood who need encouragement, prayers, friendships and a tangible expression of the love of Christ. Shepherd them. Know their names and their stories. Bind their wounds and mend their brokenness. Go to lunch with them and listen to their corny jokes. And while you do this, don’t forget that they’ll know when you’re faking it.

Acts 20.28: …be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

5. Raise true disciples. In the book of Acts, Paul warned about people rising up from within the church who will want to distort the truth and lead others astray. Be on guard against this men. But more importantly, before that could even happen, make sure you are raising up true disciples who will take leadership roles in the church. Create a culture of discipleship and honoring God. It may be tedious and would take a lot of time and hardwork but it will save you from a lot of trouble in the future.

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Acts 20.29-31)

Discipleship Notes: Spiritual Impartation

Rom 1:11-12 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you– that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

1. The purpose of the coming together of believers is spiritual impartation and mutual encouragement, not just to entertain one another with funny stories and anecdotes. Amusing your discipleship groupmates has its place in the life of the church but there is a serious business that needs to be done in every meeting- the feeding of the word of God.

2. Paul longed to see them for the impartation of spiritual gifts. There is power in seeing people face to face. While electronic communication has a role in keeping in touch with one another, don’t forget that there is a warmth that could never be translated into a million pixels.

3. When you meet, be sure to impart something that could strengthen each other’s spiritual lives. People need encouragement. They need to experience the transforming power of Jesus everyday. Anything less than that drains the life out of them.

4. It is the job of the leader to bring the presence of Christ into the midst of any discipleship meeting, or to be theologically correct, it is the job of the leader to make the atmosphere of the meeting conducive to the presence of God. That is the only thing that would fuel them to come back next time. Make them experience something they can’t get anywhere else- the presence of God.

5. Move in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecost happened not to dazzle the world with a display of an amazing manifestation of power. God can do that using other means. The Pentecost happened to fire up believers to move under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to teach us that there is a way to minister using a power that doesn’t come from our own.

6. Impart spiritual gifts. Don’t give empty words. I repeat, don’t feed them with empty words. Smart quotes may amuse them. Solid arguments may impress them. But only the word of God can give them life. Only the word of God can show them the way to freedom from the slavery of sin. Only the word of God can make them strong believers of Christ.

7. Strengthen them. Don’t beat them to death with condemnation and accusing words. Remind yourself that discipleship meetings are supposed to give life, not inflict death. Communicate love and grace and life and freedom and faith and kindness and mercy. Tell them of Christ’s love, not the raging fires of burning sulfur in hell. When the good Samaritan found the traveler that was beaten to death on the side of the road (Luke 10), he didn’t tell him how stupid he was for going that way and for traveling alone. He bandaged his wound and poured oil and wine on it. That is a picture of tenderness and Christ-like love. The good Samaritan didn’t accuse. He treated the victim tenderly. Let’s do that to our victory group buddies.

8. If you notice the verse I quoted above, it ends with mutual encouragement. When you come together, keep your eyes and ears open. You may be the leader of the group but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them. The more you pour yourself out to encourage others, there’s a freshness that comes to you from heaven. This is the power of the Holy Spirit that works constantly in us. Look at this verse:

Pro 11:25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. (ESV)
Pro 11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (NIV84)

Discipleship Meetings

Strengthen them. Don’t beat them to death with condemnation and accusing words. Remind yourself that discipleship meetings are supposed to give life, not inflict death. Communicate love and grace and life and freedom and faith and kindness and mercy. Tell them of Christ’s love, not the raging fires of burning sulfur in hell. When the good Samaritan found the traveler that was beaten to death on the side of the road (Luke 10), he didn’t tell him how stupid he was for going that way and for traveling alone. He bandaged his wound and poured oil and wine on it. That is a picture of tenderness and Christ-like love. The good Samaritan didn’t accuse. He treated the victim tenderly. Let’s do that to our victory group buddies.

Discipleship Notes: Turn Off Your Phone

Random tip for victory group leaders who wish to succeed in their discipleship: turn off your cell phones. Or at least set it to silent mode and don’t touch it again until the meeting is over.

Everyone knows how irritating it is when the person you are talking to stops in the middle of the conversation and starts texting. Aside from the fact that it’s unprofessional, it communicates an unmistakable message that we do not care and that they don’t matter that much to us.

Of course we care. We wouldn’t be there if we didn’t. But no matter how good your intentions are, when your actions say otherwise, that person may never see you again.

I will never forget this one time when I had a meeting with someone who can’t seem to let go of his phone for even a minute. I was pouring my heart out to him in the hopes of getting a proper biblical counsel. I told him stories that were very difficult to talk about but while I was in a state of heavy drama, he was texting under the table. I don’t remember how the meeting ended and I don’t remember what he said that day but I could remember very well the sense of insignificance he inadvertently communicated to me when he did it.

We don’t want to send that message to the people we are ministering to. If we want to show them the love of Christ, we can begin by giving them proper time and attention. That communicates value to them. I know we have important things to attend to but even Jesus, whose mission was to save the entire humanity, took the time to slow down and embrace the children. He showed them their significance by paying attention to them (Mark 10.13-16).

What are your cellphone habits when you’re in a meeting?

Father and Son

Two indelible images in my head today: former pastor Daniel Herrera Sr. coming up the pulpit at Victory Caloocan to preach a sermon with his son, our youth pastor John Paul Herrera. I attended the U-Belt/Caloocan staff meeting for the first time when our leadership team planned this. I thought I already imagined the picture in my head two weeks ago but nothing prepared me for the powerful impact the duo would make when they finally did the sermon today.

Exactly a week ago, Pastor Paul preached about investing our lives in the next generation. Today, his preaching happened right before our eyes. It unfolded in a way we would never have guessed. God, in His amazing sense of timing, spectacularly showed us what investing in the next generation really looks like in the flesh- a graying father sharing the pulpit with his young son.

Continue reading Father and Son

Scott McKnight on Discipleship

Scott McKnight talks about aiming at nothing with regard to discipleship in the church:

“They’ve got all the right programs, and they’ve got a preacher who can preach the congregation’s socks off, and they’ve got a band that rocks the house, but the average Christian leaves a week-to-week routine of attendance to live a week-to-week routine of … going on with what they go on with.

The church runs well, the money comes in, the money goes out, but discipleship doesn’t happen unless it’s intentional and personal and concrete and developmental and adjustable. But this takes careful planning- like weeks working on a mission statement and set of outcomes, exploring how those outcomes can be achieved, working with people to achieve those outcomes at a personal level, and then assessing both the people and the outcomes to see what needs to be done next.

It is far easier to gather, sing songs, preach and go home.”

Excerpted from Will Mancini, Scott McKnight Reveals His Measures for Discipleship.