Thursday, January 26, 2017

Using the 4Ls, Part 1 (The Spiral)

For the past three weeks, I have been writing about the idea of discipleship. Last week was in reference to us bearing God’s image, but the two weeks prior were a look at the 4Ls of discipleship – Learn, Live, Love, Lead. I compared these Ls to two passages: Matthew 4.19 and Matthew 28.19-20 (where I added the fifth L – Leave).

The reality is that many people develop ideas and theories, but what is the value of the 4Ls in every day life? That is the question I want to move towards over the next few months (in a detailed fashion) as I share how the Ls influence my life and how I have incorporated them into the life of the church I serve (where the Ls are still taking root).

First, I need to share an idea about interpretation. I once learned about interpreting the Bible through the idea of a spiral. In fact, the book that was assigned for my class on hermeneutics (interpreting literary texts, including the Bible) was called “The Hermeneutical Spiral.” The principle is simple. The word you are trying to interpret is influenced by the sentence, the paragraph, and the general flow of thought which in turn are each understood by the thought, the paragraph, the sentence, and the individual choices of words. That sounds complex, but it is not. Let me give you an example.

If I am writing about a group of friends playing baseball and am developing a story of someone who is about to step up to the plate and try to get a hit with a bat, anyone who knows the game of baseball understands the words because of the flow of thought (imagine that one sentence being developed over a page or two).

Now, imagine I use the same words but with a slightly different meaning because I am writing about a group of friends exploring an old abandoned barn. They might “step up” on the porch (but not to eat off a plate), and try to hit the bat that swoops down from the rafters.

Again, I am using the same words, but the words mean something different because the sentence, and the paragraph, and the thought process reflect an overall different meaning which guided the selection of the words.

So, how does this relate to the 4Ls? Well, the 4Ls are steps along the discipleship path. But steps are only helpful (ultimately) if we know which direction we are headed. And that means we have to have a plan or strategy for getting somewhere. That plan has a goal, and reaching the goal will ultimately fulfill something within us (satisfaction, an award, etc.). But like interpreting the text, the steps we take are also determined by what we seek, by the goal(s) we have set, and by the strategy we have determined.

Many names are used for these various levels, but the terms I use are Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps. Again, the 4Ls (Learn, Live, Love, Lead) are the steps that carry out the strategy, which allow the mission to be accomplished, and the vision to be realized. (The combination of mission/vision is especially common, but it helps me to distinguish between the two.)

So, now you have seen my approach from the 20000 foot level. Now, each week over the next few months, I will break these ideas down further, but then spiral back out again to where we began. I hope that after this next month or so you will not only have a better understanding of how I use the 4Ls, but how you might use them for your personal growth as well within the context. Most importantly, I hope you see a reason to set some goals, develop some plans, and take intentional steps toward fulfilling God’s call for your life. Of course, we will often take missteps, but having a few ideas in mind can help us become the people that God has called us to be.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Image Bearers

Who do you look like? Perhaps it is your mother or father. Maybe an uncle or aunt. From our first moments after birth, most families try to determine which person the newborn most resembles. While these discussions are fun for family and friends, the truth is that we do each bear an image of another.

In Mark 12.13-17, two groups approach Jesus with a politically charged question. You can read more about these groups and their exchange with Jesus here.) The question related to whether or not a particular tax was to be paid. The origins of this tax, some twenty years earlier, led to many rebels leading a charge against Rome. To question Jesus, was to determine if He, too, was a rebel (for which He could be arrested and killed), or if He was a religious imposter who would agree to pay the tax which would alienate those who followed Jesus. Make no mistake, this was a trap. However, it was the Pharisees and Herodians who would spring their own trap.


You probably know this story. Jesus asks for those questioning Him for a coin. But He did not simply ask for a coin, He asked for a specific coin – a denarius. And they were able to provide one (ironically, especially since this exchange took place within the temple complex! Jesus knew whose image was on the denarius, and He knew the reason that many Jews did not wish to pay the tax (it had an image on the coin and a phrase that considered Caesar as near divine). (Again, more details and a picture of the coin with an explanation of the description can be found here.)


Jesus simply indicates that the coin bears the image of its maker (Caesar, in this case Tiberius). As the rightful owner of the coin, it should be given back to Tiberius. But the greater lessen was meant to challenge the thoughts of all those around Him. Jesus continued by saying that whatever has the image of God on it should be given back (or dedicated) to God.


Many do not realize Jesus’ full intent here ascribing the statement to be monetary in nature. But the reality is, Jesus was referring to Creation, and specifically the words found in Genesis 1.26 and 27. The implications of this statement were (and are) that we are made in the image of God and should, therefore, be given back to Him. (Notice the question to Jesus is about being permitted to pay the tax, but Jesus response is about what should be given – or, in actuality, given back.)


Our minds are not trained to look across the pages of Scripture for connections like the scribes and Pharisees of yesteryear. Most miss connecting Jesus’ answer to Creation, but the leaders of that day would have make the connection instantly. We are not told of their exact response here, but rest assured, they did not like being made the fool and this unlikely pair of groups would have further plotted against Jesus as they had much earlier (Mark 3.6).


But Jesus’ response was not just for the people in earshot on that day in the courtyard of the temple. The same words resonate today. The reality is that while we may look like a certain family member, the real question is whose image do you bear? The Bible is clear: God created us in His image. And yet, when I look in the mirror, I do not see the characteristics of God in me like a should.


And that is what is truly amazing about God. Although we were created in His image, and although we should give ourselves back to Him accordingly, we resist and even turn away. So what did God do? He bought us back! Paul echoes Jesus words to honor God with our body, but not before reminding his readers in Corinth that they are not their own, they were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).


God could demand we give ourselves back to Him, but He knows that even if He did, we are incapable to do so by ourselves. So, instead, He provided the necessary means through Jesus. He paid a price to get His own image-bearers back. God is truly an amazing God. He is a God whose image I wish to bear, even if I am unworthy on my own to do so.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

4L Discipleship – Matthew 28.19

In last week's post (here), I revealed (re-introduced) the 4L Discipleship Model relating it to Jesus’ statement at the beginning of His ministry: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4.19)

This week, I will relate His final statement, as recorded by Matthew (28.19-20), to the same four “L’s” and introduce the fifth “L” which was the basis for Jesus’ commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As is often mentioned, the only word in this actual commissioning portion of Jesus’ words is “Go” and the word is best understood with the idea of “As you go...” Thus, the other portions are what we are to do while going – make disciples, baptize, and teach. While this statement may not be as clearly delineated as Matthew 4.19, I believe we find the same four steps present in this passage as we saw there.

Again, the four steps are Learn, Live, Love, Lead. Let’s begin with these, and then bring in number five. This week, the order is a little different, but the premise holds.

Go: We are told to go. Think about where you go. Mostly, you go where you need to go and where you want to go. These two “places” will change in scope over time (e.g. when we are young we need to go to school), but the general principle is true. So, what would make people go with the gospel? Love – of God and others. Of course, in today’s world, many missionaries are paid to go. But that wasn’t the case in Jesus day. And, it isn’t the case for most people today. Thousands upon thousands of people heed Jesus command to “Go” paying their own way to go overseas and many more than that “Go” to help coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family all because of the gospel. Ultimately, this “Go” begins because of a love for God, but it is maintained because of a love that develops for others as well.

Baptizing and teaching them: The word “teaching” is clearly apart of this statement and learning implies some form of teaching. Additionally, the word “disciple” can be defined as “one who learns” so the Learn step is well represented in this commissioning. But what is to be taught must first have been learned. Thus, Jesus clarifies that the commandment to teach others begins with what they have been taught. That is, they were first commanded and now they are to teach others what they have learned. Baptism is one of those items learned. Truly, baptism is far more than being put under water. Symbolically, it is the picture of our following Christ in death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). But fundamentally, it is an acceptance of following Jesus. That is, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shows our identification with them not with someone or something else. Thus, true baptism can only be made by one who expresses faith in God.

To observe all that I have commanded: One word in Jesus command is often overlooked, but it may be the most important in this statement. The word – observe. Jesus says that His disciples are not just to teach others information. They are to teach people what to do with the information they are taught. For instance, it is one thing to tell people to “Love God and love others” but it is something very different to actually love God and others. Thus, the notion of observing requires authentic living. Think about it, the disciples could have taught others to “Go” but they first had to go themselves. How did they know what disciple-making should look like? They followed Jesus and had His game plan. Thus, they also knew about baptism – the what, the why, the how, etc. Without their observing what Jesus commanded them they were in no shape to do the same for others. Thus, a true disciple-maker not only teaches, but also practices what He preaches. That is, He must Live.

The idea of Lead is enveloped throughout the Great Commission. “Making” requires that we have an idea of what needs to be made and the ability (in this case through the work of the Holy Spirit) to do it. “Teaching” assumes some level of authority over another – even if only for a time and or a particular subject. Teaching to observe, thus, combines the idea of “teaching” and “making” which presumes being further along in some manner than the person(s) who are being taught and made. Therefore, just as Jesus said, “Follow Me” so we should say the same to others leading them in the way that Paul commanded to the church at Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). We must be good followers, to be good leaders. And leading is what we are called to do.

Why are we called to lead? Because of the fifth “L” which I now mention. Jesus was commissioning His disciples because He was now ready to “Leave.” He had been preparing them for this moment from when they first began following. But now the moment had come, and although He was leaving, He assured them His presence and His authority would remain with them. What a promise for each of us! However, the reality is that we will all leave. In that sense, we are all “interim ministers.” And God chose us to learn, live, love, and lead others so that His work will continue long after we leave as well. Of course, His mission does not depend upon us directly, but He has chosen to use people like me and you, imperfect as we are, to do His work during our life here on earth. The question we must ask ourselves each day is: “How will I respond today to God’s choice to use me for His Kingdom work?”

Having explored the 4L Model against Scripture, we must now begin to make better sense of it in a tangible way. Next week, we will review a well-known teaching of Jesus and see how Creation fits our call to make disciples.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

4L Discipleship – Matthew 4.19

Many models exist related to discipleship. Many books have been written on the subject, some of which are very good. So why do I add another model? Well, some are easier to remember than others. And the model presented here, I believe, is built to be able to remember the terms, which is a first (though largely unimportant) step. Yet, by remembering a set of terms, it may prompt us to remember to apply these principles (a very important step) to our lives.

If you have followed this blog for awhile, you may recognize these terms from the past. (If you follow the church’s blog – Bread Crumbs” at ffxbc.blogspot.com, then you have seen these for the last couple of years with relation to each message.) I conceived this idea a few years ago, but have not really developed them further. And I realize that others have very similar concepts, but those that I have seen take a slightly different focus and/or use a different understanding for certain terms.

Why do I share this now? Well, this coming Sunday, our church will begin a new focus on discipleship and the four items presented here will all be in focus. Thus, they weigh heavy on my mind as the culture of the church needs to better reflect a disciple-making culture. I believe these steps can help keep our focus because it is easy to see these aspects (at least one of them) in any area of the Christian life. The church has certainly been exposed to them over the past few years, but now the focus, and hopefully fulfillment of each step will be better realized. And the timing of the sermon series certainly helps (currently, I am preaching through Mark 12) as we study Jesus challenging the religious leaders to learn anew, to live by God’s standards (not their own), to love God and others, and to lead others under the direction of God (not selfish ambitions). Ultimately, our following Jesus is about submitting to His authority – the very thing the religious leaders challenged regarding Jesus.

So, without further delay, the four L’s of discipleship, as I define them, are Learn, Live, Love, Lead. These four L’s are applicable to every Christian who desires to follow Christ. Next week, I will introduce a fifth “L” that applies to various Christians in differing ways.

As a Christian Educator, I have learned the value of teaching for cognitive (head), affective (heart), and psychomotor (hands) learning. Thus, let me begin with the first of two verses that encapsulate Jesus’ plan, and model, for discipleship, and show the head, heart, and hands aspect to each. This week’s verse is Matthew 4.19. Next week, I will share how these ideas fit with Matthew 28.19 (and include the 5th “L”), and then, in two weeks, I will share how this model fits into our church’s new focus and overall objectives. Today is just a brief introduction. Over time, I will further unpack these ideas from the perspective of Scripture, and from the experiences of life.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4.19

From the outset of Jesus’ public ministry He preaches the need to repent and of the coming kingdom of God (Mark 1.15). And from the very beginning, a part of His calling is for people to follow. Again, the following is short (and hopefully sweet), but more will be detailed in the coming weeks and months.

Follow Me – The decision to follow is made by the head. In following, we Learn how we are to arrange our lives...what is important to God and therefore should be important to us. It is also at this point that we begin to practice what we have learned/are learning. In following Jesus, we not only learn how to live, but we learn to actually live – by faith. As we are further transformed, we become better prepared to received Jesus promise to make us (continually).

And I Will Make You – Jesus is the do-er here. He is changing us. He will “make us.” He will transform us. Ultimately, that kind of change is made at the heart level. While discipleship always requires an element of learning, that learning will cause us to live differently because of the change that has occurred within us. As we realize the change is for the better, we not only Live differently, but we learn to Love this difference. Ultimately, we cannot move to the next step without loving, because without loving the difference within ourselves, and without loving others, we will never be determined to make other disciples. Thus, to Live and to Love must both affect the heart to the point of being willing to be 

Fishers of Men – We are the do-ers again. Having been shown what to do, and been “made” to do it, we are the ones now called to “fish.” We are now the ones that will Lead others. Others will now Learn from us as what we have Learned from those who are leading us. Of course, to follow our Lead, and to make disciples of Christ, is to continue to follow Christ ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 11.1, Paul says, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” This is what it means to be a disciple-making disciple. One that is Leading others even as they continue to Learn themselves.

Again, this is a preliminary look at how the 4L Model of discipleship is understood as compared to Matthew 4.19. It was actually first conceived with reference to this verse a few years ago. Next week, I will compare the model against Matthew 28.18-20 and then begin to show its application over time. As I do, may we follow Jesus so that He will make us the fishers we are called to be.