Unity in Diversity

by Peter Swann

As John conveys his glorious narrative of the scenes in the book of Revelation, one cannot help but be struck by the picture unfolding in chapter seven. It reads:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)

It’s the fulfillment of what was promised so long ago. Jesus cannot come back until all peoples hear the gospel (Matthew 24:14), and all of those peoples are then together in the greatest time of corporate worship ever.

It’s every tribe represented. It’s your tribe, my tribe, and every other tribe. It’s all the tribes coming together under their Creator. It is the greatest worship scene ever playing out through unity in diversity.

If our goal is to bring heaven to earth, inviting the divine to invade the ordinary, then diversity is not to be tangential but central. We as believers are called to embrace and encourage diversity, not simply go with it. It’s a gift. It’s special. It’s a piece of heaven on earth.

Unity in diversity is, then, the design of God. It’s about Revelation 7 playing out in our world today.

Secular society is increasingly reflecting it. In Houston, the city I love, 75% of the population under thirty years old is African American or Latino. It’s so awesome. It’s beautiful diversity, a glimpse of that amazing worship scene… if the people will but worship.

God has granted diversity to us. It’s all around us to celebrate, to cherish, and to enjoy. And where there is unity in that diversity, we become stronger than ever, better than ever, and more beautiful than ever. Because where we best reflect unity in diversity, we best reflect the great Creator of diversity.

Thirty years from now, the demographic of our city will have shifted much more. It will look ever more like heaven, if the people will but worship. So let’s get out there, share the gospel, and unite the diversity for His glory… bringing heaven to earth for the praise of our great King.

Living Water

by Peter Swann

It was a terribly hot day in South Sudan, and I was thirsty. So was Shauna, and the rest of our village. In fact, our thirst paled in comparison to theirs, because we at least had some water. It was bee-ridden by that point, with the bees flocking to the only water they could find, but we at least had water.

The village at large was suffering. Both water wells were broken and the situation was scary. People couldn’t drink, but also couldn’t cook. The pace of life was slowing down as strength was leaving and depression was settling in.

I remember trying to share my faith during those dark days. I walked to a neighbor’s home and began to share Bible stories, hoping to see him be receptive to Christ. Yet the whole time he seemed distracted, clearly uncomfortable. Finally he said, “Peter, I want to listen, but I’m just so hungry and thirsty and hurting. I just can’t physically listen well right now.”

The encounter was one of the most profound of my witnessing experiences. I saw clearly that day the importance of loving people well. It’s not just the words themselves that convey the gospel… it’s the lifestyle with it.

Yet the experience also revealed another deep truth: that we can’t do without water. We may take it for granted, but only while we have it. When we lose it, everything shuts down. None of us reflect on how much we need it until we’re at risk of never having it again.

The Living Water is the same. In John 4, as Jesus met a woman at a well, he spoke with her about the depth of her need. He explained how He was the Living Water, capable of meeting her deepest need. He alone was worthy, and He alone was able.

When our village finally got water that day, a great cheer erupted around the well! Water is life in South Sudan, and life had just returned to the village. I long for similar cheers all around our lives… cheers from those who through us, hear and receive the Living Water.

People around us are thirsty, looking for what will best quench their thirst. Only Jesus is worthy, and only He is able. May our Lord powerfully make us reservoirs of His grace, boldly dispensing it through us, and granting to countless ones around us the Living Water of eternal life.

Our Lives Will Never Be the Same

by Peter Swann

A. W. Tozer once wrote, “The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famishing for want of His presence.”

The former we claim to know, the latter we fail to grasp. Both have huge implications for the way in which we live.

And to a significant degree, the latter informs the former. It is through our time with God that we gain His heart for the world. It is His pursuing, driving, overwhelming desire for relationship with humankind that ignites an urgency in us for all to know Him.

That being the case, it’s our time with Him that is the key. And that’s true not only for transformation in others, but also for transformation in ourselves. We are called to transformation ourselves, and to nurture transformation in others. That’s what discipleship is all about. And there’s no better way to bring it about than to spend time in the presence of the Lord.

Nothing is guaranteed to change us like time in His presence. Nothing changes us deeper, and nothing changes us more permanently. It’s impossible to be with Him and not be changed.

And so, if we want a little change, we spend a little time with God. If we want a lot of change, we spend a lot of time with God. It’s that simple.

And yet, it doesn’t feel that simple. We are “famishing for want of His presence” because although we claim to value time with Him, it’s rarely reflected in our lives. And much contributes to this. The enemy is intent against our most important relationship in life, so spiritual warfare is a key. So is the hectic pace of life. And so is a legalistic approach that pushes us to spend time together, rather than a love for Him that irresistibly draws us to it.

So, it’s time for the church to pray. We must pray against spiritual attack that counters our time with God. We must pray for right priorities and discipline. And we must pray for a love for God and time with Him that consumes all else.

There is rich fruit in this. A taste of God’s presence is a taste of heaven. We are changed in the process, and our lives will never be the same. No podcasts, accountability groups, or conferences can nearly do what this can do. If God is the most important thing to us, then time with Him is the most important thing to us.

So it’s simple, yet profound. We want it, yet must fight for it. It’s time to pray. And fast. And run with all we have for that which matters most.

Our lives will never be the same.

It's All About The "Advance"

by Peter Swann

It is a simple question, but a profound one. To answer it requires courage, for the question defines us. Our lives, our legacies, are known by the answer to this question. And the glory of God hinges on what we do with it. 

It is a simple question, but a profound one: How does my life advance the Kingdom of God?

I saw this question on a missionary application the other day, and it made me pause. The other questions were great as well, but this was different. This question gets down to the root of our existence, the reason God put us here. We exist to bring glory to God as His Kingdom is advanced through our lives. 

How His Kingdom is advanced obviously looks different for all of us. It leads some of us to public positions and some to obscure ones. It leads some of us to make much money and others very little. It leads some of us to a life of adventure and others to a life of service. But this truth marks all who gear their lives to strategically and intentionally answer this question: it's all about the “advance.”

Most of us in the Christian journey slip into a defensive rather than offensive posture. Life is about staying protected, hunkering down, and enduring the storms of life. Yet for those who grasp the reality of life, the cosmic nature of the battle around us, and our responsibility in it... that changes everything. Life is no longer about enduring suffering, but pressing into it. It's not about surviving a move of the enemy; it's about seeing our Lord's Kingdom surge into the darkness. Life is about invading darkness, about capturing the enemy's ground. It's about advancing our Lord's Kingdom at all cost. 

And therein lies the joy of the journey... celebrating our Lord and making His name known, all in the advance of His Kingdom. Only in this is our God-given purpose fulfilled, and our Lord as glorified as possible in our lives. 

So as our lives answer the question that marks each of us, may it be with purpose and joy. May we not shrink back, but surge forward… with strategy and with intentionality. The key is simply in the advance. 

 

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." -Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

How do I read The Bible with somebody else? (Discipleship: Part 5 of 5)

Daniel Rieke

[See part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 in this series of posts on Discipleship for more info.]

 

Now that we’ve examined much about “the what,” “the why” and “the who” in discipleship, I want to provide some very tangible action steps and ideas for how to go about studying Scripture together in the context of leading and/or being led in 1-on-1 or 1-on-2 discipling relationships.

First, a few overarching goals of ALL discipleship relationships:

  1. Learn and obey the Word of God

  2. Increase affection for Jesus

  3. Increase surrender to the Lordship of Christ

  4. Reproducing discipleship

Practical ideas for how to get started

The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and the Word of God is sufficient to equip believers for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So what I want to do is provide some practical ideas for how to study Scripture within the context of a discipling relationship.

How to walk someone through Scripture

  1. Pray. Ask that God would be glorified as we seek to apply the passage this week. The goal of this kind of Bible study is primarily to grow in faith and obedience, not mere knowledge.[i]

  2. Read the passage you’ll be studying that week several times in the week ahead of time, reading before and after the passage to get good context.

    • Read it a few times, silently and out loud, with a pen in hand. Note thoughts that might be significant. Answer the question, “What do I see?”

  3. Study a good commentary on the passage. The ESV Study Bible is a fantastic resource.

  4. Take notes on what the passage means.

    • What is the main point of this passage?

    • Is there anything I don’t understand?

    • What do I learn about God, people or myself from this passage?

  5. Take notes on how the meaning of the passage applies to your life.

    • What does this passage affirm or change in me theologically?

    • What does this passage affirm or change in me practically?

    • What specifically do I need to do (by the power of the Holy Spirit) as a result of hearing this passage?

    • No matter where I am spiritually, what would it look like for me to apply this week what we just read and talked about?

  6. Create questions that will help guide your disciple into rightly interpreting the passage and rightly applying it to their life.

Keys to Reading through Scripture with Someone

  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom and for Him to use His Word to bring transformation.

  • Study the passage in advance to ensure that you are confident about its meaning and life application and how it points to Jesus.

  • Ask a lot of questions to the person you’re leading, rather than simply stating facts. One of the goals of this type of discipleship is to help your disciple grow in their ability to understand, interpret and apply God’s Word for himself/herself.

  • Emphasize the need to obey what is discovered in the Word. It’s not just “head knowledge” that we’re after. We want to see life transformation for the glory of God.

  • Emphasize the grace of God to avoid drifting into legalism.

  • Emphasize how each passage points to Jesus, the gospel, the cross (commentaries like the ESV Study Bible can help especially with Old Testament passages).

  • Don’t feel pressured to get through all the verses you planned to discuss that day. Be willing to take it more slowly, especially if there’s really good discussion about an earlier verse that goes longer than you anticipated. You can always catch up the following week or just take an extra week to finish the content you’re studying.

  • Ask God to give you a delight and a passion for His Word that will be contagious and increase others' affection for the Word of God.

Tips for Success: For the Discipler

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful to ensure that discipleship relationships don’t drift apart:

  • Pray for your group often

  • Set a beginning and ending date to the group (you can always extend later)

  • Schedule the meetings in advance (date, time, location)

  • Communicate the group expectations in advance so they know what they’re committing to

  • Be faithful to your end of the commitment

  • Prepare for your group meetings 2 meetings in advance (i.e. prepare meeting 3’s material right after you finish week 1’s meeting)

  • Be faithful in your preparation

  • Rely on the Holy Spirit to ultimately guide your conversations

  • Spend time with each other as much as possible and in contexts other than your formal discipleship time

Tips for Success: For Those Being Discipled

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful to ensure that you’re a joy to disciple (Hebrews 13:17)

  • Pray for the men/women who are pouring into you

  • Be humble

  • Be teachable

  • Check everything against Scripture (God’s Word is the ultimate authority for life and doctrine)

  • Be a learner and a doer (good theology and obedience)

  • Be faithful to do what is asked of you

  • Be on time

  • Be thankful

  • Grow as a disciple of Jesus, and disciple others

 

 

Good books to check out on discipleship:

The Trellis & The Vine by Marshall & Payne

The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

 

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[1] Much of this section has been adapted from The Austin Stone Community Church. http://toddengstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LTG-Overview.pdf

What does success look like? (Discipleship: Part 4 of 5)

Daniel Rieke

[See part 1, part 2 and part 3 in this series of posts on Discipleship for more info.]

 

What does success look like?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of diving into discipleship relationships, particularly if you struggle with inadequacy. It’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t feel gifted enough to disciple like this guy or that lady or such and such famous pastor. The good news is that each of us is simply called to be faithful to minister where God leads us and trust the results to Him. We don’t need to try to be any of person or look to others’ faithfulness and the measuring stick for our faithfulness (see 1 Cor. 3:1-15).

So the question I want to ask and answer in this blog post is a VERY important question: “What does success look like in discipleship?”

1. Faithfulness

  • Rely on the Spirit’s leading. Trust Him to bring change. Simply be faithful to respond in obedience to how the Lord leads you to minister to the men and women in your care.

2. Presence

  • Being reliably “there for them”. You’d be amazed just how far this “ministry of presence” will go in impacting people for the kingdom in discipling relationships.

3. Humility

  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (enough said). We don’t have it all figured out, but we serve the One who does. It’s important to keep that in mind when discipling others.

4. Selflessness

  • Putting others’ needs above your own; being about their transformation will likely transform you.

5. Love well

  • Be encouraging and kind, and yet also don’t be afraid to speak the truth in love, not allowing them stay comfortable or complacent in their pursuit of Christ

6. Gospel-centered

  • Without the gospel, we tend towards legalism, moralism or depression. Jesus is and must always be the focus.

7. Faithfulness

  • Ultimately, success is defined as being faithful to what God has called you to do and to simply trust Him with the results AND with the process.

 

 

Good books to check out on discipleship:

The Trellis & The Vine by Marshall & Payne

The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman