Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Disciples


Have you ever sacrificed your time and your energy to invest in other people? You probably spent time with them in discipleship, building them up in God’s Word, only to have them go astray and turn away from all you taught them. It hurts, doesn’t it? It seems like a life-investment with no return.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThe founders of Southern Seminary in Louisville learned early in the life of that great institution the pain of a life investment lost.  One of the first and brightest students to come through Southern Seminary was Crawford H. Toy.  By all accounts, he was a brilliant student and became an early faculty member at Southern.  But then he went astray.

Basil Manly said that Toy “breathed an atmosphere of doubt” until it became his “ritual air.” Toy abandoned his position on the reliability of Scripture.  He left Southern and became a professor at Harvard, where he would later become a Unitarian.  This move crushed the founders of Southern Seminary, men who had invested greatly in Toy.  James P. Boyce, upon leaving Toy at the train station for his departure from Southern Seminary (and biblical orthodoxy), famously cried out—with his right arm held high: “Oh, Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”

What pastor or serious man of God would not freely offer himself as Boyce did to preserve the soul of a young man in whom he has made a life investment? Sadly, Christian history—beginning with Judas—is riddled with men who have been as close to the truth as darkness is to the light that shines into it, and yet have turned away in the end.  Such a turn from truth is grievous for a teacher to see.

Today is Reformation Day, October 31st.  As you celebrate the freedoms of the Protestant Reformation, remember that good and faithful pastors have paved the way for you to receive God’s Word. For those of us who speak English, remember William Tyndale, the father of the English Reformation.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate and publish the Bible in English.  For his translation and publishing efforts, he was killed—strangled, then burned at the stake.  And yet, his work remains.  Indeed, when the King James (authorized) translation was produced, the committee retained about 84% of Tyndale’s interpretations. Tyndale studied, labored, and died so we could have access to Scripture in our own language.

You may have heard the story of William Tyndale. But you probably haven’t heard much about Henry Phillips. Henry Phillips was something of a drifter, a castaway.  He was a gambler whose situation had become so desperate that he stole money from his own father to pay his debts. And yet, William Tyndale took him in.

Tyndale shared his meals with Phillips.  Tyndale made a life investment in Phillips, sharing with him the glorious joy of justification by faith alone.  Tyndale showed Phillips all his latest manuscripts and shared with him the plans he had for Bible publication in England.  Few people were given such privileged access by this great Reformer.

And in May of 1535, the life investment Tyndale made in Henry Phillips paid its diabolical Reformation Tyndale english persecutiondividend.  Phillips turned on Tyndale, leading him into a trap in which soldiers easily subdued the wily wordsmith.  Tyndale was led away to a dungeon in Vilvoorde Castle.  From there, he was taken to his death.  Henry Phillips was able to pay a few more debts with his blood money.

As we consider our own life-investments lost, let us be mindful of William Tyndale, whose great work still remains nearly 500 years after his death. He may regret the investment he made in Henry Phillips, but William Tyndale—I am sure—has no regrets about investing his own life in the work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, the life investments we make are for the gospel. Thus, they are never in vain.

Happy Reformation Day! And keep up the good work.

What Happened to the 7 Missing Disciples?


In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter stood in the assembly and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord. Though he had organized no great event, nor had he enlisted an army of volunteers to corral the crowds, Peter saw great fruit as three thousand souls were saved and added to the church in a single day.

Discipleship Baptism PersecutionWhile we typically do not see such mass conversions, we do still see and hear stories on top of stories of sinners being saved by God’s grace. I was recently in the presence of a gifted evangelist who had many such stories to tell. Here is his story of the seven missing disciples.

Two weeks ago, my evangelist friend had the privilege of scheduling 16 baptisms in a single day—Quite a day indeed for a church that normally runs only 60 or 70 in attendance. When the day came for the baptismal celebrations, only nine of his disciples came forward. There were seven disciples missing. Why? Where were the seven missing disciples?

Cynically, we might think that they were not really disciples after all; they had, perhaps, made a profession of faith but were not willing to put forth even the effort to seek the baptismal waters as a first step of obedience to Christ’s commands. This was not the case. In fact, my evangelist friend queries his candidates thoroughly in two areas before he will agree to baptize. The first area he investigates is the nature of their profession of faith in Christ. He seeks to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ is a savior from sinners and Lord of life. Thus, obedience is not optional. The second area he examines is just how serious the profession of faith is; so he asks his candidates if they are willing to die for their faith in Christ. He says he would rather have 10 serious Christians in his congregation than a 1,000 of the half-hearted variety. So, why were 7 disciples missing?

They were forbidden by their parents to attend their own baptisms. These were high school students whose parents were not believers. Because these students were around 17 and still living at home, their parents had an authoritative command of their lives and actions. And the parents forbid these young adults from being baptized. There are two surprising conclusions to this drama.

First, the shear fact that 44% of baptismal candidates were forbidden by their parents—in America—from celebrating baptism as followers of Christ is astounding! Christ and Christianity are falling from favor in large swaths of American culture.

The second surprising aspect of this conversion saga is the response of the pastor to this unsettling situation. It really is not that surprising that the pastor told these missing disciples that they must honor their father and their mother—that after all is a biblical command from the Old Testament that is reiterated in the New (Ephesians 6 for instance). What is surprising is how thoroughly he expected their obedience to this command. My evangelist (pastor) friend explained to these would-be disciples that God has given them good parents who are willing to make difficult decisions on the basis of their own convictions. He told these wishing-to-be-baptized professors of faith that they weren’t commanded simply to obey their parents but to honor them. Thus, they must see their parents’ actions in the most honorable light—even if they all disagree as to the consequence of the parents’ decision.

Do you think he gave them good advice, based on Ephesians 6?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother(which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

How would you handle it if those you have disciple into faith cannot then be baptized because of parental prohibition? What if they will not be baptized out of fear of persecution?

Follow Me: A Simple So Difficult Command


Chaos usually ensues after our worship service concludes. It isn’t the chaos of a charismatic explosion, filled with dancing or laughing or strange verbal utterances. It isn’t chaos of any negative sort. Rather, it’s the delightful chaos of slightly uncontrolled children rushing around in search of candy, suckers, and places to run.

My children are at least as crazy as the others, probably much more so. As is the case with any form of chaos, so it is true with Children-chaos; there is an urgent need for order. I am glad to provide such an ordering for my children. I am their father. Ordering them is part of what I’m called to do.

Christ Command Follow MeSo yesterday after our services ended and the chaotic running routine had run its course, I called my youngest two sons out of the crowded horde of kids.  Kids were scurrying around like ants whose mound had been destroyed.  Out of the mass, I called my two sons and offered a simple, stern, and clear command of two little words: “Follow me.”  What happened next was both illustrative of individual personality and of ordinary Christian practice.

As personality goes, these two little people demonstrated much in the carrying out of my simple command. Both of the boys “sort of” obeyed dad’s directive. The older of the two always wants to be out front. He wants to know everything. He wants to do everything. He is naturally an “in-charge” kind of kid. He “obeyed” by first realizing that I was heading to our van. Then, he summarily stopped following and started leading. He ran out in front of me toward the van, confident of his leadership role, even though he had little knowledge of where the van was actually parked.

The younger is much less concerned to learn or know. He, being three, is concerned about being free and having fun. Little else—including obedience—is of much interest to him. Yet, he, too, “sort of” obeyed the command. He has learned through painful experience that it pays to honor dad’s commands, but he also has retained his strong-willed, free-spirited sense of autonomy. So, he obeyed by moving toward me in large, circular patterns, patterns which would allow him to make runs into his group of friends, take time to swing around a parking lot sign, and find a moment to skip or even climb a few steps. He meandered along a gigantic looping path that, technically, was in the direction I was headed and, thus, technically, followed my command.

My first thought upon seeing these semi-obedient sons was to get frustrated that they are unable to obey even the simplest of my commands. The second thought was to laugh at the fact that this one episode had exposed their personalities so clearly. The third thought was somewhat more profound.

I realized I was observing more than my semi-(dis)obedient sons. I was actually watching my own semi-(dis)obedient life behind my Savior’s simple command: Follow Me.  Repeatedly, our Lord commanded His followers—Follow Me. He said that if we were His sheep, we would hear His voice and obey it (John 10). He said that if we desired to serve Him, we must follow Him. We must leave the dead to bury the dead while we follow the creator and sustainer of life. We must recognize the broad way of destruction, while we follow our king through the narrow way of abundant life. We must follow Jesus as He makes us fishers of men.

And yet, we often follow like my younger son, in broad, meandering circles seeking worldly amusements to accompany faithful service. Countless Luke 9:62 Christ Command Obedience Discipleshipdistractions bend our otherwise obedient walk. When we take our eyes off Jesus, or when our love is not burning hotly toward Him, our circular path of distracted service grows larger with worldly influence and smaller with the clarity and focus of faithful obedience.

Even when our zeal burns hot, we are in danger of running ahead of the Lord, just as my older son ran ahead of me. And like that older son, we run ahead with confidence without content. We run like Paul said the Jews were running (Romans 10:1-3) with zeal, but not in accordance with knowledge. There is a fine line between self-confidence and bold faith. One is obedient; the other is not quite right.

So I realized from my little after-church adventure that I shared the folly I found in my own sons. My hoped-for correction is to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, laying aside more and more of the distractions and encumbrances which dilute my obedience.  My further hope is to keep in step with the Spirit, not running ahead in fleshly arrogance or vain confidence.

May the Lord grant us all to keep both hands on the plow to work the earthly row we’ve been given. Let us not look back, to the left or to the right. But straight ahead, fixed on Christ, the Resurrection and the life. Our Savior has called us from the chaotic crowd. Let us hear His voice and follow Him.

The Real Life Narrow Way Pictured


I’ve been off the grid for a bit, partly because of spending a week at the NorCal Pastor’s Retreat. This retreat, by design, was retreat from everything resembling a normal, daily routine, including cell phones, text messages, internet service, television, indoor plumbing, private bathrooms, etc.

For me, the retreat also served as a kind of metaphor for the Christian faith. On the drive in to this mountainous area of northern California, I was struck by how precisely the drive mirrored the Christian’s pilgrimage through life.

Jesus Christian Life narrow way persecution pastorsThe driving portion of the trip began with a very crowded arrival at San Francisco International Airport. I proceeded from there to a crowded train which took me to a very crowded rental car area. Apparently, a large number of folks desire to fly into San Francisco. (Are there tourist attractions or something?)

Not only are there a great many folks visiting San Francisco, but there are also tons of people living there. So, I drove north toward the mountains on a crowded U.S. 101.  The further north I drove, the less crowded the roads became. Still, U.S. 101 is a freeway in California. Therefore, it was still crowded with residents and visitors heading into and out of the beautiful wine country of Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties.

Once I left the freeway, however, the crowds diminished severely. The road from U.S. 101 to Potter Valley, CA, is as unpopulated as, say, the road from Dry Prong to Tioga in the rural center of Louisiana. As it turns out, not all of California is crowded. Anyway, leaving the freeway focused more sharply the lesson this trip offered for Christian living.

First, the retreat was accessible only to the determined. It was not located in a place which one might “happen” to see. A sign at the last intersection before heading up the hill made the point plain: “No Outlet.” As Christ taught is disciples that the kingdom life is one in which both hands would be fixed to a plow looking forward (Lk 9:62), so, too, this sign made clear that one need not hope to simply wander through or pass by this retreat setting. There was no way out.

Those who say they “tried Christianity, but it didn’t work,” prove only that they were never on the kingdom way. They prove, as John says, that they went out from us because they were not of us (1 Jn 2:19). Maybe in our discipleship, we ought to tell would-be Christians that the road begins with a sign that says, “No Outlet.” One is either “in Christ” and “on the way,” or he is not.

Second, as the road continued further toward its end at our retreat setting, another sign appeared. This time, the sign had an even more Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingunmistakable Christian message: “Road Narrows.” That sounds a lot like Jesus Himself:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The beginning of the journey in the sought-after Bay area of San Francisco ended in this remote, desolate wilderness with no one around. The road was already small and unoccupied, and, yet, it was still getting smaller, and more narrow, and less traveled. Christians need not wonder that they often feel alone. They are on the narrow way of life. As the road narrows, the crowds shrink.

Finally, the road itself not only narrowed but became rough and more difficult to traverse. There were potholes and washouts along the shoulders. Eventually, the patchy asphalt gave way to gravel and dirt. By the end of the journey, the road simply disintegrated into the retreat setting, a quaint, rustic Bible camp complete with outhouses and dinner bells to ring in campers three times a day for a hearty meal.

The illustration here is obvious. There are times when Christians mingle with the masses and live in the world. Yet, the more prevailing reality for Christian living is that—even when we are in the world, we are not of it. We are always on the narrow way that leads to life. Our life is promised to be (1) one way, from earth to the heavenly presence of Christ; (2) more narrow—and thus often more lonely—than the way most in the world travel through their time on earth; and (3) often difficult. As Paul told the Christians in Antioch (Acts 14:22),

Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingthrough many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Who Is a Disciple of Jesus Christ?


Working from Matthew 28:18-20, I would say that anyone who is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and who is obeying everything that Jesus taught—that person is a disciple of Jesus Christ.  No doubt, there is room for dispute. But the bottom line is that we must be able to define who is and who is not a follower of Christ.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThis question takes on significance when considered in light of “fencing the table” for the Lord’s Supper. Throughout history, Christians have had to wrestle with who should partake of the Lord’s Supper (Communion).  Is it for anyone and everyone who happens to show up the day it is celebrated? Or is it for only some of those present? On what basis does one decide?

The natural sentiment is to say that we should not exclude anyone. But to say such a thing is to gut the Lord’s Supper of its meaning. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have communion with God through Jesus Christ. When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christ did not celebrate it with the whole crowd gathered for Passover. He celebrated it explicitly with His disciples. So, it seems logical to conclude that the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated by Christ’s disciples.

Most Christians would agree that the Lord’s Supper is not for all, but for some. Non-believers, atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mormons—all these groups find themselves routinely excluded from the Lord’s Supper because they are not disciples of Christ Jesus. If it is the case that one must be a disciple to partake of the Lord’s Supper, then it must be necessary to exclude non-disciples from the Lord’s Supper. To do that, one must be able to define who is a disciple.

Some wish to simplify the process and say a disciple is “a follower of Christ.” The problem with saying this is that, often, people in the excluded categories mentioned above will profess to be followers of Christ. I have had Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons tell me they are “Christians.” Does follower of Christ (or Christian) get defined by the individual? If one professes to be a follower of Christ, then she is—on that basis—a follower and, thus, able to enjoy the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper with other believers?  If not, then on what basis is it decided whether or not the person is a follower of Christ?

As a pastor, I answered the question using the equation found in Christ’s great commission. Instead of the term follower of Christ or Christian, I used Christ’s word in Matthew 28—disciple. And, using Christ’s definition, I concluded that a disciple is someone who obeys all that Jesus commands and has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). These two characteristics—having been baptized and being obedient to Christ’s commands—are the defining characteristics of a disciple of Christ.

This will not satisfy all, but it is a biblical position. Regrettably, it does exclude those who have never been baptized as believers. It excludes those who are ignorant of or in rebellion against the commands of Christ, too. But it defines disciple in Christ’s own categories, which include being baptized and being obedient.

Inside Out


The Nelson Baptist Association is hosting a Discipleship “Inside Out” Conference, February 19-20.  You don’t want to miss this conference.  Dr. Don Whitney, author of 7 great books on discipleship and biblical spirituality, will be presenting sessions on prayer and meditation on Friday night and Saturday morning.  His instruction will lead us to greater depths of inward devotion.  Then, after a noon meal on Saturday, we will learn how to express our inward devotion to the outward work of missions.  Plan to turn your faith inside out.

Inside Out Discipleship Conference featuring Dr. Don Whitney.  Friday February 19 & Saturday February 20.  Contact Cedar Grove Baptist Church for more information.

Out of the Mouth of Babes


I have a video linked here which demonstrates that the Lord establishes strength out of the mouth of babes and infants.  This little girl, Hannah, speaks the truth.  She also displays the fruit of a family which has reared this child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

I post this video today because it is a very healthy reminder that the Lord has not finished his work on earth just yet.  Our church lost a great man yesterday.  Otis Ray Ratliff passed away at the age of 95.  Today, we have a little less salt on the earth and a little less light in the sky around us; yet, God is not finished building his kingdom.  Be encouraged by this little girl–and the future of Christ’s kingdom for His people.