Generations exists to make disciples and multiply churches. That is what we have received divine commission and heavenly authority to accomplish. I could do a great many other things with my life, and so could you, but the promise of Jesus’ presence and power in us and through us is granted to only this glorious endeavor: the making of disciples and the multiplying of churches. I’m convinced that many of us are frustrated with many things in our lives because so few things in our lives are aimed at our advancement in discipleship or the advancement of others in discipleship.
My privilege and responsibility as a pastor is to labor with all diligence to see “Christ formed in you” (Gal. 4:19) in order that I may present you all “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). That is the end for which we “toil and strive” (1 Timothy 4:10). But it is also your responsibility, to pursue your own maturity as a disciple (Phil. 2:12). It’s important to clarify here that, at Generations, we reject the false notion that Disciples are a category reserved for the serious Christians or the elite Christian. Biblically, if you are a Christian, you are a Disciple of Jesus.
A disciple is anyone who has entered into a daily apprenticeship with Jesus by faith in his finished work and a corresponding desire to follow him. Apprenticeship. That’s the biblical model for how we follow Jesus. We go with him, watch him, listen to him, talk to him, learn from him, and do our best to imitate him. But nobody enters into and progresses through an apprenticeship without knowing what their into. Apprenticing is an international model for both the trainer and the trainee.
Unfortunately, many of us approach our apprenticeship with Jesus far more cavalierly than we would ever approach an apprenticeship in our particular field of interest. You can imagine an aspiring educator going through their student teaching with no clearly identified goals, responsibilities, schedule, expectations, or benchmarks for their development? Not if they take teaching seriously.
If that doesn’t connect with you, think about what would have happened to a galaxy far far away if Padawan’s relegated their Jedi training to a second tier priority, or if their master’s had not intentional process for their development. Think about generations of movie goers whose worlds would have a Star Wars franchise size hole in their lives.
Yet here we are, invited into this daily apprenticeship with Jesus, and we tend to approach it haphazardly, as an afterthought, the thing that if we get around to it, we’ll give it some attention. Many of us have no real plan, no process, no benchmarks, no goals, no track for pursuing growth in Christlikeness. We’re winging it. We’re relying on day-by-day impulses or moods or ideas for the most important aspect of our lives.
So let me invite you to do two things before the end of the year:
1) Reflect, Recognize, Rejoice
Take some time in the next 10 days to prayerfully look back over 2016, with a searching eye toward growth and maturity in your life. How is Christ more deeply formed in you today than this time last year? In what ways do you see maturity in you relationship with Jesus? How is maturity in Jesus reflecting in relational health with people in your life? What events or processes has God used this year to strengthen your faith in Him, to deepen your dependency upon Him, or to grow your delight in Him? What dysfunctional attitudes, actions or patterns of life are you maturity out of and what life giving attitudes, actions and patterns of life are you maturing into?
Recognize that anywhere you see any progress is the power of God at work. There is no spiritual maturity or progress made by human effort alone. We begin our walk with Jesus by the miraculous work of God’s Spirit, but let’s not forget that any set we take forward with Jesus is also the miraculous work of God’s Spirit. Like Samuel setting out a stone after God's deilverance, as a reminder that "thus far the Lord has brought us", acknoweldge the goodness of the Lord. Take time to look back on his grace and power at work and recognize that it is his grace and power. Remember and recount with others the good things God has done, and the faithfulness He has shown. And then, rejoice beloved. For we have come to share in Christ.
What could be greater than belonging to Him through whom all things were made, by whom all things to together, and for whom all things exist. You apprentice with the greatest Teacher of all and if you are more like him today than last year, than you are entering more into the fullness of life more than ever before.
2) Pray, Plan and Pursue
Secondly, take time to prayer look forward. How will you continue in your daily apprenticeship with Jesus in 2017? What discipline is God trying to grow you in? What sinful and selfish attitude is he wanting to root out of your life right now? What neighbor or co-worker or friend is God positioning you help connected with Jesus? What relationships within Christian community is God calling you to invest more in for the sake of mutual maturity?
Brothers and sisters, nobody stumbles into spiritual maturity. Nobody falls into a gospel formed life. If you have no plan for making progress in your apprenticeship with Jesus than you likely won’t make much progress. So, take the time and ask for Jesus’ wisdom, insight, and direction.
This may include aspects of connecting more intentionally in community. It may include elements of church attendance, or a group bible study. This may be a pattern of reading more Christian books or developing the disciple of keeping a personal journal. Maybe it’s supporting missions in addition to your regular giving, or maybe it’s being more bold in your workplace as a missionary there yourself. Perhaps you are striving to pursue humility through more serious repentance for sin this year. Whatever the case, you won’t work out all the kinks in your life in 2017. But by God’s grace and with God’s help, you can make further progress in 2017.
Your Discipleship and God's Word
Now, we may all be at different stages in our apprenticeship with Jesus, but in at least one area, we all need the same thing. David asks in Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” It’s a good question. And if Jesus is in your life in any real way, you’re asking some version of that same question.
Essentially, David is asking, “Lord, with the enticement of physical pleasures, how will I walk in purity? With the allure of affluence how will I worship you faithfully? With the ambition of advancement and success ever before me, how will I maintain integrity? With the demands of family and the challenges of relational intimacy, how will I walk vulnerably and peaceably? With the availability of discretionary time and money, how will I remain disciplined and wise? God, how am I to navigate the gauntlet of this world and not be overcome by evil and darkness? How do I flourish while breathing in the toxic air of futility that surrounds me? How do I not drift with the tide of indulgence and indifference?”
You can relate. So can I. And David’s answer points the way forward. “By living according to your word. Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
David’s antidote to the enticements and entrapments of the world is to become personally and thoroughly engaged with the word of God. Not just hearing the word preached, or reading the word. But David’s solution to his struggle with sin is to study, obey and memorize the word… essentially, to internalize the word in a serious manner.
Wherever you find yourself with Jesus, to become more like him will require more serious engagement with the Scriptures this year. In 2016, we encouraged our church to read the whole bible all the through over the course of the year. Not very many people stuck to that process through the whole year, but anyone who started that process probably read more bible in 2016 than in most any other year of their lives. That’s a win. That’s something to rejoice over.
I want to help us succeed in consistent and deep personal engagement with the Scriptures this coming year as well. So, I am attaching a reading/devotional plan to this blog and a Scripture memory plan as well.
The 1-Year-Bible challenged many of us with the volume of daily reading. The plan laid out for 2017 is far more attainable. It’s a 5-day a week reading plan and with much smaller portions. This is the reading plan I’ll be using this year, and I want to invite you to use it with me and alongside each other.
Through the course of the year we will read through 1 John, 1 and 2 Samuel (covering the life of David), 1 Corinthians, Acts, Ephesians and Philippians. Additionally, every month we’ll read through the whole book of Proverbs which is 31 chapters. We’ll read one chapter a day with a different thematic focus each month.
I am using a ministry called Fighter Verses, which came out of Desiring God and John Piper’s ministry. Fighter verses focus on the 1) the character and worth of our great God, 2) battling against our fleshly desires, and 3) the hope of the Gospel, and this approach seeks to memorize one such verse each week of the year.
The beauty of this process is that if you miss a week or two, there’s no need throw in the towel, just pick up on the current week’s verse. The goal of engaging with Scripture this way is to help you do what David says it is able to do… help keep your way pure and keep you from sin.
As I said in the beginning of this post, Generations is really about making disciples and multiplying churches. You may be wondering how the wound up in a Scripture reading plan for 2017. There are three things that capture how disciples are made and churches are multiplied: Jesus, Community and Mission. That’s what we’re about and that’s what we need to flourish and be fruitful. And God’s word is key to all three… The Word reveals Jesus, the Word forms Community and the Word advances Mission. 'Tis grace that's brought us safe this far, and grace will lead us home. But rest assured that that grace is imparted through God's Word. Every aspect of our discipleship needs the word and is served by the word. Let’s take the Word of God seriously this year. Let’s do that together.