Defining “Disciple”

I am a follower.

Commercials and culture say I’m unique. A rugged individual making my way in the world. Think different. Be yourself. Just do it.

None of us is all that original, and the most original among us recognize it. Ralph Waldo Emerson joked, “All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” T.S. Eliot quipped, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” I’ve never founded an intellectual movement (like Emerson) or written epic poetry (like Eliot). If they weren’t original, neither am I. If they were followers, I probably am too.

I've got nothing on those sideburns.

I’ve got nothing on those sideburns.

All of us are followers. We follow fashions and trends, parents and heroes. We follow peers and spouses, film stars and the person in front of us at the DMV. Being a follower is a natural part of being human.

At the beginning of the book of John, two men hear that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and they follow him (John 1:37). They ask Jesus where he is staying (not like creepy stalkers, more like eager students), and he invites them to “Come and see” (1:39). After spending time with him, one of the two men, Andrew, goes to tell his brother Simon “We have found the Messiah!” and he “brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42). Simon arrives, meets Jesus, and Jesus changes his name to “Peter” on the spot.

From this brief story emerges the definition of a disciple. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus and brings others to Jesus. By definition, disciples make disciples. And the closer we follow Jesus (Andrew and his friend crashed at Jesus’s place!), the more likely we’ll be to bring others to him.

Making disciples is like eating an elephant

Making disciples is like eating an elephant

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

A normal steak runs between 12-16 ounces. A normal adult male elephant will yield about 10,000 pounds of meat. If you were determined to eat the whole thing and had a 16-ounce elephant steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day, it would take you nine years, one month and eighteen days to finish.

Every meal. Nine years.

Every meal. Nine years.

You can’t possibly eat nine years’ worth of meat at once. You’d explode.

Jesus left the church an elephant-sized mission: make disciples of all nations. That’s precisely what his followers have been striving to do ever since. Millions of Christians for thousands of years have sacrificed their time, finances, comfort, health, limbs, and lives for the sake of that mission. Eating an elephant would be far easier than accomplishing the church’s mission.

Which is why we so often make the mission smaller than it really is. Rather than center the church around making disciples, we focus our attention on building projects, capital campaigns, large events, and church programing. Each of these things allow for tangible results in some form or another.

Disciple-making, on the other hand, is a far less straightforward endeavor. It is about people, and usually when you measure people it’s because you want to use them, not love, serve, or disciple them.

But disciple-making is the mission Jesus gave us. If you follow Jesus, you’re called to this. You are to be a disciple who makes disciples. Millions of Christians for thousands of years haven’t finished it; you and I won’t either. Still, Jesus calls us to pursue of this mission, in the Spirit’s power, one bite at a time.

Faith: the necessary state of the non-omniscient

It is daunting to reflect on all that I do not know. If you wrote down all the questions to which I don’t know the answer on a single sheet of paper, it’d have to be a China-sized piece of paper.

That would be one large (and odd-shaped) piece of paper.

That would be one large (and odd-shaped) piece of paper.

Why do dogs wag their tails?

Why don’t more people speak French?

What is yeast? (I mean, I know what it is, but I don’t know what it is!)

How does a child acquire language?

What will I eat for dinner?

There is so much I don’t know, and I live most of my life as if it doesn’t matter that I’m as ignorant as I am. Because it usually doesn’t.

I don’t know the chair will hold my weight. But I believe it will.

I don’t know my wife will love me next year. But I believe she will.

I don’t know the sun will rise tomorrow. But I believe it will.

These beliefs, and a million others like them, go unnoticed throughout my day. They lead me to do things like sit down, have children, and save money.

Every moment of every day, I live by faith—in the chair, in my wife, in the movements of the planets. I don’t realize this is the case most of the time, but it is. Since I am not omniscient—since I don’t know everything—I must live by faith. Faith is the necessary (and natural) state of the human creature.

Many pit faith against reason in our day. This is unreasonable. We cannot be forced to choose between faith and reason. We must ask ourselves instead how much faith we ought to put in reason.

Human reason has limits. The question is where I think those limits lie. And whether there is Someone beyond my reason worth trusting.

You have no reason to NOT to believe in witches

witchAn article in the Guardian this morning discusses the limits of the reason of Sir Thomas Browne, a 17th century scientist. At one point, he gave testimony that helped lead a jury to sentence two women to the gallows for being witches. The writer, Roz Kaveney claimed

Browne was complicit in judicial murder because he regarded witchcraft as a real thing, because it was in scripture and in the news reports – when we praise his sweet reasonableness, we need to remember its limits.

Hold on. “Judicial murder”?

Since we “know” there is no such thing as witches, Browne was not only mistaken to believe in their existence, but he has blood on his hands for failing to have the perspective to question the prevailing wisdom of his day.

Shall we count the ways in which you and I have blood on our hands for failing to question the prevailing wisdom of ours?

Because Western culture elevates the freedom of the individual as the highest good, we are moving in moral directions that Browne’s society would have found appalling. We can now see glimpses in the modern West of a move toward the acceptance of infanticide in the name of individual choice. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg, and assisted suicide is allowed in Washington, Oregon, and Switzerland. Drone warfare has given us the power to kill without emotion or humanity.

All of these moral choices would lead a witchcraft-believing society’s collective jaw to drop. Where 17th century England believe its spirituality was a convincing explanation of the world, we in the modern West have given ourselves to an unmitigated reason that has no justification other than that it is reasonable. Their Spirituality led to religious wars and executing witches. Our Reason leads to robotic wars and executing the most vulnerable among us.

Ultimately, the reason we don’t believe in witches is not because we know they don’t exist (some people in our culture today claim to be witches). It is because we live in a time and place in which witches are implausible. Our culture has said witches don’t exist, therefore, we disbelieve in them.

That isn’t a reason. It is inertia. We don’t know our cultural assumptions are better than our forbears. We assume they are. That is not an argument. It is laziness.

Most of us don’t have a reason not to believe in witches. We simply let society tell us we don’t need to think about it. What other unexamined assumptions lead us to live the way we do? And if unexamined, are they worth having?

Modernity and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie-Main2-645x429Zombies are everywhere. From the Walking Dead, to morbid costumed meet-ups, to the CDCs “Zombie Preparedness” page, these monsters are hard to escape in the public consciousness.

AP ran a story recently featuring Sarah Lauro, professor of English at Clemson University who specializes in “zombie studies.” According to Lauro, the recent fascination with the undead in pop culture comes from the population “feeling disempowered.”

“If you were to ask the participants, I don’t think that all of them are very cognizant of what they’re saying when they put on the zombie makeup and participate,” she said. “To me, it’s such an obvious allegory. We feel like, in one way, we’re dead.”

She contends that this cultural frustration is connected to our tough economic times. I believe it goes deeper than that.

In his “10 Essentials for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse,” John Horner Jacobs tells us we will need things like running shoes, a baseball bat, plenty of water and granola bars, and a defensible position if we hope to outlast the undead onslaught. His 10th essential for survival is the most fascinating: in order to survive the zombie apocalypse, Jacobs writes, you have to have an “object of affection.”

Why? To reaffirm your humanity. To give yourself something to live for. In the midst of running from and bashing the skulls of countless zombies, you’ll need a purpose. A goal. A reason to keep on going.

And the closest thing we can get to the transcendent in our culture is sex.

I think Lauro is right to say that the interest in zombies stems from cultural malaise. And I think Jacobs is right that in order to survive something as awful as a zombie apocalypse one needs a reason to live.

Rather than economics, our malaise stems from a lack of transcendent purpose in Western post-industrial society. The modern story does not satisfy the human heart, and so, for cultural catharsis, we’ve turned to zombies. But the Modernistic Zombie doesn’t eat our brains. It eats our souls.

5 Steps to Be on Mission in Your City

Stephen Um has a great post on The Resurgence about being a missionary in your city. He gives 5 steps to get there—each of which will take all of us the rest of our lives.

  1. Get Grounded in the Gospel: no gospel, no mission.
  2. Learn Your City’s Story: how can you tell people to follow Jesus if you don’t know them.
  3. Engage in the Life of Your City: no one will know you love your city if you aren’t a vital part of it.
  4. Discern Your City’s Idols: what do people follow instead of Jesus?
  5. Retell Your City’s Story with the Gospel: idols don’t satisfy; show people how the gospel does.

Um recently co-wrote a book with my friend Justin Buzzard called Why Cities Matter. There are great insights like these throughout.


Charting Gospel Saturation

Gospel Saturation

This chart provides a breakdown of some of the key truths and tools for gospel saturation. These are the hooks on which to hang our understanding and application.


The Virtues Faith Hope Love
The Whole Person Head Heart Hands
Leads Us To… Know the right things Want the right things Do the right things
Scriptures to Prove It Mark 1:15; Rom. 3:28 Rom. 8:18-25; 1 Pet. 1:13 Mt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10
Forms for Meditation Apostles’ Creed Lord’s Prayer Ten Commandments



Gospel Saturation

Gospel SaturationI still remember the day we learned about colors in preschool. Our teacher took a clear glass of water and slowly drip…drip…dropped blue food coloring into it. We four year-olds watched, awe-struck. The drops plunged into the water like tiny blue comets. Then, gradually, they began to dissipate, swirling around like a sapphire hurricane, until a few moments later the once-clear water had changed color completely.

This is a lot like the Christian life.

We are that water, unable to change color on our own apart from Jesus’s work in us. We aren’t changed all at once, but over time as the gospel permeates our lives. And as the Spirit works the gospel into us, we are changed, made completely new, unrecognizable to our former-selves.

This gospel-driven change starts with faith. We are called by Jesus to “believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15), putting our trust in him and all that he has done. When we believe the good news of Jesus, we are led to think the right things about who we are and who God is.

This drives us to hope in the promise of the gospel. Knowing by faith that we have been redeemed, we are led to hope—not in the things of this world—but in the future work of Christ to recreate us and the entire cosmos (Rom. 8:18-25; 1 Pet. 1:13). We can live free from fear, knowing that our future is secure, that our “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We can want the right things, not that which is fleeting or contrary to the will of our Father, but that which we know truly satisfies.

Faith in Christ and hope in God’s promises sets us free to love, to live in light of the gospel. Love is not emotive, but active. Empowered by the Spirit, we can do the right things, obeying God’s law in all areas of life, because we know that love fulfills the law (Rom. 13:8-10).

Like that glass of water was progressively permeated by color, so the entire Christian is ultimately transformed by the gospel of God’s grace. It starts in our heads (faith), flows to our hearts (hope), and extends to our hands (love). That is gospel saturation.

Is there life on…?

A recent article in the Economist reports on the discovery of a planet about the size of the Earth orbiting a star called Alpha Centauri B. Plenty of planets have been discovered in the past two decades, but what made this one worth reporting on is its proximity: Alpha Centauri B is the third closest star in the universe to our own sun. If ever there were a chance of meeting extraterrestrial life outside our own solar system, this is the best one we’ve had so far.

Is there life on Mars? Or Alpha Centauri perhaps?

Of course, that “neighboring” star is about 25,662,600,000,000 miles away; a human spacecraft could get there by about this time next century. This puts it far outside the reach of human exploration (unless you put a baby on board a spacecraft and made sure he lived to be 100, and then could ensure he’d be fit enough to do anything worthwhile after 100 years of being cooped up in an interstellar metal container).

Interestingly, the Economist writer still holds out hope “that a sufficiently committed and luxuriantly financed group of scientists could send a probe there to take a closer look.” We couldn’t send a person, but we could maybe send a robot a century into outer space.

I read this article and couldn’t help reflecting on human finitude. We kick against our own limitations, look out longingly into the heavens and dream about subjugating the cosmos. We clutch after control of this world, the heavens, our own lives, each other. Yet, the more knowledge we obtain of the created Order, the more humble our position in the universe appears to be. We are but dust. Still we insist on puffing out our chests whenever we discover that which lies trillions of miles beyond our grasp.

Most of us can hardly fathom traveling to our own moon, which a few of our race have done. We can but dream of traveling beyond our own solar system to planets light years away. In the face of my own limitations, my thoughts are drawn to the One who holds “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18), who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).

Jesus is the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3), who “stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (Isa. 40:22). Alpha Centauri B is a light fixture in Christ’s heavenly ceiling. Someday that mere light bulb will burn out along with its created satellites, yet the “word of our God remains forever” (Isa. 40:8).

To many, this is a terrible thought. Most of us would rather live out our days under the pretense that we posses some control of our world—and of our own lives. Christ’s gospel says, that, not only are we not in control, but we do not have to be. He, the Eternal God, has come to us in grace, not judgment. He has taken all judgment upon Himself in order to liberate us from fear. After all, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

If ever there were a Being worthy of entrusting our lives to, it is Jesus. The heavens are His tent, the planets His footstool, the universe His playground. Alpha Centauri B may have no created life near it, but Christ is life and the One who fills all in all (Eph. 1:23). “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).

Art and the Practical Nation

Camille Paglia on art:

“Art is spiritual—it uses physical materials, but it’s a spiritual quest, and the artistic mission has a spiritual goal. But nothing in the ideology or language of current academe—from Berkeley to Harvard—permits anyone to say that.”

She’s onto something. She’s talking about art here, and sees quite clearly that it is a spiritual endeavor. Were she to hang onto this insight tenaciously enough she’d realize that everything is spiritual.

Check out the full interview here.

(RT: White Horse Inn [which calls Camille Paglia a provocateur. The French teacher in me can’t help but correct them: guys, it’s provocateuse].)