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Archive for the ‘Disciple Making’ Category

“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (NIV)

It was sometime in 1977 or 1978 and I was in my early years as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. My wife Joyce had been taking some classes with Child Evangelism Fellowship directors Fred and Vickie Kraft, being better equipped to lead children to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and grow in a personal relationship with Him.

I think it may have been Vickie who encouraged Joyce to either sponsor a “Good News Club” for children on a weekday afternoon or assist someone else who would host it. Being new to Dallas and not having a wide range of social connections in the area, Joyce volunteered to help Ina Taylor, a local African-American woman.

From the time Joyce first met Ina she knew she had a friend for life. Ina was a sincere and dedicated follower of Jesus, a graduate of Southern Bible Institute and had a heart to reach out to the children in her south Dallas neighborhood. For several years during my student days Joyce helped her with a weekly children’s club.

One Sunday Ina invited us to attend her local church and come to her house for dinner afterwards. It was one of my first, but not last, experiences visiting a predominantly African-American church. We were warmly welcomed and of course were treated to a fabulous meal afterwards. You would never have met a woman with a larger heart than Ina Taylor.

In 1981 after my graduation from Dallas Seminary we returned to my home town of Fort Worth to prepare for our ministry in Ireland with Greater Europe Mission. We kept in touch with Ina and began to send her our newsletters where we shared family updates and prayer requests for our ministry. Ina became one of our most faithful prayer supporters and almost every year we received hand written letters from her which were indeed a “labor of love” considering the arthritis that she suffered with, especially in her hands and fingers.

As the years passed we had our first four children and Ina adopted them as her own grandchildren even though she mainly knew them through our newsletters. Her own children decided to have her move to Tyler in east Texas closer to them. Tyler happened to be along the US Interstate 20 route we would usually take to northwest Louisiana where Joyce’s mother’s family resided and her parents retired in the early 1990’s.

I think it was on our return trip to America in 1992 or ’93 that we made a very treasured visit to Ina in Tyler on our way to Louisiana. She was able to see our four older children (our twins didn’t arrive until 1994) and prepare a delicious catfish dinner for our lunch. I recall one of our sons saying that he didn’t like catfish! That was, of course, until he actually tasted it and then couldn’t stop eating Ina’s catfish dinner.

We spent a treasured couple of hours with Ina that afternoon but what we weren’t prepared for was what happened next. Ina insisted that we all pile in our car and take her to a local department store. She wanted to purchase gifts for each one of our children. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and we didn’t feel like standing in the way of her desire to serve her Lord by serving our family.

Ina taught me to be a more generous giver even as our children picked out what they wanted from the store and carried away treasured gifts from their African-American grandmother.

I’m eternally grateful to God for how He allowed us to connect with another believer from a different background who would be a lifelong ministry partner with us.

A few years ago we received a phone call from Ina’s daughter who kindly passed along the sad news that she had gone home to be with Jesus, the Lord that she loved and served wholeheartedly. I personally hope that she is one of the first people I meet on the other side when I join her someday.

Today we are beset with stories of hate, racism, prejudice, anger and tension of all types and descriptions. All of us as human beings have painful experiences and memories that shape us for life. Perhaps it’s time that we start making new memories and have new experiences with people from all nations and a variety of backgrounds. Yes, we can and should work for moral and social justice, but it starts with simple things like working together on projects which are life-giving to others.

I know that change starts with me, but hopefully I’m drawing from a reservoir of experiences such as the ones I had with our dear friend, sister and ministry partner, Ina Taylor. May her tribe increase!

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“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.  He appointed twelve–designating them apostles– that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” – Mark 3:13-19 (NIV)

It’s often been said that we come into this world not knowing who we really are and we try on different identities to see which one fits and sticks. Ultimately, if successful, we may discover our true identity and feel comfortable and confident living out the role we were meant to have by our Lord and Maker.

During my childhood years, growing up in the fine city of Fort Worth, Texas, I can recall trying to discover my identity and see which one might stick. As I have discussed in my previous posts, I came down with Rheumatic Fever in early primary school and it wasn’t until about third or fourth class – age seven or eight that I started a more active lifestyle as a “normal” kid.  

I had several male friends around our neighborhood and we experimented with several sports like baseball and American football which of course didn’t take a lot of equipment for us amateurs. I can recall a season of my childhood where we developed an interest in pole vaulting. We somehow managed to find a stiff bamboo stick and set up a pole vaulting station. We went though all the motions of running toward the station, planting the pole in the ground and attempting to hoist ourselves over the bar a few feet off the ground.

As you might imagine, without the proper equipment, training and the mentoring of someone who really knew and understood the sport our lame attempts didn’t amount to much. Sometime after that I actually began to watch some pole vaulters on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, on Saturday afternoons and I marveled at the men and women who could actually excel at such a specialized sport.

As I reflect back on this childhood experience I can laugh at myself for thinking that I could have made any progress at all as a pole vaulter. That dream came crashing down very quickly. I’ve also considered the fact that throughout my life I’ve perhaps made many other experiments in trying to be someone else or copy someone I admired, to see if that persona would fit.

My failed attempts as a pole vaulter got me thinking about Jesus calling his Twelve Disciples. Have you ever noticed before that only two of them share the same name – James? One is James the son of Zebedee and the other the son of Alphaeus.  

Jesus called unique men all with different names bar two. He called different men with different personalities, different skills, different gifts. Then why do we try to run from who we are and try to be like someone else?  

It recently dawned on me that Jesus never asked any of His disciples to be like any of the others.

“Hey James, why can’t you be more like your brother John!”

“Peter, why can’t you be more like Judas!” – Can you imagine what might have happened?

Our Lord and Maker has created and gifted each of us as unique individuals for His greater purposes. We each have a unique name and a unique role to play in the building and developing of His Kingdom. Note also that Jesus called each of these twelve men “that they might be with Him. . .” Yes, He had work for them to do, but being with Him took priority over everything else.

A few years after my failed pole vaulting attempts a couple of things came my way that would set me in a different direction. Around 1966 or 1967 – around age twelve or thirteen, my father went into an electrical contracting business with a partner named Calvin Davis.

My father and Calvin became co-owners of Michael Electric Company on East Lancaster Street near downtown Fort Worth. Calvin was a keen golfer and because the business was starting to take off we somehow acquired a membership at Glen Garden Country Club on the east side of Fort Worth.

In these years a family moved next door to us – James and Wanda Clarke from Rodgers, Arkansas. James just happened to work for the AMF Ben Hogan Company and he sourced the first golf clubs that ever came into our house. I had found a sport that fit my identity – much more suitable than pole vaulting!

As God’s plan for each of us unfolds through life we each have some unique experiences but we all share in some very common emotions and discoveries. I think that discovering who we are and what we are meant to be – as individuals and as part of the family and social networks we form, is one of life’s greatest joys and challenges.

A few years later, I would also make a commitment to follow Jesus for myself and become one of His “Band of Brothers.” The greatest adventure of my life and yes, part of my true identity.

It the truth be told, I’ve probably wasted some valuable time and energy over the years trying to work hard at being who I’m not (pole vaulting) instead of resting in the care of my Lord and Maker, enjoying Him and trusting in the identity He created for me.

Why not just be the best version of myself rather than trying to be someone I’m not?

Failure perhaps tells us more about who we are and aren’t than anything else. Fortunately, when we follow Jesus He wastes nothing, redeems even our failures and continually develops us for His greater purposes.

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“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Until recently ballet performances weren’t part of my everyday life experience. That changed when my six-year-old granddaugher began taking ballet lessons within the past year.

A couple of weeks ago we (my wife, daughter and son-in-law) attended a performance from The Metropolitan School of Dance in Dublin which involved ballet dancers from around the greater Dublin area. The performance, “Alice,” was a musical ballet version of the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll’s classic.  Even though our granddaugher had only a small role in the grand scheme of things I was struck by several noteworthy reflections after experiencing what was a stunning, well-coordinated and executed production.

First of all, the dancers in the production, of which there were many, were obviously performing ballet. Along the way there were various other dance steps used, but the primary focus was on the art and skill of ballet. Everyone was on the same page!

Having said this, the dancers were primarily and largely female, but several male dancers were performing and all were participating at various levels of skill and experience. Some were mature and well-seasoned dancers. Others were just small children and, like my granddaugher were just developing their skills.

The leadership and coordination of the performance was second to none. The production was in two Acts and several Scenes within each act. At every juncture the dancers, performing in their various groups, came on stage, executed their routine and then exited the stage in grand fashion. Knowing what it’s like to lead a group of people of various ages and skill levels, I know what a daunting task this must have been for those leaders working behind the scenes.

Being mainly a female production, I could easily see how the older, more mature girls were developing and caring for the younger girls. Some of the lead dancers came out and mirrored the dance steps for the young ones, modeling what they were meant to be doing. The older ones led the younger ones on and offstage by hand with the utmost care and tenderness.

I admit I’m not in the dance business, however, the entire production gave me much to ponder when thinking about the ways in which we lead, develop and care for others in the church, the Body of Christ. Rather than expounding on my own thoughts I would rather raise some questions to consider for anyone reading this essay.  

Am I, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as focused on Jesus and His mission of making other disciples as these ballet dancers were in their individual and coordinated efforts? Am I devoting my energy, talents and abilities to perform at the highest level possible for the sake of a common cause? Am I willing to set the pace and lead the way in modeling for others who a disciple is and what following Jesus looks like in everyday life?

It’s all too tempting to be distracted by everyday tasks and engaged in many worthwhile projects but without intention and the focus necessary to be a disciple of Jesus who is making and developing other disciples and leaders of disciples.  

On a broader scale, is the church of Jesus Christ, particularly the local church, willing to develop the gifts and abilities of its people for greater impact and effectiveness in this needy world? How, as a leader, am I contributing to that in ever more intentional ways?

In the verse quoted above, the apostle Paul is writing to the Ephesians in the context of the church being given gifts that build up (mature) the body of Christ. He adds, “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  

No one ever said that being a disciple of Jesus would be easy, much less being a church leader, but no one ever said ballet was easy, yet I saw many skilled performers doing an excellent job of it.

I’m still pondering that wonderful production of “Alice” but more importantly I’m praying that the church of Jesus Christ, both locally and world-wide, will mature in breath and depth of influence.

We have much more growth and development that needs to take place. At least occasionally it’s a blessing to witness an event that reminds us that God still has a plan for our local communities and for our world so desperately in need. And, in my view, we need what I believe only disciples of Jesus and His Church can and should be.  

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