Keep It Simple: Let the Word Do Its Work

I received the most marvelous testimony of the power of God’s word from a pastor friend of mine, Dr. Mark Johnson. On January 8, he wrote to his Baltimore congregation:

    Dear Friends,
    Welcome to the second newsletter of 2017. Some might question the point of emailing a newsletter on a weekly basis to the members and friends of Mt. Olive United Methodist Church. … The fact is, I want you to have the “Daily Bible Reading Plan” in your email each Sunday morning.
    I am what some may call a cradle Christian. Maybe you are, too. I started attending worship as an infant and Sunday School as a small child. You probably did, too. When I was 14 or so, I was recruited onto a church committee and at 16 I was a delegate to Annual Conference. You can probably make a similar claim. I, just like you, was baptized, communed, and confirmed. But for me there was still a big void in my life.
    One Sunday – I was probably in my early-30s at the time — I was sitting in choir loft on a Sunday morning. It came time in worship for the Gospel reading and we all reached for a Bible. For whatever reason, there was only one Bible in our row. The fellow next to me handed me the Bible and said, “Here, you probably need this more than I do.” I took his remark as a friendly jab, took the Bible and turned to the morning’s lesson. As I began to follow along, I was transfixed. The story spoke right to me and even though the Liturgist stopped reading, I continued. I finished that chapter and went on to the next. I continued reading through the sermon. When I got home, I found my Bible and picked up reading where I left off. I felt like God grabbed my heart and soul and wanted me to know – to be – something.
    There are lots of reasons to read the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” There is a lot to consider in those two verses but let’s look at “all scripture is inspired by God” and why that is important.
    We might define “inspired” as influenced, motivated or encouraged and might say that a favorite teacher inspired our love of reading. But such a definition of “inspired” does not do justice to what the author, Paul, was getting at when he wrote about the inspiration of scripture. Paul used, and perhaps coined, the term “theopnuestos” which we translate as “inspired.” It is a combination of “theo” (God) and “pnuestos” (breathed). “Pnuestos” is related to the word, “pnuema” which means both wind and Spirit. Paul is telling us that the Bible is “God-breathed”; that is, God’s Holy Spirit flows through the Biblical text to interact with the faithful reader.
    That kind of makes the Bible sound like an enchanted object straight out of a Harry Potter book, doesn’t it? Really, the actual physical Bible is just ink, paper, and binding. But the stories, histories, songs, poems, letters and revelations within the Bible have been recognized for thousands of years as authentic and authoritative remembrances of the Holy at work in the lives of faithful, and some not so faithful folks, like you and me. As we read, hear, study, and tell scripture the Holy Spirit moves within us in ways that reveal God’s self to us. As God reveals God’s self to us, and we make our lives open to God, a deep and life-changing relationship is built.
    I can point to that Sunday in the choir loft when God grabbed me — heart and soul — as I read the Bible as the day my life changed. My journey with Jesus began when God-breathed scripture connected my life to our living LORD.
    This newsletter is first and foremost an invitation through daily Bible reading for your life to shaped, formed, and illuminated by God. Really, could anything else be more exciting? See you in worship.
    Pastor Mark

Here’s the rest of the story from my perspective, and I share it with his permission. Fast forward 20 or 30 years, and I taught a simple method for time with God to Pastor Mark and his staff at a church in Colorado Springs. At our next meeting, Mark said, “I was really excited to practice what we had learned, so I got up the next morning and sat down to read Romans with my Bible, journal, commentary, and Greek New Testament. After a couple days of this I realized that’s not what Bob asked us to do. So I put away my Greek New Testament and my commentary and worked through the process: read, reflect, respond, record. And I said to myself, ‘This is insanely simple.’”

It appears that Mark’s seminary tools had temporarily distracted him from the simplicity of taking in the God-breathed Word that he had been so excited about.

Keep it simple, folks. God wants to speak to us. And thank you, Mark, for the stunning reminder of the power of the Word. Your congregation is blessed.

PS Clicking on the method link gets you the short version of a simple method. Or, click on the Join the Adventure tab at the top of this page and order my book! I discuss time with God in detail in the middle section.

Discipleship Takes True GRIT

I am coming to understand that true GRIT is the essence of disciple-making: the process of helping people follow Jesus.

GRIT is an acronym. Effective disciple-making must be:


Jesus’ strategy with the disciples was Relational. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4.19) “[Jesus] appointed twelve that they might be with him…” (Mark 3.13)

Jesus also was Intentional and his goal was Transformational. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

And of course, making the disciples fishers of men was a Generational strategy. The generational piece is critical. We must teach in such a way that people can pass it on. That’s what Paul wrote to Timothy in his very last letter.

“The things you’ve heard from me commit to faithful men who shall teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2.2)

Consider Hebrews 7.23. The context is how Jesus is superior to the Old Testament priests, but here’s a simple (and, I think, slightly humorous) truth:

“There were many of those priests since death prevented them from continuing in office.”

That’s as good a reason as any to invest in the lives of others! Each of us is here for a limited time only.

GRIT helps us remember the characteristics and is itself a characteristic of the kind of effort required. Daniel Pink makes the following statement about “mastery” in his book Drive, and I think it applies well to relational disciple-making:

Mastery is a Pain. Mastery takes effort over a long period of time, is often not much fun, requires lots of mundane practice, and takes grit…The determination to work over a long period of time without seeing much short-term improvement is required. (Emphasis mine)

The problem is that we all want shortcuts. Jesus chose to work in depth with just 12 men. We want to do it faster. Can’t we just put 1,000 people in a room and lecture them for one hour a week? Can’t we just develop sure-fire materials that will get the job done? The short answer is, no, not any more than one can teach people to play the piano by taking them to concerts or giving them a book. It takes a teacher (R) who guides the student to the appropriate exercises (I) which, when practiced over time, result in skill (T). The teacher herself went through that same process (G).


Contrasting the big ineffective splash versus doing small things that really matter, Greg McKeown in Essentialism: The Deliberate Pursuit of Less writes:

Instead of trying to accomplish it all—and all at once…start small and celebrate progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, pursue small and simple wins in areas that are essential.

Paul has all the elements of GRIT in 2 Timothy 2.1, 2.

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (T). And the things you’ve heard from me among many witnesses (R), commit to faithful people (I) who will teach others also (G).

Resolution: No Labanizing! Part 2

Labanizing is my word for putting off doing something that you know you need to do. It comes from the story of Abraham’s servant getting a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24. Please see the previous blog.

Another example of Labanizing occurs later in Israel’s history. The people who returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple weren’t getting it done. Then Haggai rolled in and assessed the situation:

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”
Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet,
“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1.1 – 4, ESV)

The people didn’t say that rebuilding the temple was a bad idea. It just wasn’t the right time. It didn’t have to be done now.

Of course they had been in country 15 – 20 years, but the time still wasn’t right apparently.

Haggai would have none of it. He told the leaders and the people:

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says, … “Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1.7, 8, NLT)

“Now go up, bring down timber…” sounds hard. It will take intentional effort. They will have to stop other things they are doing. In chapter 2, as he affirms their initial efforts, Haggai challenges them to be strong and do the work.

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts. (Haggai 2.4)

And God blesses them for getting started (see Haggai 2.9).

Let’s make 2017 the year we quit Labanizing and get started! I have written a little book, Join the Adventure! A Practical Guide to Mission and Discipleship for Everyone. You can read about it and order it by clicking the Join the Adventure tab at the top of this page. One key idea is starting small—pushing over the ¼-inch domino that sets off a great chain reaction. And this blog is not meant to be a book promotion! There is enough information on the Join the Adventure tab to get you started whether you buy the book or not!