The Weekly Epistle 2/21/24

The Why of Discipleship
Week Five: Why Going Might Look Like Staying
Living Hope, 
What comes to mind when you hear the words “The Great Commission?” 
For many of us, these words evoke images of the great missionaries of the past two centuries. Missionaries like David Livingston, who ventured into the “Dark Continent,” carrying the light of the Gospel. Or Hudson Taylor, who preached to the East and played a key role in establishing the church in China. There’s also Jim Elliot, whose ministry met a tragic end at the tip of a spear, and Elizabeth Elliot, whose ministry began at the same fateful point. These names rightly come to mind when contemplating the Great Commission. However, the Great Commission is not solely intended for those who embark on journeys to the ends of the earth. It is equally a commission for those of us who remain on the home front. 
For the last two centuries, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on the word “go,” all the while assuming that going was a call exclusively reserved for those daring enough to enter the mission field. However, the emphasis of the commission is not on the going but on the making. The going is just the means to an end, and the end is discipleship.
So then, what if going looked more like staying?
What if we went unto the uttermost parts of the children’s ministry hall? What if we entered each room wondering which little girl may grow into the next Elisabeth Elliot or what little boy may lead an entire country to radical faith in Jesus? What if we crossed the parking lot in search of the teen who will one day pastor our church? 
The Church in America has been on the decline for decades, and the problem is only getting worse. Christian thought leaders like Carey Nieuwhof of the Art of Leadership Network and Dr. Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institute suggest the decline is largely due to the evangelical church’s failure to disciple its own children. 
When we view “go” strictly as an imperative for global missions, we may lose sight of the discipleship opportunities playing at our feet.
The Lord has blessed this old church with a lot of young families. Living Hope Kids and Momentum Student Ministries are busting out of the seams with kids. Each kid is a wonderful opportunity. Will we be faithful to the call to make disciples? The American church may be in decline, but this need not be the case here. If we are faithful to stay put and disciple those the Lord has entrusted to us, then I am sure he will be faithful to raise up little pastors and missionaries all around us. 
We started out this series with a simple question. Why do we make disciples? As we have seen, we make disciples because Jesus modeled discipleship for us. His public ministry began with the command “follow me,” and it ended with the command “go.” Hopefully, you have heard his call to follow. Hopefully, you will be faithful to obey his call to go—even if going looks like staying.
Pastor Dan

The Weekly Epistle 2/14/24

Living Hope Family, 
Two concerns were raised with the epistle I authored this week, which require me to make an affirmation and correction. Before I address those two areas, it’s important to note the epistle was not published in its entirety. Due to an editorial error, two paragraphs were not included in the published text. That said, the absence of these paragraphs does not negate the reason for this follow-up message, though their exclusion did serve to add to the confusion my epistle may have caused.
While it’s safe to assume I have the benefit of your doubt, I still think it is necessary for me to state that I, 1000%, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. In my epistle, I stated, “…at the incarnation, Jesus laid aside many of his divine attributes.” This was a poor choice of words on my part, and it is totally understandable why some of you may have been confused. I offer this correction: During the course of his earthly ministry, Jesus chose not to exercise some of his divine attributes. As one might choose not to flex a physical muscle, Jesus, at times, chose not to flex his divine muscles. He was still intrinsically divine; he still possessed the muscles; he just didn’t always use them. 
I affirm the theology of the hypostatic union (the theology that affirms that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God—He was 200%). At the same time, I acknowledge that the mystery of the hypostatic union, as with the mystery of the Trinity, is beyond our comprehension. What a wondrous thing that we can know our Lord intimately yet never fully understand his nature. We have indeed been welcomed into a wonderous mystery. 
After the publication of the epistle John 6:63-64 was brought to my attention, which states,
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)”
Clearly, my exegetical work was left wanting in this instance. I assure you I am a diligent student of God’s Word. My error in representing the text accurately was an honest error of ignorance. 
With that said, I do stand by the heart of this week’s epistle, specifically the points of application contained within. When we identify disciples, we’re not looking for the wise, the astute, the gifted, the competent, or even the most faithful. Remember, “God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:29). 
I hope you can see past the confusion and error to see how Jesus modeled discipleship.
A full copy of the text in its original form is below. 
Blessings, Church. 
Pastor Dan
The Why of Discipleship
Week Four: Why We Trust People Who May Prove To Be Untrustworthy
Peter has always been my favorite disciple. He is famous for speaking before he thought, leaping before he looked, and otherwise throwing himself headlong into a mirid of difficult scenarios with nothing more than his unbridled passion to guide him. I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Peter. Maybe you can relate better to Thomas. You love the Lord, and you’re dedicated to Jesus, but your doubts creep in from time to time and keep you from following hard after him. Maybe you can relate to James and John. You’re zealous for the Lord, but sometimes your hotheaded temperament gets the better of you, and you overstep when admonishing a fellow believer. The Gospels are wonderful because, in them, we see a relatable God—in the person of Jesus—relating to people who we can relate to. 
We can learn much about discipleship when we examine the lives of the eleven disciples. But what about that pesky twelfth disciple, the “son of perdition,” the treacherous Judas? What could we possibly learn about discipleship from him? Maybe there’s not much we can learn from his example. Still, if we look closely at the sad story of Judas, maybe we can learn something about Jesus’ approach to discipleship and, in particular, why he chose to trust someone who ultimately proved untrustworthy. Here are two observations for your consideration.
First, Jesus didn’t know what he didn’t know. 
It’s a bit of a theological rabbit hole, but scholars generally agree that at the incarnation, Jesus laid aside many of his divine attributes, including omniscience. It can be objectively stated that Jesus didn’t know everything (Mark 13:32). 
The Gospels are clear: Jesus chose Judas, appointed him an apostle, and endowed him with authority to minister in his name (Mark 3:13-19). Did Jesus know that Judas would prove to be untrustworthy? That seems doubtful. Who would knowingly pick a backstabber to be one of their closest companions? It seems far more likely that something about Judas compelled Jesus to seek him out. Perhaps he was friendly. Maybe he was good with money and had an inherent interest in caring for the poor. We don’t know. All we know is Jesus took him at face value and chose him to follow after him. 
Likewise, we don’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, we must always look for the best in others and extend to them opportunities to walk alongside us as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ. 
Second, Jesus knew his Heavenly Father had a sovereign plan.
I have often wondered how Jesus processed his relationship with Judas in hindsight. Songwriter Michael Card mused on this very thought in his classic song, “Why?”
“Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for
Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain.”
At some point, the Father revealed to his Son, the backstabbing scheme of his close friend. Jesus must have been heartbroken. Yet in his anguish, he never lost sight of his Father’s sovereignty. Through tearful eyes, Jesus could still see that Judas’ betrayal served a providential purpose (John 17:12). 
If Jesus had to keep his Father’s sovereignty in mind, how much more must we? God brings people into our sphere of influence and entrusts them to us. Sometimes, our effort to make a disciple goes sideways and the person we spent so much time building into proves to be untrustworthy. Does that mean that we should have never made the investment? No. Jesus invested with no guarantee of a favorable return. Likewise, we must continually pour into others and leave the outcome to the Lord.
The reality is all of Jesus’ disciples proved to be untrustworthy (Mark 14:50). Fortunately, through the cross, Jesus extended grace and mercy, and all but one of his friends took him up on the offer. We must be willing to extend the same grace and mercy we have found. We must be willing to build into others with no guarantee of return. And we must come alongside them when they prove to be untrustworthy. Why? Because that’s the philosophy of discipleship that Jesus modeled for us. 
Pastor Dan

The Weekly Epistle 2/7/24

The Why of Discipleship
Week Three: Why We Leave Room for Failure

Living Hope, 
For many of us, the word disciple invokes images of icons venerated in gold gilding. The mighty apostles of Christ—men of faith and renown. Countless architectural wonders have been erected in their honor and for their namesake. Cities and even whole islands bear their names as well. Yet, if the only historical record we had to go on was the Gospel of Mark, we might not think so well of them. 
Of all the Gospels, Mark places significant emphasis on the many failures of Jesus chosen.

  • The disciples failed to understand Jesus’ teaching (4:13; 7:18).
  • The disciples failed to recognize Jesus’ authoritative power (6:37, 52; 8:4). 
  • The disciples failed to comprehend the true nature of Jesus’ messiahship (8:32; 9:32).
  • The disciples failed to act with humility and were often motivated by their own self-interest (9:38; 10:13, 37, 41).*

The gilded icons venerated in our imaginations tarnish under the pen of Mark. 
As we can clearly see, Jesus left significant room for failure. Moreover, Jesus was constantly putting the disciples in over their heads—quite literally in the case of Peter (see Matt 14:30)! Of course, this begs the question, why? Why would Jesus choose these men and place a special anointing on their lives only to put them into situations in which they would repeatedly fail? 
The answer is quite simple. The manifold failures of the disciples were rooted in one chief failure: the failure of faith (4:13, 40; 7:18; 9:19). Jesus had a special mission in mind for his disciples, and he knew he needed to develop in them a faith that would match that mission. Moreover, to develop their faith, Jesus knew he had to put his disciples in situations that would expose their faithlessness. 
Of course, to our modern sensibilities, Jesus’ methodology seems counterintuitive. Indeed, most modern ministry models and philosophies seem preoccupied with mitigating failure at all costs. But what if failure is part of God’s plan? What if failure is the means by which Jesus will foster faith in us?
In the nearly nine years that I have ministered alongside Pastor Brian, I have come to appreciate one of his qualities above all the rest. Pastor Brian is an extremely patient man. Frankly, I didn’t always appreciate his patience. I would often grow increasingly frustrated when difficult situations and people issues seemed to drag out. However, in the passing years, my perspective has changed. More often than not, I have witnessed his patience yield abundant fruit in our humble little flock. Perhaps my perspective has shifted most dramatically because, on more than one occasion, I have been the beneficiary of his patience.
Eleven of Jesus’ twelve failures eventually turned the world upside down. Through his patience their many failures were converted into victory. Why do we leave room for failure at Living Hope? We leave room for failure because Jesus left room for failure—plain and simple.
Pastor Dan
*Listed adapted from Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels, by Mark L. Strauss (197).

The Weekly Epistle 1/31/24

The Why of Discipleship
Week Two: Why We Call the Unqualified

Greetings Living Hope Family,

We’ve heard it so many times that, to our weary ears, it’s almost cliché: 

             Jesus didn’t call the best of the best.
             Jesus didn’t call the best-trained scholars.
             Jesus didn’t call the best orators.
             Jesus called a bunch of uneducated fishermen. 

What Jesus modeled, the Apostle Paul explained. 

 “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise         according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has   chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has         chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 

Yet despite our general familiarity with what Jesus modeled and Paul taught, the modern church is enamored with professionalism in ministry. We tend to look for the mighty, noble, wise, and strong to lead the ministries of the church. For sure, there is something to advanced training in ministry. Both Pastor Brian and I are seminary-trained. While that training gives us an edge, it would be detrimental for us to be considered the professionals among you. On this point, John Piper explains, 

“The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and the heart of the Christian ministry. The         more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For the professional childlikeness, there is no                     professional tenderheartedness, there is no professional panting after God.” 

Pastor Brian and I are no more called to be disciples than anyone who attends Living Hope. We are all called to follow. We are all called to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:12). Should we all grow in our calling? Absolutely! Such growth is discipleship. However, we must stop short of calling anyone a professional. For when we prop up a select few as professionals, we risk excluding the very type of people Jesus wants to call. 

I got pushback when I announced that Dylan Treamer would be the new leader of Momentum Student Ministries. “Is he qualified?” was a common question asked by concerned individuals. My answer to this question was simple. “He is infinitely more qualified than the more qualified person who is unwilling to serve.” The elder’s decision to entrust Momentum to Dylan was not predicated on his gifts but his willingness to serve. 

On this point, I want to be clear: we didn’t just throw Dylan into the deep end of the pool and walk away. I spent two years working closely with Dylan. In the first year, we co-led Momentum. In the second year, Dylan led, and I coached. Just this year, Adam Hayes has taken on the role of Dylan’s ministry coach with a particular emphasis on lesson prep and teaching. 

Dylan was no more than twelve years old when I started here at Living Hope—not even old enough to attend youth ministry—and now he’s leading the youth ministry. He’s grown up in our midst, and Jesus is doing a mighty work through him, but that’s only because we made room for Jesus to do a mighty work in him. 

Jesus didn’t call the qualified. Jesus qualified the called.

Living Hope, let us look within. 

Let us look to those whose discipleship has been entrusted to us. 
 Let us raise up boys and girls, men and women, for the work of the       ministry. 

Pastor Dan 

The Weekly Epistle 1/24/24

The Why of Discipleship
Week One: Why We Make Disciples 

Why do we make disciples? The short answer is simple. We make disciples because Jesus commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). The long answer, on the other hand, is far more complex but also far more interesting. We make disciples because Jesus modeled discipleship for us. His public ministry began with the command “follow me,” and it ended with the command “go.” What happened in between will be the subject of this series. Over the next several weeks, we will examine the ministry of Jesus to understand how he made disciples so we can better understand how we should make disciples. 

Jesus wasted no time making disciples. In all four Gospels, Jesus’s fledgling ministry began with the calling of those who would become his disciples (Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 5:1- 11, John 1:35-51). In a sense, his ministry was discipleship. He preached the Gospel, and from those within earshot, he called the twelve to follow him, but many other men and women followed Jesus and his teachings and thus were considered to be his disciples (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49). 

As we examine Jesus’s ministry of discipleship, we will read ourselves into the narrative. We will learn what it means to be a disciple and what it means to make disciples. We will discover our identity as Jesus’ followers, and we will learn what it means to call followers of Jesus in our personal spheres of influence. 

Pastor Dan