Category Archives: discipleship

FOLLOW NO ONE? (Time for a Great Commercial)

Here’s the script:

“To be nobody but yourself
In a world which is doing its best to make you everybody else
Means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop
Does this sound dismal?
It isn’t.
It’s the most wonderful life on earth.”

Then the screen reads: FOLLOW NO ONE!

But Jesus said, “Follow me!”

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Posted by on March 20, 2019 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS: One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 19)

Can we talk?  We who want to follow Jesus have our successes and our failures.  We’re focusing in this series of posts on the fact that many Jesus-followers don’t imitate the Lord in His connection with sinners.  Matthew 11 is clear that He was “a friend of sinners.”  Can the same be said of us?  Of me?  Of you?

He spent time with the least, the lost, and the last.  We suggested in our previous post that many of us need a refresher course on basic friendship.  If one were to study every social occasion in which Jesus spent time with sinners, one would learn that —

1. He listened to them (Zacchaeus in Luke 19).

2.  He ate and drank with them (the feeding of the 4000 and of the 5000 in Mark 8).

3.  He was not afraid to meet with them publicly (the story of the man born blind in John 9).

Perhaps that third aspect of Jesus’ friendship with sinners merits some discussion.  Are we Jesus-followers afraid of being a friend of sinners because we fear criticism — from the family of God?!

Jesus told the three stories of lostness (the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son) in Luke 15 because of the criticism from the religious leaders.  The text reads, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”  Notice that there was something attractive in Jesus that drew the tax collectors and sinners to Him.  And His response was to “welcome” them.  And to eat with them!

But He also ate with the religious leaders!  In Luke 7 Jesus was invited to have dinner with one of the Pharisees.  A sinful woman in that town came into that Pharisee’s home and anointed His feet with perfume, wetting His feet with her tears (presumably, of repentance).  The Pharisee who had invited Jesus said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”  But the truth was He was already with a sinner — the Pharisee!  And was eating with him!

Jesus was an equal-opportunity friend.  He could dine with the religious and defend the repentant sinner.  Criticism did not curtail His mission or harden His heart.

The movie director Mel Brooks was once asked by an interviewer what he thought of critics.  He said, “Well, when you’re camping in the woods, they can be very noisy at night and will keep you from sleeping.”  “No,” said the interview, “not crickets, CRITICS!”  “Oh,” said Brooks.  “They are even worse.  They can’t even rub their back legs together to make music!”  Don’t let the religious critics keep you from being more like your Lord! (to be continued)

























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Posted by on July 29, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 18)

We are investigating how we who profess to follow Jesus — often don’t.  We don’t follow Him in being “a friend of sinners.”  And, it must be said, we’re often rather poor at being a friend of fellow-saints!  “I don’t have the time!”  “Maybe later we’ll get together.”  “Let’s do lunch sometime.”  — are excuses we give for not pursuing deep, personal relationships with other members of the family of God.

I must admit:  As an introvert, I’m perfectly okay with shallow connections, brief conversations, non-risky discussions.  I like being alone.  IF I can have my books, my dog, and occasional visits from my wife.  We all — introverts and extroverts — come into this world broken — and we each have to lean against whatever brokenness keeps us from being a friend of sinners.  And of each other.

I think we Jesus-followers need a primer on FRIENDSHIP!  What’s involved in being a good friend?  The philosopher Plutarch said, “I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.”  “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives,” said Euripides. 

How necessary are true friends?  Orson Welles was pretty negative when he wrote, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”  My patron saint, C.S. Lewis, bluntly said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

The Bible has much to say about friendship.  For example, the Apostle Paul often uses the expression “my dear friends” as he writes his epistles (see Rom. 16:8-9).  He refers to Luke as “our dear friend” (Col. 4:14).  The Lord Jesus frequently used the word “friends” when He addressed His followers and said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn. 15:15).  “You are my friends,” Jesus said, “if you do what I command” (Jn. 15:14).  Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13).  After His resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples (who had gone back to work) and He calls out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (By the way, the question is asked in such a way in Greek as to imply a “no” answer.  Jesus knew they hadn’t caught any fish! Jn. 21:5).

We read in James 2:23, “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.”  Oscar Wilder once quipped, “True friends stab you in the front.”  He really wasn’t all that wrong, for Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  There is a lot of wisdom in Octavia Butler’s statement that “Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” (to be continued)




















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Posted by on July 28, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 17)

Charged with three sins — gluttony, drunkenness, and hanging around sinners — Jesus responds to such criticism by insisting that He came, not for the righteous, but for sinners.  He was a friend of sinners — something that we Jesus-followers often are not!

My experience in knowing the Lord for over 50 years is that most Christian fellowships expect the new believer to shed his or her old relationships with the unredeemed and spend all their waking hours with “the saints.”  This new social arrangement centers around church meetings which seldom go below the surface, and seem to focus primarily on Christian chit chat.  I’m convinced that we believers not only have few deep relationships with lost people.  We don’t even pursue strong connections with each other!

Psychologists tell us that there are, generally speaking, two types of personality:  the extroverts and the introverts.  The extroverts love to be around a lot of people and activity and are energized by social connections.  The introverts like to be alone, to meditate, and to pray for their crazy, extroverted friends (can you tell that I lean toward introvertism?).   People normally wear me out.  I am an “expressive introvert,” that is, I can connect with others in a social setting, but eventually I want to go home, sit by myself (or with my wife), read a good book, and have my dog on my lap.  My daughter, who has inherited my introvert nature, says she’s going to buy me a t-shirt which reads, “INTROVERTS UNITE!  BY YOURSELVES.  ALONE.  IN YOUR OWN HOMES!”

Neither being an extrovert nor being an introvert is wrong.  It is what it is.  The challenge for the extrovert, I think, is to spend significant time alone with the Lord, resting in Him, and finding one’s primary significance in one’s relationship with the Lord.  The introvert’s challenge is to reach out to others, step out of his or her comfort zone by personal engagement, and to find one’s primary significance in one’s relationship with the Lord.  (and to pray for their crazy, extroverted friends).  But both types, if they profess to be Jesus-followers, are to be like their Lord and to be friends of sinners.  Which type are you?  (to be continued)



















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Posted by on July 27, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 16)

We are talking about how we Jesus-followers have a great deal to learn — and to practice — about being a friend of sinners like Jesus was.  Matthew 11 is clear that Jesus was such a friend.  He was charged with three offenses by His contemporary culture:  being a drunkard, being a glutton, and being a friend of sinners.

Because drunkenness and gluttony are sins, Jesus obviously did not drink or eat to excess.  But being a friend of sinners was not a sin.  Oh, sure in the minds of His critics hobnobbing with whores and hanging out with Herod’s tax agents was abominable.  But Jesus defends His association with the sick and the lost, especially as He tells the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (a story told specifically because, as we read in the first two verses, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”)

But, wait a minute!  Isn’t hanging out with “sinners” THE sin in many Christian circles?  One study shows that a new convert will lose (= is expected to lose) all his non-Christian friends within the first year of his new life in Jesus.  I wonder how such a thing happens?

The assumption is that a new believer will spend all of his social time with the family of God.  He or she might be “discipled” in basic Bible study and prayer, but who helps that new convert learn to maintain his or her relationships with those not yet in God’s family?  Who teaches that believer how to pray for their lost friends, to really listen hard to their problems, to be ready to share (even a little bit) of their “testimony”?  If not proclaimed out loud, it seems to be a subtle expectation that those unsaved friends will be replaced by new relationships. (to be continued)



















Posted by on July 26, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 15)

If it is true that we seldom develop friendships with “the lost” primarily because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and not because we are afraid we will adopt their sinful ways, then one Old Testament character immediately comes to mind.  Jonah.

No, I’m not thinking of his being swallowed by a great sea creature.  I’m referring to the fact that his heart doesn’t change throughout his four-chapter saga.  I recently preached on this minor prophet and used a pretty simple outline:  Jonah’s Predicament (Ch. 1); Jonah’s Prayer (Ch. 2); Jonah’s Preaching (Ch. 3); and Jonah’s Pouting (Ch. 4).  The book concludes with Jonah furious at God for withholding His judgment of Nineveh, the Assyrians’ repenting, and Jonah being angry at God for taking away his comfort.  Comfort, not conversions, was Jonah’s focus.

Would you agree that we should never underestimate the comfort factor?  Developing deep relationships with lost people is messy, time-consuming, and unsettling to our comfortable routine.

Part of the problem is that I am very me-centered.  I may not always realize my default position, but many of my decisions and choices come down to “What’s in it for me?”  Does this conversation fit into my agenda, advance my goals, meet my needs?  Am I wasting my time here?

A few weeks ago I was invited to one of my lost friend’s home after playing a set of tennis with him.  He talked for an hour about how he wanted to change out the wooden banisters in his house for chrome ones.  But I listened and I asked questions.  I had to mentally force myself to focus on him and the topic he had chosen.  We didn’t talk about Jesus or Christianity or being born again.  We (He) talked about banisters.  But we had a conversation.

I wonder — Could it be that some of us are rather poor at conversations?  While we long for conversions, must we be reminded that friendship involves a hefty dose of listening?  And each conversation that we engage in holds the potential of advancing that friendship, perhaps toward conversion.  Are we listening?  (to be continued)


















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Posted by on July 25, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 14)

Let’s think more about this idea of FUN, shall we?  Healthy, human life must include a strong factor of FUN!  Many Jesus-followers that I know and have known are sober, somber, and somnolent (a word meaning sleepy)!  We simply “don’t get out much.”  We seldom have FUN with each other, much less with the world (its citizens).

There is, of course, a fear factor.  For many the fear is that, if we spend much time with sinners, we will become like them.  We will adopt their sinful habits.  We will compromise our morals.  And that risk is very real.

However, Jesus spent time with sinners.  And He did not cave in to their sinfulness.  Perhaps the real struggle with many Jesus-followers is not a fear of compromise, but a refusal to spend their time with the lost.  They may not be tempted to drink or curse or philander, but they simply don’t want to be in uncomfortable situations with those who do.  Comfort, not conformity, is the issue.

I’ve been in situations with my unsaved tennis friends where they have offered me a drink.  I don’t make a bit deal out of my tee-totalism.  I tell them that if I were to drink a beer, I’d probably throw up on the court!  And so I have a soft drink with them.  Companionship, not sinful compromise, seems to be what they are seeking with me.  (By the way, Jesus drank with sinners.  Yes, my Baptist friends.  He did.  Afterall, He was charged with being a drunkard. But let’s not get bogged down in that issue.).

We will continue our discussion on this critical topic in our next post.  BUT I’D LIKE TO ASK YOU TO DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW.  In the Comments’ section below, please describe briefly one relationship that you have with an unsaved friend.  Really.  (to be continued)

















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Posted by on July 24, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 13)

Let’s face it.  Most of us Jesus-followers aren’t following Him in being a friend of sinners as He was.  Matthew 11 is quite clear that He wore that charge as a badge of honor.  We’re often afraid of what other Christians will think of us if we spend too much time with lost people.

One of the excuses we use is TIME.  But the bottom line is that each of us has 24 hours in the day.  And we can’t (and shouldn’t try to) get around the fact that Jesus spent TIME with sinners.

We also looked at the fact that we have forgotten THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP.  In our self-absorbed culture, we tend to focus on me, myself, and mine.

We are looking at various excuses we Jesus-followers use for not following Jesus in this crucial area of being a friend of sinners.  Sometimes Christians are confused about THE WORLD and our place in it.  There is a great difference between being a friend of sinners (as Jesus was) and being a friend of the world (which James 4 condemns)!  We fail to properly define the world and end up, ironically, embracing the world’s values but avoiding its citizens!

Let’s begin a brief discussion of the issue of FUN!  What do you do for FUN?  I was once asked to interview a candidate for the position of dean of our seminary and I asked him two simple questions:  (1) “Please tell me about your unsaved friends.” (He candidly admitted that he had none).  (2)  “Please tell me what you do for fun.”  (He said he didn’t have time for fun).

Somebody needs to develop a theology of fun!  God made us to enjoy His world and that includes FUN!  Mike Witmer’s Becoming Worldly Saints is a tremendous help in this area.  We are to enjoy the world God has made.  There is a fun-factor built into each of us.  Hmmmm.  What if we were to spend time with sinners — and have FUN with them? (to be continued)














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Posted by on July 23, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Are Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 12)

We are looking at various excuses we Jesus-followers use for not following Jesus in this crucial area of being a friend of sinners. In our last post we began to think a bit about THE FORGOTTEN ART OF FRIENDSHIP.  Jesus was a friend of sinners.  But what do we do with James 4 which says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

It is absolutely critical that we recognize several possible meanings with the word “world.”  In John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world . . .”), it must mean the people of the planet.  In John 17:5 Jesus prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  Here “the world” appears to mean the planet itself.  But we then read in I John 2:15- “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”  The God who loves the world (John 3:16) tells us not to love the world (I John 2:15).  Here “the world” must mean the pagan system opposing God and the things of God.  Obviously, the expression “the world” can have three different meanings, depending on context.

So what does “the world” mean in James 4:4 (“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”).  Looking at the context of James 4 we learn —

1. that fights and quarrels among believers often come from our ungodly desires (vv. 1-3).

2. that following Jesus means resisting the devil (v. 7), drawing near to God (v. 8), seeking holiness (v. 8), grieving about sin (v. 9), and humbling ourselves before the Lord (v. 10).

3.  that slandering and judging each other is really judging God’s law (vv. 11-12).

4.  that boasting about tomorrow can cause us to forget about God’s will over our lives (vv. 13-16).

5.  that not doing the good we should do is sin (v. 17).

These are the injunctions James gives for living life for God.  His admonition to not be a friend of the world occurs in verse 4.  So, we could say that being a friend of the world means —

(1)  living for our own desires which includes needless quarreling with fellow-believers;

(2)  not resisting the devil, not drawing near to God, not seeking holiness, not grieving about sin, not humbling ourselves before the Lord;

(3)  slandering and judging one another;

(4)  not pursing God’s will above our own future plans;

(5)  not doing the good that we should do.

Man, that puts some meat on the challenge NOT to be a “friend of the world,” doesn’t it?  (to be continued)














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Posted by on July 22, 2017 in discipleship


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UNLIKE JESUS! One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel (Part 11)

We are looking at various excuses we Jesus-followers use for not following Jesus in this crucial area of being a friend of sinners.  We are to be friends of sinners like Jesus (Mt. 11) but not friends of the world (James 4:4).  There is a world of difference between spending time with those who are lost versus conforming to the values and beliefs of a lost world.

Let’s think for a bit about THE FORGOTTEN ART OF FRIENDSHIP.  What does it mean to be a friend?  What’s involved?  What is the cost of close, personal relationships with others?  It’s tough enough to be a friend of fellow believers.  How in the world do I become a friend of lost people, sinners?

I found one of my favorite quotes on friendship by searching the internet.  I remembered a few of the words of the quote and then, through the miracle of the world wide web, discovered it.  Here is that quote: “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans).  The troubling thing about that quote is that it was with a cartoon of a girl petting her dog!  Please notice — the quote says “feeling safe with a person”! 

I’m slowly learning that to be a friend of sinners involves the following elements:

1. Spending time with them.

2. Showing them that I want to listen to them and their stories.

3. Trying to remember special dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.).

4. Using my home as a place to get together.

5. Inviting them to events other than church services!

6. Sharing with them some of my struggles and mistakes.

7. Looking for opportunities to speak about my faith in Christ.

I can honestly say that I have had only a few really good friends over the years.  I don’t blame them. I don’t think most of us understand true friendship.  And there are — and ought to be — some differences between being friends with other Jesus-followers and being friends with those who are not yet there.  I am not to seek my spiritual fellowship with those who are not yet committed to Christ.  But there are many other aspects of friendship that I can pursue and enjoy with those who don’t know Him.  And they, hopefully, can see in my life the differences that Jesus has made and is making in how I’m living out my life.  (to be continued)











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Posted by on July 21, 2017 in discipleship


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