The Arts Deliver Truth: Eric Samuel Timm Interview

We may have outdone ourselves this time!  Today, we’ve got a real live Jedi on the show.  That’s right, a Jedi!  Just like any other Jedi, he guards peace and justice – but he doesn’t stop there.  He also speaks through the noise and challenges his audience to do the same.

Eric Samuel Timm shares his heart in many mediums – be it paint, passion, speaking, writing, or teaching.  In addressing all modalities of learning, he sheds a new light and paints an image that speaks along with his vision of hope.

Eric believes that the arts deliver truth.  He shares, “People need truth … the arts are the best vehicle to deliver that truth.  I think that the arts are entrusted to us by God in a way that allows us to experiment and experience profound truth in a way that I don’t think you can otherwise.  With art, people can see what they could never hear, and without it, they may not hear it.”

We know you’ll experience truth as you tune in today!  Be sure to check out Eric’s latest book, Static Jedi, and to visit his ministry website , No One Underground.

What’s coming up?

Be on the lookout for our upcoming episode releases from:

Doug Pagitt

Ginny Owens

John Dominic Crossan

And many more!

Have a guest idea?

Contact us:  ashleigh@goodberry.net

 

Discipleship #009: Missionaries There & Here

When we hear the word “missionary” we tend to think of a ministry that is distant from us, or foreign to us.  But in the broader sense of the word, missionary is simply a disciple sent by Christ to preach in his name and make new disciples, someone who takes into heart the command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Missionary is not only the person who leaves her comfortable home for a third-world country forever, but also the African Christians reaching out to Muslims in America. Missionary is also an ordinary boy inviting his lonely pal to go to Sunday school together. Therefore, although technically a Christian missionary refers to a specific calling, a life-time occupation supported by the church, there is no doubt that all of us, as Disciples of Christ, have the same mission to make more disciples.

A Story of a Missionary

This is the story of Lee. Lee was born in Chun ju, South Korea, in 1963. He was not Christian by birth, and no one in his family was either. When he was a kid, he would show up for Sunday school when he was bored and just for the holiday events when the pastors would give away free candy. It was not until he went to the city of Pusan for college that he found a good church and started believing in God.

After studying mechanical engineering for three years, Lee decided that he was going to be a missionary. Nothing really dramatic had happened to him to prompt his decision, nothing close to the calling of Samuel or Paul’s dream of the Macedonian. Every weekend he had helped his pastor evangelize to foreigners who arrived to the port, and he had found that he simply wanted to do this kind of work for the rest of his life. The missionary work abroad he envisioned for his future was to be an extension of the missionary work he was been practicing at home.

Lee graduated in 1987. He applied to a seminary in Pusan in 1989 and after three years, he moved to Seoul to obtain his masters degree. He enjoyed studying at the seminary a lot more than when he had studied engineering.

Then the rest worked out like a puzzle. Though in the beginning, Lee’s intention had been to go to Japan and work there as a missionary, his church thought that Japan was too close and well-off for missions work and rejected his proposition. So Lee did some research and learned that the countries with the least number of missionaries were Peru and Mexico. After a couple of months, a message from Peru came saying that they needed a missionary.

Eventually the time came for Lee and his wife to leave their homes, families, and culture. Carrying a three year old, a baby of ten months, and two large immigration bags, they set foot on the arid city of Trujillo in the month of June, 1995. When asked about what he had felt when he arrived to the opposite side of the globe, Lee answered, “In that situation, there is no space for thought; there is no space for feeling. You just find yourself focusing every minute on adapting to the new environment.”

Among the hardships Lee and his family had to go through were homesickness, the inability to digest the local food, and the lack of knowledge of Spanish.

For one year, they stayed with another missionary in Trujillo to learn about the language and the culture of the country. In their second year, they moved to a town of red clay roads called Pucallpa in the Amazon jungle to help a colleague build a school. In 1998, they returned to Trujillo, and from that time on they remained in that city as the only Korean family in the area.

Lee specialized in planting churches and helping them grow until they were able to become independent. In the course of 17 years he had planted three small churches, which in turn built two other churches by themselves. Each of them had its own set of problems of economy, leadership, and fellowship. But sometimes they met for a picnic at the beach or a volleyball tournament.

He was the happiest when he saw people change for good. He found it the hardest to see people who had been Christians for a long time refusing to change. He never regretted coming to Peru. He knew what his role was in God’s plans. He had not worried much about how his decision would affect his children. He had been sure that God would take their futures into His hands.

According to Lee, his job had always been to “evangelize and serve others while sharing his life with them.” Like Lee said, a missionary’s job is not to simply go and make as many converts as possible, it is to share one’s own life with others. Just like Jesus shared his.

“Local” Missionaries

Mother Teresa once said, “It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

Being a missionary abroad has its own list of hardships, but being a missionary at home is just as hard. We humans are creatures of compartmentalization that many times like to have our jobs separate from our hobbies, our church friends separate from our school friends. But when being a “local” missionary, our identities as disciples are not nametags we use when we go to church or volunteer at another town— they are lifestyles.

John Eldredge is President of Ransomed Heart Ministry. He furthers the spiritual lives those around the U.S. through his work and books of counseling. Jenny Simmons’ music reaches out to those that are heartbroken in their homes. Adam Sterenberg, as the principal of Tree of Life School in Kalamazoo, shows his love and passion for the Lord through education and the renewing of minds.

These are only a few of the “local” missionaries around us. Let us be inspired by them and ask ourselves how we are being “local” missionaries ourselves. There is just so much to do right here.

Criticism

Missionary work comes with its own set of controversies. For instance there are concerns that missionaries lack respect for other cultures as they put their goals of evangelization first. For example the Akha people of South East Asia complained the missionaries prioritized the building a church than building a clinic. Also, because Christianity often requires change within the culture and could potentially destroy traditional social structures and values, sometimes mission work is perceived as a threat to cultural diversity.

On the opposite spectrum, there is the concern that the original mission of evangelization will be overshadowed by the needs of the people. As Oswald Chambers points out in My Utmost for the Highest, “to the point that human sympathy for those needs will absolutely overwhelm the meaning of being sent by Jesus.”

As imperfect people, missionaries always tend to lean to one side more than the other. This is why we need the greater wisdom from God to balance both sides, to not neglect the needs of the people while bringing the gospel to the culture to add to it rather than to take the pieces that are precious and beautiful away from it. God calls us to be disciples and missionaries outside the country, in the streets, our churches, and our homes. After all, love and the Gospel are not things that can be limited by space and time.

Discovering the Heart of God with John Eldredge


President of Ransomed Heart Ministry, John Eldredge, has devoted his life to aid other people in the discovering of God’s love. John uses his books as well as his counseling and teaching skills to connect with people who are striving to recover their own hearts and begin to live in the kingdom with God. Come watch and listen with us as we dig deeper and unearth adventure.

What’s coming up?

Be on the lookout for our upcoming episode releases from: Eric Samuel Timm Doug Pagitt Ginny Owens John Dominic Crossan And many more!

Have a guest idea?

Contact us:  ashleigh@goodberry.net

Discipleship #008: Together in Small Groups

The idea of small groups is not necessarily a novel one. It has been around since creation, conceived from the trinity, which is a triune community in itself, and it can be spotted throughout the Bible. For instance, Daniel and his three friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—who were exiled to Babylon were a small group, just as Jesus and his 12 disciples were.

The perpetual presence of small groups throughout time proves its necessity in the process of discipleship. They provide (or should provide) disciples with theological knowledge, practical guidance, and meet the human need for companionship.

However, there are several elements that must be brought together in order to have a successful small group. Structure and size, leadership roles, and strategies in addressing new and mature believers must be considered carefully.

Structure and size

Small groups are generally, as its name implies, small. But what counts for “small”? Starting from the smallest number, a pair may be considered a small group. Its advantage lies in its one-on-one approach that allows intimacy and depth in knowing each other. In addition, when in a pair, it is easier to keep accountable of each other and be vulnerable. However, it can also easily become a hierarchical relationship as one can become a mentor to the other, exerting pressure on the discipler, who finds him/herself alone in the position of guidance.

Triads and quads are what we call groups of three and four. These small groups are, according to Greg Oden in his book Discipleship Essentials, the ideal number for a small group. It allows depth in the relationship and a variety of perspectives in discussion.

Anything bigger than a quad is considered a large group. Even though it is formed for the sake of inclusiveness, it often ends up excluding people, as it allows less time for each member to participate and share. The number also makes keeping an account of each other harder.

Leadership

In simple terms, the goal of the small group leader would be to “pass on” the faith to others. For this, the leader must be 5 things.

  • A Model: The model inspires behavior. People look up to and follow those who are faithful and genuine in their actions to what they teach. The leader becomes a bridge between the theological knowledge it is sharing and the practical guidance it is offering.Titus 1:7-14 admonishes, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”
  • A Mentor: The leader must fulfill a personal role. It must be ready to commit itself to a relationship where it must support, give counsel, and share its own experiences. According to Working Wisdom: Timeless Skills and Vanguard Strategies for Learning Organizations byBob Aubrey and Paul Cohen, five most commonly used techniques among mentors were: Accompanying (committing oneself), Sowing (being patient and offering guidance that may prove valuable in the mentee’s future), Catalyzing (urging change), showing (making something understandable), and Harvesting (creating awareness of what was learned).
  • A Facilitator: This is a group setting role. The leader provides direction and context by directing the small group like a watercourse. It helps the members to understand their goals and assists them in achieving them by spurring discussion. Some characteristics and skills required to be a good facilitator is the ability to make good usage of time, to plan beforehand and follow the plan, and yet know how to adapt and be flexible depending on the flow of conversation. It requires an awareness of individuals and group dynamics.
  • A Servant: the leader is selfless and humble. It knows that the small group does not exist for its own gain, to feed its pride, sense of accomplishment, or hunger for popularity. It knows the group exists for others and that God takes the high seat in it. The leader also does not control the group or puts the members down but persuades and values differences in opinions, without becoming itself lesser in value than those it serves.
  • Friend: This is the most important role a leader must know to take.Mahatma Gandhi once commented, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” A leader loves and because of that love is able to become honest, open, and caring.

Strategies

Generally speaking, there will be two kinds of disciples present in any small group. New believers and mature believers. Naturally, both are subject to the Bible study, the discussions, and the fellowship the small group offers, but because of their differences in the level of their beliefs, they must be attended in different ways.

For new believers, to start, we should really break the image of pushy, condescending Christians that some of them have of us. We must respect and trust them, hold conversations with them and not lectures. Instead of thinking of them as science projects, it is better to be simply a genuine friend to them and invite them for lunch or coffee. According to Swimming Lessons: One-on-one Discipleship by Pastor Grant Edwards, “When people connect in discipling relationships, each new believer has a friend at church—one who’s actively investing in that new believer’s life. Those relationships are like glue; they cause new believers to stick. A Gallup study demonstrated that when someone has a best friend at church, that person is very likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their church. In fact, 87% of church members with a best friend at church gave their church two thumbs up—way up (as reported in the Group/Gallup resource, Creating a Culture of Connectivity In Your Church, 2005).”

For mature believers the focus lies on consistency and challenge. Mature believers are like Olympic athletes who have won a medal once but are looking forward to win more the coming years and better themselves. For this they need from their small group people who can keep them accountable on living as faithful Christians and who can encourage them to question what they already know, go deeper and further the “Jesus” answer to reach a more wholesome one. Finally, mature believers are those who are one step behind from becoming leaders themselves. They must be prepped to answer their callings in the world and to make new disciples by sharing their faith, joy, and love to others.

We have talked about different aspects of a small group, but what unites all of them is the idea of fellowship found in the small group, the idea of sharing beliefs and propping each other up like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). For many reasons God made more than one of us. He delights in the act of love which requires at least two people and lets us know even in our loneliness, we have each other and Him. Acts 2:44-47 paints us a blessed picture of what a small group should be like: “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

 

 

 

Discipleship #007: Serving With Our Gifts

Currently, there are over 7 billion people in our world. And to add to that number is added to nearly every second. However, it would not be a stretch to say that each of these people possess unique gifts for which God has a purpose. Among them, Christian disciples live their life in discovery of these gifts and strive to use them for God. Just like Saint Augustine of Hippo, who upon receiving Christ as savior wrote in his Confessions, “I look forward, not to what lies ahead of me in this life and will surely pass away, but to my eternal goal. I am intent upon this one purpose, not distracted by other aims, and with this goal in view I press on, eager for the prize, God’s heavenly summons.”

We might all be different in our gifts and the kind of active service we ultimately bring to those around us. However, as disciples we are united by the goal of offering our lives and actions to God, to love our neighbors and love God. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 summarizes it nicely when it says: “4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Serving with our Spiritual Gifts Daily

The Bible says that it is the Holy Spirit who bestows upon us spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4). Different from mundane gifts, Spiritual gifts are those possessed by Christians, with the specific purpose of assisting our neighbors and spreading the gospel.

Greg Oden categorizes in his book Discipleship Essentials four types of gifts that can be found in disciples. He calls support gifts those that equip others to use their own gifts. Speaking gifts, Oden writes, use words to teach and encourage others in wisdom and knowledge. Sign gifts are supernatural gifts that allow one to perform miracles, healing, and speak in tongues. And finally service gifts specialize in helping, giving, practicing hospitality, leadership, and administration.

These gifts can be exercised in our daily lives through a hug, an advice, prayer, or a welcoming “hello.” They are, of course, different from each other and some may seem more flamboyant or important than others. However, they all are the same in their foundation, which is where their true worth lies: they exist to serve and to show Christ in us. Peter instructs us this way: “10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”(1 Peter 4:10-11).

Serving with our Occupations

Many times our raw gifts land us on certain kinds of occupations. For example, someone who has a gift for words usually becomes a teacher or a writer. But even in our occupations we are called to reach out to others, help them in what we can, and share the good news of salvation. For instance, John Milton wrote his renowned and exquisite poem Paradise Lost in order to “justify the ways of God to men.”

But of course, forcing our beliefs on others is not the way to go about this. We must respect other people beliefs and be humble in ours. But if we work in diligence, kindness, and love, if we do not use “being considerate” as an excuse and are not afraid to express our opinions and share our experiences, if we remain as disciples even in our workplaces, God utilizes us to move new hearts.

A friend recently went to Rooted Conferences organized by the Christian Community Health Fellowship. What she saw there was people who did not study their MCATs or went into their hospitals only thinking of their status as doctors but who thought foremost about how to serve their patients best, how to be used by God. She saw working disciples.

Eggshells

Like everything else, discovering our gifts and using them is a journey that needs a discerning mind and careful treading. So here are some extra things to take note of:

o   Pride: God does not need anything from us. Therefore, when we serve God, let us do so in the motivation of love and not because we think God needs serving. It also helps to remember that all gifts have been given to us out of grace, not necessarily because we deserved them or God owed us. The gifts do not exist for our own self-aggrandizement, but they serve tools and encouragement to serve others in a way that is particular to us.

o   Differences: We have mentioned this before, but it is something many of us have a hard time remembering. Our gifts are often different from each other. Be it in type, amount of skill, function, showiness, even social importance—they may be different and feel uneven. This can lead us to compare ourselves with others, grow arrogant or lose confidence in ourselves. However, we must find our worth and value not in the gifts themselves but in the proper usage of those gifts and God.

o   Drudgery:  Like homework for a core class that has nothing to do with our majors or a chore we are forced to do every morning, we often view service as doing something we do not want to do but must. In here we must note God’s love. A loving God would not allow us to suffer our work unnecessarily, without meaning or purpose. More often than not he gives us particular gifts in which we can thrive and find gladness when serving. The trick is to recognize those gifts and know they are ours.

o   Discouragement: There are times we get downcast because we do not feel we are blooming in our gifts, like a Bible study leader who finds his/her students decreasing one by one and starts to ponder whether he/she is the problem. We should not think that this always happens because we are hopeless or incompetent. The body of Christ is designed in such a way that each of us have a valued role uniquely suited for us. We simply must learn to identify it properly and use it in the right context, find how and where we function the best (in a large group, small group, one-on-one, with Children, elderly, peers, women, men, etc). Like Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

o   Control: We are not the ones to judge the potential of our gifts, that is, what we are able to do with them. When Moses refused to go and talk to his people and inspire freedom, “The LORD said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’” (Exodus 4:11).God gives us our gifts, and only God knows what they can do. We merely have to trust and follow his lead.

o   Hiding: Recognizing the gift and delighting in it is not enough. We have been given gifts, so we may be responsible for them, invest in them, cultivate them, bear fruits, like in the parable of the talents. It is our duty to discover and use our gifts for the glory of God. Hiding them out of fear of failure, pain, or commitment is not responding to the faith of the One who entrusted us with something precious.

 

Recognizing our gifts and serving God with them are no easy tasks. Like we have noted throughout, it takes a great deal of courage, courage to use those gifts and become a light in the world that points at Christ. Let us then serve each other and God with intrepid hearts.

 

Singing A Broken Hallelujah with Jenny Simmons

Jenny Simmons is a woman of faith whose outpouring of love affects everyone she meets.

Through her career with Addison Road as well as her solo album, she has been on an amazing journey filled with love, hope and heartbreak.

Join us as we learn more about her journey and how it has shaped who she is today.

Redefining Street Ministry


As the teaching pastor at Vanguard Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Elisha Young teaches how important unity is within our communities.

Through her work with Vanguard Street Ministry, she has been able to help people heal from rejection, and has been blessed herself by the process.

Join us as we talk with Elisha and learn about the radical transformation occurring where she serves.

Discipleship #006: Parent & Disciple

Confucius once said, “From the loving example of one family a whole State may become loving, and from its courtesies, courteous…Such is the nature of influence.” But what is true about a loving and courteous state coming from a loving and courteous family is true as well in the individual, church, nation, and world. The family is, after all, a foundational institution in every culture and society. It is important to properly plant the seeds of discipleship there first in order to reach out to yet other disciples. Unfortunately, the family is a ground that is often overlooked despite its potential. This is why in this post we are going to focus on the role of parents in discipleship and offer a few practical suggestions. A parent’s duty of making disciples out of sons and daughters should be prioritized; it is a God-entrusted responsibility. According to Tad Thompsonin his book Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship By Design,God intends for a beautiful partnership to exist between the home and the local church. As a matter of fact, God intends for the Christian home to become the body of Christ in microcosm.” It is essential then for parents to take on their roles as teachers. Being close to them physically and often emotionally, parents have the ability to exercise great influence on their children’s lives. From the time they are born, children are constantly, consciously or unconsciously, picking up things regarding how to behave in society and the world from the context of their families, from their parents. Proper parenting would provide a glimpse of God’s nature. In other words, a good parent would serve as a picture of the relationship God had with Israel and Christ with the Church. However, the opposite can cause children to completely steer away from Christianity. Jeff Klick writes in his blog “Christian Discipleship Ministries,” “[There exists] dismal statists regarding the destruction of the family via divorce and the tragedy regarding the high percentage of young people rejecting Christ shortly after they leave the home.” Therefore, parents should strive to serve as good models of Christianity in order to help their children grow as good Christians themselves. The goal is to provide children with a constructive relationship of instruction, care, and love at home that will aid them in developing their identities as disciples.

Some Things You Can Do

God urges Israeli parents in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to teach their children like this: Hear, O Israel: TheLordour God, theLordis one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. We have been given a limited amount of time to use. However, we can choose where and how to use it. Children should be our priority. Sending them to a youth group or Sunday School class is not merely enough. Parents must take on to themselves to use their time for the children in order to instill in their hearts the ways of the Lord. As Pastor Craig F. Caster, Founder and Director of Family Discipleship Ministries and writer of Parenting Is a Ministry, says, “parenting according to God’s Word does not come naturally.”  And it is true. We intentionally set time apart for the children every moment we can.

  • Praying Together: For every instance there is a moment of gratitude or blessing, like at mealtime or graduation, a need for guidance or help, we encourage you to gather as a family and pray. Family prayer meetings can teach children early not fear to converse with God, bringing them a sense of comfort and closeness with God, and make them grasp the importance and meaning of prayer. Some suggest that even recording the answer to the prayers afterward can also teach patience and help solidify the reality of Christ in the children. We can teach our children to pray by praying for them and with them.
  • Reading the Bible together: If you do not know where to begin with, the Book of Proverbs is a good starting point. It is filled with practical and righteous wisdom usable in daily life. Reading one chapter a day, or even a couple of verses a day, and sharing devotions and insights of what has been read can make a difference if you do it together every day. Through this, not only are you teaching your children to develop their own spiritual disciplines, but you are learning to be disciples together.
  •  Reading Other Books Together: Be it shortened versions of Bible stories or classics such as Pride and Prejudice, by a bed lamp or on a cozy couch, read to your children. When you do, you will have the chance to lead them with questions that will let them reflect on the lessons or the morality and values of the characters, measured against Christian values. Reading in general encourages the practice of critical thinking and discernment, things necessary to become knowledgeable disciples in Christ.
  •  Discuss: Children will have all sorts of questions, ranging from about the Bible to the ways of the world— do not avoid them or find an easy way out of them. Even if you cannot offer a satisfactory answer, share your own opinions and ask for theirs, always using the Word of God as your ultimate resource. Like this, Scripture can become a part of their way of thinking.
  • Worship Together: Set apart a time for singing and praising God together. You can use chorus books, hymnals, printed lyrics of your favorite Hillsong songs, instruments, or even your bare hands to clap—anything! Teach your children that worship is supposed to be a part of daily life and not only a Sunday thing. Teach them to find joy in genuine praise.
  • Spend Time Together: We have used the word together unsparingly in this post, and this is to emphasize the importance of togetherness in family. All discipleship relationships work through intimacy, honesty, supportiveness, and intentionality. The mere act of spending time together, no matter if it is the “usual family activities,” shows caring, and nothing else is more expressive of God’s loving nature than that.

A Christian parent’s mission should not be merely to be a good parent. It should be to be a great parent and disciple. The goal is to provide the children with an atmosphere where Christ is central and the Word of God is valued, where the right habits may be created. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” If you are afraid that their Christianity might become just a mere product of their social or family context, do not be. Unknowing obedience may seem to come first in this process, but sincere love will come with maturity and calling. After all, it is not really us who make disciples out of people, but Christ.

Leadership: A Tree of Life

Adam Sterenberg has a vision for a school that exists to provide a Christ centered education regardless of their socio-economic situation.

As the principal of Tree of Life School in Kalamazoo, Adam is able to show his love and passion for the Lord through education and the renewing of minds.

Join us as we begin to understand his mission and what makes him a leader that follows Jesus in his faith and love.

Discipleship #005: Challenges and Potholes

Even before Jesus chose his 12 disciples, he said to them “Enter through the narrow gate… For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” He wanted to let them know that the journey of discipleship was not an easy one. Salvation was for those who wished to find truth above all and was not for those who followed Jesus just for the sake of avoiding hell, and therefore, anyone who was not prepared to face and surpass the difficulties along the road would not be able to complete the journey.

Two authors, John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis were well aware of the fact that discipleship was a road full of all kinds and sizes of potholes, and produced 2 books revolving around them: Pilgrim’s Progress and TheScrewtape Letters respectively, which we will mainly use as references to study some of the challenges found in being a disciple of Christ.

A Series of Potholes

  • The Burden of Sin:  Christian, the protagonist of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, is described to be weighed down by a great burden: the knowledge of his sin. With this burden, he sets on a journey seeking for deliverance. However, right off the bat, Christian falls into the “Slough of Despond,” a miry swamp, and he sinks and sinks under the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt. This is not an uncommon story between disciples. Acute consciousness of our sin and imperfectness comes with a sense of guilt, and as guilt turns into shame, and shame into reluctance to face truth, we become separated from God—just like a shadow that cannot bear to be in the presence of light. But let us not forget the existence of grace. A loving God would not want his sons and daughters to fall into sloughs of desponds, He would rather take on the burden for Himself to free them, which is exactly what He did through Jesus. The least we can do is remember that important fact and pull ourselves up.
  • Fake Glory:  Glory is interpreted in the human way as fame and luminosity, but such things are transient. After all, the human fame is something given by fellow passionate humans; and human passions always die away. True glory is something much grander and humbler. According to Lewis in his essay The Weight of Glory, Glory is in reality “fame with God, approval, or (I might say) ‘appreciation’ by God.” The long and painful longing that could never be satisfied by human praise, can only cease the moment God smiles and says “you have done well.” As disciples, we must become children once again. We must recall those younger days when being praised by someone we loved and admired brought feelings of supreme bliss. Only a dependent child of God can enter paradise.
  • All Talk, No Action:  In his journey, Christian also meets Talkative, a fellow who is better looking from a distance than close up. Talkative is very enthusiastic in talking about his faith, but the more he talks, the more it is discovered that he possesses a shallow mentality. Talkative’s question, “Why, what difference is there between crying out against, and abhorring of, sin?” says much about him. Even though he denounces sin by mouth, he does not do so by spirit and action. He is like a carrot with large leaves and petite root. Like Talkative, sometimes we say and think we do not love sin, but we do not act like it. However, that is not faith. “…Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
  • All Action, No Faith:  On the other hand, acting all the time but not keeping proper faith can be a stumbling block as well. Thinking that good deeds can get one to heaven ignores the grace factor and instigates pride. Surprisingly, mature disciples who know this are more susceptible to this kind of mentality, though perhaps in a smaller scale. Many times we forget that it is for God why we do everything good and that it is thanks to Him that we have anything good, and instead we focus on our holy actions and think ourselves righteous when that is far from the truth. In Bunyan’s allegory, the name of such person is Ignorance. Ignorance thinks of Jesus Christ only as an example and not as a Savior. However, when he gets to the Celestial City, he finds he does not have the “certificate” needed to enter.
  • The Slippery Slope:  Temptations are not always extravagant. The little things, such as small distractions and a fake sense of peace found in routine, can get us just as well. In The Screwtape Letters, a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter, Lewis writes, “the safest road to hell is the gradual one— the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” We have to be careful, be constantly concerned about the things we are doing and why we are doing them, and do them wholeheartedly. Letting our spiritual disciplines become a joyless, superficial, empty habits makes the heart numb and devoid of meaning, devoid of God. To avoid slipping further, we must not wait until we end up in the worst possible situation before turning away. The moment we catch ourselves nodding off, we must wake up.
  • Triple Fear:  Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of death. We all experience those. But in perspective, fear can be good. It can reminds us of our mortality and keeps us careful and humble. However, the problem lies in succumbing to fear and taking no action at all and hiding. It is essential to believe that Jesus triumphed over pain and death through the cross and his resurrection. When Bunyan’s Christian tries to cross The River of Death, the dreadful river that separates mankind from Paradise, he soon realizes that it is deeper or shallower depending on the faith of the one traversing it. Because there is doubt and fear in his heart, Christian has a rough time crossing the river, but with the help of his friend Hopeful he succeeds in crossing over. It is human to fear, but courage can be found in our hope and trust in God.
  • Right to happiness:  When we feel grief, there are times when we feel resentful towards God, because we think that we have the right to happiness. But it is not about having the “right.” Happiness is not something we can demand because we have no real ownership of it (the owner is God). However, we are permitted to it because of God’s grace. Small pieces of temporary happiness are gifts to be enjoyed while our lives last. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 5:18, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them– for this is their lot.” The point is to, above all, love the giver and not just the gift.

We can fall into holes, but we can get out from them just as well. The journey is hard. It requires an immeasurable amount of effort to keep going. There will be times we will think we will feel too tired to continue.

But we are not alone.

Indeed, the road of discipleship is full of potholes. It is long and twisty, and many times treacherous. Yet there will be times of pleasure, rejoicing, peace, and strength. It’s important to remember that it’s not just about waiting for the end or some reward far off in the future.  Discipleship has it’s rewards in the here and now and God is with us already and in the not yet.