Saturday, March 31, 2007

Disicpleship and Strangers

A member of our church posed a question to me today in one of my sites: “how does one approach strangers in public places, with a view to discipleship?” My response to him: I do not usually approach strangers. It is only when an opportunity presents itself that I do.

Examples of these are during a flight (since you are stuck together and usually have no choice but to talk), at a children's PTA meeting, waiting in line at an embassy to get a visa, chance meetings with a friend of a friend, meeting a Filipino overseas and the like. Even then I take it very slowly.

The common denominator to all of these is there is something shared no matter how small. You are in the same plane, same school association, have the same intention to get a visa, same friends or same nationality. Approaching people from the cold is not easy and is very risky because you could be misunderstood as it is not a normal thing people do.

However, there are unique opportunities when meeting strangers. Fact is people don’t like it when people have an agenda or “have something to sell”. You and I definitely have one albeit a good one that will benefit them for eternity that has no direct benefit to us. It doesn’t change the fact that people become suspicious when approached from “the cold”.

The key to reaching strangers is to build on existing relationships. The deeper these relationships go the wider your potential ability to reach others get. People whom you think you know are actually still strangers in one way or another. Deepening those relationships is the key to more relationships. Don’t forget that the foundation of all relationships is trust. Trust then builds more trust and extends to others.

As I look back, it was the people who trusted me who introduced me to many of the people I have been in discipleship. Whether that was a student, a businessman, athlete or a senator trust gained from one relationship is what brings more relationships.

Take a lesson from God. How quickly did you turn to Him? Didn't He use people you had a relationship with to draw you to Him? Relationships take time. As I have said before: "Discipleship is relationship" as such “slow is fast!”

remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12-13

See other Post:

Prayer and Cheddar Cheese

Monday, March 26, 2007

Discipleship and Harrods of London

In my earlier blog I wrote about preaching at an English Pub while I was in London. On my last day since it was so cold and I had limited time I decided to spend the afternoon with a young man whom I have had the privilege of being in discipleship with some years back.

The ideal place to go to was Harrods of London, it was only 2 stops away from where we were by subway and we would be indoors. To a Filipino Harrods is a tourist attraction. This is the store where stars, sheiks, super-models and stock moguls went to buy their groceries. Who knows who you might just bump into?

But there was a more focused reason why I wanted to go to Harrods which is the first point of this post: I wanted to spend some time that afternoon with my friend in the hopes of a discipleship moment. Here’s a tip, use your free time and make it a discipleship moment. It could be during a coffee break, over lunch or at the gym. Since you're going to do something you might as well do it with someone instead of doing it alone.

So there we were, eventually we found ourselves in the watch and jewelry section. Many of the watch brands were unfamiliar to us. With prices ranging from 1000 pounds (US$ 2000) to as much as 30,000 pounds (US$ 60,000). It was then that my friend said something like this: “I don’t get it. I feel this is a waste given that so many are starving.” He was right about his feeling he was however wrong to judge these people for their reality. Thank God I have been in his place before – See Prayer and Harrods of London.

Many of the people who shop at Harrods were born shopping there. And that’s not their fault. That’s their reality. In the same way it is wrong to judge the poor who were born to theirs.

I remember the first time I went to Harrods. I was still a businessman then. I was amazed at the number of cars and chauffeurs waiting outside the store. The cars ranged from Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the sort. It was surreal. Which brings me to my second point. If we are intimidated by what people wear, own or where they live and how they act, how can we reach them? These people are no different from people in other mission fields who dress, speak, act and live differently from the way we do.

The problems rich people have are no different from ours. From emptiness, depression, failed marriages, broken ties with loved ones, illnesses, fears, insecurity (they can be some of the most pitiful) and others. Which is my third point: the rich have the same problems. It is “fleshly” thinking when we think that just because people have money they have no problems. That is tantamount to saying: ‘if I just have all the money in the world I wouldn’t have any problems.” Wrong!

Fact is they too need a Savior and need discipleship. We need to find ways to reach out to them. One way of doing that is to show them we care, that we are not intimidated by who they are and what they represent. More importantly we need to win their trust that we have no other agenda than to lead them into a personal relationship with our Lord and make them His disciple. That takes time and wisdom. In the meantime our eyes feasted on the world’s best while I got my discipleship moment.

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all. Proverbs 22:2

See other Posts:

Prayer and Harrods of London

Why I was In London (1) (2) (3)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Discipleship and the English Pub

This evening Wolfi Eckleben pastor of the Every Nation church in London asked me if I could share some thoughts about discipleship to the key leaders of their church. The venue he chose was the Edward’s Pub in Hammersmith. An authentic Pub built sometime in the late 1800’s.

Today Pubs are more like watering holes or bars dedicated to alcoholic beverages and food. But that’s not how it originally was. English Pubs date back to the arrival of the Romans. With the establishment of the Roman road network, Pubs began to appear.

The term Pub is short for the words Public Houses. It was meant to be a place where people could congregate, rest from travel or get food and refreshment. A few thoughts about discipleship crossed my mind while I was at Edward’s Pub:

1. Christians need to engage the public. This means we should be willing to go wherever, whenever. It is when Christians fail to engage the public that public places turn into watering holes.

2. Engaging the public requires that we act normal. This means talking normally and not having every sentence end with alleluia, amen or glory to God. This will not engage the public but turn them off. Even worse is having a “holier than thou” attitude that disdains those who smoke or drink. Discipleship does not concern itself with external behaviors. Rather it is concerned with a heart that desires to have a relationship with God. If the relationship is genuine in time people will grow and as they do their behavior will change.

3. Part of acting normal is boldly praying for somebody in public. I have spent time with people in hotel lobbies and coffee shops just to befriend them. When it is time to leave I simply ask them, “is it alright if we pray before we go?” My batting average: I get a positive response 99% of the time.

4. When praying in public I don’t lay my hands or do things that may embarrass the person I am with or make them think Christianity is weird. Normally with eyes opened I pray simple prayers that introduce people to the simplicity of having a relationship with God. I most definitely do not pray in tongues in that setting.

Discipleship is about engaging the public. It gives people the reality that God is not limited to the confines of church walls but is actively concerned and desiring to the engage them wherever they may be in their lives.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10

Check out the audio download my message on Edward's Pub here.

See also my other post:

Prayer and Buckingham Palace

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Discipleship and The Cheesecake Factory

Last year, I was visiting with a pastor friend in a major city in the United States. My friend brought my son and I out for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Over dinner he asked: “Where in all your discipleship program does one manifest his/her spiritual gifts?”

To this I responded: “In the discipleship groups.” To help me understand the question my friend said, “No, I mean what about the gifts of people where do they get to manifest them?” To which I answered “when they make disciples.”

We were not on the same page. As he tried to explain himself I realized that what he was saying was people are expecting that the church should provide a venue for them to manifest their spiritual gifts publicly. Almost like churches owed its members a place to express their talents and gifts.

I explained to my friend that the church’s job is to go make and disciples. People’s gifts and talents should be manifested in the process of doing so. Then he said “What about someone who sings?” The obvious answer is in the worship team if there is a need for someone.

But I responded this way: “You don’t build churches to accommodate a person’s gift. Fact is if one has a true gift he/she have nothing to worry about”:

A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great. Proverbs 18:16

While our gifts are irrevocable, that does not mean they need to be accommodated by the church. To explain my point I called for our waitress, a smart looking lady. I proceeded to ask her. “Do you like to sing?” To which she said yes. I then asked her, “Are you a good singer?” Again she said yes. I then thanked her.

After she left I told my friend how ridiculous it would be for the Cheesecake Factory to make her sing just because she was gifted or felt she was. Their business was to run a restaurant, he saw my point. Besides what do you do when half your staff, feel they are gifted singers too?

The business of the church is to make disciples. Whether or not our gifts manifest on stage or elsewhere is irrelevant. This kind of attitude is man centered. Our job is to focus on reaching the lost and turning them into disciples for Jesus and not about what our gift is and how we can best manifest them. Rather we need to use our gifts as we go about making disciples.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

See also my other post:
Prayer and the Telescope

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Discipleship and Google Maps

A few years ago I was visiting Scottsdale, Arizona and I was asked by my pastor friend to share with the church leaders about discipleship. During the question and answer portion I was asked what I have heard so often, “where do you find the time to make disciples –people are busy?”

I went on to explain that discipleship is not a hat we put on or off. It is something we wear all time wherever we go. In other words you minister when you can where you can. And when God opens the door continue to build a relationship. That way when the person comes to his/her point of need for God he knows whom to call and where to call.

The next day one of the campus staff members was walking with his wife and their dog. As they neared their home, a car stopped beside them and a man asked for assistance. He said he was lost and handed them the address of the place he was looking for.

While the campus staff tried to figure things out, his wife went inside the house with their dog. Unable to figure out where the place was he handed the paper back to the man. It was then that he remembered what I said just the day before. He then asked for the paper again and tried to make conversation. But the man was in a hurry.

As the man was driving off, his wife came out with the printed map of the location from internet. He then chased the car to give the man the map. After a brief chase he caught up with him. He handed him the paper and the man was shocked.

He said, “I have been in the United States for 4 months, I am an Iranian Muslim and no one has done anything like this to me, why are you doing this?” The campus staff was caught off guard and did not know what to say. Eventually he responded and said, “I am a Christian and God loves you.” The man handed him his business card and told him that he wanted to stay in touch.

From that initial meeting a dinner has taken place where the campus minister and his wife have met not only the man and his wife but their 2 daughters who went to the University where the campus staff worked. They also introduced them to another Iranian couple.

All too often we are looking for ways to reach people --- when they are right there everyday. Discipleship is not a program that we undertake it is the reality of being secure in who we are as the children of God and the desire to share our Father’s love to those who are ready to receive it.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” Luke 19:5-7

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Discipleship and Velcro

In 1948 George de Mestral was out on a hike. As he returned home he noticed that his pants were covered with burrs from Burdock plants. Being an avid inventor he began to look into the burrs that were stuck in his pants. Under the microscope he found his answer.

He saw that the burrs had many stiff hooks. These hooks in turn hooked themselves on the hairy loops of the fabric of his pants. Eureka! From there Mestral had the brilliant idea of designing a 2-sided fastener. One side full of hooks while the other had soft hairy loops just like the fabric of his pants.

He named his new invention Velcro coined from the words velour (soft woven fabric) and crochet (a hooked needle). Today Velcros are used for just about anything. From garments, sports, travel, aerospace, engineering, medicine, education, the applications are endless.

Discipleship is very much like Velcro. It is helping those who have tender hearts to have multiple hooks in their lives that will cause them to walk strong with God.

Among those hooks are the:

Word of God, a vibrant relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, living in a church community where they can be guided and raised to maturity, a thriving prayer life and fellowship with other Christians.

In my own heart I have many hooks that come from over 23 years of reading God’s Word. I also have many hooks from experiences with walking with God. Then there are the hooks of church community that I have been a part of for over 20 years. Finally, I have learned to cultivate relationships with Christians from different denominations and streams.

I thank God for the men who started me of on the road to discipleship. They did not limit me to a few hooks that links only to them. When making disciples think Velcro.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12

See Other Post:
Prayer and the Unanswered

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Discipleship and Tupperware

In 1945 Earl Tupper developed a set of unique plastic containers for household use. What made his products successful was it had the ability to be airtight, thereby keeping food fresh longer.

However the secret to Tupperware’s success lay in its direct selling strategy which is today known as the “Tupperware Party”. From its inception the strategy was a winner.

By the 1950’s Tupperware exploded into a major force and began to spread first in the United States, then to Europe and eventually to the rest of the world. Today there are approximately 1.9 million direct sellers of Tupperware.

I hope you do not misunderstand my point here. I am in no way reducing the spread of the Gospel to a Tupperware deal. But there is a principle that Tupperware has used that we can learn from. And it is this: they never veiled the fact that you were being invited to a Tupperware Party.

As I have pointed out in my recent blog: Discipleship and Fire Hydrants we should avoid overwhelming or overdoing our witness to others, on the other hand we need to make sure people are clear that they are meeting with a Christian and that we represent Jesus.

All relationships are founded on trust. And if discipleship is relationship you want to make sure that you start on the right footing. Imagine being invited to a friend’s house for a party only to later find out that they were going to sell you Tupperware. You will have a hard time trusting that person.

It is better that people say no to you initially while you keep your integrity and trustworthiness. Rather than they saying yes initially only to lose their trust in you and feel manipulated when they find out you have misrepresented yourself.

Worse is when you lose their respect. By veiling who you are and what you represent you may unknowingly convinced them that you are unsure about your faith.

Discipleship is about an internal boldness to show people who we really are without overwhelming and overdoing it. In the end just like Tupperware when people genuinely need the Gospel they will turn to the person they trust to deliver it. Hopefully that person is you.

Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:37

See Other Post: Prayer and the Submarine

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Discipleship and "No Show"

Anyone who has ever been actively involved in discipleship knows that it has its own set of challenges and frustrating moments. One of those moments is when the people you are in discipleship with do a “no show”.

Imagine carving out time in your busy schedule to travel to a coffee shop near the person’s office to make things convenient for them. After waiting, you receive a text message or a call and are told they can’t make it. Others don’t even bother to call they just don’t show up.

The devil then tells you, “this was never meant to be, it was a waste of time, actually they don’t even like you or your Jesus, quit now before you suffer any more rejection.” This has happened to me not once, twice but several times. Here are a few thoughts that may help when you find yourself in similar place:

The thing to remember is – do not react. The person who is canceling may have a valid reason. I remember a person who could not make it only to find out that a relative was in serious medical condition. Rather than reacting it was an opportune time to go the distance.

My wife and I decided to go and visit them at their home and show them how much God cared about them. People need the touch of God at a time like this. We are the arms and hands that He will use. What a privilege. View this moment as an opportunity and not a set-back.

But what about those times when people do reject us and don’t want to come. Here’s how I have dealt with that for years. First, I have conditioned myself to think that I’m not the one they are rejecting.

He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Acts 4:1

Rather than being rejected the solution is to take the time I have carved out for others to spend time with Jesus. I read the Word, pray and have coffee with Jesus.

After all discipleship is not simply about converting people but is first and foremost a relationship with Jesus so that we can in turn introduce others to Him.

Once I was in Zurich on a business trip. A man I met seemed to be interested to have coffee and meet with me. Then… the “no show” happens.

What seemed to be a failure ended up to be a walk across the city with Jesus, prayer walk cum spiritual tour with no less than the King of kings.

Instead of being insecure, use these moments to build a secure relationship with your God!

See also my other post:
Prayer & Scooter

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Discipleship and Ping-Pong

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, James 1:19

In my last blog I spoke about the difference between a fire hydrant and a glass of water. The point I was trying to make was the importance of being slow to speak and making sure we do not overwhelm the people whom we are conversing with.

This blog is related to that previous one. This one however deals not only with being slow to speak but the importance of being quick to listen as well.

Have you ever been around people who only talk about themselves and/or the topic(s) that they are interested in? After a while being around them is boring.

Good conversationalists know that the key is to engage the person you are talking to, much like playing ping-pong. You want to make sure that when you hit the ball over the net the other person can and wants to hit it back to you.

Sometimes people over talk or send out too many balls at one time the other person does not know how to respond. They may be impressed and entertained by the amount of knowledge we have but not for long. We need to be slow to talk and quick to listen.

One of the best ways to do that is to ask the right questions. You'd be surprised at how much people talk if you could find the topic they want to talk about and allow them.

I remember a man who would not talk to me until I brought up gardening because of something he mentioned and he never stopped talking. Other triggers may be about watches, pets, tennis, cooking, their children.... the key is finding their interest.

People need and want to be heard. By engaging them “in a game of ping-pong” we get to know them better. By listening well we will be able to know how to best minister to people. We also earn the right to be heard at some point.

Ministry is not about convincing people rather it is about engaging people in the hopes that we can one day reconcile them to God.

See also other post:

Prayer and the Hamster Cage