It’s hard to believe that WDA celebrates 40 years of continuous ministry this year. Some things have changed a lot in four decades while others have remained the same. Our ministry is no longer aimed solely at college students. We still reach out to the next generation, but we’ve also built discipleship leaders in nearly 60 countries around the world, and that number is growing. And all this was launched from two college campuses: The Universities of Georgia and Tennessee.

This week I received the following note from someone involved in that first class of 1974. He wrote: “Dear Bob, 40 years ago you asked me to be a part of the newly formed WDA ministry on UT’s campus. I remember meeting you at the main library. Walking on campus before a UT football game recently and seeing most of the students drunk and lifeless I became even more thankful for the sacrifice you, Linda, Jim and Joanie, Carl Wilson and many others made for people like me in college. I hope I have been able to pass a little of that on to others and my children. You’re the best, your eternal friend and debtor, David Proffitt.”

David proves that building mature leaders pays great dividends, in this world and the next. Thanks to all who have made 40 years possible and profitable. May God enable WDA to continue long after we founders have left the field!

Bob Dukes – President & Executive Director of WDA

Orucho_group

In 2005, a land dispute erupted in the Mount Elgon region of Kenya’s Rift Valley. The corrupt local militia, “Sabaot Land Defense Force” began raiding villages, extorting bogus “taxes”, killing civilians, and currying favor with local politicians. Over the next three years, the SLDF was implicated in the death of at least 600, and the displacement of over 66,000 people. In 2008, Kenyan security forces launched a major military operation against the SLDF, killing its leader and effectively halting its progress.

Harrison NgotaWDA trainee Harrison Ngota was living in the region at the time. He reports, “In December of that year, it was registered that more than 600 women had lost their husbands to the conflict. We listened to stories of torture and rape from the pastors and leaders present.”

Last month, WDA trainers Mary McKeever, Willie Ruth Johnson and Kathy Heid conducted a discipleship-training seminar for over 50 pastors and leaders in that area. Working off Mary’s foundational teachings on discipleship and a session on forgiveness based on the book As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, Willie Ruth and Kathy each taught a session on forgiveness as well. Harrison Ngota writes, “This was the most interesting part, drawing so much attention, [leading to] brain-storming sessions. It is very difficult to render forgiveness. SLDF intimidated the population, raped and stole property at will, collected “taxes”, and administered their version of justice. Hundreds of people have been burned out of their homes.”

Mr. Ngota goes on to say, “There is a need to ‘go the extra mile’ and equip pastors and leaders on the ground. Most spiritual leaders have a strong, sincere desire to shepherd and guide disciples to maturity. But unfortunately, few leaders have been equipped to accomplish the task of ‘presenting people mature in Christ.’”

Orucho_groupWDA remains committed to providing training and resources to Christian leaders in Kenya. Our prayers are with the pastors and leaders of Mt. Elgon as they navigate the fallout of recent violence in their region.

If you are interested in becoming an international trainer for WDA or would like to support WDA’s international ministry, please click here!

 

I had the privilege of hearing a bunch of middle schoolers share reflections about their time at our local middle school.  It was interesting that my perception of middle school was tainting my ability to hear with objectivity.  I have furiously attempted to avoid thinking about anything related to my Jr. High School experiences.

There are books written about teenage girls, queen bees, bullying and an assorted other difficulties related to growing up through adolescence, especially during the middle school years.  I previously posted about our experiences as parents of teenagers in a blog called Three simple steps to growing up with your teenager.

We are still learning here.  I do recommend you read “Like Dew Your Youth” by Eugene Peterson.  I have also had a great many talks with our C.O.O. David Parfitt,  who has just launched two teenagers into college and beyond.  His perspective has certainly been helpful.

As I sat there listening to these really awesome teenagers, some who performed music and others who read 2-3 minute reflections on Middle School, I was struck by the differences in maturity and perspective.  It reminded me of two things.

5120336436_0af6412eae_o1.  We’re not there yet.

If there is one thing that I have learned it is that none of us have arrived. From the moment you sent the first child off to preschool to the point where you release them into independent living, you remember at each point that none of us have arrived.  This living in the now and not yet, the point where you look at your heart or try to understand the heart of a teenager, the place where you are both able to remember that “we’re not there yet” is both scary and humbling and also a place for faith.

More than one teenager communicated that Middle School was a place to learn and grow. They shared the trials that were faced there, the loss of a teacher or parents, the loss of reputation, dealing with their own inner struggles and consequences of poor choices.  Some communicated about their dreams and plans, high hopes and confidence in their vision for a future.  That’s what those kinds of events are for.  But is was good to see that in the midst there were those who realized that “they were not there yet!”

This reminds me of a critical point for those who are helping build disciples and those who are being shaped towards Christlikeness, we are all in process! This process will not be done till we see Christ face to face.

2. The way up is the way down.

The second truth is somewhat surprising and at the same time confusing at first.  To grow spiritually, to grow into a person who has the character of Jesus, means that the way up is the way down!  What?  I thought that maturity means increasing holiness and perfection.  I thought that sanctification was getting better!

What was telling in the different teenagers who shared was that each seemed to have a bit of humility, they knew that they were not there yet, but there seemed to be a variety of ways which they would attempt to continue to grow.  Certainly there were mentors and teachers along the way that helped these optimistic and sometimes proud teens learn the lesson that they don’t know everything (something of which I still have to remind myself).  There were circumstances of loss, pain and grief that brought honesty and self reflection to these teens.  But one thing that wasn’t shared across the board was a simple truth that Jesus brings to the table.  The way to go up is the way down.

But not all Christians see Sanctification in these terms.  What about being “enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness”?  Doesn’t that mean I’m getting better! Well, yes and no.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says:

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[97] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[98] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[99]

[97] Ezekiel 36:27. Philippians 2:13.  2 Thessalonians 2:13.

[98] 2 Corinthians 5:17. Ephesians 4:23-24. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

[99] Ezekiel 36:25-27.  Romans 6:4, 6, 12-14.  2 Corinthians 7:1.  1 Peter 2:24.

Note something in the first phrase that is sometimes missed.  Sanctification is the WORK of God’s free grace.  To support my first point, we are not there yet.  It is the ongoing work of God that helps us grow.  We are renewed after the image of God! Certainly more like Jesus than when we begin.  The last point is also true, enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.

So on the one hand, Yes, Sanctification is the work of grace where we are enabled more and more. So take heart, we do grow!

What does this look like?  Well, maybe we need to consider what this doesn’t look like!

Sanctification is not the work of my flesh, personality, or inner stubbornness to be a good person!  We remember it is a work of grace! That means God is more concerned with my spiritual growth than I am!  He has promised to complete what He begins!

So it doesn’t look like me picking myself up by my own bootstraps! I don’t grow by my own will!  (Getting Better is a hard phrase to explain here, but by my saying, No  – I am not getting better – means that “I” am not making myself better.)

To connect this back to my original point, I need to remember that I don’t arrive once I am saved and I still don’t arrive once I have learned how to grow and follow God.  The way up is the way down!

Some of this is perspective.  I have a brother-in-law who is an awesome mechanic.  If I were to go in to his shop while my car was getting a new timing belt, not knowing what it took, I might be surprised at all the things he has to take off my car to get that job done.  Simply, if all I have ever done “spiritually” is fill my “heart” up with gas, put in new coolant or give it a wash (metophorically speaking), then I would be shocked at what real “heart work” takes.  It is as if we forget that to grow takes both time and a bit of time under the hood.

The very thing that marks Christian maturity is the ability to grow in brokenness.  This is not simply admitting that I am a sinner, but the ongoing process of allowing the Holy Spirit to uncover the things in my life that need to be repented of and developing a heart that is willing to “go with the Holy Spirit” down into my heart. I have to allow Jesus to take apart the transmission, do an overhaul on the engine and maybe even do some body work.  I’m not going to see anything unless I allow the “great mechanic” under the hood.  And honestly, if I understand what the Bible says about my condition apart for Jesus, I need some serious time in the shop!

Self examination with the Word of God,  prayer producing God given repentance and Godly sorrow, and a healthy relationship with God means I need to go down!  (Psalm 5:17) The more I am aware of my sinfulness before a holy God the more I see my need for Jesus each moment!  It is at these very moments that I see the cross of Christ grow bigger and bigger! I realize the depths of my sin, but also begin to scratch the surface of the depths to which Christ’s death paid for my sin.  Jack Miller says, “Cheer up” you’re far worse than you think you are!  But you are more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared dream!

So I listen to the middle schoolers finish speeches and one thing that I’m reminded of is that some of them have a healthy view of self.  They realize that they have a ways to go and are learning.  They haven’t lived up to their own or others expectations and will continue to mess up.  But as with all of us, they still are in progress.  My prayer for them, for myself and for you is that that process of growth toward maturity begins with a humble and broken heart before Jesus that causes you to replace trust in yourself for self-improvement with faith to believe that Jesus is calling you to Repentance and Faith.

Walking with Jesus today means that I learn that I am still growing.  I learn that Jesus helps me see my daily sin, my love for self, my trust in this world; in seeing these things…. he calls me to ongoing repentance and ongoing faith.

Here are a few articles that can flesh these thoughts out further.

All of Life is Repentance: Tim Keller

The Theology of Sonship

Sanctified by Grace: White Horse Inn Blog

The Centrality of the Gospel

The author takes full responsibility for the content and links provided on this blog.  His views may not be held by or represent all the views of Worldwide Discipleship Association.  Feel free to jump in and have a good discussion!

lemon

lemonIf you’ve been in an evangelical church on a Sunday morning in the last 10 years you may have noticed the backgrounds behind the lyrics on the screen. These are ultra-beautified scenes designed to stimulate people’s sense of beauty and pleasure… A dew-laden glen, sun streaming through trees, a child on a swing. They are photoshopped to the max. Today I saw one that amazed me. It depicted a sillouhetted Christ hauling a cross against the background of swirling white clouds and an impossibly blue sky. I laughed to myself. Leave it to Christians to turn a scene as morbid and dark as the crucifixion into something pretty and palatable!

In fact I think Christians have been in the business of cleaning up God’s mess for a long time.

Same thing with communion. We got rid of the wine in favor of Welch’s. But I rather like the bitter beauty of wine. I mean, it’s an acquired taste right? You need a certain level of exposure and romantic indoctrination to fall in love with a well-crafted wine or beer (though most of us would agree there is something innate to be discovered in the drink… we’re not just manipulating ourselves). But, as my father-in-law reminds me, it’s bitter stuff. And he’s right. It is bitter. And it’s gorgeous. Life can be like that. And I think that the place where God intersects our lives can be like that. Beautifully bitter. Gorgeously mundane. I mean, why would God command the Jews to eat bitter herbs on passover? Why would he want people to codify and commemorate within the very heart of their spiritual rhythms the bitterness of slavery?

Christians have gotten good at giving lip service to ugliness recently. “It’s hard but good.” “It’s been really challenging but I know God has a plan in all this.” But like the artistically framed picture of the passion, it only hints at a reality that’s tough to look at, tough to hear about. When I went to see the Passion of the Christ in college, the lady sitting in front of me said during the credits, “I paid 8 bucks for that?!” I think that’s how a lot of Christians feel when they find out that Christianity is not an opiate for the masses after all. Jesus told his guys: “In this world you’ll have troubles. But take heart, I’ve overcome the world” (Interesting he didn’t say, “I’ve overcome your troubles.”)

Maybe that’s why I swear. One, because swearing helps me talk to normal people and communicate that being Christian is different from being Ned Flanders. But more importantly, I feel that well-chosen profanities CAN give the linguistic gravity to talk about the ugliness all around us. And I WANT to have the language for ugliness because when we talk about ugliness with unapologetic honesty, it’s cathartic. AND we’re identifying with a God who talksabout ugliness throughout the bible and makes himself beautiful in the ugly and the everyday.

God is like Pablo Neruda. The Chilean poet had a knack for finding beauty in the little things. Things like a cat or a lemon. And the poetry is breathtaking. I mean…

Cutting the lemon
the knife
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
altars,
aromatic facades.

If I were a poet I’d try to write about sunsets and mountaintops, but Neruda seems to see God himself in the lemon. I guess what I’m saying is that God himself sees himself in the lemon… in bitter herbs and bitter wine, in life’s disheartening ironies, in our unthinking exhausted moments when we can’t even bring ourselves to care. In the ugly and the plain and the bitter, there’s God like a kid with finger paints… making art; a strange kind of upside-down image we need a new framework, a maturity of thought in order to decode, to reveal the altars, the aromatic facades, the beauty.

are you normal

are you normalI love reading and hearing about how people live their lives as they attempt to follow Jesus. I get inspired, uplifted, convicted, motivated and encouraged. Those people who share their ideas and actions challenge me to think and to grow.

But then, sometimes when I read too much about what other people are thinking, I get tired. I begin to feel dissatisfied and restless.

I just read a blog written by a woman who doesn’t want to be “normal”. I liked her blog because it showed a real example of living in the tension. Having your stuff and following Jesus. You can read it here http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/faith/essentials/growing-in-your-faith/i-dont-want-to-be-normal and form your own opinions.

Even though I liked her blog, reading about her desires to be more “sold out” and “surrendered” to God started to make me feel tired.

Sort of the same feeling I get when David Platt tells me how to be “Radical”, Shane Claiborne tells me how to be “Revolutionary”, Francis Chan talks to me about “Crazy Love”, Erwin McManus takes me down the “Barbarian Way” and Tullian Tchividjian tells me how to be “Unfashionable”. Yeah, I love all those books. I love their thinking. I love that their writing and their lives are all sold out, surrendered and way out there for Jesus.

Yeah, I want to be like that too. When I first became a follower of Christ, I told my friend, who was largely responsible for dragging me into the Kingdom, that I wanted to be a radical Christian. I didn’t want to be a namby-pamby pew sitter. I wanted to go all out for Christ. I still do.

But now and then, I wonder. What is wrong with being normal?  Why does normal have a stigma attached to it? Why do we glamorize “surrendered, radical” lives? Why do we agonize if we feel we aren’t measuring up to being “sold out”? Do we really understand what Jesus meant when he said follow me?

Do we just have so much stuff here in America that we feel like we have to get rid of it to be sold out? Do we believe we aren’t radical enough if we have a regular paying job instead of a helping-the poor-ministry job? Do we really believe that focusing on our kids and spending most of our time and energy on raising them well is not surrendered enough?

It seems as though a publishing/speaking industry has grown up around those buzzwords like “radical” and “revolutionary” and “unfashionable” and we all want to get on the bandwagon. Or at least talk about getting on the bandwagon.

And honestly, all those buzzwords did originally come from Jesus and the life he modeled for us.

There is, however, another thing that Jesus modeled for us and that is maturity. Yes, maturity. That is one of Scripture’s buzzwords. Somehow maturity just doesn’t sound as glamorous as radical or revolutionary. But when I think about it, maturity is the natural course of life. It’s normal.

So, I have come to realize that as long as I continue to follow Jesus, I am going to be living in that tension of how to be radical, revolutionary and unfashionable as I grow and become more mature. And I guess that is just normal.

What are your thoughts?