the first & last step of a disciple...abide

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself," Jn 15:4

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself," Jn 15:4

"Abide in me...", this is one the most profound commands of Jesus. Think about it, how much more simple can it be; just sit, listen, live...just BE. This simple instruction probably took place in the upper room, the setting of the "Last Supper". Jesus has spent the last three years with the listeners of the simple command. Teaching, modeling and correcting these few disciples, daily and probably near 24/7 with a few. I believe the whole of what Jesus was teaching from the discourse recorded in John 14-16 was a summary of His teaching, it was clear and simple.

The promise is if we abide, live or remain in Him, He abides in us! This is the true essence of becoming a disciple, or the true follower of Jesus. It's the key that opens the door to thinking, walking and acting like the person of Jesus. In Philippians 2:5, we are called to think like Jesus, in 1Jn 2:6 we are called to walk or live like Jesus and in John 13 Jesus tells his disciples to act as He has done towards one another. For most of my life I believed this was impossible, after all Jesus was God on earth. Well I was half right, i guess you might say! In fact, Jesus tells us if we fail to abide we will "die on the vine". He goes on to say, apart from Him we can do nothing. 

"What is abiding; it seems to be clear. But what does it mean for us to abide in Jesus as branches in the vine?  I believe three things are implied: connection, dependence, and continuance. Don’t think of these as three successive steps, but as three interwoven aspects of abiding." ~ Brian G. Hedges, lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church . Connecting, depending and remaining are all foundational elements of a healthy relationship. Jesus ask us into a relationship with God almighty. The result of this relationship with God is His eternal Holy Spirit dwells in us, this is the power that enables us to think, walk and act like Jesus. 

So why don't we abide? Is it fear, pride, doubt, selfishness, probably yes to all. In order to abide we must as Paul says, "die to ourselves" or as Jesus explained to Nicodemus, "be born again". Our self-defense mechanism kicks in when our identity or life seems threaten, I believe this is why Paul chose the example of "die to self", we have to put not just some, or even most, but all of our dependence in Him. No longer do we seek to live to please ourselves or seek to gain what we see is good for us, but we only live for Him. We have to ignore "common sense", I must do this or that in order to be a good person...or what others may say. No longer do we climb the ladder of success, run for recognition or even save for the "rainy day". 

We stop demanding our freedom, justice and entitlements. We give up our identity of our former life...whether good or bad! The good news is if we give up our rights, we gain real freedom. We are like the "monkey and the cookie jar", we hang on with all of our might to what we think we deserve, in-turn we are captive to our desires. We are all slaves to something, no matter how free we think we are, we are either slaves to this life on earth or slaves to Him who created and came to save us. We by nature and training seek to cling to the things of this life, mainly because they are tangible. By faith we need to shift to cling to the promises of Him who can save us, provide for us and give us peace...for now and eternity.

We have become human-doers, we need to become human-beings or as these verses in John teach us "Jesus-beings", the new person who abides in Him! Go ahead, let go of the "cookies" of this life and reach for Him, he will supply all you need, in fact you will have in abundance. As we see in these verse he will multiply or produce much fruit that will remain. It's not what we do, it is Him!

ciao, ciao and arrivedercci! 

Why "go make disciples"...

To me it is more than a sense of calling or obligation. As we discussed this very thing with leadership team in Italy this past week, it all starts and is founded on the "Great Commandment" as we say. All missions of the Church must be rooted in the love of God, the complete and absolute love that commits body, mind and soul to loving God. If we love God with all that we have we are compelled to love others as ourselves. If we love others, then we are compelled to love others as Jesus loved us. If we have that agape love of Jesus, then we are compelled to "go make disciples" or as Jesus said in John 21:17; "if you love me....feed my sheep". How do we feed His sheep, by "teaching them to obey His teaching".

This simplistic idea hit me hard many years ago when I was ask if I truly loved the people I was serving and leading at the time. It was very cutting to me when I had to answer that question, but the next question was even more revealing; "if I didn't love God's people, then how can I say I loved God with all my heart. If we follow the logic in a way that we look at a triangle or as we would the "Pythagorean" theorem...yes Dr. Wagner I was awake at least some of the time! One side of the triangle of love is "Love God", an other is "Love His People" and the third is Teaching His People to Love Him". They all go hand in hand, so to speak. If I leave out one of the sides it's no longer a triangle, it doesn't work. I discovered for myself the reason I wasn't "teaching others to obey" was, in-fact because I didn't love God with all my heart. mind and soul. The same was true for not loving others as my self, or as Jesus loved me.

Both of these instructions "teach them to obey" and "feed my sheep" came at the very end of Jesus's time on earth with His chosen disciples. You might say for Peter is was his final exam in discipleship 101 class. It was as if Jesus boiled down the 3+ year course to three simple words, "feed my sheep". If we look in John 15, we see the importance of Love in another way. I would say if we look at the parable of the vine, you might conclude that the only way we can love others as Jesus loved us is by living or abiding in the love of God. In a simplistic way; it says if we love God totally and consistently He will give us the love for others so that we may teach them to abide or to live in God's love continually as well. It's a circular, multiplicative way of expanding the Love of God on earth...His way, not our way. Interesting how God always includes Man in His divine plans!

So making disciples is a compulsion of loving God with all of our being. It's not an "obligation" or a duty, it's much more than a passion. It's an involuntary action or reaction of His love in us; "Show that you are my followers by producing much fruit. This will bring honor to my Father." (John 15:8).  So not only do we prove our love for others, but we honor or show our love for God. So again the formula is Love God+Love Others+Teaching Obedience=Purpose. Following God's formula not only gives us eternal purpose, it also gives us temporal purpose or what we call peace. Peace comes from being in sync with God's purpose or what He created us; for His purpose. Jesus came to die for our sins, that we might live out His purpose. His life is a model for us to follow, more than an example but a blueprint. In 1Jn 2:4-6 it summed very simple for us; 

"Whoever says, “I have come to know Him,” but does not habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments (teachings), is a liar, and the truth [of the divine word] is not in him. But whoever habitually keeps His word and obeys His precepts [and treasures His message in its entirety], in him the love of God has truly been perfected [it is completed and has reached maturity]. By this we know [for certain] that we are in Him: whoever says he lives in Christ [that is, whoever says he has accepted Him as God and Savior] ought [as a moral obligation] to walk and conduct himself just as He walked and conducted Himself." AMP

ciao, ciao and arrivederci!

The picture below represents the scene that I have witnessed in person many days as I have walked to the alpine pastures. Most people overlook the roll of a shepherd, it would seem meaningless to many. It's certainly not glamorous, prestigious or some thing that brings earthly wealth. It is dirty, difficult and some what perilous. Just as the life of walking as Jesus walked would be overlooked by many, except that of the Master. He said "feed my sheep" to one of His most trusted companions, the importance is evident in His life as well. 

The Italian Alps are full of this image, the shepherd feeding sheep

The Italian Alps are full of this image, the shepherd feeding sheep

The Journey Continues...

Battistero & Duomo Piazza Parma, Italy

Battistero & Duomo Piazza Parma, Italy

The next steps of our journey takes us to Parma, Italy. Though Gloria's cancer treatments and doctors appointments will keep us in the US much of the coming months, we strive to "press on toward the goal" as Paul said. What is the goal, be disciples who make disciples...that make disciples, to catalyze a disciple making movement in Italy. The specific goal is see 20 disciple making ministries in all 20 of Italy's regions (states) by the year 2020. We continue to see God's hand in this movement in Italy.

As I mentioned the next missional journey will take me to the north of Italy. First to spend time with the team in the region of Piemonte, near Turin. They are doing fantastic things and certainly see God's blessing in the ministry. New decisions, new studies and new leaders emerging. I am really looking forward to seeing the fruit that God has produced. This is truly amazing in a region of Italy that sees less than .1% of the population who obediently follow Jesus Christ.

Then as I first mentioned we will travel to Parma, the land that produces something that probably 90%+ americans enjoy regularly...you might have guessed it from the name "Parma", parmesan cheese! Yes if it bears the name "Parma", it is supposed to originate from the special cattle that graze the magnificently lush fields of Parma. About 2 years ago I met a church leader that had great interest in the concept of disciple making. Through this past year he and the leaders from Piemonte have been collaborating and determined to set an initial training in Parma. We are really excited about this and look forward to God's launching of the disciple making movement in Parma, in the region called Reggio Emilia...yep that's where the name "Parmigiano-Reggiano" comes from!

In Parma we will launch our first 4 Chair Discipling seminar, designed to introduce churches to the concept of a disciple making ministry. You can read more on the 4 Chair Discipling here. Please keep this initial launch in your prayers, we are expecting God to move hearts and minds to a life of disciple making. Just prior to this training, Stefano and I will attend the GYi Global leadership forum to share with other leaders around the world actively engage in disciple making. This a great time to pray, share and learn with others who share our passion for disciple making movements.

Please keep Gloria in your thoughts and prayers during these weeks I am out of the states. We will travel to Florida next week for a new MRI, this is a prayer request too. In my heart I know all is well, because He keeps us in His arms. But sometimes the mind and the heart become disconnected, not sure why He has kept us safe for many years and attends to all of our needs. So my personal prayer request is for a mind and heart that trusts and glorifies Him in all things. You can follow Gloria's journey by going to https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/gloriajourney , I know she would love to hear from each of you!

Ciao, ciao and arrivederci! 

Running from shadows

Tonight as I was taking a late walk I notice two shadows, actually three but I knew one was mine, so I started walking faster. Now I know what you are thinking...Jeff running in fear, well sometimes yes. But not tonight, Gloria and many of you will attest I am a wee bit competitive; maybe a wee bit is an understatement! Many times when I am walking and someone comes up behind me I automatically speed up, I would like to say subconsciously, but that isn't the truth. I simply don't like to be passed, so I walk faster trying to stay ahead.

Well, lets go back to the fear factor, this is what came to mind after i realized that there was no one behind me. Yes, that's right all three of those "fearsome" shadows where me! Because of the lighting I was lead by one and followed by two. Then I thought how in life sometimes I fear what isn't there. What I mean by that is when I doubt, it leads to fear. But, if I believe God's word those "shadows of fear" are just that, nothing just a figment of imagination. Yes many times I have ran from shadows, sometimes in fear and other times just trying to stay ahead, both are quite foolish.

You know we all quote the "great commission" often, sometimes we simply summarize by saying "go make disciples" or "go baptize and teach them to obey" , but rarely do we see it summarized by the last few words, in fact most times they are omitted. "I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.", if we truly believe Jesus's words then why do we fear. We hear the quote often, "If He is with us who can come against us", Romans 8:31...then what do we have to fear, yes only fear itself.

I've learned a lot about fear over these past three months. The most important is I had nothing to fear, but fear itself (a famous FDR quote). Gloria and I have faced several medical challenges over these past months, and admittedly they caused me a lot of fear each time. But each time God clearly spoke to me, "see I told you, do not fear". I found that I was running from shadows that didn't exist, namely fear. If you have been around me much, I am confident that you have heard me utter the great quote from Sir Winston Churchill; "Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result." If we believe Matt 28:20, then the enemy shoots at us with no effect!

 

Common sense verses Cultural sense

Common sense verses Cultural sense Have you lived in multiple regions of your home country? Have you lived in countries other than the place you were raised and educated?

When a person uses the term common sense to mean the normal action and reaction of people they know and associate themselves with what they truly are referring to is cultural sense.

Cultural approval and expectations are limited to very small regions. No matter the geographic size of a country they have cultural regions. Your town also is likely to have cultural regions.

The largest influence of cultural differences is the value placed on human value.

It is a hard and fast separation between cultures when they disagree on the value of human life. In the majority of the world individuals have little respect for the life of others, even their own family members. Often using children as bargaining pieces to be sold or used as slaves of every kind, eaten as needed, and simply put to death when they are found to not be of value to the parent. The treatment deteriorates when an individual is owned by the purchaser.

You are fortunate if you have been raised in a 1st world country where life has more value, supported by laws holding people accountable for their treatment of others. You should not assume when meeting people raised in different cultures that they have the same value attachment to life or the respect of people as you do. Do not assume the words they use hold the same value you associate with that same word.

You will do yourself a great service to study other cultures for the purpose of understanding how they value life. Why they value life in the manner they do.

Gloria D Canada Living in a multicultural world 21 September 2016

Next steps....

So what is next….

As you may know we are moving to Anagni, which is just east and south of Rome in September. You may, as many have, asked why there and why now. Here is the short answer, to a long story. We were asked to come to Anagni to focus our efforts on establishing our outreach and teaching initiatives in central Italy. This makes sense on several fronts, first it is centrally located which makes it more accessible to students and allows us to travel more economically. The second reason was a property has been offered for use by the Academy, that is very conducive for teaching and training. One other advantage, it puts us much closer to the pastors training classes that we visit once a month, 2hrs vs 10hrs.

Although we were quite comfortable (maybe too) in the mountain village of Bobbio Pellice, we see the advantages of being near Rome in central Italy. In addition, it allows us to continue our work and make long term plans…beyond our lifespan; this is important as well that we pass the legacy to the emerging generation. The only two reason we identified for not moving to Anagni where we were comfortable and it increases our living costs, well neither outweigh the benefits. So we started the process last month and God immediately opened up a great home for us. I started the effort of moving our belongings to Anagni and put them into storage until we return. This the is the short answer…but for the inquiring minds, here is the rest of the story! 

As most of you know we partner with MIE in Italy, an organization formed by Mose Baldari about 40 years ago. Through this effort he has helped establish over 200 independent Christian churches across Italy. In addition to MIE, Mose established CATMA some thirty years ago. Its focus is to provide educational training for pastors of the MIE family of churches, and Italy, many might see some of the courses as continuing Christian education. CATMA is the training and sending process of making disciples. We are honored to be a part of the CATMA and look forward to serving in this capacity for many years to come. Just this past May CATMA commissioned 19 new servants for Christ.

Recently we were asked by Mose Baldari to form a team of Italian leaders to build and promote a “new” leadership academy in Anagni. We launched “Progetto Timoteo” and the Alpine Leadership Academy in Bobbio Pellice two years ago. Mose has asked us to develop a similar effort in the region of Rome. We accepted the challenge and immediately reached out to three other Italian leaders we have been working with through CATMA. Antonio, Maurizio and Corrado, they too are excited about making disciples! Recently Mose suggested we add a fifth team member, Professor Antonio Gaito a respected teacher of Greek and Hebrew. We look forward to adding a few others to our team shortly. This is an area we ask for your continual prayers; we believe this will produce much fruit in the coming years…well past our time!

The academy will host our “Timothy” training for central Italy, it will mirror what we have done in Bobbio Pellice that is now lead by Stefano Longo. My simple definition of the disciple making methods of Jesus is a four step process. He reached out to the marginalized with the words “come see”, then he taught them the scriptures as a way of life (I will make you fishers of men), he trained them to go do these very actions themselves (he sent out the 72) and he sent them out to go multiply (the Great Commission). The academy’s focus will be the first two steps; “Reach” and “Teach”. We want to reach the youth of Italy and teach them the Word as Jesus taught. Not just as knowledge, but as a way of life…a missional lifestyle. We will host camps and events through the academy to bridge relationships of young people to teach and engage them in the local churches. This is a “revolutionary” concept for Italy. We see it as the catalyst of a disciple making movement for Italy, not just a passing fad.

So with God leading and opening the door to the next phase of ministry, or as I should say just the next step, please keep us in your prayers! Oh yes with each new step comes new challenges…but Jesus told us this will happen. This will increase our “personal” needs budget due to the need of renting an apartment for the next couple of years until we can build a place on the new property…btw I am calling our new home of the leadership academy in the hills of Anagni “Monte degli Olivi”, the Mount of Olives. Once you visit I am sure you will see the resemblances. Please be in prayer for our leadership team; unity, faith and vision are the key needs. I will communicate more on these team members in the coming weeks.

Life as a disciple maker is an adventure, it’s filled with great excitement and great challenges; but as we remain in Him we have great peace through it all! You may ask, or think this is a children’s ministry. I ask you to consider this thought, a disciple maker must practice and model what they teach…just as Jesus did. The youth of the Church is the future of the Church; but youth are not engaged in most Italian churches. To see the church grow, flourish and transcend time the youth must be reached. Paul said to the Corinthians; “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” and Jesus said “do as I have done”. To abide in these teachings, we must be practitioners.  So the academy’s purpose has two integral missions, to reach & teach the youth and to train & equip disciple makers. The academy’s function is to bridge the youth seeking Christ to the disciples serving Christ!

Ciao, ciao and arrivederci