Tony Pullin

Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it? (Part 4)

In this fourth and final instalment, taken from ‘Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it?‘, Tony Pullin continues to explore seven elements that help us develop faithful relationships within our small groups, which, in turn, provide a secure environment for discipleship. To catch up on the first three blogs click here.

6. Forgiveness

‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”’ (Matt. 18:21–22).

‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Eph. 4:32).

When Jesus answered Peter’s question about forgiveness, I don’t think he meant that my brother is safe, sinning against me up to seventy-seven times, but seventy-eight and its POW! Got you! You thought I wasn’t counting! I think he was saying, ‘Peter, when it comes to forgiveness, you just keep going, the way I do – over and over and over’. I, for one, am glad that Jesus’ forgiving grace never comes to an end. When we set out to share our lives together as a community of disciples, we find friendships at various levels. Because we all make mistakes it is inevitable that forgiveness is going to be a frequent part of the equation. We won’t always measure up to expectations; sometimes we will misunderstand; sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we will offend, we will be responsible for another’s hurt. The closer the relationships we desire to have, the more important it is that we keep our hearts open to forgiving grace – inbound and outbound! ‘Bear with each other’, said Paul, ‘and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you’ (Col. 3:13).

Forgiveness is not only important to maintaining ongoing relationships; it is also the key to receiving healing where we have been damaged in the past. It may be someone who hurt us but who has never faced the truth or asked for forgiveness, or who may not even be alive today. It may be someone with whom I have attempted to be reconciled but the door has remained closed. On the cross, Jesus forgave those who neither knew what they were doing nor were remotely interested in forgiveness. Forgiveness is part of the process of our being set free from hurt or bitterness. The day I forgave my father changed the way I felt about him and it was part of a process of healing. When I truly forgive another I release them – they owe me nothing. But the first person to be released by my act of forgiveness is me.

7. Loyalty

‘Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people’ (Prov. 3:3–4, NRSV).

In today’s society of betrayal, serial relationships, broken marriages and broken families, the church of Jesus has a wonderful opportunity to display in high relief the values of the kingdom of God. Faithful relationships are characterised by loyalty. Instead of scuppering a friendship, an offence becomes the occasion of fresh vulnerability and renewed commitment. Gossip dies where loyalty is at the heart of a community. Illegitimate rumour runs into a brick wall and collapses; the rumour mill itself coughs, splutters and expires for lack of oxygen.

Loyalty is when my name is safe in another’s presence, whether I am present or absent. Loyalty looks after the interests of others. Loyalty chooses to believe the best and will do so through thick and thin, unless and until honourable process reveals otherwise. Promises are kept, relationships are not abandoned because they are no longer convenient. Loyalty is that aspect of love which ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Cor. 13:7). It was, perhaps, the best piece of advice in the whole of Proverbs: ‘Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart’. It belongs on page one of the disciple’s handbook.

Want to find out more?

Delving into the life-experience of Jesus and the twelve he chose to disciple personally, we discover how discipleship could look in our lives, churches and communities, and how we can implement such relationships. Packed with practical suggestions, real-life examples and exploratory questions, Making Disciples is the perfect resource for anyone committed to following Jesus, whether new to the faith or more experienced in the Christian life; or for church or group leaders. Click here to find out more.

Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it? (Part 3)

Tony Pullin continues to explore how we can build faithful relationships in our small groups, which, in turn, provide a secure environment for discipleship. This week we’re looking at ‘Encouragement’ and ‘Openness’ and how God can work so powerfully in our lives if we let him. To catch up on the first two blogs click here.

Encouragement

‘encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing’ (1 Thess. 5:11).

‘But encourage one another daily’ (Heb. 3:13).

So who have you encouraged today? We all need it, whether we are mature Christians who have been on the road for many years, or new Christians just starting out. When we encourage each other we reinforce each other’s strengths; for a moment we add our shoulder to someone else’s wheel and it turns a little faster. Paul tells us that encouragement is the nature of prophecy: ‘the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort’ (1 Cor. 14:3). When we encourage someone else we are in tune with the Spirit’s voice. Encouragement is the stuff of discipleship.

Openness and transparency

‘We continually ask God … so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way … giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light’ (Col. 1:9–12).

The kingdom of God is a kingdom of light and it produces a culture of openness and transparency. The wonderful thing is that because of the blood of Jesus we are forgiven and cleansed, and actually qualified to live in this kingdom! Paul sums it up: ‘now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light’ (Eph. 5:8).

There is a level of openness we need to have with all of God’s people and a deeper level with some, particularly those who are involved in our pastoral care or who may be discipling us.

‘he … showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God … the great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass’ (Rev. 21:10–11,21).

Trying to convey the purity of the gold in the prophetic picture of God’s people in the age to come, John describes it as being ‘transparent glass’. We can, if we choose, go in and out of church for years and hide away from reality, but to walk on the streets of the city that God is building is to walk on transparent glass. It is the path of the true disciple – living a life of openness. So often, insecurities within can be masked by an outward strength.

So what is the way forward if there are areas of our lives which are hidden? The challenge is to talk to those who care for us; to share the things that we are finding difficult to overcome and invite what help we may need.

As for the ‘Blind’ spots – we all have them! That is why, in my own life, there are people I trust to whom I have given the right to offer any personal observation, or ask any question at any time, which I will answer as honestly as I can. I have worked out that if others see in me unhelpful things of which I am unaware, the sooner I know, the better!

Some years ago I was present at a meeting in which, with remarkable honesty and grace, the speaker shared a remarkable life story, including moments of serious failure as well as times of great blessing. The Holy Spirit spoke powerfully. During the time of personal ministry which followed, a middle-aged minister, previously unknown to me, remained sitting in his seat, the tears flowing down his face. He beckoned for me to join him and as we found a quiet place to sit, the dam broke. He was overcome with sobbing from deep inside. I laid a hand on his shoulder and waited, praying silently. When he could speak, he told me how, as a Christian teenager, he had committed a sexual act of which he was ashamed, and which had remained as a black hole under his life and ministry ever since. He had never been able to tell anyone.

We talked a little and then at his request I began to pray with him. Towards the end of my prayer he broke into the most amazing laughter. Afterwards I asked him what had been going on. He replied, ‘It was one thing you said’. I had described a picture I felt God showed me, in which God was giving him a clean sheet to write the rest of his life on. He said, ‘You couldn’t have known, but last week I invited an experienced youth leader to come to our church and look at everything we are doing with our youth, and to advise us on the best strategy to take it forward. I said to him, “You are free to recommend anything at all – I am giving you a clean sheet”.’ Wiping his eyes he added, ‘I never knew God could give me a clean sheet’.

The burden was gone. He had stepped into the light.

Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul said, ‘let us … put on the armour of light’ (Rom. 13:12). Light as armour – it’s a striking thought. If I was on the battlefield, about to go over the top to confront the enemy’s dug-in forces, I would like something more than daylight between me and the fiery onslaught ahead. I think part of Paul’s thinking is that areas of our lives which are hidden are actually exposed to enemy fire; whereas, areas of our lives which are shared come under the protection of the work of the Spirit through the body of Christ. Someone once said, ‘Either the secrecy kills the discipleship, or the discipleship kills the secrecy’. The words speak powerfully to us today. For followers of Jesus, living in the light is the safest place on earth and the touchstone of true discipleship.

Want to find out more?

Delving into the life-experience of Jesus and the twelve he chose to disciple personally, we discover how discipleship could look in our lives, churches and communities, and how we can implement such relationships. Packed with practical suggestions, real-life examples and exploratory questions, Making Disciples is the perfect resource for anyone committed to following Jesus, whether new to the faith or more experienced in the Christian life; or for church or group leaders. Click here to find out more.

Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it? (Part 2)

Faithful relationships are foundational to developing a discipling community, especially within our small groups. In the second of this four part series taken from ‘Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it?‘, Tony Pullin begins to explore seven elements that help us develop faithful relationships with one another.

‘A number of practical strands go to make up enduring relationships, which, in turn, provide a secure environment for discipleship.

Commitment

‘They devoted themselves to … fellowship’ (Acts 2:42).

As fellow disciples in community, our primary commitment is not to a doctrinal statement, nor to a vision, however inspiring, nor to a model of church, but to one another. God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom can be summed up in two words – fusion and fission. God is all about joining together, Satan is all about splitting apart.

‘But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ (1 Cor. 6:17, ESV).
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ (Eph. 5:31, NRSV).
‘In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph. 2:21–22).
‘All the believers were one’ (Acts 4:32).

The early believers shared their lives together and were committed to one another on every level. When we gather as Church we don’t leave our lives at the door, as though this is a retreat from life into a different dimension. Church is where shared life, in all its aspects, finds its expression. We bring our victories and challenges, our aspirations and weaknesses, our families, jobs (or pressure to find one), our histories, our hopes – everything, into the presence of God with his people; and we worship the Lord, hear from him by his Spirit and encourage one another. Mutual love in the Spirit is the cement that holds us together. Our commitment is to one another.

George Elliott’s words express the beauty of real friendship: ‘Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort, of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words. But pour them out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.’

Acceptance

‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you’ (Rom. 15:7).

If we are going to be committed to one another as members of the body of Christ, it follows that we can only begin by accepting each other. Sometimes we have enormous differences, our backgrounds and life experience can be like chalk and cheese; but in Christ we are one family. Do you remember how Jesus accepted you when you came to him – weaknesses, mistakes, disappointments, sins and all? We were so different from him, but he just wrapped his arms around us and loved us and promised he would never leave us. Now he asks us to accept one another in the same way.

Some find it difficult to believe that such a level of acceptance could possibly include them. Many years ago I came across this simple diagram.

circle
The enemy wants us to get into wrong thinking. Starting at the top and heading clockwise, it goes like this. If only I could achieve something really good, something that others will notice – that would keep me going, it would sustain me; at last I would have significance and then I would be accepted. The sad thing is that, going that way round, we will repeat the cycle for a whole lifetime. All the while, the Holy Spirit is whispering; ‘Wrong direction! Begin with acceptance and go the other way’. I am accepted in Jesus (and so by his family, too); it’s a given, it’s the foundation of our lives; that is what gives us significance, that is what sustains us; and with that assurance, enabled by his Spirit, the way is wide open for us to achieve all that he wants us to be.

I want to be part of a church where we can be ourselves, make our mistakes, forgive and be forgiven and press on together towards the goal. In the family of Jesus’ disciples we accept one another because we have all received his grace. Discipleship will thrive in an atmosphere of loving acceptance.

Honour

‘Honour one another above yourselves’ (Rom. 12:10).

We honour one another by taking each other seriously, by giving each other our full attention, by listening to each other. Very often it is the small things that demonstrate mutual honour – the body language, the gesture, the unhurried response. Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph. 5:21). When we look into the face of another brother or sister, we are looking at someone in whom the Creator dwells. Mutual honour is part of the discipling ethos.

Want to find out more?

Delving into the life-experience of Jesus and the twelve he chose to disciple personally, we discover how discipleship could look in our lives, churches and communities, and how we can implement such relationships. Packed with practical suggestions, real-life examples and exploratory questions, Making Disciples is the perfect resource for anyone committed to following Jesus, whether new to the faith or more experienced in the Christian life; or for church or group leaders. Click here to find out more.

Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it? (Part 1)

In this 4 part series, celebrating the release of Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it?, Tony Pullin explores the importance of discipleship and how the nature of our relationships with one another are a vital part of this.

“It came and went – the fireworks, the popping corks and the new millennium year. We found ourselves in the brave new world of the twenty-first century. We caught our breath and looked around us. Still longing, still committed, still praying, ‘Lord, let your kingdom come!’ Society continued to change, but faster. We tried to understand new challenges; serving Jesus in the midst of increasing social breakdown, economic meltdown and political disillusion. New forms of church continued to emerge; lots of things were being re-imagined, often helpfully. And despite the turbulent times, good news stories continued to happen across our nation, and still do.

And through it all, the Great Commission lives in our hearts. We still hear the words of Jesus, as clear today as when he spoke them in the first century: ‘go and make disciples’ (Matt. 28:19).

The age-long mandate doesn’t change. Those words, which rang in the disciples’ ears as they watched Jesus’ feet leave the ground, pass their eye level and disappear above their heads into an unseen realm, still define our mission today. They are at the heart of Jesus’ final instructions.

Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it?‘  is an attempt to ask some questions about how we respond to what Jesus called us to do. What did he mean when he said, ‘make disciples’? What did the Eleven understand by it? What does it mean to us in our time, with the constant challenge of finding our feet in a changing social landscape? If making disciples is more than spreading the good news and introducing others to Christ, how much more? What is our goal as we go about the task of fulfilling Jesus’ command? How do we disciple others? In short: if making disciples was Jesus’ primary strategy for growth, whether of the individual believer, the Church community, or, ultimately, the kingdom itself, are there fresh lessons to learn?

In our search for answers, the best starting point is to rewind a little and ask – how did Jesus do it? How did he take twelve ordinary people from different walks of life and shape them (bar one) to become foundational figures in the Church explosion which followed his return to heaven and the outpouring of the Spirit? Because whatever he did, that process was what the disciples must have understood by his parting words, ‘go and make disciples’.”

Want to find out more?

Delving into the life-experience of Jesus and the twelve he chose to disciple personally, we discover how discipleship could look in our lives, churches and communities, and how we can implement such relationships. Packed with practical suggestions, real-life examples and exploratory questions, Making Disciples is the perfect resource for anyone committed to following Jesus, whether new to the faith or more experienced in the Christian life; or for church or group leaders. Click here to find out more.