Blogs written by Eli Suddarth for PurposeCity.

Discipleshift

DiscipleShift Book Review

I have read more books on discipleship and small groups ministry than I can remember. So, when I was recommended the book DiscipleShift by Jim Putman earlier this summer, I was somewhat hesitant to dive in. Much of what I have read over the past ten years concerning discipleship in contemporary Christianity is largely theoretical. Of course, there are obvious standouts in the discipleship literary landscape that have fundamentally shaped the way we as Christian leaders think about helping Christians mature. But, for every Exponential by Jon and Dave Ferguson (which offer abundant and paradigm-setting insights), there may be five to ten other works that provide not the how’s of discipleship, but the why’s and what’s. This information is useful to be sure, but perhaps not as helpful.

DiscipleShift belongs to the former category: a book published in April 2013 that I believe ought to be in the hands of every pastor and ministry leader – a book that will provide leadership insights into the importance of genuine Christian discipleship for years to come.

What causes this work to stand out among the rest is its absolute insistence on the fact that  the discipline of discipleship in a Christian community is not merely one avenue among many toward having a healthy, growing, ministry – it is the only avenue. If the Church isn’t making disciples, maturing followers of Jesus Christ, then it can’t rightly be called Church. The community of Christians exists for this one purpose: making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them all that [Jesus] has commanded. DiscipleShift is honest about this mission and offers suggestions and tools for leaders to guide their communities into being shaped by that one goal.

“Attendance, busyness, construction, finances, and programs are not real indications of success. The core question of effectiveness the question that ultimately matters is whether the people who are getting saved are being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Are we making mature disciples of Jesus whoa re not only able to withstand the culture but are also making disciples of Jesus themselves.?” (p.19)

Far from being a book which makes discipleship sound good on paper only, Putman and his co-authors Bobby Harrington and Robert Coleman draw from years of experience and rigorous study to help form a picture of ministerial success that measures and values the same things Jesus did during His discipleship ministry.

“This model we advocate measures success by how many people are being loved and led into the way of Jesus, are coming to Christ and following Him. It measures how many people are being transformed into Christ’s likeness and are pursuing His kingdom mission. It values and measures how many are actually becoming disciples who can make disciples” (p. 29).

Rather than measuring the classic numbers of how many people, how many programs, and how much money, DiscipleShift calls leaders to dig deeper and measure not how many people showed up or raised their hands, but how many of the people who showed up got connected to a small group, or how many people in a small group are being mentored to lead, or how many leaders are mentoring others. It’s a model that teaches us to  focus on reproduction for the life of a believer; not just involvement, but fruit – the very things Jesus told His disciples were most important.

So if you’re struggling with not seeing the results from the ministry with which you’re involved, and if you’re looking for a resource that can help shape or re-shape the work God is asking you to do, or if you’re simply interested in finding out more about what the word “discipleship” means at all, pick up this book and apply it. I certainly intend to.

Young Leader

How to be a Young Leader

Much has been said in recent years about the decline of potential young leaders in various organizational and ministerial bodies.  Current executives bemoan the seeming lack of maturity among young up-and-comers, while the up-and-comers argue that they aren’t getting a chance to prove themselves.  Having talked with people on both sides of that conversation in organizations big and small, I have heard the long-time higher-level managers claim that young people don’t respect them, while at the same time I hear the young people say that their managers just don’t listen.

It is no secret that we are facing a significant generational divide; the Baby Boomers running the show are at odds with the Millennials who, at some point, will have to take over.  As a younger person myself, only having worked in my field for seven years, I have faced the harsh reality that there is a generational barrier between where I am today and where I want to be several years from now.  How can the two sides break down the walls of bad communication in order that organizations (and especially churches, which aren’t immune to this leadership gap by any means) can thrive for generations to come?

In leadership, there is a principle young leaders must adopt, called “leading up.” Personally, it is something I have practiced from the time I began my ministry and it has served me well.  Leading up is the skill of guiding those above you, either in age or position, without being overly insistent or rude. And while it was outside of the context of Christianity that I first heard of this principle, I have come to find that leading up is a very Biblical practice.

Paul’s letters to Timothy in the New Testament are basically textbooks on how to lead up, so if you’re a young leader looking for some fresh insight into how to drive change in your organization or church, look no further.  Many of us are familiar with 1 Timothy 4:12, which states, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.  Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”  That verse remains for me, to this day, a terrific encouragement to keep on pushing forward in leadership, especially when I feel discouraged about my age. But, stopping with this verse misses out on how the author Paul expected his young leader Timothy to put this idea into practice. Let me explain:

1 Timothy 4:15 goes on to say “Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.”  As young leaders we must work harder than anyone else if we are to be taken seriously.

1 Timothy 4:16 says “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.  Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.”  As young leaders, how we live speaks louder than whatever words we say, so we must endeavor to live lives above reproach so that those we lead can trust our judgment.

1 Timothy 5:1 tells us “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would your own father.”  Regardless of the situations we face, in order to lead up, we must maintain respect for those older than us.  Respect is mentioned in two ways: never speak harshly, and appeal, or ask the opinion and advice, of those older and wiser than yourself.

1 Timothy 5:2 says “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.”  As young leaders, especially young male leaders, respecting the women we lead is abundantly important.  Nothing will dissolve your credibility faster than inappropriate relationships with people of the opposite sex.

One of the most important things I have learned from leading up is that while I cannot control the actions and behaviors of other people, especially those older than me or higher up the organizational flow chart, I can control my actions and my behavior.  If it is your desire to develop as a leader so that the gifts God has given you might affect more and more people around you, don’t concern yourself with the behavior of others, work diligently on your own leadership abilities, and ask God to help and guide you.

Porn

Porn

Porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about how God has brought me healing and restoration in ways I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about the notion from 1 Corinthians 12, that God’s power is perfected in my weakness and how His grace is sufficient for me, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about how I’ve been able to help others through this affliction because of my own experiences, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about the eight years and counting of freedom I have enjoyed from this sin, but that doesn’t give me back the five years I lost before that.

In an age of endless excuses and increased syncretism, where almost any form of sexual behavior has become permissible, honestly dealing with the ruinous effects of sexual sin has never been more important. As a pastor (a vocation I took up several years after having been set free from my own struggles with pornography), I have counseled dozens of people out of addiction to pornographic content and have experienced first-hand the damage that is done to marriages, relationships, and even personal emotional health as a result.  There is real danger and there are serious consequences to being involved with pornography, and pretending otherwise only leads to misery or worse. Matthew 6:22-23 of the New Living Translation says this:

“Your eye is the lamp that provides light for your body.  When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.  But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness.  And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

Thankfully, it seems some small parts of the world are starting to catch on to this as well.  In an announcement made by Google two weeks ago, the internet giant will take significant steps in limiting the advertising of pornographic content on its search engine.  Changes that have been in the works since March of this year, and thus, Google ads will no longer be accepted that are sexually explicit, nor will ads be able to link to pornographic websites.

This is an amazing leap forward for a company that has been setting the standard for internet practices for years, and it is particularly important considering the number of lives negatively impacted by the porn industry.  For more on this significant change, you can see Google’s letter to its account holders here.

While limiting access is a good start, more must be done if porn is an area you personally struggle with.  And, if porn is currently ruining your life, here are the things I did, and that you must do, to get free:

Recognize the severity of the porn addiction.

My captivity to internet pornography was extended, in large part, because I fed myself the lie that since “everybody did it,” it must not be that bad.  Believe me, whether you realize it today or ten years from now, it is that bad.  It will destroy your relationships, it will destroy your self-image, and porn will keep you from having a fulfilled life.

Repent and ask for God’s help.

Sexuality is a deeply internal issue for every person, therefore it can only really be dealt with at an internal level through the healing and restoration of the Holy Spirit.  Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.  Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.”  Get God involved right now by asking for His forgiveness, healing, and guidance.

Recruit an accountability partner.

The journey to freedom is long and difficult – you cannot do it alone.  In my personal recovery from pornography, God brought specific people into my life with whom I was able to be completely honest regarding my sins and struggles.  They allowed to ask me the tough questions that kept me moving in the right direction.  Ecclesiastes 4:10 tells us, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”

Recover intentionally.

You will need a guide and some tools to help you on your way, and one of the best resources out there for working through these issues is the free 60-day online recovery class found at settingcaptivesfree.com.  It’s the course I used eight years ago, and it’s the course I still use today when coaching others to find health and healing from the ruin of pornography and sexual sin.  If you need some additional tools, XXXChurch has some wonderful resources as well.

Porn addiction is something many put off until tomorrow. However, it’s something where you need to put a line in the sand and begin your recovery today. I hope you might consider using some of the tools mentioned here and even consider signing up this very minute on either of the sites mentioned, starting your journey to freedom from porn here and now.

Prayer Beads

Prayer Beads

In talking with many Christians regarding their spiritual disciplines, the issue I find that comes up the most is prayer.  Contemporary Evangelical Christianity, a stream to which many belong today, seems to have pushed so far away from orthodox Christian practices concerning prayer that many find it difficult knowing how and/or what to pray.

I, myself, am no stranger to this.  Having been a Christian most of my life, brought up in non-denominational expressions of following Jesus, I had great difficulty with the discipline of prayer.  In my younger days the best I could come up with for prayer times seemed little more than talking to myself about various things in no certain pattern or structure.  It was only after college when I decided to do something about this. In my times spent conversing with God I found prayer beads could be a helpful tool, especially in times when I find it difficult to talk with God regarding a certain matter.

My first encounter with prayer beads was not Christian, but Muslim.  The college where my wife and I attended had a considerable international student contingent and I made intentional efforts to build as many cross-cultural relationships as I could.  One year on my birthday, friends of mine from Saudi Arabia gave me a simple Misbaha, the Muslim version of prayer beads.  I asked them to explain their usefulness and what they mean.  Though I couldn’t affirm their use, myself being a Christian, I became curious about the background, and even if they could be of possible help to Evangelical Christianity.

Etymologically, our English word “bead”can be traced back to its Old English root bede which actually meant “prayer” (for some, the spelling of bede may look familiar as it is also the name of the 7th century English monk who was known for his works on early English Christian history).  As a tool for prayer, beads have been used almost since the beginning of the Christian Church itself.  Desert Fathers would pray using knotted ropes as a way of repeating the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). The tradition continued through the centuries, most notably today in Roman Catholicism with their use of the rosary is meant to call to mind 59 prayers, creeds, and events in Jesus’s life through which they pray regularly. This does not mean however that simple beads are solely a Catholic practice and are thereby a tool Christians are prohibited from using. If we applied this logic, which often happens, our spiritual lives would be deeply impacted as there are many things we use as tools that cross religious boundaries and do not inherit the other’s religion in and of themselves.

Some outside of liturgical expressions of the Christian faith argue that this practice is too formulaic and inauthentic for the life of a follower of Jesus, preferring more extemporaneous forms of conversational prayer times. I certainly do enjoy talking with God in unstructured ways as well, but often I need something to get the ball rolling and the simple set of prayer beads I made for myself help me to do that.

My prayer beads (pictured) consist only of 17 beads, each representing unique sets of prayer concerns.  The largest bead reminds me to pray the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew 6:9-13). The nine round beads remind me to pray that God would cultivate in my life the Prayer Beadsnine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (found in Galatians 5:22-23). You will notice that one of the nine beads is a different color – this calls to mind the statement in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that “the greatest of these is love.” The seven remaining beads lead me to pray that God would keep me from, and forgive me of, the seven deadly sins: hate, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony (see Proverbs 6:16-19 and Galatians 5:19-21).

Looking to scripture, after Jonah refused to do as God had commanded and was swallowed by a giant fish, Jonah prayed from inside the fish, and you can find his prayer in Jonah chapter 2.  What’s interesting is that even in this seemingly helpless situation, one of extreme crisis, Jonah’s prayer consisted not of improvised “words from the heart,” but of direct quotations from the Psalms, ancient Israel’s prayer book. In our darkest moments when words don’t flow as easily as we would like, we need to be able to cry out to God for His help and guidance, and having a tool like prayer beads certainly can assist us.

What helps you with your prayer life?  Please comment below.  If this idea appeals to you, please feel free to use it and even copy the design if you wish.  Blessings on your increased conversations with God.

Bible Translation

Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

I frequently get asked which Bible translation I use and then to give recommendations; after all, there are a significant number of English translations of the Bible and it can be daunting wading through them all to find something that works for you.  That is what I feel is important in looking for a translation – look for the one that works for you and the work you’re doing.  A carpenter working on a construction project will pick the right tool for whatever job he or she is doing, and since there are a variety of translations, each with different goals and uses, you should feel confident selecting a version that helps you engage with God’s word.  Not a single translation committee sets out with the desire of getting the translation wrong or leading people astray, so as long as you do your homework and dig into the options, picking the right Bible for your personal study can actually be fun.

Why are there so many translations?

The New Testament of the Bible was originally written in an interesting version of the Greek language called koine (common) Greek, and the Bible itself is one of the few documents available that used that version almost exclusively.  It was not written in a formal academic way, but in a way that everyday people would understand.  Biblical archaeologists actually find out more about common Greek by sifting through ancient garbage, discovering the common forms in people’s grocery lists, than by comparing the Bible to other Greek texts from that period.

Because of the usage of common Greek for the Bible we still use today, there are a number of ways different words can be translated into English, and in many cases, single Greek words require a phrase in English to get at the intent of the Greek word.  Thankfully, entire committees of scholars throughout the ages of the Church have carefully preserved the integrity of the original texts and still work tirelessly to ensure modern readers have the most accurate and readable version possible.

What are the differences between different translations?

It’s helpful to divide the numerous translations into three main categories to keep things simple.  Each category deals with different goals for the reader, asking what they hope the reader to appreciate about the Bible when reading it.

1) Formal Correspondence Translation

This sounds super technical, but the equivalency of a translation describes the way it treats the conversion from Greek to English.  A formal correspondence describes a word-for-word attempt at translation, trying to put an English word or phrase directly in the place of the Greek.  Popular translations that use this approach are the New American Standard (NASB), the New Revised Standard (NRSV), the King James (KJV) and somewhat the English Standard Version (ESV).  Typically you will see these translations used for academic and preaching purposes, though personally I have used the NASB for personal study and we often use the ESV here at PurposeCity.

2) Dynamic Equivalence Translation

A dynamic equivalence, rather than attempting a word-for-word translation, approaches the project looking to translate thought-for-thought.  While formal translations make use of the same grammar and vocabulary as the Greek text, dynamic translations attempt to convey the original meaning.  Considering the commonality of the original Greek that was used to write the original biblical text, such translations can communicate meaning in a way that is helpful for personal devotional study.  Popular translations using dynamic equivalence are the New International (NIV), the New Living (NLV), and in part the English Standard (ESV).  The English Standard, a newer project seeks to combine formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence.

3) Paraphrase/Free Translation

Free translations take significant liberties with the text, often translating not from the original Greek and Hebrew, but from one English translation to an easier to understand English version.  That isn’t to say that a great deal of effort doesn’t go into such projects and translation teams are less in-the-know; The Message translation for example, which is the most well known in this category, was a project headed up by Eugene Peterson who has great skill with original biblical languages.  These translations can lend a great deal of color and flavor for personal devotional study, but often take too many liberties to be reliable for teaching and even memorization.

Some Bible Translation Shortfalls

As I have said, each translation and the committees that work on them for years take great care in providing as true and readable document as possible, but that doesn’t mean that their translations are without some challenges that should be taken into consideration.

The King James Version, for example, recently celebrated its 400th anniversary, and has lost some of its intelligibility for modern audiences.  1 Kings 11:1 tells us that “Solomon loved many strange women.”  Sounds like fun!  However, in 1611, strange meant something closer to ‘foreign’ in English.

The New International Version that was updated in 2011 set out to be the translation meant for those “missing from the church”and as a result ended up using quite a bit of gender neuter language that wasn’t in the original Greek or Hebrew.

The New Living Translation, as a thought-for-thought translation, uses language that can, at times, miss some of the strength or weight of Greek phrases.  Revelation 6:7, the Greek translates “who can stand…” meaning standing in the midst of difficulty, but the NLT renders this “who can survive…” which is somewhat weaker and even less poetic than the original.

Formal translations like the NASB and NRSV, while more word-for-word accurate, are often difficult to read.  The Bible, as a document for common people, is meant to be intelligible, and if people are put off of reading it because of stilted language, the point can be somewhat missed.

Quick Comparison – Philippians 3:17

For your own reflection, I did a personal translation of Philippians 3:17 from the Greek  and will compare it with the other versions.

My version: “Be imitators of me brothers, and watch those walking as a pattern in us.”

ESV: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

NASB: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”

NRSV: “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”

Message: “Stick with me friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for the same goal.”

NLT: “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.”

So which one?

Personally, when teaching or preaching I still use the NASB, and that is also the translation I use for Scripture memorization.  However, doing my own translations over the years I have actually grown fond of the New Living Translation as one that communicates a meaning closer to what I think the original authors of the books of the New Testament intended, and so I use that more and more for daily devotional reading. Here at PurposeCity we often use the ESV for a variety of different reasons. Remember, there is never one perfect version, but they are all tools that allow us to accomplish different goals.

Selecting for yourself is, as I have said, a matter of your ability to connect to the text and reach the goals you have for the reading.  If you teach more or are involved in academic study, a Formal Correspondence would be appropriate, but if you’re more involved in your own devotional reading or small group study, a Dynamic Equivalence would be helpful.

The important thing is that you read the Bible at all, so find a translation that helps you engage with God’s word every single day.  What translation do you use and why?  Feel free to comment below and offer your own recommendations.

Passion

A Relationship of Passion

No one likes being ignored.  Personally, as I’m sure many of you have also experienced, I have been lied to, stolen from, cursed, demeaned, cheated, and even physically harassed – but I would willingly go through any of those abuses over being ignored or treated with deliberate indifference.  When someone ignores you with an intent to wound, that is the ultimate offense (at least receiving some kind of abuse means being confronted by your abuser).

In the long history of God’s relationship with humankind we are most guilty of the sin of indifference toward God.  He so loves us and is so eager to draw us into His eternal presence that He calls we who are His people, His church, His bride and He loves us as a perfect husband.  In Ephesians 5:25, one of the Bible’s most misused and abused passages, Paul describes the love of God through Jesus in just such terms:

“For husbands, this means love your wives just as Christ loved the church.  He gave us His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” (NLT)

That is the depth of God’s love for us, but we have not reciprocated that love.  Rather, we have looked the love of God in the face and turned away indifferently, ignoring the most magnificent potential relationship in the cosmos.

God calls out this indifference directly in Ezekiel 16:30-32,

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute.  You build your pagan shrines on every street corner and your alters to idols in every square.  In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment.  Yes, you are an adulterous wife who takes in strangers instead of her own husband.”

These are the harsh words of God who is the scorned lover of all of humanity, ultimately and shamelessly ignored by creatures on whom He has poured his lavish and unashamed love.

And yet, God’s perfect love remains constant in the face of our indifference – God is always faithful where we are faithless.  Romans 8 tells us nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, so what ought to be our response to this love?  Contrary to first consideration, the opposite of indifference or to ignoring a pursuer, is not mere acknowledgement but passion.  Jesus calls us not merely to believe in Him, but to follow Him wherever He goes (Matthew 9:9).  A relationship with God through Jesus is not one of simple intellectual acknowledgement, but is intended to be one of infinite passion – to love the Lord Your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Anything less than our all, Jesus tells us is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37).

So if you find yourself constantly playing the prostitute with God, looking to other things for love while completely ignoring His, the only solution is a complete turning to God and running after Him with ultimate passion.  As James 4:8 reminds us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”