Mike Breen on Discipleship

Christians know that Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). It’s easy to nod our heads or give a hearty “Amen” when we hear the word “discipleship” and that the church should be making disciples.

But what does that actually look like? Are we really making disciples?

I’d like to introduce you to someone who has helped me in this area. For the last two years, with help from my own discipling mentor, I have been gleaning from his writings and seeking to implement his ideas into my life and ministry.

Mike Breen is an author, speaker, and innovator in leading missional churches through the US and Europe. Mike isn’t just a thinker, he is also a practitioner that works to see established churches and church planters become missional by helping them to create a discipling culture.

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.”
Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, pg.11

Listen to Mike share how churches are to make disciples who make disciples.

Are you doing more than receiving information? Who are you working closely with to imitate? Do you have a spiritual father or mentor(s)? What is the Spirit speaking to you about this?

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


What Makes For A Peaceful Religion?

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What makes for a peaceful religion?

Is a religion peaceful because the majority of its adherents believe in the idea of peace and being peaceful? Is it peaceful if you can find some peaceful verses in the religion’s sacred text or its other revered writings?

What about if the religion contains violence in its holy book? Does it cease to be peaceful? What if a group of its followers are committing or once committed violence in the name of God sometime in its history? What then?

Does that make it inherently violent?

My primary point in this article is not to try and make a case that Islam is not peaceful. I do not believe all Muslims are terrorists or violent extremists. On the contrary, most Muslims are peaceful, as are the majority of Christians. This should be obvious to every sensible person.

Instead, I would like us to reflect on the real source of religious belief and practice within Christianity, renewing our commitment to the Prince of Peace.

The source is how you determine if the religion is truly peaceful.

While I do want us to think about the real source of Islamic faith, and whether or not Muhammad clearly and consistently exemplified a peaceful religion, my aim with this article is to help both conservative and progressive Christians avoid the current cultural extremes in being followers of Christ and bearers of the truth who are called to love their Muslim neighbors.

I submit that we do not need to fear Muslims, nor should we pretend that Jesus and Muhammad are the same. They are not. Therefore, I want to encourage Christians not to echo politically correct tripe or gloss over the truth about our differences, feeling that we must do this in order to best love Muslims.

So, what makes for a peaceful religion?

I’d like to briefly address this question by first applying it to my own faith. Is Christianity a peaceful religion? How do I answer that question? How do you? And then I’d like us to think about how it should equally apply to Islam.

Finally, I’ll end with some ways I think Christians should respond in light of the conclusions I’ve drawn. Please keep in mind that this post is a brief reflection of my own personal study and current thinking on the subject.

The Prince of Peace

What is the source of the Christian religion?

If you say “the Bible” then it’s possible that you might not agree with what I’m about to say. Yes, I believe in the inspiration and the authority of the Bible, but I do so because of and in the way of Christ–the Word made flesh (Jn 1:1-14).

Let’s be clear. The source of the Christian faith is Christ himself.

That is why we call ourselves “Christ-ians” or followers of Christ. We love the Scriptures because they point the way to Christ, but we’re not following a book, we’re following Jesus. As I’ve said before, the highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation.

The Word became flesh. He lived, died, and was resurrected.

So, our enemies can spit on or even burn our book, but it doesn’t incite us to do violence. Yeah, it may hurt our feelings a bit, but the One we worship is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father. You can scoff at his name, but you can’t kill him anymore. He has risen and will raise all those who accept him and follow him as the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).

This Messiah we worship is the Prince of Peace who taught us to love our enemies and never use violence (Matt 5:38-48) Why? It’s not just because violence begets violence, but because that is what God is really like. The NT is clear that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (Heb 1:1-3).

I don’t believe in peace and praying for my enemies because I think it’s a good idea, or because it is the liberal or progressive-hipster thing to do these days. I believe it because Jesus told me if I want to follow him I must take up my cross and walk his road (Lk 9:23). It doesn’t need to make sense to me, nor does it need to be popular or politically correct. I obey because Jesus said so.

Our King and his Kingdom win by dying, not by killing.

So I don’t try to save my life by proof-texting Jesus in some pathetic attempt to justify violence, or even violent self-defense. When Jesus disarmed Peter with his rebuke to put away his sword, he disarmed me and every other Christian that professes “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9), i.e. Caesar and the NRA are not.

Taking up your cross means first putting down the sword.

But what about the violence in the Old Testament? That’s usually where people go when they want to justify “Christian” nationalism and violence, or an atheist wants to be critical of the Bible. Didn’t God command violence in the OT?

If you’re interested, I’ve written about my views of the Scriptures and how I understand what is going on in the OT in a post called How I View Christ & the Scriptures. But the short of it is this… that was then, this is now.

Disciples of Jesus have been given a new covenant (testament) through his broken body and shed blood on the cross–the ultimate instrument of violence. The old has gone, the new has come. There is a clear division in our Bible so we don’t miss this. Yet some still fail to see the real significance of Christ’s coming.

The death of Jesus brought an end to belief in a tribal warrior God.

Violence in the OT is bound by its historical context within the narrative of Israel. There are no commands to do violence or promote it within the words of Jesus. On the contrary, we have a peaceful Jesus consistently showing us and telling us to do good to those who hate us. True sheep listen to the Shepherd.

If you accept that Jesus is what God looks like and has always looked like, then it not only requires that you read the OT with that in view, but it means that you also accept that any violence done after Jesus (which started about 200 years after Christ with the emperor Constantine) is in direct violation to the life and teachings of Jesus–the source of the Christian religion.

If you want to know if a religion is peaceful, you look to its leader. When it comes to Christ, the leader of the church, there is no shifting of his person or exceptions in his call to peace. None whatsoever.

He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).

Jesus was peaceful. Therefore, true Christianity will always look like Jesus.

The Cross & the Crescent

So, what about Muhammad & the Quran? Is Islam peaceful?

I readily acknowledge that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people, but what about Muhammad? Can we say with confidence that Muhammad was a man of peace? If the leader and prophet Muhammad was not a peaceful person, what does this say about Islam? Can peaceful Muslims trust a violent Muhammad? This is an honest question for the honest person.

And it is a key point of civil conversation when evangelizing Muslims.

If the leader called for both peace and violence, which is clearly the case in the Quran and in Islamic history, who gets to speak for Islam? If Muhammad is the prophet and final revelation of Allah, on what grounds and on whose authority does one get to say at the heart of Islamic doctrine is a peaceful religion?

I have read the Quran. Have you? If you haven’t, you should.

A major difference between the New Testament and the Quran is that the NT is written from multiple authors within a few decades of each other. Jesus didn’t pen a single word, but instead the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tell us about Jesus and invite us to accept him and follow his teachings.

The Quran on the other hand comes entirely in Arabic from Muhammad as dictated by the angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, from Islam’s peaceful beginnings in Mecca to the violent militarism of Muhammad in Medina.

There are no “Old and New Testament” divisions within the Quran, none that are obvious to the lay reader, that indicate what teachings of Allah via Muhammad are in effect. I’m no Islamic scholar, but this is definitely why we are seeing the radical differences of interpretation within Islam.

So which Muhammad is reflective of true Islam?

I don’t see how the 100+ violent verses are annulled (e.g. Suras 2:216; 8:12; 9:111). They read as standing commands, not bound by their historical context. And that is of course why Islamic terrorists are saying Muhammad’s final revelation from Allah (God) is in effect. It’s the Islam of Medina.

This is much more than a matter of “twisting” verses in the Quran.

Former terrorists and Islamic scholars have been testifying to this problem, despite the backlash of our so-called “tolerant” pluralistic culture where we are certain every religion is obviously peaceful at its core.

Could it be a combination of this glaring problem with Muhammad and the rise of ISIS that is resulting in mass conversions of Muslims to Jesus?

If God is working like never before to bring Muslims to a saving knowledge of Jesus, why would we turn away refugees out of fear? Also, how does it help when progressives overreact to anti-Muslim bigotry by saying that our theology and history of violence are pretty much the same?

Not only is it not helpful, it simply isn’t true to history or the context.

We need to be clear. This isn’t just about differences of Quranic interpretation, as if Christianity has the same problem with the Bible. It is about the historical figure of Muhammad, the source of Islam, calling for both peace and violence.

What do peaceful Muslims do with this conflicting portrait of Muhammad and his commands to do violence? I’ve yet to hear of a coherent Quranic hermeneutic of peace like the Christocentric one set forth by Jesus in the Bible.

Until then, I will love Muslims as Christ loves me, but I can’t reconcile the prophet Muhammad, a man of war bent on conquest, to a peaceful Islam.

The Christian Response

How then should followers of Jesus respond?

  1. Affirm the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
    Christians need to remember that the source of our faith is Christ himself. However you sort through the violence of the Old Testament, the peaceful and non-violent Jesus supersedes it as God’s final Word.
  2. Speak up and out about the true source of our faith.
    It’s time for all followers of Christ to lovingly challenge the distorted perspectives of the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham who are shaped more by the Bill of Rights than the Jesus of the NT.
  3. Get educated and informed about the Quran.
    Buy a copy, read it, and learn about the differing perspectives of Islam. Notice its similarities and differences with your own faith. Listen to Muslims and converts to Christianity talk about the Quran.
  4. Learn about the faith of your Muslim neighbor.
    It’s easy to fear and disdain those you don’t know or understand. Seek out inroads with your Muslim neighbors. Befriend them. Invite them over for dinner or connect via social media. Jesus would and he’d like it.
  5. Lovingly rebuke anti-Muslim rhetoric from the fearful.
    Our only opinion about Muslims, peaceful or violent, should be that God loved them so much that he gave his Son for their salvation. We dare not promote or allow hateful speech/acts against those made in God’s image.
  6. Live the life that comes from the Prince of Peace.
    We live in a tumultuous time right now. Look how it presents us with opportunities to display the peace that surpasses all understanding. Be that peaceful presence. Seek to live the life God’s peace brings.
  7. Remember we do not battle against flesh and blood.
    Prayer is our warfare. Prayer shapes our worldview and enables us to love our neighbor and our enemies. Tap into the power that pushes back on spiritual evil and releases the Kingdom. And pray without ceasing.
Suggested Reading & Resources:

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


Jesus Behaving Badly

2466I like Mr. Rogers. He no doubt revealed more of Christ in his neighborhood than many evangelicals do today. But Mark Strauss says that Jesus isn’t a Mr. Rogers lookalike or the warm fuzzies, flannelgraph Jesus.

Mark Strauss (Ph.D. University of Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego. He is the author of several books including Four Portraits, One Jesus (2007) and commentaries on Mark’s Gospel in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series and Expositor’s Series. He is also the associate editor for the NIV Study Bible.

In his latest book, Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (IVP Books-Sept 2015), Mark sets out to reveal Jesus of Nazareth in all of his complexities, paradoxes, and tensions.

Echoing the refrain of Albert Schweitzer (Quest of the Historical Jesus), Mark says that we must resist the temptation to fashion Jesus into our own image or into what we’d like him to be, ignoring the parts that we don’t like or those bits we simply don’t get. It’s all or nothing when it comes to Jesus.

The book suggests that we often overlook that Jesus was judgmental, provocative, chauvinistic, racist, anti-environmental, and angry.

Or so it would seem without understanding his first-century context and the manner and method of Jesus in light of his own situation.

Mark writes:

So when  we observe Jesus’ apparent bad behavior with reference to slaves or family values or the death of pigs or the cursing of fig trees, we are asked to view him as he is, not as we wish he were–not as someone with twenty-first century sensibilities toward equality or the environment. We may not always be happy with the results, and we probably shouldn’t be. Ultimately we have to decide if we are going to sit in judgment on Jesus or listen and learn from him. (pg. 14)

In 12 chapters and exactly 200 pages, Mark addresses the following:

  1. Everybody Likes Jesus
  2. Revolutionary or Pacifist?
  3. Angry or Loving?
  4. Environmentalist or Earth Scorcher?
  5. Legalist or Grace Filled?
  6. Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd?
  7. Antifamily or Family Friendly?
  8. Racist or Inclusivist?
  9. Sexist or Egalitarian?
  10. Was Jesus Anti-Semitic?
  11. Failed Prophet or Victorious King?
  12. Decaying Corpse or Resurrected Lord?

While this book is for popular reading, it will not disappoint.

Jesus Behaving Badly looks at some of the puzzling and seemingly offensive things Jesus said and did, and tries to make sense of them. What we just might find is that when Jesus is at his most difficult, he is also at his most profound. (pg. 14)

Is your church dealing with any of these concerns? Want to read the book in a class or a small group? Well, there are discussion questions for that!

I had a brief conversation with Mark a few years ago at SBL in Atlanta. He is not only a scholar within historical Jesus studies, he is a pastor as well. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I’ll never forget the interest he took in my family and his sincere encouragement to me in life and ministry. He is a living example of a disciple who is holding the academy and the church together.

That’s why I’m happy not only to recommend this book, but also to suggest you get to know Mark better by reading all of his works.

Want a good book for Christmas? This one will do.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


Loving the Truth Without Losing Your Mind — 7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes

I’ve seen it time and time again. We’ve all done it at some point. We passionately reject one extreme only to embrace another. O how the proverbial pendulum swings to the opposite end of the spectrum! Regrettably, when it’s happening we usually don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.

About 10 years ago I left vocational ministry due to several bad experiences that left my family hurt and confused. The time away was a real blessing from the Lord, but it’s no secret that for a season I was influenced by the thinking that the “institutional” church was of the devil and that the only faithful Christians were those who met in house churches with no leader.

Yes, that was extreme. But some people out did me! The church to these extremists was some sort of nebulous idea involving a couple Christians getting together in a coffee shop—a concept born right out of Western individualism.

But Paul didn’t write letters to saints scattered throughout Starbucks or those who choose to “worship God in nature” while out hiking the trails with a friend on Sunday morning. He wrote to intentional worshipping communities.

It took me a few years to start coming out of this reactionary thinking and see it for what it is. Since then I feel like the Lord has heightened my senses to all manner of extremes embraced by well-intentioned people, especially within the church. So now I see it everywhere I turn. And I’m continually examining my own beliefs and behaviors as well. We’re always susceptible.

I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that it is our embrace of the extremes that has become our greatest hindrance to peace and understanding today, in the world and the church. It’s in politics, academia, and in religion.

These extremes begin with the either-or, in or out, love us or hate us, for us or against us mentality. In the church we even fight among ourselves over who is the most faithful to Jesus in their doctrine and church practice, we want to argue that our group is more “authentic” than your group.

(Sigh) Man, this stuff gets old.

As I recently said in a sermon about justice, I even see many “progressive” Christian friends of mine, particularly young Anabaptists, leaving right-wing politics (which I applaud) only to embrace the left and its agenda, which amounts to a purely secular worldview baptized in Gospel lingo.

Clearly we’re still playing Caesar’s song, just a different verse.

What’s so refreshing about Jesus is that he rejected the polarities and extremes. He rejected them because he saw through them. It’s merely different sides to the same coin. It’s easy and expedient, but it’s not the way forward.

Let’s admit it. It’s hard to break free from the polarities.

Good news! Jesus gives us a way out. While I’m not always sure what that way looks like, if I’m honest, I usually know what it doesn’t look like. And if I’ll listen to the Spirit within me, I’ll eventually stumble down the road of Christ.

Jesus was a radical rabbi, but he wasn’t jumping to extremes. He wasn’t a fundamentalist. He challenged the polarities. We should do the same.

Fundamentalism is an attitude. It can be conservative or progressive. It is elitist and violent, in words and/or actions. It is dogmatic and narrow-minded about many issues. It’s emotionally charged and needs to offend people in order to survive. Without her enemies, fundamentalism has nothing to say.

Now that isn’t to say that God’s truth and the third way of Christ isn’t radically subversive or provocative within a culture of scoffers and skeptics, but it is to say that any ideology that purposely spends its time ridiculing, shaming, or doing violence to others is most definitely an extreme to be rejected, dare I say repented of in Jesus’ name. We need to stop it now. Not tomorrow. Now.

So I want to ask myself, where do I have a tendency to accept the extremes and spread the infection that is having negative effects on our families, churches, society, and culture?

It needs to be said that fundamentalism of any kind is born from a mixture of pain and irrational fear. Her symptoms are superiority, arrogance, and intolerance. You can find this sort of thing among Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists… from Franklin Graham to Richard Dawkins.

If you’re truly concerned about peace and understanding, I would look elsewhere, where there is no fear-mongering, name-calling, and bitterness. Even from those who do it in subtle ways.

The following are some questions that I’ve often asked myself when listening to the news, examining an idea, surveying social media, or reading a book. I think these questions can help disciples of Jesus avoid the polarities and extremes.

7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes
  1. Do I love the truth or just my version of it?
    Contrary to postmodern relativism, there is such a thing as objective truth. Asking this question can help us step outside of ourselves and our cultural conditioning in order to consider the truth that is usually hidden beyond and beneath our personal biases, presuppositions, and emotions.
  2. Can I see a spectrum of views (or a third way)?
    There’s usually more than just two sides to a matter. If it’s always black and white to you, you’ve probably not paid enough attention to Jesus and his “third way” living. This myopic attitude leaves no room for grace or the possibility that there is more than one way to be faithful.
  3. Have I honestly considered other respectable positions?
    In other words, have you listened to the best voices on the subject–qualified folks you may not agree with but can still respect? If you haven’t, you’ll end up demonizing one extreme only to embrace another. You’ll become another version of what you hate. Ironic isn’t it?
  4. What does my community think?
    We are more fully human in healthy relationships. What does your church, organization, or your circle of trusted friends think? Are you listening? Shutting out an opposing opinion might make you feel better about your position, but it doesn’t make you right.
  5. Where is Jesus in this?
    That’s much different than asking what “side” is he on. It should allow us to see Jesus in more places than one. This may seem totally subjective, but it really isn’t. Our discernment comes from a full contextual reading of the Gospels (historical Jesus) and our sensitivity to the Spirit.
  6. Where am I in this?
    Following Jesus isn’t simply doing whatever you imagine him doing. It means obeying and acting out of the time spent listening to his desires for you and the world. Once you’ve felt his heart on a matter and have seen where he’s at work, are you willing to join him there?
  7. No really, where are you at with Jesus?
    If you’re busy trying to serve Jesus and do ministry but not regularly practicing spiritual disciplines in order to abide in Christ, I wouldn’t be so confident about your positions and heart on any matter. We must be connected to the Vine if we want to know his heart and bear his fruit.

I think these questions can help us to see that we’re always dealing with people created in God’s image and not just hot-button issues. This helps me to love people while simultaneously loving the truth and boldly navigating culture, even if it means hardship and suffering for being faithful to Jesus.

Can we rise above the extremes in our pursuit of truth? I believe so. But we need to know that the truth lay quietly in the fertile soil of grace and humility. Out of this soil will come conviction, but never condemnation.

In this way I get to love the truth and keep my mind.

Will you join me?

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


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