Seek First the Kingdom

Some behaviors become practically automatic and carry little or no conscious connections to core values. But others are intentionally chosen to broadcast and reinforce the spiritual psycho-social weight of our beliefs and worldview.

For example, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, God has Moses to call the people of Israel to be very deliberate in certain behaviors as a way of passing on a godly worldview:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Their core understanding of being in covenant with the Creator was to be of first importance in their lives. This reality should be overtly demonstrated, regardless of the level of intimacy someone encountered them (gates, doorpost, forehead, hand).

Through their words and other actions we observe what people determine to be good and what they deem best. Their choices reveal their values. What takes precedence in their lives?

Do you want a snapshot of your values? Open your checkbook register and/or your credit card statement. Scan through your day planner. Review your spiritual journal. These reflect how you choose to use your money, your time and/or your spiritual journey. What do you value?

Seek first the kingdom of God… was Jesus’ calling to those who would be his disciples. What you truly value drives your behavior.

[NOTE: Diagram comes from Lloyd E. Kwast’s article “Understanding Culture,” pages 397-399 in the 2009 Perspectives Reader, which was edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthore.]

By Their Fruits You Will Know Them

When we first encounter a people group, we learn about them through their actions—the words they speak, the way they treat others, and their responses to the things that happen around them.

What they do—their behavior—gives us insight into their worldview. Their behavior around special times like the birth of a child, rites of passage, marriage and death are especially reflective of their worldview.

While some actions can lose their connections to values over time, there are others that continue to be directed by and reinforce deeply held values, beliefs and one’s worldview. For example, common greetings historically grew out of worldview. But over generations, many using these no longer have any sense of connection. They have become empty traditions.

Too often, missionaries of the past focused great attention on actions that were dubbed “Christian.” Calling people to imitate the behavior that is important back home, may actually encourage syncretism. Here a thin veneer of “Christian” behavior camouflages an unchanged worldview.

Certain behaviors are clearly antithetical to a biblical worldview (for example, idolatry). Others are not and can be adopted for the sake of winning people to Christ. Another category may have to be adapted to intentionally prompt spiritual discussions.

Next week we will consider the values we hold which shape our actions.


[NOTE: Diagram comes from Lloyd E. Kwast’s article “Understanding Culture,” pages 397-399 in the 2009 Perspectives Reader, which was edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthore.]


More Blessed to Give?

Every teacher is selective! It does not matter whether you are using an inductive or deductive approach, you choose what will be taught and the order in which it is taught. Acknowledging this reality is significant. While it will not change it, you may become less accidental in how you exercise selectivity.

When I shared the critique of the Kenyan leader I was not wanting to be critical of the mission team–at all! I rejoice in what God has done through them. I rejoice in their willingness to be vulnerable. I rejoice that this subject was raised.

I, too, have encouraged missions organizations to carefully consider the importance of giving in the earliest stages of discipleship. As you might have noted in one of my replies to a comment made on my last blog, I believe God’s giving nature is one of his core character traits. John 3:16 is pretty specific when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Answer the question, “What do you learn about God?” based on this verse and you observe He is an extreme giver!

While I was not present when the referenced rebuke took place, the statement prompts me to believe these Kenyan churches struggle with a lack of needed financial resources which arise from a lack of giving. The problem with waiting to teach on giving is it does not become easier with time, it may actually become more difficult.

Acts 20:17-35 has long been the text that has most significantly challenged my thinking on giving. Here Paul meets with the leaders of the church of Ephesus and reviews their history and pulls back the curtains on some prophetic insights believers have been receiving regarding his near future. Paul is about to face “prison and hardships,” according to the Holy Spirit. With the potential that this may be his last time ever with this group, he warns them to be on their guard against those who will seek “to draw away disciples after them[selves].” By contrast, he reminds them of his lifestyle.

“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Do we deprive people of the greater blessing when we fail to facilitate their discovery of the grace of giving? Are we as intentional in our behavior and explaining the purpose behind it as Paul was?

Pass It On

Four days ago I exposed more than 30 people to Discovery Bible Studies. We spent most of our three-hour gathering learning how to do an Oral DBS. But I also spent a few minutes talking about doing a written discovery process that is called a 3-column study. I gave each person a copy of a format that I have developed. One of the class members emailed me to ask for a digital copy of the form, so she would not have to re-create it. After I sent one to her in pdf she wrote back, explaining how she hopes to use this:

I have a lovely, bright and gifted 5th-grader who is having trouble understanding how important it is to have self-control over his tongue. I have been praying for him for a week or so, and I woke up in the middle of the night the other night with the idea to give him the 3-column bible study on a series of proverbs that have helped me immensely to control my own tongue. I believe it will be fruitful for this newly saved and baptized young man. I’ll let you know what God does!

Here is my reply to this teacher:

Years ago I was attempting to catalyze DBSs in the local jail. I started working with the one person I knew who was incarcerated there. He began a group study, to pass on what he was learning. When we knew he was soon to be released I asked him to pick the best candidate to keep it going. I started meeting with that guy, too. Every time the leader was about to be released we repeated this process.

Eventually I noticed generational degradation (copy a copy of a copy long enough and the quality deteriorates). It reached its lowest when the only guy who was an option had damaged his mental capacity greatly by using illegal substances—especially smoking wild mushrooms. His attention span and impulse control were negligible. I really agonized with whether or not I was wasting my time. But my bare-bones requirement for meeting with him weekly was whether or not he would do a 3-column study. He kept attempting to write one out, so I kept working with him. Months later this guy was transferred to the state penitentiary two hours away. Writing letters was our only contact. His last letter shared what he had recently discovered (all on his own) about the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. He wrote out the verses he had discovered, how he understood them and how he was trying to live them. It blew me away! I believe the Spirit “re-wired” some of his neural pathways. The 3-column studies became a spiritual discipline that the Spirit used to help him recover from some of the abuse he had done to himself.

While this young man you are working with is not that extreme an example, I praise God this approach may be a blessing for him! I pray it will equip him to experience Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Two suggestions connected to this: keep the passages short (I suspect that you will already do that since you are going to use Proverbs) and do a 3-column study yourself, on the same passages. Show him your sheet when you read over his. Share with him how you are obeying–putting into practice—each passage. Model for him the process as well as teach him to do it and hold him accountable.

John King

Maybe you know a place where this process would be helpful. If so, just email me a request for the form (preacher at by replacing the spaces and “at” with the symbol. I will be happy to share this resource with you.

Being Doers of the Word (Part 2)

Our fast-paced, disconnected-from-extended-family lives challenge obedient living. Even our friendships are often far-flung and limited by our schedules. In the DBS trainings I have done lately, I have been struck by this challenge. How will this group minister to one of the challenges they have shared? How can we take concrete actions that will bless one another?

One month ago I was encouraging a house church group to consider using the 8-Question oral DBS format. As we approached the last question, “How can we help with one of the challenges mentioned earlier?” I was concerned. There were five us us gathered that night, and one of them is an EMT who was present via Skype. None of the group worked together. How was the whole group going to practice service?

One participant had shared that she needed a new job, but more than that, she needed a new attitude about her existing job. I suggested maybe we could find ways to help her. Her good friend who was the hostess for the gathering said, “I remember how excited you were when you first got the job. You really felt like you were helping people early on.”

This young lady said she could receive texts at work, “No problem!”

“What if each of us text you something to encourage you to take a positive outlook on your work?” I asked.

I set an alarm that reminds me Monday-Friday mornings to text this young lady. I go to Bible Gateway and search for a verse that talks about work being done as though for the Lord. I text such to her five days a week. She says it has been a blessing to her.

I know doing this has blessed me. Why not harness some of the technology that contributes to our business in ways that bless others and enables us to be obedient–to be true disciples?


Steering a Parked Life

Last week I encountered two quotes that converged for me. The first said, “It is hard to steer a parked car.” A vehicle that is barely moving is easier to turn than one that is sitting still. When we attempt to obey what we hear God calling us to do, our lives become more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Another friend wrote the following in her Facebook status:

“Do what you know you should do, and you will know what to do…God clarifies in the midst of obedience, not beforehand”… I’m already seeing what I’ve begged God to show me while sitting still… He really is in the MOVEMENT!

How often do we miss out on blessings because we will not lean into what we already know God calls us to do? Yes, He is sovereign and will accomplish his ultimate purposes. But there are good things along the way that are connected to our openness to receive.

In John 14 and 15 Jesus expresses numerous blessings that come to those who are moving, those who obey Jesus:

14:15-17      When we obey Jesus, He will pray and in answer to his prayer the Father will give the Spirit of Truth

14:23-24      Loving obedience to Jesus results in the Father and Jesus abiding with the obedient disciple

15:10-11      Loving obedience brings Jesus’ joy to completion in the disciple

15:12-15      Loving obedience reveals we are Jesus’ friends

15:16-17      We will bear much fruit—fruit that lasts!

If you are not experiencing these blessings, maybe you are like a parked car. If you continue to beg God for clarity, maybe you are ignoring an earlier answer he has already given. Start moving in the direction he called you and see if your life is not more easily steered!

Spiritual Warfare (continued)

Felicity Dale posted a link to my most recent blog on her Facebook page. One of her friends raised some good questions and we had the following dialogue:

[Question:] Enjoyed the article, John… thanks for (re-)posting it, Felicity. I too have had first-hand experience of spiritual opposition (and deliverance, for that matter), so I agree that a disciple must engage in spiritual warfare.

However, could I be (potentially) controversial? Ref. for example, “Mobilizing intercessors is essential for disciple makers.” Now, I may be showing my ignorance here, because I wouldn’t call myself an ‘intercessor’! But are there really certain gifted people with ‘special’ access to the Throne for the purpose of intercession? Don’t we all have access to the Father (i.e., Eph. 2:18)? Is not intercession just part-and-parcel of being a disciple, rather than an exclusive role in the Body (i.e. 1 Tim. 2)?

[Reply:] Great question! Jesus has given every single one of us special access to the throne. While there are not “certain gifted people” there are those who will pledge themselves to the role. There are people who will take up Paul’s request, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Those who will storm the gates of hell need to know they are being lifted up to heaven by people who will persevere in the heavenly battle. Jesus wanted that in the garden.

[Question:] I see and respect your point, John. However, was Paul addressing Ephesian disciples, or Ephesian intercessors? I see no subtitle, ‘and to you intercessors in Ephesus I write…’. Again, all Jesus’ disciples were with Him at Gethsemane, not just a few intercessory ‘experts’.

My point is this: we’re all called to ‘make disciples’. I cannot say, “I am not called to make disciples… I’m an intercessor.” I would argue that we’re all both / and.

[Reply:] I am not speaking of roles in the sense of titles. I am speaking of those who take up the responsibility with diligence and perseverance. With you, I disciple people to pray—to plead God’s promises. I disciple them to intercede. While I encourage that in all of them, I learn which ones will persist in prayer. These are the inner circle (like the three that Jesus took deeper into the garden) upon whom I lean more heavily.

[Question:] Yes, I see now. Thanks John. May He bless your work in Him.

[Reply:] Have a great day. I love the dialogue!

I really do love the dialogue. One of the things I dislike about preaching is the absence of interaction. I allow questions and comments on my blog because I want dialogue. It is hard to know whether or not you are addressing the challenges and needs people have without giving them the opportunity to discuss.

Knowing that people are serious about interceding on my behalf is a tremendous blessing. Being confident that I can send out an email and the situations I raise will be lifted into the throne room is so meaningful. Paul noted, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Satan is a schemer. We are in a battle in the heavenly realms. Our greatest resource there are our intercessions.

Be sure when you commit to pray for someone that you do. Discipline yourself to pray kingdom passages and promises for these people. It was in this vein that I wrote several articles about praying Scriptures a couple of years ago. Check them out:

Captured Ministry

I thought my work among the incarcerated ended. Maybe it is transitioning rather than coming to a close. God seems to be bringing people across my path who have connections to my experiences.

About a month ago I received a call from a man who has been interviewed to be the executive director of a prison ministry. He heard of the model I used and wanted more information. Then I did a four-week training in facilitating DBSs and discovered that some of the participants had done time in the local work house. Recently I heard from a friend. His son has been incarcerated. Because he is concerned for his son, he asked me to pray that this young man will experience a spiritual awakening while in jail.

I offered to write his son, if the dad would provide me his address. Below is the basic information I included in my letter. Maybe this will be helpful to someone else.

Over a five year period I was able to help about 20 convicts by training them to do a simple Bible study method. It is called a 3-Column Study (Click here: 3-column-study-format). You can actually do the same thing with a blank sheet of paper. Turn it wide side up. Draw two vertical lines.

In the first column copy a section of verses straight out of the Bible—word for word. While some people find this boring, it slows you down and focuses your mind on what the passage says. In the second column re-tell that passage in your own words. Until you can paraphrase it you do not really understand it. This also helps prepare you to share what the passage means with someone else.

In the third column use the word S.P.E.C.K. to start thinking about how you should apply this passage to your life. The letter S. stands for Sin. Does this passage identify a sin that you struggle with in your life? If so, write out that sin. Does this passage contain praises to God, a prayer to God or one of God’s promises? If so, list all found in it. That is for the letter P. The letter E. stands for example. If this passage gives an example of how someone should live, then write that down. The letter C. prompts you to look for any commands that are in this passage. Write them. Finally, the letter K. causes you to note any knowledge about God’s character that is revealed in the passage.

After you have done the S.P.E.C.K. exercise you are ready to write out two or three “I will…” Statements. These communicate ways you will obey this passage. How will your life change when you put it into practice? What you write in this column should be a specific action(s) you will do to live the teaching of this passage you have written, re-told and will have to do with one of the S.P.E.C.K. items.

Doing this type of Bible study has benefited several men who were in jail. They found it very helpful. It helped one guy who had pretty much fried his brain on wild mushrooms. God’s Word re-wired his mind, but more importantly, his spirit was renewed.

I encourage you to give this a try. If you want to correspond, I will be honored to write back. But I have one condition—any letter you send me must be accompanied by a copy of a 3-Column Study. You keep the original, but send me a copy. Yes, I know it will be boring to copy it, but even that will be a valuable process.

If you do not have a Bible, request one from the chaplain. They will provide you one. I suggest you start with either the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) or the book of Ephesians. Do five or six verses at a time. Doing one of these a day will be an exercise that God will use to bless you.

Here are links to other articles I have written about some of what happened while I was working in the local jail:

Maybe there is more God will do in this area. I am looking forward to talking in person with the man about the prison ministry. I hope the young man chooses to open himself to God’s Word. Maybe some of those who learned how to train others to facilitate Discovery Bible Studies will be able to pass it on to folks in the work house. Join me in praying that Jesus’ work of “setting the captive free” will come to pass!

Praise God for His Character

As noted in my earlier blogs on Discovery Bible Studies, there are four questions that can and should be asked of every text: 1) What do we learn about God? 2) What do we learn about men and women? 3) What will obedience to this passage look like in my life? and 4) Who do I know who needs to hear this passage?

The beginning point is learning what any text reveals about God. The Bible is his self-revelation. From beginning to end God is always involved. He is always creating. He is calling. He is renewing. He is bringing order out of the chaos. The Bible is God’s protracted biography.

Yes, it is also our story, but that is secondary. Only God was there in the beginning. He precedes us. He is before us. The story of the Bible is his story! Much of what is revealed about God will fall into six character traits.

We serve an awesome God!  He is so unlike us.  While created in his image, we see our inadequacies and failings most clearly when we look upon his divine character.

God is righteous. He always does what is right and good.  There is no wrong in him.  Could we be more unlike God?  Even at times when our intentions are good we mess things up.  There is something broken in our world that only God can repair.

God is all-powerful. When he spoke the world came into existence.  It’s no wonder his Son could quiet the stormy Sea of Galilee with those words, “Peace, be still.”  Our inability to produce peace may be the greatest single testimony to our power shortage.  We are limited by our inabilities.

God knows everything. He doesn’t have to wonder what we are thinking.  No library research is required for our Creator.  Google doesn’t have to be his information aid.  God knows when even one bird falls from the sky.  He knows every human being intimately.  He knows all of Satan’s plans.  He alone is all-knowing and the rest of us are left to investigate and humbly confess our knowledge limits.

God is the source of grace. He created Adam and Eve and provided for their every need.  His response to their rebellion was tempered by his grace.  Yes, their process of death was set in motion and they were separated from the tree of life, but God provided clothes and there was a way to provide food, even though man’s work became much more difficult.

God hates sin. He is righteous.  Sin runs counter to his nature and it prevents us from receiving all the blessings he has prepared for us.  God knew that sin would ruin our lives.  His directions would have protected Adam and Eve from such devastation if they had obeyed them.

God keeps his promises. He can be counted on to deliver on his word.  We don’t have to question whether or not God’s commitments will be fulfilled.  They always are.  Even if it takes thousands of years, God accomplishes his purposes.  God is truly worthy of our praise!

Learning to ask questions which help people discover these character traits in the passages they are hearing is at the heart of Discovery Bible Studies. An expanding awareness of what God is truly like blesses us like nothing else. Jesus’ supreme purpose for his life was to show us the Father’s heart.

Overcoming Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder

No, that disorder does not appear in the official DSM3 (my apologies to my counselor friends). But is an observable condition if you hang around church people too much.

We talk about not having time to be in the Word, but sure are able to quote the words of songs and movies (have you ever noticed how many lyrics are used as Facebook statuses?). Oh, well, that’s another rant for another day.

Every other Friday I lead a Bible study at the local jail. This morning their were seven guys who participated. Six of them were there two weeks ago and the other guy was incarcerated since then. While we were waiting to see if anyone else would join us, one of the guys told me some good news.

He said, “You know that study method you taught us? I’ve been using it and it really helped. I really have trouble reading the Bible and staying on track. It helped me. Thanks.”

To be honest, I had been pondering whether or not it was time for me to discontinue my role in this ministry. Another guy does a study for this same pod on the alternating weeks and he would be pleased to teach the same group every week. “Would that continuity be better for them than what I am doing?” is a question I have been asking myself.

How do you know when your efforts are worthwhile? How do you know when you are being called to make changes?

It encouraged me to hear this unsolicited assessment. I also thought about three friends who work in foreign mission points who have been encouraged to start Discovery Bible Studies in their local jails/prisons because of the testimonies I have given regarding how God has worked here through me.

I always share with these guys how to do a 3-column study. They have much time on their hands. They have a Bible, paper and pen. They can do these studies. God will bless them as they handle his Word. He has promised that when it goes out it will not come back without having an effect. I believe his promises and have seen fruit in numerous lives–as long as they keep hearing God and putting what they hear into practice.

Many of my older posts touch on this same theme, so I won’t bore you with a rehash. But you might want to check out:

One way to assess your work is to determine whether or not it is reproducible. God’s creation celebrates reproduction. Jesus used horticultural metaphors to reveal that God is into the multiplication business. He works in us an through us to produce fruitful practices. But we often get in the way–especially by complicating things.

Now sometimes we are doing the right things, but in the wrong places. If nothing is reproducing then you are either in the wrong place or using the wrong strategies.

I am still assessing this place. How about you? Are you bearing fruit? Are you bearing much fruit? Keep me in your prayers and I pray you will experience the joy of God’s desire to produce an abundant harvest (John 15:8).