Chapter 2: Relational Discipleship

Reaching This Generation Through Principles From The Book of Acts

Relational Discipleship

In 1997, we were invited by our friend Thorsten Indra to officiate at his wedding to his fiancé Sarah. Thorsten was a member of our church on Maui, and worked with us in the early days of Project Ezra in Honduras. He is from Giessen Germany, and a talented photographer. On a flight from Brussels to New York, he met a banker from America, who was sitting in his seat. He thought it was a mistake, but at the wedding, I pointed out that Sarah was in fact sitting in the right seat! The wedding was in St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands. Thorsten invited many of his German friends, and we were invited to stay in the house with his family. Many marveled at the deep personal nature of the ceremony, as most of the Europeans were used to a civil marriage ceremony that our new friend Peter Wagner described as “like going into a store to buy a shirt”. In addition, almost all of Thorsten’s German friends were amazed that we Christians could have so much fun dancing and partying at the reception, especially without the usual alcohol and drug enhancers.

During that wedding week celebration, we had significant conversations with all of Thorsten’s friends, many of whom had a very wrong attitude about God and were turned off to “religion”.  We discovered that they all were very open to “relationships”.  They, like many over the years in our travels to Europe, Israel and America, noticed the relationships that we have within our family and our Christian community, and they found elements of this that are very attractive.

We think this is the natural step for them in the direction of having a personal relationship with their Creator.

This “relational discipleship” is the fundamental element of our Rio Coco Café ministry. It should be the focus of any evangelism efforts no matter where we are in the world. Jesus Himself gives us the ultimate example of a lifestyle of discipleship- a 24/7 approach to bring people into the Family of God.  It is a natural way to demonstrate the advantages of living life on Planet Earth with God. We see this “relational discipleship” in His action, and we hear it in His words. Jesus is obviously the master when it comes to relating to people.

 Listen to the very culturally significant illustration He gave on how to begin making disciples:

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.  You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see.  Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:13-16

What does it mean to be “Salt”?  In my culture, we have salt on the table as a flavoring for food. My Miskito friends in Nicaragua put salt on their dried fish to preserve it, as there is no refrigeration available. So am I to be a “flavor” or “preservative” to my culture?  Perhaps.

Although this understanding may make sense to the modern reader, the message for the First Century audience was more focused and specific. Looking at this passage through the eyes of those First Century disciples gives us a Cultural Understanding, and a clue to truly effective discipleship.

Salt had a special significance to Biblical people.  It was used for flavoring food, and for “salting” fish and other meats to prolong their shelf life.  If you go into a Bedouin tent today, you will find a bowl with salt (often clumped together with dirt) on the table. You reach with your hand, crumble the salt, and then sprinkle it over your food.  When there becomes more dirt in the bowl than salt, the woman of the tent comes over, takes the bowl and throws the contents out of the tent. Then she brings a fresh clump of salt to the table.  Archeologists often identify the streets of ancient cities by the salt content of the soil.

In a modern Bedouin marriage ceremony, salt is placed between the hands of the bride and groom as they are pronounced husband and wife. To the Biblical person as well as the modern Middle Eastern, salt has the significance of loyalty and fidelity.  A “salt covenant” was an agreement that lasted forever.

Mark Kurlansky, in his book “Salt – A World History”, notes that “Salt was to the ancient Hebrews and still is to modern Jews the symbol of eternal nature of God’s covenant with Israel….On Friday nights Jews dip the Sabbath bread in Salt. In Judaism, bread is a symbol for food, which is a gift from God and dipping the bread in salt preserves it- keeps the agreement between God and his people.  Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. Even dissolved into liquid, salt can be evaporated back into square crystals.

Jesus gives us His understanding of the significance of “salt” in some words recorded in Mark 9.

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” Mark 9:50

Jesus was instructing his disciples to be known by their loyalty to their friends and family.  This is consistent to other Biblical teaching about relationships, gossip, and disunity.  Paul instructed the believers in Colossae to:

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. Colossians 4:6

“Light has many usages in Biblical imagery, but the one referred to here is probably the “sanctified life” of the Believer, which results in unselfish deeds of service to those around him.

Living as “Salt & Light”, through sanctified lives with loyal, giving hearts, is the model for building relationships for the Kingdom.  It is the “Love God, Love Your Neighbor”commandment that Jesus says sums up the entire Hebrew Scriptures (Torah and the Prophets).

It is at the heart of the Christian Lifestyle of Making Disciples.

Modern methods of evangelism and discipleship may focus on handing out tracts, or Sunday morning services, or Bible classes.  These are all effective, and many of our friends have been touched through these methods. However, all these are secondary to what Jesus modeled in “relational discipleship”.

What was the “Jesus Method”?

Traditionally, we may think that when the disciples saw Jesus for the first time and heard His call, they immediately dropped everything to follow Him. We get this idea when we read Matthew’s account of Peter’s call:

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and went with him.  A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. Matthew 4:18-22 (NLT)

It helps to understand the objectives of the writer of the Gospel to draw out the eternal principles.  Matthew’s purpose was to tell us Jesus’ words.  His gospel is really five sermons that Jesus gave, with selected information that connects it all together.  Luke, on the other hand, had a very specific objective in writing his account of Jesus’ life.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4 NAS

Luke, with his logical Greek mind, was all about putting things in order. Let’s take a look at the chronological order of Jesus’ relationship with His Disciples. We see the following:

Luke 4:31:     Jesus enters Capernaum;

4:31-37   He is Teaching, Healing, Demonic Cleansing;

4:38        Jesus Heals Peter’s mother-in-law;

4:39        He shares a meal with Peter’s family;

4:40        A large crowd gathers at Peter’s door;

4:41        Jesus continues to heal and cast out demons;

5:2          Jesus borrows Peter’s boat for teaching;

5:4-7      He sends out Peter’s boats for the “Big   Catch”;

5:6          Peter’s confession;

5:9-11     Jesus calls Peter, James, & John to follow Him.

Peter probably heard about this rabbi who had arrived in town.  He may have walked over to hear him at the synagogue, which is only a stone’s throw from his house in Capernaum.

We know that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, and Jesus came to her house and healed her. She then invited Him to stay for a meal- probably with her family, including Peter. After the meal, a crowd gathered at her door, and Jesus continued to heal people and command demons to come out of their victims- probably until late in the night.  Jesus had to slip off by himself early the next morning for prayer, and Peter came to retrieve him, as many people were looking for Jesus.  Verse 44 indicates that some time passes. Perhaps that time included a few more meals, and a more conversations with Peter and his fishermen friends. Then in chapter 5:2 Jesus is beside the lake, and uses Peter’s boat to speak to the crowd. Peter is sitting in his boat next to Jesus, listening to Jesus teach. (I wonder what the message was about!?!?)

 It is then that he tells Peter to go out again and let down his nets. Peter, the experienced fisherman, has fished all night and caught nothing, and does not believe that he will have any better luck fishing in the afternoon. But he obeys, because of his already-established relationship with Jesus. When they catch so many fish that their nets begin to break, Peter realizes that Jesus is calling him to be part of the ministry group.  He may have already suggested this to Peter over a meal, or a good cup of coffee.

This miracle opens the eyes of Peter, and his response is “Jesus, you really don’t want me to be part of your ministry team, because I am such a sinful man who really has a hard time believing anything.”

That’s when Jesus says: “Relax Peter.  Don’t worry.  From now on we will be fishing for men.”

According to Luke, Jesus had a well established relationship with Peter when He extended the invitation to become part of the Jesus Team.

There is a pattern that Jesus has when it comes to relational discipleship. First He “notices” (Matthew 9:9 & Mark 2:14) a person or group. Then we see Jesus “hanging out” (Matthew 9:10 & Mark 2:15) with this person or small group.

A good example of this willingness to ‘hang” with strangers is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar recorded in John 4.  Normally Jews and Samaritans didn’t interact, especially women and men. This meeting took place in the middle of a travel day, and Jesus was in need of a drink from the well, but He knew that the woman was in need of a drink of His Living Water.

The fact that she was at the well at the middle of the day rather than the customary early morning time when most of the other women from the village came for their household water indicates that this woman was not part of the village social network, which was later confirmed by Jesus’ prophetic words to her.

7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water? 12And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?”

13Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. 14But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.” 16“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. 17“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—18for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.” 19“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet!” John 4:7-19

Notice how Jesus reaches out with courtesy to this woman, and how He brings the conversation to a spiritual level.  He sparks her interest and she responds.  He then gives her a “Word of Knowledge” (1 Cor 12:8) that touches her spirit.  Soon she is convinced that He is indeed the Messiah.

39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay at their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many of them to hear his message and believe. John 4:39-41

Jesus was willing to interact with total strangers, in hope that He would have opportunity to give them the message of restored relationship with God.  He trusted in His divine ability to speak truth in their lives. He knew that strangers responded to kindness and attentiveness.  In these encounters, Jesus often stepped across cultural barriers and shared his meals with the unsaved.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people—even eating with them! Luke 15:1-2

Remember, in the mind of the Middle Easterner, you only eat with your friends.  Jesus, through cultural language, was extending his friendship to these outcasts from Jewish society. Sharing meals together was a very significant event! According to the traditions of the religious sects, physical contact with non-Jews and lower class “unclean” people made you “unclean”.  They would never allow such sinful people touch them, or share food with them.  Jesus was not constrained by these artificial religious barriers.  He was willing to spend time with any potential disciple.  Here is one good example recorded in the book of Luke.

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was one of the most influential Jews in the Roman tax-collecting business, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree beside the road, so he could watch from there.

5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today.”

6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.7 But the crowds were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. 8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. Luke 19:1-9 (NLT)

A meal with a hated tax collector? Jesus was willing to step across “religious” barriers to reach this lost child of God. It was this extending of friendship that changed the life and eternal destiny of Zacchaeus!  This is Relational Discipleship!

We also see Jesus teaching to large crowds, and to his “small group”.  He used the “crowd” setting to say things that would draw many to more intimate encounters with him and his disciples.  He understood the value of having a small group that He could not only share words, but also His lifestyle.

Mark goes on to explain this interaction with the crowd and small group:

He used many such stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they were able to understand. 34 In fact, in his public teaching he taught only with parables, but afterward when he was alone with his disciples, he explained the meaning to them. Mark 4:33

In addition to building relationships through hanging out, sharing meals and teaching moments, Jesus was also willing to be interrupted in his teaching and discipleship ministry. One example is the account of a day (Luke 8) that included interruptions from a demonized man, a leader of the synagogue in Capernaum, and a woman in the crowd.  Luke records another typical “interruption” later on in chapter 18.

As they approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was going by. So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowds ahead of Jesus tried to hush the man, but he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. Then Jesus asked the man, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” he pleaded, “I want to see!” And Jesus said, “All right, you can see! Your faith has healed you.” Luke 18:35-42

From the Gospels we can see that:

  1. Jesus spent quality time with many people, from the rich and politically powerful to the down and outcasts.
  2. He taught the large crowds;
  3. He lived with his disciples, sharing His life with them;
  4. He was willing to stop anytime to interact with anyone who was a potential disciple.

 

As we look at the “Jesus Method”, it would be good to consider some practical applications of our ministry in the Rio Coco Café:

We will meet many at the Rio Coco Cafe who have already had encounters with God through other believers. Many will leave us and have further encounters with other Christians elsewhere.  My friend Danny Lehman, director of Youth With A Mission in Hawaii, says that on the average it takes 5.3 encounters with a Christian for a person to get to a place of receiving Jesus.

One afternoon in July of 2008, I was sitting in the office of Utila Watersports, waiting for my friend  Troy to make a few phone calls.  We were on our way to do something.  Into the office walked a guy who identified himself as “Aaron, a dive master from Israel”. He was looking for a job, and asked if I was the boss. “He’s over there on the phone” I said.

 “Where in Israel are you from?” I asked.

“Haifa” he replied.

“I’ve been to Haifa” I said. He seemed surprised. “I have actually been to Israel a few times” .

“What did you go to there for?” He asked.

“To study archeology and the Bible” I said.

So you are a Christian?” Aaron said suddenly.

“Yes I am.” I confessed.

“Maybe you can help me then.” Aaron said intently. “Could you explain to me how God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus all go together?”

I smiled.  What an opportunity! A secular Jew from Israel asking me this question on an island off the north coast of Honduras!  I have never had this type of conversation with any native Israeli while in Israel!

I invited him to sit down, and we talked for almost an hour and a half. We spoke about one of the famous verses in the Bible, Deuteronomy 6: 4.

“Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God. The Lord is one!”

 I explained to Aaron that this passage in the Hebrew language says: Yahweh is our gods(elohim-gods plural form), Yahweh is one (collective).  The word for “one” is “echad” which has the meaning of  “that which is united as one in contrast to separate parts.” Echad is used to describe one cluster of grapes.

Troy came out and met him, and he gave him a job.  Aaron stayed on Utila for the next four months.  We corresponded once via the internet.  He moved on to another dive resort- I think in Mexico.

Someone had been talking to Aaron.  I had my opportunity to do my part in his process of becoming a follower of Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus). I trust that another Christian took him a step further, perhaps even to the point of salvation.

Evangelism is a process that is begun by God Himself. He is the initiator of the salvation experience for every man. Jesus told His disciples:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” John 6:44

We all have our part to play in this process, which Jesus described in Mark 4:

 “Here is another illustration of what the Kingdom of God is like: A farmer planted seeds in a field, and then he went on with his other activities. As the days went by, the seeds sprouted and grew without the farmer’s help, because the earth produces crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle.” Mark 4:26-29

Jesus tells us that we all have a part to play in the salvation of souls, but God is orchestrating the entire process, causing things to happen that we don’t see.  When we cross paths with someone who is ripe for the spiritual harvest, we have the honor of helping that person to cross the bridge of faith to receive Jesus.

 Everyone is on a lineal spiritual line that to me looks like this:

A True Saint  ___l___l___l___l___l___l___l__0__l___l___l___l___l___l___l___  A Satan Worshiper

                            +7    +6   +5   +4   +3    +2   +1        -1    -2   -3     -4    -5     -6    -7

The middle of this line is “0”, the neutral ground.  We may meet hardened people who want nothing to do with God, or a believer that has not grown much in his faith and relationship with God.  Whomever  we meet, we have the opportunity to “nudge” them one notch toward God (point +1) or further along where they dedicate their lives to serving Christ and humanity (+5, 6 or 7).  Mother Teresa, who worked for decades in Calcutta, would be on my list for the +7 category.

Aaron was somewhere around -3 on this lineal scale when I met him.  It was obvious that this Israeli had been talking to a Christian before he arrived on Utila.  He may have had some encounters with Messianic Believers in Haifa, as there is a congregation at Mt. Carmel, just a few miles away.  Perhaps in his travels, he had spent time on a bus or boat or in a hostel with a Christian who befriended him, and told him about their faith in Jesus.  Maybe a Christian tourist in Israel had witnessed to him. Someone or maybe a few had taken him from -7 to -6 to -5 to -4. In any event, now it was time for me to do my part in the “Aaron becomes a member of the Family of God” story that has been planned out for centuries. God had set me up for this conversation, and we spent the next hour and a half together. I think that I nudged him to -2; Maybe -1. I know that God has someone to take him to +1.  Troy gave him a job, and Aaron stayed on Utila for four months.  Maybe when he gets back home, he will find the Messianic congregation at Carmel and grow to +5 or +6.

My conversation with Aaron centered on not what I thought about the relationship between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, with but what the Bible, God’s Word, has to say about the subject of the Trinity.  In our discussion, I referred to the books of Genesis, Matthew, John, and some of Paul’s letters.  I wanted my words to him to carry God’s power, not just be based on my own opinions.

However, many of our generation do not accept the Bible as God’s Word.  Even those who believe it to be of Divine origin sometimes do weird things with some of the verses.

It is important that we have the proper view of the Bible, and know how to apply it to our lives and to our ministry at the Rio Coco Café. It is the only way we are going to maintain our sanity, enjoy the moments, and be effective in our calling to reach all who come in to the Café.