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Making Disciples by Rev. Derrek Belase

For the month of January we are Bearded Theologians want to look at Making Disciples. We will have various people write about Making Disciples. 


Since August 1, 2016, my primary ministry appointment as a United Methodist Pastor has been at our conference office as the director of discipleship.  My role is simply to assist local churches build the capacity to make disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world.

One passage of scripture which especially stands out to me and guides my work is found in Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23 and Mark 8:34 where Jesus gives us an image of discipleship.  He makes it sound pretty easy and yet exceedingly difficult at the same time.  In essence he says, “You want to be my disciple.  Take up the cross and follow me.”  That’s my paraphrase, of course.

Much has been made about the nuances of taking up the cross, but my imagination takes me to the second half of that phrase.  When Jesus asked the disciples to follow him, he knew they would learn much about life in the kingdom of God as Jesus himself would be the teacher.

Those three years must have been formational in ways that we’ll never know (we have some scriptural clues, of course), but I believe there are some key components to disciple-making as I see them from my balcony view as a denominational minister.

First of all, disciple-mentoring must be taken seriously.  Jesus mentored the twelve disciples and they, in turn, continued to mentor others.  This idea is really informed by an article I read many years ago by the venerable theologians – one of them bearded – Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon.  The article is called “Discipleship as a Craft, Church as a Disciplined Community” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=110).

Near the end of the article, they employ the example of how one would go about learning the craft of brick-laying.  After describing the many of the key elements in that craft, they conclude, “to lay brick you must be initiated into the craft of bricklaying by a master craftsman.”  Making disciples of Jesus Christ happens by teaching, modeling and mentoring others in this craft.

This presupposes, of course, that those doing the disciple-mentoring are taking their own faith development seriously, attending to the means of grace as Methodism’s forefather John Wesley called them.  Activities like daily scripture reading, receiving Holy Communion and being held accountable for one’s spiritual growth with other disciples in small groups.

Secondly, disciple-making must begin early in a person’s life.  Our Jewish ancestors understood this quite well.  The so-called Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) outlines an intense pedagogical method.

4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (NRSV)

There is a lot packed into that short passage.  Recite the words. Teach the words all the time and everywhere.  Bind the words on your body.  Apply the words to your doors and gates.  Live the words in daily life.

Travel to the Holy Land today and you can see this still being faithfully followed all these years later.  Phylacteries on heads and mezuzahs, often beautifully adorned with jewels and other designs, on the doors of homes and even hotel rooms.  Included in both one finds the words of the Shema.

The Jewish people take the education of children very seriously.  I recently read about a German-controlled ghetto created to house Jews during World War II called Terezin in Bohemia.  It was unique in that many educators, musicians, composers and other artistic-types were confined there.  Hitler’s men wanted at least one camp which appeared to those on the outside as normal and healthy.

What happened in this camp was nothing short of remarkable.  In his book Go Ahead: CREATE, retired United Methodist pastor Paul Hamilton offers some interesting reflections on this ghetto.  There were chamber music groups, orchestras, art lessons and even many musical compositions.  Near the end of his chapter about this camp, he writes about a Jewish scholar Leo Baeck who was transported to Terezin in 1943.  About Baeck, Hamilton says, “Baeck and other Jewish leaders insisted that children’s education would carry on in the ghetto” (pg. 125).

No doubt a part of that education was Biblical in nature.  Even in the midst of what must have been a hopeless situation, faithful Jews wanted to pass along the important tenants of the faith and they weren’t going to let anything stand in the way of that.  After all, it was a Biblical mandate!

Finally, we must realize that we are disciple-models at all times whether we intend to be or not.  There was no time that Jesus’ disciples weren’t known to others.  One example is found near the end of Jesus’ life when Peter is asked, while standing in the courtyard, if he isn’t one of the followers of Jesus (John 18:17).  I read that question as rhetorical.  The questioner knew even before Peter’s weak denial.

And for those who follow Jesus, disciple-modeling happens every moment of our lives.  When we profess to follow Christ and take up his cross, people should be able to know that we are disciples without us telling them!  And if they know, that means we are modeling discipleship in all that we say and do.

I was recently reminded of something I’ve known for a long time.  Maybe you know it too … it’s called the show and tell method of learning:

  • I do, you watch.
  • I do, you help.
  • You do, I watch.
  • You do, with someone else learning from you.

I have alternatively seen the same process described like this: “Tell me, I’ll forget.  Show me, I’ll remember.  Involve me, I’ll understand.”

Isn’t that what Jesus did for those who followed him.  He was constantly inviting others to follow him.  Take up a cross and follow.  Follow and fish for people.  Follow to Jerusalem.  Follow to a cross.  Follow to a tomb.  Follow to new life.  And all along the way, learn the Jesus way.

It seems to simple and yet so difficult.


belasederrek-1

Derrek Belase is a husband to Rebekah, father to Madison and Elizabeth and a United Methodist pastor.  For 13 years he served local churches before being recently appointed to the Oklahoma Conference office as the director of discipleship.  He has a beard, but it’s turning more gray than he would like!

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Good Ol’ St Nick

l’ St. It is that time of the year again.  We gather together with friends and family, we sing Christmas songs, we  make Starbucks employees write Merry Christmas on our cups, we max out our credit card, and we slap heretics in the face!  Yes, today is the day we celebrate good ol face slapping St Nick. I know what you’re thinking, “Santa is such a jolly man with a bowl full of jelly.  He wouldn’t slap anyone!”

Well, before we got the lovable, fat man that breaks into your home and leaves you gifts in exchange for cookies, we had the real man St Nicolas of Myra.  Nicolas grew up in Lycia. Unfortunately, early on in his life his parents died and left him quit the inheritance. His uncle who was the Bishop of Parata took him in and raised him.  He mentored Nick in reading and later ordained his as a priest.

Here is the legend of Santa, this is why we give presents at Christmas. Nick devoted his life and inheritance to helping the poor and needy.  A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals, Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. Because of Nick’s generosity and compassion to make sure these girls weren’t sold into prostitution, we have the legend of St Nicholas that has evolved of the years into Santa Claus.

Nick became Bishop at a time when the Christians in Myra (which is in modern-day turkey)were under persecution.  Nick and many other Christians were seized, chained and thrown into jail.  Soon after Constintine was appointed by God, took over and released the Christians.  Nicholas returned to Myra and continued to fight against persecution and heresy.

In AD 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 bishops came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arius, from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. Arius forcefully argued his position at length. The bishops listened respectfully.

As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.

The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop’s garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.

Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared, asking, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.

When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

Today is traditionally St Nicholas day.  Celebrate the miracles and examples this Saint has given us.  You might think twice about being naughty or nice. St Nick is making a list. He’s checking it twice and if you’re like Arius you might not like the gift coming your way!


15259719_10153880565206441_5213022733762386602_oZach is the Co-Creator of Bearded Theologians.  On this journey I call life, my wife Mikel and our 3 kids, join me.  We enjoy traveling, eating, baseball, and adventures.  Currently, I serve as the Co- Pastor at Grace/Tularosa United Methodist Church Merger.

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Rediscovering Mystery in the Information Age Rev. Stephen Cagle

In Douglas Adams’ science fiction masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is a scene where a group of scientists are building a computer to answer the hardest question in the universe. They build a massive computer that they call “Deep Thought” to answer the question: “the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Deep Thought tells the scientists it will take seven and a half million years to compute the answer. After seven and a half million years had passed, the descendants of the original scientists waited excitely to hear Deep Thought’s answer, the very answer all intelligent life had been searching for from the beginning.

“Are you ready to give it to us?” the scientists asked. “I am,” replied Deep Thought, “though I don’t think you are going to like it. The answer to the great question, to life, the universe and everything is… 42!”

The scientists are aghast. After seven and a half million years, the answer that Deep Thought provides them makes no sense. “I think the problem,” Deep Thought tells them, “is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

This is a very silly story of course, but it is also a satire of many of the great thinkers of the last 300 or so years. Beginning with the Enlightenment, there has been a pervasive idea that the great questions that vex us as a species could be answered with the scientific method and reductionism. It was believed that questions like “Who are we?” and “Why are we here?” could be answered purely through scientific advancement. In social sciences this era of scientific advancement is called “modernity.”

We see the effects of modernity every day in the incredible technological advances that have been made during this period of history. Particularly in the last 150 years, humankind has taken an enormous leap forward. My grandparents used horses as their only means of transportation when they where children, and now I have the sum of all human knowledge accessible to me from the smart phone in my pocket at all times.

But yet, with all of this scientific advancement, we don’t seem to be any closer to answering the “ultimate question” than we were 300 years ago. There are many people now who believe, just as Deep Thought did, that we are asking the wrong question. We can’t ask a computer, an implement of science, a philosophical question and expect to get a sensical answer. We have entered into a new era, which the social scientists call “post-modernity.” This is the era of Generation X and the Millenials. This is the era of people who look at the quest of modernity and see its failure and come to one of two conclusions: 1.) There simply is no answer to the ultimate question, or 2.) There is an answer to the ultimate question, but it is beyond human understanding.

The Church was not immune to modernity, and it has even been suggested that the Protestant Reformation was the garden from which modernity grew. Modernity expressed itself in the Church in different and seemingly contradictory ways. On the one hand there was classical theological liberalism, which denied the existence of miracles, questioned the legitimacy of the Biblical record, and began the so-called quest for the “historical” Jesus. On the other hand was Biblical fundamentalism, the idea that every single word of the Bible is meant to be taken literally and that the Bible has an answer for every single question. Fundamentalism treats the Bible as a science textbook that is to be examined and combed for “evidence.” Fundamentalism makes the same mistakes as modernity, looking for answers to questions that aren’t fully understood. I know this because I grew up in the world of fundamentalism.

In the church I attended as a kid, there was an answer to every question. I was a pretty inquizzitive kid, so there were lots of questions. Sometimes the answer I got was terrible, but there was always an answer. These answers were most often derived from applying the scientific method to various parts of scripture. “What is heaven like?” Let’s look for a precise literal description in Revelation 21. “If God created the world in seven days, when did the dinosaurs live?” There were no dinosaurs, the world is really only 6000 years old, end of discussion. I always found the answers lacking. They were answers, sure, but they never really clicked for me. It was just like asking “the ultimate question” and getting “42” back as an answer. It was an answer, but it doesn’t make sense!

I remember the first time that I went to a church that used a more traditional liturgy in its worship, and there was a curious little phrase that stood out to me. It was during the communion time, and the pastor said, “Let us proclaim the mystery of the faith.” This phrase isn’t anything new, as it goes back all the way back to ancient Christianity, but it was certainly something I hadn’t ever heard before. Mystery?! There isn’t supposed to be anything mysterious about faith, because the Bible has all the answers! Or so I had been told. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this phrase actually comes from the Bible itself.

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul uses this phrase to describe people who are qualified to serve in the church as deacons. That they must be “committed to the mystery of the faith.” Paul uses the word “mystery” (in Greek, mysterion) to mean something that was hidden that God has revealed to his people. Paul tells us that, yes, there is an answer to the ultimate question and that it is indeed beyond our reach. However, it is not beyond the reach of God, and God has chosen to reveal some of that answer to us. God did this through scripture, through the prophets of old, but most of all God revealed himself to us through Jesus. The Bible, therefore, isn’t a science textbook but rather an instrument of God’s revelation.

The distinction of what this means precisely is summed up well by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, where he tells us that what we understand about life, the universe, and everything is like looking through a darkened piece of glass, much like being on the mirror side of a two-way mirror. We catch glimpses of the eternal truth of God, but only that. When we look through the glass, we can only see that on the other side which is brightest.

As a Christian I believe there is an answer to the ultimate question, and that answer is a relationship with God. This is an answer not derived through the scientific method, but an answer given to us by God himself. He has revealed enough about himself that we can know how to live our lives and experience his love, but he has not given us every answer to every question… and God expects us to be okay with that. Over the years, I have had to learn to be okay with that.

And so, I believe that people can experience salvation from sin and death because Jesus died and rose again. I don’t know how (though I have some theories), but because Jesus was dead one moment and alive the next, I trust and have faith that it is the case. I believe that when Christians have communion, we meet Jesus and experience his presence in a unique way. I don’t know how, but because Jesus said, “This is my body… this is my blood,” I trust and have faith that it is the case. And that is exactly the beautiful thing about allowing mystery to play a part in my religious life: I have found myself trusting in God more.

There are many questions I have about life, the universe, and everything that are still unanswered. But that’s okay. I have found comfort in the mystery of the faith. I don’t need to know everything to know God.


cagle_stephenRev. Stephen Cagle is a United Methodist pastor and serves as an associate at Claremore First United Methodist Church in Claremore, OK.  He is the husband of Ashley and first of his name.  Stephen has a background in the world of technology and spent many formative years of his life going to hardcore and punk shows.  His top three spiritual influences are: John Wesley, Søren Kierkegaard, and the band mewithoutYou.

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Beardcast 11.17.16 on Preaching Faith

This week we talked about how the Peter Böhler quote to John Wesley spoke to us. “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

You can also listen to it here on