This month: 187 - The Importance of Relationships
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Matt Dabbs

Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

Homepage: http://mattdabbs.com

Marriage and family therapists often say that frequency of sex can be a thermometer for the health of a marriage. It isn’t a perfect indicator but a change in frequency of sex can show that other issues are present.

Intimacy requires connection. Obviously, that expresses itself differently between men and women but you cannot have connection without communication.

The same is true of prayer. If you find yourself praying less it is a good indicator that something isn’t right. Maybe you are in a time of depression or anxiety. Maybe busyness has sucked your heart and soul away and make margin for time with God hard to imagine.

It is important in any relationship that is important to us to have consistent communication. To be in touch. To hear and be heard.

Take a moment to consider your prayer life and how in tune and in touch you are with God and if you find it lacking be intentional about setting aside some time each day to increase your connection with your heavenly Father.

He wants to hear from His children!

I believe it is important to pray God’s will be done. We never know what God is going to do. Often what God is going to do is far greater than anything I can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20-21). What I am about to say in no way imagines that I can know the mind of God or anticipate what He is going to do.

Over the last year we have prayed far more specifically. What you see when you do that is the answers are often more easily discernible. For instance,

A little over a month ago one of our Backyard church (BYC) members noticed our kids needed some clipboards to do their lesson work on while outside. Instead of going to the store to buy some she prayed God would just give us clipboards. After worship another parent brought up the idea of clipboards for the kids and volunteered to go and get some.

Around that same time we had a friend attending BYC who needed a vehicle. His truck had well over 350k miles on it and he was driving from Montgomery to Auburn on Sundays. We begin praying about finding a vehicle for him. We hadn’t told him this but intended to help him. When we approached him with the idea he told us he had just ended a lengthy fast and part of his fast was about replacing his truck! Long story short, he ended up with a 2015 chevy that he is loving and telling people the story of how God aligned our hearts and helped provide it.

Last year my Wineskins bank account was running down to nothing and I was going to have to start paying for web hosting out of pocket again. I had never prayed this prayer before but I decided to ask God for the money. Within two days of that prayer something happened that has never happened with Wineskins ever before. A donor approached me asking how they could help and if I ever needed any money to keep it going! Wow! Thank you Lord!

There are many other stories like this but the lesson in all of it for me is yes, pray for the will of God, but also don’t be bashful about praying specifically…then watch and see how God answers! God is watching. God is listening. Let us be bold and “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Heb 4:16.

What are you needing prayer for?

There are no cookie cutters for this or easy steps…but there are principles that can help you deepen your prayer life.

The first is repentance. You can’t have a deep prayer life if you refuse repentance. How does a person come before the Holy God of the universe unrepentant? Unrepentance keeps God at a distance and it doesn’t allow the submission that is necessary for deep heart transformation.

The second is giving God total control. You will never have a deep prayer life if you are coming to God still holding onto the wheel. Once you give God total control of your life you will begin experiencing things and praying things that would have never come to mind otherwise.

Third, take risks. Faith is going to require some risks because faith is living with God there to truly catch you. I am not saying be stupid or don’t plan. I am saying that if what you do only requires you to pull it off it isn’t fully of faith. Taking risks will deepen your prayer life because it will change the way you pray – instead of asking God to help us manage what we can already control we are asking God to come through in bigger ways and waiting on him to do so.

Fourth, read widely from spiritually deep people. Dallas Willard. Henri Nouwen. Watchman Nee. Richard Foster. There are a host of other people. Read them over and over because as your prayer life deepens you will hear them differently each time as your heart is more and more prepared to hear what they are actually saying. As your prayer life becomes closer aligned in depth with theirs you will pick up on what they are really saying that you would never know had your prayer experience not stretched since your previous read. Who would make your list?

Fifth, read regularly from the Bible. Read the psalms relentlessly. They are both the hymn book and the prayer book of the Bible. I often borrow language from the psalms to express inner longings that I failed to have the correct verbiage for.

Sixth, spend time around mature Christians and pray with them. You can learn so much about a person and about the potentiality of depth in your prayer life than from listening to mature Christians pray. Find people who pray an hour or more a day and listen to them pray. Here is one example of Shodankeh Johnson who prays relentlessly…you will see what I mean. Go to the three minute mark to start.

Seventh, be on mission. When you reach out to the lost on mission you will find the urgency of your prayer life increase. As long as we associate only with those who “have it together” we rob ourselves of the vibrant prayer life that comes from being in touch and in tune with those who are truly desperate.

Eighth, ask God to deepen your prayer life and relationship with Him. God will answer this prayer.

Ninth, kneel. If you have never done this you won’t think this is right…but there is something about bowing before God that changes so much in the way we pray. Our physical position can affect our heart position. Try it and see. Kneeling reminds our heart and our mind that we are humble servants and that God is sovereign!

Tenth, pray specifically. Sometimes we hedge our prayers by praying too generally. The more specific we pray, it would seem, the more likely God isn’t going to do what we ask…but if we pray generally, we think, it will be easier to say somehow God answered the prayer…but that isn’t faith! I had a conversation today with a brother in Christ who began praying two weeks ago God would send him a new vehicle. We didn’t know he was fasting and praying for that blessing and we knew his vehicle was in trouble so a group of us in Backyard Church were talking about helping him get a new vehicle right as God provided a potentially donated vehicle for him…wow! Specific prayers build our faith as we watch God answer specifically…we know it could only come from Him!

The church is in trouble to the degree that our prayer lives are shallow.

Just over a year ago two people who I love and respect told me that I needed to have a regular rhythm of fasting and prayer. The first time I was told that, I didn’t try it. When I heard it a second time a few weeks later, I thought maybe God was trying to get my attention.

I cannot tell you how glad I am that I took that advice!

My view on fasting and prayer had been that I went to this in times of big decisions. My motivation had been that God would see how serious I was taking things and would help me make the right decision.

I don’t see it that way at all now. God’s people in the scriptures had regular fasting rhythms and I believe (for those who are healthy enough to do so) we should as well. One example of this is the Day of Atonement, where God’s people would fast over repentance and reflect on their lives before the Lord.

There is a difference between fasting every year or so and a rhythm of fasting and prayer. There is also a big difference depending on your motivation. I have found the motivation of putting God first and fasting being my submission to the sovereignty of God to have far deeper effects on my life than when I tried to use fasting as a vehicle to prove something to God.

When you have a time of fasting each week (for me it is typically Tuesday no breakfast or lunch, so I don’t eat from dinner Monday to dinner Tuesday) God works through that to put us in a state of more dependence on Him. And when you enter into deeper dependence on God, you become a more relaxed person. There is no better word to describe the experience than shalom – not the absence of war, but a state of inner peace, tranquility and reliance on God.

This takes a while to occur. In my experience I worked on this for three months before the inner culture of my soul began to shift. It has a cumulative effect…and that one day of fasting colors the rest of my week. I have peace throughout most of the week, even when things are going poorly, because I am depending on God for all things…putting him first above everything, even things needed to live. God is over all things, even food.

You will be amazed how much you see God show up in big ways when you change the soil culture of your heart.

If you are healthy enough to fast, I encourage you to find a rhythm that works for you. I don’t know what God will do with you through that season but I know you won’t regret it!

A revolutionary book came out in the late 1930s by C.R. Nichol entitled, “God’s Woman”. In that book Nichol challenged many traditional views on women’s participation in the assembly (covering the pertinent New Testament scripture in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians) as well as women in the home. The book was accepted by many people you might find surprising, like N.B. Hardeman. It is also surprising that such a book would have been written by Nichol, who was quite conservative himself.

Gary Burke has written two follow-up books in the spirit of Nichols’ work, “God’s Woman Revisited” and “God’s Woman Revisited Pocket Edition”. This review will focus on the Pocket edition. The lengthier version will be helpful to those wanting a full-on treatment of the passages but I will say that Burke got a lot into the pocket edition, making it the perfect read for someone who wants the gist of the arguments without having to dive into the footnotes. Another helpful aspect of the pocket edition is that it is perfectly suited for Bible class instruction, with each chapter ending with a set of questions to discuss. If you are looking for a book to discuss the role of women in the assembly with your Bible class or small group, I highly recommend this book.

We are going to give away two copies of this book to Wineskins readers. Just comment on this article and two random winners will be drawn this Friday! If you haven’t registered to make a comment, now is the time! It has been a real pleasure to watch our number of registered users climb!

Here is what this book does so well that so few books accomplish – Burke tries to stick with the text. You would be surprised how many things we hear taught are just simply not in the text. They are inferences from the text that become assumed to be what the text directly says. For instance, many people believe the women praying and prophesying in 1 Cor 11 can’t be in the assembly. But the text never says it is or isn’t. The context can point us to a particular conclusion but we really don’t know based on that text alone. There are several instances where the author makes the point of the text and just stops there. Yes, we want more answers…yes we want Paul to address our questions. But often he doesn’t and to pretend that he does can abuse the text. So, kudos to Burke for sticking to the text as it stands.

Before Burke dives too far in he works on some process issues with the reader. He explains why bad interpretive methods have led to a variety of conflicting conclusions and lack of consensus. He then takes the time to walk the reader through what solid exegesis looks like. For many, this will be a great introduction to how to read and study the Bible. That alone is worth the price of admission of the book!

One of the things I really appreciate about this book is the appeal to consistent application of our reasoning. For instance, one argument for the supremacy (or authority) of man over woman is creation order. On page 53 Burke makes the point that if you apply that same argument consistently you would conclude that animals take precedence over humanity since the animals were made first. So simple. So profound.

Much of the women’s role conversation goes back to creation order. That is where Burke starts his discussion of the text coming at it from both directions: as the creation story is told in Genesis and then looking back on it from the connected texts in the New Testament (direct quotations, clear allusions, and possible allusions).

I agree with most of the conclusions on the relevant passages, which would lead us to be more inclusive of women’s participation in the assembly. If there were two small but significant connections I would add to the book it would be these (I realize one can only say so much!): The first is that 1 Tim 2 clearly connects with Genesis but not on childbearing…rather, it connects on deception. Paul isn’t saying women are more easily deceived (he never says that but people infer it), instead Paul is merely saying that women have been deceived in the past and seem to be being deceived in the present in Ephesus. This becomes clearer in 1 Tim 5. That brings about the second point I wish he had made from 1 Tim 2 in how it connects to 1 Tim 5. We learn in 1 Tim 5 that young, childless widows are being deceived and passing along the false teachings to others. In both 1 Tim 2 and 5 Paul uses the word “childbearing” and only uses the term here, nowhere else in his writing. Paul’s solution of being “saved through childbearing” is hard for us to understand but made perfect sense to them – marry and have kids and they won’t be susceptible to the false teachers anymore. This deception and passing along of false teachings also explains why Paul forbids the women in Ephesus to be teaching at that point in time. This isn’t a prohibition for all women for all time, which is how the passage in 1 Tim 2 has traditionally been understood. I credit Gordon Fee with making this connection and I think it makes better sense of the passage as it stands in the context of the whole letter and the situation in Ephesus.

This book directly challenges the traditionally restrictive position held by the majority of churches of Christ and challenges the position from a strictly biblical perspective. It challenges the position that restriction is the “safe” option when in reality if you restrict someone from serving God who God does not restrict that is hardly a safe route. In a sense, what seems biblically conservative can be biblically liberal – adding our presuppositions and inferences as binding conclusions as authoritative as the text itself.

Thanks to Gary Burke for writing these two books. May his tribe increase and may people in Churches of Christ (and any other fellowship who have severe limitations on women in the assembly) read this book and be blessed by it…may we read this book and come to grips with which parts of our view are speculation created from inference and which parts are actually, directly in the text itself…and the need for that is present on both sides of the aisle on this issue!

As we go through life there are upheavals in our prayer life. As a child we learn to pray what our parents pray. As we mature we take on our own relationship with God which also means we take on our own conversation with God. As we continue to mature and our faith gets tested, ideally, our prayers get deeper because our prayers are a natural reflection of our relationship just as conversations with other people deepen with enough shared experiences.

One of the things we learn along the way is that prayer matters. God’s omniscience somehow doesn’t interfere with his desire to still hear from us, from our hearts.

As we study prayer in October, let us also experience God through prayer in order to deepen our relationship with God and engage in new experiences with Him that will result in new levels of conversation we have never experienced before!

As we wrap up the month of September we have a video lesson series walking through the book of James, one chapter at a time. The final video will post next week and will be added to this article at that time. We hope and pray this material blesses your life and enriches your faith!

James 5 coming next week! Sorry I didn’t get it done before the month was over! Thanks for watching!

If there was ever a time of people fighting and quarreling it is today – mostly online, far less in person. It is so tempting to think that the fights we engage in with people are the other person’s fault – or they made us angry…if only they hadn’t said that…but what about the fact that the fight or argument intrigues us enough to dive in and get in the mud with the other person? What does that say about our own inner intentions, thoughts, and appetites? I think it says a lot and that often goes unchecked.

James 4:1-3 

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” 

We need to own our own desires. No one makes you angry. You allow their emotions to bleed over into yours. That’s called enmeshment. It is emotional immaturity to be enmeshed with strangers…to desire approval or agreement from people you don’t even know, so much so you go out of control. No one forces you into an online or in person disagreement. There is something intriguing about a train wreck that is hard to look away from. We must keep our own evil impulses in check.

Why do people argue online? What is it they want? Or as Doctor Phil used to ask, “What’s in it for you?” Behavior is typically functional. It isn’t random. It has a purpose and on some level, even the craziest behavior “works” for people. Maybe you have a deep desire to want to be proven right and anyone who disagrees proven wrong. Is it possible to covet correctness?  I believe it is possible…not only possible…prevalent.

Instead of going to war over something with strangers, why not ask God to fill us? Why not ask God to take those empty places in our life and fill them with goodness – maybe it is an approval gap – ask God to help us find our approval need met only by Him! Maybe it is the deep need to be correct because we battle with insecurity and having our position challenged only makes us feel less than – pray and ask God to be sufficient for you. Maybe then we can understand our role in the system that is the online argument. They don’t happen in a vacuum and no, it isn’t always the other person whose intentions are impure. We must own that part that is ours to own. Only then can we find a path to wholeness. Only then can we see a train wreck of a conversation and freely move on without a hint of anxiety over what we missed or that they might think less of you.

The book of James is the proverbs of the New Testament. Chock-full of wisdom. Echoes of his half-brother Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount…it is one of the most practical books of the Bible for daily living.

James and John are two books I regularly refer new believers to. The insights are simple and practical.

James is also a book I keep going back to for study and reflection because James will straight up spiritual sucker punch you and get your heart in check.

We are studying James this month and I pray the articles are a blessing to you!

Thank you for reading!

By Micah Cobb

I first learned about discipling and discipleship from a conversation with Gailyn Van Rheenan, Mission Alive’s former Executive Director. In my first conversation with him, he told me about Mike Breen and 3DM’s approach to ministry.

I studied Breen’s Building a Discipling Cultureover the following weekend. The framework and insights contained in Breen’s writings excited me. Discipling was a way to further invigorate my ministry, providing a channel for spiritual formation, leadership development, and evangelism. 

Of course, any ministry would be blessed by a strong discipling culture. But anyone who tries to create and nurture one – something that multiplies beyond your own individual discipling-making efforts – knows that a discipling culture is more elusive than it appears in the books. 

For nearly eight years, I’ve been discipling college students as a part of my college ministry efforts. Alongside teaching the Word of God at our weekly gatherings, it’s my favorite part of my job. And I have seen tremendous fruit from it. Most of the students in our ministry are involved in discipling groups. And many would say that their discipling group is the most formative part of our college ministry. 

But creating and sustaining a discipling culture is difficult, and I imagine that each ministry will have its own unique difficulties. When I initially tried to implement Mike Breen’s ideas into my ministry, I ran into many difficulties. 

First, the timelines are different. Breen’s material, and a lot of material from other sources, is built around a full year. In college ministry, though, the timeframes are compressed. Each semester is about fifteen weeks long, most students are enrolled for two semesters a year, and most students spend four years in college. So, a discipleship curriculum that lasts a whole year won’t work well in college ministry; it’d take two academic years to get through the material. 

Second, student leaders are still immature. In college ministry, what passes for a wise and mature leader is a twenty-two year old. Of course, I love working with college students, but even the best student leaders have little experience and are still developing wisdom. Immature leaders slow down discipling group multiplication. 

Third, students come from diverse church backgrounds. In many cases, the student body of a campus ministry attends different congregations around town. The campus minister cannot assume a shared theological vision or even shared ministry practices, other than what the ministry can teach and practice itself. Discipling within campus ministries often has to worth in the midst of great theological diversity. 

Finally, working with emerging adults is challenging. Maybe it is not harder than working with other demographics, but it is still hard. Social media use distorts real flesh-and-blood relationships. Social anxiety is on the rise. Financial pressures are increasing faster than student debt load. And let’s not even talk about the polarization and confusion on political and social topics! So fostering discipleship among emerging adults often feels like an uphill battle. 

For all these reasons and more, creating and sustaining a discipling culture has been difficult. My ministry has switched approaches, structure, meeting frequency, and curriculum many times. But the college environment is so different from that assumed in many books on discipling that it is hard to find an effective approach. 

And so, I am grateful for the leadership and vision of people at Mission Alive like Tod Vogt and Steve Shaeffer. A few months ago, they gathered several campus ministers together and facilitated a discussion about our discipling efforts and the challenges we are facing. Since then, several of us have partnered with Mission Alive to do qualitative research on discipling in the context of a campus ministry. Each of us is coming up with a hypothesis to test, and Mission Alive is helping us construct an experiment this year to see how that hypothesis goes. 

My hypothesis is simple: I have noticed that the social networks of the girls in our ministry seem to be narrower but deeper than the social network of the guys. My hypothesis is that the discipling groups amongst the women would be improved if the size of the groups were smaller. Right now, our discipling groups tend to be four to six people. That has worked well for our guys. This fall we will experiment with our discipling groups for our women to be two to four people. We’ll see if our discipling groups work better when they are smaller. 

I am excited about this opportunity to be guided by Mission Alive in testing out new approaches to discipling. In my opinion, every ministry and ministry context is different enough that any structure or system that works somewhere else has to be adapted to the current context. And I suspect that other campus ministers will have different challenges with building and sustaining a discipleship culture than I currently face. But the goal is to foster relationships like Paul encouraged in Philippians 3:17: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” And if those of us in leadership continue to contextualize our approaches to discipleship within our own unique situations, we will do a better job of building such relationships. 

For more information, you can reach out to me (micah@au4jesus.org) or Steve Shaffer, one of Mission Alive’s Mission Specialists (steve@missionalive.org).