Tag Archives: disciples

Can you smell what The _____ is cooking? (When Jesus give you a nickname and changes your life.)

11 May

Image result for can you smell what the rock is cooking

Can you tell whom I’m thinking about?

Read the title of this post.  Look at the picture.

The Rock!

That is Dwayne Johnson’s nickname from his days as a professional wrestler.

There seems to be a specific kind of person whom we nickname with the word “Rock”. Think about Rocky Balboa. Remember the character Sylvester Stallone is famous for playing in how many boxing movies?  20?  Rocky Balboa is a prize fighter.  Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a professional wrestler and action movie hero.  These guys are intense!

At Faith Church last week we began a series talking about The Rock. Not Dwayne Johnson or Rocky Balboa, but a guy named Peter.  How is Peter like The Rock?

We first meet Peter in Mark 1:16.  Peter was a Jewish man from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, which is the northern part of Israel. People from Galilee had a bit of a different accent, and were considered to be…well…kinda backwards.

As Mark tells us, Peter’s Hebrew name was Simeon, often shortened to Simon.  So why do we call him Peter?  The name “Peter” is actually a nickname Jesus gave him! Right around the same time as the events of Mark 1:16, we read in John 1:42 that Jesus calls Simon a nickname, Cephas, which is the Aramaic word meaning “rock.”  “Peter” is our English version of the Greek word “petros” which means “rock”.  Why would Jesus give Simon the nickname, “The Rock”?  In this post, we’re going to tell Simon Peter’s story to find out what Jesus was thinking.

Jesus would invite Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, their friends and some others to be his followers, most commonly known as Jesus’ 12 Disciples.  Among the disciples, Peter quickly showed his potential.  He is often depicted as speaking first, or in the lists of the disciples’ names, Peter’s is first.  One time in Matthew 17:24 tax collectors come to Peter to ask a question about Jesus.  There is no doubt that he was considered a leader. Furthermore, Peter was bold. Neither afraid to speak nor to ask questions.  He was rock-like.

But, like so many bold people, Peter knew how to put his foot in his mouth. In Matthew 15:15 right after Jesus tells the disciples a parable, Peter pipes up, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus’ response is classic: “Are you still so dull?

In Mark 9:5 we read the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah, two towering figures from Israel’s history, appear beyond the grave, and Jesus’ clothes turn brilliant white.  We are told that Peter, “…did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” But that didn’t stop him. He said stuff anyway, making a fairly offbeat comment to Jesus that perhaps they could build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  God the Father responded this time.  Or was a it a rebuke to Peter’s big mouth?  God says, ”

Also in John 13:4-9, during the account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gets up from the table and, showing them how they should serve one another, washes their feet.  Peter is aghast.  The servants should be washing their master’s feet!  But Jesus warmly tells Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.  Guess what Peter comes out with in response to that? “Then, Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.”  Huh?  Can you see the other disciples looking at each other thinking, “Awkward…” Even in Ancient Israel, grown men don’t wash each other.

Peter was passionate.  Yeah, sometimes he said crazy stuff.  Other times he said amazing things.

In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks the disciples a question in private, a question he could not ask in the presence of a crowd, and especially in the presence of the religious leaders who already wanted his head.  He asks his disciples about his identity, “Who do people say that I am?”  Well, word on the street was that Jesus was special, and there were a number of options for who he might be.  One of the famous prophets maybe.  People in the crowds had speculated wildly.  Jesus knew that.  But he wanted to hear what his closest followers thought.  He wanted to know what was going on inside their hearts and minds.  Guess who pipes up right away?  Peter.  And as much as Peter could put his foot in his mouth and say really inappropriate stuff sometimes, he could also come out with some amazing truth.

Peter is right on the money when he says, “You the Christ! The Son of the Living God.” Jesus looks at Peter with great approval, and says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven.”  What a moment!  Jesus is saying that Peter received a revelation from God of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah!  That is amazing!

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Here Jesus tells a joke, a pun to be precise when he says to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter, Jesus says, is The Rock.  It wasn’t just that he was bold in what he said.  Peter also had a bold faith that took action.

There was the time that the disciples saw a mysterious figure walking on the water out to their boat.  As it gets closer, they realize it is Jesus!  So guess what Peter does?  He walks on water right out to Jesus!  And yet, when the wind and waves spray in his face, Peter the solid rock, crumbles, becomes afraid, turns away from Jesus and starts to sink.  You know the rest of the story.  Jesus grabs his hand, steadies him and says “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”

Then just before Jesus was arrested, as the soldiers surround him, Peter whips out his sword, and he cuts off the ear of high priest servant in Garden.  He was bold!  Has his faith become rock solid?

Jesus surprises Peter, telling Peter to put down his sword.  Peter is shocked and confused.  His Lord who he loves, who Peter has committed to follow, seems to be giving up.  Jesus even reaches over and heals the servant’s ear!  What is Jesus doing?  Isn’t this supposed to be his big moment?  Instead Peter’s Lord is now being taken away.  Peter gets scared.  What seemed like a new movement of God appears to be falling apart right in front of his eyes.

With Jesus in chains, Peter follows at a distance, curious, and frightened.  Suddenly, Peter is spotted.  People outside the high priest’s house where the trial is taking place call him out: “You are one of Jesus’ followers!”  Now Peter is really worried.  If Jesus is going down, Peter and the other disciples could easily being going down with him. So Peter, as boldly as he had confessed his allegiance to Jesus just a few hours before, now boldly denies ever knowing Jesus.  And he does it again.  And one more time.  Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus, then the rooster crowed.  From his position, Jesus turns and looks Peter in the eye.  And Peter runs away in bitter, bitter shame.  Peter seems to be anything but a solid rock.

We know what happens next.  Jesus is beaten severely, then crucified, died and is buried on Friday.  Sunday morning, a couple of the women who were Jesus’ followers report to the disciples hiding out in a room in the city that Jesus was alive.  Peter’s head jerks up and he on his feet in a flash.  He sprints out the door, John at his heels.  They run to the burial place, and John overtakes him, gets there first and looks in from the outside.  Peter arrives and rushes into the tomb.  It was true!  Their Lord was no longer there!  Soon after Jesus began to appear to them.  It was true! He was alive!

A few days pass.  The feast of Passover, for which Jesus and his disciples had originally traveled to Jerusalem, was over so the disciples returned home to Galilee in the north.  What do you do when your world is turned upside down?  They went back to work.  I bet Peter needed to go fishing, to clear his head.  The disciples, from their boat, notice a man on the beach making a fire, and it was Jesus.  Peter again jumps out into the water to go to him.  After breakfast Jesus does something remarkable to Peter. Read John 21:15-17, and you’ll see.

For each one of Peter’s three denials, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to say, “I love you,” and he directs Peter to feed his lambs.  This is Jesus restoring Peter.  Peter, the one who was so boldly committed to Jesus saying, “I will die for you,” had actually turned out to boldly deny Jesus.  But Jesus knew what was deep down inside Peter was not a coward.  Peter was not a failure.  Jesus loved Peter, and he knew Peter loved him.  So in this amazing moment, Jesus lifts Peter back up. Peter truly would be The Rock.

Now let’s continue Peter’s story in the book of Acts. Very quickly we notice something.  The first 11 verses of Acts chapter 1 are all about Jesus.  But in verse 11 Jesus returns to his father.  Starting in verse 12, the focus then turns to Jesus’ disciples.  How would they react to this astounding turn of events?  In the span of 50 days their master had gone from national hero to criminal to dead to risen again!  And now…Jesus is gone.  The disciples and other followers, which verse 14 tells us number about 120, do what Jesus said they should do: go back to Jerusalem and wait in prayer.

One of them stands up.  Starting in verse 15 Peter stands up and speaks.  Skim through the next five chapters of Acts, these critical early moments of the life of the church, and one name appears over and over and over again.  Peter.

  • In chapter 1 Peter leads the discussion about who will replace Judas.
  • In chapter 2 Peter preaches the first sermon.
  • In chapter 3 he heals a crippled man and preaches again.
  • In chapter 4 Peter is arrested and boldly proclaims Christ before the Jewish leaders.

Look at Acts 4:13 and what it says there is just amazing: “When the Jewish leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

When you spend time with Jesus, he will transform your life.

In Acts, the story of Peter just keeps going.  He takes the lead in confronting sin in chapter 5.  And how about this verse in 5:15: “People brought the sick in to the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.”  What?  Peter’s shadow had power?  Just his shadow?  That’s crazy wild.  And the dude was catching fish just a few years before?

At this point in the middle of Acts 5, the new church in Jerusalem is enjoying amazing favor.  Tons of people coming to faith, following Jesus, becoming part of an amazing new community.  Miraculous healings.  Amazing generous gifts of sacrifice to help those in need.

Until Acts 5:17. The religious establishment guys don’t like what they are seeing. The new church is encroaching into their territory, as people are following Jesus.  The Jewish leaders are filled with jealousy, they round up the apostles, these uneducated men who hung out with Jesus, and bring them in for questioning.  They flog the apostles and tell them to knock it off.  And you know how Peter and the other apostles respond?  They rejoice because they were counted worthy of suffering for Jesus!  They do not knock it off.  They keep preaching.  The church keeps growing.

In chapters 6-7 we get a brief pause in Peter’s story.  We meet some of the other leaders in the church, Stephen and Philip.  But in chapter 8, Peter is back, now going on missionary trips to Samaria.  For the rest of chapter 8 and halfway in chapter 9 we meet Philip again and Paul makes his first entrance in the story.

Halfway through 9 we’re back to Peter, who is making more missionary trips.  Then in chapter 10 something momentous happens.  Peter has a game-changing vision from God.  At first, the vision seems really weird.  In the vision Peter sees a sheet dropping from heaven, and in the sheet are unclean animals, and God is telling Peter to eat these animals, that they are no longer unclean.  The meaning of the dream was that Peter was to lead the new Christian church to reach the Gentiles, the non-Jews, with the message of Good News in Christ alone.

Reach the Gentiles?  Peter is Jewish.  Born a Jew, always a Jew, Peter followed Jewish laws all his life.  The thought of eating unclean meat, and of reaching out to the unclean Gentiles is repulsive to Peter.  So once again, put your foot in your mouth Peter comes out when he says, “Surely not Lord!”  But yeah, God wanted to reach the Gentiles too.

Peter obeys and the book of Acts starts to take a major turn as God wants the message of Good News in Jesus to be conveyed to the Gentiles. In chapters 11, therefore, we read about Peter explaining and living out this newly expanded understanding of the mission of God to include all people.

In chapter 12, things get crazy.  The local King Herod is getting lots of political heat from the Jewish religious establishment about these Christians.  So Herod rounds up a couple leaders, intending to persecute them.  He actually puts the Apostle James to death.  That was James who years before was fishing partners with Peter.  Peter gets jailed too.  With James dead, it seems like Herod wants to take down the new church’s leadership, hoping to destroy the church.  Peter is public enemy #1.

But God has other plans for Peter. The night before his trial, chained in prison, praying, Peter is miraculously freed by God’s angel.  Peter then travels away to share more about Jesus in other places. That is the last full story featuring Peter in the book of Acts.  He pops up again in chapter 15, at a major church council.  By that time, Peter has become a missionary.  James, the brother of Jesus, is the new leader of the church in Jerusalem.

Historians tell us that Peter eventually traveled to many places in the Empire, including Rome. He is believed to have been the leader of the church in Rome.  He is also said to have died on an upside-down cross. Just before his death, Peter wrote two letters which we call 1st and 2nd Peter.  But also the Gospel of Mark was likely influenced by him.  Mark was not a disciple, but a traveling companion of Peter.

That’s Peter’s story of life change.

I suspect Peter was always a bold, brash guy.  But I doubt he ever expected life would take him much beyond the shores of the Galilee.  He was a fisherman.  That was a good business to be in.  Feeding his family, feeding many others in his area.  Making a living.

He meets a guy named Jesus one day.  Jesus is remarkable.  Different.  There’s a spark.  Jesus says, “Follow me, Rock, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Only three years later, what do we see?  Fisherman Peter is now the Rock of the Church preaching a sermon in Jerusalem to a huge crowd.  And 3000 of them respond to his sermon.  What. The. Heck?  What happened in those three years?

What happened during those three years were lots of ups and downs.  It didn’t seem like Jesus’ nickname was working out so well.  Peter often seemed more like quicksand than The Rock.  But Jesus continued reaching out to Peter and set Peter up to lead his followers.  When Jesus returned to his father, Peter was ready to be the Rock of the church.  The Holy Spirit empowering the church, Peter was ready to lead this small group of 120 followers of Jesus.

Peter was a changed man.

I think Peter would understand the life that most of us live, because he lived it too.  The crushing realities of life seem insurmountable.

We hear ourselves saying things like “I’m just a lowly worker with no hope for a meaningful future.”

But Jesus comes to us and says “Follow me. I will make you…something you never could have imagined.  I’ve got a new name for you.”

We hear ourselves saying, “I feel like I’m sinking in the raging waters of life, and I don’t know how to swim and no one cares.”

But Jesus reaches out to pull us and strengthen our faith.

When life gets really hard and scary and God seems nowhere to be found, we hear ourselves saying “I don’t know you God, I don’t know you Jesus, I don’t know you!”  And we can’t believe we denied our Lord, and we wonder if we’ve lost it all.

But Jesus comes to us with forgiveness and says “Do you love me?”  And we really do love him, and he says “I have a plan for you.”  And we think “Really?  Me?  But Lord, I turned away from you.”  And he says a second time “Do you love me?”  And we really do love him, and he says “I want to use you.”  And we think, “But I’ve screwed up so many times.  You can’t possibly use me, Lord.”  And he says again “Do you love me like a brother?” And we know where he’s going with this.  We know he is right, and we respond “I really do love you like a brother.”  And he confirms to us “Yes, I have a job for you.”  He really does want to use us.

To follow Jesus we need to do what Peter did.  Peter left fishing behind.  Peter said “Ok. I will make a change and follow you, Jesus.”

What change do you need to make to follow Jesus in a new way?  During my April sermon series, what I learned on sabbatical, I told you some changes that I needed to make.  I was feeling trapped by some elements of life.  I got rid of them in order to make space to follow Jesus.  I encourage you to do the same.  The time has come.

Jesus wants to restore you, to transform you.  He loves you.  That is our amazing Lord.  Merciful, gracious, patient.

He doesn’t always turn a fisherman into the leader of the world-wide church.  But he obviously can do that if he wants.  More likely, Jesus wants to do in you what he did in Peter.  Transformation.  Transformation of the heart, transformation of the mind, of the soul, of the body.

How is Jesus at work in your life?  What does he need to restore in your life? How is he calling you to serve him?

He doesn’t call everyone The Rock, but I suspect he has a nickname for you too.  His name for you might surprise you.  It might take you a while to feel it suits you.  But in time you find it will fit perfectly.

 

Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants…

7 Aug

Jesus doesn’t want believers?  What?  Yes, he does.  Doesn’t he?

Yes, he does.  He even said “Believe in me.”  Read the Gospel of John and you’ll hear Jesus say that many times.

So a couple of years ago the leader of my denomination, Bishop Bruce Hill, made the statement in the title of this post.  When I first heard it, I thought it sounded so wrong.  A Bishop is supposed to uphold truth!  How could he say that???  See if it sounds wrong to you too: Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples.

Is our Bishop wrong?

Nope, not at all.  Here’s why.

Belief is important.  Jesus did want people to believe in him.  Jesus wanted them to learn some things.  There is content to the message of the Good News.  It is a story that has specific details.

What did he want people to believe?  One of Jesus’ first followers, Paul, summarized the content of the Good News in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Believing the details of that story is important. But here is why Bishop Hill is absolutely correct when he said, “Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples”: believing is not the end product.

Remember what James the brother of Jesus said in his letter?  In James 2:19 he wrote, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that.”  Clearly, believing is not enough, if demons do it.  There has to be something else that separates the demons from those who are true followers of Jesus.  James goes on to tell us exactly what that something else is when he says, “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”  It is not enough to just believe.

Remember the people in Matthew 7:21-23 who thought they were absolutely going to get into the Kingdom of Heaven?  They were believers.  Jesus shocks them when he says, “Away from me, I never knew you.”

There is something more than believing!  We have do something, James said, to move from believing into truly being known by Jesus.  This is what our Bishop is getting at when he says “Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples.”

Jesus himself taught us how to be assured that we would not hear those awful words, “Away from me, I never knew you.” He says later in Matthew that we can know that we are his disciples if we deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow him.  That is clearly moving beyond belief.  Belief is not enough.  We must believe and become his disciple. Our lives must show by how we live that we not only believe, but we also are living out that belief.

In my sermons, and in thus in this blog, I talk quite a lot about being disciples.  A very important way that Jesus wants us to live out our belief in him is not only to be his disciples, but also to make more disciples.

In what were some of his last words, found in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus told that his disciples priority #1 for them, their mission, was to make more disciples.

We need to ask, therefore, what is a disciple?  If this is our mission from our Lord, we should know what a disciple is and how to help others become disciples who can make more disciples.  A disciple is a believer who practices spiritual disciplines and lives out the life of Christ, a huge component of which is to make more disciples.

Paul would refer to this when he said to his disciple Timothy, “Teach men who can teach others.”  He said that in 2 Timothy 2:2.  Disciples of Jesus will make more disciples.  That is our mission.

It was revolutionary to me when I first heard that disciples should make more disciples.  We are not to make believers.  I always thought we Christians were supposed to get people to believe in Jesus, to pray a prayer of belief, and then hope they would follow through and become disciples of Jesus.  But, really, that disciple part was a bonus, it wasn’t really important.  Jesus, however, didn’t teach us that, and he himself actually made disciples. Take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20.  Jesus envisioned a progression, a multiplication, that would continue. His  disciples would make more disciples who can make more disciples…a cycle that is never-ending.

That cycle has been at work for 2000 years!  Read the book of Acts, and you see how those original 12 disciples made more disciples who made more disciples, and the work of making disciples for Jesus spread beyond Jerusalem to the Middle East and Europe and Africa and Asia and the Americas…and here we are.

A lady from Faith Church, Alice, told the story about a group at a different church that she went to when she was a young mom.  The group had an older lady of whom Alice said, “I wanted to be like her”.  That’s the heart of a disciple.  Saying “I want to be like them.”  Paul once said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”  Discipleship is a cycle that continues from person to person.  Now years later there are people in Faith Church who are saying “I want to be like Alice Royer”!

This is how Jesus made his disciples.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Get out your Bible or open it on an app, or online.  Would you take a few moments and walk through the book of Matthew with me, looking for descriptions of how Jesus made disciples?

Let’s start at Mt. 4:19-22 where Jesus first meets a couple of the guys who would become his disciples. This is where it all starts.  He looks at them and says, “Follow me,” and Matthew tells us, “at once they left.”  It’s kind of shocking that people would just up and leave their jobs to follow a preacher who is walking around town.  But scholars tell us that those guys who followed Jesus started out as Cultural Disciples. It was common practice in their society for people to leave all and follow a teacher.  This was step one of the process that Jesus used to make disciples.  He invited them to follow him.

Jump ahead to Mt. 8:18-22 and notice the progression to verse 23.  Jesus is expanding on what following him actually means.  There is a cost to it.  And what happens?  Jesus’ disciples physically got into a boat with him, still following him.

Also in Mt. 9:9 through 19, another man joins Jesus’ crew of disciples.  Matthew!  The guy writing the story.  He was a tax collector, considered a sinner.  The religious elite look at Jesus having dinner with Matthew and ask Jesus’ other disciples, “Why is Jesus eating with a sinner?”  Jesus heard it, responding, making it very clear that his mission included even those who were normally considered outcasts.  That is instructive for us.  Jesus wants all people to be his disciples.

Jump down to Matthew 9:19, and what do we see is happening in this group of disciples?  Jesus gets up to respond to a situation, and his disciples get up too.  They are following him.

After Step 1, the invitation,  we come to Step 2 of discipleship.  Thus far they have been answering the call to follow him.  Basically, they just accepted the invitation to follow him, and they watched him.  Now it goes a bit further.

Disciples are also learners. Step 2 is that they sat under Jesus’ teaching.  This has already started in Matthew chapters 5-7, where Jesus gives a lengthy teaching called The Sermon on the Mount.  At the beginning of that sermon, in verses 5:1-2, we see that his disciples are there, probably in the front row.

Jump ahead to where we left off in Matthew, and we come to chapter 10.  What do we see?  A lot of red words, if your Bible prints the words of Jesus in red.  Look at 10:1-5.  Jesus gives them authority, Matthew names the 12 disciples, and then we read in verse 5 that Jesus instructed them.  Earlier in chapters 5-7 he was teaching them in the midst of a large crowd.  Now in chapter 10 he is focused solely on his disciples. No one else is present.

Next turn to Mt. 12:46-13:10 and we see more teaching by Jesus.  Continue on to 13:36 and the rest of the chapter 13, and what do we see?  More focused teaching for his disciples.  Jesus is investing personally in these guys.

That is the second step: focused, individual investment, teaching where they learn his ways.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He moves onto a third step, Shared Experiences – They saw his example. 

This was already starting a bit back in Mt. 8:23-27 when he calmed the storm and in Mt. 9:35-38 when they watched him in ministry, doing miracles, teaching and interacting with people.  Here at the end of chapter nine, though, he implants an idea in their head.  See it there in verse 38? “Ask the Lord to send out more workers.”  Jesus is laying a foundation for these guys. Basically, “you have seen my example, ask God to raise up more people to do what I am doing.”  Who might Jesus have in mind to be the answer to this prayer?

Jesus after investing time and teaching into these guys, after showing them an example of what life in the Kingdom is all about, he moves to Step 4 when he gives them the opportunity to be his co-laborers.

Remember that prayer at the end of chapter 9, “pray that God will send laborers?”  Look what happens in chapter 10.  He gave them power and authority, and he sends them out!  Jesus gives them the tools to serve, and then gives them the opportunity to serve.  A mission trip.  They are now the answer to that prayer, as they go on the mission trip.  In the process they are learning to make more disciples.

We have to jump out of Matthew’s account to broaden the story a bit.  In Luke 10 there is a further example of this, a second mission trip.  The first mission trip was just for the 12 disciples.  This second mission trip is for 72, Luke tells us.  Jesus is getting more people involved.

And look what happens in Luke 10:17.  They had an awesome trip!  In verse 21, Jesus is ecstatic! These men who have been following him for months are becoming disciples who can make more disciples.

These men have gone through a progression of following him, watching him, and then moving on to learning from him, having shared experiences with him, and now they are actually doing what he did.  Where there used to be one guy doing the work of the ministry, there are now 72!  This is a picture of discipleship.

You know what is amazing to consider at this point?  These guys were disciples, but they were not fully convinced believers!  Think about it.  After all this that we have seen about how Jesus shaped these men into his disciples, what happened when Jesus was arrested in the Garden?  One of those men completely betrayed Jesus, leading the soldiers to arrest him.  All the rest of the men ran away, and the one who made the biggest claims about being Jesus’ best follower, Peter, denied him three times.  The next day as he hung on the cross, just one of the 12 disciples, John, came by to see him.  Two women were there, one of which was his mom, Mary.

Would you call those disciples believers?  They are not a pretty picture of believers.  Instead they look a lot more like betrayers, deniers, and cowards.

Except for one important detail.  Jesus had deeply invested in these men.  They might not have been committed believers, but he had formed them as disciples.  And those three years of following him, learning from him, having shared experiences with him, and finally of doing what he did, those three years were not wasted.

Because when he rises from the dead, and when he reveals himself to them, the belief finally catches up with their discipleship.

Now we can return to Mt. 28:19-20.  The disciples who are now believers have a whole new view of what it means to follow Jesus.  They have a new mission, to make more disciples.  They can go back through the past three years and review how Jesus made them into disciples, and they can use the same method to make more disciples.

So can we.

For so many years, many Christians have been taught a two-stage view of helping people follow Christ: First we share the content, getting people to believe in God. Second, we reach out to them and help them to be his disciples.

But many people are looking at that two-part method and thinking that it might not be appropriate.  Review all we studied in Matthew already in this post: what did Jesus do?  Did he make his disciples pray a prayer first?  No. He just said “Follow me”.  He didn’t try to get the disciples to believe anything.  He didn’t make them sign off that they believed certain things about them.  He just said “follow me”.  Three years later, and much investment later, they still had questions about who he was.  But as we have seen, their belief caught up with their discipleship.

And now what about us?  How do we make disciples?  Disciples do what their discipler does.

So don’t require people to believe first.  Lead them into doing something, living the lifestyle of Jesus.  The belief will catch up! No doubt, some people will believe first and then learn to be disciples.  There is no one right method.  But if we have any amount of respect for Jesus and how he made disciples, we would do well to follow his example.

What, then, do we actually have people do?  How do we lead them into the lifestyle of Jesus?  What are elements of the lifestyle of Christ that we can invite people to participate in?  Some sort of serving? We have to spend time with them. How am I to disciple people if I never spend time with them?  We need to open up space in our lives to them.

I also urge you to disciple your family first.  You parents and grandparents, make it your passion to disciple your kids.  Use that four stage process that Jesus used.

Then disciple others.  Maybe someone in your church.  Maybe a neighbor.  Maybe a coworker.

Then do what Jesus did.  Live as a disciple.  Teach others what you were taught.  Practice the spiritual disciplines, teach others to do the same.

Obviously, we can’t disciple people precisely like Jesus did.   He was an itinerant preacher.  His job was to walk around Israel and preach and do miracles.  And people followed him.

We don’t have a life like that.  Jesus did not intend that we would become itinerant preachers who walk around our towns and cities with 12 people following us.  We have families, houses, jobs, bills.  As did the people in the very first churches which we read about in the book of Acts.  Read the book of Acts and what we find is that we can make disciples in any setting.

Also, remember that you are not alone as you make disciples.

Let’s talk about that guy Peter, the disciple who denied that he even know Jesus.  In Luke’s Gospel, Luke 22:31, we read that earlier in that evening before Jesus was arrested, he said to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you disciples as wheat, but I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith will not fail.  When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

If I’m Peter I’m thinking “Jesus, I love you, but you say some really strange stuff sometimes.”  Peter wasn’t thinking anything at all about his faith failing.  He thought he was strong.  But I suspect these words stuck with Peter, based on what we read later.  Peter would go on to deny Jesus, and yet his faith didn’t fail.  By denying Jesus he messed up terribly, and he knew it.  After the rooster crowed just as Jesus said it would after Peter denied him, Peter went away weeping bitter tears.  It seemed like an abject failure of Jesus’ discipleship of Peter.  Peter was Jesus’ top guy.  Jesus spent loads of time with Peter.  He even once told Peter that he was the rock on whom he was going to build his church.  And what happened?  When it really counted, when Jesus needed his followers most, Peter said he didn’t know Jesus at all.  But there is a loophole.

Remember what Jesus said to Peter?  “I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail.”  What I want to focus on is the prayer part.  Jesus prayed for his disciples, and in particular Peter.  He knew they were about to go through an incredibly difficult time.  He knew they would run away from him, and Peter would deny him.  But he had prayed for them.

Jesus knew that he wasn’t alone in the disciple-making process.  He prayed to God on behalf of his disciples.  So should we.  You are not alone as you seek to make disciples of your kids, when you pray for them.

You are not alone as you seek to make disciples of your friends, as you pray for them.

Yes, there is much to do with a disciple, much to teach them, but you are not alone when you pray for them.

So who can you disciple?  Who can you invite to follow you?

And who can you ask to disciple you?

Discipleship really is about training others and being trained yourself.  I love the imagery of training because if you’ve ever had a trainer, whether at the gym, or at work, you can picture it.  They are showing you how to do something new.  You might not believe in them or in yourself.  But you start practicing.  They step by step guide you into a new life.  And the belief catches up.

Who is training you?  Who are you training?

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI appreciate a good provocative title.  My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them.  She’s right.  But I really am serious about the title of this blog post.  At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.”  But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention.  I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above.  “When” rather than “Why.”  “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here.   I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church.  But when?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me set the stage for that discussion first.  I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process.  It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived.  You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”.  To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus.  Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.

One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.

Did you hear what Jesus said?  Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer?  Nope.  Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front?  Nope.  Go to church?  No.  Worship?  No.  He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith!  There should be an outflow.  We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught.  We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.

This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS.  We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need.  Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients.  This aspect of outreach is vital.  Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need.  We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.

Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples.  I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.

So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words.  Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”

People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different.  They have something I don’t have.  I want what they have.  Peace.  Joy.  Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.”  And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different.  I want what you have.  Why are you different?”  “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.”  And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.

Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny.  She was like that.  Always joyful.  It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?”  And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.

Can I be honest though?

How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life?  I don’t know that I ever have.  If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different?  Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?

Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!”  That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier.  We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.

Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us.  Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news?  Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?

Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty.  We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace.  We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives.  A longing to be in relationship with God.  An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.

And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.

What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest?  In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do?  My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks.  Avoid the events.  Invitations to church?  They might help, but I think there is a much better way.  A much more down to earth approach.

  • Pray for people.
  • Be available.
  • Love. Genuine friendship.
  • Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.

Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church.  The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church.  In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people.  They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open.  They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach.  We’re used to it. We like it.  But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out.  Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people.  Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture?  And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know?  Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services.  You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday.  That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.

It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services.  But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.

So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus.   So pray for them.  Love them in genuine friendship.

One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people.  He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”

And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say?  Don’t stop praying at this point.  Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.  Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.

The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts.  The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”

Could a church worship service be a bad thing?

15 Jul

Did you have a security blanket as a kid?  Maybe it was a special stuffed animal or a pacifier.  Or did you suck your thumb?

I had a blanket as a child.  My own kids had a variety of security items, which got progressively bizarre.  Child #1 carried around a blanket, which we had snugly wrapped him in as an infant.  Child #2 had a stuffed lamb named Lamby (whose ear got wrapped over this particular child’s nose, held in place with the forefinger while sucking the thumb).  Child #3 also had a special stuffed pet, an elephant named Ellie.  But this child did not suck on his thumb.  Instead he sucked on the trunk of the elephant, which got very disgusting.  Not to mention that said child would regularly walk around and play with a stuffed elephant hanging out of his mouth.  Child #4 reverted quite a bit, as she just had a pacifier.

Did you know that adults have security items?  Ours tend to be a bit more socially acceptable, but if left unchecked they can become rather bizarre as well, and sometimes destructive.  Security items keep us from experiencing some part of life, usually the painful parts.  A bottle of alcohol can protect us from experiencing the stress of finances.  Netflix can help us escape from the pain of parenting or work.  Or there might be an addiction that we use to cope with the horrible memories of our past awful experience.  Do you have a security item?

Is it possible that a church worship service might be a security item?  Peter Rollins, in his book Insurrection, suggests that worship services could actually be keeping us from worship.  Sound impossible?

This past Sunday I started a summer sermon series called Our Growth Process, which will look at how Faith Church understands biblical teaching about how disciples of Jesus can grow to be more like him.  Last week I suggested that the foundation to this sermon is to learn to focus on the Kingdom of God.  We have for too long focused on church, on church buildings and systems, whereas Jesus taught about his Kingdom.  People who want to grow as disciples of Jesus focus their lives on Kingdom of God, and how it enters our lives and world, transforming them.  So where do we begin?  With worship.

But what if the way we do worship is focused on the church rather than the Kingdom?  What if worship is actually keeping us from the transformation that God wants to bring in our lives?  Rollins thinks it could be.  But why?  And is he right?  I encourage you to read the book, but I also invite you to join us at Faith Church tomorrow as we are going to look at what Rollins has to say.

He is risen? Really? So what?

3 Jun

“He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

This is the call and response that we use on Easter Sunday.  But this Sunday is not Easter Sunday.  That was two months ago.  This Sunday we’re revisiting Easter again.  Why?

In the book of Acts we learn that the earliest Christians decided to meet on Sundays because Jesus’ resurrection happened on a Sunday.  Think about that.  Many cultures around the world reserve Sundays as a day off for rest and worship because nearly 2000 years ago a small group of Jesus’ followers wanted to give time every week to commemorate his resurrection.

It didn’t start off that way.  In fact those Christians were all Jews.  They lived in a culture, in the nation Israel, where Saturday was the day off for worship.  Sunday was just another workday, the first day of the work week.   So these Christians had to deal with the ramifications of their decision to worship on a day when everyone else would be working.

Did they only meet in the evening after work was done?

Or did they worship in the morning or afternoon, and thus have to say to their employers, “Sorry, but we are no longer working on Sunday mornings or afternoons,” and face the consequences?

It would have been much easier for them to worship on the Sabbath like everyone else did.  The Jewish worship day, called Sabbath, was Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  It would have been super easy for the Christians to just worship on the Sabbath, but they chose something else.  They chose to worship on Sundays because that was the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead.

That’s why we worship on Sundays too.  But that’s not why we’re talking about the resurrection this coming Sunday. So why are we talking about it?

Maybe you’re wondering if it is because this coming Sunday will be one of our two summertime Sundays of worshiping in the park, and we wanted to focus on something special.  Nice thought, but nope, that’s not the reason either.

I have a much more mundane reason why we’re talking about Jesus rising from the dead.

You know why?  It’s what comes next.

We have been studying the life of Jesus as told to us by a guy named Luke who was one of the first missionaries.  Luke tells us right at the beginning that he did the work of a journalist and historian, trying to tell the story of Jesus’ life.  So since the last Sunday of November 2014 we have been learning about the words, works and way of Jesus.  All he taught and all he did.  So that we might learn to know him better and follow him.

Now we have come to the pinnacle moment in his life.  On this, the 70th sermon of the series, we travel back to the first Resurrection Day.  As much as we can.

But on that day, when the first disciples heard those words “He is risen!” their response was a bit different.  They didn’t say “He is risen indeed!” as we do with excitement and hope and thankfulness.  Instead, they likely asked it as a question: “He is risen?  What are you talking about?”

Good question, disciples.  What is this resurrection thing all about?  Why does it matter?  Even if we believe that it happened 2000 years ago, how does that ancient history affect us now, if at all?

Join us at East Lampeter Community Park on Hobson Road at 10am to learn more!

How to identify if you are good or bad leader

3 May

As we have seen in Luke, Jesus is pretty good at throwing rocks in the still pond of people’s lives, creating waves.  He does it again at his final meal with his disciples, the Passover meal in the Upper Room, the meal we commonly call The Last Supper.  Jesus gets a bit ominous, telling his closest followers that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, and they will use those elements to remember him.  “Remember him”?  Was he going somewhere? Was he leaving them?

Numerous times he had mentioned to them that he was going to suffer and die.  The disciples knew all too well that the religious establishment was boiling mad at Jesus.  Things were hot in the city.  But wasn’t Jesus the one who was going to become king?  Wasn’t he going to kick the Romans out of the city?  Think about the crowds, and how they adored Jesus, followed him all over the place.

“Remember him”?  Maybe he is just talking about the long distant future.  Except he says one more thing: one of the disciples seated right there in that room, around that table, will betray him!

How could this be?  So they start talking among themselves, “Who could do such a thing?”  Judas, the one who had already set up the betrayal with the religious establishment, is there thinking “How could he know?”  It was an awkward moment.  I can imagine one of the disciples, such as bigmouth Peter, saying “Well, I would never betray him.”  And then maybe Peter’s buddy would say “Ha, I’m better than you, Peter, so it’s not me who Jesus is talking about.”  And Peter say “Better than me, are you? No way, I’m better than you.”

Perhaps then an argument breaks out, just like school children on the playground, arguing over who is better.

It is the perfect opportunity for Jesus to step in and teach.  He had surprised them by washing their feet earlier that evening.  From that demonstration, he now says leadership is not about greatness, but about serving.

The disciples’ discussion of who is the greatest is almost shocking in that it occurs at all.  Think about it. Jesus is just hours away from being arrested.  He is very serious talking about his body, blood, and how his suffering is upon them. And at that moment they start arguing about who is greatest?  How quickly they become petty, lose focus.

How quickly we, too, can lose focus on what is important.  Have you ever been involved in a worship service, class, or Bible study and you came away very convicted about something, but then by the afternoon or the next day you’ve forgotten about it?  You were so convicted to make a change in your life, to do things differently or start something new.  Maybe while you were on a spiritual retreat you made a decision to change your life, but by the next week it seems like that retreat was months ago.  Maybe it was a trip to a different country.  Remember the powerful spiritual impact that trip had on you.  Does it seem like a distant memory now?

How fickle is the heart of humanity.

The disciples are distracted.  Having just heard about one who would betray him, they now start arguing about who would be greatest.  How did this happen?  You and I know how it happened because we know how easily we can be distracted.

Jesus responds by giving them a new vision for what leadership is all about in his kingdom.  Serving.  To lead is to serve.  We often get pictures of arrogant leadership.

But what does it mean to be a servant leader?

Mother Teresa is considered by many to be one of the most excellent examples of servant leadership.  She said “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”  I could have chosen another 50 quotes of hers to mention.  What is amazing is not her quotes, but her life.  Her life of serving the sick and hurting.  It is her life that makes her quotes and writing so powerful.  She walked the talk.

Another example of a servant leader is a man I met in Guyana, he who would do anything, even change dirty diapers and clean up vomit.

Other examples, I meet right here at Faith Church.  People serving in the Nursery.  Providing loving child care.  Waking at 3am to start the fire for the Chicken BBQ.  Many people give time, energy and money serving behind the scenes and never get credit.  And they don’t want credit because they want God to receive the glory.  That is servant leadership.

At the heart of a servant leader is humility.  Not wanting credit. Not wanting a name for themselves.  Willing to help, do to the dirty work.  Wanting God to be glorified.

Parents and grandparents are almost always servant leaders by the nature of their roles.  Not saying they are perfect.  We parents know that we often have bad attitudes, that we can struggle with being selfish, and can fail.  But if you are a child or a grandchild, I urge you to open your eyes to the sacrifices your parents and grandparents are making for you.  I urge you to thank them.

Too often whether we are children or whether we are the people on the receiving end of servant leadership, we can grow a sense of entitlement, that we deserve what they are giving to us.  They should be sacrificing for us, we can think, and we can forget how hard it might be for them.  We can forget to thank them.

Think about what is going on here.  Jesus on the eve of his trials is not freaking out, not moaning and groaning, but he is ministering to the disciples.  They should have been ministering to him!  They should have been reaching out to him.  But there he is trying to help them.

He is our example.  When we are going through tough times, we want people to care for us.  But no matter what we are going through, Jesus is our example, of how to serve, to give, to minister, to reach out, even in the midst of our difficult times.

How can you let Jesus transform your heart, make it new, so that you serve like he did?

God’s not angry; he wants you to Flourish! Luke 13:1-9

14 Dec

Is God angry?  Yesterday at Faith Church, we looked at Luke 13:1-9, a story where people in the crowd following Jesus mentioned a current event.  Much like we’ve had mass shootings lately, there were actually two awful tragedies that had recently happened in Jesus’ day.  The crowd referred to the Roman leader Pilate who killed a bunch of people, and then Jesus talked about a tower that fell on 18 people killing them.

Jesus knows the question on people’s minds that day. He knows why these questions came up.  Is God angry?  Were these two horrors the result of God punishing the people for their sins?  Jesus’ answer is a clear NO. Jesus says these disasters did not happen because the Lord was punishing people for their sin. Their sins were no worse than others.

Why did Pilate mix the Galileans’ blood with their sacrifices? Most likely because he was a maniac, psychopath who went overboard to put down any rebellion or discord. It was his sick way of keeping the peace.

Why did the tower fall? Maybe it was old. Maybe it wasn’t well-built. Maybe there was a wind storm.

We don’t why either of these situations happened. But we do know from Jesus’ mouth that these situations didn’t happen because these people were worse sinners.  We live in a fallen world where tragedy and disease and violence is part and parcel of the world.

Jesus goes on to say that there is a larger issue. God wasn’t punishing people in these two headline stories of the day. Their sins weren’t worse and somehow deserving of diving judgment. Instead Jesus twice says that what we should be concerned about when we hear of tragedy is that we are all sinners who could perish.

He’s not grim and fatalistic though. He says there is hope, we can repent!

So we need to talk about repentance. But before we do that, Jesus tells a parable to explain things even further. He talks about a fig tree that bears no fruit for three years. The normal response for a tree like that is: Cut it down. It is taking up precious space. Get rid of it, plant a new one.

But the gardener in the story intervenes.  “Leave it alone for one more year,” he says. This is mercy! It is for us the image of God as a long-suffering God. And this was after three years of no fruit. But he is still willing to give MORE time.

We so often hear about God’s judgment, but this parable reminds us that God is a merciful God! I hear people concerned that God is so violent, especially in the Old Testament. In my personal reading this week, though, I came across Psalm 78.

In this short retelling of the history of Israel we see his anger for sure, but only after numerous affronts from his people.  For centuries all he did over and over was help them, save them, rescue them and provide for them.  And yet they respond by worshiping other gods, complaining, and disobeying him.  It’s all a bit too personal really.  When I put myself in God’s shoes, and I read the words the psalmist uses to describe God’s emotion and reactions, I think about the task of parenting.  It can be so frustrating!  And what I need to do is turn my gaze on me and see that that is how God can feel about me.  I can be so fickle, so quick to lose interest in him.  So quick to allow my thoughts and heart to wander.  But Psalm 78 reminds me that he is amazingly loving, gracious and merciful.

Back in Luke 13 the gracious merciful gardener says to the owner, “Please let me have one more year with this tree. I will fertilize it. I’ll work with it. I’ll give it go.”

You know what this is a picture of? Discipleship. It’s a person who gets involved. Gets their hands dirty. It’s messy. But people can grow, they can bear fruit.

What will it take to become a fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus?

Fertilization.  You work with a plant to bring it to health. That’s the heart of God. He isn’t angry, giving up on us. He is merciful and gracious and love us. He wants to see us get healthy and grow and produce fruit for him. He gives us another chance. He forgives.

That’s why Jesus was born, that’s the message of the Christmas story: he came to rescue us, so we could flourish. He entered into the pain of our world with us. We are not alone. He knows our pain. He’s not angry. Instead we should respond, Jesus says, first by repenting. Repentance is when we admit our sins, we confess them, we get them out in the open, and we say “I’m going to make a change.” And then we work on making that change. That’s where the fertilizer comes in. We work to get healthy so we can grow and produce fruit for his kingdom.

I think it is really important to ask what kind of fruit we are talking about.

Maybe the Fruit of the Spirit? Probably not, because Paul will only refer to that about 30 years later. But it is absolutely appropriate for us to think that disciples of Jesus will grow the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Those character qualities should be coming out of our lives.  Because of that I think it is important to talk about opposites of fruits.  Do you struggle with negativity, complaining, bitterness, impatience, anger? What will it take to change those wrong attitudes and actions into the fruit of the Spirit?

So while Jesus was probably not talking about the Fruit of the Spirit, what fruit was he talking about?  The fruit of a fig tree was more fig trees. Fig trees produce figs which have seeds that can produce more. That is the fruit. For a follower of Jesus, then, the fruit we should be producing is more disciples of Jesus.

What is a disciple of Jesus? Not just a believer. Not just a church-goer or worshiper.  But one who is being transformed into the image the Christ. One who is becoming like Christ in heart, attitude, and action.  One of Jesus’ main actions was making more disciples.

Take a look at how this works in the parable. The farmer does not expect a fig tree which has been barren for three years to magically start bearing fruit in year 4.  Same for us. We have the Spirit, but we can choose to not allow him to work through us.

Why do people choose not to make disciples?

  • They were never discipled themselves and don’t know what it looks like.
  • They are scared.
  • They think they can’t do it.
  • They think that it is just for the professionals (pastors, worship leaders, missionaries).
  • They have been taught that that they just need to believe, and go to church and be good.

No matter the reason, the reality is that many Christians are like a fig tree that bears no fruit.  But there is hope, Jesus says.  If you are not producing fruit, you can repent and change.

To bear fruit we have to choose to bear fruit!   If we are not bearing fruit, and we don’t know how, we need a gardener in our lives to fertilize us. In other words, if we are not bearing fruit, we might need to be taught how. We need to be discipled.  We need people to invest in our lives to guide us, lead us.

We can choose to totally avoid discipleship and disciplemaking. As Jesus’ brother James would later say, “Faith without works is dead.” That is a serious charge, and should give us pause.   If we cannot see fruit in our lives, we should want there to be fruit. We need to repent, just as Jesus said in the first part. We need to repent of our lack of following him, we need to repent of our failure to make disciples.

Remember that God is not just a God of judgment, he is a God of mercy. He gives more time!

We should all want to be fruit-bearing trees. And the first step is to have a humble, honest admission of the true state of our discipleship to Jesus. If we are not bearing fruit, then we should say “I am not bearing fruit. I admit it. But I want to do what it takes to bear fruit.”

Remember that there is mercy! Today there is mercy from God. If you are not bearing fruit, there is mercy! God wants to give you time, God wants to see you be fertilized, to flourish for his Kingdom and mission.

There’s no rule here. God is not saying “You have one year to become fruit bearing! And if you don’t disciple someone this year, I will cut you off!”

No, the parable is a story to guide us. So what if we make it a goal? What if in 2016 we say “Lord, I want to become a fruitful disciple in 2016. Give me one person.”

Parents, your first priority is your kids. If you are not discipling them, make them a focus.

But you can all think about discipling the people in your church, or maybe a coworker, a neighbor, friends in school or someone on your club or sports team.  It starts with being a real friend, building a real relationship with them, no matter if they want to be a disciple or not.  Then care for them, pray for them, encourage them and love them.

Remember that the process of fertilizing is messy, dirty hands work. If you know you are not bearing fruit and you need to repent and be fertilized, seek that out.

If you know of someone else in your life who needs to repent and be fertilized, start by praying for them. Would you make a commitment to pray for that person as often as possible, maybe every day, in 2016? Ask God to give you the opportunity to be the kind and merciful gardener in their lives. Then watch for the opportunity to materialize, and go for it. Disciple them. Want to learn more about how to disciple others? I’d be glad to talk with you.

God’s not angry. He wants us to flourish!