Tag Archives: Discipleship

Why the bizarre Christian teaching to be strangers and fearful actually makes a lot of sense

14 Jun

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

“Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  I love that phrase.  It even rhymes.  You know where it is from?  It is from the biblical book of 1st Peter, chapter 1 verse 17.  I’ve been posting all week about being strangers.  You can read the previous posts (here, here and here) to see why this guy Peter was telling Christians that they were strangers in the first century Roman Empire.  Now he says that that should live as strangers in reverent fear.  What is reverent fear?  In the original language that Peter wrote, Greek, this is just one word: “Fear”.  In fact Peter uses the standard word for “fear” which you would use if you were scared or afraid.  So why does the New International Version, which is the English version of the Bible we use at Faith Church, use two words to translate one word?  “Reverent fear”.  They could have just used the word “fear”.  It is because in this context, the translators who were writing the New International Version felt that this use of fear was not the scared or terror kind of fear, but the fear of respect and awe.  Reverence for God.

The most literal translation of this phrase is “conduct yourselves in fear during your sojourn on earth.”  There you can see how the NIV is trying to help English readers understand what Peter was saying when he said, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  I like “sojourn” a bit better than “live your lives.”  A sojourn is commonly understood as a temporary stay.  It is not permanent.  Peter wants us to remember that we are temporarily here on earth.  This earth is not our true home.

Peter explains this further in verses 18-20.  Why should they live not as citizens of an earthly nation, but as citizens of heaven? Because of the costly price paid to save them (Jesus’ gave his blood, his life for us!).  This is an oft-repeated New Testament teaching.  Paul once said in 1 Corinthians, “You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.”  Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection were an incalculable price paid to rescue you.  Therefore, we have a wonderful, deep reason to live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  We have an allegiance to a new master, to his new country: the Kingdom of God.

And so, not only on Ash Wednesday when many churches write the cross in ash on people’s foreheads, but at all times, we live our lives under the sign of the cross.

Peter describes this allegiance to Jesus further by saying,”We were redeemed.”  Redeemed is a slavery word.  Slavery was a huge part of their society.  Those ancient Christians would have understood what it meany to be bought and sold, to be redeemed.  You paid money to buy slaves.  A slave in the Greco-Roman era could even do this for themselves.  So slavery was different then from what we know of slavery in our American past.  Peter says it was not with money that we were set free from the empty way of life.  We couldn’t pay for it ourselves. It had to be and only could be through the blood of Christ.  The crucifixion of Jesus is pictured here.  What a huge price was paid for our redemption.

Notice that Peter says even more about this.  We were redeemed FROM the empty way of life.  The empty way is the way of following selfish or sinful desires.  Another word for the old kind of life is “futile.” One author says, it is a way of life that is “useless on the basis of being futile and lacking in content.”[1]  That’s a pretty strong statement.

But in our culture, we can see this as true, can’t we?  How many people pursue an empty way of life?  Think about the many problems in our society.  Broken families.  Drug addiction.  Sexual predation. Racism.  Gender inequality.  Greed. Celebrity worship.  Screen time. Video game, sports, and entertainment addiction. Obesity.  I could go on and on.  These kinds of things were going on 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire when Peter was writing this letter.  He nails it all in one phrase: An empty way of life.

Praise the Lord, though, Peter is saying, we have been redeemed from that way of life.  We have been set free!  Those that life their lives as strangers here in reverent fear have been set free from the empty way of life, and follow a new way, the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God.  Peter, earlier in the letter described this new way of living by using the word “holiness”.  That’s another way of saying, “Allow Jesus to be the new master of your life, to follow his way.”  It doesn’t mean that every follower of Jesus will become instantly perfect.  Instead this reverent fear is a life of respect for God that desires to know him ever more deeply and seek to make his ways our ways.  In other words, we learn from Jesus how to live because his Spirit has given us new birth, redemption, freedom, to pursue a new full life.

Want to learn how to get started? Comment below!  And check back in tomorrow as we’ll see Peter describe another way to live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 624. Print.

Why being “born again” might not be as crazy as it sounds

22 May

It is cringe-worthy. I admit it. Being born again?  It just sounds weird, not to mention the baggage associated with “Born Againers” in our society.  My guess is that most people don’t know what it means to be born again.  Or they believe born-againers are fundamentalistic, and therefore, mean, jugdmental and harsh.

But being born again is none of that.  In fact, please read on, because what being born again really is just might surprise you.

Last week I started preaching through the book of the Bible called 1st Peter.  It is actually a letter the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians around the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD when they were being persecuted.  This past Sunday, we looked at 1 Peter 1:3-5.

In verse 3, Peter exclaims, “Praise be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  When you’re reading the Bible, you pretty much expect a phrase like this, right?  “Praise God!” sounds like a really biblical thing to say because it is a really biblical thing to say.  But why does Peter praise God?  Is he bursting with praise, just because?  Nope.  He has a reason.  There is something causing him to praise God.

Peter praises God for his great mercy.  God, Peter says, does not give us what we deserve.  As people who so often choose to rebel against God, whether in big ways or in tiny little ways, what we deserve is punishment of being separated from God.

But that’s where God’s mercy enters the scene. He could separate us from himself, but he chooses not to do that.

Instead, Peter says, God has mercy on us in that he has given us new birth!

New birth is a very Christianese sounding idea.  Here’s the thing though, Peter and other Christians didn’t make it up.  Jesus did.  Peter is just using words that Jesus taught him.  In John 3 we read the story when Jesus taught this.

Let me set the scene a bit.  The religious establishment guys were constantly on Jesus’ case?  They were called Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Jewish law, and Jesus often had run-ins with these guys.  The religious establishment guys were the power-brokers in the land of Israel.  What they said was law.  If you didn’t follow what they said, watch out.  The problem is that they had stacked law upon law upon law so that it was incredibly difficult for the regular person to have any hope that they, the regular Joes, could truly enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus could not stand for that lie, and he undermined their false system every chance he could get.  As you can imagine, the average Joes loved him for it, and the leaders hated him for it, and the leaders looked for ways to take Jesus down.

But not all of them.  Some of the leaders were curious about this Jesus guy.  They had never encountered someone with his gifts and abilities and teaching and miracles.  As hard as they tried to defeat him, those miracles were hard to argue with.  So at least one of the Pharisees was really intrigued by Jesus and knew he needed to meet with Jesus.  But it had to be in secret, under cover of night.  This Pharisee could not risk being found out by his Pharisee pals that he was going to talk with Jesus.

That is where John 3 picks up. Before you continue this post, read John 3:1-10 or so.

Did you read where Jesus says to Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3 that no one can see the Kingdom of God, unless they are born again?  That’s where the common Christian phrase “new birth” or “born again” comes from. Jesus himself!

Well, this confused Nicodemus greatly.  Born again? You can’t be born again. It’s obvious, Jesus.

Frankly, it is almost silly to me that Nicodemus even brought that up in verse 4.  It is so obvious that Jesus is speaking figuratively here.  You almost want to shake your head at Nicodemus, like we do nowadays and say, “Really?  Really?!  You think he wants you to get back inside a womb?”

Of course not, Jesus explains, what he means is that you must be born of water (which is natural birth) and spirit (which is the new birth).   Nicodemus is still confused, and in verse 10, I love how honest Jesus is. Can you imagine the twinkle in Jesus’ eye when he says, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?”

That’s Jesus saying, “Come on, man, do I have to really spell it out for you?  When I say you have to be born again, I’m not talking about taking you to the hospital so the surgeons can cram you back inside a womb!”

Look at verse 5 where Jesus explains what he means.  The Spirit of God must change us!  We must be born of the Spirit from the inside out.  That is the “born again” that Jesus is talking about.  But how are we born again by the Spirit?

Jesus goes on to say that it starts with believing in him.  Look further down at verses 16-18.  Being born again, means that we have a spiritual rebirth which starts by believing in Jesus, and a change takes place within us, a real change.  This is symbolized in our practice of baptism.  We go under the water to symbolize that we have died to our old selves, and we rise up out of the water to symbolize the spiritual rebirth, that we have new life in Christ.

Let me say something very important about belief.  It is not intellectual or mental assent.  Intellectual or mental assent is just saying, “Yeah, I believe that.  I would say that is true.”  But mental assent does not impact your life.  Jesus is not looking for intellectual assent.  Jesus is not interested in people just believing a fact about him.  I have quoted our Bishop Bruce many times throughout the years, when he says, “Jesus doesn’t want believers.”

That phrase might sound ludicrous when you are reading John 3:16 (“whosever believes in him”).  But Bishop Bruce is right on the money.  Jesus doesn’t want us to just agree to factual data about him.  He wants us to be his disciples.  He wants belief to lead to action.  How do we know this?

In James 2, we read that even the demons believe!  In other words, you can believe the right things about Jesus, but not have been born again into the new life of Jesus.  What Jesus wants, Bishop Bruce says, is disciples. A disciple believes and follows Jesus, learning from Jesus how to live out the principles and the way of the Kingdom of God right here and right now.  A disciples actually changes.  Jesus once taught “by their fruits you will know them.”  You can tell who is reborn, because the new things of the Spirit flow out of their lives.  The evidence of the Spirit changing us from the inside out is what is called the fruit of the Spirit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.   That’s what it means to have new birth.

And that is not so strange, is it?

Why I am Going on a Three-month Sabbatical

3 Jan

I started sabbatical January 1st.  For the first three months of 2018 I will put my pastoral duties on pause.

I have so much gratitude to Faith Church for allowing this, and for facilitating it.  Over the last few years, as the church considered and planned for the sabbatical, there have been numerous people in the congregation who have invested much time and energy to make it a reality, and I deeply appreciate it.  Now, as I begin my sabbatical, I look at how many people in our church family are serving in new and different ways just so I can go on sabbatical.  That is incredibly meaningful to me.

As I start the sabbatical, I am keenly aware that most people don’t get a sabbatical and could never dream of one.  Sabbaticals seem most common in the educational realm, especially in higher education.  But in my congregation, filled with hard-working professionals, a sabbatical is unheard of for most.  So I’ve wrestled a lot with whether or not I should even want one in the first place.  When so many people in my church family work in fields that don’t offer sabbaticals, maybe I shouldn’t get one either.  Like me, they work long hours in sometimes difficult jobs.  What makes me different?

In most ways, I’m not different.  In other ways, very different.  For example, my denomination recommends that pastors receive a sabbatical from their church every 7 years of ministry.  I started full-time at Faith Church as Youth/Associate Pastor in October 2002.  Then in July 2008 I became Senior Pastor.  I started talking about sabbatical in 2009 when I hit the seven-year mark of full-time ministry.  But having just become senior pastor the year before, my wife and I decided to hold off on that discussion.  Once I reached seven years as senior pastor, I brought it up again.  So I am within denominational recommendations for taking a sabbatical.  But again, I question, should I?

Here’s why I pursued the sabbatical.  We Americans tend to have a very individualistic mindest, and with that, we’re loathe to admit weakness.  I often succumb to both of these tendencies.  I just don’t think of it as a succumbing. Instead, and maybe you think this way too, when I am successful as a lone ranger, I can feel so affirmed. I did what I was supposed to do. I was responsible and accomplished and strong. It’s easy to become prideful, under a guise of being responsible.  But the reality is that deep within, I feel much less certain, individually strong and accomplished than I might give off.  To reveal more of what actually goes on inside my mind, I need this sabbatical.

Pastoral ministry is difficult, and yet as I type that, I hate to admit that.  On one hand I’m concerned about coming across as saying “my job is harder than your job.”  There are many jobs that require a lot from people.  Pastoral ministry is not alone in that regard.  But I do think it is fair to say that pastoral ministry is a difficult profession.  Plenty has been written about the rigors of being a pastor.  Here is an example.  And another.  (Furthermore, being a pastor’s wife is a uniquely difficult role.)

As I have served for 15 years, I see the value in my denomination’s recommendation that pastors take a sabbatical every 7 years.  I am ready for this sabbatical.  I feel the strain of those 15 years deep within, and I feel it bubble up to the surface, all too regularly.  Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful to God for bringing us to Faith Church, and I love my church family. I am very much looking forward to many more years pursuing the mission of God’s Kingdom together.  And I am convinced that this sabbatical, and another one in seven years, and another in seven more years beyond that, and so on, will enable us to have a healthy future serving the Lord.

I recently read an article saying that the pastor can be the greatest hindrance to the church’s growth.  Those words “church growth” can mean many different things to people.  The kind of church growth I am talking about is not more bodies, buildings and bigger budgets.  Instead I am talking about people experiencing transformation in Jesus.  That transformation looks like people stopping a selfish sinful life and learning from Jesus how to live what he called the abundant life, and after having been changed, helping more people get transformed too (which we call discipleship). I’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog.

Deep down I worry that, in my role as pastor of Faith Church, I can be the greatest hindrance to people in my church family actually experiencing that kind of transformation. I wonder if my personality, preaching and leading abilities (or lack thereof…in all three areas) are the biggest hindrance to the church’s growth.  At various times I think I don’t pray enough, visit enough, sacrifice enough.  The balance to all those concerns is that no one is perfect, and I do work on personal growth in all those areas, and know I have much learning to do.  Surely I can be a hindrance to the cause of discipleship to Jesus, because of these areas.

But that is not what the article was talking about.  The article was talking about how pastors too often do the work of ministry for the people.  In the church family people do serve and give quite a lot.  But there exists a line where that serving stops.  When people get to that line (and the line is different for every pastor), the people think “I’ve done what I can do, and now I’ll hand it off to the pastor, because it is his or her job to do the rest.”  I suspect you know what that line is for your church and your pastor.  You know what the result of the line is?  The pastor feels fulfilled because he has pastoral work to do, but the people never grow beyond the line.  If the pastor always takes over at the line, the people will only grow up to that point.

What if Jesus has transformative work he wants to do in people’s lives, but it will require them to go beyond the line of pastoral ministry?  I am convinced that Jesus does have that kind of work he wants to do, and by maintaining that line, we pastors hinder the growth of our people.

So during my sabbatical the line at Faith Church is about to be crossed.  People in the church family will be stepping across the line to do nearly everything that the pastor does.  I’m nervous about that, and I’m excited about that.

Will I be out of a job when I get back?  I don’t think so.  What I hope, though, is that perhaps I’ll need to change my job description. Maybe I have been preserving the line, when I should be pulling people over it.  I can’t say for sure.  My sabbatical has just begun.  I don’t know where it will lead.  I do have some goals.  One is to learn to recognize the voice of the Lord.  Some other goals are to read a lot, write a lot, and get away to quiet.  I’ve already deactivated my Facebook account.  Weeks before that I deleted all the video games from my phone and my laptop.  I want to learn to be more present.  I want to learn to not be hurried.  That one I learned from Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast interview with John Ortberg (it is episode 168), who was very close with Dallas Willard.  Ortberg said Willard was wholly unhurried.  That amazes me.  I’m always hurried. Always checking the notifications on my phone.  Always wanting to do not just one thing, but usually trying to do two things at the same time.  “Redeem the time” can be an excuse for all sorts of poor use of time.  I want to learn all these lessons so that they are not just for sabbatical, but so they can flow into whatever pastoral ministry will look like starting April 1st.  (Which is Easter, by the way.  I know it is April Fool’s Day too, but I have a feeling Easter is going to take precedence.  And on Easter, we talk about new life!  Very interesting juxtaposition of themes for this sabbatical.)

So this will be my final post until April 2018.  I wish I could write about Psalm 148, which was the text for my final sermon before going on sabbatical. It is so joyful, and needed after four weeks of lament.  Just read it and you’ll see.

How parents and grandparents can bring revival to our land

20 Sep

Image result for parents and grandparents

There’s a scary reality we need to bring up.

Though we are studying Deuteronomy, jump ahead to Judges 2:10, which takes place maybe 40-50 years after Deuteronomy.  By this time Joshua has taken over for Moses as leader of Israel, guiding Israel as  they take possession of the Promised Land and settle down.  Then Joshua dies.  What happened to Israel, then, one generation removed?  We read in Judges 2:10 that they totally forgot the Lord.

That freaks me out a bit.  Can this happen to us?  Can we totally forget the Lord?  Let us never think, “No way, that will never happen.” It sure can happen.  But how?  Just like it did for Israel in Judges 2. One generation that knows the Lord does not pass on the faith to the next generation.

Now let’s travel back to Deuteronomy 4, and I’ll explain why we took this little trip into Israel’s future.  Yesterday I mentioned that God is odd.  He really is, but in a good way!

Look at Deuteronomy 4, verses 10-14. Moses is reminding the people of Israel of a famous story in their history, a time the previous generation heard the voice of the Lord, and God gave them the Ten Commandments.  Moses is about to review those Ten Commandments next in chapter 5.  For now, he has a different purpose. He wants the people to remember their odd God.  Their God wasn’t like the Canaanite gods which were mute idol statues made of stone or wood.  No, Israel’s God, Yahweh, could speak!  Moses then tells the story of when God dramatically spoke in an audible voice to the people many years before, a story you can read in Exodus chapters 19 and 20.

What is the significance of this?  Why does Moses bring this up?  He knows how quickly we forget.  He knows that one generation can have an amazing connection to God, but sadly that generation is unable to pass on that connection to their kids and grandkids.  So Moses describes what the parents and grandparents are to do.  He says, “Teach your children and their children who God is, how he works, and what is Word is all about.”

How many of us are teaching our kids and grandkids what God is like? Are you teaching your kids the story of God?  It is crucial that we parents and grandparents take an active role in passing on the faith to our kids and grandkids.

Tell them God is so different from other gods.  Definitely this practice of teaching the next generation should include teaching them Bible stories.  But what about also telling them stories of how God has shown himself to be alive and well to you personally, to your family? Do you remember?  How has God been faithful, how he has answered prayer?

You know what the Psalmist says in Psalm 71:18? This is a great reminder for older people who have kids and grandkids:“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

So parents and grandparents, invest in the spiritual welfare of your kids. Disciple them to be true followers of Jesus.  Don’t depend on the church to do this for you.  Have dinner together, and talk about the Lord.  Have family devotions.  Memorize Scripture together.  Then tell the stories of God at work in your lives.  Go on mission trips together, serve together.

Keep faith alive in the next generation.  Help the next generation learn what discipleship is all about.  Teach them how to advance in the unending cycle of being disciples who make disciples.

Will your life’s work be a waste? (3 Lessons from Moses to make sure it won’t)

14 Sep

Image result for moses commissions joshua

Are you investing in people to take over for you?  Or will your efforts stop with you?  It might be a volunteer position in your church.  It might be a job at work.  It might be a leadership role in your family or on your sports team.  You’ve served and worked and given much of yourself.  What will happen when you are gone?  Will it all fall apart?

Our final installment of Deuteronomy chapter 3 is found in verses 21-29, and there we find Moses in the very position I describe above.  Moses has invested his life leading this group of people, the nation of Israel, to their new home.  He knows his tenure is about to finish.  Will the 40+ years he has given be worth it?  I wonder how much Moses reflects on the fact that he grew up a prince of Egypt.  I wonder if he thinks “Man, I had it good there.  And I gave it all up for this?”  I wonder if he ever fears that his life’s work will be wasted.  Will Israel survive without Moses leading them?

Moses is about transfer leadership to Joshua.  As we read Moses’ conversation with God about this transfer of leadership, we’ll find some concepts very applicable to followers of Jesus and the task he has given us, to make disciples.  Do you remember that task God has given those of you who are his followers? Many times Jesus said things like “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” or “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Is it possible that can we learn about the task of making disciples from Moses and his relationship with Joshua, even though Moses lived more than a thousand years before Jesus?

I see at least three discipleship principles we can learn from Moses’ in Deuteronomy 3:21-29.  I believe we apply these principles to our own lives, as we seek to make disciples as Jesus commanded us.

First, Moses reminds Joshua of what God has done.  This is a way to build Joshua’s faith for the conquest to come.  Notice the personal words: “God will fight for you.”  Moses wants Joshua to place his faith in the Lord.  He wants Joshua to know the personal relationship with God that he has known.

Second, Moses reviews his own failings, perhaps as a warning to Joshua.  Moses is called the most humble man who ever lived in Numbers 12:3.  I think Moses’ willingness to publicly review his faults is one way he shows he is humble.  So in Deuteronomy 3:23-27 Moses discusses his sin and punishment, possibly because he does not want Joshua to fall into the same trap.  Here Moses is not only demonstrating for Joshua that a leader can be vulnerable and honest, but also that a leader needs to avoid pride, practicing humility, and giving God the praise and glory for everything.

Third he commissions Joshua, encouraging him in front of the whole nation.  Here is Moses telling the people what God said, so all the people knew that Joshua was going to be the next leader.  Moses is managing this significant transition that is about to take place.  He is leading the people to buy in to this transition, to take the trust they have placed in Moses, and give Joshua that same trust.

Moses led the people for 40+ years.  Will the people trust Joshua?  Will this transition work?  It is incredibly difficult to have a revered leader transition to a new guy.  Even if the new leader is familiar and known to congregation.

It seems to me that most of the Israelite nation would have expected Joshua to take over.  I highly doubt it would have been a surprise.  Given nepotism, and how prevalent that can be in some societies, perhaps people wondered if Moses’ children or family were going to be the next leaders of Israel.  The fact of the matter is that Joshua had been at Moses’ side for a long time, and the people knew that.

You know what, though, even if the vast majority assumed that Joshua was going to be the next leader, the transition can still be hard. I suspect not everyone was pleased.  In nearly any leadership transition, people can be downright upset, and they leave.  Those people feel little to no connection to the new guy.

So Moses needs to prepare the people, and he needs to invest in Joshua.

How are you investing in the lives of those around you?

And who are you investing in?  Who is going to take over for you?  This could be in your business, sports team, volunteer organization, family, church?  This applies in many ways.  As we think about Jesus call to make disciples, we his followers can look at these three principles and apply them to the task of discipleship.

Be intentional.  Invest your life in the lives of others, so that more and more people come to know Jesus, and be his disciples who make more disciples.

You are Moses.  Who is your Joshua? 

And also consider that you are Joshua.  Who is your Moses?  Who is investing in you? 

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?

How the scariest Bible story helped us create our Faith Church Growth Process

22 May

Image result for scary bibleWhat do you think is the scariest, most haunting passage in the Bible?  Maybe something about demons or hell or something?  Could be.

For me it is Matthew 7:13-29, and especially verses 21-23 where Jesus says this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

For me as a pastor, it haunts me.  Why?  Because there are people that assumed, and even were convinced, that they were in good standing with Jesus, that they were going to enter heaven.  But they are dead wrong.  He says to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

You know why that haunts me?  Those people were convinced they were good to go.  They were sure they were doing what Jesus wanted them to do.  They presented their evidence to Jesus.  In their minds, they were guaranteed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But they were totally wrong.  Jesus says “Nope, all that stuff you think is important is not important.”  Jesus says, “Many will say to me on that day.”  We’re not talking about a small group.  We’re talking about “many.”  This relates to the previous part of the passage, verses 13-14 where Jesus says a large group of people are headed the wrong way.  Instead a small group finds the road that leads to life.

See how that could be freaky? This large group of people who are headed the wrong way are deceiving themselves by their evidence. Their so convinced the have the golden ticket to heaven, the people try to reply to Jesus that they should be allowed into heaven.  They even have evidence: “prophesying in his name, driving out demons in his name, and performing miracles.”  It seems convincing.  I can hardly imagine anyone, except a true disciple, doing these things.  In fact, I would say all those pieces of evidence seem to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through those people.

But there is a problem.  What do you notice about their evidence?  It’s all outward.  We look at them and on the outside they seem to be true followers.  But Jesus’ shocking response shows us that they are not.

Jesus’ response is what led to creating our new church logo. Take a look at the logo:

Each part of the logo symbolizes something.

There are four green squares, each representing a major focus of our church: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Outreach.  The third box from the left is a darker green, indicating it is a special focus. We call the line down the middle the Matthew 7 line.  Finally, the cut-out in the middle two boxes draws an imaginary horizontal line across the middle vertical line, thus giving us the image of the cross.

Every part of the logo tells a story, and it is all based in Jesus’ shocking response to the people in Matthew 7:23.

We call this story our Growth Process, and that is why the squares are colored green, symbolizing growth.  But it is not about growing the church numerically.  That might happen, of course, but our Growth is about how we grow as disciples of Jesus and how we reach out so that more people can become disciples of Jesus.

At the end of our recent teaching series through 1st Timothy we looked at a couple of statements Paul made about eternal life, what he called “the life that is truly life.”  Paul tells Timothy to take hold of eternal life now.  Eternal life is not just something that happens after we die.  It is that for sure.  But it is also now.  Followers of Jesus take hold of the life that is truly life.  That true life, or that eternal life now, is the life that Jesus said those people in Matthew 7 did not have.  Those people in Matthew 7 looked good on the outside doing their religious duties, but they were missing something inside. They had not taken hold of the life that is truly life, they were not living eternal life now.

Our Growth Process story explains how to take hold of eternal life now.  We don’t want anyone in our church family to stand before God one day and hear him say “Away from, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to have a growing relationship with Jesus.

Let’s take a look at the first square, then.  This square represents Worship.  It is first because most people start their connection with our church family by attending Sunday morning worship services.  Not everyone starts there, and of course they don’t have to start there, but most do.

Considering what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, can we say that a person is a true follower of Jesus if attending worship services is pretty much the sum total of their expression of faith?

No.  Very much like the people in Matthew 7:21-23, they might look worshipful on the outside, but Jesus calls his followers to so much more.

So we ask everyone to evaluate themselves.  Are you in that first square?  Are you primarily just a Sunday morning Christian?  If so, that is a wonderful start, and because we do not want you to hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you” we encourage you to add Fellowship to your worship.

I use the word “add” very purposefully.  When you move from square to square in the Growth Process, you are not leaving the previous square behind.  You are adding something.  That is key.

So if you have determined that you are primarily in the Worship square, we encourage you to add the Fellowship square.  Adding fellowship means going deeper, building relationships.  It might be joining one of our Sunday School classes.  It might be joining a small group.  It might be serving on a serve team.  It might be inviting people over for dinner, hanging out, etc.  It is anything that helps you build deep relationships with and care for others in the church family.

Again I ask you to evaluate yourself.  Would you say that your expression of faith in Jesus is in the Worship box, or maybe you have added Fellowship to Worship?

You know what though?  Attending worship services is important, and adding deep fellowship relationships to that is even better, but I’m convinced a person can do those things, and maybe even do them a lot, but still have primarily an outward appearance of faith.  That kind of person can still hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you.”

That’s why the next part of our Growth Process story is the most important.  Crossing the Matthew 7 line.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus “Away from me, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to experience his eternal life now, to hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”  But how does that happen?

Jesus himself told us.  To cross over that Matthew 7 line, we need to learn to do what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21: those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven are the ones who do the will of his father in heaven.  What is the will of the father in Heaven?  Jesus would go on to tell his disciples precisely what he meant in Matthew 16:24, when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  That kind of full life commitment to Jesus means a person has had a deep inner change.  There are no hidden secrets, nothing held back.

He goes on in Matthew 16 to say “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  We need to add discipleship to worship and fellowship.  The Discipleship box is a darker green color because it is the most important one.  Jesus later said to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 that he gave them a mission, a mission of making disciples all over the whole world, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.  That is what God desires for us: deep inward change, to be his disciples, giving our lives completely to him, and seeking to help others become Jesus’ disciples as well.

Now for the scary, but all-important question. Those people back in Matthew 7:21-23 assumed that they had crossed the Matthew 7 line, they assumed that they were true disciples, and they were wrong!  Those people looked at their outward expression of faith and assumed that was what God wanted. They were wrong. Is it possible that any of us might be wrong?

We would do well to assume that it is at least possible.  Therefore we have to talk about this.  Our Leadership Team cares so much about each and every person in our church family.  We don’t want anyone to assume that they are disciples of Jesus, only to be shocked one day to hear Jesus say, “Away from me, I never knew you.”  We leaders of the church would have utterly failed you if that happens.  That’s why we are placing so much weight on this discipleship square.  But there is one more square after that.

When a disciple of Jesus adds fellowship to worship, then crosses the Matthew 7 line, adding discipleship to worship and fellowship, something very obvious will happen. Go back to Matthew 7 and see verse 15.  That’s where Jesus talked about false prophets, comparing them to trees.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Only good trees can bear good fruit.  By your fruit you will know who is good or bad.  By your fruit you will know who has crossed over the Matthew 7 line into true discipleship.  True disciples will bear fruit.  Not raspberries or strawberries like in my garden, but the fruit of more people becoming disciples of Jesus.  That is why our logo has the final square.  A disciple is a worshipper, a fellowshipper, and finally a disciple reaches out.  It will be obvious.  Disciples make disciples.

And that is the story of our Growth Process.

That is the process that Jesus taught.  And that is the process that we want to see each and every one of you go through.

So how goes it with your soul?  Or, using the language of the Growth Process, what squares have you added to your life?  Have you crossed over the Matthew 7 line?  Are you a worshipper, a fellowshipper, a disciple, and reaching out?

How goes it with your soul? Our Leadership Team had a wonderful retreat last weekend, and we talked a lot about this Growth Process.  We feel the weight of leadership, and we feel convicted that our God-given role is to care for the spiritual growth of our entire church family.  To do that we are going to regularly start asking each of our church family a version of the question “How goes it with your soul?” because we care so much about everyone.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus say, “Away from me.”

So what will the Leadership Team do?  Each of them will be responsible to check in with people in the congregation.  They can not and will not try to force anything on anyone.

You could say in response that you don’t want to be involved in this.  We will honor that. But we encourage you to give yourself to this kind of important accountability.  I know “accountability” can sound like a scary word.  Maybe it sounds harsh.  I guarantee you that our leaders are not interested in being harsh or forcing anything on anyone. There was a unanimous agreement among our leaders that they simply want to care for each of you.

Also let me clarify something specific.  The leader is not there to be your mentor.  That kind of discipling/mentor relationship might happen between a leader and a person in the congregation, but that is not the purpose of the Growth Process.  Instead, the purpose is to have the leadership team intentionally supporting and encouraging people to be moving along the growth process.  If you agree together that you need a discipleship mentor, more than likely the Leadership Team member will direct you to another person in the congregation who can be that mentor for you, who can encourage your spiritual growth,

How many of you would want to be encouraged like that?

So we want everyone in our church family to begin a self-evaluation.  Where are you on the Growth Process?  Are you in the worship block?  Have you added the fellowship block?  Be very honest as you evaluate yourself.

Do that eval so that when the Leadership team contacts you, you’ll be ready to discuss this further.  Your self-eval will facilitate the conversation.  Remember that this will be confidential.

When you are in conversation with the Leadership Team, you may say to them that you want to move forward in the Growth Process, but you don’t know how to add the next block?  You might not know how to move from Worship to Fellowship.  You might not know how to cross the Matthew 7 line.  And that is where our Leadership Teams and Serve Teams are working hard to give you resources to help you.  For example, when you are conversing with the Leadership Team member, you might say that you are not sure you have crossed over into the Discipleship square, but you want to.  You want to be a true follower of Jesus.  That Leadership team member will be able to give you practical suggestions for next steps to take.  It might be getting you teamed up with a discipleship mentor.

We encourage you to take time to evaluate yourself, to take this Growth Process story in prayer to the Lord.  Ask him to give you wisdom and clarity about where you are on the process. Ask him to give you wisdom about how to move forward, growing as a disciple of Jesus.

If you have any questions, please contact anyone on the Leadership Team.