Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Road of Discipleship

You can watch this sermon in video format at my YouTube page

Are you willing to follow?

It is rare to find a good Paul & Timothy relationship.
A rare commodity it is to find someone who is willing to take the time to disciple someone into the person they need to be in Jesus Christ.
Paul did just that with his 'son' Timothy, as he affectionately refers to him in his letters.
Paul taught him everything he knew.
We've heard that phrase uttered many times through the years. "I taught him everything he knows"
Paul was the kind of teacher. He shared everything he understood with his student.
You might say Timothy attended the "Apostle Paul School of Technology".

How many of us can see those parameters in our own lives? Was there was someone who taught us everything we know? Looking back on our lives, was there someone who took us aside, into their 'school of technology' and taught us everything they knew?

This is the road of discipleship. To learn. To experience. To gather the necessary information that our lives might be transformed into what God wants us to be. What does God want us to be? As our Pleasantville church is going to experience soon and our Thornville church studied last year, God wants us to be Just Like Jesus. Check out this except from Max Lucado's book.

When they were young, my daughters loved playing “dress-up.”  They’d put on their mom’s shoes, fill up a grown-up purse with crayons and pretend grown-up scenarios.  For the moment, they wanted to be just like mom.

Don’t we do the same?  We look at ourselves, with our immaturity, our sinfulness, and we want to clothe ourselves in something better.  We want to be just like Jesus.  This seems like an impossible goal until we accept one simple truth:  God will help us.  He loves us. Not only does God love each of us exactly as we are, but he wants us, little by little, to become like him. Why?  Because he wants us to have a heart like his.

Need to hear that message a few more times? Don’t we all? God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way!  He wants you to be just like Jesus!
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

 Paul taught Timothy these things. To trust in God. To cling to the message of Christ.
He also told him to do something very interesting  with these teachings he shared with the young man.

2 Timothy 2:2

New International Version (NIV)
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.  

Ok, God wants us to be like Jesus, we covered that.
But, have you ever thought of yourself as a teacher?
I have previously spoken about my former boss in my hometown who took the time to sit down with me over an 8 week period. Each week we would sit down and go through this simple 'fill in the blanks' study. "Basic Bible Studies for New and Growing Christians" (We've done this study twice at Thornville and I will be offering it this summer and fall at Pleasantville.)

At the end of this study my pastor asked me, "Now that you have done this study, if someone else came into the church, having just found Christ, would you be willing to sit down with them and do a study like this to help them out?" Wow. That's quite a notion. To turn it around and think of ourselves as 'teacher'. To open our own "school of technology".

The question begs to be asked - are you confident enough in your faith and experience in this Christian life to be used of God to be a guide, an instructor, to someone else in their faith journey? If not, then maybe we need to take the time to learn for ourselves. Maybe we need to walk the road of discipleship for ourselves first. But, and here's the catch, we are not walking it for ourselves. We are walking it to become what God wants us to be. To be like his Son, Jesus.

Jesus was completely devoted to the Father. Jesus put his Father's needs first. He followed the instruction and direction of his Father above all else. What his Father wanted him to do was lay down his life for others. And, so, he did. He gathered twelve men to himself and walked through the countryside of Israel. He healed folks. He taught people about God and the Kingdom. He met their needs. He gave all he had to this end. There was a moment when the scriptures say he look upon the people and felt like they were like "sheep without a shepherd". So, he became their shepherd.

This road of discipleship will bring us closer to what God wants us to be. Like his Son.
His Son gave everything. His Son said these words. "Deny yourselves, take up your cross,and follow me." Forget about what you want. Forget about what is important to you. Lay it all aside and follow.

I'm thinking about an instance in the scriptures that fits these parameters.

There were two guys walking down a road. Sounds like the opening line to a joke.
But, the setting is all too familiar for us in our lives. They are confused. They are dismayed.
They had all their hopes hanging out there and they got their hopes crushed when they saw their Lord and Savior die on a cross and then laid low in the grave. And, so, they do what many of us would do.

They go for a walk.

They are wondering why things haven't worked out the way they wanted them to. 

Truly, they are wrapped up in their own desires and thoughts. They have an outlook on the world and their own view of how God works. And, then their world is shattered.

God, however, does not leave them where they are. He comes to them and shows them where they have been misguided. Jesus appears on the road with them as they walk to the nearby town of Emmaus. The scripture from Luke says that Jesus "opened the scripture to them". Its not like they have anything else to do on this long trek. Think of the town you live in, either Thornville or Pleasantville, and lets just start walking to Lancaster. Will it take all day? Probably will, on foot. So, we have a little discipleship class as we walk. God opens the scriptures and we soak it all in. Everything we have been clinging to and all the baggage we have been carrying, we find out how to lay it down. We learn how to walk freely - like Jesus. We learn to be dedicated to one thing - like Jesus. And, like Jesus, we learn how to teach others.

These men get to the end of the road and stop off to get a bite to eat and rest.
It is inside of the house that their lesson turns into their profession.
During the breaking of bread, Jesus reveals who he is to these men. They had walked the road this whole time not knowing who they were walking with or listening to. Now they know. Now they understand. Now it all makes sense. But, do they keep it to themselves? No. There's no way they can.

Luke's account says they got up and went right back to the Jerusalem. The confused became students. The students now are teaching others.The process of discipleship is immediate at times. Other times, as with Paul & Timothy, it is an apprenticeship. It takes time. It is a process. There is a lifetime of learning and understanding.

With one goal in mind. To become what God wants us to be.

And, so I ask you today...
Are you willing to follow? Following is required. And, the destination is glory.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Expanse

We only have a short amount of time to work this out.

Across this great expanse of life on Planet Earth we need to understand the beginning and the ending.

With our beginning come words like....
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." (Jer. 1.5)
And with our ending we hear...
"I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes
in me will live, even though they die..." John 11.25
Before we took a step or breathed a breath, God knew us. And when life on earth has come to an end because our bodies could take no more, God promises life.

Between those two moments on earth, birth and death, what will we learn? What will we experience? Who shall we come to know? What will we become? Why do we exist and what are we here for?

The word expanse it not commonly used in reference to the human life.
Webster's would use it most generally with water.

Definition of EXPANSE

2: great extent of something spread out <an expanse of calm ocean>

The human life is one of the most delicate, complex, and down right scary expanses there can be.

One thing has become clear for me and it is still working it's way to fruition in my life.
This expanse belongs to God.

I didn't bring myself into this world and I don't choose when it is time to go.
And, when this life is over God has already made plans.

It has taken a rather ridiculous amount of time for me to begin to wrap my heart and mind around the idea that God already has things set in a way he wants things to go.
Not that I don't get some kind of input here and there...
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Luke 11.9
and also....
 "Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." John 16.23
This life, however, belongs to Him.
It is His and he can do with it what He wants.
"The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2.20
But, it wasn't always so.
I made my own decisions, and at times, I still struggle with allowing Him to lead the way. 

This space between birth and death is short.
"Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, 
for they quickly pass, and we fly away. " Psalm 90.10
 One of my favorite bands, Audio Adrenaline, had a good line to describe this thing we call life.
Life! too much to do and too much strife  Life! your girlfriend left ya and it cuts life a knife   Life! seventy years and a nagging wife Life! you look in the mirror and it's Barney Fife               from the self titled album Audio Adrenaline, 1992

Since it is what it is, what am I doing with it?
Have I realized just how short the time is?
Does God have control of my life during this brief expanse on earth?
Or will I leave Him out of the picture?

So much to contemplate during these brief seventy years on this earth, if we get that long.

What will you do with the few years you have on this earth?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lets Start at the Beginning

In life's journey, start at the beginning.

Our theme for this year is discipleship.
We are about to begin walking down a road to learn and experience what it means to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
At this point, we are at the beginning.
There are a couple of key places in scripture where that idea of beginnings is brought out.

Genesis 1:1

New International Version (NIV)

The Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

John 1:1

New International Version (NIV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

How the ideas from these two scriptures play into our subject and theme will be clear in a bit.
But, as we begin this large and expansive subject it would be good to maybe lay down some 'ground rules'. Those are always good to have in the beginning of things. Ground rules help us understand the boundaries and what we will or won't do inside of a said subject or area we are to cover.

So, what are we going to do here in this arena of discipleship?

Well, if we are being true to the scripture before us this morning, the first line of thought is creation.
You mean we're going to create something? Maybe. Then the question is raised, "What are we going to create?" What I hope we can create here is an environment where people can come to know and understand who Christ is and we can help them to follow Jesus. Do you want to follow Jesus?

This issue of discipleship is a very important one to me because I have been on all sides of the matter.
When I was 21 and very new to this Christian life, I was introduced to discipleship through my local church. My pastor had this 8 week study guide and set me up with an older gentleman in my church (who also happened to be my boss at the time). For 8 weeks we would meet once on a Monday or Tuesday morning at the local coffee shop before work. We would sit down with our study guide and we'd share our answers to the blanks we filled in. (This process was brand new to him as well, so we both had answers and questions.) Up until that time, no one had ever taken me aside and worked with me, talked with me, shared their own feelings and questions and answers.

The matter of discipleship is absolutely essential to the Christian journey. This journey creates in us the desire to look beyond ourselves. Which bring us back to the scriptures we have before us from Genesis and John. Lets think about this for a moment. Whom is all of this about? Who created all of this? God did. God is at the center of all of this. The road of discipleship brings us closer to him.

To get there we need to have some direction, some rules maybe. It is important to have a guide. Lets drift back to last week's message and see again what Paul was saying...

1 Corinthians 11:1

New International Version (NIV)
11 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

This journey requires that we put ourselves out there.
We need to put ourselves out there so that other people can see the Christ that we know.
And, we need other people we can depend on to support us and help us.
Paul was doing just that. Jesus would paint the picture for us.

John 8:12

New International Version (NIV)
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

and then to his followers in Matthew's account....

Matthew 5:14

New International Version (NIV)
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.

Isn't it interesting that the first thing God created was light. "And the light shown in the darkness"
We need light to see where we are going. There's another essential to discipleship. To be able to see where you are going. Other people, maybe a mentor, could help you find where to go and what to believe. My former boss was that to me. He listened to my questions and my whining and complaining. He prayed for me. And, I felt it too. He prayed for me to find a wife. He prayed me through my schooling. He supported me when nobody else in the church thought I was worth much. That's what all of us need. Discipleship means people supporting other people so they can discover Christ.

Creation, then, brings us into the world of discovery.
Think of your history lessons about people setting out to find the 'new world'.
The preconceived notion was that the world was flat. If you sailed out to far you would just fall off the edge. It took a brave person to challenge those preconceived notions and lead people into that 'new world'. Our work in discipleship is to lead people to the light. But, we have to know where the light in our lives is before we can lead people there. And. never have I seen the task of discipleship more daunting than within the four walls of the church.

The church should be a place of creation and discovery.
I hope we as a congregation can be that sort of church. To be a place where people can come and ask questions and find answers. To educate people on what it means to be a Christian and live this life following Christ. That leads into what my role is in all this. The role of the pastor. There is scripture from Ephesians that comes to mind right away...

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The question begs to be asked again...whom is this all about?
It's about God, Christ. My work as a pastor is to disciple people, to educate them in what it means to follow Christ. " that the body of Christ may be built up." Do you want to be 'built up'? What exactly does that mean?

When you have a 2 or 3 word 'phrase' to look up - it usually gets used as a 'phrasal verb'.
That requires a little deeper look into the world of definitions to get that out.
Webster's was a great help here as we take on the two word phrase 'build-up".
Some of the usual suspects were found here also...

Definition of BUILD UP

transitive verb
1:  to develop gradually by increments <building up endurance> <built up a library>
2:  to promote the health, strength, esteem, or reputation of
intransitive verb
:  to accumulate or develop appreciably

Do you remember the second message I ever preached after I got to the pulpit at these two churches?
First message was actually in the park at Thornville. Couldn't even tell you what my first actual message was when i got to the pulpit the next week, actually at the church. I'd have to dig back into the Fried Chicken and Burritos blog to tell you. But, the second message from the pulpit is my bread and butter. I talked with you all about Reputation. Discipleship has to do with promoting the reputation of our church. Is it a good reputation? If not, how can it be improved? What can be done to improve the health, strength & esteem of the church so that our reputation is better in our community? All of that is part of discipleship as we learn how to follow Christ.

So far, in this message, we have talked about creation, discovery and now building up.
Three very important 'ground rules' , if you will, that we need as we approach the subject of discipleship. And, I would leave you with one last item.

This thing called discipleship takes time.
Believe it or not, you've already sat through a year and a half of it. That's what we've been doing. 

those first six months in 2012 were just a time of passing the love around and getting to know each other. When we turned the corner into 2013 and approached Lent, we covered the subject of "Change" in a truly spiritual fashion. As summer and fall got here last year we jumped into the matter of Evangelism and how important that is to our church and community. Advent brought us into the realm of God's Favorite Things - Love, Joy, Peace & Hope. And, his absolute favorite thing, Christ, his one and only son whom he gave up for the whole world.

It takes time to learn about God.
There is a beginning to it all. Next week we'll see that there is an ending.
And, there's lots of stuff to work out in-between.

I hope you want to get to know Christ. Because, that's who I'm seeking.
And, if you choose to follow me, we're going to get closer to Him.