Follow Me: Who’s Your God?

Isaiah 55.1-11

Luke 9.57-62

The Things We Leave Behind by Michael Card

There sits Simon so foolishly wise.
Proudly he’s tending his nets.
Then Jesus calls and the boats drift away.
And all that he owns he forgets.
But more than the nets he abandoned that day,
He found that his pride was soon drifting away.
And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

The sightless beggar, pleading each day,
Catching the coins in his robe.
At finding Jesus he threw it away
And joyfully followed his Lord.
But more than the robe that he left by the way,
The darkness that dwelt in his heart went away.
It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

Matthew was mindful of taking the tax
And pressing the people to pay.
But hearing the call he responded in faith
And followed the Light and the Way.
And leaving the people so puzzled he found
The greed in his heart was no longer around.
And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

What have I left behind?
That makes one ask, “What have I left behind?”

Simon Peter leaves his pride, besides his boats
Sightless beggar leaves his robe, his handicap, his “occupation” or source of income
Matthew leaves his greed, his tax collector’s booth

The things we treasure most, the things that we take the most pride in, can be the things that most hinder our walk with the Lord. They are not wrong in themselves, but is the fact they we treasure them more than God – that’s what makes them so dangerous.

The passage in Luke 9 calls us not to worry about where we live. Jesus says that one is not to worry about family – burying the dead and saying good bye. Jesus is not being hard-hearted, but is calling those who would be disciples to give their all.

Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service says, “Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.”

“Don’t look back,” Jesus says. Looking back is regret; looking back is uncertainty; looking back is doubt; it is lack of faith.

Lot’s Wife
I can’t help but recall Lot’s wife, looking back. As Lot and his family are leaving Sodom and Gomorrah, fleeing for their lives, as God is destroying these wicked towns, they are told not to look back. But Lot’s wife looks back, as if to see what she is leaving behind, and is turned into a pillar of salt.

If you are going to follow me, Jesus says, don’t look back. Keep your eyes on me and where I will lead you.

Marred Pots
Jeremiah 18.1-6

We are all marred. We come to Christ with nothing to give. We come with our imperfections. We come with our flaws. We come with our deep hurts and our disfunctions. We come sometimes thinking we have something to offer, but all we have is what the world cherishes, what causes one to “get ahead” in the world, and in the case of the beggar, what the world despises. We are all marred.

Jesus does not call the perfect, for there are none who are perfect. The only thing Jesus requires is that you choose to follow him whole-heartedly, without any excuses. And then he will take care of the rest – you will be like putty in his hands, like the potter and the clay, he will mold and make you; he will form you.

Leaving behind our security
The thing I see the disciples leaving behind most of all is their security. In what do you place your security? Jobs, a steady paycheck, good health, a good retirement plan, an education?

Leaving behind the familiar
Sometimes security comes in strange forms. Maybe it is the familiar more than anything. Wesley Chapel UMC got me a belated Christmas gift – a lapel microphone. They really wanted to have it for me for Christmas Eve, so that I would have for Communion and not have to be laying the mic down and picking it up again. Last week I used it for the first time and Patricia Ritter and I were talking, and I said that I would no longer need the lectern; I could hold my sermon folder as I do here. That sure was a funny a feeling at first. It was like the security of that lectern was gone. I now stood without anything between me and the congregation. We become comfortable with the familiar, even when the familiar is not the best thing for us.

For the beggar (called Bartimaeus in Mark 10.46ff), his security was his handicap. It was the familiar. It was his source of income, it was the only way of life he knew. He threw aside his security blanket, the blanket he probably used to collect coins as people passed by. Bartimaeus threw life as he knew it away. He had an excuse to not work, to not follow, to not contribute to society – he only needed to sit and beg, to collect money, to live off of others. But he arose to the challenge to change – to give his whole self to Jesus, as the scriptures say he “received his sight and followed Jesus.”

Questions for Reflection
~Are you willing to receive your sight?
~Are you willing for Jesus to shine his light upon your life, so that you can follow him, unhindered by whatever of this life that handicaps you?
~What is your security blanket? As a church, what is our security blanket? Are we willing to leave our security blanket behind, and get up and follow Jesus?
~Are you willing to present yourself, as a marred pot, and say “Jesus, take me, make me into something – someone – you can use for your kingdom?

Benediction (Is 55)
You will go out in joy
     and be led forth in peace;
     the mountains and hills
     will burst into song before you,
     and all the trees of the field
     will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
     and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
     This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign,
     which will not be destroyed."

Community of Disciples

Acts 2.42–47

I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve here, teach, and lead us on
the journey of becoming a community of disciples. One thing I’ve
learned is that we all are on a journey, that we are all at different
stages along the path, and that we all travel at different speeds. I’m
not so much concerned about the speed *as long as we’re moving at God’s
speed) as much as I am the direction!

Two weeks ago, several of us attended the “Under Construction” training
event here in the district. One of the discussion questions was, “What
does a church full of disciples look like?” Well, this sermon seeks to
address that question a little bit.

A Community of Disciples is …

Prayerful, not self-reliant
A community that is prayerful is one that relies on God and trusts God, rather than human strength and wisdom.

“Lord, give me the wisdom to know what’s right, and the courage to do what’s right, even when it’s hard.” (Andy Stanley)

Various Scriptures from Acts

Faithful, not fearful
Show me a community that earnestly and passionately prays, and I will
show you a community that is willing to follow God anywhere, in spite
of any obstacles! It’s not so much that they are fearless, but that
their faith is bigger than their fear!

“Jesus promised those who would follow him only three things … that
they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in
trouble.” (Gregg Lavoy)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1.7)

“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings.'” (John 8.31)

Hebrews 11.32–40

God-honoring, not selfish
Show me a community that prays and follows God, and I will show you a community that strives to honor God in every possible way!

Zechariah 7.2–12 (Here God asks, “was it really for me that you were fasting?”)

Passionate, not half-hearted
Show me a community that prays, follows God anywhere, and lives to
please God, and I will show you a community that is passionate,
whole-hearted, and on fire for God!

When David brought the Ark of the Covenant home (2 Samuel 6), the
Scriptures say, “David danced before the LORD with all his might” (v.
14).

Content, but not complacent
Show me a community that prays, follows God anywhere, lives to please
God, and is passionate about God, and I will show you a community that
is content, and has peace and joy in their hearts.

Philippians 4.11–13

But, a content community is not a complacent community! I’ve always
said, the church’s number one enemy is complacency. When we get to the
place where we stop moving forward, that’s a dangerous place to be.
Because, in reality, we begin moving backwards, or in the wrong
direction, many times without even knowing it!

Momentum is extremely important. It takes a lot of effort to get it
back! In fact, I’ve always said, too, that the pastor’s number one job
is to create momentum (or, more accurately, be an instrument of God to
create momentum).

Philippians 3.12–14

Comforting, but not comfortable
Show me a community that prays, follows God, lives to please God, is
passionate about God, and is content but not complacent, and I will
show you a community that loves people.

Loving God and loving people: Isn’t that what the church is all about? Loving God and loving people?!

In Isaiah 61, we see Christ’s mission (and our’s), which includes
“comfort(ing) those who mourn” (v. 2). But show me a community that
really loves God and loves people, and I’ll show you a community that
doesn’t allow people to become too comfortable! If we’re going to
really love people where they are, it’s going to lead us into some
uncomfortable terrain!

“I am learning that God intends salvation to be more than a ticket to
heaven, and that his chief purpose in providing the church is not to
transport us there with as little inconvenience as possible.” (Don
Ratzlaff)

Maturing, but not perfect
Show me a community that prays, follows God, lives to please God, is
passionate about God, is content but not complacent, comforting but not
comfortable, and I will show you a community that is maturing and being
spiritually formed into the image of Christ.

This is what Wesley talked about: “Going on to perfection.” It’s the process that matters.

So, what’s the purpose of Scripture? Brian McLaren says, “The Bible …
is good for equipping people to do good works. It does so specifically
through teaching (telling you what is true and right), rebuking
(helping you see where you’ve gone wrong), correction (guiding you on
how to get on the right track again), and training in justice
(educating you in the skills of staying on the right path).” (See 2 Timothy 3.16–17)

It’s not about me!”
You can always tell when someone in immature in their faith journey –
when it’s all about them! In the same way, you can always tell when
someone is growing – it’s not about me!

I think this is what a community full of disciples looks like! This is
the kind of community that I want to be part of; it’s the kind of
community that I want to serve and lead; and it’s the kind of community
that I want to see here in the Juniata Valley! It will require all of
us praying, growing, being spiritual formed and shaped by God’s Spirit!

Spiritual Formation

As we continue talking about discipleship — the kind of revolutionary
discipleship Jesus modeled, we want to talk about discipleship in terms
that you may not be familiar with, yet.

Spiritual Formation: the process of being spiritually formed
Another term for talking about spiritual growth or discipleship is
“spiritual formation.” This term has been around for a long time,
although it’s probably not too familiar with most people. If
discipleship is the ongoing process of becoming like Christ, that
process is spiritual formation, the process of being formed into the
image of Christ.

The reality is that because you and I are spiritual beings, we are
being spiritually formed all the time. We are being spiritually formed
by people like Rush Limbaugh, Oprah, and even organizations like
McDonald’s.

How do you want to be spiritually formed?
That’s the question: how do you want to be spiritually formed? We, as
the church, are in the discipleship business; we are in the business of
spiritual formation, forming disciples
for Jesus Christ! We need to think about everything we do as spiritual
formation. We need to view our roles similar to the way an abbot in a
monastery views his role — to exemplify the practice. One of the ways
we spiritually form people is by modeling the way of Christ in our own lives.

We are clay: Jeremiah 18.1–13
I love the imagery in this passage of Scripture, of the potter
creating, shaping, and forming something out of a clump of clay. Paul
wrote in 2 Corinthians 4.7 that “this precious treasure … is held in
perishable containers” … or “earthen vessels,” or “clay jars.”

“Work out” & “Work in”
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my
presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your
salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to
will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2.12–13)

Not “Work for …”
Notice that this passage does not say, “work for salvation.” Paul is
writing this letter to Christians, Christ-followers, people who are
already in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He is not
telling them to work for their salvation.

But “Work out …”
But he is telling them to work out their salvation, to stay involved in
the ongoing process of spiritual formation, the process of being formed
in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ!

Some of the ways we work out our salvation, include prayer, reading
Scripture, fasting, practicing godly discernment, worship, as well as
through our actions.

Being AND Doing
We’ve been talking about “being and doing.” I have said that both are
important; it’s not Either/Or, but Both/And. But, if I was forced to
choose between them, I would have to choose being. If you are
preoccupied with doing without being, you go through the motions, and
your heart is not in it. But I believe that I you and I truly become
like Christ (the goal of being), then we will naturally do God’s will.
And “Work in …

Scripture says, “it is God who works in you …” Spiritual formation,
i.e. discipleship, is a cooperative effort with God working in us.

We think of God working in us through God’s grace. A good ways to think about God’s grace is the way John Wesley understood grace; he saw at least three aspects of grace …

  • Prevenient Grace: God’s work in our lives prior to salvation
  • Justifying Grace: God’s work of salvation through forgiveness
  • Sanctifying Grace: God’s work in our lives from salvation and beyond, forming and shaping us to become like Christ.

“God’s mercy … goes before the unwilling to make him willing; it
follows the willing to make his will effectual.” (Augustine of Hippo)

“Grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything.” (Our Daily Bread)

Spiritual Formation in Community
Spiritual formation is not just between God and me. Certainly there is
a personal element; we practice many of the spiritual disciplines alone
with God, but spiritual formation cannot be complete without the
community of faith. We’ll pick up with this idea next week.

“God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t
take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward
for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For
we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so
that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians
2.8–10)

“Forwe are God’s masterpiece.” Isn’t that great news? God is forming us and
shaping us into a masterpiece, a work of art. I want to be part of what
God is doing, what about you?

One of my prayers is expressed in a song called, “Touch of Greatness.” Let this be our prayer …

“Oh Lord, take the clay I am; mold me to your plan, as I surrender to
your touch of greatness.” (Joe Beck & Billy Sprague’s song, “Touch
of Greatness”)

Follow Me: The “C” Word

Genesis 15

Covenant is Relationship
A covenant is a committment, a promise, but most of all it is a relationship.
Our innate longing to be in relationship
i.e.The need of preemies to be touched.

Types of Covenant

  • Covenant of Friendship between David and Jonathon

And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18.3)
A promise to be loyal friends forever
“Blood sisters” – children prick their fingers for blood, smear their blood together, claiming to now be "blood sister" or "blood brothers." It is a promise of loyal and everlasting friendship. The movie, "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" demonstrates such a covenant between friends.

  • Marriage Covenant

Malachi 2.13-15
… she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

  • God’s Covenant of Relationship with Abram

God used a familiar cultural form, the covenant, when instituting a relationship with Abram. The animals were cut in two long-wise and laid open, each half opposite the other. Each of the parties walked down through the middle of the flesh and blood signifying that if they did not uphold their covenant commitment, "let what has happened to this animal happen to me." it was a life and death commitment.

  • Baptismal Covenant

Baptism is a sign of commitment to God and to the church. We commit to be in relationship with God and we commit to be in relationship with a local church.

  • A Covenant of Love

O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below-you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. (1 Kings 8.23)

God Keeps His Covenant
In the movie “Jingle All the Way”, a disappointed boy says, “You’re the Dad. You’re supposed to keep your promises!”

Probably all have experienced the disappointment of a promise not kept. And some of us have gone through deep valleys of despair because of promises not kept. But we can be assured that God keeps his promises:

He remembers his covenant forever… (Psalm 105.8)

… ‘I will never break my covenant with you.’ (Judges 2.1)

Do you keep Covenant with God?

  • God’s Covenant Calls for Commitment

Benefits vs. Responsibilities
The overuse of the word “membership”
in our society has turned some off to "church membership." It is not
about "joining" and gaining "member benefits"; it is about covenanting
in relationship and knowing that relationship takes work! There are
benefits of covenanting with God, but there are also
responsibilities. The United Methodist Baptismal Covenant
responsibilities include: Prayer, presence, gifts and service.

  • God’s Covenant Calls for a Relationship

Do you nurture your relationship with God through worship, prayer, bible reading and study, etc.?

  • God’s Covenant Calls for Obedience

God speaks to Moses on Mt. Sinai saying, Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant … (Exodus 19.4-6)
Jesus also instructs, If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14.15)
This Week read and meditate upon Exodus 20, The Ten Commandments

  • God’s Covenant is a Matter of the Heart

Genesis 17.9-14 The Covenant of Circumcision
Romans 2.28-29 The Covenant of the Heart
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code …

When our heart is circumcised, when we covenant with God and give to him our all, we assume responsibilities out of our love relationship with God. They are not just rules or laws or duties, they are gifts of love or labors of love to the One we love.

No Pain, No Gain

John 6.60–71

We’ve been talking about discipleship. But not just any kind of discipleship; we’ve been talking about the kind of discipleship Jesus talked about, and lived out – revolutionary discipleship!

What is discipleship?
Discipleship is the ongoing process of becoming like Christ.

  • Process – it takes place over time
  • Ongoing process – it never ends (in this lifetime)
  • Becoming like Christ – that’s our goal; that’s what we’re after – to become more and more like Jesus. Discipleship is the ongoing process of spending so much time with God that we start to look like, sound like, feel like Jesus to the world!

Discipleship is about character development – developing the character of Christ. And developing character takes time, and there is always some difficulty along the way!

“No pain, no gain.”
I remember seeing signs with this message on it in the gym I used to work out in when I was in high school and college. It was a reminder that if you’re going to improve your physical condition, it involves some pain, pushing your muscles to the limit. But in the end, it will be worth it!

Discipleship is about Jesus!

John 6 begins with Jesus feeding thousands of people. As a result of that incredible miracle, Jesus sensed the people were ready to take him by force and make him king. So he escaped into the hills. Later, he rejoined his disciples, who were in a boat, by walking on the water.

And the next morning, Jesus had a conversation with the crowds who were still in awe of this miracle. But they weren’t satisfied; they wanted to see another miracle, one like manna being provided in the wilderness for God’s people, in Moses’ day.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst.”

You see, it’s all about Jesus!

  • It’s not about me
  • It’s not about you
  • It’s not about building a great church
  • It’s certainly not about a building
  • It’s not about doing what you or I want

It’s simply about Jesus …

  • Getting to know Jesus
  • Becoming like Jesus
  • Getting hungry and thirsty for Jesus
  • Getting passionate about Jesus
  • Getting together, as often as you can, with other people who are passionate about Jesus, too

How did the crowds respond to Jesus’ words?
They started murmuring, complaining, and even arguing with each other. They said, “This is too hard for anyone to understand. How can anyone accept it?” And they walked away!

Discipleship is Costly!
Discipleship involves great responsibility. You must deny yourself; take up your cross, and follow Christ. You must give up your life, for Jesus and the Gospel.

Sometimes the road gets difficult, and we don’t understand. Sometimes we don’t understand what’s going on; sometimes we don’t understand what God is doing or saying.

And when the crowds are not getting Jesus, instead of “lowering the bar” and making it easier to people to cross the line of faith, he makes it harder.

“I don’t have to survive!”
You see, Jesus lived by a motto that every leader must follow: “I don’t have to survive!”

“Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” (Galatians 1.10)

Jesus was not a “people pleaser.” He didn’t change or even soften his words; he didn’t lower the requirements when he saw that the people weren’t getting it.

The sad thing is that, in the midst of great blessing and encounter with God, the people missed it! It was about getting bread from heaven, or seeing a sign; it’s about a journey, a journey of following Jesus.

I think Jesus is saying at least two things …

  • We need to have such an intimate relationship that I become a part of you! When you eat something, it becomes part of you. “You are what you eat!”
  • You need to participate in my death.

Isn’t it Jesus’ death that we remember when we have communion? Through communion, we participate in the death of Christ, and remember and celebrate the life Christ brings us!

And through the other sacrament, baptism, that’s also a participating in the death of Christ, which brings life. Through baptism, we share together in the death and the life of Christ!

“This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”
This statement wasn’t just made by the crowds, the onlookers; it was made by his own followers, disciples. Discipleship was getting hard; it was getting a little too revolutionary for their comfort!

Discipleship involves testing, lots of testing!

2 Corinthians 12.7–10

Genesis 22.1–2

Job 1.6–12

Have you seen the new Staple’s commercial? There are a series of scenes of difficult situations, and each time, the person involved presses this big read button with the word “easy” printed on it. A father must change diapers of twins, so he presses the “easy” button; a surgeon is about to start an extremely difficult procedure, and he presses the “easy” button. Sometimes I wish there was an “easy” button in life. But there isn’t one!

“God is not as concerned about our comfort as he is our character.” (Rick Warren)

2 Corinthians 4.8–12

Romans 5.3–5

It takes time!
The sculptor who carved Mount Rushmore was once asked if he did a perfect job of sculpting the faces of the four presidents. “No,” he replied. “The nose of George Washington is about an inch too long, but it’s okay. In a thousand years, erosion will make it just right.”

“It takes twenty years to make a sermon, because it takes twenty years to make the man.” (E.M. Bounds)

“Are you going to leave, too?”
Jesus asked the Twelve, “Are you going to leave, too?” Peter said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.” Following Jesus along the revolutionary way takes passion and commitment!

“I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.20)

Follow Me: Hearing the Call

Genesis 12.1-4a
Hebrews 11.8

Matthew 4.18-22

Intro: Following in the footsteps of my father through the snow as a child.

Disciple: a simple defintion
A professed follower of Christ; a pupil or an adherent of another; follower.

Following Jesus
The game of “Follow the Leader” is a blatant game of imitation. Following Jesus is different …
–    Following Jesus is not just imitating; it is becoming.
–    Following Jesus is not just doing because he did, but developing a heart like his. (from the inside out)
–    It is not just developing a heart like his on one’s own, by one’s own strength and determination; it is being recreated, it is by the power of his Holy Spirit at work within us.

Jesus’ call to discipleship differed from other Rabbi’s of the day
-The call to the disciples to follow was unique to the concept of teachers and disciples. Disciples sought out and applied to study with a Rabbi; Jesus called his disciples.
-The disciples would sit at the feet of the Rabbi and listen to their teaching; Jesus called his disciples to follow, to be with, he did not just teach but modeled what he taught.
-Rabbis graduated their disciples; Jesus did not:

Once a follower; always a follower
Following Jesus did not end for the disciples. Most of the times Jesus says, "Follow me" it is as he is calling the first disciples. But Jesus continues to call Peter, saying, "Follow me" even after his death and resurrection and as he prepares to physically leave this earth. John 21.15-23, esp. 19, 22 (Jesus reinstates Peter.)

Not everyone who begins as a disciple, finishes as a disciple
John 6.60-71
60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

This statement points to their own hearts. The soil of their hearts is hard and the seed of Jesus’ word cannot take root and produce fruit. They are not trainable. They do not have the ability to listen and receive God’s word. They stand self-condemned. God calls, but we must follow; it is a two-part street. To hear and to obey, same in Hebrew.

61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 

Do we find any of Jesus’ teaching offensive?
Someone once said that the job of the preacher is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." To afflict the comfortable is to challenge one to move out of their comfort zone.
What in God’s Word causes us to falter? What challenges us?

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

This a form of betrayal.

67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

God knows the condition of our hearts and sends circumstances that will reveal our hearts to us. Will we listen? Or will we turn away?

68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  69We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter speaks on behalf of the others and accepts Jesus’ claims, but he does not say they understand them. Will we follow even when we do not understand? One of the marks of a disciple is to commit to follow, even when we do not know where the journey will lead us. This is like Abram who obeyed God’s call even though "he did not know where he was going."

How do we hear?
1.    The Bible
Spend time in the Word. To know the Word is to know God. Jesus is the Word: John 1.14: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Jesus will never speak contrary to his written Word.
2.    Prayer
Prayer is more than our speaking to God; it is God speaking to us – most the time not audibly, but he will impress things upon our heart, he will cause us to understand his Word in a deeper way.
3.    Ministry
God will reveal himself to us as we are about his work, serving him.

This is a Disciple!

Mark 8.27–38

Gentlemen, this is a football …
Legendary coach, Vince Lombardi would gather his players for training camp. These guys were some of the best athletes in the world; they had played football all of their lives. And the coach would stand up in front of them, hold up a football, and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” It’s not that he had to tell them what this object was. He wasn’t making fun of them; he was simply making the point that they were going to go back to the basics!

This is a disciple!
Today, we’re going back to the basics:

  • What is a disciple?
  • What does a disciple do?
  • What is discipleship?

Revolutionary Discipleship …
I could have simply called this sermon series, “Discipleship 101,” but Christian discipleship is either revolutionary, or it is nothing! Christian discipleship is revolutionary because Jesus was revolutionary.

Mark 8.34–38 [NLT]: That sounds pretty revolutionary to me!

Follow me …
I believe this is one of the greatest phrases in all of the Scriptures: “Follow me.” That’s what Jesus says as he invites us to join him on an adventure of a lifetime, a relationship with God.

  • You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. (John 15.16, CEV)
  • If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10.37–39, NLT)
  • Jesus said to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8.12, NLT)
  • My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10.27, NLT)
  • Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them. (John 12.25–26, NLT)

Discipleship Questions …
For last month’s Charge Conference, the DS asked you to prepare responses to six discipleship-related questions. I want to talk about the first two of those questions:

  • “What is your definition of a disciple?”
  • “What does a disciple do?”

What is a disciple?
You wrote: “A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ, who develops a faith relationship with God through prayer and Bible study.”

A disciple is …

  • One who responds to Christ’s call, “Follow me.”
  • Learner/Student/Apprentice
  • Devotee
  • Follower

Rabbi’s Questions …
In Jesus’ day, rabbis chose disciples based on two things: “Does this kid know what I know (Torah)?” and, “Can this kid do what I do?” It is not enough to be a “believer.” We must be “followers”!
If you are a Christian, then you are a disciple. If you are a believer, then you are a disciple. We don’t get to choose our commitment level! We are either fully committed, or we are not faithful, obedient disciples!

What does a disciple do?
You wrote: “A disciple puts his/her faith into action by obeying God’s Word, modeling his/her life after Christ, and sharing his/her faith story with others.”

Are you going to be a spectator or a participant?
The reason I don’t care for the term “believer,” is that “believers” sometimes stop at being “spectators.” But to be a “disciple” or a “follower” means something more. You stop being just a spectator, and you start being a participant in what God is doing! And there is nothing greater than that!

A disciple …

  • Follows
  • Surrenders
  • Obeys

Ultimately, a disciple does what he/she sees Jesus doing …
This implies intimacy! For us to “see” what Jesus is doing in the world, we must be close to him, and we must pay attention to what he is doing. We must be intimate with Christ!

A pre-commitment to obey …
And the kind of disciples Jesus looks for is the kind that are ready to follow and obey. IOW, they possess a pre-commitment to obey.

The Great Commandment & the Great Commission …
Our lives are a continuation of the ministry of Christ. That’s why we’re called the “body of Christ.” We are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Jesus sends us into the world with the same mission he had. (Matthew 22.37–40 and Matthew 28.18–20)

What is discipleship?
Discipleship is the process of becoming like Christ. It is an ongoing process.

“If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.” (Proverbs 19.27, CEV)

Discipleship is at the heart of who we are as Christ-followers, and it is at the heart of who we are as a church. We are disciples of Jesus Christ, growing in our personal relationship with God. We are also disciples of Jesus Christ inviting and welcoming others to join us on the Christian journey, the way of Christ!

“Follow me …”
Again, I can’t think of a greater phrase in all of Scripture than Jesus Christ, the Savior inviting us into a relationship with God, and to a life of following him! Today, I want to invite you to join me on this amazing adventure we call discipleship — revolutionary discipleship!

At the close of life, the question will not be, “How much have you gotten?” but “How much have you given?” Not “How much have you won?” but “How much have you done?” Not “How much have you saved?” but “How much have you sacrificed?” It will be “How much have you loved and served,” not “How much were you honored?” (Nathan C. Schaeffer)

Resolutions for a Revolution

Matthew 2.1–11

Christ-followers (disciples) are on a journey. Just like the “wise men” (magi), we too, are on a journey of seeking Christ. Not only do we seek Christ, we seek to learn from him, and to live like him.

Luke 2.39–40

“If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.” (Proverbs 19.27)

Resolutions for a Revolution …

Today, I want to share some resolutions I am personally making as we enter a new year (2005). These are my resolutions, and I invite you to make some/all of them as well.

I RESOLVE …

1 — To be a reformer, causing spiritual revolution!

In the Wesleyan movements …
I once started a blog briefly called, “The Way of Wesley” that was about “reclaiming the Way of Wesley in the 21st century.” Essentially, I want to make impact among Wesleyan/Methodist leaders by reflecting on what Wesleyan ministry should/could look like in current culture.

In the Juniata Valley …
As much as I want to impact “my world” (i.e. the Wesleyan/Methodist movement), I even more so want to impact this Valley, causing and/or furthering a Jesus Revolution!

2 — To ruthlessly eliminate hurry!

I talked about this a couple weeks ago, but I want to come back to it, simply to say this is an ongoing resolution for me. I must eliminate hurry in my life.

3 — To focus on both Being and Doing!

If you’ve listened to me during the last 2.5 years, you know that I am huge on “faith in action.” I believe that the life of following Christ is one that involves action. A faith not lived out, is a dead one!

But I hope that you’ve also heard me emphasize being as well as doing. We are “human beings,” not “human doings.”

But it has to be both …

  • If you emphasize being without doing, our faith doesn’t get lived out.
  • If you emphasize doing without being, we simply become
    busybodies, do-gooders; we become nothing more than a social action
    agency.

For example, PBS’ documentary on FUMCOG. I thought the documentary was disconnected. The original idea for the documentary was the struggle with new pastoral leadership. They got sidetracked with the homosexuality issue, which was interwoven into everything. This is the congregation where Beth Stroud, recently defrocked for being a
“self-avowed practicing homosexual,” was serving.

There appeared to be a real lack of spirituality. I don’t recall hearing much about Jesus or the cause of Christ (making disciples), but I heard a lot about social action. I don’t have a problem with social action, but it doesn’t preclude discipleship, IMO. Some of the members seemed to equate the church with other social organizations.

Hearers and doers of the Word …
I think this is what James was getting at: “… be doers of the word, and not hearers only …” (James 1.22). Hearing represents formation, and doing represents the living out of our faith.

4 — To immerse myself in the Scriptures!

“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119.11)

Through systematic reading, meditation, study, listening. For Bible reading plans, check out backtothebible.org, which offers 5 different reading plans: Chronological; Historical; OT & NT blended together; Beginning to end; Blended.

5 — To learn to pray!

After 16 years of praying, I am still learning! Learning to pray is an ongoing, never-ending process. We never graduate from the “school of prayer.”

It’s not about learning to pray the right words; it’s not about twisting God’s arm so God will do what we want him to do. It’s simply about being in conversation with God. We’ve been invited to listen and to talk to God!

“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” (Colossians 4.2)

6 — To surrender myself to God through fasting!

Fasting is a discipline that helps us focus our prayers.

The Wesley Fast: Fast (liquids; no food) and pray, beginning Thursday evening until mid-afternoon on Friday.

“Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything – to sacrifice ourselves – to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.” (Andrew Murray)

Following teaching on the “Disciple’s Prayer” (a.k.a. Lord’s Prayer): Matthew 6.16–18 (see also Matthew 9.14–15)

Examples in the 1st century church: Acts 13.2 and Acts 14.23

7 — To influence people to follow Christ!

“You have nothing to do but to save souls; therefore spend and be spent in this work.” (John Wesley)

Invitation to Christian Discipleship …
As we enter a new year, you are invited to join us on the journey of seeking Christ, the journey of becoming more and more like Christ!

Follow the Star!

Matthew 2.1-12

There were a group of Magi or wisemen, sometimes referred to as kings, but they were not kings. They were probably from the court of a king, probably the King of Persia. But these Magi were actually astrologers – they studied the stars in the sky. And one bright and unusual star foretold the birth of a king, the King of the Jews … and so they traveled to worship (pay or offer homage) this new King.

We don’t know how far or how long they traveled. In the following passage Herod, threatened by the birth of another king and wanting to protect his reign, has all the children killed, he has all those two years and under killed. So Jesus could have been a toddler by the time the Magi reached him.

In this passage we still picture Jesus as a baby in a manger, but Mary and Joseph were probably at a different location by this time. We don’t know these facts.

But we do know that the Magi did not find this new King where they first thought. Probably with a caravan large enough to attract much attention, they first went into Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

The birth of a new great star in the sky announced the birth of this new great King.

The questioning of the Magi created quite a stir in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of all things political and all things religious. So, one would assume this new King would be in Jerusalem and that all Jerusalem would know of this King. But the Magi discovered that no one knew anything. King Herod, not knowing anything, calls upon the chief priests and teachers of the Law so they can tell him what God’s Word says about where this King, the Messiah, the Christ, is to be born.

The Magi are given further direction from the Scriptures that the child is to be born in Bethlehem.

Interesting no one joins them on their journey. Of course we know that King Herod has no interest, but to preserve his throne. But even the religious rulers, who live their lives serving and worshipping God, those who know the Scriptures and await a Messiah,  are not interested. We are given no information that they were in the least bit excited, interested, or curious about the birth of this long-awaited One.

And so the Magi, the pagan Magi, those who are from another country, another land, another religion, another ethnicity, those who have the least in common with this new King, those who are least expected to have an interest in the birth of this Jewish King, continue their journey, the star going before them and stopping over the place where the child was.

Were the wisemen disappointed when they found Jesus?
One must wonder what those Magi thought when they saw where this King was. They first look for him in the city of Jerusalem and find him in a small town. They looked for him in a palace and they find him in a humble dwelling at the very least. They follow a magnificent star and it leads to a child born of poor parents, a father who is but a carpenter.

Were they disappointed? Were they disillusioned, even for a moment? Did they doubt? Did they think they had the wrong place, the wrong home, the wrong child? Did they ever wonder if the trip had been in vain?

Quite the opposite, it seems, as the passage reads, "When they saw the star, they were overjoyed."

They were overjoyed … and without missing a beat they enter into the place, they see the child, they bow down and worship the child. And they offer the child their treasures. Treasures (gold, incense, and myrrh) fit for any king, even this King they have found in unexpected places.

How do we respond when we find Jesus?
Today, we don’t just follow a star, we follow Christ, who 2 Peter reveals as the Morning Star. And following Christ can take us to some unexpected places. And we can find ourselves to be like one of three people or groups:

We can be like Herod, threatened by this One who is born to rule, not just some earthly kingdom, but born to rule in our hearts.

We can be like the religious rulers, and ignore his existence, take his birth for granted. We know he is come, and we believe he is come in our hearts, but his coming has made little difference in our lives. Christmas, the celebration of his birth, comes and goes with little impact on our lives. We have not gone out of our way to worship and serve him.

Or we can be like the Magi. We can go the distance. We can make the journey of a lifetime. We may not always find what we thought we would find at the end of the journey. We will sometimes find God leads us to unexpected places: to the poor, to the needy, to the sick, to the rich, to the palaces, to the religious, to the political.

Where is God leading you in 2005? What will you find when you find a child born in a manger? Where will you find yourself, when you follow the Star, the Morning Star?

We have been challenged by our District Superintendent to take a closer look at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And I invite you on a journey of discovery. We will begin looking at the qualities of a disciple of Christ throughout January which will culminate in a covenant of renewal on February 6. Walk with me, journey with me to unexpected places. Let us set our sites upon the Star and see where he takes us! If we, like the Magi, keep our eyes focused on the Christ, we too will not be disappointed.