The Habits of Growing Disciples 6: Swimming Upstream

Our closing hymn last week, Where He Leads Me, impacted me in an unexpected way. I shared a little bit about that during the benediction, saying that I can’t think of a more dangerous prayer, or statement of commitment: “Wherever he leads me, I will follow.”

This idea leads us right into this week’s talk, because when I look at Scripture, I can’t think of any time when God asked someone to do something that was easy. But I think of so many times when God asked men and women to do things that involved incredible leaps of faith, and required great courage! I believe the same is true today.

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

Genesis 6.5-22; Hebrews 11.7; Matthew 24.37-29

Resistance builds strength

This is true physically; it’s also true spiritually. When we’re tested, when we go against the current, and we have to rely on God’s strength, it builds strength of character in us!

When I think about swimming upstream, I think of salmon. Salmon begin their life in freshwater, but within the couple years of life, the fish travels downstream to the sea, where it grows to its full size. After reaching maturity it returns to its hatching site to spawn. The Pacific salmon are famed for their grueling journeys of hundreds of miles to their breeding grounds. When they begin this trip they are in prime condition, but they stop eating when they leave the sea and arrive months later, exhausted and battered by their fight upstream against swift currents and over falls. Those that survive the journey and escape fishermen and predatory animals spawn with their last strength and then die.

Like the journey we are on: we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. We give our lives for others – to give birth! It reminds me of what Jesus said about his own death, and what it meant for us (compare with John 12.23-28).

3 currents we battle against …
Self (Mark 8.34; 14.36)

Culture (Romans 12.2; John 15.18-19; Matthew 5.10)

The kingdom of God is counter-cultural. God’s kingdom is different than the kingdoms of this world. In fact, our culture is becoming more and more hostile to the kingdom of God.

Church (Mark 12.15-18; Luke 15.1-2)

Songs of the Lukewarm Church

  1. Blest be the Tie That Doesn’t Cramp my Style
  2. Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me
  3. I Surrender Some
  4. I’m Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives
  5. Sit Up, Sit Up for Jesus
  6. Take My Life and Let Me Be
  7. What an Acquaintance We Have In Jesus
  8. Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
  9. He’s Quite a Bit to Me
  10. Oh, How I Like Jesus
  11. Fill My Spoon, Lord
  12. It is My Secret What God Can Do

There’s not much worse than being lukewarm. According to Revelation, Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3.15-16)

Ways I’m Swimming Upstream
I have been here more than 2.5 years now, and sometimes I feel like a broken record. I feel like the pastor who went to a new congregation and preached the same sermon several weeks in a row. Finally the church confronted him about it, and he said when you get this one, then I’ll move on to something else.

It reminds me of what Walter Spencer, one-time leader of Sherwin-Williams once said: “When you take a 100 year old company and change the culture of the organization … it takes time. You have to keep hammering away at everybody.”

My goal is pretty simple really (but not easy!): to lead and transition us from a club to a mission. This process begins with me, as pastor. I view my role in ministry as a lead missionary; that is, a leader of missionaries. That means that means I am first a missionary myself. It also means I strive to equip every Christ-follower to be a missionaries.

Shaping my thinking these days is a statement I read recently in The Present Future

Member values clash with missionary values. Member values are all about church real estate, church programming, who’s in and who’s out, member services, member issues (translated: am I getting what I want out of this church?). Missionary values are about the street, people’s needs, breaking down barriers, community issues (translated: am I partnering with God’s work in people?). One of these value sets will triumph over the other. They do not coexist peacefully.” (Reggie McNeal)

When I think of “member values” in Scripture, particularly the New Testament, I think of the Pharisees. And when I think of “missionary values,” I think of Jesus, who went out into the world and loved people, out there. And Jesus sends you and I out into the world with the very same mission: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20.21)

A few weeks ago, I shared what I felt is our critical need, the need for spiritual renewal. I believe that a crucial component toward our spiritual renewal is this whole transition from member values to missionary values!

Things I didn’t say
Reggie McNeal concludes his book (mentioned above) with a chapter on “Things I didn’t say.” Let me wrap this up with some things I did not say. I did not say that we need to ignore members. In fact, we need to do better at “doing life together.” However, I am saying that we need to give priority (even in our community-building) to mission that God gives us, the mission of reaching people for Christ!

Neither did I say that those who currently embrace member values are bad people, but I am saying that you need to exchange your member values for missionary values.

A phrase from a song has been going through my head this week: “I want to go against the grain.” I want to leave you with the words from the song …

“Set Me On Fire” (by Ryan Delmore)
I am so tired of compromising / I am so tired of lukewarm living / So here I am with arms wide open / Lord here I am my heart wide open / Set me on fire / Set me on fire / Set me on fire / Set me on fire / Take this heart of mine / Place Your love inside / I want to go against the grain / I want to go against the grain.

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