Sunday, January 18, 2009

Transformation

For the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about discipleship – the mission of the church is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We recognized that to make disciples of Jesus Christ, we must first be his disciples. We have to count the cost and commit ourselves fully to being his disciples. Last week we acknowledged that discipleship is messy, that it’s not linear, and that it doesn’t look all that "churchy."

The end goal of discipleship is for the disciple to look, think, and behave like his rabbi. If we are following Jesus, our goal is to look like Jesus: we call that process sanctification. But here’s what we believe: we believe that if we each become more and more like Jesus, the result will be the transformation of the world.

Paul wrote to the Romans (12:1-2) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

When I was a kid, I remember a preacher telling us that whenever we find the word "therefore" in scripture, you’ve got to go back and find what the "therefore" is there for. To figure that out for Romans 12, you’ve got to go back and look at Romans 1-11; Romans 12 is a new portion of the letter, one that hinges upon the rest of the book. You can’t have Romans 12 without Romans 1-11.

The book of Romans goes through the universal reign of sin and how everyone is guilty and accountable to God for that sin. Then we move to justification by faith and the assurance provided by the Gospel; the hope of salvation and glory; freedom from bondage to sin and the law, how Christ is the climax of salvation history.

Because of what Jesus Christ did for us, once and for all, we have a responsibility. To offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

In Bible times, sacrifices were always dead. You had to kill it for it to be a sacrifice. When Jesus talked about discipleship, he said that if you wanted to follow him, you had to deny yourself and take up your cross. In essence, you have to die to follow him. Paul’s statement follows directly from this: living sacrifices are the best of both worlds; not only are we giving ourselves fully and wholly to God, but then he is able to use us.

Because we give ourselves completely to God, we don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world. The sacrifice we give to God, our very lives, is no sacrifice if we are not transformed.

What does this mean?

It means we are necessarily different when we’ve been transformed. Maybe instantaneously, but definitely growing different from who we used to be. If you look at your life as a timeline, you’ll see that you’re different than you were a year ago, 5 years ago, etc.

We see ourselves through God’s eyes, rather than through the world’s eyes. We see ourselves as fearfully and wonderfully made. We see ourselves made for a purpose – for God’s purpose. We see ourselves as limitless in our potential for Him.

We see others through God’s eyes, rather than through the world’s eyes. Instead of seeing a bunch of jerks, we see people who God loves, who are on their way to Hell unless someone intervenes. We see people who God loves enough to send his Son to die for them.

We order our lives around God’s mission and purpose rather than the world’s. We make every aspect of our lives match God’s mission, not the other way around. We get rid of anything that holds us back from completing God’s mission. We trust Him to do what He wants with us.

How do we do this? We constantly ask God to transform us by renewing our minds. We find every opportunity for growth and take full advantage of it. Here’s something to think of: if you do a Bible study and you don’t come out of it different, then you’ve got to do the study again. If it doesn’t make you change the way you live, then you’re not allowing the Bible to do its job (or the Holy Spirit to do his job).

Last week I talked about some of Jesus’ earliest disciples, fishermen like Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Listen to how John describes Jesus’ meeting with Simon in John 1:40-42 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ), and he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter). (both Cephas (Aramaic) and Peter (Greek) mean "rock".)

Jesus took Simon the fisherman and made him into Peter, the Rock. In doing so, God went so far as to change his name. And God is still in the transformation business. Remember my friend Tony? Last week I told you about how he felt uncomfortable in church because he didn’t know what was going on and because he didn’t have "church" clothes.

By the time I was in seminary, I’d pretty much lost touch with Tony, but one day I got a call from out of the blue. "Guess what happened to me?" he asked. "I got saved." He had joined a softball team, just for something to do. There was a team in the town league (same league with the liquor store and tattoo parlor) who needed players, so he joined up with them. It turned out they were a church team, and the team members became his friends. They invited him to church and he finally agreed to go. When he did, he ended up sitting in the front because he was late. The message of the gospel hit hard, and the guys from the softball team stayed with him for two hours after the service, explaining everything. Tony was transformed. But he didn’t just become a Christian and let that be the end of it. No, he was always a funny guy, and now he’s using his humor in children’s ministry at his church.

Now, when Tony was transformed, it wasn’t a superficial transformation. God didn’t transform Tony’s appearance. Tony is still Tony & that’s who he is supposed to be. And he will reach others for Christ, people who wouldn’t dare put on a shirt and tie.

Tony was transformed, and that’s God’s goal for each of us. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we read this: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The background to this is about Moses, who met with God – but then he would have to wear a veil because God’s glory, God’s kavod, God’s significance, His weight, would cause Moses’ face to shine and it freaked the people out. Now we don’t wear the veil, and if we are actually Jesus’ disciples, then we reflect the Lord’s glory. We reflect His significance.

And in so doing, we are being transformed into the Lord’s likeness.

That’s the goal of life: to be transformed into Jesus Christ’s likeness. When we talk about transforming the world, this is what we’re talking about. It happens one person, one life at a time, but when it happens, it is huge! And when transformation starts happening on a big scale, even more awesome things happen.

God transforms entire communities & he uses the church to do it. I wonder this: what would happen to our community if our church ceased to exist? What would people not in the church think? Are we transforming our community, or are we just co-existing?

A few weeks ago, I told you about some of my dreams for this church. I believe they bear repeating.

What could God do with this church if we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, were transformed?

  • I see a church tearing down Satan’s strongholds in Millersport and beyond.
  • I see a church so compassionate that the lost and the lonely are found and enfolded in fellowship.
  • I see a church on a mission, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • I see a church transforming people into Christ’s likeness, one person at a time, that we would be characterized by repentance and response to Christ’s call to salvation.
  • I see a people who are so on fire for Jesus Christ that they will count the cost and pay whatever the price to see revival sweep this land.
  • I see a church whose heartfelt praise and worship reaches to heaven as a pleasing gift to God – not just as we sing, but as we live.
  • I see a church where buildings can’t contain our growth.
  • I see a church whose message is so clear that lives are changed forever.
  • I see a church who desperately care about the souls of their neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family members, and will stop at nothing to see them transformed.
  • I see a church who daily communicates with God through Bible reading, study, and meditation.
  • I see a church who is characterized by listening prayer: who wait on the movement of the Holy Spirit, but when the Spirit moves, are ready to move.
  • I see a church characterized by intercession – that we won’t sit back and allow Satan to have victory in any aspect of our lives or the lives of the families in our church.
  • I see a church that is a healing place: that we are known as somewhere that people are healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • I see a church where young people are not only accepted and invited, but cherished and empowered for ministry.
  • I see a church serving in mission, here in Millersport and throughout the world.
  • I see a unified church: not two services who tolerate one another, but one church on a mission for God.
  • I see a church whose head is Jesus, whose help is the Holy Spirit and whose focus is the Great Commission.

Yes, the church that I see could well be our church. And we could see these results if we are willing to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Make Disciples

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired me and followed him.
Mark 1:16-20

In our effort to understand our mission: Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, last week we talked about discipleship – how being a true follower of Jesus requires us to count the cost and to commit ourselves completely to Him. Simon, Andrew, James, and John left their profession – left everything – to follow Jesus in this new endeavor. Now they were going to give their lives to catch people rather than fish.

If you were all-powerful and you wanted everyone on earth to follow you, how would you go about it? Jesus chose an interesting means to get his message out: he called people to himself and asked them to call others to him. And the people he called: not exactly the best and brightest. The goal of every Jewish father was for his son to become a rabbi, so they would begin by studying at home and would “apply” to follow a rabbi. They would then get as much as they could from that rabbi and then leave to learn from a “better” rabbi. But if the rabbi rejected you, you’d end up home, working your father’s business. So the very fact that Simon, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen tells us that they washed out in their bid to become rabbis.

But Jesus called them anyway and invited them to be a part of what he was doing. It doesn’t seem very efficient; calling rejects and expecting them to call others. Much of Jesus’ ministry was equally inefficient: think about this: though Jesus spent time speaking to huge crowds and fed over 5,000 people on occasion, his main ministry was to 12. And of those 12, he spent most of his time with 3: Peter, James, and John.

Jesus’ last words to his disciples were: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.

Why would Jesus institute this means of getting his message across?

First of all, it’s a reminder that this life is important, and that God thinks we are important. He has an awfully high view of His creation, and He knows our potential. He wants us to be a part of what He’s doing. He wants us to learn and grow, and the way to do that is by participating, not just watching.

Not only is this true, but God seems to think it’s effective to have His people do His work.

OK, so God planned it out that we’re supposed to make disciples for Him. But who are we supposed to make into disciples? When we think about who Jesus called as His first disciples, He chose fishermen. He chose those who had been rejected by other rabbis. He chose common, everyday people. They became his cell group.

Let’s take a look at another disciple maker, a tax collector named Levi. We can find his story in Luke 5:27-32 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

Jesus takes his message to a hated tax collector. If you didn’t know, tax collectors were the worst of the worst. They were traitors, betraying their own people for money. But Jesus chose Levi anyway. Now that Levi’s life had been turned upside-down, what would he do next? Luke 5:29-32 records it: Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”


Did you know that Christ followers who do exactly what Jesus and Levi did are still attacked… by other Christians? People who go out of their way to invite the outsider or to welcome the unwelcome are often vilified by good church people. I grew up with a friend named Tony who was always made to feel uncomfortable in church. Why? Because he was the only one wearing jeans. He didn’t have “church clothes” to wear. People stared and whispered. I know that people right here in our very congregation have made people feel unwelcome here because of the way they dress or even because they didn’t drive the right type of vehicle. I can’t make this stuff up. This is one reason why I dress like I do and why I love the way Rudy dresses; because it demonstrates to outsiders that no matter what they wear, they are welcome here.

I’ll bet that’s why we don’t have an account of Levi inviting his friends to church. They weren’t welcome there. They were tax collectors and sinners, and that type of person wasn’t welcome.

But Jesus said those were the exact people he wanted as his followers.

You want to know who to make into disciples: all of your friends. It’s as simple as that. Do you have any friends who aren’t yet Christians? They need Jesus. If you want a good way to introduce your non-Christian friends to Jesus, why don’t you invite them to a party? Your cell group is a great place for that to happen; when it’s time for your cell group to party, invite some people who aren’t yet connected to Jesus.

Be forewarned, however that making disciples is messy. It isn’t a program; it’s living life together. Youth ministry pioneer Mike Yaconelli, one of my Christian heroes said this in his book Messy Spirituality:

Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship.
Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not
about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins
where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken,
flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life
will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead,
seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality
is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our
unfixedness.
This is what discipleship looks like. Accepting someone right where they are, broken and flawed, and helping them to find God, who is present in the tangledness in their lives, too.

Making disciples is not a quick fix. It is no easy 10-week program. It’s not tied to church membership. Though classes and cell groups are great places to grow, they aren’t the end of discipleship. Making disciples is a lifelong commitment that every Christian is accountable to make. Every Christian must not only be a disciple, but must also be making disciples. The Apostle Paul was well known for sharing the Gospel everywhere he went, for planting churches, and for his letters to those churches, many of which we know as Scriptures. It could be easy to think of him as some kind of Lone Ranger, all by himself spreading the Gospel, but Paul was serious about making disciples, and he called Timothy his true son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). But Paul was not just a disciple-maker. He also was accountable to Barnabas, whose very name means “Son of Encouragement.” When Paul was first converted to Christianity, the believers would not accept that he was no longer persecuting them. But Barnabas brought him in to the apostles and made the introduction. Then, in Acts 11, as Paul’s ministry began, it was Barnabas who accompanied Paul as he began his ministry and missionary journeys. Barnabas is a great example of a disciple maker; he wasn’t necessarily the big name – many of you probably never heard of him – but without him and his influence on Paul, we wouldn’t have half of the New Testament.

Many of you probably had a Barnabas in your life, someone who accepted you as you were but weren’t content to leave you there. If you had someone who accepted you as you were and brought you to faith in Jesus Christ, why don’t you write them a note today and thank them for what they did for you? In reality, everyone needs both a Barnabas and a Timothy; we need someone to disciple us and we need to be discipling someone.

Remember, though, that real discipleship is messy. It isn’t linear. Sometimes you can go for ages without seeing the hoped-for result. I remember working in youth ministry with a boy I’ll call Ian. The only time he smiled was when he was making fun of someone. He was always scowling, and he seemed to reserve his biggest scowls for me. But for some reason, I felt drawn to him. So I made it my goal to say something nice to him every time we met. He usually responded like, “Yeah, so what?” I never saw any results from Ian. But I did my job anyway.

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-6, Paul addresses the people of the church in Corinth, who are arguing about who followed Paul and who followed Apollos. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

Each one of us, every one of us has a part in this. And each of us has our own gifts that connect with others. And because we are all so different making disciples looks different for all of us. Mike Yaconelli used to tell a story about a church whose board was shocked to see the junior high kids sitting on the church lawn, reading their Bibles and smoking. He continues by saying, “If I were in that church, I’d bring in that youth worker and tell him, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but you deserve a raise! If you can get kids who were smoking to read the Bible… WOO HOO!’”

Making disciples is messy. It doesn’t always look like it’s going in the right direction. It doesn’t always look “churchy.” Think about Levi’s party with tax collectors. That didn’t look anything like church. If that happened today, I’ll bet Levi would be wearing jeans (think about it). I’m convinced that we need to make church look less like church and more like Jesus if we want to get serious about making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Making disciples is all about getting real with one another and with God. Until we do so, then we are technically hypocrites. It costs a lot. If you are discipling someone, it means that you’ve got to stand up and hold them accountable. It means you have to encourage them even when you’re not feeling all that gracious. It means you have to intentionally spend time with them, and that means rearranging your priorities; moving your focus from productivity to relationship. And that takes a long time.

This is the way Jesus did it, and he invites us to take part in the greatest endeavor ever: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Be Disciples

Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world

Through October and November, we studied the armor of God and were reminded of the constant reality of spiritual warfare. Even if you’d rather not fight, as Aragorn said, "Open war is upon us, whether you would risk it or not."

Now, can you imagine going into war without a strategy? Can you imagine setting an army loose without giving them a mission? Unfortunately this is exactly what we (the church in general) has often done.

The United Methodist Church is a church in decline. I don’t want to pull any punches here; we have lost members and as we have gotten older, we have failed to attract young people to the denomination. We have failed to do what Jesus told us to when he said, "Go and make disciples of all nations."

The UMC has realized that we have to do some things differently than before in order to reach new people, in order for our denomination to survive, in order to take the fight to the devil (just because we’re out of that series doesn’t mean I’ll let up on it). This is the reason we are changing things; if we continue to do the same things and expect different results, well, that’s the definition of insanity. So the Church has instituted its mission statement: Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

It really isn’t anything new; it just goes back to something Jesus said, Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.

Jesus gave us our mission; to make disciples. But we can’t get to making disciples until we are first disciples. So what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Simply put, a disciple is a follower, adherent, or student of a great master. A disciple of Jesus Christ is one who has responded to God’s call to real life. This life is characterized by two requirements: paying the cost and committing yourself to the cause.

Pay the cost? What kind of cost does discipleship carry with it? Quite honestly, true discipleship costs everything. Are you willing to give up everything else in order to live life to the fullest?
In Luke 18:18-25, a certain ruler asked Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?""Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’"

"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!

Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Understand that Jesus isn’t calling everyone to give up all their possessions. However, know that if your stuff gets in the way of your relationship with Jesus, you’ve got to get rid of it.

Not only do you have to get rid of stuff, but Jesus takes it another step. In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus says: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone how does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Woah. Hate? That’s a pretty charged word! Before you get all riled up, remember that these are Jesus’ words. And when He says "Hate" he is talking about redirecting our loyalties. Our priority, as disciples of Jesus Christ, should be toward Jesus first, then to our families and friends. In a town like Millersport, one of the most important things is often family name. Jesus is saying that your family name doesn’t mean anything. And it should help us to bear in mind that our parents’ faith is not our own until we make it ours.

He goes on to say that unless you carry your cross, recognizing that discipleship is to the death, then you aren’t his disciple. This isn’t just a same-old, same-old kind of life; it’s revolutionary.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus told those who are following Him, If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and deny himself daily and follow me.

Denial of self is the biggest cost to discipleship. Self-sufficiency is so engrained in us as a virtue that it’s probably the biggest obstacle to living completely for Jesus. Don’t let you get in the way of your relationship with Jesus!

God wants us to be completely dependent on Him for everything. This is all pretty hard to take: getting rid of stuff is one thing, and then getting rid of self? Who could really go through with it?
The people around Jesus couldn’t understand, either. Back to the Luke 18 passage; in verses 26-29 we read this:

Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"
Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."
Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"
"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."


What does this mean? Here’s an example from my life: in college, I majored in German language and literature. My plan was to get my teaching certificate and to teach high school German – not because I particularly wanted to be a teacher, but because I wanted to coach high school soccer.
When God called me to ministry, one thing it meant was going to seminary. Instead of attending Indiana University for a Masters Degree in education, I went to Asbury Seminary for the Masters of Divinity Degree. Though I figured I was giving up my dream to coach soccer, the call to ministry was worth it. It wasn’t long until I’d found a group of guys in Wilmore to play soccer with, and then I found out that one of them was a high school soccer coach who needed an assistant, and I’ve coached on some level for 8 of the past 11 years.

I got an even better gift than what I gave up, and to be completely honest, I didn’t want to be a teacher in the first place, and I probably would have been miserable doing it, even if I had gotten a soccer coaching position. But God took my offering to Him and multiplied it.

You see, He has our best interest in mind. He created us and knows us inside and out, and He wants the best for us. That "best" is a right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Luke 9:25 records Jesus’ words: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

Discipleship, following Jesus, is the way to gain our very selves – to be the people God created us to be. And we cannot make disciples of Jesus Christ if we ourselves are not first His disciples. But God has blessed us so we can be a blessing to others.