Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Map of Discipleship: Introduction, and The Bible

The Path of Discipleship                                                      2/22/15
Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-20

We begin with the story of Gary Haugen:  He recalls a time when he was 10 years old and his father and brothers wanted to hike a daunting path up a mountain.  Gary decided to stay the visitors center and wait for his family to return.  They did, with an experience, while Gary had one boring day.

“One of the biggest regrets in life, I think, is a sense of having gone on the trip but missed the adventure.” ---Gary Haugen

Last week, we completed our 4 week teaching from Malachi on the theme of Stewardship.  During Lent and Easter, we will expand on the idea of Discipleship. 

Disciple originates from the Greek word for pupil.  Disciples are students of a master.  Discipleship is the act of following a teaching, or teacher.  In ancient Greece, the great philosophers like Socrates and Plato would gather students and walk along together, while the teacher dispensed his wisdom to the students.  Christians should be disciples of Jesus Christ.  When calling disciples in the Gospels, Jesus simply says:  Follow me.  This wasn’t simple to do, mind you, but the invitation wasn’t rocket science.  Today, we who believe in Jesus should follow him.  He is the master teacher, and we are the students.

Today, the words from Mark will ring true for us as a model:  Jesus taught, repent and believe the good news of the kingdom of God.  His next words to John and James were:  Follow me.

Today, the story of Noah is the Why of discipleship:  God makes promises.  His promises are seen within covenant, that is agreement.   Discipleship is the best hope for creation.

Today, Peter’s writing provides the How of discipleship?  Through Christ’s resurrection power, we are able to follow our Master.

It is not just the spiritually mature Christians, or just the leaders, that should be disciples.  Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ, and believes him to be Lord, should be his disciple.  Jesus said ‘follow me’ to a tax collector, fishermen, a political zealot.  The religious and those frowned upon by religious leadership were called to follow.  Follow me.

There seems to be a wide diverse net cast by Jesus when it comes to who should be disciples, and he did not discriminate.  After all, as Dallas Willard writes, there is a cost of non-discipleship.  Humans will find their full humanity when lived with Jesus Christ.  There is a world-wide message here, and a universality that comes from Christ’s call.  When we think of world wide events that happened in Scripture, the flood comes to mind.  Out of the flood came a promise. 

God’s agreement was with Noah, with the generations that would follow Noah, and with all living creatures.  It is easy to ask ‘why’ when the flood story is brought up.  Why did this have to happen?  Why did the animals have to die?  Why does God seem so unfair at times?

Perhaps we are afraid to confront a more disturbing reality:  The story of sin and rebellion is a very serious story in God’s sight.  The human story could have ended with Genesis 9.  God didn’t have to rescue anyone.  God could have destroyed and moved on.

God speaks to Noah and offers promise.  He offers a covenant, for Noah and his family, throughout his generations, and all the living creatures.  The rainbow is the sign of this covenant.  When God sees a rainbow, “I will remember my covenant”.  God says, “I will remember”.     

I Peter
If we fast forward from Genesis to Jesus, Jesus comes from God and is the ultimate “I will remember”.  Jesus is the promise made human.  And as fully human, Jesus sacrifices himself so that humans can be forgiven.  He dies, so that we might not live in death.  He brings us back to God. 

There is this fascinating Peter passage, which alludes to a prison where people who lived before the time of Christ were trapped.  Peter writes that Jesus remembers them.  He goes and preaches good news to them, so that they will not be forgotten.

God made a promise to Noah, and he remembers it every time a rainbow appears.
God made a promise to you, and remembers it every time he sees his Son.  This promise from God, through Christ, has made its way to you.

The sign of the promise is baptism.  Just like the flood washed away the evil of the earth.  Baptism is a sacrament to us that Jesus died for us and rose from death, and that we follow him.  We die to ourselves and rise up to new life in Christ.  We belong to God.  We don’t belong to ourselves. 

In the early church, baptism was a public display of allegiance.  Discipleship was done in community, accompanied by confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by the baptized.  People proclaimed Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  People believed upon Jesus and followed him.  Jesus rising from the dead allowed this confession to be possible.  We have lost that sense of the public nature of our confession.  We have falsely believed that faith is simply inward, personal, not something to be known or shared.  But people should know if you are a Christian.  No one should be surprised to find out you believe in Jesus.

Jesus was baptized:  He received God’s promise while here on his mission.  God confirmed his promise with his voice:  “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus, after his baptism, went through the wilderness.  He was our model even then.  The jackals howled and the darkness brought cold and the devil tempted.  But it was with he promise that he endured the wilderness:  You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.

Enduring the wilderness solidified his message:  The time has come!  The kingdom of God is near!  Repent and Believe the good news!
These words were originally spoken throughout the towns of Galilee.  Today, it continues through villages and towns throughout the world.  It is the same Lord who speaks, who invites, who commands, who opens the door:  

The time is now!       The kingdom of God is near!     Repent!       Believe the good news!

Jesus then goes to Peter, Andrew, James and John:  Follow me.  To the fishermen, he invites them to become fishers of men, of people who also should repent and believe.

“Follow me” is the most simple of commands.  And also the most difficult.  Because, the truth be told, it demands everything from us, but also promises everything to us.

And so, over the next 12 weeks, Lent and Easter seasons, we will be reviewing a Map of Discipleship.   Created by Rev. Merle Wilson, pastor of Mt. Airy and Titusville churches, this map will help all of us see classic Christian disciplines and allow us opportunity to embrace them, implement them and grow. 

Before we review this map, a few notes are in order.
This is not an exhaustive map for discipleship.  That is, you can follow our Lord Jesus Christ in many ways that are not listed here.  And if you are following Jesus in a way not listed here, please do not hear from me that you should only use what is on this map.  Your additional service to the Lord, if a call from God, is pleasing in his sight.  We don’t want to get in the way of that.

But the opposite also provides a warning.  The time is here!  The kingdom of God is near!  These words from Jesus should not be heard and then our response be:  nothing.   Americans have gotten a little lazy, many of us very lazy, in our discipleship.  So now is the time to take a step. The steps listed here will all prove helpful to you if you take them. 

Merle and I are inviting you to take 7 steps forward in 2015.  We are also inviting you to tell us the steps you are taking so that we can pray with you and support you.

The Horizontal Column provides 10 traditional areas of Christian expression that the church has kept throughout her history.  Over the next 10 weeks, a sermon will be devoted to each category.

The vertical column on the left provides two templates to look at discipleship.  There are familiar, even ‘churchy’ words like attend, participate, assist, lead, direct and outreach.  We’ve provided synonyms for these familiar words using the idea from Gary Haugen, that we aren’t just visitors in our Christian faith:  we are explorers. The Christian faith is travel to the city of God.  The biblical term is that we are disciples.

The map was not created with just Stockton in mind, so it might not reflect exactly where we are this moment as a congregation.  For example, we might need to create a small group or Adult Christian Ed opportunity.  But the list is wise enough to get us started.

The passage from Mark included a striking phrase:   Without delay Jesus called them.
Without delay they responded.
Will you also respond without delay?

Simplicity:  the Gift of Scripture                                3/1/15
Sermon 2 from A Map for Discipleship
Psalm 119:129-136, II Timothy 3:10-4:5, John 14:1-14

During Lent and Easter, our sermon series will be on discipleship.  A disciple is a pupil, a student.  The idea of the word originated in ancient Greece, when philosophers would gather students, walk through the streets and hills of Athens, and teach about life, their philosophy and worldview.  Jesus Christ also did this.  He went up to individuals and would say “Follow me”.  There were 12 who literally left jobs and families to follow Jesus.  There were also others who were less involved, but nonetheless considered Jesus their teacher.  The New Testament uses the word disciple over 200 times, and the church has kept this word as an important description for those who believe in Jesus Christ.

This Lent and Easter, the 3 churches that share staff will be using a Map for Discipleship.  The Map identifies 10 areas of practice that nurture our relationship with Jesus.  They aren’t the only 10, but are the ones that most Christians would identify as core.  Each week, we will look at one of these practices.  Pastor Merle and I are challenging every worshipper to engage with this map and pick out 7 steps to take in the coming year, and to talk with one of us about the steps you choose.  We want to cheer you on as you step out in faith. 

The vertical column reminds us that we are not meant to be tourists in the Christian faith, but actively engaged and growing up in our love and following of Jesus Christ.  You can watch from a distance, or you can live the adventure. 

Today’s topic is the Scripture, or the Bible.  The word means “book” and “papyrus”.  It contains two testaments, or covenants:  the Hebrew Scripture of God’s Covenant with Israel of a Coming Messiah, and the New Testament, the story of God’s work in Jesus Christ.  Self-Descriptions within the Book include the scriptures, Scripture, Holy Scripture and sacred writings.

Simply put:  the Scripture is a tool of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Spirit’s mission of lifting up Jesus Christ.  Christians believe that God has spoken through this book, and that it is helpful and authoritative for the Christian life.  

There is a paradox here, the outward and the inward.  The outward is the Book itself, and the community that reads it when together.  The inward is our personal reaction to the story, and what the Holy Spirit within us teaches us about the Bible.  Scripture says that

when people believe in Jesus Christ, that “God sets his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit into our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come”.  We could imagine the outward and inward forming a triangle.


                                    Community                     Individual with Holy Spirit

The Book speaks to the community, and the individual.  The community exists because of the book and by the individual.  The individual interprets the Book, and is supported and held accountable by the community.  In this way, the inward and outward work together to the glory of God.

There are two important words that we often hear when talking about Scripture.  They are inspiration and illumination.   Inspiration speaks to the Spirit’s work in the creation of the Book.  It is a completed work.  A wide cast of characters wrote in different ways through the work of God’s Spirit.  Sometimes it was ‘God says write this down’, other Scripture comes out of deep emotions, while others from travel and discipleship experiences.  Yet, despite a wide variety of writings, it was one Spirit driving the writing of the story:  the story of Jesus Christ as Lord (Messiah) and Savior.  And so we should be able to say that the Bible is inspired.  Illumination speaks to the Spirit’s work in the unfolding of the story in human history, including today:  it is a past, present and future work.  It is one of the more fascinating things about Scripture:  how it speaks to us throughout the generations.

At its core, the Scripture is a very simple story:
·         Creation:  God creates the heavens and the earth
·         Covenant:  God chooses Israel to bring about the Messiah
·         Jesus Christ:  the Messiah
·         The church:  People of the Way, the Truth and the life
·         The New Creation and everlasting life

Also at its core, the Scripture is a very human story:
·         Sin and Salvation
·         Forgiveness and Righteousness
·         Struggle and Endurance
·         Death and New life

Psalm 119 speaks to the Book.  The Psalm is a devotion to the importance of God’s Word, and it has 22 clusters with 8 verses each.  Each cluster calls upon one letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  In the midst of this complex structure, a very simple message exists:
  • I obey God because it is right.
  • God gives us his light.
  • There is a longing for God.
  • God has shown mercy.
  • God helps me avoid sin.
  • God redeems me to serve.
  • I am sad when God’s law is broken.

II Timothy speaks to the Community.  Paul writes that believers should remember that they learned about Jesus from someone. They learned from infancy. Remember that person who helped bring you to faith.  Who are you teaching now?  For me, it was Mrs. Johnson, my 4th grade Sunday School teacher who asked me if I wanted to follow Jesus.
It is the community that holds onto and passes along the wisdom that leads to salvation.  It is the community that upholds the truth that all scripture is God-breathed., useful and equipping.  Just as God breathed life into Adam and Eve, so the Scripture is God’s breath of life for you and I.  In a world full of myths, the Bible is the truth.

John’s passage speaks to the individual.  It is Jesus, that Word of God in flesh, attested to in the word of God in Book, which calls to each one of us.  He says, “I want you to be where I am”.  He says, “I am preparing a place for you.”.  He says, “You know the way:  I am the way, the truth and the life”.  What do you say?  Jesus is speaking to you.

It should not be taken from granted that we have access to God’s word in literal book form.  We live in a unique time in history where we have access to the book, freedom to read and discuss and proclaim it, and affluence enough to buy a copy for our home or for our neighbor.  Today, we look at the first column in our Map for Discipleship.  Perhaps this is where you will take one of your 7 steps during 2015.

In an information age, we need to be careful that we don’t create idols for ourselves.  It is easy to give too much attention to questions and philosophies that create more questions than answers.  There is the question of epistemology, that is the science of knowing,  How do we know for sure that this is God’s word?  There is the comparison of religions, both current and deceased, that birth seeds of doubt.  There is the question of why the Bible is a closed cannon, that is, not adding anymore books.  There is the question of textual criticism, surrounding specific passages of the Bible.   But all of these things can easily become all the excuse we need to not do anything.  The simplest way forward is to read the Scripture.  Not talk about why we might not be ready to read the Scripture.  Faith reads and listens.  Disciples learn about their Master.

Generally speaking, a good goal for you is to be a Christian who reads the Bible every single day of your life.

My last statement possibly evoked a response within you.  That instant reaction within you might have been “I don’t have time for that”.  Well then, make time.  Your reaction might have been, “I don’t want to”.  Why not?  You don’t want to learn about your Lord?   Your reaction might have been, “I can’t”.  What does that mean?  If you are a household of more than one person, perhaps you should read together.  The Bible would make great dinner conversation, far better than whatever is shouting at you from the tv.

The Exploring Phase of the Bible calls for a Bible reading plan.  You can find those online, google Bible reading plans.  I could help you find one upon request.  I also would recommend, which with the click of a button allows you to read the Bible in any translation that exists.

If you have never read the Bible before, I would suggest not starting in Genesis and reading through.  By the time you get to Leviticus, you might start to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.  If you’ve never read, I would start with one of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.  They are the story of Jesus Christ.  I would then go the another book of the New Testament, which are mostly letters with instruction on how to be a disciple.  Then I would explore the Psalms, the songbook of God’s people, which includes a great variety of experiences and emotions from which people seek God.  Then, I might venture into the histories and prophetic books, which do require a little context.

I would suggest reading the Bible before you start your day, or together at a meal, or before you go to sleep.

The other steps on our map include some creative thinking that challenge the Christendom notion that the Pastor has to lead or be present for everything.  If you want to get a small group started, I am happy to help you find resources.  I would suggest 5-7 people in a group.  It could be a great outreach for church growth.  Find someone who has a question about the Bible and gather together to grow.

Lent is a great time to implement Bible reading, it fulfills the “r” words of repent, renew and re-order.

Psalm 1 speaks to us:
The One who delights in the law of the Lord is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever they do prospers.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Malachi 3 The Lord's Blessing

The Lord’s Blessing                                                                                        2/8/15
Malachi 3, I Corinthians 9:16-27, Mark 1:29-39

Our Best Job Is…To Know and Believe…The Lord’s Blessing…Today and on that Great Day.

Our gospel reading reminds us that Jesus came to bring and to be the good news of salvation.  He came to bring back sinners, to make people, his children, right with God, ultimately, his work will restore order to the cosmos.

The demons know this.  There are a few places in the gospel where Jesus tells people to not speak about who he is.  In this story, it seems that Jesus wants humans to not rely on otherworldly sources to nurture their faith.  But make no mistake, the demons know who Jesus is.  Do you know who Jesus is?

Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and earth and beneath the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

This passion for Jesus Christ is what Paul mentions in his letter to the Corinthians.  The specific context is a biographical paragraph where Paul tells why he must preach the good news.  He went to great lengths to help those who were Jewish and those who were gentile, those who had great knowledge of God’s law and those who did not know it nor feel bound by it, those who were weak and strong.  And to each audience he took special care so that they would have a clear way to understand God’s love in Christ.  In today’s language, he knew his audience.  But this passage isn’t just for preachers.  It is for all who believe in Jesus Christ.   The passion to know and love and spread the good news of Jesus Christ should fill us all.  Faith in the Lord is something that requires total effort.  Why claim belief in Jesus, if you aren’t really going to believe in him.  Why run aimlessly, when you can run purposefully?  Why waste time when there is the prize of everlasting life?

Which takes us to Malachi, containing the word from God to take him at his word, and see if he won’t bless the obedient.

Chapter 3 is broken into 2 parts, there is God’s weariness in hearing claims of his absence from justice, and there is the challenge from God to his people for him to be first.

Justice is such a tricky endeavor.  It is worth our attention and effort.  It is certainly a biblical attribute of God, and therefore something that his followers should seek to display.   Today’s reading shows the Lord seeming weary that people wonder if he is just.

Make no mistake:  The Lord is just.  He will send his messenger. He will right all wrongs.  He will set the right way for people to follow. He will stop sin.and will instill fear among the earth.  But I have this sense that we should be careful of what we ask for.  In today’s world, what would true justice entail?  Would it be to pay for all the sins of our history? ---the land grabs, the flexing of muscles when we need others resources?  Are we really prepared for total justice?

I can see why God wouldn’t want to hear “why do the wicked prosper?”  Are they really prospering?  Because if they aren’t doing justice, or following the Lord, they cannot be happy inside.  They might have outrageous checking accounts and even more outrageous egos, but would you really want to trade places with them, if it meant losing your soul?

Please do not misinterpret any sloppiness in my words:  God is just.  But God is also gracious.  And the second part of chapter three is fascinating.

It starts with justice.  God has established that people should bring their tithes and offerings to him.  God is Holy and All powerful and the Creator of the cosmos, and he has said that human beings should bring their tribute.  There is a powerful spiritual benefit when we take intentional steps to put God first.  Ultimately, it breathes health into our systems.

But grace also is evident in this passage.  The people had robbed God of what he said should be brought.  Robbery brought curse.  But justice would bring blessing.  And God says something astounding.

Bring your whole tithe, that there may be food in the storehouse.  Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Or, in modern language:

Let’s make a deal.  You do the right thing, and I’ll knock your socks off.

The truth of the matter is that we have indeed seen the Lord’s blessings in so many ways.  If you pause and really consider the Lord, we have seen that food has been on the table, that heat has been in our homes, that we have homes, that we enjoy religious liberty and a government that relatively speaking has kept a freedom and way of life possible for the people.  We have stuff and opportunities and friendship.  All praise to the Lord.

But before Stockton is this idea of returning to the Lord, putting God first, listening to his word for our lives, and receiving that blessing from the Lord when we do what he says.

What I will be lifting up over the next 10 years is the movement of all members and worshippers becoming people who tithe, that will be the base from which we will launch in mission.  The church will move toward a return to tithing as well.  My suggestion is to do this thoughtfully and intentionally by increasing our giving by 1% of our income per year until we all arrive at 10%.  I am not the financial police.  I personally will not be roaming over giving patterns.  I will simply lift this up.  Because Malachi 3 fascinates me.  Please know it doesn’t fascinate me in a health and wealth gospel:  the ones who please God are known because they have material prosperity.  No, that is wrong and not validated by Scripture.  But the passage fascinates me.

I introduce here a chart that will be helpful to you as you consider your giving to God.  May it help you in the more fundamental matter of putting God first in your life, and finding the blessing that comes when he is first, and everything else is added unto him.

I also want to remind you that the end goal of tithing is not simply to meet a church budget.  That strikes me as too small a goal.  You’ve done that since 1867 without every member tithing.  If God wants you to meet your church budget in the future, it will continue.  If the congregation’s story ends at some point, then you won’t need a budget.

The excitement of tithing is that we can draw more close to our Lord.  He promises to bless.  And we can join in that work of blessing:   the church calls it Mission, and our contains our endeavors to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Last week, I mentioned an example of the congregation having $80,000 dollars to give to mission.  What would we do with it?  How would we invest in mission?

Malachi brings out an important lesson for us here.  We read this passage as individuals:  How will God knock my socks off?  I do the same thing.  But the passage is really to the community. How will God knock our socks off?

There are so many different ways to give.  There are so many worthy causes.  There is so much vying for our attention.  How do we begin to respond?  We know that the world has changed.  The churches used to support the missions, and now individuals can do it with the click of a button.  The church as the conduit seems to be a fading model.  The individual ways we can give certainly seem efficient.  Just write the check and cross it off your list.  Hold on, did you hear how outdated my last sentence was?  Just push a button on your phone or text a number and it is done.  I don’t think this is wrong.  But I am starting to wonder if it is best.

I think of the phone calls and the mail and the energy expended to grab our attention.  What if that was taken away?  What if instead we decided together where our mission money would go? 

The cons would be:
            That not everyone’s choices might be chosen.
            The instantaneous nature of giving is taken away, and there
               might be sometimes when instant is necessary.

The pro’s would be:
            --That we would talk as a community about what is
            --That our work together is always stronger than our
                individual work.
             --That together we would know the Lord’s blessing.

There is a sense of personal satisfaction when you right the check, but consider a case study.

Many people support a child through Compassion International, World Vision, or other worthy organization.  For a dollar and change a day, a child is fed for the year, and receives instruction and medical attention.  The opportunity to transform is obvious.  Let’s say for example that there are 20 children sponsored by people who worship in this place.  Jim hosts 2 and Jenny hosts 2 and Johnny supports one.  We each write out individual checks and make this happen.  Praise to the Lord.  This is good, transforming stuff!

But what if instead, we challenged ourselves as a congregation to support 25 children.  The church would take on the responsibilities initiated by individuals, and the individuals would give, as part of their tithe, to this goal.  How would the church know the Lord’s blessing?

By identifying child sponsorship as a priority, and providing our tithes creates more than enough mission money, we could challenge ourselves to do more together than we can alone.  But also, we might find that we start to relate to the child we support. Perhaps we take on a small town with 25 children.  That is, we endeavor to support every child in that village.  Our small congregation is supporting the children of another small village.  Perhaps we then invite the community to double what we sponsor?  Our children might take on the letter writing—well, we need to recruit some more children to write!  So let’s go do that.  Some folk might decide to visit the village themselves, and bring lollipops and notebooks and stuffed toys to bless OUR sponsored children.  One of our walls could be devoted to the pictures we receive.  In this scenario, when we give our tithe, part of that money is paying the fuel bill or the staff salaries, but it is also raising a village.   That is the type of blessing that knocks my socks off.  How about you? 

And that is the point:  who knows, when we really start to engage with tithing and mission, what stories the Lord will put on our hearts.  The concern about ‘my mission’ not being supported’ might just be a straw man, because if we are listening to the Lord, and he is in the center of our work, he’ll direct our hearts.

The chapter of Malachi ends with a delightful and amazing story:  that God directs a scroll of remembrance be written in his presence.  He makes the promise that they will be mine.  Who?

Those that feared the Lord talked with each other and the LORD listened and heard.

People will say, well it doesn’t matter.  The evil are prospering  God isn’t there.  
But Scripture says that when we gather and talk with each other about the Lord, he is there.  Ken---at 3pm today, the Lord will be listening to our conversation.  And he is giving a promise in that moment:  You will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

Tithing is simple putting God first.  Watching as he directs our work, which, because the Lord is involved, will involve so much blessing that we will not have enough room for it.