Deciphering Discipleship Part 2

Part Two of the sermon entitled Deciphering Discipleship which was originally given on April 23, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Mathew 28:18-20
2 Timothy 3:14-17


 

Churches try to fit discipleship neatly into a one size fits all seminar or small group topic every now and again, when in fact it needs to be ongoing and looks different for each person.  Ogden believes discipleship done well in churches actually works better when congregations are split into smaller groups starting with two or three people that meet together on a regular basis for studies and discussions, who then go out and each start groups of two or three so that everyone can have an accountability group and a safe place to learn and grow and be mentored.

Being a disciple means making a choice to be a continuous life-long seeker and learner of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  It is a continual process that isn’t ever completed in this life.  Billy Graham says, “Salvation is free but discipleship costs everything we have.

Jesus isn’t present on this earth anymore in a physical body, so how then do we become disciples and followers of Jesus Christ?  Where do we look for guidance? We can’t leave our homes and follow after him as he travels from place to place.  Paul gives us the answer to this question in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 

Paul is writing to his student Timothy to encourage him in his ministry at Ephesus.  He is reassuring him that he has all the tools he needs in place to be successful in his ministry.  God has authored the scripture through human hands, which have been taught to Timothy from a young age by his mother and grandmother.  With this faith formation, if Timothy will continue to choose to immerse himself in the written Word of God, he will be fully equipped for every good work and demand of his ministry.

We need to develop the intentional habits of daily Bible study and prayer into our lives every day, not just on Sundays.  Reading books by outstanding leaders of the faith help us to understand things we may be struggling with, but they are not a substitute for reading God’s Word.

By soaking ourselves in the Word of God, his ways begin to become more engrained in us.  This is how we learn Christ’s ways.  This is not just a New Testament concept.  We read in the very first verses of Psalms 1, Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 

As Anabaptists, we should actually be a little of ahead of other denominations in the area of discipleship because at the core of our Confession of Faith and formation as a denomination is the belief that we should live our lives by being a people of the Book, using the Bible as our guidebook on how to live and treat others.

We come to our believer’s baptism after accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, but we don’t stop there.  We go forward as people of the Book, committed to learning the Jesus Way of Life and serving others as Jesus instructed in the Sermon on the Mount.  Baptism doesn’t signal the end of our part of the covenant.  It is only the beginning.

It is a lot like placing an online order or calling an order in.  I work at a company that is a redistributor.  Every day customer service receives calls from customers who want to place orders.  Once an order is confirmed in customer service (or baptism takes place), the product (Us, people) becomes committed and belongs to the buyer (Jesus, God) but further steps have to be taken for that product to ultimately reach its buyer.  The process doesn’t stop there.  The transaction isn’t complete yet.  The order has to be sent to the warehouse where it is picked, then taken to the shipping department where it is prepared for shipment, and then picked up by the shipping company to be delivered at last to the buyer.

After baptism, our journey isn’t over, it is only just begun as we begin a new life in Jesus Christ.  We need to equip ourselves to go out and do God’s work here in His Kingdom on earth as we advance throughout our lives until the time when God calls us home.  This equipping allows us to be prepared to shine the light of God’s love into the lives of others, and thereby do the work of disciples and invite those others to become a part of our circle, or churches, to be followers of Jesus with us.

At the beginning of our time this morning, I told you the story of the little dove that was trying to put out a forest fire with a few drops of water at a time from its wings.  While the intent of this little bird was good and true, it wasn’t really equipped for the business of putting out fires.

When we don’t devote ourselves to consistent Bible study and prayer, we become like the little bird.  We are unequipped to go forth and make disciples as we are commanded to do in Matthew 28:18-20.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”  This could be the creed for a disciple’s life!

We are like trees.  We nourish our roots with the Word of God.  When we do this daily, we grow strong roots, roots that are watered by the Word of God.  It becomes a part of our very being.  It molds us into followers of Christ.  With our strong, well-watered roots, we are equipped to reach out to those around us and help them find the same Living water that has helped us grow.

True discipleship can’t be measured.  It isn’t about how many people you help lead to Christ, but more so about how closely you draw yourself to Christ and walk in the Jesus Way during your time here on this earth.  It is about being humble and obedient to doing his will as you go out and serve a world that is longing and looking for the light of the Gospel.

Before we can go forth and add to the circle of the followers of Jesus, we must first become disciples of him ourselves.  We must become dedicated life-long learners and seekers of his Truth.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Are you a follower of Jesus today?

If not, are you willing to take the first step and plant yourself as a young sapling on the way to growing into a tall, strong tree of faith?

Are you ready to become what the Lord is calling you to be today?

Are you a disciple of Jesus?


If you missed Part One it can be found here.

 

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Deciphering Discipleship Part 1

Part One of the sermon entitled Deciphering Discipleship which was originally given on April 23, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Matthew 28:18-20
2 Timothy 3:14-17


Picture By Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing used with no changes made. It can be found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#/media/File:Gospel_of_John_Chapter_2-12_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media).jpg

A Buddhist monk sat at the edge of the Yellow River and watched a dove with amazement. At regular intervals, the bird dipped its plumage into the water and then flew up into the air, feathers sparkling with water. And then he returned to do it again.  “Why are you doing that?” the monk asked the dove.  “Don’t you see the smoke on the horizon?” the bird answered. “There’s a forest fire over there. I’m trying to put it out.”  The monk laughed out loud. “And you, little bird, think that you can do something about it?”  “I don’t know,” said the dove. “But I know that I have to try.”

Our text today is a familiar passage that is found at the end of the Book of Matthew and has been motivating Christians around the world to get out and try to lead people down the road to repentance and salvation for a millennium.  In the NSRV version, Matthew 28:18-20 reads, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

It is in part because of this passage that I felt the need to go through the C.S. Lewis Fellows program.  This passage filled me with uneasiness, because I wanted to go as Jesus commanded me to, but I didn’t know how to go.  So, I eagerly completed the application thinking that very soon I would be given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and able to Go and Make Disciples, just as Jesus was instructing me to do.  Instead, I learned that I totally missed the meaning of this piece of scripture.

If you were to look up this passage in the Believers Church Bible Commentary on the book of Matthew, you would read that the main verb in the Greek text of the great commission is matheteuo, which means make disciples.  Jesus is telling his remaining eleven disciples to expand the circle, to invite others to join them in following Jesus.  The other three verbs in the text are participles that connect with the main verb…We might paraphrase verses 19-20 like this:  As you go forth, call people everywhere to become disciples, which will involve both baptizing them into God’s community and summoning them to embody my teaching in their lives.

The focus on this scripture isn’t the going part.  Instead it is the making part. I think as a culture in general we do tend to miss that emphasis.  This is a rather convenient misunderstanding because if we focus on the Go instead of the Make, then we can find excuses that give us a pass on this command.  We can tell ourselves things like, that is the job and gifting of the missionaries.  I don’t need to worry myself with that command because I can’t go anywhere.  But in actuality this command isn’t just for those who travel far from their homes to spread the Gospel.  It is for each and every one of us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

We each are all called to discipleship and can extend this invitation to follow Jesus to every person we come into contact with just by going through the business of our daily lives.  There is as much of a need for the Good News of Jesus Christ in our workplaces and schools as there is for the people of the South American jungles that have never heard the name of Jesus.

So how have the churches in America gotten this passage wrong for so long?  It most likely goes back to cultural understanding.  We have forgotten, or never known, what true discipleship is.  Our version of discipleship is different than the understanding of discipleship in Jesus’ time.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers us this as the definition of disciple:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: such as Christianity:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts.  That’s it.  It is brief, and seems to focus on accepting and sharing ideas.

A better definition for discipleship has been offered by Greg Ogden in his book, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, where he defines a disciple as one who, in the context of community, places himself or herself under the shaping influence of Jesus so that there is no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power.

However, in Jesus’ day, the cultural understanding of what discipleship is, was very different.  Rabbis in ancient Israel were scholars and teachers of Jewish laws and scriptures and they would travel around from town to town to teach in the local synagogues.  They didn’t go to their local college to get their Master’s in Biblical Studies.  Instead they had to learn by first being a disciple to another Rabbi.

To be someone’s disciple, you would give up your whole way of life and leave your family so that you could devote yourself to literally following your teacher as they travelled from place to place.  As you travelled with your teacher you also took care of his daily needs like food and shelter.  We often see in the Gospels that Jesus sends some of the twelve ahead to take care of details like these.  For years, you would devote yourself to this Rabbi so that you could learn all of his knowledge and ideas.  There were many teachers with Disciples, not just Jesus.

What Jesus changes with this model is that he is always the teacher and his followers through the ages are always the students.  The disciples remain disciples of Jesus even after he sends them out fully equipped to make disciples on their own.

What does Discipleship look like now in American Churches today?  It isn’t seen as a way of life anymore for the masses.  A lot of it is left to those who choose a monastic life, or a pastor’s path.

Dallas Willard, an author specializing in Christian Spiritual Formation, has pointed out in his writings how far we have strayed from understanding the Christian life as sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Instead we focus on the benefits that we receive by faith in Jesus rather than on being conformed to the life of Jesus.  We want abundance without obedience…The bottom line essential with in the evangelical world is having the debt of one’s sins canceled by transferring them to Jesus’ account…The most telling thing about the contemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity with the clear teachings of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential.”  (Ogden, pages 46-47)

Studies show that only one out of every six adults who attend church regularly are involved in any type of activity or relational process that would help with personal spiritual growth.  That is around 17 % of the average church congregation.  Of this group about 69% are involved in a small group for bible or topical studies, 20% attend an adult Sunday school class, 14% are involved with one-to-one mentoring, 11% take part in special faith-based classes, and only 3% are involved in programs geared towards discipleship.  ( Ogden, pgs 26-27)

Discipleship, for the church body, has become a buzz word.   It is something to add to the to do lists rather than something to be actively engaged in so that we become closer followers of Jesus Christ.  The focus is on creating programs to reach out to disciple the lost people outside our churches. What is forgotten is the need to disciple those within the church first.


If you enjoyed Part One, please visit next week for Part Two.