ReConnecting to Discipleship
Topic: Church Life Passage: Matthew 14:18–14:22
Grace Community Church
Jan. 22, 2017
Re:Connecting to Discipleship
Last week we started a series called Re:Connecting, and we're looking at our Christian walk and life in the church from the framework of connecting. God is all about connecting because God is a relational God. The NT uses metaphors for the church that involve connecting such as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, a temple being built together by living stones, and believers as branches connected to the vine which is Jesus.
This morning I want us to connect with discipleship - what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is particularly important to the church today because I believe there is a powerful temptation to disconnect discipleship from Christianity and have a version of Christianity that does not call for discipleship. Churches that want to grow numerically - and that's pretty much every church - can feel a pressure not to offend people or turn them off with messages that demand something from them as disciples of Christ. There can be a tangible pressure to emphasize how Jesus can make our lives better but ask very little, if anything, from us in return. Sermons can focus on encouraging and easy to accept verses in the Bible and skip over the hard sayings or controversial statements that are in God's word. Let me say that I think a lot of this can be well intentioned and represent a love for the lost or the marginal Christian and the desire to reach them - but if it silences the Lord Jesus' total claim upon our lives then it is fundamentally misguided. The job of the church isn't to gather large crowds, it is to make disciples.
When you go through the gospels you see that Jesus never adjusted his messages to keep his crowds big. Jesus would actually have made a lousy keynote speaker at a church growth convention because he was better at church shrinkage than church growth. Just as the crowds gathering around him were getting really big, Jesus would go and say something that would offend a bunch of people and large segments of the crowd would walk away. Jesus wasn't looking for fans - people who followed him just for the excitement, the miracles, or the free food. Jesus was after followers. Those who would follow him thick or thin, good or bad, easy or hard. So Jesus would intentionally thin out the large crowds by saying something that didn't square with what the crowds wanted to hear, and the fans would leave, leaving only the followers.
There's no way that we could cover exhaustively all that it means to be a disciple of Christ, and I'm not going to try. What I'd like to do in our time together is to reconnect our hearts and minds with the call to be followers of Jesus. If you are a Christian, it began when you were in your boat, or mending your nets, and you heard Jesus call to you, follow me and you knew he wasn't calling you to more than a new set of beliefs, he was calling you to a new way of life. I'm going to boil this way of life down to four points. Following Jesus leads to…
A life of surrender
A life of learning
A Life of sacrifice
The best life possible
A word of caution
But before we go there, let me give a word of caution about the subject of discipleship. Years ago a man was arriving at the Los Angeles International Airport from Vietnam when custom agents became suspicious. What caught their eye was that his shoes were covered with bird dung, and upon closer examination, they discovered that he had 14 live Vietnamese songbirds attached to his lower legs under his pants. He was trying to smuggle them past customs unnoticed.
All too often it's easy for us to try to smuggle legalism into the subject of discipleship. The implied message can be: if you aren't doing enough as a disciple than you're not a Christian, or you're barely a Christian. We can try to smuggle into discipleship attitudes that say if you read enough chapters in your Bible and pray long enough and witness boldly enough and do all the discipleship stuff seriously enough, then you're good with God. And if you don't, then God wants nothing to do with you. Smuggling legalism into our walk with Christ. Let's remind ourselves that we aren't saved by being super-disciples, we are saved by faith in Christ alone. Only Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. When Jesus invited Peter to follow him, it wasn't an invitation for Peter to be co-nailed to the cross. In fact, as Jesus hung on the cross, Peter wasn't even there. He was off by himself weeping over his failure. John stood at the cross, but all he could do is watch. Jesus alone paid it all on the cross and there is no co-pay to get into heaven. Let's make sure we don't try to smuggle legalism into our discipleship.
The other thing people smuggle into the subject of discipleship is impatience, either with ourselves or others. I am so glad that Jesus was patient with his 12 disciples. They messed up, said dumb things, did dumb things, had thick skulls, but Jesus never gave up on them.
So wherever we're at in our discipleship walk with Jesus, he is patient with us. There's a funny scene in Kung Fu Panda where Po shows up at the dojo to begin his training and when Master Shifu asks him what level he's on, Po says, “Let’s just start at level zero.” Shifu tells him there is no such thing as level zero, and asks him to show him what he's got. After Po gets beaten up by a kids punching bag and then is accidentally thrown into the training equipment where he's burned, beaten, and jabbed, and nearly killed, as he drags himself back to his new teacher, Master Shifu says, "there is now a level zero."
Genuine faith in Christ will always result in a life of following Jesus, but discipleship is something we all need to grow in. So let's be challenging and provoking one another to grow, but let's also be patient and recognize that different people are at different places in their walk with the Lord.
A life of surrender
When Jesus called them to follow him, the first thing we see Peter and the guys do is surrender their lives and plans to the Lord. Fishing was all they knew, it was their livelihood, but they immediately left their boats and nets and, in the case of James and John, their father, and followed Jesus.
And the question that comes to mind is, what are the boats and nets in our lives that Jesus wants us to surrender over to him? Jesus doesn't ask most of us to literally quit our jobs and leave everything that's familiar to us, but he can. The Smallcombs are doing just that right now as they prepare to leave for Thailand. Following Jesus means that he can tap anything to be surrendered to him, even our very lives. What are the boats and nets in your life that Jesus is tapping and saying, surrender this to me?
For some of us the boats and nets could be our own dreams and plans for our life. We have our life all planned out, we have our dreams of what our lives are going to be, where we're going to go, what we're going to do, and Jesus taps it and says, surrender those plans and follow me.
It could be certain attitudes we have. I became a follower of Jesus when I was a rebellious teenager - I remember defiantly telling my stepmother that she couldn't tell me what to do. Jesus tapped that attitude and said, you need to surrender that to me now. Attitudes of defiance, guardedness, cynicism, jealousy, pride, the need to control and manipulate others, defensiveness, anger - these are boats and nets that Jesus taps and says, surrender those attitudes and follow me.
Pet sins. Things we know deep inside are wrong but don't want to give up.
Following Jesus is an invitation to surrender our lives to the Lordship of Jesus. It is an invitation that can be rejected. The rich young ruler didn't walk away from Jesus because he didn't want to follow him, he walked away because he didn't want to surrender his earthly treasures in order to follow Jesus. His grip was too tight on those things and so he rejected Jesus' invitation to follow him, and walked away sad. We need to be careful what we're gripping tightly to because whatever we grip tightly has a tight grip on us too.
You may have different boats and nets to surrender to Jesus than I do. The issue isn't what it is, the issue is the posture of our hearts. Are we living a life of surrender to the Lord, or are we tightly gripping things and refusing to give control over to the Lord? May the Lord help us to reconnect to a life of surrender.
A life of learning
The Greek word for disciple – mathetes –means learner. Through the word of God and the work of the Spirit the Lord Jesus will teach and train us to be more like him. We never get to the point where we don't need to learn.
One of my kids went through a stage where he would answer I know to everything. No matter what his mom or I would say to him, he would answer "I know". He'd be playing outside and I'd call out dinner was ready, and he'd answer "I know!" How could he have known that when I had just found that out? I thought this was breaking news, yet he knew it already! Psalm 139:4 to mind: Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. I used to wonder which side of the family omniscience ran on.
Of course, it was just a verbal reflex for my son, the equivalent of saying, "OK". But we can develop the same reflexes and think we know more than we do and when that happens, we stop growing as disciples. There should be no know it all's in the church, just learners.
The lessons disciples learn can't be confined to a classroom. We learn in the university of life and sometimes the school of hard knocks. It doesn't matter how much we know in our minds about love, or humility, or holiness, or faith. It matters how much we are putting into practice. Knowledge without love just makes us proud and puffs us up.
So every day brings countless opportunities to learn. That pressing need in our life teaches us to pray and to walk by faith. That obnoxious person at work teaches us how to love. That person who hurt us teaches us to forgive. That embarrassing situation teaches us to be humble. As followers of Christ, let's always be careful to connect what we know with how we live.
A Life of sacrifice
Jesus said in Luke 9:23 "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." There is a cost to being a disciple of Christ. Sacrifice is woven into the fabric of following Jesus.
But what does that look like for most of us when life is filled with so many comforts? I read a short article by Hannah Gronowski, founder and director of Generation Distinct, and in it she talked about reading a book about men and women who were ready to sacrifice everything - their comforts, their culture, their wants, even their lives, to bring the gospel to all nations. But as she read about their sacrifice, she was keenly aware that she was lying by a pool at a beautiful resort soaking in the southern sun. And she asks the question, what does sacrifice look like for those of us who are called to be missionaries here in our own country, which is known for abundance, comfort, and ease? She writes this:
Just as our muscles grow stronger as we lift weights, our ‘muscle’ of sacrifice strengthens as we accept more and more opportunities to deny ourselves in order to love others radically, serve others selflessly, and minister to people when it is inconvenient or messy.1
She goes on to suggest we "sacrifice strategically", meaning that we intentionally work into our calendar and life opportunities to die to self in order to love others. Opportunities to stretch beyond our comfort zone, to be inconvenienced, and to sacrifice for the good of others and the glory of God.
These sacrifices don't buy us something - remember, don't try to smuggle legalism into your discipleship - but sacrifices do produce something kinda unexpected in our lives. They help us experience more joy in our walk with the Lord Jesus. I read something this week that highlighted this principle for me.
To prepare for his part in the movie Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhaal (Jillenhall) trained for six months, seven days a week, six hours a day, until he was running 8 miles a day, doing 2000 sit ups, and 100 pull ups and pushups a day. That's dedication. That's sacrificing a ton of things, including comfort and the desire to sleep in, chill out, and take it easy. But there's a bigger and better objective to it - he didn't do it just to do it, he was after something good. In his case, a movie and authenticity. In our case, sacrifice leads to a really great result. Let me say something that might seem surprising here. I find myself wondering if the reason why many Christians don't feel as much joy in following Jesus is because we bend over backwards to avoid the cost. The abundance of joy and meaning that Jesus has for us isn't found in avoiding sacrifice and surrender and learning, it's found in it. And so my last very brief point is that following Jesus leads to…
The best life possible
Jesus called his disciples to a life of self-sacrifice and surrender. But in that he always promised something glorious and wonderful. They would surrender being fishermen, and become fishers of men. The rich young ruler was invited to sell his treasures to have far greater treasures in heaven and the privilege of following Jesus. He would have become a friend of the Lord had he accepted it.
We spend so much time trying to get what we want, make life easier, protect the pet sins we don't want to give up, and yet, my observation over thirty plus years as a Christian is that the more we get what we want, the more empty and miserable our lives become. It seems counter-intuitive, but the more we sacrifice for Christ (not talking about asceticism which is sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice), the more we feel tied in with his bigger purposes. The more we lay aside selfishness, the more fulfilled our lives become. The more we surrender our lives to Christ, the more he gives them back, bigger and better than they were.
I admit that far too often there is a disconnect between my life and what I'm about to say, but following Jesus in a life of surrender, learning, and sacrifice, really does lead to the best life possible. Not the easiest life. Not the carefree-est life. But the best and fullest life possible. Let's make it our goal to connect in a fresh way this year with discipleship, and then to help others grow as disciples too. Not because we have to, but because it is the best life we could possibly live with the greatest rewards we could possibly receive.
With love and patience, let's encourage and provoke one another to grow as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. And together, let's work to do our part to fulfill the Great Commission. Not because we have to, not because it's our duty, but because we get to be a part of the greatest and highest purpose on earth. When Jesus called to our hearts, follow me, that's what he was inviting us to do. Let's reconnect with that call in a fresh way this morning.
Level zero - not a Christian.
1 Dying to Self and Living for Christ, Hannah Grownowski. Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/dying-to-self-and-living-for-christ.html