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Making Disciples (Vision and Mission Part 4)

This is part four in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 6:12-49.

We’re into part four of our series on our Vision and Mission, and today we’re talking about Disciples. Specifically, how we can make disciples, and how we can be disciples. So, I want to start with a bit of a question to get you thinking: What influential moments have you had in your journey of Christian Discipleship? By that I mean, what teaching, studies, reading, actions, retreats, mentors, personal relationships have been most influential in your journey to be a Christian Disciple? Let me share a couple with you.

When I was in year 11, I was still part of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Diocese in Perth was trialling a new idea that (it was hoped) would encourage young people to consider seriously entering into ministry in the church. So a group of us headed down to Rockingham in the Southern Suburbs of Perth, and had a retreat with the Bishop, and a few other priests, looking at ministry and life as a Christian. It was a big success – of the 5 people who went, 3 have moved onto different denominations, one is notionally attending, and one has entered ministry… in a different church. But the reality was that this time was a period that planted the seed of ministry service in my life.

The other influential time for my discipleship was through a retreat community called Chrysalis. This was a three day retreat that looked at various aspects of Christian life and discipleship. While the initial retreat was awesome, what was more influential for me was being involved in the community after that. Serving in various roles, from general support, to musician, to an assistant lay director, and speaking on various topics, helped focus my own Christian life and helped me work through some of the issues that I had in my life.

Both of these retreats had three common aspects that relate to our Christian Discipleship, and we see these aspects coming through in today’s readings. They are calling, Teaching and Doing.

Calling

For both of these retreats, I was invited to attend. My priest put my name forward for me to be invited to attend the ministry exploration retreat by the Bishop, and I was invited to attend Chrysalis by one of my good mates who had attended a retreat before me. We see similar things in Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles. Traditionally, Disciples sought out a rabbi and asked to follow him and learn from him through question and observation. Jesus flipped this on its head, and sought out and asked Disciples to come and follow him.

We don’t hear about all of the Disciples calling, but earlier in Luke’s gospel, we hear about some of them. Simon was cleaning his nets after fishing on the lake of Gennesaret, when Jesus sat in his boat to start teaching. After catching nothing all night, Jesus told Simon to go out again, where he caught so many fish his nets were beginning to break. Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching people” and Simon left his boats and followed Jesus.

Levi was sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus walked up to him and said “Follow me” so he left everything and followed Jesus.

Both these guys (who would have their names changed – Simon to Peter, and Levi to Matthew), were called by Jesus to come and follow them, and they listened and had their lives changed.

Similarly, a lot of our discipleship has been part of a calling. Maybe you can remember who first invited you to come to church. Or maybe someone invited you to take part in a bible study that ended up changing your life. Or someone invited you to come along on this camp or retreat where you learned something new about God.

Teaching

The next part of my discipleship experiences is teaching. All of my significant moments contain a bit of teaching. My ministry retreat contained teaching from the Bishop, as well as some other priests, as to what ministry can look like – both biblically and in today’s society. Chrysalis contains as the crux of it fourteen talks about different areas of Christian living – Faith, Means of Grace, Marriage and the Single life, and others. In every discipleship moment, there must be an element of teaching, because it is through the teaching that we grow to be more like Christ.

Let’s look at Jesus’ discipleship moment here. He came and stood on a level place, and the multitude from all over the place came to hear him. So he looked up and started speaking. First, in Luke’s version of the Beattitudes, Jesus highlighted the values that he revered, and the values that he didn’t. Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich. Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full.

He then went on to describe a new way of living. This is such a long reading, and each section could quite rightly have a sermon in itself, so I’m not going to get into each section, but through all of this teaching, Jesus shows the crowd a new way of living, that will usher in the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is one of equality, and one of non-violence, where Love is the central theme, not power.

You might like to start thinking about some of your discipleship moments where you’ve experienced some great teaching – and it’s ok, it doesn’t have to be one of my sermons – but while you do that, realise that it doesn’t have to be a single event. While the time’s I’ve illustrated were retreats – that’s what was significant for me. I’ve also enjoyed sharing time over the past few weeks sharing with people who have spent significant time just reading their bibles, and the teaching that they have learnt from that one book alone could well be more than could be gained at a single retreat.

Discipleship isn’t just a one time event. We must be continually learning, accessing the teaching of Jesus, maybe even looking further afield at some of the writings of other great Christian teachers, to get an understanding of what God is telling us, and how he is shaping us into being more of him.

Doing

The final aspect of our discipleship trifecta is the aspect of doing. Now, we don’t earn our faith because of the good works that we do. God loves us, all of us, no matter whether we do great works or not. However, the teaching of Jesus is so rooted in things that we can do, that the only real response to accepting the teaching of Jesus is to say, “Yes Lord, I will do that” – I will live in that way, I will love my enemy, I will turn the other cheek.

I’ve been reading a book recently called Jim and Caspar go to Church. Jim is a former pastor turned author, who employed an Athiest, Caspar, to go with him to various churches and critique their worship services. It’s a fascinating read. Reading through it, I noticed one of Caspar’s common critiques was that the service focussed too much on the inward, and didn’t result in a demonstratable action that could be done. Once the sermon was over, there was no call to action, no “Come do this” or “Go do that”.

Caspar, I feel, hit the nail on the head. Yes, a lot of our faith is an internal, private affair, and that’s how it is. But the result of the love of God that we experience should propel us into action.

James wrote about this in his letter, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  This isn’t to put an emphasis on works above faith, or faith above works. They come out of each other – because we have faith, we do works.

My discipleship moments all had strong elements of doing. My ministry retreat sought to encourage me to go out and explore ministry, to go and experience it and see where God was leading me. Chrysalis had a strong action call at the end of the retreat, to apply Christ’s teachings to your life and to step up into ministry.

When we get out there and apply Christ’s teachings to our lives, we also have the opportunity to learn from what it does to our lives. We grow as disciples through our works.

Conclusion

The wonderful thing about all of this is that we can do it no matter where we are on our journey of discipleship. If you’ve been here for 80 years, God’s still calling you, still teaching you, and still encouraging you to action. If this is your first time here, something or someone has called you to be here, and you have the opportunity to learn from Jesus’ teachings and go apply it to your life. Whether it’s your first day or your 800th, Christ is giving you the opportunity to progress along your journey of discipleship.

And the wonderful thing is that we as a church can support you in that. As individuals, we can invite people to come along, to give them that calling so that they may start the next part of their journey. As a church, we have bible studies, we have classes, we have opportunities to apply that faith into works, so that we can all share in our discipleship journey together. But of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and maybe God has put on your heart something that he would like you to do. Maybe Christ is calling you to get back into your bible reading. Maybe the Holy Spirit is leading you towards a retreat, or a bible study, or to share what you’ve experienced with someone else.

Hear God’s call on your life. Learn from the word of God. Go out and do it in community.

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Read your Bible!

“More than anything, this truly is the living word.”

How many of you believe everything that you see on TV? What about everything that you read in the newspaper? What about everything that you read online? Because if it’s on the internet, that makes it true doesn’t it? How many of you believe what is written in the Bible?

What do you spend more time on – reading the Bible, or reading Facebook? Continue reading Read your Bible!

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The Problem with Proof Texts

I’ve restarted reading a book that I started a little while ago, and it reminded me of a problem that I picked up the first time, which was the use of proof texts. For those that may not be familiar with the term, a proof text is the practice of extracting a verse or couple of verses from the Bible in order to prove your point. What happens is that the verse is often stripped of its context, and as such may not actually mean what it is being said to mean.

 

Continue reading The Problem with Proof Texts

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My refuge and my shield

“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

Psalm 119:114
This Psalm of David is the longest of all of the Psalms, and the longest chapter in the whole Bible. Here, David is saying to the Lord that he finds his refuge and safety in the Lord. When Saul was searching for David, it was the Lord that told him where to Hide, to help protect him physically, and spiritually.

Likewise, we should find our refuge in the Lord. When we are being trialed and tested, we should look towards the Lord, we should put our hope in his word. We should trust in the Lord to hide us, to give us refuge, from the temptations of the world, and to shield our mind and soul from the harmful things that we often come across.

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I knew it, I just didn’t get it

I’ve finally got around to start reading Bill Hybel’s book, “Just Walk across the room” and it’s already got me posting something, and this is only from the introduction!

Bill is telling us of the time when he was seventeen and he accepted Jesus into his heart. He was at a camp, and one night had a realisation that Jesus loved him, and there was nothing he could do to earn that love. He ran back to the dorm to tell his mates, armed with a series of “Guys, did you know…?” questions. They all came back to him saying “Yea, yea, Bill, we know all that.” He said to himself, “I just never got it until now.”

How often have we heard the stories of the bible, yet only really got the meaning of them later. You might read it and get new insight, or have it explained in a different way and suddenly, it all fits. We can know, but sometimes we just really don’t get it.

For me, I had one of those moments on a spiritual retreat, Chrysalis. I heard the story of the Prodigal Son explained in a really simple way, and it just clicked. That story that I had such a hard time relating to for all those years, suddenly I could see myself in every character in the story. I knew the story, I just didn’t get it. Now that I get it, I can take that knowledge into my life, and live accordingly.

Have you had a light bulb moment, where you suddenly understood something that you’ve known for a while?

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Religious Tolerance isn’t removing religion

A Christmas tree in the United States.
I fail to see this Christmas Tree imposing Christianity on anyone. (Image via Wikipedia)

There’s a lot of talk going around at the moment about “religious tolerance” or “freedom of religion.” There was the Bondi Public School who banned the word “Easter” being associated with their Easter Hat Parade because they were trying to promote tolerance. Then there’s the new Childcare laws that have been passed in Victoria that prevent Children being forced to participate in Religious or Cultural activities, such as decorating Christmas trees and painting Easter eggs, yet they’re also not allowed to separate children from the group “for any reason other than illness or an accident.” Continue reading Religious Tolerance isn’t removing religion

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Early Thoughts: What do you do with your gift?

Holy Spirit dove window
Image by hickory hardscrabble via Flickr

Yesterday, I was asked to preach at a service at a Uniting Church. Although Initially being asked to preach in April, due to other commitments, it’s been moved back to June, and the day that I’ve been given just happens to be the day of Pentecost. Now, the sermon is a long way off, but I still have some ideas on what I may speak on.

For those not in the know, Pentecost is the day that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of flames, and allowed the disciples to speak in other languages. One of the readings for the day is 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, which says:

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

There are varieties of gifts – but these all come from the same spirit. Varieties of services, but the same lord. Varieties of activities, but the same God who activates them. It doesn’t matter what gift you have, they are all important, and they are all from the Holy Spirit.

The important thing to take away from the day of Pentecost is that we have been given this glorious gift – the Holy Spirit. Now that we have this gift, what are we going to do with it?

Below is the Parramatta Songsters doing an awesome version of Send the Fire. The last line of the first verse always gets me: “We need another Pentecost! Send the Fire today!”

Postaday2011 links

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A Christian Gamer’s Guidelines

I’ve been thinking more about the post I wrote a little while ago entitled “A Christian Gamer” where I walked through some of the issues I was being challenged with at being a Christian, and a gamer, and how to reconcile those things. With most of the games that I play at LAN’s being violent games, how was I to reconcile that with my views as a Christian. And when you take into consideration the Salvation Army’s reasons to abstain from Alcohol, Cigarettes and Gambling because it harms other people (as well as yourself), how can I reconcile my gaming, which appears to harm some people?

As I have been thinking about it, I have decided to come up with some “Guidelines” – I don’t want to use the word Manifesto or Creed, as these are not necessarily beliefs. These guidelines are just some observations that I want to use to try to shape my gameplay into a more Christian role.

Firstly, I would call my beliefs Moderate to Liberal. I don’t believe that we should abstain from everything that is not in the bible. I feel that there are Christians who take what is written in the bible so seriously that it scares people away from Christianity. Yes, I believe the Bible is the word of God, and that we should read it, and embrace it, and know it fully (something that I am still striving to achieve), but I also believe that we need to read the bible in context – in the context of when it was written, and the context of how we apply it today. I believe that in reading the bible in the context of today, how we apply it to our lives, we must be willing to step back, and take a more general look at the meaning of the passage, of the chapter, of the book, and of the Bible in general.

With that in mind, here are my guidelines.

1. Get my priorities sorted.

Love the LORD your God with all your heard and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6:9

I have heard, in relation to becoming a priest, that your priorities should be “God First, Family Second, Church Third.” This way, you serve God, you provide for your family, and then you look after the church. It’s a matter of determining where your priorities lie, what you feel is important. This is reflected in the scripture above. Jesus said that this was the great and first commandment. Love God first, then your family (Ephesians 5:25; Proverbs 22:6), then the Church (Galatians 5:13). For me, while I enjoy Gaming, it shouldn’t come at the expense of more important things. If I haven’t spent time with God today, then surely my time can be spent better than playing some game. If I haven’t spent time with my family, then gaming surely can wait.  This then leads onto the second guideline:

2. Don’t  Get Obsessed

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God

Exodus 20:4-5a
I have heard all too many stories of people becoming obsessed with games, particularly MMORPG’s such as World of Warcraft. I have even heard of Game Addiction Rehab Clinics in places such as Amsterdam. If I am not careful, I could be drawn into these games, and not realise it. Therefore I must remain vigilant so as not to become obsessed. Exodus 20:4 talks about false idols. In the context of the day, these were idols, statues that the people would make and worship, believing them to be gods. But in today’s society, our idols are much more secluded in nature. We don’t have physical golden idols, but we do have TV, computers, magazines, celebrities – things that take our focus away from God. The first guideline helps with this, ensuring that I remain focused on God and Family. I will never rush home to play my game (this includes searching for a computer because I forgot to water my Farmville farm – which won’t be a problem as I don’t play that).

3. Game in Community

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, heal the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
One of the great things about gaming is that it brings you into a community. For me, I have a group of about 4-5 friends that meet up semi-regularly to play. For some of these guys, they might not go to Church regularly. By gaming with them, it opens up opportunities to chat with them about Christianity, and also to maybe invite them along to church one day. Gaming by yourself is fun sometimes, but that community aspect is one of the real joys of gaming. At the end of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives the final instructions above. It all boils down to respect in your community. Verse 14 says “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” For me, in relation to gaming, this verse is vital. For in community, we can chat to others about their issues, we can encourage the timid, be patient with everyone. We can make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, and try to be kind to each other and to everyone else (Verse 15). It is in community that we can follow God’s word. Hence, when we game, as often as we can we should try to aim to do so in community.

This also goes into helping others make sure that they don’t get obsessed with their gaming. Remember, the reason why this issue spoke to me was because there are people out there who are affected by games. People who do get obsessed, who can’t distinguish the difference between a video game and real life. By gaming in community, we can look out for the signs of these people, and – as Paul writes – “help the weak,” we can help them through any issues that they have, either through a chat, through possibly bringing them to Christ, or through getting them in contact with people who can help.

Conclusion

As I said, these are by no means a manifesto or creed – just some guidelines. So I would encourage others to suggest things that I might like to include. I haven’t tackled in this edition what games to play, as I feel that by following the above guidelines that it’s not so necessary – but perhaps you disagree. Does “Thou shalt not murder” include killing in video games? Comment. Discuss. I’d love to hear your thoughts.