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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Transforming Lives (Vision and Mission Part 2)

This is part two in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 19:1-10.

A news story caught my eye recently. A group of kids at a school was a cat stuck up a tree. They saw a cop, and begged him to rescue the cat: “You gotta get the cat! You gotta get the cat!” So the cop dutifully started to climb up the tree to rescue the cat. Except the cat didn’t really want to be rescued, so it jumped a bit higher, and the officer dutifully climbed a bit higher… until he realised that he was stuck. The cop had to call the New York Fire Department to bring a tower ladder and bucket in order to rescue him and the black and white cat. It’s probably a good thing that Zacchaeus didn’t get stuck when Jesus invited himself over for dinner.

When have you been left out?

We continue our series on our vision and mission today, and we’re looking at the first mission intention: Transforming Lives. And I want to ask you whether you remember ever being left out for something. Who was ever the last picked on the sports team? Have you ever been the next person in line when the “Sold Out” sign was put up? Have you ever been dropped from a team?

On the other hand, have you ever been given an opportunity to skip the queue? For example, you’re lining up in the supermarket for the only lane that’s open, and there’s five or six people in front of you. Then an assistant comes and asks if you’d like to move to their lane – how awesome is that! An opportunity to skip the queue.

Zacchaeus – the doubly disadvantaged

It’s really tough to be left out of something, or to be the last one picked. For Zacchaeus, although he was rather influential, he was marginalized both socially and religiously. Firstly, he was short, and society, like today’s society, wants to admire the tall, not the short. You need to be big and strong, not short and weak. But on top of that, Zacchaeus was the Chief Tax Collector. Now, tax collectors – as a whole – were hated amongst the Jews, and seen as being traitors by them, and despised by the Romans they worked for as being Jews. But Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector, he was the chief tax collector. He had a number of tax collectors who worked under him, who would siphon the money back to him, who would then siphon the money up to the Romans, with each one taking their own cut. He was hated by everyone.

So when he wants to go and see this teacher guy who has a habit of loving the unloveable, he knows that no-one in the crowd is going to get out of his way so that he can see. So he decides that the best thing to do is to climb up a tree – which is the sort of activity that a child would do, not some important official (even if no-one respected the important official).

Zacchaeus jumps over every disadvantage that he has, in order to hear or see this teacher guy.

Zacchaeus jumps the queue

This extravagant gesture by Zacchaeus is matched by Jesus, who also acts to overcome Zacchaeus’ double disadvantage. He invites himself over for dinner. He just walks up to the tree, and says “Zacchaeus, what are you doing up there? I’m gonna stay at your place today, so hurry up and get down here.” Now Zacchaeus was over the moon – this incredible teacher, who people wouldn’t even get out of the way to let him see, singled him out and was going to stay at his place.

Now, of course, this got a few people grumpy. I mean, no-one likes being looked over,  and there were all these other people there who thought that they should be look at before this “sinner”. Luke doesn’t name this group. It’s just “They.” “All who saw it” were grumbling. “They” – this unnamed group – probably represents the crowd that Jesus is actually trying to teach. Zacchaeus isn’t who Jesus’ teaching was intended for, it was this group.

So what are they offended at? They’re angry that Zacchaeus was included. They’re angry that he jumped the queue. They’re angry that he got the preferential treatment.

It’s so easy to get like that isn’t it? How do you feel if you’re 4th in line, and the teller comes and grabs everyone behind you to go and join a new lane? Or if you’ve been waiting for something, and someone else gets it before you do?

This jumping the queue – that’s what grace is like. And it’s so annoying, isn’t it? We feel like we’ve been putting in the hard yards, and then someone comes along and gets just the same as us. It’s offensive to our sense of entitlement.

But Jesus doesn’t care about that. In one way he’s saying “The Age of Entitlement is over” – but in another, he’s saying “The Age of Entitlement is Here… for everyone.” Jesus acts in radical acceptance of Zacchaeus, and shows him grace. This grace goes before any change that can happen in him. It is only through this grace – that isn’t just available for Zacchaeus, but is available for everyone – that transformation can happen within Zacchaeus.

So what does Zacchaeus do with this gift? See, the gift of grace – while it’s there for all of us to take – is actually an invitation. Once we receive it, we must do something with it. For Zacchaeus, he reconnects with his community. He puts the wrongs he has done right, he gives away half his possessions, and pays back anyone he’s defrauded. So Jesus declares that salvation has come to this house – because of the actions in response to that grace, Zacchaeus is transformed, and is saved. By grace, anyone can be saved – even a rich man who society hates.

We can help others jump the queue

One of our mission priorities is transforming lives. This is described as “Working for personal renewal through Jesus Christ, that touches and integrates the whole person.” For us to do that, we need to show grace to everyone who comes through our door. When we show the radical acceptance that Jesus showed to Zacchaeus, we open the door to allowing radical transformation within people’s lives.

Through every program that we run, we must be inclusive of everyone, no matter what state they come in. Now, sure, we’ve got some women’s groups, and some Men’s groups, but we must be inclusive of all that come along to those groups. Now, I think we do a pretty good job at that, however, we must always be careful to make sure that we measure up to our ideal. I’m sure that the people surrounding Zacchaeus who were grumbling thought that they were pretty good – indeed they thought that Jesus should come to them before going to Zacchaeus. So who are the people that are rejected by society today, and how would we react if they came through our doors one Sunday? How would we react if they wanted to join one of our programs?

Andrew Marr wrote that “The challenge of this story… is not limited to the possible conversion of one person, but it extends to the possible conversion of the whole community.” When we show grace to one person, yes, it opens up the possibility of conversion there. But when we show grace to one person, it opens up the possibility of conversion to the whole community of people that that person influences as well.

Each week, I meet with some of the local pastors around the place. This week just gone, we met at Gateway church, where that church was having a conference with some guest pastors. They had had a rally the night before, and they were sharing stories of people who were healed, people who were converted and so on. And the lead pastor there really stressed that as their church were following what they were called to do, and every other church did what God was calling them to do, that through all of that, we can witness the transformation of our whole community, all across the North West. Each person that is transformed is a witness to that transformation, and in turn has the opportunity to transform others.

We can jump the queue ourselves

The beauty of it is that it all starts with us. The grace of God, which goes before us, which is there before we even start seeking for it, is always there, waiting for us to take it and be transformed.

Grace doesn’t care where you’ve come from. Grace doesn’t care where you’ve been. Grace doesn’t care whether you’ve been here 80 years or you’ve been here 8 minutes. Grace doesn’t care.

But, Grace will be with you wherever you go. Grace will help shape your every actions. And grace can stay with you for the rest of your life. Grace has the ability to transform your life.

If we’re going to transform our community, and transform others lives, we have to be open to allowing grace to transform our own life. I’m going to play a video, and it very basically tells peoples stories that have been transformed by grace. Their lives have been transformed by grace, and yours can as well. And as we are transformed, we can then go out to transform others.

While you listen to that, you might want to ask Jesus to transform your life. Maybe you’re willing to accept that grace that is being offered to you. Maybe, you’ve been guilty of being the others, the crowd that judged and excluded Zacchaeus. Maybe you’re willing to stand today, and say I am going to show the radical, inclusive love that Jesus showed me, and I’m going to live that out in my life.

Get out of the Birdcage

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Get out of the Birdcage, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 13 July, 2014. The Reading was John 3:14-21

How good are you at making a choice? Let’s play a little game. I’ll have two pictures on the screen, if you would choose the one on the right, put your hand up. If you choose the one on the left, leave your hand down.

  • Coke or Pepsi
  • Chocolate or Chips
  • James Bond or Indiana Jones
  • Star Wars or The Notebook
  • 7 course degustation  or Steak and 3 Veg
  • “Chucking a sickie” or full day of work
  • Blowing your own trumpet or giving a compliment to someone else

Continue reading “Get out of the Birdcage”

Being a Light to the Community

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Being a Light to the Community, was given at our Installation service at Devonport Salvation Army on Sunday 12 January, 2014. The Bible reading was Matthew 5:13-16.

I don’t know what you’re thinking about me right at the moment, but one thing that I can tell you is that I’m a bit of an odd person, and I like odd things. My wife won’t disagree here. I like Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, and I play musical instruments with strings, not brass. Before I went to the Training College, I spent 18 months in the Media and Communications department at the Uniting Church Synod office, where I did, amongst other things, a lot of looking at and editing photos. One thing that I learned to appreciate was the different types of light. Continue reading “Being a Light to the Community”

Release the shackles of sin, and praise God!

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Release the shackles of sin and praise God!, was given at The Salvation Army Broadford corps on Sunday 18 November, 2012. The Bible reading was Acts 3:1-16.

Ex-leper or lame beggar?

When I think of the miraculous healings in the bible, my mind always gets drawn to the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where Brian meets an ex-leper, begging for alms. “Spare a talent for an old ex-leper” Through the scene, we find that this ex-leper spent 16 years behind the bell, before Jesus walked up to him and said “You’re cured” without so much as a “by your leave.” As such, he’s now healed, but doesn’t have anything to do, as all he knew how to do was to beg for alms. So despite being healed, he stays in his old life, begging, and wishing that he was just a bit of a cripple during the week – enough to beg, but not as annoying as full on leprosy.

But, today, we hear of a man whose response is quite different to that of the ex-leper. I wonder what life story he would tell to Brian, if he were to run into him. Continue reading “Release the shackles of sin, and praise God!”

A Star Trek Devotional: Encounter at Farpoint

John de Lancie as Q in WWIII/Post-Atomic Horro...
Q as an officer from the Mid-21st Century Wars, from Encounter at Farpoint. (Image via Flickr)

I wanted to try my hand at writing a devotional based on episodes of Star Trek. I am a Trekkie, and I feel there is a lot that we can learn from the various episodes. That I’ll have to watch more Star Trek in preparation for these devotionals is just a happy coincidence. My first devotional is based on the first episode (double episode) of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Encounter at Farpoint.

Continue reading “A Star Trek Devotional: Encounter at Farpoint”

Random Acts of Kindness

The cover of Daena's 365 days of kindness… journal.

Today I’m putting the focus on my friend’s blog, 365 Days of Kindness. Daena is an incredible young lady, and one of my close friends. Last year, she started Project 25, encouraging people to do random acts of kindness.

This year, she decided to expand, and challenge herself to do a random good deed every day for a year. She’s writing them down in a journal, and slowly uploading them to her blog. She’s a bit behind (having only recently uploaded the ones for January), however it is a fantastic project, and a wonderful challenge.

We find this mentioned in the gospels of Jesus.

“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (MSG)

The second commandment that Jesus lists here – love others as you love yourself – is just what Daena is practicing here, Loving others, whoever they may be, as she loves herself. Wouldn’t the world be an amazing place if we all followed Daena’s lead and looked for ways to show love to others?

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?

Confession

In my morning coffee time, I follow the form ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – in my prayers. This morning, I was in the confession part of the form, and I used the group confession that is used in the Liturgy of the Anglican Church. Continue reading “Confession”