As we prepare to take this journey with Jesus through the Holy Week, I just want to highlight what this journey will look like for all of us.
I. PALM SUNDAY (TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM)
Palm Sunday starts off a week of remembrance for Christians, often referred to as Holy Week. The week ends with the celebration of Easter, and throughout this week we mark the different events that led to Jesus’ Resurrection and Easter. This means that Palm Sunday is a kind of paradoxical celebration. At worship services, there is likely a festive atmosphere. I have been part of many services where children wave palm branches and parade around the worship space shouting “Hosanna!” The paradox is that we celebrate knowing full well what came next in the story, after Jesus’ triumphal entry: He was rejected, betrayed and crucified.
II. HOLY THURSDAY (MAUNDY THURSDAY)
When we read Mark 11:1-10 we realize the scenery is close to Passover. He will soon celebrate what we know as the Last supper. It is during that time Jesus changes bread and wine to His body and blood. Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, which is described in the Christian Bible (Matthew 26:26-28)
III. GOOD FRIDAY (CRUCIFIXION)
This will be the time we reflect and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a great and powerful thing. It’s a virtue of its own in my opinion. We must forgive in order for us to move on and grow. We must set aside hostilities and anger. We must put away the jealousy and hatred. (Mark 11:25-26). Jesus tells the criminal hanging on the cross near Him and says, Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Good Friday is a day that proclaims God’s purpose of loving and redeeming the world through the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
IV. EASTER (RESURRECTION)
After Good Friday, we will then prepare for our Lord’s resurrection! My favorite time of the year! A time when we can reflect and say thanks Lord for forgiving our sins! What a joyous season because it’s the season to some as being born again. Easter Season is very important in the Christian calendar because it celebrates on the one hand the risen Christ with His appearances and teachings and on the other hand the beginnings of the Christian church.
As we prepare our hearts to Journey with Jesus through this Holy Week, may each of us have a wonderful Holy Week.
Do we know what this is? This is one of the final statements Jesus made to His followers before His ascension back to the Father. We call this statement the Great Commission? But really what it is our calling card – our purpose statement – our elevator pitch!
I believed the church exists to introduce people to Christ, to help them experience an authentic growing relationship with Him so that they might go out in His name and repeat the process (making disciples).
In describing this text, most people would say this teaching is the purpose of the church’s existence. And certainly, I would fall into this camp. I would say that to make a disciple begins with connecting someone to Christ through salvation and then connecting them to His church for ministry care and concern.
Now depending on who you ask, you might find a wide variety of interpretations regarding what it means to “make disciples.” Many churches and pastors today believe this passage to be a command to evangelize the world. Yet while there’s certainly an evangelistic bent to Christ’s command, I believe His instructions go far beyond sharing the gospel. Let us look at this text in three ways:
I. WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
Making disciples speaks to the idea of a learning believer – someone who is in the process of fully developing in his/her faith with love for God.
As I have been speaking about discipleship the last weeks, a disciple can be defined this way:
He/She is available to God
He/She has affection for God
He/She submits to the authority of God
He/She lives for the agenda of God
He/She waits on the assurance of God
And part of the essential disciplines to become a disciple are:
The ability to hear and distinguish God’s voice
The ability to handle God’s word
The ability to honor God’s covenant truths
A readiness to herald God’s truth, to help others at the point of their need and to serve them to God
It’s the difference between a one-time profession of faith (Member) and a lifetime of spiritual growth and increasing godliness (Disciple)
It is also the difference between someone who seeks a God relationship and someone who settles for a good religion. We are called to be developed as disciples at Cornerstone.
II. WHAT IS DISCIPLE-MAKING?
Before we can answer this question there’s a fundamental truth we all must absorb – disciples are made as one maturing disciple takes spiritual responsibility for another soul to influence them to Christ. Everything else supports the disciple-making process – the pulpit, small groups, etc.
Sadly though, it appears as if we’ve been tempted to do everything except the one thing Jesus called us to do. Did you know that Jesus never told us to…
Start Sunday School and Form classes
Create Programs and Construct Buildings
Build Colleges/Seminaries and Organize Conventions
Hold Conferences and Sponsor Events
All that is wonderful and needed. But the mission of the Christian and God’s Church is to pour the Jesus that has been pour into us into another until they are capable of doing the same for another.
For Jesus, making disciples meant repeating the process He performed with the 12 and they with others. Meaning – to be a disciple of Jesus is to make a disciple for Jesus.
Dawson Trotman in “Born to Reproduce” asked: “Men, where is your man? Women, where is your woman? Where is the one whom you led to Christ and who is now going on with them? How many persons do you know by name today who were won to Christ by you and are now living for Him? How is the life of Christ in you being multiplied through you in the world?” Those are the questions we all need to answer here at Cornerstone.
III. HOW ARE GOING TO MAKE DISCIPLES?
Cornerstone, we are not going to be consumer-driven for the best product, but culturally relevant and biblically centered. We are not going to be competitor-oriented, looking to compare with the churches down the street. We are going to be community-passionate about advancing a Kingdom one person at a time.
We are going to invert our ministry model and return to a biblical model (Cornerstone Discipleship Pathway) placing a premium on the One on One and then affording the small groups and corporate worship encounters to support the disciple-making process.
We are going to be more intentional with guests and new members, to begin with, clarity about who we are and why we do what we do as a church through our Cornerstone Connection Center, minister by Cornerstone Hospitality Team.
We are going to re-focus our small groups into churches within the church, focused on our community-at-large where ministry and connection are prioritized through community and missional service.
We are going to strive to help others learn to hear God’s voice, handle Scripture, and honor covenant so that they will herald His truth and help others to Christ. May God help us to become disciples and make disciples. Amen!
It seems that some people refuse to give no matter what. I believe more people would give to God’s work through the Church if they just knew how fun it is! There is a great benefit to giving not only to the recipients of the gift, but to the givers, as well. Generosity brings great joy to everyone!
At least that’s what the believers in the First Century church at Philippi discovered. They had supported the Apostle Paul in his missionary efforts. So, Paul writes them a thank-you note, expressing his gratitude for their gifts. Only in the note, he does not tell them how much the gift helped him. No. He tells them how much their gift helped themselves!
When the Philippian believers gave, there was “fruit that increased to their credit”. And the same is true for everyone who gives. So…
GIVE AND BRING PRAISE TO GOD——–V. 10
Give and increase God’s fame in the world. Give and cause people to rejoice in the Lord. That’s what Paul did when he received a gift from the Philippian believers. In verse 10 he said, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord”. Their gift made his day. It lifted his spirit. It caused him to praise God, even though he was sitting in prison.
And do you know? Our giving will do the same. Our generosity will cause people to rejoice in the Lord and bring glory to God.
An article in The Washington Post gave the facts about what is really going on in the American Church when it comes to joyful generosity. Rob Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan, the writers of that article said, “Broadly speaking, American churches are incredibly generous to the needs of a hurting world.” Then they presented some stats to back up that claim:
In 2009, overseas relief and development supported by all American churches exceeded $13 billion.
That compares to $5 billion sent abroad by foundations in the same year, $6 billion from private and voluntary relief organizations apart from church support, and $9 billion donated internationally by corporations.
In 2012 alone, the evangelical relief group World Vision spent “roughly $2.8 billion annually to care for the poor,” which ranks World Vision about 12th within the G-20 nations in terms of overseas development assistance.
In addition, Christian groups such as the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Hungry, World Relief, and many others provide hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty programs and disasters at home and abroad.
And don’t forget the countless hours that churches (like ours), ministries, and individual believers devote to helping the poor. They and we are involved in food pantries, mobile meals and many more caring ministries all over the country.
The generosity of God’s people all over the world is a powerful witness to the love of Christ. Our giving brings great honor and glory to the Savior we profess.
My dear friends, our generosity will do the same. Our sacrificial giving will give powerful credibility to the Savior we profess. So, give and bring praise to God. More than that…
GIVE AND PARTICIPATE IN THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL——–V. 14-15
Give and be a part of extending the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. Give and partner with those who proclaim the truth of God’s Word to a world in desperate need of Him.
That’s how the Philippian believers partnered with Paul. Paul tells them in verse 14, “you shared my troubles,” and in verse 15, “No church entered into a partnership with me… except you only.”
The words “shared” and “partnership” comes from the same root word in the original Greek language. It’s the word koinonia, and it means to have things in common or to share together. These Philippian believers shared in Paul’s troubles. They shared in his victories, and they shared in his ministry.
The Philippian believers, through their giving, were just as much a part of Paul’s ministry as he was! In other words, when Paul led somebody to Christ, they were a part of that. When Paul planted a church, they were a part of that. And when Paul stood before kings, they were a part of that too. Paul’s ministry was their ministry because they had given to support that ministry.
In the same way, when we give to support someone’s ministry through our apportionments, we’re just as much a part of that ministry as they are. When you give to support the ministry of Cornerstone United Methodist Church, you are just as much a part of this ministry as the pastor. When we give to support the spread of the gospel through our apportionments to the General Church, we are just as much involved as the one sharing the gospel in words and deeds. Our giving allows us to be a part of transforming lives for eternity!
Did you hear that? God not only made us to be recipients of His grace, but also participants in the movement of His own generosity. It’s an honor to give, a dishonor to only receive. So, give and bring praise to God. Give and participate in the spread of the Gospel. And finally…
III. GIVE AND PROFIT FROM IT YOURSELF——–V.17-19
Give and experience the fruit of your generosity. Give and discover the benefits of your liberality.
That’s what happened to the Philippian believers. In verse 17, Paul told them I don’t seek your gift, “but I seek the fruit it increases to your account.” In other words, Paul says your giving doesn’t profit me as much as it profits you! Then Paul continues in verses 18-28…
Philippians 4:18-20 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)
Their gift was pleasing to God, which not only brought praise to God; it resulted in the promise of God’s rich provision. They had supplied some of Paul’s needs. Now Paul tells them, “God will supply all of their needs.”
That’s what happened to the Philippian believers, and that same thing can happen to us when we give!
There are some who say, “I can’t afford to give. I have too many bills to pay, too many mouths to feed, too many needs.” Well, I say, “You can’t afford not to give, because God promises to supply every need of yours when you do give.” You see, verse 19 is a promise for givers! It doesn’t apply to all Christians. It applies only to those who give.
For the believer, this doesn’t usually happen; it always happens, because God promised it! “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”, not out of His riches, but according to those riches!
So, give and bring praise to God. Give and participate in the spread of the Gospel. Give and profit from it yourself. Amen!!!
In his book on “Prayer”, E. M. Bounds emphasizes that a praying church is a successful church: “Success is sure to follow a church given to much prayer. The supernatural element in the church, without which it must fail, comes only through praying. More time in this bustling age must be given to pray by a God-given church… More heart and soul must be in the praying that is done if the church would go forth in the strength of her Lord and perform the wonders that is her heritage by divine promise.”
Every one of us has experienced the power of personal prayer. We have experienced times where we have called out to God in the secret place of prayer and He has heard and answered us in power, not for our glory but for His. There is something special when you enter God’s presence for yourself and you talk to Him in secret. It’s something we should all do and do often.
There is also power when the Church prays together as a corporate body. There is a special dynamic that comes into play when the Church comes together, united in faith and purpose to seek God’s face in prayer.
Let’s look at this passage as I share some truths on the subject “When the Church Prays”.
The Purpose of Prayer——–Vs. 1-4
There were attacks as James had been beheaded by Herod and Peter was on death row awaiting his own execution. The Jews hated the gospel and so they pressed these attacks against the Church. Herod persecuted the Church as it gave him political advantage.
There was apprehension as the Church didn’t know what the future held and as a result of this, fear and concern came upon them regarding the future of the Church.
There was and still is an adversary. Herod killed James and arrested Peter and this brought pleasure to the Jews. Both of them were responsible for the persecution but they were merely instruments in the hands of Satan. He hated the church, the gospel and the Lord that they served and we still have the same problems today. If there was a time where the Church should be united in prayer, it is now.
I want to encourage us to make the prayer for the harvest of souls a matter of urgency in our everyday living. We need to pray on a more consistent basis and using every opportunity to pray for God to do miraculous things here in our presence.
Could God do something of such magnitude that we would all be astonished? I know He can. And the secret to getting Him to do this is to have this church pray more sincerely and more often. I believe that the more we have in number in prayer the more we can show God that we as a church are sincere.
The People of Prayer——–V. 5
There is a word in verse 5 that makes a difference, the word but. The situation is desperate, but! Peter might be put to death, but! When faced with overwhelming problems the Church called out to God and prayed. Let’s examine their prayer:
It was fervent prayer. When we apply fervency to our prayers, it is a picture of the Church pouring out their hearts towards God as we seek Him to meet our needs.
It was faithful prayer. By this I mean they prayed and believed God would hear them as they prayed for Peter. Faith makes the difference between answered and unanswered prayer.
It was focused prayer. Their focus for the prayer meeting was Peter. When we ask God for specific needs in prayer and He answers, it brings glory to Him, assures us of our relationship with Him and our faith is increased. When you pray, be specific.
It was family prayer. The Church had gathered to pray for one of their own. They sought God’s help for a brother in need. How much time do we spend praying for other people? People that may be facing a life-threatening disease? Those are the people that we should be touching heaven for. There are others who are lost. We should be touching heaven for them. People that are struggling with needs, burdens and problems are the people that we should be touching heaven for. Your brothers and sisters in Christ need you to touch heaven on their behalf.
III. The Power of Prayer——–Vs. 6-11
There is no greater demonstration of the power of prayer than is given here in this passage. Try to visualize what happened.
Peter was bound with chains – there were 16 guards around him and he was sleeping between two soldiers at the time this event took place. Vs. 7. The prison door was
guarded by the keepers. Peter was in a maximum-security prison. No prison breaks happen here. But then the chains fell off Peter.
God is the master of all the chains. The doors opened before Peter and the angel. God has keys for all the locks. There is no door that God cannot open. The men and keepers of the prison didn’t even see Peter and the angel. They locked Peter in, but they couldn’t lock God out.
It was a time of powerful salvation. God intervened and saved Peter’s life because of the Church praying and asking Him to. Church, our God can do powerful things in our midst when the Church prays.
We need to be people that grab a hold of God as individuals and as a Church. The only way things will change is if we as a Church come together in unity and seek God in prayers because great things happen when the Church prays. Amen!!!
Psalm 23:1 ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
David once served as a shepherd as he tended his father’s sheep on the Judean hillsides. He knew the responsibility and the obligation and the duties of the shepherd.
If we could believe that God is our Shepherd at Cornerstone United Methodist Church; that He is going to take care of us, then we would have no need to worry about anything. We just simply be the sheep and allow God to be the Shepherd. When we make the Lord our Shepherd how is that the answer to our worries? The trust comes when we realize what a shepherd is:
A SHEPHERD PROVIDES: God will provide food, shelter, and the basic necessities for us as a church.
A SHEPHERD PROTECTS: God will defend us against the enemies that are lurking about.
A SHEPHERD GUIDES: God will lead us when we become confused and don’t know which way to go.
A SHEPHERD CORRECTS: Any problem that comes along God will correct it. The amazing thing is this: God has promised to do these four things in our lives if we will trust Him if we will allow Him to be our Shepherd.
As we travel on this new journey together, let this be God’s declaration to Cornerstone United Methodist Church:
“I will PROVIDE for you.” All of our needs will be met.
“I will PROTECT you.” Nothing will harm us.
“I will GUIDE you.” He will lead us to where we need to be.
“I will CORRECT the problems that are in your lives.” He will correct our problems.
All we need to do as a church is to let Him be our Shepherd. May God bless us as we strive to serve Him by serving others.
It is with the strange mixture of emotions that often comes with transitions that I share I have been appointed to another church in the Oklahoma Conference. June 16th will be my last Sunday as the pastor of Cornerstone UMC in Oklahoma City, and on June 23rd I will be beginning a new appointment at Heritage UMC in Broken Arrow.
My family and I have been so privileged and pleased to worship with, serve with, love, be loved by, make disciples with, and grow in Christ deeper with the Cornerstone congregation over the last four years. I have learned so much and discovered so many things about my calling from the amazing God I serve while being a pastor at Cornerstone. We will miss this fantastic congregation. However, I am excited about the Reverend John Punni who will be taking my place as pastor, and look forward to seeing all that God continues to do in and through this congregation.
I am also very excited to become the pastor at Heritage. My family and I have heard such tremendous things about this church, and I anticipate discovering so many amazing things God is doing in and through this wonderful and dynamic congregation. We have already experienced their hospitality and welcome from afar, and we look forward to the season ahead in Broken Arrow.
Words of Scripture that have been rolling through my mind during this season of transition come from Hebrews 12:1-3. May we fix our eyes on Jesus: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Edwin Friedman, famous writer and sociologist, explains that for the longest time in the racing world no one could run the mile in four minutes or less. Many great runners had tried it. The great Swedish runners such as Gunder Haag and Arnie Anderson couldn’t break it. Many sports writers were beginning to think it wasn’t possible for a human being to break that record.
Then on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, an Englishman named Robert Bannister broke the record. Two months later Bannister did it again. Over two decades later John Walker from New Zealand became the first man to run the mile under 3:50. American Steve Scott holds the record now with 136 sub-four-minute miles, and Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco holds the record for the fastest mile run at 3:43.13.
Friedman points out that something called “the emotional barrier” was broken with Bannister’s 1954 run. Once that happened more and more runners began to believe that the four-minute mile was possible, and consequently more people began to run it. In 1994, an African runner beat a world record. One of his running-mates was interviewed afterwards by eager reporters amazed by what his mate did, and of his friend the fellow African runner said, “He is not caught up in the mythology of Wester runners.” What’s possible is limited by what was imagined to be possible.
Friedman’s point was not that anyone can break a running record if he or she just puts his or her mind to it. His point is that we are often shackled by our own limited imaginations, what he calls “an emotional barrier”. This barrier can lower our expectations and cause us to miss all that is truly possible. I believe that the Church is often limited by this emotional barrier: a limited view of what God is able to do in our lives, communities, cities, and world. We don’t expect much from God, and we don’t expect much to happen through us. So nothing much happens.
Jesus expected much more for His Church. He sent the disciples out, commanding them without batting an eye to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7-8). He was heard saying things like “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greaterthings than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 12:12). God is after all the God of ninety-nine year-old Abraham, timid Moses, and young David all through which we see God do extraordinary things in seemingly impossible circumstances. God tends to be most active where people are more open and expectant to God’s supernatural work. These “greater things” Jesus speaks of may not make us look like world-beaters in the eyes of others, and these things may not happen instantly or perhaps even in our lifetime; but God will accomplish the vision and passions we let Him place deep within us.
What if God intends to transform the schools around us in radical ways or the run-down apartment complex up the street or the lives of our homeless friends with cardboard signs or our own hurts and addictions? We know from the Scriptures that these are exactly the types of things God is in the business of doing, yet the problem might be our own limited and stunted expectation.
Try praying this: “Lord, what do you want to do? Show me. Amen.”
The black mark lays in the middle of the parking lot at the church I had previously served as pastor, the remnant of a tire peeling out. It’s not very big, but it will certainly be there for a long time. I never heard one remark, complaint, or cry about it, but it is unavoidably seen. It obstructs no one from parking vehicles, but the mark does disrupt the sheen of the recently paved concrete.
The mark exists because of an outdoor basketball goal placed on the lot. The goal draws all sorts of folks from the community to play when the weather is warm. For a number of days in a row last summer we saw a dozen or so high school students gather to play, driving their big trucks on to the property. We often heard the sudden rumble of engines and the screech of tires late in the night when the games were done, and one night their excitement and competitiveness left its mark.
A deep mandate woven into the Bible and into the call of a believer in Jesus is the welcoming of our neighbors, showing hospitality. It is much more than simply having them over. It is a significant declaration that they are safe as they are in your presence, warts and all.
The reality is hospitality is going to leave a mark.
Like that church parking lot to truly practice hospitality one has to be willing to withstand tire tread, have coffee spilt on the carpet, hear language that violates your sensibilities, or even be criticized. It is an act of sacrifice to show this hospitality, but it is a redemptive sacrifice. Jesus shows us this. The truth is we have peeled out all over the Son of God Himself, marking Him when He had opened His life to us and shown the world divine and holy hospitality.“
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed,” Isaiah declares about Jesus. He goes on to say that Jesus remarkably did not show outrage against it, but He patiently endured it.
As Christ’s act of sacrificial hospitality brought peace and healing I trust that, by God’s grace and work, so too ultimately will ours. So when the family down the street comes over for dinner and one of their three kids breaks the leg of a patio chair while playing, patiently remember that it’s not broken in vain.
I recently read an online article written by a woman (let’s call her Heather) who found herself in a fight with her husband one afternoon. The article was describing the way that she and her spouse sorted out quarrels. Rather than scream and cuss and throw things at each other, this couple ignores each other. The way Heather described it: they literally pretend the other is invisible. They walk through the room without acknowledging one another’s presence. They don’t bring the other a cup of coffee in the morning. They certainly don’t say a word to one another while the fight is on. They go about their day as independent agents as if the other person does not exist.
In this particular case, they went to bed in silence, pressing on in their ignoring of one another, and they woke up the same way. It was later that morning, when both had gone to work, that the quarrel was finally resolved. Heather received a text message from her husband that simply read, “I love you.” Heather replied the same, and the fight was over.
As to the wisdom of this way of fighting in relationships, I have my questions. There are certainly times when in a relationship, be it married or friendship or family, people need a break from each other. However, there is a trend in scripture toward calling the people of God to graciously and gently talk things out quickly. Paul, for example, writes, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:25-27).
That being said, what strikes me about this article is Heather’s declaration toward the end that her husband was “the winner” in this – the one who gave in, bit the bullet, broke the silence, reached out in concession. In a lot of relationships, he would have been considered “the loser”. Like in a staring contest, he blinked first. But not in this relationship and not in God’s kingdom. There is something profoundly of Christ in this definition of winners and losers. Jesus says the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). He is capturing for us the notion that the values of God’s world often appear upside down compared to the values of the broken world we live in. It is the humble, the peace-making, the conceding, the giving, and forgiving that truly understand God’s reality and live as Jesus’ disciples. By contrast, it is the proud, stubborn stonewallers who are considered the winners in a broken world. Jesus invites his disciples to apply God’s values to their relationships. He expresses something of the inner attitude of a disciple in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:38-42):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Is there a fight in your life you need to win? Go win it.
Above the dry-erase board in Ms. Buntin’s eighth-grade classroom in Taft Middle School are posted four statements:
I didn’t get it.
I need more practice.
I can do it.
I can teach it.
Obviously, these are displayed to give students who struggle with learning a pathway to tackle their math assignments. I like these. We see something similar in our progression with Jesus as disciples.
Statement Number One: I didn’t get it.
This is where we all begin. We begin on the outside looking in when it comes to our faith in Jesus. Whether it’s not understanding most of the bible you read or struggling to love your neighbor or giving up that sin habit or your inability to ever get some practice of prayer going in your life, every disciple has started here. But the good news is this is exactly the right place to begin. We recognize right off the bat the important truth that being a disciple is profoundly dependent on God helping us out. Jesus said that “the poor in spirit” become a part of what God is doing in the world (Matthew 5:3) – the dependent not the independent, the needy not those who have it all together. Following Jesus is a partnership with Jesus. Don’t try to follow Him without asking for His help. If you find yourself here with Jesus, let Him know you don’t get it. Admit it to a fellow disciple, and watch God’s grace take it from there.
Statement Number Two: I need more practice.
At some point, however, God will invite you to take a step. You’ve probably heard something like this before: significant things take practice, mess-ups, and do-overs. This applies to our relationship with Jesus Christ as well. Like all good things worth doing, following Jesus will take some work (2 Corinthians 6:4-10), but it is the most rewarding work you will ever do (Mark 10:29-30). In faith we take a step to come closer to Jesus, whether it is carving out five minutes a day to read your bible, designating a time in the morning to pray, or serving someone intentionally once a week. Lately, Jesus has been leading me to embrace the practice of evangelism in my life. This is challenging for me for a few reasons, but I have taken the step of talking with someone outside of our church about Jesus at least once a month. Your step will most likely be different but take the step.
Statement Number Three: I can do it.
Then one day you find yourself following Jesus. The truth is you’re already being a disciple when you admit your need for God’s help (statement one) and when you take that first step (statement two). But sure enough, God will give you what you need to sustain disciple practices in your life, along with your own willingness. More importantly, your passion for following Jesus will grow. You will not only find yourself with the ability to do it, but you will desire to do it. Jesus has that effect on people who come closer to Him (Philippians 3:7-8).
Statement Number Four: I can teach others.
Here’s the sweet-spot. This is the great goal of following Jesus: to help others follow Jesus. Everything Jesus did with His disciples was designed to equip them to make and train disciples themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:15-17). How wonderful is it that we can help others come closer to Jesus, and that we’re called to do it! At this point, you pick a few people, or even one person, to take under your wing and teach them about how you pray, tips on reading your bible, or helping others share their faith. This is called “multiplication”: disciples multiplying themselves. This is Jesus’ method of changing lives and changing the world.
Where are you in this? Is faith in Jesus like a Ugaritic textbook or something? Are you taking those first few wobbly steps in a disciple practice? Are you coming into a nice stride, perhaps having a consistent time with God every day or walking confidently in obedience? Are you thinking about who you might help to be a disciple? Go make Ms. Buntin proud.
The question is not “what” is on your list? So, I’m not talking about a to-do list or a grocery list.
Who is on your list?
The “who” I’m talking about are those people in your circles who have not yet become followers of Jesus, those who have yet to repent and believe in the saving work of Christ, those who have not yet come to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The “who” I’m talking about are those people you know who have not come to know the love of a Father in heaven, those who are not Christians, those who are lost and in need of a Savior, who might be a coworker, who might be a neighbor, who might be an uncle or sister.
And the “list” I’m talking about is a prayer list of these “who’s”. A short list of names (two or three), real people, you are bringing before the Father consistently each week or each day even. This is a list of persons, specific names, you are praying over for two things. First, pray that they would have an “awakening moment” in which they somehow have a profound encounter with the love of Christ or recognize their need to get their life right with God. Second, pray that those on this list would have a “believing moment” in which they are truly ready to turn from their old way of living life and center their whole life around Jesus and surrender to Him, beginning their journey of discipleship.
Who’s on your list?
We often underestimate the significance of prayer in evangelism, but prayer and evangelism are intimately tied together. I am becoming convinced that we have such a hard time sharing our faith evangelistically because we do not first pray. By prayer, we not only ask God to work and move in the lives of those we are praying for, but it
also prepares our hearts to be ready and open to sharing our faith with them. Many of us (including myself) often struggle with sharing our faith, even with those we know, because of fears of awkwardness or rejection. As we commit to praying for these people, God pours His love into our hearts and that love begins to overcome our fear. Beau Crosetto, on page 23 of his book Beyond Awkward, writes, “God is calling you to reach specific people he wants to be in relationship with. People you are perfectly designed or positioned to reach-even though you don’t know the Bible inside out, or your testimony isn’t smooth, or whatever you feel excludes you from being used by God in this way.” Are you praying for these people? Are these people on your list?
If you’ve been around me lately you know that I have a mild obsession with the word “abide”. In a conversation about faith or prayer, you are bound to hear me say it twice or maybe three times. It sort of reminds me of my younger days when a new word would seem to get stuck in my vocabulary, and I used it over and over again much to the irritation of my family and friends (“obvious” is one example). But this is more than just a glitch in my vocabulary; this is a conviction. I believe in this word, particularly for Cornerstone.
The key for me about the word comes from the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, among other places. “Abide in me,” Jesus says, “and I in you. As the branch cannot bear the fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (V. 4 in the New American Standard Version of the Bible). The word “abide” used here in John is the translation of the Greek word meno. Meno means “remain”, “stay”, even “persist” or “to last” in some places in the New Testament. It might be used when a father tells his children to remain in a certain place. It could be used when describing the family dog as staying with someone. Jesus used it here to describe the task of his disciples over the long-haul. To put it simply he calls His disciples to stay with Him, connected to Him in a relationship. This happens in a number of ways: obedience, prayer, scripture reading, fellowship with other believers, witnessing to others about Christ, and worship all accompanied by the command to love one another. The big idea, however, is ABIDE. Stay with Jesus. Jesus promises something called “fruit” when his disciples faithfully abide in Him, which is the life change we see in our own lives, in our church, among our neighbors, in our city, and even in our world. With all the brokenness around us, it sometimes makes me wonder how faithfully we have been holding to this simple call.
I think what I so appreciate about Jesus’ call here is that the command to abide is adaptable to any season of life we may find ourselves in. It’s an extraordinary word. It’s an ordinary word. Abide can be a wonderful word, like when you’re with your friends having so much fun you wish you could stay with them longer and the night would never end. There are times in life when abiding comes easy and enjoyable to us, because we feel close to God. These are times when we find joy in prayer, hearing His word, and encouraging others in the faith. Abide can also be a challenging word, like when things in life seem to be falling apart making the stress and anxiety overwhelming. Often the first thing to go in these times is our relationship with God. There are times when abiding is difficult. At other times we find the word dull. There will be periods of time when we just don’t feel like doing it; the desire is not there. We might be tired, or we’ve been focused on other things so much that our passion for God has been replaced by other passions. The word “abide” may seem like a boring word to us. But Jesus’ command is clear. If you want to experience His life-transforming power and love in your life and community, abide in Him. Even when the gales of life are blowing so strongly that you feel you are holding on to Jesus by one finger, when it would be so easy to let go, abide. Even when you have zero emotion to give to God and you feel drained, abide.
Abiding is life, not simply one moment in the day or one day a week. However, I have found it helpful to commit myself every morning to intentional abiding time with the Lord through prayer and scripture reading. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. I don’t beat myself up about it when it doesn’t. Sometimes I am ready and willing; sometimes I am sluggish and unwilling. Sometimes I feel like God is right there with me. Sometimes the room feels empty. But I can say this: I am convinced that this word will not let us down. I am convinced that Jesus won’t let us down. Abid-ing has not let me down. There is much more that could be unpacked here about the word, but I haven’t shared yet the true greatness of this word as Jesus uses it. The true treasure of what Jesus says here about abiding is not our doing it, but His doing it in us. As we abide, the Word of Life, the Holy Creator of all things, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, God promises to stay connected with us and in us.
So, if you don’t mind Church, I think I’ll keep using it.
“Who do you think Jesus is?” I asked the man sitting next to me whose Chevy Silverado I was driving.
I met the man at our New Year’s Eve game night at Cornerstone Sunday night at around 10. He wandered in from the brutal and biting cold, a little inebriated after celebrating the turn of the year with co-workers. He was looking for someone who might be willing to drive him home to his nearby apartment. Preferably, he was wondering if someone might be able to drive to his truck, parked at a nearby lot, and also drive it to his home.
After mulling it over for a minute or two, I agreed to help him. It was, after all, unbelievably cold, and Jesus does call us to love our neighbors. I walked back into the party and asked someone to come with us. I am grateful for someone’s willingness.
I’m not sure when exactly I decided to ask him THE question. Was it on our way out to my car on the front lawn of the church? Was it on NW 23rd, as we approached his truck? Was it when he and I got into his truck? It was most likely when, just a few weeks earlier, a pastor friend of mine challenged me to ask that question of someone at least once a month. If we are serious as followers of Jesus in making disciples then that question, his reasoning went, is THE most important question we could possibly ask.
As we turned back on NW 23rd street I asked him if I could ask a question. It became clear to me this man had no real relationship with Jesus, was not a disciple, making this question all the more significant. So grateful he seemed willing to do just about anything, he said yes. Then I asked him THE question. There have been plenty of times when I’ve thought about asking this question of someone – times when, despite feeling the weight and potential life change of bringing this question to the fore, I got cold feet. There have been numerous times when I wish I had asked it, but I didn’t. So it was no small step of faith when I said:
“Who do you think Jesus is?”
He was taken aback by the question, I could tell, but he also sincerely wanted to answer. He stuttered and stammered for a moment and then responsed: “He is the Lord’s son.”
I agreed and affirmed his answer, also adding that I believe Jesus is alive. Later, I thought about all that I could have said in that moment to this man who no doubt was humbled and touched by the kindness he found at Cornerstone this night. There is a lot I could have said, but in the wake of THE question I shared a little word about Jesus changing my life and not knowing where I would be without what the Lord has done for me. He began to share about old memories of being at church growing up and even confessed a need to get back into a church community.
As we pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex off Portland he showed interest of his own accord in coming to worship at Cornerstone and possibly becoming part of the church. After getting his phone number, I prayed for him.
That’s the last I’ve seen him up to the point of writing this, and I hope to see him again. But I marvel at all that came about and all that could happen from asking one simple question, one single question that can change everything. In Mark 8:29, this is THE question Jesus asks his disciples: Who do you say that I am? This is THE question. In this season of resolutions, plans, goals, and aspirations for 2018, it really comes down for everyone to this question, THE question. How you truly answer this question, your heart’s honest answer, will determine the course of your year and your life. Don’t you think we should learn to lovingly and boldly ask this question of others? Don’t you think we need to ask it for ourselves? And so, friends, I ask you: