Pastor Al tells us about his newest FREE book “The Foundations: What a Christian Needs, Learns & Does”.
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Last week I promised that we would be getting into the practical aspects of discipleship. I’m afraid we’ll have to put that off for another week because the Lord seems to have something else for us…
You Were Saved To Be A Disciple
Let me start with this first, and it’s something that I’ve said many times, but can’t be overstated: The call to salvation is a call to discipleship. When you are saved – when you give your heart and put your faith into the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you are making Him your “Saviour” and your “Lord”. In other words you are not merely saved to be saved, but were made from a dead thing into a live thing, an enemy soldier into a faithful troop, a child of hell to a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father. You were saved on purpose for a purpose.
When Jesus came to you offering salvation He said, “Follow Me”. We follow a person, not a book, a doctrine, an idea, a way of life, or even a religion. We follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t say “Follow my rules”, He said, “Follow Me”. He invited us into a relationship with Him. He would be our God and we would be His people. He would be our Saviour we would be the saved. He would be the Teacher, we would be the disciple.
Discipleship is a Journey
Next, let me say this: Christian maturity is a process – a journey. Everyone is on a different part of the journey – a different phase in their relationship with God. We will never reach the end on this side of Heaven because there will always be more things we can learn about Jesus, more missions for us to follow, more sins that must be crushed. Each part of our life will have unique challenges and blessings, and Jesus will be discipling, leading and moving us along the path that He has laid out for us in different ways, at different speeds.
None of us will do this perfectly. There will be times we rebel, where we decide not to listen, where we let an idol into our lives. And while that’s not ideal, Jesus will be there to forgive and to help us get back up and walk further with Him.
There will be times when we are going to concentrate on different parts of our walk. At times we will be more about serving – giving of ourselves to Jesus and to others. There will be times when we are on a study binge because Jesus wants us to learn something – and we will be drawn to sermons, and books, and teachers, and of course, the scriptures. Other times we will feel a thirst for worship and will find that we can’t get enough of the Psalms, Christian music, concerts, and may even find ourselves writing music. And all of this is ok! This walk with Jesus will be dynamic and exciting at times.
There will also be times when God purposefully leads us through a dark time, “a dark night of the soul”, a “valley of the shadow of death”, which will be very difficult – prayer won’t come easily, doubt will always be at our door, the scriptures will be difficult, people will hurt us, and we will feel crushed and forgotten. It may have nothing to do with something we have done and is not a consequence of our own actions, but something God decides to lead us though and intends to use to demolish and rebuild some of the very foundational parts of our soul – a time when He is preparing us for something more – a deeper relationship with Him or a special purpose to serve a unique group of people. He will do this sometimes, and it will be very difficult, but He promises in Romans 8 never to waste any of that pain, and to use it for His glory, our good, and the good of others. It won’t feel good as we go through it, but He promises there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. He asks us to keep walking.
There are times where we will be disciplined by Jesus because of something we have done. We will need to walk through the consequences. He will be there to guide, teach, comfort and help, but He will not miraculously remove the discipline because as a good teacher He knows the best way for us to learn.
Count the Cost
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-33)
As I said last week, it is vital that we get our motivations straight when it comes to this journey of discipleship. Yes, there is joy and a peace that passes understanding. We will find the greatest treasures of our life when we are walking with Jesus, talking to God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no greater love than the love of God, and no greater life than the Christian life. But it is not an easy life, and Jesus never said it would be.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
That’s the crux. If there was ever a reason why someone would follow Jesus, this would be it – because what is the point of living a temporary life where we gain a bunch of useless possessions and fleeting nonsense if we lose our very soul and spend eternity in hell? What is the point of flailing about, spending our time and energy on things that will not last to the end of this generation, let alone eternity? If God offers a life that will matter – and will matter forever – then why would we waste our lives on anything else?
Many Fall Away
Jesus said in Matthew 22:14 about those who would hear the message of salvation that “Many are called but few are chosen.” There are many who will hear the message of the Gospel, the true message, but few who will listen to this call. In fact, just two chapters later in Matthew 24:10-11 Jesus says,
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
This happens all the time, and is a reality in many churches in Canada. When the heat is on, and the true Gospel is preached, and discipleship gets hard, many many fall away. The church starts to eat one another as brother betrays brother. False prophets start to stand up and proclaim an easy gospel, a Jesus who is easier to follow, a salvation without cost, and many will end up following them straight to hell.
A Hard Saying
People walking away from Jesus is not new. It happened to Jesus even when He walked the earth.
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69)
That is my deepest prayer for each one of you here. That you would accept this hard teaching and not walk away. That you would accept the call to discipleship, to follow Jesus, and that you will not walk away. That you will hear the words of salvation spoken in the scriptures, and see that “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” and not be like those who did not believe, or those who wanted something else, those like Judas who would listen to Jesus, walk with Jesus, hear the message of Jesus, and still not allow it to sink deep into your heart, accept Him as Lord, and change you.
I have known too many Christians who simply said “it’s too hard.” I have known far too many who have said, “I know what the right thing to do is, what God is calling me to do, what the Bible says, but I don’t want to.” I have not known enough Christians who will look at the crucified, broken Jesus – and keep following Him to the cross. I have not known enough Christians who hear hard teachings like renounce your wealth, walk away from your comfort, go and fix that relationship, turn off the idiot box, purposefully and intentionally study the scripture every single day, be faithful to your church – and then accept them because they are right, good and commands from Jesus.
I have known too many Christians who have been offered a way out, and have taken it. I have not known enough Christians who look at Jesus through blurry, tear filled eyes, confused about what they are hearing, knowing the difficulty of the journey, and when Jesus says to them “Do you want to go away as well?”, say to him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.””
Commissioned by Jesus
Consider Matthew 10. In verse 1 we read that Jesus called his twelve disciples over to him and gave them spiritual authority and power before He sent them out to proclaim the Gospel. He has done the same to anyone here who has accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord. You were saved to be an active disciple, not a passive one. In verses 5-15 Jesus commissions them to go and spread God’s mercy and healing, to preach the good news and the judgement of God, to bless the homes of those who would accept the message and curse the ones who would not.
And then in verses 16-33 he gives them a warning about what it would be like to be on mission with Him. He did not send them out believing that everyone would listen, that their life would be easy, that He would solve all their problems, and that being followers of His would make their journey a happy one.
No, when He commissioned them He gave them dire warnings about persecution, betrayal, hard times, and death. He warned them that their own families would turn against them. He told them that they shouldn’t walk from town to town, but run because the time is short. He told them that even though they had the message of light, they would be so misunderstood that they would be called demons.
But after each of His warnings came a message of hope. Listen:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
26 So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
He promises elsewhere that the wisdom we need will be given when we ask. He says that when you don’t know what to say, God Himself will speak though you. He says that it will be hard, but you will never need to doubt your salvation, because that is assured. He promises that you will never have to go where Jesus didn’t go first – He knows everything you are facing. He says that you need not fear because God knows exactly what is happening and is a perfect, gracious, just God who will exact perfect justice against those who do wrong against you. He says that God knows every, tiny, little part of you, and not one hair, not one tear will fall without Him seeing it, weighing it, and accounting for it. The names of the faithful will be acknowledged by God Himself.
These are words of hope, assurance and a message that gets me very excited about serving Jesus.
What is the Real Cost?
I’m going to talk about the steps of maturity next week, and the activities of a disciple, but I was reminded this week about how it is important that we chew on the message God gave us last week, and is giving us still. I don’t want to rush into the application because I want us each to understand the cost, and the joys, of discipleship.
The costs of discipleship are easy to list – following Jesus costs us everything. Remember His words from Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Everything. Our plans, our career, our homes, our money, our future, our family, our pets, our hobbies, our prized possessions, our bank accounts, our retirement plans, our time, our skills and abilities, our pride, our excuses, our introvertism, our extrovertism, our control issues, our laziness, our books, our study time, our tv shows, our sins, our secrets, our passions, our loyalties – everything. Following Jesus costs us everything.
But, as Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “… what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” — So what if it costs everything?! What is the real cost? The cost is all the temporary things that we are going to lose anyway! The cost is only things that we have given a perceived value – not anything of real value!
And the alternative is so much better! We are trading the world, which is passing away, and all of our own worldly gain for eternal joy and glory.
Listen to some of the promises in scripture and consider the cost:
Some of us don’t want to give up control of our plans and our stuff. God says in Jeremiah 29:11,
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”
In Proverbs 3:5-8 it says,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Why do you desire control of your life when God can do a much better job? What’s the cost of giving control over to him? Your own crooked paths? Give them up!
Security / Hurts
Some don’t want to give up the security of their religion because doing religious things makes them feel good. Some here don’t want to give up their hurts and bitterness because they have held onto them for so long – their bitterness is the fuel of their life.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
What is the cost of giving up your religion? The burden of trying to impress God, the guilt of not knowing if you’ve ever done enough, the self-righteousness is so tiresome to keep going. What is the cost of giving up your bitterness and hurts that fuel your life? Surely you are weary and tired from carrying that pain around for so long. Jesus says that when you join with Him, are yoked with Him, He will take that burden from you, and free your heart.
Wealth / Security / Comfort
Some don’t want to give up their wealth and possessions. Some have a lot to give up, others not as much, but you hold on to your wealth with a tight fist. You’ll give up a lot, but are not even willing to accept the possibility that Jesus might be asking you to give it up for a greater purpose. Some are not willing to consider that their retirement years are not meant to be years of rest, but years where they are freed to work more for the Lord. Some couldn’t even consider taking a different job, or pursuing a life of ministry or mission because it would cost them their comfort? What is the cost of releasing that wealth?
Jesus says in Philippians 4:19,
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”
God has more than you do, and will give it as you need it! The riches you are holding on to may actually be keeping you from experiencing a greater blessing! Imagine what it would be like if you were to meet God and He were to say, “I had so much more I wanted to give you, so much more planned for you, so much blessing in store, but you didn’t want to put down what you already had in your hand. All you had to do was let go of the lesser thing, and I would have given you something greater. You desired comfort for yourself, but I wanted to use you to change the world!”
Some of you have a secret addiction or a guilty pleasure that you don’t want to give up because you enjoy it or believe it will be too hard to do. How heartbreaking it is that you would trade that temporary, addictive, worldly high, for what God wants to do with you.
Get Hot or Get Cold
Let me close with the words of Jesus to the church in Laodocia from Revelation 3:15-22. I read these all the time and they are greatly convicting to me. They shake me out of complacency and remind me not to trade earthly things for heavenly ones.
“This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. 20 Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.
22 ‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.’”
I have a deep and abiding passion for intentional discipleship and designing a path to take people from “unsaved” to “church elder” has been my preoccupation for a few years now. The intensity of this fixation has increased recently as I have worked through a re-visioning process with the church I’m currently serving, and then doubled over the past month as I’ve planned a sermon series to explain the foundations of the Christian faith. If I sound obsessed, it’s because I kind-of am.
I thought it might be interesting/helpful to release the two sheets of paper that have dominated the greater part of my thought life for a long while and get some feedback on them. Yes, they probably need some explaining (and if you show up on Sunday, I’ll do my best!), but I hope they are simple enough to be understood without much exegesis.
So here’s the first: What a Christian Needs Knows & Does
This is where the obsession started. One day, and I can’t remember how it came up, I asked myself, “What does a Christian need to know?”. This immediately brought up the next question, “What does a church need to do for people?” So I got out my computer and some books and started making a list… a list that made me feel very overwhelmed.
Armed with this list I asked myself, “As their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to my church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded.
After picking myself (and my grey matter) off the floor, I sat down to make a plan which I’ve been working on and adapting for quite a while now.
And here it is: An Intentional Discipleship Path
I invite you to check it out and let me know what you think.
Let’s keep the brainstorm going and see if we can connect Coffee and Discipleship.
Coffee/Discipleship is Personal
Coffee, like discipleship, is a very personal thing. People like their coffee a certain way, and if it’s not done right… well, as my dad used to say, “It’s like drinking dirty dishwater.” Walk into a Starbucks sometime and listen to how people order their drinks – some of them sound like they are crafting it right down to the molecule.
“I’ll have a Venti, sugar-free vanilla, non fat and soy, 1/2 pump almond, half pump mocha, two pumps sugar-free cinnamon dolce, with whip and caramel drizzle.”
[Here’s a list of “Secret Frappuccinos” if you want to get into the craziness]
Christian disciples can become the same way about their discipleship.
“I’ll have an Utmost for His Highest reading, 3 chapters of the Gospels, 1 Psalm, 4 proverbs, 10 minutes of prayer, 3 minutes of meditation, 1 contemporary church service, a Wednesday night traditional prayer meeting, teach Sunday School twice a month, and may I please have some Chris Tomlin CD’s drizzled on top.”
Can Coffee Help us Become Better Disciples?
I believe it can. Here are some ideas:
1. Try Different Coffees & Methods of Discipleship – Consistency is wonderful and important for building habits, complacency and being dispassionately mechanical in your walk with God is not. Knock yourself off of your rut by experimenting with kinds of coffee and coffee drinks. Expand your horizons! (Here’s 22 ways to brew coffee. Here’s 63 different coffee drinks to try.)
And at the same time, try different Discipleship methods.
- Change your time, place, book, words of your prayer, place you serve.
- Here’s a challenge: Don’t use the words “Lord, be with him” when praying for someone else. And don’t use the word “just” at all.
- Try not singing for a Sunday, and just let the words wash over you.
- Try taking notes (or not taking notes) during the sermon.
- Be the last person to stay on a Sunday morning.
- Ask a friend to meet you for a spiritual conversation.
- Research a theological question that has bugged you and don’t stop until satisfied.
2. Drink Coffee from Missionary Locations – If your church sponsors missionaries, do some research on how their country drinks coffee, buy some and drink it for a while. Learn about that country and the missionary, pray extra for them until the coffee is gone, and then move on to a different missionary.
3. Study Fair Trade – Scripture is clear that we are to take care of our environment (it was our first job) and those around us. If you have your head in the sand about where your morning cup of joe comes from, and are unaware of the implications of globalization, then it’s time to pull it out and take a look around. Here’s 2 places to start: Here. Here.
What about you? What’s your favourite way to drink coffee and practice Discipleship? Can you think of any other ways to connect Coffee and Discipleship? Have you become complacent in your faith journey?