Be A Bigger Follower (9/17/2017)

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Were you were brought up going to church? If you were, did you also bring your children up going to church? If were said “yes” to either one or both of these questions, let me ask you one more thing. Is there anywhere in the Bible where we’re told to “go to church”?

No. The New Testament is clear. The followers of Jesus “are” the church.

As part of the church, Jesus has high expectations for us. Luke 9:23-24 says,23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Jesus said his followers are to be disciples who deny themselves, take up their cross daily, lose their own lives and follow him.

For those of you who were brought up in the church, were you also taught to be a disciple of Jesus? If you brought your children to church, did you also teach them to be disciples of Jesus? Many of us who profess to be Christians can’t say “yes” to these two questions. There’s a reason for this.

Many congregations in the United States quit emphasizing and teaching the Biblical principle of discipleship decades ago. As a result, many Christians have a strong commitment to the church but a weak commitment to actually living for Jesus. Yes, they’ve been taught Jesus loves them and he died for their sins. This led them to pray the Sinner’s Prayer. They’re happy with their salvation. But many have never grasped the fact that the Bible is very clear about something else. In order for someone to have life in Christ, he or she has to die to himself or herself.

This results in lukewarm faith. Many Christians develop the attitude shown in the poem Three Dollars Worth of God by Pastor Wilbur Rees.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Wanting only $3 worth of God leads many Christians to become far more concerned with getting their wants met “at church” than they are about faithfully serving Jesus. Worship is something they attend only if they don’t have anything better to do. Many hold their family in higher esteem than they do Jesus. Some become far more concerned with what time the worship service is over than they are about actually meeting God while they’re there. Making money, acquiring possessions and doing their own thing takes precedence over serving God and others. Many Christians who only want $3 worth of God have poor prayer lives and seldom, if ever, read their Bibles.

It isn’t supposed to be this way. In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus says,44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

What would most people do if they found hidden treasure or a valuable pearl? They’d take it with them and add it to the personal kingdom they had already acquired. Jesus says we can’t do that with the kingdom of heaven. Everything else has to become less important.

This is a hard teaching to accept.

When I was first called to the pastoral ministry, a friend and colleague told me, “God will ask you to give up your house.” A wave of panic went through me the moment he said that. “What do you mean ‘God’s going to ask me to give up our house?’” We just put it in. And it’s built on property that’s been in my family for a long time. And it’s close to our family. Plus, I liked living in Pocahontas County, WV. I didn’t want to move away.

Years later my friend’s prophecy came true. God asked us to sell our house and move 7 hours away where’d I’d been hired as pastor of the Springfield Church of the Brethren. Two days before we left, we took everything out of the house and loaded it onto a truck. That evening my daughters, Katie and Rachel, decided to walk through the empty house with me one more time. It was the only house they had ever lived in. As I was walking through the kitchen, I noticed Katie and Rachel had disappeared. I found them in Katie’s bedroom. They were standing there looking out the window with tears streaming down their cheeks.

I walked over, put my arms around them…and I cried with them.

The girls left and I decided to walk through house one more time. I looked at the new addition we’d just built on. I looked at the other rooms we’d updated with tongue and groove paneling. I’d had it made from logs we’d harvested. I’d always wanted a house full of tongue and groove paneling. Now I had it. And our family was leaving it behind. As I got lost in my thoughts, I realized we didn’t have to leave. I could call the Springfield Church and tell them we’d changed our mind.

Then I realized something else. On Judgment Day, when God asked, “David, why didn’t you go when I called you?” responding with “Well God, I didn’t want to leave my paneling” wouldn’t be a very good answer.

We moved. We then met people we never would have met and experienced things we never would have experienced if we’d stayed in West Virginia. God used all of this to mature me as a follower of Jesus.

It wasn’t always easy. But dying to ourselves and giving up our own personal kingdoms isn’t supposed to be. Jesus doesn’t call us to be comfortable all the time. He calls us to be faithful. He calls us to be disciples.

At this point, we need to clarify a couple of things. The first one is: What exactly is a disciple? According to the New International Version of the Bible, a “disciple” is “the pupil of some teacher.” It’s easy for us to understand who is the pupil and who is the teacher in this context. We are the pupils. Jesus is the teacher.

The next thing we need to know is what disciples are supposed to do. Jesus doesn’t actually tell us what they do. He just tells us to be one. The crowds who heard Jesus understood he was calling his disciples to act the way 1st Century disciples interacted with their teachers.

In his book, Are You A Christian Or A Disciple? Edward Gross writes there were five major tasks of 1st Century disciples. They were:

1) To memorize the teacher’s words. Most people couldn’t read and write so oral tradition was the way information was retained and passed on to others. Besides, there were no printing presses then. Everything was hand written – and very expensive.

Today most Christian families have several versions of the Bible in their homes. Why do we need to take the time to memorize Jesus’ words? The answer is rather simple. Storing Jesus’ words inside us helps us apply them to our lives.

2) To learn their teacher’s traditions and interpretations. They had to know how their master kept the commands of God and interpreted Scriptures. We need to know what Jesus says about serving God. Many Christians don’t understand this so they’re stuck in the Old Testament.

3) To imitate their teacher’s actions. Disciples sought to speak and act the same way their masters did. Let’s be like Jesus. We should spend so much time reaching out to sinners that “religious” people criticize us.

4) To raise up disciples. Disciples passed on to others the things they learned from their masters. We aren’t called to bring people to church. We supposed to teach them to walk with Jesus.

5) To submit completely to the will of the teacher. In the 1st Century, the relationship between a rabbi and his disciple might actually be closer than that of a father to his son. Jesus demands the same thing from us.

So, where do we go from here?

God is asking us to make a choice. Do you and I really want to be disciples or not? Is our strength and energy going to focus on giving him everything or on going “to church?”

I’m inviting you to a special gathering at Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren on Sunday, October 8, at 7 PM. We will gather to begin wrestling with the question: What would it look like to be sold out to Jesus and be a true disciple?

It’s not going to be a program that we can finish. Being a disciple has to be a way of life. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian or how spiritually mature you are. It doesn’t matter how great your sin once was – or still is. We’re not gathering to compare ourselves to others or judge them. We’re going to focus on supporting and lifting each other up as committed followers of Jesus Christ.

I’m not asking you to sell your house and move. I’m not asking you give up all of your possessions. I’m not asking you become a member of a cult. I’m simply asking you to make a commitment to Jesus and let him lead you.

Some might be thinking “We have family gatherings on Sunday evenings.” I’m glad many of the families in our congregation are so close and do so many things together. But in Luke 14:25-27 25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

I’m giving you a month to pray about it and ask God to guide you. You have a month to find a babysitter and schedule other events around October 8. If your babysitters want to come, bring your children with you. We’ll work it out.

As you pray about this, please know one thing. The things Jesus asks us to leave behind are nothing compared to the things he replaces them with. I wouldn’t replace where I’m at now with where I was when the tears were streaming down my face in Katie’s bedroom. Even though my wife, children and I left our family and possessions to be obedient to Jesus, I still have areas in my life that I need to give to Jesus. During the past few months, Jesus had been lovingly telling me I still have a long way to go in some areas.

The thought of opening ourselves up to Jesus can be scary. Just know that Jesus doesn’t ask us to do this on our own. He said in John 15:5-8, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Do you want more than $3 worth of God? Will you take this journey with me? Will you join me on October 8?