Before I arrived at the church I presently serve, a vision committee was formed to prayerfully study, discuss, and articulate our church’s mission. They were then tasked with writing a mission statement based on their effort. The statement declared Southside United Methodist Church’s mission was to,
Build the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.
The committee also wanted to make sure Southside was not just another church with just another mission statement. They wanted to make the mission statement an ongoing reality. With that in mind, the church put together a search committee assigned with the purpose of finding someone whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
In doing this they were showing how seriously they took the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, what we call the Great Commission. There Jesus said,
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
By God’s grace, at least from my perspective, I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to serve with the congregation at Southside.
Can any church faithfully live out its calling and mission if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? That question raises an even more fundamental question: What exactly is a disciple? After all, you can be a disciple of practically anything or anyone. Therefore, what defines a disciple of Jesus Christ is the question before us.
To help us unpack what a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 7:24-27.
Our text comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For three chapters Jesus taught what has sometimes been called, “The norms of the Kingdom.” In these three chapters our Lord focused on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.
Jesus concluded his remarks in the Sermon by saying in Matthew 7:24,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”
What “words” was he talking about? He was referring to the words he had been preaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Those “words” of Jesus are important in helping us understand what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
The message of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. But someone may well ask whether Jesus’ message can really be relevant to us, some 2,000 years later. Here is a small sampling of what Jesus taught in the Sermon, to help answer that question.
In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on:
That is a pretty contemporary and relevant list.
A Tale of Two Builders
To bring his teaching to life and emphasize what it means to be a faithful disciple, Jesus told his listeners a story about two builders, one he called wise, and the other, foolish.
There is one part of this familiar story that may be easy to miss. In this story, Jesus was not comparing and contrasting a “Church-goer” from a “non-Church-goer.” He was not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian and an outspoken pagan who had never darkened the door of a church.
If that was the case, we might all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, at least he’s not talking about me.”
In this parable Jesus focused his attention on two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, looked just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we might say both people went to church. Both could recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both could sing every verse of every hymn. And both sat and listened to every word of the sermon.
Jesus’ point was that both houses the builders built looked identical, with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place, in this case, on nothing but sand.
Put Into Practice
What does the foundation of each builder represent? Jesus said the foundation signifies the words Jesus taught. Both people heard Jesus. According to Jesus, what made a person wise or foolish was what he did with those words. Only one builder put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. However, he ignored them. Jesus called him foolish.
James, the brother of our Lord, must have paid attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.
The word to describe what Jesus was talking about is obedience. A faithful disciple is the follower of Jesus who hears his words and obeys them, puts them into practice. That is faithful discipleship.
This emphasis is found in the Old Testament as well. God gave the same message through his prophet, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33:31-32, we read,
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
God’s Word isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. A number of years ago the men’s ministry at my church studied a book entitled, Point Man by Steve Farrar. It focused on helping Christian men live as the godly husbands, fathers, workers, and churchmen God desires. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Farrar wrote,
“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”
“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”
He concluded this thought with these words,
“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”
Information for Transformation
From ignorance to knowledge to obedience. That is an essential element to faithful discipleship. God does not want men to read or study the Bible purely for informational purposes, but for transformation. To be sure, we must know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ do not simply “collect” Bible-information so they can win Bible-trivia contests. They read and obey God’s Word so they can meet with God and be transformed by him.
My First Time with the Sermon
Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what I experienced when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. I felt so because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like,
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)
“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)
“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)
That’s just from the first half of chapter 5. It is those words, and others like them, that we are actually commanded to read, study, and put into practice. That is why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.
The Point of Those Words
And that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are meant to move us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus perfectly practiced those words. That is why he was the only acceptable sacrifice on our behalf.
We are saved only when we place our trust in Christ alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.
We must indeed strive to increasingly grow more obedient to God’s Word. It is how we glorify God and become more like Christ. Like the wise builder, we must build a strong foundation by putting our Lord’s words into practice.
Yet we do not obey Jesus in order to save ourselves by our own good works. Instead, a faithful disciple seeks to obey Jesus because he has already been saved by God’s grace. Our obedience, while required in a qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart.
That is how faithful disciples show Jesus and the world they love him. By obeying him, they will bear much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15,
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And in John 14:21, our Lord taught,
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
That is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.
Ephesians 6:4 - Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Every Father's Calling
I love my kids. I love being with them, reading, wrestling, talking to and listening to them. I like beating them at Boggle. I love being beat by them at Boggle. One thing I really love is discipling my kids – teaching them every day, all day (Deut. 6:4ff) the things of God. This is every father's greatest calling, joy, and responsibility.
Faithfulness in this can bring about a legacy that could last many generations. If you are a father, you should know, whether or not you are evangelizing and discipling anyone else, (and, of course, you should be), you surely ought to be evangelizing and discipling your children. To be sure, God commands it, but it is also one of life’s great joys.
By the very nature of things, this will be a 24/7/365 task. There are at least two reasons why this is the case.
First, you can’t pass along a platitude occasionally and expect it to take root. The lessons of our faith must be repeated over and over again in a variety of ways – when you sit down for breakfast or dinner, tuck them in at night, drive them around town, have family worship, do chores together, and so on. No one gets it right all the time, but even in our parental blunders, our mistakes and shortcomings are opportunities to teach lessons such as forgiveness, repentance, humility, and perseverance. But, we are indeed called to “practice what we preach,” for our own sakes as well as to model godly behavior before the wee “watching eyes” in our homes.
Going Against the Cultural Grain
The second reason we must devote so much prayerful time and effort to discipling our children is because we live in a culture that does not cultivate Christian character. Our world’s default key is stuck on sin, rebellion, and evil. If I want to change the font on my computer, I have to consciously make the effort to find and select the one I want. So too, if we want to nurture our children in the things of God, we have to make an intentional and considerable effort, for such effort will go against the grain of the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is simply the way it is.
Let’s Be Faithful Stewards
Let’s join together in raising kids who know and love the Lord. Let’s produce and reproduce faithful disciples in our homes who will one day serve Christ and take his gospel of the Kingdom and extend it into every sphere of life. Such children will not arise accidentally. But, by God’s grace, they will become such as they are educated, equipped, and encouraged by loving parents who honor God by being faithful stewards of the most precious treasure entrusted to their care.
God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, you are my Father too. You have entrusted precious children to my care. Remind me that as much as I love them, you love them even more. I do not own my children but am your steward of them. As such, please help me lead and guide them in a way that draws them close to you. By my lessons and behavior, enable me to faithfully shepherd them into the life of a faithful disciple of Christ. In his name I pray. Amen.
No person fails on purpose. Yet, spiritual, and moral failures abound. A few years ago, I taught a lesson to my church’s men’s group which focused on temptations men face. The workbook we were using quoted C.S. Lewis on this subject and was a turning point for many in the group. Lewis wrote,
“It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the light and out into the nothing… Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
The truth communicated by Lewis rang true. It reminded me of something a former mentor of mine once said. He emphasized repeatedly that compromise comes through the smallness of our daily surrenders.
It is giving up that little bit of personal conviction each day. It is the little piece of candy no one will ever know you ate. It is watching that program or visiting that website when you are all alone. You get the picture.
Usually the first surrender to “small, insignificant sins” makes it easier to fall prey to them again and again. The damage comes from the “cumulative effect” Lewis was pointing to. Few people wake up in the morning planning to sin spectacularly later in the day. Yet those daily surrenders build up over time. Give a little ground here and there and before you know it, you are in trouble. In fact, you become practically unrecognizable, even to yourself. You did not plan for this to happen, but those daily surrenders were enough to do the trick.
Therefore, we must be vigilant. We need to work from the foundation of knowing who we are in Christ. We need to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Those “daily surrenders” need not reign over us. The same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells in us as well.
Yet, we also need to exercise the self-awareness that recognizes those areas in our lives wherein we are weak. Every person ought to ask himself or herself: Am I being less watchful in some areas of my life than others? Even the small, seemingly insignificant areas? Am I overly confident I would never again fall prey to that particular temptation? A member of my church used to remind me often, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
If you want to avoid those small daily surrenders, then pray for God to deliver you from temptation. But do not forget to do your part. Name those temptations in advance. Talk with a godly person you trust and ask them to hold you accountable. Renew your mind daily in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul shared God’s wisdom on this point when he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
What are you thinking on?
Merciful and patient Lord, I do not want to sin. I do not want to “fail on purpose.” Yet I confess to you that I have not always put in place or practiced those wise spiritual disciplines that would draw me ever closer to you and protect me from the snares of the devil and my own fleshly weaknesses. Please forgive me and renew me. As David cried out, put a right spirit within me. Give me such a desire for you that turning away from you would be the last thing on my mind. Give me greater Spirit-enabled self-discipline and self-control to practice those means of grace you have given to your children to help us conform more and more to the likeness of your Son, our Lord and Savior. For it is in his name and for his sake I pray. Amen.
The Devoted Life
The church I serve has been focusing on the following spiritual habits as a way of helping our congregation grow in Christ –
I want to summarize this series by looking at a snapshot of the early church in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts provides us with many snapshots of the early church – who they were, what they were doing, where they were going, and so much more.
The Acts of the Holy Spirit
The full title of Acts is often rendered, The Acts of the Apostles. But many throughout church history remind us a more fitting title would be, The Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Consider these verses…
Acts 1:4-5 - On one occasion, while [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 4:31 - After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
There are many more verses I could cite, but you get the point. If the Holy Spirit was not breathing spiritual life into people, and then moving in and through them, there would be no Acts of the Apostles.
And the good news is this:
The same Holy Spirit who filled the hearts and minds of believers in New Testament times… and animated the early church… is the same Holy Spirit who lives in and through you. The Holy Spirit dwells in every single person who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus Christ.
That is what happened in the largest section of Acts 2, which comes right before our Scripture. The Holy Spirit came and filled the 120 followers of Jesus, which caused quite a stir in Jerusalem.
Peter then preached a mighty sermon to a great crowd of Jews from all over the world. He proclaimed the prophecies of the Old Testament had come to pass, and that the long-awaited Messiah had come.
This Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified on the cross, but whom God raised from the dead. And now this same Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand and God has poured out his Holy Spirit upon his people, as he promised he would.
As I said, it was a mighty sermon. And when the people heard that the crucified and risen Jesus was both Lord and Messiah, they cried out to Peter and the apostles, “What shall we do?” In other words, they were asking, “How do we respond? We don’t know what to do.” And Peter answered them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:38)
Then, in verse 41, right before our Scripture, we read what happened next,
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The existing Church of Jesus Christ grew from 120 to 3,120 – after one sermon. That was not because Peter was so eloquent. It was because the Holy Spirit is so good and powerful.
The Church was Born
What happened to all these new believers? These new followers of Jesus? Well, they were changed! They were no longer the same. The language of the New Testament says they were “born again.” They became new creatures in Christ. How could they possibly go back to old ways of living – old ways of believing.
But they needed to be guided. They needed others to travel this new path with them. Like my favorite movie series, The Lord of the Rings, they needed a fellowship.
And that is what they found.
A Picture of Christian Discipleship & Fellowship
Our Scripture provides for us a one-sentence summary of Christian discipleship and fellowship. Verse 42 says,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Let me draw your attention to the word, “devoted.” Devoted here means, “exerting great effort to persist in doing something… It indicates action that is continuous and habitual.” In other words, they were “all in.” This was not a casual interest. And it was not temporary.
And so, the question is: What were these new followers of Christ devoted to?
The Apostles’ Teaching
Our Scripture says, first of all, they were devoted to the teaching of the apostles. The apostles had spent a little over three years, “Learning Jesus.” Now, they were teaching these new believers the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, stories about the miracles he did, and more.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told the apostles…
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Well, they had been baptized and now the apostles were teaching them “to obey everything [he] had commanded [them].”
Secondly, they were also devoted to fellowship. My church used to have a Sunday School class called, koinonia. That is the Greek word for fellowship in this verse. It means participating and sharing with others in a common goal. One commentator said they shared with one another “in material goods as well as spiritual wealth.”
As the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, might have put it, they watched over one another in love. They were a learning, serving, caring, community. They had a common life.
Breaking of Bread
Third - they also broke bread together. And while that included table fellowship, it meant something more. It also included partaking in the Lord’s Supper together. “Remembering” is a key idea in Judaism. And these early Christians were Jewish.
They now, as a fellowship, remembered Jesus – who he was and what he had done on their behalf. They experienced his presence through his Holy Spirit. And together they remembered they would one day dine with him at a Great Banquet.
The last thing verse 42 tells us is they prayed. The Greek word for prayer in this verse means, “the prayers.” Thus, not only did they pray individually, but they also prayed together, corporately, as a new family of faith.
These prayers would have included their prayers at the Temple, because they still thought of themselves as Jewish. They did not think they were starting a new religion. They thought they were enjoying the fulness of their religion by following their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus.
And so, they were a learning, loving, caring, worshipping, praying fellowship.
Result #1: Favor
What was the result? They grew and matured in their faith. They served others. They gave to others as they had need. The lived joy-filled lives. They lived praise-filled lives. They worshipped.
Verse 47 tells us they enjoyed the favor of all the people who watched their lives. Persecution would soon follow, but for this season, they enjoyed peace and favor.
Result #2: God Produces
What was the result of that favor? Verse 47 tells us the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. These believers were faithful to God’s call in their lives and God produced fruit through them for the sake of his Kingdom.
This is a picture of the church in its purest form. And this is still how it works today. God calls us to be faithful and God will do the heavy lifting. God will bring forth the growth.
Christ himself promised to build his church and declared that not even the gates of hell would prevail against it (Matthew 16:18) That was not just a promise for the first century church. It is as true for us today as it was for them.
And the Holy Spirit was not just living, moving, and ministering through the first century church. The Spirit is just as alive and powerful for us today as then.
And the truth of the Gospel was not just true for the first-century church. It is just as true and transforming today as it was for them.
The United Methodist Church’s mission statement is: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Like those who came before us, we too can make disciples of Jesus Christ as we faithfully…
As we faithfully put these spiritual habits into practice, we can have confidence God will add to our number daily those who are being saved. And that will lead to the transformation of the world for the sake of God’s Glory and Kingdom.
Next Sunday morning, our new pastor, Phillip Short and his wife Giova, will be here. Pastor Phillip will be preaching. On our side of the equation, we’re all wondering things like…
I can tell you the answer to the last question: He’s an SEC man… he went to Auburn. So, some of you will like him right away, while others will have to warm up to him. But seriously, from our end of things, we’re wondering how will Southside change under new leadership.
However, can you imagine how he’s feeling? There’s only one of him, and lots of us. He must be wondering,
Well let me tell you what I know from having met with Pastor Phillip several times. We’re going to love him. He’s relational, friendly, and warm. His love for Jesus is clear. His love for the church is very evident. He knows we’ve been praying for him as a congregation for almost 40 days now.
He’s heard all about the great ministry to our church family and the blessing our church family has been to our community throughout outreach. And I’ll tell you what, he’s excited to be coming to Southside where he’ll not only be our shepherd, but also a partner with us.
In fact, that’s what ministry is: A partnership between us, our pastor, and most importantly, our Lord.
Paul and the Philippians
That’s how the Apostle Paul felt about the Philippians. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was a prisoner in Rome. His crime? Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul had a deep love for the Philippian church, which is clear when you read the letter.
Let me give you a little background on this relationship. According to Acts 16:9, during Paul’s second missionary journey, he received a vision from “a man of Macedonia.” The verse goes on to say that the man in the vision begged the Apostle to “come to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul took that as a word from God, and so he and his team traveled to Philippi in Macedonia (which is present-day Greece) where they proclaimed the gospel to Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and others. And by God’s grace, many people came to faith in Christ and the Philippian church was born. Paul loved these folks very much.
The Letter to the Philippians was written about 10-12 years after that missionary journey in which Paul helped establish the church. He wrote to them because, as mentioned, he was now in prison. Therefore, he obviously couldn’t visit them. He couldn’t text them, or email them, or skype with them; but he did everything else possible. He wrote letters to them. He received reports about how they were doing. He received and sent messengers like Epaphroditus, whom we learn about in Philippians 2.
And most importantly, he prayed for them.
In chapter one, Paul shared the kinds of things he prayed for regarding the Philippians. His love and appreciation for them comes through loud and clear.
Let’s look at Philippians 1:3-6 again,
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Paul’s joy shines through his words, especially when we remember he was in prison as he wrote them. Paul’s circumstances were far from ideal, so why was he so joyful? Well, the context of his prayer gives us the key to understanding his joy. Paul tells them that when he prays for them, every time he prays for them, he thanks God for them. And his gratitude to God, and for them, fills him with joy.
And so, a natural follow-up question would be: why was he so grateful?
Partners in the Gospel
The first reason is because of the Philippians’ partnership in the ministry of the gospel – from the first day to Paul’s present day. Now, to be sure, that included their financial support of his ministry, but that’s not what he’s talking about here.
While Paul was literally in chains for the gospel, Philippians 1:14 tells us the Philippians were out proclaiming the gospel in his absence. They weren’t waiting for the pastor (in this case, the apostle) to get back so he could do it. Then, in verses 18-19, Paul says he’s able to rejoice because he knows they’re praying for him and that God would bless him because of that.
Can you imagine the blessing that knowledge would bring to the Apostle? That in his absence, they were praying for him. That in his absence, they were preaching and teaching and contending for the gospel.
Now fast-forward two thousand years. Can you just imagine how blessed Pastor Philip is to know that even before his new church family has met him, they’ve been interceding in prayer on his behalf? And let me tell you this, Pastor Phillip knows this church family is blessed with intercessors, and teachers, and disciple-makers, and servants, and those who reach out to those in need, and so much more.
He knows because I’ve told him. He knows because our Staff Parish has told him. He knows because Southside’s reputation for such things is known throughout the Florida Conference. True story.
Pastor Phillip is excited to become a partner with us in these gospel ministries – both inside and outside our church family.
Paul was blessed because he knew the Philippians and the kind of church they were. Pastor Phillip has heard all about Southside and is excited to partner with us.
God Finishes What He Starts
The second reason for Paul’s joyful prayers was his confidence that the Philippians would continue to grow in their faith. Let’s look at verse 6,
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The good work Paul has in mind here is their salvation and growth in grace. When the Bible talks about salvation, it’s not only talking about “getting saved” in the past tense. It’s also talking about what God is doing in and through us here and now, in addition to what God promises for the future.
But make no mistake, God is doing something special in the lives of his children in the present. He’s molding and shaping us into the very likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. And Paul rejoiced that the good work God had begun in them when he saved them from their sin would continue as they partnered with him in the ministry of that very same gospel.
So too, in our own church family, God has reached down and rescued each of us who have called on the name of Christ. And he continues to mold and shape us into the likeness of Christ. Not only that, but God has graced us with many partners in Gospel ministry over the years. Most recently, we’ve been very blessed indeed to be in gospel-partnership with Pastor Bruce for 13 years.
A New Season, A New Partnership
And now, God’s bringing a new gospel-partner into our fellowship. And like Paul, we can rejoice that God, who began a good work in us 71 years ago when Southside began, will carry that good work on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God will finish what he’s started in our church family. In his goodness and grace, God’s bringing us another faithful shepherd to lead us in that gospel-partnership.
Therefore, I can’t think of a better way to finish this message and prepare for Pastor Philip and his wife, Giova, than to come to the altar to pray for them, and us, and our new partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Fear of Public Speaking
During one of his standup routines, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld said,
According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. This means to the average person… if you go to a funeral… you’d rather be in the casket… than doing the eulogy.
I can relate. I spent the first half of my life petrified at the thought of having to speak in front of other people. I’m not absolutely sure where the fear came from, but I have a suspicion.
When I was in 5th grade, my family moved from Georgia to Florida. So, I was a brand-new student in a school where I didn’t know anyone. To make matters worse, the school year had already begun, so I couldn’t fly under the radar screen and sneak in. I had to go through the whole, “Class, this is Dale. Let’s make him feel welcome,” routine. We all know how famous 5th graders are for their hospitality to new kids at school.
So, I was the new kid, starting a new school, after the year had already begun.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure how long it was into the school year, but I remember having to dress up like George Washington to give a biographical report to my new “friends.” I wore a white wig and a ridiculous looking woman’s coat that I think was supposed to look like a revolutionary war coat, to make this presentation. You can just imagine how gracious and supportive a room full of 5th graders was.
I can’t remember in detail the horror I must’ve experienced, but whenever I’ve wondered where my stage-fright came from, I’ve always traced it back to that experience. From that day on, I avoided every opportunity to ever speak in front of a group of people.
Arguing with God
Therefore, you can appreciate how unhappy I was when God started calling me to ordained ministry.
I remember arguing with God as I mowed my parents’ front yard, not too long after I graduated from college. It was a genuine argument. I reminded God about the whole public speaking thing. I told God he must have confused me with someone named Dale Tedler, who was probably a fantastic public speaker.
But, as is usually the case, God got his way, which reminds me of the old saying,
God doesn’t call the gifted, he gifts the called.
The truth is, there’s no one you’ve ever read about in Christian history, or in biblical history, who was just so extraordinary, that God was compelled to call them into service. Instead, God calls ordinary people like you and me, and then he gives us the gifts we need to serve him.
Such is the case with the Apostle Peter.
I know Peter is familiar to most of us, but just as a refresher, here’s a little reminder. Peter was one of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. He wasn’t a preacher, or a teacher, or a general, or a politician - he was a fisherman.
Peter’s given name was Simon, but our Scripture this morning tells us this,
Jesus looked at him [Peter] and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Cephas is an Aramaic word that’s translated “Petros” in Greek… which means “stone” or “rock.”
Peter: Pros and Cons
You see, Jesus knew something about Peter that Peter probably would have never guessed. Jesus knew Peter would become a pillar in the building of the first-century church. In fact, the first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts focus on Peter’s ministry in establishing the expansion of the early church.
Now, to be sure, Peter had some leadership qualities. And yet, the very qualities that make up our strengths can also make up our weaknesses, can’t they?
For example, Peter had a brash personality. Scripture often shows him answering Jesus on behalf of all the disciples. He was the one who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. He seemed to always be the, “bull in the china shop.” The upside to Peter’s personality was that he was loyal and courageous. The downside was that he didn’t always engage his brain before he acted or spoke.
You remember when Jesus told the disciples they would all turn away from him, Peter was quick to say it wouldn’t be him. Matthew 26:31-33 tell us,
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
And we know Peter would, in fact, deny knowing Jesus three times.
But God, in his grace, takes flawed, sinful, and ordinary people like you, and me, and Peter, and does extraordinary things with them. The Lord took Peter in his weakness and forgave him. Then, at Pentecost, he poured out his Spirit upon Peter and all those who had turned away from him.
And what was the result? Peter and the others went from cowardly lambs to courageous lions for Christ. They turned the Roman Empire upside-down with the Gospel.
Peter went from a fisherman to an evangelist, an apostle, and a leader of the early church. He went from being rash to being rock solid, from one who disowned Christ when confronted by others to one who gave himself completely for Christ, even unto death.
Through the power of God’s Spirit, Peter willingly took the job of shepherd. When Jesus restored Peter after his denials, Jesus told Peter to “feed and take care of his sheep.” And that’ exactly what Peter did to the end of his life. And, to reiterate, the first part of the Book of Acts is a record of Peter keeping his promise.
Lessons from Peter
Well, what do we learn from Peter’s call and ministry?
We’re reminded vividly, that God takes the weak things of this world and does supernatural and amazing things with them. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31,
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (Emphasis mine)
Peter could boast in the Lord for what God had done in and through him. Peter was a weak thing, a foolish thing, a lowly thing. And it was this same Peter who God used in a mighty way for his Kingdom. The Bible is filled with many stories of those the world considered weak, and foolish, and lowly. And yet, those are the very people God called and used.
The Apostle Paul was feeling very weak when he asked God to take away his thorn-in-the-flesh, which was some sort of physical difficulty he had struggled with for a long time. And Christ himself responded to Paul by basically saying, “no.” But, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Christ added these comforting words,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When God uses the weak, foolish, and lowly people of this world – the ordinary people of this world – to do extraordinary things, guess who gets the glory? It’s God who gets the glory because it’s God who does the work in and through those same faithful, yet ordinary, people he calls to serve him.
How About You?
So how about you? Is there something you feel God’s been calling you to do, but maybe you’ve been afraid to do? Maybe like I did, you’ve been arguing with God, telling him he’s got the wrong person? Maybe you feel a little too ordinary, a little too weak and lowly.
If that describes you, I would ask you to hear those words once more that were spoken to the Apostle Paul. I repeat them to myself on a weekly basis. Christ said,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
And when you remind yourself of the sufficiency of God’s grace in your life - that his grace is enough for you - then you can respond the way Paul did in the very same verse. Paul declared,
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Trust in God to give you the gifts you need for what he’s calling you to do. And since I’m sharing old sayings with you, let me share one more,
God wants your availability, not your ability.
Let God take care of the ability part. He’s calling you and me to make ourselves available to what he wants to do in us and through us. Thanks be to God.
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
About 20 years ago my church family met to pray together and develop some vital core values for who we believed God was calling us to be as a church. We emphasized what a follower of Jesus Christ ought to look like. For example, we agreed that we ought to be loving disciples, serving disciples, compassionate disciples, and so on.
The one that really connected with me, as Minister of Discipleship, was “Learning Disciples.”
Our Vision Committee said unanimously, disciples of Jesus Christ must be students and teachers of God’s Word. That is, we must learn what Scripture says as well as pass on those same wonderful, life-changing truths to others.
In other words, disciples of Jesus Christ are called to be faithful stewards of what God has so lovingly and graciously given to us. A steward is one who cares for something that belongs to someone else. God calls us to be stewards (caretakers) of his resources. Of what belongs to him.
We’re called to be stewards of our time, talent, treasure, relationships, and truth. Because in reality, it all belongs to him.
Our Scripture puts it this way,
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
Paul told Timothy he must study Scripture, so he would have no reason to be ashamed before God, but instead, so that he would be approved by him. Up to this point in this chapter Paul had been warning Timothy to stand firm against the false teachers of his day. Timothy had a great responsibility to correctly handle God’s Word. And Paul is letting Timothy know that this great responsibility is not for the approval of other people, but for God’s approval.
And not only was Timothy to stay away from the empty, deceptive, and misleading words of the false teachers, but he was to help others do the same. That effort won’t always be appreciated and applauded by others. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul reminded Timothy that people very often run after teachers who tell them what they want to hear. As we learn in John 6, hard teachings, even when they come from Jesus, will cause dissatisfaction from the hearers.
Therefore, Paul wanted Timothy to avoid empty disputes over empty and false words by “correctly handling the word of truth.” But you can’t do that if you don’t know what the word of truth says. It takes work. That’s why Paul tells Timothy he’s going to have be a “worker.” The image is of someone who is a “hard worker.” There’s nothing casual or easy about being a steward of the word of truth.
The word of truth Paul had in mind was the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the redemptive truth of God. And we find this redemptive word of truth in the pages of God’s inspired Word, the Bible.
The Bible: God’s Inspired Word
So, why is it important to view and accept Scripture as God’s inspired Word? Here’s how John Wesley put it,
“I want to know one thing – the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Only God is here.”
Brothers, how precious is it, that God loves us so much, that he didn’t just create us and then leave us alone to stumble through life in the dark? Instead, he gave us a light. Psalm 119:105 declares,
"Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light to my path."
Renew Your Mind
Just think about all the influences in our culture that compete for our attention and loyalty, every single hour of every single day. We have images and information coming in from every direction - from the Internet, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, friends, family – all of this and more.
And in subtle ways that are easy to miss and in obvious ways that are seemingly impossible to miss, these things mold and shape us, and not always for the better. Just think about the following everyday temptations…
Now, the point is not that each and every influence is evil and harmful to us. The point is, we need to be discerning. And we can’t be discerning if we’re not actively growing as learning disciples, as faithful stewards of God’s Word.
Paul knew the danger well, which is why he wrote these words in Romans 12:2,
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Emphasis mine)
How can we resist being conformed to what the world wants us to be? How can we know God’s will? By being transformed by the renewing of our minds. And how do we renew our minds? By studying God’s inspired Word. So, what do we mean when we say Scripture is “inspired?”
Well, to answer that we have to look at another Scripture in 2 Timothy. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16,
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," (Emphasis mine)
That phrase, “God-breathed,” in the NIV, or “breathed out by God,” in the ESV, comes from the same word, from which we get “inspired.” “Inspired” really means “expired.” Not expired, as in, “Your coupons have expired.” Or, “The Milk in the back of your refrigerator has expired.”
Instead, it means God “breathed out” his Word through the writers of Scripture, so that what we have in the Bible is not a collection of human opinions, but God’s revealed truth. We’re using the word “inspired” differently than if we said, “the choir or praise band gave us an inspired performance during worship this morning.”
Instead, when we say the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we’re saying that what we have in the Bible is exactly what God wants us to have. It’s exactly what he wants us to know. It came from him.
And what does he want us to know? Well, let’s take a look at the verses that precede and follow 2 Timothy 3:16.
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:14-17) (Emphases mine)
And that’s what God tells us about his Word in just these four verses!
The Difference It Makes
Can you see why it’s so important that followers of Jesus Christ make it a constant priority to continue growing as learning disciples? God has made us stewards of his inspired Word. And as we work hard to study it, and even harder to obey it, and even harder to teach it to others, not only will we glorify God; not only will we please God; not only will we be blessed; but we’ll also be a blessing to others as we point them to the fullness of salvation they can enjoy through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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