Mature Followers – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: Philippians 3:12-21
Dana told me she is tired of hearing about plants and I promise I won't have another botany lesson, but this morning we are moving forward in our imagery. God grows things. At some point, whether in an instant or gradually, a seed is planted and is germinated in our lives. It's growth potential is unleashed. The Holy Spirit enters us and we begin to be recreated into something new. A sprout springs forth, but there must be more.
I was in optimist club speaking contests when I was a kid and I will never forget the ending for my 8th grade speech. I paraphrased someone who I can’t remember and said, “it only takes a spark to start a fire . . . and I have the rest of my life to kindle it.”
When we come to know Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes upon us. The Spirit dwells in us and guides us. In the New Testament the Spirit is associated with fire. It desires to burn through us.
After the sermon last week, someone came up and said, “Dan, you know, there is another way that new life begins. Through fire.” Often farmers burn off their pastures or their farm land because they know that through the destruction of the fire comes new life. The Holy Spirit desires to burn through us in that way too. To burn off our old lives, to burn away anger, and selfishness and abuse and hate . . . to burn all that away, not so that we are left charred and empty, but so that new life can spring forth and grow.
And that is what we are going to talk about today. How do we continue to develop beyond a new sprout? How do you and I, and us as Riverside, grow into mature plants? If becoming a believer is only the beginning of the story, how do we become disciples or followers of Jesus Christ?
We all follow someone. It has been remarkable to watch Adelaide and Miriam. Adelaide is now 3 and Miriam is just 1, but Miriam is doing things that Adelaide just started doing a few months ago. Miriam is so much more aggressive and tougher. I think all parents have these moments . . . I call them “I can't believe I just did that to my kid moments.” On Wednesdays Dana is at the women's bible study so I get to hang out with the kids. Well this past Wednesday, I was taking the girls upstairs for their bath, but I was also taking the vacuum cleaner up the stairs too to vacuum. Adelaide ran up ahead of me, but Miriam was crawling up behind me. I was carrying the vacuum by the handle and it came off. The vacuum went tumbling down the stairs towards Miriam, hit her and knocked her down several stairs to the landing. That's when I thought, “I can't believe I just did that to my kid.” She cried for 15 seconds and climbed up the stairs. Dana and I are checking to see whether there is a baby version of American Gladiators.
Miriam is tougher than nails because she is a dedicated follower of her big sister, Adelaide. Whatever Adelaide does, Miriam wants to do . . . and no obstacle, including flying vacuum cleaners will stop her. If Adelaide is at the top of the stairs, then Miriam wants to be there. If Adelaide climbs on top of the bunk bed, Miriam will try to do it too. If Adelaide says, “bye”, then Miriam says, “ba, ba.”
We all follow somebody as adults too. If you are an investor, then you might follow Warren Buffett. Or if you want to be a basketball player, you might learn all about Lebron James and do what he did. Or musicians, you might read all about the life of the Black Eyed Peas and then try to model them. We all follow someone.
In the Gospels, Jesus makes his claim to be the one we follow. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” When he calls his disciples, he is very explicit, “come, follow me.” I will show you the way. In fact, the early Christians referred to themselves as followers of “the Way.” Riverside's mission statement is to “find and follow Jesus Christ.” We find him in our conversion experience and we follow him in our walk to become his disciples. In our passage this morning we heard Paul calling the church in Philippi to follow Him as he follows Christ.
We often talk about the fact that we want to encourage you to take steps beyond simply attending our Sunday worship service in order to grow spiritually. And the reason why is that our goal is not to provide you with a nice event, where you attend, go through the motions, and go home feeling good that you had your interaction with God for the week. Our goal is that this service each week is a jumping off point, this service of worship of God is a refueling, for you to continue to grow throughout the rest of the week.
We are not the church if we simply produce a good Sunday program. We must be a church where our personal spiritual journeys are enhanced, where our collective work together strengthens our faith, helps us to learn more about God and ourselves, and organizes into groups of people that can act in our community.
We put money and people into our fellowship here together not to have a nice building or cool free bibles or good coffee . . . we put money and people into our fellowship because we desire and expect to produce disciples of Jesus Christ. We don't simply hope to bring people to encounter Christ, but we desire to help everyone . . . even the most seasoned Christian . . . continue to look more and more like Jesus Christ. If we aren't doing this, we are failing.
When Billy Graham was having hundreds of crusades across the country he realized that his ministries were doing a good job of getting lots and lots of people to commit their life to Christ for the first time, but they were not doing a great job walking with them in their spiritual development after they came to Christ. He was leaving spiritual babies where ever he went and few were maturing into Christ-following disciples. Graham contacted Dawson Trotman, an experienced disciple-maker, and asked for his help. Trotman began by calling church after church that was supporting Graham's crusades in the various cities across the country. Trotman would ask the churches one question, “could we have the names of the men and women in your congregation who their Bibles well enough to lead someone to Christ.” Time and after time he found that churches had few Christians who were equipped to really help.
Jesus echoed this problem in his day. In Matthew 9 Jesus says, “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” The workers are few because developing a mature faith takes work. It is the same reason that Americans have a difficult time staying physically healthy. We much prefer the 3 minute workout gimmick to the daily task of watching what we eat and exercising. We much prefer the cliff notes to actually reading the book. We need to be people though that God can count on. That are dependable and trustworthy communicators of God's truth. That desire to put in the effort to become God's instruments.
One of the prayers that has always pushed me to be God's instrument in the world is The Prayer of St. Francis that goes like this.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
I hope that you enjoy Riverside’s Sunday morning worship, but ultimately we must be doing more.
What does a disciple look like?
First a disciple is a believer in Jesus Christ. Last we talked about seeds, and that the Word of God sprouts forth in our lives producing new life. We used language of “conversion” to describe what happens. In the same way that we would convert our dollars to Euros if we went over seas, or that our cable television converted from analog to digital . . . our lives convert from ones that are indifferent or even antagonistic towards Jesus and unconcerned with sin . . . to lives where Jesus Christ is central and sin is recognized as something to avoid. We are converted into something different and new.
Once this reorienting of priorities takes place, we are called to do something . . . If you remember when Jesus called the disciples he found Peter and Andrew fishing. He does not walk up to them and say, “hey guys, believe in me.” And they say, “o.k., we believe in you,” and then Jesus walks away going onto the next people. No, Jesus walks up to Peter and Andrew as they are fishing and he says, “come, follow me.” Matthew 4 then says, Peter and Andrew “left their nets and followed him.” Their conversion began a journey. Their interaction with the Savior of the world began a process by which they would watch what Jesus said and did . . . and they would seek to do the same things.
I had a few friends in college that were a little confused about what it meant to be like Jesus. They were obsessed with carpentry and always wore sandals. These were the same friends that thought they were just like Michael Jordan if they stuck out their tongue when they played basketball. To be like Jesus is not to be a Middle-Eastern Jewish carpenter.
To be like Jesus is to have his heart in our context. We are called to achieve our full potential for God.
Our desire as a church is to be a community where we partner with God and each other to put spiritual food within your reach. We want to give you the help that you need, to help you with training, to sacrifice on each others' part and to pray a lot for each other. Jesus-like living does not happen over night though. It demands of us all, time and tears and love and patience.
Sitting in church every Sunday does not make someone a disciple. Jesus' call for disciples involves a daily process of laying down our lives to follow Jesus.
In Jesus' day information was conveyed orally. Folks memorized material that they heard and then were able to convey it easily on to other people. Today, we often do this too, but many of us have also developed into visual learners. So today I want to introduce you to two diagrams that I think are helpful in understanding and thinking through what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The first diagram is the Triangle. When we study Jesus' life we find 3 movements that are essential to what he did. Jesus lived out his life in three relationships: Up – with his Father; In – with his chosen followers; Out – with the hurting world around him. Jesus models for us a 3 dimensional pattern for living a balanced life. Jesus informs us in how to experience fruitfulness in our relationships and our personal spiritual walk. These three dimensions are evident throughout the Gospels.
Perhaps the best illustration of Jesus 3-fold emphasis is in Luke 6. Verse 12 begins, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Jesus prayed regularly. The gospels say that when the disciples got up early, Jesus was already awake praying. For Jesus, talking with his Father was essential. Jesus understood that he could only do his Father's will if he regularly inhaled his Father's presence. He then called his disciples to this same level of intimacy with God.
We must have an Up relationship with God if we hope to do his will. Branches are fruitless unless they remain connected to the vine.
Luke continues onto the next part of the triangle. Starting at Luke 6:13, “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
When Jesus came back from spending time with his Father in prayer, he called together a community of guys that they might be with him, spend time with him and build strong relationships over the next 3 years of his ministry. From amongst the crowds, Jesus had 12 disciples and amongst the 12 he had 3 really close friends – Peter, James and John. He shared food with these friends, laughed with them, met their families – he lived life with them.
This is our In relationship. We are designed to be in community and relationship with others. We should have relationships with other believers and really close relationships with a few that we can live life with. We share each others burdens and joys, we hold each other accountable and spur one another on in our spiritual journeys.
Finally, beginning at Luke 6:17 it says, “He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”
This is our Out relationship. Jesus never lost sight of his ultimate purpose – to reach out to a dark and dying world. Jesus began by feeding from his Father's presence in prayer. He then developed deep and meaningful relationship with others. And he went after the spiritually dead. He went into the world to minister to people at their point of need.
These three elements of the triangle are essential to one another. The triangle collapses if any one side is not pursued. If we are not praying and communicating with God we have nothing to give to other believers or the world. If we are only praying and spending time with other believers, we are not an effective instrument of God's transformation in the world. If we are only working towards transformation in the world, we will burn out and be overcome by sin if we are not praying and spending time with other believers in close community. Our faith journeys must move Up, In and Out.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Micah 6:8. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Here in one verse we have a summation of what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Walk humbly with your God (Up). Love mercy(In). And act justly(Out). This is the balanced lifestyle of a mature Christian.
There is another illustration that I think is helpful too. I have alluded to it in the past and if you have taken the Christian Foundations Discovery Hour class, you were introduced to it. It is called the wheel diagram.
If you are younger than 7,000 years old then you have seen a wheel before. And we know that for a wheel to be structurally sound it needs to be supported by spokes. In the Wheel Diagram, the wheel itself represents a Christian disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. And the spokes are the essential aspects of the disciples' life that enables them to move into the world and be effective for God.
So what are the spokes that hold the disciple's life together?
First, there are two vertical spokes. The vertical spokes show how we maintain personal contact with God. The first is prayer. (Philippians 4:6-7) Through prayer we have direct communication with God. Through our prayer we know only experience God’s presence more deeply, but we show our dependence on and trust in him.
The second spoke is the Word. (2 Timothy 3:16) The Word, the Bible, is God’s spiritual food as well as our sword for spiritual battle. It is God’s revealing to us who He is and who we are. It is the key to learning what it means to be a disciple. It is how we learn about Jesus and how to follow.
The horizontal spokes concern our relationships with other people. The third spoke is fellowship or community. (Hebrews 10:24-25) Spending time with other Christians provides mutual encouragement, admonition, and the stimulation we need to grow into spiritual maturity.
The final spoke is witnessing. (Matthew 28:19) The first three spokes prepare you for passing on to others all you have received from God. Witnessing is sharing your own experience of Christ and declaring and explaining the gospel to others.
What we find when we are doing each of these 4 things is that as the wheel turns, you can’t see the individual spokes. All you can see is the hubcap, which is Christ. Jesus is not only our power for living the obedient life, but he becomes who others see when we become his disciple.