Growing in Discipleship

June 4, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Our Vision

Day of Pentecost

Growing in Discipleship

Ezekiel 37:1-10

(Borrowed liberally from The Disciple Making Church by Glenn McDonald)

          Author Sue Mallory, in her book The Equipping Church, outlines the exciting vision of a healthy, effective church. She says that “When the church is healthy, she dances!” When the body of Christ, the church, is joining God in his work, its members can’t help but dance with excitement and joy. The chorus of the song Lord of the Dance echoes this: Dance, dance, wherever you may be. I am the lord of the dance, said he. And I lead you all, wherever you may be. And I lead you in the dance, said he.

          Our vision of the church is a “dynamic relationship among people who are whole in Christ.” All of us become whole in Christ through the experiences of our faith journeys. When we believe and have faith in Jesus Christ, we then begin our journey of sanctification, that is, our faith journey to become more like Christ every day, a journey that lasts a lifetime.

When we are on our faith journey, we become the face, hands, and feet of Jesus Christ to others in this fallen and sinful world. It is through our discipleship, just like Jesus’ chosen twelve, that our ministry, mission, and service to all people will bring God’s heavenly kingdom right here to earth. That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And so as his disciples we follow his command to “Go and make disciples.”

In our Scripture today, Ezekiel was placed by God in the middle of a valley full of dry bones. “In Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, God speaks about the future”: Then [God] said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life, I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

God knew that some structure had to be attached to the bones in order that they might become an army for God. Structure had to precede the vitality that comes from the breath of the Spirit. Once the structures of the bones were complete with tendons, muscles, and flesh, only then did God breathe life into them. So it is with our discipleship and our ministry, mission, and service. We must first have the equipping and discipleship structures in place, that is, Biblical knowledge, leadership training, discipling relationships, and the six marks of a disciple, before we become vital, spiritual witnesses for God and for Jesus Christ.

Practicing the six marks of a disciple in our ministries, our missions, and our service is our way of doing and being the church. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

When we believe in Jesus Christ, we take on an awesome responsibility to be more like Jesus. It is our Godly duty to demonstrate those qualities and behaviors that Jesus demonstrated as he trained his twelve disciples during his three years of ministry. Likewise, the six marks of a disciple should bring us, Jesus’ present day disciples, into an ever closer relationship with God and with one another. These six marks of a disciple should characterize the life of each one of us who is seeking to be entirely like the Son of God.

A disciple’s first mark is “A Heart for Christ Alone.” Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27 that if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

In this day and age, that statement that Jesus made, to grow a heart for Christ alone seems puzzling, unreasonable, and downright rude. But Jesus himself never asked for anything less. In that Luke passage, Jesus made it abundantly clear that unless our faithfulness to him is prior and superior to every other relationship or aspiration life has to offer, including the deepest levels of our own self-interest, we are disqualified from discipleship before we even begin.

All the other religions in the world say, “Follow me and I will teach you how to find the truth.” Jesus says, “I am the truth.” Other religious leaders say, “Join with me and I’ll help you become enlightened.” Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Other religions and religious leaders promise, “Follow me and I will show you the many doors to God.” Jesus says, “I am the door.” According to Jesus, the meaning of life is cultivating a heart for him alone.

We are to worship God and Jesus alone. We are to have no other gods, like power, possessions, and position, before Christ. Paul said to the Colossians: And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17). Our whole person should belong to God. All of our life’s details are to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus by asking him to come into our lives. A disciple has a heart for Christ alone.

The second mark of a disciple is “A Mind Transformed by the Word.” Jesus said in John 8:31-32: If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Folks, our aim is not a complete mastery of the Bible although that is a worthy goal. Our aim, also, isn’t so much knowledge but transformation, the recasting of our minds according to a perspective that is within the will and mind of God.

As we read the Word of God our minds should be on a journey of renewal. We need to see the world as God sees it. We need to set aside our worldly values for those of God. Paul challenged his readers in his letter to the Romans when he said, do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Glenn McDonald, author and pastor said, “To become like Jesus we must live the way that Jesus lived. To have a mind transformed by the Word we must immerse ourselves in the Word as Jesus did.” Holding to Jesus’ teaching is more than actually learning about it, it is making his instruction an actual, daily part of our life’s routine. We need to transform our thinking from the Bible as something to be studied, to the Bible as something to be breathed. Learning about the Bible is not enough. We must put those words in the Bible into practice in our daily lives. It takes a lifetime, but it can be done. And no endeavor is more worthy of our time.

“Arms of Love” is the third mark of a disciple. Jesus said, by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another, John 13:35. As the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, we are to come alongside others in need, extend compassion, welcome the stranger, and live in a community of mutual care with other disciples. As Jesus’ disciples we are on a journey of unconditional love.

McDonald, in his book, The Disciple Making Church, tells the following story:

“A few years back I found myself needing to kill five minutes in the lobby of a coffee shop. My eyes were drawn to an odd-looking machine, which in bright red letters posed an intimidating question: “What Kind of Lover Are You?” Protruding from the machine was a life-sized plastic hand. I read the instructions. If I deposited a quarter and squeezed the hand, this machine would cause a little pointer to move, which would provide an immediate appraisal of the steaminess of my love life.

“It occurred to me,” he said, “that since I shake many hands on Sunday morning, this might be useful information. I’ve often wondered if the people exiting our worship services think, “Now that was the handshake of a great lover.” Looking up at the scale, I assumed I would probably register somewhere between Torchy and Macho.

“The other end of the scale, however, looked less friendly. Depending on how I took hold of that plastic hand, I might end up somewhere between Whimp and Mr. Freeze. What was the machine looking for? Should I bear down hard, like a guy who makes anvils for a living, or should I take a more sensitive approach? In the end I did neither. I concluded it would be bad stewardship to spend twenty-five cents shaking hands with a machine in a coffee shop just to find out that I’m a wimp.”

Folks, here is the bottom line. We cannot be arms of love to others unless we are in love with a God who loved us first. It was out of love that God created us in his image. It was out of love that God gave us this planet and everything in it to manage with good stewardship. It was out of God’s unconditional love for us sinners that God gave his Son to die for you and me. Whether we are torchy or macho, or whether we are wimpy or Mr. Freeze, as a creation in the image of God we are to reflect God’s love to those around us.

God loved us so unconditionally, that we ought to love others unconditionally as well. And sometimes that is not an easy thing to do. Disciples who extend arms of love to everyone, regardless of their condition, are making a dramatic statement to our culture about the Creator’s regard for every person.

The fourth mark of a disciple is “Knees for Prayer.” In Luke’s book, chapter 11, verse 1, he writes: One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Prayer is notable for two reasons: first, prayer is the only aspect of Christian spirituality that cuts cleanly across party and denominational lines. All denominations and all political entities can come together in prayer. Second, prayer is also notable because by its practice, men and women are actually choosing to enter and sustain a dialogue with the living God. When the disciples said teach us to pray, Jesus countered with a model prayer that is stark in its simplicity and astounding for its brevity. “When you pray, pray like this,” he said, “Our Father….”

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must pray as we can, not as we can’t. We must remember that we are ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to an extraordinary God. We must remember that everything is possible for this God we call Father. But we also must remember that everything we want is not necessarily what our Father wants. A faithful disciple needs sturdy knees for prayer.

The fifth mark is “A Voice to Speak the Good News.” The Apostle Peter says in his first book, always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. As disciples we need to realize that our faith journey is beyond ourselves. We were given the command and we must embrace the call to share Jesus with those who do not know him, addressing the deepest questions of both heart and mind and voicing hope and encouragement for people everywhere.

As a disciple, we must continue to grow and experience Jesus in our lives. We must realize the sacrifice that he made for us on the cross. And in response to all that Jesus has done for us, we must be willing to tell others about him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you do not have to be a Billy Graham to tell others about Jesus. All you have to do is to develop a relationship with another person and then tell your story. Tell that unbeliever what Jesus has done in your life. Tell Mr. or Mrs. Unchurched what you were like before you knew Jesus. Then tell them what you are like since you have invited Jesus into your heart. You know your story. You know the transformation that has happened in your life. Then let Mr. or Mrs. Unchurched decide what step to take next in their relationship with God. As a disciple, you have a voice to speak the Good News.

Lastly, a disciple has “A Spirit of Servanthood and Stewardship.” Jesus said in Luke 14, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. What Jesus wanted was for us to value God more than we value our possessions, our power, or our positions. Especially in American culture, money is the idol that steals our hearts from God. But money does not deliver happiness, security, relationships, and confidence. Only Jesus can do that.  Jesus’ heart was consistently aligned to meet the needs of other people and so should ours.

We should all live as servants of God and of each other. We should be doing our best with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given each of us. We should be living generously and simply in an attitude of servanthood to God and to others. We should be living as though we are seeking to bring about the fullest expression of God’s rule in our culture, in our country, and in the world. John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, had three simple rules for servanthood and stewardship: do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.

As disciples of the Risen Christ, these six marks should be second nature behaviors for us. As Christians and disciples, we are the body of Christ. We are Christ’s representatives right here on earth. We are charged with the responsibility of becoming like Christ and we are charged with the responsibility of making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. We are to look to the risen Christ as our mentor and teacher in all these Godly things.

They cut me down and I leapt up high. I am the life that will never, never die. I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me. I am the Lord of the dance, said he. And I lead you all, wherever you may be. And I lead you all in the dance, said he.

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