Pastor's Blog

Thoughts regarding the life of discipleship

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Pastor Mathews is contributing these blog posts to share his thoughts with the people of Hope Church. Check back monthly to see what he has to share. 

Giving Thanks Is Not Always Easy

Thanksgiving is a time when many Americans pause to give thanks. It is based on the actions of the Pilgrims soon after their arrival in the New World. Lots of discussions, articles and books have been written on what occurred and didn’t occur in the fall of 1621.

What we do know is that both Presidents Washington and Lincoln encouraged all Americans to set aside a day of thanks for different reasons. President Washington’s first declaration was dated October 3, 1789 and President Lincoln’s was dated October 3, 1863. Finally, on December 26, 1941, congress passed a law making the observation of the day to give thanks - that is Thanksgiving - on the fourth Thursday of the month of November.

As disciples of Jesus, we know that giving thanks to God should be an everyday occurrence. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says - Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And as believers and disciples who live in a world impacted by sin, we also know how difficult and hard these verses can be. How do the families of the three Girl Scouts and chaperone killed by a DUI driver in Wisconsin give thanks? How do the family and friends of the 12 people killed in the California bar shooting give thanks? How can those who lost family or possessions because of the wildfires in California give thanks? How can people recently diagnosed with a terminal illness give thanks? Or the person who has lost their job? And the list goes on and on.

In the hard times of life, we still give thanks. Not for the problem. Not for the bad things that happened, but because we trust in the promises of God that He will continue to be there for us. We give thanks because of His promise given in Romans 8:28 which says - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

It is not up to us to figure out how God will do this, or when He will do this. We trust that it will happen when it’s going to have the most impact in our lives and/or the lives of others. That is what we trust and what we celebrate at Thanksgiving.

Remember: Our God loves us. Our God does not desert us. Our God provides for us so we can focus on working for Him. It is not up to us to be concerned why God blesses people differently. It IS up to us to thank Him for those blessings AND to use those blessings generously so others can experience the joy of salvation.

I Will: Moving from I AM to I WILL

Beginning this last Sunday, September 30, and continuing through to the Last Sunday of November, the sermon series we will be using focuses on what it means to be a church member. And I want to assure you that this is not diminishing the previous blogs regarding discipleship.

As I mentioned in the August blog post, it is Biblically correct to refer to yourself as a member because you see yourself as part of God’s family. (Hebrews 2:11) It is Biblically correct to refer to yourself as a member because you see yourself as part of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

As a member of the body and a family, you are part of a gathering of people called ekklesia. Ekklesia is the Greek word that appears 115 times in the New Testament. In all but three of these references, the English word which was used to translate the Greek work ekklesia was church. However, the Greeks used ekklesia often and frequently in order to describe a gathering of people that had a specific purpose.

Therefore, a city council was called an ekklesia. The mob in Ephesus that wanted to run Paul out of the city because he had ruined their business as is recorded in Acts 19 wan an ekklesia. the early believers and disciples who gathered together for worship, prayer, and sharing with those in need were also called ekklesia.

All of this should remind us that the Church of God is NOT a building, but a people - a gathering of people with the purpose of fulfilling the mission Christ has entrusted to His disciples, which is, to make disciples by baptism and teaching. (Matthew 28:19-20)

In the sermon series for the next two months, we are going to examine what it means to grow as a disciple in the ekklesia - the gathering of God’s people. We will be examining what we will do in our gathering that will help us to full God’s mission of growing His Kingdom.

And it begins with a change of attitude. We need to examine ourselves to see where our treasure is. A good way to determine what is your treasure. is to evaluate where you focus your time and money. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, where your treasure is, hat is where your heart is. And Proverbs 4:23 reminds us that it is our heart that determines our attitudes. And we know from life’s experiences that our attitudes drive our decisions and choices, therefore, it is our heart that ultimately drives our decisions and choices.

And when we examine our heart, we often find ourselves running after other things, such as money, success, power, fame, material possessions, fitness and health to name a few. And when that happens, we need to repent and confess to God our brokenness.

We also remember it is God who forgives and God who restores. It is God who sets us back on the right path. And when He sets us on the right path, He reminds us, that as the ekklesia - now the gathering of God’s people - we are to be united in our desire and efforts to achieve the mission.

It’s a reminder that as a member of God’s ekklesia, walking the path of discipleship is not about my needs and wants, but about being actively working with others to share God’s love to build the Kingdom of God.

Ephesians 4:1-3 tells us also that this united effort is achievable when we are humble, gentle, patient, sacrificial and prayerful. When these items are sought after, it produces a joy in the ekklesia that generates excitement and openness to work together in a united effort to share God’s love.

Join us this fall as we learn how to be a member of the ekklesia - the gathering of God’s people - in order to strengthen our walk of discipleship as we fulfill God’s mission to grow His kingdom.

Who Are You

What is the proper term to call those who decide to affiliate with a congregation, that is, a group of believers in a local community - Like Hope Church?

A lot of times we and others refer to ourselves as members.  And in and of itself that is proper.  For example, when we talk about our families in conversation we sometimes will say or ask - who are the members of your family?

But when it comes to the church, which has often been described as a family, there is a down side to using the term member.  And yes, in another image, Paul describes the church like a body and just like a body has different members or parts, so does the Church. 

The down side using the term member is that this term can also refer to those who have joined an organization or club.  And as such they pay dues to belong.  And in paying those dues, they expect a certain return or benefits to be extended to them as a result of their payment.  This is often the trap that most church goers fall into.  That's because they have joined the organization or club (their church) for the perceived benefits for themselves and not because they want to help the organization fulfill its mission.

Is there a better term we can use to describe those who have associated with a local congregation?  What about believers?  On the surface that is appropriate as well.  However, I am also reminded of what James said in his letter to the Church at large about 50 AD or earlier.  He said this:  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that - and shudder.  (James 2:10)

So what sets us apart from the demons?  It's called TRUST.  We not only believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  We not only believe Jesus shed His blood, died and rose for the salvation for not just ourselves, but all people.  We also TRUST in who Jesus is and what He has done.

And when we talk about TRUST, that takes us to a whole different level in our relationship with Jesus.  TRUST is the next step in being a disciple.  It has to be.

A disciple is someone who wants to say and do what their master is saying and doing.  They want to replicate their master.  It takes a high level of commitment based on TRUST in order to be a disciple.

Which brings me to these questions which I believe everyone associated with Hope Church, or any other local congregation needs to ask themselves:

     1.  How do you refer to yourself when talking about your association with a local church - member, believer in Jesus, or disciple of Jesus?

     2.  And if you want to classify yourself as a disciple of Jesus, how will your spiritual walk change?  What will you do differently?

     3.  If you want to classify yourself as a disciple of Jesus, what will your focus be?  On your own spiritual needs and wants or how to best use the blessings God has given you in order to advance the growth of His kingdom?

 

From Follower to Disciple

Why is it so difficult to make a decision to become a disciple of Jesus?  For many people in the world, it can be a life or death decision.  To become a disciple of Jesus may cause the death of a relationship or even one's own physical death - the end of their life.  For many people, if they decide to follow Jesus and be His disciple, at best it means the end of a relationship.  A person is cut off from their friends and even their family.  But there have also been cases reported where people have literally lost their lives because they were killed or murdered.

But yet, there are still others, who even though they do not feel threatened by the loss of life or even the loss of a relationship, still find it hard to follow Jesus.  And it's because their focus and their desire is not on Jesus, but on something else.  They want Jesus.  But they also want success, fame, power and/or money.  I am not saying that a disciple of Jesus cannot have success, fame, power or even riches.  But the disciple of Jesus does not see those things as the main focus of their life.  That is not what drives them and motivates them.

To follow Jesus, you have to let go of certain things.

Perhaps an explanation using a standard piece of equipment found on most playgrounds in the 1960's will help.  It's called "the Monkey Bars."

Monkey Bars were great for developing upper body strength as well as grip.  They were also good for developing coordination and stamina as everyone attempted to get from one end of the monkey bars to the other by swinging and grabbing one rung after another.  And when a person became really strong and proficient going one full length, then it became the goal to back as well.

the interesting thing about the Monkey Bars is that in order to make progress, you have to find the best technique to move forward so you are in position to grab the next bar, but then also let go of the bar that is behind you.

Being a disciple of Jesus is no easy matter.  It is often tough, hard and demanding.  We also have to make sure we are in position to be ready to grab onto what God is offering us, but we also have to let go of the past, often with what we have become comfortable with hanging onto.

One could say the rich young man who came to Jesus with the question about how to obtain eternal life was having difficulty traversing the monkey bars.  He was wanting to make sure he was in position so eternal life was his.  Jesus reminded him that was only part of the equation. Jesus wanted the young man to let go of what was holding him back, which in his case, was his desire to hold on to his wealth and possessions.  (Matthew 19:16-22)

For those of you reading this piece and desire to deepen your walk with Jesus as a disciple, take some time to answer these two questions:

1.  How will you position yourself to be ready to grab the bar God offers in front of you?  Will it be through more consistent worship?  More prayer?  More private/quiet time with God?  More service to others?

2.  But also, what do you need to let go of?  What is holding you back?  Is it your desire for more stuff?  A secret sin that you do because it makes you feel good?  Insecurity and fear of what the future has in store for you if you let go?

But in the end, it's all about letting go and swinging forward to grab on to the next bar.  

Discipleship, like monkey bars, is an ongoing process.  On this side of heaven, because of our sin and disobedience, there will always be something we have to let go of in order to keep moving forward and grabbing on to God.

Get in the swing of things.  Get in the rhythm.  Trust God.  Trust the process.

Follower? Believer? Or Disciple?

The people that associated with Jesus can be called:

     A.  Followers

     B.  Believers

     C.  Disciples

     D.  All of the above

The answer is D - All of the above - because each descriptive phrase is describing a different person, or at best, a different level of commitment in regards to the connection people have, want, and/or desire with Jesus - the 2nd person of the Trinity who, while he walked this earth was both God and man at the same time.

Jesus had many followers during his ministry.  That is, many people came out of curiosity to check him out.  Word was spreading far and wide about the rabbi who was performing miracles and challenging the "establishment" with his teachings.  Time after time, when you read the Gospel accounts, you encounter crowds gathering in order to hear him preach, but especially to see his miracles.

Jesus also had people following him who were more than curious about who he was.  They heard and saw many of the things he was preaching and doing and some of these people believed what Jesus was saying about himself - that he was the Messiah.  I believe the sick woman mentioned in Luke 8:40-48 falls in this category.  She believed who Jesus was and therefore she would be healed if only she could touch his garment.  And Jesus confirmed that when he said this to her - "Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace."

And then finally we have the third category, the disciples.  A disciple is someone who wants to imitate their teacher.  They want to be able to speak like their teacher speaks.  They want to be able to do what their teacher does.  What sets a disciple apart from a believer is their action.  A believer has head knowledge and trust.  But the disciple takes that head knowledge and trust and puts it into action by helping others and sharing God's love with others.

And Jesus had more than 12 disciples.  The 12, whom we often refer to as "the disciples", were really apostles.  Luke 6:12-13 says - "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.

Which brings me to this question for you to consider.  How do you classify your connection with Jesus?  Is it as a follower, believer or disciple?  Another question to consider is at what level does God want us to be at in our connection with his Son?  To answer that question, go to Matthew 28:19-20 which says - "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 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The best people to go and make disciples are disciples.  What needs to happen in your spiritual life for you to move from follower to believer, or from believer to disciple?  What do you need to do so you can be a disciple who makes other disciples?