Your COMPASS for the Journey on the PATH of Discipleship: June 19-25, 2011
Posted by Isaac Butterworth | Filed under Compass
Your COMPASS for the Journey on the PATH of Discipleship is a daily resource designed to help you find direction in your walk with Christ. Over the next few weeks, we will be taking a break from our study of J. Stephen Yuille’s book, The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety. We will return in time to complete Dr. Yuille’s treatment of the Puritan John Flavel’s doctrine of union with Christ. But for now, we are turning our attention to disciplines for the spiritual life. I will be using excerpts from sermons I preached last fall to the congregation I serve as pastor. I hope the reflections will be helpful. Please scroll down for each day’s post.
Sunday, June 19, 2011 A FOUR POINT CHALLENGE
Psalm 126 ‘Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.’
1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.
Below, I am going to give you a four-point challenge. If you accept this challenge, you’ll see a harvest in your life. You’ll have sheaves to show for your effort.
So, here are the four actions that I encourage each and every one of us to take.
- Plant yourself in a pew on a regular basis; that is, make it a pattern to go to church on Sundays.
- Get face-to-face in a group small enough that they will miss you when you’re not there; in other words, join a class. It is simply a reality that, if all we do is attend worship, we are more likely to fall through the cracks. But when you’re a part of a face-to-face group, people know you. And you know them. And you can care for one another more adequately.
- Put your nose in a book, specifically the Bible. That is, study the faith. Learn what Scripture has to teach you. That’s another good reason for going to Sunday School.
- Lend a helping hand. Get involved in serving others. There are any number of ways you can do, but you’ve got to step up and do it.
You see — don’t you? — that if you sow to worship, you will reap a thankful heart. If you sow to fellowship with others, you will reap a loving heart. If you sow to the study of the Word, you will reap a wise heart. If you sow to service, you will reap a servant heart. In short, you will see yourself develop and grow in character. Your life will be a fruition of grace. There will be sheaves. And, frankly, that’s the reason we are a church in the first place.
Monday, June 20, 2011 THE THREE Bs (Part 1)
John 15:1-8 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
In yesterday’s post, I proposed a four-point challenge to all of us: (1) go to church, (2) become part of a face-to-face group, (3) study the Bible, and (4) find a way to serve.
I still want to hold out that challenge to us, but what I don’t want is for us to think that it is the solution to the biggest problems we face.
Church analysts talk about ‘the three Bs,’ by which they mean bodies, budgets, and buildings, and sometimes we are tempted to think that these things are what the church is all about. And we can’t not pay attention to them. Are they important? Yes. But are they most important things about the church? No.
Let’s take going to church as an example. Let’s think about attendance on Sunday morning, or ‘bodies in pews,’ we might say. There can be no doubt that it is important for us to ‘go to church.’ Right? Just think about how good it feels when you and I go to church and the sanctuary is almost full. It’s motivating when the pews are filled. It’s energizing. It’s exciting. But is it an end in itself? For something to be an end in itself, it has to satisfy no other purpose than simply doing it. We do it for its own sake.
But can we say that about going to church? Is it an end in itself, or is it a means to an end? Is it something we do because it will help us achieve something else?
Now, let me make myself clear: I am not talking about worship. Worship is an end in itself, but I suspect that there are people who do go to church but do not actually worship. I want us to work on going to church. I want us commit ourselves as a congregation to regular attendance at church. But merely showing up for a religious assembly is not enough. Let me show you why.
Do you know what the most dreaded hour of the week is for the wait staff of local restaurants? I have this on good authority. My daughter used to work as a server, first at one dining establishment and then at another, and here’s what she told me. She told me that the one block of time she and the other servers dreaded most was Sunday lunch. You know why? Because the restaurants were filled with people who had obviously been to church but who, despite that (or, maybe because of it!), acted in a mean-spirited way, were excessively demanding and difficult to please, exhibited an air of superiority, and left lousy tips.
Going to church does not make a difference — or, maybe I should say it makes the wrong kind of difference — if those who go to church are then unleashed on unsuspecting folk, insist on their privileged status, their superiority over others, and their entitlement. And apparently, that’s what some people do. And what is ironic about that is that these very people purport to be apprenticed to Jesus. That is, they are supposedly learning how to live their lives, which includes how to treat other people, from Jesus. It’s interesting that Jesus once asked his disciples, ‘Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table?’ Then he said, ‘But I am among you as one who serves’ (Luke 22:27). Just going to church isn’t going to be enough to change a person for the good.
So, it’s not an end in itself, is it? It can’t be. But if it’s not an end in itself but rather a means to an end, a way to help us accomplish something else in our lives, what is that ‘something else’? What is the end which we hope to achieve through worship, or through prayer or Bible study or any other spiritual discipline? The ‘something else,’ the end, is this. It is to develop the character of Christ.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 THE THREE Bs (Part 2)
John 15:1-5 ‘No branch can bear fruit by itself….’
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15 demonstrates that the critical, by which I mean the essential, aspect of Christian practice is what Jesus there calls ‘remaining’ in him. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches,’ he said. ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5, NRSV).
The three Bs, then, are not enough, are they? Bodies, budgets, and buildings are important, but they’re not enough. Everything we do — whether it’s getting bodies in the pews, underwriting the budget for mission and ministry, or taking care of our beautiful building — everything we do must lead to exhibiting Christ to others. Or, to use the words of Jesus, it must lead to ‘bearing fruit.’
And how do we do that? Jesus tells us. He says it comes as a result of remaining in him. ‘No branch can bear fruit by itself,’ he says; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me’ (John 15:4). What does it mean to ‘remain?’
To ‘remain’ has reference, first of all, to place. It means to stay and not leave. Secondly, it relates to time and means to continue and not to stop. And, third, the word ‘remain’ has to do with our state or our condition. We are to remain as we are and not to change. With this in mind, when we hear Jesus say that we must remain in him, or ‘abide’ in him (as some other translations have it), we know what he is talking about. We are not to leave him. We are to continue with him throughout life. And we are always to treasure our relationship with him.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 CHRIST IS THE ROOT
John 15:4 ‘Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
In John 15, Jesus gives us three good reasons for seeking our fullness in no one other than him. The first of these reasons is that he is the root. He is the source of our life. In the latter part of verse4, Jesus says: ‘No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’ Christ is even called a ‘root’ in Isaiah 11:10: He is the ‘Root of Jesse,’ the father of David, from whom Jesus was descended. What do we have in mind when we say we must think of Jesus as the root?
Let’s look at it this way. You have a vision of what you want to be in life. You have a picture in your mind that tells how you want others to see you. The question is: What is the source of that vision? What ‘feeds’ you? What do you need in order to survive? What is it that will help you to thrive? And whatever that is, ask of yourself one further question: What is the source of that? What’s at the root of it? Is it Jesus? If we are to bear fruit in our lives, we are going to have to see Jesus as the source of our life. He is the root.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 CHRIST IS THE SHOOT
John 15:5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’
Jesus gives us three reasons for seeking our meaning in him. First, as we saw yesterday, he is the ‘root.’ Second, he is the ‘shoot.’ Or, to use his own word for it, he is the Vine. Isn’t that what he says in verse 5? ‘ I am the vine; you are the branches.’
And that’s another reason we should ‘remain’ in him. The truth is, we are either his disciples, or we’re not. We are either apprenticed to him, or we’re not. We are either learning from him to live his kind of life, or we’re learning from some other source how to life a different kind of life. That is why I think we need the Four-Point Challenge:
- Go to church, or to put it somewhat crudely, warm a pew.
- Experience fellowship, or, we might say, warm your heart.
- Study the Bible and the faith of the church, or, illumine your mind.
- Serve God’s people, or we might say, illumine the world, or, at least, your corner of it.
These are good disciplines, but they are means to grace, not the grace itself. We cannot live the Christian life without Christian practices. We have to incarnate our faith in some recognizable way. We have to have forms for expressing our life in Christ, but mere external form is never sufficient. It is not enough simply to ‘go through the motions.’
- We go to church — that’s the means — so that worship may transform our lives — that’s the grace.
- We spend time together — that’s the means — so that, as we learn to be vulnerable and transparent with each other and support one another, our lives and the lives of others are changed — that the grace.
- We read Scripture and study the faith of the church — that’s the means — so that God may address us and, over time, change us — that’s the grace.
- We serve others — that’s the means — so that God’s love and compassion may spread more and more and change our world even as we ourselves are changed — that’s the grace.
Friday, June 24, 2011 CHRIST IS THE FRUIT
John 15:5 ‘…Apart from me you can do nothing.’
‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing’ (NRSV).
There is a third reason we should remain in Christ, and that is this: He is the fruit. In John 15:5, Jesus says, ‘Those who abide [that is, remain] in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing’ (NRSV).
Here’s what I think Jesus is saying. He is saying that he is the fruition — he is the harvest, the blossom you could say — of a life lived in him. His character is the ‘produce’ that results from ‘remaining’ with him…of staying with him and not leaving, of continuing with him and not stopping, of seeking in him and in no other the point of living. This is the main thing.
There is no question but that the three Bs are important. We need warm bodies in our pews. We need an adequate budget to do what God has called us to do. We need to be good stewards of our building; it is an important tool for ministry and mission. But these things are not ends in themselves. What we need more than anything else is to be involved in God’s great work of transforming lives, of conforming us more and more to the image of his beloved Son, of making us little by little more like Christ.
This is the real measure of the quality of our life in him — not how many people do we have on Sunday or how big is our budget — but simply this: When all is said and done…Do others see Jesus in me?
Saturday, June 25, 2011 REVIEW
Do you see yourself drawn to the four-point challenge?
- Warm a pew
- Warm your heart
- Illumine your mind
- Illumine your world
Next week, we will restate this four-point challenge in terms of the PATH of discipleship.
Photo Credit: Big Andromeda Galaxy (M31) by xamad