Sunday Message, 9th October – Lifeshapes – The Square: Defining the Priorities of Life
Do you remember that moment when your bairn got his or her first bike? The need for stabilisers, a helping hand, then released and crash! Knees took a battering and it was a time before they got on again, and then it seemed they were going straighter, faster, and before you knew where you were they could ride. No doubt you went through the same with driving, hopefully just a car but maybe a motorbike. In the end as parents we care, we lead, we encourage and then we let them go. Learning to be a disciple of Jesus and indeed exercising leadership in His name is a little different. He gently shows us, shares with us in the experience, and then frees us to learn by doing.
But first let’s pause and recap where we are with our Life Shapes: biblical principles that Jesus taught his disciples to turn them into world changes. A disciple uses memorable kairos moments to enter the circle of repetance and faith, spiralling closer and closer to the heart of Jesus. Next we need a balanced life, which honours the semi-circular pendulum, which swings between work and rest, with seasons of abiding, pruning and fruit bearing. In a counter cultural sense we learn to work out of our rest in Jesus, not the other way around, Thirdly, relational balance in our life is essential: our relationship with God takes centre stage (UP) and then our relationships with fellow followers of Jesus (IN) and this leads to effective relationships with those outside the Christian Community (OUT). A flow of grace from God to others in equal measure: otherwise we wobble and become horribly religious! Each shape reflects an aspect of relationship Jesus taught and lived out. We cannot improve on Jesus. We need to listen to what he is still saying today and obey by following him with all our hearts and all our lives. The first three shapes, no doubt, are easy to fit into your idea of what every disciple should practice: the next two shapes – the square and the pentagon – may seem less obvious in how they apply to your everyday life. You might think they only apply to specially gifted Christians but that’s just not so: all of us need to learn these next two lessons: the truth is that we all have it in us to lead others (parents/teachers/employees/small groups/old leading young/friends leading friends and of course making disciples of others). Today, we are looking at what Jesus shows us about leadership and making disciples: the call to make disciples (mathetes – learners) is a call to lead in a one to one transformative relationship. The final thinkg to say before we see the process Jesus used is that He is the model for such leadership, and the model is based on servant hood. Servants must first receive before they are able to give: as servants of God we have nothing in our hands except what God places there. A leader in the pattern of Jesus must rely on grace at all times. So let’s see how Jesus transformed His first followers from learners to leaders. The Square represents for us four stages that we must all go through to make that transformation into fruitful Disciples of Jesus.
Like the budding cyclist, I well recall my excitement and confidence when I became a Christian: I felt I should try and win the world in a decade but quickly those leading me in Christ showed me that I had very little grasp as yet of the gospel of grace. I needed to hear their wise teaching and encouragement, and do as they did following Jesus. That’s the first side of the square: Disciples chosen not for grit or intellect but willingless to follow with a new confident leader to show the way. Leaving nets, partners and family to follow without delay. Riding a bike for the first time: no problem, until Dad’s no longer there holding me! The first step Jesus took them through was I do, you watch!! And they did, as I did in 1975 to 1978, convinced that the world was their parish and no one could impeded the message of the Kingdom. When we start out on a new trail, we need a strong, confident leader to show us the way.
But like the budding cyclist, I can also remember with humility the thud with which I came down to earth once I left the safety of my local church and ventured out into the big bad world. Suddenly I was aware that I had no real idea of what I was doing, a bit like the disciples trying to feed the 5000 and failing dismally, and then suddenly without Jesus running into a storm. For me, the big bad wolf was as much the church as the world, both provided unwelcome challenges. For three years whilst studying, I struggled, boy did I struggle. Doubt, despair, discouragement all dogged my steps in that vital period for me. What I needed was reassurance and to be shown a bigger vision: so the Lord took me to Jamaica to experience a developing world country and how the gospel of grace can transform the worst of all situations. Jesus came alongside me in the power of the Holy Spirit and filled me to overflowing. I realised that not only did I need to be a servant of Jesus but of the gospel as well: and that I could do nothing apart from Him! I do, you help! was the second stage Jesus took them through. Storm tossed frightened disciples needed to see Jesus walking on water towards them and so do we, but more than that: they needed to invite Him afresh into their boat (boats they had left, boats that had been given back to them, boats that now they needed to use for Him). Scrapped knees for fallen cyclists can and will heal. Wholeness is a good qualification for Disciples: on the job salvation planning works best when we seek by faith to do the things Jesus did (oh and there’s a promise that we can do just that by the way in John 14:12).
Interestingly, Jesus places more emphasis on experience than explanation: Read Luke 12: 32-34. In essence, at this second stage Jesus encourages us to let go of our old securities and truly trust Him alone. So like me, the disciples realised that they were not going to flamboyantly usher in the kingdom overnight, in fact on their own not at all. They needed to understand the Kingdom is given not earned, received not taken. That it comes by grace not works: in stage two they began to learn and believe this. Do you know the vulnerability that characterised this stage is crucial to our growth in discipleship? We must receive the grace that comes only by going all the way through this uncomfortable phase. The budding cyclist might be tempted to this it’s not so cool to learn to ride after all: so does Dad give up teaching him? For me this stage was long; not until I had a word of prophecy spoken over my life in 1985 and then God took us to the East End of London in 1987 did I get it! When the disciple is bouncing around as many Christians do between stage 1 enthusiasm and stage 2 despair, the leader can offer a ladder to get out of the pit: it has two rungs: grace and vision. Painting Vision does not mean glossing over hard truth but it does allow the learner to say: “Okay – this is what I signed up for. It’s harder than I thought, but I’m ready now, so let’s go!” Confidence begins to grow because the person is seeing God’s work by grace, not the results of human effort. At this stage, we need pastoral caring wise leaders who mentor and take us deeper into Jesus. Thankfully, eventually the cyclist begins to crack it. Daddy, don’t let go, don’t let go, but the fact that she is pedalling faster and steering straighter with every yard and soon there will be no choice. And maybe it will be a while before the child realises daddy is no longer holding on. “I’m doing it!”, she cries. Stage 3 is characterised by Jesus saying You do, I help. Here Jesus treats us no longer as mere servants but us friends. Scared Storm tossed Disciples who have accepted that God is in charge are free to become friends of the master and the leadership style changes dramatically: here we spent quality time with Jesus learning how to grow in grace and fruitfulness. Here the leadership model is less directive and based upon a friendship relationship. Increased time with Jesus produces increased confidence. Followers start to become leaders themselves: they have passed through the first two stages and now have experience and vision to offer as God’s mission is undertaken. Friends have common objectives and share their lives together: that’s church, that’s the Body of Christ. For me, the time in the East End was my stage three: I learnt that friendship with Jesus was my supreme priority and goal, and the measure of that friendship would dictate and shape what I modelled for others, how I led a local congregation, and whether in the last analysis I was fruitful. God honoured the ministry and brought the harvest and 300 young people are in the kingdom as a result. I can never go back from that insight. A lot of Christians get to this stage in churches: “this is it! We’re friends! WE get to hug!” How much better could it get? But at this very comfortable stage of relationship with his disciples, Jesus drops a bombshell: he tells them that he will be leaving soon: so what’s he talking about? They start to flirt with stage two again. “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way”, says Thomas. Jesus answers with perhaps the defining statement of all mankind’s existence: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) but the disciples still don’t get it. They are happy where they are and don’t want this wonderful time to end. Jesus was preparing his friends for the final phase of discipleship.
Cyclists beware: madam not only can cycle but she can teach you too! We are almost around our square: in his home stretch the disciple has caught the vision and has practiced living it out. Here Jesus us saying: You do, I watch. Enthusiasm and confidence are high because experience is hight: competence is there to do the job without the leader, in fact the disciple is ready to be a leader and start the square all over again with other potential followers of Jesus! Now is the time when the leader delegates authority and responsibility, continually hearing Jesus teaching and putting it into practice send roots deep down, strengthening the disciple against the inevitable storms. The disciple’s confidence is in God and they are ready to move on out. Eventually we left our East End Brothers and Sisters – they went from strength to strength, established a new congregation, and they are now all around the UK and indeed the world serving Jesus and continuing His ministry.
Sure enought, Jesus was taken away from His disciples: arrested, crucified: He returns but this time as resurrected Lord. He doesn’t hang around his disciples all the time as before. He just runs up every so often and in the most surprising ways. Jesus is preparing the disciples to spend less time with Him. He is reducing their hours of contact with Him because He is now delegating authority. He is giving them the job he had done; they are to become his representatives. In this stage, the disciples are empowered with confidence and competence as a result of their deeper relationship and ministry with Jesus.
So we have seen the change in discipleship from the very first phase where Jesus says: Come follow me to the last stage where he says Go out into all the world and do what I have taught you to do. As the stages of discipleship grow and change, Jesus adjusts his leadership accordingly. He has taken the disciples through a process of development to equip them for their new task: taking the gospel of grace into the world.
2000 years on the process is no different, the task is no less significant, and the goal of brining more and more souls into a life transforming relationship with Jesus is no less attainable. This is not a call to be square: it’s a call to move from a learner to a leader and how the world and Gosforth needs such bold pioneering disciples today.
October 9th 2011