Sunday Message, 11th September – Life Shapes ‘The Circle: Choosing to learn from life’
As a Christian, I know that I am a work in progress, and the older I get the more work there seems to be done! Following Jesus sounds good on the face of it but if that’s as far as it goes, then all we do is shadow Him and become like a groupie who hero worships but changes not ones life or lifestyle. No following Jesus means becoming by grace and the work of the Holy Spirit more and more like Him! In John the Baptist’s words: He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30). But if I am to become more and more like Him, I need practical clues about how that can happen for me: it’s called Discipleship and this series will hopefully give us handle on the how of maturing into a fruitful Christian Life, which is Jesus shaped and Jesus centred.
So today we are brought face to face with the first thing Jesus chooses to say when He began His public ministry on Planet Earth almost 2000 years ago. ‘The Time has come, the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news’. So how does this help me to be a disciple? Answer: firstly it speaks of a special and unique moment in time, a Kairos moment. Not just the onward march of time: chronos (which gives us chronological), this is a significant event in your’s and my life (a crossroads moment). So it was when Jesus began His ministry and so it is for you and me as we realise a change is needed and choose to allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of the need to change priorities, direction, attitudes or actions. In essence, it’s all about us trusting God and allowing Him to reshape our lives into becoming more like Jesus. Most of us won’t opt or vote for change: it’s much easier to stay within our comfort zones, but if we are serious about following Jesus, staying as we are is not an option. Just as with those first disciples, the Kairos moment requires a radical shift, it requires us in the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:8 to ‘seize the day!’
Then Jesus tells us what particular kairos moment has arrived: the Kingdom of God He says is near. In His significant first words He lays claim to His divinity and clearly sets before His hearers the thought that the Kingdom of God is near because He is near! It’s a Kingdom where God rules unchallenged and unequalled: God the merciful waiting Father desperate for His children’s return, God the graceful Son embodying the Father’s love and ultimately paying the price for a brand new born again relationship and God the Holy Spirit, powerfully at work reuniting souls back into that eternal sweep of His-story. The kingdom is near (Jesus on Planet Earth), the Kingdom is established once and for all through the cross (Jesus triumphant over all), and then one day it will be visible forever when Jesus returns.
Finally Jesus gives us the practical tip for growth in discipleship: repent and believe the good news! This is the Kairos place of action and it happens not just as a one off at our conversion and acceptance of Christ, it is a regular feature in living the Christian life day after day. It’s as important in what seem the big significant kairos moments of our life but it’s as essential in the tiny daily moments as well because if we don’t crack them how will we ever find the courage to respond to the big moments?
But let’s pause a moment because as a Pastor, I have observed two extremes: one that places all the emphasis on repetence and leaves the believer covering with very low self-esteem (woe is me), and the other that places all the emphasis on believing faith and when God doesn’t do what they think He should be left disappointed and unchanged. Neither extreme is biblical or helpful. This is a biblical twin: like Jesus being full of grace and truth, repetance and belief go together. Of course, what you are repenting of needs to be something helpful that has taken root in your life (an attitude or action that one cannot find in Jesus), and of course what you are believing in needs to be something unhelpful that has taken root in your life (an attitude or action that one cannot find in Jesus), and of course what you are believing in needs to be something or indeed someone which or who will enhance your life and living rather than diminish it. Jesus says that we need to believe the good news: the gospel of grace personified in himself. He, God, in the person of His son Jesus, and with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is what fills the vacuum left by repetance: a vacuum is left unfilled leaves one open to returning to the old ways, attitudes and sins. Filling with the Gospel of Grace is not just a nice option; it’s absolutely essential to the Christian life (of faith, hope and love). Once filled with what is essentially more of Jesus, you and I are much less likely to fall back into old ways, and more likely to start to see things, situations, people with our Lord’s eyes and with grace and mercy.
So let’s look a bit deeper at repetance. It’s part of the five-fold step offered by Peter to the first Christians at Pentecost n Acts 2: repent, believe, receive, be baptised, and join the church. Many of us were badly born: we were encouraged to believe and put our trust in Jesus but were never taught that repetence was the backdrop to this. I was in this category and found that in my early Christian life I kept messing up because my old nature: habits, actions, attitudes were all still there un-dealt with. Thank God that He is gracious and that he brought into my life dear saints, who could see this was my problem: I repented of many key issues and threw myself afresh upon the saviour’s gracious forgiveness for me. I declared the cross to be a completed work over my life and found my Christian Life went up a gear. The Greek word for repetance is metanoia, which was what the Roman centurion would bark out as an order if he required his soldiers to about turn. It literally means to change ones way of thinking, being or acting: Kairos is an event word, Metanoia is a process word. Sometimes repetance takes time, and we certainly need to fill the vacuum left with faith-filled belief in Christ. Can I say this gently yet firmly: nothing you can do will make God love you more, and nothing you have done will make God love you less, but God loves you too much to leave you as you are. Repetance is the door to that glorious freedom He wants for all His children. Things that cause kairos moments are seldom neutral, they leave their impact on you and change your life: they signal to your soul an opportunity to grow spiritually and emotionally. Constant renewal, revival and change are the stuff of discipleship: God knows are hiding places sometimes better than we know them ourselves. Our Circle encourages us to see events big and small as opportunities to observe where we are at, reflect and question especially in submission with others we trust, and discuss how we need to change.
And so to belief: clearly the first disciples were not signing up to a new religion, they were coming into relationship with a new rabbi. Jesus didn’t say to them: come and be a good Jew, He said come follow me! And He didn’t call them into a one-way relationship. He called them into a divine partneship. He called those men to be fishers of men. Repent and believe meant for them ‘in a fishing by Lake Galilee kairos moment’ to choose to turn away from their comfortable familiar lives as fisherman and start to follow Jesus and many more years following his death, resurrection and ascension as the vanguard of those who followed the way of Jesus and made known the gospel of grace, which they had experienced in Jesus and believed in. Grace was not an alien concept to them because that’s what they started to discover from that first day, and above all theory, it was embodied and lived out by Jesus. Many of us have believed just in the idea of Jesus without plumbing the glorious depths of a friendship with Him. Believing in Jesus is a 24/7 dynamic commitment to an adventurous faith-filled life. Don’t be short changed by mere religion, hollow churchainity or as Paul describes to Timothy: a form of godlessness but with no power. Putting it another way, John the Baptist had a word for the religious of his day: produce fruit in keeping with your repetance (Mt. 3:8). Why are people put off Church? Because their experience of church people is that they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. The world is looking not for cheap grace or religiosity, it’s looking for authenticity, it’s looking for Jesus. The process of believing is important: we need to have a God shaped and led plan for inner and lasting change, be accountable to our brothers and sisters in such a transformative process, and step out in faith. It’s the difference between the wise and foolish virgins and builders: it means taking Jesus at His word whatever the apparent outcome.
So when that tendency to gossip and diminish others behind their back rears its head – we need to repent of gossiping – see the person as Jesus does – resolve to season my conversation with the Holy Spirit and get back on the discipleship journey.
So when that religious judgmental spirit looks upon another and thinks ‘I’m better than them’ – we need to repent of our attitude – get the attitude of Jesus – and receive a fresh revelation of Grace.
So when that ‘me first’ attitude rises and others are trampled upon – we need to repent of arrogance, receive again a revelation of the attitude of Jesus, and set out as a servant of the Master once again.
The circle diagram on page 8 of Life @ Trinity is a great visual representation of this repent and believe principle – having truly repented I am propelled by my new renewed believing in Christ back onto the journey of discipleship with new passion.
September 11th 2011