Portraits of Discipleship

lili-popper-29472-unsplashThe term “discipleship” means different things to different people. Some people think of discipleship as a specific kind of bible study curriculum or an optional class at their church that is focused on discipleship. Other people imagine a person – one of the original twelve disciples that Jesus Christ called to follow him. Another group of people may get stuck on the root of the word which is “discipline.” These understandings aren’t wrong, they are just incomplete.

Discipleship is more than an idea, or a person, or class. Discipleship is a process in which people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and learn to serve him more effectively. In John 1:29-51, John the Apostle (one of the original twelve disciples) shared three short stories about Jesus and his interactions with his first followers. You could call these short stories portraits of discipleship.

Each one of the three stories in this passage answers two questions: Who is Jesus? And what does it mean to follow Jesus?

  • THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD (v. 29-34)

John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus Christ was “the Lamb of God” while John was baptizing and preaching by the Jordan river. Lambs were very important in Jewish thinking. A lamb was killed at Passover and its blood was spread on the doorposts of the home to symbolizes God’s pardon. This teaches us that sin can only be wiped away by the blood of a sacrificial lamb.

  • THE RABBI WHO TEACHES US ABOUT OURSELVES (v. 35-42)

John the Baptist passed on two his disciples to Jesus: Andrew and either Philip or John. Andrew went and found his brother, Simon, and introduced him to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus took the opportunity to teach Simon something about himself. Even though Simon was impulsive and outspoken, he would become as solid as rock through his time with Jesus. Jesus gave him a new nickname, Peter, as a promise of the transformation that would happen in his life.

  • THE TRUE KING WHO RULES OVER GOD’S PEOPLE (v. 43-51)

Jesus went into Galilee and found another disciple named Philip. Like Andrew, Philip found his brother, Nathaniel, and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus explained to his growing band of followers he already knew Nathaniel. Jesus knew Nathaniel while studied the Scriptures under a fig tree. Jesus also knew that Nathaniel was truthful and authentic

Nathaniel immediately recognized Jesus as the True King of Israel. The Jewish Messiah was God’s chosen reprehensive to lead his people according to God’s promise to King David (2 Sam. 7). As such, Jesus Christ bridged the gap between heaven and earth, reintroducing God’s activity among his people.

These three portraits of discipleship present one compelling truth: The things we learn about Jesus should lead us to follow him.

This passage is more than a list of titles and descriptions. It contains a series of experiences and interactions with Jesus. It teaches us to balance our knowledge about  God with our knowledge of God. It invites us to have a similar experience with Jesus as his first followers: Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.

Each one of these portraits of discipleship highlights a different “first step” of discipleship. Some disciples come to Jesus for forgiveness, others for transformation, and others are encouraged to surrender their lives. As you assess your connection to Christ, make sure that the things you are learning are leading you to follow Him.

Lost in Translation

sharon-mccutcheon-532782-unsplashHave you ever played the game called “telephone”? One person whispers a message to the person next to them and it travels down the line until the last person announces what they heard. I’ve played “telephone” dozens of times in my life, maybe more, and the message original message always gets lost somewhere in the translation.

When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God created the universe through the power of his spoken word. God revealed his plan to redeem mankind through his inspired and authoritative written word, the Bible. But God went even further to communicate and connect with mankind so his magnificent character and intentions were not “lost in translation.” God sent His Son, Jesus Christ – the Living Word – into the world to reveal Himself to us.

As we read John 1:1-18, we find four truths about Jesus Christ. The Apostle John gives us these four truths so that we might know God, not just know about Him. Notice what these verses tell us about Jesus.

First, He is a divine person (1:1-2). John introduces “the Word” as a person, not an idea or an impersonal force. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is distinct but equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This is absolutely foundational to the rest of the things we read about Jesus Christ in John’s Gospel.

Second, He was present at creation (1:3-5). John connects his Gospel to the creation story in Genesis by starting it out the same way: “in the beginning.” In Genesis 1:26, we read about God’s conversation with himself about creating mankind in his image (“Let us create man in our image.”) The Apostel Paul declares that Jesus has always existed and “all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16).

Third, He is the power of redemption (1:6-13). Although Jesus Christ created humans and became a human, he was dismissed and rejected. But by God’s grace, some have responded faith and believe. Those who do are redeemed and adopted as children of God. This spiritual “rebirth” is brought about by the power of God.

Fourth, He is a picture of God (1:14-18). The Second Commandment prohibited God’s people from making an “idol” or likeness” of God as a part of their worship (Exodus 20:4-6). This commandment was to keep the Hebrews from settling for a disappointing substitute for God. Jesus was is so much more than a disappointing substitute – he is God is the flesh.

John’s testimony is designed to introduce others to Jesus Christ, not just tell them about him.  Theologian J. I. Packer once said, There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have the energy to serve Him, boldness to share, and contentment in Him.” Knowing about someone is not the same as having a personal relationship with that person.

Every relationship starts with a decision. You can start a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by deciding two things. First, that you personally believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that he died for you and your sins. Second, that you personally accept his offer of a new life. The new life that God offers comes forgiveness and a home in heaven.

Some things get lost in translation, but Jesus Christ did not. He reveals such a clear and compelling picture of God and his love for us that we must respond. Have you responded to his message for you?

Share Your Joy

person-110305_1280What brings you joy? Do you find joy in your achievements and accomplishments? Does your joy come from those around you?  Do your circumstances control your level of joy?

The Prophet Isaiah ministered during a stormy time in his nation’s history. The Assyrian Empire was growing in strength and taking over the many of the nations in Fertile Crescent. The Jewish nation and Isaiah’s personal situation was about to get worse.

Even though Isaiah’s circumstances looked bleak, he pointed his people to a time of intense joy and celebration. In Isaiah chapter 11, the prophet predicts the eventual the eventual redemption and restoration of his people, the Jews, through Jesus Christ the Messiah. In chapter 12, he describes the emotions and activities associated with the day of salvation. As the Jews rejoiced over their salvation, they were moved to share their joy with other people.

Even though our cultural and political situation in the church today is much different than in Isaiah’s day, we can learn from him. In Isaiah chapter 12, we learn that when a church is full of joy over the gospel something spills out and that something is evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who don’t know him yet. If a church is full of joy over the good news about Jesus Christ, they will share it with others outside the church. If there is limited joy in a church, or it comes from the wrong things, then evangelism will disappear.

A brief reading of Isaiah 12 reveals three ways that all believers can find in Jesus Christ and express it to others. First, you can share your joy with others because is present everywhere you go (verse 6). God is always with his people. Second, you can share your joy through praise and worship (verse 5). Music and singing reveal what hidden in the human heart. Third, you can share your joy with all people (verse 4). True joy is contagious, spreading from person to person.

Let’s all take a lesson from the Prophet Isaiah. Enduring joy only comes from God, who sent Jesus to save us from ourselves. If believers and the churches they attend are full of joy it will not only change the atmosphere in the church, it will change their activity. If you’ve found your joy in God, then find someone to share that joy with this week.

That You May Believe

john-sermon-ppt-title-bEveryone has a story to tell.

The Apostle John told his story about Jesus Christ. From everything we know, John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples that who lived into old age. John used his time to minister in the church and write Scripture. John wrote three Epistles, the book of Revelation, and the Gospel that bears his name.

Recently, we started a new sermon series at the church where I serve as pastor on the Gospel of John. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book, we started near the end where John reveals the purpose of his writing. In John 20:30-31, John identifies the keys unlocking his story about Jesus Christ. He writes first about his himself, and then about his mission.

1. The Man: John wrote from his own personal experience (v. 30).

John was transformed by his time with Jesus. He learned to balance and spiritual maturity. In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor John MacArthur outlines three ways that John changed. First, John learned the balance of love and truth. Second, he learned to balance ambition with humility. Third, he learned the balance of suffering and glory. The old adage is “a leopard can’t change its spots,” but that wasn’t true for John. He grew from one of the “Sons of Thunder” into the Apostel of love (Mark 3:17).

John also witnessed Jesus perform many signs and wonders. John describes seven of those miracles in the first half of his Gospel. He focuses last half of his Gospel on Christ’s most incredible miracle, his resurrection from the dead. John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than were recorded in the pages of Scripture.

The only other place in the Bible where signs and wonders are so widespread is in the story of the Exodus. In Exodus 10:1-2, we read that God performed many signs through Moses so that the people would recognize God as God and come to know Him. John was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh because he saw him perform so many signs and wonders.

2. The Mission: John wrote for a special purpose (v. 31).

He wrote his story about Jesus so that his readers would exercise faith in Jesus. John uses some form of the verb “believe” 10 times more often than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s story about Jesus, almost everyone that comes in contact with Jesus is faced with a choice to either believe in or not believe in Jesus.

He also wrote so that his readers would experience eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive from God by faith. is the gift we receive in return. Eternal life is a quality of life as well as a quantity of life. It describes life walking with Jesus day by day, either on this earth or in heaven.

In summary, John wrote his Gospel so that you would believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.

John was the only disciple that we know that was present at Christ’s crucifixion. In John 19, we read about him standing by the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women. As Jesus was about to die, he asked John to take his mom into his home and take care of her. This tender moment paints a beautiful picture of belief and discipleship. John identified with Jesus at great risk to himself. John dedicated his life to caring for the people that Jesus cared about – His mom as well other disciples in the church. John also told his story of transformation with Jesus.

Just like the characters in John’s story about Jesus, you have a decision to make – what will you do with Jesus?

  • Will you identify with Jesus through repentance and faith?
  • Will you dedicate your life to caring for the people Jesus cares about?
  • Will you tell your story of transformation in Christ with others?

(Special thanks goes to Thearon Landrum for making a graphic for this post!)

Listen to the whole sermon at:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-01-15T05_33_43-08_00

 

Here Is My List for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving-PhotosThanksgiving is not just a cultural or historical holiday, it is a biblical mandate.  Here are just a few verses that encourage us to give thanks:

“O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (1 Chronicles 16:33, NASB)<

“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 106:1, NASB)<

“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15, NASB)

Since today is Thanksgiving, I thought I would share a list of things that I am thankful for this year.

I am thankful for the salvation I have in Jesus Christ.

I am thankful for my amazing wife and our four healthy, growing kids.

I am thankful for my friends and extended family who have loved and supported us through the ups and downs of the last few years.

I am thankful for our new church family – Unity Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky.

I am thankful for our new home and newly adopted dog, Roger.

I am thankful for my an opportunity to do what I love and what God has called me to do: preach, lead, and shepherd.

I am thankful for my health.

I am thankful for the freedoms and prosperity that we enjoy in America, compared to the rest of the world.

I am thankful for hope and a future because no matter what happens, I know that everything is in God’s hands.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

How to Teach the Bible Through Discussion Without Missing the Point, Part 2

sm-grp-bible-study-LOWResThis is the second part of a two-part series on how to teach the Bible through discussion without missing the point of the lesson.

Interactive small group Bible studies can be a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship, especially when they are combined with a dynamic church worship service and opportunities to serve and do ministry.  Several weeks ago, I introduced this topic by pointing out 4 major challenges to leading an effective and interactive small group Bible study.  Today, I will share 5 suggestions for teaching the Bible through discussion without missing the point and here they are:

1.Have a clear goal(s) in mind

Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar is credited with the axiom, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit is every time.”  If you don’t know what you are trying to teach, there is no way anyone else will either.

Discussion based teaching should not be used as an excuse for lack of preparation.  Be flexible, but write down 1 to 3 goals, truths, or principles that you want to communicate.

2.     Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are designed to solicit participation and information from the group.  They are questions that require more than a one word answer.  When used strategically, they can create momentum and buy-in.

Open-ended question help you connect with your students, but they also help your students connect with each other.  As group members hear others respond to questions they are urged to share their perspective and insights as well.

3.     Deal with distractions

In part one of this two-part series, I listed distractions as one of the challenges that small group leaders have to overcome – they are inevitable.  Instead of the ignoring a distraction, identify the “elephant in the room” and move on.  And don’t forget to laugh, when appropriate.  If something happens that is funny, enjoy the moment use it to bring your group closer together.

4.     Clarify responses

Group discussions can become unproductive or confusing without some leadership.  When needed, restate participants responses and ask if that what they meant, if they are unclear.

This kind of clarification can also be a good way to transition to another stage in the meeting or point in the lesson.  It gives the leader an opening in the discussion while affirming the rest of the group.
 
5.     Sensitively seek full participation

Part of a  group leader’s job is to keep “the ball going.”  If some of the members of your group are shy or introverted, you may have to find ways to engage them without embarrassing them.  You may also have to gently restrain over-talkative group members by thanking them for the participation and asking others to chime in.

Do you have any suggestions you would add to the list?  What have you found helpful in teaching the Bible through discussion without missing the point?