Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A New Day (Series Conclusion)

Last week I began with the idea of a sunset. The sunset represents the end of the day, and from our life’s perspective, the end of our lives. It is at that time that we truly reflect if we have lived life well or if we have wasted opportunities and wind up in despair.

However, if you recall, I said that one truth about the sunset is that while one story ends a new one awaits tomorrow. Someday tomorrow will not come, but so far it has come every day since the second day of Creation. Some people fear their tomorrows due to grief and anxiety, but others find hope in every tomorrow. It is like the coach of a baseball team that comforts his players by saying, “Don’t worry about it boys, we will get ‘em tomorrow.”

Because of tomorrows, we can endure. Because of who holds tomorrow, we can overcome. But to do so we must consider our future – tomorrow, more than our past – yesterday. And, as we do, we cannot overlook the moment in which we live because now is all we are guaranteed. As Bill Keane is noted for saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” – Bill Keane

Although yesterday is history and cannot be changed, we can learn from it. In fact, that is what we must do. And, if you recall, the word disciple means “learner” or “one who learns” so a good disciple will learn from the past in order to be prepared for the future. And the truth is that we all have much our life and experiences have taught us. All of us have fallen far short of where we should be. As I have mentioned several times over the past several months, good intentions mean nothing. It is action that counts.

We see that in our text for today. The story here is not recorded in Mark or we would have seen it earlier this year during that series. But this story occurs in the midst of Jesus being challenged on the Tuesday before His death. Let me briefly discuss these verses and then we will look at how they fit into the scope of this series.

It is only too late to start when the day is done.

Perhaps you can relate to the following. You go to bed one night knowing that tomorrow is a day with many things to accomplish. When you wake up, you fully expect to knock several items off of your list, but one particular task will take hours and you need the light of day to get the job done. But, it is early, and the sun will be up for hours. Later in the day you realize that you have done a few unimportant tasks, but the big one is still before you. You worked through lunch and are hungry so you decide to get a bite to eat before tackling the task. After you eat, you sit down to relax for a minute and fall asleep. And the next thing you know, it is too late to do the task today and you will not have a large enough block of time for another week or more.

The story we have in the Bible is not the same as the one I described here. However, one important part is the same – a certain bit of work must be done today. Notice the father specifically asks the son to go to the vineyard – today. Originally, the first son said no, but later went. The other said yes (maybe because of good intentions), but did not go.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Andy, you just talked about the significance of tomorrow, and now your first point is that the work must start today.” And, my response, “Yes. You are correct. What seems to be the trouble?”

Ok, I know the trouble, so let me explain, particularly as it relates to making disciples. The work in a vineyard is repetitive. Cutting, pruning, checking for insects, etc. And these things must be done each day. The father likely asks these sons to do work in the vineyard six days per week. And for what? To not taste the fruit for some 180 days. That is a long time of doing the same thing day after day with little to nothing to show for it. But if we do not do the work today, it is more difficult tomorrow. And if we wait until the day after that, we find the work even more difficult.

Thus, we can wait until tomorrow or, perhaps, a little later today, to get started. After all, that is what the first son did. He waited a bit, but then showed his obedience by actually doing what was asked. For some in here, perhaps you have waited to get started on being a disciple or making disciples of others. Perhaps you have said, like the first son, “I will not” but realize that your answer is an affront to God. Well, then this day is not done. What will you do today? Are you willing to do it tomorrow? And the next day? And for six months even if you still think nothing is changing. I assure you, if you commit to obeying Christ at a new, or a next level, changes will happen to you whether you notice them or not.

People recognize truth, but do not act upon it.

Jesus point in this parable are that the first son (the one with all the rights in the ancient world) is not first because of birth order, but because of obedience. The people of Israel who eventually obey – even the tax collectors and prostitutes – will gather the inheritance of God, while the people of Israel who should know better - the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees – will not receive anything – that is, they are not worthy of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 21.31). The group surrounding Jesus knows the right answer – the obedient son was correct, but they cannot see that their lack of obedience, to a truth that is known, will ultimately be their downfall.

Are we any different? Certainly, we fail when it comes to spiritual truths, but most of us fail at the practical, every day realities as well. How about our health? I am generally careful about caring for my back, but I do not do all that I could. Or what about exercise? Or what I eat? Or drink? Most of you know how much I like Pepsi, and some of you have witnessed how much I can drink. But when the doctor says, “Stop!” will I? I have been given a casual warning, but not an ultimatum – yet. I must admit that health-wise I do better now than I used to, but I still lack in certain areas. Like this group before Jesus, I know the truth, but do not act upon it. And I am sure the same is true for some of you – actually probably for everyone in some manner.

As disciples that should not be the case. Remember, a disciple is one who learns, and in Christian terms, s/he is one who learns to follow Jesus. So, what good does it do to learn to follow if we do not actually follow. Remember, James warned his readers they are deceived if they only hear and do not do (James 1.22) while those who act will be blessed (v. 25).

But not only are we to be a disciple, we are to make disciples. In the second message of this series, I gave five marks of a true disciple. Notice that all of the words are active in nature. That is, we must learn how about each step, but then we must do each step.

Responding to the Call of Jesus, the true disciple must:

  • Learn, following the Savior by making a Great Commitment (Matthew 4.19; Mark 1.17).
  • Live, knowing the truth of the Great Confession (Matthew 16.16).
  • Love, striving to obey the Great Commandment (Mark 12.29-31).
  • Lead, seeking to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20; Acts 1.8).
  • Leave, hearing our Master give the Great Commendation (Matthew 25.21, 23).

Of course, these steps represent the steps within our process we call GPS. Let’s take a moment to review our Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps one more time as we prepare to complete this series.

To be A large church in a small town. (Matthew 5.13-16)

Exalt the Savior (John 12.32).
Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13).
Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8).

Jesus (Matt 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
Observe (Colossians 1.28-29) – Following the commands of Jesus.
Unite (1 Cor 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
Revere (John 12.32) – Worshipping God in all aspects of our lives.
Nurture (Eph 4.12-13) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
You (Matt. 15.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.

Learn With Each Other (Acts 17.10-12)
Live For Each Other (Rom 15.1-2)
Love God and All Others (Matt 22.37-39)
Lead One Another (to Follow Jesus) (2 Tim 2.2)
(Leave) When Called by the One True Other (Acts 13.1-3)

Disciple-Making Church require disciple-making people. Throughout this series, we have looked at the characteristics (and problems) of several New Testament churches (you can find the list here).

Within these challenges faced by the various first century churches, you will find some reason that either prevents you from making disciples or challenges you to do it consistently. Maybe, like the people of Rome you would rather argue about petty matters instead of discussing various topics and potentially learning from someone else. Maybe you prefer to keep much of your life secret rather than exposing it to the light of the gospel as Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to do. If so, God already knows, you are only fooling yourself. Or maybe like the church at Philippi, you need to be reminded to let the past be the past, and to focus on the future. Remember, Paul said that his focus was on forgetting the past in order to strive for what was before Him.

Paul knew that he had to live for today. And he knew that if tomorrow came, he would live that day as well. We may not be able to change what is in the past, but again, as we learn from it, we can make tomorrow better – for ourselves and for others.

Throughout this series, I have shared reasons why people and churches do not make disciples. Let me merely mention these here, and then I will come back to these in the Next Step(s) below.

We don’t understand Jesus – Making disciples was not just for the 1st Century believers.
We don’t believe God – We will face difficulty, but God is greater than any challenge we will face.
We don’t love Jesus – Simply put, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”
We don’t know how – We have not been shown or have not allowed ourselves to be shown.

Again, these four reasons may seem valid, but only when talking between ourselves. What will we do when we stand face-to-face with our Creator and He asks why we didn’t make disciples? We must realize now that whatever excuse we may give will not be valid. Why? Because we are making excuses to not follow Jesus – who had plenty of reasons not to go to the cross for us, but did so anyway. Why? Because He loved us and thus obeyed His Father. Yes, Jesus showed His love for us through obedience to the Father, just as we show our love to others, and to God, through our obedience to Him.

Really, our decision to be like the obedient son we discussed earlier boils down to how we view God. To read the words of Jesus and to make them a part of the fabric of our lives means we truly understand our sinful nature and have begun to grasp the “But God” kind of God He is.

On the other hand, if we dismiss the commands of Jesus, we really do not have a high-view of God. In fact maybe our we have made a little “g” god for ourselves. That way we do not have to be held accountable when we say “but god.”

That is the essence of this series. Will we be disciple-making people? Will we be known as a disciple-making church? Will we rise up and celebrate our great God whose grace and mercy have raised us to say “But God?” Or will we complain and make excuses by whining, “but god?”

JOURNEY:  R – Revere

Again, our love for Jesus is known when we are obedient to Him. Obedience requires a sense of reverence. Are you making disciples? Will you make disciples? Do you revere God?

Our next steps this week has two parts and multiple options.

First, over the course of this next week, examine the ideas in the related post. Look to see what ideas are listed that may be preventing you from making disciples. As you identify a few of these items, ask God to help you to overcome each challenge and to prepare you to become a disciple maker.

Second, let me return one last time to our four reasons (excuses) for not making disciples. Take time this week to determine which Step you need to take - then take it. Don’t settle for good intentions, let today be a new day and act upon whatever Step you need to do.

Reason 1:  We don’t understand Jesus.  Take time to Learn what a disciple is and what s/he is to do.

Reason 2:  We don’t believe God.  Ask God to increase your faith so you may Live and make disciples as you do.

Reason 3:  We don’t love Jesus.  Prove your Love for Jesus by making disciples for Him.

Reason 4:  We don’t know how.  Find someone to train you as a disciple so you may later Lead others.

What is in the past, is in the past. Maybe you have known what to do, but have not responded yet. While this is true in many area of life, let it be true of making disciples. Let today be that day. It is a new day and disciples are waiting to grow. Start with one today. Then continue tomorrow. Then repeat every day until that disciple is ready to make other disciples. Let us rise to the challenge of being a disciple-making church. Let us put Satan on notice that we are ready to be a “But God” kind of church!

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