"I have begun to follow Jesus, and am depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey"
Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus, Part 1
Feb.21, 2010 Is 55:1-9; Lk 13:1-9; Rom 10:8b-13; 2Cor 5:16-21
"I BELIEVE IN THE POWER" - OF PEOPLE? THE PODIUM?
For the past couple of weeks, a new song has been ringing out over the Canadian countryside and airwaves. It's the theme music chosen by the consortium that broadcasts the Olympics. The lyrics were written by Alan Frew of the band Glass Tiger. Titled "I believe" in English, it's a very dramatic and catchy piece that seems to sum up what might be an athlete's aspirations as they prepare for an Olympic competition. [PLAY SAMPLE] Do you recognize some of the melody? It's used in the CTV coverage - your ears have been 'branded'! Let's look more closely at the lyrics - just what does this song say "I believe" in?
First, let's speak about its positive aspects. It's a beautiful piece of music, excellently performed and orchestrated. A classy job, artistically. Catchy and memorable, with even a little syncopation thrown in. What about its message? It does go beyond self to community - it doesn't stop at "I've chosen" or "stand alone" but goes beyond me to we: 'together we'll fly' / 'the power of you and I' (though grammatically 'you and me' would have been more correct, it wouldn't have rhymed!). So it's not strictly speaking a proud and selfish message, simply focussed on the individual; as if to say, "I can do this on my own, I don't need anybody else." It gives credit to the value of community, togetherness, the crowd cheering on the athlete, the fans cheering on the team.
The Bible does emphasize the importance of community and partnership rather than just individualism. God commands us to 'love your neighbour as yourself', 'love one another'. So in going beyond just myself, beyond the 'I' to 'you and I', the theme song is commendable. In Canada, the land that began as 'a community of communities', it's good to remember we depend on each other, we need others.
There are definitely moments of nobility and good sportsmanship during the Olympics: the crowd cheered and applauded the German women's bobsled team even when they crashed and were sent hurtling out of the sled. Several tons of maple syrup were sent to the Norwegian coach who lent a pole to a Canadian skier whose pole had broken in a previous Olympics. Podium medalists were seen to applaud each other and celebrate the other person's accomplishments; the games do provide opportunities for mutual honouring and encouragement.
But to stop there 'in the power of you and I', where the theme song does, risks falling into the idolatry of humanism. This is pride broadcast large - we can do it on our own. The song says, "together we'll fly" - really now! Isn't that a bit boastful? Gravity still requires us to land after a jump! Is the best thing we can do to 'make the world proud'? The song claims, "Now nothing can stop me" - doesn't that sound heretical, like a challenge to the Biblical truth that "nothing is impossible with God"? Who needs God when you 'believe in the power of you and I'? Humanism shuns God, it resists and rejects the idea of an absolutely holy, powerful Creator / Judge to whom we are accountable; no 'higher power' is necessary (or tolerated) than 'the power of you and I'.
Fact is, this beautiful piece of music could have been the theme song the workers sang as they passed bricks to each other while building the Tower of Babel back in Genesis 11. "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves..." (Gen 11:4) What did God think of that - this idea that 'nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them'? He confused their language and scattered them. God won't give His unique glory, His omnipotence and sovereignty, to another. To affirm 'now nothing can stop me' is like thumbing our nose at God, it's an affront to His glory.
By contrast, the picture Scripture paints shows humanity to be fallen, sinful, broken, hurting and hurtful. Sooner or later others will let us down, be unfaithful or forgetful, even jealous or suspicious. It's not always our experience that - to quote the song - "the arms of the world will come reaching out and embrace me to be all I can be". Were that the case, we wouldn't have gang fights, bullying in the schoolyard and in cyberspace, spousal and child abuse. Sometimes arms come reaching out not to embrace but to grab and take advantage.
Truth is, while the theme song tries to include others, the Olympics themselves are all about competition. Who's the very best in this sport in the world? Only 3 out of the dozens in each event will get to 'own the podium' while all the rest are left to 'moan the podium'; recall the looks of abject despair we've seen on some of the losers' faces - like that speed skater throwing away his glasses in disgust after finding out he'd been disqualified for a lane change error. Or the shame or at least disappointment we felt as a nation after the two Hamelin brothers made it to the final heat of 5 speed skaters but were left at the back of the pack. Such an intense contrast between the glory of the podium and the agony of the also-rans! On a purely materialist level, if you don't 'have what it takes' in competition, the reality of losing can drive one to despair.
"I believe in the power of you and I." Is that all? Jesus offers us something better to believe in that transcends mere human ability.
INTRODUCTION: 'THE JOURNEY' AND THE SEVENFOLD WAY
Over the next few weeks in Lent, our themes are drawn from something new and experimental, yet rooted in what's most basic about Christianity. EMC President Phil Delsaut and the national leadership team, including regional ministers Claran Martin and Joel Zantingh, had been working on some core statements - sort of a refreshed 'vision' of Christianity if you will - that might help mobilize God's people in the EMCC in the 21st century. They want to fight a certain malaise in the evangelical church; many don't know how to put their 'going to church' and their 'following Jesus' together. For example, one churchgoer, a young adult woman passionate about her Christian faith, admitted: "I love the people, but I hate going to church. There is such a disconnect between my experience with Jesus everyday and what happens in church."
Last year the east and west districts pooled resources that enabled the national church to purchase its first proper office building - a former United Church on Highland Road in Kitchener. But the national team's dream is more than office space: with the blessing of neighbouring EMC congregations in Kitchener, they're planning to launch a less conventional style of church called "The Journey", with leadership provided at startup on a voluntary basis from some within the national team. They propose using seven core statements as a basis for this new faith community. What exactly is this Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus?
1. I have begun to follow Jesus, and am depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey.
2. I am inviting and helping others to begin following Jesus.
3. I am learning to be like Jesus in my attitudes, behaviours, character.
4. I am learning to love God and to love others.
5. I am learning the teachings of Jesus.
6. I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a growing follower of Jesus.
7. I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.
President Phil comments: "Our fulfillment in life is discovered in a life of simple obedience to Jesus. He is the pacesetter, the Guide. We are learning to follow Jesus...As a fellow traveler on the Journey your primary 'Christian service' is making your faith real where you live. This is no 'social gospel' - it's just that we don't get to spit out the parts of Jesus' teaching that may not suit us. There is nothing new here. It is a return to basics! Your life is an adventure! My life is an adventure!"
President Delsaut notes "The Following Jesus factor: Being a disciple in the simplest terms means following Jesus. It keeps the relationship with the One Who is Our Lord front and centre. It is simple...- 'Follow Jesus'. It is simple enough to know by heart. The 7 statements are seven pegs that root a growing relationship with Jesus for a lifetime. They are 'incarnational', 'missional' and 'practical.' ...The essence of the Christian life is laid bare. It cannot mean 'going to church'. It is about following Jesus. It cannot mean 'following a list of rules': it is about being like Jesus.
The Great Commission appears front and centre in statement #2 - it is a necessary corollary to statement #1. The Great Commandment appears in #4, and according to Jesus summarizes what it is to be 'like Jesus.'
"...the sevenfold statement roots the 'follower of Jesus' in community... statements #6 and #7 set this out explicitly. #6 sets out the reciprocal responsibility for helping someone and someone helping me on my journey. I am not alone in this journey of following Jesus! #7, picks up the Great Commission mandate but does so affirming the importance of community and the focus on Jesus' mission to the world."
And, "The Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus puts the onus squarely on the follower of Jesus. It also affirms the dignity of the Follower of Jesus...It is parents who are called to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and the role of state, church or school must supplement and not supplant that right and responsibility...When 'the church' consistently teaches and models an approach that keeps the onus on the follower of Jesus, then we have a chance of breaking the 'handout' mentality we have so deeply entrenched: 'What programs do you have for me or my kids?'"
Today at the start of our series, we begin at the beginning: "I have begun to follow Jesus, and am depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey."
NOT A CONTEST BUT A COMMITMENT
To begin to follow Jesus requires first of all that we see our need - the peril of perishing. The Olympic theme song's view of human potential apart from God's intervention is rosy compared to that of Scripture. In Luke 13 some people tell Jesus about some Galileans Pilate had slaughtered at the temple - possibly in retribution for some rebellion in that area. What was Jesus' response? "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Lk 13:2-5) He didn't make distinctions: all are sinners, all are guilty, so all will perish unless we repent. His evaluation of our human morality - or rather, lack of it - is pretty sobering. We've all fallen short of God's glory and deserve hell.
Second, we need to appreciate God's gracious offer. Isaiah calls out in chapter 55 (1f, 7), "Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare...Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." Hear the contrast between the paltry passing pleasures of this world and what God freely offers? Good fare that our soul can truly delight in; mercy, pardon.
Paul writing to the church at Corinth describes God's offer as reconciliation to Himself through Christ; God has made "Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." In spiritual terms, God takes away our 'loser' badge and gives us the gold medal His Son won by His flawless sacrifice at the cross. The scoreboard is reset: in Christ, God is "Not counting men's sins against them." (2Cor 5:19,21) Such a wonderful offer! Elsewhere Paul describes it, "the...Lord of all...richly blesses all who call on Him." Did you hear that? RICHLY BLESSES! Much better than any podium built by people!
Seeing our need - appreciating God's gracious offer - all that remains for us to do is to commit and confess. This is the heart of what it means to say "I have begun to follow Jesus and am depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey." Paul is very clear about the steps to take in Romans 10(9f): "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." To believe is to commit, to trust that God did indeed raise Jesus from the dead - to accept that as fact, and submit your actions and decisions to Jesus' Lordship, He's your new manager. With the heart we believe and are justified, viewed as righteous in God's sight. With our mouth - our actions - we confess or own Jesus to be our Lord, testifying to other people about the difference He makes in our life. Like the early disciples, we 'leave everything and follow Him' - Peter leaves His fishing-boat, Matthew gets up from his lucrative tax-collecting table. Everything, even our livelihood, is now subject to Jesus' oversight and at His disposal.
"Depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey" means heeding and yielding to the Spirit's nudges. Paul wrote, "through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death...You...are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness...if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Ro 8:2,9f,13-14) We marvel at the control and responsiveness of Olympic skiers and snowboarders as they manouevre down the convoluted slopes and courses, the timing of figure skaters doing quads and throws in midair. Are we giving God's Spirit such awareness and responsiveness in our daily decisions?
FAITH AT THE CENTRE OF LIFE FOR MEDAL-WINNER
Cindy Klassen is a speed-skater who became the first Canadian to win five medals at a single Winter Olympics: in 2006 at Turin, Italy she capture a gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze medals. She competed again in 4 events in this Olympics, but pain in her knee following surgery for tendon and ligament repair and scar tissue removal has impeded her performance. Yet her faith keeps her grounded. She says, "I've won a medal, but that's nothing compared to the crown I'll get in Heaven.I see a lot of people in sports who think when they reach a certain level they've got it made, but really, you can only find happiness in the Lord." She adds, "God has given me this gift to be able to skate and race and He wants 100% of me."
Cindy shows her discipleship by how she uses her time. After her 23-year-old sister drove off an icy bridge in 2007, she cut training to be with her while she learned to walk again after being without oxygen for over 5 minutes. Having grown up in a Mennonite Brethren church, Cindy remains involved in ministry despite her busy schedule. She also currently serves as an ambassador for Christian Blind Mission International (the agency Yvonne & I worked for in Nigeria & Congo). Her focus in that role is on children with disabilities in the poorest countries of the world; she says they face "incredible challenges...for many of them it's a matter of life and death."
Cindy's attitude, her perspective, sums up well the first element of the Sevenfold Way: following Jesus, depending on His Spirit in our journey. She told CTV News, "My faith is at the centre of my life.And so, when I go to the (start) line, I know it's in God's hands and that eases my mind." The Spirit coaches us to keep putting ourselves in God's hands - to keep Jesus at the centre, and simply follow Him. That far surpasses any earthly reward or medal! Let's pray.