"(2) I am inviting and helping others to begin following Jesus.(6) I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a growing follower of Jesus."
Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus, Part 4
March 21, 2010 Luke 15:1-3,11-32; Php 3.4-14
NOT A D-I-Y PROJECT
Jesus was sending the Twelve disciples out one day on a short-term missions project. Mark 6(7) tells us, "Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits." Why didn't He just send them out individually? Couldn't they have covered twice as many locations in the same amount of time? But the Lord sent them two by two. He knew we need partners, mentors, encouragers in serving Him.
Some people may approach the Christian life as if it were a Do It Yourself project. For small projects around home, those can be satisfying IF they turn out all right. Recently our son Keith in Ottawa bought a DIY wardrobe for some more storage space in their limited 2-bedroom apartment. He tried to let 3-year-old Isaiah help out, making it sort of a father-son project. At first it went OK, with Isaiah passing his dad the screws he needed to assemble the shelving unit. But before too long Isaiah lost interest; he started banging things around, and soon wandered off to pursue something else more to his liking, leaving Keith to finish the job on his own.
Q: can you think of a time you started a project by yourself and had to call for help part way through?
The problem is, that's how many people in the church approach discipleship. We try to go solo when really we need to stick by each other, practise 2x2 in order to multiply.
LOST AND LOSTER
We can see 'going solo' attitudes reflected in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. This chapter features several stories of lost things - a lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. We tend to dwell on the first half of the parable of the prodigal son, focusing on it as an illustration of God's gracious mercy for undeserving sinners. But in its context, it's actually more directed at warning those who have a "do-it-yourself" approach to religion.
Note what's happening in 15:2: the Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering that Jesus welcomed 'sinners' and was eating with them - tax collectors and other outcasts. Jesus responds by telling three parables. What's the point of the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin? 15:7, "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Jesus is suggesting repentant sinners are more treasured by God than are self-righteous types who look down their noses at those who've messed up.
What is the younger son's problem in the story of the prodigal? His idol is selfish pleasure - he can't wait to get half the estate from the old man so he can head for Sin City and party hearty. V13 he squanders the wealth in 'wild living'; in v30 the older son more explicitly protests to his dad that the kid brother has "squandered your property with prostitutes." Obviously the younger son is a party animal; he lives for the moment, with no thought for the future. When the funds run out, so do his friends; he's left desolate, lowest of the low, forced to eke out his survival by feeding pods to pigs (despised by Jews as unclean animals).
The turning point comes when he comes to his senses, humbles himself, and admits he needs help (much like the first step in recovery for Alcoholics Anonymous). He's bottomed out. V17, he wakes up to the incongruity of the situation: he, a nobleman's son, is starving while his father's hired hands have more than enough! He suddenly perceives the nonsense of what he's done and where it's landed him. He's ashamed and humbled by his actions. He confesses his sinfulness, gets honest about his true condition, and starts back home prepared to accept whatever bone his father will throw him, even if it's just to be taken on as a hired servant.
What's the father's surprising response? He sees him while he's still a long way off, as if he's been keeping an eye out for him. He calls for the best robe, a ring for his finger, the fatted calf to be killed for a special occasion - a feast to celebrate his lost (presumed dead) son's return. V27 underlines the personal intimacy and reconnection at the root of the father's joy: "he has him back safe and sound."
What's the picture of God Jesus paints with these words? The father (in the place of God in the story) is loving, caring, compassionate, warm, embracing, affectionate, lavish, extravagant, forgiving, richly bestowing his gifts on those who have least right to expect it. Celebrating, rejoicing that one long lost has returned. What a beautiful picture of the Heavenly Father!
But now (as Paul Harvey would say) for the rest of the story... Contrast that warm reception with the older son's reaction. V28 he "became angry and refused to go in." He protests the injustice of the situation to the father, it's not fair: v29, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends." Is this the same guy we were just talking about? What a difference! The older son pictures him as a harsh demanding boss, a slave-driver, and stingy to boot. How can his impression be so different? The younger son was hindered by selfish pleasure, but the older son's problem is selfish pride - his "Do It Yourself" attitude. Like the Pharisees, his perception is poisoned, blinded by his self-centredness. Note the father points out in v31, "everything I have is yours" - he would have gladly granted a goat IF it had ever occurred to the son to ask for one. But it didn't - BECAUSE the son was so self-oriented!
The narrative is left hanging, it's inconclusive whether the father's attempt at reconciliation - getting the older son to come in and join the party - is successful. We're left simply with the main point of all three parables: that those who confess their sin and admit their need for help end up closer to God as Father and the Kingdom as 'party' than do those who stubbornly try to justify themselves by their own efforts and self-righteousness without drawing on God's grace and generosity. The Pharisee / law-teacher / older-brother types strangely prefer grind to grace. Hell will be full of those in misery gnashing their teeth and singing, "I did it MY WAY."
Q: Which brother might those who know you best say you are most like? Was there a time in your life when you 'came to your senses' in a major way?
The apostle Paul brings out a similar emphasis in Philippians 3. He reviews several of the reasons he had to be smug about his religious stature humanly speaking - ritually superior, from the right tribe, "a Hebrew of Hebrews", legalistically faultless. But he calls his former confidence in the flesh "rubbish" and "loss" compared to what religion is really SUPPOSED to be about - knowing Christ, and finding righteousness through faith in Christ - righteousness that comes from God rather than a self-cobbled human-gauged righteousness of one's own that comes from performance of the law (3:8f).
Q: What human factors, if anything, might you be tempted to boast in / take hidden pride in?
HELPING OTHERS TO BEGIN FOLLOWING
Christ teaches there is joy in heaven over a single lost sinner who's been found: that's of higher priority to God than dozens of people who pride themselves on their legalistic righteousness.2Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord...is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1Tim 2:4).
Item 2 of the Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus states, "I am inviting and helping others to begin following Jesus." That's about evangelism, sharing the Good News of how people can be saved. The harvest of the lost was a priority for Jesus. Consider His parting instructions to the church: "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19f) Bill Hull notes, "The command was not 'make converts' or 'make Christians' or 'make church members'. 'Make disciples' is loaded with implications based on Jesus' definitions...The church must produce people who reproduce themselves..." (By bearing fruit spiritually)
How else did Jesus stress the priority of evangelism at the end of His time here? Luke 24(47f), "...repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." Mark 16(15f), "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Do you grasp the gravity of the stakes involved there? Those who are lost will be condemned to an eternity apart from God and anything that is good - eternal torment. Does that register with us?
In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells the disciples before His ascension, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." So 'witnessing' is not an option, it's expected. "Christ's love compels us," Paul explains to the Corinthians; "...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2Co 5:19) God is depending on us to get the word out - to 'make the most of every opportunity' (Col 4:5).
Q: We know that sharing the Good News is commanded. What gets in the way of us doing it more? Who first shared it with you, and how?
In The Purpose-driven Life, Rick Warren says: "Telling others how they can have eternal life is the greatest thing you can do for them. If your neighbour had cancer or AIDS and you knew the cure, it would be criminal to withhold that lifesaving information. Even worse is to keep secret the way to forgiveness, purpose, peace, and eternal life. We have the greatest news in the world, and sharing it is the greatest kindness you can show to anyone." He adds, "One problem long-term Christians have is that they forget how hopeless it felt to be without Christ.We must remember that no matter how contented or successful people appear to be, without Christ they are hopelessly lost and headed for eternal separation from God."
Harry Winston was one of the world's greatest jewel merchants. One day he watched one of his salesmen show a beautiful diamond to a rich Dutch merchant. The customer listened thoughtfully to the expert description, but he eventually turned away, saying, "It's a wonderful stone, but not exactly what I want." Winston stopped the customer on his way out and asked, "Do you mind if I show you that diamond once more?" The merchant agreed. Winston took the stone in his hand. He did not repeat anything the salesman had said. He simply talked about the gem as an object of deep beauty. Abruptly the customer changed his mind and bought the diamond. While he was waiting for it to be brought to him, he turned to Winston and said, "Why did I buy it willingly from you, though I had no difficulty saying no to your salesman?" Winston answered, "That salesman is one of the best men in the business. He knows diamonds--but I love them."
If we're finding it a struggle to invite others to begin following Jesus, are we describing Him like that first salesman - technically correctly, but without passion? Or can we just share our love for Him and His beauty, as Harry Winston described that diamond adoringly?
It doesn't have to be the testimony of how we were saved, or a packaged "Four Spiritual Laws" or "The Bridge" approach; perhaps a different story of how God has helped us at some point in our life would open it up for the other person to relate to how Jesus can help them where they are right now.
HELPING AND BEING HELPED TO KEEP GROWING
Item 6 in the Sevenfold Way states, "I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a growing follower of Jesus." Positive change started happening in the prodigal's life when he admitted he needed help; on the other hand, it was the older brother's stubborn selfishness that kept him OUT of the 'party zone' of the Kingdom, isolated by his pride. We need mentors and coaches to keep growing; Jesus wisely sent them out two by two. Ecclesiastes 4(9f) reminds us, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"
The Biblical pattern is not a 'John Wayne' approach - "I can do it all by myself" - but life-on-life, having a coach and then coaching in turn. Moses trained Joshua. All day long Aaron and Hur held up Moses' arms carrying God's staff in battle against the Amalekites (Ex 17:12). David and Jonathan encouraged each other to be their best. Elijah trained Elisha to carry on the prophetic mantle.
Jesus told the Twelve in John 15(15), "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." See the intentional passing-on there? Then a couple of chapters later He prayed, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message..." (Jn 17:20) He was already thinking of the future generations of multiplied disciples who mature to be disciple-makers.
Paul caught this big picture as can be seen in his words to Timothy: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2Ti 2:2) There are 4 generations there! Paul, Timothy, 'reliable men' to whom Timothy entrusts the things, and the 'others' those 'reliable men' in turn will teach. Hence the saying, "Everyone needs a Barnabas and a Timothy" - a Barnabas to mentor us, and a Timothy to be coaching ourselves.
Q: Who has coached you spiritually in your life? Is there anyone the Lord might be nudging you to start meeting with to be mentored or to coach?
Our current "3B" Buddy/Groups are one way of doing this. With each elder I've been meeting one-on-one, not only to go over pastoral care matters, but also to work through "Dynamic Discipling" materials: this is a tool made up by a Canadian from out west, recommended to me by Donald and Lorraine Gingras, who are EMC missionaries in Quebec. They're free to download and share. Or you could use Purpose-driven Life or simply read together through Luke or John or one of Paul's letters. The main thing is to get together regularly for coaching and mentoring.
Even business leaders have picked up on the value of this method. Lee Iacocca has observed, "You've got to have mentors along the way." The Harvard Business Review said, "Everyone who makes it has a mentor." If that's true in business - how much more so in the Christian walk!
Rick Warren writes, "Isolation breeds deceitfulness; it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are mature if there is no one to challenge us...We need more than the Bible in order to grow; we need other believers.We grow faster and stronger by learning from each other and being accountable to each other... 'Mind your own business' is not a Christian phrase.We are called and commanded to be involved in each other's lives...You cannot grow to Christlikeness in isolation. You must be around other people and interact with them...True spiritual maturity is all about learning to love like Jesus, and you can't practice being like Jesus without being in relationship with other people...You need at least one person you can honestly share your struggles with...Some temptations are only overcome with the help of a partner who prays for you, encourages you, and holds you accountable."
This is not new; godly Christians throughout history have realized the power of mentoring for support and encouragement. Behind John Wesley was Peter Boehler, who belonged to the Moravians, a group of German Christians who seemed to possess what Wesley seemed to lack--a personal, restful trust in God. It was by following Boehler's counsel that Wesley eventually found his heart "strangely warmed" at a midweek meeting on Aldersgate Street.
Behind John Calvin was William Farel, who spurred Calvin on to courage and devotion, and who, when Calvin was dying, left his own sickbed to come from afar to encourage him. That's the kind of discipleship and partnership Jesus is looking for - laying down our lives for our friends! Let's pray.