17.2.19 – R.S.V.P. – Peter Cheyne

Read John 1:35-42; Matthew 19: 16-30

I grew up in a church – a Presbyterian Church – in Eastbourne. My parents were heavily involved so I went to church from way before I was born and I grew up going to Sunday School. I knew the Bible stories. When I was about 11 or 12, a week-long, children’s after-school programme was advertised to be held in my church. It was run by Open Air Campaigners and led by an Invercargill man, Ken Rout.

I had all the Sunday School background so I knew the answers to the questions and, by the end of the week, I won the prize for having the most clicks on my name tag. More importantly though, on the Thursday, there was an invitation to those who wanted to know more about having a relationship with Jesus to stay behind after the programme. I, and some of my friends, did and we heard that Jesus had died taking our sins on Himself and that we could be forgiven if we put my faith in Him. Each of us had the opportunity to respond (s’il vous plait) to the gospel message. I did. I know that my life changed at that point. I had spent all of my life in the church but, because of that response, I was a different person.

I look back on that now with some sadness and asked, why my church had not told me about that and challenged me to make a response. Why did it take a group from outside the church, Open Air Campaigners?

Furthermore, OAC told my church that I had made a Christian commitment but no one spoke to me about it or attempted to now help me live a Christian life. There was a youth group and, I think, really good leaders, but the group fizzled out until there was only me left (or, at least, that’s how I remember it.) Frankly, church wasn’t very stimulating, so how was my faith nurtured? Who cared for this brand new baby Christian?

I used to travel into Wellington once a month, by bus, to Youth For Christ rally. And I went a few times to a Campus Life group in Lower Hutt. God used those things to keep me going through my high school years but, again, you see, it was a parachurch organisation. Where was my church?

I then went to university in Christchurch. In my hostel there was a group of Christians who became my friends and there was a cell group. They invited me to be part of it but I didn’t join. I felt inadequate alongside these much more mature Christians and I was sure my ignorance would be very apparent. I had not grown; I had not learnt; I had never read a Christian book. I couldn’t answer the questions.

At the end of that year, as exams approached, I started sleeping about 18 to 20 hours a day. I would sleep late, wake up in time for lectures which were all in the morning, have lunch and go back to bed and basically sleep through until the next morning. It was probably my mind playing tricks on me in an attempt to avoid the exams. When you sleep that long, it doesn’t leave much time for study. I remember pounding my fists on my desk because I was too sleepy to concentrate – and then going back to bed.

I sat the exams. This was in the days when exam results were all printed in the newspaper. During that summer I was working on the wharves in Wellington. When the results came out, I went to a news agent on the wharves. The pages with the exam results were all stuck up on the wall. I found my name and discovered that I had passed everything.

I was really disappointed. I just felt that was not right. I did not deserve to pass those exams. I knew that it was only because, in my desperation, I had prayed hard and because my friends in the hostel had faithfully prayed for me during that time when I was not functioning well. I realised then that I could not continue treating God like that. I could not have a relationship with Him only when I was in trouble. I needed to commit myself to Him, not just treat Him like a 111 call centre.

From then on, I did start going to (and soon, leading) cell groups at university; I did start reading and learning. And I went to a really good church in Christchurch where the Bible was preached and honoured.

But this is what makes me sad. Why did it take Open Air Campaigners, Youth For Christ, Campus Life, and university cell groups to do what the church was not doing? Why was the church not challenging people with the gospel? Why had my Sunday School teachers not sat down with me to talk about my response to Jesus? Why did my church not intentionally mentor this baby Christians?

Jesus did do those things. We are called to be like Jesus. Being like Jesus means being like Jesus. Mark 1:15 summarises Jesus’ preaching as “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” It was the good news of the Kingdom and a call to repent and believe.

Jesus frequently invited people to follow Him. And people had to decide. The classic example is Peter and Andrew, James and John, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Does it seem strange that, within 20 seconds of meeting Him, they left their boats and their families and they followed Him. It seems like a huge decision to make with so little information. Did it really happen like that?

John 1 shows us that they had actually spent a lot of time with Jesus by that point. They had been followers of John the Baptist. One day, Jesus walked past and John pointed Him out. Some of these disciples followed Him, had an initial conversation and Jesus said to them, “Come and see”. It would seem that they had some time with Jesus just watching Him minister and listening to His teaching. And, in between, they went back fishing. Jesus asked nothing of them. They simply observed.

They were back fishing when Jesus walked along the shore that day. But that day, Jesus invited them into a different relationship. “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” This was a turning point because they were being invited into a much deeper, more intentional relationship. They had been able to just watch with no obligation but “Follow me” was the invitation of the rabbi for them to become His talmidim (his disciples). They would have to leave their occupations and income and families and travel with Him, learning from Him, with the intention of becoming like Him.

That is a really big decision. The whole future course of their lives would change. They did not make that decision with no information about Jesus. They had lots of experience of Jesus already. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Ok, you have watched me. What do you think? This is decision time. Does what you have seen persuade you that you would leave everything for me?”

And, without hesitation, they said “yes”. Clearly, what they had seen of Jesus was so compelling and so inviting, that they did leave everything to follow Him.

There were many other times as well. Jesus frequently called people to follow Him, or to trust Him, or to obey Him. Every time that person faced a major decision. Yes or no? The life Jesus offers or my version of life? And, of course, it is much bigger than that. This decision would determine their eternity. Forgiveness or judgement? Heaven or hell? The narrow road that leads to life or the broad road that leads to destruction?

Jesus regularly appealed to people to make that decision. Every time it was an example of His grace. He wants us to experience life. He wants us to be forgiven. He wants us to know Him. And He regularly emphasised that this was a huge and costly decision. He told people to count the cost before deciding. He invited the rich young ruler “Follow me” but there was a cost – a very considerable cost. To be a follower of Jesus, he would have to love Jesus more than his wealth. Jesus tested that by challenging him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. He could not do it. He had come asking how he might have eternal life but he walked away without eternal life because his possessions were more important.

Many people walk away from eternal life because their possessions are too important. It is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God simply because of the appeal of their riches. What does it benefit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose his/her own soul? Yet that is the choice many people make.

Peter heard the challenge that Jesus put to that young man. He possibly felt quite virtuous. He had left everything. He had responded to the invitation. What reward, he wanted to know, would there be?

Matt 19:28-30     28Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The decision is massive and costly but the rewards are a hundred times greater, including eternal life. God honours those who honour Him. The first will be last and the last will be first. The rich will come to nothing but the person who has forsaken everything for Jesus’ sake will be first in God’s Kingdom. The gospel is costly but it is good news.

That is the decision we also have to make. Jesus invites us to follow Him. Maybe we said “yes” once upon a time, like I did at that children’s programme, and that is hugely important. My life changed at that point. But I had to make it again when I realised I was using God for my benefit rather than serving Him. In fact, the choice to follow Jesus is a daily choice. Every day, every decision: will I follow Jesus?

When people did choose to follow Jesus, He took them under his wing as His disciples and invested heavily in their growth. But my church did nothing. Why is the church so little like Jesus?

My experience is not unique. Maybe yours has been the same. Jesus asked for huge sacrifice; most churches make membership as painless as possible. The main concern is never to upset anyone. Welcome that rich man. “Yes, yes, you can be a member. It doesn’t matter that you don’t love Jesus! We like the sound of your money!” But Jesus spelled out the cost. Jesus upset people all of the time – not because He was stupid or insensitive or a bully, but because He required really high standards.

Why is the church so little like Jesus? It is not as if we have discovered a strategy that is more effective than Jesus’. Followers of Jesus follow His methods. Some churches do. They talk about the costly, but infinitely rewarding good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Church membership means commitment. And they invest in their members so that they can grow and become Christ-like.

Traditionally, Methodist churches have had an annual covenant renewal service when all members reaffirmed their baptism vows and committed themselves again to follow Jesus that year.

Our mission, as a church, is to help people follow Jesus – to issue that invitation to follow Jesus and to train those who say yes. If you look at the sheet with words about Jesus, the whole right hand column is about calling the crowds to respond to Jesus and training those who rsvp – just like Jesus did.

Next Sunday, we will all have the opportunity to make, or renew, our commitment. It might be a first time for some people. For others, it will be a re-commitment. We are not doubting any past commitment. Not at all. We are hugely grateful for past decisions. My hunch is that those who know they have chosen to follow Jesus will have no trouble saying, “I trust in Jesus as my Saviour and I follow Him as my Lord.”

On the other hand, some people might not want to do that. That is fine. It is your decision.

It might be that you need more time to see more of Jesus and understand more about Him before you can decide whether or not you will follow Him. The first disciples were invited to “Come and see” before there was the invitation “Follow me”.

It is a hugely significant decision. Make no mistake, it is a costly decision. But remember that Jesus promises to repay many times what we might sacrifice. He invites us to have life, life in all its fullness. It is good news – the best news the world can ever know. He says, “Follow me”. In the invitation is a little rsvp slip. We have to decide how we are going to respond. We have to decide as individuals but we also have to decide as a church. Will we trust Jesus and follow Him? Will we do things His way? Will we be a church that challenges more and more people to also respond and will we disciple people to maturity? Is our rsvp going to say “Yes” or “No”? Jesus wants us to say yes. He wants this relationship with us.

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10.2.19 – Loving My Neighbour? Loving My Family? – Annie-Kate Williams

Read Luke 10 – The Good Samaritan

Well I know this story. What possible new thing is she going to say? Well, nothing probably. But this story really challenges me and maybe you are perfect but maybe God will challenge you, or remind you, or encourage you in your journey through life.

So the Good Samaritan story – what character do you identify with? When you think of the story who do you become?

  • The priest who passed by on the other side?
  • The Levite who also passed by on the other side?
  • The man beaten, robbed and left dying?
  • Or the Good Samaritan ?

I’ve always put myself as the good Samaritan but I think we have been all of these.

In this room I would love to say we are all good Samaritans but I think we would be a mixture.

The good Samaritan is often taken as “would you stop and help a stranger on the side of the road?” And, I think, all of us would stop at a car crash and help if we could. But I think Jesus was getting at something much deeper here. It’s in the context of the greatest commandments: Love God… and love your neighbour as yourself. Love God; love people. It’s not love strangers. It’s love all, including the strangers. The good Samaritan went out of his way to help, out of his way to help. When it is helping a stranger, often we know it will be short term and we can help out for a short time but then they will be gone and we will carry on with life. Loving our neighbour as yourself is long term. And the love I need is not just when I’m in crisis, about to die. We need love throughout our lives. We need people to care during the mundane life, through the normal life.

We need to be good Samaritan to each other as well as strangers. As a church family, some might call each other friends; some we would say were acquaintances we see at church most weeks; some we know their name and a few basic things about them. Some of us are strangers to each other. And yet we are called “church”, we are part of God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ together. And yet I think we need to be good Samaritan to each other. I also think some of us are feeling broken, battered, bruised, lonely, and that might be physical but is might also be spiritual, mental or emotional. And some need to be humble enough to receive care and love from another – even a stranger. In church I think we can be good at wanting to help and look after people but when it comes to being looked after by others, pride gets in the way. We don’t want to be seen as vulnerable, or weak. We want to have it all together. We want to look like we are a good Christian – to look like we are definitely in the good Samaritan category. But maybe we need to be able to feel free to feel broken in church, to resonate with the guy on the side of the road who is left for dead. Maybe church is a place for healing, caring, bandaging wounds, healing. But if all wounds are hidden, if we are all too busy trying to heal everyone else and neglect to let others tend to our wounds then we won’t be in very good shape. We are people who need Jesus. And maybe you have said yes to following Jesus and making him the God you follow. Or maybe you haven’t. If you are following Jesus as best you can, Jesus commands us to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength. And love our neighbour as yourself.

Samaritans and Jews were not friends. They would be closer to enemies. So this is about how we treat people. If we are to treat our enemies this well, how much more our friends and family.

The greatest commandments are: love God…. Love your neighbour. Now it’s not just meaning your neighbour, or the complete stranger who is actually someone who are meant to be enemies with. Love these but not your family and friends? No I think Jesus was getting at love all people even the ones you’re not meant to love.

So, in this room, we are not strangers. I think, at least, everyone knows at least someone here, while some may know everyone’s names. Yet there are definitely some strangers to each of us in this room. We are not all friends that go way back. Many of us are strangers to one another. We may know names and some surface information but how much more? Do we need to know more?

Maybe you come to worship and don’t see interacting with others as worship or even important. And yet it is the second greatest commandment. And Jesus says if you love me you will obey my commands. If we come to worship and yet ignore our family, our friends, and yet think we will be like the good Samaritan we are missing the point.

Sometimes I find it hard to love those close to me as I love myself, let alone people at church. But it’s not just about church people and how we interact. I think the good Samaritan story is about whoever is in our path. Show mercy, bandage wounds, go to them rather than leave them for someone else. There are many people who feel lonely in our current society across ages. With the amount of technology we have, we can still feel very alone, when life makes it harder to get out of the house whether from old age and the body not working as well as it used to, or young children making time with others precious, or you feel like you are always there but no one notices you.

If the man was not beaten near to death and robbed he probably would have  scrapped by and not needed anyone to help or made it through on his own anyway. The state he was left in made him vulnerable and in need of others help.

  • The man was alone, hurting,
  • Help came from an unexpected person

I think there are many who are not willing to go too deep with people because that would mean opening up and being vulnerable. Being in need of others is humbling. Being vulnerable is scary. Letting people in means they would SEE us. And they might not like what they see. “I’m not the perfect christian. I’m not even a good christian.” Wounds might be deep, like abandonment, loss of a child, “where were you God when that happened?”, fear of failure, how could God love me?, I’m not good enough. Wounds can be deep. How can we bandage each others wounds if we never see them, if we don’t know they are there? How can we be God’s family if we only share small talk, and don’t know each other well?

We want to be known by others but we don’t necessarily want to be seen by others.

There is a song with the lyrics, “You in your small corner, And I in mine”. In the song’s context its about each doing our part to shine pure light in the darkness of this world. But I know it more for “you be happy over there in your world and I’ll be happy over here in my world”. Which is not what Jesus was getting at with the second greatest commandment and the good Samaritan, who went to him, a broken, damaged person and cared, loved.

The good Samaritan wasn’t nice. It’s not the nice Samaritan . If all we are to each other is nice then again we are missing the point. Cleaning wounds, from my experience, is painful. Getting the dirt out isn’t nice. Our relationships are meant to be more than nice. Church is not a “be nice to each other” scheme. It flows from a love that is bigger than us. Anyone can be a nice person. Anyone can treat others well. People who don’t know God can be really nice, helpful, caring, giving people. Why do we need Jesus, to love our neighbour? What makes how we interact different?

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

The good Samaritan saw the man, was moved with pity and went to him. None of these things are words or speech. These are feeling and doing – action. The love we have for people, we get from God.

How do we love? Follow Jesus’ lead; follow Jesus’ example; follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding, prompting, leading; follow what we are commanded to do in scripture. When we spend time loving God and being loved by God, we become more like Jesus, we get to know God’s heart and want that for others. So we love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. The greatest commandment is first for a reason but in saying that we are not to wait for this to be mature before we love our neighbour. There is only a current start date for both commandments – and that was yesterday.

I have found loving my family has helped me understand God’s love for me, and also helped me love God more because of it. When we were first married I couldn’t get over how Cecil loved me regardless of grumpy moods or fights. He still loved me and wasn’t going anywhere. Or with my son; I love him soo much. It’s unconditional when they are babies. They are like little leaches that are super cute but only their cuteness is given in return for all the sleepless nights, care and love given.

How much is that like God? We can give him nothing in return and yet his love is unconditional. We can scream all night and God still cares and loves. Being loved by another, and loving one another in action and truth, will show the world we are Jesus’ disciples.

John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In some ways, I think we, as church, are a bunch of Levite’s, priest’s, good Samaritan , and men and women robbed and beaten. In different seasons, maybe we have been them all. As a kid growing up, I always was taught, or at least heard, that christians are to be the good Samaritan and we help people out in the world. But now I can see how we can easily be the priest or Levite who kept to themselves – didn’t get involved. Sometimes we are the broken, robbed of joy, robbed of time with a loved one too soon, robbed of hope, robbed of love. And wounds are deep and we are in need of help. Some call this pastoral care, but I think God called all of us to this. The story of the good Samaritan is for all of us, not just pastors, to care for each other and strangers. We are ALL called to love our neighbour. Some may be more gifted at this than others, but we are ALL called to love, with action and in truth – not just in thought; not just to love them in our mind; not just a change of attitude that doesn’t change how we act.

1 John 3:18 In the NIV- Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

KJV- 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

NLV – Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

MSG- My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.

Not caring about them, but caring for them. As a church family, let us follow Jesus to create a culture where we really love each other. Love that is more than words but real.

So what can we do practically if we are not just about words – that’s enough words for now.  What can we DO to love each other?

  • Give someone a compliment
  • Ask if someone wants a drink and get it for them
  • Ask if you can help with the kids to give them a break, or to get a drink or a toilet break
  • Really listen. Listen well to each other
  • Ask if you can pray for anything this week in particular
  • Invite someone over for coffee or a meal to get to know them more
  • Receive from another. If you feel safe to be vulnerable with someone you trust, then ask them to pray with you about a wound, or fear, or whatever it might be.
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3.2.19 – The Rabbi And His Talmidim – Peter Cheyne

Read Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 11:1-12

Jesus was a rabbi. Or was He? Many people addressed Him as “Rabbi” – Simon Peter, a lawyer, a nameless person in the crowd, the rich young ruler, Pharisees and Sadducees. Originally, “rabbi” was not a title, or a job, just a term of respect. It meant “My Master”. However, it had come to mean a recognised teacher. A very few people, probably only the cream of the academic crop, instead of taking up a trade, were trained by another rabbi, following him as he walked around the country, listening, watching, learning. At the age of 30, they were recognised as having “authority” – the authority to teach others.

Jesus was addressed as “Rabbi” but He almost certainly had not been trained by another rabbi. He had taken up a trade. But, at about 30, He started teaching. People were amazed that He taught with authority

John 7:14            15 The Jews there [in the Temple in Jerusalem] were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having been taught?’

Interestingly, Jesus’ answer was, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.’ He was not the product of some other rabbi.  His understanding and teaching had come from God.

Jesus might not have been an official rabbi but He certainly operated as a rabbi, adopting that model – with some modifications. Instead of being approached by hopeful disciples, He invited people to follow Him and they were not just the cream of the academic crop. They were tradesmen and tax-collectors and revolutionaries and goodness-knows-what. But Jesus used the model of the rabbi with his school of disciples. In Hebrew, the master, or teacher, is the rabbi and the disciple is a talmid (plural, talmidim).

The whole desire of the talmid (the disciple) was to become like the rabbi – to watch and listen and reflect and practice so as to be exactly like the rabbi. They travelled together. The disciple would see the rabbi in every different life situation and see how he responded and operated in all of those situations. It involved every detail. There are even reports of disciples watching the rabbi go to the toilet so as to be able to imitate him. That seems a little unnecessary but the desire was to be just like the rabbi.

Luke 6:40            The student [talmid] is not above the teacher [rabbi], but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

The word “follow” defined the master/disciple relationship. When Jesus said, “Follow me” they understood. They knew they were being invited into this rabbi/talmid learning relationships and it did mean, leaving home and possessions in order to travel with Jesus, observing Him, listening to Him, questioning Him, being questioned by him, engaging in practical ministry, so as to become like Him.

When we are invited to follow Jesus, it means exactly the same thing. We cannot physically follow Jesus around Israel but we are called to study Jesus with the one desire of becoming like Him.

I think I can show that this idea of becoming like our rabbi is not a strange idea; it is woven right though the New Testament. This is not some fringe idea; this is central. But I am not sure that it is central in the understanding of the church. Have you been taught this before? I’d be really interested to know. It worries me a lot that conventional Christianity is miles away from biblical Christianity. My hope is that we want to know what is biblical and to do what is biblical even if it is unconventional – even if other Christians don’t understand it. We want to be a biblically-faithful church.

But, is this biblical or is this just me on a tangent? You be the judges. I will refer to a number of passages and summarise what they say about Christ-likeness. If you think I have misinterpreted it, you can say so.

I’ve already mentioned Luke 6:40: the whole point of the rabbi/talmid relationship was that the disciple become like the teacher. Jesus also told the disciples that they were to imitate Him, for example, after He had washed their feet (John 13). His whole method was all about becoming just like the rabbi.

We see it in passages like Luke 11:1-13 which we read.

When Jesus prayed, His disciples, apparently, could watch. One of them was, on this occasion, and he wanted to be able to pray just like Jesus. John the Baptist had also taught His disciples so there was another rabbi teaching his talmidim.

Having modelled prayer, Jesus gave an example prayer – the Lord’s Prayer, an easy-to-follow, step-by-step prayer. Then He told a parable. Parables were a rabbinic teaching technique. In this instance it was about not giving up in prayer when the initial request is not answered. Keep praying. Keep trusting God.

He then added more teaching about prayer: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. But notice that it was laced with promises that encourage His disciples to pray. It will be given to you; you will find; the door will be opened to you.

Then there was another parable. Fathers do not give harmful things when their children ask for good things. How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? In other words, God is not nasty. He gives good gifts when His children ask.

This was how Jesus prayed. Jesus persevered in prayer. Jesus had full confidence in the love of His Father. Through the rabbi’s example and teaching, the talmidim were helped to become more like Him.

I read an intriguing suggestion about Peter walking on water. What on earth induced him to step out of the boat? Was it perhaps the thought that here was his rabbi walking on water and he wanted to be like his rabbi? And when he started sinking, was it because of doubt in the power of Jesus? Probably not. Jesus was still standing on the water. Was it doubt about His ability to truly be like his rabbi?

Do we have doubts that we can really be like Jesus? Do we think, “Oh no, that is silly talk. That is impossible”? When we hear Jesus saying that all who have faith in Him will do the same things He had been doing and even greater thing (John 14:12) do we think it simply cannot be true? What if it could be true? What if it is actually God’s plan for us?

OK, here we go! Can I prove this is biblical? You are the judge. Is my summary legit?

Christ-likeness is God’s plan for us.

Romans 8:29       For those God foreknew He also predestined to be confirmed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Christ-likeness is our destiny.

1 Corinthians 15:49    Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Christ-likeness is a day-by-day, Holy Spirit process, now.

2 Corinthians 3:18      And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Christ-likeness is the definition of maturity.

Ephesians 4:13    13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Christ-likeness is the goal of every born again person – putting off the old; putting on the new which is being renewed in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:9-10       …you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Christ-likeness is the source of our confidence on the day of judgement.

1 John 4:17         This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus.

Faith in Jesus must mean following i.e. we become the talmidim of our rabbi, Jesus. Following must mean transformation. If we are becoming like Jesus, we know our faith is real.

Christ-likeness is the evidence that we are “in Christ”.

1 John 2:5-6        5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

John is especially talking about love – loving like Jesus. That is how we know we are Christians. It is also how others know we are Christians.

John 13:34-35     34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

Christ-likeness was the preoccupation of Paul’s ministry.

Colossians 1:28-29     28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Look down that list. Christ-likeness is…

  • the purpose of Jesus’ ministry
  • commanded
  • God’s plan for us
  • our ultimate destiny
  • a day-to-day, Holy Spirit process
  • the definition of maturity
  • the goal of every Christian
  • our confidence on the day of judgement
  • how we know know we are “in Christ”
  • how other know we are disciples
  • the pre-occupation of Paul’s ministry

Is this a vaguely-interesting, fringe topic? No, it is central to being a Christian.

Which brings us right back to the sheet with 50 phrases that describe Jesus. The sheet is far from perfect but it is a start. The words that describe Jesus also describe followers of Jesus, talmidim, Christians. They are also the words that describe what the church is to be like. The church is the body of Christ and so is to look like Christ. Look down that list of phrases and think what a church described by those words would be like. Imagine the impact on our community if churches were intimate with God, prayerful, Holy Spirit-empowered, accepting, encouraging, generous, forgiving, radical, etc and actively engaged in making disciples. Imagine the impact of a church that was like Jesus. This our curriculum.

It is all about imitating Jesus. Jesus is the model for our own lives, for us as a church, etc. Jesus says, “Come! I’ll teach you. The Holy Spirit will transform you. We’ll take it slowly. We will provide everything you need. Just come with that desire to follow Me.”

Matt11:28-30      ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

“Yoke” was used as a term for a rabbi’s body of teaching. I guess it had the idea that people hitched themselves to a particular rabbi and his teaching. Here is Jesus, the rabbi, saying, “Come, follow me. Adopt my teaching and learn from me. Don’t worry. I am gentle and humble. My way will give you rest for your souls. My teaching is easy (in contrast, perhaps, to the demands of keeping the Jewish law).” This is quite surprising if we feel that being like Jesus is hugely demanding. Jesus does set the bar for discipleship very high but the teacher is gentle and humble. The high demands of discipleship are possible as we follow such an amazing teacher who offers to transform us.

If you had been a fisherman or a tax-collector and Jesus had said “Follow me” and you knew that was in invitation to be a talmid (a disciple) of this rabbi, would you have wanted that so much that you would have left everything to achieve it? Do you want that so much that you will leave everything to achieve it?

Maybe conventional Christianity doesn’t ask us that but biblical Christianity does. Jesus does: “Will you follow me? Will you carefully, carefully watch me and learn from me so as to become like me?”

And, if we become like Jesus then we will not only be disciples; we will become teachers. We will not only be talmidim but we will also be rabbis – maybe not official rabbis but certainly operating as rabbis. We will be able to show and teach what Jesus is like because we are like Jesus.

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27.1.19 – In Order To Reach Our Potential – Peter Cheyne

Read Jeremiah 6:16-20, Matthew 9:16-17.

A large part of the reason I accepted the call to come to this church was because I believed it had great potential. I still believe there is huge potential. My dream is that we be a:

  • God-honouring
  • Holy Spirit empowered
  • High performingChrist-centred
  • Biblically faithful

church that is

  • pleasing God
  • experiencing the presence and power of God
  • bearing fruit (i.e. making disciples of Jesus Christ)

It is not easy being a church in the current context and I think it will become more difficult. Some people would say that suburban churches have no future. People now go to big, city church not suburban churches. Maybe that is true but I think people would come from far and wide to be part of a God-honouring, Christ-centred, Holy Spirit empowered, high performing, biblically faithful suburban church that is pleasing God, experiencing the presence and power of God, and bearing fruit.

That is the dream but it is not the reality at the moment, is it? Can it be the reality? If it is not the reality now, clearly some things need to change. What needs to change for us to enjoy that sort of church? You will have ideas, I am sure. I think I know some things that need to change.

Jeremiah 6:16     This is what the Lord says:

‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls.

We are at a crossroads. A lot of things have brought us to this point but now what? God says, “At the crossroads, ask for the ancient paths. Ask where the good way is.” I interpret the ancient paths to be God’s way, found in the scriptures. What are the paths that God has prescribed? We need to pray, “Lord, reveal to us your ways. Where is the good way? What does the Bible teach us about this? We don’t want to follow fads or personal preferences. We want to follow Jesus. Please show us your ways.”

The first command is “Ask”. The second command is “Walk in it”. Do it! What are God’s ways? Do that. And the promise? “You will find rest for your souls”. Wow, that’s amazing.

I have a theory. We don’t have time for more than a very quick explanation. Jesus went out to the public and attracted big crowds. They loved the teaching, the miracles, the provision, the spectacle and the entertainment and virtually nothing was required of them. They simply received and they loved it.

Jesus also focused on a few men, intentionally training them to be people He could send out on mission. He expected an awful lot of them. These things are opposites! One is about crowds, with few expectations. The other is about a few and there were huge expectations. What is the connection between them? Did Jesus have two contradictory strategies or were they part of the one strategy?

The connection is that there was a filtering phase. Out of those crowds, Jesus found a few. The first phase was attracting. The third phase was training. The second phase – the filtering phase – was all about the gospel. So, Jesus attracted the crowds, challenged with the gospel, trained those who responded and then sent them out to attract the crowds, challenge with the gospel, train and send out, etc.

We are called to be like Jesus. This is the ancient way. This is the way Jesus modelled for us to follow.

Late last year, the elders did a little exercise. We put all of the things we do as a church, into those quadrants. The result, I think, was quite illuminating. We had lots of groups and ministries in the “Attract” quadrant, very few in the Challenge (or evangelism) quadrant, some in the Train quadrant and virtually nothing in the Send quadrant. In other words, it is very unbalanced.

But when we looked at that Attract quadrant, not much of what we do is interfacing with the public and it is questionable how attractive it would be to the public. Most of what we do is about us and meeting our needs, not meeting needs in the community. So they are not even really in that first quadrant at all.

I hope every one of us says, “Whoa! Focusing on ourselves is not biblical. That is not Christ-like. That has to change.” It does have to change.

My first point is: We need to serve our community (not just ourselves) – leading to challenging with the gospel, training Christians and sending out workers.

Where are we going to get the people to do that? I imagine that was one of your first reactions and that is something we are going to have to ask over and over again. Where are we going to get the people?

Here’s one thought: I think we should have one priority activity in each quadrant and we ask people to focus on one of those. We do not have a lot of resources. We need to focus. What if we had one community ministry that made this church famous in these suburbs – one ministry that was appreciated because people saw that Mornington Presbyterian Church loves this community and is willing to serve?

For example, the Kids’ Club is serving the community and making connections now. What if a quarter of our church said, “We will support the Kids’ Club” and some people were praying, some were running the programme, some were visiting parents, some worked on promoting it, etc? Could it become famous?

And then we have one main means of sharing the gospel (such as Alpha). We choose one and that is where we put our efforts. And we have one main strategy for growing people who have made a commitment to Jesus. And we have one main ministry designed to help people find their ministry and be effective in it. That would give us focus, and balance, without trying to do everything. And we ask people within the church to choose the one that most interests them and to be part of that team.

Of course, if we focus our resources into priority areas, some of the things that we have done for a long time might no longer be priorities. We have to be willing to let some things go. We might need to say that xyz has had its day or is not really contributing to our mission and we want to focus on the things that are.

A second thing that needs to change is that we need a first-class pastoral care system. We want people to be very well looked after. We do not want people falling through the cracks and our current system is a shambles. We can do an awful lot better but we also need to change our understanding of pastoral care. This is an area where Annie-Kate will be giving some leadership. She will explain it a lot more.

Thirdly, we need to grow great leaders.

This is a difficult time to be a church. Many churches are failing. Society is very secular and very unsympathetic towards the church. It used to be that the minister could bicycle around the village drinking cups of tea and people would attend church. Now, leading a church is at least as challenging, and requires at least as much strategy and entrepreneurship, as running a business. Churches will not drift to success. It requires intentionality, focus and accountability. Jesus was strategic, entrepreneurial, intentional, focused and expected people to be accountable.

We have good leaders but we need to be raising up and empowering another generation of leaders who are Christ-like and who will take this church into the future. The future church will need great leaders.

But we also need to let leaders lead. This week, Richard Dawson made a comment about Presbyterians talking a lot about leadership but not allowing leaders to lead. When the church desperately needs leadership, we are suspicious and we stifle leadership with committees and bureaucratic processes. We might need to check our own attitudes. What was your immediate reaction when I said we need to let leaders lead? Do we trust leaders? Are we willing to be led?

Fourthly, the Bible describes the church as a body. There are many, diverse parts but one body and all of the parts are crucial to the functioning of that body.

Ephesians 4:16    From Him [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

If this church is to grow and build itself up, it depends on each part doing its work – every member using his/her spiritual gifts cooperatively and in conjunction with all of the other parts of the body. My fourth point would be that we need to operate as the body of Christ.

Is that a change or is that happening already? I think, at the moment, we are relying of a few people to do a lot of the work. Often, when we ask for help, it seems we get very little response.

Person-power is a major issue for us, isn’t it and I am sure many of us worry about it. We have very limited resources; people are getting older and clearly cannot be expected to do what they once did. This is a conundrum. There is no doubt that a vibrant church needs a committed and cohesive team – lots of people contributing – but where will those people come from? We might hope that they come from other churches but, actually, is that the answer?

What did Jesus do? He needed a high-quality team that would lead a world-changing revolution but He started with nobody. He started with zero people. He had to start from scratch. What did He do? He went out to the public and attracted lots of attention by demonstrating the presence of the Kingdom of God. He then challenged people with the gospel. Some responded; some didn’t. Those who did, He trained. They increasingly reflected the profile of Jesus that we looked at last week in terms of their identity and their spirituality and their character and their involvement in mission. And then Jesus sent them out.

We can hope to avoid all of that work (for example, by having people come from other churches) but actually we are called to do what Jesus did – to follow that ancient path. To make disciples and to grow our own leaders. The people who will be key leaders and members of this church in a few years’ time are possibly in the community and far from God, today. The question is: Will we find them?

Because there are no easy answers, we need every member to commit to it now. Obviously, those who are older cannot be expected to do what younger people can do but maybe you can pray or encourage or support financially or whatever and be a crucial part of the body.

Let’s have a break!

You might like to talk to your neighbours. I have two questions:

Can we be a God-honouring (etc) church?

For that to happen, what do you think needs to change?

Song: Ten Thousand Reasons

A fifth area is our spirituality. We need to be a deeply spiritual people.

Are we? I have no idea. I do not know if people are praying. I do not know if people are studying their Bibles. I do know that surveys show that most church members are not. I do know that not many people come to prayer meetings. Of all of the things I have mentioned, this is undoubtedly the most important. Everything else depends on this – our serving, our leadership, our pastoral care and our engagement with the community will all depend on our closeness to God.

We are a church. Therefore, spirituality is crucial and character is crucial and mission is crucial. We are a church. We are not a club or a service organisation. We are not a building. We are not a community centre. We have a building that is a community centre but we are a church. And so Jesus is our model of spirituality and character and our mission. Let’s be like Jesus.

I am conscious that the question that is at the front of many people’s minds, I haven’t even mentioned. Will we have one service or two?

I think we have much more important questions to grapple with. When the elders did that exercise of allocating our various activities to the different quadrants, we did not know what to do with worship. Is worship primarily about attracting the public? Or should it be evangelistic? Is it primarily about people hearing the gospel and being challenged to respond? Or is it where we nurture and train Christians? Or maybe it doesn’t fit into any of those boxes. Why do we have worship services? What does the Bible say?

Let’s answer the big questions. That will then tell us a lot about what our worship services should look like. I don’t think there is urgency to decide but, when we do decide, may it align with the Bible, rather than simply be what we want.

I know that talk of change can be threatening and the process of change can be difficult but I am hoping that everyone agrees with the five things I have said. Are we willing to embrace change if it means we can be a lot healthier? Maybe there are lots of other possibilities but I believe that if we worked on those five things, it would transform this church.

Look at them again in the context of wanting to be like Jesus. 1. Jesus served the community and shared the gospel etc. 2. Jesus was a shepherd. 3. Jesus grew great leaders. 4. Jesus served using His gifts and He called others to serve using theirs. 5. Jesus walked closely with God. This is the ancient path.

Ten days ago the media were reporting that the RSA had been told that it must change or die. Jesus said that you do not put new wine into old wineskins. New wineskins are flexible but, over time, they become hard and brittle. Filled with wine that is fermenting and producing gas, the pressure builds up and the old wineskins burst. Jesus was probably referring to Judaism as the old wineskin that could not contain the Kingdom of God. But the principle is much more general. A new day requires new methods. Old wineskins were once new. They were once flexible and precisely what was needed. They were just right for their time but, now, they are no longer appropriate. Try to use them and you will lose both the wine and the wineskin. Things have to change. We need to be flexible.

Earlier I quoted Jeremiah 6:16 but I didn’t even quote the whole verse, let alone the surrounding verses! Let us look at that verse in its context. READ Jer 6:16-20.

The absolute tragedy is that when God said, “Discern the right way, the ancient way, My way, and walk in it” and He promised rest for their souls, Israel said, “No. We will not walk in it”.

There is a choice. Crossroads always present options. One of them is God’s way, but there are other options. Will we go God’s way or choose a different way? The result, for Israel was that God said He would bring disaster upon them “because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law”.

I am not saying that I have got this all sorted out and you must agree with me or God will judge you! I am definitely not saying that. I am saying that we have a choice and God says to us, “Ask what is the ancient path and then walk in it”. Trust and obey for there’s no other way.

Through Jeremiah, God said, “I have appointed watchmen over you and said ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet’”. God does appoint leaders whose responsibility is to sound the trumpet – to warn people or to rally the people, to call the people to follow God’s way. The leaders are responsible for how they lead but God does expect people to listen to the trumpet call. In this instance, God said, “I appointed leader and you said, “We will not listen to them.” Do we adopt the old or the ancient? The old wineskins are not helpful but the ancient paths are essential. The old wineskins are our traditions and our methods. The ancient path is God’s way. There is no reason why this suburban church cannot be a light set on a hill. In order to achieve our potential, we have a journey to go on. We have work to do, and some things need to change. Let’s be willing to leave behind the old wineskins but let’s be utterly committed to the ancient path. Let’s follow Jesus.

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20.1.19 – Simply Jesus – Peter Cheyne

In the last part of last year, we spent a bit of time brainstorming words that describe Jesus. I said I would summarise it and bring it back to see if we could come up with a profile of Jesus. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to do that. Recently, I have spent a lot of time on it. I have found it difficult.

I expanded our list with some additional words. I had 300+ words or phrases. Then it was a case of trying to identify the most biblical, the most important, which ones were closely related, how they might be categorised, whittling it down to something manageable, etc. etc. etc..

How do you summarise Jesus? Every time I looked at it I would think, “Oh no, it would be better if it was this way or that way.” I would realise that there were important concepts that I hadn’t included. It also reflects my own biases and blind spots and someone else might do it very differently.

However, I now do have something, but can you tell that I am pleading with you not to be too tough on me? This is a work in process. It will need to be improved but, at least, it might be a start and it might have some value even if it is not perfect.

I have selected 50 words or phrases. You will notice that there are some others in there that are in grey. They are there because I wanted to group things under a heading or to include some alternative words or whatever. I’ve cheated a bit but, essentially, there are 50. I have grouped those 50 phrases under four headings: Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ spirituality, Jesus’ character and Jesus’ mission.

A great deal could be said about each one of these phrases. Each one needs to be unpacked.

When you get to the right hand column, you need to remember what has already been mentioned. For example, you might say that it doesn’t say that Jesus loved the disciples. No, but “loving” is part of Jesus’ character. It is part of what He is like so He automatically brings it into His ministry to the disciples.

It describes Jesus in terms of a series of relationships. His identity is expressed relationally: Son of God, Son of Man. His spirituality is His relationship with His Father. His character might be expressed as His relationship with Himself. Is He true to Himself? His mission is about His relationship with the world: His relationship with the crowds who were not yet Christians and His relationship with the disciples who had chosen to follow Him. It is perhaps no surprise that Jesus’ life is about relationships.

It also might not be a surprise that character is such a big category. Character is huge.

I don’t know how easy it is to quickly absorb this but I’ll give an opportunity for comments a bit later.

Colossians 1:15-20 lists a whole lot of statements about Jesus. He is:

  • The image of the invisible God
  • The firstborn of all creation
  • All things were created through Him and for Him
  • He is before all things and holds all things together
  • The head of the church
  • The firstborn from among the dead
  • The fullness of God dwells in Him

Paul described Jesus in terms of His supremacy over all things. He focuses on Jesus’ divinity. He is the Son – of God. He is the image of God. All of God’s fullness dwelt in Him. He is over all creation. All things – thrones, powers, rulers, authorities – were created through Him and for Him. He is God.

And yet, in the midst of all that, He is also the firstborn from among the dead. He died. He is human. His death reminds us of Jesus’ humility and obedience and willingness to suffer. It takes us to Calvary.

Why? V.19: Because God was pleased, firstly, to have all His fullness dwell in Him. This God-Man was Emmanuel: God with us. God in all His fullness came into the world in Jesus.

But why? Because God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. God’s plan is for our reconciliation with Him. God was willing to achieve that through coming into the world Himself and dying on a cross. Reconciliation was achieved – peace was made – through the shedding of His blood on the cross.

In those few verses, we have statements (or, at least, strong implication) about:

  • Jesus’ identity: Son of God, Son of Man, The Messiah, the risen Lord
  • Jesus’ relationship with His Father. He is the Son doing the Father’s will.
  • Jesus’ character – implicitly, if not explicitly, His love and obedience and willingness to suffer. His selflessness, humility and trust in God.
  • Jesus’ mission – to reconcile all things to God through His death.

Jesus is way too big and way too glorious to be summed up in a few words. Any list will be inadequate but is this list getting close to describing Jesus?

So, what is the point of this exercise?

It is certainly that we understand Jesus better and know how amazing Jesus is. It is good for us to keep our eyes on Jesus and to spend time discovering more about Him. It might renew our desire to worship Him. It would be very good if we sing more wholeheartedly or we spend more time with Him in prayer.

If we see Him more clearly we might love Him more dearly and follow Him more nearly, day by day.

Me doing this work is probably not going to help you. It will be as you dig into the scriptures and discover more about Jesus that it will have an impact on your life. But you could take this piece of paper away and think about what Bible passages relate to each phrase. Or, as you read your Bible, ask if what you see there is reflected on the sheet. Think about what words you would have chosen and how you might have grouped them. That is where the learning will come and I cannot do that work for you.

It might be that someone looks at a profile like this, or reads the Bible, and says, “If this is what Jesus is like, I think I could trust Him and I want to get to know Him better.” That would be fantastic.

But that was not my real reason. Here is the reason: This is not just a description of Jesus. It is a description of the potential you. God invites us to be like Jesus.

Romans 8:29       For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

God plan is for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Can we say that? “God’s plan for me is to be like Jesus”. This is a glorious and amazing and wonderful possibility.

Would you like these words to be true of you – a child of God, intimate with God, a person of faith, prayerful, Spirit-filled and empowered, good, generous, forgiving, having compassion for the marginalised and needy, meeting needs in the power of God, a shepherd, influencing others by your example, exercising a God-given ministry. And all of the others. Do you want that? God invites us to become like Jesus.

2 Cor 3:18           And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This is a wonderfully glorious thing. We can be transformed into His image. It is a process. It takes time. The passage doesn’t say we have been transformed or that we will be, but that we are being.

Being Christ-like sounds impossible. Who of us, by our own efforts, could be like Jesus? Who of us could live up to all of these phrases? But it is not about us. It is an offer from God. God says, “I can change you to be like Jesus. Will you let me do that?”

We do have to cooperate. We have to want it and we have to be open to the work of God and to the ministries of other people but it is the power of God that transforms. 2 Corinthians 3:18 does not say that we are transforming ourselves. It says we are being transformed and that this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Last week I talked about what it means to follow Jesus. Following essentially means becoming like Jesus: thinking like Jesus, acting like Jesus, imitating Jesus. Our mission as a church is to help people follow Jesus. A list like this, imperfect as it is, can become our curriculum. It can give us something tangible to aim for. This is what we long for; that we be a people who know our identity in Jesus, people of deep spirituality, people of godly character and people who continue Jesus’ mission, His way.

Is there anything on that list that we would not also want to see in followers of Jesus?

It is true that there are some aspects of Jesus that are totally unique. There is only one Saviour of the world. Jesus is the Son of God in a unique way. But would it be true to say that, with a few exceptions, God wants to see all of these other qualities in the lives of His people?

Maybe we can improve on this list but a list like this gives us something tangible to aim for. It is not all woolly and vague. No, it is these things. Individually, we could look at this list and identify one area of Christ-likeness in which we would like to grow. It might be my prayer life or becoming more patient with people or having more people for meals, or whatever. And as a church we can think about how we provide opportunities and resources for growth in these various areas. Life Groups could focus on key aspects of becoming more like Jesus. This our curriculum.

Here’s why this is so important.

  • Churches are so often crippled by pettiness and division because the members are not like Jesus. Look at the list of character qualities. Wouldn’t relationships be different if Christians were accepting, self-controlled, encouraging, generous. So often, trouble is caused in churches because people want things their way. It is all about me. How different it is when people have learnt to be selfless, like Jesus.
    • In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul addressed the squabbling in the Corinthian church saying that their jealousy and quarrelling proved that they were immature or, as Paul says, worldly and mere human beings. They had not been transformed, hence the squabbling.
  • If we are going to stand out as being different from society; if we are going to be seen as an example of the Kingdom of God, we need Christ-like people. Without people who have grown to spiritual maturity, we are no different and we have nothing to offer.
  • If churches are going to be well-led, they need to have raised up Christ-like people who are intimate with God, know and trust the Bible, are Spirit-filled and empowered, Christ-like in their character, and committed to the mission of Jesus.
  • If churches are going to raise a new generation of Christ-like people, they need Christ-like people as mentors. The family needs parents –who are mature and can model and teach Christ-likeness.

We could go on. For a church to be a church, in any remotely biblical sense, it must have Christ-like people. This is crucial. This is our job. And we need to address it. How do we grow Christ-like people?

We are going to be talking about this a lot more but, in the meantime, could you take this list and pray about it? There are two questions at the bottom. What does it say about Jesus and how do you want to respond? What does it say about your growth and how do you want to respond?

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13.1.19 – Invitation To Die. Invitation To Live – Peter Cheyne

There’s a whole lot of words we could put in this gap: “I _______ Jesus”. You already know that I am going to put in the word “follow” but what are some of the other possibilities?

The Bible frequently uses the word “follow” to describe a person’s response to Jesus. Jesus very often invited people to follow Him. Many people are described as following Him. The fishermen left their nets and followed Him. Matthew left his tax collector’s booth and followed Jesus. The crowds followed Jesus. Paul described Christians as “followers of the way”. Readers of the Bible are frequently exhorted to follow e.g. “Follow the way of love” or “Follow the example of God”.

Jesus called Himself “the Way”. “The Way” is something you follow. Following is a fundamental concept in the Bible. But, what does it mean?

“Follow” has a whole range of meanings. The most obvious is simply to journey behind. “She followed him into the house” means she took the same path he had taken. It has that meaning in scripture. The fishermen had to literally follow Jesus. If he went from Galilee to Jerusalem, they went from Galilee to Jerusalem. The crowds followed Him. If He crossed the lake, they crossed the lake.

A second meaning is to imitate. We talk about following suit: doing the same thing the person before you did. Or, we might say, “When they dropped their prices, their competitors were expected to follow.” It has that meaning in the Bible, particularly, for example, when it talks about following Jesus’ example.

1 Peter 2 talks about suffering unjustly.

1 Peter 2:21        For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

In other words, it means “live the same way”. If the first meaning is “follow the same path” the second is “live the same way”.

A third meaning is to obey. “She followed a strict diet” means she chose to eat in accordance with the diet. We talk about following instructions or following a map. We do what the map says.

Jude 1:18            [The Apostles] said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”

They will obey, or living in accordance with, their own ungodly passions. A positive example: Paul encouraged Timothy (in 1 Tim 4:6) to be nourished on the truths of the faith and to follow the good teaching – obey, live in accordance with, the good teaching.

There are other meanings. Pay close attention to. I follow the cricket. Understand. I don’t follow you.

What does it mean when we say we follow a person? What does it mean if we say we follow Jesus? Or, take other examples, what does it mean to be a follower of Adolf Hitler or Mohammed or Buddha?

What did it mean when Jesus, on the beach beside Lake Galilee, after the resurrection, said to Peter, “You must follow Me”? Twice, Jesus commanded Peter to follow Him.

We read the last words of John’s gospel. Jesus was about to ascend into heaven. How could Peter follow?

Peter had, not long before, denied even knowing Jesus. He had failed miserably. He must have felt that he had destroyed their relationship. But Jesus, graciously, reinstated him. Three times, Jesus asked for a reaffirmation of Peter’s love. Three times Peter had not loved Jesus enough to associate with Him but three times He would have the opportunity to say, “Jesus, the truth is: I do love You.” And each time, Jesus gave Peter a ministry: Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep, Feed my sheep.

But then, interestingly, Jesus said, “When you were young, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John’s comment is that Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Jesus then said, “Follow me!”

The passage suggests five aspects of following.

Three times, Jesus asked Peter which way he was going to go. He had chosen his own way: the selfish way, keeping himself safe rather than acknowledging Jesus. Would he continue doing that or did he love Jesus? Following is a decision. Following requires repentance – turning from our way to Jesus’ way.

But Jesus did not address him as “Peter”. He called him “Simon”. Jesus had renamed him Peter, the Rock, but now He used the old name again. That is humiliating but Jesus forced Simon to acknowledge the truth. He was not the Rock. Simon was the old person again. The old person was winning. How could Simon be Peter again? How could he live this new life of loving Jesus more than anything else? By following. It is Jesus who makes the difference. It is Jesus who transforms us as we follow, and stay close to him. Simon without Jesus would always be weak. Simon following Jesus could be that new person.

Thirdly, Jesus instructed Peter to feed and care for His lambs and sheep. That in itself would be following Jesus’ example. Jesus had been the Good Shepherd. “Simon, imitate me. What you have seen me do, you are to do.” Peter’s ministry, and every Christian’s ministry, is to continue Jesus’ ministry. Followers of Jesus look to Jesus to see what they are to do and how they are to do it. Followers are imitators.

What did Jesus do? He served the crowds. He called the crowds to follow Him. Those who did, He trained to be like Him. And He sent them out to repeat the process. That was the shepherding of the sheep – the caring for and the feeding. “Simon, just do what I have done.”

Then Jesus made the comments about how Peter would die – led where he did not want to go, hands outstretched, a euphemism for crucifixion. “Simon, follow me!”

That was the path Jesus had walked. “Simon, follow me!”

The Christian life is the way of the Cross. That was the path Jesus walked; that is the path His followers follow. Simon Peter would be crucified, very literally following the path Jesus had trod but all disciples are expected to take up their crosses. In fact, Jesus said it is a necessity for anyone who would call him/herself a disciple.

Luke 9:23-24       23And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Following means dying.

Peter then wanted to know about John’s future and Jesus told him to mind his own business. John’s future would be different and John would be responsible for that but Peter’s responsibility was simply to make sure he was following Jesus. Instead of looking around at other people, he was to keep his eyes on Jesus. Following means focus. You cannot follow two people at once.

Jesus frequently invited people to follow Him. If we look at all of these aspects of following, we realise that it is a total life dedication. Jesus is still looking for people who will dedicate their whole lives.

Walking the path He walked requires dying to ourselves. Look at all of those things that “follow” means. Every one requires a sacrifice. If we say, “I will follow You wherever You go”, we can no longer decide where we will go. Jesus decides. Imitating Him means we no longer decide how we will live. We choose to live like Him. Obeying Him requires dying to ourselves. We can no longer make out own decisions. We take instructions from Him. Paying close attention to Him and understanding Him. We can imitate only when we fully understand how Jesus thinks and acts. Following a person means adopting that person’s beliefs and philosophy. A Muslim adopts the teachings of Mohammed. A Christian submits to the teachings of Jesus and seeks to think like Jesus – to have the mind of Christ. That means dying to ourselves. We forfeit the right to believe what we like or to head off in another direction. A follower of a person should be utterly dedicated to that person. It is a whole life submitted to faithfully following.

Many people Jesus invited to follow, didn’t. They decided it was too costly. They would not give control of their lives over to Jesus. Jesus said to count the cost first. He wants people to know there is a cost and to choose to follow fully aware of the cost. There is no trickery here. It is informed consent.

A man came to Jesus once (in Luke 9:57-62) and said, “I will follow you wherever you go”. Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” What was He saying? “There is a cost. Are you really willing to pay that price?” But notice also the implication. He didn’t say that this man would have no home. He simply said that He, Jesus, had no home. The implication is that if Jesus has no home followers of Jesus also need to be willing to have no home. Followers walk the same path and live the same lifestyle.

Jesus is still looking for people who will follow Him in this total-life-dedication way. We face the same decision Peter faced. “Simon, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord.” “Then follow me.” When people look at us do they conclude that we are following Jesus because they see that we are walking the same path, living the same way, thinking and talking like Jesus, continuing Jesus’ ministry, focused on Him? Do they see that we have died to ourselves and are living totally for Him?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”. We are invited to die. But that is also an invitation to live. Peter was asked to die but it would be in dying that he would find forgiveness, fellowship with Jesus and with His church, the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of heaven and hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, peace and so much more.

Luke 9:24            24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Sometimes we give the impression that being a Christian requires little of us. All we have to do is believe. We can do nothing more and still expect to go to heaven. That is not what Jesus taught. He called people to follow Him and He is still looking for people who will follow Him. Those people find life.

What word are you able to put into that sentence, “I ____ Jesus”? Be honest with yourself. Are you living for yourself or living for Jesus? Are you dying to yourself, taking up your cross and following Him? If so,, fantastic! Well done, good and faithful servant!”

If not, do you want to be able to put the word “follow” in there? Maybe you want to follow Jesus more closely. If that is the case, you are in the same place as Peter. You might have failed but Jesus gives second chances and He enables us to do what it is our heart’s desire to do. Maybe, like Peter, you can just come to Jesus and say, “Jesus, I love you.”

He might say, “Really?” and you might say “yes”. Jesus might say, “Are you sure?” and you might again say, “Yes”. Jesus will say, “Feed my sheep. I want you as part of my team and part of my mission.” Like Peter, your life will never be the same.

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30.12.18 – They’re Playing My Song – Peter Cheyne

Over the years, I suspect I have given too little attention to this song that Mary sang in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home. Maybe I have been a bit suspicious of it. That is ridiculous, of course, because it is biblical and it is full of biblical truth and insight.

As I have looked at it again, I have realised that, with the possible exception of one line, Mary’s song is the song of every Christian. You might ask yourself today: Is this my song?

It is traditionally called The Magnificat because the first word in the Latin translation is “magnificat” meaning “magnifies” or “glorifies”. The first two verses express Mary’s response. The next two verses give her personal reasons for that response – what the Lord has done for her. Her story. The next six verses tell of God’s works in more global terms than just the personal. His story. The gospel.

Mary’s response, expressed in vv.46 and 47, was twofold: to glorify God and to rejoice in Him.

Mary’s response was to glorify God by proclaiming His greatness. She wanted Him to receive all the glory and honour. She would worship Him. She would lift God up and honour Him in her own life. But she would also live and talk in ways that told others that God is great.

When the angel had visited her, she had said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word.” She was a servant of God for His glory. Bearing His Son, she would be part of God’s grace coming into the world. Through her people would know that God is good.

That was one half of her response – her submission to God that He might receive all of the glory. But the other half was about the blessing this was for her. She rejoiced. She overflowed with excitement and the knowledge that she was very blessed.

What was she rejoicing in? Her good fortune? No. She rejoiced in God her Saviour. The whole focus of this song is God. God is mentioned 17 times in 10 verses.

Just so that we do see how much this is about God and His goodness, look at all of these phrases:

  1. The Lord
  2. God my Saviour
  3. He has been mindful
  4. The Mighty One has done great things for me
  5. Holy is His name
  6. His mercy extends…
  7. …to those who fear Him
  8. He has performed mighty deeds…
  9. …with His arm
  10. He has scattered the proud
  11. He has brought down rulers
  12. He has lifted up the humble
  13. He has filled the hungry with good things
  14. He has sent the rich away empty
  15. He has helped His servant Israel
  16. He has remembered to be merciful
  17. Just as He promised

To list the phrases about God, I just about had to repeat the whole song. There is little in there that isn’t about God and His goodness. The song itself is an example of Mary glorifying God. He is everything and she will declare it. He is blessing her. There is huge joy for her. But she will also bless Him.

It is perhaps a reminder of Jesus’ words: Those who have been forgiven much, love much (Lk 7:41-47).

What about us? Could we sing those words with integrity? Are we overflowing with joy in the God who has saved us? Does His goodness cause us to burst into song? And is our response to glorify Him with our words and our lives? Are you lifting God up and exalting Him?

What had God done for Mary? V.48 starts with “for”. I glorify Him and rejoice in Him because… what?

He had been mindful of the humble state of His servant. One of the things we see in this song is that God turns everything on its head. One day there will be a great reversal. She had been a humble servant but God had graciously made her great. All generations would call her blessed. Mary knew that she would be famous throughout the entire history of the world. Within one or two generations of my death no one will remember that I existed but every generation knows about Mary. That is true but look at how Mary expressed it. She didn’t say, “I will be famous forever”. She said, “Every generation will say that I was blessed”. You see how she was again pointing to God, glorifying Him. She was simply the recipient of God’s blessing. God was the One who blessed. She was simply saying how good God had been. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name.”

She called God her Saviour. She had been saved; she was lost and helpless but God had been merciful.

It is the humble who know they need God and God shows His mercy to those who know they need it. Jesus said He came for the sick, not for the healthy. There are many Bible passages that contrast the fate of the proud with that of the humble. James (4:6) and Peter (5:5) both quote Proverbs 3:34 saying…

James 4:6            ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’

That is a challenging verse. God opposes the proud but shows favour (or gives grace) to the humble.

We see that in Mary’s song. She had been the humble servant, aware of her need for God’s grace. God shows favour to the humble. That is Mary’s story but the contrast is in v.51: He has scattered those who are proud in their innermost thoughts. Scattering perhaps reminded Jews of the exile when they were taken from their land as God’s judgement. Perhaps even of Adam and Eve’s being banished from the Garden as God’s judgement. And, of course, it would happen again a few years later, in A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jews were scattered to the four winds.

But Mary describes judgement as one of God’s mighty deeds. This song is about God’s mercy and His judgement. They are two sides of the one coin and both are good. God’s victory over evil is good. Praise God that He will judge what is evil and establish His Kingdom of righteousness and peace.

In the middle of those verses about humility and pride we might have missed another key attitude of those who receive God’s grace. Look at v.50: His mercy extends to those who fear Him.

We get awfully confused about this, don’t we? We think God is merciful and forgiving; He loves us. There is no need to fear Him. We say it just means respect.

Do we forget God’s judgement? Mary knew God as Saviour but also as judge. She said…

  • He has scattered those who are proud in their innermost thoughts
  • He has brought down rulers from their thrones
  • He has sent the rich away empty

Did Mary fear God? Yes. When Gabriel appeared to her, he told her not to be afraid, implying that she was. Gabriel is not God; He is merely an angel but even being in the presence of angel of God was frightening. How much more to be in the presence of God? Isaiah’s reaction to being in the presence of God was, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:5). Isaiah did not say, “I respect you, God.” He was immediately aware of his sin and the danger he was in. “Woe to me! I am ruined!”

Hebrews 10:31    It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Mary was so joyful about her salvation because she knew what the alternative was.

The fear of God is the first step towards wisdom (Pr 9:10). The humble know that they are sinners who cannot stand in the presence of a holy God. The proud think they can. Those who fear God’s judgement, pray for forgiveness and receive God’s mercy. Those who fear God therefore have no need to fear Him. It is those who do not fear Him who need to fear Him.

In v.52 we see another example of the great reversal. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but lifted up the humble. Those who are great in the world’s eyes will be brought low; those who have been nothing will be lifted up.

In v.53 we see another example: He has filled the hungry with good things but sent the rich away empty.

God is going to turn everything right-side-up again. What has been honoured by the world will be nothing in God’s sight. What has been despised by the world will be honoured by God. As Jesus said, the first will be last and the last will be first. We can hold onto our lives now and lose them later or lose them now and keep them for eternity. Everything will be reversed. It is God’s values that will prevail, so it is wise to adopt Kingdom values now. Do not fall in love with what the world loves. It will pass away and become nothing. Fall in love with the things of God. They are eternal.

Mary finished by declaring that God, in His mercy, had made promises to Israel through the patriarchs, centuries earlier. In His mercy, He had promised wayward Israel a Saviour. This baby in her womb would be that Saviour. And not only of Israel but of the whole world – or, at least, of those who are humble and who fear God. Christians too are children of Abraham, having been grafted into the vine.

And so, every Christian can sing this song with passion and enthusiasm. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour., for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.

I did say “with the possible exception of one line”. Obviously this song was real for Mary in a particular way. I am not sure that the rest of us can say “from now on all generations will call me blessed”. But maybe even that is true – not that we will be world famous but in the sense that in every generation there will be those who rejoice, with us, in the blessing of God’s salvation.

There are big themes that run through this song and they are the big themes of the gospel. It is all about the mercy of God. The whole song is about God and His grace – what He has done and will do. Millennia ago, He made promises and He has remembered His mercy through all those millennia. He loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish under judgement but might have eternal life. God’s mercy is extended to those who are humble and who fear Him. They will be lifted up. Those who are proud will be brought down. What has been turned upside-down by the Fall will be turned up the right way again in God’s Kingdom.

Is this your song? Is it your response to rejoice in God your Saviour and to glorify Him in all that you do? Is it your story that God has remembered you in your need and done great things for you? Do you proclaim His story – that He, in His mercy, has sent His Son into the world, as He promised long ago, to lift up all those who know they need a Saviour?

Is that your song? If not, it can be. This can be your experience too – rejoicing in God your Saviour. Come humbly before Him expressing your need of salvation and He will respond. He is a God of mercy. If you are not quite ready, talk to people, or read books, to find out more.

If it is your song, sing it with gusto. Let people know. Bring God glory. Let’s read it together now.

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