Reset 1: Disciples love Jesus

What is the goal of discipleship? As Jesus calls Simon and Andrew and James and John and others what is his aim? What is it he most wants to see formed in them?

And what about for you? When God called you and you by the Spirit responded to that calling and acted on the good news of the gospel turning from sin to Jesus, what is God’s goal for you? What does he want to see formed in you?

There’s a danger that we see discipleship as being all about doing and learning.  As practical and logical.  But following Jesus is also about our emotions, our affections.  Jesus invites the disciples to follow him, to learn from and about him, yes.  But that learning is designed to lead them to love Jesus.

Turn to John 21v15-17.  What’s the question that Jesus asks Peter?  It isn’t Peter can you answer these 10 questions about me?  It’s not Peter what is penal substitutionary atonement? It’s not Peter what is my greatest desire?  It’s not even Peter are you following me?  

But Peter “do you love me more than these.”  Three times he asks Peter if he loves him.  Because discipleship isn’t about learning about Jesus as an end in itself.  It’s about learning from him, spending time with him, beholding his holiness, glory, truth and grace so that we love him more in response to a growing awareness of his great love for us. That is what the disciples have seen every day for the last 3 years.

Jesus has poured out his love for Peter at the cross, he has died to secure his forgiveness for his denial and every other failure in a staggering act of love.  Willingly bearing the wrath Peter deserved, to enable him to know forgiveness and be transformed as he follows Jesus.  The goal of following Jesus, of learning from him, of spending time with him, is that we love him because we see who he is and that he has loved us even though there was nothing attractive in us to call out that love. We were not worth it, but he was love!

Jesus wants our devotion.  Christian discipleship is what happens when we meet Jesus, hear his teaching, see the beauty of his character, see his love poured out for us on the cross, and love trust and follow him, and keep growing in love and trust for him.  That love is what fuels life long discipleship, it is what enables us to leave other things behind, to deny self because there is no love like Jesus’ love.  It’s our love for him that means we’ll trust him wherever he calls us to follow, that means we choose his words to live by rather than the worlds words, that means we will trust that even his ‘no’s’ to our prayers are for our good because we love him who is love.

To be a disciple is to love Jesus.  We grow in that love as we explore the depths of his love for us, as we understand more of the depths of our sin that he forgives us, and find grace and compassion for our failures, and see that he has made us acceptable to God, so that as children of God he delights in us in Christ.

Let me ask you, do you love Jesus?  Are you growing in your love of Jesus?  Does it fuel devoted discipleship?  Or has it cooled?

How do we fuel love for Jesus, by spending time with him, seeing his glory and holiness and love and grace?  How?  By intentionally pursuing Jesus.  By deliberately spending time with him in his word, with his people, singing his praise, listening to his voice, following the Spirit’s leading who shows us more of Jesus.

Over the coming weeks we’re going to explore more of what discipleship involves.  But don’t skip these foundations.  

Do you believe the gospel, have you responded by repentance and faith?

Are you learning from Jesus and leaving other things for Jesus?  Becoming who he has called you to be?

Are you loving Jesus more and more?  And how are you feeding and fuelling that love in yourself in in others?

Don’t rush away without answering those questions.  Jesus wants disciples who know his love, and serve out of a heart filled with his grace and compassion who are devoted to him in love.


Reset 1: Disciples learn and leave

The scene changes again in Mark and he takes us beside the seas side. (16-18)“As Jesus walked beside the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.’  At once they left their nets and followed him.”

This isn’t the first contact the disciples have with Jesus.  They’ve heard his preaching about the kingdom of God being near.  But now comes the key moment as Jesus makes it personal, “Come follow me.”  He’s not preaching to the crowd he’s calling them, first Simon and Andrew, and then James and John.

It’s an invitation to live life with Jesus, to get to know him day in day out, to watch him, to learn from him.  The word disciple means learner.  This is an invitation to learn about God’s kingdom, about God’s word, how to understand and apply it to every area of life, how it was all fulfilled in Jesus, how it prophesied his crucifixion and resurrection, and how to teach that good news to others.

That call to live life learning from Jesus meant they had to leave their nets, they had to give up and they do.  Because disciples have new priorities.  Learning from and following Jesus becomes the greatest priority in the disciples life because they have repented and believed.  Jesus mission becomes their mission, they are trained to become fishers of people.

That may mean for some of us that we are called to leave our jobs. But for most of us that is not the call. The Apostles are foundational to the church, Jesus has three years before his death, resurrection and ascension to teach them and prepare the foundations of teaching on which his church will be built. So he calls them to an intensive day in day out following, a learning, an apprenticeship. We are called to that same apprenticeship though it may not mean leaving our current job, it will mean everything changes just as transformationally.

As disciples we cannot have two priorities, we cannot have 2 great loves.  Following Jesus involves leaving the priorities we had before.  In Mark 8v34 Jesus says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Jesus becomes the most important authority in our lives, the word of God our master.  We sit at Jesus feet and his priorities become our priorities, his mission our mission.  Confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the start of following him, putting to death, leaving our old priorities and loves, and new ones that arise to rival him.

To follow Jesus is to begin life long learning.  It’s not a one off decision but a daily recommitment.  And it is all encompassing.  It’s to be the opposite of a toothpaste Christian. 

 When do you think about toothpaste?  For 3 minutes in the morning as you put it on your brush and for three minutes at night when you repeat the process.  Disciples aren’t toothpaste followers of Jesus, just giving him 3 minutes at the start and end of every day but giving him nothing in between.  

But we are constantly learning from Jesus.  Daily leaving other things, putting other things to death, because we want to know and follow Jesus.

How are you learning from Jesus at the moment?  What is he challenging you about?  What is he seeking to reshape?  What acceptable idolatries is he calling you to tear down?  What other loves is he calling you to deny in order to follow him?

In Mark the disciples are constantly learning, being challenged about their too small an understanding of the God’s plan of salvation, about what it means to follow Jesus.  Being stretched again and again to see the sheer magnitude and scope of God’s plan, his kingdom, and their part in it.  

And as they fail – as Peter has just done in the verses before this, how does Jesus treat them?  With a gentle yet tenacious love and grace.  He challenges and calls and compassionately forgives.  He rebukes and he redeems. He doesn’t write them off because of failures but he shows grace and teaches them of his love again and again so they go on living more like him.

How is your learning of Jesus?  Are you learning?  Are you allowing him to stretch you?  To challenge your understanding of his kingdom and his call?  Where have you been challenged and stretched in your discipleship this last year? How have you been called to learn about Jesus as you have walked with him and to leave other things that may rival Jesus?

How will you plan to do so this year?  What new habits do you want to put in place as you think about your new normal?  What will you leave so you can follow him?

Maybe some of the time we spend on our phones or on social media could be given over to learning from Jesus.  Maybe what we need to learn most from Jesus is that discipleship is a group activity.  We need others to help us, maybe you want to invest in helping others learn from Jesus this year, who will you ask to walk with you as the disciples walked together?  Don’t be vague, don’t think I must think about that because come tomorrow you will have forgotten.  Instead be deliberate; who will you ask before you eat your next meal and what will that look like? But remember learning from Jesus means listening to his gracious compassionate words, grace and love fuels discipleship that is transformational not guilt and pride.

Reset 1: Disciples know and believe the gospel

Mark is the machine gun preacher, his gospel is short and snappy, moving quickly from one scene immediately to another and then another as he proves that Jesus is the Messiah.  That’s how Mark begins, no nativity, no genealogy, no sweeping vista of history but 1v1 “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  Mark puts the point of his gospel front and centre.  Then quickly he proves Jesus coming fulfils the prophetic promises(2-3), shows us Jesus commissioning at his baptism and his testing at his temptation(9-13), all in just 13 verses.  Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah! Jesus is good news.  Jesus coming changes everything.  But what does it mean to follow Jesus?

The first thing we see is that disciples know and believe the gospel.

After John the Baptist is put in prison Jesus begins his public ministry.  He proclaims the good news of God, what is that?  “The time has come…the kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.”

The good news is all about Jesus(1).  The long promised king, who fulfils the prophetic promises, and is God the Son made man.  God’s king come bringing God’s kingdom.  That’s the good news. The kingdom Israel have been waiting hundreds and hundreds of years for, the kingdom where rebellion against God is judged and removed and God’s people enjoy living under God’s rule, forgiven, welcomed, at peace with God, glorifying him for ever.  Jesus says, it’s near.  That kingdom you’ve been waiting for, longing for, hoping in, it’s close to you, it has drawn near to you.  All the Old Testaments hopes are fulfilled in the kingdom of God and Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah – anointed king – of that kingdom and he’s here.

Disciples know the gospel, that’s why Mark writes.  They know what it promises, they share it’s longing, the good news of the Old Testament that God promises that one day sin will be destroyed, a kingdom of justice and righteousness will be established, with a king who will rule forever, and enable his people to know and enjoy God.  Disciples see that Jesus is that king.  They know who Jesus is – God the Son made man.  The Messiah promised by God come to inaugurate the kingdom.  Disciples know Jesus is all of those promises fulfilled.

But disciples don’t just know that, the way we might know 1+1=2 or that or that Nick Stoeberl from California has the worlds longest tongue measuring 10.1cm!  Disciples have responded to Jesus.  Look at the reaction Jesus calls for; “Repent and believe the good news.” This coming, this kingdom being near is news you have to act on.

Imagine for a minute that we were told tomorrow a vaccine against Covid was available for everyone at DRI.  What would it look like to believe that?  It would be more than just knowing it was available it would mean going to DRI and getting vaccinated.

Disciples know who Jesus is, they know he is the Son of God and the Messiah.  But they also do something with that good news.  We repent – part of the good news is acknowledging the bad news.  That we are all sinners, we are all alienated from God, our relationship with him isn’t just a bit damaged, we are against him, opposed to him.  Even when we try to please him we’re unable to.  Our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  And that temporary separation from God that we experience now will lead to eternal judgement and separation because of our sin, our rebellion against God.  And that is what we deserve, hell.  That is God being just and loving!

But the good news is that the bad news isn’t all the news there is.  God wants to forgive us, to pay for our sin as the Old Testament promised – God would send a suffering servant to pay for our rebellion, give us his perfect record and give us new hearts and fill us with his Spirit if we confess our need.  If we will repent – turning and trusting in his Saviour.  

The Kingdom of God has come and Jesus offers us forgiveness and a place in the kingdom because of his love not our record.  Disciples hear the bad news and so joyfully embrace the good news and they turn around, they turn away from living their own way, from relying on their own righteousness, they confess their sin and run to God, run to Jesus.

Repentance isn’t knowing it’s a transforming.  It is about having a whole new direction of life.  Instead of being our own king we bow the knee to Jesus.  We believe in him, that he alone can save.  That he alone is the rescue from the judgment we face and deserve and also the way into the kingdom of God.  And we trust in a person, Jesus, not just a set of beliefs, and we follow him.

Discipleship begins as we repent and believe the good news about Jesus.  Let me ask you have you done that?  Have you heard the bad news about your sin, your heart, and confessed that it’s true, that you need a saviour?  Have you repented, turned away from living for yourself and trusted in Jesus as your saviour?  What is stopping you?  There is no other means of salvation on the planet, Jesus alone saves, will you trust him?

Discipleship begins here.  It’s not knowing a set of doctrines but knowing and believing in Jesus.  If we have done that we ought to thank and praise God for his grace and mercy to us, for that good news.  But that news also ought to motivate us to tell others, to share the bad news so they can see the sheer wonder of who Jesus is and the salvation he comes to bring.

All disciples, every disciple of Jesus knows and believes the good news. That means we have accepted the bad news is true, not of people in general, but of us personally, and we have repented and trusted Jesus as our Saviour. But that is only the beginning of discipleship, in the same way that your wedding day isn’t all of married life, it is just the beginning of it.

Reset series

We started a series called Reset on Sunday. The aim with the series is to explore some of what the Bible teaches about discipleship. Unusually for us as a church we’re making this a longer topical series. Each week will have a base passage from which most of the teaching will come but will also incorporate one or more other passages.

Imagine that this week a friend you gave an invite to the online carol service asks you to meet up for a walk.  You agree to meet them, and early on in the walk they say I’ve done it.  ‘Done what?’ you reply.  ‘Well you’ve been talking to me about Jesus for a while, patiently answering my questions, and on Christmas Eve I finally realised Jesus came to save me.  So I prayed, I confessed I’d messed everything up, that I couldn’t please God, and asked him to save me as I believe in Jesus. But what do I do now?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  What does it look like to follow Jesus at work, with my family, at school, in the gym, with church?’  How would you answer those questions?  This term we’re going to explore some of the Bible’s teaching on what it means to follow Jesus, what discipleship looks like, but not just so we can know how to disciple others but so that we stop and examine our following Jesus.

All of us are shaped by the things around us; by our experiences, by our families, by our loves and desires, by the things we watch and listen to and read.  We’re all being discipled all the time.  But the call to follow Jesus is to follow him, to learn from him, to be shaped by him above all else.  Not to have Jesus as one thing we follow among many but for him to be the one who reshapes everything in our lives.  Jesus is to be the centre of the life of a disciple.

2020 has been a particularly hard year, but it’s also been a year which has shaped and trained us.  We’ve been forced to stay home, to limit our circle of contacts, to invest more in family. Now some of those things have been good, but all of them will have shaped us. We are naturally now more wary of others, we are more fearful, we treat someone with a cough suspiciously. We’ve not been able to share meals together as church family, or be in and out of each others homes as we would normally do. That has affected us and will make rebuilding those things more challenging.

And so as we start 2021, faced with more challenging months ahead until the late spring, but hoping for a return to a new normal.  We’re going to explore what it means to follow Jesus, because as life begins to become more normal this is a great opportunity to think about the new normal we want to return to.  What it means to follow Jesus.  How Jesus calls us to be transformed in our thinking about money, priorities, family, work, and everything.  We’ve called the series Reset because it’s a chance to do just that.  To stop and ask at the start of the year what does it mean for me to follow Jesus in 2021?

As we get back to a new normal what does Jesus call us as disciples to make that new normal in terms of priorities, financial goals, work, family, and every other area of life?

I’m going to blog through the series because time is limited on a Sunday and there is so much more to think through and I want to use this space to help me do that.

Are we just building castles in the sand?

Do you remember the feeling of spending hours on the beach building a huge sandcastle; excavating moats, crafting the crenelations, building a bridge, and finally putting your lollipop stick flag on the top of the tallest tower. Only to watch the sea remorselessly and relentlessly demolish all you had built. Until eventually everything is submerged and finally the tide goes out leaving absolutely no hint of all your hours of labour?

That sums up many of our fears as those who minister in God’s church. We build and work and labour. We prepare, preach and pastor. All the time trusting God to build and establish the work of our hands, but often fearful that when the tides of suffering or pain or sin wash in and wash out there may not be an awful lot left. That all our work may be washed away.

Those fears are exacerbated by Covid 19. Months when some have not been able to come to church. Months when others have decided not to. Changes in tiers limiting the involvement of others. Almost a whole year of limitations and frustrations. And all of that will have an impact. Culture and community are hard to build, they are a labour of love and sweat and prayer, but they are fragile. And we fear, I certainly do, what will be left when the tide of Covid-19 turns and goes out. Will there be anything left? What will need shoring up? What will need rebuilding?

How many good habits will have been lost? How many bad habits will have not just been learned but become ingrained? How much fear of others will linger and make discipleship hard? How will online church have shaped expectations and participation? How will it alter habits?

Those fears are not unique. But we do need to be planning for how we rebuild that culture. The normal we return to will need to be carefully thought through as church leaders. We are going to need to be more deliberate than ever about what we restart and how. We are going to need to cajole and encourage some, and comfort and confront others. But we are going to need to start with those things that matter most. That reflect our values, our priorities. That rebuild our church culture from the foundations up.

Application, a forgotten art?

Preaching is unique. It is not a lecture. It is not merely a data sump or a transfer of information. It is not just teaching. It is speaking the word of God to produce change. But I wonder if that’s the bit we find hardest, applying the passage, because it take time, it is as much as art as a science. It is pastoral and involves knowing our flock and their hearts.

Too much “application” is just implication (stating the principle God is teaching us in the passage) rather than real application which takes the implication and works it out for people in the world in which they live in tangible ways.  Application is where we show people how the rubber hits the road!

Good application starts with good interpretation, once we’ve understood the meaning of the text then, and only then, we can begin to think about how it applied to its original hearers, and then to us. Good application will also reflect the context of the book and the bible’s big story, it’s grand narrative. Scripture is crying out for application it is dynamic – God’s word designed to change! So here are some questions and other points I’ve found helpful to work through, though it takes discipline to do so.

  • What was the application for those to whom the book was written?
  • What truths did it teach them about God, and how ought they to respond to that?
  • What did it teach God’s people about their hearts and thinking?
  • What direct application does it give concerning actions? What are they told to do?
  • Is it simply reporting or recommending actions?
  • Apply what the passage says – your main teaching point will shape your main application point: What is the same for us?  What is different?
  • What is the application for our Christian friends?
  • What is the application for our church as a body (DON’T SKIP THIS, or we simply feed the individualism we naturally fall into)?
  • What is the application for our unbelieving friends?
  • Apply in the light of the gospel – don’t apply a ‘do this’ apply by changing the heart with the gospel, aim for affections and desires.
  • Don’t apply all at the end, apply as things come up in your structure and in asides.
  • Apply boldly but graciously (as if to the person you love most in the world)
  • Application should shape your introduction

Maintaining our Spiritual health

You can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself. That’s true in lots of areas but it’s definitely true in terms of our ministry health. In fact I’d go further, I don’t think we can give to others unless we are enjoying Christ ourselves.

I know many of us feel guilty about our spiritual lives. We always feel we could pray more, read the Bible more, take more time to think about what God is teaching us and applying it. I think that guilt is magnified for those who are in ministry, after all we’re set aside to minister – to pray, prepare and preach.

And yet amidst all the busyness and pressures what are the first things to go? What are the things we sacrifice in order to master the new technology or do alongside the upload without ever fully concentrating because the upload bar seems to be stuck again!!! It’s so often the very things that give us spiritual health, vitality and joy.

Just as we’re quick to cut exercise we’re quick to cut devotional time. So how do we maintain this?

Remember who we are. How do you answer the question; who am I? Too often we answer it with our role, our job title. Maybe you’re a step ahead of me and have answered with a child of God, whilst thinking Minister. When our job title becomes our identity we have a problem. So how do you answer that question? Because how you answer it will determine how you feel, how you work, how you study. It will also impact how we pastor our churches.

Review. I remember a couple of years ago being offered a performance management review by one of our elders, needless to say “Keen” was not my first response. However, I do think we need to programme in times of spiritual health review. Where we ask the big questions? You may do this on your own or with others, but it can be helpful in spotting signs of potential spiritual burnout early on, or just in getting to know yourself, and helping others support you in ministry.

Plan to be fed. So often as ministers we spend time feeding others. But the Bible is clear that we’re sheep as well as shepherds. We need to be fed or our souls will wither away and shrivel up from spiritual malnourishment. We need to plan to be fed. We’re incredibly fortunate to be set aside to study the Bible. I love that fact that just this week I’ve been studying the Christian Hope, Isaiah 9v2, Deuteronomy, Discipleship and 1 Kings. What a joy. All at various stages of gestation and development and teaching. Our preparation ought to feed our souls not just be for others – we need to plan time to pray and reflect on what we will teach others so we have enjoyed the spiritual feast and can then show others what there is to feed on. But we also need to plan to be fed by others. What conferences do you go to? Whose preaching do you listen to? Whose spiritual care do we sit under?

You are a son not a slave. How does God feel about you? Too many of us are spiritually driven because of a sense of responsibility and duty. They are good things but not when they become warped by failing to understand how God feels about us. God loves his children. We are not slaves, he is not a tyrant, hard to appease or please. He’s not comparing and contrasting our ministry with others. He is a loving Father who in love has rescued and adopted us and brought us into the family business that we might enjoy him and help others come to know the Father whose company we enjoy.

Kick over the pedestal. I’m convinced spiritual factors are a significant reason for pastoral burnout. Being a minister sets up unique dangers. But it helps to kick over the pastoral pedestal early. We all, even ministers, have struggles. We all wrestle with the Bible, with doctrines we know are true and wrestle with but would love to be other than God’s word reveals them to be. We all have struggles with relationships, lapses of patience, failures of care. It is helpful if, as leaders, you can share these, even share them with members of your congregation at the right time and in the right way. It helps remove impossible expectations we may feel we have to pretend to live up to, setting spiritual snares for us.

So how are you doing spiritually?