Summary: The first part of my New Year message for 2014 focuses upon the meaning of discipleship
[A note to the reader: Please note this is not intended to be an expository sermon. I do use the Bible text in question but I relate this to a particular time at a particular church and what God is doing in our midst. If it helps you, great!]
A few things that you’ll rarely, if ever, hear in church:
1: It’s my turn to sit in the front row. 2: Personally, I find evangelism much more enjoyable than golf. 3: I love it when we sing songs I’ve not heard before. 4: Nothing inspires me more and strengthens my commitment like a talk on tithing and stewardship!
Jokes aside they’re statements that can be connected to issues of discipleship; and what is discipleship? To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower, a learner, and an imitator of Jesus. To be a disciple is to put the claims of Christ first in all things – literally in all things, so that Christ is always first; and when people do that, and when a local church does that amazing things happen. Hence David Watson wrote this about 30 years ago: “If we are willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the Church in the West would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering.”
Christ Church I believe God wants to both encourage us and challenge us. Be encouraged by the signs of fresh discipleship and transformation in our midst; but at the same time let’s be clear-headed and wake up to the urgency of the situation we are in.
Be encouraged and talk about the signs of God at work in our midst. Tell one another about answers to prayer because that builds up faith and we’ve started to make more space for that in our worship. Be encouraged by the responses we’ve had at the end of our services over recent months. As we wait on God Sunday by Sunday and at other times we’re simply asking our Father in Heaven what he wants to do in our midst. We’re seeking to listen and be obedient to what he is saying. We realise we won’t always get it right and we’re prepared to take risks and God has honoured that in surprising ways. Often as we’ve shared what we think God has given us people have responded and come for prayer.
It seems that God is saying to people I know you, I care about you, I’m interested in, and I want to encourage you. So, for example, a few weeks ago as we prayed before the service and just as we were finishing I asked, “Lord, is there someone you want to speak to?” In my mind’s eye I saw a pond and I thought, “Oh boy. Is that me or is that you speaking Lord?” At the end of the service I shared it and a lady who’d never been to Christ church before came to me and said, “Warner I want to encourage you. I’ve been praying about an issue every day for about a year now where a pond plays a very significant part in my prayers. I believe God is encouraging me to keep praying. Thank you for being brave by sharing what you saw.” Then a couple of weeks later someone had a picture of feathers in their mind’s eye. Was that from God? Well, as odd as it may seem, not one but several people responded to that and asked for prayer because there was a specific and current issue and it seems God wanted to bring encouragement.
Be encouraged by our monthly prayer meeting on the first Wednesday of the month from 8 to 9 p.m. and please come. In December Chris Davis delivered Christmas invitations to Christ Church to his neighbours with a note saying, “Hello, my name’s Chris, I live at number 19 and I worship at Christ Church. On Wednesday evening we’re praying for our community. Can we pray for you?” So on Wednesday 4 December Chris brings along a card from a neighbour saying they’ve recently moved into the area. Please can we pray for a friend’s son? What a privilege it was to pray – and how lovely when Chris’s neighbour came to our Advent carol service with her children and loved it.
Be encouraged by the working party that met recently to tidy Phil Hylton’s garden; by our Men’s group Forging Men and by the work of Ladies of Thursday – both groups seeking to make disciples; and be encouraged by the soon-to-be Rev Margaret Fowler.
Be encouraged by the ten young musicians who played together at our Christingle services on Christmas Eve, brilliantly coordinated by our Youth Outreach Worker – and be encouraged by the record attendance of 812 at those three Christingle services; but more than that be encouraged by the people who spoke to me afterwards saying they were interested in the Pilgrim course that starts on Wednesday 15 January. Pray that they will move from interest to attendance and beyond.