Sunday, 12 May 2019

Responsibility for Discipleship - Ephesians 5:15 - 16 / Gensis 1:26 - 28

An Algerian called Rafiq, from the semi-nomadic Berber tribe in N. Africa, spent some time in France but felt called back to the majority muslim countryside of his birth, to work among the remote shepherds. There people from the muslim backgrounds are coming to faith in Jesus. Yet they have no church buildings, they just gather as and when their paths intersect for teaching and worship. How do they maintain their faith in Jesus? It is by being rooted in Jesus and closely attending to their discipleship.

Discpleship is a lifelong process, working out the implications of what God has done in Jesus through the rest of our lives, being an apprentice of Jesus in our ordinary lives and relationships. Last week we heard how this is the 2nd Big Thing for us as a Church. Our discipleship matters for us just as it does for Rafiq and the Berber-Christ-Followers: for all of us our discipleship is mission critical.

Each of us has a responsibility to invest what God has put in us. Jesus told a story of individuals given money - some invested but one just hid it away. The point is not what each was initially given (there was no need to compare), but whether they invested (remember also the story about vineyards!). The one who didn't invest only had himself to blame.

Hence we emphasise that each person should take responsibility for their discipleship. To help we talk of rhythm and diet - rhythm of the things you do or take part in at various intervals and frequencies that spiritually nourish and exercise you; diet being the different ingredients to spiritually nourish and enrich. It requires us to recognise different seasons of life (those with a new-born will find existing rhythms disrupted!). Remember with diet there should also be exercise - putting faith into practice, learning by doing. So we encourage people to actively engage, get involved, and volunteer!

A legitimate question for us is about our diet: is it Sunday centric, or does it have multiple strands with high importance on gathering? We encourage the latter, i.e. to have various layers and components (not all hinging on Sunday worship), yet putting an importance on church gatherings and making your default position to attend rather than to skip.

For greater fruitfulness we encourage four habits. The first being The Discipline of Off is a key example of taking responsibility for your own discipleship, since only you can make space and time to dwell with God - nobody can do it for you. The Ephesians 5 passage calls us to 'be careful how you live', noting the days are evil. Note how Paul insists that the cultural climate is not simply neutral, but in fact evil - i.e. it will tend to pull you out of relationship with Christ. For us those emails/notifications/todo-lists are all quite happy for you to not follow Jesus! My impending sabbatical is an intentional 7 year rhythm to step back, because the church and the whole ministry work is bigger than myself - I need to be able to step away and dwell closely with God.

Hence the key question for all of us:

Key Qn: [UP] Are you able to simply dwell in His presence
Challenge: Take the Discipline of OFF seriously

The second habit is to Share the Walk - doing discipleship with others at different levels (from prayer triplets up to the big corporate gatherings). The third habit Ever Closer to Jesus is more of an attitude: to be more like Jesus by the end of today than I was yesterday. It is an attitude that the Countess of Huntingdon herself also held. Fourthly we encourage Margin for Jesus - leaving room in our schedule for Jesus to fill, avoiding it being squeezed to the hilt by programmes.

All this can be summed up as getting back to God's original purpose for us, pressing the reset to return to factory settings! The Genesis passage reminds us that God made us in His Image, with authority to rule & command over the whole earth. God gave us responsibility to do this, with the authority to go with it. His original desire is to trust us!

Of course in Genesis 3 'The Fall' captures how we tried to do things ourselves, making the created our God, which leads to all kinds of problems. Yet the original call was to live spiritually, i.e. in reference to God, and thus to image God, exercising the proper God-given authority. The life/death/resurrection of Jesus enables that - remember it is because of what God has done in Jesus! With Him we can be set right, and He sends the Holy Spirit to enable us to live spiritually, inside us to literally be God-bearers.

So another definition of discipleship is 'Getting rid of anything that blocks the Holy Spirit working in or through our lives'. Hence Paul continues in Ephesians to say don't get drunk on wine (or any other distracting influence), but instead be filled with the Spirit. This is 'go on being filled' - a lifelong activity and journey.

That requires your engagement and your empowerment by the Spirit. You may trip up of course, but like a toddler you will fall forwards! We want to see Kingdom Life across the city - that comes through us living spiritually in His image, hence our discipleship is mission critical, something to take responsibility for.

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