Getting and Giving as a Disciple

When I was in college, a friend of mine gave me a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. [1] merechristianity0408It sat, unread, on my bookshelf for three or four years until in a moment of need, it fell off that shelf at my feet. I picked it up, read the book cover-to-cover, and began a spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage towards faith, happiness, community, and all the blessings I now enjoy. It was a gift that changed my life in many, important, wonderful ways. Without that gift, my life might be very different, and a lot less happy.

In this world, there are gifts and then there are gifts. When our children were young, they got a lot of toys at Christmas time. Some of them are still in our attic. Interestingly, they never ask for them, use them, or even mention them unless Kathy or I mention them first. Of all the Christmas gifts I have ever received, I only remember a very few: my first bike, a set of tinker toys, an erector set, etc. On the other hand, there are gifts that you will never forget. Gifts that changed your life, like my copy of Mere Christianity.

Today, we are going to visit about spiritual gifts. Right at the beginning, we need to remember a few facts about Spiritual Gifts. First, they are gifts of God—which means that they are gifts of faith, hope, and love: with the greatest of these being love (1 Corinthians 13). All the gifts of the spirit are gifts by which God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God we proclaim to be perfect, self-giving love, dwells in us so that we may participate in the Love that God Is. Because Spiritual Gifts are gifts of an All Wise All Loving God, they are gifts that we can never forget, and God forbid that we should misuse them.

Growing in Christ

Our text is from EphesiansEphesians has been called the greatest of all of Paul’s letters. In Ephesians, Paul sets out his views concerning both the Supremacy of Christ as the image of the invisible God and the power of Christ to reconcile and unify the world in a reign of peace and unity. images-2In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, Paul sets out what the Christian life should be like in view of all that Christ is and has done. [2]

Paul begins by asking Christians to live worthily of their calling (Ephesians 4:1). He asks Christians to be completely humble, gentle, and forbearing (v. 2). He asks Christians to live in the peace and unity of the Spirit of Christ, because there is one Spirit which the Spirit of the One God revealed by Christ (v. 3-4). Then, Paul says the following:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. … So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:7, 11-16). [3]

Prayer: God the Giver of Every Good and Perfect Gift, please come as we listen to your word and convict us, convert us, and make us wholly Yours. Send your Spirit of Truth upon every one here today. In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Giver

I don’t know about you, but Christmas and birthdays become harder and harder as the years go by. Frankly, there is almost nothing I really need that I don’t already possess. (It gets really hard to appreciate the 100th tie that you don’t need!). It takes a really special person to be a good giver. Kathy is a really good gift giver. This summer, wherever we were, she would be in some shop buying something for someone we know, often a child. Kathy is a good gift giver because she cares about people and wants to give them something they need and will like.

Every gift has a giver, and the best gifts are gifts of God. God is the ultimate giver of gifts.

imgres-1One of my favorite verses is James 1:17-18: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” In this passage from James, the Apostle says almost exactly what Paul says in Ephesians: God is a giver of wonderful gifts through the Holy Spirit. All that we are and all that we have are ultimately gifts from God– in some mysterious way even our troubles are gifts from God (James 1:12). God gives us the gift of New Life in Christ and he continues to give gifts to us during our walk of discipleship!

In Ephesians, Paul extends the concept of God as the Great Giver to Christ. When Jesus came among us, when the Word of God (God’s rational presence) became human, Jesus represented the wisdom, love, and power of God on earth. This is supremely shown by his sacrificial death on the cross (Romans 5:8). The act of God offering up himself in human form for a world that rejects love and embraces darkness and violence is a supreme act of love. When Jesus ascended into heaven, this love was still present for us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who is God and God’s love present with us always until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Jesus by the Spirit is now the Giver of gifts to God’s people.

Spirit Inspired Gifts

Paul teaches that each one of us, as disciples of Christ, are the recipient of gifts from the Perfect Giver.  One kind of gift we receive are what the New Testament calls “Gifts of the Spirit.” When we open our hearts to God, the Spirit of God operates in a new way in our lives, and that new way results in our having talents, abilities, and gifts that we never possessed before in quite the same way. I have always been able to teach, but when I became a Christian that natural gift took on a new, spiritual dimension.

In Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians, and I Peter, there are similar but somewhat different lists of gifts that God gives to those who open their hearts to receive them. [4] images-4Today, we are not talking about the lists and the separate gifts so much as we are talking about the gifts as a whole. The specific gifts, such as preaching, teaching, pastoring, prayer, helping, healing, miracles, evangelism, prophesy, wisdom, leadership, administration, and the like are not so important to Paul in Ephesians as it is to make a point: All these gifts are not meant to divide people or create a hierarchy of Christians. The gifts are not meant to induce pride or selfishness, but love and humility.

Growth of the Body

Some gifts are just gifts. They really do not have a purpose. On the other hand, some gifts we give have a definite purpose in mind. If I give Kathy a piece of jewelry, I probably have no purpose other than hoping that she will be happy. If I give Kathy a new financial program to budget with, I probably have some purpose, like getting a better handle on our expenses. God’s gifts are of both kinds. When God gives us spiritual gifts, he both wants us to experience personal joy and he wants us to grow together as a body of believers with each person using their own personal gifts and abilities to make all of our lives better.

God’s gifts have a purpose. The Gifts of the Spirit are designed to allow us to experience joy and blessedness as individuals, as a congregation, and as the church world-wide. imgres The Gifts of the Spirit are gifts of God’s divine wisdom, love and power so that we can grow to maturity both as individuals and as a Christian community. Paul says that these gifts are given to prepare us so that we can mature as individuals and so that the body of Christ can become unified in faith, in knowledge of God, and in maturity. As we experience the gifts, we grow and mature and so does the church. This implies that we cannot really be who God wants us to be, nor can our church be all that God intends it to be, unless we all use our gifts, whatever they may be.

Going back to parenting for a moment, after four children, I  understand that the most difficult gifts for children to learn to use are those that are not the private property of one child, like a doll or a truck, but those that have to be shared. The spiritual gifts are similar. They were not meant to be hogged by one individual or a group of individuals. They were meant to be shared. They were not meant to puff us up or make us proud of who we are and what we can do. They were made to be used in humility to build up the entire Body of Christ. This means that they are sometimes hard to share and use properly.

A Goal of Maturity

One joy of watching children grow up is watching them stop fighting, stop irritating each other, stop fussing, and enjoy one another. Today, when our children are together, they just enjoy being together. (They hardly ever throw food at each other anymore unless they are remembering some funny incident from their childhood!) In other words, they are all grown up. I am sure that many of you have had the same experience.

The Apostle Paul emphasizes that what God has in mind by giving us Spiritual Gifts is reaching spiritual maturity, which God defines as being equipped for sharing our gifts with others (service), unity of faith and community in the body of Christ (love), and deeper knowledge of God (truth). God wants us to experience the kind of unity that happens when everyone is working together without friction and ego battles. God wants us to experience the kind of wisdom that happens when we know Christ not just intellectually but in our hearts. God wants us to share and serve one another, experiencing the same kind of love God has, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.images

Maturity involves a process. First, we accept Christ, what our slide calls “meeting Christ.” This is our moment of faith, when we meet Christ, hear his voice calling, “Come and Follow me,” and then respond.

After we accept, there is a period of during which we follow Christ. We may not be learning much, but at least we follow, attend church, and learn a bit. During this period of time, we may experience times when God answers our prayers and we grow unexpectedly as a result. Our faith may not show much, but it is being strengthened and deepened.

In the next stage, like the disciples, we are learning, watching, and imitating Christ. Now, we are growing as we imitate Christ. It may not take too much for us to backslide, just as Peter does from time to time in the Gospels. Nevertheless we are growing. We begin to imitate Christ. We begin to carry a cross or two voluntarily because we know a friend, fellow church member, or family member needs us. At this stage it may not feel quite right, but we are trying.

From mere imitation, we begin to actually become like Christ. We begin to be transformed into someone we would not have recognized years before. We don’t just act different, we are different. Finally, we serve gladly as little Christ’s in our churches, families, neighborhoods, and communities.

When I was preparing this sermon, I visualized this as a kind of ladder or set of steps. Of course, we are all on more than one step at a time. Sometimes we take steps backwards! However, all of us are somewhere on the path of growing in Christ. Spiritual gifts are a big part of this growing in Christ. That is why it is so important that we use our Spiritual Gifts at every stage of growth.

I am sure that all of us remember childhood fads. When I was in junior high, Indian madras shirts were all the rage. When they were made, they had what we called “fruit loops” on the back, colored pieces of cloth that could be used for hanging them. For a time, it was a fad to tear or snip off those loops. Kids made fun of each other for wearing shirts without the “fruit loop” removed. It was silliness. It was a fad. It was easy to tear a shirt removing the fruit loop.  The only reason we all did this, was because we were immature.

When we begin our Christian walk, we are inevitably immature. We often become faddish, following the latest silly or wrong Christian idea anyone promotes. We are, as Paul says, tossed by the wind of various teachings and fads (Ephesians 4:14). Gradually, ever so gradually, however, we mature and grow. We become more stable. We are not so easily led astray. We are not so vulnerable to bad teachings. We are growing up into Christ, becoming more in tune with what Christ has to say to us in Scripture.

spiritual giftsOne of our congregation’s hopes for this year, and especially for next year,  is that we begin to move as a church from growing by listening, reading and learning to growing as we put to work in our lives and in the lives of the people we meet and the places we live and work the gifts that God has and will give each one of us.

The copy of Mere Christianity my friend gave me so many years ago is a gift that has never stopped giving not just to me, but to others as well. What ever you have been given by Christ, sharing is the best way to grow and enjoy that gift. Let’s use our gifts!!!

Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: McMillan Publishing, 1943, 1945, 1952).

[2] William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians in “The Daily Bible Study Series” (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1958); Archibald M. Hunter, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians in “The Layman’s Bible Commentary” (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1959).

[3] Ephesians 4:8-9, which is not included, contains a quote from Psalms 68:18, which was meaningful for Paul and his readers, but perhaps not as easy for modern people to appreciate. The idea is that Christ, when he ascended into heaven, became the giver of gifts to the people of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit Paul is about to delineate.

[4] See Romans 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:7-11, 28; Ephesians 4:11; I Peter 4:11. First Peter really just references the gifts, but does not really give us a list.

A Disciples Responds in Faith

IMG_0117Have you ever been walking at dusk as darkness closed in and felt the desire to be finished? This summer for four days I walked about 25 miles each day. Each day started further and further away from where we were staying, and each day we ended later and later. There is something about dusk that reminds you how tired you are and how much you wish the journey were over. By the time a hiker reaches the end of the day his or her feet and muscles are tired, and it may seem as if the journey will never end.

Life is sometimes like this. Perhaps we have suffered a shock like losing a job, or being deserted by a partner or spouse, or being diagnosed with a serious disease, or being betrayed by an old friend. Perhaps we have been struggling with a problem for a long, long time and have grown weary of the struggle. We fell as if we have nothing left in life but endless struggle with an insolvable problem. Perhaps we felt that we were making progress in some area of our life, only to discover that we were wrong and are right back where we began. Perhaps we know we are nearing the end of the journey of life and we are tired and sick. At such times we feel as if we are walking into a gathering darkness.

On the Road to Emmaus

The way Luke tells the story of the resurrection the first people to find the empty tomb were the women who followed him. When they arrived early in the morning, they found the stone that covered his grave rolled away, and two angels asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) Returning to the Upper Room, the women told the Eleven (Judas being dead) what they had seen (24:9-10). Peter then ran to the tomb and saw it was empty, the grave clothes lying on the burial stone, and no body. He was confused and did not know what to think (24:11).

Road-to-Emmaus-Zund-LLater on that day, two disciples were walking to Emmaus, a village seven  miles from Jerusalem. They were very obviously confused, sad, and depressed about the death of Jesus. We can be sure they were talking about the heartbreaking events of the past few days (24:15). Suddenly a stranger, Jesus, appeared, though they did not recognize him (24:16). Jesus asked them why they were so depressed, and that is where we begin our text:

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”  He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread (Luke 24:17b-35).

Walking towards the Darkness

imagesThe Scottish commentator, William Barclay entitled his commentary on this passage, “The Sunset Road that Turned Darkness into Dawn.” [1] His caption is based on the insight that most probably this incident occurred the evening of the day of the resurrection. The two disciples, one we know was named “Cleopus,” were walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, near the conclusion of the first Easter Sunday. Almost certainly, they had been in Jerusalem on Good Friday, witnessed the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, knew of his death, and had heard of the missing body directly from the disciples or the women. Emmaus was West of Jerusalem, so that they would have been walking into the setting sun.

Not only were they physically walking into the sunset, so also they were walking into the sunset of their hopes and dreams. When Jesus questioned them about the discouraged look on their faces, they told him they were followers of Jesus, a mighty preacher and healer. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. They had committed themselves to him, hoping that he would rescue them from the Romans and establish again the kingdom of David, bringing in a time of peace, freedom, prosperity, and plenty. Then, suddenly, over the past few days, their hopes and dreams had been shattered.

As I mentioned before, life is often like this. We begin a job, a relationship, a move, a family, or a time of life filled with hope for the future, but then gradually ever so gradually, life wears us down. People, institutions, bosses, employees, spouses, friends, co-workers let us down or fail to meet our expectations or we simply grow old and weary, losing our enthusiasm and hope for our future. When this happens, we enter a period of going through the motions through the gathering darkness of our lives.

A Word of Hope

As the two discouraged travelers poured out the facts of the day and their discouragement, Jesus listened. Then, he said something I suspect no counselor would have encouraged him to say, “How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!” (24:25). (This is a really bad grief counseling technique.) Jesus went on to explain that all the events of the weekend, the betrayal, arrest, suffering, crucifixion, and death were part of God’s plan. “Did you not know that the Christ would have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (24:26).images-1

Having gotten their attention, we are told Jesus went through the entire Old Testament, from the works of Moses through all the Prophets, explaining to them how the fall of the human race, the unfaithfulness of Israel, the need of a sacrifice for sins, the promise of a true heir to David, the need for a Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah, all these prophesies and more, were fulfilled by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. You can imagine how encouraging this was to Cleopus and the other disciple, to hear a word of hope from Scripture at a time of suffering—to see in Scripture the promises of God.

There is a verse in Scripture that reads, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). As we shall see in a moment, hearing is not enough to create faith, but without the content of the Gospel and an explanation of who Christ is, it is impossible to come to faith. What Jesus did for the two disciples was to explain to them why it is possible for the Messiah to be the sort of person Jesus was and to experience the suffering and failure Jesus experienced. By the time they arrived at the inn, they were interested enough to ask Jesus to stay and hear more.

Speaking the Word of Christ into the life of another person is a precious and holy opportunity. Last Thursday, a group of local pastors had lunch. One of our members just returned from a deployment as a chaplain in the military. One of the treasures of his time away was the opportunity to share the Word with young men and women, some of whom had never been to church in their lives. We should all try to be prepared for such an opportunity if it comes to us. We all need to know how to share the gospel with others. What we say, our testimony of that God has done in our lives and our understanding of the Good News of Christ cannot of itself save anyone. Only God by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit can change a life. However, we can do our part.

The Moment of Revelation

imgresAs the threesome approached the little village of Emmaus, it was getting dark, so the disciples invited the stranger to stay with them and have a meal. Perhaps they merely wanted to hear more. Luke tells us that as they were breaking bread together, the eyes of the disciples were opened, and they recognized the Risen Christ. Just as this occurred, Jesus disappeared from their sight. At that moment, as if a light went on in their minds and hearts, they realized who Jesus was and and the impact he had on them.

When Jesus was physically with us, his call was to come and physically follow him. Those who did not have the kind of faith necessary to leave all and follow him, did not become disciples. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the call of the apostles was to trust, believe in and follow the Risen Christ, becoming a part of the little and sometimes-persecuted fellowship of Christians. After the resurrection, the call is always first to have the kind of faith that experiences and then follows a now invisible Jesus who is present in his people by the power of the Holy Spirit. The faith the disciples needed to follow Jesus was no different than the faith we need to follow Jesus. Faith is the decision of the heart to trust, ask God to come into your heart, and follow Jesus for the rest of your life. Faith is a total commitment in view of what God has spoken into our hearts. [2]

The Response of Faith

Our text tells us that the disciples immediately got up and returned to Jerusalem. This is the equivalent of Matthew’s recounting that the Peter, Andrew, James and John “immediately” followed Jesus (Matthew 4:18). When the arrived, they gave their testimony to the disciples, declaring that Jesus was alive, that what Simon had seen was evidence of the resurrection, and that the women had told the truth. They gave their personal testimony to what had happened to them on the Road to Emmaus and how the recognized him when they sat down to eat together.

Ninety percent of the sermons I have heard on this passage concentrate on the walk to Emmaus and the revelation of Jesus at the breaking of the bread. When we concentrate only on who Jesus is, the moment of revelation and faith, we miss something important: It was late, the disciples were hungry and tired. Nevertheless, when they received the revelation, the two disciples got up, retraced their six to ten mile walk uphill to Jerusalem, found the disciples, and gave them their testimony. They might have said, “This is great news. Jesus is live. We are saved. Let’s go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.” They could have said, “Tomorrow, if we have time, we need to send a message to the Twelve telling them about what we experienced and see what they make of it.” They could have done a number of things. What they did do was get up, walk to Jerusalem, and tell the disciples of this great event. The two disciples shared their new faith with the still doubting Twelve.

Faith always invokes a response. If we have committed ourselves to follow Jesus, then we must be committed to share what we know, learn more about what we have experienced, live and think more like Jesus, and continue the walk. One of the blessings of being with new Christians is the blessing of hearing their testimonies and sometimes experiencing their fearlessness.

Not long ago, one of our members shared with me an experience that ended up with our member sharing her faith with a pimp and drug dealer who happened to live nearby. It took courage, spiritual power, and wisdom to do this. God provided all these things. Why could she share her faith in such a powerful way? Because she responded to her own Walk to Emmaus by sharing what she knew with another person.

The disciples who left Jerusalem were walking west into the sunset on their way to Emmaus. It was the sunset of their hopes and dreams. The disciples who walked from Emmaus back to Jerusalem were walking east into the sunrise. They were walking into the sunrise of a new life in Christ. There are many folks in our society walking west into the sunset. They pass us every day. The question is, “Will I see the Risen Christ in the ordinary things like breaking bread, and then will I walk East into the sunrise, sharing what I have experienced with others?”


Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke in “The Daily Bible Study Series” Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 293ff.

[2] In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer speaks of the continuity between the call of Jesus in the Gospels for disciples to “follow me,” and the call of Paul, the early Church, and the Church today to believe and be baptized. Both are a call to utterly commit oneself to God in Christ. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship 2nd ed. (New York, NY: McMillan, 1959), 255. I owe this section of the blog for the week to Bonhoeffer’s insight.

A Disciple is a Person of Prayer

One difficult discipline for new Christians is prayer. prayerMost people have occasionally prayed to God in a time of difficulty or personal need. Even pagans pray at certain times. What makes disciples different is the commitment to pray consistently, developing a personal relationship with the Personal Living God of Wisdom and Love.

When I was a new Christian, I realized that I was good at reading my Bible, attending Church, and being involved in certain ministries. I was not good at praying. I am naturally an active person, and sitting silently praying, listening for God was (and is) very, very hard for me. Therefore, I did what people do who like to read, I bought a book, Prayer, by George A. Buttrick. [1] It is still in print, but it is often reproduced in small type, and its style is dated to a time when people liked longer paragraphs and more complex writing than most of us enjoy today. Several years ago, I tried to read it again and had great difficulty keeping my mind on it!

It did not take long to realize that reading a 300-page book was not likely to improve my prayer life. Therefore, I took a different tactic. I just started praying. I found a short guide to prayer that focused on Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Personal requests (Supplication). Several years later, I was part of an early morning prayer group that met for a couple of years during a time of difficulty in our church. This group stretched and improved prayer life. In seminary, a group of us met weekly on Friday for prayer and had prayer partners. Once in ministry, I developed the habits of prayer I still have today. In a tough period at Advent, I started another prayer discipline. This summer, I want away for an eight-day silent time of prayer, wanting to further deepen a prayer relationship with God.

Text and Prayer

Prayer does not come easily to most people. As Luke renders today’s text, the disciples came to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). The more the disciples spent time with Jesus, I am sure the more they realized that Jesus’ prayer life was much deeper, richer, more powerful, than theirs. Therefore, they came to him and asked him to teach them pray. In Matthew, Jesus gives the following response:

[W]hen you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:5-15).

Prayer: God our Father, we come to you like the disciples saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts lead all of us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be in communication with the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Amen.

 A Disciple is a Person of Prayer

It is hard to preach or teach on prayer. Like discipleship itself, prayer is not something we learn about, it is something we do. Like all skills, no one begins his or her prayer life as an accomplished prayer. Instead by trial and error, by long experience, by praying well and badly, rightly and wrongly, slowly but surely we become better at prayer. This has been my own experience, and I think it has been the experience of most Christians. Pitching Accuracy460 In prayer, like pitching a baseball, you begin learning to just throw a simple fastball, and then you gradually learn and improve your game.

It is important in prayer, as with any other skill, to keep practicing and keep learning. A disciple needs to be a person of prayer, and a disciple of 50 years should be a better person of prayer than a disciple of 15 minutes—and they will be if they just keep on praying. This summer I went on an eight-day silent retreat where for a week we did nothing but pray. We prayed in groups, alone, in journals, on walks, sitting alone, while running, etc. We prayed prayers from Scripture, in writing, and through prayers of silent contemplation of God. Once a day we prayed out loud in worship. Believe me, thirty-five years ago, I could not have endured such a long period of silence and prayer.

The Character of Christian Prayer

By the time of the Sermon on the Mount, the disciples had been with Jesus for a while. They had seen miracles, healings, exorcisms, and the like. They had heard his teachings and his preaching. They had eaten a lot of meals together. They had experienced his hidden, secret, silent power. In addition, they had seen him pray and go away to be alone in prayer. They had noticed that Jesus was a person of prayer and that somehow prayer was deeply a part of who he was and his mission and ministry. Therefore, it was natural that they should ask him to teach them to pray. It was natural that in the Sermon on the Mount, he would talk about prayer.

Jesus begins by giving just a few basic things to remember. First of all, our prayers are to be directed to God. Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father. This does not mean that we cannot use different words to refer to the One True God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. We can pray to God, the Eternal God, the Almighty, God the Healer, and the like. We can direct our prayers to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but we must remember that we are directing all those prayers to the Triune God whom Jesus called, “Father.” In particular, we don’t pray to other gods, natural forces, new age figures, crystals, or the like.

Second, we should pray from the heart. Jesus tells us to pray in secret. He does so to remind us we should not pray to show off, to show how spiritual we are, to gain the praise of other people, or for any reason other than to communicate with God.

Finally, we should be careful about “babbling.” In other words, we should be careful not just to pray words to be praying words. We should pray rationally, that is reasonably. We should be careful not to just pray nonsense or repeat a request 1000 times hoping to force God’s hand.

The point is that we should not make our prayer life a life of emotional self-exposure, irrational babbling, or showing off. If occasionally, overcome with emotion, we pray an especially emotional prayer, that’s fine. If on occasion we repeat a phrase or a request, that is fine. If we have a deep prayer for a family member or ourselves that we must pray over and over for years, that is fine. If occasionally our prayer is beyond human words, that is fine. We just need to remember that the purpose of our prayer is communion with the God of wisdom, love, and power, whom Jesus called “Father.”

A lot of people have seen the movie, “The War Room” recently. [2] This picture beautifully shows the importance of praying for our families, of praying Scripture, and of the place earnestness and emotion play in our prayer life. Jesus, I think, would have liked the movie. It certainly involved some emotion, repetition, and and public praying. The point is to remember it is the heart that counts.

The Two Tablets of the Lord’s Prayer

Having given some basic teaching on what prayer should be like; Jesus now gives a great example in a prayer we all know as the “Lord’s Prayer.” In its historic form it goes like this:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
Forever and ever.
Amen. [3]

Since the time of John Calvin, scholars and others have noticed that it is possible to understand the prayer as having six parts, divided into two halves very much like the Ten Commandments, with one half being about or relationship with God and the other half being about ourselves. [4]

The prayer begins by invoking “Our Father who art in Heaven.” This is meant to indicate that we are not praying to the Force, to an impersonal deity, but to a Father who loves us. When we pray “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” we are recognizing and invoking the God who gave us his Name on Mt. Sinai and who is absolutely holy and who we should recognize as absolutely holy.

Then, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. This is where the Gospel and discipleship begin to enter into our prayers in a major way. When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come we are praying that God’s wisdom, justice, peace, and love would come into our world. We pray that old divisions would be healed, that wars would cease, that the poor, widows, and others in need would be taken care of, that those unjustly imprisoned would be released, that those who are being treated unfairly would be treated fairly. We are praying that our world would look like heaven itself. This is a time when we can speak to God about big issues, war, peace, government, and the like. Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and every day we should pray for it.

Having prayed to God for really big things, we now pray for ourselves. When we pray for our daily bread, we are praying for the necessities of life. We are praying for the things that we need for ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbors, and those we love and care about.

Then, we pray to be able to forgive those who have wronged us. If the first prayer we have is a prayer for physical needs, this second prayer is for our moral and emotional needs, our need to be forgiven and to forgive others. Jesus warns his disciples that it is not healthy to keep grudges. It is not healthy not to forgive others. Just as those who have wronged us need forgiveness, so also we need forgiveness. In this regard God reminds us that if we expect to be forgiven, we all had best get about the business of forgiving others.

Finally, we pray to be delivered from evil. We live in a fallen world, and sin and temptation are ever-present realities. When we pray to be delivered from evil, we are praying that God will rescue us from our own sin and from the sin that surrounds us.

The Power of Prayerfulness

One of the themes of my summer was prayer. I took an extended time to to pray about big problems and deep issues. Prayer provides for our needs, protects us where we need protection, changes us where we need to be changed, and it is part of bringing God’s kingdom into the world. Every day this summer, I spent significant time reading my Bible, reflecting in my journal, contemplating Scripture and problems of our family, congregation, nation, and world. More than once, I spent an entire morning praying. It was one of the most important things about the time away.

This week, I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer almost every day, as I would say one phrase, ponder it, pray it, ask God what meaning it had for my life and for the life of our church. It became the center of my quiet time. One thing I suggest some of my readers do this week is pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly, daily, using it as the outline of your daily prayers. See if it makes a difference in your life. images

As individuals, families, communities, and nation, we face a lot of problems. The most important of these problems, the one at the root of so many of our problems is human pride, arrogance, and over-reaching. At the root of so many of our problems is the lack of a sense of family, of community, of love, of reason, of desire for justice and equity, in so much of our public debates and even in our families. Many of the problems we face are spiritual at their root, and only prayer can solve spiritual problems. We don’t necessarily need big public prayers, national prayer meetings, and the like. What we most desperately need is many, many individual people going into their own prayer closet and lifting their hearts to God.

Copyright, 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] George A. Buttrick, Prayer (Nashville, TN: Cokesbury/Abingdon Press, 1942).

[2] Alex Kendrick & Stephen Kendrick, The War Room Dir. Alex Kendrick. Starring Pricilla Shirer, T. C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie, et al. (Sony, 2015).

[3] In the original text, the final phrase “Forever and ever” is not found in many ancient texts. Nevertheless, it is the perfect ending for the prayer, as John Calvin noted in his commentary on the prayer.

[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downer’s Grove, Ill: IVP Press, 1978), 146

Following Jesus: Up in and Out

Tuesday of this week, I had an opportunity to go to a Redbird’s game. As I am sure all Memphians know, the Redbirds are a farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals. Going to the Redbirds game got me thinking about going to see the Cardinals play as a boy. Those memories inevitably brought back memories of Stan “The Man” Musial. I used Stan Musial as an example in a sermon a couple of years ago, so today I really don’t want to go into too much detail about his life. However, for those who are younger and have never heard of Stan Musial, I want to introduce him to my readers.

imagesStan Musial was a great baseball player. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941 to 1963, twenty-two years in the major leagues. He is one of the few players to play for the same organization his entire career. Stan had a 331 lifetime batting average and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He is recognized as one of the finest players of all time and as a role model for young people.

Using Stan as an example in that prior sermon was a great day for me in two ways: First, if you go to my office, you will see a framed memorial to Stan Musial. Danny Lee, who was here when I preached the sermon, went home between services, got it from his closet, and put it in my office. The second great thing about that day was that it explained a phenomenon that troubled me through raising four children. When any of our children played baseball, and especially our youngest, I would try to teach them how to bat. Their stance was never quite right. So, I would show them the proper stance. They never got it right, and their coaches uniformly told them I was not right. This made me mad because I just knew I was right.

In preaching that sermon, I realized that when I grew up in Springfield, Missouri in the 1950-60’s, every little boy eventually learned to bat like Stan Musial. Stan, however, had a very unusual batting stance. When I taught my children, I taught them the way I learned to bat. It was the batting stance I learned watching Stan Musial. Subconsciously, the right way to bat was the way Musial batted. You see, I was a disciple of Stan “the Man” Musial in baseball, and patterned my batting stance after his batting stance. Perhaps more importantly, he was a hero and a role model in other ways as well.

Message and Text 

Today in our blog, we are talking about discipleship. Our text is from Matthew Chapter 4. Hear the Word of God:

imgres-1As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were 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. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him (Matthew 4:18-25).

In my Facebook post earlier this week, our lesson is summarized in three phrases, “Hang out with me.” “Live with me.” “Act like me.” When Jesus calls us to be his disciples he is not merely asking us to believe he is the Son of God. He is asking us to pattern our lives after him. He wants us to become just like him, as he is the image of the invisible God.

Relationships: The Life of a Disciple

This is an exciting day. For months our staff and the pastors have been working on a kind of strategy for disciple making. Two years or so ago, Cindy went to Sheffield, England with Kent Hunter and brought back some ideas and a book which we began to read and discuss. Then, Kathy went to a mission meeting and brought back another book and idea. I began to think about how to bring these two ideas and others together in a way of being church designed for Advent. It all begins with relationships.

Notice that Jesus begins his ministry by calling people into a relationship with him. Jesus calls two, then the four who will be closest to him, and finally the remainder of the disciples. We know from the Gospels and Acts that the Twelve were not the only followers of Jesus. There were others, eventually as many as seventy disciples, 120 disciples,  and even as many as 500 people (see, Luke 10:1-23, I Cor. 15:1-6, Acts 1:12-15).

In our desire to read the Bible and to remember Jesus’ teachings, we can forget that the first thing Jesus did, and the thing he did from Day One through the Last Supper was to build relationships with his disciples. The disciples were called together as a community formed to accomplish the Great Commission. Jesus called disciples to make disciples. He does the same thing today.

Each sermon in this series has a symbol. Today’s symbol is a triangle that points up, in, and out.up in out The Up, In, and Out represent three relationships that are essential for every follower of Jesus. There is our relationship Up with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is our relationship In with the Christian community of which we are a part. There is our relationship Out as we share God’s love with the world.

There is no vital Christian life without all three of these relationships. We all need a relationship with God. We all need a community of faith. We all need to put our faith to work. No one gets to say, “I only need a personal relationship with God.” No one gets to say, “I only need a relationship with my Christian friends.” No one gets to say, “I only need to serve others.” We all need all these relationships all the time.

Up Our Relationship with God

Just because we all need relationships does not mean that some relationships are not more fundamental than others. In the Christian life, our relationship of trusting faith God the Father through Christ the Son in the Power of the Spirit is fundamental. imgres-3The disciples did not come to Jesus saying, “How about we hang out together.” Jesus came to the disciples saying, “Come hang out with me.” This points to an even bigger point: We are not in charge of our relationship with God. God is in charge of our relationship with him. He gets to set the agenda, show is the way, and lead us to grow.

Children don’t come to parents and say, “I would like to be born.” Children almost never come to their parents and say, “I would like to grow up, teach me how.” Neither my brother nor I, nor any of our children, or any children I know of, came to their parents saying, “I would like to learn to do chores, can you give me some.” No child ever says, “I think you need to discipline me so I can grow up wisely.”

God has decided that he wants to grow a community that will look just like the relationship God has, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has decided to make us a part of his family. He wants us to be his children. God has decided that he wants to help members of his family know how to love one another as a family. Therefore, God has said, “Come follow my Son who reveals me and is just like me.”

This following of God requires that we read our Bibles, learn more about Jesus, learn to talk sensibly to God in prayer, and learn how to bring God into every aspect of our day-to-day lives. To do this, like the first twelve disciples, we have to make time to just be with God. We all need prayer times, quiet times, etc.

Our Relationship with the Discipling Community of Jesus

Second, there is  our relationship between us and our Brothers and Sisters in Christ–the other members of our part of the family of God. There was never a time when Jesus was discipling anyone any way other than in a community. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus began by calling the inner circle of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Later, Jesus called Levi, the tax collector, to join the fellowship. By less than halfway through Matthew, he has called the original Twelve: “Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:2-4).

We know from Acts that Paul rarely traveled or ministered alone. He nearly always had around him, Barnabas, who helped disciple him, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Titus and others. Jesus discipled in a community. Paul discipled in community.  and we are asked to do the same.

We live in an individualistic culture. We sometimes think  we don’t need other Christians, but we most certainly do. If Peter, Andrew, James and John needed community, we do too. The names of the disciples (and perhaps especially the inclusion of Levi, Judas Iscariot, and others) bring us to an important point: The disciples did not get to choose who was in their community. Jesus did the choosing.

We live in a culture of church hopping and people looking for a “church that meets my needs.” I can almost guarantee you that Levi did not meet Peter’s needs.  (You can imagine how enthusiastic the disciples were about having an IRS agent as one of the disciples, someone who would know of any unreported fish sales.) In building a discipling group, God brings different sorts of people together with different interests, abilities, experiences, and backgrounds.images-1 He wants us to learn from one another. He does not want is all to be alike, of the same social class, etc.

Out: Our Movement Into the World

Finally, our life of Christian discipleship, our life of following Jesus, brings us into the world around us. Once again, this week I noticed something I never noticed before: Immediately after calling the disciples, we are told that Jesus went throughout the Galilee teaching in synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God in the open air, healing diseases, and casting out demons. It appears that Jesus forgot to ask them to attend 10,000 Sunday School classes for years and years before doing something! Right from the beginning he had them with him as he ministered to others.

Americans have a naive idea that you must know a lot before you take on the job of being an active disciple in the world. Jesus seems to have thought that his disciples would learn what they needed to know as they spent time with him and watched him preach, teach, heal, share, pray, and the like. Therefore, right from the beginning he shared his ministry with them. Jesus knew that learning by doing is important, and he really believed in field trips. His three years of ministry was one long field trip for the disciples!

Being a disciple cannot be separated from doing the things that disciples do. Learning to be a disciple is a lot like learning to bat or learning any other skill: you won’t learn until and unless you do.

Christianity is not knowing who Jesus is, memorizing a few Bible verses, and learning three or four theological ideas. Christianity is a way of life. Furthermore, it is a specific kind of way of life: it is a way of life patterned after Jesus Christ and his way of life. It is a life of loving others, being a servant, sharing life together, discovering and using spiritual gifts, healing our broken world, and speaking truth into the darkness of lies. Being a Christian is learning to bear a cross now and again. We can only learn these things as we do them.

When I had been a Christian only a few weeks, one of our pastors called me into his office and asked me to lead a worship service atimgres-2 the Star of Hope Mission in Houston, Texas.  I had never given a testimony, taught, or done an altar call. I had four hours to get ready. Why he chose me to do such a thing, I will never know. But, he did the right thing. He could have done it himself better. Instead, he allowed me to learn by doing. In a lot of life, it is true: We learn best by doing. And, being a disciple is one of those things we learn best, in fact we only learn, by doing.

Copyright, 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved