Practice and Preparation

Lent is a time of preparing for the great celebration of Easter, when Christians proclaim the victory of Christ over sin and death. This week’s blog is about practicing what we are learning from Jesus about the Christian life and mission in the world.

practice makes perfect – a motivational slogan on a green stocky note

The term “practice” means the actual practical application of an idea, belief, method, or knowledge. When we practice something, we repeat the action time and time again until we get good at it. This is why we speak of practicing medicine or law. Professions, like sports, are not just areas of knowledge; they involve practical application of knowledge as a skill.

Imagine a basketball team that never practiced. How good would it be? It has been many years since I played basketball, but I have watched young men in a church gym practicing shooting and rebounding for years, beginning when they are quite small. The ones who become good, and play in high school and college, practice shots and dribbling for hours and hours each day. Even professional basketball players practice in the off-season. They continue to hone and develop their skills.

Our Christian faith is no different. If our Christian faith involves merely a sum of knowledge we have in our heads, then it is a dead or inadequate thing (James 2:7). In order to be living breathing disciples of Jesus, we need to put our faith into practice in our day-to-day lives and in how we live and relate to people.

The Disciples Practice Being Like Jesus

In our text, Jesus has been traveling through the villages of the Galilee teaching (Mark 6:6). The disciples have been in a kind of intensive Bible study and small group experience with Jesus. Day in and day out they have been with Jesus, watching Jesus, listening to Jesus, and sometimes running an errand or two for Jesus. Jesus already knows that one day he will send them to the ends of the earth sharing the Good News of the Kingdom and making disciples themselves. Therefore, he asks them to practice what they have been learning.

Lets look at the Word of God as it comes to us from Mark 6: 6-13:

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mark 6:6-13).

Prayer: Eternal God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Come  and inspire our hearts to become more like you and to follow our Lord Jesus, even when we must get out of our comfort zones to do so. In Jesus Name, Amen.

 We Need to Practice our Discipleship

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the way in which Kathy prepares for parties. I mentioned that parties are always a lot of work, and I’m pretty good at avoiding most of that work. Inevitably, there comes a time when Kathy asks me to go to the store and get something for her. She sends me on an errand. In San Antonio, most of the time, these errands take me to H-E-B stores. H-E-B is the largest supermarket chain headquartered in San Antonio and run by a fine Christian family. The initials H-E-B stand for “Howard E. Butts,” who founded the chain in Kerrville, Texas. It is nice, air-conditioned and cool. I am not in any danger at the Alamo Heights H-E-B. In fact, it is kind of fun.

On the other hand, I am always somewhat nervous. You see, I am not an experienced shopper, and I am very cheap. I am always afraid I will buy the wrong thing, which I often did in the early years of our marriage and still do from time to time! Today, however, after many, many years of careful coaching, practice, and an occasional second trip to the store, I am pretty good at getting the right thing. My party game is improving with practice!

Jesus knew that his disciples would not get the business of making disciples right the first time. He knew that it would unfair for him to do all the teaching, healing, and casting out of demons, and then one day, BANG, send the disciples to the ends of the earth to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Therefore, he trained the disciples and made them practice what he had been training them to do.

One day, years ago, I was walking by the pastors offices on a Sunday morning between services. Dick Druary, who was the young associate pastor in charge of evangelism in our church, called me into his office. He explained that he was scheduled to speak at the Star of Hope Mission in Houston that evening but could not keep his committment. He asked me to speak for him.

I’d only been a Christian only a short time. I can’t tell you how scared I was. All that afternoon I wrote a sermon and practiced it as best I could. I didn’t have time to write it out. All I could do was create an outline. I remember to this day how nervous I was. Then, with fear and trepidation, in front of a bunch of drug addict’s and drunks, I gave my first sermon. I even did my first altar call! For a Presbyterian, I was way out of my comfort zone. Yet, I would probably not be here today, if Dick had not then, and frequently thereafter, asked me to substitute for him at the mission. [1]

There is an important lesson here: We will never become the disciples Jesus calls us to be unless and until we get out of our comfort zone and actually put our faith to work. One reason why our Lenten study gives us things to do each week is that we need to get used being more than learners of the Bible. We need to put what we know into practice. We need to be doers of the word in addition to hearers of it (James 1:22-25).

We Need to Practice as a Team

Jesus knew that his disciples would have difficulty going on this first mission trip. He knew there were going to be future times during which the disciples did not know what to do next. He knew they needed the courage that comes from experience. Therefore, he sent them out two-by-two. In other words, they went out in teams.

Bay Presbyterian Church participates in something called, “Living Waters for the World.” It’s a water ministry bringing clean water to places where there is no clean water. It’s really interesting. First of all, down near Oxford Mississippi, where the novelist William Faulkner was from, there is a camp, Camp Hopewell, where those who lead church teams go and learn about the purification units used in the ministry, about the importance of clean water, about how to teach people about the necessity of clean water, and other elements of how to do a mission trip. Students actually practice what they will do on the field. Those who have been trained work in teams. Over the years, I’ve been on several trips, and they’ve been successful! Why? Because everyone practiced as a team!

My former church actually had a water purification board on which they put together and took apart units before they actually installed them! Often there is someone from a church that has already done an installation along on that first trip. My former church often helped churches get started in installing Living Waters projects.

It’s really important that we take seriously the example of Jesus and the disciples. Often, we think that we will someday engage in some ministry for Jesus when we have learned enough, when we’ve studied enough Bible, when we’ve become a better Christian, etc. If we think that way, we will never go on a mission trip! Part of learning is doing! We all need to go on training missions for Jesus. It may be as simple as your family  making a meal for a sick neighbor and sharing God’s love  in your neighborhood or as hard as making a trip with others to a third world nation . Where we go does not matter as much as that we go and grow as disciples in community.

God Will Fill Us with His Spirit

In today’s text, Jesus commissioned the disciples to go on their practice journey, and as he did so he endowed them and blessed them with the power to face sickness and demons and evil (Mark 6:7). When Jesus sent out the Seventy-Two, they returned with joy because the spirit of been of working them on their journey (Luke 10:17).

We’ve already spoken about the Great Commission this year. One of the great promises we have from Jesus is that he will be with us as we go in His Name (Matthew 28:20). This doesn’t just apply to people who go to Third World countries, although it does. It applies to us whenever we get out of our comfort zone. The promise applies when we pray with co-workers.  It applies to us when we go and help in a local mission. It applies when we go to Guatemala, or even to much more challenging places like the Congo. Wherever we go the Spirit and power of Christ goes with us.

We Seek People of Peace

Many people have problems with the advice Jesus gives near the end of today’s passage. Jesus says to the disciples that, if they come to a place where they are not welcome, they should just shake the dust off their sandals and go on (Mark 6:11). In the beginning, this statement seems harsh. In other passages, Jesus more clearly spells out what he is talking about. In some places Jesus is that we should look for people of peace as we go (Luke 9-10). People who welcome the Gospel are people of peace.

Does Jesus mean that we should only go to receptive people? No! In other places, and particularly in connection with the Parable of the Sower, Jesus makes it clear that we should always be sowing the gospel of God’s love for the world (Mark 4:1-21). We should sow the Word on rocky soil and on shallow soil. We should sow it among the thorns and in the deep soil.

However, once we are rejected, once we learn that the soil is hard, once we know that in order to continue on we would be interfering with another person’s privacy, we go on our way until another day. This doesn’t mean we don’t come back to that person later. This doesn’t mean that, if the subject doesn’t come up for a while and then comes up again, we don’t repeat what we said before. It just means that we don’t force ourselves on other people; when we are rejected, we go along our way and seek out people of peace.

God Will Provide the Harvest

When the disciples went out, and preached the gospel, they did many mighty deeds of power (Mark 6:13).  This reminds us of a very important point. If we go out with the power of the gospel, if we are filled with God’s love, if we share that love wherever we go, then God is going to go with us and provide a harvest.

It does not matter whether we go across the street, and a neighbor comes to Christ after many years, or whether we go to the ends of the earth and an entire people group or touched by the Gospel through our work. God provides the harvest. That first night when I preached of the Star of Hope Mission, I gave the worst altar call ever given by anyone in human history. It was so clumsy that the men just sort of stared at me for a while. Then, perhaps because he felt sorry for me, one man came forward and then another. I really don’t remember how many came forward. But a few did. Let’s just suppose that  only one of those men stayed sober and turned their life over to Christ. My lost afternoon and busy early evening was worth it.

We need to hold onto this truth. When we share with others the love that Jesus shared with us on the cross, when we give up a little bit of our safety and security to go out of our comfort zone and share God’s love, we receive the blessing of the one who died for us, and to whose table we now come.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]  For years I took the Sunday that was previously held by the Rev. Dr. Charles L. King, the long time and pastor of the congregation and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUS).  Then and now regarded as a great honor.