Posted by: Jim Black | February 28, 2014

Generation Next- Reaching Tomorrow’s Generation Today

Generation NextI am about to begin a new sermon series on Sunday, “Generation Next: Reaching Tomorrow’s Generation Today” and we will be exploring the church’s mission to reach our young people for Christ.  I thought that I’d provide a list of references that I have used throughout this study which I would recommend for anyone to read… especially those of us who are parents of teenagers.  Please let me know if you know of other good material that we might add!

Altrock, Chris.  Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age.  St. Louis: Chalice, 2004.

Clark, Chap.  Hurt 2.0  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Dean, Kenda Creasy.  Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.  New York: Oxford, 2010.

Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons.  Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

Kinnaman, David.  You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

Nash, Robert.  An 8-track Church in a CD World.  Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.

Rainer, Thom S.  The Bridger Generation.  Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

Rainer, Thom S. and Jess W.  The Millennials: America’s Largest Generation.  Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2011.

Smith, Christian.  The National Study on Youth and Religionwww.youthandreligion.org

Yeakley, Flavil R. Jr.,  Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ.  Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 2012

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Posted by: Jim Black | December 16, 2013

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

I cannot believe that this time has rolled around once again… time for our annual “Christmas Letter” to all of you.  This final bulletin before Christmas always sneaks up on me, but I SO appreciate the opportunity to write up a little “end-of-the-year” note.

This year has been an incredibly blessed one at Washington Street!  We ended 2012 with an emotional “note-burning” dinner as this congregation made final payment on our building which had consumed so much of our time, attention and financial resources throughout the previous seven years.  With that behind us, we faced 2013 with a renewed focus and a new energy to take on whatever God wanted for us!  I truly believed… as I continue to believe that “Greater Things are Yet to Come!”

In May our prayers were answered and we welcomed Wes and Stephanie Collum to our church family.  Wes got off to an incredible start as our new Youth & Family Minister… hitting the ground running with a jam-packed schedule that kept our young people busy with camps, retreats and, most importantly, service opportunities.  He and Stephanie have been a tremendous blessing to Washington Street and they are a joy to work alongside in the ministry here.  Our church family has grown as we welcomed twenty seven new members place membership and witnessed what will be seven baptisms this year!

As I look back and reflect over this past year, I think of so many who have left us.  This year we have seen the passing of many beloved church family members here at Washington Street.  My heart goes out to each and every one of you who have lost a dear loved one this year.  Their absence is felt especially at this time of year.

At our house, things are busy as usual.  Andy and David are playing on the Middle School Basketball team for Riverside Christian Academy and having a great season.  Michael is about to start his basketball season in RCA’s “Jr. Pro” program.  They are 13, 11 and 9 respectively… which still blows my mind!  Daniel, our precocious 3 year old, runs the household giving orders to his brothers (which they usually follow) and is full of life… and energy!  This year marks the twelfth anniversary of our coming to Washington Street (December 2nd of 2001 was my first Sunday here!) … and we celebrated 18 years of marriage AND ministry in July!  I thank Celeste profusely for hanging in there!

One change that has affected both our family and our church family has been Celeste taking on additional responsibilities here at church as our new Children’s program director.  She coordinated a Children’s Christmas party on Sunday that was a great success and she is looking forward to greatly expanding this incredible ministry to the kids of the congregation.  This means our schedule and daily routine have changed just a bit and we are still getting used to it and figuring things out.

We continue to be so blessed to be a part of this church family.  There is no way that we could send every one of you, our family, the traditional “Christmas Card” so let me take this opportunity to say to every one reading these words, “Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!”  We sincerely pray that the holidays will be filled with joy and laughter… with good times and great memories!  May God bless you.

-Jim, Celeste, Andy, David, Michael & Daniel

Posted by: Jim Black | May 7, 2013

Is America a “Christian Nation”?

Nobody can speak as much as I do on a weekly basis and not say something every now and then that bears further explanation.   On Sunday, as I was discussing the Apostle Paul’s preaching of the gospel throughout the pagan world of the first century, I offhandedly made a comment that several have asked me about.  I referred to our own country, the United States, and commented on how similar it is to the world of Paul’s day.  I remarked that it has never been a “Christian nation” as some have supposed.  Here is what I meant by that.

A “Christian” is one who has submitted himself or herself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  By definition, a Christian is an individual, not a group or a nation.  In that technical sense a nation can be neither “Christian” nor “non-Christian” since a nation is made up of all kinds of people with all kinds of different beliefs.  America is a “Christian nation” only insofar as its citizens are Christians.  While many Americans have a background in “Christianity” that is not the same thing as personally submitting oneself to His Lordship.

In fact, our founding fathers ensured that the government of our nation could not be “Christian” in the principle of the separation of church and state implicit in the Constitution.  While that principle may have been misunderstood and even misapplied today, the idea very clearly is that the government is to stay out of the affairs of religion.  Therefore it cannot properly be called “Christian” can it?

This is a great thing, as it allows for the free exercise of my faith!  I love my country, not because it endorses Christian teaching, but because it allows me the freedom to actively pursue my Christian teaching!  I suppose England is “officially” a “Christian” nation with the Church of England as its national religion.  Early Americans fled that country because of the abuses inherent in that system.  Surely no one wants a state religion in the United States today.

I understand, though, that when many of us use the term “a Christian nation” we are referring to our background and heritage.  It is very true to say that our founding fathers came from a very similar Judeo-Christian background and that the values and principles they held dear were written into our founding documents.  Certainly, most of them were believers and unashamedly acknowledged God even in those documents.  I am very grateful for that and wish today’s leaders shared those same convictions.   However that does not make our nation “Christian” today.  The fact that my parents were Christians does not mean that I am.  I must have my own faith.  I must own my own relationship with Jesus in order to properly be called a “Christian.”  Just because our founding fathers were “Christians” doesn’t make our present government “Christian” does it?  What would it look like if they were?

When I look around our country,  I do see so much good and I see God’s people at work in so many ways, yet there is also much fallenness.  Our people laud and applaud what was once called evil and sin.  Our culture glamourizes infidelity and adultery and mocks purity and uprightness.  I can’t turn on the television without hearing the Lord’s name used in vain or seeing people treated as objects of someone’s sexual fantasies.  If you look at ancient Israel in the books of Joshua, Judges and the Kings… you find much the same thing.  Israel was supposed to be a “Godly nation.”  In fact, it was supposed to BE “God’s nation.”  Yet, it was unfaithful to that call and experienced the consequences of its unfaithfulness.  God was harsh enough to allow those consequences and even used other nations around them to bring His judgment on them.

So, when I say that America (the country that I love) is not and never has been a “Christian” nation, that is what I mean.  I pray for the day when all of its citizens will bow on their knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… but until that day, it is my job as a Christian to faithfully witness to those around me that day is coming.

Posted by: Jim Black | December 19, 2012

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

2012-12-02 10.53.02What an incredibly busy time of year this is! In some ways this past year has just flown by and I cannot believe that it is time once again to sit down and write my annual “Christmas Note” for our bulletin. In other ways, it has been a long and difficult year for many. As I look back and reflect over this past year, I think of so many who have left us. This year we have seen the passing of many beloved church family members here at Washington Street. My heart goes out to each and every one of you who have lost a dear loved one this year. Their absence is felt especially at this time of year. Our hearts are also heavy this week with the news of the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Words cannot express the heartache that everyone feels over these events and especially parents.

Perhaps it is fitting that as we reflect, we are also turned to the wonder of the story in the Scriptures… the story of the Christ-child, born to humble parents in a small town called Bethlehem all those years ago… laid in an animal’s feeding trough and visited by curious shepherds. It seems like such a simple story. Children are born every day, many of them into circumstances even more difficult than that. Yet this wasn’t just any child. This was Jesus. This was Immanuel… “God with us.” This was God in the flesh, come to set things right. He was born at night, into the darkness. Max Lucado reminds us, “The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. [Jesus’] first cries were heard in the shadows. To see [his] face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence. “

Yet it was into our dark world that Jesus came and brought light! The apostle John would write, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) Indeed, even amidst the darkness of recent days our world is brighter as we turn our eyes upon Jesus.

This December my family began our twelfth year as a part of this church family and we continue to be so blessed. This year, more than others, we have felt the love and the prayers of dear brothers and sisters and we are so thankful for you all! God has truly blessed us through you. There is no way that we could send every one of you, our friends and family members the traditional “Christmas Card” so let me take this opportunity to say to every one reading these words, “Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!” We sincerely pray that the holidays will be filled with joy and laughter… with good times and great memories! May God bless you.

-Jim, Celeste, Andy, David, Michael & Daniel

Posted by: Jim Black | March 27, 2012

for real?

Was he or wasn’t he?  That’s the question we’ve been exploring all month.  Was Jesus who he said he was, or not?  We’ve been exploring some of the questions of our faith, wrestling with our doubts in some cases and examining the evidence.  As I’ve promised, below is a list of resources (which may grow longer over time.)  These are books that have been helpful to me through my own personal search and from which I have drawn heavily for this sermon series.  I hope it helps!

Copan, Paul.  When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.

Ortberg, John.  Know Doubt. (prev. titled Faith & Doubt).  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

McDowell, Josh.  Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. Vols. 1 & 2.   Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1979.

McDowell, Sean.  Apologetics for a New Generation: a biblical & culrurally relevant approach to talking about God.  Eugene, OR:  Harvest House, 2009.

Shelly, Rubel.  Prepare to Answer: A Defense of the Christian Faith.  Nashville, TN: 20th Century Christian, 1990.

Strobel, Lee.  The Case for Faith.  Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 2000.

_________. The Case for Christ.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.

_________. The Case for a Creator.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

_________. The Case for the Real Jesus.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

(each of Strobel’s books have ‘Student’ & ‘Kids’ versions as well!)

Posted by: Jim Black | February 25, 2012

A Few Words for Paw Paw

“A Few Words… for Paw Paw”
February 24, 2012

Virgil Boyd Crowe –September 31, 1913- February 21, 2012

Wow—98 years… we’d better get going.  We’ve got a lot of ground to cover!  Actually I’m only kidding.  I couldn’t begin to touch the life of my Paw Paw in the short amount of time that he gave me this afternoon.  He told us he wanted this short & sweet!  And that’s okay… because he doesn’t need another sermon anyhow… and you don’t need me to convince you what a good man he was.  And he certainly doesn’t need anybody to preach him into heaven… as they say.  Paw Paw preached his own funeral every day that he lived.  So, there’s really very little to be said today… but he did ask me to ‘say a few words’… so I’ll give it a try!

98 years may seem like a long time… but for some reason today, it doesn’t hardly seem long enough.  I suppose we’re never really ready to see those we love depart, but for my Paw Paw… I know he was ready to go.  He told me the other day, when I told him to ‘hang in there’… that he was going to try, but that when it was his time, he was looking forward to being with the Lord.  So I have no hesitancy today in saying that he’s right where he wants to be… right home with the Lord.  The Bible says, “Blessed are those who die in the Lord”… and indeed my Paw Paw was a blessed man!

And not only because of his relationship with the Lord…  He was blessed in this life with two beautiful daughters…   My Aunt, Bettye Jo Smith and my mom, Marcia Boydene Black.  Giving his girls names like ‘Jo’ & ‘Boydene’  I always wondered if he had been expecting boys or if my Nanny was just asleep when he filled out the birth certificates?  Two devoted daughters who loved their daddy… you could say they were ‘daddy’s girls’ or at least I bet that’s what my uncle Bob or my Dad would tell you.  And then (to make matters worse) when he and Betty married… he inherited yet another daughter, Brenda- but she has also been such a blessing to him… and a step-son, Mike, who preceded him in death just a few years ago.

Blessed with a number of smart, intelligent and good-looking grandchildren…  Bobby & Kim came along first and paved the way for my sister Debbie and I.  We enjoyed having the best grandparents God ever invented.   Grandparents were such a great idea… I always thought.  Old & responsible like parents.  They could do the things to take care of you like feed you and tuck you in at night… but they were a lot more fun!  They doted on us… spoiled us.  Probably gave us whatever we wanted.  I remember having Coca Cola for the first time at Paw Paw’s house.  Ice cream.  McDonalds happy meals… whatever we wanted we could usually talk either he or Nanny into it.  And then when he and Betty married… we got to share our Paw Paw with your sweet girls, Brenda… Carmen & Shannon.  And he loved them just the same… and I know spoiled them, too.  He would always tell me about how tall Shannon was getting to be!

Blessed with more great-grandchildren than I can count…  Travis & Kylie… Andy, David, Michael & Daniel… Riley, Reagan & Ryan… & Carmen’s family… Austin, Madison (Madi), Payton… All of whose pictures you can find plastered all over Paw Paw’s house like wall paper!

And twice blessed to find special women with whom to share his life…  My grandmother, Una Ray.  She and Paw Paw married Nov. 29, 1935… but were married for only 54 years.  She would often slip me money when I’d come to visit and tell me not to tell Paw Paw.  Then he’d slip me some more and tell me not to tell Nanny.  I think it was a game they played on each other.  I didn’t mind it.

When they married I’m told it wasn’t ‘proper’ for a school teacher (which Nanny was) to be married… so they kept their marriage a secret for a short time.  Eventually somebody let the cat out of the bag, I suppose, because I always knew they were married.  He grew up in what is now Meigs County, she lived in Ray County.  That was before they divided the county along the River.  He used to cross the river over to see her.  I guess he crossed one too many times.  But I guess it worked out.  54 years ain’t bad.

After she passed away in 1988 after a long battle with Alzheimers, we were all worried about Paw Paw.  What would he do?  Wouldn’t he be lonely?  Little did I know how his sister-in-law was already scheming to fix him up!  Dating is an awkward thing.  It’s really weird when your granddad starts dating… or courting (whatever it was.)  But we were all thrilled when he and Betty met and tied the knot.  They’ve been married 21 years now… and you (Betty) have been such a blessing to all of us… and especially to our Paw Paw… so thank you!  You told me the other day that you knew you weren’t my ‘real grandmother’… but you you’ve been my ‘Ma maw’ for all these years and that’s not fixin’ to change any time soon.  The relationship you shared was special… and when Celeste and I needed wedding advice those years ago… the best couple who had just planned a wedding that we could think of was you!  Thanks.

As I said… 98 years seems like a long time.  Paw Paw has seen many things thru the years…  Many loved ones pass on… his mother & father… James William & Louella Barger Crowe…  brothers & sisters… Marion, Charlie, Imogene, Claude, Walter, Willie, and a brother Luther who died as an infant.  His brother Ray & sister Gayle survive him.   His wife of 54 years, my grandmother, Una… a son-in-law, my uncle Bob Smith…

He did a lot of cool stuff…  He served in Oak Ridge during WWII as a civilian working at the facility that made the Atom bomb and resulted in the end of the war… saving who knows how many lives around the world.  He worked most of his career at Dupont… working in the facilities department as they made a radical new product called ‘nylon’.

And he’s seen many changes in our world…  In 1913 the price of a gallon of gas was 27 cents at the first drive up “filling station” which opened in Dec. of that year, not that there were all that many people with cars needing a gallon of gasoline!  After all, a new car cost almost $400 and that was more than most could afford.  The price of a gallon of milk, though, was almost a dime.  Other Happenings of 1913…  Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.   The NY Giants signed Jim Thorpe.   The 16th amendment ratifying federal income tax was passed and the IRS immediately began collecting.   The British House of Commons rejected a proposal that would allow women the right to vote in Great Britain.   (Such a measure would not pass in the US for another 6 years.)   Veterans of the Civil War held a Great Reunion in 1913.  Stainless Steel was invented by Harry Brearley.  The first paved highway from coast to coast opened, the Lincoln Hwy.   Charlie Chaplin began his film career… and was paid $150 a week by the film studio.   Thru the years Paw Paw saw… 17 Presidents (& was very much looking forward to the 18th), ten decades, two world wars, and about 1700 Bob Hope television specials… many of which we watched together.

He had a lot of great experiences & great days… but none of them can compare to last Tuesday, which was perhaps the single greatest day of his life.  You might think that I would’ve said that about his birthday… or the day he was baptized in Wolf Creek (Rhea County), or his wedding day… or maybe the birth of his daughters… but I daresay that not even the greatness of those days hold a candle to what happened on Tuesday… Because Tuesday he went home.  After  a debilitating stroke just 5 weeks ago, he had hoped to recover and get back to his chores at home… but despite all of his hard work at rehab… his body was just used up.  And after really only four days of it… he was ready to go home.  And I don’t mean to Red Bank.  He was ready to see his parents, his brothers, sisters… his friends & family members… my Nanny… and he told us so.

Our prayers were answered and on Tuesday afternoon… just as the sun peaked through the clouds… having been surrounded by family all week… he went home to be with the Lord.   His body was just all used up.  Of course he got more mileage out of his than most folks do, so we can’t fault that.  He had 98 full, wonderful, blessed years upon this Earth… and he knew how fortunate he was!  He told me that many times.  But… he has gone home.  So today is a day of celebration!  It is a day to rejoice & be glad!  Because, like the Apostle Paul, he has finished the course.  He has won the race!  And he has received his prize… the crown of life!  (And it’s something we must ‘just accept’ as he would say.)

Now, for me… and those of us left behind… its stinky, I don’t mind telling you.  I’ve lost a Paw Paw… a wonderful grandfather… the best a boy could have!  He retired before I started school just so we could spend more time together—at least that’s what I thought!  We hung out a lot… I helped him in his garden.  He came to my ball games.  I helped him mow the yard.  He drove me to McDonalds.  I’d help him decorate the house for Christmas, he’d pitch balls to me in the front yard.  Tit-for-tat.  When Nanny sent him on errands, I’d often tag along.  We went everywhere.  I used to hate going places with him, though, because everywhere he went he’d find somebody to stand and talk to for days!  I was a little guy and had places to go… especially to the toy store if we were at the mall.  I didn’t have time to waste catching up with all of Paw Paw’s old DuPont buddies.  But he after his conversations, he always had the time to take me to the toy store anyway.

When he and Nanny would go to Florida, I’d go down w/ Mom & Dad and help water his plants.  And he’d bring me back a rubber crocodile or some other cool souvenir.   And a few times we’d all go to Florida together… which was a lot of fun.  My Paw Paw loved the beach.  Nanny loved Florida, but she wasn’t a beach person… not like Paw Paw.  He’d get up early, go down to the beach and walk as the sun came up.  Then he’d go back a little later to play in the sand or dive for sand dollars out on the sandbars.  He’d go back at night to watch the sun go down.   And when we’d be with them, he’d go swim with me or build sandcastles.  One of the most fun vacations I remember as an adult was when all of us were down there together in ’99.

And he loved all of the grandkids.  I always thought he was the coolest grandfather ever… and I count it a real blessing that we were able to share him with Carmen & Shannon & the great grandchildren as they came along, too!  Because, I figured, everybody ought to have a grandfather as great as mine!

But its going to take some getting used to… to adjust to his not being around… which is why I take great comfort in… John 14, which was one of his favorite books of the Bible.  He and I talked not long ago.  Last year he decided he was going to read the whole Bible from start to finish in a year.  Now that’s a daunting task for anybody!  He started in January and was done by October!  And that was reading King James !  It takes me that long to get thru one of the psalms reading it in King James English!  But he did it… and we talked about what a blessing that experience had been to him.  John 14 is one of those great encouraging chapters… Jesus is about to go to the cross and he knows what he’s about to say is going to be some of his final words upon this Earth.  He also knows the heartache, fear & loneliness that the disciples are likely to face after he has gone… but he says this:

John 14:1-4

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”  NIV

Can’t you just imagine Paw Paw in the house of God… in a room prepared just for him… enjoying catching up with all those who’ve gone on before…  and having an eternity to stand there and talk…and looking forward to the time when we’ll get to join him there to?  And don’t you just know he’s already out back in the garden planting some squash or okra or turnip greens… ‘cause that’s just what Paw Paw would do.

Posted by: Jim Black | October 10, 2011

Christianity 101

Its Back to School time! I would hate to have to go back to school today… there is so much I’ve forgotten and would have to go back and re-learn! Especially Math! It’s been 20 yrs since I’ve had a math class. If I had to go back and take math again, I’d need to go back to the basics and re-learn everything… I’ve forgotten so much. Today I want to begin a new series of lessons… Christianity 101… and challenge us to go back and take a fresh look at some of the “basics” of the Christian faith. This is always good for us… for new Christians… to learn why we do things the way we do him… the fundamentals. It is good for our children… to instruct them in the basics… AND even for those of us who’ve been Christians for a long time… to go back and re-examine what we know (or think we know) about some of the basic doctrines of Christianity.

In the next few weeks, I want us to take a fresh look at Worship, at Prayer, at Baptism & Lord’s Supper, etc. There may be more…

Today… start with the most basic: What is Christianity? What is the Christian faith? That may be a difficult question to answer since there are so many different views out there… different definitions of Christianity. Some see it simply as a HERITAGE… the way they grew up… how they were raised. It’s the tradition that their family abided in, and so they are ‘Christian’ by virtue of the fact that momma & daddy raised them in the Christian tradition. Some see it as a PHILOSOPHY of life… a moral code or system of ethics that one ought to abide by. Live by the code, be blessed. Some see it as their IDENTITY… its what sets them apart from others. I’m not Moslem, or Jewish or Hindu… I’m Christian. Some see it as a SYSTEM of truths that must be believed… doctrines that one needs to ascribe to in order to be ‘right’ instead of ‘wrong.’

I’m wondering… WHAT did Jesus really intend to start? When he called those guys out at the sea of Galilee… what was he calling them to? Because I don’t think he was interested in starting just another religion! The world in the 1st century was FULL of religions… there was a religion for everybody! The Greeks had their pantheon of ‘gods’; the Romans largely adopted the ‘gods’ of ancient Greece and gave them Greek names… but again there was a religion for everything. There were mystery religions. There were cultic religions. There were all sorts… and I don’t think they really needed another one! The world today is full of religions! Again, there’s a religion for everything! If you want to lose weight- there’s a religion for that. If you want to feel good about yourself- there’s a religion for that. If you want to go out and kill others- there’s a religion that will tell you that’s what you need to do in the name of God in order to get to heaven! If you want to worship Elvis- there’s a religion for that. The world doesn’t need another religion! But I don’t think Jesus went out to the sea of Galilee that day thinking, “Gee, I think I’ll start a new religion today.” So, what was his intention? What is Christianity really & truly about? What is at the heart & core of the Christian faith?

Let’s look again at the text:

Matthew 4:18-20

18 As 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. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 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, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. NIV

Jesus called them to “follow him.” He didn’t invite them to be a part of his social network, a club, a clique, a church or a denomination! He called them to follow him. He was inviting them to discipleship. Some observations…

Christianity is about a person: Jesus

When Jesus invited them to follow him, he was inviting them to discipleship… not membership. It was about them becoming his students, his apprentices. A disciple is a student… but being a student is more than writing real neatly, turning your homework in on time and making passing grades! Being a disciple is about becoming like your teacher… taking on their trade… adopting the ways of your teacher… becoming so much like him that the products you produce can’t be differentiated from the products produced by the master. A disciple’s goal is to become like his master in every way… THAT’S what Jesus was inviting them to. We mustn’t forget that Christianity is first & foremost about Jesus.

Christians have always had a tendency to tack on other things… all sorts of traditions & interpretations… opinions & creeds… And some of those may be good and may be things we ought to do or believe… but let’s not forget that at the heart of Christianity is a REAL person… Jesus. He really lived… and he really gave us an example.

1 Peter 2:21

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. NIV

Now, this is so simple… Walk as Jesus walked. Listen to what Jesus said. Believe who Jesus is. Why do we complicate it? Why do we fuss & fight and splinter into hundreds of denominational groups… when the call to follow him seems so simple? That’s why I love the restoration plea that we’ve been screaming in churches of Christ for 200 years… let’s just go back to the Bible and to new testament Christianity and simplify! Let’s forget the opinions & interpretations & creeds of men that have separated us… and come back to the Bible (& the Bible alone) as all-sufficient for us to know God. I love that idea… if we could just go back to that… go back to simple Christianity… Jesus.

I’m going to be somewhat critical of churches of Christ here (even though I love them) I’m not sure we’ve always had the emphasis on the right syllable… In our zeal to restore pure & simple Christianity as it was practiced in the early church.. I wonder if we’ve missed the point? I wonder if we’ve focused too much on the pattern of the NT church to the neglect of the pattern laid out for us by Jesus. In our efforts to get church right, have we gotten Jesus right? Example: We’ve gone back and studied church leadership & try to organize our churches like they were in the 1st century. But have we had the same desire to restore Jesus’ care for the poor, the orphaned, the widow, the undesirable in our churches? We cannot forget that 1st & foremost… Christianity is about Jesus!

And so everything we do & believe as Christians ought to be firmly rooted in the person of Christ. What do I mean by that? Everything we do ought to be linked to the character & work of Jesus in some way. The doctrine of baptism? I believe in baptism not only b/c Jesus himself was baptized, but also because of the symbolism involved. It is a death/burial & resurrection… like Jesus. Ro. 6 Why do we do Lord’s Supper on Sundays? Well, Jesus commanded us to AND he gave great meaning to it… as we ‘remember’ the body & blood of Jesus. Rooted in Jesus. Why do we worship on Sundays? We DO know the early church did that… but they worshipped on Sunday because that was the day of Jesus’ resurrection! Everything we do ought to find its roots in the person of Jesus… he is the “author & perfector of our faith” the Hebrew writer would say!

Christianity is about CHANGE

Jesus said to that bunch of guys that day, “Follow me… and I will make you fishers of men.” Now look at who he’s talking to… a bunch of fishermen. I imagine them to be a rough bunch of dudes. Peter & Andrew… James & John. Maybe I just imagine that because I’ve got a stereotype in my mind of what a professional fisherman looks like. But I don’t think I’m way off. You don’t get a nickname like the “Sons of Thunder” by being a wimp or a sweet little gentleman! And Jesus says I’m going to give you a new life. You used to fish for fish… NOW you’re going to fish for men! He gave them a new job… and a new heart! Its about CHANGE!

Bill Brant spoke to us last week and mentioned Matt 5… where Jesus calls his disciples to be SALT & light. We like to think about being a light, but salt? Salt is essentially a change-agent. It’s a preservative that changes the makeup & flavor of food that it comes into contact with. Jesus is saying that Christianity is about change. Some people act as if they’re afraid of change! Talk about change as if it’s a bad thing! But following Jesus demands change… it calls us to change from who we used to be to become who God wants us to be! Sometimes that change is painful… but Christianity is about change!

Changing within ourselves… but also out in the world as agents of change in our culture. And don’t we all agree that our culture could use a few more Christian change-agents in it?

Christianity is about Pagans/Unbelievers/Non-Christians

Really, let’s be honest. Christianity isn’t about us… its about others. What does Jesus tell the disciples to do? Who are they supposed to go find? “Fishers of … ?” What kind of men? Yea… the world. He doesn’t call them to go and look out for just one another. He doesn’t call them to go create a commune somewhere where all the Christians could huddle up together and not have to deal with the outside world. NO! He calls them to ‘go into the world’ (Mk 16)… he calls them to get out there in the sea of humanity and go FISHING! Not sheep-stealing. Not member-transfers. But fishing! And if you’re like me (and not a big fisherman) you’re thinking… BUT, Jesus, fish are slippery. They’re slimy & scaly. They smell bad… and its an awful lot of trouble to get out there! But isn’t that what Jesus told the disciples to do? Isn’t that at the heart of what Christianity is all about… reconciling a broken and chaotic world with its creator? Christianity is about getting outside the walls of “Christianity” or the church… and bringing others in. Its about telling the world who Jesus is!

Jesus said…

Luke 19:10

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." NIV

Matthew 9:13

13 … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." NIV

Jesus’ focus was always squarely on the lost… on the sinners… on the pagans & the outsiders. The church is often so focused today on the saved… on its building… on the programs… that we forget… at the heart of Christianity is a love for those outside of Christ… and a desire for them to come to know him like we do. THAT’S the heart of Christianity! Having the heart of Jesus for those who don’t know him.

Towards the end of Paul’s life… in Acts 26, the worn-out, beleaguered apostle found himself standing before King Agrippa having to give a defense of his ministry. He had witnessed to his faith… he had laid out his case, made his defense and proclaimed the gospel of Christ to the unbelieving king… to all those in the court… to anybody within earshot… And Agrippa responded… “Do you think that in such a short time you can convince me to become a Christian?” (its one of only 3 times the word ‘christian’ is used in Scripture.)

Acts 26:29

29 Paul replied, "Short time or long-I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." NIV

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