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Week 2 of Lent
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
CCI: While listening, a connected disciple learns from (comes to Know) God, Others and Themselves.
Intro: How is the journey through Lent going for you? Did you take time this week to simply listen to God, to others or to yourself and your body? Is anyone brave enough to share something they gleaned from that experience?
Today we are going to continue to think about the qualities or characteristics that mark a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let’s together declare the mission of Hatboro Baptist Church.
“Hatboro Baptist is called to make disciples of Jesus Christ by connecting people to God, to one another, and to our deepest selves that we might be whole.”
Our mission is to work with God to make connected disciples. And what are the marks of connected disciple? A connected disciple is a disciple who listens and loves. In listening she learns and in loving she serves. So God is looking for disciples who eagerly listen, learn, love and serve.
Last week we explored what it means to listen as a disciple of Jesus. Listening has a corollary and the corollary is learning. When we listen attentively, with our minds and out hearts, we will learn much and what we learn will change us.
1. A Connected Disciple Learns of God
Who is God? Have you ever tried to ask that question of your phone? I don’t know what Alexa or Siri have to say, but Google responds by saying, “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.” When we encounter God, we need to take that attitude, “I’m still learning.” There have been times in my life when I have thought I could give pretty complete answer to the question. God is eternal, God is omnipotent, God is omnipresent, God is immutable, etc. But as well as I know these fact, as I listened to the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I ask myself, what good is the ability to rattle off the attributes of God to these young people who are grieving and angry and so alone? Clearly if what I know of God is what I know about God, then I have nothing to offer these students and teachers.
However in the passage from Paul that we read this morning, the Apostle tells us that everything he has valued, his impeccable lineage, his first class education and his zealous sincerity, were of no value compared to the wonder of knowing Christ. Did he mean knowing about Jesus? Did he mean knowing the stories of the gospels? Did he mean being acquainted with the apostles? No, he was not talking about a knowledge that filled his heart, he was talking about an intimate knowledge. In the older translations of the Old testament, the genealogies say, “And Adam knew Eve and she gave birth a son and they called him Seth.” The word translated knew was certainly not head knowledge, it was physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy, and that is the kind of knowledge that Paul is talking about in this passage.
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
As we listen to God, we learn of Christ, not knowledge but relationship, not information, but intimacy.
Jesus when he prayed before his arrest, said, “This is eternal life, that they may you, the only true God. . .” The task of learning of God, is an eternal lesson that begins now and will continue throughout eternity. Learning of God is a lesson that will change us.
As we listen to God, we are learning life changing lessons each day, our behavior is being transformed and our hearts experience peace the surpasses understanding.
In the same way, as listening, connected disciples, we also learn from one another. On Thursday, I spoke with a local pastor who also consults with business leaders. After working with a company for several years, he spoke to the owner and said he thought he had taken them as far as he could, he did not think he had helped much. The owner was shocked and replied, “What you, as a coach have done is completely changed the culture of this company!” People in a construction company, were changed as they listened and learned from a pastor.
Leonardo da Vinci once observed that the average human “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” But not da Vinci. The quintessential Renaissance man called the five senses the ministers of the soul. Perhaps no one in history stewarded them better than he did. Famous for his paintings The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, da Vinci trained himself in curiosity. He never went anywhere without his notebooks, in which he recorded ideas and observations in mirror-image cursive. His journals contain the genesis of some of his most ingenious ideas—a helicopter-like contraption he called an orinthopter, a diving suit, and a robotic knight. While on his own deathbed, he meticulously noted his own symptoms in his journal. That’s devotion to learning.
But da Vinci did not simply learn facts, he integrated what he learned as he listened to others into his daily life. Now, while you and I may not have the intellect of da Vinci, we do have the capacity to learn from one another.
One of the most difficult lessons I have sought to learn over the years is forgiveness. I have read books, I have seen movies, I have studied the scriptures, but perhaps the most important lesson in forgiveness came 32 years ago.
At that time I was pastoring a church in Clarksburg, WV. In the congregation there was a woman who came faithfully and served in the church in powerful ways. As I came to know Sharon, I discovered a woman with a very tender heart. Soon she told me her story, in 1981, when her little boy was 7 years old, he finally learned to ride his bike. One day in May, he asked if he could ride to the Little League field which was just 2 blocks down the street to watch the game. As he rode away to see friends, Sharon did not know it would be the last time she would see him alive. Late that evening, his little body was found beaten and hidden in the tall grass just beyond the ball field. At first it seemed that there would be a quick resolution to crime, some boys from a local housing project were taken into custody. However, they were found to be incompetent to stand trial.
I met her a few years later, her husband wanted nothing to do with God, it hurt too bad. But Sharon was different and she loved her husband and served God, and God began to do a work in her. While I was her pastor, the day came that the boys suspected of killing her baby turned 18. They were told by the police that if they wanted the charges would be reinstated and they would stand trial. As I walked with them through that decision, I saw the power of forgiveness as I had never seen before. Sharon said, “In order to continue to live and move ahead and find healing, we have forgiven them. To try to pursue prosecution now will not help us. They chose not pursue charges, and that decision precipitated her husband’s return to faith. By learning forgiveness from his wife, he was healed. They thought that was the end of the story.
And then, on Wednesday, 36 years after they lost their baby, news broke that their neighbor, not one of the original suspects, now 53 years old, had been arrested and confessed to the murder of their son. Here are their words on that day,
Thirty-six years ago our lives changed forever when our son, CR, was murdered. In fact it tore us up in our deepest core. We grieved, not because he was killed, but because we lost our precious son.
We forgave whoever did it a long time ago. We had to, to heal. We had to get better, and forgiveness was the only way. We prayed for God to heal our grief, and He did. We had a daughter to take care of and love. We prayed for God to heal our marriage. He did and made it stronger. We wanted to be happy again, and we are. Was it easy? No, but worth the effort.
Was the news today upsetting? Of course it was. (But we have learned that) God provides what we need when we need it, past, present and future, We have the peace that passes all understanding guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7.
Willy (the man who was arrested) lives behind us (literally, he could look into the windows of Sharon’s bedroom from his house). When we talked about the news we received today and after we mourned, questioned, remembered, and called friends and family, we both said the same thing, “I feel sorry for Willy.” We forgave Willy, but we hope he finds real forgiveness.
As I have listened to Sharon and her husband, I learned the power of forgiveness. What have you learned from the people around you? Have you learned to listen to their hearts? Connected disciple learn from God and from the people around them.
But just as listening also involves listening to deepest selves, our bodies and our souls, so as we listen, we learn about ourselves that we might be changed. Once again, we must remember that we often deceive ourselves, and when we seek to learn of ourselves, we can be deceived. There have been times when I have been hurt that I have learned to put walls to keep others out, this is not a lesson from the Spirit of God. There have been times that I have looked at my habits and decided that I am of no use to God. This is not a lesson from the Spirit of God.
But, as you spend time prayerfully listening to your body and your soul, what have you learned? Have you discovered strengths that you did not were there? Have you found triggers that help you understand yourself the way you react to different situations? Have you discovered a place of peace? These are the things God is seeking to teach us if we are willing to learn.
As we continue through this season of Lent, what do you hope to learn about intimacy with God, about and from the people around you, and about yourself? Let us take a few moments right now and ask God to grant us hearts that are willing to learn what the Spirit of God wants to teach us, for all we learn, whether of God, of others or of ourselves, when it brings growth is led by the Spirit of God.