Christian Discipleship: An Incarnational Model (sermon)

Note: this was the sermon that I preached last Sunday, with some notes to parts I wished I had conveyed differently. I’m still not satisfied with it. It entirely a different thing when one writes and speaks on what was written.

Story:
Once there was a farmer who just recently turned to Christ. Being new, he had a lot of questions. He was asking “how does a disciple of Christ looked like or what are the marks of a disciple of Christ?”

So one day he met one of the Christians who went to the same church that he attended. And he asked him that question.

This brother answered after taking some time to think about the question.

“Well, a disciple of Jesus is someone who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t chase after women, doesn’t go to the pub and last but not least a disciple of Jesus is someone who attends church on a regular basis.”

The farmer, somewhat amused at the answer, replied, “well then if that’s the case then my pet goat is a Christian as well, because it doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t chase after women, doesn’t go to the pub and I take him regularly to church, well, if it’s not a problem with the ushers that is.”

End of story.

Now the irony of the story though it may be an exaggerated way of putting it is that sometimes our definition or how we understand discipleship is somewhat reductionistic or shallow.

And because of this we tend to live a life of being followers of Jesus not in the way Jesus would be pleased of. In fact this way of understanding discipleship is how the world would want us to practice our faith. The world has now taken over how we think of faith and following Jesus. And we somehow tend to subscribe to it one way or the other if we are not careful. And by way of subscribing to the world’s monopoly on our thinking we tend to be somewhat put in a box.

Now, how does this happen?

There are two running ideas that we can reflect on. The first being compartmentalizing our discipleship and the second being confining our discipleship. Let me explain.

Compartmentalization:

When I was younger, although I still consider myself still being young, my mom had this rule for me and my brother. We were given a penalty of 20 cents if we did not abide by the rules of compartmentalization. In terms of how she kept our clothes that is. So that the shirts would not mix with the pants and so on and so forth. But mom soon loosened up when my brother who always seemed to mess things up could not pay the fine. After all we were still young and we didn’t work anyway to be able to pay any amount of fine.

Compartmentalization is where we divide areas of our lives into neat categories. Religion is one of the facets of life jumbled up with the other categories we have in our life, there is personal life, family life, hobby life, work life and so on and so forth. So these spheres where we divide our lives into neat categories, we try our best not to mess them up, or mix them up. For example We hear a lot of people saying that it is absurd to mix faith with business life for example.

Now what we do here is that we leave the faith life behind and we go through the avenues or spheres of life in a different manner. We take off and put on our different hats whenever we arrive at a different category. This is what we can understand as compartmentalizing our discipleship. (maybe show an example)

B. Confinement:
The tendency of this particular stance is that we tend to sometimes be quite particular with practices that show that we are Christians.

Most of the time people say that reading the bible, praying, going to prayer meeting, attending church, attending CG, and the list could go on are what we consider as Christian. And that’s true. But to confine that it is only these things that warrant defining a life of discipleship can be shallow.

Now all these practices are important to the faith life but if we only see these as the defining criteria we are boxing up our faith and Christian discipleship as well.

Escape view mentality:
Now these two tendencies tend to spell out a Christian discipleship that has an escape view mentality which other religions have as well. For followers of Buddha, enlightenment is attained by denying desire which it thinks as the source to all problems. Like the box Christianity we escape life to be really Christian.

Another expression that can be plumbed together with all this is the tendency of being disengaged. When we escape life we tend to be disengaged with life. There is no connection of our faith with how we then live as Christians.

Now, the God of this world would be pretty happy when we subscribe to this way of doing discipleship. There would be no way for us to create an impact in the world which we live in. Now do we really want to subscribe to this?

Reflections on John 1:1-18:
This brings us now to our scripture reading which is John 1:1-18.

The Word in which we read in the passage tells us that
– he was with god in the beginning, and was God.
– the one responsible for creation and one that sustained life because he was the source of life.
– life giver
– and in that the source of light for humanity.

John gives a vivid picture for our mind and his readers minds to grasp concerning the Word.

In v6 John talks about someone who was sent from God as a witness to testify concerning this light, so that through his testimony people might come to believe. John the apostle will share why a witness is sent as we move along with his message in chapter 1 of his gospel account.

V9-13. This light is explained by John was coming into the world and was in the world but those in the world did not recognize him. As the explanation goes, those who were his own, the Jews who were the chosen tribe, the people of God, even they did not recognize this light that was now in their midst.

And John makes a startling comment in v12 and 13. By believing in this light, those who do so are given the right to be called children of God. This is something interesting as it rewrites how one understood being the people of God. It was an open invitation that placed belief in and no more something of an ethnic placement because of birth.

Now we come to the pinnacle of v1-18 which is this divine Word, who was God, the source of creation and one that sustained life because in him was life itself, came into the world and became human. If that was not enough, John explained that this divine entity made his dwelling among humans. This testimony is not something that is explained by a distant observer but by one who has walked and experienced this Jesus.

But how is one supposed to see glory if the glory is something that is concealed in human skin of flesh and bone? The glory that John is in fact talking about is the glory that radiates the expression of God’s love in the coming, living, death and resurrection of Jesus. But ultimately in this case glory is something entailed in Jesus passionate journey to the cross and dying for humanity to which John depicts as full of grace and truth.

Now moving on to v18 we find John explaining further that in the person of Jesus, God had been made known.

Now there are tons of valuable reflection upon which we can derive from these verses which we have read, but our focus of course is on discipleship.

What insight does the glory of incarnation tell us about the nature of discipleship or the Christian life? As I’ve earlier mentioned before the world would very much like for us to be somewhat boxed in how we live our Christian life. But what we do find in these passage is something different. Jesus left the abode of heaven and lived among human beings. There is a strong picture or expression of engagement with the new surrounding that he was in.

So the nature of discipleship which follows Jesus model is an Incarnational life. Sent into the world to embody God.

Accepting the implication of us being sent. (this is one of the parts of the sermon that I wasn’t satisfied about. What I initially wanted to convey here was that the implication of being sent also meant the willingness of the one being sent to accept whatever may come to where one was sent. I still can’t explain it in a shorter and more straight forward form which is frustrating!)

Now Thor who was considered as a god (small letters) was hurled to earth by his father because of his pride and disobedience. He was stripped of his powers and his weapon, something that looked like a hammer. He was not used to the life on earth as he was in the kingdom that he came from was the son of a king and was to be king. But the reality of a life of mortality soon latched onto Thor as he soon knew what it means to be weak. That sense of reality instilled humility in Thor.

Now the story above although analogous is somewhat different to how Jesus experienced his mortal form.

Jesus embraced his creation. In the incarnation humanity and divinity dwelt together. Not in a sense that Jesus was half man and half divine but fully man and fully God.

Jesus identified with others, his creation. Hebrews 2:17-18.

And Jesus accepted his newly lived condition as a human being. Even when coming to earth he was not placed in conditions fit for a king. He did not live in mansions.

So a life of discipleship is one that is not confined to certain places or activities nor is it life that is nicely fitted into neat compartments. A life of discipleship is a life that encompasses these tendencies and makes us see that everything that consists of our life is to be lived in the perspective of discipleship. For Jesus was sent not to only a religious sphere but to the world. For the salvation of the world.

I’ll leave us to consider some stories that speak of this.

Kiran Martin, who had the opportunity to pursue a comfortable career as a doctor chose instead to give her service for the poor. She started an organization of what is known as ASHA which helped the living conditions of those in the slumps in Delhi. But what’s amazing about this story is that through this a church exists in a section which is known for it’s Hindu extremism. “Church planting that had proved impossible in the past was now possible because of the trust and respect built by Kiran Martin in Christ’s name.”

Another story is about William Carey. I think most of us have heard about him and know that he was a pioneer missionary and evangelist to India. But what we don’t know is that he was more than what we do know about him.

He was
– a botanist who published the first books on the natural history of India, introduced new systems of gardening and after whom a variety of eucalyptus is named.
– introduced the steam engine to India and began the first indigenous paper and printing industries.
– a social reformer who successfully campaigned for woman’s rights. Campaigner for humane treatment of lepers.
– introduced saving banks to combat usury. And the list goes on!

Those two stories show to us how Christians are supposed to wear their faith…live a life of discipleship that encompasses all walks of life, and not just the religious sphere. (Exodus 35:30 shows there were spirit enabled people who were given skills to do normal jobs in this case as craftsmen. Note: I did not get to explain this one)

But last and not least, we must not forget, following a quote which I shall paraphrase from Eugene Peterson…where we spend most of our time is where we practice our spirituality. Your work place your home…if we cannot embody Christ in all our walks of life how then are we to be witnesses on behalf of those who do not know God?

Conclusion
As Jesus, who knows God, and was sent to be God’s representative to the world…we too have that same obligation, to incarnate the life of Christ for others in where we are placed in this world.

John 17:14-18

Honing the Difficult Art of Preaching

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
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Sometimes before even getting on the stage or pulpit, I envision myself. Confident of the things I’m speaking about, no stammering speech, now faltering voice, everything flowing smoothly from my mouth. And in that moment of preparation, with glasses on and my mug filled with coffee, books piling my table, pencil underlying sentences from books, typing texts at the speed of light, reflecting on the words of the bible, words just flow like a stream if I’m really on a roll. And as the finished product is laid down on Microsoft Word document, I sit and read and envision a little more of how I’m going to deliver this sermon. I’m all pumped up to tell those hearing the very words that God wants to tell them.

But up on the pulpit, my hands get all sweaty. My throat is dry. I look at my water bottle almost out of liquid. I get nervous about missing out points, whether people would understand the things I’m talking about, whether I will make myself clear. I bury my head in the paper I’ve written and start to speak. People seem anticipating. The look like they are listening intently. Some nod in agreement. Some have blank expressions. Some are yawning away. And then I continue to speak.

Speaking in a public setting like preaching is not something that comes naturally for me. I get nervous but I’m exited at the same time about it. Well, this is not a post about me teaching of how one masters the craft of preaching but I’d like to alert you to this article by William H. Willimon entitled Voice Lessons. It’s a good article. Instead of me explaining about it, why don’t you read it for yourself?

Sometimes when Preaching

Sometimes when preaching, which I do not do often, I wish thought patters were better conveyed once they made their way through speech. Great thoughts and ideas become lame communicated ideas sometimes. It makes me wish I could just open my brain and let the ideas speak for themselves. Well I think that wouldn’t work because they will not make sense and I’d probably be dead by then. That wont help a wee bit.

Sometimes when preaching, sometimes I wonder what’s in the mind of the listeners. Are they thinking, “Nice points made,” “Great insights,” or “Boring,” “Are you kidding me!!!!” Well I see faces frowning, yawning, blinking, scratching, amused, dismayed, or maybe I’m just over-playing it.

Sometimes when preaching, I kick up my nerves and things sort of go smoothly until I read a note I made that does not make sense reading it up front! I can feel the sweat pouring down like rain now!

Sometimes when preaching, I pucker up and think to myself, yes yes yes. I did just great, such profound thoughts I conveyed. The latest argument from this so and so scholar. I sure branded myself as one of the learned. I get so full of myself sometimes that I was merely dreaming.

Sometimes when preaching, and I’m up there and talking and sweating and thought I messed it up. Down and disappointed someone comes up and point to the great stuff you said and how thought the sermon it opened their eyes to see the scripture and God in a different light. That’s always good!

Sometimes when preaching, I’d like it to be more focused on Jesus, the preaching and preparation. Hey, if i messed up it’s not the end of the world. Work on it, I still need that.

IN YOUR FACE!

Well I have to say that the title above was just a gimmick to jolt your attention. I read this blog post on Confrontational Preaching and thought I might add some comments on it.

But first off, what do you think of  confrontational preaching? Any pros and cons to consider?

Well now, back to the blog post…

John Bohannon, in doing his research on preaching and the emerging church (You can download the book for free at http://theresurgence.com/preaching-and-the-emerging-church) he contends that some in the emerging generation are

“reluctant to engage the homiletical gear of heralding confrontationally, or they were missing it altogether.”

He takes Dan Kimball as an example of this where Kimball asserts that

“confrontational preaching has the potential to “shut people out.””

On the other side of the coin, Mark Driscoll runs in the opposite stream as Kimball. His sermons are mostly confrontational in nature and it is thought to be the thing used by God to reach thousands of people who flock church. Jesus is also contended by those in the camp of Driscoll that Jesus also used the same method to relay his message.

With this Bohannon states that

In an attempt to contextualize the message to a postmodern culture, in hopes that non-Christians might come to love Jesus and like the church, Kimball’s non-confrontational homiletic might just inadvertently be itching the ears of those he is trying to reach.

Bohannon in his conclusion calls for a balance approach as to not overemphasize the biblical tenants of “compassion, love, grace, and kindness” but to not miss on “the timely confrontation and/or purposeful contention” of preaching.

Although Bohannon gets it right in his conclusion, he does not criticize, in his post, the i’ll effects of an over emphasis on confrontational preaching which to me can be a turn off. I have to agree with Kimball on this one. It is true that there should be no dichotomy to confrontational preaching but there needs to be wisdom in how one approaches to use it. Was Paul always confrontational? Was Jesus always confrontational? Therefore for me, there is a time for confrontational preaching. But one must know when to use it.

Crappy Pulpit Antics

Last week I heard a sermon that made me squirm and frustrated at the same time. Don’t get me wrong here, I love good sermons and sometimes doze off during boring ones but overall I’m someone who listens intently. But when someone goes on preaching about denominational bashing I’m not too happy about that. It is really a sad way to use the pulpit.

Well I guess to say that the preacher was bashing a denomination from the pulpit sounds harsh. He did it in a nice way though. He did not shout or anything like that but he did it in a controlled manner, talking calmly and pointing out facts. But I wasn’t buying them. Sorry to say.

And with all the bashing there was no scripture being read. I applaud the intent of talking about a denomination that he thinks is unbiblical and is going astray in their theology but you might as well ascribe that to yourself if you preach without scripture as well.

Anyways I’m not so much into parading a denomination on their theology and calling them into account, as if it is we who are the ones who have a handle on what is right and wrong regarding theology. We lose the chance to be informed by the vast sea of tradition and theology that we can learn from other denominations. We lose the chance to dialouge and challenge each other to seek a more robust theology that both can ascribe to and seek unity with each other.

With that, I’m tired if preachers want to uphold that only a reformed leaning of theology is the only right theology. Why not rather work on our essentials instead of trying to force our theological standings on others? After all we will always have differing views on things regardless if we say we ascribe to the same branch of theology.

Some Thoughts on Preaching

Preaching is not something I will ever get used to. It is not something that I’m good at. It is something which I constantly tremble with, maybe because I’m not so much a fan of public speaking and the thought of everyone listening intently to what I’m saying is not something I would get used to (or maybe that will be lessened through time).

But graduating and getting my diploma in theology I had to go through countless transitioning to somehow develop a way of communicating. Well I still haven’t got any advice to give yet because it is something that I’m still struggling with. Personally, after every experience given to me to preach, I am my worst critique (well sometimes I try to be satisfied). It’s not that I take lightly that God can work through whatever I talked about but that personally I believe that preachers have a responsibility themselves to do their best to communicate the message.

Sometimes there are some that (this is said in a sad note) who take their responsibility in preaching lightly. Some don’t want to improve the way they preach, may it be in their preparation or method of communication. Not taking into consideration the people whom they are communicating to. Some see the most important thing is just prayer and just preaching. The important thing is just speaking and God will work through the message. So in that understanding the preacher can just ramble on and say they are preaching the word of God.

I feel this is not taking your responsibility as a preacher of scripture in a serious manner. In our setting time to pray and seek God and the leading of the Spirit, there is such a thing as diligent study and the task of developing the skill of communicating. Well, this is something I get frustrated with most of the time, not because I’m a good preacher and that people can follow my way. It is simply disappointing for a preacher to take his responsibility lightly.

For me, if you always feel satisfied, only the gush of being pumped up, feeling always uplifted after every illustration, feeling like you were uttering only God’s words through your voice, and get irritated when people talk less about your sermon, there is a tendency that you are not taking your responsibility as a preacher in a serious manner. I’m not at all talking about being constantly depressed after every done sermon but a constant somber reflection on how we did our work and looking constantly for room to improve.