This is part one of a teaching series called "Transforming" by David Rice, at Markey Church. You can listen to the sermon podcast by going to markeychurch.org.
We've Got A Problem
If you've been around the Church for any length of time, you've noticed something strange. It's a problem that is pervasive, and I'm sure it's been around for a long time, but it has a unique expression in North America in the 21st century.
Here's the problem: too often, the Church can be full of people who proclaim that Jesus is Lord on Sunday morning, but live their lives as if that isn't true the rest of the week.
I think it's important to address these kinds of problems head on. So for the next few weeks, we'll be asking the following questions at Markey Church:
What does God invite us into?
What is a Christian discipleship?
What is the invitation of the Christian life?
What does it look like to change and grow?
What is God's role in our spiritual transformation, and what is our role?
Last Friday night, my 10-year-old and I met some friends for a Tigers game at Comerica Park. We were celebrating the birthday of another 10-year-old, who chose to invite us to the game.
It was an epic game. Not because it had much in the way of post-season implications, but because it ended in jubilant fashion.
In the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied, Jeimer Candelario, third-baseman for the Tigers, stepped up the plate, and drilled a walk-off homerun to left field to win the game.
The euphoric eruption from the crowd, the players, the entire experience - it still makes me smile just thinking about it. It was awesome!
That game took me deeply into thinking about something that I think about a lot: what is a disciple?
What Is A Disciple?
When we were at Comerica Park on Friday night, I did my best to get on the field. I tried to get the attention of the Tigers dugout. I spoke with security about getting a pass. I put on a Tigers jersey, hoping that they would let me know. No luck (I'm kidding about all of this, btw).
Apparently, if you want to play for the Tigers, you can't just show up as a 37-year-old and declare that you have a desire to be on the team. No one gives you any attention that way.
So, I did what thousands of people do every year - I bought a ticket, wore my Cabarera shirt, purchased the most expensive hot dog of my life, and sat in the stands, cheering on the home team, all the way to glory (at least for a night). (Note: the tickets were a gift, and I don't own a Cabarera shirt :)
In baseball, there's a difference between the Players, and the Spectators. Everyone knows this. The Spectators pay to see the Players play. And the Players get paid to entertain the Spectators. The roles are clear.
In the life of faith though, things gets muddied up. Things aren't so clear. Many of us have confused Christianity with being a Spectator. We love to attend the games, watch from the stands, root for the home team, and even pay the price of admission. But we don't even dream of getting on the field, or into the game. That would be too costly.
So what is discipleship? A disciple is someone who believes AND participates in God's ongoing work in the world. A disciple isn't simply someone who watches from the stands, wears the jersey, and roots for the home team. A disciple is on on the field, playing for the win, representing the franchise to the best of their ability.
So in the Christian life, are you a Spectator, or are you a Player? Are you a Believer, or are you a Disciple?
The Kingdom of God
I think Jesus would tell us that there are no spectators in the Kingdom of God. If you want to be part of God's Kingdom, Jesus doesn't let you simply believe. Jesus expects that you get out of the stands, and participate with God in God's work, in your own life, and in the life of the world.
So much of the endless parade of church-related disasters are, at their root, a product of a Christian culture that says all you have to do is believe. The pastors who abuse their power, the Christians who participate in genocide, the "Christian Jerks", as my Dad named them. All of this is because we've communicated to people for decades that discipleship is an option. You can be a Christian without following the Way of Jesus. All you have to be is believe.
This way of viewing Christianity is both devoid of the broader biblical narrative, AND it is immensely harmful for everyone involved. Can good things still come out of this view? Of course. Nothing is beyond the work of God in the world.
But we've convinced ourselves of a counterfeit gospel. One that only wants Jesus for his blood, as Dallas Willard would say (he called it a Vampire Gospel), and wants nothing to do with the life of Jesus.
Matthew 28:19-20 doesn't give us this option though. As Jesus wraps up his time on earth at the end of Matthew, he says clearly that we're to "go" and "make disciples." We're to baptise them, and teach them everything Jesus told us.
This is remarkably different from the dominant posture of the North American evangelical church with our mantras of "please come to church on Sunday" and "read your bible everyday."
Jesus doesn't simply want your attention. Jesus wants your life.
Do You Want To Get Well?
Take John 5 for example.
There's this amazing exchange that Jesus has with a lame man near the pool of Bethesda.
"Would you like to get well?"
Don't you just love this guy? I mean, who asks someone this who had been sick for "thirty-eight" years? Jesus does, that's who. Because Jesus knows something that we don't know. Jesus knows that too often, you and I, and this guy at the Pool of Bethesda, we cling to our identities of shame and bondage.
"It's not my fault", we say. Of course I can't get well. I try and try, but nothing ever happens.
His un-wellness had become his identity. And his identity was so pervasive, that even a simple but direct question of the Son of God could not penetrate it.
Yet, Jesus continues to invite the man into wholeness.
What would it take for this man to say, "yes, I want to get well?"
Craig Groeschel says, "you can have control, or you can have growth, but you can't have both."
This is what Jesus invites you into as well. Jesus invites you into a life of wholeness. A life of trust, where you take him at his word. A life where you stop making excuses about your identity, and believe his words more than the words you currently believe about yourself.
Jesus gives you a new name. No longer are you the unlucky lame one. You are restored. You are healed. You are redeemed.
Jesus does that.
Jesus invites you out of the stands, and onto the field.
You're invited into a life of spiritual transformation.
The only questions you have to wrestle with right now is, "Do you want to get well?"