Passionate Discipleship: Sifted to Strengthen (Luke 22:31–38)

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Nobody likes to be shaken from his or her comfort zone. But even after we pray, sometimes we find ourselves shaken from those comfort zones. Is God not powerful enough to fix our problems?  Luke 22:31–38 shows us that when we are sifted, we are strengthened by Jesus to return to Him and strengthen others. Our sifting correlates with Jesus’ suffering and Passion (=suffering) as we journey through the cross to the power of the resurrection. This is Passionate, Passion-shaped Discipleship.

First, we are sifted. Satan requests permission to sift Simon (Luke 22:31), a violent process removing the coarse parts of wheat through a sieve. Notice that Satan requests permission, just like he did with Job (Job 1:9–12; 2:4–6). Why must Peter be sifted? He is full of self-confidence (Luke 22:33), unaware of his true weakness (Luke 22:34).  This self-confidence must be sifted so that he might be confident in the power of Christ alone. Similarly God often allows Satan to sift us to remove self that we might shine more of Christ.

Yet Jesus does not stand idly by as we are sifted; consequently, we are strengthened in prayer and preparationHe says, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). He does not pray to remove the trial, but he prays for faith not to fail. While Satan wants to sift Peter and destroy him like chaff, Jesus prays that he might be purified like wheat. The sifting process is critical to remove impurities. Jesus strengthens them in prayer and preparation (Luke 22:35–38). He makes them aware of the challenges to come as he is “numbered with the transgressors” (22:37). Difficult times were coming, and they should expect it.

As our failings are revealed, we must also return.  Jesus says, “And when you have turned again” (Luke 22:32), speaking of Peter’s repentance. He does not prevent his failure, but he does invite his repentance. It does not matter how many times that we fall, but it matters that we get up again. Similarly we must repent each time that we fall. Jesus’ strengthening power and presence comes even as we fall.

And we are strengthened so that we can strengthen others.  Jesus says, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter is both the chief denier of Jesus but also the chief proclaimer of Jesus. Throughout the book of Acts, he proclaims the greatness of what Jesus has done. He who experiences much of God’s grace and forgiveness can proclaim much of that grace and forgiveness.  Similarly Jesus allows the sifting process so that we might encounter more of his strength and strengthen others with that strength. Indeed, we comfort others “with the comforted with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:4).

We are strengthened to strengthen others. We are comforted to comfort others. We are sifted so that we might bless others. So let us not be afraid of the sifting processes that we encounter, but let us rise up with confidence and strength.

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Prayer and the Burden of Leadership

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We must not underestimate the burden of leadership. In 2 Cor 1:8–9, Paul says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed we felt we had received the sentence of death.” While he speaks here of troubles in Asia, such pressure is a reality in any spiritual leadership. Elders, pastors and leaders here at Wellspring have shared with me about debilitating physical ailments, being woken in the night by nightmares, sensing significant oppression, overwhelmed with painful accusations, and much more experienced in far greater ways during their ministry here.

Why would God allow people, especially those who serve the church (!), to feel such a large burden of leadership? Does He not promise that his yoke is easy and burden light (Matt 11:30)? Yet Paul continues in 2 Cor 1:9, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” We carry impossibly heavy burdens so that we can rely on resurrection power.

Yet these burdens are not to be carried alone. Paul sets his hope on God “as you help us by your prayers” (2 Cor 1:11). Paul keenly knows his own need for prayer and repeatedly calls for that prayer from others. His desire is that “many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of man” (2 Cor 1:11).  Prayer really works, and we pray for one another.

So what?  Pray for your church leaders. By saying that, I do not sleight the burden of leadership in all other spheres. Yet today my focus is on the need for prayer for church leaders, those leaders who pray for and equip the saints for the work of ministry. Pray for your elders, your governing board members, your deacons. Pray for your pastors. Pray for me. While the burden feels impossibly great, his power is supernaturally greater, a power that raises the dead.  Let us walk together in prayer. Let us pray tonight and lift up our burdens to God together. And let us know his power that can raise the dead.

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Raising our Failure Rate

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G. K. Chesterton says, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”  A number of years ago, a church consultant concluded that Blanchard needed to raise its failure rate. I think that I’m doing a good job in that.  What things are so worth doing, they are worth doing badly?  Disciple-making, like parenting, is a work of such great worth that it is worth doing, even badly.

Parenting is inherently messy. You never feel like you do it exactly right. Children are born with pain and blood, and pain and blood simply seem to follow us all along the way. Sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and spit up leave parents physically exhausted. As children grow up, their physical toll decreases even as their emotional (and financial[!]) demands increase. The only people who have all the answers to raising children either don’t have them or have forgotten how hard it was to raise them. When you are in the mess of raising children, you need good coffee more than good advice. But the miracle is that even as we stumble along in parenting, these crawling, talking, pooping little people in our home actually keep growing. We must simply keep loving, praying, feeding, cajoling, hoping and building into these little people. And, in time, miracle of miracles, they grow.  And, Lord willing, they can make at least some contribution in the world around us.

Like growing children, making disciples is a painfully messy process. I have never been in a relationship where every (or any!) meeting went according to plan. I always had a plan, but I rarely got to execute that plan. I have walked with sinning, deceiving, disappointing, doubting and struggling people. Yet the important thing is that people still grow. We struggle to keep loving, praying, encouraging, hoping and building them up. And they grow. Miracle of miracles, they actually have meaningful insights. They develop a burden for other people. They love. They pray.

Wellspring, my invitation today is very simple. Make disciples. You don’t have to do it perfectly; you don’t even have to do it adequately. Just do it. Whatever you have learned from God and his Word, share it with others. Share a story of what God has done in you with another person. Step into the life of a person who is lonely, lost or looking for something more, and be a listening ear and a conduit of his love. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2).

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Passionate Greatness (Luke 22:24–30)

 

We easily equate greatness with position. But sometimes people with position fail to show greatness, while people without position are truly great. If greatness does not depend on position,  what does greatness look like? In Luke 22:24–30 Jesus reminds us that greatness is not about position but service with perseverance.

First, leadership is not about position (Luke 22:24–25). When leaders lead well from a position, we assume that they lead well because of their position. As a result, people clamor for positions of leadership like the disciples, arguing about who “was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Yet Jesus instructs them that greatness is not about position (22:24-25a).

Instead, greatness is about service (Luke 22:26–27). Instead of equating greatness with lording over others, Jesus speaks of greatness as service. Jesus himself, of course, modeled this lifestyle of service (cf. Phil 2:5–8).

Finally, greatness is about perseverance (Luke 22:28–30). The disciples  had persevered with Jesus through his trials, and so they are assigned a kingdom (22:28–29). Similarly greatness is not only about service but gritty and perseverance service. Influence usually does not happen with a single big decision or action but through a lifestyle of small decisions that move us in a certain direction over time.

May we at Wellspring be marked with the heart of Jesus Christ. May we not seek position but dedicate ourselves to service with perseverance that the aroma of Jesus Christ might be seen in and through us.

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Lent: Journey through the Cross to the Resurrection

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Today is Ash Wednesday. Today begins the forty day season leading up to the climactic celebration of the church calendar at Easter.

What Is Lent? 

In Lent, we say “No” to self to say “Yes” to more of Christ.  Lent, an old English word that means “springtime,” has been a part of the Christian calendar from the first or second century. It has traditionally been a time of fasting, self-reflection, repentance, almsgiving, abstaining from festivities and entertainment, and observance of special worship services.

Why Should We Observe Lent? 

Duty grows delight. Just as the delight of exercise comes from regular practice, so the delight of knowing Christ grows out of spiritual practices.  To delight fully in the power of resurrection at Easter,  we faithfully carry our cross throughout Lent; the journey to resurrection power always goes through the cross (cf. Phil 3:10). We journey and focus more sharply on Christ as we give up things that compete with our devotion to God to immerse ourselves in the grand story of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

How Can I Observe Lent? 

Use the following suggestions as guidelines to help you make Lent a more meaningful time of reflection and meditation.

1.Give up (i.e., fast from) something (or a category of things) that is particularly important to you (e.g., Netflix, Facebook, desserts, music) in order to make room for something that can help you draw near to Christ.

2.Fill the vacuum of your fast with more of Jesus through time in prayer, meditation on God’s Word, reflection/journaling, serving your neighbors, and/or praying together at church (7 PM, Wednesdays; 7 AM, Saturdays). Resist the temptation to fill the vacuum created by this fasting with “replacement idols.” For example, if you give up video games, don’t fill that emptiness by simply watching more television.

3.In light of the almsgiving tradition associated with Lent, consider “trimming some fat” out of your budget (e.g., eating out less, not going to the movies, etc.) and giving to the church or a particular ministry.

4.Consider fasting from eating on Good Friday and then breaking fast after the evening service.

(These reflections build on thoughts from Dr. Scottie May and Pastor Reggie Ramos).

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Stages in the Journey towards Hamilton and Grafted Tomatoes

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As a church, we want to be more Hamilton than King and I, more a grafted tomato plant than a bouquet of flowers. If you don’t know what I mean, then read here, where I begin to paint a picture of where we are going as a church. Like an adolescent who is finding her identity and growing by fits and starts, so we are slowly stretching our legs, experimenting and growing into our identity as a church. Few children follow a prescribed road map to discover their unique contribution in life; the pathway to that discovery is different for each child. Similarly as a church, it often feels that our tracks are laid down as we move forward step by step.  As a result, it is critical that we communicate well with one another, step out in risk in obedience and support one another as we work together. Already some of the contours of our identity are emerging as we reflect and seek to reach the diversity of our area; however we are in the beginning parts of that process. We must embrace the process.  What does that process look like?

The first stage of this process is understanding. Presently we have three different congregations: Warrenville, Wheaton 9 AM and Wheaton 11 AM. Just as a strong marriage is predicated on the health of each partner, so our health as a church depends upon the health of each individual congregation. We want to understand the unique identity, strengths and weaknesses of one another as individuals and congregations. We should create shared spaces for relationship across congregations for people to pray, grow and work together for the kingdom.

From this place, we move into the second stage of partnership. The focus here is largely structural and programmatic, moving past an appreciation of one another’s strengths to a true partnership, marked by a mutual commitment to God-given goals. This partnership in new and creative initiatives will inspire faith and move us forward in God’s mission. Increasingly these creative initiatives are boiling up from the work of God’s Spirit among God’s people. Our Dominican Republic team has returned, incredibly energized, unified, motivated and with a bigger heart for God and his people. This summer we will host Kids Camp in our building to minister to under-privileged children at Lincoln School as well as providing a chance for our own children to grow toward Christ and in love for others. Each month, we serve the needy at the soup kitchen of Christ Church of Albany Park, an Alliance church in Chicago. Other opportunities abound. Working together on such strategic initiatives calls forth a deeper level of partnership, prayer and sacrifice. Through this partnership, the unique strengths and weaknesses of each congregation will shine as we work to accomplish something that none of the congregations could accomplish on their own. Such missional partnerships must be propelled by radical encounter with God.

Partnership will then lead to greater integration, where we develop more organically and relationally.  As we learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses, then the cultures of our congregations will create a new hybrid culture. As the cultures of our congregations are shaped by a radical encounter with God together, then we will grow to become more like Christ together (2 Cor 3:18). At this stage, we will have a shared heart for the church and true integration of leadership. While the external composition of a governing board and different ministry teams can be integrated earlier, it inevitably takes time to develop a true integration between the different congregations that grows from a shared understanding. As a result, our ability to reach different people in our community will be greatly heightened. By a radical encounter with God, we will be propelled to love the lost. By learning to embrace differences within our church, we will develop capacities to appreciate differences outside the church more effectively.

The Lord is leading us step by step. Let us stay focused on our mission of “forming a people in Christ to glorify him everywhere.” May we be propelled from worship to form disciples everywhere, across the street and around the world. Next week we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. And there is no better space for us to grow together as we learn to carry our cross together and follow Jesus into the power of his resurrection.  So let us do this together.

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Passionate Preparations (Luke 22:1-23)

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Obligations. This is not an exciting word. We often see obligations as a burden to be shed for exciting opportunities of self-fulfillment. In Luke 22:1–23, though, “opportunity” is negative and obligations are positive!  Judas Iscariot and the religious leaders see an “opportunity” (22:6) to fulfill their desires (22:1–6), but Jesus fulfills his obligations, since “the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed” (22:7; cf. 7–13) and “the Son of Man goes as it has been determined” (22:22). Nevertheless Jesus desires to fulfill his obligations because he puts the purposes of the kingdom of God before his own self-fulfillment, anticipating the kingdom to come (22:15–16). How can we see obligations as opportunities?  Jesus invites us into joy-filled obligations as we anticipate the kingdom of God (22:14–18), sustained by his broken body (22:19) in the inauguration of his new covenant (22:20).

Jesus anticipates the kingdom (22:14–18). Unlike the first Passover which was eaten standing in haste to flee Egypt, later Passovers were eaten reclining in remembrance of what has been accomplished. Yet this posture of reclining does not suggest passivity; Jesus earn estly desired to eat this Passover with his disciples (22:15), and he eagerly anticipates the fulfillment of this Passover in the Kingdom of God (22:16). There is a decidedly forward-looking posture to this meal, and every time the church celebrates this, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

Until the coming of Jesus though, we are sustained by his broken body (22:19). Jesus takes the unleavened bread that symbolizes the haste with which Israel originally left Egypt. Yet he reinterprets this image, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” His body is broken, destroyed upon a cross, “for you.” He “became a curse for us” (Gal 3:13), as “God demonstrated his love for us” when Christ “died for us” (Rom 5:8). This was for us. And we are sustained by this gift for us.

Even as we are sustained by Jesus’ broken body, we step into the inauguration of the new covenant (Luke 22:20). Just as the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb inaugurated the Mosaic covenant (Exod 24:8), so the blood of Jesus inaugurates a new covenant by his blood. We step into a new covenant, a new set of relationships, a new opportunity to engage with and grow in the true and living God.

So what? The obligation to “do this in remembrance of me” (22:19) is an opportunity to step into the kingdom. Jesus calls us to anticipate the kingdom, sustained by his broken body and living in the reality of his new covenant. May we live in the new kingdom reality that Jesus has inaugurated by his death and resurrection.

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