Discipleship

Money in the light of eternity

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It was about 10 years ago when I got the inkling that money might be an idol for me. I was reading “Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller and realised that there were different ways you could idolise money. I always thought someone who idolised money would work every hour of the day, to earn loads of money, so they could buy lots of really expensive things. But I learnt that I was the type of person who liked to store up money in the bank and idolised the security that it gave me.  

 My fears and anxieties about money have gone up and down over the years.  When I first got married my anxiety was quite high. There was someone else involved in decision making about how money was spent which I found very challenging. Things settled down again whilst we saved to buy a house, there was money in the bank, I was happy! Then we had a baby and bought a house and the fears began to grow, yet as God continued to provide for us, they settled again. Then another baby was on the way and the fears grew again. The discontent set in and affected other areas of my life. Yet again, God continued to provide for us and the fear subsided. 

 A few weeks ago, I attended the ReNew South Yorkshire conference and there was a seminar called “Money in the light of eternity”. I signed up, knowing that even though I wasn’t going through a “bad patch” at the moment, money has been an issue for me, so I thought it may be useful. 

 The speaker took us to Matthew 6:19-21:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Idolatry of money can be a subtle sin which can look very much like being sensible, careful and a good steward of what God has given us. When in fact we are building up treasures for ourselves on earth which will not last, because they make us feel safe, good about ourselves and wealthy. We were challenged during the seminar to think about treasures in heaven, where will we invest in our money?  Will we spend our money on ourselves to live a comfortable life?  Will we save it up for our retirement or to give to our children as inheritance? Will that make us feel safe? Or will be build up treasures in heaven? Will we support those in pastoral ministry locally and around the world? Will we invest in our time and resources in evangelism and mission?  

Following the seminar my husband and I had a long chat about how we could be investing in gospel ministry rather than storing up treasures for ourselves. It’s always been something we’ve been keen to do but following the seminar we’ve decided to continue giving to our church and also give to another local Christian charity which is close to our hearts. We’ve also started a savings pot specifically to be used towards funding a future apprenticeship scheme for someone who wants to pursue full time ministry.  

Idolatry of money continues to be an area that for both myself and my husband we need to keep in check.  Money is a good gift from God and it is important to use it wisely, it’s important for me to remember it’s a gift and how important it is to be generous with what I’ve been given, rather than storing it up for myself to make me feel safe.

Joining the dots between discipleship and evangelism

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As a church one of the things we’ve been thinking about recently is the relationship between discipleship and evangelism. Often, we think of discipleship and evangelism as separate entities. Discipleship is about our own growth as Christians, whereas evangelism is about reaching out with the gospel. Yet when we read the Bible, we see that this distinction isn’t as clear as we often think it is.

For example, see what Peter writes to a group of Christians in the New Testament:

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)

What is Peter doing here?

He is urging his readers to live godly lives in the culture and society in which they live. He wants their lifestyles to be honourable when they’re amongst those who don’t know Jesus. This is about discipleship. This is Peter calling these Christians to increasingly live out their faith in the world. To grow in their godliness in every area of life, especially when they are around non-Christians.

But this discipleship has a purpose. This living out of the Christian life is seen by those who don’t yet know Jesus and Peter expects it to impact them. They will see the Christians good deeds, their different lifestyle, and come to glorify God.

The Christians Peter is writing to were literally sojourners and exiles, they were different to the people they lived amongst. There would have been the temptation to try and blend in, to fit in, to look like those around them. As Christians today, we can often face the same temptation, we don’t want to stand out at work or amongst our neighbours. Perhaps you fear what Peter says will happen to you, that people will “speak against you as evildoers.” It’s easier to try and just cross the line into Christianity yet to live our lives as closely matched to the world around us as we feel we can get away with. But not only is this damaging for our own relationship with God and our maturity as Christians, it’s devastating for our witness and evangelism.

We should be those who are growing in godliness and Christian maturity and therefore look increasingly like sojourners and exiles in the world we inhabit. The way we live our lives should look different to those around us, and we shouldn’t be surprised when that brings opposition and even claims that we are evil. But in the end, God uses the witness of our lives to give us opportunities for evangelism.

So where in your family life, your work, amongst your friends and neighbours does your life look the same as theirs? Should it look the same as theirs? In those places are you battling to live the most godly and honourable life you can in every aspect? If not, then what is stopping you?

One final thing, notice here that Peter is urging the other Christians on; perhaps we can be doing the same with one another, encouraging, urging, challenging one another to live righteous and honourable lives for the sake of those who don’t yet know Jesus.

Reading the bible with your children in 2019

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This is the third in our New Year bible reading series. This one is from Paul Jones who has two young sons.

Reading the bible with your children isn't easy - and I think that that's certainly true for me. I find it hard, but it's also fair to say that it is really rewarding. Our boys, 5 and 8, are both beginning to ask some really big and sometimes tough questions, which makes bible time exciting too.

We have 2 main 'slots' in the day where we do things. When we sit down for tea, we pray through the church family using the church prayer diary. We pray too, for the people we have around our table for tea that night. It's also a good time to make it a habit of saying thank you together, for our food. During Advent, we add in prayer and chat about the name of Jesus that is on our advent candle for that day. As the boys have gotten older this has been a good way to start to weave the whole bible narrative together.

The second slot is when we read the bible to the boys before bed. This has become a little more complicated recently. Our eldest has outgrown the Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Bible, so we got him the Holy Bible for Kids (ESV), which is the one he uses in Sunday School as well as the version we use in church. When we are reading the passage together, he will look up the reference in his bible and follow along with us. The Big Picture Story Bible is slightly easier for this as it provides references for each reading. This has helped to show both boys that the stories they are learning about come from the same bible as Daddy and Mummy have, and that we read from on Sunday at church. It has also allowed Sam to start linking things together - only last night he spotted that there were two instances in Matthew's gospel where God says "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased..." and so we were able to chat about that.

We then pray, normally in three ways; thank you prayers where the boys share, we pray about what we have learnt about Jesus from our passage, and sorry prayers which sometimes the boys will pray. From time to time we have to push hard on the thank you and sorry prayers - but as we say to the boys "there is always something we can say Thank You to God for!" and they are quickly learning that even if they've not been told off, there is always the need for God's forgiveness! We also make sure that we talk to the boys about what they've been learning in Sunday School. They don't always follow the sermon series - although when that happens it can make for a great discussion - so talking to them is really interesting. Seeing how their understanding of who Jesus is and what God has done is growing all the time.

Less formally, we have tried to take to heart Deuteronomy 6v4-7:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

To talk about the things of God all the time. Whether they be in relation to school things, or a great view when we are out walking, a rainbow or when the boys ask us questions. One of the things that Jennie is particularly good at is praying with the boys if they are worried about something, or can't sleep, or are having a nightmare. We are conscious that whilst the more formal slots are important, showing the boys that following Jesus is all encompassing and that God is not just interested in, but in charge of, all areas of our lives is really important too.

It isn't always easy, and sometimes it is the last thing that I want to do after a long day at work - but I never feel that afterwards. It's not just your children who benefit, you do too. I'm sure we could do more and I'm sure others do lots of other exciting and encouraging things; so as parents, godparents and members of God's wider family - let's be better at talking about these things and better at asking for help, so we can all be the better for it.

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This summer why not... care for one another?

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This is the first in our summer reads series entitled 'This summer why not...' Each book (or couple of books) in the series finish the sentence with it's/their theme. Visit our 10ofThose page to find and order them.

When Darkness Seems my Closest Friend (Mark Meynell)

For those of us who haven’t (yet) experienced depression it can seem impossible to understand and difficult to know how to walk with a friend who is struggling with it. Like many mental health issues it can seem so other, so disorientating, sometimes even a bit frightening. In his book, Mark describes in vivid terms what depression has been and felt like for him over many years. His descriptions give a very personal insight into what living, working and ministering looks like whilst suffering chronically. But perhaps the most helpful aspect of the book is how it joins the dots between depression, guilt, shame and the Gospel in a way that really is good news. Mark points to a saviour who is enough even in the most difficult and painful times which gives real hope and purpose.

Even though I haven’t struggled with depression I could readily see so many similarities between Mark’s experience and my own, the pain of genuine guilt, the curse of imagined guilt and the isolation of shame. We seem to differ primarily in the extent to which these things influence and afflict us, in that sense this book helped me realise how many ways we are all much more similar than we are different. It’s given me genuine points of contact to explore with those who are suffering from depression, places where I can come alongside and know that in a very profound way my need is much the same as theirs. 

We will all experience or know someone close to us who suffers from depression at some point in our lives. For those who haven’t experienced its effects first hand this book is a window into life with depression, yet also helps show how the light of the gospel can break into the deep darkness. Read it and it will give you compassion, hope and respect for those who are faithful in the midst of depression and, hopefully, make you better at caring for those with depression.

Side by Side (Ed Welch)

Side by side from Ed Welch is a great refresher of some of the things we looked at earlier in the year when we did the Growing Together course. If you want to think a bit more about what it looks like to walk alongside and disciple one another this might make a great summer read. Having read it on my own, I’d encourage you to find someone to read it with and put into practice some of Ed’s advice and wisdom.

The book is split into two halves, “We are needy” and “We are needed” and the first is probably the most significant. Often, we like to help others, to be needed, and that’s important. But at our most fundamental and basic level we are all those who are needy, who need God and who need others. Our pride and our obsession with expertise so frequently prevents us from reaching out to one another. Ed helps us to see our need clearly and gives really practical pointers on how we can be those who are able and willing to ask for help from God and from one another. If at the end of the summer we all were to be doing some of the things in the book more frequently our church life would be reflecting the gospel so much more.

Is it just 'trust God and it'll be okay?'

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It was a question raised during our first evening of our Growing Together course. Is this what discipleship boils down to? Whatever suffering we’re facing, trials we’re going through, sins we’re wrestling with, we simply need to trust God and it’ll be okay?

There’s a wonderful element of truth implicit within the questions. It recognises God’s power, as well as His inherent love, compassion and goodness that means He can, and will, work in every circumstance. It also recognises our limitations, there is both tragedy and evil in the world and our ability to change that is often limited. There are things that happen to us that we have no control over and consequences to our actions that we could never foresee.

However, the best discipleship is more than simply stating the truth of who God is.

Firstly, the best discipleship speaks truth out of an abundance of love and compassion for somebody. I’m reminded of the raising of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus tells Martha the truth, that her brother will rise again (“It’ll be okay” – vs. 23) and that she must believe in Him (“Trust God” – vs. 27). But the whole episode is wrapped in Jesus’ love and compassion for her and the wider family and friends. He is deeply moved and troubled when He sees the distress of those who have lost a loved one (vs. 33,38) and He weeps with them (vs. 35). Jesus’ words of truth to Martha are said to someone He knew and loved. They’re not abstract, cold, and heartless platitudes.

Secondly, Jesus tells Martha the truth of who He is as the redeemer and how that was relevant to her struggle. In our discipleship we need both parts of the equation. We need to speak the truth and apply it to the particular sin or suffering someone is facing. Why does what Jesus has done and who he is, matter? How does it bring hope and comfort in this moment? Lazarus had died, so Jesus spoke of the hope of the resurrection He brought (vs. 25-26). He showed Martha why trusting in Him would ultimately mean it was okay. He spoke truths that were relevant and gave her genuine hope and comfort in the midst of her pain.

In our discipleship, we must be reminding one another of who God is. Yet we need to be doing it in a way that is relevant to the struggles someone is facing and out of a Christlike love and compassion for them.

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Growing Together

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And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
— Philippians 1:9-11

Sometimes when we talk about discipleship, maturity, or counselling it’s not clear where we’re heading. What are we seeking to mature into? What’s the target? Where are we heading and what are we hoping to achieve?

There are dozens of voices telling us who we should be seeking to become and what kind of person we ought to be. Some of those voices are external, the voices of our culture that lure us with the promises of acceptance and success if we follow them and threaten us with ridicule and isolation if we demur. Or the voices of parents, friends and family, who have their own particular vision of what and who we should be. Other voices are internal, the voices in our own minds that tell us what we deserve, can achieve, or have failed to become. Like a plant growing towards the sun all these voices give us a direction to grow in and a target to aim towards. 

In the passage above the Bible speaks another voice, it gives us a different direction to seek to grow in, a God-ward direction. Paul is writing to a church with his prayer and hope for who they will become and who they will mature into. It’s a maturity that’s rooted in love, lived out in wisdom, achieved through Jesus, and that brings God glory and praise. It’s a direction that we need to regularly turn back to. Our discipleship is a means of doing that, it’s a means of re-orientating ourselves towards a life that brings God glory and praise. 

For the next three weeks at Christ Church Walkley we’ll be looking together at how we help one another to grow into the kind of people Paul describes. We’ll make Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church our prayer. Each week I’ll try and share some of my reflections on what we’ve been discussing and learning here on this blog.

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