The Mission of Easter

(GUEST POST Carter Whyte)

Easter is such an amazing reminder of the good news that we have received. It is an amazing reminder of the power and miracle of Jesus dying and raising again; as well as the powerful miracle he does in our lives when we believe in him. He miraculously and lovingly gives us new life and a restored relationship with him! This is the foundation and reason for everything Christians live for. The love of Jesus and his ability and desire to transform our lives to become new and beautiful.

But Jesus doesn’t only give us a new identity, hope, and a restored relationship with Him. Jesus gives us a new mission – a mission that is part of his continued transformation in our lives. Jesus sends us out with the Easter message to love others, share with them this message of hope and transformation from Jesus, and walk with them as we both walk with Jesus. This is the mission to make disciples – the Great Commission.

This week at Plattsville we are going to look into Matthew 28:16-20. We will discover what this mission is, what it requires of us, and how much of a blessing it will be if we actually adopt this as our life mission like Jesus desires! It will be a blessing to get to share this message, as the pastoral intern here at PEMC. I look forward to being changed by Jesus together this Sunday – and learning how to change lives with Jesus!

3 (Marks): Three Circles

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On Sunday we kicked off a brand new series looking at the three marks of a Christian. We began by discussing what the “marks” of a follower of Jesus are. And we began with a really simple, but difficult question: what is a disciple of Jesus?

At first glance that question seems simple doesn’t it? A disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Jesus. But what does that mean? What does that look like?

I think these questions really matter because if you only have a vague idea of what God is asking of you, chances are you won’t be getting where God wants you to be.

So we began to define what a disciple and the three marks of a Christ-follower by looking at two passages: Matthew 22:36-40 and Matthew 28:18-19.

And in the first passage we got the first clear glimpse into what a follower of Jesus looks like. It looks like someone who loves God. But loving God isn’t enough, because you can love God and still miss out on living like God. People who loved God caused the crusades, inquisitions, and still today spew hate. The idea of “loving God” needs definition or all sorts and manners of hate can be spewed in defense of God.

This is why Jesus then utters a second command he says is just as important as the first. We need to love others. Loving God, necessitates loving our neighbors. Jesus gives definition for what loving God looks like, and it looks like someone who loves their neighbour.

So the first two marks of a follower of Jesus are loving God, and loving their neighbour. But those two aren’t enough, there is a third mark. Because you can end up loving God and loving others but not having a forward momentum, you can end up isolated, rather than transforming the world. We need to also hear not only the great commandment but also the great commission.

Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-19 that we need to go out and make disciples. We need to spread his love and light among the world. We need to go out and bless the nations and bless our neighbours. Part of the Christian calling isn’t just to love God, and love our neighbours, but to also actively love the world around us.

And we need to do all three: loving God, loving others, and loving the world. Because if we aren’t doing any of the these three marks of a Jesus-follower our lives will not be fully formed.

So that’s where we went on Sunday explaining the three circles of love and how every Christian needs to do all three. Now as we move forward we’ll unpack each of those circles and for how, if you focus on journeying, connecting, and serving, you’re life with Jesus and those around you can be changed. Which is what following Jesus is all about – being changed by him, and changing lives with him.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Jesus followers should love God, love others, and love the world.

Teaching Points:

  • A mark is:
    • 1) An obvious object or article that serves as a guide to travellers
    • 2) An impression or a distinguishing trait or characteristic
  • Vague impressions of direction get you no where.
  • What is a disciple?
  • Loving God needs definition.
  • Loving God and Loving others are part of what following Jesus means.
  • Loving the world propels us out into the world.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What circle do you most resonate with (Loving God, Others, or the World)? Which circle do you most struggle with? How do you think you might grow deeper with your struggling circle?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Take a look at your family and think through which circles you are good at, and which ones you need to grow in. Ask your kids then for ideas for how to grow in the difficult circles and put them into practice.

Challenge for the Week: Make a decision to grow in all three circles

Getting Out of Your Seat

1380002_96509223At this year’s Regional Gathering (our denomination’s annual conference) the speaker Caesar Kalinowski made an interesting and very true comment. He said this:

“Very little discipleship happens sitting in seats”

He was referring to Sunday morning primarily. And while as a pastor, clearly Sunday mornings are a large part of my job, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Because here is his point: following Jesus requires movement, practice, and action.

Often on Sunday mornings we learn about Jesus, but discipleship happens when we follow Jesus. Discipleship happens when we get out of our seats and let Jesus start to transform the totality of our lives. And yes, to follow Jesus means you need to learn about Jesus, but it is possible to learn lots about Jesus and not follow him. Caesar’s point is that discipleship breaks down when the learning gets separated from the following.

This doesn’t mean that Sunday morning services don’t matter. They do, and I put a lot of prayer and effort into mine. But what I know is that Sunday mornings aren’t the endpoint of discipleship, but the starting point – the sending point. We gather together to get reminded of what following Jesus looks like, and get sent out to live that in a new way that week.

So Caesar is right, discipleship doesn’t just happen in seats, which is why each week we gather as the church, to be sent out as the church into our communities.

And this is just a reminder that discipleship is a process, a journey, a sending, but most of all a following. So as you live, work, and play this week – remember who you are following and how you are learning to live like him.

Deadly Theological Training

I came across a quote a little while ago that has really stuck with me. Richard Rohr says this:

“Theological training without spiritual experience is deadly”.

And I think that is bang on. Whenever our theological knowledge outpaces our practice we have problems. And in general, as has often been said, I think so often our Christian culture is educated beyond their level of obedience. And this is deadly. Whenever we know more than we practice, our knowledge can become sharp and hurtful. Our practice can seem weak and hypocritical.

Now if you know me, I’m not against theological training or knowledge at all. My wife says I have a “reading problem” (which means I have too many books to keep in our house). So I’m not against learning, depth, and training. But learning, depth, and training that doesn’t flow out into practice becomes stagnant, stale, and sometimes toxic.

So all of this is to say one thing: learn more, and practice more. Let your faith grow deeper, and let your practice grow truer. Because people who know lots about Jesus don’t change the world; the world is changed by people who know, and follow Jesus.

The Relationship Between the Gospel and Trust

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Trust.

It’s a pretty big thing. In fact, if you think about it, all relationships are built on it. It’s something that takes years to build, and moments to lose. It’s something that is the difference from a relationship being healthy, to horrible. It is something we often take for granted, but is the grounding for almost everything.

Trust.

I’m writing a little bit about trust because I think this is one thing we as Christians need to develop most. We need to develop trust. Let’s just be honest: the culture around us doesn’t trust us as the church. Stats show it. Anecdotal evidence shows it. And I think this is something we know deep down. But here is the beautiful thing: it’s something that can be changed. We can rebuild trust in our families, friendships, and communities. And if I can be so strong – this is something we need to do. We need to invest in rebuilding trust and connections with our culture and our communities.

I was talking with someone about why today “gospel presentations” often don’t seem to work. My answer was a lack of trust and relationship. Formal presentations without the basis of trust and relationship simply don’t carry much impact. It’s not that the gospel doesn’t have weight and impact on its own. The point is that the gospel is inherently relational. So when we share the gospel without relationships, it loses impact because its lost something important: trust.

So all of this is simply to say one thing. Trust matters. It matters if we want to follow Jesus fully. It matters if we want to leave an impact on our communities. It matters if we want to be faithful to the gospel and to Jesus. It matters more than we think.

But that’s the difficulty with trust, it’s so easy to take it for granted. But if we want to see lives changed, it can’t be something we take for granted, it’s something we need to cultivate.

…then the church is dying

My youth pastor sent me this picture and quote. He thought I would like it, and he was right.

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The reason I like it is it challenges our priorities. It asks us what matters most, our personal preference or passion for Jesus; is our comfort more important than others coming to know Jesus; what is the centre for us – ourselves or our calling?

These are really important questions to look at and ask. Because I believe the world needs the church. The world needs Christians. The world needs you and me. But it only needs us if our priorities are right. It needs followers of Jesus that are willing to die to themselves, that are willing to put others first, to be last in line, and serve. These are the type of people that change the world, because these are the type of people who courageously follow Jesus.

So I guess this little quote simply is asking me: what’s front and centre in my life ~ God’s calling or my personal preferences. That’s a really good question. A good question to think about, but an even better question to shape and change my actions.

Finding the Right Destination: Vision, and Direction

On Sunday we are launching a new series at the church.1145632_61514054

We are going to be asking a key question:

Where are our lives headed?

This is important because if we don’t examine our destination, time can slide by and we can end up saying, “How did we get here”. The point is that if we want to have an impact in this world, it comes by aligning the direction of our lives with God’s direction. Because my honest belief is this: we don’t ever drift into making a difference. So we need to examine where our lives are heading, and live with intention.

So we have been wrestling, asking, and discerning where God is leading us? What has he been birthing in us? What are we called to do?

And these are crucial questions for everyone of us to be asking. Because we don’t drift into making a difference. Vague intentions often lead to a lack of action.  Jesus though came with a clear mission, and vision of what he was going to do. He summarized it in the “Good News”, he lived it out and shared it with everyone. Jesus had no ambiguity in what he was doing. This is what we are going to be examining on Sunday what Jesus’ calling was, and still is. Through this we can discover how we fit into Jesus’ calling on earth.

So I think it’s important for everyone to be asking the question, “Jesus, where are you leading me?” And this is what we are doing on Sunday, just corporately as a community. 

So that’s where we are going on Sunday. The question I have for you is simple. Where is God leading you? In life? In your church? In work? In your family? Where is he leading you?

It is too easy to continue on a direction, without thinking about the destination. So talk with God about where he would have you go, about the next steps, about what he would have you do. Because the essence of faith is to follow, but to do that we have to be led. So why not spend some time with Jesus talking with him about following, and being led. And come Sunday that’s what we are talking about too.

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Homes, Hospitality, and Why Finding Jesus Often Begins Around a Table

540136_22497473Earlier this week I heard a really great story, of how people came out to our church, connected, and had God speak to them. It was very moving to hear about how God was working in their lives, and it got me really excited.

This is wonderful and beautiful, and there is something powerful that happens when the church gathers together. And it’s my honest hope that whenever we gather together as a community that life change happens, that people experience God, and that new life is found. But here is the interesting thing this life change for these people didn’t begin in our church, it began in a home.

You see long before these people were ever invited to church, they were invited into a home of someone a part of our church. Long before they ever crossed the door into our church building, they were welcomed into a home many times. Long before they ever heard me share on grace and life, they saw a friend demonstrate grace and life to them.

So the point is that if we want to see life change, the church is important, but let us not forget about our homes. Because I believe that change often starts in the home with hospitality. When people, as the church, practice hospitality it sparks transformation. When we invite friends, neighbors, and co-workers into our circles sharing grace, trust and hope, this is where life change begins. I absolutely believe we all need to be connected to a local community. I just know it often begins with being connected around a table, a meal, and a cup of coffee first.

So invite people to join in your church. Invite people to join with Jesus in what he is doing. Just don’t forget one of the first steps…to invite them over to your house first.

Are You Doing a Great Work?

Two Sunday’s ago I preached on the verse, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down”. You can download it here.

The main point was that I encouraged the church to ask God what their great work was. I really believe that God has something for each of us, old or young. What you and I may be called to can be quite different, but whatever God calls us to is important and a “great work”. So I invited the church to write down on a small card what “My Great Work Is…” Then as a way of committing to it I gave the church a chance to bring their cards forward during the service. My promise to them was that anyone who brought a card forward, I would pray for them, for their calling, and believe in them. We believe that prayer changes lives. And I truly believe that through prayer we can help to change others’ lives and to support them in their “Great work”

What I didn’t realize would be how much my life would be changed by reading these short little cards. Over the last week and a bit as I’ve read dozens and dozens of them I’ve been overwhelmed by what God wants to do in this little place. People are committing to make their  marriages the best ever. People are committing to lead others to Jesus. People are committing to launching a new ministry, a new business, or launch their kids well. I thought I would be able to help change their lives by praying for them; but now I’ve realized that my life has been changed by reading these little cards. These cards represent just some of what God wants to do in and through us and for us. It’s exciting, it’s amazing, and it’s overwhelming in a wonderful way.

So I thought I’d give you the same invitation I gave to the church on that Sunday. To take a moment and think about what your great work is. If you had a card saying “My Great Work Is…” what would you write down?

I believe God wants us to do great things with him. The question is, “what is he asking you to do”? And if you know and want me to pray over your great work too, just let me know and I’ll pray.

So over the next few months I’ll be praying about God doing “great work” in and through us. I know that people will be changed because he’s already used these little cards to change me…

Disciple Making Rather than Decision Making

Mother Teresa wrote this:

You, in the West, have the spirituality poorest of the poor much more than you have the physically poor. Often among the rich are very spiritually poor people. I find it easy to give a plate of rice to a hungry person, to furnish a bed to a person who has no bed, but to console or to remove the bitterness, anger and loneliness that comes from being spiritually deprived, that takes a long time.

I think that this is true and deep. Being spiritually deprived leads to anger, bitterness, and loneliness. And changing that reality doesn’t happen through a tract, it doesn’t happen through one conversation, it doesn’t happen through one big event. Changing that reality takes time, commitment, conversation, and, most of all, Jesus Christ.

I’ve often said that we here are much more interested in people becoming disciples of Jesus, rather than just making decisions about Jesus. Making disciples takes a while. It means addressing people’s spiritual deprivation, their hurt, anger, bitterness, and loneliness. It means being Jesus to them over the long haul. Not just a few weeks, but months, and years.

So here is my question for you: who are you committing to long-term?

It’s not just about giving someone a plate of rice. It’s about giving a plate of rice each week, sitting down for conversation, for connection and for a shared commitment. So that’s my question, who are you committing to be there with, watching, hoping, and expecting Jesus to become real in their life.

Because remember we’re here to make disciples, not just help people make decisions…