Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Diversity of Discipleship

It only takes a glance around the room at any church function to realize that we are a very diverse bunch. Go to a community wide church service and the diversity becomes even more apparent. There is not only diversity in the human aspect of various believers. The Body of Christ is also very diverse in belief and practice. Many people, outside and inside the church, point at our diverse opinions and doctrine as a sign of weakness in the church. Our diversity could and should be a means of strength, yet we sometimes forget our Lord’s second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Even those of us who do not love others as we should can at least acknowledge that it is our duty to love all humankind. Yet it is our very human nature that makes us very selective about those whom we share our spiritual life. We maintain a courteous and even cordial social contact with casual acquaintances, but we are very careful about those in whom we share the intimacies of our faith. Rather than concede our diversity as a sign of weakness, I contend that in our diversity lies our strength. Strength through diversity of gifts and graces given by God. This is true not only of the Body of Christ as a whole, but of individual congregations of believers as well.

Our strength lies in the one thing we all have in common, the love of Jesus Christ. While there is no limit to the range of characteristics, temperaments, interests, habits, beliefs, and convictions. God has made no two people exactly alike. Human beings have an infinite diversity. Yet all Christians can answer one question exactly the same. The question: “Is your heart true to Jesus Christ?” We must maintain an open mind and a catholic spirit and realize that as long as “your heart is true to Christ as my heart is true to Christ” then we all can maintain a unity of love and affection that truly meets the commandment of God to love our neighbor as ourselves. Though we may all think alike, we can absolutely all love alike. Though we may not all be of one opinion, we can absolutely become one in heart. Though we may not all look alike, sound alike, sing alike, or praise alike, we can be thankful that God does not care how we look, sound, sing, or praise, only that we do so with one love.

We are all of one heart, one Lord, one Savior. Yet our Savior has chosen to bless us with a wide range of gifts and graces. The diversity of qualities is undeniably and unquestioningly the work of God’s grace in our lives. Every one of us has gifts and talents which, in addition to making us unique human beings, gives us tremendous potential in our Christian discipleship.

As Jesus’ earthly ministry was coming to an end, He began to prepare His disciples for the time when they would be called upon to carry on the work He had started. Jesus was returning to God, but He promised the disciples they would not be left alone. The Holy Spirit would come and teach the disciples all they would need to know in order to continue His ministry:

Joh 14:12-18 ESV "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (13) Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (14) If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (15) "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (16) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (17) even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (18) "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Joh 14:26 ESV But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Joh 15:26-27 ESV "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (27) And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and empower His disciples to carry out His commission to the ends of the earth. On the day of Pentecost, just weeks after Jesus ascension to Heaven, the Holy Spirit came with great power and three thousand people were made Christians on that day. The church was born. Those first followers of Jesus Christ received gifts of the Holy Spirit once they accepted Christ as their Savior. References to those gifts appear throughout the rest of the New Testament.

1Co 12:1-31 ESV Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. (2) You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. (3) Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.

(Belief itself is a gift of the Spirit)

(4) Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; (5) and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; (6) and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (7) To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (8) For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, (9) to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, (10) to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (11) All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (12) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (14) For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (15) If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. (16) And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. (17) If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? (18) But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (19) If all were a single member, where would the body be? (20) As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." (22) On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (23) and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, (24) which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, (25) that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (26) If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (27) Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (28) And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (29) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? (30) Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (31) But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit did not end with the Acts of the Apostles. Gifts of the Spirit is still one common thread in all Christians in all places and times.

One task that the church can help us with is in identifying these gifts and graces, and help us to use them in the service of Jesus Christ. Notice that I said “gifts and graces”. Everything we have to offer in service to Christ is not a “gift”. We also have “graces” that we can share in service.

Our gifts and graces fall into three general categories:

1. The first category is those things about us, those qualities and talents, that make each of us a unique human being. These are in the form of natural talents and resources that we bring with us when we come to Christ.

2. The second category is the particular spiritual gifts that God has given each of us that make a unique contribution to the Body of Christ. Note that there is a distinction between natural talents and Gifts of the Spirit.

3. The third is the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives so that the grace of God can make our discipleship more and more a reflection of the Christ we endeavor to honor and obey. This is our individuality, dreams and experiences.

Our church is taking an active role in the near future to help us to identify and use all of these gifts and graces in service to our Lord. We are going to do a church-wide study/assessment called Serving from the Heart: Finding your gifts and talents for Service. Members of the Leadership Committee of the church have already taken the study and will be teaching/leading it for the rest of the congregation.

One of the great weaknesses of congregational life today is that many of our members remain practically anonymous. Not literally anonymous. We do at least know the names of all of our members. But far too many are known only by name, as if that name on the roll alone establishes their identity and their place in the Body of Christ. We are familiar with all the members of the church, but how many do we really know. How many are known for their service to Christ. How many are, through their service, pointing others to Christ. The reality is that most of us know very little about our fellow church members, even in a small church like ours.

The church has made the decision to know it’s members in a meaningful way – a way that is much more than knowing names only. At the same time we will probably learn things about ourselves that we did not realize or acknowledge before. We will learn of our human qualities, our intellectual abilities, our homespun wisdom, our physical talents, our emotional generosities, our patience, understanding, and sympathy, our ambitions, determination, and vision, our willingness to help others, our concerns for social justice, our professional qualifications and accomplishments, our recreational interests, our hobbies. We will come to know a greater richness of talent and human potential than we ever thought existed in our congregation. All that can be put to use in service to our Lord.

These classes/workshops/studies will begin in three weeks and continue through the six weeks of Lent. We thought that Lent was the perfect time to search and assess our faithfulness and discipleship. The study will be given at various times and locations. It will be given during our normal Wednesday night activity time and during our Sunday School time on Sunday mornings. We are willing to schedule the class to fit your schedule. If the planned times are not convenient for you let us know and we will accommodate. Our goal is to have 100 participants during this time.

The backbone of the study is a spiritual resource inventory concept known as S.T.R.I.D.E. We have often heard our spiritual life referred to as a journey. Just as every Christian is different, so is each of our journeys different. We all have the same beginning in the New Birth in Christ and we all have the same destination to become fully sanctified in Christ. In between the two are many twists and turns. We have unique strides. One person walks slowly, and another skips all the way.

The journey of discipleship has four main paths. All four paths must be followed to reach the end of the journey. The paths are Worshipping, Growing, Giving, and Serving. Even on the paths there are various trails and we all travel with a different stride. At every level of spiritual maturity we worship God. Yet there are many ways of worship. We all seek to grow in faith, but each of us grow in a different way. Our giving may begin with small irregular offerings, to regular commitments, to tithing, and even to reverse tithing. The Serving from the Heart study will focus on the Serving trail. Just as there are different ways to worship, grow, and give, so also, there are different ways to serve.

S.T.R.I.D.E. is an acronym we use to describe the ways that Christians are unique as we travel our various paths to sanctification. As Christians we are expected to use our spiritual gifts to serve others and to glorify God. God has created each of us with a specific purpose in mind, giving us Spiritual gifts, Talents, Resources, Individuality, Dreams, and Experiences. All of these are incorporated into every Christian in ways designed to help us extend the “great invitation” and to fulfill the Great Commision.

I urge each of you to seek out one of the study groups (or start your own) and invite others to do so as we examine these six elements of our unique God-design and seek to understand God’s plan for our church as well as God’s purpose for our lives.

As Paul said:

1Co 12:1 ESV Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.