connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
[Steven: After a wonderful night of sleep, and now dosed up on caffeine, we’re ready to go!]
…their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21)
If we don’t understand the depth of the problem then we won’t apply the appropriate solution. Nothing short of radical surgery on our hearts will set us aright. There are very serious consequences of not treating our internal disease (of sin) properly.
Cardiovascular disease: the great killer
Heart disease is one of the great killers in Australia. Ever 26min someone dies from heart disease related illness.
There are 1.2 million Australians affected by heart disease. But the stats don’t capture the horror of the problem.
Gibbo shares a stories of family and friends who died of a heart attack.
There are plenty of public health campaigns drawing attention to the risk factors – not to scare us, but to encourage us to change. To change from the lifestyles that will affect our lives negatively.
The bible has in mind an issue like heart disease – but something greater than just physical heart problems. Heart disease may limit our lives on earth, but the inner heart problems of sin threatens each of our lives. The bible warns of this problem consistently to remind us what threatens our spiritual life with God the most.
Israel’s Problem (Mark 7:1-23)
The presenting issue of the debate in this passage here has to do with the washing of hands before meals… but…
Traditions of the elders
The issue is not about God’s Law – it’s about the Jewish traditions that had grown up around the Laws. The rituals had become important to Jewish identity to show themselves different to the surrounding nations. There are rules in the OT about washing – Priests entering the temple, and people washing their hands after a ‘bodily discharge’, BUT nothing close to what the Pharisees had developed by the time of Jesus presenting in this passage. And this issue reveals that they had many other traditions as well.
The Pharisee’s challenge Jesus about this.
Lips vs Hearts
Jesus’ response seems disproportionate at first instance. He quotes Isaiah calling them hypocrites. The quote from Isaiah 29 references how the presenting issue is just like the older issue in Isaiah – an issue of calloused hearts.
Jesus’ point: the Pharisees were playing games with something actually far more serious. Calling them hypocrites was another way of saying they were impersonating someone else: impersonating people who cared about God’s will, but were really people who were hung up on human rules and regulations, of defining their own in group and excluding others. The religious leaders had fallen into the terrible gap of attending and being preoccupied with outside appearances (and that everyone else knew their outward appearance of cleanliness) and shift focus from what was going on in their hearts.
This is not to say that they were insincere in doing their practice. But sincere practice doesn’t cover their sins. Their hypocrisy remains. Their hearts had deceived them and convinced them that this is what God wanted.
They had become sidetracked from giving God heart-obedience by focusing on external and superficial appearance.
Jesus gives another example of their hypocrisy. He goes to the Law in Exodus about children respecting and caring for their parents. But the Pharisees had worked out a little trick to get out of their responsibilities. They argued that if you dedicate the money, due to your parents, for God (Corban) then you didn’t have to pay it to your parents. Jesus calls this tax avoidance – a breaking of God’s intention in the Law.
What goes in
Jesus cuts through the rubbish of their arguments – and says that it is not what goes in that makes you unclean, it’s what comes out of your heart.
You might feel some sympathy for the disciples who really didn’t get what Jesus had just done. Jesus had essentially just wiped out the food Laws. A revolution in thinking.
Our sewage outlets
And yet, what Jesus said was not really revolutionary at all. For even the OT Laws pointed to the fact that the human heart itself was the cause of uncleanness.
Jesus was affirming what the OT pointed to – that our hearts are a sewage outlets. We are profoundly contaminated by nature. Out of hearts spew forth the sins listed in v21-22.
Working through that list we can diagnose our heart:
And there are heaps of other sins.
And we must be careful not to deflect and miss being cut to the heart. How many of the above have we ticked – how many of the warning signs are there in our lives? Attempts to soften reality so that we don’t have to face up to the depth of the problems that we have, then we are not ready to receive the treatment necessary.
Our Problem (Romans 1:18-32)
The symmetry of justice
There’s a striking symmetry to this passage in Romans 1. There appears to be a Chiastic structure, which charts the descent of human wickedness and sin.
The refusal to treat God as God means that at our very core we become foolish and darkened.
God’s punishment is to give mankind over to their dark desires. Being given over to these is a slippery slope to ever more darkness.
In verse 22-23 there is an allusion to Psalm 126 – in which Israel exchanged the glory of God for an image of a bull that eats grass.
Calvin said the heart is a factory of idols. We have turned the heart that was created to love the Creator into a sweatshop for truth exchanging, and for things over the Maker. And we maintain the delusion that these things will give us the satisfaction that we deeply long for in the core of our being.
This is the mess we find ourselves in. This is the depth of the problem. And until we wrestle with this we will not see the appropriate solution, and we won’t see how God has provided that solution.
Warning Signs (for the heart)
[Steven: running short of time now and Gibbo skips through the following points]
Hardening of the heart: a greater killer (Heb 3:7-4:16)
Israel’s problem (3:7-19)
A reminder of the hard heart of Israel
Our problem (4:1-11)
The same problem they have is the problem we have.
‘He who searches the heart’ (4:12-13)
Nothing in hidden from God’s sight. And we are warned of the same that we might heed the warning.
Searched in order to deliver justice (Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 4:5)
Do we see the sins in our hearts in order to repent? Or do we take God’s patience in waiting for repentance as indifference?
 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
 “I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
 … And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
If your arteries were clogged and you had a heart attack that would not necessarily exclude you from the presence of God. But the heart condition of darkness and sin will exclude you. The God who searches all things and knows the hearts of every person and exposes all things will come to deliver justice. We will all face the consequences of the state of our heart.
Warned so we will turn
This is an issue therefore of absolute urgency. Don’t harden your heart. Don’t turn away and be distracted, face it squarely – and do what you need to do to make peace with God.
The bible speaks to us so that we will turn. And we will find out God’s solution to our deeply darkened hearts in the days to come. We are called to repent and live – and we will see how God makes that graciously, and wondrously possible.
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn (Deut 10:16)
[Steven: A deeply cutting talk this morning. Our hearts are opened and they are rotting and festering and hardened against God. An epic and scary diagnosis. Lord, have mercy.]
What is a disciple?
A disciple is a rather broad generic category. The bible says many things about being a Christian, and the word ‘disciple’ is one of those words. The word has an emphasis on being a learner – to follow him in his teaching, to embrace his teaching and the teacher, so that the disciple looks like the master. To be a disciple is someone who is taught to become more like Jesus.
Discipleship as a process is about helping someone become a better learner and better follower of Jesus. From preaching, to a blog post, to a text forms part of discipleship as long as they help us better learn and follow Jesus. So discipleship can happen formally and informally.
See ‘The Vine Project‘ for more on this sort of thinking and approach to discipleship.
How do you approach people for discipleship?
Formally and informally. First port of call is usually in the formal church setting, and then as I get to know them through relating to them.
It will also depend on how, for instance, a non-Christian enters the church. If they are fairly random then I can be a bit more bold in asking questions. If they are already connected with some Christian community (like being the housemate of a Christian), I’ll take the approach a little lighter and softer.
Then I’d ask them if they are keen to find out more in a one-to-one context.
What is your approaching question when you meet someone?
I tend to search out what understanding they have of the gospel. Through various contexts I want them to see the needs that they have, and seek to help them see how Jesus fulfills their needs.
With a potential leader I look at someone who is maturer in their faith, and affirm their growth. And then try and convince to see that they can be a part of Word ministry – teaching the word to various people, and explore their gifts of teaching. And through that decide what ministry might be worth their time.
When you approach someone and they freak out a little at the question and possibility, what do you do?
I try and look at whether they’ve picked up the culture of our church – that people often meet up not just to socialise but also to learn more. I generally don’t approach a new person for 6months, and give them time to settle into our community and spend some time with them.
If you have to go cold-turkey with someone totally new, then you’d want to start off informally – coffee and chat. Then through those conversations work out where any discipleship relationship might start.
Why is discipleship important?
Everyone should be a disciple – we should all be following Jesus as best we can. So why leave that only to the sermon or the bible study? The encouragement that can be had through the opportunity of deeper relationships makes it worth it.
In non-Christian secular life we do well and flourish in life with a best friend or a closer group of friends. Imagine that for a Christian person. We are made relationally by God for this.
And if we truly believe that church is to be a family, with elders (father-figures) and other younger members (brothers and sisters), and if we believe that an older brother should usually care for the younger siblings – then if we see a family function and one family member off in the corner doing nothing then that would be a strange family set up. Same thing at church. It wouldn’t be a properly functioning family. If church is an event, or if you go as a silent consumer, then you’ll be disappointed as you look for this type of discipleship relationship.
Do you meet with just guys or guys and girls?
My wife Faith was going well with a group of girls on Wed evenings, so I found a group of guys to train and disciple. I also train guys and girls in the university leadership team, and also the Church Council made up of men and women.
I generally wouldn’t meet with a woman one-to-one. Bible study is a ‘sexy’ activity – godliness is ‘sexy’ as well. And as a Pastor I want to also remain above reproach and make sure that there is no hint of impropriety.
What material do you use? And what is your structure?
With a non-Christian I use the material ‘Christianity Explained’ – which is 6 sessions one to one. I like this because it helps those who are searching, and if they are committed this course can be very helpful.
On an adhoc basis with a non-Christian I go through Two Ways To Live and see how it goes.
With a new Christian I used ‘Just for Starters (I use a lot of Matthias Media because I’m used to it, trained in it, and are very comfortable with it). Just about anyone who is discipling another person one-to-one is trained to use ‘Just for Starters’.
Afterwards I tend to go through either Romans or Colossians. Romans for the keen beans, Colossians for those still a little cautious as it’s a lighter book that’s still encouraging in Christian growth.
In regards to structure I tend to go 50-50 – 50% of the time spent in the bible, and 50% of the time spent on the person and their life. The reason is that you don’t want the whole time you spend with someone to be life and problem centred – or it could become a gossip session. Discipleship is about leading people to Christ, and if we leave Christ out of the conversation then that’s not discipleship. And you can’t lead people to Christ without the Word.
On the flip side you can’t spend all your time in the bible because then you’re not dealing or interacting with the person infront of you. Over a few weeks and months I try to gauge whether our percentage of time together is being used well.
How frequently do you meet, and for how long?
It varies between once a week to once a month – and all depending on life circumstances.
For something like Christianity Explained it’s good to go through the 6 sessions over 6 weeks. Once a week is neat.
Once a fortnight is a little more doable with workers. But you have to commit, because if you miss one week it becomes once a month. And for those far away Skype has been helpful.
In terms of how long – it depends on the person, but as a Pastor I usually can only commit to one person over 12 months. Once a week over a year mentorship is usually enough to invest enough in someone that they can start to invest in others.
Adhoc meetings vary depending on the person and circumstances.
Do you always have to drink coffee?
Meeting over a drink and some food is always good. I highly recommend not having soft drinks and sugar because you crash energy wise later in the meeting. Not good!
Do you diversify your meeting space?
I get really sleepy sitting down after lunch. So I got introduced to walking ministry – which means walking and talking. But you have to find what works for you. Opening the bible works better sitting down :P But maybe some of your time together can be done doing something else.
Faith might take the kids out of the Park for them to play while she meets with another person on a bench to read the bible.
How do you know if it’s working?
It’s working when I feel like there’s a real relationship being built. With one guy it was just a little weird relationally for the first few weeks – it was just a question and answer sort of bible study and meet up. But then the ice broke, I got to know him personally, and a real relationship was built. There was much laughter and growth in the desire to love each other and want to serve together.
You’ll also see fruit when your twosome becomes larger because of the desire to include others.
And also picking up on Gary Millar’s workshop on holiness as we see that magnified in someone we’re meeting. But what if it’s not working, what do you do?
Let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t get along with some people. So self-examination is needed – working out whether it’s you or them that might be the stumbling point. And you might need to ‘break up’ then. It’s no failure on either part, but it’s realistic – so be open about it, ask for feedback from the other person, and see if you can deal with it in humour and love.
Some people among the crowd here have never seen this form of discipleship before – what can you say to those who haven’t seen this before and want to try it out?
One practical thing – introduce a bit more Christian talk in your everyday relationships and conversations. Talk about the sermon after the sermon – avoid criticising the sermon and maybe just look at that passage together. And then maybe just ask if someone is interested in meeting up! Take the baby steps that we’re comfortable with and keep pushing out. Meet up, talk about life, and as you catch up more talk about life and the bible.
‘If someone wanted to meet up with me I’m not sure my heart would be in it. I’m not sure I’m in a place to be able to handle it.’ What would you say?
Keep praying to God to soften your heart. And take the brave step to meeting up, even if just sometimes. There’s so many ways that God works in us to transform us, so find that small thing that can help us and go from there.
To Faith: you meet with girls, what do you do differently and why?
Everything I have in my notes Ben has already covered! A few additional remarks:
Discipleship might look differently as a single person versus a person with a family. Basic principle: as a single person the way you disciple and follow up people changes when you get married and have a family. I went from meeting with 10 people a week, to meeting a few people when married, to hardly meeting with anyone when the family came. As a parent I would sometimes get people over when the kids were in bed at night or during their nap time. But I was limited to 1-2 people a week – as my main ministry is to my children. But now that my kids are older and in school I have more time to meet with and disciple others.
[Steven: great little seminar on discipleship with some great nuggets of gold to chew on.]
A job title and what they do
Some job titles are hard to understand. What does an Occupational Therapist do?! Some job titles are clear. Pharmacist. Golf Ball Divers. Potato Chip Inspectors.
What does a Christian do?
This is the question isn’t it…
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is (1:26-27)
What is religion that God approves of?
The word ‘religion’ is scary to some Christians. We tend to overplay the idea of ‘religion’ as a bad thing – since the word comes up with so many connotations of ‘doing stuff’. But James uses the word here.
The word ‘religion’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to bind’. Religion means being bound to something. Whatever it is that we are stuck to, bound to, or even addicted to, is our ‘religion’.
The gospel is the glorious message…
… through the grace of Jesus Christ we have been delivered from sin and death and the wrath and judgement of God. But it’s also more than this. The gospel word – meaning good news – carries an announcement and declaration: calling for the response of submission.
Too often we declare Christianity as ‘Jesus is Saviour’ and miss that we should also add ‘Jesus is Saviour AND Lord’.
The context of James 2 seems to be that people have neglected the Kingship/Lordship of Christ. And if you have missed this message, that you don’t have to do anything, then James says in 1:26-27 that you are in danger of being deceived.
True religion is manifested in a lifestyle of obedience to God. What does God require?
True religion has true God-centred ambitions.
Breaking the law of love (2:1-13)
Who will you approach, connect with, honour with your time?
Christians are not to show favouritism – not to judge and favour on the ‘face’ – to discriminate unjustly. Favouritism is evil because it shares glory to those who don’t deserve it – there is only one who deserves glory. Gold rings, nice clothes, a big bank account, a nice car – are these things really worth comparing and sharing the glory of Jesus with?
And then compare the people – a wealthy, middle class person vs someone of lower class: who would be more likely to be welcomed in your church?
Verse 5 – A rhetorical question with the assumed answer of ‘yes’? BUT – is James saying that God prefers poor people to wealthy people? A: it’s not simply a money issue. Those who are most aware of their inadequacy, the poor in spirit, are those that God esteems and honours.
Consistent Christian conduct comes only from a consistently Christian heart and mind.
“Are we being more shaped by and drawn to political ideologies, than gospel realities; more gathered around social causes than the centrality of the cross and what it means for reconciliation between God and humans, and humans and humans” (Steve MacAlpine)
If we have been transformed by His compassionate love, then we are to live that way. When God says ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ then we have only two options in response: obedience or disobedience. To not love our neighbour, to favour someone over another, is to turn our backs on something so central to God’s ethics.
The test of Christian health: church attendance, accurate theology, experience of the Spirit’s gifts, involvement in evangelism…? There’s one that’s preeminent: love. 1 Cor 13: faith, hope and love remain, and the greatest of these is love.
Saving faith is proved through works (2:14-26)
Key verse: But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds (v.18)
What good is it to say we believe and do no good works? No good at all.
Verse 15 – is not about asking people for help, it’s about seeing people who need help. Being situationally aware of the needs.
Sometimes when we see needs and concerns we often ask, ‘Should we act… or share our faith?’
Three examples of faith:
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (v.26)
The shape of the Christian life will look different to different people. We’re not all called to be Amy Charmichael’s or Hudson Taylor’s and live in big ways they did. But we must find the ways in which we can be most faithful.
Implications / so what?
How are your good works going?
Start small and then go big.
A $50 iTunes card is fine. Maybe it’ll be an encouragement to spend just as much to Compassion for the work they do. A meal out at a restaurant is a privilege. Maybe it’ll be an encouragement to spend the same amount for Tear and the work they do.
Think of your situational awareness – are we seeing the needs among us around us?
True saving faith will always result in a life of love. We can start small, but we are to go deep and wide with multiple acts of kindness in the name of Jesus bringing his Word when we can.
If we have been saved by grace to do good works then it’s worth asking each other, ‘How are your good works going?’
[Steven: Finishing on a bang again. I love those last lines – start small, go deep and wide. An achievable challenge, I would think.]
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