Summary of Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Why are fellowship, discipleship and evangelism so important?

God’s truthful word to us teaches us that these three things are needed if His church is going to grow here on earth, therefore God expects all Christians to engage with them. I hope that over the last few weeks you have seen that all that I have said has its foundations in Scripture.  Without the truth of Scripture, we would not be here today, and Christianity would have died out with the first Disciples.

So what have I learnt about fellowship?

I was reminded of the New Testament Greek word for fellowship: koinonia (koy-no-nee-uh).  This expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit.  So it’s all about relationships. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 shares this idea, saying,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The natural result of koinonia is that there is no fellowship without action.  Hence, we believe that RBR Connections will result in deeper practical pastoral support as well as greater spiritual support. 

Fellowship enables us to see that the local church is a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real pain and sorrow.  This is another purpose of RBR Connections. Through this shared life as a community, we become a visible manifestation of the Gospel we are all called to proclaim.

Fellowship originates from the Holy Spirit, expressed succinctly by Paul; May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14) Thus fellowship results in a relationship with God the Trinity, and with one another.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John. 1:3).

Fellowship means living and sharing life together.  So it is to be a priority; one of the objectives for gathering together. 

Godly fellowship then is about sharing and communicating Gospel truths together, which in turn will build us up. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  (1 Thess 5:11; see also Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; Philem. 6)

What have I learnt about Discipleship?

Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God. 

The Greek word translated “disciple” means follower, someone who invests their life and time learning from someone else, and then spreading that person’s teachings to others. This is in-line with the great commission of Matthew 28 in which Jesus commands us to go and make disciples by telling others the way of Jesus.

Yes, some are gifted in teaching, but all believers are called to share with others what they know about Jesus, in accordance with the faith God has proportioned to them, (see Romans 12). 

Isn’t that great?  We act in proportion to the faith God has given us, and as our faith grows so does what we share.

To tell others about Jesus we need to get to know God and His Son in a deeper and personal way. This involves not only learning the truths of the Gospel, but showing them to others in a loving, caring and compassionate way.  Truths such as

  1. Jesus is God incarnate;
  2. His death and resurrection was a sacrifice that we could never make as an atonement for our sin;
  3. His sacrificial death abolishes the power of death to separate us from God. 

All of which means we are saved fromthe penalty of sin, the power of sin, and sin’s presence.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ we move from living under the power of sin, shifting instead to living in the hope of His coming, His second Advent.  All of which assures us of eternal salvation.

What have I learnt about evangelism?

This is the tricky one. In sharing Jesus, we must share the truth of Jesus, a truth based on the need for all people to repent. 

Matthew 4:17 tells us that Jesus challenged people with the words,v“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near”.    This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherent sinful nature of mankind,
  2. the holiness of God,
  3. the existence of heaven and hell. 

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story, because the message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God. But He is also holy and righteous, thus hating sin.  However, because God’s nature is full of love and mercy He provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin –  His Son! 

Ephesians 2:8–9 explains why.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

We’re saved not because we deserve it or can earn it, but by God’s grace!

Only those whose natures have been changed to be in line with God’s can escape His wrath, and thus experience His transforming nature expressed through His love and grace. If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

Jesus was God on earth.  We can say this with confidence because in John 5:19-20 Jesus, in His own words, tells us that He only did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing in heaven.  God, through the person of Jesus, was revealing His transforming power to the world.  This transforming power moves us from an earthy perspective to a supernatural heavenly one, so that we too can do what we see our heavenly Father doing in heaven. 

And Jesus unashamedly acknowledges that He “can do nothing by Himself”. 

This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything and our life will be insipid and of no use to God. 

Because Jesus is confessing that as “the Son (he) can do nothing by Himself” we can have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are utterly dependable, truthful and worthy for all to hear.

So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words have spoken powerfully to us personally, transforming us into His likeness, and that through us He can speak powerfully to others, transforming them too, because that is what He has done us!

Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism are things we need to work on in our daily lives if we want to see God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Midnight Message, Christmas Eve, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:3)

“Trinity”, by Andrei Rublev

The famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, completed his best-known icon in about 1442.  It is titled quite simply Trinity. Take a moment to look at the image. In a striking combination of colour and light, three messengers from God are seated round a table, and our eyes are drawn to the gentle, loving circle of the figures, with their restful expressions which seem neither masculine nor feminine, and the unity of the three heads, faces and postures.

The right-hand figure, is considered to be the Holy Spirit, as there is a mountain behind his head thus reminding us of the transfiguration (Matt 17) of Jesus, when Moses and the great prophet Elijah appeared in a cloud with Jesus in front of three of Jesus’ disciples.

The middle figure is considered to be Jesus, as it is dressed in a red and gold tunic and there is a tree behind, suggesting the cross.

The slightest of the three figures, the Father, has an air of mystery with a translucent robe, and a house with many rooms above his head.  A reference to the passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting His disciples before his arrest and tells them that He will go ahead a prepare a place for them because in His Father’s house there are many rooms (John 14).

The cup of sacrifice and life is on the table, and if you look carefully, there in the open space created at the front of the table is a rectangle symbolising the world… (Remember the world was not known to be round in the fifteenth century).

With the three looking the way they do it is as if they are inviting the whole world to receive and join in with the gift of life and love that these three messengers possess. Here, the gift of God is made visible. 

So this icon is a human attempt to express something of who God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is. It is a gift to us from the Artist!

 

These beautiful opening verses to the Gospel of John set forth the entire intention of John’s Gospel: which is to proclaim and testify that Christ is the Son of God.  So who is this Christ? John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, (the Logos of God), because He reveals God and the hidden things of God, and in himself declares the beauty of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in other words the triune God. The Word, who existed with God and creates and holds all things, is the Christ.

These words, like the description of the Icon I described a few minute ago, are John’s, attempt to show us that Jesus is essential to obtaining true life. Life as God created it to be, for it is Jesus who reveals both the Holy Spirit and God to us. And Jesus’ desire is to communicate this truth to all people. 

When we accept and understand that it is He, Jesus, who brings us into a new relationship with God we are brought into a living and dynamic relationship that reveals God’s reconciling, healing and glorifying life, light and, above all, love. 

But Christ who came to the Jews first can, if we wish, come to us now, tonight, as the true gift of God. In this gift, He brings blessing, grace and the truth of truths, and, as with all gifts, we are invited to accept, and then receive the gift which has been revealed to us from the heart of God the Father, the Son of God.  And then Christ, the expression of God, will be known in our hearts, just like a beautiful icon, a colourful sunset, an exquisite flower, a sparklingly adorned Christmas tree, a child’s delighted face on Christmas morning easily fills us with inexpressible delight, warmth and peace,

So the gift of God which is revealed to us and celebrated by us at Christmas is to lead us into a fuller experience and understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  And when we willingly receive into our lives the light and power of the life that God offers through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of being ‘children of God’.  And we do this by recognising the one who lived amongst us 2000 years ago to be the Son of God, foretold by the prophets of old. 

Why did He come?  He came to save us from our sin by helping us to recognise what sin is.  Through His death on the cross Jesus offers us an escape from sin, for sin leads to eternal death and separation from God.  This offer is God’s awesome gift of repentance.  As we recognise this we will then know that Jesus makes and remakes us day after day for the whole of our life in order to know God in new ways, by knowing the depth, height and width of His love for us.  You see, out of His love for us God wants us through Jesus to allow Him to live His life in our personal world.

With the increase of knowledge with each new generation, with the increase of our experience via the media of global suffering, with the pressures of materialism, competition, and visible success motivating so much of what we do, let us spend time this Christmastide reflecting on the beautiful gift which God has given us in His Son.

Let me encourage you to take time to remind yourselves, and your loved ones, of this child, the greatest gift of all time, to enjoy the presence of this gift around your table, to feel uplifted by the gift in creation when you take a walk (whatever the weather), to consider the gift in your conversations, and to dwell on the gift in your prayers tonight and every night.

As you allow the truest gift, the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ, to be part of your Christmas celebrations, may you allow Him to be part of your daily life as you continue your journey through life.

If you choose to do this, know that your life will be held in His grace, truth and love. For all of life is gift.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 2

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  (Matthew 28:19-20)

As I said last week, evangelism is a challenge; many people, and so many churches, struggle with this.  For some, evangelism is an important objective, “we’ve got to get out there and evangelise”, but the methods of pursuing can appear vague or ineffective.  For others, the term itself is uncomfortable.  Fear grips them!  The very word can bring to mind doctrinal rigidity or the use of manipulative ways of leading people to faith.  So what to do?

Focussing on the characteristics of biblical evangelism can help de-mystify evangelism and strengthen our evangelistic efforts.  Four key practices; proclamation, community, service, and witness, are rooted in scripture and have proven effective in the history of the church. Employing these four practices as we share the gospel moves us, as well as the listener, closer to God.  So let’s have a look at each of these practices in turn.

1. Proclamation

After the second world war ended, it is said that there were some Japanese soldiers deep in the jungle who carried on fighting because they hadn’t heard the proclamation that the war was over!

How often have you heard, or even said of non-believers, “They need to hear the gospel”? In Romans 10:14, Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

The key is the ending where Paul says, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them”.  Here, preaching (Greek kerygma) can also be translated as proclamation.

I like the use of the phrase “proclaiming to them” as it implies that you are not talking about preaching as a professional occupation.  I think Paul is talking about someone willing to share the good news verbally.  If we think of proclamation as something only done by professionals, it lets the majority of us off the hook.  But I believe Paul is arguing the opposite — that all of us are called to proclaim the good news so that someone might hear it, and have the opportunity to be saved.

Too often individuals believe that because they pay the minister/pastor to proclaim they do not have to do it.  The truth is this; as we grow more comfortable in our congregations we tend to share less.  And as a result, fewer and fewer of us are proclaiming the good news. We need to reclaim the understanding that all believers are responsible for the practice of proclamation.

2. Community

The best model of Christian community is found in the Trinity and the way in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make room for each others’ gifts.  The three-in-one God models for us what is possible when we are willing to share our gifts with the community and make room for the gifts of others.  It is a community constructed on love, trust, and accountability.

Throughout the history of the church, community has been a key factor in successfully engaging new people. Look at Acts 2:42:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  44All the believers were together and had everything in common.  45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  47praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

More recently in the Wesleyan revival people found community with one another in societies, classes, and bands that were essential to their personal transformation.  My own experience of belonging to a CYFA group (Christian Youth Fellowship Association) laid a firm foundation for my faith in Jesus Christ.  We still mimic this approach through encouraging people to be part of a small group.  But the results are often mixed because we copy the form of Wesley’s small groups while ignoring the rationale for connecting people.  This is why we’re developing the RedBRick Connections, groupings of people who are committed to working at connecting to other people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred way that engenders God’s love, trust, and accountability.  Our evangelism efforts today need to focus on connecting people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred community and not just copying a certain model of community.

3. Service

In Ephesians 3:7 Paul uses a form of Greek word for service (diakonia) when he talks about being a servant of the gospel.  The idea of being in service to something or someone is challenging in our culture because of the history of slavery.  But the language of servanthood is prominent in Paul’s letters, particularly being a servant to Jesus.  Paul understood his role as carrying on the work that Jesus started, and we are called to do the same.  To be in service to Jesus means engaging in holistic ministry that addresses your entire being, body, soul and spirit.  Notice how Jesus provided for those in need while sharing the transformative power of the gospel.  If, on the one hand, we simply respond to physical needs, we are merely providing a social service.  On the other hand, if we are simply sharing the gospel, then we are not addressing the concrete challenges people experience.  Holistic ministry in Christ’s service is always both. The idea of serving is never to be disconnected from an expectation of an ever-deepening spiritual transformation.

The struggle we have today is we have disconnected service from an expectation of transformation through Christ.  In an effort not to offend we do things for people and hope they figure out our Christian motivation.  I am not suggesting clubbing people over the head with the gospel, but a holistic understanding of service must include sharing the transformative power of Christ, that He takes us, sinners, and through forgiveness leads us into new life with Him.  Too many of us ignore the importance of letting others see that without the act of repentance of sin we are denying Jesus’ transformative power to take what is broken and make it whole again.  That is what I believe happens every time we receive the bread at communion… by taking something broken, the bread (aka Jesus’ body) we are being made whole, made complete, being born again!  This is how God’s love intersects with us in a transformative way.

4. Witness

This word has its root in the word martyr.  The truth is, when we hear the word martyr, we immediately think of someone dying.  Martyrs of Christ literally give their lives for the gospel.  But we are not just required to die to witness to Christ.  When Jesus was eating with His disciples before He ascended back to heaven after His resurrection we find this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … to the ends of the earth.” This form of the word martyr (martureo) is not about death.  A martyr or witness is someone who gives their whole being to something.  It is more than proclamation because one’s entire life becomes a sign pointing to God.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus is asking the disciples to devote their entire being to telling His story.  What Jesus does not want is a half-baked effort.  The disciples are to dedicate themselves to the work of witnessing.

For many of us, witnessing has become a technique rather than an expression of our divine supernatural spiritual identity.  Perhaps we just see it as a means of getting people to our church.  Many times when we witness, people are not hearing about God’s transforming love that opens their eyes to see the need for repentance.  They hear “come to my church.”  The Wesleyan movement was successful because witnessing was a part of their DNA and not a technique.  We need to reclaim this dimension of witness.  RedBRick Connections is a way we can release our evangelistic DNA which is already in each of us.  How do I know it is in each of us – well, we are often very quick to witness to the things we enjoy doing, particularly our hobbies.  As this is the case how much more should we be prepared to engage in evangelism for God’s sake and His created world.

These four practices should work together in an integrated, synergistic way. But too often, we make them into separate things, lessening the overall impact of our evangelism. A holistic, biblical approach to evangelism employs all four practices in ways that inform and enhance one another so that we share the gospel and all move closer to God and to neighbour.

Time to think

Read Romans 10:1-15.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. Paul is sharing the gospel in these verses. Please write down the quote that he uses to clinch his powerful gospel presentation (Romans 10:11).
  2. Paul also uses Old Testament scripture to defend his missionary zeal (Romans 10:14-15). Complete the logical steps Paul develops in these two verses.

How can they call upon the Lord if they haven’t _______? (Romans 10:14)

How can they believe unless they have _______? (Romans 10:14)

How can they hear unless someone ________ to them? (Romans 10:14)

How can they preach unless someone _______ ? (Romans 10:15)

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

First, please read and reflect on this quotation from Chuck Swindoll, an award-winning author and senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX.

Because God gave you your makeup and superintended every moment of your past, including all the hardships, pains, and struggles, He wants to use your words in a unique manner. No one else can speak through your vocal cords, and, equally important, no one else has your story.” 

In last week’s Time to Think (The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1) I encouraged you to write down your story of how you established a living relationship with God through Jesus. Perhaps you can share it with someone.  To start with, why not share it with another Christian as a way of honing your story?

Prayer Response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth – the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.  Amen.


The way… the truth… the life

John quotes Jesus as saying “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6).

This passage is GOOD NEWS! It contrasts with all Photo by Fernando Puente on Unsplashthe bad news and fake news we experience through the media. These words express a basic and important message that the way to eternal life, though unseen, is secure.

Jesus is the way because He is both God and man, (John 10:30).

Jesus is the truth because He is the reality and proof of all God’s promises.

Jesus is the life, meaning that He joins His divine life to ours, both now and eternally, because He is our Saviour

By dying for us on the cross He has saved us from death and sin. He truly is our Saviour!

However there is a catch. Just before saying these words, Jesus also said “…believe in God; believe also in me.” The message is clear. We can look forward to eternal life because Jesus has promised it, …to all who believe in him.

How is your belief in Jesus, your belief that He is God’s son and that He is the only way to God and eternal life? Can your belief be shaken by trials and tribulations, or is it rock-solid?

The Holy Spirit

Yet, believing in Jesus is just the start. We must respond to Jesus. We respond by allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, for it is He who brings Jesus alive in us and in in turn provides us with direct access to God. 

As His disciples, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to carry the gospel of God’s Kingdom out into our own daily lives, and so out into the world. (John 14:12-13).

The Holy Spirit regenerates us to live as God desires and helps us to build Christ’s church on earth. The very presence of God lives within us. Isn’t that truly amazing? God lives in us!

Are you ready to believe and trust in Jesus, and to receive God’s Holy Spirit? If so, please offer the following prayer to God:

Thank you God for sending you Son Jesus as Saviour to the world.
I now come to Jesus as my Saviour,
asking Him to forgive me for all the wrong things I have thought, said and done in my life
and so I choose to turn away from everything that I know is wrong.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the only way to you:
     help me to follow Him.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the truth:
bring me to know your truth.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the life:
     give me that life,
Please come and fill me with Your Holy Spirit
and make it possible for me to walk by faith with You,
my Lord and my God.
Amen.