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Noticing the important things we can easily take for granted ...

It is very easy to overlook and take for granted that which is critical. We do not notice air until we find we cannot breathe. We do not notice water until we are extremely thirsty. I recall a moment when I needed water and quenching of thirst as never before or since. It was right here in this auditorium in 1989. Karen and I were newlyweds and we were attending a marriage seminar led by Paul and Gladys Faulkner and Carl and Smitty Brecheen. I had had dental work the day before and used a mouthwash as part of my treatment. It dried my mouth out and left a bitter taste. I sat in the audience and noticed something that to many people would have been ignored. Right next to the podium was a clear pitcher of water. It was filled with ice water and the sides were sweating. I kept staring at the condensation and the water and my mouth got drier and drier. I couldn’t get up easily because we were mid-pew – I didn’t want to disturb everyone. But I was tempted to stand up, ask a question and say, “By the way, could I have a drink.” Who else would have noticed the pitcher of water ...

Take a look at the banner that hangs in the back of our auditorium. We went to the effort to make this because we find that it’s message is important and gives us purpose. What does it say?
"Making Disciples for Jesus Who are Eager to Serve Others"

Where does this statement come from? Matthew 28:16-20 and Titus 2:13-15
We often call Matthew 28:16-20 the Great Commission. Simply calling this text “The Great Commission” is a reductionism. It makes it simple to reference, but we can start referencing it by shorthand so much that we neglect what it is saying. We overlook it.
It is easy for us to reduce important matters of faith so that we lose the richness and fullness.

Notice first of all that the setting is very general ... “As you are going ... .” Going where? Anywhere. Doesn’t really matter. Wherever you go. While you are out and about. The modern missionary movement has emphasized the “GO YE” and the nations. However, nations in this context isn’t the same concept of nation that we have. I don’t want to discredit what missionaries do. Not at all, we need to encourage them. But when we think this statement only applies to them, then we aren’t reading it correctly.

The emphasis is on making disciples. Now what is a disciple? We may think that a disciple is a recruit or a member. It’s someone who signed up. It’s a sale, a buyer, a fish. Jesus spoke a lot about evangelism and being part of the community of Christians, but he uses this word disciple. Why? A disciple is a “learner.” It’s a rather Jewish word. Disciples/learners followed rabbis/teachers. You had to make the cut to be a disciple. But Jesus makes learners out of those who will follow. Jesus wants his learners to make learners and he even wants them to make learners out of those gentile tribes – the outsiders. Jesus was interest in his followers learning more than just information ...

Make “learners” – What does it mean to be a learner? What do we learn?

Stanley Shipp – Like all preachers, Stanley has an airplane story. While sitting on his seat a man boarded late. He was in a horrible temper and he was pushing and shoving. He was rude to the flight attendants and complaining. Stanley was thinking, “This man is going to sit by me.” And sure enough he did. The man grumped at Stanley and said something like, “Well, I guess this is my seat, right?” Just then the flight attendant came to the man urging him to get situated because the plan needed to take off. The man yelled at the woman, “I’m trying. Quit bothering me.” He opened up the over head compartment and tried to fit his stuff in it. He took off his jacket and tried to cram it in the compartment. It wouldn’t fit and the door wouldn’t close. The attendant said, “We really need to close that door. It’s regulation.” And as the man argued with the woman who was just doing her job, Stanley got up and moved his bags around. He fit the man’s bags in more neatly. And then he took the man’s jacket and folded it nicely. Now the compartment door closed just as it should. Stanley sat down. The flight attendant sat down. And finally the man sat down. Somewhat humbled, the man introduced himself to Stanley. Not quite saying “thank you” but trying to show gratitude he turned to Stanley and said, “So what do you do for a living?” Stanley said, “I’m a teacher. I teach people how to live.” The man said, “Well, get to teaching. I need it.”

That story makes us aware of what the aim of evangelism and discipleship is really about. Stanley didn’t have to ask the man, “So where will you spend eternity?” When our view of discipleship is reduced to the hereafter, then we can neglect the here and now.

When we think of a disciple as a learner, then we recognize that Jesus’ focus was on the here and now and the hereafter both. How we live now is a seamless continuity with the future.

What are we learning? We are learning to do everything that Jesus taught us. Much more than information or special knowledge, we are learning a way of living and a way of living together

That’s pretty obvious in the Titus [2:11-14] text - For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to everyone. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Do you see the way that here and now and hereafter combine? Do you see the way that information and formation come together. Do you see how the grace and hope in Christ becomes a tendency to do good eagerly?

Tonight at our family meeting we want to introduce you to a focus for our regional ministry.

This isn’t everything we do. This isn’t a limitation. It is a focus. It isn’t a reduction because each of these four is about fulfilling our purpose to make learners.

We are inviting people to be learners with us. Not simply getting some facts straight so that we can ace our final exam, rather we are learning how to live. Inviting college students to learn what really matters. Teaching our kids at every stage what it means to be like Jesus. Learning to be like Christ brings healing to our broken lives. We learn to have hope.

It begins with baptism and then it continues in a life of learning. Not just learning about Jesus, but learning from him. For he is with us always – here and now and in the hereafter.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 29 June 2008

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