A Disciple Grows

Remember, our purpose as a church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” However, to make disciples, we must first be disciples; and, to be a disciple, we have to know what a disciple is. 
Remember Wesley’s definition?

“A disciple is a witness to Jesus Christ in the world who follows His teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”

Notice the qualifier, “In the world” – the disciple does their work OUT THERE, in the world. Far too often, we restrict our faithful actions to IN HERE, in the church building. Wesley speaks of certain “Acts of:”

  • Acts of Compassion – acting like Jesus acted 
  • Acts of Justice – standing up for the oppressed 
  • Acts of Worship – Praise, prayer, confession of sins 
  • Acts of Devotion – individual and corporate acts that increase our closeness with God 

We do it all under the “guidance of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is a companion, an advocate always with us. We never do ANY of this alone.
But, like I said in my last post, Wesley’s definition is a little long and hard to remember. So, I boiled it down to: 

A Disciple knows, grows, serves, and shares.

We’ll be looking at the life of Peter to show us how to be a disciple. His life, as presented in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, displays all these qualities.

Previously, we talked about “knowing.” 

Knowing involves following and confessing, but not necessarily in that order.

Following means “learning by doing,” copying what Jesus does – much different than learning by study. Peter (known as Simon at this point – Mark 1) and his brother, Andrew, follow when Jesus calls. There are lots of different reasons and motivations for following; it’s probably good that Scripture never specifies the reasons for following, allowing us to fill in our own reasons.

Confessing means “admitting” what you believe. Much like a witness in a courtroom “confesses” to what they know or have done, Peter at Caesarea Philippi admits that he believes Jesus is the Son of God. We do this kind of confession every Sunday in the Apostle’s Creed.

Now, we talk a bit about how we grow as disciples.

We could amass a very long list of the number of times that Peter fails. Last time, we read one, ironically on the heels of his confession. Success didn’t last long! As soon as Jesus started talking about suffering, Peter disagreed and Jesus scolded him.

Another of the most famous comes in Matthew 14. The disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a storm rises. Jesus walks on the water to the boat and scares them all to death. Once they realize it is Jesus, Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, I want to walk on water!”

“Come on,” Jesus replies. Peter takes one step, sees the waves, is reminded of the storm and begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” At least he knows where to get help!

Lets read the #1 most famous failure story in all of scripture. Luke 22:54-62

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.

Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 

The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Jesus knew that Peter would fail. Luke says that Peter “remembered the Lord’s words . . .” Just a little while earlier, at the Last Supper, Jesus predicted Peter would deny him. Yet, in Matthew’s version of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus tells Peter, “You are the rock on which I will build my church.”

Originally named Simon, Jesus called him “Peter” which means “rock.” Jesus chooses to build his church on a man he knows will fail. Why?

Failure is a necessary part of growth! I might even say that no growth is possible without some failure. Think about it – if we ever want to improve at anything, it takes a lot of work. Mostly work that fails to accomplish the goal.

The greatest hitter in all of baseball – Ted Williams – finished his career with a batting average of .408. That means that he failed 6 out 10 times he got up to bat. That’s not counting the millions of times he swung a bat in practice!

Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest and one of the greatest writers about Christian spirituality we have today. He says that it is not a matter that failure might happen, or only happen if you are bad, or only happen to the unfortunate people, or only happen as a result of bad choices, or that you can somehow avoid it by being clever and/or righteous. Failure will happen and it will happen to us all.

“Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences – all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey,” Rohr says.

Perhaps the reason that Jesus chose the failing Peter as “the rock,” is that he knew, like Rohr says, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” It takes a great deal of “Foundational trust” to fall and not fall apart. The failure or falling that produces growth is a falling “into something” much more beyond us, much bigger, much deeper than any of us.

If we start as disciples, knowing Christ (through following and confessing faith), then it is faith that holds us when we fall. “What a clever place to hide holiness,” Rohr says, in failure or falling, “so that only the humble and earnest will find it.”

Of course, Peter is a great example of this. He holds on to his faith even after he fails. He sticks with his faith family. The gospel of John relates a story that shows us how he held on. John 21:1-8

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

I don’t know what it is about Peter and water! His failure and his transformation both involve jumping in a lake! One time he sinks, next time he swims to Jesus. He didn’t let his failure cause him to give up.

Think about our own lives: How many times have we failed – at business, at relationships, in school. How did you respond?

I’m not perfect, but let me give you an example:

I left First UMC Huntsville, in 1996, because I was certain that God wanted me to get a Ph.D. in Pastoral Counseling and make my ministry full-time Pastoral Counseling. The best place to get that degree was Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, CA – Just outside LA. I tried. Belinda, one-and-half-year-old Frannie, and I moved all the way to Rancho Cucamonga, rented a house “sight unseen.”

I failed. Holding a job, being a husband and father (Alex came along the next year), taking classes, was just too much. After doing all I needed to do on campus, we moved to NC in 2000 so Belinda could serve in her home conference. I worked with Methodist Counseling in Charlotte. I kept trying.

We moved to Reform, AL in 2002 where I was appointed the Pastor at First UMC. After several attempts at a dissertation proposal, I quit.

I knew that God had called me to ministry – that was clear – I never stopped serving. I think I heard God wrong. There’s more to the story, but for 6 years, I met failure after failure.

I continue to try to follow God, sometimes “up”, sometimes “down.” I know first-hand what Richard Rohr means – “We grow much more spiritually by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”

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