A Future Together
part 1

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A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone and makeup.

As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious state trooper. The trooper ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a trooper approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting trooper was waiting with her personal effects.

He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, making rude gestures at the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday-School' bumper sticker, the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, and the chrome-plated Jesus fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally ... I assumed you had stolen the car."

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? This story reminds us that being a disciple is more than simply signing up for the right causes or taking a particular stance on issues and doctrines; being a disciple of Jesus means living out the teachings of Jesus.

Every Sunday we are sent out beneath a banner that reminds us of our mission: “Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others.” Let’s start talking about some practical efforts that would help us fulfill this mission. A few weeks ago, Charles Siburt started the conversation by describing what congregations similar to ours are doing to fulfill Christ’s mission. I’ve adapted that list and attempted to make these suggestions practical to our situation. I’ve also considered the biblical principles involved in each of these. So over the next few weeks, why don’t we study and converse about our Future Together as Disciples of Jesus.

We’ve got to begin by Raising the Bar. Following Jesus means something. As someone once said, “Christ takes us as we are, but he isn’t content to leave us like that.” If we are going to effectively “make disciples for Jesus,” then it is critical that we should “be disciples” of Jesus.

1. Maturing in Christ (Colossians 1:28) – When I was beginning my ministry as a campus minister at Arkansas Tech University, I searched for a way to describe what that ministry was about. After all, there were so many things that had to be done – preaching, teaching, evangelism, and fellowship. Was one more important than the others? I wondered if they all fit together somehow. Why spend time on fellowship if evangelism is more important. Why not spend every minute teaching? Then I paid attention to something that Paul wrote in Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”

There it was all together. The preaching, teaching, and encouraging had a goal: perfection in Christ. Not perfection as a flawless performance, but perfection as maturity. When Paul worked to “make disciples” he raised the bar high. His goal was to present disciples who grew up (matured) to be more like Christ.

The standard we should have then should be no less. Let’s strive with all the energy and resources that Christ gives us to present ourselves and one another as mature, Christ-like disciples. Let’s expect the best from one another. Let’s expect healthy, mature behavior from one another.

The letters of the New Testament were not written to perfect, flawless church communities. The writers did not sit down and write out ideal theories of how the church should work. Rather, the letters of the NT are written often to hurting, conflicted, troubled churches and the writers are inspired to apply the teachings of Christ to the situation at hand. [Think of Philippians which we just finished.] The writers of the NT always expect the best of these troubled churches. They raise the bar! In another letter to a very troubled church, Paul describes this as type of mature, healthy, Christ-like behavior as love ...

Read 1 Corinthians 13.

2. Acting Like Jesus. About 20 years ago, Paul Faulkner wrote a book called Making Things Right When Things Go Wrong. One of the ways of doing that is to “Act Better Than You Feel.” It sounds like hypocrisy at first, but Dr. Faulkner makes this distinction: A hypocrite is one who acts like that which he or she never intends to become. Acting better than we feel is growth. We act like that which we do intend to become.

I think the advice to act better than we feel is even more needed today. We should expect more from one another than the upper limit of our feelings. We may not feel like being polite. We may not feel like being kind. We may not feel like sharing. We may not feel like being responsible. We may not feel like being patient. But at best our feelings can only serve as an explanation for our behavior; never an excuse!

When we are stressed, angry, upset or in disagreement with others we especially need to act better than we feel. Being a disciple of Jesus means we might think or feel any number of ways, but we don’t act any way we want. We act like Jesus – which means as his disciples we will be patient, kind, not envious, not arrogant, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered.

3. Expect the Best and Think the Best of Others. You never know which Razorback basketball team is going to show up at the game – the good one or the not so good one. But despite their ups and downs, no one is seriously criticizing Coach John Pelphrey. Maybe that’s because he seems to consistently expect the best and makes no excuses. His high expectations make them a better team.

If we can expect a coach to expect the best of athletes, then we should certainly expect the best from one another as disciples. High expectation will make us better people. But is that really loving to expect so much? Paul described love as a virtue that “keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”

Raising the Bar and expecting the best from ourselves and others means practicing loving accountability. Love demands it.

Expecting the best from one another means we must also think the best about one another. Disciples of Jesus can put aside suspicion and mistrust.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 March 2008

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