The Rev’d Dr John Stott died in 2012 after a public ministry that lasted more than 60 years. In 2005, Time magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world. He wrote over 50 books. He wrote his last book at the age of 88 (two years before he died) titled The Radical Disciple. Stott asserts that the main reason he wrote the book was that we who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus will not provoke him to say again: ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46). For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship (p.16). Basic to all Christian discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles, but to follow his teaching and obey his commands. Stott makes an interesting point in the preface of Radical Disciple: Both words (Christian and disciple) imply a relationship with Jesus, although perhaps ‘disciple’ is the stronger of the two because it inevitably implies the relationship of pupil to teacher. The title 'Christian' means a whole range of things in our culture. The title 'disciple of the Lord Jesus' is somewhat more specific.
The final characteristic of the radical disciple of the Lord Jesus that Stott deals with in his book is death. He writes: Christianity offers life - eternal life, life to the full. But it makes it plain that the road to life is death…Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life…The radical biblical perspective is to see death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life…In short, the Bible promises life through death, and it promises life on no other terms (p115, 117).
The paradox of life through death has profound implications for the life of discipleship. Jesus himself puts it bluntly: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35).
If we had lived under Roman occupation in Palestine and seen someone carrying a cross we’d know immediately they were a condemned criminal on the way to execution. This is the dramatic image Jesus chose to help his disciples understand the level of commitment Jesus expects. Jesus expects his disciples to deny themselves. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” What is more, according to Luke we are to take up our cross every day (Luke 9:23), and if do not do so we cannot be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:27).
Jesus’ words about ‘saving’ and ‘losing’ our ‘life’, although can be applied to martyrdom, are not restricted to it. The word ‘Life’ = SELF. So a way to paraphrase Jesus would be, whoever is determined to hold onto themselves and live for themselves, will lose themselves. But whoever is willing to die, to lose themselves, to give themselves away in the service of Christ and the gospel, will (in the moment of complete abandon) find themselves, and discover their true identity and deepest satisfaction and joy. Jesus promises true self-discovery at the cost of self-denial; true life at the cost of death.
I look forward to this time each year at St Paul’s, our annual Vision series. It is a time when I call us as a church, and myself, to ‘die a little more’ in order to live a little more. It is time to give up some more…surrender some more…commit to Jesus some more...obey Jesus some more...and find more freedom and joy in Jesus as we do. It is explicit in our church's mission statement: Know Jesus, Treasure Jesus and Represent Jesus for God's glory and the joy of all people. When we make much of Jesus for the glory of God we discover our deepest joy.
This is the 8th Vision series I’ll be leading us through at St Paul’s. Way back in 2009 I launched Vision 2020, the next phase in the over 100 year history of ministry at St Paul’s. In launching Vision 2020, my intention was to lead us into a new era of significant personal sacrifice for the glory of God in our area. My call then is the same today: may we tremble, not with fear that it will cost so much to achieve Vision 2020, but with fear that God will be displeased that we did not aim at something greater. May we tremble not that the price is too high but that the Vision be too small. Our purpose statement and our core values at St Paul’s call us to be radical disciples of the Lord Jesus.
In the years since 2009 quite a lot of attention has been on our purpose statement, and our Core Values, as we have gone through the process of rediscovering who we are as a church and disciples of the Lord Jesus. The consistent message from the leadership of St Paul’s is that Jesus is the greatest treasure anyone could have.
What excites me for this Vision series is that this journey of rediscovery of purpose has led to clarity on what we are to do. That is, knowing what we are to do is a consequence of who we are. For the past 18 months or so I’ve had a secret concern that we needed to have a clear vision of what we are seeking to do as a church. Purpose and values were clear but where was it leading us? What are we seeking to do as a church? What is the vision of a better future that would keep us moving forward and see people treasuring Jesus with us? This Vision series I will be taking us through a vision that will shape our ministry practices into the foreseeable future.
When I launched Vision 2020 back in 2009 it included a vision statement (along with a new purpose, core vales and strategies). I jettisoned the vision statement almost as soon as the ink was dry! It is still in print around the place but it has never shaped our planning for the future. Seven years later it would seem our vision has found us. In July this year a small group of our leadership were away, working on what is next for us as a church, when our vision for the future became clearer. Since July I have been refining the core concepts of our vision with Parish Council, Staff and a few other leaders in order to bring it before the whole church this Vision series. These past months of discussion has led us to the following:
St Paul’s exists (Purpose): To know Jesus, treasure Jesus, and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people…THEREFORE…
(Vision) we are united in our desperation for the world around us to encounter Jesus, and our desire to represent the diversity of Chatswood.
Over the four weeks of this year’s Vision series I plan to preach on four key implications of this visions statement; what it means for our unity, our diversity, the world around us, and for us both individually and corporately. I’m excited about this vision because it so clearly flows out of who we are, and connects with so many of our passions and values as a church.
Seeking to die to self a little more this Vision series,
Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister