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Make Disciples

June 12, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Holy Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28

 

I have to tell you that it is an absolute privilege that I get to be a pastor.  The honor and respect that you show me is truly humbling.  I know that most of you have a high regard for my seminary training, and the office that I as shepherd of this congregation.

I really value the education I received in seminary.  In some ways it was a very fruitful time, and I wouldn’t be the theologian I am today without it.  But, curiously, most of the education I got had little to do with the day-to-day work of a pastor.

I learned a lot about translating and interpreting the Scriptures. I learned biblical history and church history.  I learned a bit about preaching (but, honestly not that much).  I had one class on how to lead worship, one class on counseling, one class on the practical operations of the church.  I had zero classes on prayer.  Zero classes on evangelism.  Zero classes on how to teach.  Zero classes on identifying spiritual gifts or raising up leaders in the congregation.

And how many classes do you think I had on “making disciples?”

In fact, the idea of being or making a disciple was never really defined for me.  I have always known that the Great Commission is, well, super important.  But I always kind of understood it as Jesus’ command to share the gospel to the ends of the earth.  You know, a command to evangelize.

I still think that evangelism is an important part of the Great Commission – but I’ve come to learn that it isn’t even the main idea.  The Great Commission isn’t a bullet point for the church to add to its agenda.  It is His description of what the church is and does.  Everything that falls under this dictate is the function of the church.  Anything that is not is extraneous.

This may not be obvious right away, but probably because we haven’t done a very good job defining discipleship.  So, let’s start with simple definitions: A disciple is a follower… but not like a Twitter or Facebook follower.  It’s a student, an apprentice.  And when we’re talking about Disciples of Jesus, there is a pretty clear method for making them: Baptize them in the name of the Holy Trinity, and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.

Before we explore the method, let’s clarify something.  Jesus doesn’t tell us to make believers.  The Great Commission doesn’t really talk directly about giving people principles or philosophies to believe in.  He says to make disciples.

Consider for a moment: can you be a Christian and not be a disciple of Jesus?  Because we talk so little about being disciples, you might have an impulse to think these are separate things.  But I don’t think you can find any examples of it in the whole New Testament.  In fact, before they were first called Christians, the people of Christ called themselves Followers of the Way.  Followers – not “believers” – Followers.

See, following Jesus – that is living in obedience to His commands – always follows belief.  If you believe Jesus is who He claims to be and that the word He speaks is true, you will obey Him.  But obedience to Christ has to be taught.  It just doesn’t come naturally, no matter how much faith you have.

Jesus spent three years in intentional discipleship of others.  In the Gospels we have an inside view of what it looked like. He spent personal time.  He shared meals with them.  He helped them learn to pray.  He shared insights from God’s Word.  He was honest about things he saw in their life and in their heart – sometimes rebuking and offering forgiveness when it was needed.  He was a consistent presence in their life, and without that consistency the discipleship would not have had the same impact.

Now, why did Jesus take on those disciples?  Because He needed their help with His ministry?  Not really.  It was because He took an interest in building them up and helping them mature.  The goal, of course, was to get them to the point where they could make disciples as well.  They were the cornerstone of His church growth strategy.  If they weren’t fit to make disciples, then there wouldn’t be a church after He left.  The church is nothing more and nothing less than disciples of Jesus making disciples of Jesus.

A few years ago, I received a new call to Hope, and along with it a new title: “Associate Pastor of Outreach and Discipleship.”  I gladly accepted that call, but the title struck me as a little silly.  If you take “outreach and discipleship” away from the church, what’s left?  And what is the expectation of that call?  Am I to do the outreach and discipleship of this church… or am I charged with ensuring that this church is outreaching and discipling?

See, Jesus taught thousands.  He healed and served countless multitudes. He exemplified godliness to everyone He met.  But He had twelve Disciples.  Not thousands, or hundreds, or dozens.  He had twelve.

I cannot outperform Jesus.  I cannot disciple 300 people.  I can disciple less than a dozen.  I cannot reach out to all of the lost.  I can reach out to the people in my corner of the world.  The Great Commission is for everyone here, and if we aren’t all grabbing taking responsibility for our part, we are missing out on what Jesus is calling us to be.

I know that this stuff may sound daunting to some of us… but it really doesn’t need to be.  And I know some of us feel unqualified – but that’s fear talking.  Please, please, do not miss what I’m about to tell you…

You do not need a seminary degree to make disciples.  You do not need to be theologically sophisticated.  You do not need to be the most spiritual person you know.  You do not need to be perfect.  You just need to have a serious love for Jesus, and take an interest in people who are younger in their faith.

I think there is a weird thing in our culture that devalues experience and age.  And then on the flipside, there is a huge reluctance to self-identify as being spiritually mature – as if maturity is an unattainable goal that only comes about when we get to heaven.  That is not at all how the apostles talk about maturity.

Maturity means that you have a strong foundation in the faith and a solid grasp of the essentials: things like grace, salvation, repentance, prayer, and worship.  Unless every pastor you’ve had has utterly failed you, most of this congregation should be mature – not finished or perfect, but mature.  This isn’t a matter of pride, it’s a matter of responsibility.  If we’re all immature, then no one can accept the responsibilities of maturity.  No one can make disciples, and the Great Commission is lost on us.

But that isn’t us.  God has blessed this church with so many wise, godly, loving people.  And this Great Commission is for you.  This is the step He is calling us to take – a personal investment of time and love in each other’s lives.  A holy and intentional friendship with people who can benefit from what we’ve received in Christ.  Some of those people are here today.  Some of them haven’t been in a church in a long time – if ever.

These people need you.  They need your wisdom.  They need your experience.  They need your prayer and your encouragement.  They need you to follow Christ and they need your help to do the same.  You have the commission and Christ will be with you every step of the way.

By Pastor Michael Cofer Holy Trinity Sunday Matthew 28   I have to tell you that it is an absolute privilege that I get to be a pastor.  The honor and respect that you show me is truly humbling.  I know that most of you have a high regard for my seminary training, and the office that I as shepherd ...

Pentecost 2017

June 9, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2

 

Last year, the Olympics were in Rio.  Admittedly, I didn’t watch much of the games last year, but I usually like to.  It’s inspirational.  It’s exciting to root for your country.  It’s fun to celebrate the achievements of individual athletes and share stories around the water cooler like, “Did you see watch the archery match last night?” I mean honestly, most of us say a phrase like that every fourth year at best.

But, you know what my favorite thing about watching the games is?  Pretending I know anything about these sports.  I have the audacity to think – or even say out loud – “Oooo… He really should have tucked tighter to get a better rotation on that dive!”  It is ludicrous that I think I should look at the best athletes in the world and say, “You know what they should do different?”  But somehow I do with a perfectly straight face.  That’s the Olympic spirit of a couch potato for you.

You know, I think we can do this about church sometimes, too.  “You know what this church really needs?”  “You know what’s wrong with this church?”  “You know what this church is missing?”

Just like me watching the Olympics, the commentary probably has some merit, but lacks the thorough knowledge and insight that the real pros have.  I would dread having an Olympian basing their performance on my advice.

So, who is the expert that we should turn to? Who has the thorough and intimate knowledge of how a church should perform?  Who has the insight and foresight to cast a vision for the church of tomorrow?

Of course, it’s Jesus.  And on this day of Pentecost – the day that celebrates the explosive growth of the church and the unleashing of God’s gospel power on the whole world, why not look at Jesus’ strategy?

Are you ready for it? “Wait on the Holy Spirit.”  Got it!  We’ll do some grassroots, viral marketing and then… “No.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.”  Got it!  So we’ll start building a suitable worship space and… “No.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.”  And then?  “And then… it’ll happen.  You’ll do the right thing, and you’ll be amazed at yourself and the people around you.  You’ll… you know what?  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  For now, wait on the Holy Spirit.”

But what if he doesn’t show up?  “Have I ever broken a promise?” No… but… “But nothing.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.”

Can you imagine what sort of mess the disciples would have made of things if they hadn’t waited on the Holy Spirit’s power? At best, their efforts would have been futile.  At worst, they might have been successful but made it into something completely different than Jesus intended.

Sadly, this is true for many churches today.  In his book, “Radical,” David Platt wrote, “I am most concerned [that]… I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if any power from God… God’s power is at best an add-on to our strategies.  I’m frightened by the reality that the church I lead can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent from the picture.”

What about Hope?  How much do we rely on the Holy Spirit in how we do church?  Not just by way of a theological footnote where we acknowledge his work after the fact, or just assume that he comes alongside whatever our plans are.  How much of doing and being church are we trying to do under our own strength and wisdom and how much are we depending on Him?

I think this is part of why they were told to wait on the Holy Spirit.  The Pentecost experience could have happened the moment Jesus ascended into heaven.  But God chose to wait over a week.  Why? Because God needed to establish for the apostles that the church He was building was His work.  They had to learn that they are not in control of it.  They needed to learn that God often has plans that He doesn’t reveal to us ahead of time.  They needed to experience the difference between life with and without the Spirit’s power.  They needed to see that the Holy Spirit is way, way out of their control… and that that’s a very good thing.

In 2,000 years, very little has actually changed – and God hasn’t changed at all.  This is still His church.  It is still out of our control and in His hands.  The Holy Spirit is every bit as surprising, powerful, and in charge as He has ever been.

If we’re feeling tired, lost, or confused then it’s time to refocus on Him.  Because God is not tired, lost, or confused.  It may be that we’ve been trying to run on our own steam – which only works for a little while.

I know that waiting isn’t fun.  It isn’t a great battle cry.  It isn’t inspirational.  But it is one of the constant refrains throughout scripture. God wants us to give in to Him.  He wants us looking to Him, and depending on Him.  This stresses control freaks straight out, but there’s no getting around it.  Without the Holy Spirit’s power and leading we cannot be God’s church.

But when He empowers us, when we wait on Him to lead us, the picture is incredible.  He shows up in supernatural power and does amazing things through regular, humble people.  When we think about the apostles, it’s easy to think of them as these elite exemplars of faith and piety.  But that isn’t how the Bible describes them.  They were common, thickheaded, flighty, and fearful regular Joes… except when the Spirit comes on them in power.  And then they do the kinds of things that Jesus did.

Why shouldn’t that be us?  If God hasn’t changed, if the apostles were regular folks, if God’s mission is still the same, if human needs are still the same… Should we be expecting something other than what God was doing back then?  Should we be pursuing our plans, relying on our power, seeking human wisdom… Or should we wait faithfully for the Holy Spirit’s power, and then move how He leads?

To get there, we’re going to have to grow in our prayer life.  We’re going to have to become more expectant and more patient.  We’re going to have to learn to set aside our plans and preferences and really learn to listen to God’s leading.  And when He shows up in power, and only when, we’ll be ready to move.

By Pastor Michael Cofer The Day of Pentecost Acts 2   Last year, the Olympics were in Rio.  Admittedly, I didn’t watch much of the games last year, but I usually like to.  It’s inspirational.  It’s exciting to root for your country.  It’s fun to celebrate the achievements of individual athletes and share stories around the water cooler like, ...

If You Love Me

May 27, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Sixth Sunday of Easter
John 14:15-21

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, it’s a good time to refocus on what makes us Lutheran. It’s not pipe organs or candles or steeples.  It’s not polka, it’s not lederhosen.  It is the absolute, unwavering belief that you are saved by God’s grace alone.

This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful, most liberating, most hope-filled doctrine any church could ever proclaim.  When the doctrine of God’s grace really penetrates your heart and dominates your mind, your love for Christ will grow and grow and grow.  It’s exactly as Jesus taught: He who is forgiven much, loves much.

So, consequently, we also put no small effort into demonstrating, recognizing, and confessing our sinfulness.  After all, what is grace for a person without sin?  We take it as a given that everyone is a sinner… That’s not being judgmental; it’s just being realistic. And it just means that everyone (ourselves included) starts in a position of needing God’s grace – grace which He freely gives.

These foundational beliefs – our sinfulness and God’s grace in Christ – are the core of Christianity… and the clear teaching about them is one of the great gifts that Lutheranism has given to the Christian Church.

And while these are the most precious truths I know, I’d be remiss if I led you to believe that it’s all you need to know.  Unfortunately, I think we might emphasize them so much that we think this is the whole story – a closed loop of sin, grace, sin again, and grace again.  In such a story, who loves whom?

To be honest, it’s fairly easy to talk about Jesus’ love.  It’s endless, it’s unconditional, it reaches the unlovable.  It is clearly demonstrated in Christ’s life, and even moreso in his death.  And as a poor, miserable sinner, I know how much I need that love and how much I don’t deserve it.

But it’s a mistake to think that we’re meant to have a one-way relationship with Jesus.  We aren’t meant to simply be loved by him, but we are meant to love him back.

You’ve probably heard the term “cheap grace,” used before, and even if not, you can guess that it’s not a good thing.  The most obvious version of “cheap grace,” is the person who says, “It’s okay if I sin; Jesus will forgive me.”  And sure, that is an example of taking grace for granted…. But I’d like to offer a bit of a broader picture of cheap grace: if your relationship with Jesus is all about what you get out of it, then you have been living on cheap grace.

Sadly, there are a lot of people that, whether they admit it or not, are looking for a one-way relationship with Jesus.  They want to be loved, they want to be fed, they want to be welcomed… but they give little or no thought to being the ones lovingfeeding, and welcoming. On the other hand, how many of those people would say they “love Jesus?”

Well intentioned churches just like ours have contributed to this problem.  For a long time we’ve tried to market Christianity as easy and accessible.  We’ve talked about Jesus’ love for us, and have left the topic of loving Jesus a little open-ended…

Last week we read Jesus say to us, “I’ll do anything you ask of me.”  And that sounds really good.  This week we read Jesus say, “If you love me, you’ll do what I ask of you.”  And that sounds… harsh? Not at all!  He’s just bringing into focus that a relationship with Him is a two-way street.  Loving and being loved.  Serving and being served.  Hearing, and being heard.

The reality is, you can’t separate Loving and Obeying Jesus. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that if you carry out Christ’s commands, but you don’t have love, you accomplish nothing. But here, in John 14, Jesus shows us that loving Jesus isn’t just about how we feel about Him.  Loving Jesus means obeying Him.

We aren’t talking about earning Jesus’ love for us. We’re talking about our love for Him. That doesn’t mean we should start obsessing about much or little we think we’re loving or obeying Jesus.  That won’t produce anything in us except pride or despair.  Rather, we have to start looking through Jesus’ eyes and responding to His heart to the people around us.

A curious thing happens when we do this… We begin to see Him more clearly, more regularly, more vividly.  We become more sensitive to what His Spirit is saying and doing in us.  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Think about that for a minute…. Are you hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus?   Do you want to know Jesus more and more?  Do you want to see Jesus manifest in your life?  The key is in obedience to Him.

Now, this is not an invitation to become rigid and law-oriented.  By no means is Jesus looking to make more Pharisees.  And that’s why He’s so clear that it’s His commandments that He wants us to obey.

Jesus spends an awful lot of teaching time in clearing away commandments that man added to God’s law.  Not that he was making obedience easier – in fact, He revealed that obedience to God is much harder than people thought.  Not only are your actions subject to judgment, so are your thoughts and feelings.  The righteousness that God desires is in the heart… but what is in the heart will show forth in actions.

So what are the commandments that Jesus gave?  Love God.  Love one another.  Consider others ahead of yourself. Forgive one another. Trust in God.  Follow Jesus.

That’s what a life of loving Jesus looks like.  It isn’t about “What Jesus can do for me?” It’s about “What can I do with all this love Jesus has given to me?”  And as we pursue the answer to that question, Jesus promises to be with us, to manifest in us, to guide us by His Spirit.

To become the church that God is calling us to be, we can’t just be grace consumers.  We are called to be the channels by which His love impacts the world.  We are called to love Jesus back.

By Pastor Michael Cofer Sixth Sunday of Easter John 14:15-21 As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, it’s a good time to refocus on what makes us Lutheran. It’s not pipe organs or candles or steeples.  It’s not polka, it’s not lederhosen.  It is the absolute, unwavering belief that you are saved by God’s grace alone. This is, without a doubt, ...

You can find a full listing of our sermons on the sermon archive.