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I have a confession to make.  I’m a bit of a nerd. Within the last couple of years, I started playing pickleball (think tennis but with less running and ping pong but with more running).  Pickleball isn’t the coolest sport out there but that isn’t what makes me a nerd.  It’s the research.  I love researching new topics.  For me, a big part of the fun of the new hobby is researching tactics and strategies and how to’s.  I want to know what’s going on and I want to know the best strategies.  I’m not content to go out and just try and figure things out on the fly.  Knowing the game better helps me when I play.  But that knowledge is rather pointless if I don’t then go out and practice what I had studied.  Getting better at a new sport takes time.  While I can certainly accelerate my growth as a player by studying and practicing the game, becoming a good player really is a journey.  And that journey really doesn’t end until my body can no longer do the things it needs to do.

Being a Christian is kind of like practicing sports; only on an infinitely more important level.  When a person repents of their sins, believes in Jesus, and submits to Jesus as Lord of their lives they instantly become a disciple of Jesus Christ.  The Greek word for disciple is “mathetes” and it is used in some form or the other 294 times in the New Testament and it means “learn” and in context could mean something more like “apprentice”.   So, a disciple is one who apprentices under Jesus.  It gets better though.  We aren’t just apprentices; we are adopted sons and daughters of the king. (Ephesians 1:5), we are we are given citizenship into His kingdom, and we are made ambassadors of God on this earth. So, when we go about our day to day lives, we walk around this world with the knowledge that we are literally part of Gods family, that we share those familial ties with other Christians because of the work that Jesus has done, that our citizenship lies in God’s kingdom and not this worlds, and that we are to be ambassadors of God to other Christians and the lost in this world.

That is who we are.  But what are we supposed to “do” with that knowledge?  What purpose does our identity give us?  If I say that I am a pickleballer (probably not a word), then I must play pickleball.  Likewise, as Christians, if we are apprentices under Jesus, we must be learning under Jesus.  Paul wrote this in his letter to the Philippian church, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)  To Paul, knowing Jesus as his Lord is everything.   This knowledge of Christ is an experiential knowledge.  Paul knew who Jesus was he lived his life in humble submission to Jesus.  For Paul, knowing Jesus was a journey.  While we are immediately made God’s children at the point of salvation, we are also being conformed to His image throughout our lives.  There is no stopping point in our journey on earth.  There is no “arriving”, God is infinite and there is always something that we can be learning.  There are always opportunities to experience Him in new and deeper ways.  The joy that we receive in knowing God has no limit.  So, being a disciple is something that we grow in throughout our lives. 

In researching the game of pickleball, I discovered some drills that a player can do alone.  There is some training that can be done that improves skill without needing another player.  However, there is a limit to how much a player can improve their game by playing alone.  And like pickleball, Christianity isn’t meant to be a life for loners.  I don’t want to diminish personal growth and personal spiritual disciplines.  Those are important and perhaps I will write a blog on personal disciplines at some point.  But for now, I want to focus on the corporate aspect of our growth in Christ.  We need each other.  We are made to be in fellowship with each other and to exhort, encourage, and even rebuke each other when necessary.  Hebrews 3:12-14 says this, “12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”  God uses other believers to help to keep our hearts from being hardened by sin.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian during the World War II era and he had a lot to say about discipleship and community.  In his book Life Together, he wrote: “But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother’s is sure. (Life Together, 11–12)  I love that last sentence.  If you are a Christian, you always have Jesus.  You always have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of you.  But sometimes, when we are in trouble, when we are down, when we are struggling, our faith waivers.  Sin can cloud our judgment and our beliefs.  Our clarity of who Jesus is and what He has done gets a little blurry.  In those times, we need our brother or sister in Christ to share with us the truths of Jesus.  We sometimes need the confidence and conviction of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We need people that have been through the storm and come out of it with their faith made stronger to encourage us while we are in the storm.  We need brothers and sisters in Christ who are walking faithfully to smack us upside the head when our hearts start to stray from Jesus.  When our “own heart is uncertain;” our “brother’s is sure.” 

At Lone Jack Baptist Church we are a local expression of the universal church.  When we commit to a local church like LJBC we are making a commitment to walk together in worshipping and serving God.  When we join a local church, we are committing to walking with each other in our pursuit to glorify God. I don’t think that is something we should take lightly.  That is a big commitment.  God gave each of us gifts to use in the body of our local congregation and He gave each of us the ability to help each other to grow in Him.   

In order to encourage growth in Jesus in our community at LJBC, we need to continue growing in our knowledge of God, in our experience of God, and in our relationships with each other and the surrounding community.  Basically, we need to continuing growing in our love for God and our love for our neighbors. (Matthew 22:36-40).  That is our filter as we look to grow in discipleship at LJBC.  Answering the question, “How can we help to promote growth in our love for God that spills out in a love for each believer in our local church and for our neighbors in the surrounding community?” is a vital question for each church to answer.  At Lone Jack, we believe that there is no silver bullet. There is no one thing that magically creates a perfect utopia of growth and unity and encouragement.  Life is messy and the work of God in our lives cannot be manipulated or forced.  As much as we might want to, we can’t map out and program everything in our lives.  God’s plans for our lives are hidden and we walk each day in faith.   

But we can encourage and provide some structure that helps to promote growth and family.  We gather together each Sunday morning to join our voices in prayer and worship to God.  We praise and glorify Him as a family each Sunday.  Pastor Jerry stands before us each Sunday and says, “thus saith the Lord.”  We hear God’s Word taught and we grow in our knowledge of God as the Holy Spirit uses the word of God to convict us and to conform us into the likeness of Christ.   We can also encourage growth in our love for God and our neighbor outside of the Sunday morning worship.  Classes help to give us more knowledge of who God is, what He has done for us, and how we are to live in light of who God is and what He has done.  They also promote growth in relationships.  When we engage in small talk and when we pray for each other, our relationships and love for each other grows.  Our small groups help to facilitate that growth as well.  When we gather together in each other’s houses, we should be reminded that we are family.  When we play together, laugh together, share our stories together, and process through a Biblical lesson together, our hearts grow in love for God and in love for each other even more.  When we see each other outside of the church building and when we see each other outside of Sunday mornings, we are opening up our lives and growing more into being the family that we already are.  Processing through a sermon or through a biblical text in a group is valuable.  We get to hear how God is working in someone else’s life and we get to hear perhaps an application of the text that we hadn’t heard or thought of.  Each believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of them and each believer has something to offer to other believers.   

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lifelong journey.  God made us to go through that journey together.  There are times that we will need encouraged and carried forward and there are times that we will need to encourage and carry others forward.  We need each other and if you are not in a class or a small group (or even both!) then I’d like to encourage you to participate in one.  We currently have a few different classes and a few different small groups that meet and we will be adding some new options over the coming months.  If you are interested, let me know and I will help you get plugged in.