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Message Notes: Devoted – Apprentice

Devoted

Week 1: Apprentice

Pastor Rick Henderson                December 31, 2023


Tomorrow is 2024. That’s insane! I hope there are some good things you are looking forward to this year. A big one for me is that Heather and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage this year. Realizing that makes me want to ask, “Where does the time go?” Does anyone else feel like life is short?

Maybe life is short, and maybe it isn’t. It is the longest thing we do. So, let’s have a great one. I want to live the best life for me that I can have and so do you. Would you let this blow your socks off? The God of the universe, the one who designed quantum physics and the power of laughter, the one who spoke it all into existence and holds it all together without breaking a sweat—he is personally invested in you having the best life.

JOHN 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This is Jesus describing the point of why he showed up and moved toward our messes. He wants you and he wants me to have life all the way to the full. Even if you aren’t sure where you stand with Jesus and what you think about all this religion stuff, would you let yourself feel the weight of how profound that is. At the heart of the gospel is the realization that God in Christ would rather die than for you not to live life all the way to the full.

So, why don’t we?!

There is a saying in the business world and among leadership experts that goes something like this.

Your system is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting.

I’m convinced this is true. And it’s not just helpful in business and leadership endeavors. This is wisdom for all of life. Maybe it will help to tweak it slightly so that you can see what I mean.

Your system (approach to life) is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting.

If you don’t like the results you are currently getting, maybe it’s time to change the approach. Pick anything.

  • If you don’t like the way the division of labor works in your house—you can change your system or approach.
  • If you don’t like the results you’re getting with how you handle money—you can change your system or approach.
  • If you don’t like the results you’re getting with dating—you can change your system or approach.
  • If you don’t like the results of how you’re handling your health—you can change your system or approach.
  • If you don’t like the results of how you’re handling stress or conflict—you can change your system or approach.

If you received an invitation to this new message series during our Christmas Eve services, you might remember a question that was printed on the card. The question was, “In ten years, would you want to hang out with the person you are becoming?” The approach that we are taking to life right now, is only going to result in you and me being even more like we are in 10 years’ time. The character and habits and all the things that are forming you and me right now will only be that much more pronounced a decade from now.

And I hope that you have much more than a decade. Decades from now, what will this result in? Are you a fan of who you are becoming? These are questions that I ask myself. Would I want my son to be like the man I’m becoming? Would I want my daughter to marry a man like the one I’m becoming? What we’re talking about is thinking about our approach to life with the end in mind. If any of you are fans of C.S. Lewis, like me, you might be thinking about the same thing I’ve been thinking about.

Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. –C.S. Lewis

This is why a word like repentance should never be thought of as a bad word. Repentance is a corollary of progress. Maybe New Year’s resolutions are just repentance, but with different branding.

The way to become even more like we currently are is to keep going in the same direction. Keep that same system or approach. On the other hand, the only way to NOT become more like we currently are is to stop and change direction. After all, our system, and our approach to life, is perfectly designed to get the results we are currently getting.

This is why you are very likely to see me at the RAC over the next few days. I need to change my system. The real question is, will you see me there over the next few months?

This new series that we are kicking off today is not a New Year’s resolution series. And it’s probably not a repentance series, either. It’s a series about life, about what we’re doing with it, about what you and I are becoming.

I’m feeling ambitious this morning and I want you to find 2 passages that we will read together.

MATTHEW 7

1 CORINTHIANS 3

Whether you’re holding the Bible in book form or using your phone—both are great. Matthew is the first book in the New Testament and 1 Corinthians is the seventh: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians. We are going to start with Matthew 7:24. This is how Jesus ended his most famous sermon ever. This is the conclusion to what’s called, the Sermon on the Mount.

MATTHEW 7:24-29 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

OBSERVATIONS:

  • The wise man and the foolish man shared the same good intentions.

They both wanted a home, which Jesus used to represent their lives.

  • The wise man and the foolish man were identical in behavior.

If all you did was watch these guys build their homes, it would be very, very difficult to tell them apart. It’s even possible that you would admire them both.

  • The wise man and the foolish man were equally exposed to a storm, but not equally vulnerable to it.

Real quick, let me remind us of something. Following Jesus is not a bypass to suffering and hardship. Please don’t tolerate for a second anyone who wants to manipulate you into believing that devotion to Jesus should make you immune to big hurts in life. That’s not what the gospel is about.

How could these two guys be so similar at the start, but so different in the end? It’s not hard to see the genius of Jesus. Everything rises and falls on our foundation, on what our approach to life is based on. Sometimes the only options we have are binary. Our approach to life and what we build that approach on, is either on a rock-solid foundation or it isn’t. There is no middle ground between rock solid and not rock solid. There is no middle ground between wise and foolish. Which person are you, wise or foolish?

Again, this is how genius Jesus is. He knows how vulnerable we are to overestimating ourselves. That’s why we are going to read what he said right before this. This is shockingly disruptive. Look at verse 21 and buckle up.

MATTHEW 7:21-23“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

OBSERVATIONS:

  • These people had right beliefs.

They shared religious truth, and they did it in Jesus’ name.

  • These people had right behaviors.

I don’t know how to explain that they drove out demons and performed miracles, but they did. That’s good stuff. They had stuff in their life that seemed to validate their self-confidence.

  • These people were not known by Jesus.

That’s the whole point. Do we know him, and does he know us? It was after dropping this bomb that Jesus told the parable of the wise man who built on the rock and the foolish man who didn’t. Knowing him is what’s most important. It’s worthless to talk about what we do or what we know—it’s an utter waste of time to start with anything else other than whether our life is built on knowing and being known by him. What Jesus is talking about is not religious. It’s utterly and exquisitely relational. What kind of relationship should that be? Hold on to that. We’ll come back to it in a bit.

There’s one more passage that I want us to read. This was written by the Apostle Paul to a church full of people who were on the struggle bus. This was a church full of people who looked far more like what was common in their culture than they looked like Jesus. Something had gone terribly wrong in their relationships with Jesus. I want you to notice the similarities in what he wrote and what Jesus said.

1 CORINTHIANS 3:11-15 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

The Apostle Paul is no less shockingly disruptive than Jesus. Like Jesus, he used imagery-rich language. Gold and silver represent the Jesus-like stuff that we do with our lives. Wood and straw represent the non-Jesus-like stuff we do with our lives. Here it is. There will be folks, when it is all said and done, they knew Jesus and Jesus knew them, but they will have nothing to show for their lives. There will be folks, maybe even some of us, who, at the end of it all, will only have regret and the realization that their approach was all wrong.

This is going to be a recurring theme in this series.

SERIES THESIS: Maturity is possible, but it’s not INEVITABLE.

Do you know people who get older but don’t get better? Don’t point. That’s rude. Time and maturity should go together, and they can go together, but it’s not automatic. I really believe that this should be both sobering and inspiring.

We should be sobered by the realization that our approach could be wrong. We should be inspired to truly understand Jesus because his purpose is to ensure that we have life to the full. With this in view and all that we’ve read, I want to share with you some approaches to the Christian life that we need to think critically and carefully about.

RIGHT BELIEFS + RIGHT BEHAVIOR

Depending on your denominational or church background, you might feel like more energy was placed in one vs. the other. There are churches that provide a heavy dose of doctrine and Bible study. They’re not only that, but that’s the largest part of who they are. Then there are churches that focus mostly on the practical aspects of the gospel and emphasize lifestyle choices. Churches who emphasize this [Right Beliefs] tend to judge the churches that emphasize this [Right Behaviors]. And these churches [Right Behaviors] judge them [Right Beliefs] right back.

Message Notes: Devoted - Apprentice

But there’s another approach where right beliefs and right behavior overlap; according to this system, that’s where discipleship happens, or that’s where spiritual formation happens. According to this way of thinking, as you acquire the right beliefs and align with the right behaviors, you will experience maturity.

This approach to life with Jesus has been very, very popular in American evangelical churches. Let me tell you what this approach will get you. It will produce folks who are brilliant, orthodox, respectable, and successful. Those descriptors: brilliant, orthodox, respectable, successful are true of churches, ministries, leaders, and individuals.

The problem is that this is not the approach to spiritual formation, maturity, or a full life that Jesus intends for us. If you are feeling disrupted right now, hang with me and listen closely to what I say next. Right beliefs are massively important. Bible study and doctrine are massively important. Additionally, the choices we make, living a life of wisdom and obedience to Jesus, are massively important.

I’m not saying these things aren’t good and vital. What I’m saying is that this is not the approach to life that Jesus intended for us. This approach is not how we mature. Just like the people to whom Jesus was speaking, just like the congregation to whom the Apostle Paul wrote—we can get confused.

¹ MATURITY:

  • Time + Church Attendance
  • Time + Bible Study
  • Time + Trying Harder
  • Time + Church Attendance + Bible Study + Trying Harder

I’m not suggesting that these should be removed from the Christian life. Rather, life with Jesus cannot be reduced to these things.

On Jesus’ last night of freedom, he asked his disciples to pray with him. John was very close to Jesus. He wrote down what Jesus talked about that night. John even wrote down what he heard Jesus pray. I’m going to put it on the screen. I want you to imagine hearing Jesus pray these words.

JOHN 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

What is eternal life? What is this full life that Jesus came to give? What is it all about? It’s to know him. Like I said before, this is utterly and exquisitely relational. Based on what Jesus said and based on what the Apostle Paul wrote—we are vulnerable to missing it. I get it; no one wants to be told their approach to life is wrong and wobbly. If we don’t understand the relationship that Jesus intends for us, our life will be wrong and wobbly, and it will come crashing down.

QUESTION: What kind of relationship should we have with Jesus?

What was Jesus’ daddy’s job? Carpenter. I don’t know how much Jesus worked in the family business, but he had a very different career. Do you know what it was? He was a rabbi. Becoming a rabbi was beyond prestigious. And it wasn’t easy.

Education for Jewish children began at 5 years old. Their school was called Bet Sefer, which means house of the book. By the time they were 12 or 13, kids would have the entire Torah memorized: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Most kids were done after that. The very best students were then invited to bet midrash, which means house of learning. Over the next five years, they would memorize the rest of the Old Testament. Could you imagine?

Most students didn’t even make it to bet midrash. But after that, almost everybody is done. But for those students who were the best of the best of the best, they could ask to be the apprentice of a rabbi. And if they survived the rigorous interview and examination from a rabbi, that rabbi would say to them, “Come, follow me.”

There is a book that I want to encourage you to get.

Message Notes: Devoted - Apprentice

It’s called Practicing the Way. It will be available in a couple of weeks. Some of the pastors have been privileged to have an advance copy. I love how the author presents what it means to follow Jesus. His name is John Mark Comer, and I’m in his debt. I do kind of hate him a little bit. Do you know what it’s like when someone can effortlessly and clearly say what you’ve been trying to say—and they say it so much better than you? That’s this guy.

Listen to how he illuminates this rabbi and apprentice relationship.

Now, let’s say that you were one of the lucky few who became an apprentice to a rabbi. From that day on, your entire life was organized around three driving goals: 1) To be with your rabbi…2) To become like your rabbi…3) To do as your rabbi did. This is what it meant to be a disciple. This is what it still means to be a disciple. –John Mark Comer

I want you to think about how Jesus acquired disciples and who he invited. There were no rigorous interviews with only the best of the best. His disciples were men and women, and they weren’t star students. What’s astounding about Jesus is that he kept the rabbi—apprentice relationship, and he opened it to everyone.

QUESTION: What kind of relationship should we have with Jesus?

So, what’s the answer to our question?

ANSWER: He is the rabbi (master), and we are his apprentices.

Be with him. Become like him. Do as he did. This is a deeply personal, intensely intimate relationship.

Our mission statement describes the purpose of our church.

ARC MISSION: We exist to lead people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus.

What does that mean exactly? We’ve summarized it with three words: authority, identity, and activity. We want to keep that and fold in even greater clarity that starts with being with our rabbi, becoming like our rabbi, and doing as our rabbi did.

FULLY DEVOTED

  • Authority: I find joy in being with Jesus, submitting to him, and following his way.
  • Identity: I find joy in defining myself by what Jesus did, and I want to become more like him.
  • Activity: I find joy in doing as Jesus did and loving others the way he loved me.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to explore this way of Jesus. The destination is that we look him, that we reflect him. This is what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus. He is the master, and we are his apprentices. This is maturity. This life to the full.

There is an old Jewish expression that speaks to the heart of the relationship between a rabbi and an apprentice. Maybe you’ve heard it before, “Covered in the dust of my rabbi.” It probably comes from a rabbi who lived 200 years before Jesus.

Let thy house be a meeting-house for the wise; and powder thyself in the dust of their feet; and drink their words with thirstiness. –Yose ben Yoezer

Over time that evolved into, “Covered in the dust of my rabbi.” When you walk close enough and when you sit close enough, the dust they kick up will fall on you. When we are with Jesus, people should be able to tell by what they observe in us, on us, with us.

So, what do you say? Let’s walk together and be covered in the dust of our rabbi.