By Fylvia Fowler Kline, Assistant Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: A life of excellence has nothing to do with appearance, financial status, education, physical strength, or pedigree. Excellence is an attitude, a way of thinking that pleases God. A lifestyle of discipleship strives at excellence.
In the same way, any of you who do not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. —Luke 14:33
He was a well-known teacher, a great scholar. To have been in his class was an honor. To be called his student was a privilege. Once someone asked the teacher Do you remember Mr. So and So? He tells me he was one of your students.
He thought for a moment and responded I had no student by that name.
Are you sure?
I am certain. I remember all my students. There are many who sit in my class, listen to my lectures, even pass my class with excellent grades. But only a few are my students.
There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. The same is true with Christians. There is a world of difference between a follower of Jesus and a disciple of Jesus. To be a mere follower is easy. There are a lot of followers in this world. Some follow close enough to see a shadow of Jesus ahead of them. Some follow from a comfortable distance--they cannot quite see Jesus from where they are, but they’re content in the knowledge that He is there. Followers believe in Jesus. Followers want everything they can get from God, but they hesitate to give of themselves. The thought of giving makes them stop in their tracks and fall back even more. What will you be for God? A follower or a disciple?
Disciples endure stormy weather
In the initial stages of discipleship you get stormy weather, then you lose the nightmare of your own separate individuality and become part of the personality of Christ, and the thought of yourself never bothers you anymore because you are taken up with your relationship to God.--Oswald Chambers.
When he was 13 years old, John Harper received Jesus as lord of his life. He began to preach, four years later, at the ripe old age of 17. Down the streets of his village he walked, pouring out his soul, entreating all to be reconciled to God. When asked what his doctrine consisted of, he was known to reply The Word of God!
Soon after their daughter Nana was born, Harper’s wife died. The night of April 14, 1912, Harper and his little girl were aboard the RMS Titanic, the world’s largest man-made moveable object. At 11:40 pm on that fateful night, an iceberg scraped the ship’s starboard side, showering the decks with ice and ripping open six watertight compartments. As soon as it was apparent that the ship was going to sink, John Harper immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat. He too could have easily gotten on board this boat to safety; however, it never seems to have crossed his mind. He bent down and kissing his precious little girl, told her that she would see him again someday. The flares going off in the dark sky above reflected the tears on his face as he turned and headed towards the crowd of desperate humanity on the sinking ocean liner, yelling, Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats! It was only minutes before the ship broke in half, and 1528 people went into the frigid waters. John Harper was seen swimming frantically to people. He swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris. He asked him between breaths, Are you saved? The young man replied that he was not. Harper then tried to lead him to Christ, only to have the young man who was near shock, reply No. John Harper then took off his life jacket and threw it to the man and said, Here then, you need this more than I do. Harper tried to swim back to help other people, yet, because of the intense cold, grew too weak to swim. His last words before going under in the frigid waters were: Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved--The Titanic’s Last Hero, Moody Press, 1997.
God’s steward leads a life of discipleship. Do you trust God enough to face the storms of your life? Can you look at adversity and say, Lord, if this is the cross I need to bear today, I will because I love you.
Disciples pay with their lives
While Jesus ministered to people on earth, He had many followers. People followed Him in throngs. You remember reading about 5000 people who followed Him just to hear him preach. Many followed Him, but only a handful were disciples. Only His disciples took on the responsibility to spread God’s word. And what did the commitment of discipleship cost them? What happened to the first 12 disciples? James the brother of Jesus was killed by mobs in Jerusalem. And so was James the son of Zebedee. Matthew was slain with a sword; Philip was hanged; Bartholomew was flayed alive; Andrew, Simon, and Peter were crucified; Thomas was run through with a lance; Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows; Matthias was beheaded.
Mother Teresa said Love, to be real, must cost. It must hurt. It must empty us of self. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis because of his testimony, made this statement: When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. To follow Jesus no matter what the cost--that’s the way of the cross.
Disciples turn the world upside down.
From our limited perspective, the work of the apostles was unbelievable, absolutely mystifying. These unknown, uncouth, uneducated men literally turned the world upside down. We are astonished at contemporary figures such as Mother Teresa. How could one so frail, small, and so ordinary, do so much for so many with so little. What is a yoke really for? Is it to be a burden to the animal that wears it? It is just the opposite. It is to make its burden light. Attached to the oxen in any other way than by a yoke the plough would be intolerable. A yoke is not an instrument of torture; it is an instrument of mercy. It is not a malicious contrivance for making work hard; it is a gentle device to make hard labor light. It is not meant to give pain, but to save pain. And yet men speak of the yoke of Christ as if it were a slaver y and look upon those who wear it as objects of compassion.--John Drummond
When Jesus commissioned His disciples to carry on His work, to go make a difference, the disciples were excited. They didn’t say, How can 12 men change the world? or There’s no way we can make a difference! Instead, they took their job seriously. They knew the risks and dangers, yet they did not hesitate. They went out into the unknown and made a difference. Because of those 12 dedicated disciples, Christianity lives today.
What is God commissioning you to do? Be silent and listen. Through His Holy Spirit, God will outline His plan for you. And when you hear it, take it on with pride, without fear; with enthusiasm, without questions. And go out there and make a difference!
Disciples pursue excellence
What does the word excellence bring to mind? We often tack the word excellence on the backs of the rich and the famous. But not all of the rich and famous were born that way. They had to start somewhere. They had to strive for excellence. They had to work hard. They never settled for mediocrity. Their dreams were ever clear. Ask God to show you what He wants to make excellent in your life.
A life of excellence has nothing to do with appearance, financial status, education, physical strength, or pedigree. Excellence is an attitude; a way of thinking that pleases God. A lifestyle of discipleship strives at excellence. Where in your life do you desire excellence? Whether it’s your job, your marriage, your health, or your walk with God, you have already been commanded to pursue excellence. Christians are called to live by the highest standards of excellence. That means that your life will involve hard work, sacrifice, patience. Are you willing to pay the price? Or would you prefer living within self-imposed expectations and boundaries?
Corrie ten Boom, the woman who endured such brutality from the Nazis in Ravensbruck during World War II, once said that she had learned to hold everything loosely in her hand. She said she discovered, in her years of walking with Him, that when she grasped things tightly, it would hurt when the Lord would have to pry her fingers loose. Disciples hold all things loosely.
When you are a disciple, you never know when stormy weather will come your way. You never know what you may have to give up. You never know when you will be called to turn the world upside down. When He calls, will you have a tight grip on your life, or will you hold all earthly things loosely? Remember, you have access to the powers of heaven (Jn 14:12-14). Remember to hold all things loosely. Be more than a mere follower. Be a disciple.
This is one of eight stewardship sermons written specifically for YOUTH. Copies of the other seven sermons are available as an email attachment or on disk from the General Conference Stewardship Ministries 301-680-6157 [email protected]