There are many words that come to mind when I think about Jesus' teaching, however "attractional" is not one of them.  Jesus wasn't interested in accruing for himself "fair-weather" followers.  Nor did he attempt to pull a bait-and-switch job on would-be disciples.  Rather, Jesus was explicitly clear about the cost of following after him.  The book of Acts bears witness to the trials and tribulations that the early Church faced and testifies to all who read it about the validity of our Lord's claims concerning what it means to truly live as a Christian.

     When we think about the price we all must pay, our minds inevitably wonder to thoughts of persecution and suffering.  We often think that's all Jesus himself had in view when he called us to "take up our cross."  However, sometimes walking in obedience to Christ will cost us in ways we never imagined or considered.

     In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."  Did Jesus just say that to follow him, we need to hate even our own family?  Isn't this the same Jesus who commands us to honor our parents and sacrificially love our spouses and children?  What is he talking about???

     The lesson of Jesus' teaching on the cost of discipleship isn't a call to hatred of those closest to us, rather it is a call to radical sacrifice.  It is a call for "gospel goodbyes."  A "gospel goodbye" is when we give up or let go of something or someone for the sake of the Gospel.  They are good, they are necessary, they further the kingdom, they glorify God...and let's be honest, they hurt like hell!

     About a week ago, I learned that I was going to be experiencing another one of these "gospel goodbyes" in my own life over the next couple of months.  It's not the first time I've been through this, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow this bittersweet pill.  During our last meeting, our brother and fellow servant in the Gospel, Ryan, told us that after much prayer, he and his family had decided to accept a position in vocational ministry as the Outreach Pastor at the church of one of our dear friends in Christ.

     As Cody shared this morning, this wasn't a surprise to us.  We had several discussions about the opportunity and we believe it is truly a blessing for Ryan, a blessing to Pastor Jim Sallie and Redeemer Parkersburg, and ultimately what is best for the spread of the Gospel in this community.  Yet, no matter how gracious God has been in showing us how this redounds to his glory and how this has come from his wise and sovereign hand, we would be lying if we said it was going to be easy to see Ryan, Sarah, and their family go.  It costs us as elders, it costs us as a church family, it costs us as friends of the Romines...we are all, together, paying the cost.

     So, the question is, how are we as a church going to respond over the next 8 weeks as we prepare to send them out?  How do we properly see this, from a kingdom perspective, as addition by subtraction?  How do we rightly celebrate what God is doing in Ryan's life, in the life of our church, and in this community?  To answer these questions, let me offer a few passages from scripture for encouragement for us all.

1.  "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

     In the closing of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes these words of exhortation to his beloved friends.  He begins by reminding them to "rejoice."  In fact, Paul uses the words "joy" or "rejoice" 16 times in the mere 4 chapters that comprise the epistle.  Joyfulness is a key theme throughout.  However, as Ryan and I discussed when we preached through Philippians, joy is not happiness, in that it is not influenced and governed by the changing circumstances of life.  Joy is found in the deeply rooted faith, hope, trust, and contentment found only in Christ.  Happiness may come and go, but joy sustains us no matter what may come our way.

     Paul then goes on to encourage the Philippians to not be anxious in their circumstances, but rather to lean into Christ, and through prayer, to cast our cares upon him.  When we face the uncertainty of change and the unknown future, our natural response is fear and anxiety.  We don't naturally run to Christ in trust, but rather we tend to struggle with doubt.  When we lay bare our hearts to Jesus, our Mediator and our Great High Priest, he is faithful to minister to us in our frailty.  Through the power of his Spirit working in us and through us, he is faithful to grant us a supernatural peace in which we can rest and be comforted.

     In this time of transition, let us be a church marked by prayer.  Let us fervently pray for the Romines, for the Journey, for Redeemer, for our community, and for our ministry in the Gospel.  Let us joyfully celebrate what God is doing in our midst.  And let us not shrink back in fear, but rather may we press forward in boldness, resting in the peace of Christ and the hope of his Gospel.

2.  "After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece." (Acts 20:1-2)

     As Cody pointed out in this week's lesson, the Greek word, "parakaleo," which is translated as "encourage" in the ESV, is much more than simply offering uplifting words to make someone feel good.  It carries with it the idea of exhortation and instruction.  As we prepare to send out the Romines, we want to be a church that encourages and is encouraged, not with simple words alone, but more importantly with the truth of scripture.

     Psalm 119:92 says, "If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction."  We can't underestimate the sustaining power of God's word.  It is in the pages of scripture were we find all of the promises of God.  It is in scripture where the prudent Christian accumulates for himself generational wealth.  The popular Bible teacher, Jen Wilkin, says that studying God's word is like making small deposits in a savings account.  While the individual deposits may not seem like much, the investment over time, accumulates much interest and blossoms into a substantial nestegg which we can draw upon to be sustained in the years to follow.

     When Paul prepared to leave from one place to journey to another, he didn't labor to leave behind a legacy of his own wisdom, rather he labored in sharing the Gospel.  He planted seeds of truth from God's word and trusted that they would take root and grow, producing sustenance for God's people long after he was gone.  Over the next 8 weeks and beyond, may we press deeply into scripture and mine the depths of its riches.  None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, but in God's word, we can find the strength we need to face whatever it may be.

     It is with great joy that we celebrate this next step of obedience for the Romine family.  It is with excitement that we expectantly long to see what God has prepared for them and for us as we send them out with our love and support.  At the same time, we prayerfully consider what the next chapter of the life of the Journey may have in store for us as a church family.  This is a bittersweet season of "gospel-goodbyes" and "gospel-beginnings" for all of us.  Through all of it, may we rest in the faithfulness of the sovereign God whom we love and serve.

In Grace,
Chris Morris

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Part 45 - Encouragement & Vision

Questions discussed in this sermon:
1.  How did Paul encourage Christians?
2.  Where do you find encouragement?
3.  Why did Paul always travel with an entourage?