While many people wonder about the 144,000 figure noted in Revelation 14.1-5, what this passage demonstrates to us is a description of the Christian disciple – cryptic though it be. It shows us 3 things that characterize a follower of Jesus. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.
Each morning this week at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we’ve welcomed some 50 children to our vacation Bible camp, ‘Camp WannaKnowGod’. As we come to our last morning, everybody’s a bit tired out, but we’ve done this work with joy. Why?
Because we’ve been investing.
In one sense, these five mornings have been like a whole year of Sunday kids’ ministry crammed into 15 hours. No wonder everybody’s tired! But we carry on because we are investing…in the spiritual lives of 50 kids.
All the time, money, creativity, and effort that have gone into making this week possible have had but one motive: to help this group of children entrusted to us have a personal encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ.
These kids could be at soccer camp or at the cottage or at Canada’s Wonderland, but they are with us. And we express our gratitude by investing in them.
Because, after all, in 100 years, it won’t matter how good they are at soccer. It won’t matter how much time they spent at the cottage. And it definitely won’t matter how many roller coasters they’ve ridden. The only thing that will matter in 100 years is what they did with Jesus.
Some of my earliest Christian memories are of a vacation Bible school, which was done in the form of a musical called “A 100% Chance of Rain”, about Noah and the flood. I was probably around 5 or 6 years old. While that was not a “give my heart to Jesus” time, I’m sure the Lord used it to prepare my heart for the time when I would trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
This week, our prayer is that these children would know Jesus. And if not through us this week, then in the future, when someone else’s ministry leads them to faith, and our investment will pay eternal dividends for the children.
We also hope to invest in the parents, equipping them with resources that will help them nurture faith in Jesus. After all, they have a lot more hours to invest in their kids than the church does!
How are you investing in children – either as a parent, or as a part of the church? It’s an investment in eternity where others reap the benefits, and God gets the glory.
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).
I have spent part of this week with a group of students from Presbyterian seminaries in Canada. They are required to attend what’s called a Guidance Conference at some point in their theological education in order to be assessed in terms of their understanding of their faith journey, call to ministry and gifting.
It was 25 years ago now that I went through one of these conferences as a candidate for ministry, and I remember how nerve-wracking and grueling it was to be watchedat all times, so I’ve done my best when participating in these conferences to be friendly and not to appear like Big Brother.
What these conferences remind me of, writ large, is that the Christian life is not just about being informed. It’s also about being formed.
It’s possible to shovel all manner of knowledge into people’s minds, and it may make them smart, but unchanged. There must be an aspect of formation, whether in theological education for pastors or ongoing discipleship for congregants. After all, you could get an axe murderer to memorize the Psalms and the Westminster Confession of Faith and that person, without the involvement of the Holy Spirit, would still be an axe murderer.
The Bible tells us, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12.2, NLT).
It is God who does the transforming, not us. We do well to position ourselves for transformation, but the work of transforming belongs to God.
When God works to transform us, it changes our way of thinking, and therefore our way of living. Faith not just about knowledge, but about character development.
We don’t send congregants to things like Guidance Conferences, but there are all kinds of opportunities that exist for God’s people to develop their character in the Lord: conferences, podcasts, videos, online sources like RightNowMedia, as well as small groups and Bible studies at church, along with regular participation in worship.
September starts tomorrow. It’s a time for fresh starts. Why not determine that you will make time to prioritize your spiritual formation this fall?
I’ve been reading a book entitled Imagine Church, by Neil Hudson. It’s about helping God’s people plan and vision for the future by encouraging whole-life discipleship.
Is that a term with which you are familiar?
It could be otherwise phrased, but what the author means by it is that our walk with Jesus touches every aspect of our lives: no part of who we are or what we do goes untouched by our faith life.
It was as if Hudson was revealing something new when I read that there are 168 hours in a week, and that we might ordinarily spend, say, 48 of those sleeping. That leaves 120 hours in the week. Perhaps the most committed Christ-followers could serve 10 hours per week in the church; that leaves 110 hours for work, family time, and fun.
The matter that the book tries to get to the bottom of is this: how can those 110 hours become hours dedicated to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? How can we leverage our work time, our family time, our recreation time as time that God can use to build our faith, and as time that God can use to make us more fully devoted followers of Jesus?
There are programs, there are formulas – but in the end, it boils down to the willingness of each individual Christian. Your church family may offer opportunities for you to grow in faith, as well it should. But are you taking advantage of those opportunities, and are you translating that growth into your everyday life?
It doesn’t matter what you do: you could be a labourer, a business owner, a factory worker, a sales person, retired or a student – whatever you do with those 110 hours, seek to be a disciple of Jesus in all of them.
The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. The Holy Spirit lives in each person who names Jesus as Lord, and the Spirit will help us to live fully and authentically, whatever we do, doing it for the Lord.
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Colossians 3.23-24, NLT).