B.E.L.L.S Mission series - Learn
In the first three years of your life you brain produces more than a million neural connections each second. Having little people in our house I am amazed to see how much they learn and pick up every day. Babies learn from relationship, experiences, their environment. They are like little sponges ready to soak up anything they can to learn about who they are and how the world works.
This is one of the richest times of learning, but it doesn’t stop there. Our brains are amazing and are constantly shaped by our experiences and learning. Once upon a time scientists thought that our brains developed in our childhood and adolescence and then we pretty much stuck with what we got. More recent science has talked about the idea of neuroplasticity. This way of looking at the brain says that our brains are much more capable of change than we think. They are adaptable like plastic, new connections and pathways can be formed and strengthened as we learn in a certain area, or develop a certain practice, or focus on a feeling.
This way of looking at the brain emphasizes that learning is a lifelong process.
Today we continue in our series here at St John’s – a five week series looking at how we might make disciples. The point is that all of us are called to be doing mission and we can do it in an everyday and natural kind of way right where we are. Today we explore the missional habit of learning.
Today I want to explore why it is important for us to be lifelong learners when it comes to our faith.
We spend countless hours learning throughout our life. We go to kindergarten, school, maybe university, or we do an apprenticeship. We learn at work, we learn how to play sports or pick up hobbies.
But in all of this how much time do we spend “learning Christ?” This phrase, “Learning Christ” was one that was used by early Christians to describe what it meant to get to know Jesus and what He is all about.
If we want to be effective in our mission and share the love of Jesus in our neighbourhood we must learn from Jesus, our lives must be shaped by him.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this passage in the message:
So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (The Message)
The message version brings into clear relief what Paul is saying about where we take our cues for life from.
As we grow up we learn from our environment all kinds of things about what it means to be human. Our culture teaches us what is important, what to value, what to spend our time and money and talent on. It shapes us and forms us in all kinds of ways.
What Paul is saying is don’t be squeezed into a mould by our world that tells us how to think and live in ways that are contrary to the Gospel.
For example, in a world that encourage us to be individualistic, concerned first with our own needs, the Gospel tells us to love our neighbour and to seek first God’s kingdom. This will challenge us, shaping our priorities to be less focused on ourselves.
Paul says, let God transform your life by the renewing of your mind.
The assumption here is that our minds need renewing.
In Romans 1 Paul says:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Paul highlights that naturally we are prone to wrongheaded thinking. Our minds often run in an opposite direction to God. This is our fallen or sinful human nature. A biblical view of humanity acknowledges this is the case. And so when experience salvation in Jesus, when we become Christians, part of the process is the renewal of our minds.
One writer aptly says: “This “re-programming” of the mind does not take place overnight but is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking is to resemble more and more the way God wants us to think.”
In this we can as Paul puts it start to “discern the will of God.”
I think that what Paul is saying here is that as our minds are transformed, we get to know God more and more and his will becomes clearer.
If we want to be missional people, learning is part of the deal. How else will we reach out with the message of Jesus if we don’t know the message and especially if we don’t know Jesus?
When we become Christians we do so by receiving what God has done for us through Jesus. But not only that, we also begin an adventure of becoming like him, thinking like him, living like him: we are called to be apprentices and learners. We become disciples of Jesus.
This word disciple, basically means learner.
One of my favourite shows on Netflix is called “Chef’s Table.” In this show they interview chefs from all around the world and talk to them about their food, their hometown, their restaurant, and how they got into doing what they do.
I am always super interested in how the chefs become so good at what they do.
One thing I notice across all the episodes is that there is as common denominator in all of the amazing chefs.
They all had a mentor. They all had someone they worked under, someone who passed on the craft.
On of my favourite episodes was about a chef called Grant Achatz at a restaurant often called the “most creative restaurant in America.”
He makes edible balloons and all kinds of beautiful dishes that look more like art than food.
He didn’t become “America’s most creative chef” overnight though. H was mentored. He worked with a chef called Thomas Keller for a number of years and he learned the art of cooking.
Grant when interviewed said: “I wanted to be Thomas Keller and I was super dedicated to learning to cook like him.” “After being there for a while I felt like I could think like him.”
Grant go to know the mind of Thomas as he rubbed shoulders with him in the kitchen daily.
For me, this is a good image to illustrate what it means to “learn Christ.” It is a personal and intimate knowledge that we gain as we spend time getting to know Jesus.
So how do we do this? How do we learn Christ?
Once more, Mike Frost in his book offers some helpful tips I want to share with you this morning.
1) MARINATE IN THE GOSPELS
Mike says: “We need to “marinate in the Gospels” - My concern is that many Christians seem to have developed merely a passing knowledge of the Gospels (what I call Jesus’ greatest hits—his birth, his death, his resurrection, a few miracles, and a couple of parables). If we are to figure out what Jesus would want us to think, be, and do here and now, we must know the Gospels forward and backward.”
This is a great point.
The best way we can get to know Jesus is to spend time in the Gospels. Read them with our breakfast, read them in study groups, read them out loud in church. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We need to hear the same invitation that St Augustine heard at his conversion – “Take up and read!”
2) STUDY JESUS
The second tip is to study Jesus. There is so much good reading material out there in terms of theology and biblical studies. I’ve given you a short list in the pewnews.
Study is important because our faith must be intellectually plausible.
We live in a time where a lot of people think that Christianity is irrational or anti-intellectual or only for people who can’t think clearly. But nothing could be further from the truth. Christian history is full of profound thinkers. Philosophers and theologians like Kierkegaard, Aquinas and Augustine. Poets and writers like Dostoevsky, Milton, Herbert. Scientists like Pascal and Newton. Much of our culture and art has been formed in a Christian intellectual tradition.
In our church today we need thinkers who can articulate clearly why Christianity is not only intellectually plausible but also intellectually satisfying.
My own story of faith has been deeply informed by Romans 12. Since my late teens I have found myself hungry to engage my mind with questions of faith. That is why I went to Bible College to study theology. I had no pretensions to become a Pastor, I just had loads of questions about the Christian faith. As I began to study I just started to catch a glimpse of how deep the well of Christian theology and tradition is. There is so much to read, so much to think about, so much to wrestle with.
What makes me sad is that sometimes I meet some really smart people who excel in their field of knowledge, such as medicine or physics, or engineering. Yet, when it comes to the faith they have a Sunday school level of knowledge about the Bible and about Jesus.
No wonder Christians are criticised for having a faith that is intellectually implausible.
The point is not that we are all called to be theologians. Heaven forbid that, the church would never actually get anything done other than lots of talk and writing books. The point is that each and every one of us are called to be lifelong learners of Jesus, whatever that looks like for us.
One of the beautiful things that happens to people who marinate their minds in the Gospels and study Jesus is that they start to talk about Jesus more and more. Their passion deepens.
Lots of us get excited about all kinds of things. It may be cars or cooking, knitting or fishing. But what if we spoke about Jesus in the same way we speak about other things we are so passionate about? What if “learning Christ” became a priority for us? My prayer for us today is that we would all be lifelong learners of Jesus.
The good news is that we are not alone. We have a teacher who is always willing and at hand to deepen our relationship with Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our ultimate teacher and guide. So let us pray…
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.
Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.
Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.
I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Thomas Aquinas
 Mike Frost, Surprise the World: Five Habits of Highly Missional People