Welcome to the first episode of FaithTrack where you will find ways to apply your faith to your daily life. Pastor Sam begins this 12-part module with how we can be disciples - what that is, what does that mean, and how we are invited to partake in His grace and blessings.
Hey there, and welcome to Faith Track. My name is Sam Marcum. I’m one of the associate pastors here at Cornerstone SF and I’m excited to have this time together today. So what is Faith Track? Faith Track is a way of applying our faith to our daily lives. In Psalm 119:105, it says: “Your word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” There’s this idea that as we get to know God’s Word, the Bible, He will illuminate this path, this track of faith, that we are to walk out with Him. That Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” So not only is Jesus the way to be reconciled with the Father, to be able to have eternal life with Him, but He also, through what He said and did, what He taught and commanded, He invites us into this life that is abundant and overflowing with His love and grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and hope. As we seek to live with Him, in Him, and for Him, we are invited into this life of being a disciple, of being a student of His, to follow Him. We’re going to spend the next few months digging into this topic of discipleship, starting with this message called The Way of the Disciple.
Like some of you, I grew up in and around the church. I was raised attending a small Catholic church in rural Wisconsin. There were many beautiful aspects of this community, which were part of the regular weekend services. I saw people like my grandfather serve faithfully and sacrificially. The sick were cared for, the lonely received visits, and comfort was found in praying to God. Most of this was done by the church employees, which, in that church, was a priest and his administrative assistant. So the scope of what they could do was severely limited, even amongst just a congregation of a couple of hundred.
I attended classes that were set up for children in which we read Bible stories and memorized prayers. There were intentional marking points for learning about and taking communion, confessing sins, and receiving forgiveness. Even an acknowledgment of the transitioning into personal responsibility in our faith before the Lord. These were really good things. In this church that I grew up in, I even learned about God’s nature in the Holy Spirit. It was at our confirmation retreat in which I first professed my faith in Jesus and what He did through the cross. I was prayed over to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
But somewhere in these steps, it didn’t become fully personal. I was familiar with some of the Bible stories. I knew some of the core doctrines of the church from the creedal statements. The things that we recited every week just became rote memory. However, I’d never would have thought of myself as a disciple. From my experience, Jesus had 12 disciples, 11 good ones, and one of them who was kind of a selfish, backstabbing jerk. The disciples helped to show us what to do or not to do. The disciple job to me seemed taken. From what I understood, we as church attenders were just supposed to show up at church once a week, sometimes go to classes or special services, and we were to confess our sins so we could be forgiven and avoid going to hell. God asks for an hour or two of my week, but the rest of it was mine to generally use as I saw fit, which, usually I would use for good. If anything went sideways, I could always reset with Him by showing up next Sunday and asking for forgiveness, which meant a clean slate to start the next week.
Some of you may have had similar experiences and understanding of what church was and what attending church looked like; showing up weekly, for the most part, to get that moral reset, possibly an encouraging message, and then go about our lives as usual. If that was our experience, chances are, at some point, we started to wonder if this is what church was really meant to be about. If you’re like me, this led to church becoming less of a priority. I was generally a good person, probably better than most, so I believe God should have been okay with my life choices. Eventually, I stopped attending and just tried to live a life in a way that was mostly good and in what I understood God cared about.
I don’t know if any of that sounds familiar, but that is what many of us were unintentionally raised to believe. I say unintentionally because those leading churches don’t want people haphazardly attending church or not understanding the Bible. But without an intentional understanding of what the Bible calls followers of Jesus to be, people tend to be slightly kinder, maybe a bit more guilty when we do things wrong, and often unsettled when facing what matters most in life and how to prioritize the big things. Thus, here we are, and if we took seriously the invitation of Jesus, what would happen? How would our lives look different? In Matthew 4, we see Jesus’ invitation to the first disciples. So let’s look at that.
Starting in verse 18, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, He,” Jesus, “saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately, they left their net and followed Him. Going on from there, he saw two brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother. In the boat with Zebedee, their father mending their nets, and He called to them. Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed Him.” So Jesus’ invitation to us is the same. We are invited to follow Him.
Just one thing I want to point out quickly, the way of a disciple starts with responding to His invitation and will transform our identity. We saw Him shift them from fishermen to fishers of men. They had no idea probably initially what that meant, but down the road, we’d see it play out. For us, it’s oftentimes similar. As we do this, we are changed entirely. We may not be asked to give up our career, but how we go about our business, how we use our skills and abilities? Our priorities are repurposed based on who we will become as we follow Him. For me, this meant inviting godly counsel into my life. I started asking friends of mine who were in the same small group with me to pray with me on my big decisions. As I got to know some of the leaders in the church, I started asking them for guidance as I was trying to navigate the things in my life.
When I first felt called to San Francisco, even before feeling called to ministry, I felt God inviting me to put down roots here. I didn’t really know what that meant. I’ve been planning to move back to Wisconsin after getting two years of experience working for a non-profit. This potential change was a huge shift in my plans and I hadn’t heard from God in this way before. I hadn’t really felt like God was leading me somewhere. I kind of just did what I felt like was the right thing to do, or was going towards my plans. As I prayed with these trusted friends, as it was becoming my pattern, we all felt that God was guiding me to stay, and the why wasn’t clear actually. So there was a sense that I was supposed to stay, to surrender my plans, that I knew what the next 5 or 10 years I wanted to look like. There was a sense that if I went, God would still be with me. He’d bless my life. It’d be fine because I would continue to walk with Him, but there’d be an additional blessing or a more fruitful blessing if I stayed here. It wasn’t until four years later that I started to feel called to ministry.
As we talk about this idea of seeing our lives and ourselves as disciples, it’s worth digging into this a bit. First, the question begs to be asked, what is a disciple? A disciple is a student, a pupil, a learner, especially of a particular person’s teaching. In our case, we’re looking at what it means to be a disciple or a student of Jesus. Then who is a disciple? A disciple is anyone who would follow Jesus. It is essential that we see ourselves as students of His. Like any good student, we’re not just trying to learn for head knowledge. The idea is that we’re taking in truth, significant truth, hopefully, that will impact not only how we think, but how we live out our lives, and even the things that we talk about, the things we share, the truths that we represent. Then how do we become disciples? In order to learn from Him, we must know what He said. We must be students of His words. We must examine what He did and how He lived His life. We must seek how to understand and apply His teachings to our lives.
To help us with this, we can examine how people responded to His teaching in the Bible. This sounds easy, right? Just to make sure we don’t over-simplify, let’s look at what Jesus said to those who were looking at following Him. In Luke 9:23-25, “He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'” So here, these are jarring words, his PR team, his marketing team is probably like, “No. No, don’t say that. Like, why? Why would you say that? It sounds awful.” But there’s this idea that self-denial, take up my cross, your cross, follow Him, these are not things that cause us to jump and think, “All right, let’s do it. Let’s pick up the crosses. Let’s carry them.” But there is this aspect of losing ourselves that saves us. As we lean into the things of God, as we follow the path of Jesus, we lay certain things down in order to take up what matters most in the eyes of God, and ultimately will help us become who we were created to be.
It’s important, remember, apart from Him, we were on a trajectory towards death. As we follow Him we live lives on His path that bring life abundant and overflowing. We’re invited into the life that overflows His goodness and the very things that bring health and beauty into our lives. In these verses, we see the way of a disciple involves daily commitment and sacrifice. This isn’t a one-hour or even one day a week kind of thing. This is a way of life. Following Jesus is a way of life.
In Matthew 11:28-31, Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you’ll find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” So here, to help round out it, so it doesn’t sound like just all sacrifice and no benefit, we see the way of a disciple involves exchanging our heavy burdens for His purposes for our lives. We are lighter because they are custom-made for us. Following Jesus involves effort. A yoke is worn by a beast of burden but is often noted that this description alludes to laboring alongside of him. We get to lay down the things that can find and oppress us and take up the very things that we were created to be part of with Him. We still work hard, but our labor becomes light and easy because we aren’t weighed down by all of this stuff that the world, others’ expectations, people-pleasing tendencies, and our brokenness put on us. As we do this and as we do these things that align with the purposes of God, even our work can be restful and restorative. We can find that rest for our souls, that good conscience leaning into the things of life and growth, reward that comes from walking with Him.
What will this look like in the days, weeks, and months ahead? As a church, we’ll be engaging in what we’re calling discipleship initiatives. We may rephrase that in some way, but the idea is that discipleship initiatives are intentional ways of engaging key areas of growth in life following Jesus as a disciple, as a student of His, as a faith tracker. We will spend a few months on each discipleship initiative so that we can learn about and apply these areas of growth to our lives. This will show up in our small groups. This will show up in our ministry teams, with kids and youth ministry so the kids will be learning about it, and adults, we learn about it as well at the same time. So we’ll be able to have conversations around the dinner table with friends and family.
The idea is that it’s going to be integrated into nearly all that we’re doing as a church. The goal is to make discipleship, this faith tracker way of life, normative. How to follow Jesus a little easier to understand. To show where we’re going to be heading into, what we’ll be digging into in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I’m going to zip through these and we’ll spend more time with them over the next few weeks. But first, we’re going to spend time the first few months talking about discipleship. What it does mean to be a student of His. What Jesus taught following Him would look like.
Next, we’ll look at the idea of devotion. How do we understand who God is? What did God say about Himself, His character, and then how do we relate to them in that context? Standing on scripture, how do we build lives upon the foundation of the truth of God and looking at things like theology and doctrine, which are just ways of understanding big chunks of the Bible and things that are happening in ways that we can sort of digest and live out of. Next, we’ll look at apologetics. How do we explain what we believe and help to answer questions when other people are asking about our faith. Then the idea of exchange life and spiritual disciplines. How do we live for the things that God says are good and bring life and set aside the things that are not that? What are some of the practices that the church has exercised over the centuries that help us live into those truths, live out of those things of God for our lives, and apply those things in ways that actually yield spiritual growth and benefit?
We’ll look at engaging our culture, godly justice, and the one anothers. How do we interact with the world? What are we called to as we seek to love with grace and mercy, God’s definition of justice, and doing what’s right with people who have less than us and in our need, especially within the community of Christ? But then as we look at the world around us, and see the different areas of brokenness. What is our responsibility to respond and how, as Christ-followers, we keep hold of God’s truth as we seek to minister in His name? We’ll look at how to study the Bible and how to teach it. This idea of what tools do we need to dig into and understand God’s Word well. Even as we’re studying on our own, or what resources are available to us, and then how do we invite other people into that alongside us. Maybe as a teacher as well, and leading a small group or something like that. Stewardship; throughout the Bible, there’s this idea of we are entrusted with things. We are entrusted with our abilities. Our very personalities are an entrustment from God. What we do, what we earn, and what we acquire, all of it, in many ways, in maybe every way, belongs to God. How do we live our lives out of that idea, that paradigm, that truth?
Then work, calling, and giftedness. We call our jobs vocations sometimes. That actual word has to do, at the root, with calling what we’re called into. The very gifts that God has put in us, how does that uniquely allow us to step into work as an expression of our faith? Also, how do we use those gifts in serving the Lord, whether it’s in church or even reaching out to community in the world as well? Then prayer and worship. These are vital things for relating to God, positioning ourselves to God, interacting with Him, and having experiences with Him. We’ll look at the different practices of prayer and different practices of worship we see throughout the scriptures and how that can enrich our lives, strengthen us, and grow us as well.
Biblical leadership; what does it look like to lead like Christ? Servant leadership, an upside-down model where we’re not accruing power and wealth for ourselves as the goal, but we’re actually seeking to grow the kingdom of God. Expand the things that God wants to do in and through our lives and then out into the lives of the people around us that we have influenced with starting with our homes, ourselves, our families, our friendships. Going out from their workplaces, that kind of stuff.
Finally, love, and fellowship. How does this show up in our most intimate relationships? How do we love well in our friendships, in our marriages, with our kids, our families as a whole, within our community? What does hospitality look like? What does friendship look like? What did the dating and marriage look like in a godly way? Even when we have conflict, how do we do that in a godly way as well? In our midweek gatherings, this will mean a break from revisiting older weekend messages. Instead, members of our teaching team, staff, and community will share for a few minutes like I just did. Then we’ll jump over to Zoom to discuss and dig into things further.
If you’re watching this after the original airing, or if you’re unable to join us for the conversation part of tonight, this is meant to be gone through in community. Faith Trackers, Disciples, always walk things out, at least in pairs. Join us in the conversation if you can, or find another person or a group of people to embark on this journey together with. Our primary goal is that these gatherings in the middle of our week would be a tool that can help us dig into these things and these key areas of growth as disciples of Jesus, but also be a place in which we can ask questions and grow as we move together as a community. So even if you can’t watch with us or have that conversation with us, you can still ask questions. You can email me, or you can reach out to others in our community, to wrestle with these things more, talk about them, engaging them, and walk them out together.
I’d love to pray, and then we’ll jump over to the Zoom conversation. The link will be posted in the chat. Lord, we thank you again that you invited us to follow you. Invite us into life with you as a faith tracker, as a disciple, as ones who would, again, seek to apply your truth in your word to our lives and live out of those things, not on an hour or weekly basis, or even a day, a week basis, Lord, but integrated fully throughout our lives. That could be hard to do if we’ve never seen it done before us, and so help us in this journey. Help us apply these truths to our lives, to have great conversation, to ask great questions, and to explore together what it looks like to live for you. So Lord, we just invite you to our conversations that are going to happen, and we just pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Remember to stay engaged in our weekend messages again, and we’ll have some of the things that are coming up showing just after this. But let’s keep the conversations going and we’ll see you again next Wednesday for Faith Track. God bless.