A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
God's Preferred Future: Growing as Disciples (Luke 10:25-28, 1 John 2:3-6)
25 A legal
expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain
26 Jesus replied,
“What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
responded, “You must love the Lord
your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and
with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
28 Jesus said
to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
3 This is how
we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. 4 The
one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar,
and the truth is not in this person. 5 But the love of God is
truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. 6 The
one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.
Did anyone have a place growing up where you measured your height from time
to time?Maybe at your house or
grandma’s – a bedroom or closet door, the wall inside the pantry – somewhere in
the house with your name and a series of dates that tracked your growth?
What if we did that in church, too?What if there was a doorway somewhere with our name on it, where,
periodically, God measured our spiritual growth and compared it to where we
were a few months ago, a year ago, a decade ago?Would God say, “Wow!Look at how far you’ve come!Look at how much you’ve grown!”
For the last several weeks, we’ve been looking at the ways we are called to
grow as a congregation as we move into God’s preferred future.We’ve already looked at growing in faith and
growing in grace.Today we build on that
– in God’s preferred future, Morehead Church will grow as disciples.May we
In one of my college applications, we were asked to write an essay on this
topic: “If you were to have dinner with one person, living or dead, who would
it be, and why?”It was supposed to be a
way to let the admissions committee know who your influences were, who were the
people you admired most.I couldn’t
think of who to write.It’s not that I
couldn’t think of someone, I thought of so
many people, it was hard to narrow it down to just one.
Maybe I should have taken the easy route and written “Jesus.”Who doesn’t admire Jesus?Everyone admires Jesus.Jesus is consistently ranked as one of the
most admired people in history.
Admiration has its place.Much of
worship is admiration. However, it is easy and convenient for us to admire
Jesus from a distance.We can admire his
teaching, his works, his example, his influence – without having to get too
close, without having to consider how his life might affect our lives.
It is easy for us to admire Jesus like some sort of holy fan club, but Jesus
isn’t looking for fans; Jesus already has more than enough fans.No, Jesus is looking for followers.
A disciple is one who follows something or someone else.An old blessing that was often given to
disciples at the time of Jesus was, “May you follow your Master so closely, you
are covered with the dust of his feet.”I
love that image – walking so close to Jesus, literally in his footsteps,
following his lead, growing more and more like him every day such that we
eventually become like him.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it?To
become like Jesus?Yet, I am called, you
are called, we are all called to be like Jesus.Frederick Buechner said, “Where your feet take you; that is who you
But here’s what I find, and maybe this is true for you, too: my feet have
trouble finding the footsteps of Jesus.My feet take me a lot of different places, many of them very good
places, and sometimes I think it’s that desire to go everywhere that keeps us from getting anywhere.
So, let’s keep a singular focus on sticking close to Jesus.
One of the trends across American Christianity right now is that young
adults – Generations X and Y, the Millennials, my generation and those younger
– are leaving the Church and staying away from the Church in record numbers.
There has been a ton of research on why so many are opting out of church,
and there are some excellent resources you can pick up: unChristian by Dan Kimball and Gabe Lyons, When Christians Get it Wrong by Adam Hamilton, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church by Dan Kimball.
Before you start to shake your head and say, “What’s the matter with kids
today?Why, in my day . . .”Before you do that, much of the research
shows that emerging generations rate higher in terms of openness to
spirituality and particularly to Jesus than previous generations.They love Jesus!They just find that, often, the Church is
driven by agendas and conversations that aren’t about Jesus – they see Jesus
acting and talking one way, and the Church acting and talking another.
Perhaps it’s not “What’s the matter with kids today,” but an invitation to
re-center our lives around Jesus, to lay down other agendas that are simply a
distraction, and to whole-heartedly, single-mindedly, authentically focus on
How many of the great religious movements throughout history have been a
call back to authenticity, and how many of those movements were started by
young people?Methodism began among a
bunch of college students at Oxford University.Martin Luther was 33 when he sparked the Protestant Revolution.Even Jesus was in his early 30s for his
public ministry, and his disciples were mostly young men, including at least a
few in their late teens.
It isn’t a generational thing.It’s
a Jesus thing.Perhaps these young
people who are opting out of church are providing us with an opportunity to be
who we claim to be, growing up to become more like Jesus.
And yes, growing up can be hard.Growing
up, becoming a mature person comes with certain responsibilities.I remember being in a big hurry to grow up,
especially to get my license and therefore secure my independence.I hadn’t banked on very grown-up things like
car payments, gas, tires, insurance, oil changes – responsibilities that came
along with growing up.
Happens in our faith, too.Sometimes
we’d prefer to have a Peter Pan faith – one that doesn’t grow up.The Church can reinforce that, too.“We don’t want to burden people with a lot of
expectations and responsibilities.We
can’t ask too much of people. We should
just be happy that anyone showed up at all!”
I’ve heard that from church leaders, before.Not here, thank God, but I’ve heard it.Way to set the bar high, right? Talk about creating a culture of mediocrity!People will rise no higher than the level to
which they are challenged.Expect
mediocrity, and people will give you exactly what you asked for.Expect excellence, and people will dazzle you
Take a look at our membership expectations in the bulletin (see bottom of post).We have a culture of excellence here.Being a disciple of Jesus, one who follows
him so closely we are covered with the dust of his feet, allows no less.I’m okay putting responsibilities and
expectations on you, because I want you to grow as a disciple.It’s my job to help you grow as a
disciple!I want you to have a grown-up,
mature, Christlike faith; not a Peter Pan faith. Those membership guidelines – they aren’t
about what you’re going to do for the church, they’re about what you’re going
to do for yourself as you grow deeper in your discipleship!We’re making and forming disciples here,
folks – that’s important work – important enough that if we really want it, we
should be willing to put a bit of time and effort into it.
More than just showing up. Sitting
in a church doesn’t make you a disciple any more than sitting in a garage makes
you a car.It takes more than showing
up.It takes spiritual commitment,
adopting the practices that will help grow up and mature as a disciple and become
Last week, we talked about growing in grace, having a warm welcome and
embrace for all people as wide as the arms of Jesus himself, because all people
are loved by God, created in the image of God, and therefore are of sacred and
inestimable worth.We welcome others
because Christ has welcomed us.
This business about growing and becoming like Jesus, that’s another aspect
of God’s grace working in us.Ann Lamott
says, “Grace finds us where we are, but it doesn’t leave us there.”Grace first welcomes us, but it’s not done
with us there.Sitting at the feet of
Jesus should make us different, changed, somehow.Grace welcomes us to Jesus, and then grace
continues to transform us to become like Jesus.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the couple who were celebrating their 65th
wedding anniversary, and a reporter was sent to interview them.He said, “Wow, 65 years!Tell me, sir, what’s your secret to staying
married to the same woman for 65 years?”The man said, “You idiot, it’s been 65 years – she’s not the same woman
now she was when we got married!”
Our relationships change and grow over time, don’t they?Our relationship with God is no different.Spending time with Jesus changes us.It changes our priorities.It changes how we spend our time, talent, and
treasure.It changes our attitudes, our
habits, our actions to grow us more like Jesus.
Go back to our membership guidelines.You’ll see that we set a high bar here, we ask a lot of our members, we
expect a lot because it takes a lot to become like Jesus.Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t do all of
these things,” or “Very few of our members do these things,” yet we don’t lower
the bar.If you want to be an olympic
athlete, there’s a high bar for that, same is true for being a disciple.We keep the bar high.God expects you to give your best.God expects excellence and we are giving you
an opportunity to shine.It takes a lot
to grow and mature as a disciple.It
takes a lot to become like Jesus.
Maybe as you’ve looked over those membership guidelines, the Holy Spirit
has already convicted your heart of where you need to grow.Things you need to do, things you need to do
more of, maybe things you need to not do.Maybe you have attitudes and behaviors you need to let go of so you can
grow and mature to become more like Jesus.
A word on that – sometimes people will say things like “We need some sermons
on gossip, because there’s some people around here who need to hear a sermon on
that, like old so-and-so.”It’s tempting
to point at the shortcomings of others and diagnose their sins and tell them
all the ways they need to repent.Yet,
God does not work in all hearts alike.Whatever is a barrier in someone else’s spiritual life is between that
person and God.They may ask us to help
us with that thing, and it’s a holy privilege to do so.As people grow in their faith and draw closer
to God, God will reveal the things in their life that separate them from God
and other people, the things that keep them from growing and flourishing in God’s
love.How about we catch ‘em and let God
How?What I want you to do today is
commit to growing where you need to.Don’t worry about where your neighbor needs to grow, focus on where God
wants you to grow.I don’t need to tell you; you already
know.God has already put it on your
As Dorothy comes to play, spend the next few moments praying about how you
are being called to grow, making a plan to grow, and then committing to that
plan.Wherever you are, take a next
step, because I hope we will all have a mature, grown-up faith. Don’t settle for being just a fan of
Jesus.Be a follower. Follow Jesus so closely, you become like him.
Morehead United Methodist Church
is a way of saying, “Morehead Church is my church! I believe in what God
is doing here, and I want to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ here, with
You do not
have to be a member to participate fully in the life of Morehead United
Methodist Church. Everything we do is open to you whether you are a
member or not. We consider you part of the Morehead family from the moment you
walk in the door. So why join? Membership is an important act
of commitment as you grow deeper in your faith. Membership at Morehead
United Methodist Church is an expression of your commitment to the ministry
happening in and through this faith community.
I committing to if I become a member?
Attend worship at Morehead weekly unless you are sick, out-of-town, or working.
Participate in at least one activity each year designed to help you grow in your faith (Sunday School, Bible study, accountability group, small group, spiritual retreat, etc.).
Give of your time at least once a year through the ministry of Morehead.
Give to fund the ministries of Morehead in proportion to your income, with the goal of tithing (10%).
commitments are not stringent requirements to be “enforced” or used
punitively. Rather, they demonstrate practices that are consistent in the
lives of people who wish to grow as deeply-committed followers of Jesus
Christ. We believe that persons who commit to these practices will grow
in their relationships with God and with each other.
God’s grace to become a loving, Christlike person, we ask all members
Be positive and joyful.
Seek opportunities to serve others before themselves.
Be teachable in all areas.
Be slow to speak and quick to listen
relationships with others inside and outside the church, we ask all members to
Demonstrate respect and grace.
Accept differences and value diversity.
Publicly support other members, church leaders, staff, and the pastor.
Avoid damaging words and actions toward others, including gossip.