Discipling Men to Lead

  

Literally every ministry in the history of the Church has had struggles raising up good leadership. Jesus Himself founded His church on twelve highly-flawed men (Ephesians 3:20-21). And with all of our weaknesses and shortcomings we have a great commission to carry out (Matthew 28:18-20).

So with the tough question of, “How do we raise up people, specifically men, to accomplish this task?” You might first ask, “Where do we start?” Many of the men in our church are currently going through a course together called Yokefellows. In this course we can begin our attempt to answer the question in essentially three words: finding, training, and sending.

Finding



Change the culture. The first step to raising up men in the church is finding them. In a culture that has commercialized church and stupefied manhood, many men have simply never been told (let alone had it explained) that they were created to lead. Many come to churches as consumers and to their relationships as passive participants.

Raising up men in the church means reclaiming the Bible’s radically barbaric, countercultural view of manhood. We first have to model, teach, preach, and celebrate a picture of the God-man who sacrificially, patiently, passionately led and laid His life down for His bride.

This will involve the intimidating task of gently but strongly stating and explaining the biblical view of manhood that our culture and many of our churches simply don’t want to hear.

Change your expectations. Church leaders too often are guilty of having unrealistic expectations. God uses different means to nurture His Church, and one of the most surprising means is His use of fallen people (after all, Numbers 22:22-41). If you’re raising up leaders it often means the men you’re looking for aren’t yet in leadership.

If the story of David’s anointing teaches us anything it shows us that our external judgments of leadership are often flawed. Look for men who are teachable instead of impressive (Proverbs 12:1), spiritual and unpretentious rather than notable (John 1:47). Don’t ignore people’s gifting, but don’t overlook people because their gifting isn’t readily apparent. We’re all broken vessels that God uses for His great purposes.

Training



Make the time. The bane of any church leader’s existence is the clock. Between our multiplicity of responsibilities it feels impossible to fit in the time to raise up leadership. Here we are tempted to make a fatal error. Training up men isn’t outside of the work of ministry; it is the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).

Christ, while ministering at times to thousands, gave surprising priority to training twelve men. In the midst of enormous pressure, He still withdrew to explain His ministry to a few. In addition to being crushed by the clock, we are often duped by our own pride.

Let’s face it. We’re given to a perfectionistic savior complex. We feel that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right. I certainly struggle with that, to the point of absurdity at times. Part of raising up leaders means being willing to let inexperienced, as yet untested, men take certain leadership roles, and doing so means loosening up a bit on the reins. It also means giving them a little leeway to fail at times or not always do certain tasks exactly how you think they should be done.

Seize the time. The training of leaders will take a plethora of innovative and varying forms. To change the culture you’ll need teaching time. Places to start are incorporating biblical thinking on male leadership into your preaching. Start a men’s Bible study. Meet with a few men weekly for coffee. Join a city Rec league and play some ball together. Whatever works.

In order to understand their role they’ll need to see it in Scripture. But scheduled meetings, while essential, are not enough. This is where creativity is critical. Bring men along. Involve potential leaders in visitation, sermon prep, evangelism, and meetings. Ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it can’t… and so ministry training shouldn’t either.

Sending



Give them a high call. As leaders start to distinguish themselves by their spirituality and teachability, it’s time to start giving them real responsibility. On this point we’re often tempted to be timid, but the Bible is not so. The Bible calls real men to real challenges. Give potential leaders tasks that are large, that they can use their skills to rise to.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint

Give them the grace to make mistakes, but give them goals that will stretch them and cause them to grow. Provide them with gentle, but honest feedback. Don’t sugar coat the task of ministry. We don’t want to create men who put their hand to the plow and then look back (Luke 9:62). The way is hard, but the reward is amazing.

Pray, Pray, Pray. This should occur before and during the process, but we end with it to keep it fresh on our minds. No process or program will bring spiritual change in the hearts of the men in our ministries; only God can do that. Start and finish your task with prayer. Pray that God would bring you men, give you the wisdom to see it, and then give you the grace to raise them up. The Church is His bride; let’s go to Him in prayer, asking for the Spirit to raise its leaders.

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Are All Sins Equal?

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Unless you’ve literally been living under a rock or don’t know what smartphones are, then maybe you’re unaware of this, but just about everyone else in America has been watching the media increasingly make light of sin in general… and much of what is seen in any negative light is relative. Innumerable people are idolaters, not to mention those who are sexually immoral, or who commit adultery (homosexuality is outright celebrated), or those who steal and are greedy and get wasted and revile neighbors and swindle others. It happens all the time. Seriously, every single day. And each of these unrepentant sins are the same in the sense of God’s judgment. They all deserve His wrath. And yet, we’re constantly reminded that “such were some of you” (1st Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:1-5).

During the Reformation there was a common saying, Semper Reformanda. It was an important slogan at the time, but today it is unfortunately overlooked. In Latin, it simply means “always reforming.” The Reformers may have gotten a lot right about the Bible, but they didn’t go far enough in their theology. (And they knew that.) As Protestants today, we must always go back to the Bible to see where we have wandered from the truth. We often believe something is biblical just because it feels spiritual, because it feels right, we’ve heard other Christians say it, or a major denominational leader believes it to be true. However, we must go back to the Text every time. Our hearts are prone to deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9).

Referring back to the Text corrects the idea that “God helps those who help themselves” (Benjamin Franklin said this, not God). It equips us to discern whether cleanliness is, in fact, next to godliness (I have no idea where that goofy saying comes from, but people say it). And I believe it can help with another common statement I repeatedly hear Christians say: “All sins are equal.”

When confronted about their sin, it’s sadly not too uncommon for some adulterous husband/wife to respond, “All sins are equal, so who are you to rebuke me?! Your problem with pride is as bad as my infidelity.”

I’ve heard people say that greed is as bad as abortion, selfishness is as bad as divorce, and slander is just as bad as murder… But are these claims in line with what the Bible actually says?

All Sins Are NOT Equal

The Bible is clear that all sins are not equal:

In John 19:11, Jesus says to Pilate, “… he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Jesus is saying that some sins are considered greater.

In Ezekiel 8:6, Ezekiel is told “… But you will see still greater abominations.” This passage declares that some abominations or sinful actions are greater than others.

In Matthew 5:19, Jesus rebukes anyone who “… relaxes one of the least of these commandments…” This verse reveals that some commands are lesser while others are weightier (Matthew 23:23).

In Numbers 15, the Bible contrasts sin done unintentionally and sin done “with a high hand,” meaning sin done willingly while shaking one’s fist at God. Intentional sin is treated as far more offensive than unintentional sin.

Unrepentant sins are worse than repentant sins. For example, someone who struggles with same-sex attraction but fights it because they love Christ more, is very different than someone who gives themselves over to their sin because they love the sin more than they love Christ (1st John 1:8-10).

Clearly, some sins are more offensive to God than others. Some sins are more “high-handed.” Some sins come from a much darker heart than others. Some sins will carry heavier consequences in this life, hurt in a more far-reaching manner, while some sins will hinder your relationship with God more than others.

… But All Sins ARE Equal

But there is good news. When someone says all sins are equal, they are not entirely off base. All sins are equal in the sense that all sins are offensive to God. All sins are equal in that God demands perfection, and any sin makes you imperfect, thus, making you in need of a perfect Savior. The best news is that all sins are equal in that Jesus’ blood is enough to cover all of them. Whether it is abortion, lying, stealing, rape, cursing, adultery, pride, murder, pornography, or gluttony, Christ’s blood is stronger than both the weakest and strongest of sins.

So, How Should We Live?

This idea offers a warning for those who are tempted to wander into darker and darker sins. Stay in the light. Stay away from things that will hurt you. Don’t allow the phrase “all sins are equal” to blind you from the damaging and damning effects of sin. Don’t fall for the trap that suggests you may as well sleep with the coworker you are flirting with since you have already committed adultery in your heart. That is madness! Don’t buy into the lie that you might as well have premarital sex since you are addicted to porn, anyway. Lesser sins have a way of begetting greater ones.

Conversely, don’t be crushed by the lie that your sin is too great for the grace of God to cover. Don’t buy into the lie that you’re ever too far gone, or that God’s love cannot afford you strength to overcome any snare. All sins may be unequal in the degree to which they offend God and harm others, but all sins are equal in their ability to be forgiven. We are not Christians with an asterisk. We are beloved children of God by adoption, and in Christ, He sees us as perfect.

Diverse Unity

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If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of disunity in a church, you know how upsetting it can be. Most of us do not enjoy conflict in general, so the thought of conflict within the body of believers can feel even more uncomfortable. However, conflict always inevitably happens, just as it does in any committed relationship. Christians are exhorted to be known by their unity even in the midst of great diversity, but does that mean we never raise any concerns? How can we know if an issue we have deep conviction over is worth fighting for? Is there ever a time to break unity with our church family for the sake of integrity?

Every member of the body of believers possesses a set of beliefs that can be divided into three categories: essentials, convictions, and preferences. Understanding how these all relate to unity can help us know whether to speak up or to remain silent, whether to break fellowship or to simply agree to disagree and stay put.

Essentials, Convictions, and Preferences

An essential is any truth which, if denied or misrepresented, nullifies the gospel. Examples of essentials would be belief in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Essentials do not require a seminary degree to understand. They are plainly revealed in Scripture and accessible to believers of all maturity levels. Essentials are what you find in the historic creeds of the church. They define orthodox belief.

A conviction is any deeply held belief which, if believed in error will not nullify the gospel, but can harm spiritual growth. Examples of convictions would be views on baptism, the role of women in the church, eschatology, or the functioning of the charismatic gifts. Some convictions are more deeply held than others, depending on the church, and unlike essentials, not all convictions must carry the same weight. Some convictions, if held in error, have greater potential to harm than others. Disagreements surrounding convictions usually have to do with how we interpret Scripture.

A preference is something I care about, but that is a matter of personal choice. I can readily acknowledge that there is more than one possible right answer while still feeling strongly that my answer is the best one. Examples of preferences would be whether I prefer contemporary worship or traditional worship, casual dress or dressy clothes, smoke machines or stained glass. Disagreements surrounding preferences usually have to do with how we apply Scripture.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

So, how can we judge whether an issue merits division? Think in these terms:

Essentials are worth dying for.
Convictions are worth debating.
Preferences are worth discussing.

Unity must be broken if an essential is compromised or denied. If your church suddenly decides that Jesus is merely a man and not also God, you need to pack your bags.

Unity may be broken if a conviction is violated but must not necessarily be. It could be possible, for example, to remain a faithful member of a congregation that affirms believer’s baptism while still holding to belief in infant baptism.

Unity should not be broken if a preference is not shared. To leave your church because you dislike the worship style (assuming the worship style is not anything sacrilegious) or disagree with its ministry model is to hold in light esteem the beauty of having shared essentials and convictions. This doesn’t mean that preferences are unimportant. They are. And we should be able to dialogue about them with charity. They just aren’t deal-breakers.

Stay If at All Possible

Unfortunately, we often sacrifice unity on the carelessly fickle altar of our preferences. Far too many churches have split over trivial things like whether God loves the organ more than the electric guitar, over what the pastor wears during the service, and even over the color of new carpet. That kind of immaturity is always incredibly sad.

The book of Acts celebrates unity, and it stands as an exhortation to the Church throughout the ages to work hard to prize it. Never has such a diverse assembly of believers been reconciled to one another as in the days of the early church. Acts records the uniting of Jew and Gentile under one God, and the debates and discussions necessary to join these two groups as members of one body. It details the differences in ministry philosophy between Peter and Paul, two men united in the goal of spreading the gospel but divided as to how it should be done. Acts shows us that the tension of the interplay of essentials, convictions, and preferences is a natural part of church life, and that unity is worth fighting for. But unity does not mean unanimity.

To be a member of a body of believers who all affirm every essential and many of your convictions will be a truly rare gift. We need not require that every conviction be held in unity, and we should not require that any preference be held in unity. Just as a marriage is more likely to be easy and enjoyable when a couple shares the same convictions and preferences, so is church membership. It isn’t wrong to long for that kind of harmony, but it is wrong to break or withhold relationship over the lack of it. As with all relationships, our list of preferences should receive due consideration before we commit but far less consideration after.

The way we express our concerns matters, too. Just as no spouse benefits from being nagged or attacked about a conviction or preference by the other spouse, no church benefits from a constant nagging or attacking member. Far better for the member to hold a respectful ‘debate’ or dialogue with someone in leadership than to complain publicly or privately to other members of the body. One approach demonstrates a love of unity. The other does not.

As we each soberly evaluate our essentials, convictions, and preferences, we are well served to remember the watchword of the Lutheran theologian, Meledenius: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” May we meditate then on Jesus; and the beauty of a church seeking unity in diversity, whose crowning virtue is love.

Recommended article: Walk in Unity

One Thing You Lack

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The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30)

Sermon Audio Link

Passage:

And a ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed You.” And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Luke 18:18-30 (ESV)

Sermon Audio Link

Sermon Notes:

• The Question

How does one obtain eternal life?

• The Rich, Young Ruler

Calls Jesus “Good Teacher” in a manner of flattery, as there is not one example in the entire Talmud of a rabbi being addressed this way; addressed with an attribute possessed only by God. Jesus doesn’t correct him by saying He is not good, but rather that only God is good and invites the young man to reflect on his own words. Have you ever heard someone say something and thought they should take a moment to think about what they just said, and maybe the answer they are looking for already resides in the very words they spoke?

His question carries the assumption that salvation or eternal life must be earned and that something in addition to the work he was currently doing was required.

• One thing you lack…

But is it really just one thing, or three?

It sounds like three things: 1) sell what you possess, 2) give it to the poor, 3) follow me. How are these three (commands/demands) requests really one?

The young ruler claims that he has kept all the commands Jesus mentions since his youth, but Jesus only mentions the commandments dealing with our fellow neighbors, not those that deal directly with God. He uses His request to expose what the young man lacks, and how he desperately fails to measure up to the law. The very first of the commandments is to have no other God before the one true God of Israel… Jesus shows how money is sitting in the place of God in this young man’s heart, and it deeply grieves him when asked to depart with it.

These demands may be summed up like this: “Your attachment to your possessions needs to be replaced by an attachment to Me.” It’s as though the man stood there with his hands full of money, and Jesus said, “You lack one thing; reach out and take my hands.” To do this the man must open his fingers and let the money fall. The “one thing” he needs is not what falls out of his hands, but what he takes into his hands.

The poor are always the beneficiaries when this transaction happens — when a person treasures Jesus above money. That’s why Jesus mentions the poor. We are all spiritually poor without Christ. But the main focus is what is happening between this man and Jesus. Jesus does not merely expose the closed-handedness of the young ruler, He alludes to the truth that if the young man rightly understood who Jesus was, if he knew the good character of God, he would cry out for mercy, not complacently seek reward. All the fitness God requires is for you to feel your need of Him…

• God loves to give good gifts.

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Illustration — “Delighting in our cat, Winston”

Kathryn and I do not have children (at least not yet), but we do have a young cat. Even in the caring for this small animal, as two imperfect people, we delight in providing good things for him. We love giving him wet food, treats, new toys of any kind, letting him sleep in our bed and snuggle with us. We truly enjoy giving him good things, and watching him respond with excitement and joy.

The Father enjoys delighting in His children by giving them good gifts… but how does one receive something when their hands are full? Often times our hands are full of idols, unready to receive God’s love. And we mistakenly think that idols are just bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.

“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak… We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis

• The One Thing

Jesus tells the rich young ruler, He tells all of us: You lack one thing. You lack Me. Stop treasuring money and start treasuring Me. You want to inherit eternal life? You want truth? You want to enter the kingdom of heaven? You want to be justified? You want to be righteous before God? Only by your attachment to Me will you inherit eternal life, be saved, find truth, enter the kingdom, be justified, and have any real meaning to your life. If you would be perfect — which is the only way into God’s kingdom — follow Me. Be connected to Me. Depend on all that I am for you.

There is no “go and do likewise” command present here in the discussion. Jesus isn’t asking this of everyone He talks with; He doesn’t tell everyone everywhere to give away everything they have. That is not the point here. Jesus uses a humorous illustration to explain how difficult it is for those who appear materially blessed to have God first in their heart; Jesus doesn’t say that anybody who has material blessings cannot be saved.

If you gain the whole universe, and have not Jesus, you are infinitely impoverished compared to the one who doesn’t just have the treasure, but is the Treasure. If you are bankrupt and indebted beyond your ability to ever reimburse that whom you owe, the option to just do a little more seems rather silly, doesn’t it? “One thing you still lack. . . . Me!”

• Disordered Love & Trust

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Illustration — “The pain of the illusion of loss”

Winston’s need for what appeared to be torture in order to heal… the rich young ruler’s need to let go of his idol of wealth in order to see God as what he truly needs.

While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught and teaches that the answer to this was not to love things less, but to love God more than anything else. To rightly reorder your love. Jesus even tells people that they should hate their family in a hyperbolical (extreme, purposefully exaggerated) comparison. You should love God so much, that other relationships look like hate by comparison, but actually, if you love God that much, you cannot help but pour out your love for all of His creation.

How weird would it be if I enjoyed my wife’s material possessions more than I loved and interacted with her? Wouldn’t it seem odd if I was faced with a decision to choose our TV or our marriage, and I chose the TV? That would look like a pretty dumb decision and quite a dysfunctional relationship, would it not?

The disciples (viewing this through their cultural lens), ask who then can be saved?! Jesus makes is clear no man can save himself, it is impossible. But God saves. As long as we think we are not that bad, the idea of grace will never change us. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief and sorrow is not to be eliminated, but seasoned and supported with love and hope.

“God is not only more demanding than people care to think, but also more generous than they have dared to hope.”

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• So, what are you holding onto?

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, it is not inherently evil to be considered financially rich. But Christ called this young man to give up his wealth in order to follow Him, exposing that he valued cash above Christ. Today we see two VERY controversial issues constantly talked about in the media: homosexuality and a women’s right to “reproductive freedom.” For some, those are two hot topics they are not willing to let go of. For others, it may be literally anything… Whatever materials, family, pets, rights, liberties, etc. that we possess, we were created not to view the created as ultimate. Does that make sense? We are valuing created things above the Creator Himself when we see things merely as our own, to do whatever we wish with our possessions. Jesus is showing us here that we should consider it all worthless compared to Him.

So try to take some time to search your heart for what things you may be holding onto or valuing more than a relationship with God. I pray that we don’t make the common mistake of thinking extensively about someone we know who should really hear this message, and consider these words ourselves… because just like me, without Jesus: You lack.

Come and See

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-51)

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Sermon audio

Today in America, we have virtually unlimited resources in which to educate ourselves, yet sadly ignorance, bigotry, sexism, racism, hypocrisy, and contempt still plague our society. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The genre of the passage we are about to read is gospel. It combines three literary ingredients: what Jesus did, what Jesus said (discourse and dialogue), and people’s responses to Jesus. This particular passage is a calling and encountering story of Nathanael with Jesus Christ.

Passage:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51 (ESV)

Skepticism:

Pride

Nathanael is at the very least an intellectual snob, a geographical elitist, and maybe even a bigot.

The more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.

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Contempt

There is a contempt for people from Nazareth. Nathanael asks, “He’s from Nazareth? Really?! From THERE?! Are you serious right now?” In Nathanael’s eyes (and many others), Nazareth was a pathetic, backwater, primitive, ghetto of ghettos region of Galilee. This was that group of “those people.”

Again, the more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.

During the first basketball game I ever attended in Allen Fieldhouse, in Lawrence Kansas, they played (among many things) a clip from an old Clint Eastwood movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

I grew up in Kansas when I was younger and there is still a lingering distaste there for anything from Missouri. Back in the 1800’s, parts of cities were burned to the ground, people murdered in public, and even livestock slaughtered over the differences between these two states. The man who led the raid that served to spark the Civil War at Harper’s Ferry was none other than a Jayhawker from Kansas, John Brown.

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This movie clip was used because the Kansas Jayhawks were playing their hated border rivals, the Missouri Tigers. In this clip their is an older woman talking to a shop-keep about how they wouldn’t be purchasing anything from Missouri, they would never touch any muck from that state; they were Jayhawkers, and proud of it. At this point, the gym erupted; at times during the game it reached the decibel level that closely resembles that of a jet engine at takeoff. Needless to say, there is still a contempt in the state of Kansas for those dirty black and yellow slave-owning, secessionists from Missouri.

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Now while the story of Kansas and Missouri seems pretty obvious why there is contempt and bitterness there, we still see pride and contempt in shallow, sometimes petty ways in our lives today. Think about where you work, where you went to school, where you grew up… there is always “those people.” Sometimes it’s even a distaste for those who we think we’re spoiled or over-privileged.

Random examples:

• Costco – Walmart
• Texas A&M – University of Texas
• Pepsi – Coke
• Papa John’s – Pizza Hut

Belief:

Acknowledgment

You are the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel” are the two terms Nathanael uses to declare his belief that Jesus is who Philip said He was.

Quick shift (maybe too quick)

Just one sentence and Nathanael is all in. He’s pushing all his chips into the game because of one, single phrase by Jesus.

Think

Jesus never discourages thinking or the search for truth. Reason and logic is never to be feared. Doubt and questioning is not to be ignored or looked down upon. Doubt is healthy inquiry. Disbelief is a willful choice.

Have you ever witnessed large numbers of grade school students have moving experiences at some kind of church summer camp, be fired up and passionate about their faith for a season, but fail to grow in that faith over the next few years, only to have it seemingly snuffed out by skeptical professor in college who has a couple sarcastic quips for why Christianity is such a farce? Am I the only one who has seen this happen a concerning amount of times?

A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no anti-bodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. If you never take the time to better understand what it is you claim to believe, how do you know your faith wasn’t just an emotional experience? A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if they have failed over the years to listen patiently to their own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

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Closing:

John wrote this Gospel with evangelistic intent. However, the depth of teaching in his writing shows that he wanted readers not only to come to initial saving faith in Jesus, but also to grow into a rich, well-informed faith.

So, I’d like to plead with you all today, come and see… this man from Nazareth, this Son of Man named Jesus… He is the awaited Messiah, He is God become man, Word become flesh, He dwelt among us, turned the world on its head, is shining light into the darkness, and has even defeated death. In Christ, you will see greater things than you could ever imagine. Faith is the beginning; and once you have seen, now you are called to follow. Don’t settle for just some emotional response today, but join me in a life-long journey to better understand and know Jesus for who He is: our Messiah.

Homophobic Bigots…

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It seems like most of the country, maybe even the world, is constantly talking about homosexuality. The conversation is virtually impossible to ignore if you pay any attention at all to cultural currents. News and media outlets, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, television shows, and even the federal courts are conversing about this topic. What some people are saying is very interesting, but much of it is also quite frustrating.

As legislature continues to be passed on the legalization of same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage “evolves/progresses” and all of that, if you’re listening to the rhetoric, here is the accusation against Christians in the broad-stroke: they are bigots. We are intolerant. We are the American Taliban. We’re straight up terrorists and a danger to society. We are right up there with the KKK and the Civil Rights Movement trying to deprive people of rights that are God-given or self-evident. We are out on an ignorant mission to rob others of their freedoms, liberties, and happiness. Those are the accusations against us.

Please don’t close the browser and tune me out just yet. All those accusations leveled against Christians, they had better be false accusations. I don’t pretend that our view will ever be understood by those outside the faith – outside the kingdom of God – but we are a people commanded by God to be marked by love, compassion, patience, mercy, and… even hospitality. Please understand this: You don’t catch sin from sinners. Do you get that?

“If my sinfulness appears to be smaller or less detestable than sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I know some of us, in the attempt to protect our family and to make sure we all stay purer than we actually are, build walls. You don’t want your kids around those kinds of kids. You don’t want to be around those kinds of people. But you are those kinds of people! It’s God’s grace that rescues from “that” (Ephesians 2:1-10). We’ve all got to stop that nonsense. We shouldn’t be consumed with building walls. We should open doors. Our home is open, and my friends, neighbors, and co-workers can make accusations against me, but they better be false. I want them just to be confused to some degree. I just want my neighbors and co-workers to be so ridiculously confused. “This guy is a bigot, but he keeps inviting me over for dinner. He’s so closed-minded, but he speaks respectfully and kind to me. That guy makes me sick, but he keeps bringing me presents on my birthday and Christmas. That dude is such a jerk, but man he tips really well. That guy is like an American terrorist, but he sure is friendly.” I just want that type of confusion. (I’ll admit I don’t always conduct myself in such a way that would reflect the love of Christ, but it is my hope to do so.)

There has to be wisdom though. I’m not telling you to operate in a way that lacks wisdom; God has put us here for the purpose of being the light of the world. We aren’t called to hide out in a building, we are called to engage our community. We are to encourage. We are called to open up our home. We’re called to live in the world. There is some risk involved in that. Yes, there is always risk. Be wise about how you try to do that, but trust God in those things.

I have some friends who would fit the prototype of someone who would probably be infuriated with Christianity and Christians, and sure enough, as we have had conversations, as I’ve seen social media posts, after hearing story after story of being judged harshly, of being ostracized, of being made to feel worthless, feeling like their lifestyle or beliefs are belittled… there has been some unfortunate legitimacy to some of the negative experiences they’ve had with those proclaiming to be Christians, way too much legitimacy to some of those stories. However, some (yes, SOME) of the perceived harshness has been on them. Sometimes people feel hypocritically condemned even when there is no actual condemnation present. It’s not always entirely on God’s people, it’s not always 100%. Because sometimes unregenerate, unbelieving people don’t know what to do with conviction. They don’t feel it as sweet discipline from God; they see it as harsh judgment. They see it as horrible and something to flee from very quickly.

In fact, some of you reading this today probably feel judged, and no one has actually judged you. You may be “judging” yourself right now. We’re not judging you though. However, we’re going to inevitably fall short sometimes. We should be striving to live in glad submission to Jesus Christ where we laugh a lot, where we enjoy good music, appreciate good movies, where we enjoy good food, where we enjoy good drink, where we enjoy hanging out with others and sharing our lives, but not doing so in a way that is outside of the bounds of the Word of God. We should readily let others see the life that is made available to those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ, and then actually see our imperfections. Because tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.

God loves imperfect people. That’s why dressing up like you’re pretty when you’re not isn’t helpful. The bigot, closed-minded, and intolerant labels will inevitably be put on us at this point. It’s over. This is how we will be labeled. It will only get “worse.” If you can’t handle this label and don’t want to be viewed like this, then you’re going to have a hard time; you’ll have to go underground or be silent with your faith, which means I don’t think you even really have any. In the end though, let us hope that the accusations and the labels are false.

In addition to being falsely labeled, if we limit the scope of how we are misunderstood and ignore that it is a form of persecution, we will neglect the Christian ethic incumbent upon us to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14; 1st Corinthians 4:12). When people slander us, mock us, or pass laws against us because we are thought to be anti-gay, anti-science, and anti-women, that is a form of persecution. And as such, we are commanded by Christ Himself to pray for those and love those who hate us so.

Because if John 15:20 is true, and 2nd Timothy 3:13 is true, and the expectation of the entire New Testament is true, then no amount of “cultural campaigning” or PR work is going to rescue the church from being thought by some as backwards and bigoted. Where in the gospels did Jesus promise that the world would love us if we just kept our heads down and tried to be really good neighbors? I know many people who think of the church as being very “unchristian” and evangelicals as being political operatives for the Republican Party. So let’s have the humility to see if we are as obnoxious and unintelligent as many people surmise. Honestly, sometimes some of us are… but let’s not assume that bad press with the world means we’ve all done wrong by God.

As followers of a crucified King we should expect to be like the scum of the earth to some (1st Corinthians 4:13) and like the aroma of death to others (2nd Corinthians 2:16). We should not think misinformed hatred and intolerant harassment mean the church has completely gone off the rails. The presence of persecution or hate is no sign that Christians have failed to engage the world properly. In fact, from everything we’ve seen in Scripture we ought to suspect something is wrong with us if we have somehow avoided all of the world’s persecution successfully.

Because, as Christians we believe that God has reconciled us to Himself, not by demanding that we first and foremost adhere to a moral code, but rather by sending the Son of God, by sending Jesus Christ, unlike us, to live a completely perfect life. Jesus Christ was completely obedient to every command God gave Him. He was other than, although He was fully man. Jesus is fully man, but His obedience is/was perfect. His record was spotless. No accusation could rightly be made against Him. Yet He was still hated by many…

So even when we are being criticized for quoting Scripture and stating our beliefs, the God of the Bible essentially says in Matthew 5, “Hey, they’re going to falsely label you. Cool, okay, stop worrying so much about that. They did that to Isaiah. You guys have something in common now. Oh, they’re going to falsely misrepresent you. Hey, you and Jeremiah would be good friends. You guys could sit around and talk about what it’s like to be ostracized and be pushed to the margins.” Jesus will also say, “Oh, hey, btw, I’m also well acquainted with all that.” Was Jesus not repeatedly misrepresented, repeatedly falsely accused of things that were absurd? There will be nothing you can do about the accusation. Just let it be false accusation, and strive to love your neighbor regardless of their actions, or your own feelings.

Authentic Community: Bearing Life With One Another

Audio Sermon Link

Everyone says they want community and friendship. But simply mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way. So, why should we honestly believe and strive to live like authentic Biblical community really is worth the mess and pain?

The Passage

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

Quote to Consider

“A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. . . . Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself.” – Thomas á Kempis

Acknowledging Sin & Seeking Reconciliation

When we become aware of someone else’s sin, conceited inferiority would cause us either to envy the life they are leading, however sinful; or to crave their approval so much that we won’t risk pointing out their failure to live in line with the gospel.

The ultimate goal is restoration. Why do we engage brothers and sisters who are drowning? Why do we engage those who are being overcome by sin? Why do we engage those who are hurting and losing their fight against iniquity? In order to restore; we work, not as detectives, but as friends and coheirs of Christ.

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

Further… We should strive to be considerate and empathetic when giving advice. Don’t belittle your friend’s challenges by comparing them to yours. Your race might be a full 26.2 mile marathon, and your friend’s may only be a 5k, but telling them that you’re running a marathon doesn’t exactly make their 5k any easier. The heart of the Christian faith isn’t someone telling others how to eat, it is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Authentic Community

We live in a strange time in which it seems the majority of people in our culture say they want community and they desire authentic community, but then they aren’t willing to kneel down and get their hands dirty in a sense. We all seem to understand that community and relationship are important and needed for a healthy life, but at the same time we aren’t quickly willing to make the sacrifices that enable community to happen.

Or on the other hand, we build a sense of community with only friends of roughly the same age, same interests, same ethnicity, same demographic as us so that we are more comfortable and less prone to experience any conflict.

We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay. Everyone wants judgment when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed; but praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.

“We are far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.”

Takeaway Questions

Is there a habitual sin you need to gently restore a brother or sister from? Are you willing to listen to others who seek to restore you?

What opportunities is God giving you to carry another’s burdens?

How are you sowing and reaping to please the Spirit in your specific set of God-given life circumstances?