Don't Mow the Weeds

In Fresno during the spring weeds grow effortlessly. And if we have had a lot of rain, they emerge from the ground with a quick vengence. In outlying areas where the homes have large properties, residents are required to remove or kill the weeds around their homes before summer to prevent dangers from grass fires.

Yesterday at our house, my wife mowed our lawn, by which I mean, our weeds. The last few years have seen a drought in central California and most of the grass has already died. But the weeds are virile and healthy due to ample rain.  She has already mowed them several times in the past month. But they keep coming back. When you mow weeds like this, what you get is a few days of cosmetic appeal. For a while, the yard looks like manicured grass. Green and lucious. But give it some time and the ugly weeds will be back revealing the truth. And through some diabolical mechanism, the action of the lawnmower actually helps to spread the seeds faster than nature would have done it.

This reminds me of the different ways we approach immoral behavior. Often in the church we want to use external rules, shame, or peer pressure as the primary, and sometimes exclusive method of dealing with bad conduct. We mow the weeds.  We end up with is people appearing moral for a while. I say “appearing” because very often legalistic church culture just drives the behavior underground. People are still as sinful as ever, they just can’t be honest about it or get real help. 

But there is another way. When we address sin with the gospel, we can acknowledge both it’s ugliness and its “treatableness." With the gospel we see that sin is not a problem simply for those people, it is a problem for all of us. When we seek to help a brother or sister with the gospel, we come with humility as fellow sinners. When we approach sin with the grace of God, we can offer a serious diagnosis and a strong treatment. Grace gives us power to change. And it gives us hope for the struggle that takes place in our hearts. It also gives us a different motive for change. When we are motivated by grace, we pursue change out of a higher love rather than a fear of being caught or punished. We are constrained by the love of Christ.  

When we use the gospel as our primary approach for dealing with sin it looks different it because it isn’t only concerned with appearances. It aims for the heart.  It goes beyond the expressions and social effects of sin to ask about the thoughts and intents of the heart. And it offers something that the heart longs for. It is concerned with roots. It sees the stalk, flowers, leaves, and fruit of undesirable actions as effects of deeper causes. The roots are the real problem. All our sinful actions spring from things like pride, unbelief, idolatry, lust, etc.  The size of the weeds is significant as an indicator of a problem.  Short weeds look better, and might fool someone taking a passing glance, but they are still a serious problem. In fact, short weeds can be worse than tall ones because they are easier to ignore.  When character problems are hidden they are typically more dangerous because they avoid notice. When we are armed with the gospel, the revelation of the problem can be regarded as a mercy.  

The church is in a precarious position. It shouldn’t seek to drive sin underground through hypocrisy and shame (legalism). But neither should it celebrate or tolerate it through indifference (license). But it should welcome the honest reality of our struggle with sin.  It should treat sin with a grace and power that is greater than sin. And it shouldn’t focus merely on externals. It must aim for the heart, the root of all behavior. In many ways this is far more radical. Doing this will slowly effect the outward actions. But it often takes longer. Much like planting new seeds takes time to see growth, the slow process of pulling weeds instead of mowing them produces long term health and beauty in the soul.

A Simple (And Free) Method For Discipleship

If the mission of the church (and therefore the mission of Christians that make up the church) is to make disciples, one of the most important questions is: how do we do this? Classroom instruction and time around a book can be helpful, but too often this is where discipleship ends. It is merely information transfer.  But when we look at Biblical examples of discipleship, we see something different. Jesus’ interaction with his disciples before the last supper is a great clinic on discipleship. Here we not only learn about humility, but how to teach humility.

In John 13:1-20 we have the well known account of the foot washing.  Cleaning dirty feet was a lowly job reserved for slaves. It was beneath ordinary people. So when there is no servant to wash the feet of the disciples before the passover meal, Jesus does the job himself. He does the work that none of them are willing to do. This is shocking. The master has become the slave. And he is doing this to show them how they are to serve others.  I realize that this passage is about more than Jesus' example, but that is beyond my focus here.

Note several things about his teaching method. It is a simple example we can use when discipling others, including our children.

First- Do. In v. 1-5 Jesus takes action to wash the feet of his followers. He removes his outer garments and gets the water basin.  This is simple, but important to note. Jesus doesn’t simply talk about servanthood, though he does this in many places. He actually models servanthood for them. He shows them how to do it.  He provides a concrete example of an abstract idea.  In order to make and mold disciples we need to spend time together with them. We need to do things together that demonstrate what it means to follow Jesus. They need to see an example that they can follow.  We need to take them along as we pray, visit sick people, help those in need, have conversations, volunteer, clean up the mess, make plans for the future, etc. We need to do the actions of every day life, and also actions that would be considered “ministry.” And we need to do this deliberately.  We need to do these things with them.

Second-Engage. In v. 6-11 Jesus interacts with Peter while he is serving them. Jesus is a providing the example and Peter is engaging Jesus. Peter is paying attention and he protests this outrageous and shameful act of a master becoming a servant. And Jesus discusses this with Peter. We need to have conversations while we are “doing” the things of life and ministry. And it would be really wonderful if we did some things that were so shocking (e.g. Masters taking the job of the slave) so that lively conversations would follow. We need to explain, clarify, answer objections, point out details, etc.  Discussion during activities, as well as time for silence are important parts of teaching.

Third-Debrief. In v. 12-17 Jesus “debriefs” the disciples after he has washed their feet. He takes time for conversation and instruction when he is done. He asks, “Do you understand what I have just done to you?”  This is an opportunity to make sure they got the message. He is going to provide the proper interpretation for what just happened. Then he clearly says that they need to do this to one another (v. 15). He provides more instruction about true greatness (v. 16). This is important because they are going to be teachers and “masters” some day.  Finally, he gives them an incentive, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (v. 17).  Masterful.

The lesson for us is simple. In order to make disciples we need to do more than invite people to a classroom. We need to do things with them and for them. We need to engage them while we are in action. And then we need to talk and explain what just happened. 

Here is a personal example, I have done this while taking people with me to visit the sick, whether at home or the hospital. On the way to the visit I will ask, “what does the Bible say about being sick?” There are dozens of equally good questions, but I like this one. It can open up almost any line of discussion.  We have a conversation about this. Then I tell them in simple form what we are going to do during the visit. Then we spend time with the person. We talk, pray, sometimes bring a gift. Ask questions. Lots of listening. Then, after we are done and on our way out, we discuss the visit. I want the person to have a chance to express what they saw and ask questions.  I want to make important connections between theory and practice.

Do. Engage. Debrief. It is a simple method that only costs time and humility. But if you do this you will be imitating one of Jesus’ methods and on your way to developing well rounded and Christlike disciples.

Why is the "Church" A Mess? Are You A Part Of The Problem? Or Part Of The Solution?

It is easy to see problems and weakness in the church. And this is true for any local church. The flaws are so obvious. The body of Christ often seems sick, underfunded, under-appreciated, and ineffective. In fact, it is easier for us to complain than to do something to fix the problem.

I have heard pastors talk about the “90-10” phenomenon. This is the idea that 10% of the people do 90% of the work in the church. Overall, I don’t think this is accurate for a number of reasons. That is a topic for another time.  But this idea points to an unfortunate reality. Large numbers of church goers are simply consumers. And they are doing exactly what they have been trained to do. Too many of the voices advising pastors focus on how to increase attendance by creating consumers. And sadly this includes offering services (entertainment, children’s programs, inspiration, etc) in order to get people to show up.  We have done a good job at getting people to ask if their needs are being met.  Too often, this results in crowds of people that expect to be served rather than an army mobilized for service and sacrifice.

When we look at scripture we see something different (Read Ephesians Chapter 4). We see that Christ has risen from the dead and given each member of his church gifts for the good of the body. We see that the savior is at work through his people to build one another up and prepare them for usefulness, both inside and outside of the church.

Ephesians 4:15-16 says this, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Each part of the body needs to be connected to Christ AND to one another. And when each part is working properly the body grows and builds itself up in love. That is easy enough to understand. When a person is healthy, all of their organs and body tissues are working together to maintain health and usefulness. When a doctor evaluates a sick person one of things they check is the health of the various body systems. Sick body parts make for a sick person.  

Maybe the body is sick because some of its members are not connected? Maybe the body is sick because some of the body parts aren’t working properly so that the body cannot “build itself up in love?” If the church is weak and ineffective, maybe the reason is that the members of the body aren’t working for the health of the church? 

The truth is, if you are a Christian, you have been entrusted with gifts and graces that the rest of the body desperately needs. Jesus has arranged the church so that we help to complete what is lacking in one another (Phil. 2:30).  And he wants to work through you to make his body healthy.  

If you see problems in your church (I see them in ours!) then the first step is to start with yourself. Are you functioning to promote the health of the body or are you acting like a consumer?  I want to invite you to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

A Lesson From My Dog: How NOT To Choose A Church

Our family loves dogs, but some would say we are not very good at making our dog follow the rules. I am told that you aren’t supposed to give dogs “people food,” and we generally avoid this indulgence. But once in a while, in a moment of weakness, an unmentioned family member will give our dog a treat.  The person who does this has earned the name “Weak Link,” for obvious reasons. Our dog is highly motivated by food and has learned how to work the system. She will ignore everyone else and follow the “Weak Link” around the house in order to get what she wants. She knows that the other family members won’t indulge her bad doggy manners, so she ignores them. But she knows how to act very cute and beg in order to get what she wants from me.

I thought of this while reading from 2 Timothy 4 this morning.  After exhorting Timothy to preach the word (v. 2), Paul says “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching , but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (4:3) People who don’t want to hear the truth won’t stop going to church or listening altogether. They have passions and desires that must be satisfied. So they will act like my dog and seek out teachers and churches who will scratch their itching ears. And what do they want? What is the standard criteria for deciding which teachers to listen to? It is their passions (v. 3b). 

Evidently there were people in the church who had a set of sinful desires and attractions, and instead of indulging these desires, the teaching of the apostles (called “sound teaching”) confronted them and called them to repentance.  Jesus routinely taught that many of the things we naturally desire are violations of God’s law, are bad for us, and end up becoming substitutes for God himself (Matt 5:21-30 & 6:24-33).  These people put up with the truth for a while, but eventually act just like my dog. They ignore anyone who won’t tell them what they want to hear. 

One of the lessons for us is to beware of choosing a church, podcast, blog, etc. based on our desires. Don’t choose teachers who refuse to confront your darker appetites. Especially watch out for the ones that are willing to encourage or normalize the passions and desires that are condemned in scripture. Beware of anyone that that tells you that Jesus wants you to be happy indulging greed, hatred, lust, envy, covetousness, or pride.

By Pastor Matt Troupe