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.

What Should the Church Say About Abortion? Some Thoughts and Free Resources

It is not an understatement to say that abortion may be the most divisive issue of our generation. The deep emotion that clouds this issue tempts us to lose reason and truth in a forest of political ideology. Further, the church cannot avoid the question about its own role on this issue because of the politics, emotion, or past abuses. Even when churches and pastors decide not to engage, they have taken a side, often the side of cowards.  And while most political support for the prolife cause comes from Catholics and Evangelicals, it is sadly true that most churches do very little to engage on the abortion issue, especially at a spiritual level.

For some Christians, cultural issues like abortion are THE mission of the church. In my opinion, this is a mistake as well. The church has a mission to testify to the truth of Christ and through this, to make disciples. And while our good works also play an essential role, we cannot escape the New Testament emphasis on speaking the word of God to every creature. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim 3:15). We are to make and teach disciples (Matt 28:18-20). We are to witness to the risen Christ (Acts 1:8)

But we have to see that the gospel is only good news if there is a problem to be remedied. Mercifully, the gospel always comes with a call to repentance. It is a call to trust in Christ, and to stop trusting and serving our idols (I Thess. 1:9-10).  If we are to be like the apostles, we must call all people to “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:32). Because of this, any church that perpetually neglects the abortion issue is failing to call the culture (and the church) to repent. And it is failing to offer the healing medicine of the gospel to areas of guilt and shame that need it most. Men and women who are suffering from abortion as part of their past are betrayed when the church is silent.

At Free Grace Church we have been committed from the very beginning to engage on the abortion issue in ways that are wise, compassionate, prayerful, materially-supportive, bold, and grace-filled. In addition to supporting and partnering with prolife organizations, each year on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we take time to address the abortion issue directly. We address it at other times, but we feel it is important to come back to speak truth against one of the darkest sins of our generation.

We welcome you to join us this Sunday as we address the issue again. We will be looking at why abortion is wrong, and why you don’t even need a Bible to see this. Our services start at 10am on Sunday morning, and we meet at 3385 E. Shields Ave near First St. (next to Target). You can find more info here.

We would also like to offer these free messages from previous years to help you think through the issue.

Is Abortion Selfish? This is a controversial question and even asking it is offensive to our generation. But what if we take seriously what prochoice authors themselves say about their motivations for abortion? Listen to the message here.

Abortion and Lies? Our society is awash with misinformation and falsehoods when it comes to the abortion issue. What are the foundational lies that abortion culture is built on? Listen here.

Also, several years ago we preached on "Abortion and the Charge of Hypocrisy" and that resulted in a discussion on Life Report with Josh Bram. You can listen below.

Generosity and the Bystander Effect

What happens when we witness generosity?

What happens when we witness generosity?

In Acts 20:35 Paul reminds his listeners that Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”  This is counterintuitive. It is like saying that you will become rich by giving your money away. It’s bad math.  Yet there is something powerful here that saints and pagans have recognized for centuries. The self-absorbed person is wasting away. 

How does this work? Why is it more blessed to give than receive? Here are a few quick thoughts to motivate you to joyful service:

First, giving glorifies God. He is pleased when we share. Generosity is considered a sacrifice of worship. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16

Second, It also brings joy to us as we find a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that is bigger than ourselves. As we give to others (either with service or sacrifice) we are working out the great commandment to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). And that is what we were made for. And when we fulfill our created purpose, we take another step toward enduring happiness.

Finally, in Philemon v. 7 Paul writes, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”  This is fascinating because Paul is telling Philemon that he has seen how his acts of love have refreshed the hearts of God’s people. And as Paul has witnessed this, his own joy has increased. Paul didn’t receive the gift, he was a just witness. And yet, by witnessing these kind gestures, Paul received a gift of a different kind. When we see others act in love and kindness we are moved to thank God. We find joy. We are comforted even if we are in the middle of tough times. We are challenged to do the same. Generosity is infectious and contagious. 

This phenomenon is another reason why giving is more blessed than receiving. When we give, we refresh two hearts: the heart of the person we are serving AND those who hear about the gift. 

The transaction of giving is bigger than the two people directly involved- the giver and receiver. God is also involved. But God has also determined that the effects of generosity are like a shock wave. When we give, we have an opportunity to impact everyone around us. Generosity reflects the character of God, and when we are representing his image well, blessings overflow to everyone around.

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.

Using Wine At Our Communion Service

At Free Grace Church after several years of offering only grape juice for communion we recently switched back to offering both wine and grape juice. From the very beginning of our church plant we have offered both out of conviction that having fermented wine is actually a Biblical practice. We switched a while ago because some women from the Hacienda ministry were visiting with us on Sundays. This move was made to accommodate these women who were in the middle of a court mandated program that forbade any and all alcohol in the strictest terms. But recently this door was permanently closed to us. So a decision was made to return to the practice of offering wine.

The response from our church has been overwhelmingly positive, and some were even urging a return to wine prior to the decision. Several of you reached out to thank me for this change, and I appreciate your encouragement. However there were a few people that were confused and surprised this last Sunday. While we did announce this for several weeks, several of you were not present or had missed the announcement, then on Sunday during the celebration of the Lord’s supper we made a mistake and forgot to announce this. It was an unintentional oversight. I want to ask for your forgiveness for not taking time to make this clear to everyone.

In the last 100 years or so in America, many in the evangelical church have arrived at the conviction that consuming any wine is sinful. I believe this is is an unfortunate position that doesn’t recognize the many places in scripture that alcohol (wine) is used and even praised as a blessing from God. I also believe it is a historically inaccurate. The wine that was used in the Old and New Testaments was definitely fermented. The temperance view of abstinence is also a historical anomaly. Through most of history, and in most places other than America, the church has thankfully celebrated the Lord’s supper with wine, and allowed the use of alcohol in moderation. And thankfully this is the practice of most in our church. And our intent is not to urge anyone to violate their conscience, but we do want to be faithful to scripture.

I do believe that some who have this conviction do so out of a sincere desire to avoid the problems of drunkenness, or based on past struggles with sin.  This desire is 100% commendable. However, I do not believe it reflects the way the Bible itself deals with sins of excess and praises moderation and the glad reception of God’s gifts (I Tim 4:1-5, Colossians 2:20-23).

Here is a helpful article that summarizes some of the big ideas connected to the acceptability of wine in the context of the current debate.   Here is another article posted at Kirk Cameron’s (a noted evangelical figure) website.

Again, I offer my apologies to anyone that is confused. Honestly, please forgive me as your pastor for not providing better leadership.

We want to hold our liberty in a way that is gracious, informed, and honors the weaker brother. This means that if you have a problem with drinking alcohol, you can use grape juice during the Supper. We don’t look down on you! We even have one member that is seriously allergic to corn syrup (which is found in grape juice and most commercial wines) so we have several cups of water available.  If you have any concerns, especially if they are big enough to cause division or abiding questions, I urge you to contact me soon that we can talk. Our motive is the desire to honor the Lord and serve his people according to scripture.