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This Week's Teaching: "Hardship is Coming and Many Will Fall Away"
I've been saying this for a few years now and I'm gonna say it again: Hardship is coming and many will fall away.
I've asked the question: if the above ground structures and systems that we rely on for the practice of our faith... -- meaning, if the worship services that other people plan for us, if the sermons that other people deliver to us, if the video platform that we log into to watch teaching, or the streaming services that we tap into to listen to worship music; if the songs that other people are writing and producing with all the lush instruments, which are great, but if the things that we rely on for the practice of our faith; if Zondervan and whoever else publishes the Bible, if those who have studied the original languages and are skilled in translating the scriptures into our modern languages, into our vernacular; if the people who pay the bills and do the maintenance on a building so that we have some place to go on a Sunday morning so we can go to church; if the bank accounts that allow us to pay someone that we call pastor to watch over us and care for us and be there when times are hard and to marry us, when things are great but if the finances, if the bank accounts that allow us to hire someone to take care of us, if the 501(c)(3) status, those things that we rely on; if the ability to worship publicly; if the freedom to tell someone else about our faith without suffering persecution; if all these things -- if the above ground systems and structures that we rely on for the practice of our faith were suddenly taken away. This isn't a political statement. If politics are involved, fine, but if they were suddenly taken away, all those above ground systems and structures -- If the above ground systems and structures that you rely on for the practice of your faith were suddenly taken away, would you still know how to practice your faith?
Would we still know how to practice our faith?
If we weren't church in the way that we think of as church, would we still know how to practice our faith?
If church was about more than going to a worship service or volunteering or having someone coordinate a potluck, or having youth group to send our youth to, or a kids church to send our kids to. If all those things that we think about as church in the Western American early 21st century mindset, if those things were taken away, would we still know how to practice our faith?
It grabbed me several years ago, when Covid hit and I looked around and I said, "No, we don't." Like, we don't know how to practice our faith. Because as soon as someone said, "Sorry, you can't meet in big groups," we went, "Oh no! Now we can't worship God!" We didn't know how to practice our faith. As soon as someone said, " You can't meet in a group to hear someone preach for you," we thought, "Oh no. Now how am I going to eat?"
If the above ground systems and structures that you rely on for the practice of your faith were suddenly taken away, would you still know how to practice your faith?
I believe hardship has come and hardship is coming, and that when it comes, many will fall away. Where I get this is Jesus's own words. Matthew 24. He says, "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation and Kingdom against Kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places." We could probably put whatever the natural disasters that we're afraid of in there. "All these are the beginning of birth pains."
Something is developing. When it gets bad something is ready to be born. When the pains are coming, when the fear is overcoming you, something good, something good is about to be born.
"All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you'll be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many -- at that time, many -- will turn away from the faith."
The next time you're sitting in a group of believers that you think of as church look around. Many will fall away in the time of testing. Look around. Is it the person next to you? Is it the person across from you? Many will fall away. This should be sobering.
"At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear -- many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. But the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world is a testimony to all nations" -- during all this time, during this persecution, during all this hardship, when it feels like everything is just being shaken up -- "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached as a testimony" as we are enduring the suffering "to all nations, and then the end will come."
I believe hardship is coming and many will fall away.
Now it's tempting to think that that hardship is going to be persecution from the outside, and it will be -- and make no mistake, it always has been. There have always been those in power who have persecuted the church. Always has been. It's not a new thing. And so yes, the hardship will come from the outside but make no mistake, it'll also come from within.
Hardship is coming and many will fall away, and even from within, " many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people."
Do you think false prophets come from the outside? Do you think that the church is going to be deceived by people who say, "I'm not even a follower of Christ? I think you should..." Like, obviously, some people will leave the faith. They'll say, "I'm done with Jesus. I'm outta here." And they'll chase those false prophets that are easy to recognize. But, do you really think the deception will come from outside? I believe the deception will come from inside the church. "Many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people."
Hardship is coming and many will fall away from the faith.
It's a hard word, but I believe the church has become idolatrous and adulterous. At best, it's just become fluffy and lazy. At worst, it's pursued this earthly kingdom as if it is our reward, as if this is our best life now -- the temptations that Jesus in the wilderness said, "No! I'm not gonna do that." We have become idolatrous and adulterous chasing after the things that this world promises, that Satan dangles in front of us and says, "You know what? If you just come and pursue these things, then you'll really enjoy life."
We've become idolatrous and adulterous, and I believe God has brought the church under his discipline. And before you say, "God doesn't discipline us, he loves us," read Hebrews 12. I'm tired of people thinking that God doesn't discipline the church.
" Do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you. Because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. So endure hardship as discipline for God is treating you as his children... God disciplines us for our good in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline is pleasant at the time. But later on it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
First Peter. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded (from all this) by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." We're between the rescue and the reward. "In all this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith -- of greater worth than gold which perishes, even though refined by fire -- may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not yet seen him, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and you're filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls... Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you. When Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming."
Hardship is coming now. We are living through it and many will fall away. It's a testing. And it's also a refining. Because when God brings us under discipline, it is to refine us. He is trying to bring us to holiness so that we can produce peace and righteousness as we allow the hardship to train us.
I have two more thoughts which I'll address in the coming weeks. But the thought today that I want to entrust to you, to your discernment, to the church, to you personally: Hardship is coming and many will fall away. Will it be you? Are you resisting the hardship? Are you still pressing past the hardship as if this is just something you've gotta overcome? Or are you allowing God to work in you a refining?
Are you afraid of the loss of all the things in this world, the finer things which we all enjoy here in the West, are you dreading a loss of those things so much that you're clinging to it and God is saying, let go. Let go of idolatry. Let go of adultery. Become pure. God is saying, "When I test my church, I want you to prevail. I want your faith to be proven as genuine, believing in hope that it will result in praise, glory, and honor."
Are you resisting it or are you submitting to God's loving discipline? Do you love him? Do you believe in him? Are you filled with that inexpressible and glorious joy? You are receiving the end result of your faith. Even though right now it's hard. You are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your soul. So lean into that.
Hardship is coming and many will fall away. But you can be one who perseveres, who is refined.
Your inheritance is kept in heaven for you. You haven't received it yet. Let go of the things of this world and cling to the things that are to come. This hardship is a gift to you. Receive the gift.
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This Week's Teaching: "A vision of people crying out, 'We Didn't Know! We Didn't Know!'"
This is probably a complicated thought and I'm not sure I'll be able to do it justice. I just wanted to tell you something that came to me. I was in a worship service with other believers, and I had this impression.
Now I'm doing ministry here in Amish country in Ohio. And by doing ministry, I mean, I'm just being present to whatever situations God brings to me to encourage faithfulness and to strengthen the believers. And if I can plant and encourage microchurches, meaning little tiny expressions where people get together and study the scriptures, that is my heart. Like I want to do that and I'm having those conversations.
Anyway, I was in this worship service, a conventional service, and we were singing songs, which I consider praying to God with a common voice. That's why we sing our songs. And I had this prayer/vision of all the believers of this area, in Holmes County, falling face down before the Lord in worship.
Now, I'm not talking about in a worship service falling face down toward the stage or under compulsion of an emotional song. I'm not talking about that. I actually saw it out in the fields, in the farms, in the homes. Just this mass expression of worship. But not a "wow, Lord, we love you so much" worship. More of a dread, "Lord, we haven't totally caught vision of you as we should have" sort of moment.
Worship. Falling face down. Trembling.
And I saw the Amish falling face down before God. I saw the Presbyterians falling face down before God. The Lutherans, the Mennonites, the Pentecostals falling face down in dread. Face down before God.
And in this prayer, in this vision, I heard them saying, with trembling, "We didn't know! We didn't know! We didn't know! We didn't know!" And that surprised me to hear that. That surprised me, that people who I would relate to as believers -- in general, they are followers of Christ, they are Christian -- falling down before God trembling, saying, "We didn't know. We didn't know. We didn't know. We didn't know. We didn't know."
And that was jarring to me because how could they not know when their declaration of faith is that they do know: "We believe you are Lord. We believe we are sinners. We come before you in confession of our sin, in repentance from all that has alienated us from you, God. We come to you believing that you reconcile those who come to you in Jesus' name."
Like, we know that. These are people who have fallen before him already, who have gone under the waters or had the waters of baptism poured over them. However they've done that. And they have identified with Christ. But I saw in this vision, "We didn't know. We didn't know. We didn't know."
And it was jarring to me because I put myself in the same camp. And I do know. But in that vision, I didn't know. I didn't know.
I saw in this vision of people falling down in worship before God ("We didn't know. We didn't know"), I saw this fear, this recognition that we didn't know as we thought we had known. And I'm not talking about doctrinal knowledge, I'm talking about the core knowledge. We didn't know as we thought that we had known. And I took issue with it in my prayer, in this vision. I took issue with it. "But Lord, we do know!"
And he reminded me of the parable where Jesus said that many at that day will come to him saying, " We were followers of yours," and he'll say, "Depart from me. I never knew you."
And he gently comforted me with the inverse of that. That at the end of the day, those of us who fall before Jesus, fall before him, in great humility, confessing our lack, our shortcomings, how far we are from him in our beings. Those of us who fall before him saying, "We didn't know." He says, "But I know. I knew you."
And he reminded me of the parable where he welcomes in those who fed him and clothed him and gave him something to drink. And they said, "When did we do that?!" He said, "When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me. Come on in. I know you, I've known you, I have called you."
And so there was a sense of dread to the vision, and I was reminded with such comfort that God knows those whom he has called. "The Lord" (this is 2 Timothy 2) "the Lord knows those whom he has called, and those who call on the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." This is our comfort.
So my encouragement to you is be among those who fall down before the Lord even now. Not confessing your great knowledge, not confessing your great faith, not confessing how close you are to God, not like the Pharisee who stood up and said, "I thank God that I'm not like those worthless sinners," but being more like the the worthless sinner who said, "Lord have mercy on me. I'm a sinner."
Let's be among those who fall before him saying, "We don't know. We wanna know, but we don't know." And receiving comfort that he says , "I know you. I know you."
And let's be those who, through persistence and through tender great love and humility are doing good in this world, who are taking care of those who are overlooked -- feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing those who don't have enough, sheltering those who don't have shelter, taking care of those who are easy to overlook. Taking care of those who, it's easy to say, "We didn't know." And we do know.
Let's be those who fall before God saying, "We did our best." And hearing him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done. You cared for those that I cared about, even when it wasn't celebrated by those who celebrate the kingdom of this world."
I would invite you to pray with me for this area, but also for all the areas, that all who have confessed the name of the Lord would fall down in worship, not in response to a glorious emotional moment, but even with a sense of humility and great dread that we may have missed it at some point -- not doctrinally, but in living out our faith -- saying, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me." And hearing him say, "I have mercy on you. I have mercy on you."
"We didn't know!"
"But I know. I know you."
Receive encouragement and comfort and strength today to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, confident that you have turned away from wickedness and confident that the Lord knows all whom he's called. The Lord knows you. He knows.
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This Week's Teaching: "How Much Theological Disparity Should Our Microchurches Tolerate?"
Here's the question. Do our small gatherings need to be theologically homogenous? Do we need to all believe the same things, have the same orientation doctrinally in order to be a group together? And how much theological disparity can we tolerate or celebrate in our groups before it's just a nuisance, before it's unhelpful to the conversation.
I think it's a serious, genuine question.
In the Christian Church, in the Christian faith these days, there is a breadth of theological difference. A doctrinal difference. And some of it you could describe as doctrinal disparity, and some of it could just be like bumping out at the edges and having conversations.
If we could talk about it as one side being Catholic and the other side being Protestant, that's kind of obvious. That's a 500 year old thing. But within the Protestant side, then you have this other continuum that could be from Presbyterian to Pentecostal. And somewhere in there you would have all these different thoughts about how to live out our faith, and what is true, and how do we follow Jesus, and all that.
And so within that you would have everything from just fundamentalists to word of faith or prosperity doctrine. You would have those two things. And if you put people with those two opinions in the same group and start studying the scriptures, you're gonna have some sparks fly.
Is it disruptive to have people with different doctrinal positions in the same group? Or is it helpful to have all those views represented in the same conversation?
I believe the church these days has fallen in love with certitude and, as I've taught before, has conflated certitude with faith.
And so we don't really have faith unless we believe it, like to our dying breath, and I'm talking about even just doctrinal sorts of things. It's like "it happened this way, this is the correct way to talk about it." But when you get into things like atonement theory and end times and what the church should look like and all those things, you have differences of opinion that are not heretical.
And once you call it heretical, you, I believe, have engaged in heresy because you're declaring with certitude something that the scriptures don't declare with certitude.
When we talk about theological unity and disparity, it's helpful to think of a triangle and divide that triangle with two lines so that there's three parts, and at the top we have what we would call consensus. These are the things that all Christians believe. Consensus. We're not still trying to figure out these things. Consensus.
The next one down, which gets a little bigger, we can call convictions. These would be like the personal convictions. These are the things that as I study it, I go, "Ah, this is what I believe." And groups of people get together and they say, "As we study it, this is what we believe; these are our convictions on the matter." But there's not consensus about it. There's plenty of Christians -- people who study the Bible from a sincere heart -- there are plenty of people who arrive at different conclusions about those convictions. And so we can't call it consensus. We can call it convictions.
Then the lowest one, the widest, the biggest one is what I would call conjecture. And this is when we read something in scripture and it says this, and it says this and maybe those two things are up in the convictions category or maybe even up in the consensus, but there's something in between the two that scripture doesn't talk about with clarity, we feel the need to bridge the gap between these two truths. And we do that with a bridge that we can call conjecture or speculation.
In the groups that I lead, frequently, when we have these discussions and we get into the scriptures, someone inevitably will say, "Well, I've always thought that it means this," or "I heard that it means this," or, "Hmm, what if it means this?" And what I ask when I'm leading those groups, I say, "What's the word that we call that?" And if they've been in my group long enough, they'll say, "Speculation." Conjecture. We are speculating how to bridge the gap between this and this. These two things that we hold to be true -- and that scripture says overtly, explicitly these two things -- we bridge the gap with something that is... we speculate. What if it's this?
And what I'll always say is that the speculation might be spot on. It might be right, you might have just solved the whole thing, like you're the first one. You might have solved it. Your speculation might be spot on, but it's still speculation, because scripture doesn't speak to it. And so hold it loosely. Hold it in open hands. That's what I would call conjecture.
Now, if you look at the Christian faith, those who follow Christ, and the different systems and the different doctrinal unions that we've established around our faith in Christ, you'll see that most of the doctrinal positions live in the area of conjecture. Now I'm talking quantitatively, like there are so many different beliefs about the different things -- and I'll say in a little bit why I think God has let it be this way -- but so many different beliefs, about so many different things live in this lower, broader, wider, deeper, vast thing we call conjecture. We don't agree [about] these things. We haven't found consensus.
And oftentimes we haven't even found personal conviction. We're still just exploring. But even when you bump up a little bit and you get into the area of personal conviction and you have doctrinal positions, that whole groups of Christians will hang their hat on , even there, you just don't have consensus. You don't have consensus.
Only when you get up into the smaller top of that triangle, do you have consensus. And those things are the important things. So the question I asked my pastor way back when. When I was young, I asked him, why didn't God just tell us everything that we're supposed to believe about everything? Just write all the doctrines down in the book. Why does it have to be, you know, so thick? Why does it have to be so long? And why does it have to be stories? And, why do we have to study it and search it? And he said, "I think God left it all open so that the only thing we can unite around is the belief that Jesus is Lord."
Otherwise we will unite around our belief about all these little intricate things and then we fight and argue about it. And really that is what we try to do. We try to find people who agree with us about the details of things, and we forget that God's primary call is that we would know him. And that we would believe that Jesus is Lord. The lordship of Jesus.
Now one tricky thing that we do in Christian circles which eliminates all the tension is we treat our own convictions as consensus. And if we do that, so if I gather you around me and like we all believe this one thing about -- pick a topic: hell or, or how to be saved, can you lose your salvation, what about faith and what about proclamations, whatever that topic is -- and we say, those who are of like conviction about this, we are truly in the faith and everyone else is outside the faith. You've taken those personal convictions and you've said, That is the consensus. If you don't have consensus about these details, you are outside the faith. And with that, we've alleviated that tension of having people push back at our beliefs, at our convictions. But we've also played the part of God.
Now, Jesus said that in the end times the angels would come and they would separate the righteous from the unrighteous, those who are in, from those who are out. And he said that our temptation would be for us to do it, to decide who's in and who's out. And his message was clear: "You don't do that. I do that. I do that."
And so we have to decide at what point do we say you have to believe the same things in order to be in. And I would even say, at what point do we even have to answer the question, are you in or are you out? And I believe there is a point where we say we are gathered around one thing that we all hold in common, and, as my pastor said years ago, that one thing is: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. This is our theology. This is our spirituality. This is our mission. Jesus is Lord.
Now I'm gonna put a link below to a book that I wrote. This isn't a sales pitch, this is just, if it's helpful to continue the conversation. I put so much thought into this book: One Together -- a Vision for Ending Division. And it develops this whole thought that our unity would be around the theology that Jesus is Lord, a common spirituality where Jesus is Lord and a common mission where Jesus is Lord. And so I'll put that in the link below. You can go get it if that's helpful to you.
As it relates to when we get together, and the question, how much doctrinal disparity, how much theological disparity can we handle in a group before it just becomes a distraction? I personally believe that if we have the conviction that God has revealed himself to us in scripture, I think it's good to gather around that. And if someone has, like, grossly different interpretations about scripture, I still think it can be helpful to get together and read those scriptures out loud. And discuss them. Now, if someone comes in with an argumentative bent, trying to just advance their agenda, whatever that agenda is, whether it's very liberal, progressive, or whether it's very conservative or fundamentalist, if they come in with this, "you've gotta believe what I believe," and it's just pushing, I think that's the thing that causes destruction. That's the disparity that no group can handle. That's the thing that says you have to believe my convictions in order to really be in the faith. But if we can bring people together around scriptures... I'll say it this way: If I'm in a group of people who are decidedly reading the scriptures to learn from them and to adjust their life to the truth held out in and revealed through those scriptures -- if I'm reading those scriptures and discussing them with people who have the same conviction, then I believe it's good for me to be in that conversation, even if they have arrived at different convictions about the details of things.
And at the core of that, there needs to be a common devotion to Jesus as Lord. If that's not there, then what are we doing?
And so, like I said last week in my teaching, someone said that they're not convinced that Jesus is the only way for everyone. "He is for me, but he is not for everyone." And I would say even if they're not convinced about Jesus, they can come in and they can inquire. As Paul talked about in first Corinthians 14, they can come in as inquirers. Absolutely. But they don't lead the discussion. They can voice their doubts, of course. But we are gathered not trying to decide whether Jesus is the way, truth, and life. We are gathered to decide how we can best live out that truth, that consensus as followers of Jesus believing he is Lord. And we are gathered looking into the scriptures to see how we can best understand him.
Paul wrote about it in Philippians two. He says, " Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love." Listen, he's not talking about doctrinal specifics. He's talking about the attitude of your mind, of your heart. "Then make my joy complete by being like-minded." If you've come into the faith, if you have been encouraged in your union with Christ, if you've found comfort from his love, if you've been drawn to him in the Spirit, if you have any tenderness and compassion from your faith, then "make my joy complete," he says, "by being, like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind," the attitude, the direction, the quality. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others."
I believe if we were to do this, and if we were to choose a common love, our devotion to Jesus as Lord, and a common love that leans toward each other saying, we are in this together; we want to know Christ together -- I believe this humility that says, " I don't have it all figured out," but I can genuinely and tenderly bring my convictions to the conversation and even my speculations, my conjecture to the conversation and inviting other people to do the same and saying, we have a common love for the Lord, we are practicing a common love for each other, we are choosing to be in union with each other in searching the scriptures, I believe that is the healthy place for a group to be. And I would even go so far as to say that a group that is only theologically homogenous, only has all the same convictions and conjectures, I believe that's a dangerous place to be. I'm not saying it sends you to hell. I'm saying it's a dangerous place to be because you are never pressed. When you have an experience in life that doesn't line up with that theological homogeny. If you have an experience and you bring it into the group and say, "But it doesn't work this way in my life," you will feel cast out. You will not have support there. And you won't be able to grow through that experience as God has designed it for you.
I believe it's a dangerous place to be, to say we have to all believe everything alike doctrinally in order to be in fellowship. You just don't find that in scripture. But we do have to believe Jesus is Lord. That is the crux of our faith. We do have to be of like mind and like heart. We do have to love tenderly and with compassion and be humble toward each other, putting others' interests ahead of our own.
And so the question, should our groups be theologically homogenous? No. No. Is there room for doctrinal disparity? Yes. What is the thing that we gather around? The conviction, the consensus that Jesus is Lord, and that the scriptures are here for our edification.
As Paul wrote to Timothy, "All scripture, is God breathed," or inspired, "and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." If we bring that as our consensus, we're good. We're good.
So my encouragement to you is if you're getting together with other people in a small group to read the scriptures, to devote yourselves to the apostle's teaching, to prayer, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread. If you're getting together with others to do this, don't despair when people believe differently. Lean in with humility. Go ahead and engage with zeal, but with humility, considering others' interests as more important than your own. Bow before Jesus together. There is something tremendously orienting about that.
And so I'll leave you with that. Jesus is Lord.
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This Week's Teaching: "How to Protect Microchurches Against False Teaching"
The conversation. Anytime I talk with someone about doing micro churches, someone who's in the faith, typically someone who's invested in a larger church setting, they wanna know how do we deal with heresy? How do we deal with false teaching? What are the accountabilities? What are the checkpoints? How do we keep it from going just haywire and running amuck.
Last week I had a conversation and I'm telling you about this-- I hesitate because of the topic of it and it's going to go sideways, people will jump on it, and it's fine if you have a word from God to this, that's fine. But I use it as an illustration. And so I'm just gonna say it freely for what it was.
I had a conversation, talking with someone who feels called to minister to the LGBTQ+ community from an affirming position. And they're lifelong believers and they've come to the conclusion, or at least to the speculation that perhaps Jesus is not the only way to the Father, and they would say. " He's the way, the truth and the life for me, but maybe not for everyone." And at the core of that, they would say, Some people are so committed to God and they love God, and if God is gracious, it's hard to imagine him not rewarding that faith, that passion, that love. In fact, even showing wrath to someone who has attempted to do and be good in their own understanding.
And so we were talking about this and as I was explaining how we do microchurch, we gather together, we open scriptures, we invite the "apostle" in (whoever wrote the scripture), rather than me as a specialist, to go have a one-on-one conversa-- like if we're opening to the gospel of John, rather than me going into my office, my study, with John and saying, "Okay, John, tell me everything that you want these people to know. And then I'll go tell 'em." Rather than doing it that way, I just say, "Hey John, would you come talk to my people? Would you come talk to us?"
And so we invite John into the room and there we read his words. We let him say what he wants us to know, and then figuratively we ask questions. So he says things and we go, "But what do you mean about this? Why did you say this? This causes me tension. Oh, I like this part. I really relate to this. I don't relate to that part at all." We have a conversation with the apostles.
So the original disciples, the original church, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. And so that's what we do. We open up scripture, we let the apostles speak what they want to speak, and then we ask questions of them, of the text. And the goal is to let the text say what it says and not make it say something it doesn't say.
That's how I set up all these things. That's how I encourage people to do the X242 microchurch model.
So I was explaining this in a group setting. And then the lady said, "Oh, cool, so this means that homosexuals can be a part of it." And I had to decide, how do I answer?
Now I spent many years being the gatekeeper of the church. The doctrinal gatekeeper. The theological gatekeeper. I had to decide what gets in, what doesn't get in. And now in my role here, leading a little network of microchurches, I do have a responsibility to help steer things. I wanted to tell you where I landed on it.
Now it didn't blindside me. She had already told me this is where she and her husband come from. Like, this is where they've landed. She had already told me that, and she had asked me earlier, would someone in a homosexual relationship be welcome in any of our groups? And my answer is yes. Everyone is welcome in one of our groups. Everyone. Just like Jesus didn't say, "Eh, you're too much of a sinner, you can't come in here." It's like, everyone's welcome. Absolutely. Regardless of the sin, everyone, we are all welcome and we all come in flawed with a past and with a present.
And I told her that if what you're looking for is people can come in and we will not spend any time on the scriptures that make them uncomfortable, I'm not gonna say that. We will read every scripture. We will let the apostles say what they say. Even if it offends our modern sensibilities, we will let them say what they say and then we'll have a discussion with them: "Mmmm the way we see it these days, that causes tension." Or "Ah! Right on!" Or listening to each other talk with the apostles and going, "Uh, I agree with what you said but I don't like the attitude!" And, "Man, I love your attitude, but I don't agree with what you said." And have that conversation.
And so I had told her that our groups won't be a place where we protect people's opinions. We gather around the scriptures to let the apostles say what they say. We make sure that we don't, we don't make the scriptures say what they don't say, and we allow them to say what they do say.
And I said that if someone wants to come in and they're sensitive about that, no. I can't guarantee that we won't say things or won't let the apostles say things that hurt their feelings or offend their sensibilities. But I can guarantee that it'll be a safe conversation. Or at least I can say that our goal â€” and if I'm a part of something, my commitment â€” is that it will be a safe conversation for everyone. Safe meaning we're not just gonna jump on people, pounce on people. We won't just roughhouse people. We won't bowl over people. We'll sensitively let the Holy Spirit move through the words given by the apostles. And we'll let the Holy Spirit bring conviction where the Holy Spirit brings conviction about righteousness and sin and judgment to come and all these things. We will allow that to happen in a sensitive, safe space. Meaning the only danger when we gather should be that we each receive conviction and that actually is the safest place to be.
So she and I had already had this conversation. And also about the "Jesus is maybe not the only way" part, I had told her ahead of time that we're not trying to decide whether Jesus is the only way. This is about following Jesus as the only way. In fact, that's our doctrinal statement, if we have one. We follow one path. One path. We follow the way of Jesus. The details are trying to learn what that is and how to apply it.
And so I wasn't blindsided, but in this group setting, she asked, "Oh, so that means homosexuals can be a part of it." And I had to think, how do I respond to this? And I was just honest with her. Of course, they can be a part. Of course. But if the scriptures cause offense, we will let them cause offense. If the scripture calls something an abomination, we won't skip that part. We'll deal with it sympathetically, gently, but directly. And if the scriptures call all of us sinners in something, we will let that stand too.
Our common desire as believers, as followers of Jesus, those devoted to the apostle's teaching, our common desire is to understand the truth, not to nudge the truth, not to find our version of the truth, not to bring this filter of modern science, which is always fleeting. I mean, that's the nature of science is it's always discovering new things. And so if you root yourself in science, you, you'll never be rooted. But it's not to take science and put it as a filter over scripture and read everything through science and go, "Ah, this is what scripture says. But we understand better these days. And so we know it to be this." It's not to do that, it's to recognize science says things, but to look at scripture and say, let it say what it says and don't make it say something it doesn't say.
And so at the end, I had to decide how do I respond to this? Which she wasn't really asking, but like in our network, there's no sign on the dotted line.
Like you can do what we do with anyone. You can gather for a meal and open up scripture together and pray together, and you can love each other. You can do that. There's no corner on the market with us. Like, we're not even trying to do that. We're totally just letting it be what it is and driving people back to scripture, in prayer, full of the Holy Spirit, because that's what scripture and prayer leads us to.
And so I had a decision to make. Do I say, "Mmmm, we're not gonna go there." Or do I say what I said? I said, I believe that if you all got together in read scripture, whatever your interests are, whatever your convictions are about this, I would say get together with others, read scripture and let it say what it says, and don't make it say something it doesn't say. If it offends, let it offend, and adjust your life to scripture. If it affirms, let it affirm, and adjust your life to scripture.
Now, one thing that many of us have already thought of as I've talked, she said, but people have all kinds of different opinions about what the scriptures mean and what they say. And you know, instinctively I go, "Yeah, you're right." But you know what? As I interacted with her, this is the thought that came to me. I said, There are pastors, preachers, who are bored scholastics, trying to make the gospel more likable, more relevant, and to grow their audience. I'm not saying they're trying to just be popular, but to grow their audience, to grow their tribe, so that it is inclusive of anyone and everyone. (Probably a sliver over here they would say, "Well, no, not that.") But inclusive and affirming of everyone because that feels like love.
I told her some people do that with a hard heart. Some people do that with a kind heart. I told her and her husband, "I believe you're coming at this from a kind heart. You desire to be kind." I don't believe that picking and choosing which scriptures you'll live by is kind, but it comes from a kind place. Those who just say, "I don't care what God says, this is what science says," or those who have a bitterness about things, God will judge them. That's not for me to judge. But I can discern whether something comes from a hard heart or a kind heart.
And so I don't know. What do you think? That's where I left it. That's where I left my counsel with them. Get together, open scripture with other believers. Let it say what it says. Don't make it say something it doesn't say. Pray about it and do it. Live it.
And for me, I had to just trust God that he is way more powerful, way more powerful than I will ever be at helping someone understand and do the right thing.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a lady who came to faith after a lifetime of not being in the faith. Like raised totally outside the Christian faith. And she had lived a hard life. And she became a friend.
We were visiting her one time and this lady said, "You know, no one needs to tell me that sex is dirty. I lived it." She was just saying it in kind of a crass way. "No one needs to tell me that having sex with a lot of people is dirty. I lived it. I know it. That's true. Like, I totally agree with the Bible on that." She said, "But the one thing I can't agree with is what the church says about abortion. I mean, I just don't believe that's wrong. That was my birth control." And she just went on and on.
And in my heart, as one who cherishes human life, in my heart, I had to decide, do I let it be or not? Do I address it? Do I try and gently correct this new believer's opinion about that? And the Holy Spirit told me, "Let it be, let me." And so I did. A year later, she was talking to a group of women, giving her testimony. I wasn't there, but I heard about it later. She said sort of the same thing, but then she said, and you know, I used to say that I didn't believe what the church teaches about abortion because that was my birth control. But you know, recently I've actually come to agree with that, that it's wrong.
The Holy Spirit convicted me to let the Holy Spirit convict her and he did his job. So, I don't know. I've touched on same sex and on abortion, it's like, oh no, we've become political here. It's not political. We make it political. God wants us to be in right relationship, not just with him, but with the truth, and with what is righteous and good and pure and loving. That's his desire for us.
And so if you're a part of this microchurch, when we get together, let the scripture say what they say and don't try to make them say something they don't say. And trust God.
I'm sure I've misspoken something here. I'm sure you've taken offense to something here. I'm open to the conversation, but let's pursue the same thing. God loves you. He wants to turn you from all that is a curse on your life. He designed you for good, for righteousness, for what's beautiful and holy. He designed you to be in right fellowship with him, so be encouraged by that. He loves you so much.