GCI Equipper

Epiphany: Bringing Things to Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

I enjoy visiting caverns and being amazed at these immense carved out underground spaces. I’m amazed at the stalagmites, stalactites, channels, and underground pools. What always fascinates me during a cave tour is when we are deep underground, and the tour guides turns off the lights. It’s a darkness that is difficult to explain – a complete absence of light. Children suddenly grip your hand with intensity, you hear nervous chuckles, you try to maintain an aura of bravery as you and everyone else anxiously waits for the light to return. Without light, there would be no way out of that darkness. But then the guide also tells you, without light, no one would have discovered the beauty of the cavern.

This is what Epiphany is all about – the light revealing what has been hidden. The word epiphany has become a common word for aha moments: “I had an epiphany this morning as I studied the problem.” “I had an epiphany as I read that passage of Scripture today; it was as if I’d never read it previously.” The common theme of Epiphany is manifestation – making what is hidden more widely known.

Parallels to Israel

For those who love prophecy and parallels, there are numerous prophecies fulfilled in the birth and life of Jesus, but there are also strong parallels. In his book, Living the Christian Year, Bobby Gross points out several parallels to Israel and the season of Epiphany.

  • The murder of male babies at the time of Moses’ birth – murder of male babies in Bethlehem, (darkness opposes the light).
  • Israel is captive in Egypt – Joseph hides his family in Egypt, (the light is not overcome).
  • The exodus shows salvation for Israel – the Magi show Jesus’ salvation for the world, (the Messiah’s redemption is for all the world).
  • Israel in wilderness for 40 years – Jesus in wilderness for 40 days (Jesus brings to light relationship with the Father).

The Light of the world

David referred to the Lord as his lamp, “the Lord lightens my darkness,” (2 Samuel 22:29). The apostle John told us the light came to the world, describing Jesus as “the light of all people,” … “which enlightens everyone,” (John 1:4, 8). Do we realize the significance of this statement? Jesus is not just the light to those who believe, he is the light to all the world. Unfortunately, we know people who live in darkness because they don’t know or see the light. This is exactly what Jesus said when he declared himself this light:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

This points to three events in the season of Epiphany: the magi visiting from the East, the baptism by John in the Jordan river, and the turning of water into wine in Cana. “A star guides Gentiles to a future king, a voice identifies Jesus as the beloved Son and a set of wine-brimming pots reveals miraculous power. Epiphanies!”[1]

Gross reminds us that the word epiphany can also refer to the visible manifestation of a deity, which is why some churches in the Orthodox traditions use the word theophany rather than epiphany. Theophany refers to the visible manifestation to humanity of God – God shining forth.

During this season of Epiphany, we focus our attention on Jesus who told us to “come and see.” We note the worship and the gifts of the Magi. We pay attention to his baptism and the revealing that he is the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased. We note the abundance and generosity of his first miracle. We see how he teaches his disciples. We watch him as he heals the sick and focuses on those who are hurting and lost. We watch and we learn what it means to bring light to darkness.

Light to the world

As healthy churches, we continually focus on Jesus, who is the light of the world. But Jesus wants us to do more than acknowledge who he is. The one who calls us forward to “come and see,” also tells us we are to “go and tell.” We too are the light of the world, called to go out on his behalf and show and tell others how to live in the light.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NRSVUE)

Epiphany is a season reminding us that as we focus on Jesus’ life and mission, we are not only able to see his glory, but to reflect it. In this way we make his glory known to others around us. Paul reminds us that we are “ambassadors for Christ.” We not only represent him, but because he is in us, we are being transformed by his light – his glory:

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NRSVUE)

Epiphany reminds us we are called to make his glory known to others. Allow me to quote from the Message translation, which says this so well:

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6 MSG)

Epiphany is a season where we encounter Jesus. It’s a time we see him through new eyes that are enlightened by his presence. It is a season for us to immerse ourselves once more into his story and ask God to reveal things we hadn’t seen before – to ask God for epiphanies. As we immerse ourselves into his story, and as we are enlightened by what we see and learn, we then tell the story. Because here’s what happens, the more we tell the story, the more we get out of the story. The more we talk about Jesus, the more immersed in Jesus we are.

Epiphany reminds us that the message we share is not about us, it is about Jesus, the Master. We are messengers and mirrors of the light. When Jesus calls us the light of the world, it is because he is in us through the Spirit.

Let me end with a quote from Bobby Gross’ book:

We focus our gaze on Jesus in order to glimpse his glory, his transfigured beauty and power, his embodied grace and truth. And what we are given to see, we gladly speak of to our friends that they might share with us the light of Christ.[2]

Rick Shallenberger
Editor

[1] Living the Christian Year, Bobby Gross, InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 83

[2] Gross, p 24

Ministry is Not Hurry, Worry and Flurry

Healthy leaders strive to be a blessing and not a burden to those they are called to lead and serve.

By Pastor Bob Regazzoli, Australia

We are likely familiar with the story in Exodus when Pharoah rejected Moses’ word from the Lord and made more demands from the captive Israelites.

That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.” (Exodus 5:6-9)

I was thinking about this the other day and had to ask myself an important question: “Am I being a blessing as a pastor/leader, or a burden to those I am serving? Am I giving high support with high challenge, and am I doing so with grace always?”

Jesus, as our loving king, set the example by taking our burdens upon himself. He not only paid the penalty of sin for us, but he also brought good news to all who are oppressed, and he challenged those who misused their authority.
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God Moved into The Neighbourhood

The Word was willing to get into the neighbourhood where we live.

By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada

In the opening of the Gospel of John we get a different – many would say much bigger – view of Jesus and the Incarnation as opposed to the birth narratives found in Luke and Matthew. The apostle John gives us a birth narrative in some sense, but he takes us beyond his present time and space to what he calls “the beginning.” He identifies Jesus as the Word who is God, the Word who has everlasting existence. Then John introduces us to John the Baptist and immediately compares the baptizer with the one who is the true light, the Word who became flesh.

I like how Eugene Peterson in the Message renders this:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14 MSG)

There has been a lot of talk in our denomination concerning identifying and doing ministry in “our neighbourhood.” This passage, which is read on the first Sunday of Epiphany, has been a personal epiphany or revealing to me.

Let me explain. When I think of “neighbourhood,” I’m reminded of growing up in a small mining town in Northern Ontario, Canada. In many respects, it was quite the close and isolated community. I grew up with parents who practiced both living and sharing the gospel.

One event that I particularly remember was the time a neighbour knocked on the door of our house late one winter night asking for my dad. When dad went to the door, she explained that one of her relatives had been taken to the hospital in a community more than two hours away, and she was in desperate need of funds to get there. (I knew this lady personally, as I delivered newspapers to her basement apartment and was aware that she and her children were not as well off as we were.) Without any hesitation, my father gave her the cash that she needed for the bus journey. It was a great example that he practiced and lived what he believed.

Now I know this is an extremely limited human example of someone who cared for one of his neighbours. Yet, I’ve come to again realize the monumental action of this “Word” coming to live among us. Flesh and blood—just like me. Living in my neighbourhood. Add to this the focus we have on place-sharing, and I see that Jesus entered my neighborhood so he could share the place with me, and with my neighbors, and with you, and with your neighbors.

Living in my neighborhood, I can know that he understands my life, my struggles, and the lives and struggles of my family, friends, and neighbours. Why? Because he was willing to get into my world, where I live.

How often do we hear the statement: “If you would just understand me….” Or “If you would just walk a mile (or kilometre), in my shoes….” Well, this omnipresent, majestic “Word,” the one who is very God, from before the beginning of time or the physical creation, does understand me. He has walked a mile in my shoes.

I love how the writer of Hebrews puts it:

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So, let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (Hebrews 4:14-16, MSG)

Praise be to the God who moved into the neighbourhood!

We Have a Beautiful Barn!

We are called to participate in building the kingdom, not building barns or banks.

Glen WeberBy Glen A Weber, U.S. Central Regional Support Team

I grew up on a wheat farm in southeast Wyoming. Every fall we would plant the winter wheat, pray for good weather, and harvest the crop in mid-summer. I remember driving the farm truck loaded with wheat to high school and dropping off the grain at the local grain buyer during my lunch hour. Of course, a very important part of our planning was storing enough seed in the barn to plant for the next year. Barns are essential for storing seed and farm equipment, but they are not the focus of the farm. Our focus was on the crop yield and providing for the family.

In the Gospels we have a parable about a farmer who missed this point and just kept building bigger barns. Let’s look at Jesus’ words recorded by Luke:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”(Luke 12:16-21)

The farmer in Jesus’ parable was able to accumulate a lot of wealth. However, he was not focusing his wealth and life on God – his purpose and his plan.

What might this parable be saying to us in 2023?

Over the last couple decades many of our congregations have been able to save large sums of money because of the generosity of God’s people in supporting the work of the church. At the same time, many of our congregations have had significant losses in membership – due to members having the freedom to attend other churches or simply through the death of our aging members. My parents, for example, started attending in 1958 and were very generous, but they have both passed into the next life.

We now have a number of congregations with few people and large bank accounts. I would submit that in most cases, the hope was to “one day” be able to do something important with the money – buy a building or do engagement activities to reach people who don’t know Jesus yet. However, with our advanced ages, buildings are no longer practical for most because of the cost of upkeep, maintenance, utilities, and other expenses, and our energy levels have significantly decreased. Yet, we still have those funds. We have a lovely barn filled to the brim!

May I be real? Many of our very small congregations and even some of our larger ones (100 or so) in the U.S. have seemingly transitioned from being an active missional church to becoming a pseudo bank. The money donated by our members was for the preaching of the gospel and training future pastors and leaders. Is that happening? Might Jesus say the same to us that he did to the farmer who built more barns?

If we are sitting on a large barn and not actively using it for kingdom work, have we simply “prepared for ourselves?”

I remember shoveling wheat with my grandfather by hand from a barn into the truck to sell it so the money could be put to proper use. Is Jesus waiting for some pastors and treasurers to get out their shovels and repurpose their crop where it can be used now?

GCI is developing Ministry Training Centers (Oklahoma City and West Africa are the first two, with more planned), training interns and eventually pastoral residents. We are also looking at hiring new pastors who love Trinitarian theology, planting new churches (a few are in the process), and preaching the gospel through other resources. Are we ready to invest in those activities? Can we see the bigger picture of what Jesus is doing in GCI and allow our funds to make a difference for a new church or pastor? What a meaningful legacy for a small congregation that, because of advancing age or circumstances, may not have the energy to be as active locally as before.

I would suggest that the funds in our church accounts were given by members to preach the gospel through GCI, more than support some other charity, non-profit, or local project. Our GCI financial manual provides clear instruction and direction to keep us in line with the GCI mission and vision.

We don’t need large amounts of money to impact our local communities. Many of our churches on limited funds are making a difference. In October, six churches in the U.S. Central Region impacted more than 4,500 people just through their Trunk-or-Treat activities. Others across the nation and world are doing similar positive outreaches – and having new families attend – often on limited funds. If you are making a meaningful impact for Christ locally, I applaud your efforts and encourage you to keep going!  If you find yourselves in a place where meaningful activity is no longer possible, please consider sharing extra funds in areas where meaningful movement is happening, and new people are learning about Jesus and the hope offered through him.

Is it time to proverbially get out our shovel, load the truck, and drive it to Home Office to invest extra funds in growth rather than CD’s? Is it time to read this parable again and ask Jesus where we stand? Is it time to evaluate how much we really need in reserves to smoothly carry on the GCI gospel activity in our neighborhoods, and use the excess to further Christ’s mission in a different field that may be white for harvest? I encourage you to speak with your Regional Director about where funds may be needed most in your region, or call the Home Office to discuss how you can support areas where the Holy Spirit is moving, and where resources may be needed to help fuel this activity.

We are in one of the most exciting times in GCI. Let’s make sure our resources are dedicated to our mission of Living and Sharing the Gospel.

Change and Healthy Church

Being willing to change is a sign of healthy church.

By Danny Zachariah, National Director India

A common refrain we hear about change is that it is a permanent reality of life. Two more familiar phrases: change is difficult and resisted; there is no growth without change. These phrases are all undoubtedly true, especially in the dynamic environment we are living in today. On the other hand, all change is not necessarily helpful. New is not always good. Fads come and go. Innovation only for name’s sake disturbs the congregation.

If our denominational congregations are moving in the direction of becoming the “best expression of the church of Jesus Christ they can be,” then a commitment to a gradual, consistent change towards transformation should indeed be the new normal for us. As we begin a new year, perhaps two thoughts on change could help us recognize when and how it is healthy.

Mission and method

Jim Cowart, author and pastor, in his article, Mission is Constant but Methods must Change, states,

The mission of the church doesn’t change. In fact, we can’t change the mission of the church because it’s not our church. It’s God’s … We can’t vote on it. We don’t need a meeting to revise it. The mission is set … But methods are different. Methods need to change. In fact, they must change in order to carry out the mission among new generations. Methods don’t have the same status as mission.[1]

The mission and vision of our denomination represents its core values. While faithfully upholding them, could a changing scenario on the ground prompt us to continuously evaluate the methods we employ in fulfilling them? As I write, many countries in the world are experiencing socio-political shifts where religion and its institutions are coming under pressure to conform or compromise. We are forced to find new methods to preach the good news in the face of prejudice and restrictions. As a denomination moving towards greater maturity in Christ, being intentionally contemporary and innovative will contribute not only to the health of the organization, but to its relevance in a changing world. This can be done without compromising theological integrity.

Change and transformation

Tod Bolsinger, pastor and church consultant, states: “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.”[2] He believes that transformation is both individual and corporate. His pitch is for “communal transformation for mission,” so that all participate to “collectively … fulfill the mission they, corporately have been given.”

When leaders intentionally and willingly embrace meaningful change, he or she models a paradigm towards transformation. Such leaders motivate the team in adapting to change and, in turn, inspires the congregation in the direction of transformation. Leadership that develops a structure that encourages and adapts to change will build a progressive mindset in the congregation to move on towards the maturity that is the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). Church leaders thus have a great responsibility. Being resistant to change and/or striving to maintain the status quo may not only make it painful when change ultimately becomes inevitable, the congregation is also deprived of a healthy example of leadership that is sensitive to the lead of the Holy Spirit.

GCI has a rich legacy of dealing with and managing change. We can be grateful for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the courage of humble compliance to that divine inspiration on the part of our leadership, which has led to the great spiritual transformation of our denomination, aptly lauded by Dr. Gordon E Kirk:

“You now have the picture of one of the most dramatic works of God in our century, the Worldwide Church of God, under the leadership of Joseph Tkach, transformed from human cultic teaching to the supernatural gospel of truth.” [3]

May we always be true to this legacy. Let us be inspired by it and encourage change when it is necessary, meaningful, and contributes to the health of the congregation. This will help us continue the journey where GCI churches can have the opportunity to become the best expression of the church of Jesus Christ they can be in this world.

 

[1] https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/mission-is-constant-but-methods-must-change/

[2] Bolsinger, T. E. (2015). Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

[3] Tkach, Joseph, Transformed by Truth, Multnomah Publishers, OR, 1997, Acknowledgements.

Church Hack: Livestreaming

In our monthly church reports from pastors, we received a lot of questions about providing online services, especially livestreaming on YouTube and Facebook. You’ve asked, and we’ve answered. Check out this month’s Church Hack for livestreaming and other online Hope Avenue gathering options.

https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/2022-CH12-Livestreaming.pdf

Complete in Christ

It’s vital to give Gen Z the message that they are special in Christ.

Friends, I am sorry to bring you some sad news. After watching several commercials, I have learned that I am not living my best life. The drug commercial showed me that I do not have the right kind of friends — friends that will fly kites with me or laugh joyfully while making pottery. So, apparently, I need to start taking that drug. I also need to switch my deodorant. According to the commercial, all women are supposed to find me attractive, so something must be wrong. Admittedly, I do not think my wife is going to like it when I get that kind of attention. That’s why I have to buy new sneakers. I learned that I am not fast enough, but if I get the sneakers in the commercial, I can run as fast as Usain Bolt. With those sneakers, I can outrun the women, who will find me irresistible after I switch my deodorant, so I do not get in trouble with my wife. Just to be safe, I will ask my new friends to help me make her a vase in pottery class.

I am attempting to make light of a concerning situation. We are bombarded by messages every day that tell us, in one way or another, that we are not good enough. Many of those messages cause further damage by demeaning women, making men look ignorant, or encouraging self-indulgent behavior. Whether it is from commercials, movies, TV shows, social media, or other medium, we daily receive the message that we need something in order to be complete. This may be one reason why, after “living healthier,” the most common New Year’s resolution in 2022 was “personal improvement or happiness.”* Many of us have been convinced that we do not have what we need in order to be happy.

These messages are especially devastating for Gen Z, a generation that is already exposed to more violence, natural disasters, and student loan debt than previous generations. Numerous studies have shown that Gen Z is likely the most anxious and depressed generation. As those who care for the emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of children and youth, we need to proactively cultivate resilience in our young people. One way to do this is to continually remind our youth that God loves them and made them special.

As we transition from Christmas into the Epiphany season, it is a good time to teach our young people that when God is revealed, we are revealed as well. As David meditated on the goodness of God, he was moved to sing:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
You formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!

You know me inside and out,
You know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
How I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day. (Psalm 139:13-16 (MSG)

As Christ-followers, we should push back against the messages of insufficiency plaguing Gen Z with the truth of God as revealed in Jesus. The truth is that each of us is loved unconditionally. God deliberately made each of us and willed us to be as we are. In Christ, we are becoming the truest version of ourselves. At the same time, God meets us and loves us right where we are. While none of us are perfect, in Christ, we are complete. This is good news! What are some things you can do to share this good news with your young people?

By Dishon Mills
U.S. Generations Ministry Coordinator

*Statista, “What are your 2022 resolutions?” Statista Research Department, November 15, 2022 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/378105/new-years-resolution/#:~:text=New%20Year’s%20resolution%20of%20Americans%20for%202022&text=About%2023%20percent%20of%20Americans,Resolution%20makers%2C%20resolution%20keepers%3F)

Defining the 4 Es w/ Gavin Henderson

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Cara Garrity interviews Gavin Henderson, Superintendent of Europe. Together, they kick off our year of Faith, Hope, and Love in Action by defining the 4 Es—engage, equip, empower, and encourage.

“A lot of what we’re trying to achieve with Healthy Church is to bring the practice of the church in line with the church’s theology. Because when the theology and the practice of the church are aligned, that’s really when we’re at our healthiest. This really plays into the 4 Es because one of the things that we’ve learned from our theology is the importance of being Team Based—Pastor Led. … The 4 Es are really a rhythm of Healthy Church.”
—Gavin Henderson


Main Points:

  • How do the 4 Es fit with and connect with GCI’s vision of Healthy Church? 1:36
  • How do we define engage in the life of a local church? 5:21
  • When it comes to the 4 Es, engaging isn’t just being entertaining or fun to be around—it’s about engaging with who people are and who God has called them to be. So, who do we engage? 8:43
  • How do we define equip? 16:48 How would you assess whether equipping is effective? 22:56
  • What does empowerment look like in the life of the church? 31:35
  • What are some things that might tempt us to settle for a lesser definition of empowerment? 37:41
  • Why is encouragement important to developing others, discipleship, and Healthy Church? 49:27
  • What encouragement would you share with those who are learning to put the 4 Es into practice with their teams and in the life of their local churches? 55:21

Resources:

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Program Transcript


Defining the 4 Es w/ Gavin Henderson

Welcome to the GC Podcast. A podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience.

Cara: Join GCI Superintendent of Europe, Gavin Henderson, and I as we discuss the 4 Es: engage, equip, empower, and encourage in this GC Podcast episode.


Cara: Hello friends, and welcome to this episode of GC Podcast.

This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity, and today I am blessed to have Gavin Henderson here with me, who is the superintendent of Europe and national ministry leader in UK in Ireland. Gavin is married to Sinead and has three children, ages nine, seven, and five.

They live in Market Harborough, UK, which is in the middle of the UK. And we are so glad to have you here with us today, Gavin. Thank you so much for joining us.

Gavin: Hi, Cara. It’s really good to be here too. When I got your invite to do the GC Podcast, I was actually listening to a podcast at the time, so it was quite exciting to have just been listening to a podcast and then get an email from you.

So, I’m quite excited to be doing this.

Cara: Yes. I love that. I love that. And I’m excited for this episode especially because we’re going to be talking about and defining the 4 Es, which is engage, equip, empower, and encourage. But before we dive into those definitions specifically, Gavin, could you talk to us a little bit about how the 4 Es connect with GCI’s vision of Healthy Church and why that’s important to us.

Gavin: Yeah, sure. So, with Healthy Church, I think a lot of what we’re trying to achieve with Healthy Church is to bring the practice of the church in line with the church’s theology because when the theology and the practice of the church are aligned, that’s really when we’re at our healthiest.

And I think this really plays into the 4 Es because one of the things that we’ve learned from our theology is the importance of being Team Based—Pastor Led. And we actually have seen how when you have Team Based—Pastor Led churches, you have this cycle of the Healthy Churches creating healthy leaders who in turn, then support Healthy Churches.

And I think that is a fundamental part of being a Healthy Church, is that you are not just thinking of your own needs, but you are raising up new leaders and new people to help and participate in the life of the church. And so, the 4 Es are really a rhythm of Healthy Church.

And I think sometimes we can make it very complicated. But if we think about our call as Christians to make disciples, really this is what the 4 Es is about. It’s about the multiplication of disciples which in turn helps feed into ministry leaders and the ministry itself. And I think this is a foundational part of the church. And obviously, the pastor has a key role in this aspect, but it’s not just the pastor’s responsibility.

Really, you want to see this going on throughout the whole life of the church—throughout all the Avenues, everywhere across the health of the church. You want to see discipleship-making. You want to see people not just turning up to church, but participating in the life of the church, growing in their roles in the church, and the church growing as a result of that.

I think the 4 Es are really a key dynamic of the Healthy Church and the Team Based—Pastor Led model, which is very much what we’ve been talking about for a while now in GCI.

Cara: Yeah, absolutely. And I love how you say, Gavin, bringing together and in alignment our theology and our practice and the life of the church, because that really is the 4 Es, like you said. It really is just living the life of disciples making disciples, the mission of the church.

And so that really is what we’re about. What a Healthy Church looks like is living according to the purpose of the church of Jesus Christ. And the 4 Es is just a framework that helps guide us to do that. I really appreciate how you put that. And it is something that is an important thing for us to look at, to help support us in that participation in the mission of the church.

I do want us to take a closer look at what we even mean when we say engage and equip, empower and encourage. Because sometimes we can say words, and we think we mean the same thing when we say them, but maybe we don’t. And so, let’s look a little bit at engage, the first of the 4 Es.

How do we define engage in the life of the local church, Gavin?

Gavin: I think engage is really quite a critical one. They’re all very important, but I think with engage, it really starts with relationships. And I think the root of engaging and bringing people into leadership or into roles in the church, you can’t skip the relationship stage.

And as you build relationships with people, what it’s really about is inviting them to be a part of what Jesus is doing in their life, in the church life, and in the world around them. And really, if we go back to the overall thing of what we’re trying to achieve, if we look at the Gospels, we look at how Jesus interacts with people, we see that he had relationships with his disciples. And very much the engage element, we can see in the Gospel passages themselves, where he works with the disciples and basically invites them to be a part of what he’s doing.

And I think that is a key part of what engage is about. So, it’s an intentional discipleship and recruitment. So, it’s not just building relationships, but it’s then recognizing people that you want to draw into intentional discipleship and then maybe recruit for a particular role, when you recognize some of the giftings they have, for example.

And part of this is recognizing that when we think of the church, when we think of the body of Christ, everybody is a part of the body of Christ for a reason. God has a plan for all of us, and he’s invited us into his church.

He’s called us into the church, and we all have a gifting and a calling and an invite into participation. And part of what engaging is it’s interacting with that invite into participation. It’s helping, drawing people into deeper discipleship, deeper relationships and roles within the church.

Cara: Yeah. Gavin, thank you so much. I really appreciate you mentioning the importance of the engage aspect of the 4 Es and how relationship-building is really foundational, and how we even see that in the life of Jesus and his earthly ministry. That’s so key.

It’s not just being entertaining or fun to be around, but it’s being relational in the way that we’re created in the image of God to be relational. And then drawing into a deeper way of being with people and being disciples, one with another and participating in what God is doing. And so, I think that is a really excellent way to be thinking about that engaged part of the 4 Es.

And so, if we think about defining engage in that way, the natural next question that I have is, who do we engage in that way?

Gavin: Yeah, so I think sometimes we can be too narrow in our scope over who we think should or should not be engaged. And I think it’s important that we keep our eyes open to what the Spirit is doing, not only in our lives, but in the lives of people are around us. And really, we can engage everyone to some degree.

But certainly, when we think of our church, there’s specific people in our church that sometimes we can see engage members and leaders to bring them into that next step of, in terms of discipleship and leadership. And sometimes, that’s exploring new areas of calling or along those lines.

But really, we don’t need to limit ourselves to that because we can also engage the people in our neighborhood, particularly when we think of missional engagement and engaging in the area of the Love Avenue, for example. Because often, there you are working with people in your neighborhood and we don’t need to wait until they become Christians before we build that relationship and start inviting them to participate in what the church is doing, what Jesus is doing in their neighborhood.

I think it’s important that we don’t become too narrow in the focus over who we can engage.

Cara: Absolutely. And what I think is really important in what you’ve said is, what God is doing is dynamic. His presence with us is dynamic. And we continue to discern as he moves in our midst.

And as you mentioned with maybe current members or leaders, maybe in a different season, he’s moving in a different way in their lives or in that church community and then in the neighborhood even still, he’s moving.

And if we come back to thinking about, like you mentioned, the life of Jesus in his earthly ministry, he just called people off the street, and said, Hey, follow me. And called them to participate in what he was doing. And then formation happened from there. Then incredible things happened from there, but that engagement happened in a way that we might think of, in our modern context, as a missional engagement in the neighborhood.

And so, I think that’s really key that you mentioned, let’s not be so narrow or think so inside the box of who we can engage, but always be engaging and having that ear to who God may be nudging us to engage in this particular way. And how is he drawing us in and how is he moving in our midst?

And you know what, one of the things that I think when we define these different terms is, it’s one thing to have a head knowledge, but it’s another thing to think about what it looks lived out, and real life with flesh on it.

And so, when is a time that you’ve seen engagement done well, Gavin?

Gavin: There’s one example that probably stands out for me, which is in relation to somebody in one of our Scottish congregations and his wife was the worship leader—is the worship leader in the congregation. And her parents were both very active in the church, but he was actually at the time not interested in religion, not interested in faith.

But what happened, because she would often be involved in preparing for the worship the next day, he started to give her a hand in helping her prepare the worship the next day, in terms of the technical side of things that needed to be done. And then over time, that extended to him coming up to set up at church for her the next day.

And then over time, he ended up staying for the service. And now he’s a very committed Christian, a part of the community. The key thing with that is the relationship was there. It wasn’t a shortcut, it wasn’t rushed.

But he was able to find himself being drawn into the life of the church. And that’s really what helped him understand who he was in Christ. And we may not always have as dramatic a call as that when we try and engage people, but I think it shows that sometimes we do think quite narrowly when it comes to engaging.

And when you do engage, and you recognize what people have to offer, certainly, that’s something that people appreciate, knowing that somebody has seen them and recognized what they have to offer. And I think that when it’s done well, when it’s engaged well, it can be very powerful when you see how the life of the person involved is transformed.

And there is a transformation that comes via the 4 Es. That, I think, is one of the exciting things about engaging this tool and mythology for the church.

Cara: Yes. And in the story that you’ve shared and even in part of how you’ve defined engage, what I think is important for us not to miss is in the relationship-building, the seeing of the person and what God has given them to offer, that really makes a difference. [Rather] than when we recruit just out of what we think is a need of the ministry or the church. Because then we can engage people out of a sense of, maybe I just need to use you as a gear in this machine versus who is God forming you to be in his church, in his kingdom?

And that’s where you see that transformation that you’re talking about versus I just need another chess piece on the board to keep this church programming going. And I think that’s a really beautiful example that you’ve shared, Gavin. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

Gavin: Yeah. I certainly agree with what you’ve just said there, Cara. Because I think sometimes as well with the engage, if we only engage out of need, the problem is people can see it coming. If the only time the pastor speaks to you is when they need something, you see it as soon as they approach.

And that’s true of the worship leader. It’s true of all the Avenues. If the person is only approaching you because they need something, it doesn’t feel right, and people pick up on that. But if you have this relationship and if you approach them and recognize what they have to offer, then it’s very different from just trying to supply a need and people respond to that.

Because if you are caught up and you end up serving out of need, you always have that doubt in your head about whether you are really the right person for the job or whether you should be doing it. And that affects your whole outlook when it comes to whatever role you are serving in the church.

Cara: That’s a really good insight.

Gavin: That’s the first E. If we move on to the second E (equip), how can we define equip?

Cara: Yeah. So, when we think about the word equip, the Webster’s dictionary definition is supply with the necessary items for a particular purpose. And I think in this instance, that definition can actually help us with defining what equip means for us in the 4 Es within our Healthy Church vision.

Because when I think about equipping within the 4 Es and in ministry participation, Team Based—Pastor Led ministry, I think about it as like a holistic providing of experiences and tools and information or knowledge for the purpose of growing in participation in the ministry of Christ.

And really that’s discipleship, right? Growing in participation in the ministry of Christ is an important piece of the discipleship journey. And when I think about equipping, the reason I said holistic is that we are full beings. We’re integrated beings.

And I think often when we think about equipping, we can just think about maybe the head knowledge. What’s the information that you need to know to do something? But there’s also those hands-on experiences that are important to keep in mind when we think about how we’re defining equipping.

And so, I think the hands-on is also a really critical part of the definition of equipping—things like mentorship where you really get to live life-on-life and have that experience where that more intangible knowledge is getting passed on. It’s more getting rubbed off on you than passed down in a textbook thing.

Or apprenticeship where knowledge and skillsets are being passed along in a hands-on way where you’re actually getting to practice it in real life and not just learn about it from a workshop or a webinar. And you’re really getting to put these pieces into practice. I think that’s an important aspect of how we want to define equip in GCI.

And then we do have the things like workshops and seminars and tools that we have and knowledge that we need to know. And that’s all really important.

And if we stop there, I believe that equipping is incomplete because we haven’t had a chance to actually put flesh on it. And see what it’s like in motion. So, when I think about how we define equip, I think it’s the holistic piece of what knowledge and tools are needed.

And then, what’s that experience where that can be really owned by the person, [where] it can be really learned in a hands-on way?

Gavin: I think that’s spot on, Cara, because I think sometimes, we can just have this head knowledge. And it is useful having had knowledge, but often it doesn’t provide you with the confidence you need to go forward.

For me, for example, DIY [Do It Yourself] isn’t my strong point. But I do enjoy reading, and I can read a DIY instruction manual about how to do some plumbing or something along those lines. And even having read it, I don’t think I would ever go on and try it myself. If I watched a YouTube video, I might have a little more confidence, but nothing would be quite as confident as helping somebody else do that plumbing task, which would really give me that hands-on experience.

And it’s the same with ministry. You can read about something—and I think many Christians do read books, and we do want to engage in ministry and concepts like that. But it’s not always as straightforward because you are lacking that practical experience.

And if we look at the Gospels again and look at Jesus’ approach to ministry one of the things, he does is he includes his disciples. So, his disciples not just hear his teaching—of course, they hear his teaching but as they go along, they also are able to ask him questions and interact with him.

And then we see at key parts, he actually sends his disciples out so that they get that hands-on experience. Which is so important in terms of building your confidence that yes, you can fulfill this role that is being asked of you.

Cara: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think that’s an excellent example.

There are many things I would not try after just reading a book or watching a YouTube video. And there’s a lot of things that I wouldn’t want somebody else to try for me or on my behalf after just reading a book or watching a YouTube video. And of all things, the holy privilege of participating in the ministry of Christ—would we not want to equip and be formed by the Holy Spirit well and create spaces to do that in a participatory, holistic hands-on way?

And as you said, it is similar to the way that Jesus modeled it in his earthly ministry. Absolutely. That’s an excellent example.

And so, as we’re equipping, according to this definition or understanding of equipping, how would you get a sense for whether equipping is being effective or whether we’re seeing fruits of the equipping that’s taking place?

Gavin: When you think about equipping and whether it’s being effective, it does depend on the specific area of service or the ministry role that is being looked at. You can’t necessarily have a one answer that fits every role to this question. But really, I think the biggest indicator that you have is when you see transformation taking place in the person, when you see that they’re growing more confident in their role, when they move from that period of just following instructions to really making it their own.

When you see the innovations start to come. And I think that’s really exciting. What you’re seeing is somebody responding to the calling and participating in what God is doing in their midst. And it’s beautiful to witness that in a person. And we have the Apprentice Square tool that we sometimes use, which is talking about how we gain new knowledge and become more competent as we move around.

And I think that tool is quite helpful when you take the time to understand how to use it, to really understand about how we grow when we are learning a new skill or a new area of development. And what we want to get to the point is when somebody is both consciously and unconsciously competent.

I think you can see it when you arrive at that. But it’s about helping people as they travel along each side of the Apprentice Square. Because at each side, they need a different level of support from whoever’s training them up. But really, I think you see where it’s most effective when you see the innovations start to come—the flavor and the gifts and the personalities that are unique to that individual. When they start coming through in that area, not only is that very exciting, but it’s also when I think it’s at its most effective.

Cara: Yeah, absolutely. I think those are fantastic signs for us to be keeping an eye out for, that the equipping that’s being provided is the right equipping. Because you mentioned, specifics to the area of ministry or where somebody’s serving. So, are we providing helpful equipping for the task at hand or for that particular purpose? And is it being effective?

Is it helping that person to grow first and foremost as a disciple of Christ? And secondly, in that particular way that they’re being asked to participate in ministry for that season. I think those are great things for us to be on the lookout for.

And when we don’t see those things happen, sometimes equipping takes time. It’s not overnight. And sometimes it’s also okay to say, let’s try something different, right? Everyone does learn in a different way. And we are learning even how to be learners, to be equippers.

And so sometimes, it’s also okay if we’re not seeing some of these signposts of effective equipping, to take a moment to pause and to say, okay, if we think about equipping as defined in this way, how can we recalibrate and come forward to think differently or try something new with this?

I’m wondering for you, Gavin, and in your own experience, when there’s been a time that you’ve been equipped particularly well from ministry participation and what that experience was like for you.

Gavin: I think one of the things you were touching upon there is that when people are being equipped, the equipping has to come in stages to some degree. And if you try and give everybody everything they need to know at once, they just feel overwhelmed. And again, this is where the Apprentice Square is helpful to go back to.

Sometimes, you have to make sure that your equipping is matched to the individual. One of the areas as we think of starting off in ministry participation, I was very blessed in growing up to have a father who was a minister. And in many ways, where I feel I was equipped for ministry was actually through just riding along with my father as he went on ministry events and visits.

And a lot of the time, it wasn’t even in my mind that I was being equipped. It was more that I just wanted to spend time with my dad. He wanted to spend time with me. But inevitably, [I] would go along and I would witness what he would do in ministry.

That was very helpful for me in terms of equipping me, particularly where I was at the stage then. At that stage, I didn’t know I was going to end up a minister; my dad didn’t know I was going to end up a minister either. But I think it gives you some idea about how you can be equipped even through fairly simple things like just accompanying somebody and spending that time when you’re doing your job with someone. Because I can see looking back, how helpful that’s been in terms of my own ministry, giving me confidence about what ministry involved and the approach to take.

Because sometimes I think with ministry—and again, this is very specific, me for example—is that the tone that comes across when you are with somebody who’s just lost a loved one is really important, more than necessarily having the right words. Because the truth is, if somebody’s just died, there aren’t necessarily the right words that you can say to them, or all you can do is point them to Jesus Christ.

But your attitude, how you approach it, that’s what’s really important—the tone. And that’s not easily something, you can describe. But in many ways, I feel more equipped for some of these roles just because I was able to participate when my dad was involved in those kind of ministry areas.

That’s a personal one for me, about my own experience of, in some ways, how I was equipped for this role. And I think it’s a good example because, again, that’s one that, in some ways, isn’t too “in your face,” too much of an ask, but is a great starting point.

Just come along with me and see what I’m doing. If you invite somebody just to see what you are doing, it can help them understand and take away some of the fear about what they may be asked to be doing or what may be asked of them if they take on this.

Cara: Yes. Thank you so much for sharing that because I definitely agree that “come and see” can absolutely be one of the most powerful forms of equipping because it’s that opportunity for that mentoring, that life-on-life, to see in real life, what does this look like? What does this mean?

That’s really a good word. And I praise God that you were able to have that experience. So, thank you for sharing that, Gavin.

And so, then we next move to the third E, which is the E that I personally live for. I love this E. It is the empower one. So, what does empower look like in the life of a local church, Gavin?

Gavin: Empowerment is a really important one for me because I’ve seen it happen where I’ve seen people who have been engaged, who have been equipped but then they haven’t been empowered for the role. And I’ve seen the frustration that’s caused an individual and the difficulty it is.

And I think when you’re empowering, one of the biggest things to think about is this idea of creating space for meaningful ministry. Now what do I mean by creating spaces? That if you train somebody up and develop them and equip them for a certain role, they need to be able to practice that role in a way that allows them to make it their own.

And sometimes this can be a difficult one to manage the transition of, because what you need to do is you need to have somebody step back so the other person can step into the role to some degree. So, it is not just delegating the role to somebody, it is giving them a sense of ownership and responsibility for the role that we are wanting them to take on. That’s really important.

When we think of creating space, there’s creating the space, but then you also have to help other people understand this person now has this space and is now involved in this meaningful ministry here. And often to do that, I think it’s helpful to commission the person so that there’s a recognition by others that this is an area in which they are now in leadership.

An example that I find is quite helpful in this is, in most churches—not necessarily all—there are sound desks to amplify the sound. And often, when you’re having somebody working the sound desk you can train them up in all the equipment, but they really need to start using the skills you train them in, and they’re equipped with. Otherwise, those skills will start to disappear over time. The confidence they have will disappear.

If you put them in that role, whoever was currently doing the sound system clearly has to step back from that role. And then at the same time, if everybody thinks the other person’s running the sound desk and nobody comes to the new person, then it’s just going to create problems.

I like the sound desk as a model for this one because I think it’s an easier one for people to see. But the reality is for almost any role in the church, you have this similar situation going on where you have to create space for what the person has been equipped to do now.

And the commissioning really empowers other people to see this person, to see the skills they have, to see that it’s recognized by the church. And that they basically are empowered to take the lead in this particular area. And I think this is such a critical stage when we think about the development of new leaders in the church, the concept of discipleship.

Again, to go back to the model we have in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, we see that in many ways, this is what Jesus does. He had them come alongside him. But also, in many ways the whole point of Pentecost is it was this commissioning of the disciples to go out and to share the good news.

And the space had been created for them to do that because Jesus has called us to participate in what he’s doing, his ministry to his world. And this is the great gift we have been given by Jesus Christ—is that we are able to go out there and share the good news, the good news of Jesus Christ.

It’s not just that he kept the good news to himself, but we are able to be heralds. And that’s really exciting. But we see, again, in that biblical model, there is a creating of space and there is a commissioning. So, as we go through these 4 Es, you really see that we’re following a biblical model forum, but at the same time so much of it is about how we take these concepts and really apply them to the life of the church.

Cara: Absolutely. And what you’re saying, what I think is really important and why I love the empowerment E is this idea that we’re not just creating “mini me’s” to do things exactly how we would do it or to do the things that we just don’t quite have enough time to do, but we wish we did.

But like you’re saying, creating real space. And then actually commissioning people into that space in a way that is really meaningful. Releasing them to be led by the Spirit according to their own giftings and what God is doing in their life, in their midst. Freeing them to respond to God on their own, not according to how I would, or how I would want them to.

And still with responsibility, but not with this idea that you have to do it exactly the way that I would do it. So, I think that is an excellent definition that you’ve given us of empower, Gavin. Thank you really for that.

Gavin: So, what do you think, Cara, are some of the things that might tempt us to settle for a lesser definition of empowerment?

Cara: You mentioned this, and I think this is one of the things with this E that trips us up sometimes, is we do the engage, and we do the equipping, and then we maybe fall short on empowerment or settle for something a little less than this empowerment that we’re talking about. Where maybe someone can do the thing that we’ve equipped them for, but they don’t have full responsibility over it.

I love the example you gave of the soundboard where you have the skillsets, but you’re not fully able to put them to use or you don’t have the full responsibility or authority to lead in that capacity, in that area of ministry because the previous leader hasn’t stepped aside.

I think that’s something we experience pretty frequently in the lives of a local church. And I think that we are selling ourselves a little bit short of what we could experience in terms of vibrancy and health in our church communities. There are a number of things that always could contribute to why our decisions come out the way that they do and what that looks like.

But I do think there are some common things that we can keep an eye out for that can really help support us in rising to this level of a definition of an empowerment.

One of the things that often will happen is, when we have a lack of effective equipping then we see or identify a lack of competency in an area. And then we’re hesitant to fully empower, right? Because we’re like maybe I can’t give this space and commission this person to have full responsibility over this ministry because they don’t quite have all the skillsets that they need right now.

To me, that’s an easy fix. Rather than just settling for a “mini me” or someone to just manage some tasks or do some delegation, we can just instead provide fuller equipping, holistic equipping so that person can fully step into a meaningful area and space of ministry that’s in line with their gifting and what they have to offer the community of the local church.

So that comes back to the equipping stage. Has that been robust enough to move on to the empowerment stage or have we rushed through?

And then sometimes I think that we can have a little bit of a lack of relationship, which leads to a lack of trust. We’re not going to necessarily empower and give over responsibility to somebody in an area of ministry if we don’t know that we can fully trust them.

And so that comes back to really what you said right at the beginning of our conversation, Gavin, that relationship is foundational to the engage stage. And so how have we thoroughly engaged? Have we built strong relationships before going ahead and saying, oh maybe you can lead this?

Have we built relationships that are hardy enough that we can actually trust people to be empowered in areas of ministry participation and leadership?

And I think both of those things come back a little bit to, we have a desire to control, right? I think that’s in a lot of us as people. But ultimately, it’s Jesus’ church not our own. And as you said at Pentecost, we’ve been empowered as his church to preach the gospel.

And I think that’s a bit of a mind shift for us to take. Do we trust? Can we trust more deeply what God is up to in our midst? And can we trust in this idea of the priesthood of all believers, that he’s calling all of his people into meaningful participation in his ministry? And that might require of us creating space and empowering others to do just that, to participate in that ministry.

And then I think that the last thing that can be a barrier to us fully rising to this awesome definition of empowerment is even misunderstanding life stages and capacities or capabilities at life stages.

So, I like to think a lot about younger folks, youth and young adults and what they’re capable of. I think that they’re capable of a lot more than we often give them credit for. And so sometimes there can be a hesitancy to empower emergent leaders because maybe they’re too young. Maybe they can’t handle this level of responsibility, but when they’ve been well-engaged and well-equipped and are well-supported in doing so, I think that’s one thing.

And then on the other end of an intergenerational church life perspective, I think sometimes when folks get into their senior years, we don’t think about the ways that they can still meaningfully participate in ministry. So just because you can’t go out and walk three miles going door to door getting to know your neighbors, doesn’t mean you can’t write notes or something like that, and be empowered to have a participation and encouragement note-writing ministry or something like that, just as an example.

And so, I think, again, it comes back to: are we thinking too narrowly about how God is working in the people in our community and in our neighborhood? Or are we open to what people have to contribute to the life of the church?

And so, I think that those are some things. Now, there could be others, but I think those are some key things. When we let those be barriers and we’re like, oh, okay we can empower people by maybe letting them hit advance on the slide a couple times and then we’ll call that empowerment.

But I think we’re selling ourselves a little bit short, if we let ourselves off the hook and say that’s empowerment. When I think, by the power of the Spirit, God has called us to something really incredible to participate in his ministry in the priesthood of all believers.

Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of ones there that I’ve had some experience with is, I think often the barrier to empowerment can sometimes be, we use the term control, but I think it’s more a fear-based mentality of fear of letting go of something for what might happen as a result of that.

And sometimes it can even be the pressure we’re under because sometimes if you’ve been working in ministry, and you’ve been accumulating roles along the way, you reach a point where you really are at capacity and you really need to hand things off. But sometimes that’s easier said than done for you.

Because of your fear about having to train somebody up, the amount of time it would take, it’s so often to end up with that mentality. It’s easier for me to do it myself than to train somebody up to do it. That only makes sense really in the short term. It makes no sense in the long term, but those are very easy mentalities for us to adopt in the moment because if you find yourself pressured or overworked which can happen because most ministry are volunteers. Most ministry workers are volunteers. And often you have your day job, you’ve got your family life, you’ve got all sorts of things going on, perhaps even health difficulties or whatever.

And so, you can find yourself in this stage where you are just really overwhelmed, and it’s easy for you to keep saying to yourself, it’s easier for me to keep doing this myself than to finish off handing all this over to the other person. But that’s just really a trap, and if we carry on that way, there’s no way out.

And I can certainly voice my own experience of sometimes finding myself trapped along those lines. And really the only way to break free, to have that freedom, to have that liberation, comes from letting go and trusting others. And particularly, sometimes you can feel it difficult to trust when you’ve been burned in the past.

And I think this is one of the things that sometimes does happen in development and discipleship. Perhaps you’ve been working with somebody in the congregation and training them up for a particular role, and they get trained in that role. And you empower them, and you commission them. You create space, and they’re great at it.

You’re encouraging them, and then they get a job in another city, and they move away. And it’s heartbreaking, in a way. But at the same time, sometimes that’s part of life and particularly part of the Christian life that we’re called. And we need to just trust God that the skills we’ve helped that person with are going to be helpful somewhere else down the line.

But we can’t really put “all our eggs in the one basket” concept. We need to understand that the reality of life means that sometimes people will move away to another city, or they’ll have a family emergency. That means they need to step back. And this is why at the same time, it’s so important that we keep going with the 4 Es because what you really want to reach, the point you want to reach in a Healthy Church is where not everything is depending on one or two key people that you have, redundancy in the system, so to speak.

So that if something goes wrong, there are other people who are able to support and help out. And this is why Team Based—Pastor Led is one of the hallmarks of being a Healthy Church is that you have a system that’s able to deal with that. But to do that, you really need to lean into these concepts.

Lean into engaging, equipping, empowering and—as we’re about to go onto—encouraging others. So, let’s move on to encouragement.

Cara: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for those excellent points, Gavin. And as you said, encouragement, this is our final of the 4 Es.

And it can seem, oh yeah, that’s an obvious one. That’s simple. We all encourage, we’re good Christian people. Of course, we encourage, but we want to not miss how important this is when we’re talking about developing others, discipleship, and the rhythms of a Healthy Church and the life of a Healthy Church.

Because encouragement is something that, again, it comes back to not just a pat on the back of, oh yeah, good job, kiddo. But are we seeing people, right? Are we seeing them well? Are we seeing and taking the time to discern what the Spirit is doing in their lives? Maybe how they’re growing and transforming, how they’re contributing to the life of the church, the ways that the life of the church and the neighborhood are more like the kingdom because of who God is shaping this person to be and how they’re contributing.

And so, I think that on a practical level, encouragement is how we define that, as continuing to speak life into that person and continuing to see them and name what God is up to, what we see them doing. And I think to be specific with encouragement, I think that’s one best practice of encouragement, not just, oh yeah, you’re great, that’s so wonderful.

If you could say it to everybody in the church, is that really encouragement? But if it’s something specific, that is specific to that one person, who they are, who God is shaping them to be, the ways that they’re participating in the ministry of Jesus and that particular season of their life, in that neighborhood, in that local church, that’s really meaningful. That’s a way that we get to participate even in Jesus’ ministry of seeing people, of speaking life into them.

And then, to bring that encouragement consistently. And I don’t mean—it doesn’t have to be every five minutes consistently, but if somebody’s been serving, participating in a particular ministry role for two years, I think it’s easy to, maybe we encourage them for the first four months. But then at the end of year two, maybe we just take it for granted that they’re doing a great job. So, are we continuing to see people, to speak that life into them?

And then, to do that in a way that is unique to them as well. How do they hear encouragement? How [would] they be encouraged? And not just to speak life in the way that we like to speak life, but how does that person receive life and encouragement, I think is something that is helpful to consider as well.

Gavin: Yeah, I definitely agree with that because people do receive encouragement in very different ways.

I think there are some people where being recognized publicly means a lot. There are other people where, they just don’t want to be recognized publicly. And if you put them on the spot, they’re just embarrassed about it. And I fall into that latter category.

And this one, encouragement, for me is always one that I think that I need to focus on more. I don’t feel it’s one of my natural strengths. I wish it was. It seems sometimes crazy that encouragement isn’t, but it just doesn’t naturally come from me, as my wife is very good at reminding me.

But one of the things with encouragement that I think that I’ve learned as well is that sometimes when you’re in a leadership position, you have people come to you and say, didn’t so and so in the congregation do a fantastic job? And sometimes we need to stop and say, “They did. Have you told them that?” Because sometimes the encouragement that’s needed isn’t just from the pastor; it’s from the congregation. It’s from the community, the wider people around. And what you really want is a culture of encouragement where everybody is looking to encourage one another—again, with specifics and consistent there.

But if it’s just one person in the congregation doing all the encouraging, then it ends up looking like that person’s gifting as opposed to real encouragement, if that makes sense. So, I think it’s important that this is viewed not just through the pastor led lens, but through the team-based lens as well.

That really with the 4 Es, when it’s working together, you’re not talking about one person who’s doing all this element. You come back to that team-based element, and the encouragement is one where that’s easier to see to some degrees, but it also carries more weight when the whole team recognizes somebody for their contribution.

Cara: Yeah, that’s an excellent point. Creating a culture of encouragement and bringing everyone’s voice into that. That’s excellent. As we begin to wrap up our time today, Gavin, what encouragements would you share with those who are learning to put the four E into practice with their teams and in the life of their local churches?

Gavin: I’ll tell a story. I gave a presentation to some of our ministers here in the UK on the 4 Es. And unbeknownst to me a couple months later, one of the ministers was doing a quiz in the church, and they put this up as one of the questions about the church to see whether anybody could name all 4 Es.

And it was clearly an issue for everybody to remember all four of the Es. People kept getting three of the Es, but they couldn’t remember that last one. And it was just quite amusing watching everybody struggle with that. And sometimes I think at times, we can almost be put off by some of the buzzwords and trying to remember all these little things.

I think it’s so important that we understand the value that comes out of this tool that we are discussing. And it is tool. We need to think of it in the context of being a tool to help us, to help us to develop good habits when it comes to developing up new leaders and multiplying leaders.

So, for some of the people that I think who are just beginning, what I would say is, it’s worth persevering with these concepts. Don’t expect to just read it the one time and think that you can come away with it. You need to really stop and let it expand in your mind. And think about, what does it mean to engage with people with respect to the 4 Es? What does it look like when you recognize the giftings in an area?

And then, how do you go about perhaps recruiting that person to a specific role? What does, equipping them look like in that particular context? And that’s really where you get the value. So, to some degree, you get more value out the 4 Es the more effort you put into developing these concepts in your own mind.

And that’s really what I would say to people who were just beginning with this. Persevere. The terminology is there to help you understand these key concepts that we’ve been discussing today.

Cara: Thank you so much, Gavin. I really appreciate all the insights that you’ve had to share with us today. They’ve been really helpful, and I’m sure that they will be helpful to all of our listeners.

But before I let you go, we have a little bit of fun to have. So I’ve got a couple of fun random questions that you can answer with whatever comes to mind first. So, if you’re ready, here we go.

Gavin: Okay. I’m ready. I’m ready.

Cara: If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?

Gavin: The immediate thing that came to mind was medical stuff. I have no idea why that came to mind. Yeah, I don’t know. I guess at one point in my life I wanted to be a doctor. I think that ship has sailed. I don’t know what I would do with all that knowledge if I had it now.

Yeah. Maybe we want the next question.

Cara: That’s a good thing to have immediate expertise on. People pay a lot of money to get that expertise.

Gavin: That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. So, I would just skip quite a lot of years of learning there. That’s true.

Cara: That’s right. All right. If you have to sing karaoke, what song is your go-to song?

Gavin: I’m very musically challenged; I’m going to put it that way. And I really do struggle with music, and I have two specific things that I struggle with. One is that I can’t keep rhythm at all. I’m one of those people that when people are clapping along with songs, I can’t do it.

I’ve worked out that I can read the lyrics for a song, and I can sing the song at the same time, but I can’t read, sing, and clap at the same time. If I want to clap in rhythm, I really need to be watching somebody else. Otherwise, I don’t keep the rhythm. The other problem I have is that I just genuinely am not very good at remembering lyrics to songs.

I’ve practiced this over time. I had specific songs that I would sing to my children. When they were growing up, like nursery songs and I would be there when I’m singing to them, reading them off my phone. And I read some of these songs and sang them every day to my kids every night for a couple of years.

And I’m shocked now when I go back to sing them how little of those nursery rhymes that I can remember. So, I’m going to duck that question because I tried to do karaoke once and it’s a pain. I’m not looking to repeat.

Cara: Yeah. So, you’re a non-karaoke-er. Yeah. That’s all right. That’s all right.

Gavin: I enjoy watching other people, yeah. If they’re good.

Cara: We can’t all be gifted in everything. No. All right. This next question, I know you’re gifted in this. What is your favorite meal to cook?

Gavin: Ooh. See my favorite meal to cook is probably always the next one because one of the things I really enjoy doing when I’m cooking is—part of it is the excitement of trying to find a new recipe I haven’t done before, something that looks exciting.

And so I always enjoy that next meal that’s coming up because part of the enjoyment I get, particularly as a cook, it’s not just, you want the meal to be good, you want to enjoy eating it, but for me, I like the whole process and including that planning process where you’re working out what to cook, and then you’re getting the ingredients, then you’re actually making the recipe.

And for me that planning element is the one that I like the most. And it’s not specifically one recipe every time that I turn to it and it’s my favorite, it’s more that I enjoy the experience of learning about a new cuisine or a new dish, or particularly if there’s like a new ingredient I haven’t heard of.

That’s what I find very exciting.

Cara: Okay. Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. All right, this next one, what’s the best phrase or piece of slang that people in your hometown use?

Gavin: Oh, this is a difficult one.

The challenge for me here is I don’t really like using slang phrases. I even struggle to use nicknames for people because it’s not that I have anything particularly against it, it’s just my personality doesn’t really lend itself to that.

Cara: Ah, fair enough. Fair enough. Sorry.

Gavin: I know that’s not the easiest answer to give there, but I’m struggling to think of anything, but

Cara: No, that’s okay. You’ve answered to say, you’re not a slang kind of person. That’s your answer.

I was looking forward to some good British phraseology, but that’s okay.

Gavin: I’ve probably given you some already. When I was talking about DIY and plumbing earlier, I was going to say changing the tap, but you say faucet and I thought, oh, okay, maybe I won’t use that.

Cara: That’s right. That’s right. And then our last question, what’s something that always gives you childlike joy?

Gavin: What is something that always gives me childlike joy? I actually really enjoy playing tricks on my children and my wife too. And I have to say, nothing gives me more joy than when I really get them with whatever particular trick or prank I played on them at the time.

So that would definitely be my answer then.

Cara: That’s awesome. I love that. Oh, goodness.

Thank you so much, Gavin, for joining us on the podcast today. We had a really rich conversation, and I hope that our listeners are able to gain some great insights from it. It is our practice with GC Podcast to end the show with prayer.

So, would you be willing to pray for our churches, pastors, ministry leaders, and members in GCI today?

Gavin: Of course, I would. Yeah, let’s pray.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, what a joy is to be able to come before you. And Father, you are the source of all good things in our life and let us never lose sight of that.

Let us never lose sight of all the amazing and wonderful things that you’ve done for us. And Father, we’ve talked today about how we can step into greater participation, into what you are doing in our lives, and in the life of our church, Lord and Father. As we think about the 4 Es, as we think about discipling others, Lord, we just always ask that everything that we do be to your glory, Lord, that you guide our steps, that you help us in the decisions that we make.

And Father, as we think about the churches we have here in GCI and the pastors and the ministry leaders and the members and Father, we just ask that you help us all to draw closer to you. Let us clearly fix our eyes on Jesus and follow him wherever he is leading us, Lord. And so, Father, we place our trust in you.

And we just ask that whenever we use these tools, whenever we have these discussions, that we always use them, remembering your son, Jesus Christ, remembering the good news that we have through him, Lord, that we are called to be his witnesses to the world, Lord.

So let us go out into this world. Let us be his witnesses, and let’s proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And we say this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Cara: Amen. Folks, that’s all we have for today. So, until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.


We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, Healthy Churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

Gospel Reverb – Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills

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Listen in as Dishon Mills joins host, Anthony Mullins, to unpack this month’s lectionary passages. Dishon is the lead church planter and pastor of Grace Communion Steele Creek, a new church plant expressing Christ’s love for humanity in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also the National Coordinator of Generations Ministries on behalf of Grace Communion International.

February 5 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:13-20, “Salty”
3:27

February 12 – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:21-37, “But I Say To You”
19:45

February 19 – Transfiguration Sunday
Matthew 17:1-9, “Filled With Awe”
34:52

February 26 – First Sunday of Easter Prep
Matthew 4:1-11, “Not Today, Satan!”
50:55


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Program Transcript


Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills

Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello friends, a welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view. I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and it’s my joy to welcome our guest, Dishon Mills.

Dishon is the lead church planter and pastor of Grace Communion Steele Creek, a new church plant expressing Christ love for humanity in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s also the National Coordinator of Generations Ministries on behalf of Grace Communion International.

Dishon, thank you for being with us and welcome back to the podcast. This is your second time being our guest at Gospel Reverb. But it’s been awhile, so why don’t you catch us up with how you are participating with the Lord these days.

Dishon: Praise God. Thank you so much, Anthony. I thought you said you’d never have me back after the last time.

Anthony: Well, God corrected me and welcome, sir. It’s good to have you again.

Dishon: It’s really good to be here. All joking aside, it is a privilege and honor to be here with you talking about the word of God and what it can mean for us in this time, in this day.

And lately we’ve just been getting acclimated to Charlotte and continuing to fall in love with this city. Afrika [my wife] and I moved here about a year and a half ago. And we’re loving it and enjoying life and enjoying being about the business of planting a new church here. Our kids are doing great, so I’m feeling no pain, Anthony. Things are good.

Anthony: Good. Since you’ve gotten acclimated to Charlotte and you’re falling in love with the city, does this mean you’re falling in love with the sports teams of that city? Or are you still lingering to your past sin of cheering for the Boston Red Sox and the Patriots and all that?

Dishon: The good news is that Charlotte does not have a local baseball team. So Red Sox Nation is in full effect here in Charlotte. So, I continue to be a Red Sox fan. I am developing a sympathy for the Panthers and the Hornets, but the Lord’s going to have to continue to work at my heart.

Anthony: We will be in prayer for you, sir. But it’s so good to have you here today.

Let’s get into it. We have four lectionary passages that we’re going to be looking at today.

Matthew 5:13-20                                                        “Salty”

Matthew 5:21-37                                                        “But I Say To You”

Matthew 17:1-9                                                          “Filled With Awe”

Matthew 4:1-11                                                         “Not Today, Satan!”

 

Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 5:13-20. It comes from the Common English Bible. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, on February the 5th.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Dishon, in slang terms, when someone says you’re salty, that’s not a good thing. They’re saying you’re upset or you’re in a bad way. And yet Jesus, in this passage tells us we’re salty. And it’s good. So, help us understand.

Dishon: Yes. So, the folks in Jesus’ time had a very different relationship with salt than we do today.

Today’s salt is very common here in the Western world. Just about any restaurant you go into, you’ll find it on the table. And just about every home, you’ll find it on the shelf somewhere. So, it’s very common. But back then salt was essential. And it still is essential, but even more so then. You could even use it as a medium of exchange.

Back then you could buy stuff with salt because it was that useful and precious. So, we talk a lot about what this passage means, and we talk about the qualities of salt. And that’s good. And that’s right. So, salt brings out the flavor of something, right? So salt, when it’s put into a dish, just makes that dish taste better, if you put the right amount of it, right?

It’s also used as a preservative. If you dip meat in salt, that meat, if you treat it properly, can last a very long time without refrigeration, which in the ancient world was really important. Even, you could use salt in small quantities as a fertilizer. So, you can make things grow or help make things grow with salt.

Human beings—mammals, we need salt. We have to ingest it. If we don’t get salt, we develop some kind of condition that I don’t know the name of, but it’s bad. You don’t want it, right? So, we need salt in our diet in order to be healthy. And also, as a disinfectant—it doesn’t feel great. If you put a small amount of salt in a wound or something like that, it will help keep that wound from being infected.

There was so many uses of salt, and I think when we’re preaching this verse, this passage, we often talk about a lot of those uses of salt, and we talk about these metaphors of what salt could be. Every metaphor breaks down, but this is a useful thing to do.

However, I think if we zoom out just a little bit, we can see the overall meaning. I don’t think it’s any one of these qualities of salt that we’re supposed to grab hold to. I think what we’re supposed to grab onto—and this is my view—that we as Christ’s followers are supposed to diffuse the aroma of Christ in the world and be a vital part of everyday life. Salt is necessary for the wellbeing of all. Right?

It’s not something that has only one value. It is valuable on so many levels that if it wasn’t there, the quality of life will be drastically reduced. And I think that’s what we’re called to be. We’re supposed to be living incarnationally and living in our communities and our neighborhood and behaving and treating others in such a way that we become a vital part of everyday life.

That if we were not there, life would be diminished. That we’re required for healthy functioning of the society around us. And if we as Christ’s followers are self-focused or isolated or as we’re engaging with our neighbors, if we don’t resemble Christ in how we’re living amongst them and treating them, we no longer fulfill our purpose in the world as disciples.

There’s a futility to our existence as disciples, if we’re not being salt and if we’re not being salty.

Anthony: You brought to memory a quote from Francis Chan, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, Christians are a lot like manure. When you spread them out, they help things grow. But when they stay in a pile, they stink to high heaven.

And that speaks to what you’re saying that salt even as a fertilizer—again, not to press in on one aspect of salt too much—but like you said, as we live incarnationally, as salt, things should grow. That’s what healthy organisms do. And I think that’s what you’re pointing to. It’s really good.

Verse 16 tells us, Dishon, that we’re to let our light shine so people can see the good things we’re doing. And of course, I’m not going to disagree with Jesus. It’s true. But I also can’t help but think if we take that too far, just like too much salt, right? It’s not good. We can end up being showy or pointing to ourselves instead of pointing to Jesus. Maybe help us rightly understand how we put this in context.

Dishon: Yes. So, I think that if we set out to be light to the world, if we look at ourselves and say, yes, I’m brightly shining and I need to go out to the world to let them see my brightness, we will stumble.

That is a recipe for failure, in my view. I think what it means that we are light, it’s not something we do ourselves. And I don’t even know, I have to think about this more, but I don’t even know if we should be fully conscious of the fact, all the time, that we are being light. I think what we are supposed to do is submit ourselves to the leading of the Spirit, and what the Spirit does is that the Holy Spirit helps us to act like Jesus and the Holy Spirit helps us to think like Jesus and move in the world like Jesus.

We don’t know how to be righteous from our own resources. We can only submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and his leading. And I think as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we begin to mirror Christ. Christ is the light. And if we are an effective mirror, we reflect that light. We shine and become light.

And as we engage our neighbors, they look at us and they see light. They may not realize that we are reflectors. And that’s where place-sharing and evangelism comes in when we get to tell the story. No, I’m like this, I’m doing this because there is this God man named Jesus who changed everything for me.

So, they may not realize that we are reflecting light. But they see that light as we move and as we follow the Holy Spirit. I think a lot of what good we do, can only be seen as good after the fact.

I’ll give you an example. This happened not too long ago where there was a gentleman who stopped in front of our house. He was having some car trouble and I just decided, let me go out and see if he’s okay. And as I’m talking to him, he starts sharing a story about his son dying and having to raise his grandson. And we spent a good 15 minutes just talking about how he and his grandson are trying to cope with that loss.

And I’m trying to pour into him as much encouragement as I can. And I didn’t set out to be like, in that moment, I didn’t go out to say I’m so bright and shiny. Let me just go shine on this guy. I just followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit created this moment where this man that I didn’t know, he and I connected on a very deep level, and I prayed for him.

And it was just this beautiful moment, and I’m sure that he walked away—maybe, I don’t know—exposed to light. But that’s not for me to judge or say or even dwell upon except to say, Lord, thank you so much that I get to participate in your life and in your work. Thank you so much that I get to have a front row seat to watching you work and watching you do your thing.

So, if we’re doing light right, we’re not even thinking about light. We’re just trying to follow where the Spirit leads. And the Spirit causes others to see us as light, and then we give the glory to God for making us shine.

Anthony: Later in the episode, we’re going to talk about Transfiguration Sunday where Jesus as God shines his own light.

It’s self-generated. Whereas, as you talked about, we’re just reflecting. We don’t create our own lights. It’s a gift. And I really appreciate what you said there.

Dishon, I’ve had a complicated history with the law. I’m really curious what it means when Jesus says he fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Tell us more.

Dishon: Oh, Jesus is so cool. I love the fact that he said this. The Law and the Prophets, we can understand that phrase as referring to the Old Testament Scripture. So, he’s looking at Old Testament Scripture, and he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of it. And why is he doing this in the first place?

So, what we can infer, by the fact that he’s bringing it up and the way that he’s talking about it, he was probably being accused of deviating from the law. His approach to worshiping God and living in light of the reality of God was so radical to the society at the time—even though it wasn’t. It was Orthodox. But it was perceived as being so radical, that he was being accused of trying to introduce a new law or trying to do away with the Law and the Prophets.

And he’s coming out and saying, no, that’ not the case. And then he takes it a step further and implies that it’s not even possible because he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. So, the Law and the Prophets are descriptions of who Jesus is. So, if you had a person that could just follow Jesus around all the time and write down everything he said and did, and you write down every quality that he has and his beliefs, what you would get is the Law and the Prophets, in part, up until that point.

So, the law is just a description for us to help us understand who Jesus is. He’s the pattern. He’s the model on which the Law and the Prophets were based. And so again, when Jesus incarnated, it wasn’t a big stretch for him to keep the law because the law was based on him. He just has to be himself to keep the law.

And when I realized that—that was such a huge shift for me! I was like, wow, how did Jesus keep all these rules? How did he keep them straight in his head? Did he like have to memorize them and everything? And it’s, no. This is who he is. He came first, then the law. The law describes him.

And so, when he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, he is saying, one, I’m not doing away with the law. I affirm it. But not only that, in order to see how the Law and the Prophets are to be lived out, you have to look to me. I’m the perfect example and representation of how to live this out.

Wow. And later on, on the Emmaus Road, he introduces theology in a new way. He’s the first theologian, so he basically tells his disciples, in order to understand Old Testament Scripture, you have to start with me. I am the interpretive key of all Scripture. And so that is such good news for us because he, as the pattern of the law, invites us into relationship.

And through that relationship, we become more and more like him. He is not holding a hatchet over our head, waiting for us to mess up and lower the boom on us. He’s inviting us to be with him and then become like him through that relationship. And so, it is this beautiful image of what it means to keep the law.

It’s a lot more fun and enjoyable and beautiful than how law is enforced in our society. But Jesus provides a beautiful image of how not only he fulfills the law, but he is the Law and the Prophets, and invites us in to participate in that.

Anthony: Yeah. You talked about how the law points to him. He embodies it, and I like what you said, that he is the interpretive key to all things. He is our hermeneutic for everything that we read in Scripture.

So, with that in mind, let’s look to Jesus as we transition to our next pericope for the month. It’s Matthew 5:21-37 from the Common English Bible. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany on February the 12th.

Dishon, read it for us please.

Dishon: Absolutely. And I’ll read this also in the CEB.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell. “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Anthony: Whew. That was a good reading. Thank you, brother. It seems to me, Dishon, in reading verses 21 – 26—and this will be an understatement—God cares deeply about right relationship and reconciliation and the rest of the pericope points to a similar outcome. So, tell us more. What’s your conclusion and why?

Dishon: Sure. So let me back up, and I should say that both the previous verse and this verse are part of what we call the Sermon on the Mount. And in this sermon on the Mount, God Jesus is introducing his listeners to what we sometimes call the upside-down kingdom. He’s been saying the kingdom of God is at hand and he’s been saying that stuff. And now he’s painting an image of what this kingdom looks like and what life in this kingdom looks like.

And it’s so counter to what we experience on a daily life, it seems upside down, but really, we are the ones who are upside down. He’s right side up. And so, in this section of the sermon, I think Jesus is clarifying some misperceptions or misapplications of scripture. He is coming out against an external, superficial, false piety.

He wants his followers to have transformed hearts, not just finely painted exteriors. And if we look at the particular examples that he uses, he seems to be especially concerned with heart transformation, with regard to other people.

He wants to see us truly, honestly, authentically, lovingly engaging with others, and that’s evidence that we are truly followers of his. How we live out our faith in the company of others shows the extent to which we love God, right? He talks about that too. So, the problem is that there is a form of religion that was practiced then and is still practiced now that allowed people to use the law to justify being unkind, unrepentant, unfaithful, without compassion, and dishonest towards others.

And if you look for each one of those examples, that is what Jesus is coming against: unkindness, unrepentance, unfaithfulness, lacking compassion, and dishonesty. And you could use the law to justify those behaviors and call them legalism, right? You could say I am able to do this.

I’m not breaking any laws by doing this. And so, Jesus is saying, that’s not good enough. It’s not good. Our standard is not to not break laws. Our standards should be to be good, to be kind, to be loving, to be like Jesus, right? So, Jesus is coming against this legalism, this superficial false piety. And we have to think back to Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

So, we have to look to him in our dealings with others. We can’t just stand on our legal right to treat someone in a certain way. We have to look first to Jesus to say, how would Jesus behave in this particular situation? How did he treat others? What is the standard he’s calling us to live up to? And then we live in that reality, not just standing on a legal precedent.

And this is a tall order. This is a very challenging set of scripture because, I don’t know about you, but I’m from Jersey and more than once, I might have called someone an idiot in my mind. And maybe more than twice, I might have said it out loud. And I have to begin to look at my heart and say, what does that mean for how I think about my neighbor?

If I so easily judge them in this way, how do I think about my neighbors in general? And that requires heart transformation. There’s a lot of gunk in there that needs to be cleaned out, and we’ll never relate to others perfectly. But we have to rely on Christ in our relationships.

Again, it gets back to when we were talking about light. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and to prompt us and help us to be like Christ in our relationships because that is the only way that we can relate to others well—is not by trying to relate to them directly, but through the lens of Christ and through the work of Christ.

Anthony: Yeah, that last thing you just said, Dishon, I think is really important—the work of Christ. Because too often, we think of Jesus in his earthly ministry as the model, but I think of it like this.

If Michael Jordan is my model, I’ll never get there. Like I’ll never be able to dunk a basketball like him or play basketball like him. So, he can’t only be a model alone when we come to faith, like it has to be Christ himself through his Spirit, empowering us to do it, because otherwise we’ll never get there.

We’ll never be able to live this out the way that he embodied it, but because he does live in us by his Spirit we can move toward right relationship and reconciliation because that’s his idea. And it’s good. And especially as we think about our neighbor.

And you reminded me of a quote. One of my favorite sermons ever was “The Weight of Glory” by CS Lewis. And he wrote this, and I quote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” That’s a staggering heralding of the gospel. And it’s true, right? We know it in our spirit that it’s true.

And I think this is what Jesus is pointing us to in this passage—there is another way. It’s upside down to the way the world works but that’s not what’s true. And so anyway, yeah. I think that’s important to say that it goes beyond just checking off a box. Like, I got the rule, right?

This is really about relationship. And it also points us to a more true understanding of freedom—that we’re not free to do whatever we want to other people, right? We are free for God, to live as God in the world. And that looks like love and kindness like you pointed to.

Dishon: That’s right. And that should bring a certain amount of humility to us too, that we’re never going to be at a point where we say we have arrived. So, there’s no need for that false piety. There’s no need for the masks; there’s no need for the inauthenticity. We could just be ourselves and say, hey, we are on a journey. I’m becoming, I’m not there. I’m becoming. Some days I get it better than others.

But that’s why we need to just be honest and place-share with each other in the church. That’s how we help each other move forward.

Anthony: Words matter. Jesus was the Word who became flesh. And so of course, words matter. And he says, the Word himself says, let your yes be yes. And your no be no.

But we also think in terms words like, they’re not going to break us. They’re just words. So, what’s the big deal here? Why is he pointing us to this? Yes be yes, and our no be no.

Dishon: Yes. Jesus wants us to be honest. So, here’s what was happening under the law of Moses—as far as I understand it, I wasn’t there. But here’s what I’ve been told.

Under the law of Moses, the law said oaths that are sworn in the name of God are binding, right? So, if you swear something in the name of God, you really have to do that. That is binding. Here’s what people would do to get around that.

They would start swearing on heaven, on earth, things that are God-proximate in their mind, but not on God himself, not in the name of God. And so later on, they would say I was going to do this, but I don’t want to. And since I didn’t swear on the name of God, this oath I took is not binding so I could get out of it.

So what people were doing is they were swearing these lesser oaths in order to give themselves a back door out of their promise without, in their mind, breaking the law. And what Jesus is doing, he’s closing that perceived loophole even though there wasn’t one. But he’s making it very clear that we in ourselves should not create escape routes from our promises.

We should not in our dealing with others, leave ourselves an out in order to be dishonest or disloyal. So, he is saying, when you say something, mean what you say, and don’t try to play games or leave yourself a door for dishonesty.

And man, that seems simple, but can you imagine what our society would look like if everyone did that? Imagine if every leader or politician or boss or whoever just told the truth. They just said what was true and did not try to leave themselves wiggle room to be dishonest. They just spoke what was true for them. And I think Jesus, again, in keeping with the theme of salt and light and what we’re supposed to bring, we should bring beautiful honesty wrapped in love, compassion, and empathy to the world.

We should not be trying to manipulate and leave ourselves escape routes from our promises. Our word should be good for those around us.

Anthony: And we’ve already pointed to Jesus as the hermeneutic, the interpretive key to Scripture. And he himself is truth. He said it. I am the embodiment of truth.

Our words should reflect reality. And he told the truth. And sometimes that ticked people off, but it was never from a place of trying to cause harm. Because all that Jesus, as God, can do is who he is, and he is love. So even the words that were hurtful in the moment to people were exactly what they needed to hear.

And that’s why even when we read Scripture, we have to allow Scripture to read us.

Let’s transition on to our third passage of the month. It’s Matthew 17:1-9. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Transfiguration Sunday on February the 19th.

And it reads:

1Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”

So Dishon, we’ve arrived at Transfiguration Sunday, and I’ve heard some theologians call it one of the “Big 6” of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. And that includes his birth, his baptism, transfiguration, death, resurrection, and of course, the ascension.

And since this is significant, and as we’ve already pointed to in this podcast, it’s no magic trick. He’s revealing himself. What should preachers and teachers see and proclaim from this passage?

Dishon: There’s a lot. There’s a lot. Yeah. I love this passage. I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve learned so far, and I’m still trying to uncover more and more useful information for how to live from this passage.

So basically, the surface answer I would give you is that the transfiguration declares the divinity of Christ. So, we who follow Jesus, believe Jesus is 100% God and 100% human at the same time. That he is able to hold those natures together perfectly. And in this moment, on this mountain, his divine nature seems to come a bit more to the foreground.

What does that mean? I don’t even really know, right? He’s 100% God, 100% human. But in this moment, it seemed that the divine nature was more easily perceived by those around him. They could see it more clearly and feel evidence of it. So, in this extraordinary moment, Jesus reveals completely that he’s not just Messiah—because the Hebrew scriptures foretold that Messiah would come.

But it wasn’t necessarily spelled out clearly that Messiah was God. Jesus in this moment and other moments too, makes it incredibly clear that yes, he’s not only Messiah, but he’s also God. And I think when we start to dig into the passage, one of the most extraordinary facts about it is that Peter, James, and John were invited to be present. And that’s something that I think says a lot about who God is.

Some theologians have said that God does not wish to be God apart from us. And it seems that Jesus wanted the disciples there to participate in what is arguably a very intimate, divine moment. It is a divine moment, and it was meant to be witnessed, but it seems very intimate. It seems like Peter, James and John are watching this beautiful moment that Jesus is experiencing.

So, in this passage, we see the supremacy of Jesus. We see that Jesus is God. And we also see unfortunately, the human tendency to make him less than he is in Peter’s response, which I’m not trying to throw stones at Peter. I don’t know if I would be saying anything. I think I would run off that mountain if I started to see Jesus shining brighter than the sun. I might.

But we see in this moment, that Jesus reveals himself as God, and immediately human beings are making him less than what he is, like God could be contained in a tabernacle! And he’s wanting to build one for Elijah and Moses too, as if they’re on the same playing field, that they’re anywhere close in comparison to Jesus.

And there’s a lot to unpack. We have Jesus’ divinity. We have his desire to have us participate. We have us not responding well and trying to make Jesus less than he is. But we also see him drawing near and not condemning Peter, James, and John for their inability to see him for who he is.

Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. This is a very rich passage.

Anthony: It is, and you’ve already pointed to this to some degree, but let’s scratch that itch a little bit more. We see in the transfiguration, this intimate divine moment, as you said. It’s an example of a theophany. A theophany being a visible manifestation of God.

And in that way, Jesus is a walking, talking theophany, right? Because he is our visible manifestation of God. But in terms of this particular episode on a mountain, what is the significance of the theophany, including the voice that speaks to the Son?

Dishon: Sure. So according to ancient Hebrew cosmology—that’s a fancy word, just how they saw the world, how it came to be, how it’s all interconnected. They saw heaven as this rounded canopy that exists above a kind of flat disc-shaped earth. And there’s different heavens, but in the ultimate third heaven, that’s where God is. And mountains were like pillars on the earth. They held up heaven.

So, to go up on a mountain was thought to be the place where you would go to be in closer proximity to God, you go up to the mountain. Those are holy places, right? The Ten Commandments—given on a mountain, right? Even Jerusalem itself was built on a hill as a raised area, right? So, there’s this imagery throughout all Scripture that mountains are places where you go to get closer to God.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but hopefully we no longer believe in a flat earth. We don’t believe that this is how things were, and Jesus certainly knew that this is how things were. But he also was in the Jewish society. And many times, when he wanted to pray, he would go up on a mountain.

For this incredible theophany, as you said, this incredible manifestation of God, it took place on this mountain because mountains, again, represent the places where humans go to get closer to God. And I think the scene is even further enhanced that on this mountain, Jesus encounters Moses and Elijah, who Moses could be said to represent the law, and Elijah could be said to represent the prophet.

So, by having this transfiguration take place on a mountain and having Moses and Elijah there, Jesus is revealed as God and not just any old god. He’s the God of the Old Testament because both Moses and Elijah deferred to him.

And when the voice spoke from the cloud, when the Father thundered and said, this is my beloved son, he didn’t say, listen to him as well as Moses and Elijah. He said, no, listen to him. So, Jesus is revealed as God. The God of the Old Testament, the Creator God. He is depicted as supreme and above all. Yet the disciples were able to witness him and not be destroyed. And I could say a bit more about that, but very rich imagery being invoked here.

Anthony: Very much so. And you talked about the three, Peter, James, and John, not being destroyed. There are, I think, many misconceptions about God the Father, and it’s one of the primary reasons the Word became flesh—to reveal the true heart of God.

And one of the things that we see Jesus saying over and over to his disciples is, don’t be afraid, because they are afraid. They’re in awe of this God being revealed. So, let’s talk about that. These words, don’t be afraid, showing up again and again when people realize they are in the presence of the divine.

On some level, the response appears to be completely warranted, to be afraid. Yet the question must be asked, Dishon, why are they afraid in the first place when they’re in the presence of a loving God?

Dishon: Yes. We often talk about there is a mystery to divinity. There is only so much about God that we can understand because he’s so great. He’s so wonderful. He’s so far beyond what our minds can conceive, that there’s a mystery to him.

There’s also a mystery to sin, where there is depravity and corruption that we can’t fully wrap our minds around. We can’t fully understand how deep and how bad evil could be. And from the beginning we’ve had this problem.

So, Adam and Eve, they had this incredible relationship with God. Everything was cool. They encounter a snake. Things take a turn; they sin. And in their first encounter with God after sinning, they immediately become afraid of a being that they never had any reason to fear before. So, in that moment, into humanity was introduced a diseased spiritual imagination, also a diseased social imagination. Their relationship with each was corrupted. Their relationship with creation was corrupted, but most importantly they came down with a diseased spiritual imagination that made them see God unclearly, that made them see God as something that needed to be feared.

And so, we continue to this day to see through the lens of our human corruption. We see him as one of us—if we follow Christ, we see him as one of us. But a lot of times we don’t see him correctly. We don’t see him in the right way. We see him as being capable of our uncontrolled wrath, of our pettiness, of our jealousy.

Jesus is one of us, but not in that way. He doesn’t react to things like we do. He doesn’t behave as we do. So, when the disciples see true divinity, they become afraid, like Adam and Eve. Like I said, I don’t know all the reasons why, but I think it has something to do with our self-focus and thinking that we are our own god.

And then when we come face-to-face with true power, we immediately fear because we think God is going to wield power like we would wield power, God is going to use his omnipotence like we would use our omnipotence. And we become very small and insignificant and that scares us. I don’t know. It could be. It could be other things too, but that’s what I think.

And however, what is beautiful in this is that Jesus is the one that says, don’t be afraid. He says, yes, I am Almighty God. Yes. I’m the Creator. Yes, I have power that you cannot even imagine. But you know me. You have seen me; you have been with me.

And he goes over to Peter and touches him. He draws near. He constrained their experience of him so the shining, all that was gone. And he constrained their experience of him to be able to better relate to them. He didn’t chastise them and berate them, but he stepped into their imagination and said, no, you know me.

So, fear is not one of the tools that he uses to get us to behave in a certain way. Christians use it a lot, unfortunately. And my first introduction to the gospel was fear-based. Pray this prayer or else you’re going to hell. Pray this prayer or you’d be kicked out of the kingdom of God, right? Pray this, do this. It was very, very fear based.

But Jesus immediately wants to banish fear because he does not want that to be in the midst of his relationship with his disciples, with his followers. So, he constrains himself to the extent of how they experience him, in order to relate to them and say, don’t be afraid. You’ve seen me. You know me. I’m here with you.

What a beautiful image of our God.

Anthony: Lord, heal our fallen spiritual imagination.

Our final passage of the month is Matthew 4:1-11. It’s from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the first Sunday of Easter Prep (Lent) on February the 26th. Dishon, would you do us the honor of reading, please?

Dishon: Of course.

1Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”  5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Anthony: What I try to do for our guests, like you, Dishon, is to prepare questions in advance, not overly script our conversation, but at least give you an idea of what we’re going to be talking about. And as I look over this first question that I sent your way, I’m not sure I love it. But we’ll see where God takes it because he does take us places. The Holy Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness.

So, I’m just curious. And again, this is just probably speculation on some level, but is the Spirit leading in this way unique to Jesus, or could the Spirit also be leading us to experience in some ways the wilderness? What say you?

Dishon: Yeah. I think, is this unique to Jesus? Yes and no. So, in one sense, yes. I think this experience and the way the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness is unique to him because Jesus went into the wilderness to confront what I call the external source of evil.

Fast forwarding back to the garden, there was an external source of evil—the enemy. And he tempted Adam, and they fell. But then in the very next chapter, we see Cain and Abel, and there’s no snake around. There’s no temptation necessary. The source of evil is an internal one for Cain, right?

So, there is an external source of evil and an internal source of evil, that I believe. And Jesus in the wilderness, he was led to confront the external source of evil for all of us. So, he had a job to do in that.

But I think in a spiritual sense, this is something that applies to us. The Holy Spirit will lead us into a spiritual type of wilderness. And what do I mean by that? I think the spiritual wilderness is composed of idols we erect—things, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world and ways of seeing God that are not of him and not worthy of him, but yet they drive us, and they shape our thinking. And in this particular passage, there are three idols that Jesus overcame, these temptations that the enemy threw at him.

So, the desire to be self-sufficient and for self-preservation, to take care of myself, right? That was the first sort of desire that the devil tempted him with. And then the desire to have love and our worth proven to us, to be shown that we matter right now. In some ways, that’s innocent, but it can become an idol if we become fixated.

And lastly, the desire to follow God without having to pay the cost of discipleship. He was offered the crown without a cross, in essence. And Jesus rejected that. But oftentimes we are confronted with the same type of desire, the same type of temptation—having to be perceived as a God-follower, Christ-follower without paying the cost of it.

I think all of us with these idols, with these sinful desires, have these wildernesses. These are like little deserts, occupied by evil in the garden of our hearts. I’m getting very poetic here, but if our hearts are like a garden, these are these little spots of dryness where things aren’t growing.

And the Holy Spirit will cause us to confront these things. He’ll bring us face-to-face with these idols and ask us to participate in tearing them down. And what we experience, it could feel very isolating, disorienting, maybe even painful, but this is what is necessary for us to be free of these things that will hold us back. Jesus entered the wilderness for us once and for all. He conquered the external source of evil for us and the internal source of evil as well.

What we can hope to do is by following him, we can chip at the wilderness with small incremental victories. I think we don’t have the once and for all type of juice that Jesus has, but we can do the work as we follow the Spirit’s leading.

Anthony: I think that’s being conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, right?

And thanks be to God that He could do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Be led into the wilderness, evil, as it were, and overcome it once and for all. Hallelujah. Praise, God. Amen.

Dishon, I don’t know if you know this about yourself, so I’m here to shine the light. You’re a preacher.

Maybe people are picking up on that, so I’d be grateful—in brief summary—if you would preach this passage for us.

Dishon: I will do my best to share how I would approach this, and I’ll share with you what the Lord has been putting on my heart. And I would start it this way.

Have you ever felt spiritually dry? Have you ever felt lost and unsure of where God is leading you? Have you ever felt like God was far away? It might have felt like you were in some kind of spiritual desert, only sand around you with the sun beating down on you. I’ve felt that way. I think we all have. I’ve had periods of times where I’ve felt so disconnected from God that I wondered if I made up my relationship with him.

It doesn’t make me feel good to admit that. But there’s sometimes where in the past where I’ve even doubted, did I even hear him? Did I see him? Am I making this up? Because all I feel around me is dryness and sand.

And God is so good. He doesn’t condemn us for that. He knows. He understands. He understands that we’re going to go through periods of spiritual dryness. And he loves us so much that Jesus went into the desert for us. He went there because he knew about our state and our condition.

And can you imagine the hunger he felt? Can you imagine the heat he endured? Can you imagine the indignity of having a being that you created demand your worship? Yet he endured all that to free us, to make all things new. He entered the desert to defeat the enemy on our behalf. He entered the desert to show us the way out of our spiritual deserts.

So, when we find ourselves in the dry place, we need to remember Christ’s example. We need to cling to what God said about us and to us. We need to push those other voices out of our mind and hold on to the one who will never let go of us.

Then the other thing we need to do when we find ourselves in the desert is to start worshiping God, because Jesus has overcome the desert for us. Evil is defeated and we are fee. The only thing left to say is glory to his name.

Anthony: Well friends, we’re having church up in here. Let’s take up an offering. What do you say?

Dishon: You can make your checks out to the Charlotte church plant.

Anthony: That’s right. Absolutely. Brother, man, you are a beloved child of God. You’re my friend, and I’m so glad to be in partnership in ministry with you. Thanks for being a part of this episode.

And I also want to thank the people that truly make this thing happen. Reuel Enerio, who is the podcast producer, the man behind the scenes that really makes—he’s the engine. He makes it all go.

And my wife, Elizabeth Mullins, she is, wow, she’s amazing. Dishon knows, and she’s the transcriber for this podcast. So, you can always go back and not only listen to Dishon but read the words that he said for personal studies. So, we’re grateful for that.

Dishon, thank you for being a part of this episode. As is our tradition, we love to pray over our listening audience, the people who are preaching and teaching, and are Bible students who love this Lord Jesus, that we keep our eyes fixed upon. And the more that we look at him, the more that we fall in love. Would you please pray for us to end the podcast?

Dishon: Absolutely.

Lord, we are in awe of you, that you love us the way you do, that you humble yourself so much for us, that you’ve revealed yourself to us, Lord God, and you continue to reveal yourself to us. Those who are listening to this podcast, they’re seeking to know you better, Lord, or else they wouldn’t have turned it on.

I pray that you do not leave them. Reveal yourself to them in new and deeper ways. Fill them with joy and with love and with passion after encountering you. And Lord, when we make mistakes, when we don’t do things well, help us to remember these examples that we talked about today—that you don’t judge us by our worst day.

You think about us in the most beautiful, wonderful ways. And you’re willing to continue to reveal yourself, to come to us, to humble yourself. Lord, you pick us back up again. You keep walking with us. You never let us go, Lord. So let that give us the confidence to run for you, Lord God. Let that give us the confidence to pick ourselves up when we fall.

Lord, encourage the folks listening to this podcast to keep striving for you because you’re so worth it. Lord, continue to speak to us the lessons we need to hear. Bless us, Lord, to truly be not just hearers of the word, but doers, and show us how to live it out and walk it out in a way that brings you glory.

We love you so much and we praise you, Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL. Until then, peace be with you!

Sermon for February 5, 2023 – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5011 | Better Well Done…
Cara Garrity

There is a saying that goes, “Better well done than well said.” This phrase wisely reminds us that words can sometimes be empty, and our actions often say much more about who we are. As believers, we can say we love God and our neighbors, but what is the evidence of that love? Have we created spaces for our neighbors to feel the love of Christ through us? Or do we offer them words without the actions to back up those words?

When Paul was used by God to share the gospel with the people of Corinth, he took an unexpected approach for a preacher and teacher. Notice what he says:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Instead of using flowery words or trying to say the right thing, Paul shared his own testimony and tried to demonstrate God’s power and love. Paul trusted in God and the power of the gospel, rather than in his own ability to convince others. He was his full, authentic self and was unashamed before God and other people. We might say that Paul practiced “better well done than well said” by relying upon Jesus’ ‘well done’ rather than his own ‘well said’.

You see God is not a God of empty words and promises. In the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, every word and promise of God is fulfilled. In him is also humanity’s perfect response to God. When we put our confidence in the perfect word and deed of Christ rather than our own, we are invited into a faith that is more than empty words.

Instead of trying to say the right words to convince others to believe in the gospel, we are free by the Spirit, to authentically share our stories and invite others to experience the kingdom alongside us for themselves.

While human wisdom may fail and human words may turn up empty, Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – both well said and well done – will never fail or turn up empty. We are invited to depend on and point one another to his Word, and not our own. It is then that we testify of God instead of ourselves.

Ray Anderson wrote, “The test for truth in a Christian is what the world sees in us of Jesus Christ, not what other Christians see in us as a Christian.” Let us be led by the Spirit in living authentic lives that glorify Jesus.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 112:1-9 • Isaiah 58:1-9a • 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 • Matthew 5:13-20

As we continue in the Epiphany season, contemplating the God revealed by Jesus Christ, we should take time to consider our response to that revelation. We should seek to humbly and diligently follow his word. Therefore, the theme for this week is authentically worshipping God. In the call to worship Psalm, we read about the generational blessings awaiting those who wholeheartedly worship the Lord. In Isaiah, the prophet condemns empty religion and echoes God’s call for justice, liberation, and care for those most in need. In the Corinthian passage, Paul spoke about the Christian’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to reveal the gospel and God’s plan for salvation in Christ. Finally, the passage in Matthew reminds us that Christ-followers are called to bear witness to Christ in word and in action. However, to do so, we have to follow the commands of God and resist inauthentic, empty religion.

Questionable Living

Matthew 5:13-20

Christian comedian Michael, Jr. has a recurring routine that describes who he calls the “oversaved.” [You can find a lot of his comedy on YouTube by typing: Michael, Jr. oversaved.] One of his jokes goes something like this:

Michael, Jr.: “Excuse me, friend. I think I lost my keys. Can you help me find them?”

Oversaved Friend: “What you need is the keys to the kingdom!”

Michael, Jr.: “Um…I didn’t drive a Kingdom.  I drove a Toyota.”

Michael, Jr. delivers the joke far better than it can be delivered here, however, I think you can understand the important point he disguises behind a funny story. In the joke, Michael, Jr. needed some practical help and asked his friend. His oversaved friend stated something that was true but entirely unhelpful and irrelevant.

In an effort to separate themselves from things that are distractions, temptations, and triggers, Christians can sometimes seek to surround themselves with things that are overtly Christian. This is understandable, and often comes from one’s passion and love for God. However, if we are not careful, we can put ourselves into a Christian bubble. Those who live in a Christian bubble have almost all their interactions with other Christians. If they listen to music, it is Christian music. If they watch a TV show or movie, it is Christian. They have Christian radio or sermons playing in their car. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying Christian things, and it is understandable why a believer would, at times, want to withdraw from the world. However, living in a Christian bubble can limit our ability to participate in one of the core purposes of the church: bearing witness, through word and actions, to the good news about Jesus Christ and the kingdom he has established. It also prevents us from being spiritually formed by and participating in the work God is doing all around us, even among not-yet-believers.

Jesus teaches us that his followers should not only strive to interact with those around them but seek to be a blessing. Here is what Jesus teaches us in the book of Matthew:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20 NIV)

In speaking about how believers should interact with the world, Jesus used two symbols packed with spiritual significance: salt and light. Salt was used in several ways: as a way bring out the flavor in food, as a meat preserver, as an essential nutrient for humans, and as a fertilizer for certain types of soils. Light was used as a disinfectant, to remove darkness, and to make navigating at night safe. One could create metaphors for a Christian’s spiritual life with all these uses. Myriad messages have been preached about what it means for believers to be salt and light, and rightfully so. However, I would like us to pay close attention to those to whom we are called to be salt and light. Does that group include only Christians? In verse 14, Jesus refers to believers as “a town built on a hill,” and in verse 16, he says, “let your light shine before others.” The context implies that those outside of the Christian community are included among the ones who can witness the “light” of believers.

Most Christ-followers would agree with this reasoning. Jesus’ Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19-20, established that Christians are a sent people commanded by Jesus to share the good news about Christ with the world. Where there may be disagreement among believers is the extent to which Christians should engage with the world. In other words, how far should believers go in being salt and light?

By paying attention to how Jesus talks about salt and light, we may get some insight. In the passage, the symbols Jesus used suggest that his disciples should both integrate and demonstrate. When used properly, salt fully integrates or blends into food. Used properly, it is indistinguishable from the rest of the food it touches, bringing out the flavors that are already there. The only time we taste salt in our food is when too much has been added (i.e., oversaved or Christian bubble). Thinking along those lines, Christians should be fully integrated with our neighbors. We should be a part of the life of our community, and our social circles should include both believers and non-believers. Barring things that interrupt or harm our relationship with God and others, we should follow the life rhythms of those in the community in which God has placed us.

At the same time, we are called to be demonstrators. In the light metaphor, light is separate from darkness. It is distinct and distinguishable. In the same way, believers are called to live in a way that allows others to see that the kingdom of God has come near to them. Our lives should point to the reality of God, letting not-yet-believers know that they too are included in the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit. To do that, Christians must be, in some way, distinct from not-yet-believers. Our lives should reflect the priorities of our King, which are often at odds with the priorities of our society, and the contrast should be noticeable.

So, how can Christians both integrate and demonstrate? How can we both blend in and stand out? In the book Surprise the World, Michael Frost says that Christ-followers should live questionable lives. In other words, we should integrate into the life rhythms of our community, forming authentic relationships with our neighbors. Our neighbors should be close enough to us so that they can see our good works and question us about why we use our vacation time to serve the poor, or why we open our home to refugees, or why we fast during Easter Preparation (Lent), or why we stop to talk with people who ask us for money, or how we can still find joy in the midst of tragedy.[1] The way we humbly and genuinely live out our faith in Jesus will spark curiosity in our neighbors, opening the door for us to share the good news about Christ with them when they ask their questions. Therefore, the way in which Christians can be both salt and light — the way we can both integrate and demonstrate — is to live questionable lives.

Living in a Christian bubble makes questionable living almost impossible. First, it significantly reduces our exposure to not-yet-believers. Yes, it is good to be a blessing to the fellowship of believers. However, we should not only do good to the fellowship of believers. We need to regularly build relationships with not-yet-believers to avoid over-salting the meal. Second, living in a Christian bubble can make us out of touch and awkward in conversations. If we are disconnected from our neighbors, over time, we will develop our own life rhythms and ways of being. In essence, we will form our own Christian subculture with its own language. Unless we develop the ability to code switch (fluidly switching from one way of speaking to another) we will communicate in ways our neighbors cannot understand. Like Michael, Jr.’s joke, the oversaved friend was completely out of touch.

As Christ followers, we want to learn to balance being in the world but not of the world. We do not want to conform to the ways of the world, but we should be able to talk naturally with our neighbors about things that are important to them. We want to avoid forcing them to always talk about the Christianity that is important to us. Since our faith in Christ causes us to be oriented on God and the “other,” Christians should be the easiest people with whom to have a conversation. Since Jesus is our hope, and our joy is readily accessible, and we will smile easily.

As we participate in the redemptive work of Christ, love will compel us to ask questions and take an interest in the people around us. Our desire to place-share, like Christ place-shared with us, should fill us with empathy. The wisdom the Holy Spirit provides should equip us to talk about world events, even politicized ones, in ways that bring unity and not division. Since the Spirit lives in us, we need not fear being “tainted” by the world. Rather, we should follow Christ’s example and boldly live questionably, believing that the world will catch our health.

Several among us have been doing many of these things organically. However, for some of us, what I am describing pushes us a bit out of our comfort zone. Jesus understands that discomfort.

The passage we are discussing is part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” where Jesus lays out a radical way of living. He outlines what some call the “Upside Down Kingdom” because his values are so different from the norm. In Christ’s “Upside Down Kingdom,” the poor are blessed, mourners are comforted, and the meek inherit the earth. Living as salt and light was also part of this radical new way of life Jesus described.

It was difficult for many of his disciples to understand, let alone follow what Jesus taught. I submit this is why Jesus affirmed that his teaching was not in opposition to the law. While it may have seemed radical, the “Upside Down Kingdom” was in alignment with all the previously given commands of God. Jesus understands it often seems uncomfortable living a questionable life. He knows it might feel different from the Christianity you have known up until this point. However, living as salt and light — living a questionable life — is part of how we follow Christ. He will be with you and empower you to live as he lived.

We are the church – the body – of Jesus Christ. He lives in us and empowers the church (and each of us individually) to participate in his work to redeem and reconcile all things. Since Jesus is worthy of all praise and glory, let us represent him as the church. He would be the best neighbor on our block. He would open his home to those in need of a place to stay. He is a prolific giver. He is a good listener. He is the ally to the poor and marginalized. Let’s join Jesus in being habitual feasters, continually eating meals with friends and acquaintances. Let us join him and mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Let us join him and be makers of beautiful things. Let us join him and stand up for the humanity of the dehumanized. Let us be big belly laughers and outrageous storytellers. We are salt and light!

[1] Michael Frost, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (Colorado Springs, CP:NavPress, 2016), 5-6.

Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills W1

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February 5 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:13-20, “Salty”

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Program Transcript


Not Today Satan w/ Dishon Mills W1

Anthony: Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 5:13-20. It comes from the Common English Bible. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, on February the 5th.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Dishon, in slang terms, when someone says you’re salty, that’s not a good thing. They’re saying you’re upset or you’re in a bad way. And yet Jesus, in this passage tells us we’re salty. And it’s good. So, help us understand.

Dishon: Yes. So, the folks in Jesus’ time had a very different relationship with salt than we do today.

Today’s salt is very common here in the Western world. Just about any restaurant you go into, you’ll find it on the table. And just about every home, you’ll find it on the shelf somewhere. So, it’s very common. But back then salt was essential. And it still is essential, but even more so then. You could even use it as a medium of exchange.

Back then you could buy stuff with salt because it was that useful and precious. So, we talk a lot about what this passage means, and we talk about the qualities of salt. And that’s good. And that’s right. So, salt brings out the flavor of something, right? So salt, when it’s put into a dish, just makes that dish taste better, if you put the right amount of it, right?

It’s also used as a preservative. If you dip meat in salt, that meat, if you treat it properly, can last a very long time without refrigeration, which in the ancient world was really important. Even, you could use salt in small quantities as a fertilizer. So, you can make things grow or help make things grow with salt.

Human beings—mammals, we need salt. We have to ingest it. If we don’t get salt, we develop some kind of condition that I don’t know the name of, but it’s bad. You don’t want it, right? So, we need salt in our diet in order to be healthy. And also, as a disinfectant—it doesn’t feel great. If you put a small amount of salt in a wound or something like that, it will help keep that wound from being infected.

There was so many uses of salt, and I think when we’re preaching this verse, this passage, we often talk about a lot of those uses of salt, and we talk about these metaphors of what salt could be. Every metaphor breaks down, but this is a useful thing to do.

However, I think if we zoom out just a little bit, we can see the overall meaning. I don’t think it’s any one of these qualities of salt that we’re supposed to grab hold to. I think what we’re supposed to grab onto—and this is my view—that we as Christ’s followers are supposed to diffuse the aroma of Christ in the world and be a vital part of everyday life. Salt is necessary for the wellbeing of all. Right?

It’s not something that has only one value. It is valuable on so many levels that if it wasn’t there, the quality of life will be drastically reduced. And I think that’s what we’re called to be. We’re supposed to be living incarnationally and living in our communities and our neighborhood and behaving and treating others in such a way that we become a vital part of everyday life.

That if we were not there, life would be diminished. That we’re required for healthy functioning of the society around us. And if we as Christ’s followers are self-focused or isolated or as we’re engaging with our neighbors, if we don’t resemble Christ in how we’re living amongst them and treating them, we no longer fulfill our purpose in the world as disciples.

There’s a futility to our existence as disciples, if we’re not being salt and if we’re not being salty.

Anthony: You brought to memory a quote from Francis Chan, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, Christians are a lot like manure. When you spread them out, they help things grow. But when they stay in a pile, they stink to high heaven.

And that speaks to what you’re saying that salt even as a fertilizer—again, not to press in on one aspect of salt too much—but like you said, as we live incarnationally, as salt, things should grow. That’s what healthy organisms do. And I think that’s what you’re pointing to. It’s really good.

Verse 16 tells us, Dishon, that we’re to let our light shine so people can see the good things we’re doing. And of course, I’m not going to disagree with Jesus. It’s true. But I also can’t help but think if we take that too far, just like too much salt, right? It’s not good. We can end up being showy or pointing to ourselves instead of pointing to Jesus. Maybe help us rightly understand how we put this in context.

Dishon: Yes. So, I think that if we set out to be light to the world, if we look at ourselves and say, yes, I’m brightly shining and I need to go out to the world to let them see my brightness, we will stumble.

That is a recipe for failure, in my view. I think what it means that we are light, it’s not something we do ourselves. And I don’t even know, I have to think about this more, but I don’t even know if we should be fully conscious of the fact, all the time, that we are being light. I think what we are supposed to do is submit ourselves to the leading of the Spirit, and what the Spirit does is that the Holy Spirit helps us to act like Jesus and the Holy Spirit helps us to think like Jesus and move in the world like Jesus.

We don’t know how to be righteous from our own resources. We can only submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and his leading. And I think as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we begin to mirror Christ. Christ is the light. And if we are an effective mirror, we reflect that light. We shine and become light.

And as we engage our neighbors, they look at us and they see light. They may not realize that we are reflectors. And that’s where place-sharing and evangelism comes in when we get to tell the story. No, I’m like this, I’m doing this because there is this God man named Jesus who changed everything for me.

So, they may not realize that we are reflecting light. But they see that light as we move and as we follow the Holy Spirit. I think a lot of what good we do, can only be seen as good after the fact.

I’ll give you an example. This happened not too long ago where there was a gentleman who stopped in front of our house. He was having some car trouble and I just decided, let me go out and see if he’s okay. And as I’m talking to him, he starts sharing a story about his son dying and having to raise his grandson. And we spent a good 15 minutes just talking about how he and his grandson are trying to cope with that loss.

And I’m trying to pour into him as much encouragement as I can. And I didn’t set out to be like, in that moment, I didn’t go out to say I’m so bright and shiny. Let me just go shine on this guy. I just followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit created this moment where this man that I didn’t know, he and I connected on a very deep level, and I prayed for him.

And it was just this beautiful moment, and I’m sure that he walked away—maybe, I don’t know—exposed to light. But that’s not for me to judge or say or even dwell upon except to say, Lord, thank you so much that I get to participate in your life and in your work. Thank you so much that I get to have a front row seat to watching you work and watching you do your thing.

So, if we’re doing light right, we’re not even thinking about light. We’re just trying to follow where the Spirit leads. And the Spirit causes others to see us as light, and then we give the glory to God for making us shine.

Anthony: Later in the episode, we’re going to talk about Transfiguration Sunday where Jesus as God shines his own light.

It’s self-generated. Whereas, as you talked about, we’re just reflecting. We don’t create our own lights. It’s a gift. And I really appreciate what you said there.

Dishon, I’ve had a complicated history with the law. I’m really curious what it means when Jesus says he fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Tell us more.

Dishon: Oh, Jesus is so cool. I love the fact that he said this. The Law and the Prophets, we can understand that phrase as referring to the Old Testament Scripture. So, he’s looking at Old Testament Scripture, and he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of it. And why is he doing this in the first place?

So, what we can infer, by the fact that he’s bringing it up and the way that he’s talking about it, he was probably being accused of deviating from the law. His approach to worshiping God and living in light of the reality of God was so radical to the society at the time—even though it wasn’t. It was Orthodox. But it was perceived as being so radical, that he was being accused of trying to introduce a new law or trying to do away with the Law and the Prophets.

And he’s coming out and saying, no, that’ not the case. And then he takes it a step further and implies that it’s not even possible because he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. So, the Law and the Prophets are descriptions of who Jesus is. So, if you had a person that could just follow Jesus around all the time and write down everything he said and did, and you write down every quality that he has and his beliefs, what you would get is the Law and the Prophets, in part, up until that point.

So, the law is just a description for us to help us understand who Jesus is. He’s the pattern. He’s the model on which the Law and the Prophets were based. And so again, when Jesus incarnated, it wasn’t a big stretch for him to keep the law because the law was based on him. He just has to be himself to keep the law.

And when I realized that, that was such a huge shift for me! I was like, wow, how did Jesus keep all these rules? How did he keep them straight in his head? Did he like have to memorize them and everything? And it’s, no. This is who he is. He came first, then the law. The law describes him.

And so, when he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, he is saying, one, I’m not doing away with the law. I affirm it. But not only that, in order to see how the Law and the Prophets are to be lived out, you have to look to me. I’m the perfect example and representation of how to live this out.

Wow. And later on, on the Emmaus Road, he introduces theology in a new way. He’s the first theologian, so he basically tells his disciples, in order to understand Old Testament Scripture, you have to start with me. I am the interpretive key of all Scripture. And so that is such good news for us because he, as the pattern of the law, invites us into relationship.

And through that relationship, we become more and more like him. He is not holding a hatchet over our head, waiting for us to mess up and lower the boom on us. He’s inviting us to be with him and then become like him through that relationship. And so, it is this beautiful image of what it means to keep the law.

It’s a lot more fun and enjoyable and beautiful than how law is enforced in our society. But Jesus provides a beautiful image of how not only he fulfills the law, but he is the Law and the Prophets, and invites us in to participate in that.

Anthony: Yeah. You talked about how the law points to him. He embodies it, and I like what you said, that he is the interpretive key to all things. He is our hermeneutic for everything that we read in Scripture.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Why do you think actions speak louder than words?
  • What are some ways we can demonstrate our love for our neighbors?
From the sermon
  • Have you ever dealt with someone who comes across as “oversaved”? What was that experience like?
  • To you, what does it mean to live a questionable life?
  • What is one thing you can commit to do to be salt and light?

Sermon for February 12, 2023 – Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5012 | Chosen by Life
Greg Williams

Life is full of difficult decisions. Sometimes you can make it through by consulting with your spouse, close friends, or coworkers. But sometimes difficult decisions have to be made for you, such as in serious health issues, or when you are unreachable, or unable to make a decision. Whether it’s the challenge of weighing up your options, or the worry you might not be able to make the right choice – there is a palpable relief when a friend or loved one steps in to help you with that burden.

The good news is Jesus has come to help us with the most important decision of our lives.

Thousands of years ago God put a choice before the Israelites that defined the essence of what it means to be human.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…”
Deuteronomy 30:19

This phrase from Deuteronomy, “Choose life,” is a powerful phrase that has been lauded by Christians across the world as the appropriate response to God’s grace. Heaven and earth are watching, so to speak, eager to see the decision we will make.

A literal-minded reading of this passage might cause one to envision a courtroom where heaven and earth are sitting upon the stand as witnesses against us as we pull at our shirt collar in despair. Yet the language here is so much more. It is a way of showing God’s omnipotence and omnipresence — there’s no hiding place from our great and gracious God. Nor need there be.

We have an advocate who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He can counter any damning witness of heaven and earth with his judgment of grace. Jesus chose us and he chose to lay down his life for us so that we might share eternal life with him. We are encouraged to “Choose Life,” to choose the way of living in that grace. To choose to live as forgiven and loved sons and daughters of God. To choose to live in the freedom to love others as Jesus loves us. To choose to share God’s love and life with others because we love them. To choose to be a Great Commission, Great Commandment denomination, congregation, and person. To choose to love the One who loves us.

Today, we can indeed choose life because Jesus, who is the Life, has chosen us. Hallelujah, praise God that decision was made for us.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 119:1-8 • Deuteronomy 30:15-20 • 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 • Matthew 5:21-37

In this sixth week of Epiphany, our theme is the challenge of righteous living. Speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land, God urges them to choose life over death by following his commandments and decrees. In Psalm 119, the psalmist extols the blessings of a life lived in accordance with God and laments the inevitable decline that follows a lapse in judgment. The Apostle Paul mourns that quarrels and pettiness have prevented the Corinthian church from learning the deeper lessons of faith. In our sermon passage from Matthew, Jesus declares the chilling challenges of leading a truly righteous life. In the Sermon on the Mount, he makes it clear that following all the laws and rules is insufficient when your heart is still led astray.

Mind over Matter, Jesus over Mind

Matthew 5:21-37

God’s binding goodness

In the final verse of the powerful 18th century hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, written by Robert Robinson, we find this line:

“May thy goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.”

Robinson here captures the conflicting emotions of gratitude and frustration that so often are a part of the Christian walk: gratitude for God’s streams of endless mercy and abundant grace, and frustration at how prone we are to wander from the love of Jesus and squander the righteousness he has given to us. It is easy to love these lyrics for their positive approach to the subject—we do not lament a life floundering in sin, but instead we celebrate God’s ever flowing blessings that binds us to him so that we never wander too far.

In Matthew 5, Jesus brings many challenges to those who wish to live a righteous life. Often read out of context, the passage can seem overwhelming and depressing—we cannot possibly live the life he describes here. But there is good news, Jesus can. The righteous life is the life of Jesus; he does what we cannot do so that we can reap the benefits of his righteousness and share in his life.

Let’s read the passage and see what we can learn from it today:

Read Matthew 5:21-37

Double standards

[Following is a personal example, you can make it generic or come up with your own example.]

A friend of mine recounted speaking to some of his Christians friends about the woman he intended to marry. He had always been cautious about dating and relationships, and this was the first relationship he had been in since his teens, and it was going splendidly. Now into his 30s, he was excited at the prospect of marriage, but one thing concerned him. She was divorced, and he wasn’t clear what the scriptures said regarding divorce, and he wanted to be sure before moving forward.

So, he sought the advice of his friends, not mentioning that he was speaking about his current situation. He asked their opinions on getting remarried after being divorced and the response was swift and condemning: “Oh no, you can’t do that, Jesus himself said marrying a divorced woman is adultery.” My friend was discouraged, and that’s when they asked him why he was asking, and he explained his desire to propose to the woman he loved.

Their tune changed swiftly. If they had known the details, they insisted, they never would have come out so dogmatically on the subject. It’s a complicated topic worth looking into more, they emphasized, and told him to give leeway for grace. This only added to his confusion.

When he took the time to study our scripture for today, he concluded that these friends were either biblically illiterate or had a distinct double standard—maybe both. His friends admitted to him that while they knew what the passage said and agreed with it, there could be extenuating circumstances. Had they asked more questions, they would not have expected him to follow this passage to the letter.

The irony of this story is made clear when we understand both Jesus’ intent in our passage today, and the cultural reasons for his advice on re-marriage. Jesus was helping us understand that in the kingdom of heaven there is no room for double standards or preferential treatment. The laws of God were there to protect us and lead us into a deeper relationship with him. They were not a tool to be applied to others for our own benefit—an endemic within his culture that has persisted to this day.

Your thoughts betray you

If we were to read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 as a guidebook for righteous living, it would quickly become obvious that we’re not up to snuff. Either we lack the will to engage in personal dismemberment by plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand, or we are probably going to end up burning in hell.

Thankfully neither of those options are the end result.

The Pharisees of the time had become the leading authorities on scriptural interpretation. Their teachings called for fierce adherence to the Mosaic law, and in many cases, they went further, defining details to the law that were not explicitly present—just to be sure of their purity. They had cornered the market on defining righteous living.

Jesus took their approach in his sermon and pushed it even further. If righteousness is grounded in a perfect life, then it is not just the actions that must be perfect but the thoughts too. This is sound logic, and it’s unlikely the Pharisees could disagree.

But this also isn’t just rhetoric. What Jesus is saying here is true—the wrongs we commit in our heart and mind are frequently of a sinful nature. If your end goal is to lead the perfect life, then sadly, we’re out of luck; even a perfect outward life would be ruined by a single errant thought. To take a line from Darth Vader: “Your thoughts betray you.”

Rescued by grace

So, Jesus has established that perfect living is unattainable to a soul corrupted by sin. This is part of the reason for Jesus’ incarnation—he came as a human to reveal the Father to us and to lead the perfect, righteous life that was needed.

The Pharisees and their disciples faced a very real risk that they would not understand their own need for salvation. That remains true today. As Christians, we are often at risk of reverting to legalism and suffering the associated loss: if we believe ourselves righteous by works, we will miss out on experiencing the full abundance of grace that awaits us.

The seemingly unattainable standard of living a righteous life also highlights the perfect life Jesus is living. This perfect life creates the righteousness for us we are unable to obtain on our own. It helps us understand more deeply that it is not our own righteousness that saves. It is Jesus’ righteousness that saves us. His righteousness rescues us from both the depths of despair and the pinnacles of pride that our attempt to live an upright life would inevitably bring upon us.

Yet still…

So, does this mean that everything we read in this passage is just hyperbole, or a description of a perfect divine existence inapplicable to our own experience?

No. There is still a lot we can learn from what Jesus tells us here. His statements are true, and his call to curate our thoughts with grace remains a cornerstone of a healthy spiritual life.

The application of this passage can be found in two examples given by Jesus in verses 31-37. Let’s re-read each of these in turn:

It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

Jesus brings up two common social practices to demonstrate how a law-abiding life without thoughts tempered by God’s grace leads to abuse and evil. The practice of divorce was a common one within his community at the time; the certificate of divorce mentioned was used liberally and in full accordance with the law. Yet only the men could use these certificates. This unhealthy power dynamic was being abused. Given the culture of the time, this could have devastating consequences for the women on the receiving end as they lost access to security and social status.

Certificates were granted for trivial reasons, from inadequate meal preparations to dissatisfaction with their wife’s aging appearance. Jesus’ limitation upon divorce forced the men to think through what they were doing and limited their ability to abuse the institution of marriage. This was an act of protection, made by Jesus on behalf of a vulnerable subsection of the Jewish society at the time.

This was a clear example where the letter of the law was being used to undermine the spirit of the law. The selfish thoughts that led to the men divorcing their wives were themselves sin. And by putting a prohibition of marrying a divorced woman, it prevented those women from being used again. It is important to note that the sin here lay solely upon the men involved. Only they could divorce, and only the men were committing adultery if they married the divorced woman. By saying that the women were victims of adultery, he ensured that a man who divorced his wife without cause would remain financially and socially responsible for caring for her.

Promises, promises

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.” But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply “Yes” or “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

We’re beginning to see how controlling our thoughts can shine a light on practices we otherwise might assume are acceptable. For another example of that Jesus turns to the question of oaths. In this context, an oath is a commitment made with embellishments to placate the hearer into believing you will follow through. They are as common today as they ever have been in the past.

“I swear on my mother’s grave.”

“Cross my heart.”

“Pinky promise.”

These sayings are oaths, and though amusing or cute, they reveal a problem with our thinking. They all imply that either we cannot be trusted, or, if we insist on them being used, that we are lacking in trust (and so being judgmental). Either our normal commitments are unreliable, and we need to garner trust by embellishing our assurances, or we seek those assurances from others by asking for a promise.

All these oaths are meaningless. Your mother’s grave, symbols over your heart, and a bent pinky do nothing to ensure the earnestness of the person making the statement. Nor do they provide collateral should you fail to follow through.

This is a matter of our thoughts being put in order. Jesus’ solution is simple; just speak the truth always. To do that we must first be earnest with ourselves and others, shifting our patterns of thinking so that we truly do view our word as our bond. Doing so allows us to be a source of certainty and strength to those around us and creates a culture of trustworthiness in contrast to one that justifies the breaking of commitments that are not validated by oaths and promises.

Jesus uses these two distinctly different examples to highlight how our thinking can become perverse and warped. Both examples have victims who suffer, even though laws or rules might not have been broken.

Instead, we are called to follow Jesus, not just in act and deed, but with our thoughts as well. Because we have been given his righteousness, we can now share in his thoughts. Thoughts of abundant grace and unrelenting love will define how we live and act.

Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills W2

February 12 – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:21-37, “But I Say To You”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Speaking of Life
  • Can you recount a time when you needed someone to step in to help you make a decision, or even make it on your behalf? What feelings did it evoke to have the assistance in a time of need?
  • We are familiar with the phrase “choose life” as a direction to live in accordance with God’s will. How does it make you feel to know that in Jesus, life has chosen you?
From the Sermon
  • When you catch yourself indulging in sinful thoughts – whether they be of lust, anger, or resentment – what do you do to try to bring them back to Jesus’ thoughts of love and grace?
  • Whether tax loopholes, a badly worded contract, or a rigid interpretation of scripture, it is easy to find unintended ways to benefit from laws. Why do you think indulging in those “opportunities” is a slippery slope we need to avoid at all costs?
  • The examples that Jesus uses in these passages reveal ways that rules were being used to take advantage of others. Jesus set us the example of self-sacrifice in their stead. What are some ways that we can make sacrifices that will help the vulnerable in our communities?

Sermon for February 19, 2023 – Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5013 | The Father is Pleased
Heber Ticas

Think back to a time in your childhood when your mother or father was pleased with something you did. Maybe it was when you accomplished something great. Perhaps you received an A in a difficult class at school or maybe you scored the winning goal for your little league team. How did it feel knowing that they were pleased with you? For a child, there is almost no better feeling in the world. 

Despite the challenges of online education during the pandemic, my son, Cristian, was able to graduate college with a degree in engineering. Even as far back as elementary school, he had been granted awards for his character and integrity. My heart swells with pride over all that he has achieved.

But even more than his achievements, I have always been pleased with Cristian’s demeanor, patience, and care for others. My love and admiration for him have never been dependent on what he has accomplished, but on who he is.

As a parent, you would shudder at the thought that your children might have received the message that there was a cost involved in earning your pleasure for them.

The gospel according to Matthew records one of the most remarkable events in the New Testament. The Transfiguration of Christ. What we witness is a special moment of great fatherly love. A moment where we see the prototype for all parental pleasure.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Matthew 17:1-6

The three disciples were understandably impressed and overcome with awe over the sight of Jesus’ transfiguration as well as the appearance of Moses and Elijah. But the Father wanted to communicate to them something far more important than the spectacle they had just witnessed.

The Father’s message to the disciples was about how he felt towards his Son. Not just that he was proud of him, but well pleased. This goes beyond a normal sense of pride where a parent says, Yep, that’s my boy or that’s my girl! The Father wanted the disciples to know what kind of love existed between him and his son. Moses was there representing the law, Elijah was there representing the prophets. One to tell you what to do and the other to inform you of what happens when you don’t do what you are supposed to do.

But they disappear, and only Jesus is left with the disciples. “Listen to him,” the Father tells us. “Follow the One in whom I am well pleased.” In other places we learn the Father is pleased with those who follow the Son and in whom the Son lives. That’s us.

We didn’t just die with Christ, but we rose with him and we are included in the Father’s love for him. Jesus tells us the Father loves us just as he loves him. What belongs to the Son also belongs to us. That includes the Father’s good pleasure.

May the Father’s great love for us take root in our hearts today and may we see ourselves as the beloved children in whom the Father takes great pleasure.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas. Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 2:1-11 • Exodus 24:12-18 • 2 Peter 1:16-21 • Matthew 17:1-9

This week’s theme is on the mountaintop. The psalmist prophetically looks ahead to the time in which God would install Jesus as king on Mt. Zion. In Exodus, Moses is sent by God to the top of the mountain where he witnessed the glory of the Lord. In Matthew’s gospel, he records the transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Zion. And in 2 Peter, he confirms that he was present on the mountain with Christ during the transfiguration event.

The Transfiguration of Christ

Matthew 17:1-9 (NIV)

When was the last time you had a strong sense of anticipation? As a kid, I was so excited that I could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve because of the anticipation of unwrapping presents the next morning.

Maybe for you it was graduation, or buying your first car, or going on a much-needed vacation. Or how about your wedding day? For some, it may have been purchasing your first home.

When the event you were anticipating had finally arrived, was it all you hoped it would be? Or maybe it exceeded your wildest imaginations. That’s exactly how it went down for three of Jesus’ disciples in the story we will be looking at. These disciples had no way of knowing what was in store for them.

Today we’re going to look at the transfiguration story found in Matthew’s Gospel. We’re going to start by looking at the anticipation of the transfiguration. We will then account for its significance. Finally, we will end with accepting the transfiguration and our inclusion into it.

Read Matthew 17:1-9

In verse 1, we see Jesus bringing Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain with him. In our minds, this might not sound too significant, but to the Jewish mindset this was about to be a huge deal. On top of the mountain is where heaven meets earth, spatially, and spiritually. Here are just a few events in the history of Israel to explain the significance of Jesus taking them up on a mountain:

  • Abraham brings Isaac and meets God on Mt. Moriah.
  • God gave the 10 commandments to Moses on the mountain.
  • Isaiah prophesied about Mount Zion and a great feast.
  • Elijah hears from God on the mountain.
  • Jesus preaches his famous Sermon on the Mount.

For Peter, James, and John, this must have been like waiting for Christmas morning. You probably couldn’t stress hard enough that these disciples were full of anticipation. The mountaintop is where encounters with God take place, where business is conducted in the spiritual realm. The disciples were about to have their minds blown.

Let’s entertain a few questions regarding the transfiguration itself. Why did the transfiguration have to happen? And why did it involve Moses and Elijah? What was their purpose in being there?

Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, he is quite purposeful in showing how all the signs and wonders of Jesus overshadow Moses. Matthew is intentional in bringing this out over and over.

In Genesis 24, we see Moses on the mountain being accompanied by Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu – at least those were the only ones mentioned by name. And now, we have Jesus ascending the mountain being accompanied by three men as well. I don’t think the significance of this was lost on the disciples.

And now we have Moses, again, but this time he is accompanying Jesus. What Moses represents is the law, with all its regulations and commands, along with its extensive list of all the things you should and should not do.

Likewise, we also have Elijah, who hears from God on the top of a mountain as well. But this time he is also accompanying Jesus. Elijah is representing the prophets, with all the consequences for all that you were instructed to do but didn’t.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:4-5)

From here on, this event becomes even more epic. Peter’s excited suggestion that they build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, wasn’t all that unusual. But God the Father had a different idea. He interrupted Peter and told him to listen to Jesus.

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:6-8)

The disciples were so afraid, that Jesus had to assure them that everything was going to be OK. And when they finally looked up, the only one left standing there with them was Jesus.

Why did Moses and Elijah disappear? The focus wasn’t on them, and God wanted the disciples to see this. Jesus stood between the law and the prophets. He fulfilled everything in the law. And yet he also took all the punishment for us according to what was written by the prophets. Jesus gave the perfect response for humanity towards God. And yet he also gave God’s perfect response to humanity.

Jesus now reigns supreme and is our rightful Lord. He alone is qualified to rule his kingdom with grace and truth. Our problem is that we’ve gotten the idea that we must somehow transfigure ourselves.

Peter suggesting they build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus showed he had not yet grasped that Jesus alone was sufficient. The ways of Moses and the Law, and the ways of Elijah and the prophets, were also the ways of fear and self-effort. It is only through trusting in the work of Christ that we can experience abundant life.

Just one chapter before this one, Matthew records Jesus making this incredible statement:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24)

Much later in Peter’s life, he would write about this transfiguration event:

But we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the father when the voice came to him saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

The transfiguration shows Jesus in his full glory, completely fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Seeing Jesus for all that he is causes us to realize our utter lostness without him. He is perfect and gives us his perfection. He is righteous and gives us his righteousness. We do not have and cannot attain perfection or righteousness apart from Christ.

It’s interesting that in Peter’s epistle, he fails to mention the fact that God the Father basically told Peter to be quiet and to not try to make plans for God. Sometimes the best thing we can do is also be quiet and trust. Sometimes the best response to the glory of God when we see it is just to stay in the moment. Take it in. Contemplate on it. Meditate on it.

Take a few extra moments in prayer to listen, to contemplate, to meditate. It’s important to reflect on how God has saved each one of us, how he has brought us through trials, how he has come through in times of need. And yes, how he has transfigured us as well.

The danger for each of us is in the forgetting. The forgetting that Christ alone is our sufficiency. Sometimes we want to take our old, crucified selves, and put the things we trusted in back on display by declaring ourselves better than others, more faithful, more giving, more spiritual, etc.

We place ourselves on very shaky ground when we try to use ourselves as the barometer for all things right and acceptable. Like Peter, we try to erect tents for Moses and Elijah when only Jesus is necessary for life and godliness.

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 17:6-7)

Matthew tells us that the disciples were scared out of their wits. Jesus had to pick them up, dust them off, and let them know that all is well. Sometimes the voice of God can be scary. Where is he taking me? Can he be trusted? I don’t know that I can do what he might ask? But the voice of God is always the voice that is in our best interest despite whether we think it is at the time, he will always prove himself faithful.

It’s through the transfiguration, through seeing the true character and nature of God, that we become open to living out of his guidance and his strength. It’s his posture towards us that causes us to lose our fear of the unknown and embrace the mystery that is the loving actions of God.

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:8)

Read that again. This is the purpose of this passage of scripture – focus on Jesus alone. The transfiguration shows us that Jesus is our only hope. Our hope and our salvation is not in the Law and the Prophets. Our best intentions or efforts will never be enough. The systems of laws with all its expectations nor the proclamations and judgments of the prophets is enough. All has been fulfilled in Christ. He has accomplished everything on our behalf.

The Bible says, “As he is so we are in this world” (1 John 4:17). We have been included in the life of Father, Son, and Spirit, enjoying all the benefits that comes from that relationship. We have been transfigured with Christ and one day we will receive the promise of a full and final transfiguration. The former ways of this world will disappear, and as we find ourselves bowing before him, the only thing left standing will be Christ.

Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills W3

February 19 – Transfiguration Sunday
Matthew 17:1-9, “Filled With Awe”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Name a time when your parents delighted in you or when you delighted in your children.
  • Why do you think that the Father told the disciples that he was well-pleased with Jesus.
  • Do you believe that God is pleased with you? Why or why not?
From the Sermon
  • How are we to participate in the transformation? What significance does this event have for us?
  • How have we lost our sense of anticipation that God wants to do something in our midst?
  • Give examples of what it means to trust in Christ for our sufficiency and not in ourselves.
  • What do you think this event did for the disciples that were present? What do you think they took away from this event?

Sermon for February 26, 2023 – First Sunday in Easter Preparation

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5014 | Consulting the Physician
Greg Williams

I recently went to an oil change station to have my vehicle serviced. As I was waiting, a lady came in and approached one of the technicians and told him that her car stopped working. Thinking she was in a full-service garage, the technician had to turn her away because they only did oil changes. It’s always good to know that we’re consulting with the right person.

As people who face problems every day, there are times that we might feel like that lady. Looking for the right person to help us with our problems.

Sin is like a spiritual sickness, and there’s a single qualified physician, Jesus, the only one by whose wounds we are healed and restored. When we wrestle with the problem of sin in our lives it is often made worse because we take it to the wrong person or ignore the symptoms.

 King David knew the source of spiritual strength and healing:

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Psalm 32:3-5

Doesn’t that sound great? The benefits of turning to our Lord Jesus – No more guilt of unforgiven sins. Our lives redeemed from the aches brought on by the tension of sin. Freedom from the heaviness and sense of doom.

The Apostle Paul described the liberating power of grace over sin and death in his letter to the Romans, promising us that we will receive “God’s abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.(Romans 5:17)

Freed from guilt we can rejoice in the life he has bought for us upon the cross.

Do not let spiritual pain linger or the guilt fester. You have access to the greatest physician. He’s the right person to consult for your deepest needs.

Come to Jesus and be healed.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 32:1-11 • Genesis 3:1-7 • Romans 5:12-19 • Matthew 4:1-11

In our first week of Easter preparation, we reflect on Jesus’ reversal of the sinful state of mankind. Our theme is the dominion of life over death. In the call to worship Psalm, King David reminds us of our need to bring our sins before God to receive his abundant forgiveness and love. In Genesis, we witness how the dominion of death came about through the sin of Adam and Eve, leading to their shame and guilt. Paul explains to believers in Rome how the grace and life given to us by Jesus heals the death and separation caused by sin, and it establishes us in his new and better life. In our scripture passage today, Jesus enters the wilderness and reminds the devil whose dominion we are truly in.

The Dominion of Life

Matthew 4:1-11

Prior to your sermon it would be good to get someone to read Genesis 3:1-7 to prepare the congregation for the parallels with Matthew 4 found in today’s message.

A Question of authority

God is in charge. This is a simple truth, but an easy one to forget. The time of Easter preparation is intended to help us focus upon Jesus’ work of salvation as revealed in his earthly ministry. Here we are reminded of why Jesus chose the cross for our sakes, and how his work of atonement spanned his life, death, and resurrection.

Today we are reflecting upon how the ministry of Jesus changed the spiritual landscape of our world – establishing his dominion of life and grace that supersedes death and sin as the defining attributes of what it means to be human.

Paul tells us in Romans:

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

This passage in Romans contrasts Adam with Jesus. What Adam caused through sin was not irreversible. Jesus has not only reversed it back to the state of the Garden of Eden, but he has also taken us beyond Eden into the eternal dominion of life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To understand the obedience that Paul is speaking of, we are going to compare the account of Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden with the temptation of Jesus in the desert. There we will see that because Jesus is always obedient as the true authority in creation, he sets right the errors of the past – lifting humanity up with him to a great and glorious future.

Read Matt 4:1-11

We need to remember who’s in charge. If we do not remember the sovereignty of God, the world will seem a lot darker than it is. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in paradise, however, when they lost sight of God’s authority and rebelled against him, they found themselves naked and afraid. The paradise became imposing, the soothing presence of God intimidating, their perfect form became a source of shame.

In the desert, Jesus is far from paradise. Yet here he can endure hardship and deprivation because he is mindful of God’s sovereignty. The desert is holy and the isolation comforting because it was witnessed and experienced in the correct context.

With every question from Satan, Jesus gives a response that draws the conversation back to God, and to the authority and respect due him. Satan is reminded that contrary to how he was acting, he is not in charge and that is never going to change.

We too need to ensure we have the correct perspective.

Growing up, my brother had a picture from a popular adult cartoon series in his bedroom. In it, a little boy is wearing sunglasses and attempting to look important, yelling that people must “respect my authoritah!!” (sic). This is a comical take on a problem many people wrestle with – how to earn respect, and how to respond to misplaced authority.

The challenge of the misuse of authority is always a hot-button topic. It can lead us to ask the question: should we respect individuals by virtue of their role or position of authority even if we hold a low opinion or disagree with them. It all comes back to that age old question found in every family, board room, and school yard: who calls the shots?

It’s a question that has plagued humanity since our earliest days, but it is one we have an unequivocal answer to in Jesus’ response to each of Satan’s temptations.

Hunger

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

We are told Jesus is hungry, it is the only descriptor we have of Jesus in the passage, and it serves to highlight the context for Satan’s temptation. We know Jesus has not eaten and is in need, so his response here is not simply a platitude. His faith in God’s control is such that he knows he can truly live solely by God’s sustenance.

Jesus’ hunger also stands in contrast to the state of Adam and Eve. While Jesus endures deprivation, they are surrounded by abundance. They had no need of something to eat; every tree was there for the taking! Why then did they take of the forbidden tree?

To answer that question, we need to look at Jesus’ response to Satan here: man lives “on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is of great value to our spiritual life to recognize that in his sovereignty, God has given us everything we need to resist the temptations laid before us. Eve’s downfall came by not living according to the words God had given her.

Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1)

Satan begins his temptation of Eve by twisting the words of God and obscuring them. Just as he does with Jesus by using the truth that the Son of God could make the stones bread.

Yet Jesus lives by the words of God and according to God’s timing and plan, so he is not moved to sin. Taking on our humanity he inverts the original sin, thus beginning our path toward the dominion of life and grace Paul is celebrating in Romans 5.

Accordance

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:4-6)

Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. I doubt you’d see a three-year-old living by this proverb! But after a few hundred bumped heads, skinned knees, and baths spent having mysterious substances scrubbed out of your hair, it begins to start making sense. The wisdom of this proverb grows the more mistakes you make in life.

Regardless of the warnings, children frequently make choices that lead to harm or loss, and they repeat them as they test the rationale of their parents’ authority. When the devil takes Jesus up to the top of the tower, his temptation of Jesus at first seems to stem from a similar rationale. “Show the world what you can do!” A sinister subtext is found in these temptations. Jesus doesn’t need to suffer; if he does, he can just get the angels to intervene.

The next time Jesus will be raised up looking down upon the world will be upon the cross. And there, this temptation will be presented to him again by one of the two men up there with him. Surely the Son of God ought not to have to suffer and endure all that?! The perfect obedience of Jesus is shown here. Despite pain, suffering and loss, he pursues the will of God with unflinching love.

So, Jesus’ response draws the attention back to staying in accordance with the will of God. Perhaps the angels would catch him if he jumped a tall height, but that is not why he came; it’s not part of the plan. Not testing the Lord, in this instance, is about not testing his will and purpose (not to mention Satan should not being trying to test Jesus!)

Jesus’ death and resurrection were part of God’s sovereign plan, it was in accordance with his will, and Jesus, being God, knew that will perfectly.

Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were being tempted by the enemy specifically to put the word of God to the test. Will it really be as bad as he said it would be? And so, they gave in to the temptation to test the word of God with catastrophic consequences.

Jesus asserted his intention to faithfully submit to God’s authority and follow his plan. Once again, Jesus was taking our humanity and reversing the original sin, bringing us into his life of abundant grace. Grace beyond sin and death.

Dominion

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:8-11)

In the final temptation of the passage, Jesus is presented with a global vista including all that is. These are claimed by Satan and offered to Jesus. Once more, the subject is focused on power and authority, that the one who has it can follow through on their promises. In the Garden of Eden, the promise of taking the forbidden fruit was the allure of being “like God.” In both instances, the devil is making an offer he is unable to follow through on. While all the others were statements of truth twisted to deceive, these are outright lies intended to corrupt.

The taking of the fruit in the garden was an act of rebellion, not in the teenage sense of an adolescent acting out, but as an attempt to usurp God’s authority. In the garden, the serpent was content so long as the exaltation was redirected away from God. In the desert, Satan seeks to complete what was started in Eden, a worship of himself. Self-determination is a celebrated right in many democratic cultures. It is important to ensure respectful laws and ensure freedoms in man-made institutions, yet it easily becomes a form of idolatry when unchecked.

Jesus’ response to Satan gives us two clear messages. The first is that it truly is not worth gaining the whole world yet forfeiting your soul; the second is that Satan’s so-called dominion is a sham that is swiftly on the way out. The coming of the Kingdom of God was ushering in the dominion of life and grace, and purging the kingdom of sin and death over which Satan ruled. To make clear who truly calls the shots, Jesus rebukes Satan, using the word that comes from God in accordance with the will of the Father.

And Satan leaves.

This is not a choice; this is the power of Jesus’ rebuke. Satan offers all the nations of the world to Jesus, yet he couldn’t even remain in Jesus’ presence without permission. Satan’s power and very existence is contingent upon God. What he presents to Jesus are a series of lies and deceptions, because he has nothing else to offer.

The tragedy of the Fall is that Adam and Eve had this same capacity to rebuke Satan. They walked with the Lord in the cool of the evening; they knew the power of his word and could be certain that if they called upon him, he would deal with the deceiving serpent. Yet they neglected his sovereignty and lost sight of the joy of living in accordance with his will.

We too have the capacity to rebuke the devil. Not by our own power, but by the great reversal of sin wrought by Jesus. He has pointed us back to the one who is in control, giving us a life free from sin, defined by grace and victorious over the grave.

As Paul puts is,

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:17 NIV)

Let us receive the abundant grace and reign in the life given to us by the only one with the authority to give it.

Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills W4

February 26 – First Sunday of Easter Prep
Matthew 4:1-11, “Not Today, Satan!”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Speaking of Life
  • When you have a spiritual problem who do you go to? Do you have a support network? Do you remember to bring it to God first?
  • Do you identify with David in his psalm when he speaks of the physical pain caused by the stress of unresolved sin? Why do you think we delay to bring these things before God and reap the benefits of our absolution?
From the Sermon
  • Have you ever found yourself in a position of authority? If so, what was your leadership style, and did you have to work hard to earn the respect of those you lead?
  • The dominion of death and sin were not only defeated, but their legacy was also removed from existence through Jesus’ righteous life. What does this mean for how we deal with the subjects of death and sin in our redeemed lives?
  • We have been called to “reign in the life… of Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17.) What do you think that looks like?