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What Now? What Next?
Making Disciples in a Disrupted World
In the day-to-day reality of increasing upheaval and discord, how are Christians to think and behave? How do we anchor our conversations and attitudes when everything in us wants to either retreat or lash out in anger? In this new series, Chip provides a biblical path to allowing Christ to reign in us and work through us no matter what's going on.More from this series
Jesus would say, “You have heard the Law says that the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,” which they could do legally, “carry it for two miles. Give to those who ask; don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. You have heard the Law says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemies. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
Well, why? How does He treat people? “For He gives sunlight to both evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and on the unjust. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind to only your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”
If you have grown up in the Church or lived in America for a long time, we can read comments like that and it’s just like what I heard. We are familiar. It sounds like something we ought to put on a plaque and buy at a Christian bookstore, if there still were Christian bookstores.
These are the most radical thoughts ever spoken by Jesus. And, yes, we could do a lot of more developed teaching in the front end of that and what He meant by the slap on the cheek and the insult and all the rest, but the thesis of this is really easy. We don’t give people what they deserve. We don’t give them justice. We treat them the way God has treated us, who while we were His enemy, Christ died in our place.
The question is: how do you do this? How do you practice this kind of completely different attitude? Well, first and foremost, in and of ourselves, we can’t, but as time went on, the apostle Paul is going to say to a very unique community in Rome where there were little pockets. We somehow think the Church you know, back then, is like the Church today. There were little pockets meeting in multiple homes. And they were very unique. It might be a little, Jewish group over here and a Gentile group over here. And it might be of one nationality over here and another nationality over here. And Paul is writing this letter to pull all these people together. And as he says, “I’m on my way to Spain,” boy, what a visionary, “I’m going to stop in Rome.” He never made it past Rome.
He says, “But I want, I want you all to get really clear about what the gospel is.” The first three chapters [of Romans], “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Chapters 4 and 5, “God, by His grace has saved you if you will just believe.” Chapters 6 through 8, “This is how you grow in holiness.” And chapters 9 through 11, here’s a parenthesis, “I want you to know, Jewish Christians, that God will fulfill all His promises to David, on the throne, and Abraham about the land, so you can trust Him.” Chapter 12, in light of all God’s grace, this is how you live.”
And the first thing is you offer yourself and you go into a journey and a process not to be conformed to the world. And I want to skip toward the end where he explains how to practically live out Jesus’ command to be a healing agent instead of be hostile.
Command number one, Romans 12, verse 17, “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see that you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Literally, it’s, “Consider what is right in the sight of all men.”
And the word consider means it’s a protracted thought to understand that even those you most radically disagree with and whoever that is – another race, another political party, another background, another denomination, people who philosophically are different than you – consider. In other words, everyone lives in a way that makes sense to them. And connection with other human beings starts with empathy. It starts with, well, this is how they grew up. This is how they think. This is how they live. So, actually, I can see how, though I completely disagree, that is how they perceive life.
We so quickly, we have an “us” and we have a “them”. And we are right, whoever “we” are, and they are wrong. He says, “Don’t do that.”
He says, in fact, it goes beyond that. “Dear friends, never take your own revenge. Leave room for the righteous anger of God. For the Scripture says, ‘I will avenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord. Instead, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame upon their heads.”
Three different commands: Don’t pay back evil, never take revenge; if your enemy has a need, give him what he needs. And then finally, the axiomatic principle, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The very first time in my life I got to experience the power of this was I played basketball in college and I was the only Christian on the team. And we had a guy who had been in prison, he was in Vietnam, he had scars like this. He had in prison for quite a while for being a drug dealer. And I played in a small college, very competitive, and the only reason he played on a small college was because of his, all he had been through, his hands weren’t very good. He was about 6’9” and had about a forty-two inch vertical. And there are times where he would get a rebound and his elbows, his head would be over the rim.
And in his words, he described himself, “I’m an evil man.” And I have a testimony; he was. And I remember I was going into my dorm room one day and the other room was cracked and the RA was there and this fella, and they were smoking dope. And it was illegal back then. And if he got caught a third time, he’s going back to prison for a long time. And I just, you make eye contact, I’m thinking, Oh brother. So, I’m at my door and I feel something on my head. And he turns me around and then he lifts me up with my chin like this and he looks me in the eye, “Little man,” actually, he didn’t say, “Little man,” but I can’t repeat what he said. “You say a word, let me tell you something, I have killed people and I will kill you.”
I don’t know if you have ever been threatened by someone who really means it; I was scared to death. And then I hated him. And I got eaten up with hate.
And I was a Pete Maravich fan growing up and so I did all those drills before Steph was doing them. And so, in warm-ups I’d throw him a behind-the-back pass, really hard, right through the hands, slipped through his hands, right in the face. I just paid him back, paid him back; I did it in practice. And I couldn’t sleep at night; I had acid stomach.
He treated me like dirt, and I was a freshman so everything from carrying his bag to…and I remember getting with the spiritual leader of our campus ministry. I had just become a Christian, not much over a year.
And I said, “I don’t know what to do. I hate this man. I don’t know,” and some of you have experienced this, it is a scary thing.
We think somehow that all of us are beyond doing something horrendous. None of us are beyond doing something horrendous. Check out Nazi Germany. And I’ll never forget, this older brother says, “I can solve this for you, but you’ll have to trust me.” I said, “Okay.” He read Romans chapter 12. Actually, he started at verse 14 where it says, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not.”
And he goes, “What I want you to do is I want you to start praying for him every day, not that God will strike him dead,” which was where I was at. And then he says, “I want you to think of every way possible that you can bless him and help him.” And he goes, “You don’t have to feel like it.” And I just, he left and I thought, Man, you’re on drugs. I’m not doing that. And the Spirit convicted me.
And I just, I made a decision. No more behind-the-back passes, no more no-look passes; when he made a basket, I actually cheered. I would go into the locker room and when you undress, they had stuff and we’d put them in bags and the manager would take them. I would pick his stuff up and do it. At the training table, instead of him getting on me, I would go and say, “Hey, Jerry, do you want something else?”
And I did that and you know what? Nothing happened. And then we got to the end of the year, big tournament, and he was a senior, he was graduating. And I’ll never forget, he said, “You know, I don’t believe in God. I’m evil and I know I’m evil and if there’s a hell, I’m going there.” By the way, he was extremely smart and an amazing artist. And he said, “But I’m done with you, kid.” He goes, “It’s not fun anymore.” He goes, “I don’t believe in anything at all about Christianity and I have met so many hypocrites. But if I was ever going to be one, I think I would want to be one like you, because there are only two people on this whole team that I respect. Me, I’m evil. And you, because at least you’re living out your faith.”
That was it. Peace. Now, if he knew what I was thinking most of the time living out my faith, but we have confused obedience and feelings. You don’t have to feel like doing what is right. Obedience is doing what is right. In fact, I think God finds more delight when you don’t want to read the Bible and you read it, when you don’t want to pray and you pray, when you don’t want to give and yet you understand, “I need to.” When you really, your emotions tell you one thing, which is often your flesh. And you say, Lord, this is my offering. I am choosing to do it out of loyalty and love to You.
The second time I got to experience this was I pastored in Santa Cruz for about twelve years. And we had a very significant homosexual population, we had a lot of runaway teens, and a lot of people involved in the occult. And it was especially significant with a lot of HIV patients.
And I remember sitting down with, he was a former mayor, he was a business owner, I think he personally was a homosexual.
And we sat down and had lunch, downtown Santa Cruz. And I was pastoring a church that had grown pretty much and developed a little deal with about fifty other churches that we met once a month and we came up with a dream and a plan in obedience to what Jesus said, “How could we help people that are HIV positive?”
And so, we teamed up, we had a deal with all the other pastors and we worked out a thing with the county and we actually went through training and we could – anybody with HIV, we would drive to the doctor, drive to the grocery store, we would honor the county, we would not try and proselytize, but we got permission if they asked us why we were doing what we were doing, we could tell them about Jesus.
And so, we did. And so, we did the same thing with runaway teens, we did the same thing with the poor. And it was a coalition. And I was sitting across the table from this person who, once we got talking, he became, we were roughly the same age. We both became revolutionaries in college. He went to Berkeley. And the sit-ins, the radical, the seventies. And I went away to college and became a Christian. And I became this radical, crazy zealot for Jesus and he became this radical, crazy zealot for Progressivism.
And we talked and we talked about what we were doing and I said, “How can we serve?” he was the mayor. “And what can we do to serve you here?” And I’ll never forget, it was about an hour-and-a-half lunch. And I’ll never, I never forgot thinking, Man, I disagree with everything with this guy. But I sure like him. I mean, I really liked him. There’s a lot of people that don’t have intellectual integrity; he did.
I thought, You believe this, this is your view of mankind, you think they are basically good, you think this is the answer, and you’re acting on it. I can respect that. Now, I don’t think man is basically good, I think Jesus is the answer, but we sat across the table and he cared about HIV positive people, and we didn’t ask him how they got it.
And we talked about runaway teens and what was happening. And we talked about the poor. And around those things, we partnered together. And here’s what happens. There wasn’t any “thems” anymore.
I have, because of my basketball background, I’ve been a minority. I’ve been the white guy on a Black team. And what I find is a lot of white people, you don’t have any Black friends or any Black friends, some people don’t have white friends. Or, you make statements, but do you have any friends that are in the homosexual community that you understand, what is their story and where they’ve been and where they are coming from and where are their hurts? It’s engagement. It’s speaking the truth without compromise. It’s caring. We don’t have to agree with everyone. But what a difference it makes.
He says, “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on their head.” This is an amazing picture. I didn’t grow up studying the Bible and I remember thinking early on, Wow, this is great! Like, if you do the right thing, God will zap them! And I wanted Him to zap this guy, like, “Hey!”
And then I did a little research later on and in the ancient near East, if someone had realized that they had made a big mistake and they were repenting, they would build a fire and they would take the coals and put it in a pan. And then they put a towel under the pan and they put the towel on their head and they would walk through the village. And they would walk through the village and they are saying, “These hot coals are burning out my bad thinking. I was wrong.”
See, when you love people in ways where they know in their heart of hearts they don’t deserve it because of how they have spoken to you, what they said about you, what they posted, what they tweeted. And instead of responding in kind, you respond, no compromise, but in love – it often is the very thing that creates this sense of, “Why would people do that?” In other words, it’s a picture of how God changes people’s hearts.
The principle is we can’t do this in our own strength. But we often quote this passage, I put it here, Ephesians chapter 3, verse 20 and 21. “Oh, praise God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all we ask and think, according to His power,” like aren’t we glad God does great things? Well, let’s read it a little more carefully.
How about this, “Now all glory to God who is able, by His mighty power at work in us.” You have the power within you with a surrendered life and commitment to His Word in the context of encouraging deep community to return good for evil, to not respond on Facebook; to not become one of those angry, resentful, bitter, fearful Christians who alienate people outside the Church and inside the Church.
Because His power works within us – what? To accomplish more than we could think or ask.
And what that means, in summary, is this. In America’s post-truth, post-Christian culture, it demands that we live first as citizens of heaven – Philippians 3 – and second, citizens of America.
For a lot of people, you see a lot of posts, “Who stole our country?” And two extremes. We can’t succumb to angry engagement, often revolving around nationalism; or fearful withdrawal, which is separatism.
Wisdom, I wish it was an easy path, a simple path. But wisdom demands that we reject accommodation that is masked in the name of love, where we cave into what is true and don’t stick to Scripture on all issues, including morality and gender and all the rest.
And we have to reject personal preservation masked as truth. “Oh, this is truth!” But really it’s about our rights and us keeping our world our way. And we have to I think reject silos and separatism masked in purity, where we become little groups that we wall ourselves off.
God’s calling is healing instead of hostility. We must be agents of healing without compromise. We must move out of our Christian silos and subcultures and enter the fray and fight hate, fight prejudice, fight injustice, fight legalism, fight division with love in action and words of truth.
And it doesn’t begin with some messiah, some movement, some group, somewhere, somehow. It starts with me and my heart and my life and you.
And there was a little group of people that took Jesus at His word and they turned the world upside down with far less resources than we have.
God, thank You that You have given power inside of our human bodies as we have trusted You to do things actually as amazing as raising the dead. Lord, it will take a miracle to replace bitterness and hate and prejudice and replace it with empathy and concern. Lord, it will take incredible power to not cave in and to speak truth firmly, kindly, lovingly when it will be viewed as anti-intellectual and bigoted, and even hate speech. God, would You please allow us, beginning here, beginning today in a fresh way, to let our loyalty be to You to make us healing agents? And will You forgive us for our hostility? The things we have posted, the things we have said, the people we have blamed. Lord, we want to ask that Your kingdom come, not ours, and that Your will be done, not ours, on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name, amen.