Service: Truth in Action

“And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33-34 ESV)

Sometimes the disciples were just plain embarrassing. This is one of those times. They are walking along the road with the Son of God while debating which of them is the greatest. By this, it doesn’t mean they were arguing that other disciples were the greatest, they were arguing for their own claim to greatness. In Mark’s account, this is just after Peter, James, and John personally witness Jesus’ transfiguration. You would think the sight of the very shekinah glory of God and the thundering voice of God the Father would have put a little humility in them. But no. Just a few verses later, they are making their best case for their own greatness and their own exalted place in Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus calls them on it and asks, what were you discussing? “But they kept silent.” They were suddenly embarrassed. They looked down and tried to find a rock they could crawl under.

“And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35) A parallel passage in Matthew says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

The Bible and Bethel Church

Authority

It’s one thing to say something is true, it’s another to submit to it. Some people view the Ten Commandments at the ten suggestions. Good principles. Good ideas. Commandment implies authority and accountability. As an example, we may know what the speed limit says, but do we view it as an authority over us or not? It quickly goes from a suggestion to a commandment the moment we see a state trooper. Our instinct is to hit the brakes. Ever do that only to realize that Crown Victoria is being driven by grandma and not Officer Krupke?

The Supremacy of Christ

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15–20 ESV).

 Why Was This Necessary?

If Christ was already supreme in eternity past, what did his actions for us do to magnify his supremacy?

Whenever we talk about the Trinity, many people check out and say, I can’t understand it all so I don’t want to think about it. Yet we don’t do that with other things. We don’t look at the ocean and say, because I can’t see all of it, I won’t enjoy any of it. Or if I can’t see all the sky I won’t enjoy the sunset. Can we understand all the mysteries of the Trinity or trinitarian purposes? No. But there is so much that we can see, and it is beautiful. Here is one dimension God allows us to see and understand.

What was pre-incarnation like for Christ? Glory. Infinite glory emanating from him. His character was absolutely perfect in every way. However, Christ had glories or attributes to his character that were known only to the Father and had never had an opportunity to be expressed or worshiped.

On Dads and Kids

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1–4, ESV).

Earnestly pray for your children and with your children

If there is low hanging fruit here, prayer is certainly it. Nothing brings God into the home like a dad earnestly praying with his kids. Does that mean every day is Valley of Vision level prayers? No. It’s not in our home either.

It’s the consistency of praying. And yes, pray before meals and bed. That’s good. If you’re doing that, well done. Pray spontaneously when you hear a family member is in crisis or the little one has a boo-boo; these bring God into the culture of the home. That’s the point. Prayer brings God into the home and into the heart. Fill your home with prayers.

Create a spiritual culture in the home

My parents did this really well. Regular devotions and prayer. Never missed church. Every week seeing dad write a check to give to the church and missionaries and other kingdom causes.

We were blessed to have missionaries often in our home. They would tell their stories and I would sit there in rapt attention wondering, does God want me to be a missionary to remote Africa? I hope not. God I’ll go, but I’m not very mechanical and I might not do well.

I’ve told you before we had verses and spiritual sayings in plaques around the house. Joanna Gaines may not decorate that way, but I could quote most of them to you to this day. It depends on what’s important to you, I suppose.

Every home has a culture. What’s yours? Is God a part of it? How? It doesn’t just happen. Be intentional. Someday you will be glad you did.

Teach them biblical truth

But I’m not a theologian! I’m no Billy Graham. I don’t know what to say. Do you have a Bible? Just reading the Bible gets you 2/3 of the way. Then ask, Kids, what do you think God is saying here? They are going to say the craziest and funniest things, but it gets gospel conversation going. It doesn’t have to be very deep to be effective with children.

Don’t farm this out to Sunday School or Awana. Teach them. Drip it in as life allows.

Here is the important of all:

Model what seeking first the kingdom of God looks like

I don’t remember much of what my dad taught me. I don’t remember any specific prayer that made a difference in my life. I don’t recall any particular moment of instruction or discipline making a huge impact.

Biblical fathering is the cumulative effect of a life observed up close. Eventually, your kids figure you out. They know what makes you tick. There at the core of your being needs to be the love for Christ. Imperfect? Ebbs and flows. Mistakes? Yes!

Notice I didn’t say perfection. Super dad. Awesome-all-the-time dad. It needs to be real. The gospel is that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior. If our kids see from us our own sense of unworthiness, and we seek from them forgiveness for our failures, and they receive from us grace in their failures, and all this is done with a sense of God’s glory, it will powerfully impress on them that Dad thinks Jesus is great. Does that guarantee heaven forever with your kids? No. Each child must make their own life choices regarding Jesus.

But here’s what we know, while faithful fathering can’t guarantee salvation, unfaithful fathering can spiritually hinder a child. They take their cues from us. If a sports team is the big deal, they will likely cheer for that team their whole life. If fishing is the big thing; they will fish their whole life and remember days fishing with you. You are setting a lifelong direction and priority.

Remember, Jesus said it is better to have a millstone around your neck and be cast into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble (Matthew 18:6). Dads, let’s take this Father’s Day to renew our purpose to nourish our children’s hearts toward a personal faith walk with Jesus.

One second after you die, you will be so glad you did. Happy Father’s Day.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Race and Gospel Harmony

Racial Harmony is Powered by God’s Grace (Romans 12:3-8)

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:3-8 ESV).

Verses 3-8 describe the unity of the body of Christ. We are varying parts of the body, but all belong to each other. We all have spiritual gifts, literally, grace gifts, to serve one another.

That’s a powerful picture of racial harmony. One body. Differing gifts and callings and purposes, but one body. All the parts are equal. All the parts are important. All the parts are valuable.

Why should the thumb care about the knee? Why should the elbow serve the foot? Because we are one body. When one body part hurts, the other body parts hurt with it.

In a healthy body, when one part is injured, the other parts instantly rally. Think about the last time you slammed your finger in a door or hit it with a hammer. How does your body respond? Imagine the body saying, “Now Thumb, it’s your own fault for being in the door. Throb away, we don’t care.” Or, “Thumb, this the fifth time this year you’ve been hurt. Enough already!”

If I may draw the analogy, George Floyd’s death created instant pain among our African American brothers and sisters. How should the white and brown and Asian American members respond? Like a body. Come around. Show we hurt too. Reinforce love and value.

In the many conversations I have had, the theme I hear from the black community is that they want to be heard and understood and loved. They are hurting. Will we come around them? Hear them? Hurt with them? Walk with them?

What do we call it when a body part feels pain but the rest of the body is unaware? Doesn’t feel it with them? We call it leprosy. Leprosy is bacteria that affect the nervous system. If you get this disease, your foot or hand or body part can experience pain and the rest of the body is ignorant of the pain.

Any leprosy in the church? Any leprous members not feeling the body’s pain? I’m glad to tell you today that Jesus healed leprosy and he still heals leprosy. May there be no leprosy in the church of Jesus Christ.

I’ve been thinking about racism as it compares to the church’s decades-long heavy involvement in the value of the unborn child. This flows from our firm belief that life begins at conception and God’s image is stamped on that unborn child. God’s image is treasured because God is treasured. What does that look like here in our region? Lots of financial and volunteer support to the Women’s Center of Northwest Indiana. Many people are heavily vested in saving lives that bear God’s image. Amen.

Might it provide a model for an equally important life and justice issue like racism? What would it look like if our effort for racial harmony in the church resembled our effort for the unborn of whatever region you are in? The same biblical truth is at stake in both. What if a similar effort for both was put forward?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Racial Empathy & Gospel Symphony

The Prayer of God for Racial Harmony in the Church

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5–7 ESV)

Notice “may.” May God grant you to live in harmony. This is a prayer. A wish. A longing. It’s rooted in the person and work of Jesus. In accord with Christ Jesus. Accord. It’s a thinking word. “Think the same thoughts together; be of one mind.” Is this a longing you have too? If not, why not? What implicit bias, known or unknown, keeps you from personally pursuing more harmony? Why would I want to hang out with those vegetable-loving Jewish folk? Why would I want to hang out with Gentile meat-eaters?

You ask, so we have to agree on everything? No. The early church didn’t either. Read Acts. Yet, there was harmony. How? The gospel overcomes the disagreements that would otherwise divide. Be of one mind about Jesus. Be of one mind about the gospel. He doesn’t say, everyone needs to agree on Rome’s politics or Rome’s foreign policy or who the emperor was at the time. No. If you are a Christian, that means that you and I have more in common in spite of our ethnic difference than I have in common with someone with the same skin as me, went to the same school as me, even in the same family as me.

Think of that a moment white Christian. You have more in common with a black or brown brother in Christ than you have with someone with your skin, from your tribe, and even from your own family. Therefore, the gospel is more important to a Christian than his skin color. The gospel is more important to a Christian than her politics. The gospel is more important to a Christian than anything that would otherwise divide us.

When We Are Wronged: Unconditional Kindness

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17–21 ESV)

I’ve been slandered, what should I do?

Slander is verbal wrong that besmirches your character. These wrongs are incredibly painful. As a longtime leader, I know this sting well. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Is that true? No. People say lots of things but mostly people are cowards and say things behind our backs they would never say to our face. Whispers. Insinuations. Lies. Gossip. Backstabbing.

Sometimes they go public and the power of social media gives slander steroids. Have you ever been slandered on social media? How does that feel? We all experience this on one level or another. What does unconditional kindness look like in the face of slander?

It is so easy to reply in kind. Let’s face it, we all have qualities worthy of slander and the better we know each other, the more ammo we have. This is why family gossip is the easiest; we know each other’s dirty laundry. When a family member pretends to have the moral high ground to criticize another family member, boom! You said that about me, let’s talk about how you can’t keep a job, and don’t make me bring up how much you drank at the family reunion….

Here is where Jesus gives a powerful example.

“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)

Jesus is the only one with the moral high ground to verbally assess anyone. In the famous story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus writes in the sand. Eventually all the woman’s accusers leave. It is speculated he wrote in the sand the sins of the Pharisees. Imagine him writing the names of women they had slept with. That would empty the room quickly. We don’t know. His response to the woman is kindness: Go and sin no more.

“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). Could he? Doesn’t Jesus know the secret sins of the human heart? Yes. What did he do? He entrusted himself to his heavenly Father. He cared more what God thought of him than what man thought of him.

When people criticize us, we should pause and ask, what is true here? One thing about criticism, it’s always sincere. Criticism is free counseling. What is true here? Sometimes slander should lead us to find the truth in it and seek to reconcile with the other over it. Is there even 1% of this that is true? Humble yourself, go to them, and seek the 1% right. Don’t use it as pretext to go off on their hypocrisy or how wrong they are with the 99%. Make the 1% right.

But in the end, what people say doesn’t matter. It’s what God thinks that matters. That may be comforting, but it should mostly be terrifying. God knows us far better than our harshest critic.

But there is comfort as well when we are wrongly accused. Entrust yourself to God’s opinion. Cry out to him that your name would be cleared. Read the Psalms which echo this so often. Entrust yourself to God. And let the character of your life over time silence the slander. Time tends to reveal things. Nobody’s perfect, but if your character is consistently toward the things of God, your testimony will be like Teflon. Nothing sticks. Winning a war means losing some battles along the way. We win the war by not returning evil and taking a posture of peace even with those who treat us badly.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

When We’ve Been Wronged

Don’t Seek Vengeance; Do be Kind to Your Enemy

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17–21 ESV).

“Heap burning coals on their head.” It is debated what this means, but in context it must mean that kindness instead of vengeance exposes the other person’s hatred even more starkly. This may lead them to shame or remorse and even reconciliation.

Two quick examples. I have counseled brokenhearted women whose boyfriend broke up with them to be nothing but kind. If instead she turns into a crazy woman and chooses to slander him to anyone who will listen, sends him hate texts, and threatens to sue him, he lays in bed and thinks, I made the greatest decision of my life. If she is kind to him, kind to his mother, and thanks him for the time they had together, he lays in bed every night and thinks, I have made the worst decision of my life. Burning coals.

Normal Christianity is Radical

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:14–17 ESV).

Success and Sorrows

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Our natural selves more easily connect with people in sorrows than in successes. When people suffer a loss, a loved one or life-altering event of some kind, our hearts naturally relate to them. Funeral homes are found everywhere as gathering places to weep with those who weep. What is more Christian than entering into the pain of others and sharing that pain with them?

The Key to Spiritual Gifts: Use Them!

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3–8 ESV)

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts is Blessing and Serving Others in the Church 

  • “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  • “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)

1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that incredible spiritual giftedness without love means nothing. Even if I have oratory equal to the ability of angels or if I cast out demons or move mountains, if I don’t have agape love as a quality in my character, I gain nothing. Love is the quintessential Christian quality. So, don’t be too impressed by spiritual gifts you see in others; that gift was given to them by the Holy Spirit. Be impressed by love, joy, and peace and strive to make this part of your life as well.

Here is an incredible truth:

Every Christian has a Spiritual Gift or Several Spiritual Gifts

You may be thinking, I must have been at the end of the line and God ran out of gifts because I don’t think I have one. Not only do you have one, you likely have several. When you think about it, it’s incredibly exciting. God is actively empowering his people to fulfill his mission and giving us the enablements we need.

So Christian, hear this, you have at least one Spirit-granted, God-empowered gifting. God’s gifts are God’s call, which means he has a purpose for every one of us. This means every member of the church is critically important and the diversity of gifts tells us that no one person is too important. Pastor Steve, then what should I do?

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12:6, emphasis added)

The emphasis in Scripture is surprisingly not on how to discover your spiritual gift, but on the necessity of using your spiritual gift. Why would that be?

In days gone by, discovering your spiritual gift was a bigger deal in local churches. There were spiritual gift surveys and lots of emphasis on finding your spiritual gift. Yet, the Bible gives no guidelines on how to do so. It just urges us to use them.

I take from this that discovering your spiritual gift is a lot like many things in life—you figure it out as you go. Author Kevin DeYoung summarizes this with his book title, Just Do Something! As we do something, as we serve, as we try this and that, there will be some categories we are drawn to. Areas where our service seems effective. Other church members will notice and tell you, that was great! Wow, you’re really good at that!

Do something. Get the wagon moving and let God steer it. As God blesses, take that as the yellow brick road. It likely will bless you in doing it, but don’t take your personal enjoyment of it as a key indicator. I’ve had too many church members strangely enjoy things they are not good at. Spiritual gifts bless, equip, and sustain others.

One final word here because some of you may feel motivated but still unsure of a direction to serve. This might give you some indication of your gifting. Here we are in this extraordinary time of quarantine. What about the community life of our church are you missing the most? I can’t wait to get back to _____________. What you are missing might be your gifting.

What are you doing the most these days? Think in spiritual categories. Eating Cheetos is not a spiritual gift. What has emerged in you through all this? How are you serving others? For some it’s words and speech. You are calling people. Praying with people. Writing notes of encouragement. Blogging. You are serving with words. Others, you haven’t called and prayed with anyone, but you’ve organized meals down the whole block. You’ve mowed the old lady’s lawn next door and came home with a smile on your face. In times of crisis, our giftings can shine through.

As you serve, your gifts will become evident. If you wait to do anything until you know how God has gifted you, you will wait a long, long time.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here