This is a transcript from the January 19, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
I'm going to share a couple of stories of people who have been important in my life, who've been important in my journey. As I tell these stories, I hope that you also think about people in your own lives, who have played a part in your own growth. It was before my sixth-grade year, there was a new teacher in town. Now, this is really important to know that I grew up in a very small town, my graduating class was 39. The former sixth-grade teacher had just retired after 40 something years of teaching at the same school in the same classroom. In a small town, it's a big deal when you have a new teacher come in. There's a lot of anticipation. What I didn't know was that this new teacher that I had was going to have a great impact on my life.
To get to that, we have to go back to third-grade and talk a little bit about one of my first times I can remember math being very hard for me. In third grade, they had these flash tests, I think they're called. It's like a pop quiz, basically. I got every single question wrong on that math pop quiz. I remember going home and crying to my mom. You felt guilt and shame and you felt stupid. Math didn't click for me and never did. That's why I became a pastor. I had to work twice as hard as some of my classmates just a pass math.
This new teacher started to realize that I wasn't that great at it. I also probably did some attention-seeking things like I slammed my head on the desk, not slam, that sounds awful. I would just hit it like, "Stupid, stupid", and then not too long after that, I felt the call to ministry. I don't know if those two correlate in any way. He decided he was going to ask me to come in early, probably twice a week. He helped tutor me through math. I'd come maybe like 45 minutes before school starts. He would help me with math homework, he walked me through it. Just that extra special attention helped me out.
Now, the other thing that's interesting about our relationship is, a couple years later, he quit teaching and he became my youth pastor at my church. Correlation between that and me being bad at math, I don't know. You can make those correlations if you'd like. He became my youth pastor. I remember one time, I think it was my senior year, that my dad thanked him because my dad said that kids always need somebody else, another adult in their life, besides their parents who believe in them. Jason was the first adult, that I can recall, in my childhood years, who believed in me that wasn't family.
Skip ahead to a couple, many years later. First semester of college or I mean after the first year of college, that summer, I interned at a ministry called Rise Ministries. As an intern, you do a lot of grunt work. I met Rob, Rob is the founder of the ministry. Rob has muscular dystrophy and if you don't know what that is, it's a slow deterioration of your muscles. When he was younger, when they diagnosed him, they said by the time he was 30, he'd be in a wheelchair, he couldn't walk. He's well into his 40s now. He uses his wheelchair more often, but he still is able to walk quite a bit.
He always demanded the most of me, he always expected the best out of me, even when I didn't know what I was doing. He showed that he believed in me in that way and that he expected more than I even expected of myself. He also taught me about humility. Having muscular dystrophy, whenever he'd sit down in a chair, he'd always need help getting back up. I had to learn how to help, I would, it's kind of a nice bear hug and then you lift him right up. Then he also taught me about accepting gifts and accepting gifts well, because in his nonprofit ministry, that's his livelihood. He had to, and with his disease, he had to learn how to accept gifts from other people, and not to be so proud and prideful all the time. That has served me well as a pastor later in life.
Rob had that impact on me during my college years. Then also in college, I met Justin and Sarah. Justin is actually a pastor here in the Denver Presbytery, at Grace Presbyterian. His wife is a therapist and my wife works for her. We met in college, she was the RD, the Resident Director of the dorm that my wife was an RA, a Resident Assistant in. That's how we met. He was going to seminary and working at a church, and we just clicked. They were one of those first couples that helped us, that loved us unconditionally that weren't family. We could be ourselves with them. We could be our worst selves with them. They loved us no matter what. To this day, we are still great friends.
Now, this picture of future pastors. If you ever wanted a glimpse into seminary life, this is it. This is in Brazil. We had a trip during seminary to Brazil so that's why they probably look little. Well Dan looks especially miserable in the hot weather. These friends played a great part in my life during seminary that we could bounce ideas off each other, we could ask questions of each other, we are all learning the same thing. You know those classmates that you have that only you all know what you're going through at that time. They were also the friends that always challenged me to not be apathetic about things I can get. I'll just be like, "I don't really care that much". They would always demand more. They would also demand that or let me know that being angry is okay.
If you know personality tests or personality things at all, there's one called the enneagram. I'm a nine, which nines are peacemakers and unhealthy nines are peacekeepers. What that means is, peacekeepers just say, "All right, let's just stop arguing. Let's all be okay with this and just calm down". Peacemakers are the ones that actually find that stuff we can connect with each other on, that place that we can find common ground. They were the ones that taught me how to be okay with being angry about things that didn't mean that there wasn't peace, it meant that there was injustice and that I could be angry about it. I could find common ground to help people gain similar perspectives together.
As we all know, our spouses aren't originally our family, hopefully. They're people you meet in your life that see you for who you are, and say, "And I love you, no matter what, the unconditional love, there's nothing you could do to make me love you any more or any less".
For Michelle, coming into my life, she has helped me find myself who I am. Another part of being an enneagram nine is that we're good chameleons, we can adapt to every environment we're in. I could talk really well about cars because I know a little bit about it, I could talk about sports, I could talk about this or that. I can adapt if something sounds shady, but I can adapt and be different for all kinds of people but that's not what it is, it's out of a good place. Sometimes with that, you lose yourself. You don't really know what you're about, you don't know who you are because you've been adapting to all the people around you. She has helped me find out who I am and love who I am.
These are the people in my life who have helped me feel whole as a person, help me grow in my faith, grow in my life. Many of you are probably thinking of the people that God has put in your lives throughout the years also. As we've been talking about the toolkit for 2021, we've been talking about how do you gain the habits? What do you do in 2020, that can change your life in 2021?
I think people are a key piece of that. Now, I thought about naming this sermon, 'People are tools'. That didn't sound totally correct. I just want to let you know that people have power. People have power in our lives to speak truth, to speak growth into our lives.
We tell this to our kids, especially teenagers. We want to make sure that they have a friend group that is a good influence. Are there any teenagers in here? How about everybody? Did your parents ever tell you that they want to make sure you had good influences in your life. We teach that but somewhere along the way, we kind of forget about it as adults. Then we find ourselves at some point realizing the people we're surrounding ourselves with, maybe aren't the best influences for us, that they're changing the way we see the world. We're becoming more cynical or angry. I think it's still a good lesson for us, even as adults today.
Even in our scripture for today, Paul gives some important advice about what the fruit of a community looks like, a fruit of relationships that show that there's growth, there's certain things you should do and not do to help that growth with one another. He goes through, as Cindy read it earlier, a couple different things. I think this is why Paul thinks it's important for your life and for mine and for the witness of Christ in the world. First, he says, "Speak truth". Now, we know this. We know it's not good to lie. We tell our kids not to lie but I think there's different types of lying.
There's the type of lying that is carelessness of truth. The type of lying that you don't really care about the details. This or that. I think as a kid, oftentimes, you would say stuff to your parents, like they'd ask if you took a cookie from the cookie jar and you could be like, "Yes", but then you lie and say that your brother also took one and get them in trouble too, and they didn't take one. Either fabricating stuff or leaving stuff out is kind of carelessness of the truth. It's not working hard to find the truth and bringing it to light.
The other type of lie is the lie of silence, so things unsaid. Maybe an example is like a captain who approves something by their silence, but ultimately knows it's the wrong course of direction. That's the type of lying that you won't speak up when things are wrong. A good illustration for this is our bodies. Our brain has to communicate with our body of what to do, but if our brain is telling our body something different than what it's supposed to do, your body is going to be unhealthy in some way.
Think of that as a larger body of Christ, of churches of Christians of communities. Lying goes more than just saying a white lie. Paul also talks about selfless anger says, "You could be angry", it does-- you're right to be angry because there's some anger that's good for the world. We wouldn't be where we are if there wasn't some good anger. Paul doesn't want us as Christians and community to have anger that is selfish and irritable, a bad temper that's out of control, that type of anger. Instead, the anger that Paul is talking about is the selfless anger. The anger that when people are being taken advantage of, when people are being treated less than, when we aren't respecting the image of God in each and every person, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow and the work he did. His work was good anger, and saying that we can do better than this.
Jesus also had that anger. One of the most famous ones is in the temple, where he started throwing tables. I like that Jesus. Throwing tables and he's getting angry, but it's about taking advantage of people especially in a place of worship. He did that with the woman caught in adultery, that they were going to stone her to death and he stepped in. Jesus shows us a way to have that good anger.
The next thing Paul points to is reconciliation and forgiveness. The scripture that was read is one that we use a lot for advice for new couples about, "Do not go to bed angry", which for some of you is maybe a good thing, but for some of the rest of us, that doesn't work so well. We took this, my wife and I took this as literal advice when we were first married. I remember one night being up till 3:30 AM trying to figure out an argument we're having. That's not good for anybody either, that we stayed up that late, we didn't have sleep. What it means is, is that we're always working towards reconciliation and forgiveness to one another.
The Bible oftentimes uses hyperbole to get a point across. I think this is one of those times where it's like, "You can go to bed angry but don't stop the work. Don't stop the work the next day. Do not forget about it, continue to work together, challenge each other towards reconciliation and forgiveness."
He says talk about giving back and uses it in a way of like, get a good job, earn a good living, but then help others who cannot work. I think this connects with the Old Testament. The Old Testament talks a lot about, to the Israelites, to welcome the stranger because you were once a stranger in a strange land. This still connects that help others out because you have been in a place at some point where you needed help yourself. That is a way to help others grow, to be challenged in that way.
Then build up with your words. The scripture used here is all about-- We've often used it as a way to tell our kids not to swear. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth." Sure, but I think it's more than that. I think it's more about our words have an opportunity to build up, our words have an opportunity to destroy. If we think back to the creation story, God said, "There be light, and there was".
I hope you know the creation story at least. Let there be light, so God spoke the world into being with words and we're created in the image of God and so our words have power. Our words have power to support one another, to lift each other up but it also has great power into being able to destroy others in the way they feel about themselves. Paul is challenging us as a Christian community to build each other up with our words.
These are the pieces of community, these are the power of people. Those who we surround ourselves with or look up to in leadership, we want them to have these things because it helps us grow too. The people you surround yourself with, your friends, your family, helps you grow. I didn't want to use family because family is always there. Some of us have complicated relationships with their family. Family is supposed to love us. When you find people outside of your family who love you unconditionally and help you grow, that has some kind of power to it that you don't experience with family all the time.
These are the people I'm talking about. You can be that person for somebody else. Maybe you have those people around you now. The people that are true seekers, that get angry when they see injustice. Those that seek reconciliation, forgiveness for all. Those who want to give back and help others. Those who build you up with their words.
At New Hope, we have life groups. Life groups are a way where we want to connect you with people that can help you grow. It's a group where you are committed to the growth of others, and they are committed to your growth also. Over the next couple of weeks in between the services, especially 10:45 folks. If you come a little bit early, there's going to be a kiosk over by fellowship hall, where we'll have people standing there, and you can ask questions about life group, you can sign up because you're interested in a life group because we really want you to get involved with a community that is committed to your growth.
Christ came to redeem and reconcile the world. If you are part of a group, now, it doesn't always have to be a life group but maybe you have your own friend group, that you are committed to each other's growth. You are doing the work of redemption and reconciliation that Christ started here on Earth. You are participating in that when you are loving people as they are, when you are making people whole. The power of people is to be a movement of good in the world for reconciliation and the cost of Christ. Amen.