Sunday, August 28, 2016

Band of Brothers

Some of you will recognize this clip from The Patriot. The story centers on a father and his children during the days of the Revolutionary War. Their mother had passed away. This father was raising his children by himself. And throughout the movie, he juggles his ideological position as an objector to the war with his great patriotic duty to fight, and his responsibilities as a single father. I know this is a fictitious story. It’s just a movie, but in so many ways, this scene mirrors real life.

Here is why I say that. Life’s lessons are not passed down in lecture halls! Life doesn’t just stop when we get stuck. I do not remember a moment when I came to a crossroads, when life around me slowed down and stopped, and someone came to stand right before and told me: “Here is how you should proceed…” Life doesn’t work that way.

Life’s lessons are passed down in the midst of the chaos, even as the war is raging around us. And if that is true we must be there when those moments arise. We must be in relationship with each other. When the son says, “Father, what changed you?” we must be close enough to each other that when those moments happen in life we can learn from each other.

You’ve heard me say this before, but let me repeat myself: We were made for relationships! This may sound like an old worn out record from me by now, but that is OK, I will say it again and again. In the very beginning, at Creation, God created us to be in relationship with Him and with each other. And, so, when we are alone, when relationships that we value so much end, the reason it hurts so deeply is because we were made to be together. And even though we were made to be together, there have always been forces at work in our world to pull us apart. I think this is one, if not THE, grand agenda of Satan in our world, to break apart relationships, to convince us that we don’t really need each other, to entice us to try and do life alone, and we have even seen this in the church. I read this paragraph recently in a publication by Lifeway:
We are living in an interesting time in history. For what is likely the first time in the history of the Christian church, generations aren't worshiping together. It now appears normal to see older generations meeting together wearing suits and singing hymns, boomers wearing Hawaiian shirts and singing peppy songs about how Jesus changed their lives, and emerging generations meeting in dark rooms singing in minor keys. But, from a historical perspective, this is not normal. Beyond that, it is ultimately harmful to the church.
Brothers and sisters, this is one of my pet peeves! I am so bothered by this type of individualism and consumerism in the church today! I have heard the arguments:
  • Why can’t we just divide and each person can have his/her way.
  • Let’s follow the path of least resistance.
  • Why cause so much anxiety by trying to get everyone to agree?
Yes, it might be easier, but it wouldn’t be the church. You see, the Body of Christ is called to follow the life of Christ. And Jesus Christ emptied himself and became nothing on behalf of the world. For Jesus, it was not about getting His way, it was about dying to self for the greater good of the world. One of the things we lose when we separate from each other, we miss the wisdom and the giftedness of those who are not exactly like we are. When that happens, wow, the world misses out on so many gifts! Just consider these examples from the Bible:
  • Jethro mentored Moses.
  • Moses mentored Joshua and the elders of Israel, and that chain of mentorship gave Joshua the tools to lead Israel into the Promised Land!
  • Eli mentored Samuel.
  • Samuel mentored Saul and David.
  • Nathan the prophet also mentored David and David became Israel's greatest king. And it didn’t stop there…
  • Then, David mentored his army commanders and government officials to establish the united nation of Israel.
  • David also mentored Solomon.
  • Solomon mentored other world leaders, like the Queen of Sheba. And this chain of mentorship eventually gave Solomon the tools to build God’s Temple.
  • Elijah mentored Elisha. We’ll study more about these two in the coming weeks. And this student ended up performing twice as many miracles in the name of God as his teacher!
  • Mordecai mentored Esther.
  • Esther mentored King Artaxerxes of Persia! And that relationship, that chain of mentorship led to the liberation of God's people from exile.
  • Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos, and this resulted in Apollos becoming one of the formative leaders of the early church.
  • And finally, perhaps the clearest example, Jesus mentored the twelve apostles. 
  • They, in turn, established the Christian church.
  • The apostles mentored hundreds of other leaders, including Paul.
  • Paul mentored Titus, Timothy, and many others.
  • Timothy mentored faithful leaders such as Epaphras.
  • Epaphras and the other faithful church leaders mentored others also, which led to a chain reaction that resulted in dozens of new churches in Asia.
Ultimately, this specific mentoring chain gave life to this church! Mentoring is the chain that connects the church through the centuries! Jesus understood this. There was a moment during His ministry, a moment you know well. He was speaking to a large group of His disciples, teaching them, and he uttered these now very familiar words:
Come to Me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from Me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30 CEB)
In many ways, this familiar passage gets lost in cultural-driven metaphors. We no longer use language like “yoke”. We no longer put harnesses on oxen to plow fields. But they did when Jesus said this. By the time Jesus spoke these words to the crowds, that image made perfect sense. Jesus is speaking to a group of folks who were slaves to the Law. They lived their days worrying they might do the wrong thing on the Sabbath. They lived their lives trying desperately to follow every detail of the Law and never succeeding. They felt like religious failures. So, Jesus asks them to change masters. Don’t wear the yoke of the Law anymore. Take it off! And put on my yoke! But here is the difference: My yoke is easy, my burden is light. In my world, you will find rest for your weary souls. This was a new way of living! They’d never seen religion like this! And that is why Jesus said these very important words:

Put on My yoke, and LEARN FROM ME!

Sometimes we get caught in the trap of believing the only reason Jesus came here to planet Earth was to die. To forgive sins, to defeat death. Folks, Jesus did not come only to die; he also came to live. And the reason he spent 30 years here before His death and resurrection, he wanted to teach us how to live. Jesus came to mentor His family, His disciples, and eventually us. His followers got the message. Over and over again, Paul uses this mentoring language. He tells the Corinthians:
I’m not writing these things to make you ashamed but to warn you, since you are my loved children. You may have ten thousand mentors in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers. I gave birth to you in Christ Jesus through the gospel, so I encourage you to follow my example. (I Corinthians 4:14–16 CEB)
Later, in that same letter, he writes:
Follow my example, just like I follow Christ’s. (I Corinthians 11:1 CEB)
Not only were we made for relationships, we also were made to teach each other in those relationships. We were made to learn from each other in those relationships and when we lack those teaching/learning relationships, we are really missing out one of the great gifts given to us by God. Church, we need to do everything we can to find and protect those types of relationships.

Last week our ladies began signing up again for Seasons of the Heart. This ministry exists for the reasons we’ve been talking about this morning. This ministry is all about putting together different generations of women so they can learn from each other. Each group has a few “heart moms,” women whose children have left home. Also, each group has a few “heart sisters,” single women, women without children, women whose children are still at home, of all ages! These women get together about once a month to share a meal. To deepen their relationships with each other and to learn from each other. Let’s face it: We live in a fast-paced, busy, chaotic world, maybe more than any other time in human history. If we do not create venues for these types of relationships to form and grow, it likely will not happen. Seasons of the Heart is one of my favorite things this church does! And because of that, I’ve been doing some thinking over the past year or so.

Could we develop something like that for men? I knew it would have to be different. When the women get together, they go all out! I mean there are table decorations, there are gifts each month—great stuff! But I knew it would be difficult for men to pull that off! But I believed we really needed some way to help men in this church develop relationships with each other across generations. It appears I was not the only one thinking about this. Independently, I had several other men come and share those same thoughts with me. And we began to meet and discuss how this might work.

This fall, at the same time the women are launching Seasons of the Heart, the men are going to start a new ministry called Band of Brothers. In some ways, this ministry will look a lot like its female counterpart. We will create intergenerational groups of men. These groups will meet once a month, some over lunch, others over breakfast or dinner, we will work around schedules. Some will probably meet in homes, others might meet at a restaurant or an office. Each month, there will be a set topic for discussion: What does it mean to be a Christian father or husband? What does civic leadership look like in the life of a Christian? How should I manage my money as a Christian man? These topics will not be addressed through a lecture. Instead, faithful men will gather to discuss these issues together. They will learn from each other. Older men will share their wisdom and experience, younger men will bring their own, newer perspectives. Real, godly mentoring relationships will grow and flourish!

One of the reasons I was drawn to the clip I showed earlier was I had a similar experience with my own father. I remember it was the weekend of my wedding. Kim and I were getting married and then moving to Atlanta almost immediately. So, I was moving from a dorm room on the campus of LCU to Atlanta. Dad was helping me clean out all of my belongings, which fit in one dorm room. We had finished packing the car. We just had a few things to carry in our arms, one last trip to the room. Then he asked me to sit there with him for a minute. It was our last real, father-son chat before the wedding. That moment was so special to me. We talked about life, about his wedding day, about his relationship with my mom. Boy did that conversation make an impact on me!

We need those conversations with other men. And those of us without fathers, especially, we crave those conversations and relationships with other men. You do not know how much prayer has gone into the development of these two ministries! I believe these two ministries have the potential to change your life, I really do. Let’s pray boldly that God will use these efforts to continue the chain of mentorship that began millennia ago.

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