Steppin’ Stone

Stepping stones

Escaping

Is anyone here that also has felt that a perfect life would be a log cabin in the middle of nowhere—a million miles away from the hustle-and-bustle of modern times?

Totally unplugged and just communing with nature and God?

Go ahead and throw in space in your cabin for your loved ones…that is, if you want to. 🙂

Especially when it comes to spiritual growth, doesn’t it just seem that it would be so much easier if you didn’t have the stressors around you? No annoying neighbors? No bills arriving faster than income? No impossible deadlines at work? Nobody treating your Christianity as a disease on society?

Just you, your Bible, and God?

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted (although read from the New International Version most of the time during the actual audio since Alan didn't have his ESV Bible with him). ]

Desert Monks

We aren’t the first to think of that. For instance, have you ever heard of Saint Anthony? Quoting from Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary:

Anthony, St. (c. 251—356) Also, Anthony the Great; Antony. Egyptian hermit and father of monasticism. At the age of 17 Anthony gave up all his possessions and became a hermit, retiring at the age of 34 to the Outer Mountain at Pispir, a desolate desert, where he is reputed to have fought with demons who appeared in the guise of wild beasts. His holiness attracted a number of disciples, and he came out of his retirement for a few years to organize them into a community of hermits. In 310 he retired again to the Inner Mountain, now called Der Mar Antonios, near the Red Sea. … His life was that of the ideal anchorite, one of severe—almost superhuman—austerity, incessant prayer, supernatural healings, and perpetual warfare with demons. Feast day: January 17.1

In his book, Life of Anthony, Athanasius notes just how much Antony avoided others:

And so for nearly twenty years he continued training himself in solitude, never going forth, and but seldom seen by any. After this, when many were eager and wishful to imitate his discipline, and his acquaintances came and began to cast down and wrench off the door by force…2

Minus the “perpetual warfare with demons”…isn’t there something appealing about what Antony did? To be a religious hermit…an anchorite…a “desert monk”? Decades with only God on your mind?

Does it Please God?

The question, of course, is whether that kind of life pleases God. Whether that is what God calls Christians in general, or specific Christians, to…

And where do we look for answers to those kinds of questions?

That’s right, the Bible! 🙂

Let’s first turn to a Scripture that some of you may know by heart, Matthew 28:19-20:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Hmmm…doesn’t sound terribly hermit-ish, does it? Antony did appear to (almost unintentionally) make disciples and taught his followers, but Jesus’ very last words in the Book of Matthew don’t indicate a passive “come to me” approach to ministry, especially when combined with these works near the end of the Book of Luke:

and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).

Or, for that matter, Jesus’ last recorded words in Acts 1:8 before He ascended to heaven:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth

“But,” you could contend, “Jesus was talking to His disciples. That doesn’t necessarily apply to me.”

Three responses to your argumentative statement 🙂

First, don’t stop with verse 8 in Acts…read on through the end of the book and tell me whether the early church acted in a way that correlated with with what I’ve quoted from Matthew, Luke, and Acts…or that correlated with Antony’s behavior. For that matter, please read the whole New Testament and give me a single case where there is a command or a holy example of becoming an anchorite. (Well, outside of being forced into exile like John was in Patmos…and no, if you think about it, John the Baptist doesn’t fit the bill either.)

Second, let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 5:9-10:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

Paul doesn’t tell you to avoid “the sexually immoral of this world” because “you would need to go out of the world.” Thus, Paul is expecting the Corinthians…and us…to stay in this world.

Did Antony stay in this world?

Third, when writing to another church in Rome, Paul said:

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:13-17).

Was Paul just talking to Jesus’ disciples? Of course not?

“And how are they to preach unless they are sent.”

Did Antony act like someone “sent”?

Fourth, who most do we want to be like? Antony?

No, Jesus of course! We would love to be spoken of as He was spoken of, correct? And how did they speak of Jesus?

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:33-35).

Although He did go off alone to pray, Jesus never avoided the rabble. He got “dirty.”

He spent time with them. He ate with them. He touched them. He cried with them. He called them to repentance.

That is, He spent time with to repentance.

Unlike the Pharisees…unlike Antony…Jesus knew…

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32, in part).

No…it’s clear that Jesus’ call to go out and make disciples was for more than His 12 Apostles…it was for you and me too. And combined with what Paul wrote, we can remember 5 commands or principles:

  1. Get out there and tell people about Jesus!
  2. Do not avoid the world.
  3. Act like someone who is sent.
  4. Act like Jesus. Get “dirty.”
  5. Call sinners to repentance.

Once again

  1. Get out there and tell people about Jesus!
  2. Do not avoid the world.
  3. Act like someone who is sent.
  4. Act like Jesus. Get “dirty.”
  5. Call sinners to repentance.

The Huguenins

Earlier I gave you an example of a Christian from over 1,500 year ago I would not emulate. Now I am going to share the story of a Christian from today…right here in America…I would emulate.

In a closely watched case on gay rights, religious freedom, artistic freedom, the speech rights of businesses, and a host of other legal hot button issues, the New Mexico Supreme Court today ruled that wedding photographers could not refuse to shoot gay ceremonies.

“When Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the [New Mexico Human Rights Act, or NMHRA] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races,” the court said in a unanimous verdict.

The court rejected each of photographer’s Elaine Huguenin’s arguments, particularly one in which Huguenin had argued that her refusal did not discriminate against same-sex customers. Huguenin had argued that she would happily photograph gay customers, but not in a context that seemed to endorse same-sex marriage. Likewise, she said, she wouldn’t shoot heterosexuals in a context that endorsed same-sex marriage.

The court rejected any legal differentiation between homosexuality and homosexual conduct.3

Now, that itself should be pretty scary to any traditional Christian, but it gets worse. Although it wasn’t in the majority opinion, listen to these ominous words in a concurring opinion from Justice Richard Bosson:

The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.4

Short version? If you want to have business in New Mexico, you have to sacrifice your faith to the gods of societal opinion. Now, I am not claiming this is fulfilling Revelation 13:16-18…but it does come to mind:

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

At least in New Mexico, no one can buy or sell unless you agree with the “evolving” moral edicts of society.

You’ll get your chance…

Elaine Huguenin didn’t try to leave the world. Instead, with her husband Jonathan, she opened a business that, I assume, allowed her to earn money doing something she really enjoys. And when Vanessa Willock asked them to photograph her commitment ceremony, they acted like Jesus and implicitly called Vanessa Willock to repentance by declining to do so.

And, I suspect, in a very Christlike way.

Little did they know that seven years later the Supreme Court of New Mexico would tell them to keep that their strongly held religious beliefs cannot inform their actions…at least when their religious beliefs have to do with sexual behavior.

Can religious belief be separated from religious conduct?

Which, as I wrote this part of my sermon, came off as ironic given that “the court rejected any legal differentiation between homosexuality and homosexual conduct.”5

But religious belief can be separated from religious conduct?

Of course not!

And don’t forget you are a Christian 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so all your conduct is “religious conduct.” Our Christianity is not a costume or an act, it is a calling and an adoption.

Religious belief cannot be separated from religious conduct!

Don’t James’ words in James 2:18-20 ring in your ears?

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Or, as James said in the previous verse:

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).

Now, I’m not saying that a Christian who would photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is definitely sinning. I work for a company that is “all in” when it comes to LGBT rights. Should I quit? The post office is willing to ship all kinds of sinful material. Should Peter, our Antrim Postmaster, resign?

Somehow I think Paul would respond something like “No, since then you would need to go out of the world.”

But, there is a line…

But, obviously, there is a line. In some cases is it clear:

  • No, you should not be an accountant for the mob.
  • No, you should not be a copy editor for Hustler magazine.
  • No, you shouldn’t be the secretary for the Church of Satan.
  • And so on.

Should you accept a contract to take pictures of a commitment ceremony, or here in New Hampshire, an actual same-sex marriage? Or, bringing it closer to home, should Joyce and Scott Roth provide DJ (or karaoke) services for one?

Or…even closer to home…should you attend one if invited by a family member, friend, or coworker?

My gut feeling…well “very strong gut feeling”…is that the answer is no…

But I would say if you did you must, in a Christlike way, let them know that your photographing, your DJing, or your attendance is not endorsing the ceremony or their sinful behavior. And yes, it should be clear from whatever you say that their behavior is sinful…and not because you “believe” it is, because God says it is.

I’m not saying to hit ’em ‘side the head with the Bible open to Leviticus 18:22…but you also mustn’t have it seem like you are doing a wink-wink nudge-nudge that it’s wrong, but you don’t think it is really wrong.

And as you decide, keep these three verses in mind:

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).

21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble (Romans 14:21)

23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

  • You must be convinced in your own mind.
  • Don’t just think about how it’ll affect you, think about how it’ll affect your brothers and sisters in Christ. Could it cause them to stumble?
  • If you think it is or might be wrong, it is sin for you.

Again…

  • You must be convinced in your own mind.
  • Don’t just think about how it’ll affect you, think about how it’ll affect your brothers and sisters in Christ. Could it cause them to stumble?
  • If you think it is or might be wrong, it is sin for you.

Listen to Abe

As I was trying to think of the best words to describe what Elaine and Jonathan did…integrity seemed to fit.

They were convinced that fulfilling Willock’s request would equate to them endorsing her sin…and…with great integrity…they refused.

And as I looked for quotes about integrity, I ran into this great story about Abraham Lincoln:

He took a lady to the Soldiers’ Home in his carriage one morning, with Mrs. Pomeroy, and the horse became well-nigh unmanageable just where the sever shower of the previous night had flooded the road. The ladies were very much frightened, and Mr. Lincoln directed the driver to hold one of the horses and the footman the other, while he opened the door and jumped out. Stripping up his pants to his knees, he hastily brought three stones large enough to stand upon, and placing them so the ladies could step upon them, from one to the other, he speedily helped them to the side-walk, remarking in a vein of humor, “All through life be sure you put your feet in the right place, and then stand firm.”6

If you search the web for that last line you’ll see it used quite often. Not only is Lincoln’s statement during his chivalric act good advice for getting over a flooded street without swimming it—it’s what Jesus taught in a very famous parable:

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:46-49).

I was originally going to title this sermon “You’ll Get Your Chance”—a title I used for a bulletin article I wrote in January of this year when Pastor Louie Giglio had to withdraw his acceptance of an invitation to present the benediction for this year’s presidential inauguration.

Why did he have to withdraw it? Because someone dug up a sermon from long ago where, of all things, he agreed with God and said practicing homosexuality is a sin.

I am convinced that if you remain true to your faith…if your religious belief informs your religious behavior (which, as mentioned, is all your behavior)…you’ll get your chance to stand up for Jesus…and to suffer for him.

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20, in part).

Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin have learned the truth of those words, and have stood firm on their Rock.

I didn’t call this sermon “You’ll Get Your Chance” because after reading about Abraham Lincoln, a song first done by Paul Revere and the Raiders, but made especially famous by the Monkees, came to mind. Anyone figured out what it is? It starts off with:

I, I, I, I, I’m not your steppin’ stone.

That’s right “(I’m not your) Steppin’ Stone.” 🙂

Now, there is probably not much else I’d like you take from that song (other than avoiding shallow people looking for popularity)…but part of the good news is that Jesus wants you to be your stepping stone.

No…He does not want you to walk all over Him (quite the contrary)…He wants you…and me…to follow President Lincoln’s advice…put our feet in the right place…and…

Stand firm.

Or, as the chorus from the song we are about to sing says:

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.7

  • Get out there and tell people about Jesus!
  • Do not avoid the world.
  • Act like someone who is sent.
  • Act like Jesus. Get “dirty.”
  • Call sinners to repentance.
  • “All through life be sure you put your feet in the right place, and then stand firm.”

‘Cause “all other ground is sinking sand.”

Footnotes

1Kurian, G. T. (2001). In Nelson’s new Christian dictionary: the authoritative resource on the Christian world. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

2Athanasius of Alexandria. (1892). Life of Antony. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), H. Ellershaw Jr. (Trans.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series: St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Vol. 4, p. 200). New York: Christian Literature Company.

3Olsen, T. (2013, August 22). N.M. Supreme Court: Photographers Can’t Refuse Gay Weddings. Christianity Today. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/august/nm-supreme-court-photographers-cant-refuse-gay-weddings.html

4Ibid.

5Ibid.

8Thayer, W. (1885). From Pioneer Home to the White House (353-354). New York: John B. Alden.

7Eckert, P. (1998). Steve Green’s MIDI hymnal: A complete toolkit for personal devotions and corporate worship. (Electronic ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.


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