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The Church Needs Your Weakness

The Church Needs Your Weakness

In the last two sermons at Legacy, we’ve heard a lot about the seemingly backwards culture Jesus brings about. If you want to be “great,” then you must become an unappreciated servant for those the world has forgotten. If you want to be satisfied, then stop thinking about yourself so much. If you want your needs met, then forget them, and seek to meet the needs of another. It’s beautiful, and the bedrock beneath it all is God’s faithful love and provision. He is the one who gives me value. He is the one who gives me all things.

The beauty of weakness has been brewing in my mind over the last couple of months, and I’d like to continue this theme of Jesus’s upside-down kingdom by saying:

It might not actually be your strengths that the church needs most desperately but rather your weaknesses.

In my experience, our weaknesses form who we are far more than our strengths do. We take our strengths for granted. But we have to fight tooth and nail to overcome our weaknesses. Our minds rarely spend time on our strengths, but we’re constantly fretting over our weaknesses. When you run a hilly course, you spend the vast majority of your time going slowly uphill, not downhill. It’s the incline that sticks out most in your mind. It’s the incline that does the actual training.

God Isn’t Intimidated by Weakness

As you trek through the Bible, one of the resounding themes that takes shape is that God does His most profound work right in the middle of our most glaring weaknesses. All it takes is looking at the Jerry Springer show of Jesus’s lineage to figure that out. We have people pawning off their wife to kings, stealing their brother’s entire life through deception, having sex with their own daughters, raping women and killing their husbands, and the list could continue even more graphically. It is through this chaos that God chose to bring Jesus into the world. That was not an accident.

Jesus came from a mess, and He came to rescue us right in the middle of our mess. What this storyline does more than anything is highlight just how great God is by comparison to our glaring weaknesses. Given our eyes need to be on God most of all, this is a good thing. It shows how desperately we need rescue, and it shows how powerful a Rescuer He really is.

God simply isn’t intimidated by your weakness or your mess.

Weakness is a Gift

As we continue to trek through the Bible, though, we find a point sharpening even more in the New Testament. Not only does God do His most profound work through weakness, but your weakness is actually a gift.

The most obvious example of this is when God recognizes some weaknesses in Paul the Apostle, namely pride. God knew Paul intimately just as He knows you and me intimately. In that knowledge, and in His wisdom and love, He sent Paul “a messenger of Satan” to torment Him until the day he died. Lest you take this lightly, Paul says he pleaded over and over and over again for God to “take it away.” I bet you’ve repeated that exact phrase about at least one thing in your life. “God, just take it away!”

It was visible. It was shameful. And it was deep, soul-rescuing grace given out of tender, compassionate love. We find Paul’s opus of sorts regarding weakness right after he talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12, where he says,

But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Your Weakness Determines How You See Jesus

Weakness is the very lens through which you see Jesus. You only came to Him because the Holy Spirit made you keenly aware of how deeply you need Him. It is because of your need that you wanted the gospel to be true in the first place.

And your need is not some generic thing. It is unique. It is individual. It is a vivid painting with bold colors. Those are the very colors the Holy Spirit uses to paint Jesus for you. The weaknesses Jesus came to rescue you from define every aspect that you most treasure about Him.

The church needs the view of Jesus your weaknesses have crafted.

When you struggle daily with unrelenting depression, forced to cope with it through medication, exercise, diet, and meditation solely to be able to function in daily life, you’re are forced to see Jesus as the Manna that never runs out. You aren’t given the choice. You are forced to treasure Him as the fountain that is readily available now, five minutes from now, and five years from now. You are forced to delight in heaven to come when that ailment is no more. He knew you would need that because He knows you intimately. That struggle is a deep grace to you and to those around you.

Together, We See God More Completely

When we’re together, we see God more completely than when we’re apart. You struggle with a gut-wrenching fear that your savings will not be enough. I struggle with believing my work will complete me. Another among us struggles with believing another person will satisfy them. Yet another has nearly constant panic attacks. Yet another has persistent pain that never leaves.

The beauty of this is that our unique and individual weaknesses highlight certain aspects of God uniquely. By ourselves, we have tunnel vision when we approach God because we see Him through our own lenses of weakness. Together, we get a more complete picture of Him, relating to one another the aspects we find uniquely beautiful about Him.

The church needs your weakness. We need your panic attacks. We need your invasive thoughts. We need your depression. We need your disability. We need your mental illness. We need your struggles with lust, emotional dependency, greed, anger, laziness, eating disorders, drug addiction, gender dysphoria, and pride.

Why would I say this? Because your struggles were never meant to be hidden. You have to fight tooth and nail to trust Jesus in the midst of your weakness and difficulty. In some cases, you never actually “overcome” the weakness but rather fight just to cope with it. In that fight, you discover something uniquely beautiful about God that the church around you needs.

Please Don’t Hide Your Weakness

Paul boasted in his weaknesses because he understood what God was doing with them. He was content with difficulty that is frankly unimaginable to the vast majority of Americans.

I know your struggle is shameful. I know you want to hide it. Believe me, I know all too well. But Jesus is calling you to be courageous. The truth is that God’s kingdom is by design the Island of Misfit Toys. He prefers the lowly and shameful. You belong.

Some struggles need to be confined to a trusted circle of friends, and I understand that. But that circle of friends needs to know your weakness so they can grow, not just you. For some of us, it’s appropriate for our weakness to be known more widely. Regardless, we desperately need your weakness. Otherwise, we won’t see Jesus the way we need to.

Posted by Matt Norman with

Love Your Gay Neighbor

Love Your Gay Neighbor

You may have heard by this point that a Knoxville pastor has called for the government to round up and execute LGBT people. I realize this happens seemingly on a regular basis – God’s name being defamed by this kind of hatred, judgment, and superiority. However, this is in our city. And it’s making national headlines. Most concerning is that this pastor claims many Christians agree with him but are simply too afraid to speak up for fear of offending others.

To put it simply, I disagree with him in the strongest terms possible. In this blog post, though, I want to be clear exactly why I disagree.

What Is Legacy’s Response?

We believe the Bible is clear that no two people are all that different, period. We believe Jesus is an equal opportunity rescuer. If anything, His compassion specifically targets the marginalized and disenfranchised. This includes all categories, cultures, and colors.

Likewise, no one’s dreams are safe.

As the Apostle Paul says, knowing Jesus is worth more than anything in this world (Philippians 3:4). As Jesus says, He is worth so much that we should sell everything we treasure to follow Him (Matthew 13:44). Whether I think a large savings account will satisfy me, or a comfortable retirement, or a woman or a man, or success, fame, or power, Jesus calls me to sell all of that and follow Him. This is His call to people of all categories, cultures, and colors.

Most of us don’t need much convincing that this world doesn’t satisfy very well. However incomplete this world’s comforts might be, though, leaving behind something so immediate that we can see and touch for a God we can neither see nor touch is incredibly foreign for all of us. It seems foolish to be frank. It feels offensive to our hearts, which want to be in control and comfortable. But those of us who leave behind the world’s comforts to follow Jesus find deep satisfaction in Him.

What grieves me the most is how easily we all become hypocrites. The fundamental belief of Christianity is that I am so far gone, Jesus Himself, in full innocence, had to be punished in my place. I am so far gone, another Person has to rescue me at an incredible cost to Himself. This leaves no room for pride whatsoever. If anything, I see myself as worse than my neighbor, not better.

But Paul goes even further in the beginning of Romans 2 to say that I’m not even all that different than my neighbor no matter who they are. Why? Because anything they do that I might judge them for, I actually do the exact same things! Ironically, Paul says this immediately after purposefully luring prideful Christians to judge gay people as worse than themselves in Romans 1. Far from judging my neighbor, I have to realize that I’m actually extremely similar to my neighbor. Far from judging you, I can only say that I believe I desperately need Jesus every moment of every day.

Will you join me in forsaking our deepest dreams in this world to trust Jesus as better and more beautiful?

If you have a friend who is LGBT, please give them a hug, apologize for this kind of message coming from the church, and tell them you love them. Share your weaknesses, and give them a place to relate to how the gospel has transformed your heart to love and trust God when you don’t understand Him. Give them the only message that will bring rescue.

So What Does The Bible Actually Say?

The pastor who made the inflammatory remarks was claiming inspiration from the Mosaic law in Leviticus as justification for his statements. I feel it’s irresponsible not to address this head on as to whether it’s biblical to share his desires or not. The problem is that he claims not only that his desires are at the center of God’s heart but that many if not most Christians share them and are simply too afraid to say so. I can say unequivocally that I do not share his beliefs in any way and that I consider them grossly unbiblical and God-defaming.

First, that pastor is quoting Mosaic law as though it were still in effect, even though it was given to ancient Israelites many millennia ago and has been fulfilled by Jesus. Second, this pastor acts as though the Law were God’s preferred interaction with mankind, even though we know that it is not. Third, he seems to take pleasure in condemning others with those Laws with no fear or repentance for how he, himself, also breaks it daily (a direct contradiction of Romans 2).

But this leaves a glaring question: What is the role of the Old Testament law and the Old Testament in general?

What Is the Law’s Role in God’s Plan?

The primary intent of the Old Testament and the Law it contains is to show us just how much we need Jesus. Contrary to what we might think, the law was never the ultimate interaction with mankind God desires. I know this for several reasons. First, if punishment and reward were God’s primary goal, we never would’ve had Eden in the beginning where mankind walked intimately with God. We also never would have a promise or need for Jesus to obey the full intent of the Law on our behalf. We wouldn’t have a heaven defined by unhindered intimacy with Jesus without any need of rules.

We can also figure this out from the structure of the Old Testament, particularly the first few books. God starts off by simply telling mankind to trust Him. Mankind rebels against the only law there is, and we try to become gods ourselves. God immediately deals out punishment, a promise to rescue them, and rules. God’s people are taken captive in Egypt, and they turn aside to worship Egypt’s idols. God rescues them and promises that if they obey, they will become His treasure, a stand-out nation where each and every person is a priest communing with God (Exodus 19:4-6). Mankind distrusts and disobeys, and immediately God hands out punishment, a promise to rescue, and more rules. Instead of a nation of priests, His people become a nation with priests. Rules always coincide with further separation from God. By contrast, in 1 Peter 2, we find God saying instead that because Jesus obeyed, we are now His prized possession and a nation of priests. The law points to Jesus.

Law always comes directly after disobedience. It is a response to sin and a means to show us our need for Jesus. God prefers simple trust to fuel our obedience, and when we proved ourselves incapable of this, He gave future promises that pointed to Jesus … and rules. Law is a means to an end and not an end in itself. But how exactly does the law show us Jesus?

It might surprise you, but one major purpose of the law was to cause us to sin more (Romans 5:20). This is made more clear in Romans 7, where Paul says, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shouldn’t covet’ […] For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” The law is mostly meant to make our sinfulness more obvious, not to be God’s desired interaction with mankind. I cannot know my need for Jesus unless I see how needy I truly am. The law tells me not to do something, my flesh says, “Oooh, I should do that!”, and in the end, I’m left crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). That’s why we have the law – to lead to that exact question. The Law is a giant, desperate question mark. And the answer is Jesus. Only in His rescue can my heart change. Only in His embrace can I come to a place where I simply trust Him. When I trust Him, I have no more need of the law to threaten me or reward me (1 Timothy 1:9; Galatians 3:24-26). A desire to please God is now written directly on my heart, and I obey Him gladly and not under compulsion (Hebrews 10:16; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

If you look at the law, it’s painfully clear that its justice is not meant to be complete. It is quite obviously not the look and feel of a world that expresses God’s nature. We find one place, for instance, where if a man beats his servant nearly to death, but the servant survives, nothing at all is done to the master (Exodus 21). That isn’t full justice, nor is it fully reflecting God’s heart. We know clearly how God feels about people in power mistreating those under Him and the severe judgment that will come because of that (Colossians 4:1; Ephesians 6:9).

The law was serving as a means to catch harsh masters in their sin. How? By highlighting how easily a master will treat his servant harshly in the ways he is “allowed” to. The law says that if a master beats his servant near to death but the servant recovers, there is no punishment. What this does is leads harsh masters to live by the letter of the law in their ugly hearts, thinking they’ve “gotten away” with something. But what they’ve really done is condemn themselves all the more through what they thought was a loop hole.

The law was never intended to be God’s final rule or to provide final justice. God Himself is His rule and His final justice (Deuteronomy 32:25; Romans 12:19), and it is most deeply expressed to us through Jesus and revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Yes, the law is both good and perfect (Romans 7:12), but it is good and perfect for what it was intended to do. It was not intended to save or to change. It is not the end but a means to it. The law was given to provide some general justice for ancient Israelite society (a justice that stood worlds above its adjacent nations at the time by the way). It was also given to make our sinful hearts more obvious, and most of all it was given to lead us to Jesus.

In general, the entire Old Testament is a foreshadowing of Jesus, a giant arrow pointing to Him (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10). Jesus fulfilled the Law in at least three ways. First, He obeyed where we could not and because He exchanged places with us on the cross. He gave us the blessing He alone could earn through His perfect trust, and He took on Himself the curse we earned with our ugly hearts. Second, He became the “substance” the rituals of the Law were pointing to (like sacrifices, atonement, and priesthood). We no longer formally Sabbath because Jesus Himself is our rest. We do not tithe to the letter because Jesus has bought all of us, not just 10%. We no longer sacrifice because Jesus is our final Sacrifice. Third, He fulfilled the intent of the law by changing our hearts’ deepest desires. He transformed us from rebels who hat God’s rule into children who trust Him deeply. With our new hearts we finally want to obey God, and we do not need further threats or promises to make us do it from the outside. We have trust rising up from the inside.

What This Means for This Pastor’s Teachings

God has absolutely no desire whatsoever to threaten LGBT people into obeying under penalty of death in our society. The Old Testament law is not His desired rule over mankind. It existed in its time for its purposes, the main one being to show us our need for Jesus. We know beyond any doubt that God desires to use His good news of Jesus to change our hearts first and foremost from rebellion to trust. Only in our rescued, transformed hearts can we possibly obey. In fact, we are already dead in our sins. Just like Adam, we are dead (separate from God, lost, unable to truly see God) in our sins until Jesus rescues us through His gospel message.

In Summary

In short, our calling is to show off Jesus and to seek people being transformed from the inside out by the gospel. Trying to change people from the outside using punishment and reward is shown to be a failed model of change by the entire Old Testament, whose sole purpose is to lead us to see our desperate need for Jesus. Further, Romans 2:1 is extremely clear that no two humans are all that different. We all do ultimately the same exact things, and we can understand one another deeply. Empathize with your neighbor, whether they are LGBT or otherwise.

Be a friend. Relate to them, and let the gospel be clear through your weaknesses and neediness. It’s your need that highlights God, not your strength or superiority. Yes, they need change, but it’s the exact same change you constantly need even now as well. And you both find that change and satisfaction by staring at Jesus and the incredible person He is.

Posted by Matt Norman with

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