GROWING LIKE JESUS — LEARN TO DISCERN
by Pastor Mike Fortune
February 9, 2008
Growing Christ followers...
- Can choose to be willing to learn to discern
- Filter methods and messages by faith
- Err on the side of mercy
As Pastor Nathan reminded us last time, maturing followers of Jesus tell the story of Jesus. By learning to tell their own. I mean, who can argue with what God has miraculously accomplished in your own life right? But there's more to his story. So maybe if you convince him, he'll be willing to share the rest sometime.
But when I hear miraculous stories like that of what Jesus has done and is doing, both in saving and transforming lives, grace ceases to be merely a term at that point. It becomes tangible. And real. Does it not? How many of you have friends or family members battling addiction of some kind? Aren't you glad the saving and transforming grace of Jesus is available to them as well? So let's keep interceding for them. That’s why I’m inviting anyone who wants to pray in groups of 2 or 3 to stay in the sanctuary after the closing prayer. You can pray where you’re seated or if it’s easier to come to front and spread out in groups up here that would be good too. And if the rest of us here today could take our conversations following the service to the foyer or fellowship hall, I’m sure that would be greatly appreciated by those staying inside to pray after the service. Can we do that? So let’s ask and keep asking God and His amazing grace to transform more lives. I’m glad He is the logos. The Word made flesh. Which is one of the metaphors John uses to describe Jesus in chapter one and chapter six of his Gospel.
But today, as we begin the 7th chapter of John, we learn a couple more. Jesus is not just the Word made flesh. He is not just the Bread of Life. He is also the Water of Life. And the Light of the World. Perhaps you’ve heard these before. But I guarantee you nobody at the Feast of Tabernacles had. At least not yet connected with Jesus! These terms, applied to Jesus, were as startling to them as the Giants beating the Patriots were to us! They were very hard teachings to accept. So they had to learn to discern the truth of what Jesus was revealing. And we do too. Which is what we’re going to be talking about today.
And while some people, like the woman by the well in John 4, would learn to discern the saving and transforming grace of God in their lives, some like Jesus’ own brothers, would not. At least not right away. You guys knew Jesus had brothers right? His was the story. Of a widower named Joseph. Who before Mary had 6 children of his own! How do we know? Because Mark 6:3 says, “3Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?” So Jesus had at least 4 brothers but none of their names were Greg, Peter, or Bobby. And Jesus also had at least 2 sisters because Mark uses the plural form of “sista” in verse 3. But in John 7:5, the ironic thing is it appears that all of them, or at least the brothers, didn’t believe Jesus.
Verses 2-4 describe how they want Jesus to go to Jerusalem to show the world His miracles so more people would believe in Him but they themselves have seen His miracles and don’t believe. Not only that, the multitudes in Galilee have also seen the miracles, but just recently, they’ve deserted Jesus! Talk about a comedy of epic proportions! Why should He go to Jerusalem to show miracles to people who aren’t convinced by miracles? You see what I mean? It makes no sense!
Unless you factor their pride into the equation. Jesus’ brothers and sister probably wanted to believe Him. Still reeling from the embarrassment of Jesus running to the hills to avoid the crowd’s coronation attempt in John 6:15, they figured declaring his candidacy during the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem would more than make up for that poorly run campaign 18 months earlier in the foothills of Galilee. They didn’t want Jesus to drop out of the race like Mitt Romney did. But thank goodness Ron Paul is still hanging in there! So even though his brothers didn’t believe Him, they urged Him to go to Jerusalem. And that’s where our Scripture reading comes in this week. Turn with me in your Bibles to John 7 and follow along with me as we read verses 14-24.
John 7:14‑24 says this: "14Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15The Jews were amazed and asked, 'How did this man get such learning without having studied?' 16Jesus answered, 'My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?' '20You are demon‑possessed,' the crowd answered. 'Who is trying to kill you?' 21Jesus said to them, 'I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.'"
In others words, learn to discern. But how do we do that? I think our passage today tells how to do that. There are three steps and they begin in verse 17 so let’s start there too. Jesus says, “17If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
How do you learn to discern? Step one is being willing to be willing. I know this goes completely counter clockwise. How can you choose to do God’s will in a specific situation if that’s what you’re trying to figure out? Good question right? Jesus’ answer is a curious one. To them and to us. And that is this: Become willing to be willing.
Most people will tell you that you should wait and pray and think and process all the options. Perhaps by listing all the pros and cons. Or by speaking to others who have gone before you. And while there is certainly a place for all that, that place is on your knees. At the beginning of your day. Listening to what your Heavenly Father says back to you through His Word. The Bible.
Yes, there are issues the Bible doesn’t directly address. Like internet pornography. Or the shrinking ozone. Or your next job. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about the impact of those things on your life! AND it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have answers to them either! The book of Judges tells me that God is very concerned when his people “do whatever is right in their own eyes.” The book of Genesis tells me that we as Christians are stewards of this earth and responsible to God not man for taking care of it. The book of Jeremiah reminds me that God has a plan for your life. To provide for your needs. To give you hope. And a future.
But sometimes, we spend more time on the phone with our friends than on our knees with the Lord! Asking for His help. Which must boggle the minds of the angels! If Jesus really is the Alpha and the Omega, is there anything in between that could surprise him? Is there anything He cannot resolve? To think that God through His word doesn’t address every single situation in your life is preposterous! I like that word. Proverbs 3:5-6 says we should, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in ALL your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Could it be that our problem with discerning the specific will of God in our lives is not because He doesn’t have one for us, but because we haven’t acknowledged Him in it?!! So what’s the answer to finding God’s will to something specific? I hear Jesus saying the first step is to become willing to be willing! Because as backwards as it sounds, Jesus says in verse 17 that we can choose to do so! Whatever the question. What the issue. Whatever the dilemma. Besides, whatever confusion you’re experiencing or unanswered difficulty you’re going through right now could be God’s way of bringing you to your knees anyway! So the quicker you get there and stay there the better.
So that’s the first step in learning to discern. Being willing to be willing. Choosing to be okay with whatever He decides. But the second step in learning to discern is found in verse 18 so let’s look at that. “18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”
If you’re learning to discern God’s will for a situation in your life and you’re following step one in your life, spending time with your Heavenly Father, listening to His word, acknowledging Him and asking Him to make your paths straight, choosing to be willing whatever He decides, the second step Scripture reveals to us today is that we can learn to filter by faith the decision that needs to be made. How? By evaluating methods and the message.
If the methods or the message is full of pride and arrogance or if the message comes from a self righteous glory monger, you better think twice about following his lead! Because true doctrine and teaching and leading that comes from our Heavenly Father isn’t like that. We know this is true because the Bible clearly says in Galations 5:22 that the fruits you’re looking for are these: “22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self‑control.” This is what 1 Corinthians 2:14 means when it says spiritual things are spiritually discerned. It’s not rocket science. It’s using what the Father has revealed through His Word to help we evaluate what else God may be revealing about every and any situation. True teachings and job offers and messages and decisions needing to be made from heaven come clothed in simplicity and humility. And growing followers of Jesus remember that.
Here now, to help you remember how to filter methods and messages by faith, is a funny snapshot of the rapper known as Method Man. I don’t believe that’s on his birth certificate, but that’s what he goes by. Next to him, is the real Method Man. Jesus Christ. Maturing followers of Jesus can learn to discern the Father’s will the same way Jesus did—by choosing to evaluate the method and the message. How do we know? Because Jesus’ method was His message! Were you aware that Jesus spent twice as much time healing on the Sabbath as preaching on it? If you don’t believe me, contact Dr. Bacchiocchi and ask him about that.
Remember: learning to discern can be done! Don’t be discouraged! If you can fall out of bed, you can choose to be willing. Point number one. Verse 17. If we’re still not sure if something is from God or man, we can learn to filter methods and messages by faith. Which is point number two. Verse 18. So next time ask yourself: Does this decision or job offer or proposal glorify God or man? Is it wrapped in humility or pride? Have I acknowledged it before my Heavenly Father either way?
We must learn to filter everything through Ephesians 4 which is all about truth. We must learn to filter everything through Corinthians 13 which is all about love. And we must learn to filter everything through Galations 5. Which is all about fruit. Because stuff coming from God is true and loving. It usually looks and feels joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good. If the decision you need to make comes from honest faithful people that are gentle and in control it is probably from God! If you filter the methods and message by faith and it’s none of those things, it’s probably not from God. Does that make sense? Yes or no?
So if your message comes from a gentle homeless man. Should you listen to him? I would! But if your message comes from an arrogant last word freak? I wouldn’t.
That is an example of filtering the message. Now let me give you an example of filtering the method by making one blunt statement: Maturing followers of Jesus don’t need bullhorns. Have you seen those gloom and doom guys on the street corners yelling at all the people? Telling them to turn or burn? And just in case you think we don’t do that in our church, check the billboards when the Pope comes to town! We use bullhorns all the time! But bullhorns are inconsistent with how Jesus lived His life. They do not convict anybody. They just make people mad. I believe maturing followers of Jesus ban the bullhorn. Because they learn to filter their methods and their message by faith. They gently lead people to the foot of the cross. Shouting the Gospel with their lives. Does everybody clearly see point number two? Will that crazy picture of Method Man help you remember it?
Let’s wrap up. Verse 20. “You are demon possessed.” I’ve heard of people who say things like this to pastors. Especially after they get through telling people that God’s grace not only saves them, it sanctifies them. That it literally breaks their addictions and transforms their lives. Like the Protestant Reformers, who were burned at the stake, I tell people over and over that we’re they’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. AND that we’re sanctified the same way. But for some reason, that really bothers people. “You’re demon possessed!” they shout. Or email. When they’re too cowardly to say it to your face. But which when my Galations 5 filter is working correctly, that doesn’t bother me too much. But their response is curious nonetheless. Especially since Jesus Himself said nobody back then was perfectly keeping the Sabbath or the law. Back up one verse. Isn’t that what verse 19 says?
“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law.” So if nobody was keeping it, why were they in a rush to defend it? Even to the point of death? Alluding to healing the paralytic by the pool of Bethsaida in chapter 5, Jesus says to the crowd in verse 21, “21I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.’”
John 5:18 says it was after Jesus went out of his way to make the Sabbath day miraculous for that paralytic far from God and rejected by the church that the church that the church tried all the harder to kill Him. That’s what Jesus is referring to in verse 19 when he asks: “Why are you trying to kill me?”
Which leads us to the last step in learning to discern the will of God. Err on the side of mercy. If you’re learning to discern God’s will for a situation in your life and you’re following step one in your life, acknowledging Him and asking Him to make your paths straight, choosing to be willing whatever He decides, AND if you’re following step two Scripture reveals to us today and you’re filtering the methods and the messages by faith and you STILL don’t know what to do, here’s Jesus’ last recommendation: Err on the side of mercy.
Go out of your way to extend grace. Stop judging by mere appearances. If it comes down to the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, go with the spirit of the law. Making a right judgement means erring on the side of mercy. That’s how Jesus lived his life. And it made people really mad. Mad enough to falsely accuse Him. And to eventually crucify him. But He erred on the side of mercy anyway. And I believe we should too.
Much has been written on how to discern God’s will for your life. There are literally shelves and shelves of books about it at the Christian bookstore. But I really think it has to be a whole lot simpler than all that. Or a little child would never be able to understand. I don’t think learning to discern God’s will has to be complicated. If you can fall out of bed, you’re qualified. It can be done!
So this week, let’s choose again to be willing. Let’s try to filter all the decisions we make through Ephesians 4 and Corinthians 13 and Galations 5. And if after we’ve spent time with our Heavenly Father, acknowledging Him in all things AND we’ve filtered the methods and the message by faith, and we still don’t know what to do, let’s err on the side of mercy. Let’s ask Jesus to show us how to extend grace in every decision that needs to be made. Even if it’s really difficult. Even if it involves people who are falsely accusing us. Even if it involves people that want to harm us. Because THAT’s what growing Christ followers do.