Over the last couple of years, I’ve changed my approach designing sermons about group life from “ought to”
to “have to.”
When connecting with a small group or Christian community is an “ought to,” the sermon focuses (ineffectively, for the most part) on your generic need to “grow” and “mature” in your faith and how groups help you to do just that. Yawn.
However, a “have to” approach to preaching for LifeGroup involvement suggests that there is a dilemma in life for which Christian community is an essential part of the solution. My goal in that case is to help people feel such an urgency about the dilemma/issue/dysfunction they face in life that they have to take the next step toward group life.
So that was my strategy in yesterday’s message in the #Trending series. The dilemma: our uncanny ability to deceive ourselves. Our infinite capacity for self-justification. The little voice within who encourages us to make decisions that ultimately turn out disastrous. The solution? Check it out and don’t miss the concluding video:
You know what a Yes Man is, right? The underling – whether to a CEO in a company or to the President in a govt or to a General in an Army or to a Senior Pastor! in a church – who trails around the leader “yes-sing” everything he says. I tell you, it can be very tempting as a leader to surround yourself with yes men and yes women because your intelligence never gets questioned and your self-esteem never takes a hit. President Richard Nixon (AV) was notorious for surrounding himself with these kind of lackeys and they, of course, kept telling him that he was not a crook when everyone else in the USA had changed their minds on that one a long time ago.
But the most interesting thing to me about Yes Men is that we really don’t have to go to the trouble of surrounding ourselves with them. We’ve already got the most persistent, the most reliable Yes Man we could have . . . and he dwells right inside us. The most loyal Yes Man or Yes Woman that any of us will ever have is the one we were born with. The kind of guy who, when you are talking to yourself, says “Yes!” to the most hair brained of ideas, says “go for it!” to the most God-awful of suggestions. Because I want to suggest to you that we – all of you and all of me – have an almost infinite capacity for self-deception. For self-justification. In our own self-talk, we can rationalize away, justify away, virtually any crazy thing we want to do or any ludicrous decision we are fixing to make. We have that rare, unquestioned ability to say yes to what will harm us, weaken us, kill us.
Makes me think of the woman who approached the BBB after getting swindled out of thousands of dollars. She wanted to report the swindler. They asked her: why didn’t you come to us first? That’s what the BBB is for!” Answer: “Oh yes, I’ve always known about the BBB. But I didn’t want to come to you for advice first because I was afraid you’d tell me not to do it.” Gulp. She had her Yes Woman living deep inside and wanted no interference from beyond. You know what that’s like.
Because I sure do. That’s why years ago, in Monroe, despite advice to the contrary, I forged ahead on an appointment, barged in, spoke my mind, cleared the air . . . and paid the price. My inner Yes Man was the whole time saying “Go for it, Talbot! You know best!” Well, not really. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The Yes Man living deep inside you has already gotten you in trouble more times than you can count; in fact, he is the driver behind your seasons of greatest regret. After all, it was the Yes Man who agreed with your assessment about that cocaine that time: “It won’t hurt just this once.” It was the Yes Man deep inside you who rationalized as you moved in with that guy – the same won who after he took your purity then took your safety – “God understands, You’re in love.” It was the Yes Man deep inside you who encouraged you “Yeah, that investment sounds GREAT! Double your money quick!” or even “Interest only payments?! Genius!”
Or the one that is for sure my favorite. It was your inner Yes Man who said, “You deserve a Soul Mate!” And you tried to answer, “What about my wife?” And the YM said, “Oh, but that gal you just met . . . Soul Mate. Wife? Burden. And doesn’t God really want you to be happy?” Now, seven years later, the wife’s gone, the kids are gone, the soul mate was a mirage. Yep, you know your inner yes man, you have heard his voice, it has told you exactly what you wanted to hear and a lot of you would give anything to have that season and that conversation. To have a do over. To have a different voice to follow than the Yes Man following you.
Which is why I want to re-trend your life. Which is why I want to tap in to the brain of one of the wisest men ever, King Sol. Take a look at Proverbs 15:31-32, and as I often ask you to do, think about what it doesn’t say:
31 Whoever heeds life-giving correction
will be at home among the wise.
32 Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.
Heeds correction. Which means it doesn’t say resents correction, it doesn’t say who are you to correct me? it doesn’t say ignores correction. It DOES say heeds. Listens to, treasures, recognizes the value of. And what kind of correction? Life-giving. Again, what is it NOT saying by what it is? Restrictive correction? Nope. Blood sucking correction? Nope. Time Wasting correction? Nope. Life Giving! Freeing. Abundant. Good for you. When hearing what you don’t want to hear ends up being the best thing you ever heard.
And lastly, from where does all this life-giving correction. NOT FROM THE LITTLE VOICE INSIDE YOU! But from the steady voice beyond you. Other people! The Yes Man within means you need wisdom from beyond. Because we have an infinite capacity for self-deception and self-justification, that requires an effective, on-going plan for self-correction. You talk to you more than anyone else does. And your voice is so unreliable when you talk to you! That’s why additional voices – measured, unselfish, free of hormones – are essential for your health. When you are the main voice you hear, yours is the life you’ll ruin. We are masters at persuading ourselves that bad is good, forbidden is delicious, and temporary is forever. It’s why we need more. The Yes Man within means you need wisdom from beyond.
So I’ve got to ask you: who is your life-giving corrector? Do you have one? Is there a therapist? A pastor? A sponsor in recovery? A group of friends? A sibling? Get this: if your group of friends simply echo the Yes Man you already got inside, it’s time for some new friends. Friends who serve as a counter balance, that collective second voice in your life, ready to answer the master self-manipulator that is you.
The great thing about Proverbs 15:31-32 is that you don’t have to believe a thing I believe about Jesus . . . . and this will still be true. This isn’t so much a decision you make as a reality you live into. And I want people here to dial into that reality, to see how they have deceived and misdirected themselves in the past, and then connect with a person or with people who speak truth into lies and wisdom into foolishness. I want this to protect you from seasons of regret, from the dreaded COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA.
That person or those people in your life who personify the wisdom from beyond, know that all of life is connected. Yesterday impacts tomorrow. That conversation last year applies to this decision today. That sexual encounter 10 years influences this marriage today. Everything is related; there really is a butterfly effect in the apparently small decisions you make. Relational difficulties you have today come from relational trauma you had “yesterday.” The difficulty you have with impulse control now started when you never learned as a child that No really is a complete sentence. Wise people, voices of wisdom from beyond know that. Your Yes Man within doesn’t. He sees a life that is disconnected, a life in which actions don’t really have consequences. So again: who do you have in your life who, before the decision gets made, can snap you into focus and provide the kind of correction that doesn’t rob life, it gives it. The Yes Man within means you need wisdom from beyond.
And all that is a major reason why at Good Shepherd we have designed a process for you to progress in your living relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s called LifeGroups and it’s at the center of everything we do here. We want to place as many of you as possible into intentional groups of people – 8-12, in a home usually – who gather together on purpose and for a purpose. To study Scripture. To talk. To pray. To serve. To eat. To live. And yes, on occasion to hem one another in. To serve one another as the wisdom from beyond smacking sense into the Yes Man within.
Like I vividly remember the time in a group like this when I had an especially bad idea. Now: I can have lots of bad ideas, but this was the worstest. And a friend in the group looked at me, without an ounce of humor or irony or anything and said simply: “you don’t want to do that.” He was right. My Yes Man within was like “Yeah I do!” His wisdom from beyond, his life-giving correction was like “Ah . . . no.” He was my life-giving correction. Now: that’s not all LifeGroups do – they learn the bible, they laugh, they pray, they serve – but when they get it RIGHT, that is part of what they do. And it gets me excited about this church not just today but ten years from now. Because so many fewer of you will look back on this time of your life with regret! So many fewer coulda woulda shouldas! This isn’t to give us a strong “LifeGroup Program!” That’s pointless. It’s a process for you to progress in your living relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a way where you can balance out the Yes Man living deep within with that Divine Wisdom from beyond.
Think about it, some of you: a group of friends whom you WON’T remember for those old reasons – Oh, got drunk with them; smoked my first cig with her; went to an X-rated theater with those guys. But instead: learned John with them. Heard a hard truth spoken in a soft way from her. Realized I have the spiritual gift of encouragement & leading in that group. Now that is the raw material of a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
And I know what some of you are thinking as I talk about LifeGroups. #1 I don’t have time. I gotta drive her to soccer and him to baseball and work and FB and stuff. You’re right. You don’t have time. I don’t have time. But you know what? I bet that if you took your kids to fewer activities and the trade-off was your spiritual growth that resulted in a healthier marriage and stronger home . . . your kids would be just fine with that. Because they are the collateral damage from your immaturity are they not? Slow them down, slow YOU down, so you might relocate and reinvest your life into what’s truly important. #2 I tried one once and didn’t like it. So I’m not interested. Have you ever gotten a bad meal at a restaurant? So what’d you do? Vow never to eat again? No! You tried a different one! Same with LifeGroups! Yes! SOME DON’T WORK AND SOME DON’T WORK FOR YOU. . . AND SOME DON’T WORK BECAUSE OF YOU. Welcome to life. You try another one. Because the principle doesn’t change. These sort of structured relationships are how God relocates us to where we belong in the body . . . and that’s the only way we grow.
You know what all this means for me? (I love this!) Your main connection to this church ceases to be through worship, through music, through me . . . and becomes through your LifeGroup. As your pastor, that’s terrifying . . . and liberating! You won’t all know me . . . but you will all know Jesus and a small connection of Life Giving Correctors. REFRAIN
Kind of like my friends John and Teleeza. Check it out:
And we concluded with a LifeGroup Launch Event sign up in the lobby, complete with red-clad LifeGroup connectors with iPads.