The Story of My Favorite Son

Several years ago, immediately after a church service, I had several guys standing around me, each wanting to schedule an individual meeting with me that week. As I had my smart phone calendar app open, a lady walked by and said, “There’s Bruce with his army of sons!”

I was already known for calling guys that I was discipling “son.” It’s a bit of a Texas thing. I’ve even called men close to me in age, “son.” One fellow reminded me that I was his spiritual father even though there was only 8 years between us. And at times, some of those sons have responded by calling me, “Dad,” “Pops,” “Papa,” and even “Father.” This group of mostly younger men was fast becoming known as my “army.” I do also call my natural child “son,” along with my two sons-in-law.

This isn’t a relationship that I take lightly. There are a number of men who have poor relationships with their fathers. There are some who have already lost their fathers. And some have never known their fathers. One of the fellows pictured above literally was doing CPR on his own father recently. He began to call me regularly for advice after his father’s death, and I am cautiously stepping into that role. Each one of these men is different from the others, and I actually take notes to remember details about each man’s family relationships.

At some point in the last couple of years, when I called someone “son” they would laugh and remind me that I say that to a lot of men. Then one day, someone interjected that he was my favorite son. And then, one by one, they all began to know that whenever they were with me, they were my favorite.

So, this year, I decided to do a little something to solidify each of those relationships. I had 25 t-shirts custom printed that read, “I’m the Favorite Son.” And I had two made for me that read, “He’s my favorite son. Of course, these are all red (my favorite color)!

In the picture collage above, you’ll see guys who live in Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington proudly wearing their Favorite Son shirts. There are five more here in San Antonio, along with Colorado, Dallas-Fort Worth, England, Germany, Missouri, Virginia. Others will be arriving soon in Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Utah and more cities in Texas.

My Favorite Son in Germany, who was twice stationed here in San Antonio, questioned whether him wearing that shirt might start a conflict similar to Joseph, with his multi-colored coat, and his brothers. (His name, by the way, is Joseph!)

An older man once asked me, “Where do you get off calling someone ‘son’?” I quickly told him that I was just mimicking Jesus. In Matthew 9, people brought a paralytic to Jesus. “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matt 9:2) There are several other instances when Jesus called someone “son,” along with the Apostles Peter (John Mark) and Paul (Timothy and Titus).

What these shirts do more than anything is remind me of my spiritual legacy. There are men living across the United States and in Europe who have sat with me at Starbucks, Panera Bread, Whataburger, and so many other restaurants who are now investing in the lives of others who I may never meet (until heaven).

While I appreciate the many financial supporters to my ministry that have resulted in this Army of Sons, I long that every Christian man I know would also develop at least a squad of sons.

This seems to be a good time to mention my life purpose statement: “To be a better man, who helps other men become better, for a better world.” (Reference Hebrews 6:9)

Thoughts on Sharing the Gospel

In church this morning, the new pastor (a former missionary) gave a sermon about evangelism using the entire chapter of Acts 10 as his reference. It was a typical sermon that was highly encouraging every believer to evangelize everyone every time. He emphasized that we never know what God is doing in the life or another person – the checkout worker at the grocery, the barista at the coffee shop, a coworker on the job, or even someone who lives down the street from us. His encouragement was to always be “preaching the gospel” (his words) wherever we are.

What was interesting was that I recently a conversation with a young disciple-maker (I’ll call him Miguel) who was trying to figure out how to “earn a conversation” (his words) with his co-workers. I think that if the pastor had been part of that conversation, Miguel would have been convinced to share the gospel with everyone that he works with because we don’t know what God is doing inside their heart.

That statement about not knowing what God is doing is basically true, especially if we don’t bother to ask someone what’s going on in their heart (not a common conversation in the workplace). However, does Acts chapter 10 support the idea of not only being ready to share, but to initiate (manipulate) the conversation toward the gospel?

Here are some of my thoughts. Acts 10 is the story of a god-fearing, “devout” Gentile soldier living in Caesarea. He is active in his prayer life and support the local Jewish community with alms (better understood as “acts of charity”). One day during his prayer time, an angel appears to let Cornelius know that God has heard his prayers and gave him a task of getting hold of the Apostle Peter.

At this point of the story, we should look at what the angel told Cornelius to do. “Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Peter…” Cornelius handpicked two of his servants, along with a “devout” soldier, to go find Peter who was staying at the home of Simon the tanner.

Here’s my first point. This passage was used to instruct Christians to go and look for a non-Christian that they can share the gospel with. But in the passage, the non-Christian is told to go find Peter, and Luke (the write of Acts) doesn’t include why Cornelius should send for Peter or what to expect. Sure, those instructions might have been included, but we just don’t know.

The point is this passage is about a non-Christian being told to go find a follower of Jesus, not for the follower of Jesus to go find Cornelius. And not for Peter to talk to every person he encounters along the way. I’m not saying that we “can’t” preach the gospel along the way; I’m saying this passage doesn’t support the idea. Instead, this passage supports someone looking to us as believers for information – they may not even know that they’re going to hear the gospel. Cornelius just knows that God has heard his prayers.

The story continues, after the interlude of Peter seeing a sheet of unclean animals and being told to eat of them, with the delegation from Cornelius knocking at Simon the tanner’s door. They tell Peter that Cornelius has been told to send for Peter to hear a message. There’s no indication that these three men even knew what the message would be (although they did apparently know about the angel visit – see verse 8). They’re just relaying the message from Cornelius to Peter.

After spending the night (since they had already traveled 39 miles from Caesarea to Joppa), Peter set out with them for Caesarea. It seems that this journey took two days one-way, since Cornelius will tell Peter that four days had passed from seeing the angel to meeting Peter. The important thing is this: When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, Peter asked, “So I ask for what reason you have sent for me?” (verse 29).

Peter just traveled 39 miles with three strangers (probably not so much strangers after their 2-day “road trip”) and some friends from Joppa without knowing what specific message he was to give to Cornelius.

Here’s my second point. Peter did not take a 2-day trip to share the gospel. Instead, he asked what Cornelius wanted, even though Cornelius was just following the instructions of the angel. We can’t make an assumption that Peter intended to share the gospel without the permission of the hearer (especially to a group of Gentiles). This point is in conflict with what the pastor said this morning, encouraging us to “weave the gospel” into a work conversation.

It’s not that Peter didn’t share the gospel; it’s that he honored the centurion’s purpose rather than forcing his own purpose. Peter could confidently walk into an unknown situation because the Spirit told him to go “without misgivings.” I could perhaps insert point 2.1 with a comment that there’s a mighty big difference between the Spirit telling us to go versus a well-meaning pastor.

The story continues that Cornelius gathered his relatives and close friends (verse 24). We know from verse 2 that not only was Cornelius devout and feared God, but so did his household. This really is a “prepared” audience for Peter – an entire family that was “well-spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews (verse 22).

My third point comes here with the conversion of Cornelius, his family, and friends. While Peter was still speaking about believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (verse 43), the Spirit fell on these Gentiles (verse 44). The Jews who had come with Peter from Joppa were shocked at what happened, but Peter raised the obvious question. Since these Gentiles had just received the Spirit, what could possibly stop them from being baptized (verse 17)?

In most churches today, new believers have to attend baptism training classes before they can be baptized. This text, like the one about Philip and the Ethiopian man near Gaza (Acts 8:26-39), ends with new believers being baptized immediately. And there’s no implication that Peter did the baptizing; he simply ordered that it be done (verse 48).

My point here is that those who are sharing the gospel need to not only be able to communicate it well, but also be ready to immediately baptize the new believer. Yep, sit on that are a minute. I recently saw a woman baptized 30 years after she came to Christ. Why are we waiting?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these three points as I studied them more diligently today. Perhaps you would answer this question: Who do you know who might ask you to share a message about God with them?

~ ~ ~

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Sensitive Content

If there’s anything that the pandemic may have revealed to us, it’s that we have not known what exactly has been happening in our public schools. Over the past few years, there have been numerous stories about what parents are “overhearing” when their children are being schooled over video conferencing.

I contend that much of the sexual focus that has finally hit a media has been in our schools and even our televisions for at least two decides, in some case three. Children who watched and heard certain things are now in their 20s and are bringing a whole new set of challenges to ministry.

In 1992, MTV introduced a show called Real World. While it was supposed to give a glimpse of the lives of young adults, it also brought sex and homosexuality right into our living rooms. Other shows followed, such a Big Brother and Survivor that included homosexuals (male or female) who were generally treated as normal by the other contestants on these shows. Will and Grace provided a gay man who was funny and had the support of the other three main actors.

The result of this is that people who are now in their 20s have been constantly “groomed” by the media of the normalcy of homosexuality. Not only is it now considered normal, but also a viable option for everyone. Children as young as middle school were and are now “informed” that these preferences are without cost.

Enter the gospel. I have been meeting with a number of young men, all in their 20s, who have come to Christ and are growing in their walks with God. However, somewhere along the way, each of them has asked the same question: “Can I share something with you?”

The stories are quite unique yet have a similar thread. They were dating a girl and there was a difficult break up. In their struggle to resolve and recover, each of them considered, “Maybe I’m gay.” Since they were told being gay is normal, it was normal to try a new type of relationship. That “try” was the greatest variable. Some were just inquisitive, some tried hugging/cuddling/kissing, and some went “all the way.”

The CDC says that 55% of 18-year-olds have already had sexual intercourse, while the NIH reports that same-sex “sexual debut” is occurring in boys as young as 13 years old.

The bottom line: ministry to 20s now involves dealing with the struggle they are having with things they have done with a same sex partner. While the church continues to tell high schoolers to be pure, they context is always in the realm of opposite sex activity. Few churches are talking to their young people about homosexuality from a biblical basis.

Consider this a call to three things:

1.) Be very clear on what the Bible says about homosexuality. There are some Christian authors who are arguing that the Bible doesn’t mean what we think it says.

2.) Be very clear on ALL the attributes of God. There is a focus today on the love of God, but it’s moving toward God will love you no matter who you are or what you do. The holiness and justice of God are being minimized, particularly to people below the age of 30.

And 3.) Be willing to be involved deeply enough with a 20-something Christian about live in general and intimacy. From my experience, they are desperately looking for someone to confide in.

What are You Content With?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio at:

I was reading in 2 Timothy 4:8 and began to wonder about the word “loved” at the end of the verse. I looked it up in the Blue Letter Bible and found the Greek word is agapaō. You should be able to immediately recognize the root word as I did. We find that same word in John 3:16 which speaks of God’s love for us.

Yet, most of the time I have heard these words defined as a self-giving love and had trouble thinking about that in context of “all who have loved His appearing.” My Bible dictionary gave another definition regarding things rather than people as “to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing.”

I spent a few minutes thinking about being content with Jesus appearing, which would include his life, death, and resurrection. How can I grow in contentment regarding Jesus coming to Earth?

As I read on, I found the exact same word only two verses later: “for Demas, having loved (agapaō) this present world (2 Tim 2:10, NASB). Paul seems to be contrasting people who love the appearance of Jesus with people who love the world. Or by using the dictionary definition, people being content with the world rather than Jesus. And Demas was a Christian who was learning from the Apostle Paul!

So, it was back to mulling over the word but now including the contrast: content with the appearance of Jesus versus content with the world. And back to my Bible dictionary to see a definition for world as a “period of time, age.”

We live in a period of time where stuff can provide us with contentment? That stuff can be the things we own, but it can also be how we are treated. Luke 11:43 reflects this idea when Jesus said, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love (agapaō) the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places.”

And look at where that contentment brings us. We are either devoted to what we love, or we despise it for not “meeting our needs.” (Cross reference Luke 16:13 – “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love (agapaō) the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”)

So, what are you devoted to? What gives you contentment? If I asked someone close to you, “What is it that he loves” what would he say?

Let’s strive a little more to find our contentment, our satisfaction, our devotion to the appearance of Jesus in this world to redeem us to Himself.

What Do You See?

My morning quiet times have shifted from the book of Daniel to the Gospel of John. This morning I was in John four; a familiar chapter to most of us. There John tells us about the Samaritan woman at the well. But today, I was the end of the story that caught my attention.

After Jesus spoke with the woman, she headed back to town while the disciples returned from buying food in the same town. John records that they were surprised to see that Jesus was talking to a woman – a cultural taboo. And they “ignored” the taboo by trying to get Jesus to eat some lunch. We know that part of the story pretty well.

As Jesus spoke about what had happened, the second portion of verse 35 records Him as saying, “Behold, I tell you, raise your eyes and observe the fields, that they are white for harvest” (NASB). That part about the harvest being white might sound familiar to you as well. But did you catch the command Jesus gave his disciples?

The English terms “raise” and “observe” are both written in the aorist active imperative mode. In other words, Jesus was commanding his disciples to raise and observe because there was a harvest right in front of them that they didn’t seem to be aware of.

As I thought on this passage, and especially what Jesus was saying in the moment, I pictured Him pointing back toward the town. The woman went back and told the men what had happened, and they were now on the way back to Jacob’s well to see for themselves who this man might be. The woman raised the question whether He might, in fact, be the Messiah.

I thought deeply about how well I observe the potential harvest that is right in front of me. More so, I thought about how Jesus gave a two-fold command. The first requirement was to “raise your eyes.” I take that as purposefully, actively, intentionally look to see what’s going on around me. How can I observe something if I don’t “raise my eyes”?

It’s pretty easy to think about how often I (and perhaps you as well) have my eyes shifted downward looking at a glass screen (a.k.a., my cellphone), and completely unaware of what’s headed right toward me.

Case in point, I was at the grocery store this weekend in College Station. I happened to notice a 20-something fellow three different times. At the yogurt aisle, we actually made eye contact and he smiled at me. I kept looking for the sugar-free yogurt – pretty much obvious to him. It was several minutes later that I realized that he was wearing a cross necklace and I had on a Christian t-shirt. We were most likely brothers in Christ. But when I realized that I had an opportunity to connect with another believer, I never saw him again in the store. My loss.

Verse 38 of John 4 says, “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have come into their labor.” As I reflected not only on my quiet time passage but also on my grocery store encounter, I realized that I lost an opportunity to reap where someone else had already labored.

How about you? Where are your eyes focused? What are you observing? How might you fulfill Christ’s commandment to “raise your eyes and observe the fields”?

I, for one, want to do that differently going forward.

~ ~ ~

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

A Four-Hour Investment

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I met Steve (not his real name) at a college retreat four years ago. He had been raised in a Christian home and was a self-professed Christian. After he graduated, I would ask him to meet with me about every three-to four months. We would catch up on how things were going and just enjoy time together – even with 40 years age difference between us.

Recently, Steve began to reach out to me, and we began to meet more often. At first our meetings were during his lunch breaks, so they were limited to about an hour. But then came the request to meet in the evening when he had no time limits.

As our meeting increased in frequency and length of time, the conversations became more personal. I found in front of me a deep-thinking introvert who was frustrated with “pat answers” he was getting from friends his own age at church. He became so frustrated that he attended church less often (not something unusual for a 20-something).

Steve’s questions about faith, and in particular the very existence of God, were quite real and he found in me someone who would listen without judgement or correction. I realized fairly early on that the questions Steve was asking were an indication of his spiritual condition. Yet I simply answered his questions as he put them to me.

Recently, Steve told me that he had asked a pastor a few of his questions a few years ago. The pastor took the opportunity to inform Steve that he was not a Christian and he needed to repent. It wasn’t that Steve disagreed with the pastor’s statement; it was that he wasn’t getting answers to his questions. And without those questions, Steve felt that he couldn’t move forward.

As we talked about a life of faith, I encouraged Steve to begin to read the Bible for himself. Just to open it and read it like a “regular” book. To get the overview, rather than to study words and ideas. Steve chose to begin in Job (not where I would have pointed him) and he was learning that Job had similar questions to his own. And that Job didn’t get the kind of answers he wanted but he learned about who God was in the process!

In our last two meetings, Steve acknowledged that he was not a “believer” (his term). He even mentioned that he did not want to go out with a believer when he wasn’t one. And he didn’t want to go out with an unbeliever is case he became a believer. Oh, the depth of his struggle!

Last week, Steve mentioned that he was having a hard time forgiving people who had done him wrong in the past (including the pastor who didn’t answer his questions). I pointed out that we can’t draw from an empty cistern. In order to forgive others, we really need to experience forgiveness ourselves.

I saw the lightbulb go off. Steve said, “I need to read more about that word in the Bible.” I already learned that God would take him to the place where he needed to go (like reading Job rather than a Gospel), so I left him to figure that out for himself.

I fully expect to get another text message asking to meet once Steve has learned about forgiveness on his own with his Bible. I find that these self-discovery methods are usually far more effective than me taking a teacher-pupil stance. Adults who learn on their own are much more likely to act on what they learn. And Steve will “run it by me” before he jumps in the deep end.

Our last meeting lasted three hours inside Panera Bread. They kicked us out at 10:00 p.m. when they closed. And we stood in the parking lot for another 50 minutes continuing to talk by the light of a streetlamp.

I should have been exhausted by the time I got home. Instead, I understood what Jesus meant when he told his disciples he wasn’t hungry for food after talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.

How about you? Do you have someone who feels comfortable enough to spend a few hours asking questions and then calls you back for another round?

Learning to Wait

The entrance to my High School in the Twin Cities

Many people understand that witnessing to non-Christians is often very different in the “work world” rather than at university or on a military base. I’ve known several people who are alumni of college or military ministries who decided that witnessing the way they were taught is not possible in life afterwards.

In the 20s ministry, we focus on how to take the principles of witnessing that we learned in those past settings into the new lifestyle. It’s easy to determine that spending time at work exposes you to people for 40 or more hours each week. Yet when new college grads enter their first job, they are faced with the fact that almost all of their co-workers are older than they are. And beyond their family members, they haven’t established a way of communicating with “old” people.

In past environments (college or military bases), our witnessing often involved approaching strangers and striking up a conversation. Many college grads have mentioned that they simply can’t share the gospel in this same manner without being at risk of termination.

There are three groups of people that Christians often interact with: co-workers, neighbors, and people who are in their “third place.” A third place is somewhere that you frequent; a coffee shop is a good example. If you go there enough times, they begin to know your name and your “regular” drink. I can walk into Chick-fil-A and immediately hear, “Welcome to Chick-fil-A, Mr. Bruce.” And they begin to pour my Diet Dr Pepper.

Rick Warren mentioned in his book Purpose-Driven Church that there’s a need for relationships to be built over a long period of time. Then the waiting begins. Warren says that we need to wait for transition of tragedy before people are ready to hear the gospel. This waiting can be the hardest part of building what I call a redeeming relationship.

As people leave the school environment, they often remain connected for at least some amount of time with classmates. We hope that an opportunity will rise when we can share the gospel to a listening ear. But the waiting is difficult.

I finished high school in 1973. With the advent of Facebook, I began to connect with classmates from there. It wasn’t anything spectacular. Little thumbs-up likes or comments might occasionally appear to let me know there was still a connection.

Two weeks ago, one of my high school classmates surfaced in a personal message on Facebook. He admitted that he had been reading my posts for several years. I was vaguely aware of a couple comments that he had made, but we weren’t well connected in high school. He was a Homecoming King and star athlete; I was the nerdy guy in band and musicals.

I often wondered how useful it was to try to maintain a relationship that had a gap of 45 years since we were even in the same building. But John (not his real name), was staying connected and that was enough. Then came his message…

It seems that John had watched the entire process of Kandi’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death, and my reaction to that. His wife was now facing a potential cancer diagnosis and they were scared (who wouldn’t be?).

So, he reached out to me to tell his story and end his message with a request. “Will you please pray for us?”

We communicated throughout doctor visits and waiting for test results. In the end, the doctor found that it was not cancer. Yet a much stronger relationship was developing and John had recognized a need for prayer, even if it was someone else praying.

In the end (but not the end of the story), John thanked me for praying for them. I mentioned that I would like to visit them when I’m back up in the Twin Cities. And he offered to pick me up at the airport, regardless of the day or time.

This is a classic example of how long-term relationships with non-Christians can grow toward an opening to the gospel over time – in this case 45 years! T really is all about God’s timing.

What about you? Are you staying in relationship, even over a distance, with people from your past?  Are they the kind of relationship that when transition or tragedy strikes, they will turn to you for prayer or questions? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Where Light Shines, and Perhaps Where It Doesn’t

A few days ago, I met with one of my spiritual sons, Josue. (As usual, real names are not disclosed for the sake of privacy.) During our time together, I brought up Ravi Zacharias, who recently died, and some shameful, hidden sin patterns had begun to emerge. One of our central questions was how someone could live a secret life on the international stage.

During this time, Josue told me that he, too, had a secret sin and that he was tired of living with it. Josue mentioned that there was no one else he felt he could talk to about this secret. He feared that I would write him off – or “unfriend” him as is happening in our current cancel culture. I watched as he fought back tears. And I believe that I loved him well, offering much grace along with an ample amount of truth (which he already embraced).

This morning, in my quiet time, I came to a well-known concept in the Gospel of Luke, which I will quote here in context:

“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.” Luke 11:33-36, NASB

We all know the first portion about not hiding a lamp under a bushel. Many of us may have sung “This Little Light of Mine” in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. However, after Jesus gives this concept, he warns us to “watch out.” That’s the part we seem to ignore.

Instead, we tend to take this idea of a lamp and make it about being a witness for Jesus. That’s totally out of context. It might be true, but it’s not the focus of the passage.

Ravi Zacharias was a fantastic, powerful witness to millions of non-Christians through his speaking and written material. Yet there was a place in his life where there was a “dark part” that wasn’t being illuminated by the light that he knew so well. I have no intention of delving any further into his life.

What I do want to delve into is the question is, What about you? What is that secret sin pattern that you so carefully hide from even your closest friends and family members?

There is a difficult problem that arises out of even acknowledging our secrets. Many people—very many—do not have someone they can candidly talk with about their hidden sin. In the past month, I have been told by three different men that there is no other person in their life that they can talk to about a particular issue. The word “trust” came up in each conversation. They struggled with feeling judgment and shame. They worried that their confession would be posted on social media within the hour they confess.

This is a tragedy. This causes us to hide our true selves and pretend to be more than we are. And we simply accept living as fakes because being real could crush us more than living a fake life.

Even if we feel that we have it all together ourselves and our “whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it,” there are hurting people who cross our paths every day. Every day. It happened yesterday; it will happen again tomorrow.

This doesn’t become a license to pry into the personal lives of others. But it should remind us that people are looking for someone that they can trust to talk about their struggles to live a whole life before the God of Heaven and their friends, families, and co-workers.

Here’s a helpful hint on allowing people to trust you. First, trust them. Take the chance to share what’s happening in your life – not just the good things, but also the struggles. Show them what it looks like to trust someone. They may eventually reciprocate.

Even if they don’t, you’ll be living an authentic life. One where the light shines deeper into your own body, as well as shines to “those who may enter.”

~ ~ ~

Photo by Severin Höin on Unsplash

Everyone is Effected by Bitterness

In her book Having a Mary Spirit Joanna Weaver wrote in 2006, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Steve Farrar also wrote this in Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family, in October 2000. It’s always hard to tell who should get credit for an original quotation. The original quote was most likely about resentment and is credited to Augustine of Hippo, who said, “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

I remember when I first heard this bitterness quote, and it wasn’t from my reading. My friend Slip Gray said it while we were on a Caribbean cruise together. What he basically meant was that bitterness is usually caused by my anger at someone else, but takes its a toll on me rather than the person I’m angry at.

Besides Skip’s quip, I know that I have heard several sermons warning about the effect that bitterness can have on a person. As I recall, each of those messages were warnings about what bitterness will do in a person’s life – the person holding the bitterness.

Many people point to the New Testament book of Hebrews when they talk about this warning of the effects of bitterness. There it says, [See to it] “that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15b, New American Standard Bible).

There an important word that I noticed this morning in my devotional time. Let’s look at the NIV translation for another perspective: “that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” In both of these translations we find the word “many.”

Bitterness does not just poison the person holding it. Bitterness has the ability to defile “many.” In neither of these translations does the context solely point at the person with the bitter spirit. This verse is found in a section of the book that lists things the Hebrew readers should do (beginning with the word “therefore” at the beginning of verse twelve).

When I look at the immediate context of verses 14-16, there is a common focus – the community of Christ; the Church. We are to “see to it that” (1) “no one comes short,” (2) “no root of bitterness…causes trouble,” and (3) “there be no immoral or godless person.” Each of these “that” imperatives are for the protection of the Christian community.

Bitterness will, in fact, eat the soul of a person for breakfast. But it will also defile anyone who comes in contact with it. That contact could be innocent; like Covid-19 being spread without intention.

As members of the Body of Christ, we need to watch not only that a root of bitterness not spring up (NASB) in our own lives, but also expect that it might grow up (NIV) in someone else’s life. We simply can’t take the stance that “It’s not my problem.” By allowing bitterness to take root, we allow the defilement of every Christian that it comes into contact with.

Watch for it. Take action. Protect the Body.

Discipling by Assumption

I have read, and continue to read, a lot of books about making disciples. Currently, I’m finishing up The Multiplier: Making Disciple Makers, by Waylon B. Moore. Dr. Moore is a retired pastor who is known around the world for his teachings on disciple-making. He’s even been called “one of the living pioneers in the area of discipleship training.”

I just read this piece in Chapter Nine, entitled Have a Parent Heart: “Helping disciples means observing their conduct with the opposite sex. Honest and frank words on this subject, spoken in love, must be shared with both single and married disciples so they learn how to ‘keep they heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23).”

That sounds like sound advice and I can’t actually count how many men I’ve talked with about purity and their relationship with the opposite sex. However even though this book was written just three years ago, it’s missing something major in discipling others in the area of purity today.

Just one day before I read this quotation, I was having a frank discussion with a married couple about how we may be missing the mark when we talk with people about sexual purity. They told me the story of a friend of theirs who had been asked to intern with a disciple-making ministry. Recently, this friend had not only left the ministry, he left the faith and was becoming quite angry about the current state of Christianity. I think about him like the fellow in the photo above; all alone in his struggle.

I’ll call this fellow “Joe,” since I can’t even remember his actual name. Joe was attending a required ministry training course on sexual wellness, along with the couple who knew the story. They relate that Joe sat in the back of the room, fuming and rolling his eyes as the trainers spoke about maintaining purity.

Why was Joe so angry and disengaged in a subject that many men have eagerly, though candidly, talked about with me? Because the training wasn’t scratching Joe where he itched. Joe didn’t have a problem in his conduct with the opposite sex (to refer back to Dr. Moore’s quote). Joe wasn’t even interested in the opposite sex. Joe’s interests were in people of the same sex. The training wasn’t even considering that anyone in the room might have that kind of attraction.

One of the first rules of discipling someone is to know them. Know your man. Know your ma’am. These have been basic instructions in disciple-making since I became a Christian. Your disciple’s interests or inclinations, or even his activities in this area of life are based on deeply held ideas and feelings. If we don’t take the time to really know who it is that we’re discipling, we’ll most likely wind up with a disconnected, and even angry, Joe.

You may not be comfortable asking a question about sexual orientation or attraction. But think about how the other person feels if you never go there, and worse, you disciple them based on your assumption that he’s just like you. Quite frankly, I’ve never had anyone get angry when I asked them about this. And yes, I’ve asked it a lot.

What are the assumptions that you might be working under? There are probably a number that you would never even consider until you realize (or are told) that you’re headed the wrong direction. Do you ask someone you’ve recently met to get coffee in order to get to know them? Not everyone drinks coffee, including me. (I got asked to meet for coffee again today!) Do you assume there’s an interest in cars, or cooking, or video games? You might think that because you’re from the same generation that you have the same interests. And you’ll be wrong fairly often.

Check your assumptions at the door. Ask more questions; lots more! That’s the best way to disciple someone.

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