A quick update from the Athens Church of Christ

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ECHO Sermon Follow-Up from Sunday, February 21, 2021


What you wear each day reflects Jesus.

◦ Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

◦ Linda Grant, author of the book The Thoughtful Dresser, said, “Clothes as text, clothes as narration, clothes as a story. Clothes are the story of our lives. And if you were to gather all the clothes you have ever owned in all your life, each baby shoe and winter coat and wedding dress, you would have your autobiography.”

◦ Miuccia Prada, Italian billionaire fashion designer and businesswoman said, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”

◦ Rachel Zoe, American fashion designer and writer, said, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.”

I wonder what you’ve thought or posted on FB regarding my style right now.

Are the boxers interfering with your ability to focus?

Or listen to what I say?

Or lessened my credibility before you?

Oh, the power a simple fashion can sway!

Maybe, the four people I just quoted are right…clothes (when they are purchased from Louis Tomlinson Merch Shop) do make the man and tell his story, the silent language of his life!

Our spiritual wardrobe is no different:

◦ Spiritual clothes make the man of change.

◦ A spiritual attire authors a spiritual autobiography.

◦ A spiritual look presents instant language, speaking faith and love.

◦ A spiritual style silently says [sign Jesus].

What is your spiritual style and what does it say about you?

What style do we pose as a church and what does it say about us, the body of Christ?

◦ Some of us take more time each day choosing our under-wear than our higher-wear.

◦ Some of us put on the wrong clothes for the right occasion.

◦ Some of us wear the same thing everyday and then wonder why growth stays away.

◦ And to others, spiritual dress is very important; patiently you wait for some of us to go shopping.

Indeed, today, I want to talk about how you dress.

I want to open our eyes to an alternative style appropriate for the times and needed in our church for us to mature, draw closer and truly glorify God.

Now, there are all kinds of styles.

{Stop, show Pictures of a variety of disciples dressed in their style}

Jesus endorsed a style…a timeless, outspoken, God-glorifying, tradition-breaking, counter-cultural, heart-molding style.

A style that mirrored His Father’s!

Each day he awoke, went to his closet, chose the right piece and met the day with spiritual style just as His Father instructed, for he listened to his Father’s fashion advice.

Let’s do the same today.

Speaking of today: What is our world like…today?

Is it not filled with divide, tension, adversity, anxiety, uncertainty, isolation, distrust, unhealthy individualism, unspirituality, and fear…much of which stems from gaps in personal or cultural style?

At best, relationships are strained and, at worst, separated by the day’s offerings; creating gaps we overlook, fissures into which we fall, or chasms we cannot cross.

And we don’t talk very much,

really talk!

about these gaps.

I wonder, if secretly, we hope others will fall into one of the gaps, and then it will all go away, or if they will stay on their side and I stay on my side, everything will be okay.

How deceived we are!

Within our marriages, our friendships, our homes, our comings, our goings, our workspace, our communities, our churches, and our nation, the disparities are prevalent; the gaps are growing and our relationships and communities are withering.

And what about the church? Within its walls, the gaps are fewer and less severe, thanks be to God’s grace and His Word, and, yet, nonetheless, gaps remain, some old, some new; all are no less traumatic nor without effect, maybe even more so because it is the church after all.

The eyes of Jesus and the lens of Biblical culture bring these gaps into focus.

They are within our homes, our marriages, our fellowship, our services, our hang times, our outreach, our worldview, our posts, our minds, our hearts, our nature and our church culture. Some gaps are obvious and others more obscure: generational gaps, gender gaps, gaps in being led or in leading, gaps in our historical church experiences with discipling and voicing our thoughts, gaps in being seen but not heard; there are even gaps unknown–will we see them? Are we looking for them?

And once discovered, how shall we then dress up for the occasion and dress down the division?

What shall we wear to walk the rift?

What clothes do we don to draw disciples nearer?

Today, reach with me into the Biblical closet and let’s withdraw some items by which we can cloth ourselves for the day and honorably represent Jesus filling the gaps.

Let’s cloth ourselves:

◦ with Gentleness!
◦ with Armor!
◦ with Power!

{Colossians 3:11-12}
“HERE there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Here, brothers and sisters; yes, among us; in the now. We are the church of here and THEREFORE are instructed to clothe ourselves with certain qualities.

In {Philippians 4:4-5} Paul singles out one quality in particular to share with everyone.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

Of all the qualities he chose “gentleness.” Why?

The greek word used in this passage is used only four other times in scripture.

Once as a quality of an elder in I Timothy 3; again, to describe the kind of wisdom that comes from heaven in James 3; and in 1 Peter 2 in describing the quality of a type of master and finally in Titus 3 as a reminder to the people in how they are to treat everyone.

Each time the word has a practical root associated with showing gentleness via the face and its effect on a relationship; in other words, the look of the face represents the attitude of the heart; it is the face which reflects the style of the person who has clothed themselves with gentleness.

At the end of each summer camp for the last several years, I send a survey to the Full Time Counseling Staff asking for feedback about my leadership; it is entitled “How did Mr. Jeff Do?”

I would like to share with you the results from the 2019 survey, which asked the question, “What could Mr. Jeff change?”

And I quote, “I wouldn’t say ‘change’ is the right word, but just to be aware of his initial responses to Jenn. Whenever Jeff is explaining something to the counselors such as the Sunday morning training, whenever Jenn would provide input, I noticed many times throughout the summer where Jeff would seem frustrated/annoyed, and sometimes dismiss it with a light attitude. I don’t think there is any malintent in his reactions, but it definitely made me feel a little uncomfortable quite a few times throughout the summer.” End quote.

I cried the first time I read this person’s feedback and it took me more than a week to muster up the courage to share it with Jennifer…mostly because I didn’t want to confront myself and the hurt I caused.

I had to look in the mirror to see my own face, a face that was hidden until I asked for help and was told with love and courage what I truly looked like, what style I was presenting.

Brothers and sisters, this story is yours as well; ask for feedback; listen to what others are telling you. There is a gap; and it’s in your countenance and the expressions on your face reflecting your heart. Add gentleness to your ensemble today and close the gap. Don’t let the fashion of your face distance you from those you hold dear.

Clothe yourself with gentleness and with
{Romans 13:8-14}

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

If you want to know the deeds of darkness, if you want to know the desires of the flesh, then just read the headlines and watch the news.

We, the church, can reflect the love of Jesus by donning the armor of light and, in turn, exposing the deeds of darkness for what they are: the gratifications of selfish, human nature.

We must dress differently.

We must stand out amidst the darkness like a beacon of hope guiding people to a safe place, a refuge amidst the tension and anxiousness of the day, holding out an alternative way of life, one based on living for something death can’t take away; one owing only the debt to love.

Instead, we dive into the debt of distraction and cozy up to comfortableness behind which we hide, afraid of the light, afraid to confront our nature, afraid to let go of our earthly citizenship. Afraid and unwilling to remove the comfortable style that marries us to moderation and divorces us from divine culture.

In John chapter eight, Jesus said to the people, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Light of Life illuminates the Way for all people. It reveals the paths of darkness: hate, racism, indifference, apathy, words without deeds, silence, and disinterest in differences.

Brothers and sisters, to meet the day, we must put on the armor of light exposing the gaps in neighborly love and revealing Christianity colors in order to redress the issues that retard our congregational progress and stunt our individual growth towards oneness.

Let not the next Dr. King accuse us of being a moderate, do-nothing church that stays in the shadows.

Let us rise to the call by falling before the Lord, opening wide our arms, bearing our open hearts, and allowing him to adorn us with His armor–the Armor of Light! Then, our hearts will be protected from the harm of the world. Then, we will beam with light and love and secure our sacred unity within the family of believers. Don’t let the threads of darkness tarnish the tapestry of our fellowship…put on the Armor of Light and let’s shine for the world to see.

Cloth yourself with Gentleness and with Armor and with

{2Corinthians 10:1-5}

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

We are in a war and must take up arms. The enemy is strong; therefore, we must find the most powerful weapon available: an indestructible weapon that has no defense; a weapon which wins every argument and shatters all of Satan’s schemes.

Which weapon is it? Why doesn’t Paul list this weapon? Which is the right one? It says “they;” which they? Which weapon Paul?!

He told us which weapon within the first three words of this passage: “By the humility” of Christ.

What is the humility of Christ and how does it help us face each day?

{Philippians 2:5-8}
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

If clothes present a language, does your attire shout

“I care about you!”

or exclaim “I hear you,”

or bellow “I am with you,”

or proclaim “It’s about you not me.”?

In your relationships with one another, think like Jesus and cloth yourself with humility: carrying each other’s burdens, hurting when others hurt, becoming nothing to serve another, listening more and talking less, laying down to lift up, considering the “me” less than the “you.” Again, I say, in our relationships with one another, we must imitate the fashion of Christ.

If not, then we are just another group, which at its best, is an island unto itself in the sea humanity, and, at worst, following the current of the world to its shameful denominational destiny.

Rather, church of Christ, with humility, guide each other like a lighthouse to the shores of security, sanctification, and acceptance.

In the stories of our life as we interact, serve, worship, and grow together, this weapon must be purposely present and poignantly pervasive. It is at the heart of any healthy, Christlike church; it is the prime motive of all spiritual interactions.

Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Booker T. Washington was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace.

A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.

The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.”

She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.

Mr. Washington could have donned the power of his position or the power of his presidency or the power of his prestige. Instead, he harnessed the power of humility and held out a Christlike response. We must act equally holding out humility in every situation.

As we climb into this next story, a bit longer of a story taken from current events, I caution you not to dwell on or get distracted by the political backdrop or the emotional rhetoric, but instead absorb the scene and connect with the major players; insert yourself into the story and observe how you would respond in their circumstance.

On September 16, 2017, Hawk Newsome and a group of protestors from Black Lives matter of Greater New York arrived on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to confront a group of Trump supporters gathered for what they called the “Mother of All Rallies.” A community activist from the South Bronx, Hawk had recently been on the front lines in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a rally by white nationalists that had made headlines all over the country. He was still nursing a wound from that confrontation, where he had been hit in the face with a rock.

When Hawk and his team arrived on the Mall, he braced for another confrontation, and maybe more injuries. He figured the pro-Trump marchers were not much different from the white supremacists he had faced in Charlottesville. Hawk was filled with disdain for them. The marchers appeared to reciprocate his feelings, yelling, “USA! USA! You don’t like it, get out!” and, “Ignore them! They don’t exist!”

The two sides traded insults, and the situation became more combustible by the second.

Onlookers immediately pulled out their iPhones and became on-the-spot videographers, ready to capture the clash and post it on social media. It was clear that yet another one of those ugly confrontations we have all come to dread was about to unfold.

But then, just as the insults seemed ready to give way to blows, something wholly unexpected happened.

Tommy Hodges, the organizer of the pro-Trump rally, invited Hawk Newsome onto his stage. “We’re going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out,” Tommy told Hawk. “Whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message.”

Hawk was ready to fight, not give a speech, but he accepted nonetheless. As he took the microphone in his hand, he thought back to a moment in Charlottesville when he was about to pick up a rock and throw it. Hawk recalls,”This little old white lady, I don’t know where she came from, but she said, ‘Your mouth is your most powerful weapon. You don’t need anything but that.” Now Hawk had a chance to use it. A committed Christian, he said a prayer, and as he did, he heard a voice in his heart telling him, let them know who you are. He took a deep breath and addressed the hostile crowd with passion and total sincerity.

“My name is Hawk Newsome. I am the president of the Black Lives Matter New York. I am an American.” He had the crowd’s attention, and he continued. “And the beauty of America is that when you see something broken in your country, you can mobilize to fix it,” he said.

To his utter surprise, the crazed crowd burst into applause. Emboldened, he said, “so you ask why there’s a Black Lives Matter?

Because you can watch a black man die and be choked to death on television and nothing happened. We need to address that.”

“That was a criminal,” someone yelled, as boos started emanating from the crowd. Hawk pressed on. “We’re not anti-cop.” “Yes, you are!” someone yelled. “We’re anti-bad cop,” Hawk countered. “We say if a cop is bad he needs to get fired like a bad plumber, like a bad lawyer, like a bad…politician.” At this, the crowd began cheering again. These days, there’s nothing political rallies hate more than bad politicians.

“I said that I am an American. Secondly, I am a Christian, ” Hawk said, once again connecting with his audience. “We don’t want handouts. We don’t want anything that’s yours. We want our God-given right to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The crowd erupted in cheers.

Then someone shouted, “All lives matter!”

“You’re right, my brother, you’re right. You are so right,” Hawk said. “All lives matter, right? But when a black life is lost, we get no justice. That is why we say black lives matter.”

His two minutes up, he concluded his remarks by saying, “Listen, I want to leave you with this, and I’m gone. If we really want to make America great, we do it together.”

The crowd roared. They started shouting “USA! USA!” A lady standing in the front row reached up and handed Hawk an American flag. He held it up and waved it. More cheers. As he stepped off the stage, to his shock and amazement, many of the Trump supporters came up and embraced him.

Earlier, when he first arrived on the Mall, he had hurt his hand with a knife while opening a box of signs. He had wrapped it in a bandanna, but now it was bleeding through. The leader of a four-thousand-man militia saw that Hawk was hurt and took him aside to treat his wound. “He’s treating my finger,” Hawk says, “and the militia guy goes, ‘You know, I thought I understood before, but I get it now. You’re all right, brother.’ We slapped hands.” They have kept in touch since the rally. “We’re still friends on Facebook,” Hawk says.

Then a man named Kenny Johnson, one of the leaders of a group called Bikers for Trump, approached Hawk. “He’s like a sons of Anarchy type,” Hawk recalls. “He said, ‘Your speech was amazing. I’d be honored if you met my son.’ So we walked over to see his son, who was playing with his toys under a tree. A little blond-haired kid named Jacob.” Johnson asked Hawk to pick the boy up so they could take a picture together. “That touched me,” Hawk says.

After meeting Hawk, Johnson told Vice News, “I feel what he said came from his heart when he got on the stage. I probably agree with about 90 percent of what he said. I listened to him with much love, respect, and honor, and I got that back, so as fas as I’m concerned he’s my brother now.”

Brotherhood was evidently breaking out all over the National Mall that day. “It was euphoric,” Hawk says. “It kind of restored my faith in some of those people. Because when I spoke truths, they agreed. I feel like we made progress…without either side yielding.” He had arrived expecting conflict. Instead, he says, “I went from being their enemy to someone they want to take pictures with their children.”

The experience changed Hawk. After returning to New York, he says, “I wrestled with myself for a few months.” Finally, he made a decision. “I decided I’d rather go with love. I’m not out to blast people anymore. I’m not out to argue, to fight. I’m there to make people understand, to make people come together. I’m here for progress.”

He got a lot of blowback from some in his own activist community, who did not like his sharing a stage with the pro-Trump demonstrators. Some people called him a “KKK-loving Trump supporter.” Once activist declared Hawk had “committed treason.” He is undeterred by the criticism. “This divide that’s keeping us from speaking to one another, from understanding one another, we can overcome it,” he says, but “we don’t get there by screaming at each other all the time. We get there by building bridges. So my language has changed. Because what happened on that stage was great….It’s a new day…there’s a new way to do this.”

What do you think about these two stories?

In your analysis, take captive any thought referencing black or white, Republican or Democrat, dominant or subservient and focus on the content of character.

Booker T. Washington walked out of his house that day and was presented with a problem over which he prevailed with the power of humility. The rich white lady could have retreated to her position and status but instead attacked with an apology and rendered respect. Tommy Hodges did not react but reached out. Kenny Johnson listened with love. Hawk Newsome did indeed use his most powerful weapon–his humility from which his words flowed changing his style, changing his way, and ultimately changing the outcome of the day.

All of them bridged gaps, all showed humility, all looked into the mirror and did something no one expected: they endorsed and displayed the power of humility.

Brothers and sisters, we must do the unexpected!

We must take an objective look at our style and where necessary take away the worn clothes of the world, and put on spiritual wares: Gentleness, Armor, and Power; woven together in the fabric of humility.

The old clothes of worldliness, politics, prejudice, dissensions, factions, destructive opinions, ignorant indifference, and unfeeling rebuffs are out of style and look foolish for anyone in the Kingdom. We must look into the mirror and see when the heart is captivated and pulled by these things – and you know when you’ve reached that point by the protective and passionate sensation you feel when your views about worldly things are challenged.

We must recognize these clothes for what they are and learn to take them off for the sake of our brothers and sisters as well as for our own sake and for the sake of God’s glory.

The power of humility yields transformation; it does not look into the mirror and forget what it sees.

No! Humility corrects our countenance, heals our hearts, smashes strongholds; and seals the gaps among us.

In view of this, patch and restitch the ragged cloth of practical humility: that of listening, accepting, and embracing people who are different from us. Get curious! Settle no longer for the status quo or stay in the moderate position; let not a whisper of the world’s culture resound in the halls of our homes but only the echos of humility in the halls of our hearts, for we are citizens of the Kingdom of God!

To this end, I strongly urge all of us to humbly endorse the purpose and focus of the ECHO ministry and begin to redress and rewrite our cultural story, clothing ourselves with Jesus’ teachings carrying each other’s burdens and walking a mile in one another’s shoes so that we never have another 6 year story like Heeyoung’s. Get curious about ECHO!

And, from this day forward, put on the Merch of the Almighty: gentleness, the armor of light, and the most powerful weapon: humility.

Such an ensemble exhibits the language to transform lives into stories and stories into a collective culture of Christ. We need stories. Newsworthy stories. Stories that rumble through rhetoric and rally the world to rebirth.

Stories of redemption, repentance, and reconciliation.

Stories of community, connection, and Christlikeness.

Stories of wisdom and wonder and oneness.

The world needs gap-bridging stories that only humility can write. Stories that, at the end of the day, guide people to a pattern of teaching that lays claim to their allegiance to Jesus’ kingdom.

And so, my family, I hold this charge out to you:

Each day,
dress well,
Turn humility
into a verb,
See gaps,
fill gaps.

And as you leave for home or click to close your browser, reflect on this charge.

Sooner or later, you will see that only one question remains to be settled:

Will your story of humility echo through the congregation?




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