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Cool Heads and Hot Topics

Cool Heads and Hot Topics

Pastor Rick Henderson
May 27-28, 2023

No Outline this week Manuscript

I grew up watching war movies with my dad and my grandfather. I’m sure I watched every one that had John Wayne in it, many times over. Maybe the movie that sparked the deepest sense of admiration and appreciation for the sacrifice of armed service members was Saving Private Ryan. Probably because it’s Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been thinking about that movie. And there is a scene at the end that you might remember.

Tom Hanks’ character led a group of soldiers to save one soldier, Private Ryan. In this scene, many of the soldiers already lost their lives. Tom Hank’s character knew that he wasn’t going to make it either. So, he pulled Private Ryan in close. Do you remember what he said to him? He said, “Earn this.”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that those words were like clunky chains, weighing Private Ryan down for the rest of his life.

The movie cuts to Private Ryan as a much older man, visiting the graveside of the man who said those words to him. With a sense of desperately needing reassurance, he said to his wife, “Tell me I’m a good man.” What was intended to be a gift must have felt like a curse because it came with the price tag of having to prove he was worth it.

That’s one way to live. Whatever is the best way to think and talk about that approach to life, it is a million miles away from what life in the gospel is. Jesus once said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The life Jesus gives and the way of life he gives is not a burden. You don’t have to prove yourself.

Have you ever thought about this before? The motivation of earning or having to prove yourself is hostile to the motivation of love. Earning makes us self-focused. Love is outward-focused. If I’m motivated by proving myself to you, who am I most interested in? You or me? Me. If I’m motivated by love, in whom am I most interested? You or me? You.

The Apostle Paul is a fascinating example of someone who became a brand-new person because of following Jesus. Summarizing the words of Jesus, he once wrote this.

GALATIANS 5:6b The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Wow. Let the power and force of that hit you. What is the only thing that counts? Faith expressing itself through love. Nothing else counts. Nothing else counts for you. And nothing else counts against you.

This is a common theme throughout the letters that Paul wrote to churches. You don’t have anything to prove. You don’t have anything to earn. If you are in Jesus, if you have trusted in him by faith, you are fully loved. You are fully forgiven. You are fully accepted. You are fully delighted in. You have nothing to prove. You have nothing to earn.

Instead of earning and proving, we get to spend the rest of our lives happily expressing love to Jesus and love to other people. And this is important. Because Jesus is our authority, he is the one who defines what love means and what love looks like. No proving. No earning. Just love.

Do I sound like a crazy man to you if I say, sometimes it feels like I have to prove myself? Sometimes it feels like I must prove that I’m a good enough Christian. I’m not talking about you. What I’m going to say next is much more about something in the air in American church culture. Sometimes, sometimes, I feel like there is an impossible pressure to say all the right words, in the right way, at the right time—or I’m going to be judged and labeled, by other Christians. If I don’t say the right things in the right way, I will be labeled by Christians as a “not good enough” Christian.

Can anybody relate to what I’m feeling? There are some hot topics, and it can feel like we must prove ourselves by how we respond to these hot topics.

  • Political Parties & Candidates
  • Racism
  • Immigration
  • Police
  • School Boards
  • LGBTQ+
  • Boycotts
  • Mass Shootings and Gun Rights
  • Abortion
  • Gender Identity

If ever we feel like we have to prove that we are good enough, smart enough, biblical enough, woke enough, conservative enough, liberal enough, whatever enough—we’re not going to be able to engage with love. If ever we feel like we have to prove something about ourselves, we are using that topic to serve ourselves instead of serving the well-being of others. Are you with me?

Every church must decide what relationship it will have with the larger culture. Our church must decide that too. It’s helpful to know what our options are. There might be more than what I will list on the screen, but these are the top three.


  1. Retreat from it.
  2. Conquer it.
  3. Engage it.

I’m not sure how we can love people by hiding from them. And I’m not sure how to love people while also trying to fight against them. I am sure that it’s possible to massively disagree with people and lovingly engage them. Recently I was given the opportunity to do just that.

This is me and my new friend, Dan Fifield. He’s the founder and Director of the Landing, here in town. I wasn’t trying to look tough. The sun was in my eyes. We were invited to join a representative from the National Association of Evangelicals to go to Capitol Hill, to advocate for protections for the rural poor and those with food insecurity. We met personally with Senator Klobuchar. She was awesome. We met personally with Congressman Finstad. He was awesome.

I invited them both to come to Autumn Ridge. You need to know that the only reason I wasn’t completely out of place in those meetings is because I could talk about what this church does, WHAT YOU DO, for this community. The way you express love and generosity in this community started many years before I got here. It’s one of the things that caused me to want to move my family to this church. Faith expressing itself in love is a BIG DEAL. And it is how Jesus intends for his church to engage with all peoples and all cultures.

For the next few minutes, I want you to use your imagination. Imagine that it’s just you and just me. We’re sitting in a coffee shop together, look at the Bible together. Instead of me putting all the verses on the screen, will you pull out a Bible and be ready to look at these passages?

  • 1 Corinthians 8
  • Acts 17
  • Acts 21

You can use your phone. You can use a Bible from the seat back in front of you. We’re just two people, at a coffee shop, talking about faith expressing itself through love, and how that frames how we engage with culture and hot topics.

If we stitch these 3 passages together, I think it will give us the framework we need to faithfully and lovingly engage other people, engage our culture and engage all kinds of hot topics with cool heads.

1 CORINTHIANS 8:1-13 1Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. e

The city of Corinth had temples like we have Kwik Trip gas stations. They were everywhere. It was normal for meat to be sacrificed or dedicated in the name of an idol, at one of these temples. Then people would eat the food. Christians debated over whether it was OK to eat food that was sacrificed to an idol.

Notice that Paul makes love the most important thing. He doesn’t downplay knowledge. That’s important. It’s that love is even more important. What you know is important. Who knows you, being known and loved by God is most important.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Later in chapter 10, Paul takes this subject deeper. Right now, we need to get this. On one hand, none of this is real. We must be very careful listeners at this point. Yes, there are temples, statues, and ceremonies of idolatry that are real things that people actually experience. But the framework of belief that it is all built on—that framework of belief is false. It’s not real.

If you eat food that was sacrificed to an idol, it has no impact on you at all. It doesn’t make you better off or worse off with God. Let’s keep reading.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?

Let’s take notice of something. Jesus followers were eating in temples. Paul already said that it doesn’t impact their relationship with God because idolatry is a false and fake belief system. So, what is there to be careful about?

11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Too many people have read this and wrongly concluded that Paul was saying that if you do anything that offends another believer, you are wrong. If a believer is offended by it, or if I, a believer, think it’s wrong—then you shouldn’t do that thing. That is not what this means.

QUESTION: What is the difference between a weak believer and a mature believer?

It’s not that one participates and the other doesn’t.

A weak believer DOESN’T participate because he THINKS idolatry is real. A mature believer participates because he KNOWS idolatry ISN’T real.

Here is the point. Use your freedom to not participate because you love your weaker brother or sister in Christ. Hold that in one hand and hold this in the other. The Christian who is quick to judge and label is the weaker one, not the mature one.

If you flip over to the end of chapter 10, Paul writes this in verse 31.

1 CORINTHIANS 10. 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Let’s summarize it like this.

I’ll use my freedom with the intent of NOT LEADING weaker believers away from Jesus while trying to LEAD non-believers to Jesus.

This requires an ongoing commitment to love and wisdom. Now, let’s flip to Acts 17.

  • Acts 17:16-33

We are going to remember that idolatry and the framework of belief that it’s built on is not real. Be thinking about it as we read Acts 17:16-33.

ACTS 17:16-33 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

This shows his heart. Paul is in Athens. He’s not surprised by what he sees. He’s not angry at people. His heart is heavy. His heart is broken for people who are committed to a framework of belief that isn’t true. He doesn’t see them as enemies. He sees them as future friends and future brothers and sisters in Christ.

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.

He’s at a synagogue and reasoning with people who have an affinity for the Bible, or some religious common ground. And yet, he was public enough that people whom he didn’t share any religious common ground with were engaged. Paul was able to speak to skeptics and believers at the same time.

Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?

This is what that location looks like today.

20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

This was their social media.

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Paul engaged them on their TURF and with their TERMS.

He was respectful where he could be respectful. He found a way to honor people with whom he disagreed. He engaged their framework of belief seriously and respectfully, even though he knew it wasn’t real.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

There are two things we can learn from Paul at this point.

Paul had a soft HEART, not soft THEOLOGY.

Paul didn’t just take the time to KNOW what they believed. He took the time to UNDERSTAND it.

He was able to casually quote their own thought leaders. He took the time to understand people who saw the world differently. That’s what loves does. Would it be OK if I suggest that if we can’t talk about someone else’s belief in a way that makes them feel understood, we aren’t yet ready to ask or demand that they understand us? Love takes whatever time is necessary to understand where the other person is coming from.

Love doesn’t mean that I must agree with it or affirm it. Love requires taking the time to understand. Think about it like this. Who are we more likely to trust and/or sincerely listen to: people who understand us or people who misunderstand us? Paul took time to understand.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

Notice that he took something that they believed and used it to show that it actually undermined their idolatry. Their own belief worked against their own belief.

There is something inside of every FALSE belief system that POINTS to what is true.

The only way we can find what that thing is is if we take the time to sincerely understand. Let me use a hot topic as an example. I’ve met many people who tell me that I don’t have any right to impose my view of sexual ethics on others. I’ve been told that I don’t have any right to say that someone else’s lifestyle is wrong. OK. You might be right. If it is true that one person doesn’t have the right to tell another person that their sexual belief is wrong, doesn’t that mean that you don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong? If that’s the case, aren’t we both coming from a place that requires that sexual ethics don’t come from people—but from something that transcends human opinions?

Let’s keep reading.

30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Some of them laughed him off. Some of them wanted to hear more. Some of them trusted in Jesus. Without a doubt, Paul wanted to convince people. But he wasn’t going to try and control them, and he certainly wasn’t trying to conquer them. She shared the gospel honestly and clearly because he loved them. I think Paul understood this.

It’s not my job to CONVINCE you. It’s my job to share with you what CONVINCED me.

When we take time to understand people and meet them where they are at, many times, people will ask us to share more.

Real quick, I want to read one last brief passage.

  • Acts 21:10-14

The background is that Paul is with many other believers in a town called Caesarea. He wants to go to Jerusalem to share the gospel. No one wants him to go because they are afraid for his safety.

ACTS 21:10-14 10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ”

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Paul understood what it was to be loved by Jesus and to then love others the way he was loved by Jesus. He was so committed to loving those who hated him, he was willing to face extreme risk. He would not be dissuaded. This is where I must ask myself some hard questions.

What talks me out of loving others?

What talks me out of being patient with others?

What talks me out of enduring pain that others dish out so that I can share Jesus?

Things went down just as Agabus said they would. Paul was attacked and arrested in Jerusalem. He spent the final chapters of his life imprisoned, defending himself in court, being extradited to Rome, in some form of custody or house arrest, and eventually executed.

Do you know why that is important? You and I are in a church service today. You and I know the gospel today because of people like Paul and many others who could not be dissuaded, they could not be talked out of expressing faith in love. How can we take that baton and carry it on?

QUESTION: How do we exercise faith in love, while engaging our culture on hot topics?

  1. Know the gospel.
  2. Use our freedom in Christ to maximize our ability to love all.
  3. Engage people where they are.
  4. Take time to understand what they believe and why.
  5. Share the gospel honestly and clearly.
  6. Don’t flinch.