What is discipleship? Billy McGuiggan has been studying and preaching on discipleship this year at the Three Chopt Church of Christ in Richmond, VA. In today’s Bible study, Billy and Wes McAdams discuss the topic of discipleship.
For Billy, discipleship is about J.O.Y. putting Jesus first, others next, and yourself last. He has been challenging himself and others to consider what their relationship with the God of the Bible looks like in the marketplace. In other words, what does following Jesus look like Monday-Sunday, not just on Sundays?
As always, the goal of this Bible study is to learn to love like Jesus.
Links and Resources:
Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
WES: Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here, we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to begin today by reading from Luke 6, starting in verse 27. Jesus says,
“I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Today, I’m going to visit with my good friend, Billy McGuigan, about discipleship, and we hope that this study helps all of us to learn to love like Jesus.
WES: Well, Billy McGuiggan, welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast.
BILLY: Hey, thanks, Wes. Thanks for having me.
WES: So excited to have you, Brother. We get to hang out at the Red River Family Encampment every year, and just being with you, hearing you preach and teach, and just getting to spend time with you are some of my favorite times of the whole year. You are such a tremendous encouragement to me, so I am very excited for other people to get to hear your thoughts on the podcast.
BILLY: Thanks very much. I’m very excited. Hopefully, I won’t get too excited.
WES: Well, we’ve been talking to various preachers about what they’re currently teaching and preaching or what they’ve been teaching and preaching on recently, so tell us about what you’ve been teaching recently.
BILLY: So every year I have a theme of what I’m going to preach on, and it’s usually September/October time of the year before that I decide what I’m going to do. And so this year, the preaching theme is “JOY.” It’s “Jesus, Others, Yourself,” and it’s basically about discipleship. You know, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus, you know, knowing who he is, what his purpose is in the world and then the church’s role in that, what’s his heart, what’s his expectations on us, as his people. And so that’s the kind of basic theme. It’s the acronym “JOY,” “Jesus, Others, Yourself.” So what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus, is what we’re having a good go at answering this year. That’s the theme.
WES: Well, I’ve listened to a few of your lessons, and, as always, they’re incredibly encouraging, I wrote down a few quotes that really stuck out to me over the last few weeks of your sermons. The last one, you were talking about this upside‑down kingdom that we’re a part of and this upside‑down kingdom living, and I love ‑‑ anytime we’re talking about the Sermon on the Plain and the ‑‑ loving our enemies, I mean, that’s something I’m incredibly passionate about, as well. But before that, you were talking about some things ‑‑ you talked about how the Bible isn’t a rule book or an answer book.
WES: You talked about how the Bible is written to bring us to a person, that person being Jesus, God in the flesh. You said this ‑‑ and I thought this was incredibly powerful. You said, “The Pharisees fasted more than you do, give more than you do, know more than you do, yet Jesus said, ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter the kingdom.’” Man, I love your passion for drawing people to Jesus. Not to a system, not to the rules, not even to the answers, but to the person of Jesus.
BILLY: I appreciate you saying that, but I got ‑‑ and I’m gonna ‑‑ you and I are friends here, and whoever gets to watch this, I’m gonna be real and honest, sometimes maybe a little too raw. I did get some kind of pushback on one or two lessons of mine. “Well, we gotta, you know, follow the rules, and there are things written,” and I’m like, yeah, but listen, there’s a couple more lessons. Get us to the heart of God in the verse, not just a particular verse, you know, because we could end up ‑‑ and I think I said this in one of the sermons. We could end up being like the Pharisees and our relationship isn’t there with God. It’s the, “I gotta do this, I gotta do this, I gotta do this.” And so thank you for observing that, that we have to ‑‑ and I do it in my own life, too, where my relationship with God is ‑‑ I take it seriously, as seriously as I’m able to, and it’s a relationship, you know, and some of those lessons ‑‑ in the earlier lessons in the year on this theme, you know, it’s what’s our relationship to the God of the Bible? You know, we’re very good at reading it, most of us. I’m not trying to be too negative, okay, but being real, too. We like to read it, we like to study it, we like to attend Bible classes, we like to do devotional readings and read the Bible app, and then all of a sudden we may think, well, all I’m doing is ‑‑ but where’s me and God in this? So I think ‑‑ and I’ve been shaped a lot by different people to keep that central, and so that is very important.
So what’s our relationship to the God of the Bible? Because in this theme ‑‑ you know, preaching the theme of “Jesus, Others, Yourself,” I looked at something like, what’s the gospel? And, you know, we answer that when we probably go to like 1 Corinthians 15; it’s the death, burial, resurrection. Or the gospel is, you know, John 3:16; or the gospel is about me being saved and me going to heaven. But then is that what the Bible teaches? Is that the heart of God in a man? So in that particular theme, it was always ‑‑ I always tried to focus on what is God saying. Of course, it’s in his word and it’s his verses, and this, that, and the other, but what’s the heart of God saying? And then ‑‑ so what’s the gospel, and what’s Israel’s story in the gospel? And then Jesus fulfills what Israel did in God’s gospel story to where we come to the church part of it, and we continue that gospel story. So I try to keep God central and keep bringing us back to God and his son, Jesus ‑‑ well, you know, God in the flesh, Jesus. Does that make sense, what I’m saying?
WES: For sure, absolutely. In fact, you used this phrase several times, and you even used it in your e‑mail to me to talk about what you wanted to discuss today, and you used the phrase, “your relationship to the God of the Bible in the marketplace.”
WES: So talk about that for a second. What do you mean by “in the marketplace”?
BILLY: I think that’s a good question because, as we went through from January ‑‑ now we’re into August. We went through what’s the gospel? What’s the story of God? What’s our relationship to the God of the Bible? And then it’s bringing it into the marketplace. And what I mean by marketplace ‑‑ and I think I’ve heard other people say this. It’s in everyday living. It’s in the workplace. What does my relationship with God look like with my neighbors outside, with the people I interact with wherever I go or wherever I work? What does that look like? Because that’s where my relationship with God is going to be seen. It’s not just ‑‑ because I can go to church, I can read my Bible, and it’s sort of about me. I’m reading the Bible, I’m praying, I’m studying, I’m attending church service. But what does that relationship with God look like outside in the real world, where I’m being tempted or I’m being sucked in to act like the world? So that’s ‑‑ even though it’s ‑‑ even though it’s sort of focused on what’s my relationship to the God of the Bible seen in the marketplace and sort of focused on me, I want the overflow of my relationship with God to be seen, not just at the church, not just around other Christians, but as I interact with my neighbors who don’t know God. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. So that’s what I mean, “in the marketplace.”
WES: Well, I was ‑‑ in fact, I was just having lunch with someone and they were talking about how so much of the things that we get all worked up about as Christians, the things we fight about, the things we divide over, all revolve around that one hour a week on Sunday and what we do during that one hour a week. And he said, I have never heard ‑‑ he said, I’ve heard of all kinds of church splits based on what a church is doing or isn’t doing during that one hour, but I’ve never heard of anyone disciplining a Christian for something like failing to practice hospitality, something so core to what we’re supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus, yet you never hear Christians saying, you know, we really need to be better at this, and failing to do this is a sin. And the way I tend to put it is that we focus so much on doing church rather than being the church.
BILLY: Oh, yes.
WES: And I think you’re right. I love that way of putting it. It’s about being in the church 24/7. It’s about being the church in the marketplace, not just in the building.
BILLY: Well, see, that’s true because anybody ‑‑ well, yeah, I think this is true. Anybody could be a Christian when they go to a church service. It’s what are we like outside of the church building? Because people in the world, they’re not going and surrounding our church building, looking in the windows to see if we’re loving each other, you know? They’re going to see us outside. So anyone could be a Christian ‑‑ and this is sounding really negative, and I don’t mean it to be. Anybody can be a Christian at a church service for one hour. It’s what do we look like outside? And that’s the challenge. It’s in the marketplace. What am I like when I’m driving down the road and someone pulls out in front of me? What am I like when the pressure’s on when I’m dealing with real life outside?
WES: Yeah, I love this emphasis. So where did this come from? What initially made you want to teach this?
BILLY: Well, see, I’ve been looking at ‑‑ you just mentioned there, the last several weeks I’ve been looking at the Sermon on the Plain, you know, in Luke 6, and I’ve been asking the question, what does it look like to live under the authority of Jesus? You know, he’s the king. We’re his servants. We live in his Kingdom, or we’re trying to live as his subjects in the Kingdom. And I think to myself, well, you know, I also live in the world, and I use the language ‑‑ and somebody else said it, “upside‑down kingdom.” I can’t remember who it was, because you read a lot and I don’t remember things like Jordy does. But I think about my relationship with God. What does that look like? And, again, I do take it seriously and I want to be his follower. I want to love God and I want to love my neighbor. But the reality is, without being too real, I’m attracted to sin, as well, and being selfish and drawn to things that aren’t of God. And so thinking about this theme and why I wanted to teach this is ‑‑ you know, I’m serious when I tell people this: I preach the gospel to myself, or I preach to myself first, and people get to hear it, and I’m really serious about when I say that, as best that I’m able, on any given day or any given week. I’m preaching to myself because I need to hear this is how I’m supposed to live. And I’m a preacher, and I wake up and I think about God every day, even my days off. I think about writing sermons all the time. Who can I encourage? And then I ‑‑ so, as a preacher ‑‑ this is not the right wording ‑‑ I’ve got a special blessing on me to say, this is what I get to do every single day, and I need to be reminded every single day this is how I’m supposed to live. So what about ‑‑ I’m not saying the other Christians who aren’t in full‑time ministry don’t think about God every single day when they wake up and this, that, and the other. I’m just saying they’re in the world more than I am. I go to the church building and work with two people who are Christians and come home, but everyone else is in the world, and ‑‑ you know what I’m saying? And I’m not wording it right.
WES: We’re spoiled.
BILLY: So that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to do “JOY,” “Jesus, Others, Yourself,” because we live in a selfie world, don’t we, where people want attention, and there’s a lot of people out there getting negative attention. It’s attention, but it’s negative attention, and doing a lot of silly things. And we live in the world, not of it, of course, but we live ‑‑ and we can get sucked into that, so I think we need to remind ourselves, as well as I need to remind myself, you’re a Christian. You live in God’s kingdom. You’re a follower of Jesus. This is how you’re supposed to live as God’s person. So that’s one of the reasons why ‑‑ or maybe I gave you two reasons why. I think this is why I chose to do this.
WES: We’ve talked about a couple of different passages, Luke 6 in particular, and I know this spans the entire year, but what passages have you really focused on or have stood out, in your mind, as you’ve gone through all this?
BILLY: I think that’s a good question. I think the first lesson I did in this particular series ‑‑ you know, it’s “JOY,” “Jesus, Others, Yourself,” but I was trying to be creative or clever or ‑‑ maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, and I spelled “JOY” backward, and it’s Y‑O‑J, and I called it “yajay,” the “yajay” living. It’s Yourself; Others, maybe; and Jesus is somewhere in it, and said that’s the world that we live in. And so one of the passages that comes to mind is ‑‑ we do love God, we do love his word, we want to live it out, but James would tell us, don’t deceive yourselves by just hearing it. Do what it says. And you and I have spoken about this before, about here’s the truth, but we have to apply it to our lives. Fat on knowledge, anemic on application. And that might be too strong, but I think there’s truth to that, to say we hear the word, we study it, we read it, we hear sermons, we listen, sit in Bible classes, but let’s do what it says. So I think ‑‑ I used that in the first ‑‑ that verse in the first lesson, and it’s sort of been there the whole time. What’s our relationship to the God of the Bible? Are we going to do what he says? What does our relationship to the God of the Bible look like in the marketplace? What does it look like for me to live under the authority of Jesus? It’s all saying, hear the word and do what it says.
And then another verse ‑‑ and it’s Old Testament and New Testament, as you know, “Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again, I’m trying to keep God central to it. And then the application would be I show God how much I love him by how I interact with my neighbor. But another thing I try to do ‑‑ and these are not my ideas. None of the things I’m sharing with you really come from me. It comes from all the other people that influence me ‑‑ is when I look at a particular verse, whatever verses I’m looking at ‑‑ in the beginning of this series and the year, I was in Old Testament quite a bit and sharing the story of Israel, some things in Hosea, and then I’m in the New Testament. And then starting September here, I’m gonna be in the New Testament much more. But what I try to do is, instead of just looking at the verse ‑‑ and you’ll need to help me here with this, in some shape or form, and say, how can I better do this? I want to try to get to the heart of God in the verse or the character of God in the verse. What is his heart in this? Why does he want us to live ‑‑ do what the word says and not just hear? And so I don’t know what that would be. If Jordy was here, somebody else was here, they’d say that’s what this actually is that you’re trying to do and they’ll give us some big, fancy word. I don’t know those fancy words. I just want to keep God central. Does that make sense, what I’m saying?
WES: Yeah. Well, you know, it reminds me, when I first started preaching, I ‑‑ and I still ‑‑ I’m a little uncomfortable, just me personally, with this phrase, “the five acts of worship.” I think that there are several problems with that phrasing. But I really struggled to see, how is preaching worship. Because, to me, it was just about education. It was just about knowledge. It was just about teaching people, well, this is what the Bible says. But the way that you preach ‑‑ and you do so well in the way that you keep the emphasis on God ‑‑ what you’re doing is facilitating worship. You are facilitating worship by bringing us that are listening to you preach ‑‑ you are helping to bring us ‑‑ and you are very humble in the way that you preach, and so it’s obvious that you are coming with us as a fellow worshiper. Not standing over us, but coming with us, and together we are approaching God in humility and in awe of him, and you do that so well. And I really do believe that when preaching is done that way, where it’s not just about information, it’s about inspiration, it’s about focus on God, it is facilitating worship right then during the sermon, but hopefully, throughout the week, where the worshipers have a mind and a heart to worship because they have heard the word of God.
BILLY: Oh, what a lovely thing to say. That’s a lovely compliment. Thank you. I try to do that. You know, and I think that’s one of the things to do in the preaching is that ‑‑ and I preach to myself first, and I tell people, look, I need to hear this as much as you do. I need to live this out as much as you do, though there’s a wee special blessing on me because I get to do this every day. I, you know, wake up, I go to the church building or I work from home, and I think about God and talk about God and pray to God. But I need it as much as the next person, if not more.
WES: And I love how ‑‑ I don’t know how often you say this, but several times I heard you begin your lesson by asking if people came to hear a word from God.
BILLY: Yeah. Yeah, I heard that on a Focus on the Family. They were having a discussion ‑‑ I can’t remember who it was and when it was, but they said, as we approached the scripture ‑‑ I think it was about how to study the Bible or read the Bible, and the question presented was, did you come to hear a word from God? And just let that sit and simmer for a moment because the first thing people are going to say is, “Yeah, yeah, we are. We are. We came to hear,” and they do want to hear a word from God. But the next question is, what are you going to do with it? And that would go back to James. Don’t be deceived by just hearing it. Do what it says. What will you do with the word of God? And I have to ‑‑ as I preach it and prepare to preach it, I’m thinking the same thing. What am I going to do with what I’m saying that God wants us to do? But I don’t do that every Sunday because it would get old after a while, you know, saying, “You hear a word from God this morning?” “Yeah, can we get into it?” You know, so I just throw that in every now and again, not to be too negative.
WES: That’s good.
BILLY: Sorry if it came across that way.
WES: No, that’s good. So you mentioned earlier that a lot of these ideas have come from people that have influenced you. So do you have any recommended resources, resources outside of scripture, that have been helpful?
BILLY: Yeah. As I prepared last year and tried to work with what ‑‑ you know, how many weeks should I do on this, it was Scot McKnight’s book. I don’t know what people think of Scot McKnight. He has a book called “Jesus and His Kingdom,” “Jesus’ Kingdom,” and “The Kingdom of Jesus.”
WES: “King Jesus Gospel.”
BILLY: Ah, there you go. I knew all those words were right, and I’m glad ‑‑ so you’ve read it.
WES: It’s good.
BILLY: And I read it, and then reread it again and worked with it more. That was very helpful to me because it made me see the gospel bigger than my salvation or John 3:16 or 1 Corinthians 15, also. To say, well, what’s Israel’s story? How does Israel fit into this? How does creation fit into it? So that was a very helpful book that has shaped it. Another guy that ‑‑ there’s a couple of books that I’ve read of his. His name is Paul E. Miller, and one of the books is called “Love Walked Among Us,” and it focuses on the gospels and Jesus and how Jesus lived, how he interacted with people, how he spoke, and what he taught. And one of the things that stood out to me in that particular book was ‑‑ and you could relate to this because we deal with people ‑‑ or those listening deal with people who have struggles, is that Jesus saw the person, not the problem, and I thought that was an absolutely lovely thought. And, Lord willing, starting in September, I’m going to start looking more into the gospels and looking at Jesus, you know, the “Jesus, Others, Yourself,” the “JOY” thing, and saying, okay, as his followers, how can we live? So that was another book. There’s one Paul Miller did called the “J‑Curve,” and it seemed to be about suffering, and then “The Prayerful Life,” or something. Those three books that he’s done, I thought, were extremely helpful.
And then I just finished reading ‑‑ I like Christian music, and I was listening ‑‑ I like Big Daddy Weave, if you’ve ever heard of them. If you haven’t, you should listen to a song of theirs called “Redeemed.” And the book is called ‑‑ I think it’s called “Redeemed.” I just ‑‑ Melissa bought it for me, and it’s a quick read, and he talked about anxiety. He talked about ‑‑ he’s a big fellow. He talked about being overweight. He talked about dealing with pain. I thought that was a very, very helpful book, “I’m Redeemed” or ‑‑ it’s called “Redeemed,” and it’s from the song. So those are some books that I’ve found helpful, and then helpful as they shaped me in the series and preaching theme for this year.
WES: Yeah. Before we take a break, you’ve mentioned several times already in our conversation ‑‑ but knowing you, I know and can affirm how true this is ‑‑ this idea that you preach the gospel to yourself first. Your humility, both in one‑on‑one conversations and in the pulpit, is palpable, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate seeing the humility that you have and the love for God that you have. So knowing that, that your emphasis is on allowing the text to change you first before you preach it to anyone else, how has it changed you this year as you’ve preached through these themes?
BILLY: Slowly. Slowly, you know, because I ‑‑ I think I love God. I think I love God, and I think I love people, though I can struggle to love the people, right, at times ‑‑ at times, if I’m being honest. And so this whole idea of keeping God central and what’s ‑‑ I’m a part of this God story. I’m not the central character. I’m not the central ‑‑ yeah, I don’t play the lead role. I’m somewhere in the credits at the end of the movie. My name might be there. It would be ‑‑ it is there. It is. But it keeps bringing me back to ‑‑ “force” is not the right word. It keeps me focused on God and my relationship with him, and then how does that ‑‑ what does that look like with my neighbor, you know? And that’s the hard part of it. You know, I think ‑‑ I could be going off here. It’s easy to love God. I think it’s easy to love God and sing to him and pray to him and read about him and reflect on him and whatnot. It’s that relationship seen in the real world with my neighbor who could frustrate me, or my friends, or my family, or when the pressure’s on. And so how am I changed? Slowly, slowly being changed, because I do know this much. I’m in a marathon, you know, and it would take me eternity ‑‑ to the end of eternity to be like Jesus, and I’ve got 70, 80 years here, but it’s keeping me focused, this particular series is. But this particular series is just an outpouring of what I’ve been taught over the years about keeping God central and trying to live like him and be like him. Does that make sense?
WES: Yeah. Yeah, well, and I think it goes back to what we were talking about, that the way that you preach so well is this act of facilitating worship, and I think ‑‑ and it goes back to something Jordan Arnold and I talked about, that when we worship God when we are truly fixated on him, then we become his ‑‑ his idol, his image, and we bear his image in the world because we become like what we worship. But you’re right; it is a slow process, and I think it’s encouraging for people to hear that, to hear preachers say that, that for us, this is a slow process. Paul even said, “I haven’t attained it yet. I’m pressing on toward the goal,” that none of us are there yet, but we are all fixing our eyes on Jesus and striving to be more like him every day.
BILLY: Yeah, that’s true. Amen.
WES: Let’s take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
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WES: Well, Billy, I’m really enjoying this conversation, and I love all of the emphasis on the way you’ve been preaching through these themes this year. I know we focused on the idea that the message should change the messenger before it changes the congregation, but, as preachers, we always have hopes that it is going to influence the people to whom we’re speaking, as well. And so what is it that you hope ‑‑ first, that you hope that the people are learning as you present these messages?
BILLY: I think I already answered this a little bit. I hope that through this series and my preaching the way I preach, the congregation, Three Chopt in particular, understand that I’m as human as they are. And, you know, we all struggle. Maybe I wouldn’t struggle with the same thing they struggle with, but we all struggle and we want to live the way Jesus wants us to live, but we all realize and understand that what he is calling us to is not natural to the way we live. As I said before, it’s an upside‑down kingdom. He calls us, you know, not to hate the enemies, but to love them, you know, and if someone hits us on the cheek, to turn the other one. That’s not the world we live in, and that is where we need God’s help and the Spirit of God to help us in our strong relationship with God. But the thing is, I also believe that they already know these things and they’re learning or being reminded of them again, because, as I need to be reminded of things, they also need to be reminded. I think I said earlier on, that we need to be reminded of the things that we already know because life can get busy.
And then we also know that, okay, I’m as human as they are, the shepherds are as human, everybody in there is struggling with something else, but we live in a different world. We live in God’s kingdom. We are to live differently. And another ‑‑ you know, that the gospel is much bigger than their individual ‑‑ this is one of the things I want them to learn, and I think they already know but be reminded of, that the gospel story and God’s story is much bigger than their individual salvation and that they are forgiven, that they’re going to heaven. Does that make sense, what I’m saying? Because sometimes we think, okay, I’m saved, it’s okay, and not really thinking about anybody else. So that’s one of the things I would like them to learn, or hope they’ve learned, or think they already ‑‑ and I believe they already know, but I want to remind them of it if that makes sense.
WES: Yeah. Well, it’s almost like there’s a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing something where it has become a part of you, and that’s ‑‑ we’re all on that journey. We’re all at just different stages and levels of that journey, where we may know something intellectually, we may be able to affirm something, so if you preach something, people say, “Amen, that’s right. Yes, Billy, you’re exactly right.” But do you really ‑‑ I’m reminded of the father that comes to Jesus. “I believe. Help my unbelief.”
WES: It’s yes, I believe these things are true. I believe that I need to turn the other cheek. I mean, I believe it on one level, but on the other level, I’m still trying to find a million ways to justify what I want to do and what comes naturally to me. And so the question you could really ask is, “Well, do you really believe it?” It’s like the old story about the guy that crossed the Grand Canyon with the wheelbarrow, and he crossed it with an empty wheelbarrow and everybody cheered, and he said, “Now, how many of you believe that I could go across this tightrope with the wheelbarrow with someone in the wheelbarrow?” And everybody’s, “Oh, yes, yes, you could do it.” And then he asked, “Who wants to be the one to get in?” And, of course, nobody wanted to get in there. So the question is, do you really believe this? Has it become a part of you where you are already ‑‑ we’re going to talk about the application in a second, but at first, even before we live it out, it has to be inside of us, not just ‑‑ people say the furthest distance is the distance from your head to your heart.
BILLY: Yeah. I think you bring up a good point, as well, on the journey thing. We’ve got younger Christians, and you do ‑‑ all churches do. People have been Christians for 30, 40, 50 years, some who are a month, six months, a year into it, and saying, “Here, this is what you’re being called to. I know you other people know about it or you know this particular story, but if you don’t know this story well, here’s what it means, and here’s what is expected of you.” So I think that comes into it, as well, for different people, though we ‑‑ I don’t think ‑‑ you know, at best we may get 30 minutes, if people can stomach us for that long, on a Sunday morning, and we can’t go to every single person in the room and say, “I know you’re only six months into Christ, so here’s what it means for you,” and “You’re 50 years and it means something a little bit different for you.” So we have to paint as best that we’re able to in those moments to get them, to say, “I know you know this story, but if you don’t, here it is real quick, and here’s what it really means for all of us. But for you teenagers, this is what it would look like,” if you can get there, you know, a lot of time.
WES: And you do that so well. You specifically say ‑‑ you use those words a lot. You say things like “I know you know this, but if you don’t, I’m gonna tell you what it is,” or “I’m gonna tell you this story,” or “I’m gonna explain it a little bit to you” so that you help people to sort of catch up with where you might hope that they are, and not assuming, oh, we all know this, and so I’m not even gonna bother to tell you this story.
BILLY: I think that’s good, too, because we’re not just speaking to Christians. I don’t know what size of church you’re at. It’s much bigger than the one I’m at. I’m not jealous or anything of that, but you don’t get to meet everybody on a Sunday morning. So you may have a guest ‑‑ I see a good lot of the church family, but there’s a lot of people who you don’t know are they Christians, are they not, and so they want to be connected and relate to the story. And then, you know, we say, hey, the story of, you know, David and Goliath. Never heard of it. No idea what you’re talking about. So if we quickly say, hey, this is what the story’s about, and then jump into what we’re really trying to get to, I think that helps.
WES: So much of what you’ve emphasized has been on not just knowing something, but actually doing it, going back to what James says, don’t just be hearers of the word but be doers of the word, and living out your love for God in the marketplace. So what are some of those things that you hope that people who are listening to you preach ‑‑ changes that you hope are being made in their lives?
BILLY: I think it’s a good question that you’re asking, and there’s a part of me that says, look, I hope they can continue to trust God in the difficulties and when the ‑‑ you know, it’s easy to trust God when everything’s going smoothly ‑‑ but when tough times come. In the changing thing, I’m as human as they are. I struggle like they are. That they remember, also as I remember, that they’re not in a sprint. And I think, at times ‑‑ and I might get on a soapbox here. I think, at times, we can beat the church up, and I think we can also beat preachers up, and we should stop doing both of those things. You know, I’ve been a Christian since 1993. That’s 30 years, isn’t it? I don’t know how much change has happened in those 30 years. I know I’m different, but I don’t know how much, and I think that the listeners, the people that listen to us preach, that they’re not too hard on themselves and they’re not too easy on themselves ‑‑ but not too hard on themselves, either, where ‑‑ because I can be this way, and maybe other people can, that I can be quick to beat myself up for not being the best example. Not that I shouldn’t be a good example and the best example and reflect Christ, but, you know, to realize he’s still at work. He’s going to continue to work. I think Philippians 1 says something like that. He’ll continue his work and he’s going to finish his work in me.
So I think one of the things I would like the church to realize or to change ‑‑ I don’t know if I’m connecting to your question or not ‑‑ is don’t be so hard on yourself and don’t be so hard on other people. Show grace, show mercy. Realize they’re on a journey. They might be six months in Christ or 500 years in Christ. You’d like to believe that people who are longer in Christ are acting more like him. That’s not always the case. So, I think, don’t be so hard on yourself, but don’t be too easy on yourself, either. Balance that out, and remember that they’re on a journey and that their story is God’s story and God’s story is worth sharing, and our part in God’s story is worth sharing, so maybe they can get around ‑‑ we don’t usually use the “testimony” language in the churches of Christ, but to share how God has worked in their life with someone else. People can share their own stories. So I would like them to do that, and ‑‑ so they’re not just thinking of themselves and their own salvation, but thinking about other people. I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
WES: It does, and I think it goes back to everything that we’ve been saying. In fact, it made me think that when the gospel ‑‑ the real, true gospel that you’re talking about is proclaimed, we feel about ourselves that we are incredibly loved, but that we are far smaller than we ever thought we were before. But there’s almost a desire ‑‑ I think an inherent desire for God to show us how small we are. The time that I had that kind of visceral experience was climbing a mountain, and standing at the top of a 14,000-foot mountain and looking down, I suddenly was overwhelmed by how big everything was, how small I was, how small the car that I had driven there in was, that all of the problems and all of the worries and concerns that I had were minuscule, they were microscopic, and God is so big and his creation is so big, and this story that we’re a part of is so big. And, really, there was an incredible comfort in knowing that, as small as I am, God loves me, and I am so incredibly loved by God, but I am not ‑‑ as you’ve said multiple times, I am not the center of the universe. I am not the center of this story. What a small and sad story it would be if I was the main character in this story, and what a grand narrative it is that I get to be a part of it, but I’m just a tiny part of that story.
BILLY: Yeah. And even though we are a tiny part of it, we may get to thinking that we’re not making a difference in the world. And, you know, I want to be ‑‑ there’s a Bible verse, I want to be found faithful, you know, in the end. And I think our people think, well, if I was a true Christian, if I was a real Christian, if I was really faithful ‑‑ I think we need to shelve that and just say, look, I believe in God as best that I’m able to on any given day. And some days it doesn’t look like I believe in God the way I’m acting because of the pressure that I can feel in life, but I am faithful ‑‑ not just me. Our church members and the people that say they love God, they’re faithful. They may not be perfect in their faithfulness, but they’re faithful. And I think they need to know that, as well, and then be changed in that, too, to say I do love God, and I’m going to get up tomorrow morning and I’m going to have another go at loving him and being faithful to him and loving my neighbor as myself. I think ‑‑ I hope our church and the people that listen would start believing that and their lives be changed in a way that they could be more comfortable with God and in their relationship with God. I may not have worded that right.
WES: I think the beauty of what you’re saying is that faith is not so much about the amount of faith that we have, but the object of our faith. Jesus says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mountain to get up and throw itself into the sea. And so it’s not about how much faith you have, it’s where is your faith placed, in whom is your faith placed; and if your faith is in God, then you win, we win because our faith is in him. It’s because of his strength and might.
BILLY: Yes. Yeah, that’s good.
WES: So let me ask you this. If you had to go back and do this year over again, or if you look back at the lessons that you’ve taught, is there anything that you would say differently or teach differently or cover that you might not have covered?
BILLY: The answer is yeah, yeah. I think that’s true of all my sermons. So, you know, if I’m using an illustration or if I’m using a story ‑‑ and I try to use stories that are close in time‑wise. Like I don’t want to say, you know, “60 years ago when I was” ‑‑ though every now and again, it’s like, “When I was growing up in Northern Ireland,” or this coming Sunday I’ll be talking about my dad being a carpet fitter and when I was helping him as a boy, you know, in some shape or form, to lead into the sermon. But, yeah, if I ‑‑ and here’s the thing. I believe this to be true, and you may unfriend me and everybody else may not listen to him anymore. I think if the sermon is worth preaching once, it’s worth preaching five or six times.
And I also have some people who listen to my sermons and they’re not shy about critiquing it, either, which I have no trouble with, either, and I’m happy with what they do because they can say ‑‑ and maybe you’ve got friends that do ‑‑ preaching friends that do this, as well. They say, you know if you ‑‑ not to kind of say, “Your sermon stunk, and that series stunk because you should have used this particular verse,” or “Yeah, you should have used this instead of that.” They’re not doing it that way. They just say, you know, “That was a really helpful illustration,” or “This verse really could have driven the point home, as well.” So when I hear these preacher friends, who I have no trouble critiquing and giving feedback even if it’s negative, I’m going to say, “Yeah, man, that’s a great point. I never thought about that.” Because ‑‑ and I’m not going to word this right. I think most of my sermons are half‑baked or almost‑baked, and here’s what I mean by that, is I haven’t read all the Bible verses. I try to. I haven’t read all the books or commentaries on this particular section or this particular topic, and so a little bit later on I think, oh man, if ‑‑ just reading some things, say from Francis Chan or whoever else I read, Jim McGuiggan and blah, blah, blah, all the other names that I would mention ‑‑ oh, if I knew that, that would have fit in really well over there a couple of months ago. Or even ‑‑ and I’ve thought about doing this, too. I’ve never got around to doing it, though, saying to some of these preacher friends that I trust who critique, say, “Hey, I’m going to preach” ‑‑ I actually did this recently with Jordy, so I have done it. I did it with Jordy about a month ago. By the time he gets to listen, it’s a year from now, probably. I said, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking of doing. I think it’s way too wordy. What do you think?” And so I sent it to him and he gave me some feedback and said, “Yeah.” Because, as you know, he and I worked together at Red River, and so ‑‑ and we did a lot of that when we worked with Hosea material, and so I’ve done that.
So to answer your question, yes. I think the answer is yes. I think there are some lessons ‑‑ because depending on the day, I could be really upset about something but still have to preach, and then I might come across with a tone, or I’m really, really tired, or family life is difficult, and I’m feeling weighed down and there’s no life in me as I’m preaching. So I think the answer is yes. Yes, I think that’s with all the sermons that I do. What do you think about what I’m saying? Do you feel that way, too, at times?
WES: Oh, absolutely. That’s why I ask this question every time I get to visit with another preacher. And I’ve never preached a sermon that I thought, “That went exactly like I planned it. That could not have gone any better. I said exactly what I wanted to say, nothing more, nothing less.” And there’s never been a time where I haven’t, as you said, looked back on an older sermon and thought ‑‑ even if it was an older sermon a week ago or a month ago, and thought, “Oh, why did I say it that way?” Or “That wasn’t exactly right,” and I learned something new and I grew from there. In fact, I was listening to an interview with Dr. John Walton on my way to the building just now, and he was talking about reading the Bible faithfully, and someone asked him, “Why don’t you say reading the Bible ‘correctly’?” And he said, “Because I have had too many experiences where I have realized that what I thought was the correct way to read the Bible was wrong, and I’ve grown and I’ve changed and I’ve learned new things.” And so I always want to read scripture faithfully, but I’m not always going to do it correctly. I’m not always going to be perfect in what I say or what I think or what I preach.
And I think that goes back to everything that we’ve been talking about, is that we’re not going to be perfect as disciples of Jesus. We’re not going to be perfect as preachers and teachers and Bible students, but we can be faithful. We can always be faithful. And you are faithful even on those days where you’re having a bad day or you’re tired or things are going on at home, and you’re preaching the truth and you’re preaching God’s Word and you’re pointing people towards Jesus and towards the Father, and you’re being faithful to your calling. Even though you may look back on it and say, “Well, in hindsight, I would have done this differently,” you’re still faithful, and our Father can look and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
BILLY: Yeah. And then that also takes the pressure off me, too, because I just give the word out. It’s the Spirit of God’s job, or God’s job, to get the people to say, “Oh, I’ve got to change because I heard that,” you know, so whether false motives are true, as long as Christ is preached and I’m trying to give the word of God, the outcome’s not really on me or how it comes across. But here’s the thing that we preachers can do, is, “Hey, remember a couple of weeks ago I said this,” da, da, da, da, da, whatever it was. “Here’s what I actually meant to say.” Because, you know, especially in a theme or this series ‑‑ a little series, there’s a thread ‑‑ or even maybe it’s bigger than a thread ‑‑ it could be a big rope for some of us ‑‑ that goes through the sermons, so it’s easy to just go back and say, “Hey, couple of weeks ago, I didn’t say that right and here’s what I actually meant,” and then trot on, so, yeah.
WES: Yeah, that’s great. So what’s next? What are you planning on preaching and teaching next?
BILLY: Well, I’ve got two things, Lord willing, in September here, because I’ve got two or three more in the Sermon on the Plain. Starting in September, I want to look more into the gospels and just look at the life of Christ. It’s this idea of love walking among us. So it’s what is our relationship to the God of the Bible seen in the marketplace, in everyday life, and then into what does it look like to live under the authority of Jesus or to love our neighbor as ourselves? So it’s just going to be looking at the gospels for a good chunk of the rest of the year, though there’s going to be a couple of special sermons, special dates, and this, that, and the other. We’re going to be celebrating our 100th year as the Three Chopt church on the first Sunday in October, and I’m going to be doing a hundred‑year thingy‑ma‑jiggy, and it’ll be good. It’ll be good. I wish they would have a special guest speaker, but they’re not going to do that. They’ll have me.
And then I’m working on ‑‑ and Jordy touched on this a little bit. Jordy and I are kicking around the idea of looking at each Old Testament book. You know, Genesis one week, you know, the next one the next week, and on, for next year, and sort of ask the question, what is the God of Genesis up to today? What is the God of Leviticus, or the God of, you know, the Psalms up to today? So Jordy and I are kicking that around a little bit together, and I’m thinking that because it was several years ago at Three Chopt where I did a survey ‑‑ a New Testament survey, just looked at ‑‑ if that’s the right word, just looked at Matthew one week, you know, Luke next, you know, Mark, John, Acts, and went through the New Testament that way, and I’d like to do that in the Old Testament. We’re kicking it around, but that is one thing I’d like us to do, which would keep it God‑centered, so ‑‑ and, yeah, that’s what we’re looking at ‑‑ or I’m looking at ‑‑
WES: That’s wonderful.
BILLY: ‑‑ for the ’24, and then, September, on as “Love Walked Among Us.”
WES: Well, Billy, thank you for this conversation, thank you for your work in the Kingdom, and thank you for being my friend.
BILLY: Thank you so much, and let me say this about you. I think you’re an amazing man of God and you’re doing marvelous things. But I told you this before, and people need to hear this, that you tell people that God loves them ‑‑ that’s really important ‑‑ and that you love them, as well. I’m really glad that you do. I’m going to steal it at some point and use it. I can’t smile the way you do when you say it, but I think that’s really important that people hear that, and you do that very well. And thanks for being my friend. I’ll say that you make my life more beautiful, Wes. Thank you.
WES: Likewise, Brother. I love you. Thanks. Thanks again.
BILLY: Thank you.
Thank you so much for listening to the Radically Christian Bible study podcast. If you have just a moment, we would love for you to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, or wherever you’re listening. It really does help people find this content. I also want to thank the guests who join me each week; Travis Pauley, who edits this podcast; Beth Tabor, who often volunteers her time to transcribe it; and our whole McDermott Road church family, who make it possible for us to provide this Bible study for you. Now let’s go out and love like Jesus.