How can we be effective in loving our community? Let’s start with a warning. A warning to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else. Jesus told this parable in Luke 18:9-14, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and he prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evil doers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” If you read the original Greek, he actually puts the definite article in there, which means he says, “God have mercy on me the sinner.” I love the humility of this man. Jesus goes on to say, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I have a little mantra, a little thing I say to myself all the time, whenever I feel frustrated at people who let me down or people who I could be tempted to feel better than. I say, “People are people are people. And I'm one of them.” You would’ve heard me say this around the office many times if you’re on staff, “People are people are people. And I’m one of them.” I constantly need to remind myself because the temptation to exalt myself and pretend that I’m better than other people is right there all the time. But the Christian journey, the Christian walk, is a humbling walk. As you really own up to the fact of your total and utter dependence on Jesus, He will lift you up and you will experience the love and grace of God. There’s nothing better, but we’ve got to be a humble church.
You know, some churches are banister churches. What do I mean by that? My parents grew up in a very, very conservative church that held onto the truth so strictly that in the room the Christians sat at the front of the church and there was a banister. Anyone who was part of the family or part of the congregation who had not been baptized and affirmed as a Christian by the elders was not allowed to sit in front of the banister. They had to sit at the back. They had to sit at the back until they made the decision to come forward. Now, is that a really effective way to get people to become Christians? I don’t know. That church didn’t have many people in it, I’ll tell you that much. But what I can tell you is humility is incarnation. What’s incarnation? Jesus left heaven. He crossed the banister and He came to Earth to mix and mingle with the lost so that He could save them.
I love this verse in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 where Paul is talking about Christians in the church maintaining sexual purity, but he has been misunderstood. And look what he says here, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave this world.” I love this verse so much. Paul says, when I told you not to associate with sexually immoral people, he’s talking about mature Christians who are carrying on with sexual immorality, who are claiming they’re really strong Christians but going against what Jesus says. He says we have to have some standards in that department. But when it comes to actually going out into the world and mixing with people, he says, if you’re not going to hang out with sexually immoral people, you have to exit planet Earth. Of course, we’re going to be incarnations like Jesus.
Of course, we're going to be out there loving and caring for and rubbing shoulders with all the people that God puts us on the path with. We need to make our church a humble church. We need to be out there mixing with the world and showing them Jesus. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost wrote a book years ago called The Shaping of Things to Come. It had this really cool thing about how they look after their sheep in Australia. They have these huge properties and it’s too hard to fence them. They’re too big. So one of the questions is: how do you keep sheep on the property if you’ve got no fences? The answer is: you dig wells. Our churches should be places without fences, but they should have wells. And the wells are Jesus.
You see, we’re going to try and run gatherings in all of our churches where people can come and find Jesus. We’re not going to build fences. We’re not going to say “you are in” and “you are out” and “you are not allowed” and “you are this” and “you are that.” Because we want them to come in and find Jesus. We want to be a church that builds wells, not fences. Today I want to look at a few values. They’re going to make us into a church that is a place where people can come, they can find Jesus, they can experience transformation, and they can have life.
1 - A church that holds on to grace and truth. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We need truth and grace. Jesus is the truth. He’s the only one who knows the right way to live, that will save you. He holds the truth, but He also holds grace because he knows that we cannot live up to God’s standard without the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Without knowing that He loves and accepts us. We would never have the guts to even start that journey if we didn’t know that God already accepted us.
And that is the message of grace. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He died for our sins and made a way so that we could step into a relationship with God. Before we had our act together. Grace and truth, we need to hold on to both. 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Our church needs to have accurate doctrine. Our church needs to teach the whole truth of God, but we need to have truth and grace. If we’re going to dig wells and we’re going to be a community where people are on a journey toward Jesus, then we need to speak the truth. But we need to offer grace.
Our church is going to have church discipline, for people who are mature Christians. Our church is going to have rules where you can’t be in a position of authority, teaching a small group or as a youth leader or on the teaching team if you don’t agree with orthodox Christianity. We are going to have guidelines for who can teach because we’re not going to ask someone to teach something they don’t believe in. That’s a lack of integrity. But that’s it. Our church gatherings are a public gathering. We should make it so that everyone is welcome. We should make it so that when anyone steps foot onto this property, they feel loved and engaged and just feel hospitality flowing to them. And that’s not just the property. You should be out there in the community, walking across the room toward people, not just expecting them to come. If our church is going to help the lost, it needs to be full of grace and full of truth.
Jesus is the key to understanding how to hold onto both. When you look at Jesus and you look at the way He lived His life, you’re going to fall in love with Him and you’re going to start to become like Him. He was full of grace and truth.
2 - A church that believes in the power of God. Galatians 5:19-26 tells us this, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul says, if all this junk comes into your life, it’s obvious that this is not the best for you. And if you live like this with no desire to change, you won’t be experiencing the kingdom of God. There’s also going to be a question mark over your salvation because if you’ve truly met Jesus and you’ve truly understood the grace and the love of God, then you’re going to want to be like your Heavenly Father. You’re going to want to change. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Basically, it says this, if we want to be useful to our world, if we want to see the victims of our society completely transformed and changed, we have to believe in the power of God. The very best way to start changing the world is that we would be changed. If we are passionate about keeping in step with the Spirit as it said there, then we are going to be a church that has a powerful witness.
I saw a really great testimony on YouTube about Becket Cook. He was a gay Hollywood set and runway designer. He was achieving a lot of success, but he was missing the vital piece of life, a relationship with God. There was something missing in his life. One day he and a gay friend of his were sitting in a diner in L.A. and they saw a group of people doing a Bible study. Young people with Bibles open. This was so confusing to them. He was an atheist and he was gay. And he thought: Do people still read the Bible? Do they still believe that stuff? So he felt compelled and walked over and talked to this table of young Christians. He asked them questions about what they believed and he particularly asked about what they believed about him. A person who’s homosexual, a person who is an atheist.
In his testimony he said something really interesting, he said, “I respected them because they told me the truth. They told me what they actually believed, but I was shocked and moved by their gentleness and their love.” Isn’t that interesting? So when they told the truth in love, he was actually impressed. He said they didn’t try to beat around the bush or try to hide what they truly believed as Christians, but they did it with an authentic gentleness and love. Now here’s the next step. These guys, after having a conversation together said, “Hey, would you like to come to our church? Would you like to come to a church service? We would love to have you come.” He said that initially, he declined. But it played upon his mind the whole week.
Do you know that when we do what God asks us to do, God is doing the heavy lifting? All we need to do is bear witness and tell the truth in love and gentleness and actually care like Jesus about other people. God does the heavy lifting. So all week, this guy is having an existential crisis because he feels like he should go to this church, a place that has already told him that it rejects his lifestyle and his way of life. He goes to the church service – much to his own shock. He sits in the very back and he says that, in the middle of that church, he hears the gospel preached. God reaches down and grabs hold of him. He begins a process of transformation. This guy is forever transformed. He's written a book called A Change of Affection, because God reached in, grabbed hold of him, and changed his life forever. You can go and look it up. What an amazing story. If we are passionate about the power of God in our lives, if we’re serious about pursuing Jesus and seeing His truth, all of His truth, not just the acceptable sins, but all of the truth in our lives, then this church will be a place where miracles like that happen. If our church becomes a social club where we are happy with a little bit of holiness, but we don’t really get serious about going all the way and truly being like Jesus, then God won’t use our church. But if we believe in the power of God and we chase after Jesus wholeheartedly, then He’s going to use our church.
But look at the process there. Think about it. There was a witness. They were out there reading their Bible publicly. Then there was an invitation. They said, “Hey, why don't you come with us” – after they’ve displayed the love of God with their gentleness and their answers. Then boom, the presence of God. The presence of God can do things that you and I could never do. The power of God can change people when they truly understand that He loves them and He accepts them and He has a better way for them. So, we need to be a church that holds grace and truth like Jesus: full of grace and truth. We need to be a church that believes in the power of God.
3 - A church that's willing to be misunderstood. Did you know Jesus was willing to be misunderstood just to go and save lost people? I don’t really care what the opinion of other Christians, or other churches, is of our church. I care what Jesus thinks of us and I’m willing to be misunderstood if it means that we can go and be useful, saving lost people. Look at Jesus’ statement here in Matthew 11:18-19, speaking about John the Baptist saying, “For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man,” Jesus talking about Himself, “came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
So Jesus says, John the Baptist came along and he was a believer in God who had a call on his life to stay away from certain foods and drinks. So he looked like he was very holy, and everyone accused him of having a demon. Then Jesus turns up and He wants to show everyone what it’s like to be a friend of sinners. So He gets accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he’s hanging out, eating, and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. And Jesus says, true wisdom (grace and truth – lived out in the gospel, the love of God for people) will ultimately be revealed by her deeds. Jesus says, “John the Baptist had true wisdom. I have true wisdom. And both of us, because we followed God, will ultimately be revealed as being righteous and doing what was good.” Our church needs to stop worrying about what other people might think and we have to just do what is right – what God has called us to do.
We may have slightly different callings, but if our heart is for the lost and our heart is to bring people back to Jesus and our heart is to help people discover the love of God and bow their knees in repentance to the King of kings and Lord of lords who wants to offer them everything, then that way of life will ultimately be true. It’ll be proven right. And that's what I’m chasing.
Are you willing to be misunderstood, Church?
During the pandemic our church closed. I can tell you what the discussion was like in the leadership meeting. It was as simple as this. We’re one of the biggest churches in town. We do not want to be an epicenter for a disease that could kill people. And we don’t want to lose the chance to witness to half of our population who have a different political view than the other half. We want to keep the capacity to speak the gospel to everyone. In a politically charged environment, we tried to do the right thing by our community so that we could keep sharing the gospel. There’s so many arguments about what was the right or wrong thing to do, but the desire was that we would keep our mandate so that we would be able to share the gospel to every single person in our community. Every single person in the valley. We want to see people far from God come near to God. We don’t care what our reputation is as long as Jesus is happy with us and Jesus is leading us and Jesus is continuing to bless the work of our hands as we see people come to Jesus. That’s our one thing.
Are you willing to be misunderstood?
Are you willing to get out there and show compassion and love? A lot of Christians have this phrase, they say we love the sinner and we hate the sin. I read a great line this week, I can’t remember where I read it from, but he basically said, can you stop saying that and just do it? Okay, we’ve heard it. You love the sinner but you hate the sin. Just get out there and do that and, at the right time, God will give you an opportunity to share the greatest message of love of all time: His gospel. And when people meet Jesus, that is when transformation happens. A church full of grace and truth. A church that believes in the power of God.
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