Thanksgiving for Cross-Generational Community

This past Sunday the young adult class at Forest Hills Baptist Church hosted a huge thanksgiving lunch. It was a huge spread with some amazing food at the house of a young hospitable couple. This lunch made a lasting impression on me, not because of the food, but because of the amazing, beautiful picture of the body of Christ. Although the event was hosted by young adults there was a wonderful diversity within that house. There were college students, young professionals, young married, a baby crawling around, children playing with toys, some empty nesters, and two senior adults. It was a ecclectic group of people who were all having the greatest time eating, talking, and encouraging one another in the Lord. As I looked across the house and saw all the amazing cross-generational conversations, I thought to myself "This is the body of Christ!" What could have brought this diverse group of people together under one roof other than Jesus? One of the great holes in our modern method of doing church is hindering these cross generational relationships to develop. We age segregate everyone into such small categories that there is often very little if any interaction between age groups.

There is great wisdom that can be gained from across the generational gulf. Yet often in most churches there is generational tension between these groups rather than encouraging community. Discipleship happens within community and when we cross the generational gulf. When older men disciple younger men and older women disciple younger women (Titus 2), the church is built up as the beautiful body of Christ.

As I enjoyed that wonderful meal with good friends, for a moment I saw the glorious beauty of the body of Christ. I got just a small visible glimpse of the unity we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This unifying Gospel can cross even the widest generational gulf and bring the most unexpected people together.

Diversity in the Unity of the Local Church

The wonderful truth of the church is that there is unity in diversity. If you look around your church on a Sunday morning you might wonder how this diverse group of people came together. Everyone is so different! From their skin color to their personalities to their gifts to the social class to their tax bracket, the body of Christ is diverse. Yet despite all these differences there is unity in the diversity. This ecclectic group of people are one in and through Jesus Christ. What do all these people have in common? That they have been forgiven and redeemed through Jesus. Yet despite the clear diversity we see on Sunday morning, so often we want people to fit into a certain Christian mold. We have this idea of what a good Christian in our church looks like, and we overemphsize certain gifts more than others. A teacher is shown more prestige than the humble servant taking out the garbage after a church funciton. Yet, in our unity the church is diverse. We can't expect everyone to be a clone. Steve Taylor, one of the early pioneers of the Christian music scene, had a song called "I want to be a Clone". It was a funny tounge-n-cheeck type song that highlighted this problem. He sings:

They told me that I'd fall away Unless I followed what they say Who needs the Bible anyway, I want to be a clone Their language, it was new to me But Christianese got through to me Now, I can speak it fluently, I want to be a clone

This is exactly what we do to the diverse group of people in our churches. We want them to fit the traditional idea of what a christian looks like in our culture, complete with a icthus on your car and a chessy Christian t-shirt that says "Abreadcrumb and Fish".

As the New Testament talks about the church, it emphisizes its unity but also its diversity. In Romans 12:1-8 Paul emphasizes both the unity and diversity in the church.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3–8, ESV)

You see all though we are one body, there are many parts. Each Christian has been gifted differently and are equipped to serve the body differently. Some are gifted for leadership, some are not. Some are gifted in teaching, some are not. Some are more prone to mercy, some struggle. Some are more prone to serving, some struggle. You see, every Christian is unique and different, called my God to serve the body in a unique way. In the unity we have in Jesus, there is a great diversity in the way we serve on another and work together in unity as a church to advance the Gospel.

The Antidote to the Me-Centered Church

This Blog Post is an excerpt from my sermon on Philippians 2:1-11, "The Gospel, Humility, and Unity". You can listen to the sermon audio here. Humility is a bizarre concept for modern people. It is a difficult idea to wrap our minds around. Modern people have been indoctrinated with enlightenment idea of progress striving to be better than one another, but most significantly is the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest. Many people see rising to power and promoting self as the chief purpose of life. To be great is to be powerful, respected, feared, and wealthy. So for many of us greatness and humility are two traits that do not go together. Indeed humility is against our very nature. We are prideful beings constantly seeking our own fame. We often beg for compliments and perk up when someone gives us a word of praise. We like to be in the spotlight and we like to be the center of attention. We like for people to serve us, so we created a whole service industry of waiters, customer service representatives, and hospitality to pamper us and to meet our every want. Our sinful instincts are not naturally drawn to humble service but prideful entitlement!

Yet for the Christian, one born of God is to be characterized by radical humility. Christians are to be made servants, not consumers. The Christian lays down his own wants and desires for the sake of others. Since he has been given everything in Christ it is his joy to give himself to others. The Christian is to do nothing from selfish ambition. He is to do nothing to advance his own reputation. He is not to seek his own glory or fame. The Christian is to abstain from conceit. He should not think of himself more highly than he ought. He is to realize that he is not the center of the universe. Rather than thinking much about himself he is to think much about others. What about you? Do you think of yourself more highly than you ought? Do you desire your own fame and glory? This is not the way of the Christian.

Rather than self-exaltation Paul encourages the church toward other-exaltation. We must see the significance of our brothers and sisters and must value them above ourselves. We are to look out for them, care for them, and serve them. We are to look not only to our own interests but also the interest of others. The humble servant is to look for ways to serve and to meet the needs of those around him. Rather than being absorbed in narcissistic individualism we are to be marked by generous radicalism.

The Struggle of Humility

But lets be honest. Isn't it so difficult to be a humble servant? I struggle with laying down my wants for the sake of my brothers and sisters. So often I want to look out for myself and my own needs! I want to look after my own interests, and if I have time maybe I'll look after yours. My heart fights to find others as more significant than myself. The spirit rages in my heart convicting me of my pride. Humility is difficult and as pastor and writer CJ Mahaney said in his little book on humility, "I am a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God". I want to be humble, but I need God's grace to help me in my sin and to help me realize who I am before Him. He is the creator I am the creature. I am the sinner and He is the savior. I am the rebel, He is the peace maker. He is the judge and I am the felon. Humility is not some sort of melodramatic self-loathing. Humility means understanding who you are in relation to God and others.

The Disdain of the Me-Centered Church

If a church is to be unified, on mission to advance the cause of Christ, there must be humble service among its members. This humility must define the culture of the church. The body of Christ is not to be made of entitled egoist, but self-denying servants.

Yet how far many churches are from this picture! We've turned our churches into consumer businesses where you come to church to be served rather than to serve. We've traded in the great commission for attractive products the church can offer you. The Great Commission has become the Great Suggestion. So churches come up with the latest and greatest way of catering to your needs with multi-million dollar buildings, a large menu of programs for your choosing, and worship services with watered down lyrics, flashing lights, a funny speaker, but very little Jesus. Perhaps the reason the mission of God is not being accomplished today is because our churches have been training a generation of believers that the church is here to serve them, not them to serve the church!

So a me-centered Christianity has cropped up where we demand from the church to do it my way or I'll hit the highway. I want my style of music, I want this sort of ministry, I want this length of a worship service, I want this sort of pastor, I want this sort of children's ministry. So in a never ending aim to appeal consumers churches run the rat race of conforming the church to what me-centered Christians want it to be, rather than letting God define what the church should, how we conduct our worship services, or what sort of ministry philosophy we will have. We take God's word and throw it into the metaphorical drawer and do church the way we want to do it.

So what is the solution to the plight the church of america has gotten itself in? How do we guard against our own hearts form this me-centered Christianity? How do we get our churches to look more like Philippians 2? Well it starts with a profound knowledge and deep conviction of the truthfulness of the Gospel. Humble service is a result of Gospel transformation. The antidote to the me-centered church is the self-sacrificing Christ! How do we learn to serve? How do we learn humility? How do we stay unified on the mission God has given us? Well it comes by looking to Christ!

The Example of Jesus

Paul turns our attention to Jesus, highlighting him as the example, the epitome of humility. Jesus though God did not cling to his divine prestige. If anyone had the right to be served by others it was Jesus! He is God! All of creation was created by his word! He sustains the universe by the word of his power. Yet, he was willing to take on the form of a servant. He was willing to step down from the glory of heaven, to become a human being and be born to a teenage girl in a stable. Rather than coming as a King, Jesus came as a servant. He came as one who would give up his life. Jesus was obedient even to the point of death. He humbled himself to the point of death, but not just any death, a death on a cross! The most horrific, violent, bloody, and painful inventions of torture humanity has ever come up with. He goes to the cross of his own volition and dies in the place of sinful man. As Jesus says, "The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many". Jesus served us in our greatest need and in our greatest weakness. We are sinners who stand condemn before God. There is no one righteous, no not one! We stand before God and we are unrighteous, unworthy. We deserve hell and punishment. Yet the servant Jesus sees our need, humbles himself by taking on humanity and the Father sends Jesus on a rescue mission. God crucifies himself at the hand of his created image bearers so our sins could be paid for. God endured the wrath you deserved by taking it on himself. At the cross Jesus in humility laid down his life for us. The great God of the universe humbled himself and became a servant of man.

Here is the power of the Gospel in our lives! When we understand the astonishment of God's grace to us, when we stand amazed at God's service to us, our response is genuine humility. As we look to Calvary we see a gift we do not deserve. When we see the wonder of God's grace to us we become aware of our smallness. The reality of our tiny existence is made real, and we are amazed that God would take me and save me and restore me. When that truth sinks in and you feel the weight of God's love towards you in Christ, you are left standing with eyes gazing, falling on your knees in humility!

Do you desire humility? Do you desire to be a servant to others? Look to Christ our example! He is the suffering servant who demonstrates humility for us. Soak in this truth and as you do humility will be your response. For those who have genuinely put their faith in Jesus and have trusted in this good news humility is the only response. As we are humbled by the Gospel we will in turn be a servant to others. Why? Because Christ was first a servant to us. So look to your savior you who are proud at heart! Look to his nail pierced hands and feet you who seek to be served! For if the God of all the earth has stooped down to serve you, shouldn't you the dust of the earth serve your neighbor?

Is Gossip and Bitterness in your Church?

There is secret sin in the hallways of many churches. A hidden monster that destroys the witness and effectiveness of many churches.  These sins are gossip and bitterness.  These carnal actions have are permissible because they are not as obvious as sexual sin, drunkenness, and other forms of immorality.  These hidden sins are often allowed to continue because they are incredibly difficult for church leaders to enact church discipline.  However, these sins more than any others can destroy the witness and testimony of the local church in its community.

Gossip is the most clearly disguised of church sins.  Often under the guise of women's small groups and emergency prayer groups is the sinful motivation of gossip. Christians often love talking about each other behind the other persons back.  This sin often has a spiritual spin as a prayer request, but in a reality it is just plain gossip. The topics of gossip know no end. Christians gossip about an unpopular leadership decision, sin in another persons life, other people's marriages and children. Many times Christian fellowship looks more like middle schoolers at recess than the body of Christ on mission.

The troubling thing about gossip is that it is often the default way of handling conflict in the church.  When one member has a problem with a pastor or another church member, rather than going to them directly they begin the gossip chain. A church with this sort of culture quickly becomes the petri dish of bitterness. Gossip is the moister and bitterness is the mold that follows.  And as any home owner will tell you, mold is costly to fix.  The best thing to do for the culture of a church is to cut off the cause of bitterness, gossip.

Jesus tells his disciples in John 13:34 of a new commandments which is to "love one another."  Jesus tells them just as He has loved the disciples so too should they love one another.  Jesus continues and tells them "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  You see the love church members have for one another ought to be a visible demonstration of the love of Christ.  If a church is filled with carnal members who spend their time gossiping and tearing down each other, the witness of that church in its community is greatly hindered.  When we make up slanderous accusations against one another, when we are relentlessly angry and mean towards each other, when we exalt our own egos at the cost of unity, we fail in proclaiming the love of Christ to a lost and dying world.  The world will know we are disciples of Christ if we love one another. May we fall on our face and repent from these permissible sins. May we ask for forgiveness from God and also from one another.  May we put to death all carnality in the body of Christ and be visible proclamations of the Gospel by of our love for one another.

 

 

 

 

Church Unity and the Advancement of the Gospel

In churches we tend to get distracted.  Events, activities, committee meetings, budget meetings, church council, youth committee meetings, children’s committee meetings.  Did I mention committee meetings?  Needless to say, churches can quickly become busy with the hustle and bustle of church activity.  In fact, it can get to the point where the church is so busy doing church, that we don’t take the time to reflect on whether we are actually accomplishing what we set out to accomplish.  Often, we tend to find ourselves defining our church by what programs we offer or activities we perform.  In fact, we tend to fall in love with our methodology of ministry and it becomes an functional idol.  As a result, what tends to happen is that the congregation becomes disunified as people argue over the proper methodology of doing church.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians stresses that the church needs to remain unified for the sake of the Gospel.  Apparently there is a bit of conflict among the congregation among two women, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 3:).  It is not clear what the problem between the two was, but what is clear is that the disunity was distracting them from the churches primary mission, the advancement of the Gospel.

As a church, that is our mission isn’t it?  The ultimate goal is to see the Gospel go forth, and to see lives changed by the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.  How come we get so hung up in our methodology, that we forget this?  Churches divide on worship style, sunday school curriculum, services, or even changing the color of the carpet.  Why should any of these issues be so divisive amongst the body?  This is why we must constantly remind ourselves of our mission and goal, the advancement of the Gospel.  The correct question to ask is not which worship style do we want our church to be, but what worship style will be most effective for the advancement of the Gospel in our community? In other words we should be constantly evaluating all our busyness and asking how this particular activity is helping to advance the Gospel of Jesus.  We must pause and evaluate and not let the busyness of activity fool us into thinking that we are actually being successful. There are too many people in our cities that need the Gospel to waste time.  The urgency is great, and we don’t have time for petty differences in methodology.  So pause and ask yourself the question, how can you best advance the Gospel in your church?