Over the last few years we have taken the summer and studied a book of the Bible. Quite frankly it’s something that I look forward to every year. Over the past few years we have studied some of Paul’s letters, and James…and this year I was really gearing up to study 1st and 2nd Peter with you all. I enjoy picking the scriptures apart like that…but that isn’t the direction we went this summer…instead we are jumping into a really challenging series that kind of centers around a recurring thought or question. What is the question? Well the way I see it, it comes down to this; how do you view church? It’s interesting because Jesus talks a lot about how we should live our lives as His followers. He really lays out for us the kind of life a disciple of His would live, so you would think this question wouldn’t even really need to be asked. If scripture is so clear on how we are to live our lives as Jesus’ disciples, shouldn’t all Christian’s view and engage church the same way? Well, if you have been around people any length of time you realize how differently we all think and see. And it’s somewhat sad to say but unfortunately do not see the idea of viewing or doing church the same (hence the many different types of churches out there…and really some of that is a good thing), but frankly I do not think there is anything that weighs heavier on me, than church people turning inward and living for themselves inside their church communities. Nothing can weigh on me like Christians who love God, who can’t seem to move out of self-centeredness and into this new life we are offered through Jesus.
So this week as I sat down to write this sermon a different feeling hit me. I normally feel so excited to write and explore the scriptures with you on Sunday mornings. It’s probably the highlight of my week. But this time, I am just going to say it, I felt a little discouraged, maybe even a little tired. I sat down at my desk and took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Well Sam here we go.” I found myself searching for the energy and passion to really drive into the topic of the Church. Frankly, that tiredness I felt really caused me to pause for a moment and grab hold of that emotion. “What in the world Sam? Why do you feel this way? Especially over something that really means so much to you, like the church.” I stopped and prayed about it, and I am going to just come out and say something, and I am going to say it, with as much redemption in my heart as I can bring. That emotion I felt, that challenge I felt is because I know that as I press in on this Christian life, and on the idea of the church having a focus on those far from God…that not everyone wants to hear that message, which is really hard on me. To make matters worse today I’m pressing in on you about 5 choices we all need to make if we want to be the very church that is mission minded and able to help reach people outside the church who are far from God…and not everyone is willing or looking for more to do. There is something beautiful in the choices that we all must make, but for me as someone who just wants everyone to experience life and life to the full…I also know that not everyone is willing to make choices to live differently…and I’m just going to tell you that is hard on me. I carry a lot of hurts that I know I probably should carry because of the choices people make, or I guess better said would be the choices they won’t make to take steps towards Jesus and live differently. It’s so hard on me, probably harder than it should be, but I want everyone to experiencing life standing in their true self, their child of God self…and as I keep saying week after week, that comes from more than just believing…we have something to do as well. Remember this scripture that I keep bringing up lately?
John 1:9-12 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. MSG
You know, the idea of what church could be has been a dream and passion for me and my family for my entire life. The idea of people standing as their true selves, living out that life to the full I bring up all the time is well, it would be my dream for everyone…and the challenge for me is in the choice we all have to make for ourselves somewhere along the line, to BELIEVE AND DO…or not. It’s amazing, I am 42 years old, and I have spent my entire life believing in what the church could be. I have watched my family take emotional hit, after emotional hit over the idea of what church could be. I watched my father, one of my heroes walk home from Mechanicsburg BIC church in the 1980’s Sunday after Sunday in tears trying to not let us his sons know how crushed he was over the idea of what church could be and how people poorly people were responding to the message that we see all through the Gospels. That we who know Christ and our experience God’s love, and grace, and this new life should actually help those far from God all around us experience that too. I have watched my friend Ken Landis grab hold of the vision of what Scripture directs the church to be, and what my Dad not only showed me from my childhood in Scripture but what we believed the church could be and I have watched that become a reality here at MRC. And for almost 19 years now I have served alongside Ken as we have jumped into the mission of what the church could be. This is why we planted almost 2 decades ago in Dillsburg, and why we have planted again in the last two years in Gettysburg…to help people experience Jesus the way we are.
So why would I feel challenged to talk about this concept with you all today? I mean this should be a victorious celebration, the thing that I would want to talk about with you right? It should be shouldn’t it? Well, it’s because I’m going to talk to you today about the 5 choices we need to make to be part of and build into our personal lives so that we can be the kind of church that Jesus calls us to be…and to be really honest with you, I know how challenging this is to so many people…I know that what I’m offering today is so right, and so simple, and can lead to new life, and frankly a vibrant and beautiful church…but I also know that not everyone says yes when given the choice. And to be brutally honest, not everyone is really inspired to hear that there is something for them to do in this process of living out the life of a disciple and engaging their local church. So this could be a very freeing day for some, and a challenging day for others, but I know deep down this is a very important message, because we are looking at the very foundational parts of this new life in Christ that can lead to a redemptive and God focused church.
Today we are going to look at 5 choices that we all must make to build a healthy and redemptive church…we sometimes refer to these 5 choices as the expectations we have for you here at MRC. Yikes, a church with expectations of me…well I think as we look at them you will see why they are such a big deal and if you pay attention you will realize just how personal these 5 choices are…and how the health of the church really begins with your personal spiritual condition. So let’s look at them for a moment and then we will talk.
The 5 Choices We Must Make to Build a Redemptive and Healthy Church:
- Love God
- Love Others
- Love Growing
- Love Serving
- Love Giving
So how are you doing so far? I know it can be a bit challenging to hear that we as a church have expectations of you, or that we would require you to make a choice…but then if you think about it, every one of these choices wasn’t really about the church itself but really about you are your own heart condition. Did you expect that? Here at MRC we say it’s not about you. We say that here at MRC we are about reaching people far from God. Which is awesome but did you think that would mean our heart condition is so important? It’s interesting because to be the church that we read of in scripture we need to be very close to God. Remember we can’t focus outward without God’s love pouring in and out of us…it’s that supernatural shift in focus that I believe is so miraculous and only comes from spending time with God. Remember this from Jesus?
Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” MSG
It’s this shift in focus that really is everything. Without this shift in focus, we as a church just turn inward. We spend our time thinking of new ways to connect with each other, we spend our energies and resources entertaining each other rather than spending our time thinking of new ways to connect people far from God to Him. It’s so interesting, because we read Jesus’ words. We know what He asks of us, but living it out as a church can be an interesting thing. This is probably the thing I wrestle with the most when it comes to church life. So many people struggle with this notion that a church like MRC who will tell you are here to help connect people far from God to Him can’t help us grow. I mean where does the Christian get fed then? Well everything Jesus asked of us, His disciples was to serve. When the focus shifts off of us, we begin to engage God’s purposes over ours, and through that surrender we find more than we could ever dream but it’s just so hard for us to wrap our minds around statements like this…
Matthew 10:39 “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” MSG
Well how does that work? Where do I find myself if I’m losing myself? That doesn’t seem right does it? Well Jesus would say the greatest way to find yourself, is to surrender your life, look to Him and help others experience Him. What is the context here, of this whole forget about yourself comment? Here’s what He says in the next verse…
Matthew 10:40 “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. 41 Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. 42 Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
It’s interesting isn’t it? Everything focuses outward with Jesus as He talks to His followers. Yet, a lot of people push against this idea that the church should focus outside of itself and on those who need Jesus like we do. Many, many people are looking to be fed, and worry that a church on this mission that Jesus just referred to as “this harvest work” isn’t going to allow us to be fed, but in the end Jesus tells you the way to real life is in forgetting about yourself and engaging His greater mission. If we believe scripture than the greatest discipleship you will ever engage into is to actually serve the mission of Christ…this harvest work. Remember that scripture from earlier? It’s not just believe…we must believe in Jesus and do what He says to find our true selves. But now I’m just drifting all over the place and I need to get back on track here today…so let’s go back to the 5 expectations, or choices we ask of each person here at MRC. I would like to press in on these 5 choices some.
So where in the world did Sam and Ken come up with this idea of the 5 choices? I mean we get the loving God, loving others, part but the other three? Come on, loving serving, loving growing, and loving giving those seem really convenient for the Pastor’s to require of us right? Well let’s take a brief moment and talk about it, then I want to read to you Jesus’ words right before he walks into the Garden to be betrayed by Judas and make His way to The Cross for all of our salvation.
Choice 1 – Love God – Well, this may be the most obvious of the 5 choices, loving God is pretty essential to the concept of being a Christian. We could grab a lot of scripture to support this one…
Deuteronomy 6:5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. NIV
Choice 2 – Love others – Jesus actually ties these first two choices we ask you to make together. Remember when the religious leaders came at Him with the question of what the most important command in the law?
Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV
Choice 3 – Love Serving – I will stand confidently in this statement, the greatest form of discipleship is to serve. Serving just does something to your heart that you can’t pick up on in a book, or a discipleship class. Serving pushes us to look past ourselves and engage. So did Ken and Sam just do this so we do stuff around the church? Actually it’s hard to read Jesus’ words without seeing the call to serve it’s all through scripture.
John 12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. NIV
Choice 4 – Love Growing – Well this is interesting isn’t it? Weren’t we told a church that is focused on people far from God wouldn’t be into helping me grow? Well that isn’t the case at all we may just be trying to open you up to the way Jesus would say we grow best. You know, growing as a Christian is so huge, and really it is God’s desire that we grow up to be mature and complete…this involves a personal relationship with God, studying, serving, risking, and engaging something bigger than yourself!
Ephesians 4:15 God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. 16 He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. (MSG)
Choice 5 – Love Giving – Ok, this one can be a little touchy right? I mean love giving…finally another church pressing in on us about money. I knew it! Well, what if the concept of giving is bigger than your finances? Have you ever considered that it could actually be more about your heart than it is your pocket book? Giving reveals your heart, and frankly there isn’t anything Jesus talked on more and there is a reason for that. Because in the end everything comes down to your heart condition.
Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. NIV
So I wanted you to see these 5 choices, and I wanted you to see how profoundly personal these things are. Would you have thought that to build a redemptive and loving church it would start in your individual relationship with God and your personal heart condition like this? Next week Ken will be here to talk about the tension in this so I don’t want to press in too hard here today, but this is the story that I have watched play out my entire life, we come to know Christ, which gives us this amazing redemption story of our own…but we spend the rest of our lives then trying to figure life out, trying to navigate all that life throws at us on top of this idea of being a Christian. We come in to church and we really aren’t looking for more to do, but also wondering why we aren’t experiencing all of this life that Jesus seems to promise us…the problem is for most of us, we hear the message, we love the grace thing but everything boils down to a yes or no question. Will I surrender my life to Jesus or not. Now, we may not make it a yes or no question, we can dress up a thousand and one reasons why we will not serve, why we will never grow, and why giving is not an option…but if you think about it, no matter how nice we want to spin it, we are making a choice. This is what we offer you. And if I’m being honest it’s that choice that we all make that is such a challenge to so many. This is how we build a redemptive and loving community of believers…we choose to love God, to love others, to love serving, to love growing, and to love giving. I get it…people are tough. I get it, you are way too busy to serve, and you would rather just be fed…I get it growing would require you to engage your relationship with God and you just don’t have the time…I get it when it comes to giving you just don’t want the church to go there…but all of this is about a profound and personal yes or no question…and on the other side of the answer is life and life to the full…or not.
So to close this out today, I wanted to take you to John 15…and show you Jesus talking to His disciples, and to us. This is a profound moment where Jesus is talking moments before heading into the Garden to be betrayed by Judas. As I was thinking about these 5 choices we all must make, I just kept thinking about this moment of Jesus saying that He is the Vine. I wonder as we read this, if you can’t hear Jesus pressing in on all 5 of these choices the way I do.
John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ 26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. NIV
Such an awesome moment here, and it’s pretty interesting to read these words of Jesus as we think through these words from Jesus.
The first choice was to love God – This is so essential everything comes down to this relationship with our Heavenly Father…without it we can’t move forward. I think that comes out well in the vine analogy, we must stay connected to God. It’s amazing how many Christians do not spend time with God and wonder why they are so miserable, and many of these Christians could probably quote this scripture about The Vine…it’s literal if you ask me, apart from Jesus we can do nothing.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. NIV
The second choice was to love others, and remember Jesus ties that to our relationship with God. Letting us know we really can’t do one without the other…and it comes out here as well…
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. NIV
Maybe even stated most clearly here in verse 17…
17 This is my command: Love each other.
The third choice is to love serving and I see it all through this passage…did you pick up on the idea of what happens when we stay connected to the vine? We produce fruit…we show love to this world, and help others connect to Jesus.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. NIV
And don’t forget what we just read, about the greatest type of love…
13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. NIV
We serve, we love, we produces fruit all if we stay connected and in relationship with the vine we even see the importance of spreading the name of Jesus in this story…as the Holy Spirit comes to guide us through it…
26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. NIV
The fourth choice is to love growing and we can look at this analogy of staying connected to the vine and see it as well. As we stay connected to the vine, we grow, and that only happens through our relationship with Christ. It’s amazing how many people come to church and expect the Pastor to actually be their relationship with Christ, and that just can’t be. It’s hard to talk to and watch people struggle with life while absolutely refusing to grow.
The last choice was to love giving and I see it in this story too. I know this one can be a real sticking point in our hearts…as our money and resources can be very challenging to let go of, and seem like something the church needs to stay away from. But think of our culture and how opposite generosity and giving would be to the way our culture lives. Now think about how often you have been hearing me talk lately about life change, and how opposite Jesus’ ways are from the worlds. Now listen to Jesus’ words…
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
You know this is the challenge. You can’t escape this. Jesus is calling us to more than just showing up to church, and consuming lessons on Sunday mornings. Your encounter with Jesus will always end up at this intersection we you have to choose, to live for yourself, or to surrender to God’s will for your life…maybe that is why I felt like I needed a nap after putting this one together…because after being around this for so long, I know that not every story, and not every church follows Jesus’ lead here. Not every story ends with happily ever after…and that is a real challenge for me on a very personal level. In the end here at MRC we love you enough to lead you to the choice, really it’s 5 choices…and we will give you all the time you need to engage this decision. Our prayer is that you will make the personal choices needed to help us build a redemptive, and God centered church…and all of it, all of what could be really starts in your own personal relationship with God, and your own heart condition. If you are struggling with this, it’s ok, you are in a safe place. We will give you the time and space you need to connect to the vine, and answer these 5 questions…and while we do this, I will continue to pray and dream and focus on what could be if we all connected to Jesus in this way.