So this summer we have been having a lot of fun here at MRC.  We have been working through a series on the church.  If you think about what we have been doing with this teaching, we have been asking some pretty specific questions, and these questions are a really big deal.  Actually, these questions aren’t really that big of a deal at all but how you answer these questions is very, very important.  The way I see it if we take a step back and look at this series the big questions look something like this; How do you VIEW church?  Maybe it’s better said this way; How do you DO church?  And I think by now you know, that how you answer these questions is a really big deal because we the church are called to something very specific.  We are called to help people far from God come to know Him.  This is what it’s all about, but if you view the church as a sort of exclusive club for Christians or a place for you to come and be fed rather than equipped to engage the world…the church can turn it’s focus inward on itself, which is a real tragedy, because there are people all around us who need to know Jesus…who haven’t experienced the love, and grace, and mercy…who if it all ended today would not spend all of eternity in heaven…and as a disciple of Christ, the idea that someone around you, maybe even someone you care about would die and spend eternity in hell today, should not sit well with you, as you live and experience this amazing new life in Christ.

Which really is where we are headed today, but before we do let’s think a bit about where we have been.  I know it’s summer and you may have missed a week or two a long the way, but this series has built very intentionally.  We started by talking about the church and what it is and after that we really started to press in on your personal relationship with God.  Did you think that your heart condition would be so important to the church?  It is, and we took three weeks to go over the choices we expect you to answer if you are going to be part of our church family.  Remember that?  We expect you to choose to love God, love others, love growing, love serving, and love giving.  We stepped into that discussion pretty hard, and I really wanted you to see that those 5 choices aren’t about Sam and Ken trying to figure out how to get you to do things around here, but all about your heart condition…everything is about your personal walk with God.  If we are going to be a redemptive and life giving church we must stay very close to God.  I lingered a couple of weeks ago in this scripture with you, where Jesus told us that He is our lifeline…

John 15:4 “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.” NIV

We must remain in Jesus, connected to the vine.  He is our lifeline.  It’s that important.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.

Then the series shifted again, and we started looking at our seven “We Believe” statements that we will be working our way through for the rest of this series.  You can find these statements on our website in the “What Matters to Us” section under the heading “I’m New Here.”  These statement are really the heart and DNA of who we are as a church, but I don’t want you to lose site of the fact that these statements come after we spend time focused on our own walk with God, and our own personal heart condition…if that isn’t right, these statements will be very empty.

So far we have looked at the first three statements…

We believe the mission of Christ, His passion, cost Him dearly.

This means it wasn’t easy, but because Jesus was fully submitted to His Father’s will…He sacrificed Himself so that we all could have ever lasting life, tearing the barrier of sin down that stood between God and us so that we could once again engage true, pure, intimacy with our Heavenly Father.

We believe Jesus empowered His church to fulfill His mission as He ascended into heaven.

We call this the Great Commission, and it’s an incredible moment where Jesus hands His mission of making disciples off to the church to be fulfilled.  Frankly, this is what it’s all about.  Making disciples of all nations, helping others experience the life changing presence of Jesus in their lives.  This is who we are, and what we are to do.  Last week Randi was here and did a great job talking to you about the third statement which is…

We believe the mission is so important, that God is literally pushing back the end of time.

2 Peter 3:8-9 Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day.  God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. MSG

Did you know that?  Think of everyone you know that hasn’t yet experienced God’s grace.  God is so in love with them, He is pushing back the end of time to give them time to fall in love with Him.  What an amazing and intense thought…and today we are going to talk about our fourth statement…

We believe that the local church is at its best when, like Jesus, it focuses on outsiders.

Matthew 9:10-13  Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?” Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick?  Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”  

Did you see that?  Jesus was hanging out with disreputable characters. What an amazing statement from Jesus.  “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Jesus was focused on people who were far from God.  He was focused on people who needed God’s grace.  This is what we talk about today.

So I want to start a little different today, and it’s going to take some crowd participation…I know, I know you are still drinking your coffee this morning, and you aren’t really ready for a workout…that’s ok, I just need you to help me with a survey by raising your hand.  It’s an age old discussion, and I want you to know that I’m not sure what the right answer is, or if there even is one…but we are going to vote on this.  So the question is which came first, the chicken or the egg?  I know it’s a huge theological issue here, and it’s tough one but I want a show of hands, who votes chicken?  Ok, who votes egg?  Now I don’t you and your spouse fighting over this intense topic all day long but I wanted to kind of start here with this question.  You’ve heard it before right?  I don’t know about you but every time I hear this question, or some others like it, it’s cue the eye roll, and here we go.  Well just like this question has gone round and round for ages, there are questions inside the church world, that to me can take us down a similar line of thinking…chasing our tails and not getting anywhere.  And today, I want to touch on probably one of the biggest questions, or tension points, or debates about the church itself…now, the irony is I view this almost the same as the which came first the chicken or the egg debate, but on this one what is really interesting to me is that the answer seems so clear to me in scripture, so clearly taught by Jesus…but the debate continues, year after year, decade after decade.  The big question is this – Can a church focus outward (on people far from God) and still help Christians (those inside the church who know Jesus) grow into mature Christians?  Some people who would use bigger words than I would would say it this way – Can the church focus on Evangelism and still give it’s people Discipleship?  Or maybe the cleanest way to say would be this…Can a church say the focus outward on people far from God and still meet the needs of the Christians in their church?

I’ve grown up in the church.  I have watched my father take the idea of being a church that would focus on people far from God to good Christian people who come back with this question.  I have watched this debate, or tension loop on and on for decades.  If we say we focus on the lost, does that really mean we don’t care about the saved?  And what does the Bible really say about this type of thinking…is it really a chicken and the egg type debate or is there a clear, very clear answer here…and I would say that there is, and what makes his debate so merky and difficult is our inability to either read scripture, or our inability to actually live a new life after we encounter Jesus.  So this is where we go today, and I want to start by looking at this age old conversation, between Pastor and Church goer which looks something like this:

Pastor – “We as a church must focus on people who don’t yet know Jesus!” 

Church member – “Well what about me?  We need discipleship.  How will I grow?  Where do I get fed?”

This is the conversation…and in a lot of ways it’s the chicken and the egg thing.  This conversation happens over and over and over again in churches who are trying to engage people far from God.  We read the Gospels, and it is very clear what Jesus asks of us, but we wonder can we go to a church that is focused on reaching people far from God, and still have our own spiritual needs met.  Is it possible to focus on the lost, and still get fed spiritually speaking.  Well to clear the air the answer is yes…but if we are really going to get into this I think we need to discuss the word discipleship.  I think there are different meanings of this word to different people.  When I say discipleship to you what does this mean?  For some people they will think of a small group study or program.  Some people say they want discipleship and truly want to grow as a disciple of Christ, and some say they want discipleship, but they may actually just want community.  Some people are hungry and want equipped to go and help others meet Jesus, and some just want a time to engage Christ or just some guidance in their own walk with God…my hope would be that any discipleship program you are into would lead or be an enhancement to your personal walk with God that in the end is empowering you to love and grow and focus on the lost…but maybe you don’t see it this way…yet.

So round and round we go, the chicken and the egg, the tension, the endless conversation that seems to go no-where, which all boils down to one very important question.  Can I engage the mission of Christ and focus on the lost and still have my spiritual needs met…this conversation can go on and on and on…disciple maker vs discipleship?  Focusing on the church vs focusing on the mission.  It’s kind of interesting isn’t it?  And I think I can see why this could be concerning to some, how can I find myself and Christ is the focus isn’t on me.  We know what Jesus said right?  We read this one a lot here at MRC.

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

We know that, but could that really be right?  Well let’s try to attack this from a different angle.  We want to find spiritual maturity right?  We want to be growing in our faith.  I think at it’s core that is why people ask and are concerned about discipleship.  Which is so, so true, but just like we needed to unpack and look at what the word discipleship means to us, maybe we need to do that with maturity as well.  We know that scripture says we are to become mature and complete not lacking anything, but what does it mean to be spiritual mature or immature.  Maybe this is a good place for us to start today.

What is spiritual maturity?  It is something that we achieve as we become more and more like Jesus.  It’s something that we could take the entire talk but it’s a process of spiritual growth, leading us to live more and more like Jesus.  It’s our lives and focus and priorities shifting off of us and onto God.  It’s that shift in focus that Jesus talks of, that becomes very important to how we live our lives.  Remember that shift?

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

So someone who is spiritually mature is growing, and living differently…becoming more and more like Christ every day.  Someone whose focus is shifting off of them, and onto God.  So this would mean maturity has a lot to do with the focus coming off of me and onto Jesus…who expects me to live a life like His, of love, servanthood and sacrifice.  So this would mean that an immature Christian would focus inward on themselves rather than outward on Jesus and the greater mission at hand.  So with that said let’s look at our statement of the day again…

We believe that the local church is at its best when, like Jesus, it focuses on outsiders.

We believe we are at our best when the church isn’t focused inward.  When we focus inward this actually stunts our growth as Christians.  Don’t get me wrong we have a lot of fun in our churches, we get very comfortable around people who are thinking and acting just like us but it never fully allows us to continue to grow as people the way we would through serving the Kingdom work at hand.  It also doesn’t help people all around the church come to know Jesus…which is also tragic.  So you might be asking what is wrong with having fun at church?  What is wrong with being comfortable here in our church building.  Well nothing, I think we are comfortable and having fun every day, but we are warned often about what can happen if we do not shift our focus off of ourselves in scripture.  We are warned of being a lukewarm church in the book of Revelation.  Which can happen as we lose our passion for the lost and become more and more inward focused…more and more comfortable…

Revelation 3:14  “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  NIV

We see the Prophet Isaiah really push in on the condition of our hearts rather than the amount of meetings, activities, and programs we have with the wrong hearts and motivation…listen to this…

Isaiah 1:13-17 “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. MSG

Do you see that, the frustration God has when the focus and motive and heart is wrong, regardless of the activity?  And where does He take us to at the end of this passionate warning?  Right back to loving on and serving and helping people who need it!  We see Paul talk to us about how knowledge puffs us up, but love builds up here…

1 Corinthians 8:1 …We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. NIV

All of this kind of leads me back to an idea that I have been hitting on week, after week, after week…so many people are all about believing in Jesus, but so many Christians are not growing because they never leave the believing and engage any doing.  They don’t live differently…which is why so many Christian’s are stuck, frustrated and miserable…they aren’t changing their lives, and living differently, I have read or talked about this verse almost every week this summer…and I’m back to it again.  The key is to believe AND DO!

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

I want you to see this, walking with Jesus…being a Christian is about engaging and living a new life in Christ.  It’s a big time focus shift…it’s the shift that Jesus talks of, off of us and onto Him that happens as we grow up spiritually.  If we as Christians stay centered on ourselves, even on something as positive as our own need to be spiritually fed, the irony is the focus is staying on us.  We are Christians, we are saved, but we aren’t growing into the mature Christians God desires us to be, remember spiritual maturity is becoming more and more Christ like, and living a new life…that new life requires a shift in focus.  So this is why we see the we believe statement number 4…

We believe that the local church is at its best when, like Jesus, it focuses on outsiders.

Do you see it?  We worry about our own spiritual growth, while stunting our spiritual growth because the focus is still on us.  This is why when it comes to the chicken and the egg thing…the idea of discipleship vs focusing on the lost…we stand tall in the idea that the greatest form of discipleship is to serve.  It just allows you in on the love of Christ in a very real way…and if you are paying attention here today, helps us keep the focus where it should be.

So to close down the day I want to discuss something about this…because for some of you this is a really challenging idea.  For some of you this is the day that presses in the hardest on your view of the church.  And I just want to reinforce to you one thing, just because a church says they are focused on connecting people far from God to God, that doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about you…maybe they just love and care about you so much that they are willing to lead you into the type of Christianity that we read of in Scripture…into something more than just another thing that centers on “me.”  Maybe there is more to this engaging the mission of Christ thing that you realize…maybe Jesus meant what He said here….

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

So I would like to talk to you about something very important here when it comes to this age old church discussion of discipleship vs focusing outward…which takes us back to the Great Commission.

Jesus commanded us to GO and MAKE disciples not COME and Be disciples.  Remember this is the Great Commission..

Matthew 28:19-20  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV

This is what Jesus told us to do, and it was a very outward focused thing.  If you listen to a lot of people in the church talk you would think Jesus told us to come and be in the church, but He didn’t do that.  He told us to go and make…outward focus right?  Can I ask you something today?  Could it be that as we focus outward, and become these disciple makers that we actually become more and more like Jesus?  Which earlier we called Spiritual Maturity didn’t we?  We grow more as Christians when we are helping, loving, serving, and sharing Jesus with others, because it’s helping pull the focus off of us and onto others where it belongs!

So when it comes to this chicken in the egg thing…this on-going and never ending conversation about how my needs are met in a church that continues to focus on those in need of Jesus outside of the church walls I want you to remember that your spiritual growth, your ability to be a disciple of Jesus is tied to reaching people for Christ.  I think many people would rather be a disciple of Jesus without ever reaching others for Him, which is brutal, and means we have some growing up to do…someone consumed with God’s love with a focus on God and not on themselves will see the need around them and engage it.  It ties together and if a Christian is looking inward and not outward…it’s because they haven’t yet experienced the shift in focus…and our prayer is that we all will in time.

It’s amazing to think that MRC is around two decades old already, and one of the things we always used to say and remind ourselves of was a simple statement, but an important one.  We would say it over and over and over again… “Remember, it’s not about you!”  Spiritual maturity is not about you, it’s about your focus shifting to God, and His priorities becoming yours.  What I found so ironic over the years was how many people would say that statement over and over and over again…then eventually leave our church family wondering what was in it for them.  Interesting isn’t it?

So maybe for you the debate will wage on…just like the chicken and the egg thing.  I don’t really know who came first there…but in this case I know clearly who comes first…it’s Jesus.  Our spiritual maturity grows as our focus shifts off of us and onto Him.  This life in Christ is just that, new life…a new way to live that is completely centered on and overwhelmed by the love of God.  When that love pours in and out of you it can’t help but set you on a new course, where we love God and love others, and truly understand the we believe statement we are studying today…

We believe that the local church is at its best when, like Jesus, it focuses on outsiders.

This at its core is all about love.  It’s all about a love that changes and inspires us to live differently…and it doesn’t happen if the focus stays on ourselves.  When God’s love through the Holy Spirit pours in, it came help but change you.  It can’t help but change your thinking, your focus, your motives and your priorities so that we think and act and focus on Christ…which leads us deeper and deeper into spiritual maturity…and being His disciples.

I would like to close this down, with a scripture for you to reflect on and then we will pray together because I think Paul’s words here say so much if we can open our hearts and minds up to this today…

2 Corinthians 5:14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  NIV