It’s Christmas time and we have been talking about the Christmas story.  It’s a God story.  You see, Christmas isn’t just another busy religious holiday we push through.  It’s bigger than that.  It’s a story that has enormous meaning to it.  To fully understand the mystery of Christmas, you have to go back 4,000 years before the birth of Jesus.  Through all those years, God did everything He could to love people.  How did people respond?  At every moment they could make the choice to love God and follow God, they chose to reject God.  There were moments for sure when some loved God, like Abraham, David, Joshua, and others, but in general, the people rejected God.  They just refused to trust God.

After 4,000 years of pain and rejection from people, what does God do?  I want to read it for you but before I do, I have a question for you.  What would you have done?  If you were God, what would you have done after 4,000 years of pain and rejection?

Let’s read what God did.

20 As he [Joseph] lay awake considering this, he fell into a dream, and saw an angel standing beside him. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a Son, and you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Savior’), for he will save his people from their sins. 22 This will fulfill God’s message through his prophets – 23 ‘Listen! The virgin shall conceive a child! She shall give birth to a Son, and he shall be called “Emmanuel” (meaning “God is with us”).’” TLB Matthew 1:20

That’s unbelievable.  God personally enters our world to rescue us and be with us.  God personally comes to do what we could not do, kill sin, and give us His righteousness.  Who would ever walk through that much pain and rejection and still show their love to people?  God would.   Have you ever wondered if God loves you?  Have you ever been insecure about God’s love for you?  When you fully understand the mystery of Christmas, it should give you the courage to forever know how much God loves you.

Last week Sam asked, Does God care about His People?  Maybe you wonder, does God truly care about me?  Does He care for others more than me?  Why does He feel so far from me when he seems so close to others?  If God does care, then why is life this difficult?  These are real questions that people wrestle with.

Sam said God does care for us – a lot.  He said the better question to ask ourselves is this; Do we love and care for Him the way He does for us?  For so many of us, if we truly stopped and looked at our lives and were honest about how we are living, we would see that God has been crowded out of our lives.  This isn’t always intentional, but we push Him away and then wonder where He is or if He cares.  Sam said we must make room for God in our lives.  If we don’t, we will always wonder if God is there and if He cares.

I want to ask another question today.  How does God love us today?  Think about it.  If God came over 2,000 years ago, how does God love us today?  Let’s read what scripture tells us.

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. NLT Ephesians 1:19-20

This scripture begins by explaining God’s power.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  Are you ready to hear this?  The power that defeated sin and death and gave us God’s righteousness, as Christians, now live in us.  Let’s keep reading.

21 Now he [Jesus] is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else – not only in this world but also in the world to come. NLT Ephesians 1:21

Scripture says that after the resurrection, God placed Jesus at His right hand.  Jesus is now above every power or authority.  And not just now but forever.  Before we keep reading, remember what we just read.  The power that defeated sin and death and gave us God’s righteousness lives in us and placed Jesus beside God to rule over everything.

Why did God do this?  Let’s keep reading.

22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. NLT Ephesians 1:22-23

Why did God share His power with Jesus and us?  For the benefit of the church.

How does God love people today?  Through the church.  To quote scripture, ‘the church is His body’.  Every local church is an outpost of God’s kingdom.  It’s a part of God’s body in your local community.  The good news is that there are a variety of churches.  Every church is different.  Not perfect, different.  That means, in general, every church is our brother and sister.

The bad news is, we don’t always get it right.  God allows people to lead the church and because people are imperfect the church will be imperfect.

Let’s read that same section in another version of the Bible.

I ask – ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength!

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. MSG Ephesians 1:19-23

The church is God’s body in our community.  It’s the primary way He wants to speak and act in this world.  It’s important to understand how Jesus views the church and our world.  From Jesus’ point of view, the world and all the things in our culture that we think are important, aren’t relevant at all.  The things in this world that we care so much about are a distraction from what Jesus is up to.  What Jesus is doing in the church is relevant.  Jesus is forgiving, rescuing, and restoring people.

Let’s take a moment and step back to see the big picture.  Think about the story of Christmas.  After 4,000 years of pain and rejection, God, in the form of Jesus, still comes into our earth to rescue us by killing sin and death and giving us His righteousness.  After Jesus ascends into heaven, what happens?  Jesus anoints the disciples with the Holy Spirit.  The same Holy Spirit that defeated sin and death and gave us God’s righteousness.  What happens next?  The church explodes and new churches are formed.  Understanding history and scripture, how does God love us today?  Jesus gave us the power and the authority over sin and death and gave us God’s righteousness to build His church.

A couple of things to talk about.

First.  Doesn’t building God’s body, the church, sound like that’s someone else’s job?

Imagine if I went to the mall and stopped people shopping to say, “Do you believe building the church is your job?”  What would most people say?  They would back away and say, “I don’t know whose job that is, but it sure isn’t my job.”

Let’s read.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”. MSG 1 Corinthians 12:25-31

Is building God’s body, the church, someone else’s job?  No, not if you’re a Christian.  Scripture explains that our spiritual family is dependent on each other.  We need each other.  And if you don’t accept your part, God’s body in our community suffers.  By our choices, we make God’s body stronger or weaker.  From Jesus’ point of view, do you see how our choices matter?

Let’s make this real.  On December 4th, days ago, a 15-year-old in East Berlin took his own life.  His name was Jonathan.  It’s devasting to everyone around this young man.  It’s a huge loss.  When I hear these stories, I think about the pain people are walking through.  And it breaks my heart because Jesus could have healed that pain.

I want you to see this situation from Jesus’ point of view.  Jesus gives everyone the Holy Spirit.  The same Holy Spirit that defeated death and sin and God’s righteousness.  Why?  To build His body, His church, in our community.  Jesus is completely dependent on people, Christians, to make a choice and accept their part in His body.

Now think about what happens when the next Johnathan comes to church.  Are we ready to host people who have been wounded in this life?  Did we pray to prepare to meet them?  Are we rested and waiting to meet him and his family?  Or do we look at church and think that’s someone else’s job?  We don’t have to be ready.  We don’t have to pray – I’m sure the pastors do that.  We don’t have to give.  If you think about it, we don’t have to be rested and ready to be focused on others.  Let’s just sleepily push through church so we can get to lunch.  Better yet, who cares, let’s skip this week, I need a me day.  And if I want, I can just watch whatever church I want on the internet.

Please hear me.  When the next young man or young lady struggling in life visits church, it’s the greatest privilege we will ever have.  The first day you visited was our greatest privilege to tell you about God’s grace.  It’s a moment in time that Jesus sets up and we may have a chance to share God’s hope, God’s forgiveness, and God’s grace.  And it’s up to us to be ready.  As a Christian, it’s not someone else’s job, it’s my job.  And obviously, we aren’t talking about legalism that demands perfection or has no downtime.

Is building God’s body, the church, someone else’s job?  No, not if you’re a Christian.

Second.  Doesn’t building God’s body, the church, sound like it’s the last thing you have time for?

Just look at our packed lives.  Where would we find the time to build the church?

I want to read a quote from the book The Master Plan of Evangelism.

We are engaged in warfare, the issues of which are life and death, and every day that we are indifferent to our responsibilities is a day lost to the cause of Christ. – Robert Coleman

You realize what is at risk, don’t you?  People who do not walk in a relationship with Jesus, scripture says, will face eternal destruction and be forever separated from God.  Your friends.  Your family.  Those you work with.  Scripture explains.

7 He [God] will come with his mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. NLT 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9

What is at risk is alarming.  So alarming, we can’t afford to be indifferent, apathetic, or lazy.  What Jesus is doing in the church is relevant.  Jesus is forgiving, rescuing, and restoring people.  There is nothing more important you could be a part of than helping people connect with Jesus.  And I must add, the world and everything it has to offer you is a distraction to what Jesus is up to.

Is building God’s body, the church, something that we can put off?  No, not if you are a Christian.  It’s our top priority.

Third.  Doesn’t building God’s body, the church, sound like it has nothing to do with God caring about you?

How does God love me when the focus isn’t on me?  Doesn’t that sound like we are taking the focus off of you and putting our focus on God?  Isn’t that the opposite of God focusing on me and caring for me?  Jesus talked about this.

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 Matthew 10:39

Doesn’t it sound insensitive to ask people to not focus on themselves?  It goes against every message you hear in our world today, doesn’t it?  Shouldn’t the church focus on me?  Shouldn’t the church offer fun free things, programs, and events to make Christianity fun and easy?  What are the first questions Christians ask when they visit a new church?  What does this church have to offer me?  Or will this church meet my needs?  We believe a better question is how good is this church at reaching people?

What Jesus said sounds insensitive.  Jesus taught, ‘Forget about yourself.’

In our world today we are told to constantly think of ourselves, our feelings, our emotions, and our hearts.  Most counselors today are trained to validate every emotion you have.  That advice can be super helpful for some, but for others, it’s not helpful at all.  What is interesting is that Jesus says, take the focus off of yourself and focus on Jesus.  Why?  That’s when you find everything you are looking for.  A relationship with Jesus that gives you courage.  Gives you, His grace.  Gives you, His forgiveness.  Gives you, His love.  Gives you, His purpose and meaning.

Let’s talk about this for a second.  When we read that the church is God’s body in our community, that sounds pretty cool.  We accept that.  When we read that we play a role in building God’s body in our community, that sounds like we have to do something.  What do many Christians do at this point?  They push away from any involvement with the church or at least try to do the least possible.  They push away and hope someone else steps into that role.

Think this through with me.  When we push the church away, we are pushing God’s body away.  When we push our role in church away, we do damage to ourselves and we make God’s body weaker.  What is interesting is we live in a culture where it’s normal to push church and our role at church away while at the same time, we wonder, how does God love people today?  The answer.  Through the church people are pushing away.

Is it possible that when we get involved with God’s body, as scripture says, that is when we discover everything we are looking for?  But the challenge is to live out what Jesus taught.  He said, ‘Forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.’

I would ask you to wrestle with this question.  If everyone made the decisions you have made about church, what would your church look like?  Would it be a prayer church?  Would it be a gracious church?  Would it be a fun church?  Would it be a wealthy church?  Would it be a serving church?  What would your church, God’s body in your community, look like?

I want to close today and I want to do something different.  I’m not going to give you any practical steps.  I’m not going to give you any challenges.  I’m going to invite you to do one thing.  Pray.  Please pray.  Ask God what your role is in His kingdom.  Here’s why.

We want to do more church plants.  We started MRC in 2001.  We planted MRG in 2018.

Do you know what stops us from planting more churches?  People.  People who don’t take their focus off of themselves.  The longer people focus on themselves, the harder it is to plant churches.  People who don’t see their value.  That means they don’t accept what God says about them.  They don’t accept that they are forgiven and full of the righteousness of God.  People who don’t care about others might be forever separated from God in hell.

Do you know what would give us the green light on the next church plant?  People.  People who can take their focus off of themselves.  People who see their value in God’s kingdom.  Not in an, ‘I’m the next super-hero of the faith’ but they know what they are good at and bad at and they bring both.  People who care and care deeply it breaks their hearts to know that people might be forever separated from God in hell.

We need God-filled people.  People who will sing.  People who teach humbly.  People who would give.  People who would simply show up and greet people.  People who care about children.  People who just show up.

I don’t want you to go home and think, that building God’s body, that’s someone else’s job.  Or building God’s body, that’s an interruption to my life, I don’t have time to do that.  Or building God’s body won’t be focused on me and meet my needs.

Pray.  Please pray.  Ask God what your role is in His kingdom.  Why?  Because that is why God gave you His Holy Spirit.