Jesus And We - Week 1: Faith Filled, Big Thinking
There's a huge problem brewing in the Church in America.
And when I say this, many of you are going to assume that what I'm talking about is what the dominant Christian voices in our culture have identified as the huge problem in the Church in America--that far too many churches have begun to resemble the culture that surrounds them.
When I was growing up in conservative, evangelical communities of faith we called this, "Compromising," or "Looking too much like the world." Mind you, this was directed at things like women wearing pants, listening to rock and or roll music, watching the "devil box," commonly known as TV... stuff like that.
Come to think of it, not that much has changed--except the things that are now being called out by the dominant Christian voices in our culture are just different sets of sins and transgressions.
Strangely, I actually agree with the assessment that many evangelical Christian leaders have leveled at the Church. I agree that far too many churches have begun to resemble the culture that surrounds them...
The culture that I am referring to is a culture wracked by an obsession with the self--to the extreme. We're told a hundred ways a day that we deserve to win, to make money, to spend money to have things, to be a success, to do everything that we've ever wanted to do and then some. We deserve these things.
Sadly, so many churches in America have adopted that same approach. Christianity in America is individualistic, self-centered, hell-bent on winning and enamored with bigger, better, more successful, flashier and louder.
It's all about Jesus and Me.
When I was growing up, we used to go door to door witnessing and we would ask people the following question, "Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" We would ask them this after we asked the question, "If you died right now would you go to heaven or hell?"
Now don't get me wrong, being a Jesus follower is about having your own faith, owning it, embracing it, making it yours. It's about a relationship with Jesus and not an over-reliance on religion.
But the fact is, we are better together. We are meant to be together. This is what the Church has always been about, despite all of the ways that we've tried to screw it up over the years. The insidious individualism that has pervaded American Christianity has stifled what has at the very heart of the Early Church: Community.
Dr. Josh Packard's research on why people are leaving the Church in America revealed that at any given time there are probably 7,000,000 people in churches all across America who are contemplating leaving the church. Why?
They cite all kinds of reasons, including their distrust of institutional expressions of faith, but I suspect that it might be something else. I think they are bored. And disillusioned. Church is something so many people merely endure. Maybe you remember a time when you felt that way. Maybe you feel that way now!
Let me ask you a question. What did you want to be when you grew up? Take a few moments and think about it. What did you want to be when you grew up? And Why? Let's add that to it, too. Anyone want to share?
Theres's a commercial by Monster.com that aired a few years ago:
Don't you just love that? None of us wanted to grow up and have those things happen to us. But this commercial points out the reality that most of us live in when it comes to our faith, and our understanding of Church.
Do we want to settle for the equivalent of being forced into early retirement when it comes to our life together as a church? Do we want to be a place where joy goes to die? Do we want to become the kind of place where you take your kids when they've been bad? No! I think we can do better--I think we are doing better.
Pastor Craig Groeschel talks about some of the things that fire up his church, and I loved them so much, I thought that I would borrow his phrase, and put it into our own context.
WE ARE FAITH FILLED, BIG THINKING, BET THE FARM RISK TAKERS. WE WILL NEVER INSULT GOD WITH SMALL THINKING OR SAFE LIVING.
In our church we say that when you know Jesus, you show Jesus.
I think that like a lot of things in life that we get excited about--an incredible new restaurant, a fabulous vacation, our little kid's first step, firs tooth, first bicycle ride, when our team wins---our church should be on that list for our people. If it's not, we're doing it wrong.
Our faith, our vision isn't big enough if people aren't getting excited about following Jesus.
In Luke 7:1-10 we have the following story from the life of Jesus:
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.This centurion was the military leader of a detachment of auxiliary troops made up of non-Jewish soldiers and at the command of Herod Antipas, the puppet king of the Jews, controlled by Rome. He represented the enemy to Jewish people, and he knew it. But he had also done a lot of things to help the community, and had shown great respect for the Jewish people he was charged to police.
When his servant got sick, the centurion reached out to Jesus--prompted I am sure by the stories he'd heard about him. This centurion had faith--big faith. His faith brought him to a place of humility, however. He didn't demand that his servant be healed. He didn't command Jesus to be brought to him by force. He humbly says, "I am not worthy for you to come under my roof---but say the word, and my servant will be healed."
Jesus is amazed, it says in the text. In the Gospel of Mark he is amazed for another kind of reason. He is amazed at the lack of faith among the Jewish people of his day--and because of their lack of faith he didn't perform many miracles with them.
It doesn't say that he couldn't have done so, or was prevented because they didn't have enough faith, it doesn't work that way. No, Jesus didn't perform a lot of miracles because they didn't believe big enough.
How big is your faith? How much are you willing to risk to embrace the kind of bold, hope-filled, purpose-filled faith in the Resurrection hope? And to our point, how much are we willing to risk together?
As a church we need to be aware of three things that relate to the kind of big faith that we're talking about here.
First, You cannot play it safe and experience the Resurrection. You have to risk your comfort, your security, your place in line, your certainty... You have to be willing to be vulnerable and open. And if these things scare you--you're not alone. There are a lot of us here who feel the same way. There are lots of things that scare us.
Let's ponder that a moment. What scares you the most? Just blurt it out to the person next to you--the first thing that comes to your mind. #nofilter.
I can tell you that no story of incredible, miraculous moments of Resurrection hope in a church ever started with: "And we all decided to remain exactly where we were." or "We figured that saying 'that's the way we've always done it' was a pretty good vision statement." or "We could have done something bold, but it was too scary, and we didn't want to lose any church members over it."
Lots of people over the years have had a field day with poor old Peter, the Apostle. He was the one who asked to join Jesus when Jesus was walking on water beside the disciples boat. So Jesus said, "Come on then." Peter got scared and started to sink, but the dude walked on water for a while. That's longer than any other human being in history other than Jesus.
Sure he got scared and sank at one point, but at least he did it. There were eleven other dudes in the boat who never got out.
Second, the sin of certainty can keep us from experiencing the Resurrection. The Bible's definition of faith is kind of messed up. In Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1 it reads, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Substance of things hoped for? Evidence of things not seen?
I don't know about you, but that sounds like a lot of uncertainty to me. And yet, certainty seems to be an idol that American Christianity worships to a fault. It's all part of the many reasons why people are staying away from church in America, I am sure. The sin of certainty results in an obsession with outlining exactly what God will and will not do, who is in and who is out, who is a sinner and who isn't, who really loves Jesus and who doesn't...
Our faith should be bigger than that. We can't control what the Holy Spirit of God is going to do, or who the Holy Spirit of God is going to call to join us on our journey. We can't control much of anything, except the way we embrace Resurrection hope together.
The fact of the matter is, you can have faith or you can have control, but you can't have both.
Finally, I think to step forward into Resurrection hope is to step away from security. It's like stepping on to a high wire or walking on the edge of a cliff. You have to trust that what is ahead of you is greater and more amazing than the safety and security that is behind you.
Abraham heard the call of God to leave behind his safety and security, he and left everything he knew to follow that call wherever it led him. Moses experienced God's call in a burning bush, and went back to Egypt to free his people--even if it meant confronting the most powerful man in the world: Pharaoh.
The disciples of Jesus heard the call and dropped their nets. Was the way hard? Yes, you bet. Were they scared? More than once. But the followed. And because they followed they experienced wonder, delight, purpose, meaning and Resurrection hope.
Almost eight years ago, we launched Center Street Kitchen, our ministry that feeds our community a wonderful home-cooked meal every Friday. We also hand out hundreds of sack lunches to people who need them. I remember when we started CSK there were more than a few people who opposed it. It was risky, to be sure.
We didn't know exactly how it would all work, and if there would be enough money, volunteers, resources... We didn't know what would happen to us when we started opening our doors to the community.
But it's these kinds of stories that make it all worthwhile...
When you know Jesus, you show Jesus--it's what you do. We can't start thinking small now, brothers and sisters. I know God is calling us to even greater and more amazing things than we've already experienced.
And we are going to live into this statement: WE ARE FAITH FILLED, BIG THINKING, BET THE FARM RISK TAKERS. WE WILL NEVER INSULT GOD WITH SMALL THINKING OR SAFE LIVING.
If we are going to experience the hope of the Resurrection. We can't