Servants, Stewards, and Spectacles

Servants, Stewards and Spectacles

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 121; John 3:1-17

1 Corinthians 4

Who am I? It’s one of those questions we must ask, but sometimes looking in the mirror or looking around us…we don’t really want to answer it or let the answer come to us. Because when we let the question linger, we’re faced with the reality that we’re often not who we desire to be or even believe we were made to be. There are many things that are true about us…not all of which are easy to accept.

Last time we gathered, Paul reminded us of the deepest reality about who we are. If we have the Spirit, we are Spiritual people…with a capital S.

At the end of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reminds them that everything belongs to them bc they are Spirit-filled people. Everything belongs to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to God, so if they belong to Jesus through the Spirit…everything of God is theirs! We live from abundance…not scarcity. An especially great reminder during the Lenten journey.

But the truth is that even at our best, we are still not whole. We still come up short. We are still in need of a Savior. If people look to us to see Jesus, they might see some not so Jesus-y things. Gahndi is famously quoted for saying something to the effect of, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” And I think our best response to that statement is “Yep! That’s why we need a Christ.” But as Paul reminded us two weeks ago there’s always more than meets the eye…we have the Spirit!

That’s what Paul is getting at in our passage for today. He’s saying, “If you want to base your faith on and in the pattern of us apostles, let me peel back the facade a bit and give you a glimpse into our lives…and then you can tell me if you still want to boast in which one of us you most closely align with.”

He’s also got a bit of a personal issue to set straight with them because clearly the Corinthians were calling into question his own apostolic authority…perhaps based on some of the things he highlights in the following verses.

In verse 1 of ch 4, he says,  “So, here’s how I want you to think about us apostles: as servants of the crucified Messiah and stewards of the things God has revealed to us through Holy Spirit.”

Servants and Stewards! What a beautiful description! If at the end of my days people said nothing more about me than that I was a servant in the pattern of Jesus and a steward who held loosely and gave generously of all that had been given to me…I would die a content man. Can I get that on my gravestone? Jeremy Lile: a servant of Jesus and a steward of God’s mysteries. Brilliant!

City Hope that’s my prayer for us. That we would serve Jesus with our whole hearts and that we would take seriously the task of stewarding our vocational calling from God. Let’s first of all look at this idea of servant. It simply means “one who assists or helps.” The main point is that we have a responsibility to serve regardless of our status and situation. You don’t get much lower than foot washing and crucifixion, so there’s not really much below us :-) So where and how are you serving? Are you creating margin in the story of your life to serve and be available to help others?

Next is stewardship. It’s a word we use when we talk about the values of City Hope Mission – specifically vocational stewardship with “vocation” meaning “all that God has called us to be and do.” I think stewardship is one of the best ways for us to view discipleship. You see, the beauty about a steward is that he isn’t ultimately in charge. The word for steward used here is the Greek word “oikonomos” which means “household manager, administrator.” A steward realizes that she isn’t in control, but that she has been entrusted with responsibility to manage what is in her care as a representative of the owner. I envision it as hovering over all that we’ve been entrusted with – home, family, work, friendships, community responsibility, creation, etc and asking God how He would have us make sense of it all for His glory.

I cannot tell you how much comfort I find in this description. As I have lost more and more of the illusion of control over the last year and a half as we welcomed two new girls into our home and started this new mission called City Hope, I have been strengthened by the realization that I don’t really have that much control anyhow. I have found myself letting go of pretention and facade much easier. It is all God’s anyhow, so why not hold it open handed and say, “do what you want with my life.” We have a responsibility to intentionally seek the Lord about stewardship and calling. A good question to ask is, “What have I been given to steward and how am I doing at it?” If you’re feeling especially bold, you might even ask someone you trust to give you an objective opinion…maybe even on a regular basis. That’s what we call a discipleship huddle at City Hope. Meeting with a group of people on a regular basis to ask the questions “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I doing about it?” – essentially, “How am I doing at stewarding all that God has put in my trust?”

In v 2, Paul says that the only requirement for being a servant and steward is trustworthiness. It’s faithfulness to all that God has called us to be and do. God isn’t concerned with how we look or how much success we’ve had. He’s concerned about how we’re handling what he’s entrusted to us – which will be different for every person.

I would like to invite Eric up to share about how he is living as a servant and steward. In fact, this is the first of what I hope to be a series of “Stories of Servants and Stewards.”

Here are some things I know to be true about Eric – he is trustworthy and intentional steward, hard-working, integrity, etc

Eric, you are much more than just what you do because you’ve been given a lot to steward; however, we’re going to focus in on your job to start and then go from there.

1.What do you do for a living?

2. Where do you see God’s character most reflected in what you do?

3. Where do you most experience/see  fallenness through your work?

4. Where do you see God at work through your work?

5. In what other ways are you serving through your life and vocation?

6. How can we pray for you and others in a similar line of work?

Thanks Eric. Okay, let’s get back to 1 Corinthians for a bit.

Paul was clearly being judged on some issues, so he adds in, ” Only God can judge me.” Wait! That was Tupac. But his point is the same. We shouldn’t judge anything before it’s time. We’re servants and stewards, not judges and critics.

Next, Paul really peels back the facade that the Corinthians had erected about their spiritual leaders.

First of all, in v 6, he tells them that anything he is calling them to he has applied to himself. That’s my gauge for someone I want to follow. Is he or she actually living what is being preached? I would encourage you to do the same with leaders…except for me of course :-)  Then, in verse 7, he reminds them of the reality of stewardship again…everything you’ve received through the crucified Messiah…especially the Holy Spirit…is a gift, so stop acting like you deserve it!

In his ironic tone, he continues on in v. 8 to say, “You’ve already got it all! You’re rich! You’re kings! Okay, you’re not really kings, but I wish you were so that we apostles…we servants and stewards…could join you in that kingship and rule instead of be servants.”

In verse 9, Paul fills in the picture of what a servant and steward is called to be…a Spectacle…last of all, sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world, to angels and mortals. He uses very descriptive wording and the image he highlights is that of those who, at the end of Coliseum events, were condemned to die as gladiators or those simply thrown to the beasts. Another way of seeing it is as those who had been captured in war and were at the end of the victorious army’s parade and were condemned to die. In either case, the point is that servants and stewards become spectacles for the whole universe to see…condemned to die. Whether it’s an actual death or merely thousands of deaths as they die to themselves daily.  He continues on in v.10 – we are fools for Jesus, but you are wise. We are weak, but you are strong. You are in a place of honor, but we have a poor reputation. In case you’re not already feeling it, he goes on in v.v11-12 -  we are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our hands.

And in the middle of v.12, he makes a transition. Even though all these things are true, these servants and stewards who have been made spectacles bless those who revile them, and speak kindly to those who slander them. Sounds a lot like Jesus! As if Paul hasn’t taken us low enough, he finishes v.13 with these words, “We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”

Anyone depressed yet? :-) Sorry, if you’re looking for happy clappy prosperity preaching you came to the wrong church today.

Here’s my final thought. We don’t suffer or sacrifice well. Well, at least, I don’t. I’d like to be made a spectacle, but more in a rockstar kind of way. Not so much in a rubbish and dregs kind of way. We don’t even like to accept that suffering and sacrifice is a reality for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s like we can only take so much, and then we get squirmy and try to push it aside or slough it off as something Paul was a bit infatuated with because he thought the end was coming soon. But the reality is, Paul’s vision of the crucified Messiah, Jesus, and his vision of the future…of the final consummation and renewal of all things…is what allowed him to face suffering and sacrifice well. It’s what allowed him to face all of these things and not just face them, but actually boast in them.

I don’t have a lot of application for this point, but I think it’s worth saying because too often we only celebrate the joys and successes. The reality is that many of us live in the sorrows and failures too. Life is hard. Work is hard. Relationships are hard. The world is hard.

Probably the best place to end is where Paul does in vv.14-16  – “I am not writing this to make you ashamed (and I would add feel depressed or guilty or even more heavily burdened), but to admonish you as my beloved children…as a loving father who has lead the way and is saying “Imitate me as I imitate Jesus.” That’s our final calling that we must keep in mind. We are Servants. Yes! We are Stewards. Yes! We are Spectacles. Yes! And most importantly, we are Sons & Daughters. Yes and Amen!

So, what’s God saying to you?

1. How has He called you to serve?

2. What gifts and position and relationships and talents and responsibility has He given you to steward? 3. Where are you experiencing sacrifice during this Lenten season and what is God saying to you in the midst of it? 

What’s in a name?

A lot, actually. Names are significant and often how we categorize, understand and identify.

So, why the change…at least on social media and in conversation…to City Hope Mission?

We believe it more accurately reflects what we’re all about, and can hopefully help folks get their heads around what it is that we’ve been up to over the past year or so, and where we’re headed in the future.

The word “mission” conveys a lot. It suggests that we have a sense of purpose and focus that gives clarity to why we exist. Our stated mission is “To join God in the renewal of all things.” We fundamentally believe that God is on a mission of renewal in our world, and we have the privilege of joining Him in that work in every facet of our lives. The missio dei (mission of God) is our fuel.

The name also informs one that our scope is broad. We envision a Mission Hub where lots of people can come to discover who they are and what they’re to be about in the world. While a “church” gathering is part of our life together, it is certainly not the sum total of all that we are and do. For example, our average attendance on a Sunday is around 10 to 12 family units. However, the scope of City Hope Mission touches, on average, at least 20 family units throughout the course of any given week…and sometimes way more than that!

Moreover, the word “mission” should compel you to join in with what’s happening. There are lots of different ways to get connected in relationship and to serve the community. You may only feel compelled to join in when we serve at the food pantry or hold events in the community. You may be compelled to join a Hope Community. Or, you may be compelled to come to Celebration on a Sunday. And for some of us, we’re compelled to be a part of all that is City Hope (find out more here: www.cityhopeakron.com).

Hope to see you at a gathering soon!

Jeremy

 

Spiritual

Spiritual:

What does it mean to be spiritual? The term has kind of become a throw away word for any and every kind of belief in something more than just what can be seen and observed.

But at it’s core, the true meaning is “of the wind or breath.” The same word used to describe Holy Spirit in the New Testament – pneuma. So, the true meaning is “of the Spirit”…with a capital “S”!

So, as we hear Paul’s words today, we must always remember that we come with lenses whose vision has been blurred by 2,000 years of history, and especially our own western history which desires so greatly to compartmentalize and categorize things so that we can master and control them. But we must always remember that this dichotomy is not so nice and neat in most of the rest of the world where the divide between “spiritual” and “physical” often gets blurred. This would have been the environment into which Paul was writing. The gods abounded and sprinkled bits of spiritual into every day life. In fact, one of the greatest threats to the Corinthian Christian community was a belief that taught that the “higher things” belonged to the spiritual life and the “base things” belonged to the physical life. We’ll look at this more when we get to chapter 6, but they were essentially saying, “I can do whatever I want with my body because it’s physical and will pass away. What really matters is my spirit and soul.” They created a dichotomy that didn’t exist in the Jewish understanding of God. To the Jew, everything is Spiritual. All of life is filled with God’s Spirit – that’s why you pray continuously throughout the day whether you’re celebrating a profound revelation or simply thanking God that you’re able to go to the bathroom. So, when we hear “spiritual,” we should hear “Spirit-filled.”

 So, what does it mean for us to continue to be Spiritual people with a capital “S”?

 Let’s look at 1 Cor 2:6-3:4 to find out. You can open your Bible there if you’d like.

Can I just be real honest with you all? This has been a real discipline for me. I am much more at home studying the gospels or the prophets or even Revelation…believe it or not. I don’t particularly like Paul. Or maybe it would be better to say that I don’t particularly like how many interpret Paul and use what he wrote to build bad theology, which is usually judgmental and divisive. In fact, I have seen this passage that we’re going to look at today used in just that way – to build up a sort of spiritual elitism in which your answer to everything is a self-fulfilling, “Well, we have the Spirit and they don’t.” or “We don’t need to be taught by anyone else because we have the Spirit.” or one of my personal favorites, “Well, I don’t need to think about what you’re asking me to think about because I prayed about it and God told me that I’m right.” Aw snap!!!

This is why Richard Hays says, “The most insidiously divisive forms of elitism will be precisely those that are most ‘spiritual’ in motivation and manifestation” (p.50).

 But the more I’ve been studying Paul and his letters and this one in particular, the more I am coming to appreciate him and what he wrote. There’s something really helpful for me about tethering myself to a particular chunk of Scripture because what I’m finding is that I can’t just pick and choose passages to fit what I want to say. Instead, I’m forced to engage them on their own terms and in their own flow. Then again, maybe I just like Paul because he uses a lot of sarcasm and irony like he does in our passage for today.

 Okay, so remember that Paul has just finished saying, “I made it a direct point not to stand on any cleverly devised arguments, but to preach one foolish message – Jesus Christ and Him crucified..the crucified Messiah.” But now, in verse 6 he makes an abrupt shift to talk about “a secret wisdom for the mature.” What is he doing? Isn’t he discrediting everything he just wrote? No, he’s using irony and adopting the Corinthians’ language of “wisdom”, and “maturity”, and “spiritual” to beat them at their own game and at the same time to show them how ridiculous the game of jockeying for elite status within the Christian community is. He’s basically saying, “You want wisdom? I got your wisdom right here!” [point to the cross]

 Paul begins in vv.6-8 by saying “We do speak wisdom…a secret wisdom of a different age that the rulers (the wise power wielders) of this age didn’t get: that’s why they crucified wisdom. But, to the spiritually mature, the people the Corinthians should be, the message isn’t so secret. It’s the gospel message and plan that God had in mind all along for those who love Him.

 Ultimately, in verses 9-13, Paul highlights how foolish it is to boast in one’s own wisdom and understanding about “spiritual” things because any “wisdom” we have comes directly from God’s self-revealing initiative…not our own knowledge. In fact, v.9 makes it clear that it was always God’s intent to reveal Himself in this way to those who love Him. The God who came down. The holy God who loves to reveal Himself in humility, grace, and weakness. That’s worth celebrating friends. That’s worth a “hallelujah!” That’s true Spirituality.

 And how does that foolish wisdom come to us? God reveals it to us by His Spirit…Holy Spirit. And we learn several things about Holy Spirit in the following verses.

 First of all, Holy Spirit is POWER (v.4) to transform lives. As Gordon Fee says, “The purpose of the Spirit’s coming was not to transport one above the present age, but to empower one to live within it.” (p.96)

 I guess that’s why I have a hard time giving alter calls that get you worked up emotionally so that you come sprinting to the front in a heap of tears and moans and lament. I trust God and I trust His goodness. I trust that if we have received His Spirit, He will guide us and convict us and correct us and direct us. I don’t want to soft pedal Jesus, but I don’t want to hard sell Him either. I trust Him and that He will work in His way and in His time. I hope that’s not a cop out. I think it’s a buy in to say, “I’m here for the duration to love you and walk alongside you and let God use me in your life and you in mine.”

 In v.10, Paul continues his emphasis by basically saying, “The Spirit, Holy Spirit, is the key. He is the One who searches everything, even the unfathomable depths of God and makes known His thoughts and heart to us.” That’s why Jesus could say that it was better that He went away so that He could send Holy Spirit to perpetually reveal God to us in every time and every place.

 Holy Spirit is revelator

 Paul goes on in v.11 to point out, using the Greek philosophic principle of “like is known by like,” that only God can know God. Just as only an individual knows his or her true thoughts, so only Holy Spirit comprehends the things of God. Holy Spirit is the perpetual link between God and humanity. So, once again, we shouldn’t expect those without God’s Spirit to understand God. Now, this often gets misused to help us determine who has the gift of God’s Spirit and who does not. Is it only those who have been baptized a certain way? Is it only those who speak in tongues? You can hear it: “What special gift do I need to have to show that I have God’s Spirit?” But Paul’s concern here was not with who in the Christian community had the Spirit and who did not…he assumed that they all did. His concern is with those who have received the Spirit through the gospel message proclaimed, and with those who do not in any way claim to be a part of this new community of Jesus followers.

 Holy Spirit is the link to knowing God and God’s ways

 Let me get on my soapbox one more time here because this is massive! Very often, especially in our own country, we want to impose “Spiritual” – with a capital S – things on people who do not claim to have anything to do with Holy Spirit. And when they don’t conform to our desires or wishes, we get all up in arms and ticked off and throw a big hissy fit…usually to the utter joy of the national media who has a field day making Christians out to be a bunch of judgmental, losers who whine when they don’t get what they want. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best to effect structural change through the political process. That we shouldn’t vote our conscience and use the right to vote. What I am saying is that I think we need to let go of the pipe dream of a “Christian Nation” and instead embrace the reality that we are forever going to be at odds with those who do not claim to or desire to have the Spirit of God. And, we need to let go of the expectation that a secular, non-Spiritual nation is going to conform its laws and ways to our ways. It’s such a trick of the enemy and proof of our own arrogance that gets us to misuse a passage like this to cause further division and fighting within our own Christian community about who truly has the Spirit and who does not. Maybe, just maybe, if we could get past that argument and see that proof of the Spirit in our lives is humility and grace, we would see how much we need each other…and maybe just maybe…others would see our unity and want the Spirit!!! Come on church!

 In v.12, Paul highlights this unity by reminding them, “We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is from God. The Spirit whose purpose is to constantly remind and reveal to us the gift that God has bestowed upon us through unmerited grace in Jesus.” I love even the word “bestowed” because it shows yet again that it’s nothing I can boast in. It means to give graciously, to cancel a debt that is owed, to pardon. It is God’s loving and good and gracious act – the gift of deliverance from the age that is passing away and into the new age that is gaining momentum and expanding and multiplying. Yes!!!

 Holy Spirit is gift and gifts giver

 Paul continues in vv.13-16 by pointing out that the Spirit is their teacher and the One who helps them make sense of the gift of God. Once again, Paul speaks in pretty stark language here…God’s gift of grace cannot be discerned without God’s Spirit. And spiritual things cannot be discerned by those who are natural. Richard Hays says, “the truth about God is revealed not through philosophy but through prophecy, not through rhetoric but by revelation.” One way of thinking about this is to say that we will understand what is going on in this age, but this age will not understand us.

 Holy Spirit is Teacher/Guide into all truth

 In verse 16, Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13 which rhetorically asks, “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” And Paul’s conclusion is: “But we have the mind of Christ.” For Paul the “mind of Christ” is synonymous with the “Spirit of Christ.” So, if we have the Spirit, we can know the “secret,” “hidden,” “depths of God.”

 Friends, this is a beautiful thing! I don’t want us to lose the power of this statement, “But we have the mind of Christ,” in oversimplification. This is what Paul has been driving at. As part of the new age, “Welcome to the new age…radioactive!”, we participate in God’s continual revelation of Himself through Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, we can actually pray and seek the Lord together and ask for His wisdom and discernment about specific issues in our lives and in our world. When all else fails us, we can say, “But we have the Holy Spirit!!!”

 Paul finishes up his point in 3:1-4 by basically saying, “You wanted wisdom, but you weren’t ‘spiritually mature’ enough to discern true wisdom. You didn’t have the Spirit, so I gave you the basics. And guess what? You’re still acting infantile…of the flesh.” He uses a different term here than he did in earlier verses to describe those who are “unspiritual.” He’s not saying that they are unspiritual, he’s saying that they are acting fleshly…acting like those who are of the age that is passing away. And the evidence of their “fleshiness” is that there is still jealousy and quarreling among them about who belongs to Paul or Apollos. He’s saying, “If you were spiritually mature, you would act in love and humility…not in jealousy and quarreling.”

 This one is personal. The realization that we have the Spirit of Christ to empower us for change, to reveal God’s heart, to make known God’s gift of grace, and to guide us into truth has made all the difference in my life. I had an experience early on in my marriage with Christy where I was really struggling. My father had just died from cancer and I was trying to make sense of life with the huge void that he left in my heart. I was indecisive, riddled with anxiety and depression, and pretty much wanting to know what my role and place was in the world…if I had one at all. Fortunately, I have a wife who knows what I need more than I do, and she encouraged me to get prayer. I asked two people, Gretsie who I introduced to you last week, and a retired priest Chuck Irish to pray for me. As we prayed, they discerned that I had a split head. In one sense, I was living in fear, despair, and under the control of how others thought I should be living. On the other hand, I was desiring to pursue the things of God: Faith,  Hope and Love. As we prayed, I saw in my mind 3 paths behind me and 3 paths in front of me. The 3 behind led to fear, despair and control, while the three in front led to the mind of Christ exemplified by faith, hope and love. The Lord asked me which of those paths I wanted to take, and I told Him I wanted to pursue His mind. It’s hard to explain, but as I prayed into this and declared it to the Lord I experienced a real breakthrough that has shaped my life to this day. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I am much more decisive, hopeful, and joy-filled. My mind continues to be the place where the enemy attacks, and I have had to continue to seek prayer and deliverance from some of these things. But this verse reminds me over and over again, “We have the mind of Christ.” We, not just I, and that’s why we need each other – to help us discern the mind of Christ. This is a scandalously bold claim. But if it’s not true, why does the church exist?

 This is a great reminder as we prepare for Lent. We must remember that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. If we go to the wilderness of Lent in our own strength, it will be a miserable time. If we go in the Spirit, we will find life there.

So, where do you need to see evidence of your own Spirituality (Spirit-filled life) today? Do you need to pray for the gift of God’s Spirit in your life? We need filled up…because we’re leaky vessels.

The Gospel: Foolish God

The Gospel: Foolish God

 

We were in Corinth last weekend. Okay, not really, but figuratively. The more I read and study this ancient city, the more I realize that it is in many ways and on many levels antiquity’s version of New York City. It was re-populated by ex-slaves, immigrants seeking a better life (that’s why Paul reminds them in our reading today: “Not many of you were wise…powerful…or of noble birth). It quickly grew and became one of the premier centers of commerce, religion, and popular ideas. The general ethos of Corinth was one of independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. The proverb went: “Not for everyone is the voyage to Corinth,” meaning that if you could make it there you could make it anywhere :-)

So, we were in New York last weekend, and we had this surreal experience. We had to hop a cab and a couple minutes into the ride the driver begins to speak to us. Over the next few minutes, we learn that he is a cinematographer from Egypt who moved to the big Apple in pursuit of a better life. He then went on to tell us that it was fashion week in the city and that just the night before he had been driving an intoxicated, possibly drugged up, fashion model. To which he exclaimed: “I would never want that life.”

 

So, we have a highly educated and trained Egyptian cinematographer, driving taxi for two mid-western nobodies, judging his prior evening’s clientele who outwardly was the symbol of success (which in our culture is sexiness), but inwardly was broken and dying…and all the while, there’s a little white cross hanging from his rearview mirror. And it dawned on me, “We’re in Corinth!” This is exactly the atmosphere into which Paul has boldly attempted and successfully planted a new Christian community. Right in the midst of this center of self-promotion and self-sufficiency and pride-inducing success…Paul drops the gospel message of the cross and resurrection!!! And it actually takes root and begins to change lives. This resonates so deeply with me and what we are all about here at City Hope. When I tell people that we’ve started a new mission in Highland Square…they usually ask why we would want to do that here. And my only answer is: Because God called us to it. Because if we can make it here…we can make it anywhere! J

 

So far we have seen that it’s into this environment that Paul reminds them that they have been called and set apart by God to live in a way that represents who God is on the earth. And the primary way they show who God is is by living together in unity – unity that comes only through Jesus.

 

As further evidence of God’s power at work in the Corinthians, Paul highlights three things about the gospel in 1:18-2:5 – The Message; The Members, and The Messenger.

 

Paul begins in v.18 with the message of the cross. Now, I must be transparent with you at this point. The cross makes me uneasy. In my early days as a Christian, I clung to the cross. I sought God’s forgiveness and deliverance and healing with vigor. I readily shared with anyone who would listen about what God was doing in my life and heart.

But as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve noticed a drift away from the cross. I’ve noticed a diminishing of its power in my own life as I’ve moved on to “more important things.” Often, I long for the simplicity of those earlier days when the cross of Christ and its implications were everything to me.

 

But the truth is…the message of the cross is offensive to my selfish ways. It strips me of any entitlement or self-sufficiency. It confronts me with my sin. It continually calls me to see things differently and to live dependently upon God. The cross of Jesus Christ does not bend to my wishes or conform to my preferences. So, as much as I may want to dress the cross up with fancy words or theological discussion about why I am or am not doing something, when all those things are stripped away the message of the cross is still there. As much as I may want it to make complete sense to me and my way of understanding things, which is idolatry – conforming God to my image – the cross won’t conform. And when I want to write someone off or judge them…the cross reminds me that no one is beyond God’s relentless love.

 

The cross stands alone through time and trial as “The Lord’s sign” – the symbol of a foolish God. In this center of wisdom and wealth, Paul relies entirely on the gospel message of a God who came down…a crucified messiah. We must understand that in their “wisdom” and understanding you couldn’t have both of these. Messiah and crucifixion don’t go together. Messiah means power, splendor, majesty, triumph. Crucifixion means weak, humiliating, loser. This was scandalous. As Gordon Fee writes, “Only God is so wise as to be so foolish.” That’s our paradigm friends. A crucified Messiah.

 

Paul continues to explain the paradigm of the gospel message. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” We must keep in mind that for Paul “the cross” is an all encompassing term that he describes later in chapter 15: “That Christ died for our sins…and that he was buried…and that he was raised on the third day…and that he appeared…” The cross divides the ages. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has set into motion a new reality…a new age. That’s why Jesus’ Gospel message was: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! God’s new reality…God’s way of setting things right…is here…in me!” To those who are still trying to live according to the former age’s standards of success and pride… the gospel is utter foolishness and stupidity.

 

We lose some of this because we’re so familiar with the cross as a symbol of Christianity. However, to the original audience of Greeks and Jews, the cross was stupid. It was a symbol of shame and scorn and humiliation. Much like an execution chair or lethal injection needle would be to us today. It was a symbol of what was deserving of the most vile criminals. And that’s where Paul starts because that’s where God starts. In an act of divine humiliation, God comes down in the person of Jesus and not only lives as a peasant, but is subjected to a humiliating death on a cross.

 

But to those who are part of the new age…who have been justified in Christ and are in the sanctification process…being saved…it is the power to receive what Jesus has done and is doing in us and for us. This word “power” is repeated again in v.24 and in 2:4-5. It is the word used to describe the animating force which makes us truly alive. The message of a crucified messiah may be a stumbling block to those who seek a sign of power, and it may be foolishness to those who desire wisdom, but it is both power and wisdom to those who have received God’s grace. If at the end of the day you cannot say that your belief in Jesus rests solely on what God has done for you…if you can take credit for doing it in your own strength…then it’s not the gospel. It’s not the good news that in Jesus, God did and does what only God could do and does.

 

That’s why Paul’s next act is to quote from Isaiah 29:14 – “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” In Jesus, God is turning things upside down…or right side up. Paul then launches into full sarcasm by asking, “Where is the one who is wise? scribe? debater? Hasn’t God made those things foolish?” He goes on, “God is so wise that He chose not to use human wisdom to save people, but He chose to use seeming foolishness (a crucified messiah) to make salvation available to all who would believe…even Jews and Greeks. As v.25 says, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Praise God!

 

So, God’s power is demonstrated through the gospel message of grace.

 

Now, Paul turns the attention from the message to the recipients of the message…the Corinthians themselves. He asks them to consider their own call from God. Can we take a moment and do that? Let’s take a moment to consider our own calling from God. We may not have made a decision to answer that call yet, but let’s at least consider that if you’re sitting here…He has called you.

 

And in considering that calling, Paul reminds them of this: not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” Hallelujah! Does anyone else find comfort in that message? It’s like a checklist for me: foolish…check! weak…check! low and despised…check! That’s the gospel message my friends. God uses the things that by appearance or social status or bank account or education or whatever we think is weak and foolish and despised…and He accomplishes His purposes.

 

The gospel is for everyone! You can’t disqualify yourself or someone else because God didn’t do that. In fact, the more disqualified you feel…the more qualified you probably are.

Ultimately, verse 30 reminds us that God is the source of our life. He is the fountainhead from which life flows to us through Jesus. And then Paul simply begins to gush in his description of Jesus. There’s no pattern or organization to this list. Paul just can’t contain himself when he begins to talk about all who Jesus is to us. He is…wisdom…righteousness…sanctification…and redemption. In other words, He is everything! He is true understanding. He is the one who sets everything right. He is the one who sets us apart. He is the one who has ransomed us. So, if you’re going to boast…make boast of Jesus. Gush with what God has done in and through Jesus.

The Corinthians themselves are the greatest evidence of the power of the gospel.

Gordon Fee again writes, “God, it turns out, deliberately chose the foolish things of the world, the cross and the Corinthian believers, so that he could remove forever, from every human creature, any possible grounds on their part of standing in the divine presence with something in their hands. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” (p.84)

 

God’s power is made evident through transformed communities.

 

Finally, Paul turns attention to himself. He points out that he did not proclaim the testimony/mystery of God with fancy rhetoric or sophisticated wisdom. Instead, he made an intentional decision “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The interesting thing is that Paul could have used techniques and tricks of rhetoric in which he was trained. But he intentionally set those things aside so that the pure gospel message could be received and believed.

In fact, Paul came in weakness and fear and in much trembling. Instead of a well organized and persuasive argument, Paul demonstrated Holy Spirit’s power so that the Corinthians wouldn’t depend upon a message or messenger, but upon God and His power.

 

You may not know this about me because I’m pretty good at keeping up appearances, but I am a worrier and doubter. I have had several seasons in my life where I have gone through times of significant doubt and despair – wondering what this whole life thing is about and if I’m wasting my time doing what I’m doing. So thank God your salvation isn’t dependent upon the messenger :-)

 

But you know what has kept me from going over the edge or walking away when all the rhetoric and persuasive arguments were stripped away? It’s not so much of a “what” as it is a “who.” It’s God…Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The problem is that once you’ve experienced something for yourself…you can’t deny it. In the end, with all my struggles and doubts, I find that God continues to show up. It’s Him that draws me. Not a specific belief or a good feeling. It’s Him! I think that’s what Paul was getting at here. He had a personal encounter with Jesus that changed everything for him, and everything else…as he says in Philippians…is a pile of crap compared to knowing Jesus.

 

God’s power is made evident through changed lives.

 

So, like Paul, my prayer today is for a demonstration of God’s power through Holy Spirit. My prayer is that we would simply come to the cross of Jesus where the ground is level, where we have nothing in our hands. That we would consider the evidence of The Message of a God who expresses Himself through a crucified Messiah, The Members of a transformed community, and our own personal encounters with God as His Messengers. And that we would simply ask God to meet us in a powerful way.

So, let’s take a few minutes and come to the cross of Jesus Christ where true life is found…redemption…healing…renewal.

Gospel Unity

Gospel Unity

 

Our world is full of division. People choosing sides and being unwilling to negotiate, forgive and reconcile. Just turn on the news or check the news app on your phone and you’ll see reports of what’s happening in Syria, Sudan, Egypt, the US, Ukraine, etc. And yet, when you step back and think about it, it kind of makes sense.  If there isn’t a higher purpose and value to actively pursuing unity, why make the effort?

 

Some of you may have seen this image this week. (showed image of Ukranian clergy standing between sides). This is a beautiful image of what we are called to be in our world. Standing in the midst of the division, the brokenness, the violence, the injustice and holding high the symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation and unity. And not just the symbol, but more importantly the One to whom the symbol points. So, today, I want us to continue our journey in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth with the theme of Gospel Unity.

 

In all truthiness, we don’t usually make a quick mental association between the words “unity” and “church.” And that’s where this letter continues to speak to us today. A couple weeks ago, we spent some time looking at Paul’s opening words to the church in Corinth. What was so amazing was that even though this church was causing Paul headaches, he opened by thanking God for them. We talked about this new Gospel Community that was being re-shaped according to the rhythms of the gospel – Creation; Fall; Redemption and Renewal

 

In our reading for today, Paul now turns to the main issue at hand. There is quarreling and jealousy that is leading to division in the community. We have to keep in mind that his main concern throughout this letter is the integrity of this newly formed community who is re-orienting their lives around the gospel – this Gospel Community. And we must remember that this new community was as diverse as they come – made up of people from all walks of life, education, status, socioeconomic positions, religious beliefs, etc. So, this was no small task. Imagine a scenario where the person leading worship on Sunday goes home as a slave on Monday. Or the preacher is homeless. Or a former prostitute  helps serve communion. Come on! Now that’s church!!!

 

So, let’s pick up in v.10 of chapter 1…verse 10 is the filter through which we should read the rest of the letter, so let’s really dive into this one.

 

“I appeal (beg, urge) to you brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

He is appealing to them with the full weight of his position as an apostle, but he is not demanding because unity cannot be commanded or forced. It must be cultivated.

So, he urges them as brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. His appeal is based on Jesus and the grace and gifts they have as a family because of Him.

So, the first point is that Gospel unity begins with Jesus – we cannot find unity anywhere else.

 

Paul continues “…that all of you be in agreement (say the same thing) and that there be no divisions among you…”

Paul is saying, “Be in agreement about the fundamentals of the gospel message!” Like the famous quote: “In Essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” In a moment, he will go on to point out the foolishness of the things that they are divided over, but for now he’s concerned about what unites them.

His appeal continues with “And that you not be divided” the term for divided is one used  to describe tearing a garment or plowing up a field. Does it ever feel like that when there’s division? Like everything just got torn and turned up and is now exposed? The good news is that now there’s the potential for mending and sowing new seeds of healing and forgiveness.

The second point is that Gospel unity majors on the majors

 

This is what we at City Hope describe as Commission, Commandment, Covenant and Creed. The majors are the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, which we obey as we fulfill the Great Commandment to love God, ourselves, and others. And all along the way, we’re guided by the creedal confession of our historic faith in the context of a covenantal relationship with God.

 

Paul finishes v.10 with “…but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”

The word Paul chooses in his appeal for unity means “to be knit together” as in the mending or restoring of a net in Mark 1:19 = perfect unity. His desire is that they not just learn to get along, but that they actually be mended and restored to their original purpose. Do you see the gospel rhythms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration here? There was a new creation of this Gospel community, they quickly fell into disunity through quarreling and jealousy, Paul points them back to the redeemer, and he ultimately holds out before them the hope of full restoration.

Paul is saying I want you to be unified in your understanding of the gospel and its power, and I want you to be unified in the purpose to which God has called you as a Gospel community.

This is unity, not uniformity. He is not calling them to be automotons that think, and eat, and dress, and act exactly the same. This is important because I think what gets promoted as unity often times really means, “As long as you think and act and believe and live just like me and don’t disagree with me in any way…then we can be unified.” That’s not what Paul is saying. He’s calling them to focus on the One who called them together in the first place and to pattern their lives after Him. As we come to the cross together, we find true unity while still maintaining our uniqueness.

The third point is that Gospel unity keeps the end in mind – restoration is the goal

 

So, what was the nature of the problem?

verses 11- 16 spell it out:

Paul got a report from Chloe’s people, Chloe the head of a household…just saying…that there was quarrelling among them. And the quarrel was about which “group” or “party” each of them belonged to.

This might seem silly to us, but then again, how many of our petty divisions would someone look back on and wonder why it was a fight in the first place?

And so, they said “I belong to Paul,” and “I belong to Apollos,” and “I belong to Cephas (Peter),” and “I belong to Jesus.” They were wearing these around as badges declaring who was most “spiritual.” You can imagine it right? “I was baptized by Paul.” Well, “I’m subscribed to Apollos’ podcast.” Oh yeah, “Well, I get a prayer cloth from Peter once a month.” “Oh really, well, I have some special revelation from Jesus and that’s all I need.”

Once again, these might not strike home. But what does cause division? Is it propping yourself up on outward appearances? Is it drawing hard and fast lines about who’s in and who’s out based on non-essentials? Is it finding your identity in who you’re not rather than who you are?

Paul’s answer to the problem is a series of rhetorical questions in v.13.

“Is Jesus a commodity to be divided up and parceled out? Was I, Paul, crucified for your salvation? Were you baptized into new life in my name?” His point here is to get at the absurdity of the things that are causing division. And he does so by reminding them of this: Jesus is Lord. He is not something to be possessed. And not only is He Lord, but He is crucified Lord in whose name they have now been baptized into a whole new way of life. It is in and through the cross their new community is to be shaped. The cross confronts me with my sin. I envision it like this. In our fallenness, and brokeness, we journey to the cross. At the cross, we find redemption. And through  the power of the cross we find restoration and renewal.

This is Paul’s final point in verse 17: “Jesus sent me to proclaim the gospel…the good news that in Jesus, God is reconciling all things back to Himself. And I’m not doing it with any fancy rhetoric or “secret knowledge.” I am simply holding up the cross of Christ and letting it’s power do the work.” Paul does not want to “empty” the cross of its power by getting into debates and quarrels with fancy rhetoric…which he could have done quite well, mind you.

 

Okay, so what does this mean for us today? Lots of things actually! The most promising is that through the work and person of Jesus true reconciliation, renewal and unity are possible. They’re not just nice things to sing about or put on our bumper stickers. True Gospel Unity is attainable and I can say that because I’ve seen it in my marriage and in other relationships.

 

City Hope, my prayer is that we would be a cruciform community. That as we share life together (one of our highest values) we would be shaped by the cross and resurrection so that we actually have permission to bring each other into Jesus’ presence to hear His voice and find unity. That we would together journey toward the cross to recognize our sin and brokenness, find redemption, and that we would journey together from there in renewal power.  Do we believe this? Are we committed to community even when we find division, and quarreling and jealousy? Dr. Chris Green says, “The sign of true Christian maturity is your capacity to live with people who are not like you.” Are we up for the challenge?

 

So, how do we find Gospel Unity (wholeness, integrity, soundness)…remember it’s unity not uniformity. I’m borrowing these from concepts found in the Freedom Class Manual.

First, we identify the problem – We Recognize – which usually begins by asking God “What did I do?”

Second, we confess the problem – We Repent – which usually begins by saying “God I did…”

Third, we go to the cross – We Receive – we say “God forgive me for…”

Fourth, we look for habits, patterns or strongholds – We Rebuke the enemy – we say “God protect us and open our eyes to blind spots and footholds in our lives.” The Corinthians primary stronghold was pride (they were jockeying for position) which leads to being independent and self-sufficient and argumentative…not things that typically lay the ground for unity :-)

And lastly, we cling to God’s Truth – We Restore what was broken – we say “Jesus thank you for mending and making new. Help me to continue to walk in unity or wholeness in this area.”

 

So, just to repeat…We Recognize; Repent; Receive; Rebuke and Restore.

These steps have been so helpful to me…especially that one time I messed up as a husband :-)

Seriously though, the truth is that I need to walk through these quite often in relationships. With Christy just a couple weeks ago, I had to do this. I did something really stupid and was causing division between us. At first, I dug in my heals and said “I follow Jeremy…and I’m pretty sure Jesus is with me too!” But after some time, I asked God to help me recognize what I had done…which He was happy to do. Then, the really fun part, I had to go confess to Christy what I had done to cause the problem. I received her  forgiveness and together we agreed that this wouldn’t be an ongoing issue in our marriage…no strongholds…and then the relationship was restored because we were in agreement.

I had it happen in another relationship this week too: a friend helped me recognize something wrong I had done…I asked for forgiveness…received it…and things were mended.

It’s like what Jesus commands us to do in the sermon on the mount actually works. What do ya know?

This also happens on a personal level between me and the Lord.

 

Gospel unity lays the ground for Gospel Community Maturity – that’s why this matters! We’ll talk about this in a couple of weeks. Paul’s goal for the Corinthians was that they would grow up in their faith.

 

So, here’s what I’d like us to do as we prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table. Let’s walk through these steps in prayer asking the Lord to prepare our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to receive His perfect sacrifice.

 

 

Communion:

This is the table -

Not of the church, but of the Lord

It is made ready for those who love him

And for those who want to love him more

So come -

You who have much faith

And you who have little

You who have been here often

And you who have not been here long

You who have tried to follow

And you who have failed

Come

Because it is the Lord who invites you

It is his will that those who want him

Should meet him here

Know the Story

Here’s my sermon from 1-19-2014 that began our current series on 1 Corinthians…

 

“Know The Story”

In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to be studying Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth because I believe it has some very timely things to say to us as a church…a community called together by God and called out by His Spirit. Paul is calling them to a new or renewed way of living that is shaped by the Gospel. Whenever we read one of Paul’s letters, we must always remember that we are reading someone else’s mail. He is writing to specific people with specific problems. In this case, he had only just been with them a few years earlier (Acts 18). And it’s incredible to think about how quickly this young church fell into sin and old ways of life. I love how Paul not only gives them theological instruction, but he also gives them wisdom about “how” they conduct themselves when they gather. His main concern is that the body would be built up – that they would be stirred to love and good deeds – as they look to their head, Jesus. That their identity and reality would be shaped more by the gospel than anything else. That they would become a Gospel Community.

Hear these words written by MLK Jr while imprisoned in Birmingham: “There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and princiles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society” – Letter from Birmingham Jail

The reality is that Christian community is not dependent on location or circumstances. Gospel community can happen anywhere at any time.

So, let’s take a look at 1 Cor 1:1-9 [read]. Paul begins in v.1 by calling them saints, which is incredibly significant because he goes on to show them how “un-saintly” they are – sleeping with step mom, getting drunk at communion, etc..

Paul goes on to give thanks to God for these ragamuffins because of the grace (charism) that God has given them through Christ. He thanks God  for the very people to whom he is writing a second time now to correct their behavior that was causing him headaches. Paul is able to give thanks not because of what they were doing, but because of what God had done and was continuing to do through Holy Spirit in the house churches in Corinth. They had been invited to live a new story…one that turned things upside down…or right-side up depending on how you look at it.

A Gospel Community is called and set apart for God’s purposes.

Paul goes on in v. 5 to point out specifically what God has done for them – They have been enriched in every way – in speech (logos – utterance…prophetic, tongues, etc) and knowledge (understanding) -  ironic word use here because Paul is using words that those who claimed to have a higher knowledge  and were causing division were using. Paul is emphasizing here that their spiritual gifts were just that…gifts. They couldn’t take credit for them, and therefore couldn’t be prideful about them. Verse 6 tells us that they were to use these gifts to strengthen the testimony of Jesus among them. Their speech and knowledge were to be used to make Jesus known.

In fact, Paul moves on in v.7 to point out that they don’t need anything else than what God has done for them and gifted them with – So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift – they were being told that they needed a still “higher” knowledge and understanding. Paul is saying, “If you have Christ, you have everything you need!”

I would say the same to us City Hope. We have everything we need in Christ! God has given us certain grace to see His Kingdom come in Akron. Let’s lean into those gifts this year!

A Gospel Community is given gifts to share and build up and make Jesus known until He returns.

Paul finishes this “thanksgiving” section of the letter with an emphasis on THE end. He points out that they have everything they need and will be strengthened as they wait for Christ’s return. Most importantly, they have been called into fellowship with Jesus.

Richard hays writes, “To participate in the church was to find oneself summoned to close and even sacrificial relationships with others, including those of other social classes, those with whom one might ordinarily have nothing at all in common.”

A Gospel community is called to fellowship for sustaining the mission.

A couple weeks ago I shared from Hebrews 10 – “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together…”

I have been considering this. In fact, my question…more of a prayer…has been “Father, how do we best do this? How do we become a people who are intentionally considerate of how to move each other toward loving others and doing good.” Like the church in Corinth, I believe we have been set apart, called together in fellowship, and given gifts to make an impact in our city. In fact, I think there’s something incredibly profound in these words…and here’s why…

There is a power, a dynamism, at work when we come together. We have the opportunity to hear the Gospel story and apply it in our own lives and in the lives of others – to become a Gospel Community.

We have the opportunity to be reminded and to remind others that we are more saint than sinner. That we are more loved than despised. That we are more forgiven than forsaken. That we are more healed than broken. That we are more empowered than powerless. That we are more accpted than condemned. That we are more called than forgotten. That we are more purposeful than meaningless. That we are more eternal than temporal.

Something like this happened just last time we gathered – we heard a testimony of healing

Here’s the reality: the things God wants to accomplish he could do outside of community; however, He rarely ever chooses to go that route.

But, we must remember that there is a real enemy who does want to destroy community. And one of his greatest weapons is isolation and division (we actually see this in the next verses of 1 Corinthians). There’s a reason that Jesus spends a lengthy amount of time praying for our unity in John 17. It’s not just nice rhetoric. He knew where the enemy would attack. I see a repeated pattern that takes place. When hard times hit, we withdraw from community…often times the very community who would help us get through that difficulty/trial/hardship. We need others who can hear our story. Who can share their story. Who can point us to The Story.

The Gospel is The Story of God, and it is a story that happens on two levels: my story (God’s goodness) and the story of the world (God’s greatness).

Moreover, that story follows a pattern of 4 rhythms:

Creation – Fall – Redemption – Renewal

In God’s story, creation begins with the understanding that we are made with purpose and value because we bear God’s image. But we quickly fall from that reality and instead want to be like God. We lose sight of God’s original design and intent for creating image bearers – we were alrady like God. And without everyone being imprinted with God’s image…certain people become expendable or less important. And that becomes a slippery slope toward the breakdown of community – think Cain and Abel in Gen 4.

But that’s not the end of the story. God sends the perfect image bearer to set things right – to redeem. To make a way for us to become who we were always meant to be. And not only does He redeem us, but He promises to restore and renew us and the whole world by His Spirit whom He will give to us without measure.

And that’s not just God’s story, but that’s my story too! I think we need to get ahold of the broader power and beauty of our stories. What sense do you have about why you were created in the first place? How did you fall from that? How have you been redeemed? What hope do you have for the future? What does it mean that you are an eternal being?

So, one of the things that we are going to do in the new year is begin to gather more. Not just for the sake of gathering, but for the sake of sharing and hearing God’s story, so that we can continue to make sense of our own stories and the story of our world. So that we can get more in touch with the gospel rhythms that are taking place all around us. So that we can become more gospel fluent. In order to do that, we will need to familiarize ourselves with The Story (Scripture; Testimony) and the Story Tellers (Father, Son and Spirit).

Because our stories aren’t a linear progression. These things didn’t just happen, but they are happening. We experience creation – fall – redemption – restoration throughout our lives on a regular basis. It is important that we learn to recognize these rhythms and to hear what God would say to us in the midst of them. I will never forget experiencing these rhythms when we first started to learn about the terrible injustices that occur in our world as a result of bonded slavery and sex-trafficking. First, God created in us an understanding for what happened. Then, we experienced a “fall” of sorts when we began to despair about the immensity of the issues. Next, God  redeemed the situation by opening our eyes to what we could actually do. And finally, God called us to participate in His work of restoration both locally and globally. I will never forget attending IJM’s global prayer gathering and getting to share about our own work to fight injustice with a room full of college and high school students. It felt as if things had come full circle and now we understood why we had to go through the other three rhythms.

I want to encourage us to be praying about our own gospel stories, and to be prepared to share those stories in various contexts…including during some of these celebration gatherings.

Reflection time:

Where are you on the spectrum? Are you in a season of creation, fall, redemption, or restoration?

In smaller groups, share where you see yourself and what you hear God saying about it.

 

Why am I here?

So, my wife encouraged me to post my sermons on the blog. I’ll be honest. I definitely communicate best through written word, so perhaps these will give folks an opportunity to engage with my teachings a bit more and to follow along with what we’ve been learning and experiencing at City Hope. Perhaps, someday I will be technomologically advanced enough to record my teachings, but for now they will be in writing. Of course, this is always done with a bit of trepidation since I occasionally venture into comment sections on other blogs and then quickly have to repent on behalf of myself and those who claim to represent Jesus while they are spewing vitriol. So, let’s play nice friends, and if you have a comment or question, post with charity!

Okay, here’s my first message at City Hope Celebration from September 22nd, 2014

The Good News of Jesus from Mark 3:13-15

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.

 

“I shouldn’t be here!”

 

It’s the classic story that we all love about a hero or heroine being called to a great mission, and the struggle that he or she goes through to accept the calling and fulfill his or her destiny. It’s a story that we seem to be especially obsessed with as all the super-hero “origin” movies have come out in the past several years (Batman, Wolverine, Superman, Spiderman, etc). There’s always a part in the middle where the hero has an existential crisis about purpose and destiny. They wrestle with the thought: “I shouldn’t be here!” We identify with that sentiment. We find our story in their story. Ultimately, these and other stories accentuate the sense that “with great power comes great responsibility.” In other words, a commissioning includes an obligation.

 

Personally, I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be leading a new work in the city that’s reaching out with the love of God in Jesus to people of all different colors, experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds, political perspectives, etc.

 

My life experiences set me on a trajectory for a different kind of success. I was a preppy, prideful, poster child (I know that’s a hard stretch for some of you to make :-) ) I was supposed to get a business degree, work in the stock markets, get an MBA and move on to the business world. I was supposed to move further up the success ladder to create distance between me and those toward the bottom of the ladder. But God disrupted those plans – don’t hear what I’m not saying…not saying that it’s bad to do some of these things – and commissioned us for a different destiny.

 

I think that’s similar to the experience the first followers of Jesus must have had when He called them because He wanted them . They likely would’ve thought, “I’m not supposed to be here…He wants me?” I can picture a lot of the over the shoulder looking like, “He must be talking to somebody else.” Do you ever feel like that? “God, you must be talking to someone else. You couldn’t want ME to be with you.”

 

But the truth is, Jesus called them to Himself, appointed (“made” – shaped, discipled, apprenticed) them to be with him, sent them out to proclaim the message, and to have authority. As has been noted, these guys were the B team. They didn’t make the initial cut of spiritual superstars and that’s why they were doing something else besides already following another rabbi…working for their dad’s as fishers, collecting taxes, etc.

 

They weren’t supposed to be there following this rabbi who came proclaiming a new message of God’s Kingdom. But in a few simple gestures and words, Jesus establishes these guys as the new leaders of God’s movement in the world. Not bad!!!

 

So, I’m not wondering why you’re here today. Instead, I’m wondering “Why shouldn’t you be here today?” What should’ve disqualified you from living God’s mission and purpose for your life? What are you fed up with or running from that the chance at a new start motivated you to show up for? What disruption did God cause in your plans that brings you here today?

 

These verses show us what happens when we show up to be with Jesus.  He takes the initiative to “make”/appoint us as “Sent ones”/apostles.  Sometimes God “makes” us even before we know that we’re appointed. We’ve all got a mission! Even if we’re thinking, “I shouldn’t be here.”

 

Here’s why I want to share this with you today. In God’s Kingdom, we’re all called to play a part. We must move from “I shouldn’t be here” to “Why am I here?” As was read about from 1 Corinthians 12, we are the body of Christ and each of us is a member. And if this is true, we have the power of Holy Spirit residing within us and we have a responsibility to steward that power for God’s glory and the fulfillment of His mission to redeem, reconcile and renew all things.

 

We have to realize that we too are sent ones! In God’s Kingdom, there’s no B team or benchwarmers.

And what does God want from His sent ones? The same things stated in Mark 3…

1. To be with Him – Community

2. To proclaim His message – Kingdom

3. To break strongholds and oppressive forces – Society

 

This is what City Hope Church is all about. We shouldn’t be here because of anything we did or didn’t do. We’re here because that’s how good God is. He has guided us each step of the journey.

 

We shouldn’t be here to start another church. Let’s be honest. We don’t need another church. We didn’t set out to start a church. We became a church – called out ones! And we’ll continue to meet twice a month to celebrate all that God is doing in our shared life together. The point is there should be stuff happening the other 28 or 29 days each month that give us something to truly celebrate when we gather here. We’re going to keep it simple so that these gatherings don’t consume us and we have energy and resources to live God’s mission every day.

 

What we need is a move of God’s Spirit that catapults God’s people into every nook and cranny of society to be agents of change.

 

The Vision of CHC is this: Living Life Together. Making Kingdom Disciples. Stewarding Vocation for the blessing of all.

 

Our  Mission is To live as agents of renewal in our local context and serve our brothers and sisters around the world

 

And our values align with that vision and mission:

Kingdom – Participating in God’s renewal of all things

Discipleship/Apprenticeship – by imitating Jesus

Stewarding Vocation – in the places Holy Spirit calls us to go

Life Together – with the people we are called to live among

Sacrificial Generosity – for the blessing of all

 

But these are just words on paper unless we actually embody them and live them out.

 

And here are some of the ways we are living them out:

Huddles

Hope Communities:

Oikos

Women of Hope

Couples

Bros, Brews and Bibles

Simplify and Food Pantry

Ministry Partners – Rahab, Resurrection Orphan and Widows

Tutoring

Kids

Worship arts

Community Development

 

Lastly, we must move from “Why am I here?”, to “There’s a reason I’m here!”

So, what’s the reason you’re here?

To rest and heal in community

To find a way to live this Christian life that fits with God’s Kingdom purposes

To make a difference in the world- creative arts, kids, new Communities of Hope