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August 13, 2017
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as we try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. With a growing backlash against religion and people of faith, it’s harder than ever to hold on to our convictions while treating friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members who disagree with respect and compassion.”
Those are the opening words of an excellent book that I read a few months ago written by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The book is called Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme. I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a thought provoking read with some wonderful insights on how to live in a culture that increasingly resists people of faith, any faith.
Do you feel that way? Do you ever feel weird or excluded or uninvited or under attack because of your faith? I do. And my guess is that many of you do too. Today I want to talk our culture and our response to it and then in a few weeks we’ll talk about the Dominican culture which some of us just experienced. They are very different!
The last chapter in Good Faith is called “Faithful in Exile” and compares the church in America today with God’s people who were exiled in Babylon 700 years before Christ. Babylon, in modern-day Iraq, was under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar and was hostile to the Israelites. They had destroyed their Temple. Yet God wanted his people to settle down in that country, work for the common good, and help it prosper.
In Jeremiah 29:4-7 (p. 545) we read, This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Under hostile conditions, in a culture opposed to the one true God, God himself says, “Don’t run and hide. Don’t create a subculture. Don’t build a bubble and wall yourself off. Don’t throw stones and grumble and complain, longing for the good old days.” All the things we often do as Christians in America.
“Instead, get busy. Settle down. Get married. Have babies. Flourish. And pray for the prosperity of the hostile culture in which you live because if it prospers you will prosper too.” I think we all need to take a page out of Jeremiah when it comes to how we live in America today.
About that strategy Kinnaman writes, “Jeremiah’s how-to-survive-in-exile instructions are as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago …. As a community of God, work for the common good: that which is orderly and right, abundant and generous, beautiful and flourishing with life and relationships.”
Church, I believe God wants us to pray for the prosperity of our nation. I believe God wants us to work together for the common good. I believe God wants us to us to be engaged with our culture. And as we engage, he wants us to make disciples.
That’s the vision he’s given Valley View Community Church. Our mission is Jesus. Valley View is all about Jesus. And our vision is to make disciples, to make followers of Jesus.
Today we’re continuing our series called What If? All summer long we’ve been talking about turning What If into What Is? So if we believe in Jesus, if we’re all in, then we will make disciples and multiply his image in this world. That’s Christ’s command in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
And we’ve talked about the four steps in that process. Invite. Grow. Equip. Go. So I want to take a few minutes to talk about each this morning. And it starts with INVITE. That’s where Jesus started. Jesus invited people to follow him and in the process many of them came to faith.
Strolling along the beach of the Sea of Galilee Jesus invited two fishermen to, Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people, Mark 1:17.
Walking down a crowded city street Jesus invited a tax collector to, Follow me, Luke 5:27.
Standing on a hillside Jesus invited a crowd worn out on religion to, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest, Matthew 11:28.
Jesus was always inviting people to follow him, to come to him, to check him out, to lay their burdens down. Becoming a disciple of Jesus always begins with an invitation. And there are all kinds of ways to do that.
One of the most fun things I’ve been doing this summer is going to Shannondell Rehab Center almost every Monday afternoon for an hour and inviting people to lay their burdens down at the feet of Jesus. George and Marcia Sullivan, Geri Smith, and Jan Vanning have all been going as well.
And we invite people to Jesus by simply offering to pray for those who are struggling with their health. And each week we meet new people and some of the same people who are there for an extended stay. And the best thing we can offer them is love and prayer in the name of Jesus. And we’ve had some absolutely amazing conversations about faith and hope and love. It’s been a blast! Even in a hostile culture not many people refuse prayer. If you ever want to come just let us know. You’re all being invited!
Church, if you haven’t noticed already, fewer and fewer people in our culture are “going to church” anymore. They just aren’t for a whole lot of reasons. Many are angry at the church and at God. They feel let down by the church and let down by God. Often their view of God comes from their difficult circumstances and not from the Scriptures.
So we need to take “church” to them and we do that by inviting others to check Jesus out. We can pray with them or for them. Jen does a lot of that with and for the school teachers she works with. We can give them a copy of the Scriptures or help them download the Bible on their phone. We can serve others in all kinds of loving ways. We can invite co-workers to Valley View or introduce them to some of our Christ following friends. But it all starts with an invitation.
Invite. Then GROW.
A lot of what we do here on Sundays and between Sundays is intended to be catalytic for our spiritual growth. God intends all of us to grow to be more and more like Jesus. He’s in the process of making us fully alive, fully human. Jesus said, I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full.
The passage that’s captivated me recently is John 15:5 where Jesus says, I am the vine you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.
I had people on the trip ask me, “What’s the best way to grow in Jesus?” I said, “You’re doing it.” Growing in Jesus is all about staying connected to the vine. We can’t produce any fruit on our own. Jesus produces the fruit. We just need to stay connected to him. Sin breaks that connection which is why confession, repentance, and forgiveness are so important.
But we stay connected when we put ourselves in places where Jesus is. Jesus pours his life into us in worship, in prayer, in solitude, through Scripture, through confession, through serving and using our gifts, through helping the poor. These are called spiritual disciplines that transform us into disciples. They make space in our lives for Jesus to form his life in us.
That’s one reason why we call our groups, Life Groups. Because connection with other believers is one way we stay connected to Jesus and that breeds life. If you’re not in a Life Group or in some form of regular, intentional, ongoing community with other believers please get in one. That’s a big part of staying connected to the vine and that’s how we grow. In a culture that’s increasingly hostile to the faith we need each other to be reminded we’re not crazy!
Invite. Grow. EQUIP.
In Ephesians 4:11-12 (p. 815) we read, So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
This is often called the APEST model of ministry which is an acrostic for Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers. All have been given to the church to equip God’s people to serve others.
Jesus is described in Scripture as having all these gifts. He’s God’s apostle, the word apostle means “sent one.” He’s a prophet bringing God’s truth. He’s an evangelist carrying the good news. He’s the chief shepherd of the sheep. And he’s a rabbi, an amazing teacher.
And as believers, Jesus lives in all of us and so to some degree will all possess these gifts, some stronger than others. And as a church we need to use our God given gifts to build up the body of Christ.
That word “equipping” literally means to set a broken bone in place. It’s a medical term. In other words, we’re all broken people who need to be put back together again.
This summer, Jason and Gina Warren did a fabulous job using their teaching gifts to equip a number of us to be better stewards of our financial resources. Partnering with Financial Peace University, they taught how to manage money God’s way which is very counter cultural, but absolutely necessary for a disciple.
Right now we’re doing more equipping around here than ever. We’re paying attention to people’s gifts and releasing them to equip others.
The church was never meant to be retail store where we go to get our spiritual goods and services. It was meant to be a community that equips one another to serve selflessly. Who are you equipping? How are you using your gifts to serve others? That’s a question we all need to ask and answer.
Invite. Grow. Equip. GO.
Jesus said, As you go through life make disciples of all nations.
Making disciples is a day to day process right here in the culture where we live, work, and play. But sometimes it may mean getting on a plane and going to a distant place.
Ten of us just returned on Wednesday from the Dominican Republic. It was an amazing trip, a life changing experience, and a real privilege to be able to take the love of Jesus to that place. And one of the best parts was meeting men and women who’ve invested their lives into caring for the poorest of the poor. They inspired us and challenged us. I’ll tell you just one story because you’ll be hearing more in a couple of weeks.
Humankind Water serves alongside a ministry called Cups of Cold Water. And that ministry is led by a former sea captain named Jan and his wife Elizabeth. In his mid-30’s, Jan left his successful career as the captain of a 450 foot-long Mercy ship to serve the people who live on the garbage dump in Sosua, the city where we were.
Five days a week, Jan and his team bring food and water to people who make less than $1.50 a day. And on our last morning we visited the dump and served about 60 people, mostly Haitian refugees, by giving them cold water, bread, and coffee along with the shampoos and soaps and lotions and work gloves that you donated. The gloves are what they’ll wear to dig through the trash looking for food and separating the recyclables and other nasty things.
We don’t have any pictures because we were told not to take any to protect their dignity, but you can see for yourself by watching a 3 minute video on cupsofcoldwater.com.
And before we went into to the dump, Jan said we’re going to be Jesus to these people. Take off your sunglasses, look them in the eye, smile, and show them the dignity and respect they deserve. God loves them just as much as he loves you. So we did and tried our best to be Jesus in that place. And in the process they were Jesus to us because Jesus always identifies himself with the poorest of the poor and says, “When you’re serving them, you’re serving me.” It was humbling.
So now a group of us have stepped out of that culture and back into our own which actually feels like another planet. But it’s here that God has called us to make disciples. And we do that as we invite, grow, equip, and go. So let’s all turn What if? into What Is. If we believe in Jesus we will make disciples and multiply his image in this world. Let’s stand for closing prayer.