Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Growing Up - Discovering God's Mission Beyond Our Wall's

Brian McLaren is a Christian author and speaker. He wrote a book several years ago entitled A Generous Orthodoxy. There is one chapter in his book that is especially intriguing. The chapter is titled: “The 7 Jesuses I Have Known”. McLaren was raised in a conservative Evangelical Christian home. The Jesus he met in his home while growing up had certain characteristics. He is probably the Jesus that most of us in this room have met over the years. But as he grew, McLaren said his reading of scripture and his interaction with other Christians forced him to see other sides of Jesus’ character. In that chapter, he introduces his readers to the “7 Jesuses” he has met in his lifetime.

He says the Jesus he met in his childhood home came here to die. The sermons he heard growing up and the classes he heard taught all centered on Jesus’ sacrificial death. He grew up believing that the only reason Jesus came to this planet was to die, to become our sacrifice.

Later, he met whom he called the “Roman Catholic Jesus.” In his friendships with Roman Catholics, McLaren found out that they emphasized another part of Jesus’ life. Jesus did not come to this plane to die; Jesus came here to be raised! Catholics have always emphasized Jesus’ triumphant victory over death.

Eastern Orthodox Christians introduced McLaren to still another Jesus. Jesus came to this place, they believed, to be born! The fact that Jesus entered the world at all as a human being—that was most significant about his life.

The Incarnation is talked about a lot in Eastern Orthodox circles. They talk about Christmas more than just about any other Christian group. If you ever have a chance—go to an Eastern Orthodox Christmas service. They do Christmas well!

What do you think, church, why did Jesus come? Did He come to die? Did He come to rise from the dead? Did He come to be born? Does anyone see a hole here?

Jesus did not come here only to be born, or to die, or to rise. Jesus came here also to teach us how to live! If the only thing that mattered was the cross, if the empty tomb was the only thing that mattered, God could have done that very quickly. In and out real quick, mission accomplished. Sins forgiven. Grace extended. Salvation for everyone! But that is not what God did. God became one of us and dwelt among us for over 30 years. Why did God do that? Because God came to teach us how to live.

And what did He teach us when He was here?

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:1-11 (TNIV)

I guess I should tell you this is my favorite passage in the entire Bible. What a beautiful picture of God’s nature. Have you ever wondered just who God really is? Look in Philippians 2. God had everything, but God made Himself nothing for us. God came to teach us how to live. And here is the picture He painted. Humility, selflessness, sacrifice, setting aside power to lift up the weak! I said this is a picture of “God’s” nature…but did you realize this is our nature too? We were created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says:

So God created human beings in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.

Sometimes you might not feel like setting aside your power to lift up the weak. But in those moments remember: That is not who God created you to be. When we reject humility, when we are selfish, when we refuse to sacrifice; in those moments, we are allowing ourselves to be governed by our fallen nature. But we are a body whose mission it is to graciously help a fallen world stand up again.

So, how do we know if we are growing into the image of God or not?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve tried to answer that question. I’ve suggested a few ways to help you measure your growth in Christ. Are you seeking time with God in a quiet place? Are you taking God into your living room? Are you aligning your giving with the heart of God? Are you nourishing your relationships in the body of Christ? I offer one more question to consider.

Are you discovering God’s mission beyond our walls?

Philippians 2 paints a picture of a selfless, humble, sacrificial God. Those of us made in His image ought to reflect His nature to the world around us. One way we can do that is by joining God in His worldwide mission. I want to draw out one aspect of God’s nature from Philippians 2 that is very important as we consider our role in God’s worldwide mission. God had all of the power and God gave up all of the power to help us stand up again.

Look around church. In terms of our world’s power structures, there is a lot of power in this room. We are Americans living in the 21st century, the mightiest nation in the history of the world. More than that: we are affluent Americans. We are among the most powerful people in the history of the world. If God came to Tyler, Texas as one of us, how would God use His power? That idea is not as far-fetched as you might believe. We, the church, are the presence of God in this world. Did you know that? Randy Harris and Rubel Shelly wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Second Incarnation. In that book they suggest that we, the church, represent God’s Second Incarnation in this world. The first time God came to earth in the flesh was through Jesus. The second time God became flesh on this earth was through His Church. If we represent Christ’s Body on this earth, we are called to continue to mission He started. They write in that book:

“Jesus lived his life in the world. He was neither mystic nor monk. He demonstrated the life of sonship to the Father during an embodied human existence. If the church is to model its head, it must do the same. All this is to say that there is a real sense in which the church must be this-worldly.”

God did not love us from a distance. He had the power to love us from a distance. I’m confident God could have redeemed this world from a distance if He had chosen to do it that way. Instead, God came near. Instead, God gave up His power. Instead, God went from his standing position to join us in a fallen world, because it is impossible to help someone stand up again if you are not standing next to them. So, I think God may be calling us to give up some of our power, some of our comfort, some of our standing, so that we can help those around us stand up again.

I know that some folks were apprehensive about our Vision Process last year. Our first thought is that a church vision process will effect what we do here on Sundays. We fear how a new vision might change what WE do in CHURCH! As we said last year over and over again, and what I hope has become apparent a year later is that the Vision Process was not about changing our worship! Instead, it was about remembering our mission to the world. It was about becoming more focused in our attempt to join God in that mission. That mission calls us to be as concerned with people outside our walls as we are with ourselves.

After all, that really is the message of the Gospel, isn’t it? So, what does that look like? Sometimes it looks like forming relationship with your neighbors who are not Christians. Sometimes it looks like bringing food to hungry people in inner-city Tyler. At other times, it looks like sharing God’s love with a rich executive who lives in South Tyler. God’s mission beyond our walls is endless…
In Tyler, in America, around the world. All that to say, church, God’s mission in this world is easy to see. What is more difficult is taking the steps to join that mission. But I encourage you to measure your growth in this area. Are you growing in your desire to join God in His mission outside these walls? Are you spending more and more time engaging God’s mission, or less? This is one way you can measure your spiritual growth.

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