I preached this at the West Congregation of The Austin Stone as part four annual vision series. You can find the audio of the sermon here.
Good to see you. Didn’t expect to be preaching today, pray for Matt as he fights some summer ending sickness. We are in week 2 of our Vision Series. Quite simply at The Austin Stone we want to direct people towards four loves. We believe that if we grow in these four areas, then we will be faithful to what God has called us to in our generation.
- We Love God
- We Love the Church
- We Love the City
- We Love the Nations
Last week, we looked at loving God, and especially we focused on what are some of the things that keep us from loving God and living a life of love towards him. We said that the primary barrier really is us. To come to the God of the Bible is by its very nature to consider oneself secondary, contingent in a way. And so, desire for self-authority, self-obsession and self-definition stands in the way of the freedom of self-forgetfulness that is a life of loving God. This doesn’t mean we don’t matter…gosh we do…God loves us, like a lot, like sending His own Son a lot, but we need to learn to love Him back by busting out of our bubble of self and loving Him for who He is. By freeing ourselves from the cul-de-sac of self-realization and acknowledging our need, our weakness, our love.
This week, we want to talk about loving the church, and again we want to ask…What keeps us from loving the church? I know, that could be a looong sermon. There is no shortage of problems when it comes to the church.
I know I have used this quote before, but I love what Eugene Peterson said.
There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. – Eugene Peterson
And he is right in his assertion that there is no other place to be a Christian. Of course, you could believe in Jesus Christ for salvation and not be part of a church, that is of course possible, but is there no way to live out the Christian experience as it described and taught in the Scriptures without doing it in a community of people. It is an assumed in the biblical witness. Any idea of being a follower of Jesus and not doing that in a partnership with other like-minded believers would be completely outrageous to anyone from the first 1950 years of the faith.
But I am sympathetic to the obstacles of loving the church. I have experienced them and I am deeply sensitive to the fact that I may be creating them for many whom I encounter.
Two seasons in my life when I have been very tempted to walk away from Christian community. One personal, one systemic.
- Late teens. My family essentially suffered church leadership power abuse.
- We were recovering, and then I started dating Sue who had just become a believer and so we needed a church. We didn’t have a high bar. We only asked that they weren’t obviously jerks or completely insane. That bar still proved too high and our search took a long time.
- I was nearly ready to call it quits. I now know that our faith wouldn’t have thrived and maybe even wouldn’t have survived if we had.
- Burned out pastor. Realized, if I didn’t need this salary, I wouldn’t do this and I wouldn’t want to be part of this.
- Looked at the people we were trying to serve and honestly wondered if we were making it better or worse for them. Just being honest. That should have been disqualifying for sure, but it is a truly weird thing to work in a church.
- I still sometimes wish that my relationship with the church was simpler. When I have a dark day I really want to deliver amazon packages.
And yet, as I read the Scriptures and as I study church history, and honestly as I get front row seats to the theater of God’s ongoing work of redemption in and through His people, I can’t take my eyes off the church and all that she could be. God has been teaching me, showing me the potential, the promise, in the midst of the mess, a community of grace and all that she can and will be.
So, I know that you will be different spots this morning.
- Some of you are all in. Praise God. Keep going.
- Some of you are kinda in. Kinda. Hope to pull you in a bit because I think that’s one of the toughest places to be.
- Some of you are just checking it out. Praise God. We’ll be disappointing, as a grace filled community should be, because grace got us all in, which means we are all pretty messy.
- Some of you are hurting. Hanging by a thread. I hope we can help you today. Give you something to cling to.
What Keeps Us from Loving the Church?
To be disillusioned is the feeling of disappointment from discovering that something is not as good as you hoped it would be. And some of you are there. Church leaders turned out to be kinda jerks up close, or just fallen truth be told and because we put them on a pedestal we are very disappointed when they fall off. Or people in the church sinned against you actively and it hurts like crazy. Or you needed community and people left you isolated when you needed them most. They just didn’t meet the expectations you had and it stings a bit and leaves a mark.
I get it friends. I promise I do.
What you need to help today honestly might be an apology, for sure, but also you might need to re-envision what the church actually is and how valuable she is to God, because we can start to devalue her for sure.
We need to grow in love for the church again by moving towards the potential that she has according to the Scriptures, and we must acknowledge that if we are to truly love God then we must love what He loves!
Metaphors of the church.
- The people of God: 2 Cor 6:16 (quoting Lev 26:12 & Ex 29:45); 1 Pet 2:9-12)
- The body of Christ: 1 Cor 12:27; Col 1:18,24; Eph 5:23
- The bride of Christ: Eph 5:25-27; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7-8
- The temple of the Holy Spirit: 1 Cor 3:16-17
Some of you might go. Well that is the Universal Church and I can remain part of that without being part of a local manifestation. Look quickly at Acts 20:28 – Call to elders of a local, organized church.
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
What Keeps Us from Loving the Church?
Some of you don’t have a major objection, you’re just busy and you got a lot going on and you know you should pay more attention to spiritual things, but when? You just have limited capacity. You are juggling many things, and church is one of those, but to be honest, it’s pretty bouncy. It’s a ball you can drop and it bounces. Doesn’t it?
The problem isn’t that church is too disruptive. The problem is that our gospel isn’t disruptive enough to re-orientate our lives around. Look with me at Acts 2:42. Remember something here. This is a megachurch, with no staff, no budget, no website. The church had gone like the day before from 120 to 3120. It must have been chaos and difficult systemically to connect to. And so, look.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Look how disruptive that is! You don’t think they didn’t have other things to do? But they devoted themselves. Devoted. That is the answer. To be devoted. They were so stunned by the message of the gospel that they were like, “I am all in.” Friends, many of us, truth be told are distracted by the things of this world. Christian community doesn’t fit as a hobby. It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.
What Keeps Us from Loving the Church?
One of the refrains that I hear again and again is that people come and go from our gatherings and don’t find it easy to get connected. That pains me, and we are doing all we can to provide solutions to that and to change culture as much as we can. The key again though is to push deeper into community and not to withdraw from it which just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have a tendency to do that. When I feel insecure and unhappy in a relationship, I tend to retreat in the hope that someone will come after me and then I am super mad when no one does. Look at that first part of that text in Acts 2 again…
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The posture isn’t of a people going…look I am new to the faith…so you guys are going to need to come get me, and be super nice, but not like fake nice, just normal nice. They throw themselves headlong into community.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was writing to a people in crisis. They were giving up on church for a couple of reasons. They were being persecuted for their faith. Jesus hadn’t come back yet and by their watch, he was late. So, they were tempted to just drift back into a life of individual isolation, away from the community of faith. Look at what the writer says. I love this text.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Gosh that is power. If you are going to hold fast, well you need other people. And you need to meet with them regularly and they will need to encourage you and stir you up. Isn’t that a great image? You will have all this stuff lying dormant and they will stir you up.
We have some low bar opportunities for you today. Don’t drift. Press in.
What Keeps Us from Loving the Church?
Not a personal problem with the church as such, but just indifference. A bit Meh…Is it worth it? In our cultural moment, is it worth being associated with all of this?
Need a picture of courage. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 16:13-19.
17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In Ephesians 3:10, Paul says that it is through the church that God will proclaim his manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers of the world. Through the church! Not outside of the church, through it. Maybe our vision of church is too small? Look at what Pastor Tony Evans said…
Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in many cases, ‘Church’ has become an informational, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from Heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring Heaven’s viewpoint into history.
– Tony Evans