One thing your going to find in Christian community- and its going to be unexpected- it might be surprising. Your going to find a strange mix, this strange brew of people. People that you normally wouldn’t be hanging out with. Different ages than you, backgrounds, nationalities, family types.
The gospel does that. It takes away all the boundaries and groups that we tend to clump ourselves into and uses the most unlikely people in our lives. And it makes for an unlikely church.
Now, if Christ is your Savior, God has broken down the wall of partition between you and God. A consequence of that, a side effect- is that partitions between people, walls between nationalities and tribes, skin color- rich/ poor, red state/blue state- those walls are also torn down.
Because we should no longer be identifying ourselves like that- those things are no longer most important- where we go for our acceptance. Now- our identity- is supposed to be found only in Christ and in what He accomplished for us. In other words, groups aren’t so important. So we no longer find our worth and accomplishments there.
In Paul’s time- a wall similar to what we see today, separated Jews and Gentiles. We often refer to this in theological terms- but in simple terms, they really just hated each other. Some of them would’ve been fine throwing down at a first century version of Charlottesville.
Here’s what Paul wrote about that- speaking of Christ- he says in Ephesians 2:14:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…
Sometimes during winter, the chemicals on the road put a light film on my windshield. At night, when I am driving on a dark road alone, I really don’t notice it.
But when an oncoming car shines its headlights onto my windshield, that slight, unnoticeable film makes it almost impossible to see. I had no idea that something that potentially blinding was there until it got illuminated.
- God’s Word is the set of headlights that reveals the junk that keeps us from seeing things as they are. Stuff in front of us, on a collision course even, that we might not have even noticed before.
Psalm 119:105 states:
God’s Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Christian, God is at work, even in your darkest times. But God’s will, the Law He has written in His Word and in our hearts, may become clouded over and difficult for us to see in the middle of it.
Church family helps to hold and aim that lamp as an instrument of God, helping us to see clearly and putting us back on the road. That’s one reason that Life Groups are so important.
- True change can only be accomplished if we allow the Holy Spirit to rewrite our code with God’s.
Ezekiel 36:26- I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Jeremiah 31:33- I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Here are some things we ask our small groups to consider at my church every summer break:
- Has your group been together for several years? AND
- Is your group too big?
Answer yes to either of these- and you may be unintentionally hanging the “closed” sign on your front door.
Your “closed” to new members for two reasons:
- unofficially: nobody wants to be the new kid on the block OR
- officially: they are simply too big numerically, so there is no room at the inn.
The problem: exclusivity
The solution: plant a new group
Allow the leader you have trained to lead your group. Then you and one another experienced member leave and plant a new one. It can be the same night, the same place, the same everything- just mostly new members. Then…
Exclusive becomes inclusive:
Yes, people will not want to get out of their comfort zone. But when we don’t, we exclude. And the gospel is never exclusive- in fact, exclusion is the opposite of the gospel.
Christ didn’t die to keep people out- he died to bring them in.
So we make a sacrifice of our own comfort and exclusivity to include those who have not experienced what we have experienced in community. We bring them in.
So we have this biblical wisdom- Christian beliefs, theology- based on scripture. And we have a mandate to live them out. Biblical wisdom teaches us what is desirable- and politics is a way we implement it. Biblical wisdom teaches us what ends are desirable. While politics teaches what means are effective. Wisdom is the end- politics are a means to that end.
Now the means doesn’t always justify the end- so biblical wisdom also tells us what means are permissible- not all laws are lawful…scripturally. You can find a clear example in the sanctity of life issue, i.e. abortion and euthanasia. But what about the poor? There are different and perfectly acceptable political means that we can disagree on as ways to try to remedy that.
- Biblical wisdom is the heart changing, lifelong growing and maturing guidance that comes from scripture and the gospel. It’s bottomless.
- While politics has a very limited scope. There are only so many ways to apply government, laws and regulations.
But when we take God out of the equation, we’re left with politics alone- and that’s pretty limiting. Trying to use politics alone to make the world a better place is like using an ice pick to sculpt a glacier.
Listen to the whole talk here:
Or here: https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/the-politics-of-the-city/
God is so interested in justice, that one of the first things He told Israel to do in their new land was to create sanctuary cities. If someone accidentally killed someone in ancient Israel, they were to flee to one of these cities. There they could find justice. They had some familiar protections: the right to face their accuser, trial by jury, and witnesses. No ransom was allowed either. So there was equality under the law for the poor. If the death was accidental, then the killer was to safely reside in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest.
So even manslaughter is sin. In fact, all sin requires blood. And its the job of the blood avenger to get it. In the sanctuary city however, the sinner is safe, but if the offender is found outside the city, the blood avenger has the right to kill you. An avenger is someone who gets something back- as in, I’m gonna get you back for what you did. But if you’re a Christian, you don’t have to run any longer, because the blood of the ultimate High Priest has paid for your sin. He has also gotten something back for you- you’re place with God.
Click the link below to hear the whole talk and learn three things about sanctuary cities: the refuge of the city, the justice of the city and the blood of the city…
Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities. But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.
A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs. Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve. It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new. Hopefully, three things would happen:
- Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
- Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
- They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.
Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable. A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry. It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.
Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.
Did Send Seventy work? Well, it worked for me. I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.
Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church? Yes…
This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions. Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday? Yes. So which is it?
- If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?
Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.” When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word. When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work. Both Word and Works are necessary.
There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community. As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook. Nice try.
We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change). And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.
We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam. I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other. But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City. Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.