The mission of the church matters. In the video we just watched it talked about the despair in the world. It talked about the hopelessness and darkness in the world.
I want you to imagine, if you will, that you’re in a dark room. The windows have been shuttered tight, the doors are all closed and opaque so no light whatsoever gets through.
I told you about a time a couple of months ago that Amanda and I got to go into a cave in central Texas. During the course of the tour the guide turned out all the lights on us. There was absolutely zero light. You could wave your hand in front of your face and only know it was there because of the disturbance in the air. It was dark.
Imagine now that this is how you walk through life, not a permanent physical darkness, but a spiritual darkness. There is no hope. There is no chance of anything beyond what you have. You are destined for spiritual death. How would you live your life? If you assumed there was nothing beyond this life what would you do?
I submit to you that many of us would live the way we are living right now. If there was nothing beyond this life then I would do everything I could to make this life as happy and comfortable as I could. I wouldn’t care about anyone else because I’d be too busy with myself. If I did care some, it would be just enough to wish that everyone could be happy and healthy. I might buy my clothes at a store that supported some global cause. I might buy water at a place that donates a portion of their proceeds to help others get clean water. Then I would go home and feel good about myself. After all, I’m trying hard to make my life comfortable and I helped someone else out a little.
But I would still be in the dark. There would be no real hope, no real purpose. After all, if this life was all there was, it would be rather pointless, wouldn’t it.
But this life is not all there is. There is more. There is an eternity to come. Perhaps then, as the church, there’s more to what we should be doing with our lives. We don’t live in the dark. In the dark you stumble around not knowing where to go or where the source of the light is. In the dark you stub your toes and knock things over. In the dark you can’t find your way. But we don’t live in the dark. Imagine if you had lived your entire life in the dark and all of a sudden in your groping around you found a window shutter. Throwing it open light streamed in and for the first time you could see! Your eyes wouldn’t be adjusted and you wouldn’t know exactly what you were looking at, but you could see. The more time you spent in the light, the clearer things became to you until you understood what was going on around you. Tell me, if you had discovered there was more to the world than what you previously understood, would you go back to living in the dark? Would you go back to stumbling around knocking things over? Would you go back to stubbing your toe? Of course not!
But when I look at the church, it seems like that’s exactly what some of us have done. We’ve been exposed to the light, we’ve been shown the truth, and we still want to stumble around in the dark. We still want to live as if this is all there is. We still want to make for ourselves a life that’s as comfortable as possible. We’re still too busy with ourselves.
Jesus said if we would be like him we would serve “the least of these.” In fact, it seems that serving the least of these carries with it eternal significance. That’s what this whole study is about.
God has a plan. There is a purpose. We’ve talked about it the past two weeks. Jesus spent the majority of his time on earth with twelve men. True, he preached to thousands and impacted many lives, but most of his time was spent with twelve guys. Then he told them to go and make disciples also. God’s plan is us. It is our job to take the message of Jesus into the world, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to serve as he served and love as he loved. The church is the instrument of hope and change in the world. The mission of the church matters. Our time here matters. This world matters to God.
1 Peter 2:1-12
Peter reminds us exactly who we are in this passage. “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,” he starts. All these things that the world is made up of, put them away. Do away with everything that makes you look like the world. When you first read this, your temptation is to say, “But of course! Christians aren’t like that.” Why these specific thing? When you look at them carefully, you see that malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander all have to do with getting ahead. The world is full of these things. People do whatever they can to make their own lives comfortable and happy. They take extraordinary measures to ensure they get what they want. When you think about it, though, aren’t these some of the things we see in Christians, too?
Malice: can’t some Christians be hateful? Don’t some harbor ill will towards others? Deceit: are there dishonest Christians? Hypocrisy: surely there aren’t Christians who are double-minded are there? Surely Christians are consistent. Envy: ask yourself this; are you ever jealous of someone else’s ministry? Slander: even Christians will talk bad about others occasionally.
Instead of those things, Peter says, “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.” Long for things that will help you grow. Don’t behave like the world. You aren’t in the dark anymore, but the light. Live like you’re in the light.
“Like living stones” he says, you “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are all living stones being built upon the cornerstone who is Jesus, in order to be a spiritual house where pleasing sacrifices are made for Christ. We aren’t an arbitrary pile of stones thrown down randomly, but instead have been expertly laid by a master craftsman. We, here in this place, are this building. We have been set here to be a monument of God’s amazing grace and to proclaim his message of truth and love. For that reason alone we must leave behind everything worldly and live as if we really are in the light.
This is why committing yourself to a multiplying community is such a big deal. We weren’t created to be lone rocks in the middle of the wilderness, but to be connected to other stones so we might accomplish a far higher purpose, so we might stand together as one. It is for that reason we are asking you to partner with us here, to join with us in saying that this community needs to hear about Jesus. This task is greater than any goals I might have for my own life. The mission of the church matters and I want to be a part of that mission here.
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We have been set apart for this purpose. We have been set apart. There is a higher calling on our lives. It is to follow Jesus. We are not the same as everyone else. Remember, we’ve stepped out of the darkness into “marvelous light.” We don’t wander around aimlessly anymore. We’ve been set apart for a purpose.
It’s telling that over and over Peter and Paul have to remind believers to “leave behind” something. Is it possible that they have to keep reminding us because we keep forgetting? Is it possible that they have to keep telling us because it’s so easy to fall into the trap of pursuing our own desires? Is it possible that they have to say it over and over because we’re prone to wander? Paul says it himself in Romans 7:15. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” It’s so easy for us to return to our former natures because we are still human. We are still flesh. Even though we have eternal souls, they are bound in these weak bodies of flesh for the time being. It’s so easy to return to a life of selfish ambition. It’s easy to fall back into pride and arrogance. It’s a relatively simple thing to forget what we’ve been called to do and behave like we’re still in the dark. We close our eyes to the hopelessness of the world and pray that it would simply go away so we can forget about it and get back to what we really want to do.
But there’s a problem. We have been set apart. We have been chosen. We are a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Jesus has called us to leave our nets and follow him, to become “fishers of men.” We have received the spectacular grace of God in order that we might display that grace and mercy to others. Don’t return to your nets. Take up the call of Jesus and fish for people.
We are God’s plan. There is no other one. Peter says “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul.” For so long we’ve treated this verse as a call to perfection, a call to sinlessness. While sinlessness is certainly a goal and holiness is a calling placed on our lives, what we have to realize is that we don’t arrive at being sinless by force of will. Many churches will preach about avoiding vises. After all, Peter said to abstain from the passions of the flesh. I think the calling is higher than that, though. I don’t think Peter is simply saying don’t sin. I think he’s calling us to a higher lifestyle. Reading the context of this passage it seems that Peter is saying that our lives ought to be about proclaiming the love and mercy of Christ to a world that’s living in darkness. Certainly if our minds are focused on Christ we will hopefully leave behind sin, but focusing on being sinless is like treating the symptom and not the disease. The symptoms are the indicators of the disease.
The disease of the world is that it doesn’t know Jesus. Symptoms of this are lawlessness, despair, immorality, hunger, and poverty. To attack any one of these symptoms, though, without treating the cause is only to delay the inevitable. To only throw money at poverty or food at hunger is to possibly prolong a life while ignoring the fact that the life will eventually end. So why throw money at the problem of poverty at all? Why feed the hungry or clothe the naked at all? Peter gives us the answer to that question as well.
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak of you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Everything we do is supposed to give glory to God. Feeding the hungry isn’t about making it so that hungry people have food just so they’ll live longer. It’s about helping them hear the message of Jesus, the bread of life. Giving money to someone who’s impoverished isn’t necessarily about helping a poor guy have money, but about showing him the King of kings who owns everything.
I want to quote the last half of the video we watched before the message:
“Who are we?
We are the hands that serve. We are the feet that carry the gospel of peace. We are the arms that embrace the broken-hearted. We are the voice that pleads for truth and justice. We are the light that shines through darkness and despair. We are God’s chosen tool for hope and change. The time is right now for the people of the church to step up and discover ways to impact our neighborhoods, our cities, and the world. We will pursue God’s purposes instead of the American dream. We will be Kingdom-minded with our time, our money, and our skills. We are the church and the mission of the church matters.”
If the Bible really is true, if Jesus, Paul, and Peter were right, then we really have been set apart, really have been called, really are chosen for good works that God decided upon before we were born. In that case we really must be the hands that serve. We need to be the ones leading the charge on taking care of people. James said that true religion is serving widows and orphans. In a couple of weeks we’re going to have a guest preacher who is in the process of adopting from Rwanda. He’s living out the call to take care of orphans. He’s going to share with us hopefully what that has meant for him and his family, but about how we as a church can do this as well. We need to be servants, looking for needs to meet.
We really must be the feet that carry the gospel of peace. We’ve talked about it the past two weeks. We’re called to make disciples, to live out the gospel in front of people and say “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” We must make sharing the message of Jesus a priority.
We are the arms that embrace the broken-hearted. How many non-Christians would run into the arms of the Church for comfort? We might do a fair job of taking care of our own members, but how many outsiders feel loved by the church? How many feel like outsiders? How many people did Jesus minister to that were “outsiders?” He touched lepers. He ate dinner with sinners and prostitutes. These people felt comfortable around him. How many sinners feel comfortable around us? We do a good job of sheltering ourselves from the world. Some would say it’s for good reason. Obviously you should have a good understanding of what your faith really is, but that doesn’t mean you shun others. You should certainly not yoke yourself to an unbeliever in any kind of romantic relationship because that can create all kinds of problems. But Jesus didn’t push the sinners away. Instead he welcomed them and ate with them. He showed them love and kindness.
This next one is tough: we are the voice that pleads for truth and justice. Are we really the voice that pleads for truth and justice? When I hear this statement I think about lobbyists before Congress. Are we lobbying our leaders for truth and justice or are we seeking our own agenda and protection of our rights? Please don’t misunderstand me when I say this. We are very blessed to live where we do, but I think that has made us a bit apathetic toward the plight of others around the world. I attended a minister’s prayer lunch on Tuesday and the speaker made a very provocative statement about the apathy of Christians in the United States. He said that the Bible was written by persecuted Christians for persecuted Christians. Then he said “maybe that’s why Christians in other parts of the world are so hungry and thirsty for the gospel and Christians in America aren’t.” We’ve become so focused on maintaining our rights as Christians that we’ve forgotten what it is we’re supposed to be doing.
We are the light that shines through darkness and despair. We’ve been called out of the darkness, remember? If you had lived in a world that was completely dark and you found the source of the light, would you not want to share that light with everyone you knew? We’ve been call out of the darkness in order that we might lead others to the light.
We are God’s chosen tool for hope and change. There is no other plan. We’ve been chosen and set apart to lead the world to Jesus. If we don’t fulfill the calling on our lives, who’s going to do it?
Right now is the time for us to step up and be leaders, for us to make a difference in the world around us. Right now is the time for us to take seriously the call Jesus has placed on our lives: to leave behind our nets and to follow him. Right now is the time for us to forsake everything else for the Kingdom. The author of Hebrews says if we would finish the race marked out for us we must fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who began our faith and who will bring it to completion. That means that if anything in our lives is not of Jesus we must do away with it. There are people right around us that are hurting. One of the first projects we want to do is adopt the apartment complex that sits right across the railroad tracks from us and minister there however God chooses to open the door. We also want to reach out to artists and other creative people around us. In East Texas it’s not always the popular thing to be artsy. We believe that God is a creative God. In fact, he was the first one to ever create anything. So we want to reach out to those people. You may have noticed the art on the walls. We want to keep it coming. If you know of anyone who paints or if you like to paint, we’d love to have the opportunity to showcase some of your work.
We are the church. The mission of the church matters.
We invite you to join us as we pursue Christ together.
May your life be filled with wonder for our Father who is in heaven and may he grant you opportunities to be disciple makers.