Launching Out With God
Grace Community Church
July 1, 2018
Launching Out On the Great Commission
I read an article documenting the latest trends in church names. Traditional names like “First Baptist Church” or United Methodist Church are passe as more and more churches want names that are hip and cool. Some common trends in church names this article pointed out include:
Names that have the word “point” in them. LifePoint, CrossPoint, GracePoint. If you really want to push the envelope, add a silent “e” at the end of point
Names that indicate a church in motion are popular: Elevate Church, Vertical Church, Summit Church.
One word names are trending: Bridge, Foundry, Journey, Mosaic, and Generation are biggies.
And a lot of churches, especially reformed churches, put “grace” in the name: Grace Church, GracePoint (with or without an e), Grace Community Church (my personal favorite!)
There’s nothing wrong with having a trendy name, and it’s a good thing for the church should try to speak the language of our generation. But I think it also speaks to a larger thing going on in the church today and that’s a quest to be relevant. Used to be churches would advertise themselves as the friendliest church in town. Now churches want to be the coolest, hippest church in town. A lot of churches invest a lot in things like lighting and smoke filled stages and rock concert volume worship bands to give off a “cool” vibe. When I began pastoring in the 90’s, I would wear a suit and tie. That’s what pastors wore then. Now if you go online it’s hard to find a pastor not wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt. I am totally cool with lights and smoke and pastors preaching with ripped jeans (in fact can’t wait til my jeans start to rip so I can be more hip!) but I think underlying all this is the desire to be looked at as relevant. There are even churches named “Relevant Church”, which I must admit, seems a bit too much to me. To paraphrase an old adage, if you have to tell people how relevant you are, you’re probably not.
I’ve got good news and bad news for us this morning. Let me share the bad news first: in spite of the church’s push to be considered relevant, it’s not working. More and more our culture sees the church as being out of touch, irrelevant, and on the margins of society. For a long time American culture and the church tracked pretty closely together and the culture at least respected and liked Christians even if it didn’t agree on everything. That is changing. We’re not tracking together anymore: the church is being pushed to the margins.
Christian culture is on the margins. Our music, movies, literature, and even our ripped jeans, are seen as a poor attempt to keep up with the world. As one disillusioned young person put it: whatever the world can do, the church can do ten years later and worse.
More concerning though is that Christian values are being pushed to the margins of society in a way we probably couldn’t foresee just ten years ago. When Bernie Sanders found out that the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget held to the orthodox Christian doctrine that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation, he called this belief, “indefensible” and “hateful” and a form of discrimination that would take this country backwards.
Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, was excoriated for saying that he believed marriage was only to be between a man and a woman. Philadelphia Councilman James Kenney called it “hate speech”. Political leaders in Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco vowed to block any Chick-fil-A’s from opening in their cities.
More and more people – especially young people – don’t just disagree with Christian values; they find them bigoted, hateful, and intolerant. Values built on the Bible are increasingly being pushed to the margins. That’s the bad news: Where once Christian values were at the center of American values, now we find ourselves on the margins of American values. The world doesn’t like us very much anymore.
The good news is the church has always done better at the margins of culture than at the center of the culture. In a weird way the church is more relevant when it is at the margins than at the center. The church should seek relevance, but relevance shouldn’t be our first priority. The question, what can we do to be relevant to unbelievers? is a good question. But it shouldn’t be the first question. I agree with Thaddeus Williams when he writes that the secret to becoming irrelevant is to spend all your time trying to be relevant.
So how do we be relevant in a world that thinks we’re irrelevant? Asked a different way how do we do our part to fulfill the Great Commission in a world that doesn’t like us very much? Three points:
Keep Christ, not relevance, our central focus
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (vv. 18-19)
There’s an old exegetical rule when studying the bible that says, when you see a “therefore” see what it’s there for. When Jesus says in verse 19 go therefore and make disciples of all nations, he’s saying “because of what I’ve just said, go therefore and make disciples…” What he just said is that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. God the Father has placed all authority on the shoulders of His Son Jesus. One day, the Bible says, every knee in heaven and on earth will bow at the mention of the name of Jesus. That authority speaks of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ over literally everything. There isn’t a molecule anywhere on earth at any point in history that isn’t completely under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That person who thinks Jesus is totally irrelevant to their life draws their next breath solely at his pleasure. Their heart only beats because he commands it to be so, and when Jesus says “enough” our hearts will stop. Jesus is Lord over all.
But there is another way that all authority belongs to Jesus. He is the only name given under heaven and earth by which man can be saved. Salvation is through him and him only. No one else has the power to save. No one else has the authority to save. When Jesus died on the cross he accomplished what no one else ever could: the power to save a sinner from eternal separation from God. Only Jesus’ blood was sufficient to pay the debt we owed to God, only Jesus can reconcile us eternally to God the Father.
Therefore – because of all this – go! Nothing is more relevant than Christ. Jesus sent his disciples to a world that didn’t know about Jesus and couldn’t care less about Jesus with the most relevant message ever. Our relevance as the church depends on our keeping Christ central. We lose that, and we are irrelevant no matter what we name ourselves or what kind of jeans we wear. Keep Christ, not relevance, our central focus.
Make courage a higher priority than relevance
Jesus knew that the nations and cultures he was sending his disciples to were a million miles from biblical values and many would be hostile to their message so he sandwiched the Great Commission between two amazing truths that are designed to give the disciples courage: first, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (vs. 18) They –and we - can take courage knowing that our Lord is Lord over everything. Second, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (vs. 20)
When God wants to infuse courage in the hearts of His people, He promises to be with them:
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deut. 31:6
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Josh 1:9
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isa. 41:10
Jesus is telling them – and us – take courage for I will always be with you.
This is the danger of making relevance our first priority is it’s easy for relevance to mean what does the world like? What plays well to our culture? The problem with that is the Lord has entrusted us with a message that tends to offend. The further our culture moves away from biblical values and sees them as hateful bigotry and intolerance rather than expressions of love, we will need courage to stand steady.
I remember sitting across from a couple whose adult son was struggling with skepticism about the faith he had grown up with and the mom explained to me that they wanted to meet their son in his skepticism and wrestle the questions through with him and in order to do that, they were going to pull back from Christian settings. I told them that’s not what he needs. He needs you to be a loving but unmovable anchor that he can come back to. He may reject your faith now, he may mock you for what you believe, but more than ever he needs to see your unshakable commitment to Christ. If you untether yourself from Christ to drift with him, he’ll have no earthly rock to cling to when his skepticism makes a shipwreck of his life. When others disagree with you, mock you, and even accuse you of being hateful, it takes courage to stand steady.
CS Lewis observed: Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing
point…Our virtues are only virtues if we hold onto them when they’re tested. Our convictions are only convictions if we stay true to them when they’re tested. And to do that we need courage. When the church drifts from the great truths of the gospel in order to be more relevant, we become irrelevant. The church does better at the margins than at the center of culture because Jesus is inherently counter-cultural. Knowing Jesus is with us gives us courage to hold fast to biblical truths at the testing point.
Having said that, if we get the courage thing right, we can then go on to get the relevance thing right. The Great Commission is all about taking those wonderful, eternal truths to a world that really doesn’t want to hear them. It’s about connecting with, and impacting cultures that really don’t like us all that much. If that’s what we mean by relevance, then yeah, we need to work at that.
I had the chance to talk to a dear woman not too long ago who impressed me with her strong convictions. She got the courage part right. But by the way she communicated those convictions I could tell she would have a hard time connecting with those who didn’t agree with those convictions, especially younger people, even though she had a desire to connect with them. What she said was basically right, but the way she said it made it hard for me to relate to her, much less someone who wasn’t a believer.
We need to ask, how can we communicate the good news of Jesus, and the biblical values that we believe in, in a way that is relevant to those who don’t believe? The Apostle Paul was a master of this. He never compromised truth, but he worked hard to communicate truth in the language of the crowd he was talking to. If we get the courage thing right, then we can work to get the relevance thing right by asking, how can we better communicate these timeless and unchanging truths more effectively to a culture that is constantly changing?
Lost and broken people need to see the love of Christ in their lives before they will recognize the relevance of Christ to their lives
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (vv. 19-20)
The Great Commission is literally Jesus launching his disciples on a world-wide, history-wide mission of love. The gospel is the message of God’s amazing love to a lost world.
Last week I had the privilege of marrying Jordan Temple and Rebekah Argetsinger, and the day before they got married, I had the privilege of baptizing them. What I shared with them was that as marriage is the loving union of a man and woman, baptism represents the loving union of the believer with Jesus Christ. And through Christ, we are brought into loving and intimate relationship with God - so intimate Jesus encouraged us to call God our heavenly Father.
Out of that love relationship, we then obey Jesus’ teachings, but that again leads us to love. Jesus said, “if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” Obedience to Christ flows from love for Christ. And those commandments lead us to love God, love one another, and love our neighbor. And John reminds us: we love because He first loved us. The Great Commission is the Great Launching of the church with the message of Christ’s love. Paul, who did more to fulfill the Great Commission than any other person who ever lived said, “the love of Christ compels me.”
We live in a world of broken and lost people. The older I get, the more I realize how broken this world is. But sin has dulled people’s spiritual senses so they are blind to how much they need God, how much they need a Savior. They need God to open their eyes, but the Great Commission is Jesus saying, I want to use you to bring God’s message of love, grace, and mercy to this broken world.
How can Grace Community Church do its part in fulfilling the Great Commission? I think that’s a question we’ll be wrestling with for a while. But at the core I think the answer begins with the church helping people see the love of Christ in their lives so that they can see the relevance of Christ to their lives.
I don’t know about you, but that challenges me to love people more than I do. More than I can in the natural. I need Christ’s love to love people through me. You do too. The good news is Jesus promised he’d be with us – living in us and loving through us – to the very end of the world. The challenge is for you and me to launch out with love and believe that God will use us to make an eternal difference in people’s lives.
Pray and ask God to give you His heart for the lost. He loves that person, ask Him to love them through you.
Look for opportunities to cultivate compassion. Christian truths without the warmth of compassion doesn’t taste good. There is a world of hurt in the world. Ask God for the chance to be His healing hands to hurting people around you.
Look for that person of peace that we talked about last week– someone who doesn’t know Jesus but likes you and you like them. There is a natural connection and they don’t mind your faith, in fact, they might even support it. God brings people into our lives that through friendship, love, and compassion we can build relational bridges to, bridges strong enough that, even if they don’t agree with us or believe what we believe, they can’t deny the love of Christ in us. They don’t see perfection, but they see genuine love in us. Look for that person(s) and take the opportunity to build a relational bridge to their lives. Not as a notch in your belt, not to get them to church, but because you genuinely care about them.
Jesus came to build a bridge between sinful man and holy God. That’s what the cross is – the only bridge, but what a bridge! It’s open for any and all who will come in faith to cross. Our job, our mission is, by keeping Jesus central, having courage, and building with love, is to help unbelievers see that bridge and cross it in faith.