A Beautiful Mess: Love For the City

Good morning and welcome to our Journey Church webcast here.  We miss you all and hope you are well.

Congrats to all of you graduates out there!  Including my own Josh!  And if you are watching and want to send any of these good students a note or a card – and you want addresses – shoot us an email and we can hook up addresses for any of these students you’d like to reach out to…

Today we are continuing a study we started a few weeks ago we are calling The Beautiful Mess – and that is – the church.

The church is a collection of people who have discovered that the “With God” life is possible through faith in Jesus Christ.  We walk – day to day – with God.

Some people use that term as a euphemism for death.  She’s with God now. Well – you don’t have to wait until you die to live life with God.  that’s good news!

The “With God” life is wildly available to you today.  Right now.  The gates to the Kingdom of Heaven have been thrown wide open – you can walk into God’s kingdom today – and here’s how.

Think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with your life.  That is faith.  And when you begin to trust Jesus for day to day living – well you will discover that everything changes for you.

But when we place our faith in Jesus – we begin to live a fearless life.  Whether it’s green meadows or dark valleys – Thou art with me!

The result is – We get to live a life dominated – not by fear but by love.

In fact – Jesus boiled the entire bible into one sentence – when you are walking with God – you will end up living a life that is marked by your love for God and your love for your neighbor.

Do you know why Jesus wants us to love our Neighbor?  Because God loves your neighbor.  Yes!  Even that one!  I know – you’re like – I understand why God loves me – I mean look at me – but my neighbor?  Yes – God wants you to love your neighbor because God loves your neighbor And so – he plops you – his beloved son and you his cherished daughter – right next to them.

Do you know why Jesus instructs us to love our enemies?  That’s right!  God loves your neighbor.

So God brings us all together – brothers and sisters in the Lord and plops us in a town – Gretna.  Or Springfield or Omaha and Ashland – why does he put us here?  Because God loves Gretna.  He has plans for the people who make up Gretna.

A community of human beings who are in the process of being transformed by the love of God will seek out ways to display love to that community.  And this brings us to our big idea for this week.  The Church loves their city, because God loves their city.

The church might be messy but it’s beautiful – because the church brings love and compassion to their community.  The church – our church loves Gretna because God loves Gretna.

By the way – the church has a long history of loving the people in their community.  Check out this quote from the Roman Emperor Julian – no fan of Christians- but who also could not help but notice the compassion that Christians displayed to those in need in their communities.

He said – The Romans don’t care about anyone.  The Jews look after their own.  But the Christians – care for everybody – they don’t care what religion you are.

Julian [“the Apostate,” an anti-Christian Roman emperor; A.D. 361-363] … made the noteworthy concession, that “The heathens did not help even their own brethren in faith; while the Jews never begged, and “the Christians supplied not only their own, but even the heathen poor.”

It is part of our lineage as followers of Jesus – to care about our community and our culture.

Now – we here in America haven’t always gotten this right.  There was once a time when the church was the center of the city – the culture revolved around the church – think of little house on the prairie show and the importance of the church.

But about a hundred years ago there was a shift in our culture.  And not only was the church no longer the center of the town – the church found its way at odds with the culture.

I remember a professor at my college explaining about an interesting shift in American church architecture – that noted that immediately after the scopes trial – the famous 1925 trial of a Tennessee Science teacher for teaching evolution – that created such a negative stereotype of followers of Jesus and uninformed rubes – that the church said – in essence – fine – if you are going to turn your backs on us – then we will turn our backs on you.

And that attitude showed up in church architecture – of all things – note these buildings – this one in New York City built about 1930 –  it looks like a fortress.

Or this one in Omaha – or this one in Gretna complete with turrets – I suppose they are bell towers – but they have the appearance of castle turrets.  Which are medieval castle instruments to be able to defend the castle from attackers from any direction.

This is not a knock on any of those churches – rather it’s a reflection of how the church felt – it felt that it was under siege from the culture. And it shows up in the architecture of the times.

But has Jesus called us to establish defensive positions in our culture and community?  Has he called us to come to faith and hunker down?  No – He calls us to be salt and light of the world!  He says – Go into all the world!

Let’s turn to John 17 and read part of Jesus’ final prayer for his church – this is Jesus final prayers for his church before he is arrested – in John 17:11  11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you.

Jesus is talking about us – you and me – he’s handing us the ball – so to speak.

14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 

Okay – the world is an unsafe place – even for followers of Jesus – and in many places of the world – especially for followers of Jesus.  Jesus is declaring here that the culture will routinely – if not ordinarily – be at odds with the stances of the church.

In other words – we love the city because God loves the city – not because we want to be loved back in return. Or because we want to be thought highly of.  Chances are that isn’t going to happen – and here’s one reason why.

Now if we think about what the church has stood for throughout it’s existence – things like – Sexual purity before and within marriage – the sanctity of life – especially the unborn – advocacy for the poor and the refugee and the orphan – – and justice for the marginalized –  well it doesn’t matter what culture you come from -you are likely to be at odds with the culture.

And here in the US – by the way – neither democrats nor republicans line up perfectly in all of those areas.

The culture will find a reason to be at odds with followers of Jesus.  So does Jesus say – hunker down and keep to yourself?  No – go into all the world – he says, right? Be Salt and Light to the world.

15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 

Okay – here is where Jesus reveals his plan – he does not intend for us to be removed from the world – but to be protected in the middle of it.

Why?  Because

18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 

He doesn’t want us to run away and disengage from the world because it’s a scary place – he wants us to run into the world with Him – because it’s scary place.

So – let’s just remember here what Jesus is and isn’t saying.  Jesus is telling us – here and many other places – that he expects us to be in the world – even though we aren’t of the world.  A popular way of summing up the task of the church is to be In the world, not of it.

Jesus doesn’t say – that he wants us to Not be in the world and Not of it.

That would be the Amish.  Not in the world and not of it.  But they wouldn’t be the first people to try to build a utopian existence.  Let’s get away and build our own culture – our own world.

Now – listen – I don’t have any beef with the Amish – however – I don’t think Jesus called us to separate from society – Now if there are any Amish watching me today – they wouldn’t care how I feel because to them I – along with you – are outsiders.

The point is – Jesus’ last prayer isn’t – separate yourselves from the rest of the world.  He doesn’t pray in John 17 that we would not be in the world and not of it.

Secondly – Jesus doesn’t call us to be in the world and of it.

Oh man.  You want to know why many people think the church is silly?  They don’t see any discernible difference between some people who go to church regularly and their friends who have no religious belief at all.   There’s nothing different.

If you have discovered the “With God” life – certainly there will be something different about the way you live your life.

It couldn’t be more abundantly clear in the teachings of the bible that true faith will show up in the way you live your life.

Unfortunately, many people do religious stuff with the hope that when they die they will get to be with God.  And they never experience the joy of living with God right now.

But there’s nothing beautiful about the trap of religiousity.  That’s an ugly mess.  The church is a beautiful mess – filled with people in the process of becoming different kinds of human beings.

Jesus doesn’t pray that we should NOT be in the world and NOT of it.

Jesus doesn’t pray – that we are to be in the world and of it.

Third- he doesn’t pray that we will NOT be in the world, but of it.

And I have to be careful not to get too silly when I rail on this kind of thing – but to be in the world and not of it means to take all the things you love about the world and slap a Christian slant to it – so instead of Beanie babies you have these.  Bible babies!  

Instead of secular mints – what kind of breath mint are you using?  Tic Tacs?  You godless animal – you should be using testamints.    It’s like fortune cookies but Godly!

This is just another slightly more hip version of being Amish – we live in the world – and just modify the things we like about the world o make it feel more religious.

No – what good is a church in a community if the church refuses to engage the community – refuses to bless the community and help it?

So let’s talk then about how we – Journey Church – live in the world, but not of it.

Practically – there are really two components of what we call Journey church – there’s Journey the organization and Journey the people.  The individuals.  We have the individuals and the collective whole of us.

As a whole – we at Journey are making partnerships with organizations that we love.  Here in Omaha we are proud partners with Heartland Hope in Omaha – who last year had 45 thousand visits to their food pantry – where we have served once a month for the past ten years.  We adore them – and we send them a little bit of money but we send them donations and manpower.

There are thousands of people in our community who border on poverty – and when they come to Heartland Hope – they leave with an entire grocery cart full of food.  Freeing up the money to be able to pay for their rent or their car repairs or health bills – right?

Now here in Gretna – we’ve dedicated thousands of dollars to help people in need in our church body.  And through the years we’ve joyfully helped people who have fallen on hard times in our church body.  We’ve paid mortgages for people out of work – car repairs, food – as well as subsidized thousands of hours of counseling – to great results.

Now one of the things that always saddened us as an organization was the fact that we don’t have the resources to open up assistance to our entire community.  However – recently we’ve begun a partnership that we think has great potential for us to help those in need in our own community.

There is an organization called Lift up Sarpy County.  And there is a Gretna chapter that serves as a resource for people in need from Gretna – regardless of their faith.  This group receives requests and representatives from a variety of benevolent organizations pitch in together to meet needs.  And we were invited to have a seat around the table.  And we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help people by pitching in our resources.  Our representative from Journey is Kim Cunningham – who offers help when we can.

For instance – one of our Journey People has a handyman business – and he offered his help to people who might need a repair around the house.  If Lift Up receives a request for help for a repair – Kim can volunteer our person to help out.

We have another person from Journey who is a trained financial coach – who has offered his time to help people who need help figuring out their finances.

What I love about the idea is that it marries the organizational side of church with the individual side of it.  So I’d ask you – what gifts and abilities has God given you and how can you use your talents to bless those in our community?

Now another way we can help is by volunteering here in Gretna.  I’ve had the great joy of being a mentor the past ten years with Gretna Teammates.  And – by the way – I’m very proud of the fact that a great many of the 70 plus mentors we have in Gretna are Journey people.  Love it!  Do you have time to invest in a young person – 30 minute lunch a week?  You will be surprised by how much joy it brings you.

In Omaha – we mentioned the idea of sanctity of life.  In Omaha we have a wonderful organization called Assure Women’s center – who are dedicating time and resources to lovingly help women with unplanned pregnancy to consider alternative options to abortion.  And one of our own – Lisa Holke – works there – if you have questions – Lisa can help you.

We have individuals at Journey who are doing the incredible good of providing living home environments to children in the Foster care system.(Child Saving Institute)  If you are interested in being a foster parent?   We can put you in touch with Journey people who will help you through the process.

On top of that – there are many great organizations like Campus Life and Fellowship of Christian athletes. And Mothers of Pre-schoolers – all faith based organizations.

I bet if we were to compile a list of all the ways people from Journey are serving and loving our community – people who are in the world – even though they aren’t of this world – well it would be quite a list.

The church is called to love our city.  Because God loves our city.  The Church has a long standing reputation of caring for the communities in which they belong.

So – here’s a couple of final encouragements for you.  First – there are many of you who have been engaged in our community – and you know – sometimes the battery gets drained a bit.

I will leave you with this verse from Galatians 6

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

What is Paul saying here?  It’s worth your effort!  Don’t give up!

And finally –  I just want to encourage any of you who haven’t yet found your place – don’t stop looking.  Find the place where your talents and gifts are being used to bless our community.

Because it is God’s desire that we be salt and light in this kind of world.  That we be in our world – even though we are really of it.