The Simple Church

Good morning and happy new year.  I hope you all have a great time celebrating the end of 2017 and the start of something new.  I’m so thankful for those who decided to get baptized today.  Such a fitting way to end the year.  Baptism, like New Years Eve – celebrates the end of something and the beginning of something new.

Today we are beginning a new five-week series we are calling Simple.   We thought we’d start the year off by encouraging us to embrace simplicity as a tool to deal with an ever increasingly complex world.  And I want to start by introducing a friend of mine named Joshua Becker, who will be joining us at church three weeks from today.

Joshua and I have been friends for 20 years.  He was a pastor in Omaha and then Wisconsin and Vermont, and it was in Vermont where God began to speak to him about speaking to people about the value of living a more simple life.  He calls himself a minimalist.

Now I don’t know what word comes to mind when you hear the word minimalist – I think of a weird guy with a super long, unkempt beard that lives in a tiny house sitting around judging people.

But Joshua is the furthest thing from that.  So I wanted to show you a two minutes video of him from a documentary he appeared in – and then afterward I’ll tell you what we’re planning.

So on Saturday Night January 20th we will hold a workshop with Joshua at Thomas Elementary – this gym is not available that night – and we think there really isn’t enough parking at the Hub so we’re going to go to Thomas.  And I think it would be worth your time to hear him.  He will go through some ideas about how to declutter your life.  It will be super practical stuff and no doubt helpful and challenging.  I really think you’ll enjoy the experience.

This morning, I want to talk for a little bit about the church.  Our first topic is simple church.   So let’s talk plainly about the church.

What is the church?  And the answer is – You are the church.  The church is a people, not a building or a denomination or the church leadership or a program.  It people.

1 Peter 2 NLT

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.

Well what does this mean?  Well in the Old Testament there was the temple in Jerusalem.  And you went to the temple because, the thinking went, God resides in the temple.  You go to where he is.  In fact there were partitions within the temple.  There was the room where the priests offered sacrifices on a daily basis to God.  And there was another place called the Holy of Holies and separating the two areas was a large curtain, some say as thick as a man’s hand.  And the thinking was that was like, the place where God resided.  It was the holiest of the holy areas.

But when Jesus dies – an interesting thing happens.  Matthew 27:51 tells us that At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that symbolizes, does it?  Who tore the curtain in two?  God tore the curtain in half.  He was busting out of the temple made by human hands.

Where does God live now?  The Apostle Paul, an important early church leader who wrote half the New Testament, tells the church that met in ancient Corinth, Greece,

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  1 Corinthians 3:16

God resides in you.  Within you.  And you, together, are the temple of God.  The church is not a building, but a people.  Quite simply – You are the church.

We are each living stones – cemented together by our common faith in Jesus.  We are bonded together through the unifying power of the good news that Jesus came to give us.  The good news is that through faith in Jesus, the kingdom of heaven – the right now kingdom where Jesus promises to care for us – is stunningly available to the likes of me and you.

Every person you meet is blessable.  And that’s wonderful and powerful and it unites us and it should outweigh any differences we have in opinions regarding anything else.  In fact – you might not have a single thing in common with the person sitting in the row in front of you – it’s possible that you and I don’t have a single thing in common with one another –  other than our faith in Jesus.  And that’s enough.

You and I are living stones – cemented together by the bonds of our faith.  You are the church because the church is people.  Not a building.  So with that in mind, as we near the days of building an actual building, then let’s make a resolution to not commit the fatal flaw of thinking that the church is a building.

What is the church?  You are the church.

Second Question.  What is a church supposed to do?

And the answer to that has been answered by Jesus and he made it abundantly clear.

The last words from Matthews account of the life of Jesus tells us that Jesus gathered his people around them and announced to them…

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This passage has become known as the Great Commission.  Go and make disciples – in all nations – teach people how to do what Jesus said we could do.  And with it comes the promise that He will be with us wherever we go.

The mission – the purpose of every church – is to go and make disciples.  Now unfortunately the word disciple has become a word that doesn’t always carry a good connotation.  My guess is that it’s probably 50/50 that if someone hears that word they think of the word in a negative connotation.

So we prefer to use the word  apprentices.  Because that word, in our opinion, more clearly explains what a disciple is but it comes without the negative feelings – everyone understands that an apprentice is someone who works alongside a master of the trade in order to learn to do what the master does.

In the same way, Jesus invites us to work alongside him to learn how we can live our life as if Jesus were living our life.

Whatever word you choose – the fact is that every church has been given this very mission.  So in Gretna – Good Shepherd, The Methodist Church – the Baptist church – Gretna Community church – as well as all the others – all of us are united by a common mission.

Now that said, we have a slightly different vision of how we are going to make that happen here at Journey.  And so every church has a slightly different DNA – we are all different.  Our niche here in Gretna is to be a church for people who are starting out – or maybe restarting their faith Journey.  To help people who are cynical or skeptical by answering their questions or obstacles to their faith.

And that means that when I teach, we try our best to teach as if this is the first time anyone has ever told you about Jesus.

Can I show you a verse that is an encouragement to me?  It shows up in 1 Corinthians 14 – in a section where Paul is giving instructions about – and a bit of correction – to a church that was really into speaking in tongues.  Imagine walking into a church and everyone in the church was speaking a different language?  That’s kind of what is going on in this first century church.  And they think it’s really spiritual thing to do – and Paul says to them this…

1 Corinthians 14:

23 If unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy. 

So what does this tell me?  For one thing it tells me that Paul was expecting there to be people in the church service who had not yet made a decision to follow Jesus.  They didn’t yet believe.  They were still on the fence – But they were there.

Every once in a while I hear someone say that the Sunday Morning service is for Followers of Christ!  But from the very beginning, Paul indicates that within the church there were both followers of Jesus and people who were on the fence.  They were curious but hadn’t made their call yet.   And Paul exhorts the church to make sure that what happens on Sunday makes sense to those who don’t come from a church background.

Our goal is that on any given Sunday – you can be sure that should your friend show up who has never been to church before – that they will be able to make sense of what’s going on.

And you might be one of those people who are newer on the Journey or would say that you don’t yet believe, and maybe it’s weird to hear us talking about you.  You’re like, “I can hear you!”  Well, good, I hope that you can verify that what we’re shooting for is actually happening.

We want to respect you and acknowledge your hesitations.  But ultimately we want it to be really easy for you to discover the real Jesus – we want to make it easy for you to take that step of faith and begin to follow Jesus.

So all churches share the same purpose – and almost all have a slightly different way of going about accomplishing it.

What is a church?  It’s people! on a Mission! 

Third question.  How are we going to make apprentices? 

And the answer is together. 

We aren’t a club.  We don’t even have membership.  We are a church, on a mission, and we are going to be co-laborers – working together with Christ and one another.

We are not a club.  We are a band of brothers and sisters.  We are here together – working together, and I’d say – if I can make a differentiation here – that we are ministering both – one another and with one the world.

The bible is filled with exhortations to care for one another within the church.  Check it out…

“…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)

“Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)

“…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

“…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18) – this one shows us in a half dozen places – we need to encourage one another.  Life can be difficult.  We need one another – we need to notice good things in one another.  Right?

But far and away – the one another mentioned in the bible the most?  Love one another.  16 times the books and letters of the New Testament teach us to become the kind of people who love one another.  John 13:35  35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

So what do these verses tell me about the church?  It tells me that church is interactive.  It’s all webbed up.  We are woven together into a tapestry.

Check out how the early church leader Paul put it in a letter he wrote to the church that met in Colossae.  He wrote,  Colossians 2:2I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love.

Knit together.  Woven.  Now one thread all by itself is pretty easy to snap.  A little effort – but if you take a bunch of threads and weave them together?  Very difficult to break.  It’s strong.

A strong and healthy church is about relationships, friendships.  Co-laborers.  Woven together.

Now – let me throw this out there for you.  You are the church.  Not what happens up here.  Not the preaching.  You.  And so when you aren’t here, we are the worse for it.  See you bring with you the talents and insight – the bible calls them gifts – from the spirit of God himself – given to you to be employed within the context of the church, and the world.

So if you only show up to church twice a month.  I can’t help but feel that it’s negatively affecting our church.  Let me give you an example to help you know what I mean.

My friend Matt and I like to play golf together – and we usually play with two other guys – Jim and Tim.  Well sometimes Tim can’t play with us and it’s just the three of us.  No the result is that not only do I miss Tim – and my time is different, less enjoyable even, that’s okay to say…  but what I also miss out on is watching Matt and Tim interact.  Watching Matt laugh at some dumb thing Tim did.  Or watching Tim crack up at something Jim says.  See the interwoveness of our friendship means that when one person is missing, then the vitality of the entire group is lessened and not just by 25% – it’s more than that.  Does that make sense?

So in a church, if you don’t show up – not only am I worse off for not seeing you, my friend, but I’m also denied the chance to see you interact with others.

Now in most churches people show up about 50% of the time.  As we begin 2018 may I suggest to you that you do your best in 2018 to make attending church a priority?  I know life is busy and crazy – but if available, I want to encourage you to come to worship.  We are better with you here.  It’s hard to do the one anothers if one or the other ain’t around.

It’s important because, in my opinion, everyone deserves someone in their life who notices the spiritual side of you.

Everyone deserves to have someone ask them, “What do you think the next step in your own walk with God will be?”  And “How can I help you get there?”

Everyone deserves to have a friend in their life who cares enough about them to challenge them when they veer down dangerous paths.  The world is filled with people who like everything you post on Facebook.  Like Like Like Like Like Like Like.

How about a friend who is willing to say – You know – I’ve noticed that sometimes you treat your wife unkindly.  If done in love then the truth is always a beautiful thing to hear.

How much more beautiful to hear someone say – I’ve noticed that you are becoming a more patient person, more loving, I’ve noticed that you are making progress.

Now that said, I know there are people right now who hear me say these things and you are cringing on the inside.  You just want to be left alone.  You’ll come to church when you feel like it and that you’re okay with not being noticed.  And we are big enough of a church where there’s a place for you too.

But I’d say that if you cut yourself off from the community aspect of the church, then it’s going to be more difficult for you to grow.  You’re far more likely to stay the same.  And that would be a shame to stay the same in 2018.

So what’s the church?  It’s a people.  United by their faith.  On a mission together.  Caring for one another and caring about the world.

Seems like a good time to mention the four things we think God has called us to embody in the life of our church.  We print them in our bulletin – we think these things are good enough summaries to help people understand what we are about.

Our church will declare the good news.  Every week we will voice it.  We will announce the good news that there is a different reality that awaits them through faith in Jesus.

Journey Church will be a place where it is easy to find the real Jesus.  Where it’s easy to find the Kingdom of God.  It will not be hard to learn about Jesus at Journey.  Because we will declare the good news.

Our church will depend on God.  We understand that this church belongs to Jesus.  It’s his church.  He told us that he will build the church and that the gates of hell will not be able to withstand it.  We are crashing Hell’s gates – and we are setting people free.  And we understand that in order to do such things we – the church – we the people of this church body – will need to rely on the Holy Spirit for direction and wisdom.

But that’s great news!  Great news!  We need not fend for ourselves. Great News!  We can depend on God to be with us – whether it’s pleasant meadow or darkest valley – God is with us and He is for us, and so what do we fear?  Nothing.  Our good Shepherd will faithfully lead and direct us, and surely mercy and goodness will follow us all the days of our lives.

Our church will display grace.  We will.  We will not become judgmental.  We will treat people with respect and dignity- even people – especially people- we disagree with.   This world is a grace-less wasteland – and we will be an oasis of grace.   Because we understand that we were all in the same sorrow filled boat before Jesus came along.  We were as god as dead in our sins.  But Jesus displayed grace to us – and now we get to go out and display grace to the world.

Lastly – we will do good.  Because that’s what the church has done for the past two thousand years.  For two thousand years followers of Jesus have laid down their lives to serve others out of appreciation for God and love for mankind.

And now it’s our turn.  We pick up the mantle.  And we will marshal our resources and do more together than we can do individually.  We will use our talents and gifts and generously give ourselves away to the poor and the hurting and the needy.  We will be the salt and the light of the world.  People who don’t even know if there is a God will thank God for you being part of their life.

We will do good.  We will serve the poor and near poor at Heartland Hope in Omaha on the first Tuesday night of every month. (And if you’ve never gone then this winter is the time to go – I’ll drive you down there with me – and we will serve together)

Why?  Because we care about the poor and the orphan and the hurting.

We are the church.  And our days are numbered here on this side of the blip that leads to eternity.  And so we will not waste our days.  We will not waste our months or our years.  2018 is the year to announce the Lord’s favor.  And we are excited that God has given us a role to play in his big and beautiful kingdom.

The church is people – on a mission – working together to care for one another and the world.  That’s the church.  That’s our church.  But only because that’s the kind of people you are choosing to become.

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