the evergreen community
The Gospel Is Wonderful
1 Peter 1: 3-5 Peter continues (I’ll read this)
Read one way, the Gospel is the Kingdom. It’s God’s rule advancing inch by inch across this world, one human heart at a time. And life in the way of Jesus means living in that rule and reign of God. Seeing what God is doing and joining Him in it. Let me ask you guys a pretty broad question to start this morning…
From what has God saved you- or, less personally, From what does God save us?
1 Peter 1: 8-9
I love how Peter puts that- You love Him, you trust Him, and the result is joy. We’ve talked a lot over the past few weeks about how the Gospel pushes us towards leaving our idols- all our functional saviors and points us towards Jesus- the only one we can trust to save us, to bring us joy.
The problem is, it’s easy to say “Jesus is my Savior.” But when we start teasing out all the implications of the Gospel in our lives, we begin to see that often practically speaking, either we’re depending on other things to get us through the day, or we’re doing the right things, but for the wrong reasons.
The church I grew up in went through a period where they couldn’t seem to keep a pastor. They “resigned” the pastor who planted the church because he was getting too old, the man who came after him died on the tennis court- just dropped dead one day. The guy who replaced him abruptly left after two years. But the guy who followed him… He nearly got himself shot.
A guy and a gal I had known growing up in youth group, got married, and she later became the worship director of the church. The guy was always starting businesses, making money… One day he left the house, realized he had forgotten something at home, turned around and went back, and came home to find his wife, the worship director, in the very act of, uh, breaking her marriage vows with the pastor. So Doug, that was his name, went to the closet, grabbed a shotgun, and very nearly shot the pastor as he ran out of the house.
That pastor lost his job, lost his family- a wife and two girls, and now sells Volkswagens at a dealership in San Diego. I think about him all the time.
And I tell you that story to lead up to a confession of sorts.
Since I’ve become a pastor, I find that I struggle with very different things than I did before I got married and became a pastor. For instance, I don’t look at porn. Now, before you think I’m bragging, let me clarify- I don’t look at porn for all the wrong reasons.
The truth is, every time I’m tempted to do so, I begin to think about how much it would cost me if I were to get caught. The damage it would do in my marriage is huge in my mind. But also the fact that even though the elders and I could probably work through even something like that, I’m still conditioned to respond like I was taught in the churches of my youth, where, pastors were assumed to be “above reproach” (which they seemed to understand as “inhumanly perfect”) and so when issues would arise, pastors would disappear- they would resign, be fired, etc. And in my mind, a huge part of why I don’t look at porn is because- I don’t want to lose my job. It’s not that I’m not tempted- but I hear the voices in my head “Bad pastor! Bad pastor!” I see my old pastor in my head and I stay away.
So what’s the problem there? Well… right choice, wrong motive.
Let me be even more transparent here and this is the confession: See, my idol is what you all think of me. It’s so important to me, that when I have an off Sunday, and I think everyone went home thinking about how badly I sucked, I’m devastated. I can’t sleep. When someone leaves this community, or criticizes my pastoring? That’s hard for me.
Why? Because, the truth is, in many ways, Jesus isn’t my Savior. You are. Your approval is my functional Savior. Now, that idol occasionally, coincidentally pushes me towards doing the right thing. The problem is, whenever I come up against a struggle, a temptation and I choose to do the right thing because I need to feed my idol, because I need to protect my functional Savior of your approval of me, in trying to become a more obedient Christ follower, I have in effect, through nurturing that idol, nurtured evil in my heart. Twisted.
Here’s how most of us learn to be good: Out of fear and pride we fake the heart into doing what is right. We train our children through fear- fear of being punished, fear of disappointing or angering mommy or daddy. Fear.
And we tell them that when they do wrong they make Baby Jesus cry.
You don’t want to be like those terrible people who do that, do you? Oh no, I don’t want to be like them. Pride.
Now- let’s not discount fear of authority and self-interest all together. In many ways it’s what makes the world liveable. I’m glad most people are afraid of the repercussions of stealing my stuff and so refrain. I’m glad that Steve Jobs was motivated by self-interest to invent my iPhone. But in the same way that there’s a difference between just breathing and truly living, there’s a difference between a fear and self-interest based approach to life and a Gospel-centered approach.
We need to be careful that we as a community don’t end up going down the dead-end road of doing right out of fear or out of pride- because that road leads to communities that look good on the outside, but are, as Jesus said, like white-washed tombs- full of rot and decay. To be a Gospel-centered community is to be a community which helps each other tear down our idols, not nurture them, even with otherwise “good” motives… and truly worship God.
Two examples of this- one theoretical, one less so.
Why do we lie? We lie because we’re afraid of the consequences or because we want to be seen in a certain light. Fear or pride. So what’s the real solution to lying? Well, it’s not more fear- “You better not lie, because if you lie God’s gonna get you! Or I’m gonna get you!” Or whatever. And it’s not pride “Look- you don’t want to be like so and so who lies all the time do you?” Why aren’t those the solution when they often seem to get the job done? Because if I lie out of fear and pride, and my solution to that ends up strengthening fear or pride in my life, the short-term effect may be less lying. But eventually it stops working- fear and pride get so strong that at some point, my need for your approval will be faced with a clear choice between keeping my pride through telling a lie and losing it through telling the truth and you know what I will choose? I’ll lie. I’ll kick myself afterwards, but… I’ll lie. The problem is that at that moment, something other than Jesus becomes my functional savior- your approval, my pride, whatever. I might believe intellectually that Jesus is my Savior, but my actions, my emotions, my heart show something very, very different.
A different example- I’m convinced some of you need to give away more of your money. It’s an idol to you. It owns you. But when we truly worship God, money is just money… and it becomes a whole lot easier to give away.
By the same token, some of you need to give away less money. What? Can you say that in church??? Yeah… And the reason you need to give away less, or do less, or help fewer people, at least for a season, is that your identity is bound up in doing those things. We develop a need for people to see us as giving and generous, and so we give, not for what it does for others, but for what it does for us, and in so doing, use the suffering of others to feed our idol of pride and self-righteousness. Whoa. I want to be that guy that helps the poor and seems so sensitive to the plight of others- not that I don’t care about others, but… I have a need to be seen in a certain light and helping others gets that need met. Again- right thing, wrong motive.
Can a community help people move in the right directions AND help them do it for the right reasons?
I think so- but it’s a whole lot easier to do neither, which is why a lot of churches are just social clubs, or to help people do the right things, but in so doing create a bunch of self-righteous Pharisees who do right but ultimately do so primarily to feed their self-interest and idols and just end up looking down their noses at all the people who are getting it wrong. You know- All those silly Christians over there who don’t care about the poor like we care. Who don’t love each other and live in community like we do in their gated yuppie suburbs.
Man, evergreen- I’ve been there. We’ve been there. And I don’t want to do that. And as we do more and more for the poor, as we suss our more and more of how we can and will impact Portland, we need to think this through. Being truly Gospel-centered means that when we do right, we can honestly say we are pursuing generosity because we have seen and been awed by God’s generosity to us. We are pursuing reconciliation between the races because we see that in the Gospel, Jesus is our peace who has broken down every wall. We are pursuing creation care, not because it makes us look like a cool, progressive, hip church, but because we understand the whole trajectory of the Gospel towards a renewed world and we are so captivated by the heart of God to piece together this broken world that we can’t help but join Him in that mission. We help the poor, not because it makes us feel good, but because we see that God out of the riches of His generosity has given to us is our poverty- and in seeing that we can’t help but be moved to do the same.
When we see how wonderful the truth of the Gospel is- it changes us. It brings individuals together and moves us into mission as a community, it moves us away from the worship of our idols- our pride, our self and centers us on the person of Jesus.
How wonderful is the Gospel? Look at VS 12
I don’t think we understand how amazing our participation in this thing really is. We’ve been inoculated to how mind-blowing is the idea that God Himself is out to rescue and renew creation through the work of Jesus on our behalf.
But Peter says- it’s so wonderful, so amazing, that even angels long to look into these things. Now, angels are probably pretty smart. They’ve been watching us live our lives for thousands and thousands of years. How smart would you be if you’d watched hundreds of generations of people lives their lives, seen their good choices and their bad ones… They’ve seen history unfold. They know the score. But something about the Gospel captivates them…
In fact- the word Peter uses here is “epithumia”- a word often translated “lust” in the NT. Angels never get tired of looking into the Gospel, in fact, they long to see it, to understand it. These spiritual beings that serve God, that have seen Him constantly since history began, long to look into these things- they don’t get it- how could God, the God of the universe, leave it all behind, be born into poverty, live for, love and teach the very people who would ultimately nail Him to a cross? Why does He love these humans so much?
The Gospel is not, as I’ve said, the ABC’s of this life of following Jesus. It’s the A-Z- the whole thing. It’s what drives us, changes us, forms us, brings us together and sends us out in mission.
The Gospel is wonderful- it should move us to awe and worship, it should be at the center of all our attempts to untie the knots in our lives, at the center of our view of ourselves and the world around us, at the center of not just who we are, but all we do. All our lives.
The Gospel is historical (good news about something that’s already been done), it’s doxological (moving us to worship), it’s Christ-centered, individual and communal, it’s massively transformational and, evergreen, the Gospel is wonderful. And living that out will be the work of our lives, not only as individuals who call ourselves Christ followers, but as a community, together, for however long God allows us to be on this journey together.
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