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Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Real Church

 “Stiff Competition”

 Message @ Jericho Ridge Community Church – Sunday, Oct 7, 2012

Text: Hebrews 13:1-14 // Series: “Stiff Competition”

 

Well good morning, friends.  Happy Thanksgiving.  I’m so glad you’re here.  If you are new or visiting with us, a special welcome.  My name is Brad and I want to invite you to come in and take your seats as we explore God’s Word together and what it means to be a real church and what we might face in terms of stiff competition in getting there as a faith community. 

 

In this fall teaching series, we’ve been exploring the notion that if you and I want to grow spiritually - either as individuals or as a community - then we are going to face stiff competition.  So I began the series by foiling Pastor Keith’s clever plan to have me preach shorter messages by delivering the whole sermon riding an exercise bike.  And I was making the point that growth in spiritual health, just like growth in physical health, takes hard work and discipline.  And unfortunately, many of us are stuck spiritually not because of what someone else is doing, but because of what we aren’t doing.  Sometimes we’re just too lazy and too casual about this whole business of discipleship for anything meaningful to happen. 

 

Then we talked about the parable of the talents.  And Pastor Keith reminded us that many of us genuinely do have good intentions to get healthy and to grow.  But we learned that when it comes down to it, direction, not intention, determines your destination.  And so in all areas of our lives, we will be held accountable for our choices and how we used or did not use what we had been entrusted. 

 

Two weeks ago, we explore perhaps one of the most stringent areas of stiff competition – the reality that we listen to so many voices, but seldom do we slow down and have an actual plan to listen to God is His Word. 

 

Then last week, Pastor Keith, with some help from our friends at Henderson’s, talked about mortification – which is an old English word for putting to death or getting rid, in the words of Hebrews 12:1 “every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.” 

 

So these conversations about what slows us down and trips us up in our race that God has set before us have largely been focused on you and I as individuals, which is appropriate.  But remember that when we started into this series, we said that this is a group running clinic and that statistically speaking, people seldom get in shape alone.  There are running partners, coaches, technology and so much more.  And in God’s design, the same is true.  Those around us, gathered in community, have a unique part to play in your growth and in mine.  And together, we have a part to play in accomplishing God’s mission in the world.  We started this series in Hebrews 12, so we’re going to flip one chapter over to see how this plays itself our corporately. Would you pray with me as we look into God’s Word.

 

This fall, I started reading a book that asked some profound and sometimes un-nerving questions.  It was by author & Christian psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb who was exploring his own “personal disappointment, frustration and concern with the church as [he had] experienced it” (xv).  After attending church for decades, and being faithful and involved, he began to notice himself and some others around him losing interest in the church.  And so he began to explore some profound questions that I want us to begin to scratch the surface of here this morning.  Sit with these for a few minutes as I read them. Don’t rush to the easy answers. Let your mind work at some initial reflexive answers but dig a bit.  Write down something if you wish in your MoJo on page 34.  Ready for the 1st cluster?

(?) What is church all about?

(?) What is church supposed to be about?

Ready for the second cluster? This one is less philosophical more personal

(?) Why do you go (or not go) to church?

(?) What do you want in a church?    

 

The challenge is that we all likely come for slightly or vastly different reasons.  And we all have our ideas about what the church should be and do and feel like, look like and act like.  But in the end, I’d like to suggest to you that it really isn’t up to you and I what we went to get out of a church.  Why?  Because there are only a few institutions which were designed by God and for which He set a mandate: The family (in Genesis 1-3), the state (in Romans 10-12 amongst other places), and the church (in Acts 2 and Ephesians 1).  And here’s the challenge: if we put the focus on what I as a consumer want in a church, we miss the mark every time.  We need to ask what did its designer intend for it to do and be and ask if we are about accomplishing those things as opposed to whether or not we are designing a church that is well-positioned demographically or programmatically to hold market share in a growing community. 

 

Take it out of the realm of the church for a minute and talk about this pen.  Now, I can use this pen to paddle my kayak, but it’s not designed for that.  My intent doesn’t ultimately hold the final say; this pen was built for writing.

So when it comes to the church, we need to ask ourselves what did God intend His church to be and to accomplish?  What would a real church look like?  

To help answer this question, there are many places in the Bible you could look to, some are heavy on theology, some on metaphor, some focus on structure and leadership…  Today I want to focus on measurable outcomes.  What would people in a real church be doing that could be observed and are we doing these things or growing toward them?  To get at this, we’re going to look at a letter written to a faith community that was taking shape in first century Mediterranean culture.  We’re going to see four components or four elements that I think, when knitted together, form the basis for a real church.  Look with me at Hebrews 13  [4 slides]

 

When I think of the question “what is the church supposed to be all about?” I see four ideals here in this text, and for this language I am indebted in my thinking to Larry Crabb’s book, Real Church, as well as to many conversations had over the course of this summer around JRCC.  There is a lot that could be said about each one individually, but we’re going to power through them because I want you to hear the story of a member of our community who genuinely wrestled with these questions and then we’re going to take communion together. 

 

The first descriptor that I would use to answer the question What does a Real Church Look Like? Comes right out of verse 1

 

A real church has deep and vibrant Spiritual Community (13:1) –Authentic relationships.  In a real church, people love each other. They show hospitality toward one another and are in one another’s homes.  They are willing to make sacrifices for one another and, perhaps this is where it breaks down at times, they are willing to open their lives up to one another in deeply authentic ways.  Relationships in a real church are transparent, supportive, encouraging and people not afraid to demonstrate brokenness.  It’s a place where it is OK to be yourself – the mess that you are, not the pretense that you put on to go out in public.  It is a place where you can practice confession.  I like the way Crabb says it.  A real church is a place where “souls connect, where shame weakens, where sin surfaces, where failure meets grace, where irritations soften, where holy desire grows” (152). 

 

I think some of our deep disappointments with church occur when we try to find these things in contexts that are not well set up for it.  Sunday morning gatherings can’t provide this level of transparency.  But it can provide a context to begin these conversations and where you can meet people with whom you can begin to develop this level of authenticity with over the long haul.  This is risky stuff and some of you may not be willing to go there with us at this time.  But here at Jericho, we are on a journey to becoming a more intentional spiritual community and if you want to come along for the journey, you’re going to have to lean and take some personal steps outside of your comfort zone.  So pause for a minute and think: “how much do I have invested in the development of spiritual community?”  What steps might I take this week to grow in this area?  Maybe it’s joining a Life Group – you’re not likely to bare your soul in week 1, but you might find a genuine friend there with whom you can be yourself and who can push you to grow deeper and who can support you through the tough times.  Spiritual community doesn’t just happen – it takes work!  And your return on investment isn’t immediate – you get your ROI over the long haul! 

 

OK, I could preach for days on that so we need to move on to our second core component of a real church:    Spiritual Mission (13:2) – Global and Local Service.  You see, there are lots of places you can go to find authentic friendships but ultimately the church isn’t just about warm fuzzies.  Look at the stuff we’re to be doing in Hebrews 13:2 and following: practicing hospitality to strangers.  Visiting those in prison. Remembering those who are being mistreated and working for justice for them as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.  Here I think about the story of my young friend from Tanzania, Adam.  He was mistreated and attacked simply because he is a person with Albinism.  In the attack he lost his thumb and finger.  And more than anything in life, Adam wanted to go to school.  So under the same Sun, the charity that I went to Tanzania with in May, paid for him to come to Canada where he had a toe-to-thumb transplant.  And it continues to heal and we continue to see amazing progress and, friends, as of this past week, Adam is in school! 

 

There are so many amazing stories and examples of the people of Jericho Ridge doing exactly what the text says in verse 16 “do good, share with those in need”.  A real church provides a place where my eyes are lifted up off of myself and onto the needs in the world.  That’s why we push hard on global and local mission here at Jericho.  Listen to the language in our core value: We envision the people of JRCC investing in the lives of people who are far from God – both locally and globally – and thinking and acting as a part of the global community of faith. We believe that joyful service is an important part of holistic growth in following Jesus. We walk in obedience to God, actively looking for opportunities to use our time, talents and treasures for Kingdom growth and impact.  That’s why our students engage in service projects at the Gateway of Hope, that’s why we provide opportunities for you to go to Guatemala and build houses and distribute wheelchairs.  That’s why we give 10% of our annual budget away to those who have gone out from here and are working at literacy and translation work in Malaysia or church planting in China or building orphanages in Haiti or working with troubled youth here in Langley or raising up workers for least reached people groups in North Africa and Turkey and India.  That’s why we help fund church planting in Vancouver and summer Camps for kids who don’t know Jesus.  Because this is a place where we are on mission together, both globally and locally.  Because that’s just what a real church does. 

 

So let me ask you, how is your heart for global and local service these days?  Perhaps for you, its time to walk that Sandi Richard postcard across the street to a neighbour and invite them to visit next weekend.  Perhaps it’s time for you to look at pages 16-17 and consider a deeper investment in prayer for those who serve long term.  I’m not sure what God might be saying to you about this, but I know I am committed to continuing to grow in this area as God continues to lead me and lead us in mission.

 

You guys are getting me fired up this morning!  I know its Canadian Thanksgiving, but can I hear an amen.  Alright, so Hebrews 13 lays out for us what it looks like to have spiritual community and spiritual mission, but “A real church knows that that doing good in this world has little redemptive power unless the do-gooders know Jesus, resemble Jesus, and are relating like Jesus in the [power] of Jesus in their homes and churches first, and then in the culture around them” (152).  We’re not just doing good things because we are nice people.  We are doing good because our lives and our character are continually being shaped by Jesus.  Historically in the church, this has been known as Spiritual Formation (13:4) Holistic worship.

 

Look at all of the elements in Hebrews 13 that have to do with my character…  Being faithful sexually and emotionally to my marriage partner.  Being generous and being content instead of being greedy for more…  Just to name a few.  This isn’t mere moralism, this is allowing God and the community to shape my heart and to help me run the race with endurance and with faithfulness.  A real church is a place where people who are thirty for more of God’s Spirit come and are satisfied.  A real church is a place where people who are hungry for holiness and righteousness come and learn how to grow in God’s grace and into the son or daughter that God wants them to be.  I don’t’ know about you, but I long to experience the life-changing power of Jesus Christ and to be empowered by the Spirit to respond as God wants me to respond.  And I find that when I put myself in environments where that is talked about and practiced and others are doing it, then I grow.  When I don’t, then I tend to stagnate or lose ground.  So how about you?  How willing are you to let God chip away by the Spirit on elements of your character that need shaping?  Areas of hidden sin or pride or gluttony or whatever it is that you need to attend to.  In a while we’ll be taking communion and I want you to begin now to ask God to search your heart and to see if there is anything there that He wants you to ask forgiveness for, either from Him or from another person.  Because a real church is committed to helping you grow by identifying areas that might hold you back from being spiritually formed. 

 

The last point I want to make from this chapter is that when all of this is happening, it is rooted in something deep: a hunger for truth.  A real church is not a place that makes my life better with blessings, or that helps me to change the world, or that moralizes the saved…   A real church is a place that hungers for Spiritual Theology (13:7-9) – Transformational Truth.  Unfortunately, in our culture, a hunger for truth “has been replaced by a hunger for entertainment, for meaningful experiences and for knowledge that lets me feel superior” (82).  I want to be a part of a church that reaches not just my head, but my heart with the truth of who God is and what He wants to do in and through me.  I want to be called to live the truth so that I am not attracted by stranger new ideas but I am called to creatively and diligently follow Christ by those who teach from the Word of God and who model to the best of their abilities, lives that reflect a faith in God in the middle of the real circumstances of life.  Can you tell that I’m more than just a little bit passionate about this stuff, church?  But the skeptic in you might rightly say “of course, Brad, you’re going to say this stuff…  You’re on staff with the church!  You’re paid to get excited about theology, formation, mission and community.” And you might be right.  So I want to invite up a good friend Kevin Klassen who is going to share with you his journey over the past few years with some of these elements. 

     

Kevin, thank you so much for sharing and for being vulnerable and open with us today about your journey.  As we move into a time of communion and Jared and the team are coming to lead us in a time of response in song, I want to ask each of us to consider “what is standing in the way of us becoming a real church?”  What elements in your life and mine might require some rearranging in order to fulfill this vision?  Any reordering of our lives always begins with confession – an honest assessment of where we are at and an admission of where we want to grow.  Perhaps today you need to repent of an attitude of consumerism toward the church.  Perhaps there are specific attitudes or actions that you have harboured and today is the day to experience freedom from them.  Perhaps for you today is the day where you stand up and say “I want to be a part of a gathering of Christian… who learn spiritual theology, long for spiritual formation, pay the price to develop spiritual community, and give themselves to spiritual mission.” (153).  A group of people who fix our eyes on God’s vision for His church and who won’t let go of it no matter what.    [Jared to begin prayer]

Communion Prep

 

We’re going to move to the communion tables.  There will be people available at the front to talk and to pray with you.  This may be a time of confession for you, it may be a time of inviting others to stand with you in prayer for an area of need in your life or you may just want to give God thanks for His goodness in your life this morning.  Communion is a beautiful picture of the church because it expresses the fellowship and unity of all believers with Christ and embodies remembrance, celebration, and praise, strengthening believers for true discipleship and service.   

 

At Jericho Ridge, our practice is to have the communion elements available at the front at two tables and to open this time up to all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord in word and life, are accountable to their congregation, and who are living in right relationship with God and others.  As you pick up the elements today, the bread that represents’ Christ’s body broken for you and I; and the cup, which represents his blood spilt for you the forgiveness of sins; I would invite you to take them back to your seat and to spend time in prayer reaffirming not only your commitment to God, but also your commitment to the unity and the mission of God’s people, the church.    

 

 

 

Benediction: Read from page 131-132.

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