Who Are We as a Church? “Offering Generosity”
2nd Sunday in Lent, 02/21/2016
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Heavenly Father, on this 2nd Sunday in the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death – we confess our own self-centered agendas. As we enter into this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our wayward walk-aways from Your path, our seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.
Most preachers are tempted to use stories about their family-members to illustrate a sermon point, because they’re usually a little humorous, and they’re so easy to tell. That almost never goes well for the preacher after s/he gets home that afternoon.
For instance, my own kids each have their own hopes and dreams for things like – dinner. And if asked they might have strong opinions about whose wishes should be fulfilled.
While that’s a truth, my kids are each pretty amenable, too. They may not be easy to please, but they are very forgiving when we don’t please them perfectly.
In my own growing up days, however, that was not the case. My Mom had to have a rule that everyone must at least try some of everything that’s on the table. And if you serve yourself, you eat what you took! There were some days when I was left at the dinner table for seemingly hours, because I would not taste the asparagus or the Brussels sprouts or the spinach. I could be a selfish little brat.
It’s good that we grow out of that phase after we become adults. Right? Or after we become a church-going Christ-follower. Right?
Christians can sometimes act just like those demanding children who want things their own way! We seldom fall to the ground kicking and screaming – but sometimes it’s close!
But one of the strange things about church membership is that we actually choose to give up our own personal preferences when we join. During this Season of Lent, maybe this is something we can be reminded of: Lent 2016, I will give up my own self-centered references.
This does not mean that we don’t still have likes and dislikes. Right? One person might still like the style and musicality of the first song we sang, and really dislike the second song. We might still agree that we like the general feeling of this particular church more than the general ambiance of the church down the street – or vice versa. But we are here so that, together, we can meet the needs of others! We are here to serve! We are here to give away! We are here to sacrifice!
Do you remember that story in the Gospels where Jesus’ disciples were arguing about who was more important? His closest followers were having a “first” fight! Can you imagine? The Bible says that Jesus stopped and sat down called these twelve grown men together. “Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first he must be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35).
I love the attitudes displayed in that story. It makes me snicker at those dumb disciples. And then it makes me realize that Jesus was talking to me! As a church member, I should be last of all, servant of all!
This Lent Season we have talked about how we honor our differences – I Corinthians 12 illustrates this with the “Body of Christ” image; and about what the Bible says about the Church being in unity – John 17 gives us Jesus’ prayer for His Church being in unity. That’s the question we are dealing with over these this Season of Lent. Who Are We as the Church? So, if part of church membership means servanthood, let’s explore what it means to be a Servant-Christ-follower.
Today, let’s listen in on what may be one of the very first Christian Praise songs ever written. Paul includes the lyrics to this song in his letter to the Christians living in the persecuted city of Philippi. Listen to the Word of God, from Philippians 2:5-11…. —-
“5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus said something about being His follower means being “last of all, and servant of all”. Is that something we are willing to say accurately describes us?
After Paul became a Christian, he declared (Ephesians 3:7), “I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power.”
Something I have observed in others, and discovered in myself, is that we will never find real joy in church membership when we are constantly seeking things to be done our way! The irony is that we do find that joy when we choose to be last of all, servant of all!
There was a survey done among churches whose leaders admitted that they were somewhat self-serving churches – more focused on pleasing each other than on doing the ministry of the Gospel, more worried about surviving the next month than on thriving with the gift given to them by the working of God’s power, more about being first than about being last. In this survey, ten dominant behavior patterns emerged. Listen to these, and see if you recognize any of them in our church fellowship here (keep count of how many of these ten might describe us):
- Worship Wars – church members either actively or passively fought about what songs should be sung on Sunday mornings.
- Prolonged Minutia Meetings – they spent an inordinate amount of time in meetings.
- Facility Focus – the church building might take on an iconic status of pride and prestige.
- Program Driven – the church programs become the main thing, rather than a means to the main thing.
- Inwardly Focused Budget – a disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members, with way too little on serving the needs of the community or Church-at-large.
- Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care – the pastors’ schedule becomes fitted to nothing more than pleasing the demands of church members.
- Attitudes of Entitlement – where church members have an attitude that they deserve more.
- Greater Energy Resisting ‘Change’ than in Reaching Others – change represents a feeling of “others are more important than me” among the members.
- Anger and Hostility – members demonstrate anger toward church staff and leaders.
- Evangelistic Apathy – very few members actually ever share their faith.
As I was reading this survey, I started off feeling pretty good about us. But before this list of ten finished, I counted SIX that might describe LPC! Yikes! Now, if you are visiting here today, please note that I may see things more critically than they deserve – and I am counting my own personal involvement in these behavior patterns. This really is a good church, with a vibrant 109-year history, filled with a lot of people who truly love Jesus; but there’s always room for improvement.
These behavior patterns reveal a church that overly emphasizes its own comfort and desire to be pleased. But church membership from a Biblical perspective is about servanthood. It’s about giving. It’s about putting others first. It’s about offering generosity in every encounter!
The song we read from Philippians 2 is introduced by Paul with an urgent and cogent plea: “In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus – make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.”
So what did Jesus do?
- He did not consider equality with Godsomething to be used to his own advantage
- He made himself nothingby taking the very nature of a servant
- He humbled Himself
- He became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!
Paul says we are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus – make our own attitude that of Christ Jesus.
Last Sunday we turned to our pew-neighbors and told each other, “Even when we disagree, I will still love you.” That’s a great beginning. Today, just real quickly, turn to each other that tell the person sitting near you, “I will put your hopes and dreams ahead of my own”.
Your Sermon Notes Page asks three questions – homework for you, or discussion topics over lunch this afternoon:
- What is one thing that really bothers me about this church? – don’t dwell there, just name it.
- Is that thing (which bothers me) central to the Gospel? – a YES answer deserves more weight than a NO answer.
- Why should I give in to others’ opinions about this? – be honest, and then pray for God’s mercy in your effort.
Our third Church Member Pledge – this is not just for those who are actually on the roles of this particular church, but this is for any who claim to be followers of Jesus and saved by grace through faith – our third Church Member Pledge that we invite you to read, sign and tear from your bulletins so you can use it as a Bible bookmark, hang it from your vanity mirror, or pin it to your bulletin board, reads as follows:
“After Paul became a Christian, he declared, ‘I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power.’ (Eph. 3:7)
I will not let my church be about my own personal preferences and desires. That is self-serving. I am a member in this church to serve others, and to serve Christ. My Savior went to the cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that just aren’t to my personal liking, for the sake of others in this church, and to the glory of God.”
Read – sign – tear from your bulletins.
Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – may we offering generosity – well – to the glory of God. I’ll even eat your Brussels Sprout casserole at the next potluck! Amen.
Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.
Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 33-42.