Monday, October 12, 2020

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of October 11, 2020




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Link to Bible Discovery Resources for 10/11/20 – HERE

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Sermon Message:

Keeping the Primary Thing the Primary Thing


Text: Philippians 3:4b-12


Fill in the blank: In order to even think about attending, or becoming a member of, a church, it has to ___________________.


On Wednesday of this past week, I was driving through the neighborhood of The Gathering and I saw a group of guys hanging out in front of the convenience store located at 10th and Myrtle. Because I’ve walked the neighborhood countless times, I decided to park my car and go say hello, masked of course. As I approached the group of guys, I saw one gentleman, they call him Snake, standing against the wall enjoying an adult beverage in the warm afternoon sun. Snake is a character. He loves to laugh and joke around, some might call him the life of the party. It seems that everyone knows Snake and Snake knows everyone. I hadn’t seen Snake in several months and so we started talking. About two minutes into our conversation, Snake looked at me and said, “I need you to come with me and meet my wife. I’ve told her about you and your church, but I don’t think she believes me.” So, Snake and I turned the corner, and headed down the alley to his apartment. When we get to his apartment, he walks in, introduces me to his wife, and says, “This is the pastor I wanted you to meet. We need to go to his church! He told me I ain’t got to get dressed up and I can just wear what I got on. I don’t have to wear my hard shoes and suit.” You see, somewhere down the line, Snake got the impression that you have to act or dress a certain way before you can belong, or even attend, a church. To put it another way, he learned that it was more important that you fit in with everyone else than it was what you actually believed in, or even wanted to learn about, Jesus. It’s sad that anyone would think that, but, to be honest, many times, without even knowing that, churches give that impression. We may not mean to give the impression, but sometimes we do so unknowingly. As a result, we come off as saying, either by words or actions that a person needs to belong, to be like us and/or do what we do, before they can become a part of our community, regardless of what they believe about Jesus.


This was the battle that Paul was facing in Philippi. After Paul planted the church, and then continued on his missionary journey, a group of individuals, called Judaizers, came along and tried to infiltrate the church. The Judaizers were a group that said, in order to truly believe in Jesus, these Gentile Christians need to take on Jewish religious and social practices. Basically, the Judaizers taught that in order to follow Jesus, to be in His good graces, these Gentile Christians needed to assimilate into the Jewish way of life. These individuals were more concerned with these new Christians belonging to something, and doing the “right” things, than they were them believing in Jesus.


Our text today was Paul’s response to what was going on in the Philippian church. Paul wrote to the church, and I’m paraphrasing here, “The person writing you this letter did all he could to belong. I jumped through all the hoops, went through all the classes, knew the way to do things and did it perfectly; but when I truly met Jesus, and experienced His true grace and mercy, everything changed. After my encounter with Jesus, I realized that all that stuff I did to fit in, to belong, didn’t matter and even pales in comparison to knowing Christ, or more importantly being known by Christ. So, as I go out and preach about Jesus, I’m going to focus on Jesus and His death and resurrection. That’s the main thing! That’s the only thing that matters!”


Those things that Paul once considered valuable, fitting in with the religious group and doing the right things, he suddenly considered worthless compared to knowing Christ and experiencing Christ’s love, forgiveness, and new life that was given freely through faith. Paul would much rather know Christ, or more specifically be known by Christ. Knowing that Christ gave up everything to suffer death on the cross, so that you and I might be reconciled with the Father, was a game changer for Paul. Realizing that God considered Christ, His own Son, as rubbish as Christ hung on the cross in order for us to have a relationship with Him, meant that Paul was willing to give up all his accolades and needing to “do things by the book.” It was because he knew he didn’t need to jump through hoops to have God’s approval that was given to him freely through Christ Jesus.


Now, this did not mean Paul no longer obeyed God, quite the contrary, but his motivation to obey God changed from doing things to please God to doing things because God was pleased with him through Christ Jesus. Paul switched from looking at God as the supreme overlord who is looking to smite him anytime he get out of line, to realizing that He is a loving Father who cared for him and wanted the best for him. Because Paul knew and experienced this, he wanted to share it with everyone he came in contact with! He didn’t want to burden them with do’s and don’ts, he wanted them to experience God’s grace and mercy; and Paul was willing to do whatever it took so that others might know Jesus, regardless of whether it made him comfortable or not. He kept the primary thing the primary thing!


That’s why he writes in 1 Corinthians 9, and I’m reading from The Message version again… Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)


So, can I ask, how did you filled in the blank? “In order to even think about attending, or becoming a member of, a church, it has to ___________________.”


Did you answer, something to effect of… “It has to purely preach the Gospel and rightly administer the Sacraments” or, to put it plainly (and not in so much Lutheran-ese), it has to be all about Jesus in what it says and does?


Well, that would be the right answer. Here’s the deal, if you said that it has to have traditional worship, contemporary worship, a phenomenal choir, an awesome Children or Youth ministries, dynamic preachers, evening worship, morning worship, or any number of other things that people often want in a church; then, to be honest, you’ve kind of switched the primary thing for something (though not inherently bad) that is not the primary thing. The things I listed are simply ways we use to communicate the primary thing, Jesus, to others.


This is the journey that the folks at The Gathering have been on for the past five years. We have come to realize that if we truly want to reach the community that God has placed us in with the Gospel, if we want to connect our neighbors to Jesus, we must recognize where we have been more concerned with people fitting in with our congregation than we have been with them meeting and growing in their faith in Jesus.


Sure, we all have our preferences of what we think a church should have on its menu of programs and ministries, but we have been coming to the realization, all be it slowly at times, that those are OUR preferences. They may not necessarily be the best way to proclaim the Gospel to the community in which God has us planted. We have had to ask ourselves, what are we willing to give up, to count as rubbish, so that others may come to know Christ and experience the love, forgiveness, and freedom as we have? We have been going through a process of building relationships with the people around us and learning how to read our community because we know that it is the first step in establishing relational trust. Building that kind of trust fosters a greater openness to a discussion of deeper, spiritual needs, and the ability to share about Christ. We have agreed to put everything on the table, except for Jesus, and, as we build relationship with our neighbors, to toss out those things that we find out are getting in the way of proclaiming the Gospel in our community and adding those things that will help.


Now, I have to admit, it has not been an easy journey, for others nor for me, and we have made a lot of mistakes along the way. There have been times where we took one step forward and three steps back.


Yet, it is one where we are learning to hold our doctrines and beliefs tightly but the way we express those beliefs, our practice, loosely. It has been a journey of learning to keep the primary thing, The Primary Thing, and that is JESUS.


Why are we doing this? Well, we are doing this so guys like Snake will feel like they have a place to go and discover who Jesus is and how much He loves them, has forgiven them, and wants to give them new life. We are doing this because we have come to realize that the community around us changed and we really hadn’t. We realized if we wanted to truly impact our community with the Gospel, we are going to have to count some things that we held as important, some of the ways that we had done, as rubbish.


So, let me ask you, what are we willing to give up, to count as rubbish, so that those around you where you live, learn, labor, or laugh may come to know Christ and experience the love, forgiveness, and freedom just as you and I have? Know that the answer to that question takes time, and it is a process. Know that you are going to get it wrong at time. Yet, also know that, even when you do get it wrong, you are still loved, forgiven, and made new in Christ Jesus. Know that you are still part of His family, and there is nothing that you can do to keep Him from loving you. Amen


- Pastor Kyle Blake



Worship Resources for Sunday, October 18th will be up on Bethany’s website by midday Saturday, October 17th.



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