So we wound up the ThanksLiving series with a message that had the unlikely title of “When NOT To Support Your Church.”
So I spent some time there, attempted NOT to build a straw man I’d then easily knock down, and ultimately wound through Revelation 7:9-10 to land at this bottom line:
You can support a church that is doing in history what we will all be doing for eternity.
And then we received the congregation’s Estimated Giving Cards for 2018 and as a great thank you for all that, distributed our first ever Good Shepherd Impact Report
So of course our calendar is a little different around here this year. Today doesn’t so much START a move to Christmas but instead is the grand culmination of this generosity & gratitude emphasis that we wrap about the Thanksgiving holiday and call it, cleverly enough, ThanksLiving. And yes, the series culminates today, next we’re into Keeping Christmas, but as we conclude we’re going to ask those of you who call GS home to make a prayer-ful, faith filled promise of your generosity to God through this church in 2018. How you will tangibly express your thanks to God for life, for faith, for eternity, for this place.
So it might strike you as more than a little odd that I’d give a message on this day of all days called “When NOT To Support The Church.” Because if you are at all like me you’ have to admit there are times and season when church is discouraging, when giving is a drag and if given the option in that moment, you’ll choose NOT TO, thank you very much. So I’ve felt that, you’ve felt that, we’ve been in that moment when for a particular church at a particular point in time, you won’t support it.
Like I’d say you are free not to support a church, THIS church if and when it is scared of people that it loses the fear of God. Yeah! When a church compromises its teaching, caters to its people, holds up above all other values, “hey, let’s don’t offend.” Yep. Worthy of non-support. So scared of people that lose all sense of the holy fear of the Lord. Closely related, a church, this church, loses support-worthiness if it is so fearful of the people they got that they tolerate all kinds of misbehavior and territoriality. Another church, another town, guy claims a seat as his and asks you to move if you’re in it. “That’s just him!” church says, all the while being clueless as to the kingdom damage such actions have. Or the guy, well known in church for running off pastor after pastor after pastor. “Well just get used to him; we have!” Well, everyone is used to him except all those pastor’s families torn apart. Nope, in those cases, because of choosing KEEPING over REACHING, yep, church is not worthy of support.
Or maybe, this church or any church is firmly on that list of non-support when it invents a new kind of gospel. When you’re there and think, “well I’ve never heard this before” and the reason you’ve never heard it before is because it is a lot of junk that the church UNIVERSAL rejected hundreds of years ago but the church LOCAL has suddenly made it into its calling card. Church LOCAL comes along and says it’s smarter than all those Xns who ever lived before. Nope. That happens & close the checkbook. People reinvnent what the Scripture and the church have taught about heaven, hell, Jesus, resurrection, return, sex, and marriage … close that checkbook down. Newer is better and younger is not smarter. (Now when it comes to your iPhones, newer IS better and younger IS smarter! Just not in faith, church, and Scripture.)
And you know when else this or any church doesn’t deserve support? When it never makes you squirm, when it never puts you on edge, when it never MAKES YOU MAD. If you only receive CONFIRMATION how in the world can you experience TRANSFORMATION? If it always reinforces, always accepts, never challenges, then, nope, not really. It’s not worthy of support.
Well, that’s well and good, you’re thinking, but I KNOW you’re not going to leave us hanging, Talbot. You’re going to give us at least SOME reason to support a church, you’re going to offer an alternative to all that aren’t you? Because I know, Talbot, that you love this and don’t much want it broke in 2018.
And yes, there’s a grain of truth to your objection and I DIDN’T go through all that list to set up a straw man that says, “BUT THAT’S NOT US! AREN’T WE GREAT!” That’s what I want to do, of course, but I also want to be honest. I suppose the best I can do is lift some stuff up and let you sift through it for yourself. To show a bit of how Julie and I make our decisions regarding what & who we support & what & who we don’t.
And to guide us there, check out a couple of verses from a place in Scripture you wouldn’t expect on a day like today. It’s Revelation 7:9-10. Now: it may strike you as odd that to figure out what kind of church we WOULD support, we’d look into the future, or if not the future, at least into a different realm, but that’s what we’re doing. Because in Revelation 7, just after cataloguing the 144,000 – yes, that same 144k that the church/sect looked at and said, “See! That’s us! Precisely 144k & no one else is in the purest form of heaven! The rest of you are runners up!” You know what those folks in that church / sect did? They saw something that no one else had seen in Rev 7 for about 1900 years, ever. Newer is not better & younger is not smarter! John is not listing the closed set of heaven; he is instead using this # which struck the ancient mind as unfathomably big, expansive, infinite. Look at what the 144k ppl, the gathered throngs of heaven, look what they’re doing, both now and forever:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
Oh my gosh.
The barriers that people have erected between languages and colors and cultures and nations and tribe have all been demolished because they took sensitivity training at work, right? Because they studied diversity engineering in college, right? No! Because all are gazing at Jesus! There is this massive migration to the throne room! All the colors bleed into one around the Lamb who has bled out for all. That is a picture of forever. And our focus tends to be on the crowd but the thrust of the passage is on the Christ. And you get from that image of forever that all those different kinds of people are the SUPPORTING CAST who know that their function is gaze willingly, adoringly, foreverly at Jesus in the LEAD ROLE. And I saw that image in Revelation 7:9-10, got caught up in John’s incomparable word picture, and knew: THAT’S A CHURCH I’LL SUPPORT. A church like that. Here it is: A church that is doing in history what we will all be doing for eternity. Yeah, that’s a church I believe in and fine worth supporting. One that is doing in real time what we will be doing for all time.
One where every week in every gathering is a dress rehearsal for heaven. Where everything else in the church flows from Jesus adored, Jesus proclaimed, Jesus responded to. And the result of all that is that the walls that we people build up between the cultures and the generation come crumbling down. That’s the kind of church I can support with my gift; the kind of place & people that makes me grateful. Where each gathering is like this: [Movie Trailer for New Star Wars] You get that trailer and you can’t WAIT to see the movie! REFRAIN Or it’s like this: AV of Bloomin Onion. You have that and it’s just the table setter for what’s to come. That’s what a church you’re grateful for does! Every time it gathers in gives a sneak preview of forever. REFRAIN
Or maybe it’s even like the church a dear friend of mine told me about once. In describing the preacher’s plans for the upcoming year, my friend said, “he’s gonna have one series this year. It’s called Jesus.” Whew! Makes me think of how I’d rather most of you read Mark for a year than the bible in a year. REFRAIN
You know what a church like this does? It makes you so mad that you repent and so glad that you invite. Yep! That’s what an encounter with the truth does. First it infuriates you. Then it energizes you. Because a church worthy of support will let you know – lovingly at times and forcefully at others – that you are so messed up the cross is what you need and so loved the cross is what you got. Square between the eyes that you are a sinner. And for some of you that will make you so mad! Who does that singer think he is, who does that LifeGroup leader think she is, where does that student worker get off telling my & my family we’re sinners? So mad. And then you realize that that acknowledgement is the ONLY way to freedom you can’t wait to go find someone and let them know, “here’s a place and a people who finally told the truth about me and didn’t give up.” In your own life, before you die, you can go from RIP to RIG! REFRAIN
And these throngs around the throne. We see all those tribes and languages, and I see all the generations, too. Do you know what a treasure it is to have multiple generations in one church? 80 year olds next to 40 year olds next to 20 year olds. All have wisdom and experience to share. God forbid we ignore. When you’re as old as I am and have been fortunate enough to stay around here as long as I have, there are babies who I dedicated at birth who are now old enough to get an attitude with me! (Payton Tolley before & after?) I love it. I used to think I’d retire at 55. WHOOOPS! Just turned 56 and I like it better and continue to get better (I think). I know one of our LifeGroups has a 20something refugee from Liberia – spent time in a refugee camp! – sharing time and life and love with a couple in their 70s from Arkansas. And the Spirit does it. Only in the kingdom. Doing in REAL TIME WHAT WE’LL BE DOING FOR ALL TIME. REFRAIN
Speaking of generations, our expansion into the Living Room and onto Zoar Road bought us time. It bought us time and gave us space for our Student Ministry and our Spanish-speaking service. And the benefit of bringing both back across the street has been enormous. Of having close to 300 ppl on Zoar Road where there was a CLOSED UMC. Enormous. But we borrowed from tomorrow to be able to do those things today. It was the right thing to do. But now it’s time to pay tomorrow back. As you’ve heard, we have debt. And for the first time, all that mortgage is part of ONE BUDGET, we’re not asking for separate gifts to program or building, it’s all one. But tomorrow gets paid back not by a few but by all. Because I just happen to believe that a church which teaches an OLD TIME RELIGION gospel and yet makes room for all the cultures, languages, tribes, AND generations is worthy of support. I want to be diligent in eliminating the debt we have rather than negligent in tolerating it.
Because the sooner that’s GONE, the quicker those resources can be put towards people, the more emphatically we can do in real time what we’ll be doing for all time. Because when I get to heaven, I want to be in practice. Don’t you? REFRAIN