One of my personal highlights over the past few years was traveling to New York City in September of 2012 to attend an event called Movement Day. For those of you not familiar with Movement Day, it was started in 2010 by pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church with a vision to catalyze leaders from the world’s largest cities so they could better serve their cities.
It was an incredible experience for me being in the midst of 1,400 leaders from 300 different cities while also getting the opportunity to stay on like the 158th floor of the New York City Hilton Hotel. Actually, the hotel only has 47 floors which still makes it the 101st highest hotel building in the world and I really think we were on the 46th floor. I’ll never forget getting up the first morning and seeing those window washing guys right outside my window. I was thinking to myself, “man, I’m scared just looking out the window from this high up, how in the heck do these guys do this?” I’ve actually been scared climbing onto the roof of my house from a step ladder and that’s like what ten feet high?
Anyway, New York City always gives you a lot of interesting experiences, but I can tell you, by far, the most impactful moment of the entire trip was listening to Tim Keller’s talk on “The kind of churches we need to be planting and leading in today’s rapidly changing post-Christian culture.” Keller’s main point was that churches today no longer have the favored position in society like they did for hundreds of years and in many ways the culture is actually hostile to the church. He went on to say, “the prevailing perception of the church has shifted sharply in the last decade from simply being considered irrelevant to actually being seen as immoral and bad for society.” You can see the entire talk at https://vimeo.com/51302394.
Crazy! So how did we get here? How did the essential message of hope, love, freedom and restoration that Jesus brought to his hearers become one of irrelevance and scorn? How did we go from an early church that was known for its love, compassion, service, and care for the broken and outcast become oppressive? Maybe because in some ways we’ve lost focus on what the essence really is? As I heard one European leader say recently, “Christianity began as a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When it went to Athens it became a philosophy of life. When it went to Rome it became an organization. When it went to Europe it became a culture. When it went to America it became a business.” Ouch!
As somebody who cares deeply about the church and the effective communication of the gospel message, this humbles me. Keller went on to point out that one of the most important things for contemporary churches is to be authentic serving communities in today’s increasingly self-serving and skeptical society. The truth is the gospel is both word and deed—always has been. We are called to communicate the gospel compellingly but also demonstrate it tangibly. In other words, you truly can’t love someone without telling them the good news of Jesus Christ, but you also can’t love someone without caring about their real physical needs. Jesus demonstrated both.
According to Keller, if we aren’t willing to pour out our time, hearts, and resources into the real needs of people and into the real needs of the city then the world interprets all of our evangelistic efforts as self-serving. They view us as simply accruing power, recruiting, and attempting to build up our own numbers, our own budgets, and and our own turf. In many ways he is right. Really? Yep. There are many times we desire to reach out to people to fulfill some sort of religious guilt in our own lives. “Hey, we are kind of supposed to do this so here goes.” Other times it’s just far easier to hand out a track and say we’ve done our duty than to roll up our sleeves and get involved in people’s lives because, well, that can be messy. If truth be told, we actually really like our comfort and we really like people like us. But this isn’t the gospel. Jesus modeled something radically different and so are we called to model something different as well. What Jesus modeled was servanthood, sacrifice, and service to others. For this reason, we at Renovate Church Austin are committed to living lives of service.
Nowhere in scripture is this more clearly seen than in Jesus’ encounter with his disciples in Matthew 20: 20-28 and Paul’s exhortation to us in Philippians 2: 1-8. First, let’s start with Jesus’ encounter with his disciples. In this passage of scripture, we see a mother coming to Jesus to ask for a small favor for her two sons. What was the favor? “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom (verse 21).” In other words, give my sons positions of honor. Give them authority. Give them notoriety. Jesus, recognizing their self-centered interests says to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Powerful. Jesus, who is worthy to be served did not come to be served but to serve. Service is a quality that completely characterized the life and ministry of Jesus.
The second example is in Philippians 2:1-8 where the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Enough said.
So here’s what I can gather, Jesus, who had the rights and prerogatives of deity, chose instead to:
1. live a life of humility,
2. live a life of sacrifice,
3. put other people’s interests above his own, and
4. love people unconditionally.
This is what was attractive about Jesus. This is what was attractive about the early church, and this is what will be attractive today. You can never go wrong with love.
Dave and April