This morning one of our ladies in the church shared with me about her experience delivering backpacks full of food to one of our local elementary schools. A woman in the parking lot saw her carrying the backpacks (part of our Team Backpack ministry) to the school office. She offered to help and then began sharing how she had seen the news report on First Coast News and was so proud that First Baptist Church was doing this.
I was given pictures from our Heart 2 Heart preteen girls ministry of their Shoebox Party where they packed shoebox gifts for underprivileged children throughout the world for Operation Christmas Child.
There are the updates from our small groups who have helped rebuild and renovate homes in the community for those who are unable.
Today, we provided vouchers for families to receive food and aid from the Orange Park Clothes Closet.
Men in our group are sacrificing their Friday mornings to mentor junior high boys at Lakeside Junior High.
Hmmm, remember that question "If First Baptist Church ceased to exist, would anyone other than attenders notice?" Apparently, some would notice. Now, I'm not patting ourselves on the back. We have a long way to go. However, I am seeing the evidences of a church living missionally in our community and am so proud of the church we are becoming.
You know what? It all comes down to denial. This makes it so difficult for many. Among all the great stories we see and are a part of, there are still frustrations among those in our fellowship. Sometimes those frustrations manifest themselves as complaints or "concerns." It's understandable. It's difficult to grasp that living out our faith requires sacrifice of self.
Now, we all know this because we have heard it in Bible study or in sermons, but we are moving from just hearing to, as James states in his letter, living it out.
In our men's group on Wednesdays we have discussed the "Paradox Principle." This paradox that states what sounds crazy is actually normal. The fact that to gain life, we must die to self. This smacks the face of the American Dream and all that we are told to believe by the world.
Many of our church family are reading David Platt's book Radical. I encourage everyone of you get a copy and read it. I continue to hear from friends within our family here about how this book is really rocking them regarding their perspective of what it means to be a Christian and the church in this world. Makes for fun discussions.
Anyway, this concept of denial. Again, it sounds good, but living it out is dangerous.
What does this mean for us as members of First Baptist? As parents? As children? As teenagers?
It means that we have to understand that church, at it's core, does not exist for us. I struggled with that concept for years. I believed that church existed for the people within it. According to Scripture, that is not true. The church exists for God.
We keep saying, and it's true, that if we claim to love God we must love people. All people. Do you realize that to really love people requires we deny ourselves in so many areas? It's not possible or even authentic love if it's just a word. It requires action.
Reggie McNeal and others have shared how the church that doesn't get this becomes a club. The club mentality is epidemic in churches today. It's not even intentional, but it happens. The club mentality can be recognized when we get comfortable with our small group, whether that be as children, teenagers or adults, to the degree there is no desire, intent, passion, or urgency to reach others outside the group. The club mentality grows when church is seen as an organization that offers goods to its customers. The club mentality exists when the Gospel is forsaken for just experiencing good times together with friends. The club mentality is sinful.
I like what Elisabeth Elliot wrote as a summary of her husband, Jim's life in his biography. (Jim Elliot was one of the missionaries killed by the South American tribe he was striving to reach with the gospel.)
Jim's aim was to know God. His course, obedience - the only course that could lead to the fulfillment of his aim. His end was what some would call an extraordinary death, although in facing death he had quietly pointed out that many have died because of obedience to God.
He and the other men with whom he died were hailed as heroes, "martyrs." I do not approve. Nor would they have approved.
Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great? Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first? Furthermore, to live for God is to die, "daily," as the apostle Paul put it. It is to lose everything that we may gain Christ. It is in thus laying down our lives that we find them."
You may say, "I don't want to die for Christ." I'm sure Elliot's story would scare most people. Many still don't understand that you will never live until you're ready to die.
Parents, we have to teach our children this. We have to help them understand that we are part of a larger story and that it's worth it to sacrifice for Christ. The comfortable, convenient Christianity that we have packaged and purchased is not healthy.
We are a church with many failings, led by a totally imperfect pastor who makes many mistakes, yet following a completely perfect and holy Lord. He is working within and through us. These are exciting days.
Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, an in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30 (ESV)
A hard passage, but the Paradox Principle all wrapped up here. You cannot have this world and Christ.