Commitment To Growth
1 Corinthians 3:6-7

One of the great things about the human condition, is how certain words or phrases can determine our mood. For example, if Trista says, “Jeremy I love you.” that makes me feel wanted and secure. But if she says “Jeremy, we need to talk” well let’s just say that’s a whole different set of emotions. 

Last year I had the chance to teach at Bevil State Community College, and if I told my students I was going to give them a quiz or a test they were fine, but if I said the word exam, then fear set in. If your accountant calls and says the word audit immediately your stomach knots up and your palms get sweaty just thinking about it.

I have noticed that there are certain words, that if said out loud, seem to cause the same kind of reaction in the church. For example, If I were to say the word change then there are some folks who would immediately get into defense mode. For some reason or another, the idea of change seems to cause all kinds of negative reactions when it’s applied to the church. And yet when you read through the Gospels you find that Jesus rarely does the same thing the same way. He touched the blind man in Bethsaida to heal him, He spoke to the blind man Bartimaeus who received his sight, and Jesus made mud from the dirt and put it on the eyes of the man who was born blind telling him to go and wash in the pool of Salom. Jesus could have healed all three of these men in the same way, but He chose to do things differently, because I believe that God loves diversity.     

As we are beginning our new journey together, I’m convinced that God wants to do a new thing in this church. I don’t believe that God is interested in us starting a new program, or a new ministry. I believe that God wants to change our culture, our minds, our attitudes, and our behavior. Most of all I believe that God wants to change the way we think about those people who live outside of the faith. That’s why today as we continue to talk about my vision for this church I want us to be committed to growth.

I fully believe that God wants to change our culture, but that change has to come through us. We have been given a divine commission to reach our community, but that often requires that we change the way we think about those people who live outside of faith. For the most part the church has forgotten what it was like to go out into all of the world.

While we can debate the method or manner that we reach out into the community, there is no debate that we’re surrounded by a culture in desperate need of God’s transforming power. There is a difference between people who belong to a church and people who belong to a Savior. Even here at Greenbrier I am sure we have people who are just not as committed to Christ as they need to be. Sadly in every church body there are folks who have just enough of the world in their lives to make them miserable Christians and just enough of God in their lives to make them miserable sinners.

Imagine what will happen in our community when the church’s priority shifts from keeping the saved happy to searching for those who do not know Jesus Christ. A church that is committed to growth cannot simply be striving to maintain a timid, powerless survival. The body of Christ is called to be a loving, authoritative, healing, and compelling influence upon the world.

In the text that was read for us this morning from 1 Corinthians 3, we see that Paul outlines a better approach to outreach. Paul reminds us it’s God’s job to change hearts, not ours. Our job as the church is to prepare the soil, to make the environment conducive for growth, to develop a culture where changed hearts become possible.

Let’s pretend that you decide to plant a garden for the first time on a new plot of ground. There are some things that you have to do if you expect a harvest. You can’t just go out there and throw some seed on the ground and expect a result. You have to prepare the soil, break it up and turn it over. You have to get the soil ready to accept the seed and then make sure the soil has all of the nutrients it needs to grow what you have planted. 

That’s our job as the church. We can’t sit back and think because we have this beautiful building that folks will come in droves to hear about Christ. We can’t think that just because we feed a soccer team or send a group to Panama that folks will line up outside the building. We have to make sure that we provide the right climate, get the soil right, so that God can provide the increase.

The first thing we must do is to be willing to accept people where they are.

Jesus was willing to accept people where they were, whether it was a woman caught in adultery, a mass murder named Saul of Tarsus, or a woman who was shacked up with a man after being divorced 5 times. The folks who were considered scandalous were welcomed by Jesus because He is abundant in grace.

Grace is one of those funny things that we hope and pray for, while neglecting to show to others. Grace is all about giving acceptance to those who don’t deserve it and who can never merit it. Paul, who knew first hand the love and acceptance of Christ, wrote in Ephesians 2:8 we have been saved by grace, not as a result of works. Paul knew that God saves every one of us using the exact same formula. God’s grace applied to our lives equals a new creation.

If we are a church that fosters a culture of acceptance that means we will offer grace and acceptance to those who don’t look like, think like, act like, vote like or believe like us. When we understand our job is to plant and water then we get rid of the pressure to change someone’s life. Our focus must be  to provide an environment where change becomes possible, a place where we are set free to love people like never before.

More than once I have been talking to someone and they said, When I get my life cleaned up I want to come to your church. When did we get the idea that the church is a place where only good people belong. We didn’t get that from Jesus; He taught that if everyone was not welcome at His table, then He is not welcomed either. If we are truly serious about being committed to growth then we need to understand and get comfortable with the fact that there will be people in our church who don’t fit the mold of the normal church person. There will be people who are struggling with strange beliefs, drug addictions, sexual orientation problems, hang ups and habits that will blow your mind. We need to forget this idea that we are a normal sinner and everyone else is depraved. All sin from the little ones like lying to to the big ones like adultery are the same in God’s eyes. We are all broken, in different ways, and need a Savior.   

We cannot lose sight of the fact that the Greenbrier Church is the avenue of grace for broken people to come and find salvation. We understand that if we love and act in compassion towards others that they will have the opportunity to be changed into the likeness of Christ and become the future of our church.

Unfortunately that’s not the message that most people hear from a church. We are pretty good at spreading a message of condemnation, judgment, and hatred. Even the way we talk about other churches at times seem to be a message of competition and condemnation. Last week Trafton and I met two ladies while we were hiking a part of the Appalachian Trail. Our conversation veered and one of the ladies asked me what I did for a living. Now if you want to kill a conversation, tell someone you are a minister. But I told her that I had the opportunity to work with a great church family here in Anniston. She quickly replied, I hate religious people. I told her I understood, religious folks can be pretty harsh. I also told her, I believe that Jesus struggled with the religious folks as well, since it was the religious folks, or Scribes and Pharisees, that killed Him.     

The message we need to take to Calhoun, Cleburne, and Talladega counties is what Paul writes in Romans 8:1-2 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life- giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death

A come as you are church offers hope to people who know their life is a mess, but they don’t have a clue where to turn for help. I would imagine that there are a whole lot of folks in your life that feel the same way those two ladies we met on the trail feel. The church is the last place on earth they would expect to receive understanding and acceptance. But that’s grace. We need to strive to be the physical embodiment of Christ. The world needs to see grace in real life. The world needs to see forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion in living skin. And they will only see that if we live it out in our every day lives. 

A come as you are kind of church isn’t designed for those who are already convinced about the truth of Jesus Christ. A come as you are church is for those who still wonder, still doubt, still struggle with whether or not God could love somebody so messed up as them!

We have to root out the “us versus them” attitude.

One of the things we have here in Alabama that didn’t exist back in South East Texas is that wonderful little plant Kudzu. Originally Kudzu was brought to the south to combat erosion, but what it did was take over. Over the years I have heard several ideas on how you get rid of Kudzu, some people believe that if you get a goat they will eat it down to the root, others think that you have to use a skid loader to scrape off the top layer of soil, and still others will tell you that the most effective way to get rid of Kudzu is to salt it and then burn it.

I know several people who have gone to extreme lengths trying to get rid of the stuff, even killing everything else around it. When we foster an us verses them attitude, we are not just weeding out the kudzu in peoples lives, we are killing every opportunity to reach them for Christ. 

The attitude of us vs. them was the basis of the parable Jesus taught in Luke 18. The Us vs. Them attitude is really a holier than thou syndrome, this idea that we are better because we go to church. It’s an attitude that has plagued God’s people for a long time. Look at Luke 18:9-14, (Read Text)

It’s very easy to look down our noses at those who struggle with blatant and visible sin. What I often forget is that my hidden sins keep me just as far away from God as the more visible ones. It’s important to remember that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

If we are going to be committed to growth, we must remember that we all come to Christ through the same door. When you came to Christ, you humbled yourself at the foot of the cross. If you want to plant and water you must continue to live in humility. There are too many churches that exist for those who already have their minds made up about Jesus. What this community desperately needs is a place for those who are not yet sure about Jesus, God, and eternity. Greenbrier can be that kind of place.

If we want to be committed to growth then we must understand that spiritual growth is a process not a destination.

If I had my way, at my baptism God would take away my sins and that He would have also taken away my desire to sin. I would have preferred that when I came up out of that water I would have become a spiritual giant. But, every Christian knows that never happens. Spiritual maturity is a long, hard process. It doesn’t happen overnight and if we are going to be committed to growth then we cannot expect new, baby believers to act like they’re full grown and mature in the faith.

A culture of grace and acceptance understands that people’s hearts are changed according to God’s timetable and not ours. A culture of grace and acceptance longs to love those folks whose lives are dirty and soiled, messy and entangled with sin. Grace and acceptance does not mean that we enable sin. It means we provide a culture where real change can happen as God provides the increase. Grace and acceptance isn’t a license to sin, it simply means you can come as you are, but don’t stay the way you came. A church committed to growth lets God provide the increase and doesn’t force the process. 

Finally, when we are committed to growth we understand that everyone has value.

I had someone tell me once that if they could just baptize a few more doctors or lawyers they would be okay. What he meant was that if we could get some big money folks to be a member of their church they would have enough money to do whatever they wanted to do. I struggle with that, because you are more that what you do for a living or a paycheck. Yes, God’s grace is available to doctors and lawyers and even preachers. But the grace of God is also available to the invisible people in our community. 

God wants us to throw open the doors, and set a place at the table for the young lady that wipes off the tables at the restaurant. God wants us to pour out love in the life of the guy that collects the carts at Publix. We are called to plant and water in the lives of the drug addict, the woman with aids, the man who has spent the last 10 years in prison, the man who was abusing children, the woman abusing herself, the dishonest business executive who has stolen millions of dollars from clients, and regular old sinners like you and me. 

God desires this community to have a body of believers who will be committed to growth and has His heart of acceptance for people. What we must decide is do we want to be committed to growth or will God have to use another congregation?

Basically people who have experienced grace and exude grace have learned that what they need more that anything else in this world is Jesus.

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