THE GRACE BASED CHURCH — IS HUMBLE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
October 23, 2010
- Encouraging to one other [Philippians 2:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:11]
- Not preoccupied with self [Philippians 2:3-4; Philippians 4:14-15]
- Willing to incarnate the Gospel [Philippians 2:5-11; John 13:3-5,15]
The Seventh-day Adventist Church began as a search for a relationship. William Miller, a Baptist farmer, and lay preacher, was convinced that Jesus was going to return to this earth in 1844. He wanted to see Jesus face to face. Soon many “Millerites” as they were called, from all existing Christian churches, were sharing his message about the soon coming of Jesus. But as we’re still painfully aware, Jesus did not return in 1844. Miller was wrong and our pioneers in their excitement could have realized that had they recalled Matthew 24:36 which says that “no man knows the day or the hour.” And now 166 years later, Jesus has still not returned.
But today there’s a group of Christian Adventists, Pastor Nathan being one of them, who thinks we should admit this once a year. Since grace based churches are humble churches. Who are willing to encourage one another—even after their greatest disappointments. So that’s what that short video clip was all about and since yesterday was October 22, 2010, I thought I’d begin today by wishing you all a belated Happy Great Disappointment Day! I’m not sure what the appropriate reply is to such a greeting. Perhaps, we’ll think of one.
But if you go to greatdisappointmentday.com, you can learn all about it and how it was celebrated last night in Adventist churches and parking lots and corn fields all across the United States. I wasn’t sure how many of you—or if any of you—would want to join me in Dave’s corn field till 3am singing hymns and sipping hot cider in our billowing ascension robes while re-imaging what it must have been like to be so absolutely sure that Jesus was going to return that night—before realizing we were wrong. Would any of you like to participate next year?
Just wondering. But these are the humble beginnings of our movement. It would be nineteen years later before we would settle on the name Seventh-day Adventist and officially organize as a denomination in 1863. But predicting the return of Jesus would not be the first mistake we would make. Did you know our pioneers also believed in something called the Shut Door Theory? That only certain 19th century Christians would be saved? We had to unlearn this as well. Did you know many of our most famous pioneers did not believe in the Trinity? Google it up! Call the GC. They’ll tell you the same thing. None of you today would be members in good standing back then.
But in spite of these false starts, I’ve often wondered why we don’t tell these stories. Are we embarrassed by them? Are we afraid if we admit we were wrong about some things that we might be wrong about others? What would happen to the culture and atmosphere of a church that once a year wished each other a Happy Great Disappointment Day? Perhaps a more transparent and humble and therefore winsome church would emerge over time. I think this could be true because grace based churches are humble churches. See if you see the same things become obvious from out study of Philippians 2:1-11 this morning.
Philippians 2:1-11, “1Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross. 9Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It’s always good to remember that chapters and verses were an invention of man not God. The original manuscripts of the sacred Scriptures did not contain either one. When we remember this, it’s easier to see in Philippians 2 that Paul is continuing his thought from Philippians 1:27-30 about how to live like citizens of heaven on earth when he says, “But whatever happens to me, you must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ as citizens of heaven...”
So that’s the thought still racing through his mind as he begins chapter two verse one. “1Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit?” Apparently, Paul was worried that the Philippians were no longer encouraging one another. They were becoming less tender and compassionate. Dissension was creeping into their ranks. The way he’s asking these four questions makes it obvious to experts in Greek that he thinks there actually is not enough encouragement, not enough compassion, and not enough loving one another going on.
So the first things he reminds them of is point number one: Grace based churches are humble churches that are encouraging to one another—even after our greatest disappointments. Isn’t that what Jesus did for Peter in John 21? I haven’t forgotten about John by the way. I know we still have to finish chapters 20 and 21. I decided those would be ideal chapters to study around Easter in 2011 so that’s why we’re in Philippians this fall. But just like Peter [and I suppose MacArthur], we shall return! And in John 21 we’ll see how Jesus encourages Peter after Peter’s greatest disappointments of denying Christ. Not once. But three times. We’ll see how Jesus encourages Thomas who was consumed with hurt and doubt. We’ll see how Jesus even pauses the entire plan of salvation so Mary can give him a hug before he ascends to His heavenly Father.
Grace based churches aren’t immune to separation and loss and disappointment. But Jesus can use all of these dissension causing things and instead bring something tender and compassionate and encouraging out of them. Paul said it this way to the church Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 1:3, “We pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Don’t focus on the things that are divisive. Focus on the things that are unifying. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 adds, “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
One way to do this is to nominate someone in church for the 2010 Little Minnow Awards. It’s that time of year rapidly approaching where we encourage each other and build each other up by recognition of simple small things we notice others already doing. There are little ballots on all the greeters stands in the foyers of church that are waiting to be filled out and slid under my office door. And on November 20, should permission be secured so we don’t embarrass anyone, we’re going to bring those people up in church to commend them and give them a big Toledo First way to go! Why? Because grace based churches are encouraging churches.
And I thought this was a no brainer. That everyone would readily understand this and be supportive of it. But I have a friend who actually had to be convinced of this. Not just because he’s already very humble and unwilling to take credit for the many little things he does. But because theologically, he was sure that everything we do should be done in secret unto the Lord because Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” And He says the same thing about prayer [cf. Matthew 6:5]. And that’s true.
But what’s also true is this same Jesus lit a fire on the beach and in front of all the other disciples told Peter to feed my sheep three times. One time for every public denial of Christ. Sandra Wilson is right. “Our imperfections don’t surprise either me or God.” That’s why grace based churches are places where disappointments are confronted and learned from. From beginning to end, God’s acceptance of us is based not on what we do, but who we know. Paul wrote to the Philippians to encourage them the same way Jesus encouraged Peter, Thomas, and Mary. I think the Little Minnow Awards are a small way to accomplish the same thing. So don’t forget point number one and please take a ballot home with you to bring back next week. So we can be a grace based church that is humble and encourages one another when we make mistakes.
Moving on, citizens of heaven on earth are not only humble encouragers, they are also not preoccupied with self. This is point number two. Look at verses 3-4. “3Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” The Philippians were apparently becoming preoccupied with themselves. But that’s not how they were before. We know this is true because Paul reminds them in Philippians 4:14-15, “Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.”
This reminder was a reference to Acts 16:12-40 when Paul first ministered in Philippi. Though Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, who usually supported himself financially making tents as Acts 18:3 and 20:34 describe, in this case he received some financial support from the church in Philippi. Not because he asked them for it. But because they wanted to give it to him. Literally “once and twice.” In other words, the Philippian’s generosity was not fleeting. Their pastor appreciation month went on and on throughout the year. When they saw a need, they cheerfully they gave.
At one time, they knew that what breaks the heart of God should break our hearts and if necessary our banks. But even the most Jesus loving church longing for His return can become divisive and preoccupied with self. Caring more about our uniqueness than Christ’s greatness. But when this occurs, grace based churches admit it. Humble themselves. And cheerfully begin spending themselves on behalf of others.
Research inside and outside the Adventist church has confirmed that meaningful Bible study and worship, active ordinary outreach, and an intentionally grace based environment [see research from the monumental Adventist study Value Genesis, research from Thom Rainer’s book Surprising Insights to the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, and Dave Olsen’s website www.theamericanchruch.org for more info] will help us keep our kids and reach many more. But the grace based church is humble and willing to incarnate themselves for the Gospel not because of research or because their fave pastor asks them to. But because God has asked them to.
And this is point number three. “5You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” John 13:3-5 and 15 adds, “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples' feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”
Nobody can steal the grace based church. It has to be freely given and received. I’m reading a book right now entitled Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald. It’s really good. It’s a “really truly” story describing a New England church uncomfortable with the changes that are taking place in the congregation its members grew up in and love. Changes include newer music, not bashing other denominations or people groups from the pulpit, not always wearing a suit and a tie, giving more locally to specific projects instead of blindly to overseas missions, expository instead of mostly topical slash doctrinal sermons, the lack of a choir, the non giving of younger generations, and it goes on and on. All of these were reasons why the main characters in this book wondered who stole my church.
It doesn’t occur to them until later that their pronouns are messed up. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus reminds us the way the pronouns should be. “I will build my church.” Same thing in Acts 20:28. There Paul tells his disciples leaders in Ephesus, “Guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood.” Nobody can steal what wasn’t yours to begin with! Right? It’s always been God’s church. His Sabbath School space. His storage closets. His sanctuary. His daycare. His church school. His people inside and outside these walls—even if 80% of Americas don’t know that yet or if they do, still don’t believe it because the people who claim to be his people don’t act like it. That’s why Paul reminds us our attitude, even in regards to the changes taking place in the church, should be like Christ’s. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a servant and was born as a human being.
So the grace based church is a humble church that willingly incarnates the Gospel in human flesh. So the grieving Mary’s and doubting Thomas’ and denying Peters of the world will see the church in action and believe again or perhaps for the very first time. The grace based church doesn’t hold ownership stakes in the past white knuckling all the power it can wield through its superior financial giving power until it gets its way. Instead, it mentors and encourages the younger generations to freely give as it once freely received which inspires younger generations to begin to give sacrificially as well. The grace based church stoops to serve the least of these in addition to their brothers and sisters in Christ—even if they never get loved or served back. The grace based church is willing to die trying to give away the church they love because they understand it was never theirs to begin with.
I haven’t finished reading that book yet. And I haven’t started writing one about the unfinished chapters in this church. But I am looking forward to the day when God inspires it to be written. For we are undoubtedly on our way to becoming the humble, encouraging, selfless, and incarnational church Jesus wants us to be.