Slow and Steady Love and Generosity

Recently we talked together about our Core Value of diversity. To us diversity means more than being multicultural, it also means crossing social boundaries and being multi-generational. This allows us to see how God is at work in different people. It deliberately seeks out people who can see into our blind spots.

This value is more than just a dream but a pressing need for us every day. This week I especially felt the need for wiser older men in our church as the pressure of planting and the passion for our vision overwhelmed me with the feeling that we aren’t growing fast enough, we aren’t engaging enough people. Yet we were reminded that we have only been doing this for a few weeks. No church achieves their goals in three weeks. Younger people have passion and energy to go after a vision, but older people have the wisdom and insight to guide youthful passion into a positive direction. We must have a long-term focus while we do the daily and weekly plodding along in the basics.

But what are the basics? How do we get to where we need to be? God’s plan is quite counterintuitive, but its results are far more dramatic and longer lasting.

A new friend this week challenged us to focus on two things: taking good care of our families and being generous. We wondered at first if he even heard us clearly when we asked how we will grow toward our vision. Yet he reasserted that a strong family bond flowing out in hospitable generosity toward other families must be the foundational steps to get this massive vision rolling.

It is interesting that the qualifications for a church leader (1 Timothy 3:1–7) include things like: “husband of one wife,” “manage his own household well,” and “hospitable,” exactly what our friend was saying. Yet we like to focus on “able to teach” (the part we went to seminary for) and think that quality (which is rather distinct from the other character qualities) is the one thing that will grow our church.

We had a huge blind spot and our new friend was able to show us what we couldn’t see. Did I mention he was West African?

The need for diversity shows itself again. The majority evangelical culture has a huge blind spot that so many other cultures take for granted. Other cultures think we are strange for being so individualistic. Sure, our churches say we are about families, but we split up into our own age groups for discipleship, we retreat into isolation throughout the week, we abandon responsibility for one another when things get difficult.

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We are missing something vitally important if we think we are going to build a church on awesome children’s ministries, persuasive preaching, and good coffee. Marriage is one of the most visible and powerful pictures of the gospel in the world (Ephesians 5:22–33). The family displays the committed love that the more permanent church family should have in Christ (Matthew 19:29; John 13:35). Opening our homes is how we model to the world what God did for us bringing wandering, suffering strangers in as his own family (Leviticus 19:33–34; Ephesians 2:11–19).

The way we are going to build a church isn’t with fancy programs and pretty people. We do it by displaying God’s generous love toward us in generous love toward one another in our own homes (in our marriages, parenting, and hospitality toward our neighbors). It is a long and often painful process, but the resulting joy is far greater and much longer lasting. It often takes a resolve to push through the discomfort and fear of learning something new, of hearing someone else’s perspective. But this push is what stretches us to receive fuller joy from our shared heavenly Father.

John Piper, preaching on Romans 12:9–13, commented: “Strategic hospitality is not content to just have the old clan over for dinner again and again. It strategizes how to make the hospitality of God known and felt all over the world, from the lonely church member right here, to the Gola farmers in Tahn, Liberia. Don't ever underestimate the power of your living room as a launching pad for new life and hope and ministry and mission!”

The Plan

I was reading in my Bibliotheca reader’s bible this morning the story of Jacob (Isaac’s son). Without the clutter of chapter and verse numbers, cross-references, study notes, and reference book formatting it is easier to see how the story of redemption flows from one character to another. The story of Jacob really struck me as we plan for what Redemption City Church will become.

God promised that the whole world would be blessed through Jacob. God always keeps his promises and would see to it that this would happen. But as my eyes cascaded over the pages I was left in awe of what a schemer Jacob was. He had a vision for what becoming a blessing to the world would look like; then he began to manipulate the details to make it happen just as he saw fit. He stole his birthright and blessing from his brother Esau. He tried to manipulate Laban so he could marry the woman of his dreams. He wanted a bunch of sons, but instead of trusting God to provide he let his wives bicker and compete taking turns using their own bodies and their maidservants’ bodies to gain favor in Jacob’s eyes. All the while he is lying in his defiled bed receiving these women and thinking he is becoming a great nation who will be a blessing to the world. Then he tricks Laban into giving him the best of his flocks so that Jacob can return home with both of Laban’s daughters and all of his wealth.

In the end Jacob received God’s blessing yet he became a shell of a man to obtain it. This is both a warning and an encouragement to us as we begin this new journey.

First, it is a warning that our ways are not better than God’s ways. He has promised to grow his church and Hell cannot withstand its advance. He has promised to bless the entire world through the good news of his Son, Jesus. He has promised to preserve his people unto eternity when we receive our inheritance. He has promised that those who lift up His name will be exalted. He has promised that his word will accomplish its work.

Yet too often we put our trust not in his promises and His Spirit who will fulfill them, but we begin to scheme like Jacob. We manipulate circumstances. We make promises to people that we could not possibly fulfill. We want to look good in the eyes of others so we begin to compromise to grow our own kingdom in our own ways. And in the process it usually destroys us. God will not share his glory, so he will humble us when we try to take credit for his blessing.

We would be wise to be careful when making our own plans for Redemption City Church. Sure we have a vision for what we would like to become and we pray that it is in line with God’s will as he has revealed to us in his word. But we must be careful not to try to make it happen in our timing and in our own way. God is much more patient than we are and his ways are much wiser than ours. Our plan must be more than a mission statement, core values, by-laws and a constitution, and detailed programs executed to achieve our goals. Every day we must submit our plans to God in humble, prayerful dependence upon a powerful, loving Father who will provide for our every need.

Second, there is encouragement for us in Jacob’s story as well. God does not forsake his people when they fail. He redeems them. He picks them up out of the mire that they got themselves stuck in and puts them right back up into a place of prominence, into a position of blessing again. God didn’t abort his plan when Jacob made a mockery of it, he redeemed it. Jacob’s sons continued the pattern of scheming, but God used it to birth a great nation out of Egypt who would one day give rise to the Redeemer.

Redemption is the theme of our church. We are a people who are broken, who have sinned and have been sinned against. We are people who sometimes feel like we have failed too much to be useful again. We feel like we are too damaged to be loved, to receive blessing, to be supremely happy. But when we look up there stands our Redeemer ready to restore us and make us useful again still pouring out his affection for us.

Sure, I have plans in mind for how we might achieve our vision. I’m sure many of you do as well. But the truth is none of them are going to achieve God’s purposes. We must all submit them to his rule and look up to Him in utter dependence to redeem our lives and make us useful for his kingdom work again. Paradoxically, we will be more satisfied in the work he calls us to when we daily lay down our plans, lay down our self-pity, lay down our baggage, and look up to Him still smiling at us in love because of His Son at work in us.

We are going to stumble and fall (if we haven’t already). But we serve a God who loves us deeply and will accomplish his purposes through us anyway. In fact, it is his delight to use us when we are at our lowest because then we will rejoice all the more when he showers his love on us anyway. Will you walk along with us in this humbling work of redemption?