Series: A Church For The City (2008)
Last week we looked at the difficulty of the gospel, how it’s not clean, it’s dirty and oftentimes inconvenient. But God is still calling us to it. We spent time looking at Luke 10 where a lawyer asked Jesus how to get into heaven. They discussed having to love your neighbor like yourself. The lawyer then asked Him who his neighbor was. Jesus dropped a bomb on him and explained that for us to be a neighbor we have to love, pursue, and have compassion for the people of Austin the way we would our own children.
But what was the end of the story?
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37 (ESV)
Neither the priest, nor the Levite, but rather the Samaritan showed mercy. Jesus’ response was profound in its simplicity.
Go and do.
After a story like that you’d expect for Jesus to say, “Ok, I just want you to know all things are possible with God. I know this all sounds hard to do, but all things are possible.” But that’s not what He says. He simply says, “Go and do it.” In other words, “Lawyer, the ones who get to heaven are not those who know the right information about being a neighbor. It’s the ones who prove to be a neighbor.”
If you’ve been here the past few weeks, what you now have in your hands is a biblical foundation for what it means to be a church for the city of Austin. You’ve got the theology and the information. If Jesus were here today I think He’d get up on this stage and say, “You want to be a church for the city? Good. Now go and do it. The people who are going to be standing around me on the throne are not people who knew the information. It’ll be the people who took the information, believed it enough that it began to come out of their lives.”
So that’s what we’re doing today. We’re going to see what it’s actually going to look like for us to quit simply talking about this and for us to actually go and do it.
When the Bible talks about the restoration and renewal of cities, it typically talks about it in one of three ways. Cities will be…
God will often take an individual, just like you, or a group of people and call them into a city to use them as a voice to call people back to spiritual renewal. Calling them back to the Word of God, to prayer, to worship, and to repentance.
This is where the people of God play a role in rebuilding the broken parts of the city. All through the Scriptures the people of God use their talents, influence, and money to protect the innocent and ensure justice for the oppressed and poor.
A lot of you fit in this category. This is when people, just like you, view their jobs, whether in the marketplace, arts, or educational system, as a place to wield their influence to change the culture of the company for the glory of God and not just as a cash cow to produce money for their own desires and pleasures.
Although none of us in this room are exempt from doing all three, what I’m finding is that God will call each of us to a primary role in one of the three.
For example, God called Ezra to be a person who called people back to the Word of God in spiritual renewal. Nehemiah was a normal business guy who God called to go into his city to rebuild the walls for social restoration, development, and renewal. Then God allowed Esther to use her influence to literally change the culture of a pagan kingdom. I want you to listen to these three stories and see which one God is calling you to.
Ezra’s specific task and calling was to call the nation of Israel back to the Word of God. His calling was to preach, call the people to prayer, worship, and repentance.
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra 7:10 (ESV)
This is my specific role. Even though I’ve planted a church that’s going to renew and restore this city both socially and culturally, my primary role is to teach the Bible and to call you back to prayer and to the Word of God.
There are some of you here that God is calling to be an Ezra. You would never guess it, but God has His hand on your life to be the tip of the spear for spiritual renewal in this city.
I saw it happen this week in my office while meeting with a couple. They were a neat couple, both from the class of ’79 at Texas A&M. They live in San Antonio and go to a little Southern Baptist Church. They’ve looked around San Antonio and have seen a great need for a college bible study. So they’ve felt led to begin one for the college students of San Antonio.
I said, “You know, I love your hearts, but I’m going to say something that might upset you. I just don’t think the city of San Antonio needs a college bible study.” I said, “I don’t know a ton, but here’s what I’m seeing. College metro bible studies were being done in the nineties. But today they’re a dime a dozen and they’re failing like crazy. San Antonio needs a church that’s going to preach the Bible and call them to live on mission, in biblical community, and give them something more to live for than just themselves. A church like that will blow away any bible study you could ever have.” They looked at me like I was crazy. The lady said, “Matt, I can’t start a church.” I looked at her, smiled, and said, “Why not? Sure you can!” Tears started welling up in their eyes. They left my office with this look of fear and joy. They were giddy like little kids. For the first time in their entire lives, God was calling them out of their little Southern Baptist land to be the tip of the spear of spiritual renewal in the city of San Antonio.
Some of you here today have never thought about it before, but God has His hand on you to be an Ezra in this city, or in some other city or country in the world. If you sense that call in your life, be obedient to Him. Do not be afraid to give up the American dream to preach this Book. It is worth it.
Think about Moses. That sucker was eighty years old when God called him to his role. What about Abraham? He was one hundred years old and God built an entire nation through Him. You are never too old or too young. If God calls your name, you say yes. If that means He wants you to plant a home church in this city, you do it. If He’s calling you to plant a church in your dorm, you do it. If He’s calling you to be the tip of the spear of spiritual renewal, you do it. You’ll never regret it.
More of us can relate to this one.
Nehemiah was called to social renewal and restoration. He was just a business guy. God told him, “Nehemiah, I don’t want you to preach. I want you to use your organizational skills I gave you to renew and restore this city socially. To rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”
Nehemiah offers us a model of a layperson who didn’t teach, preach, or evangelize, but was used by God to change people’s lives. He wanted him to use his skills to rebuild the walls.
Jerusalem’s walls needed to be rebuilt which had been torn down by Babylon. But more needed to be rebuilt than just the walls. People’s sense of worth and value as God’s chosen people needed to be rebuilt. Nehemiah understood this. He understood that for the exploited, abused, and enslaved city dwellers of Jerusalem that had been beaten down by the Babylonians, rebuilding the wall meant more than just building their security. It meant a new identity for them.
He could have got a bunch of rich guys together, raised some cash, and in a moment of philanthropy rebuilt the wall. He could have gone to the Persians, received a line of credit, had a professional build the wall, and then presented it to the poor and oppressed people of Israel. But he didn’t do that.
He got in with the people, got on their level, and he loved and served them. He used his god given organizational ability to inspire the people, poor or rich, nonbeliever or believer, to come and build the wall themselves. He approached people not as victims in need, but as a people with the capacity to change their own situation.
That is absolutely essential in Nehemiah’s story and when it comes to social renewal and restoration. The people’s greatest need is not the service of a benevolent Christian. They need justice. It’s not relief; it’s development. It’s so easy to be Santa Claus. Just buy five more presents, drop them off, roll in and save the day, and then roll out. It takes more to come along beside the people. There are a lot of people in Austin whose walls have been broken down and their hope and ability to get back on their feet has been torn down. We don’t need to walk in on a great white horse and rebuild their walls for them. Rather, we need to be Nehemiah. We need to be Nehemiah in their life and help them rebuild the walls themselves.
We need Nehemiahs to go and create jobs and commerce in the neighborhoods that need them. We need Nehemiahs to go and be a part of the local government and advocate for these folks and fight for justice in their lives. We need Nehemiahs to go and be advocates in the schools. We need doctors to go in and start high quality healthcare clinics, with top-notch healthcare for a reasonable price in these neighborhoods.
More than anything else they need our advocacy, justice, and development.
God is calling some of you to bring about spiritual restoration and renewal to this city. God is calling some of you to bring about social restoration and renewal. But God is calling a lot of us to bring about cultural restoration and renewal.
Esther was a young Jewish girl who found herself in the court of a Persian king. How she got there was dirty and ugly. You’ve probably never heard this story in Sunday school. Read it, it will trip you out. She was a woman God raised up to use her influence to completely change the culture of a pagan nation.
Esther is the only book in the Bible where the name of God isn’t mentioned. Why would our Bible have a book in it that doesn’t mention the name of God? It’s because God wanted to show us that He has placed you in a company, or the Austin music scene, or a school where His name is never mentioned, but where He still works behind the scenes, through you, to bring about influence for the glory of His name.
You are not in your job to make a living. You are where you are because God wants to work behind the scenes through you to shift the culture.
A good friend of mine, Kevin Peck, is the executive pastor of this church. He used to work for a big company in Dallas. He was recruited heavily right out of college. He went to a company and was there for three years. In those three years he was doubly promoted every year. He went through six promotions. During the same three years he was also threatened to be fired four times for wearing his faith on his sleeve.
Typically with business guys you’ll have one or the other. You’ll have a guy that works so hard the company promotes him six times. Or you’ll have a business guy that’s so mediocre that when he starts witnessing they’ll tell him to shut up. But what do you do with a guy that does both?.
His team’s productivity was high. The value he brought to the team was so enormous and his team was outperforming everyone else, that when he started leading people to Jesus throughout the office, his bosses had no clue what to do with him. Isn’t that a great tension? He was so valuable to the company they couldn’t fire him, but he was changing the culture.
I know a lot of you get up, go to work everyday, and you’re’ bored out of your mind. That should never happen for a believer. There ought not be one day of your entire life where you’re bored at work. Tomorrow morning when you go to work, you have two goals. Be the best employee in the company, so that you can use your influence to change the culture of the environment you’re in.
Have you ever heard of a company named Chick-fil-A? Their mission statement says, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." They want their fried chicken to be so good that when you eat it you glorify God. Are they doing this?
Chick-fil-A is a blatantly Christian and in Austin, Texas, which is one of the most liberal, anti-religious cities on the planet, there’s usually a line wrapped around the building. How in the world does an overtly Christian company influence an entire city of organic food eating, exercise crazed people get them to eat fried chicken for breakfast? They make the best fried chicken on planet earth, that’s how they do it.
What would that look life in your life, to have that kind of mission statement?
Esthers, I don’t care if you’re an artist, a musician, a film student, a businessman, a fashion designer, a schoolteacher, a Dell employee, or a stay at home mom, don’t just go to work and be mediocre. Go be the best at what you do. Go write the best music in Austin, be the best employee in your company, be the best student in your class, be the most passionate and godly caring mother in your neighborhood. So that you have so much influence in your life that it’s just natural for people to turn and begin to glorify God.
Some of you are Ezras, some are Nehemiahs, and some are Esthers. When God shows you, He speaks to you real simply; He says to just go and do it.