Good Morning! Welcome to Hope City Church! Today we are wrapping up a series called “#COMMUNITY” where we’ve been talking about how we do life together as a church!
My name is Rich Birch and I have the privilege of being one of the overseers here at Hope City Church. All that means, is that I have honor of supporting Pastor Peter & Tiffany as they serve this church. (SMILE)
Encouraging stuff about Peter & Tif.
Encouraging stuff about Hope City Church.
Today I want us to think about how we relate to the community outside of our family … outside of our church … the broader world around us …
As a parent of teenagers I feel like I’m at tension all time with this issue.
Music, media and movies are all targeted at the wallets of my kid.
#STORY – Driving with Hunter and the “f-bomb” drops in a song he says is one of his favorite.
#STORY – My senior in high school re-watched the Incredibles by Disney this week with friends … “it’s amazing how you pick up different stuff when you watch it when you’re older”
MUSIC, MEDIA, MOVIES …
How are suppose to respond to all this stuff? What is a Christ honoring response to all of this?
But that’s the life of Christ follower … right? Trying to figure out how we are suppose to live out the tension between FAITH and CULTURE. Between our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with the #COMMUNITY around us.
I remember a few years ago I got back from summer vacation and this little ad was in the pile of mail when I arrive:
SLIDE: [pic] (HIGH ENERGY) Halloween! In August! I just about snapped! It’s AUGUST! No one is thinking about what their kids are going to wear in OCTOBER for Halloween!
You can’t escape it! It’s even in my inbox … in my face!
Constantly confronted with culture that doesn’t point towards Christ.
Is there anyway to REDEEM and this stuff for Jesus?
Halloween is one of those parts of our culture that I feel at odds with … it seems like the trend is for boys to dress up in some really disgusting outfit made to scare people [pic] … and girls are suppose to dress up in some really skimpy outfit made to elicit a different response.
I know … I know … It’s the end of February … why are we talking about Halloween?
I think it’s an interesting starting point for conversation with how we relate to the broader culture … it’s far enough away from today that we can think about it at a distance. I think it has a lesson for how to relate to our communities.
Some of you are saying “what?” … what’s the big deal with Halloween!? [pic] Kid’s dressing up in costumes walking around our neighborhood getting candy. Who cares! You don’t see any tension in this issue at all!
While others of you are thinking … Halloween is a dangerous pagan tradition that we need to shield our kids from! It’s a celebration of the dead. It’s full of witches and goblins and glorifies dark influences in our culture. As Christ followers we need to steer clear of such things!
As the stores started to stock up on fake tombstones and the tiny little chocolate bars we realized we needed to think about how our family would respond. We needed to think through what we did with this cultural influence … to figure out our response.
This is one of those places as parents and Christ followers where eternal principles need to apply to our everyday lives! The Bible doesn’t have an index with titles like “Acceptable Halloween Costume Ideas” … There’s no Zombies under Z in our concordance
But there is a time in the New Testament when people found a way to REDEEM the culture around them for the purposes of building COMMUNITY… Turn with me to Acts 17 – page ### in your Bibles.
This is an incredible part of the story of the people of God and messes with my thoughts about following Jesus and interacting with the broader culture.
To give you a sense of where we find ourselves in the story … Paul an evangelist … a messenger of the Good News about Jesus. He had been traveled from town to town talking with people in the synagogues and in the public square about some incredible things that had gone on in his life and the lives of his friends.
We find him at this point in the story in the City of Athens … Greece. When we see his concern about what what happening around him.
he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”
– Acts 17:16
I love it! Paul was “greatly distressed” because the city was “full of idols.”
We have a lot in common with Athens … in Paul’s day Athen’s was a Pre-Christian Culture … we live in a Post-Christian Cultre.
The idols in their day were named Athena and Venus … for us it’s Drake & Taylor Swift & Brad Pitt.
What do we do about it when we feel at odds with the community around us? How do we share the Good News of Jesus in the face of this stuff?
MUSIC, MEDIA, MOVIES … it’s hard to know how it fits together … and then stuff like Halloween is floating around out there … what are we suppose to do?
(CHANGE PACING … RELATE) To our modern ears this can sound kind of funny … right? Who actually went to idols to pray (and pay) to get what they want? In Paul’s time … this was taken very seriously by the people in the culture. It wasn’t cute or funny … it was a part of every day life. A dark and sinister part of everyday life.
But Paul was a religious dude … he knew the heart of God and knew that idol worship was against God’s plan for the world. In fact … idols are on the top 10 list of stuff God doesn’t tolerate …
“‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves.”
– Lev. 19:4
No Metal God! … there goes Bon Jovi! (SMILE)
Paul is noticing something in the culture around him that seems to have great resonance with the city he is in. He’s seeing that these idols are really big deal for the city of Athens … and it disturbs him.
(SLOW DOWN … PENSIVE) What is Paul to do? He wants to fit in with his new city … but is faced with a culture that seems to oppose his values as a Christ follower. What are we to do as Christians when faced with cultural influences around us that don’t inherently push towards Jesus?
Paul could just Reject the community & culture around him …
(GO BANANAS … ) Paul was greatly disturbed! That’s greek for he totally pissed off! He could go on a culture war to tell those people in Athens about the evil of idols!
He’d start a letter writing campaign to have the idols removed from the streets. He’d get a talk radio show and every day ride on the people about how bad idol were! He’d become Paul – The Culture Warrior! THE GREAT REJECTOR he could be know as.
Some Christian’s today take this approach to our culture. Our job in this approach is stand against culture and shut it down! BOYCOTT!
We could take a similar approach to culture around us … we could just reject it because it leads to something bad. Maybe at your work there is a culture of going out for dinner and drinks after work on the first Friday of the month. Often times some people who go out on this trip have too much drink … and stuff is said and done that doesn’t necessarily reflect the sort of lifestyle we’d want to have as Christ followers.
What do you do? If you are a “REJECTOR” … you don’t ever go and get caught dead there. You cut yourself off from ever being associated with that group.
Paul has another option that he could have chosen … Instead of REJECTING the culture … he could just blinding RECEIVE the idols as a fact and not challenge the place they have in culture. (GO LIMP WRIST)
Just embrace them … go with the flow … what’s the big deal … it’s okay… everything is going to alright.
He could have looked at those idols and say… who cares … what’s the big deal! He might set up an idol to Jesus on a really prominent street so people would see it. He’d fully embrace the idols and everything they represent … because we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater!
This is also a potential way we could respond to cultural pressure around us. Maybe a friend invites you to some yoga type thing at the gym … I’m not even sure what you call it. You’re pretty sure it’s based on some funky stuff … but you don’t want to judge your friend.
(LIMP WRIST) RECEIVERS say that all culture is part of God’s truth. They see everything that happens in the world around us as honoring God somehow even if it’s not clear on the surface how.
If Paul takes this approach he’ll be able to be all buddy-buddy with the dudes in Athens … they will see him like them. He will be a part of their crowd. He’ll be “in”. But then how will Paul deal with the scripture that talks about idols?
Does he confort or concede to the culture? Do you feel the tension in that?
I’ve felt that same tension with the annual Halloween Costume discussion with the kids? (HAND) The boy who wants the mask where you push that button and blood come out of a gash in their head! They really want to be that … because all the kids are being that … I want to be cool with my kids … I don’t what do to do!
Should I be the (AMP UP) REJECTOR … and “no way! … either you go as a character from little house on the prairie or you’re not going!”
Or is the right thing to be a (LIMP WRIST) RECEIVER and just embrace it… and say “It’s ok buddy … the fact that you want blood rolling down your face it alright!”
What does Paul do? How does he respond … does he REJECT or RECEIVE? Those are two choices that most Christians think we have … But Paul shows us a THIRD WAY.
Let’s keep reading along and see what happens in VERSE 22.
– Acts 17:22-23
From here Paul went on to tell the entire story of Jesus and the difference that he can make in their world.
Did you catch what Paul did!? He choose a third way … he didn’t start with “This idol thing is totally screwed up!” or “Hey … here’s a new idol for you worship … it’s to a guy named Jesus!”
Paul chose a third way … Not to REJECT the culture or simply blinding RECEIVE the culture … he choose to …
Let’s all say that together … REDEEM?
What’s that mean? It’s one of those words you mostly just hear in church.
It simply means to find value in something worthless. Like when you take in an old coke bottle to the store … it’s empty … there’s nothing left. But you hand in the worthless bottle and you REDEEM it … they give you some money for it.
We also talk about how Jesus REDEEMS us … he takes our broken, worthless lives and REDEEMS it by the blood of Jesus. He takes broken things and turns them into something new.
He REDEEMED it … he choose to turn something negative into a positive. He REDEEMED it … he infused it with more value.
How did he do that? I see three things Paul did here …
Observed // Paul didn’t hide from the culture. He wasn’t scared to see what was happening in the world the around him. In fact … Paul was actually engaged in seeing what was going on in the world around him.
Complimented // I love how Paul starts this conversation … “I see that in every way you are very religious.” To our New Jersey ears this might sound like a slap in a face … but to the people of Athens at the time it would have been taken as huge compliment. People strived to be religious … Paul praises their spiritual curiosity! It was highly valued. Paul isn’t starting the conversation in attack mode … he’s starting with something positive about the people he’s talking to.
Built a Bridge // Paul found something within the culture to built a bridge to talk about Jesus. Did you catch what he said? “I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. ” The people of Athen’s saw themselves as learned folks … they wanted to be in the know! Paul was simply saying – I want to help you learn … to know about what you are talking about.
This is a brilliant conversation starter! What an amazing way to engage his culture with the message of Jesus! Rather than Rejecting or Receiving the idols … he finds a way to Redeem them. He takes something negative and reuses it for something positive.
It’s sort of like Spiritual Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu is the martial art that focuses on taking the power of your opponent and using it against them. So when someone comes running at you to attack you don’t try to stop their forward momentum toward you with block and kicks (like in Karate) but you redirect their energy into the brick wall behind you … in a Christ-like way, of course!
Paul does the same thing with idols … rather than fighting the idols head on he uses them to talk about Jesus. He turns their negative influence in culture into a positive starting point to talk about Jesus.
Don’t miss the tension that Paul is playing with here … he is starting with an idol (that God declared forbidden in the Old Testament) and he REDEEMS the idols … he draws spiritual value out of a something worthless.
It’s hard to overstate how incredibly irreligious what Paul did was. First century thinkers would have stopped dead in their tracks and “Oh know he didn’t!” Paul is using something totally vile to get to a spiritual truth. He’s leveraging something totally secular to make a spiritual point.
He could have chosen to go on the offense and REJECT the culture … or could have choosen to simply RECEIVE the culture through embracing the idols … but he choose REDEEM the culture around him. Paul pushed back against the prevailing culture with the Good News of Jesus.
So what was the outcome? What impact did it have in Athen’s?
”When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, (DIE-ON-NISH-E-US) a member of the Areopagus, (AIR-EE-OP-O-GUS) also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
– Acts 17:32-34
You’ll see that there are three different types of responses to when Paul talked to the people in Athen’s that day …
Some Believed! // We wish that this was one of those cases where everyone traded in their idols and put their trust in Jesus. Some did … but not everyone.
Some Wanted to Hear More // I love this group … they were intrigued enough to keep the conversation going. Sometimes that’s the highest goal of our interaction with people … to simply earn the right to talk with them again.
Some Sneered. // Take heart … here is the greatest Jesus communicator in the history of the church … at a pivotal point in the story … and some people still scoffed at his faith in Christ. Don’t worry … that’s going to happen to you! 😉
I love that Paul went for the jugular when attempting to build a bridge to his community. He could have tried to convince them to get rid of the idols. He could have used wise words to explain to them why idols were bad for business or aren’t great for community development. If they would have got rid of the idols, Paul would have felt better because he wouldn’t have had to see them. But they wouldn’t have dealt with the place Jesus has in their lives.
I sometimes we try to do a similar thing with our not-yet-Christian family and friends. Do you know why they behave like non-Christians? Because they aren’t Christian! Why are we so surprised!
So what did we learn from the way Paul dealt with something in his culture that disturbed him when we come to things in our culture that disturb us. How can we learn with how Paul dealt with his Pre-Christian culture for us in Post-Christian culture?
Halloween has been one of those times of year …
It seems like on every street at Halloween has “that guys” house … you know the one. [pic] Fake dead bodies on the lawn … tombstones … etc. Do I really want my kids to be a part of this? Surely there is a enough in this celebration of the dead that I can should just reject it outright!
It’s easy for my gut reaction to be to REJECT this whole thing all together!
But then I know that all my kid’s friends are into it so maybe I should just RECEIVE it and embrace everything that comes along with it.
As a family … we’ve tried to figure out how to REDEEM this part of culture … to use it as a bridge to connect with our community rather than a wedge to divide us from the world around us.
So every year at Halloween we “go big” and our goal is to be “that house” on the street because we want to known as family that celebrates together. We want people to know that Christ followers can have fun!
Let me show you what Halloween looks like at the Birch household. [pic] [pic] We get dressed up on costumes …rent a massive bouncy castle… put on some fun music and throw a Halloween Party on our front lawn!
I know what you might be say … “A Pastor Throwing a Halloween Party!”
Shut the front door!
Why on earth would we do that!?
I love that my kids will have the memory of something totally fun happening at our house on this point every year rather than the lights being turned off and us hiding behind the curtains and REJECTING this time of year. Christians … Halloween is the ONE day of the year when your entire neighborhood shows up in YOUR BACKYARD, on your front porch, on your doorstep. My hope is that my kids spend a lifetime trying to find ways to REDEEM rather than REJECT the culture around us.
This is what COMMUNITY looks like … planting seeds in our front yard that we hope will grow into deep faith in our friends!
We make coffee for the parents … because walking around for hours while kids pick up candy is tiring! Plus … there is something about it being easier to talk with people you don’t know when you have a cup of coffee in your hard!
A couple years ago the Halloween Party was in full effect until I heard Fred was in the bouncy castle.
See … I had heard of Fred’s name a bunch of times already in that school year because Fred was the class bully. He was “that kid” that no-one wanted in his class. He’d caused some problems for Hunter already in the school year.
And now he was in the bouncy castle. ….. (GULP) So I slinked over to check on Hunter … to see what was going on.
An low and behold there is another Dad standing there looking in on the Bouncy Castle … watching even closer that I was … Fred’s Dad.
I introduced my self. We had small talk … we got to know each other a little better.
Fred and his Dad became more than just people I had heard about … he became a person I knew.
Fast forward two years … I’ve see Fred & his Dad around town … we’ve exchanged knowing looks across the school yard.
That next Spring … Hunter ends up on Fred’s Little League team and his Dad is the couch. Rather than running away from that … it’s been a bridge of relationship that I pray God can use to see Fred, his Dad and his whole family come to know Jesus.
Don’t miss this friends … if it wasn’t for a PAGAN HOLIDAY, a giant bouncy castle and some coffee … mix with the spirit of REDEEMING the culture we have the privilege of being in relationship with people today.
I trust as a Christ follower here today you have concern about how to impact the post-Christian culture we live in. We can’t rely on people showing up to services like this to make the sort of impact we need to have. Did you know that only …
17% of Americans Attend Church Regularly
– Baylor Study of Religion [link] What percentage of your neighborhood will be out walking around on Halloween this year? I almost guarantee that it’s more that 17%! That’s just one example of time where we can reach out into our community.
If we want to reach our family and friends we have to find times in our COMMUNITY to share the Gospel … whether that’s in the summer time over some drinks … around the watercooler at work … or even on Halloween with a bouncy castle and some coffee for neighbors.
In the coming years we’re going to be faced with more and more opportunities where we get to choose between:
(FIGHT) REJECTING what’s happening and walling ourselves into holy huddles that have diminishing influence on the culture around us. Or …
(LIMP WRIST) RECEIVING the culture as it happens to us and losing our ability to engage our community with the message of Jesus. Or …
REDEEMING what we see around us … and creatively leveraging culture for Jesus.
Not all of us will be faced with such an extreme issue like Paul was faced with in dealing with a culture where idols were so prevalent … but we all can look for ways to leverage what is happening in our culture as a bridge to build to Jesus.
What can you REDEEM in our COMMUNITY That’s what I what I want you to be thinking about today!
Did you know …
40% of Americans Will Attend Easter Services
– Lifeway Research
WOW! What an incredible opportunity for us to reach out into our COMMUNITY!
But here is an even bigger reality …
20% of Americans Are Undecided About Attending Easter
– Lifeway Research
That’s incredible … that means that lots of your COMMUNITY .. .your friends and family are considering attending this year … in fact
81,109 of Sarasota County Residents Are Undecided About Attending Easter
– Lifeway Research
Today we want to send you out as a REDEEMER into your community. Jesus is the BIG R – REDEEMER. He took something worthless (our sin broken lives) and gave it value by giving up his life for us on the cross.
I want to ask you to be a person who takes stuff in our culture and leverages them for the good news of Jesus.
In a minute … I’m going to ask all of us to stand together because we want to actively look for ways to engage the community where we are … I’m going to invite Pastor Peter to join me to talk about 2 practical ways that this EASTER we can join in REDEEEMING rather than rejecting Sarasota:
Joining a Team
Fill out the card!