Defying Gravity Part 2: Deep and Wide
On Sunday 14th February at our morning service, we continued our series 'Defying Gravity' with a talk called Deep and Wide'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
If you would like to listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
We used a youtube clip called Lost Sheep at the start of our service.You can watch that by clicking here.
Just before the talk we watched a youtube clip from West Wing. You can watch that by clicking here.
Talk Notes and Summary
Last week our Senior Minister, Chris Porter, talked about the gravitational pull on churches to be for church people, and how we should resist that and go about ensuring that EBC is a church that unchurched people love to come to. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with that, Chris also mentioned how he has to resist the gravitational pull of strawberry-cream-flavoured Krispy Kreme donuts and as a former health & fitness professional I have to tell you I definitely agree that that particular gravitational pull is indeed one that should be resisted!
My own leisure interest – is obsession too strong a word? – is not to do with eating donuts but is much more to do with lifting weights. In a very literal way, lifting weights has a lot to do with defying gravity!
My interest led to my going to a gym when I was 15, where the guys there were evangelistic about bodybuilding – they were passionate about it and wanted others to get the message and feel the benefits too! They really welcomed me and they showed me a dozen or so basic exercises. Also they taught me some very fundamental principles about training – I had to stick to those basic exercises, train hard, eat well, rest well, and then repeat – gradually increasing the weights over a period of time, so that I progressively got bigger and stronger.
Eventually I started to put some muscle on and from time to time, as a shy teenager, something strange happened – people would notice me and sometimes girls would giggle and say “show us your muscles!” Rather than getting into a deep conversation about the merits of training, to be honest I just rolled up my sleeves and flexed my muscles – after all, I wanted to impress them!
As I carried on training, I read lots and lots of books, did a Sports Science degree, ran fitness clubs for 20 years then wrote my own fitness book. The deeper I studied, the more profound I realised the simple principles I’d learned at age 15 were. I learned more by putting them into practice personally than by any book I read. I also noticed that when I strayed away from them and explored other “deep” ideas about training, my progress stopped – and eventually it dawned on me that the more I’d learned the more I came to understand that those first principles had hidden in them all the depth I ever really needed.
When people want to go deep and start asking “deeper” questions about exercise – or indeed their faith - they’re prone to abandoning what got them where they are. There’s a danger of getting mixed up and going off track.
Sometimes things that appear in conflict, that seem opposite (like simple teaching versus deep teaching) can actually be done together – the same principles still apply. And they still have to be put into practice. Some people think that churches can either be those that are aimed at Christians or those that are aimed at non-Christians, not both. But isn’t it possible to do both?
Well, Jesus seemed to manage it. Once, he told a story about a lost sheep and he had a very mixed audience – tax collectors and sinners and also Pharisees and teachers of the law (in other words, religious people). How did he engage both sets of people? Well he used stories that they could both understand. One such is a very simple story about a lost sheep - a very simple message, but with deeply profound outcomes.
This is told in Luke Chapter 15. You can read that by clicking here.
The story tells us that God loves people who are lost and that there is rejoicing in heaven when one lost person turns to God. That is very easy to understand, but deeply profound. It still applies today – as a great encouragement to people just beginning to turn to God, and as a firm reminder to followers of Jesus that he cares about all of his sheep (that is his people).
Jesus had very simple messages that weren’t complicated but were deeply profound and could change things – by teaching newcomers about what God really wants, and by reminding the ‘shepherds’ to be about the work he sets for us – be about finding and feeding his sheep, his lambs, his people in need.
The Christian message is not complicated, but it is life changing and hugely profound – it impacts things and changes things and changes people. Christians shouldn’t get hung up in churches on ‘going deep’ when really we mean academic study. We should be concerned with life change and impact. A great way to do that is by showing people what our faith is really about, what it looks like in action – and they will be impressed!
If we want to go deeper in our faith, and if we want to impress as wide an audience as possible with the life-changing possibilities our faith has to offer, we don’t need to go deep into academic study. No, no. You know what we need to do if we want to impress people? Roll up our sleeves. Roll up our sleeves and let them see us flex our muscles – let them see our faith in action.
We should stick to the simple principles. Offer people a great welcome, make them know we really want the best for them and so does God, who loves them and wants them with him more than anything. And then we teach them the simple principles of our faith by our own example – consistently. Love God – who first loved us, Love People – as Jesus taught and demonstrated and commanded, Grow Together to Become More Like Jesus – who is our own Good Shepherd. Love God, Love People, Grow Together to Become More Like Jesus – it was a good day at the office for our EBC Elders when they came up with that mission statement!
If we strive to do those 3 simple but profound things we overcome the objections that some unchurched people have about Christians – that we’re all judgmental, or bigoted or have a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude – the things that sadly have been true of some supposedly “deeply Christian” people. In truth all of those things are the exact opposite of what Jesus taught, and the example he gave. He taught his followers not to be judge others. He taught them to be radically inclusive – even of people that society in general rejected. And he (who was holier than anyone!) taught his followers to forgive others and showed that we should first look to put right our own sins than condemn others for theirs.
When people see us rolling up our sleeves and working hard to take responsibility about becoming better versions of ourselves, and when they see us rolling up our sleeves for causes that are manifestly good and worthy (DST, Storehouse, the Night Shelter and the rest) then regardless of their faith or otherwise they are open to joining in and along the way finding out more!
And as they roll up their sleeves alongside us in these simple but profoundly affecting works (both internal and external), we can start debunking the myths about what being a Christian really means. We can undo the damage done by their wrong reading of what being a Christian means. Or to put it another way, we can write them a new book – by rolling up our sleeves and showing our faith in action!
As we do so, you bet we’ll want to find out more, and read more, and learn more from others – and we’ll be better tuned into God and receive revelation from him too. And we’ll want to share the good news about God with other people. That’s great! But let’s never stray from the foundations, the simple, key principles - Love God (because He first loved us), Love People (because God does and he tells us to do the same), Grow Together to Become More Like Jesus – Jesus who gave everything for us and told us why via this simple, yet profound story of the lost sheep.
So, there it is – Jesus did “deep and wide” teaching and a Christian is a follower of Jesus - so it’s time for us to do the same. Jesus not only taught people but he taught with great credibility because he was clearly living it out himself.
If you’re hungry to ‘go deep’ and to know more but you’re not yet putting into practice the fundamental principles, the basics, then to be honest you’ll never go deep – you’ll forever be paddling around in the shallows. And by the way if you do get into deep waters before you’ve put swimming into practice… you might find yourself in trouble. So If that’s you – if you want to go deep but you’re not yet going to work on the stuff you already know about and you already know you should be doing, well, you know what? Break’s over. Let’s roll up our sleeves.
Questions for Reflection
1. Can you think of any examples where people or organisations have a wrong reading of what is means to be a Christian? What are some of the common misperceptions about Christians and Christianity?
2. Our Mission Statement at EBC says that we are here “to love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus.” Do you agree that unpacking this widely understandable statement covers the deep things Jesus cares about too (including, for example, seeking and saving the lost, becoming the people God intends us to be, glorifying God etc)?
3. What are some of the ways you personally could “roll up your sleeves” and be getting on with? What aspects of your own development into the person God wants you to be? And what good causes could you become involved with?
4. When people say they want to “go deeper” do you think this is best done via academic study (e.g. Theology, history of Israel) or by living out the simple principles as taught by Jesus and his first followers?
5. Do you know anyone who holds a low opinion of Christianity? How might you begin to “write them a new book” that might begin to change their reading of our faith?