Good Intentions/God Intentions
How many of us use the reusable grocery bags when you go to the market? I actually have a bunch from Trader Joe’s, and unless they’re in my car, I forget about them. But when I do go to Trader Joe’s, I always bring them. Just like most of the folks there do. And I feel good about that. And I wonder why I don’t bring them to Giant or Weis or Walmart. And those stores also sell the reusable bags, which, quite frankly, hold groceries better and are easier to manage, overall than the disposable ones. Several “progressive” cities around the country have banned the disposable plastic shopping bags altogether. And sometimes I think they should ban them here as well, given that plastic lasts forever, and our roadsides and creeks are lined with them. But then I think about Austin, Texas, which in 2013 banned the disposable plastic shopping bags as a way to save the environment. Turns out manufacturing these reusable plastic bags has a greater carbon footprint than manufacturing the disposable ones. Takes more materials and far more energy. But if they were used the right way, eventually, they would be better for the world. So use them. But here’s the thing: We’re creatures of habit and creatures of convenience… The city of Austin found that people were using the reusable shopping bags as disposable. And that meant the new bags with the bigger carbon footprint and greater content of plastic were ending up in the garbage dumps. And the damage to the environment was greatly enhanced. Now, Austin was correct in its good intentions. But sometimes good intentions have bad ramifications. So today, I’d like us to talk about how sometimes our good intentions as Christians aren’t as good as we might think they are, and what we’re looking for is GOD intentions. Philippians The Apostle Paul was a man with good intentions, too. He’s writing to the church in Philippi, which, like many young churches, is experiencing rifts and arguments and disagreements. Paul’s letter comes to reconcile and teach this congregation about unity in Christ. The church’s intentions are good; they want to follow Christ, but they can’t seem to agree, and that is beginning to tear them apart. Again, we see good intentions having an adverse effect. There is a sense of irony here that Paul is the one who is attempting to unite the new Christians. Why? Well, if we know the story, Paul wasn’t always a Christ-follower. In fact, he was a Christ persecutor. He once was trying to break apart the church; now he’s trying to keep it together. As a leading Pharisee, he once persecuted those who followed Christ. Even attended their executions and voted on whether to let them live or die. It was while he was on the hunt for more Christians in Damascus in Syria that Christ “grabbed hold” of Paul and convicted him: Transformed him on the spot. All of his good intentions as being a pious, devout and top Jewish student and Pharisee in an effort to serve God was sewer trash, as he calls it in Verse 8: Paul tells us this in the Philippians epistle: “If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.” (Verses 5-7). In other words, Paul is telling this church of Good intentions that their own Good intentions are having bad results. Just like his very own good intentions led to bad results. We believe our intentions are good, but they’re actually bad. And sometimes it takes someone who has experience in the good/bad intentions field to point out the errors. Paul has this experience in spades. In fact, he says, in Verse 9, I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness in Christ.” In other words, Paul trusts and has faith in God to identify him with the faithfulness of Christ. Paul allows God to convict him, point out his errors and help him to live in right relationship to God through Christ. How do we know? So how do we know when we’re wrong, despite our good intentions? Who convicts us and who transforms us? Christ, of course. But how does that happen in practical terms? ### I had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite authors and pastors speak during the Exponential Conference in Orlando last month. And he’d maybe writhe in discomfort if he heard me speak of him in that way. Some of you know who Francis Chan is. I’ve referenced him on a few occasions both here on Sundays and at The Gathering on Wednesdays. I’ve done that because Francis Chan has such amazing and God-given wisdom, that when he speaks or writes, it usually cuts right to the bone. And it’s so practical. Of course, I’m not alone in that assessment. In 1994, he began a church in Simi Valley in California with just a couple dozen people in his living room. Cornerstone Community Church grew almost overnight to a megachurch. He’s written more than a dozen books, many best-sellers. He’s influential, having spoken all over the globe. And he is the founder and chancellor of Eternity Bible College. The man basically built an empire with good intentions. Today, Chan is the pastor of a church of about 20 people. There was no scandal, there was no heresy, and no one asked Chan to leave over some issue. And, in fact, his books and sermons are still fundamentally sound. Instead, he announced to his congregation and the world that he was doing it all wrong and was therefore resigning as pastor. Church expansion after expansion was costing millions. Buying large tracts of land, managing construction projects, adding a fourth, then a fifth, then a sixth service… … it was all detracting from the original good intent: To serve God and bring as many people to Christ as possible. And while we might think it’s critical to fill our seats here in this sanctuary with a goal of filling them full over three services on a Sunday, Chan, at least, is saying, “no.” Our efforts are best spent focusing solely on reading Scripture, praying and worshipping God simply, and living in community with one another. Chan, in his latest book, “Letters to the Church,” outlines his rationale systematically, but says this: “Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function? “Seriously. Close your eyes for two minutes and try to picture “Church” as you would know it. Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close? Can you live with that?” He notes that we’re told in Acts how to do church. And that’s how Chan, at least, is doing church. And, of course, it has sprouted dozens of these house churches across California, and, now, across the U.S. Are we doing church wrong? Spending money maintaining a 200-year-old building? Paying staff to manage the day-to-day operations? Making constant improvements to a building when we all have perfectly good living rooms to worship in? Well, that’s for you to decide, and I’m not suggesting we need to even consider that this morning, but the point is simply this: We have been told how to measure success in a church. We have been told the ways to be successful in a church. And our success or failure continues to be measured by these traditional benchmarks and practices. Who created them? Jesus wants his Church to be everywhere: All around the world. Matthew 25 tells us in the Great Commissioning: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.“ Where does it say anything about stained-glass windows, an organ or band, a light show, carpets, seating for 300, ornate woodwork and a narthex? Again, I am not criticizing the way we do church; I’m asking why we do church this way. And if we’re doing church this way, is it the right way, or is the way we’ve been told? Again, our intentions are good, are they not? But Chan is questioning: “Well, maybe the result isn’t all that “good” after all. Doing church the way we’ve always done it is something we call tradition. Paul calls that tradition pedigree, and it’s something we need to be careful of as well. Paul’s tradition was Pharisaic: He thought that being a good Pharisee meant hunting down Christians and persecuting or even executing them. Does that please God? Obviously not. And the church in Philippi to which Paul is writing is taking the same tact: They’re trying to decipher what it means to be good Christians, but they’re looking to the traditions and pedigrees to establish that. “Do we need to be circumcised, like the Jews were?” “Do we need to follow the Jewish Laws?” “Do we need to follow the dominant culture?” Paul uses his traditions and pedigree and past to say: “Look at me! I was doing everything to the letter of the law — the way we’ve always been told to do things — and God told me I was dead wrong!” Paul’s intentions were good, as were the people who were the church in Philippi… They might have been good intentions, but they weren’t God intentions. God certainly didn’t want his children persecuting or killing one another in his name; Christ certainly didn’t want his Church — his “bride” — being torn apart over what church is supposed to look like. And Christ sure doesn’t want us to diverge from the original intent of how we are to worship and live in Christian community. Can you live with that? Identity Paul looks at all of the good intentions that he had been rescued from. The good intentions that were killing him — and others. And he says beginning in Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. “I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him.” All that we know, and all that we think we know, if we’re not questioning it like Paul is asking us to, can even our good intentions be suspect? Paul says all that I’ve had, I’ve lost. And that’s fine because all that I had and all that I’ve known has been sewer trash — it’s rotten, corrupted, corroded, and worthless. And once he understands that, he begins to see that THIS is what it takes to gain Christ and be found in Christ. This is his identity now: * Not what the world told him was good; * Not what tradition told him was good; * Not what his pedigree told him was good; * but what CHRIST tells him is good. Being in Christ. Christ, who initiated the relationship. And likewise, we, too, must not simply accept and cater to what our world, our traditions and our pedigrees tell us about what is good; instead, we must go to Christ and understand Christ to know what is good and what is right. Striving Listen, Francis Chan may be way off the charts with how he’s striving to do God intentions; Paul was seen as being crazy — beside himself — he tells us back a few verses striving to do God intentions; and we have to sometimes even make mistakes like Chan and like Paul to understand and then strive toward God intentions. We have to sometimes see that human behavior can even usurp our best intentions, just like the well-intentioned folks in Austin, Texas, and their whole shopping bag fiasco. Part of being a Christian is in that striving. It is challenging what we know, what we think we know and then working hard to understand what God’s intentions are for us, for our church and our world, then striving to achieve them. Unafraid, unabashed, and even recklessly. But we’ll never understand how to do God’s intention if we’re not working on our faith. Lenten striving In this season of Lent, we have such a unique opportunity to do just that: To suffer, to strive, to question, to pray… To empty ourselves of what we think we know and let God sustain us. To understand that Jesus took all of those good intentions — and, yes, the bad ones, too — to the cross to leave them there; to bury them in the tomb; to be resurrected free of all of them; and to allow us to be resurrected and never have to carry them with us again. Let us take time to empty ourselves of what the world tells us is good, and let our intentions be geared completely and only to God, through Christ, his son. Amen.