Values of a LIFE Community II-Pastor Bob Kikuyu
He had been involved in ministry for a while and had built a reputation for being reliable and dependable. Not only that, but he was also very skilled and passionate in what he did. He became the backbone of the team who looked up to him for leadership even though he was not the leader of the team.
Then he broke the news to us, that the girl he was dating was pregnant. The leadership of the church attended to the matter with the stipulated provision. Some of it was hard but had to be done. Some of the rigidity made a few members resentful of the church leadership. But the leadership of the church committed to being there even though they looked bad. The leadership of the church continued to extend a hand of fellowship and care even when it seemed they were cruel.
After two years of not being involved in the ministry or its leadership, the young man was invited back to the ministry, restored back to service, and a few years later rose to be the leader of the very ministry in the church.
This is a scenario that has been replicated in many churches, many fellowships,
and many Christian Unions. But the ending is not that familiar. The ending in many
places has ranged from the two being brought to the front of the congregation
for public confession, followed by a public rebuke, and then being stripped of any
responsibilities they had. In the rather extreme circumstances, which are not too
uncommon, the members have been excommunicated from the fellowship with a
warning for people not to have any association with them, and sometimes they are
according to a bible verse, “released to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that
the soul might be saved”.
At a recent meeting, one of our elders said the reason he chose to join Lifespring
was because he saw a demonstration of the first scenario rather than the latter –
where a member was kept in the fellowship and allowed to experience the love of
that community even in those difficult circumstances and finally restored again to
fellowship and ministry. That would be one of my reasons for joining a church.
This month I am leading you through a series – Values of a LIFE Community, where
we try to define what values are found where the LIFE of Christ is at the centre of
a community. We began last week by saying the foundation of values for a LIFE
community are Being Blessed and Belonging. When you know you are blessed you
know you are a person of worth and hence attach value to yourself. This then gives
you a positive mentality upon which your values are built and along which you seek
people to share those values with. And when you sense you Belong, there is security
and stability that comes with the individual and the community. When you belong
you have a base from and on which values are tried, tested, proved and approved.
Values that are contrary to the community you belong to are challenged. Belonging
enables values to be taught and reinforced.
Today I begin by sharing one of the values of a LIFE Community from the book of
Ephesians. And this is the value of grace. Grace in its biblical definition has been
said to be God’s unmerited favour shown to us through the person and the work
of Christ. But grace then on the basis of God’s unmerited favour also becomes a
value that is expressed in the church as a way of living out the LIFE of Christ. So why
should grace rank as a value of a LIFE Community?
Read Eph 2: 1 – 10.
A Gracious Community recognises where it has come from (1 – 3)
When I worked in Uganda in the early 90’s, it was still the time of Tukutendereza.
This was the revival that spread throughout East Africa, regenerating the church in
a way that has not been seen in the recent years. It raised hard-core believers who
did not entertain a speck of sin. One of the defining marks of the movement, at least
in Uganda, was the “Walking in the Light” sessions. I attended one of those. For me
hearing the stories of what people did was incredible. At one point I felt people were
trying to outdo each other in how bad they were. At a certain point I realised that
my testimony was very boring unless I cooked something dramatic. And yes I also
felt that they were indeed prime candidates for salvation.
Yet we all needed to get saved, none more than the other. V 3 says, “All of us also
lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and
following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of God’s
wrath”. All means all, regardless of how good or bad you were. Yet when a
community loses sight of the fact that all of us were sinners and the objects of God’s
wrath, and none more than others, there is a temptation to categorise people – the
good and the not so good. And when we have categories of people there is a
temptation to lack grace for the not so good, let alone the bad ones. And so when
there is a case of one who has fallen into sin, there is less understanding of how and
why they fell. There is a lack of grace. A gracious community understands that all of
us were in that category without exception. At the end of a church service, still in
Uganda, a member of the church walked up to me and greeted me. Then he asked
me to my face, “Uchalokoka – Are you still saved”. He had analysed me and
concluded I was either backslidden or not fully saved. When a community lacks
grace, it is judgemental and critical of people’s shortcomings. It becomes a
community carrying people with pain – a hurting community.
A Gracious Community recognises what it cannot do (v 4 – 10).
A pastor who shepherded me in my early days of faith once shared with us how
zealous he was for the gospel. He was so zealous that when he would preach on the
street in Mombasa where he was based, he would force any person who gave him
audience to kneel down and get saved, hammering them with the bible. Another
group of evangelists made it their mission to go to arboretum and target Indians
having a good time. They would then set up their speakers right next to them and
preach the gospel, preaching brimstone and fire and eternal damnation in hell.
I wonder how many people gave their lives to the Lord from that. But I know how
Jesus won me. V 4 says, “Because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions – it is
by grace you have been saved. A gracious community knows that the greatest gift
ever given to them was not earned. It was a combination of God’s love and mercy,
culminating in His gracious act of salvation. We could not save ourselves and neither
can we sustain ourselves. It is only “He who began a good work in us who can bring
it to a perfect finish at the coming of Christ” (Phil 1:6). When a community lacks
in grace and understanding of this, it becomes a community defined by legalism
rather than faith, where what you do or don’t do matters above else. Failures are
not tolerated and indeed become a stain in that community and hence the need to
excommunicate them. But when a gracious community knows that it is justified by
faith and saved by grace, they are able to see the One who is at work in them and
also in others. This community heals the wounded and comforts the broken-hearted.
This community practices the words spoken of God in Isaiah 42:3, “He will not crush
the weakest reed, and a flickering candle He will not put out”.
A Gracious Community Recognises the purpose of grace
But I need to be careful and say that grace is extended to the willing, those whose
hearts desire to walk in the ways of righteousness and truth. Grace operates in the
arena of weakness so that the power of God can be seen. Paul says in 1 Cor 12: 9
recounting what God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness”. For those then who may take grace for granted, Romans 6: 1 –
2 asks, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound”? The response is clear –
“By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer”?
A gracious community knows how to extend grace but also knows that when
grace is taken for granted, then they must make a call on that situation. A gracious
community knows that when grace is abused the value of it in the community is
threatened. And so we must challenge those who would take for granted grace by
keeping on sinning. We must point out to them the sin and challenge them to return
to the ways of holy living. A gracious community must treasure the gift of grace
given to them by challenging those who misuse it in the same measure that they
would extend it to one another in difficult circumstances.
We must value grace. We must also live out the values of grace as a community at
large. We must value grace in our marriages, with our children, with our neighbour
and in our fellowships. It must become a mark of a LIFE Community.
Somebody asked a question in reference to the song Amazing Grace, “What is so amazing about
I go back to the words of that song that has resounded over the ages,
T’was grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home