Over the next three Sundays, I am going to unpack what I believe is The Mission of Second. As I have gotten to know our church and our city over the past year, I think the Lord has particularly equipped us to fulfill the universal mission of the Church of Jesus Christ according to three particular emphases. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has a five-fold mission: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism and mercy. But each congregation will carry out that five-fold mission in a manner unique to its people and place. Some people call that the local church’s “vision.” To keep it simple, I’m going to use the same word “mission” and ask what is Second’s mission? How will Second specifically carry out the universal mission of the Church of Jesus Christ as a particular people in Memphis? I am suggesting that I see us doing that in three ways: Retelling the Gospel Constantly, Reimagining the Church and City Presently, and Repairing what is Broken from the Past.
I do not see this to be a vision for 2018 that will be replaced with another for 2019, but rather one that will characterize us until the Lord comes back. I dream of these words being on the tip of our tongues, that retelling, repairing, and reimagining will roll of our lips as naturally as the Lord’s Prayer. I want to inspire you with the mission of our church and your role as a missionary in it!
Part 1: Retelling the Gospel (Psalm 67)
In 2007 I hosted a national conference in Augusta. Our focus was gospel-centered renewal for our denomination. The Lord has blessed those early efforts through many other similar movements. Our keynote preacher was Ray Cortese from Lacanto, Florida. Ray is a dear friend who openly relates the renewal that had to occur in his and his congregation’s life. He was driven more by duty than grace, and while that works quickly initially, it wears people out and makes them mean. Ray related the scriptures and his personal testimony to us and the Spirit worked powerfully through his preaching. Though the conference was mainly for ministers, many of our church members attended as well.
After the conference concluded, I was relaxing at home with my family when someone knocked on my door. At the time, we lived in rather secluded area a fair distance from the church so we were not accustomed to people knocking on our door. There at the door was one of our members who had attended the conference. Though he had driven quite a distance, he asked for only five minutes of my time. We went to the privacy of my study and he leaned out of his chair and asked, “I just need to know one thing: Is what Ray said true? Is God’s grace really that great? Is the gospel really good news? Is it true?”
I was a little stunned because this was a Christian and a leading one at that. He was a physician who had led many medical students to Jesus, had lead medical mission trips around the world, taught Sunday School, and made sure his family attended worship every Sunday morning and evening. And yet because of where he was in the discovery of the depth of his sin, the gospel seemed too good to be true. He had heard it told a thousand times, but he was hungering and thirsting to hear it retold.
We can summarize that message of the gospel in three words: God loves sinners. It takes the whole Bible to unpack what it means for a holy God to love sinners at the price of his own son’s life, but the message of the gospel can be summed up in those three words. This message has always been true, it’s true now, and it always will be true.
Even though the gospel is true, we often find it difficult to believe, because it seems too good to be true. In Luke 24 Jesus is walking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus after he has been raised from the dead. The disciples, not yet realizing it is Jesus to whom they are talking, are telling him how they had lost hope because their friend Jesus had died and they thought he was going to be the one to save them. Jesus rebuked them for their slowness to believe and then he revealed to them who he was. And when the disciples realized that the risen, incarnate Christ was walking with them, they “disbelieved for joy” (Lk. 24:41). They couldn’t believe it because it was just too good to be true.
The gospel is contrary to everything in us. Therefore, we have to hear it over and over again, not just once at an altar call, but every time we gather for worship, morning and evening. We must hear the gospel retold again and again. That is why retelling the gospel is the first part of our mission at 2PC Memphis. We are called to retell this story of the gospel that God loves sinners in our outreach, inreach, and outreach.
I. Upreach (1-3)
This text tells us that we retell the gospel every time we meet together. You probably recognize the first part of this psalm as a common benediction:
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us
This benediction was first pronounced by Aaron in Numbers 6 and again in Leviticus 9. The benediction has historically been viewed by church fathers and theologians as three couplets:
- “The Lord bless you and keep you” has been seen as a promise from God the Father to take care of your physical needs
- “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you” is a promise of God the son to bring peace to your mind"
- “The Lord turn his countenance to you and give you his peace” has typically been understood to be the promise of the Spirit of God driving out all evil spirits that oppress you.
In short, we understand every time there is a benediction pronounced in scripture, it is alerting the people of God to the fact that God has shown up. Therefore, at the end of every worship service, when your ministers stretch out their hands to pronounce the benediction and you as worshippers stretch out your hands to receive it, it is God saying he has been in our presence in order to personally convey that he loves sinners.
The gospel is retold in our worship services as our minds are trained, as our bodies are bent to confirm what our minds our minds are learning, and as our hearts are channeled to love Jesus.
A. Training the mind
When we regularly gather together and listen to the teaching of the Bible, deep grooves are cut into our minds so that we never forget the gospel. The gospel is etched into our minds so that in every experience we face, we face it with the gospel as our guide. When we meet together, we are retelling the drama of the gospel.
God cut deep gospel grooves in the minds of Old Testament believers too through the sacrificial drama preceding this benediction. After the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offerings were made, the priest would lift his hands and bless the people (Le. 9:22,23). Notice this blessing was commanded by God and given to the Aaronic priesthood as their exclusive prerogative. Therefore, far from being incidental to the liturgy, the pronouncement of the benediction by the lifting of hands was as essential as the offering itself. Why? Because it was only upon Aaron’s lifting his hands the people knew their sacrifices had been accepted by God and their sins atoned for.
We repeat the gospel every week in our worship services as well. God calls, and we respond. We recognize we are in the presence of holiness, so we confess our sins. God assures us of his pardoning grace, and we rise and give thanks and offer our gifts. We turn to one another and pronounce the peace of Christ. We boldly make our requests known to God through intercessory prayer. He seats us as students and teaches us his word. We say thank you to God and affirm our desire to obey him in response to his grace. And finally, he sends us forth with a benediction.
B. Bend our bodies
We also bend our bodies to reinforce what we learn. We stand in the presence of God to pray, because he is an awesome God. We lift our hands, because as John Calvin says, “our hearts want to cleave to the earth.” We also lift them because our hearts are often sluggish and because we are children reaching for our father. We don't yet have kneelers in our sanctuary, but hopefully someday we will kneel, because as Calvin says elsewhere, “we kneel in order to raise our hearts to greater reverence for God.” Someone else has pointed out that we sit for all kinds of things: we sit to read, to eat, to talk, etc. but when we kneel, we kneel for only one reason - to pray. We also make our tongues voice God's word and sing his praise, because we want to reinforce to our minds the gospel.
C. Channel our hearts
Ultimately, we do all this to channel our hearts in love to Christ. James K. A. Smith says that we are not what we do; we are what we love. We want to be like Christ, and in order to be more like Christ we must love Christ more. If we are going to love Christ more, we have to train ourselves to believe that God loves sinners.
A member of the first congregation I pastored came to Christ through our church. She was a medical resident from the Philippines. She faithfully attended worship week after week, and the gospel was etched deeply into her mind. Her parents, however, were not pleased with her conversion to Christianity and were even more displeased with her engagement to another Christian.
They invited her home, and she hoped to go visit them and reconcile. When she arrived, however, her father took her captive. He took away her airline ticket and her passport and locked her in her room. On occasion, she was able to get a phone call out to keep us up to date. Our elders had a prayer vigil for her around the clock. Throughout all that, however, she never was frantic. Her dad had not recognized two books that she packed - a Bible and a Trinity hymnal. Every day, she would rehearse what she had learned in our worship services. She would have a call to worship and a hymn of response. She would confess her sin and have an assurance of pardoning grace. She would read the Bible and then sing a hymn of thanksgiving and commitment. God used it to sustain her during the time she was held captive in her father’s home, and God eventually freed her. She came back and married her fiancé.
This is what we want to do in our worship. We want to etch the gospel so deeply in our own minds and our children’s minds, so that in the day of trial, we naturally reflect God's love for sinners.
II. Inreach (4-5)
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
A. To ourselves
The next area we want to retell the gospel is in our inreach - our discipleship. We want to rehearse the gospel, first of all, for ourselves. It has been said that “we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”
There are a few practical ways you can do this. First of all, you can take your bulletin with you. Now that you know that every worship service is crafted in order to rehearse the gospel, you have a gospel liturgy you can take with you to rehearse throughout the week.
Secondly, there is a little book that has been tremendously helpful to me through the years by Milton Vincent. It's called A Gospel Primer. The brilliance of it is that over the course of 30 days, he takes you through the entire Bible, and he pulls out of the Bible the implications of the gospel. He also has an appendix where he writes a prosaic summary of the Bible. Finally, he has a third section which is a poetic rendering of the whole Bible as good news. It is 30 days of concentrated doses of gospel vitamins that God loves sinners.
B. To one another
We also retell the gospel to one another, as seen in verse 1: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” This is different from the original. The original has you instead of us. Here, the congregation is singing it to one another. They are telling one another about God’s grace.
We see this also in verses 4-5. It tells us that it really is a good thing to live with God's justice and guidance, and life goes better with the gospel. As you are reminded of this good news, speak it to one another. Words have great power in our lives. You can hear a thousand compliments and affirmations in one day only to be undone with one criticism. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” We need to speak words of good news to one another, and we need to do it personally.
My friend Maxie Dunham wrote many years ago about a story from the author Lloyd Douglas. When Douglas was a college student, he lived in a boarding house and he made friends with a retired music teacher who was wheelchair bound in the apartment beneath him. Every day, the two of them would go through the same ritual. Douglas would come downstairs and burst through the door of the teacher’s apartment and ask, “what's the good news today?” The music teacher was ready for him with a tuning fork in hand. He would strike the tuning fork on the arm of his wheelchair and say, “that is middle C! That’s the good news! It was middle C yesterday, it’s middle C today, and it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat. The piano across the hall is out of town, but that is middle C.”
We must regularly remind each other of middle C - God loves sinners. There is not a problem in your life that will not be solved or put in its proper perspective when you truly believe God loves you.
III. Outreach (6-7)
We retell the good news that God loves sinners in our outreach too. Notice how the psalmist concludes in verses 6-7:
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
A. Doxological evangelism
Here is our evangelism. We take the good news we have to others. We take it not only to others like us, but also to those unlike us. This psalm was written for Jews and there is frequent mention of the nations, or Gentiles. This means that our outreach with the retelling of the good news is to anyone and everyone. This was the promise to Abraham in Genesis, that God would bless him and that he would become a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3).
This is what Ed Clowney calls “doxological evangelism.” When we are worshipping together as very different people, calling each other brother and sister and saying there is no longer any dividing wall between us in any way, we are silencing the hounds of Hell and declaring the good news of the gospel. If God could be reconciled with sinners, what excuse remains for us not to be reconciled with anyone else who names the name of Christ.
Missions is not something we outsource or support others to do. Every member of our church is a missionary wherever they go throughout this city. We show up and get our hands dirty by doing practical acts of service that our neighbors deem good, so that they will glorify our father in Heaven. And hopefully, they will receive his love and love him in return.
The agricultural imagery that David uses in v.6 moves many commentators to conclude that this was a psalm for harvest time. However, it seems to me he is referring to the ingathering of souls as a harvest. Yet I don’t think that David is thinking entirely allegorically, that gathering souls is like harvesting the earth. I think there is biblical reason to believe that the very intention of the creation of the earth is to yield human beings who will worship God.
When people come to Christ in answer to our prayer they are being restored to the image they were intended to bear and the earth fulfills its purpose in sustaining them. In other words, as people are put by together by God’s grace, so is his world.
The final purpose of salvation is the glory of God. Yes, we must be compelled by the lost condition of human beings that do not know Christ and will go to hell without him. However, the Bible does not make that the premier motive for evangelism. In the Great Commission, there is no mention of the lost condition of men. The King commissions his ambassadors to “Go” because “all authority in heaven and earth is given to him.” We are commanded to teach, “whatever he has commanded.” Elsewhere he says, “You shall be witnesses to me.” Lesser views of God bring lesser motives for missions.
Do you love God so that it troubles your mind and heart that your next-door neighbors, your relatives, fellow Memphians, citizens of Paris, or islanders of Jamaica do not worship him? Then pray that he would so bless your life by conforming it to his Word that it might be commended to others, and they too would praise his glorious grace. The work we are doing is in keeping with the very purpose of creation and will redound to the glory of God.
Previously, I mentioned a man in my congregation who wanted confirmation that the gospel wasn't too good to be true. Over the next decade after our conversation, he wrecked his life. He forgot the good news. He had concluded that God didn't love sinners so he might as well go ahead and sin all the more. He wrecked his career, his body, and his family. We had to love him boldly, strongly, and uncomfortably. There were times when he told us to get out of his life and leave him alone. However, those faithful friends told him they would never leave him.
One day, he returned to Christ. He repented of his sin and submitted to Christ. The ravages that his family had suffered could not be totally restored. Although his marriage could not be restored, his relationships with his family were miraculously reconciled. Shortly before left, he came and expressed his desire to reconcile with our church because of the way he had treated those who had reached out to him. I remembered that conversation we had had thirteen years earlier, and I recalled it to him. And then I reminded him that it was still true: God loves sinners. It was true yesterday, it is true today, and it will be true into all of eternity.
It's true for you too. No matter where you are. No matter where you've gone. It doesn't matter. God loves sinners. Christ opens his arms and tells you to come back. You belong here. Let's retell the good news to one another, to this city, and to this world.
 Institutes, 3.20.33.
 James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016).