For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, October 5, 2018

What Makes TICOS "Work"

My time as pastor at TICOS is rapidly coming to an end. It has been an incredible five years of growth, challenges, and fun. We have had people from over 60 nations into our home. I’ve learned about other languages, cultures, and customs. I’ve worshipped with ambassadors and homeless people, company executives and refugees. What a ride! How is it that a church like TICOS can exist and even thrive with such an enormous variety of people?

You know I am going to say “Jesus”, but I want to help us think about why this is. After all, we live in a city that is home to several multinational organisations. Is TICOS just like them, or is something different at work? What makes TICOS different than other multinational groups? After all, they all deal with issues of language and culture. I think that TICOS is very different. Let me explain.

Our Condition

Deep inside the human condition is a desire to justify ourselves. We want to prove ourselves to be right. This tendency to justify ourselves extends to our relationships with other people. We say we want what is "right" but almost invariably what is "right" is also to our benefit.

We seek to get the things we desire and find reasons that we should get our way instead of someone else getting theirs. Often we appeal to “rules” which we think entitle us to getting what we want. For example, the athlete argues that they should be put in the game because they are faster than another player and will help the team win. Or the worker who argues that they work harder or have more experience so they deserve to be promoted. Or the child who argues that their sister got to choose which TV show to watch last time and it is now their turn to pick. They are appealing to rules to insist that what they want is right or just. They are trying to prove that they entitled to have their way.

These things seem benign, and they may even seem logical, but lurking in them is the intense desire to get what we want and it often spirals in ways that bring deep division.

For example, we may argue that because our country is wealthier our ways should be adopted. Or if we are from a poor country, we will argue that the wealthy have somehow become rich because they have not been fair and it is time to correct the injustice so we get more. The person with power believes "might makes right" while the powerless person says, "power corrupts." Those with an advanced degree will argue that they are more qualified than the person who only has experience. The person with experience will insist that their “on-the-job” learning is much more valuable than sitting in a classroom isolated from the real world. And on and on it goes. They are justifying themselves to get what they want and what they feel they deserve.

Reality check: We don’t really want what we deserve

We spend enormous energy trying to deserve what we want. The message of the Bible is that what we actually deserve is hell. We are rebels against a holy God who is infinitely worthy of both worship and obedience. What we deserve is infinite punishment. All of our self-justifying tendencies are stopped dead in their tracks by the truth of Scripture. All of us are guilty. None deserve mercy. Before God and his perfect justice we stand mute. We have no excuse. There is no justifying our behaviour. We are all guilty.

Becoming a Christian begins with the realisation that we are guilty and do not deserve whatever it is we want. We don’t deserve to get our way with God or with others. Our salvation is completely a gift of God’s grace. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and those who repent and believe in him are forgiven. His righteousness becomes ours. It is a gift of grace and mercy. Salvation ceases to be a gift of grace if we think it is something we really deserve.

Because salvation is a gift of God’s grace and mercy, boasting of our own righteousness (which is really justifying ourselves) is eliminated. Everything that might have counted to our advantage we now consider as garbage (Philippians 3:2-10). Notice in that passage Paul specifically mentions his nationality. He considers it worthless. He did not cease to be a Jew. In fact, he expressed a special heart for his countrymen (Romans 9:1-5), but his Jewishness gave him no special rights or authority  before God or other people. Neither did his education, his religious zeal, or anything else.

The Gospel and our Relationships 

The fact that we deserve nothing but condemnation and that our salvation is a gift of God’s grace to be received by faith is a game-changer in our relationships. It breaks our pride and our sense of entitlement. It causes us to hold loosely to those things that we once sought value and meaning in. It causes us to be “poor in spirit.” And this is the first characteristic of those who belong to the the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3) and from this characteristic the rest of the Sermon on the Mount follows. 

The result of the gospel working deeply is a person who no longer seeks to justify themselves. They are no longer seeking to get their way. This gospel-centeredness is the key to how TICOS works and it's also the thing that makes us different than an "ordinary" multinational organisation.  We are a people who have been shown incredible mercy who now want to simply love God and love others. We come from a variety of nationalities, but we don’t seek to have our nation’s way of doing things dominate over others because it isn’t our nationality that gives us a sense of value. We come from a variety of careers, but the worldly prestige of our career doesn’t mean that we have any special status in the church because we realise that we don’t deserve anything. 

Having been humbled by the gospel, we seek to learn from others, realising that they may have learned something we don’t know. We seek to honor others in meaningful ways. We seek to bring true peace into our relationships. We seek to encourage one another to pursue Jesus whole-heartedly. We learn from others what being a devoted follower of Jesus might mean for us. We continually turn to the Scriptures to understand what the culture of the kingdom of God is so that we can work to create that culture in our church and in our lives.

The gospel is what makes TICOS work. And it will continue to make TICOS a special place long after I am gone. If I have learned anything at all at TICOS, it is the power of Jesus to unite sinful people from around the world into a community that seeks to love him and love one another together.

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