Andy Stanley - Not In It To Win It (Christians, Politics, and the Local Church)
If this is your first time joining us, you could not have chosen a better time because today you are going to learn something important about us, our churches, and why we do what we do the way we do it. Now, as you might imagine, the response to our decision to suspend weekend services for the foreseeable future was met with varying reactions. So I wanna spend a few minutes today talking about why we've chosen this particular path, and not as a defense, but because our decision is actually connected to something central to the Christian faith, that while it's important, in normal times, it may not seem all that relevant or as relevant.
Now, for example, if you have never had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, chances are you probably have not dropped by a dealership or looked up a YouTube video that explains how to change the tire on your particular vehicle, right? Not because it's not important. It's just not that relevant right now. Generally speaking, we learn on a need-to-know basis. So today, here's something we need to know. And here's something specifically we need to know about our faith that has been highlighted by recent events. So I wanna discuss our church's response to the pandemic as an illustration of a larger point, a point about which Jesus is, well, He is crystal clear. A point that should inform and influence the posture I think of every local church at all times, but perhaps, especially in times like these.
Now in our current climate, there are three dynamics that have merged to create really a perfect storm of confusion as it relates to something Jesus taught and Jesus modeled. And the first of these three things is, and this isn't new information, right, everything, everything is politicized, everything. There are no neutral topics right now, right? I mean, school opening has been politicized, mask, protest, the virus. And my favorite is Anthony Fauci. I mean, three months ago, four months ago, Republicans loved him. Now Democrats claim him and a lot of Republicans aren't sure they trust him anymore.
So again, there are no neutral topics. Apparently, there aren't even any neutral people. The second dynamic that adds to all this confusion is the cancel culture, right? I mean, if you say one thing I don't like, or if you say one thing I disagree with, I discount everything you've ever said, and I discount everything you've ever accomplished in your life, right? Now this isn't new. We just haven't had a phrase that captures this unfortunate dynamic before. And I've certainly been on the receiving end of the cancel culture.
In fact, if I'm honest, I've been on the receiving end from some of you. I've gotten quite a few voicemails, emails, and actual letters to my home from long-time church attenders who are leaving or who are telling me they're leaving our churches because of our decision to suspend services for the remainder of the year. And whenever I get a voicemail or an email like that, or a letter, I always ask my assistant, Diane, to track down a phone number. And I call almost all of the people who have responded, especially those of you who've been involved for a long time and raised your kids here and served here. I've called just about everybody that I can find the number for, and I listen. And in 100% of the cases, this is so interesting.
And some of you are actually listening today or watching today I hope. In 100% of the cases, once I call and convince them that it's actually me, they begin the conversation by telling me how much the church has meant to them and how much it's meant to their children. That one gentleman, when I finally convinced him it's really me, he immediately went into this amazing story, and these are his words, not mine, about how I saved his marriage. But now that I have bowed my knee to Caesar, since I refuse to take a stand, since I'm more concerned about being popular than calling people to repentance, they're out.
After the message, I did call "This Human Race", you remember that, same thing. Andy, clearly you have embraced a left wing Marxist agenda so we can no longer call this our church home. And so in all of these conversations, I respond with, okay, so let me get this straight. You've loved and served in and supported our church for, in many cases, eight, nine years, and after one sermon, come on, after one sermon that you disagree with or took to mean something that based on our church history, I clearly did not mean, you're out?
Now the good thing is this, these conversations always end on a friendly note. And then I add, well, I guess this is a good time to leave our church, but it is a bit hard to leave a church that isn't meeting anyway. We chuckle and then we hang up and I hope they don't actually leave because I don't want anybody to leave our church. Okay, so that's the first two, but there's a third element to this perfect storm. And this third element has been around a long time, but it raises its divisive head even higher during political seasons.
And it's the one I wanna directly address because it's the one that intersects specifically with our faith. It's actually a version of Christianity and it's a version of Christianity that I have worked very, very hard to help us avoid. And it goes by a lot of names, but I'm just gonna refer to it as Culture War Christianity, Culture War Christianity. This is the version of Christianity consumed with winning. The version that sees itself perpetually under attack. And consequently feels the need to attack back. It requires an enemy for sustainability. We could talk about that, but we won't.
And here's the thing, I am intimately acquainted with this version of Christianity because I grew up with this version. Again, I have purposefully purposely attempted to lead in such a way that we avoid it at all costs because I am convinced that it is a perversion of our faith. And not only is it a perversion of our faith, it actually sets the church up to be a tool of politicians rather than the conscience of the nation. And Jesus, I guess looking into the future and seeing where we would be today in terms of the state of the church, the church, especially the church in our nation, we have been called to be the conscience of our nation.
But this version is a version that actually defines itself by what it's against, by what it's standing against, a version that sees the church is always under attack by the government and secularism. It actually forces the church into a defensive posture. It comes across as if it's more concerned with winning than loving. It's fueled by the fear of losing something. And I call it a version of Christianity because it does not reflect, it does not reflect the first century Jesus version of our faith, worse. It actually represents the opposite of what Jesus taught and modeled.
Now this, I hope, doesn't come as a surprise. Our churches skew conservative. And as far as churches go, that's a good thing because liberal or hyper progressive or activist churches often, not always, but often eventually allow an agenda to erode their commitment to the centrality of the gospel. And when I say gospel, I mean specifically that we all have a sin problem that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have a selfishness problem that we need a savior and that Jesus is the savior who literally, physically rose from the dead to punctuate His claims about Himself and about His Father. And in many cases, liberal leaning churches, like culture war conservative churches, have their own way of recreating and re-imagining Jesus in the image of their agenda.
Now, once you abandon the divinity of Jesus and our need for a savior, this is so important, you actually abandon the foundation of morality, justice, and the dignity of the individual. And you know what you're left with? You're left with majority morality, where the majority determines what's right and what's moral. And that is a dangerous thing. It's a dangerous place to be as a nation or a community. And ultimately, do you know who suffers the most? Women and children. So we dare not abandon the claims and the resurrection of Jesus. And theologically speaking, churches who hold a high view of scripture and who defend the divinity of Jesus and the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus are considered conservative churches.
So we are conservative theologically, but we have not, and we will not embrace the far right leaning approach to our faith that is in it to win it and more on what I mean by that in just a minute. So you know, and I've told you this before, you can raise a lot of money and you can sell a lot of books on the far left and the far right, but you cannot, you cannot solve problems there and you can't love people well there, and you won't find Jesus there. And if it's up to me, I will ensure that you don't find us there either. So at this point, you may be asking, hopefully you're asking, so Andy, where are you getting all of this? Are you just kind of making all this up? And what in the world does this have to do with our decision to postpone our services? Glad you asked.
During His earthly ministry, everybody, everybody wanted Jesus to take their side, to take a stand against the other side. And He refused. He refused because both sides were fueled by a common assumption that He refused to embrace. And the assumption was simply this, the assumption was that power and resources are to be leveraged primarily for the benefit of the powerful and the resourced. I mean, people on both sides, both groups held this assumption, that power and resources are to be leveraged for the primarily for the benefit of the powerful and the resourced. And Jesus refused to play their game of tug of war. He refused to take either end of the rope.
As I've reminded you on multiple occasions, He was the king who came to reverse the order of things. Paul said it best. And we looked at this passage not too long ago, but apparently we need to look at it again. And again, remember the apostle Paul has the advantage point of being on the other side of the resurrection. He spent time with Peter. He spent time with James, the brother of Jesus. He spent time with John. So the apostle Paul gets his information from eye witnesses as they described what it was like to spend three or three and a half years with Jesus. And now the apostle Paul describes for us how they described Jesus to him.
And here's how he described your savior. Jesus, who being in very nature, God, the people who were closest to the action were absolutely convinced that Jesus was God in a body. The apostle John was convinced that God is love, not because of what He experienced in the world, but because of what He experienced for three years with Jesus, because Jesus was love personified. Hey, you wanna know what love looks like? You wanna know what love acts like? You wanna know what love sounds like? Just follow Jesus around the gospels.
Paul continues, who being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage. In other words, and this is disturbing, but this was the differentiator. Jesus did not play to win the way that first or even 21st century people define win. Jesus played to lose. And I'll be honest, that doesn't sit well with me. It's not very American, I like to win. We are wired to win. It turns out Jesus was not against winning. It turns out He was playing a completely different game that had completely different rules, with a completely different win. Jesus played to lose so that the other team, that would be me and that would be you, Jesus played to lose so that the other team could win. This is why He never took sides because the other sides, neither side was willing to lose for the sake of the other side.
Paul continues, he says this, rather again, talking about Jesus. He made Himself nothing. He made Himself a nobody and nobody on either side of the other two sides was willing to do that either. Everybody wants to make themselves a somebody. Everybody wants to make themselves something. Jesus made Himself nothing. Jesus refused. Jesus refuses to attach His name to the what's-in-it-for-us party. The party that insist on winning. The party that fears losing. The party or the person who clings to rather than gives up. Paul continues. By taking the very nature of a servant. What is a servant? A servant is someone who wakes up every single day thinking about how to better serve someone else. Someone who wakes up every single day committed to leveraging themselves, their resources for the benefit of someone else.
Now, this is important. Remember, the apostle Paul is describing Jesus of Nazareth. If we are His body, if we are His body, if we are His hands and feet, this should describe us. And this is why the church always looks more Christ-like when we are defending other people's rights rather than our own. The church always looks more Christ-like when we are giving away rather than demanding our way. And if that scares you, if that makes you feel like you might lose something, if that makes you feel like you may lose, then now you understand, this is so important, now you understand why Jesus' disciples refused to accept the fact that He would be arrested, tried and crucified. I mean, He told them over and over and over and they just didn't get it. I mean, because if you're arrested and tried and crucified, I mean, that's what losers do. That means you've lost. He told them over and over what was gonna happen and they just didn't have a category for it.
In fact, as we've discussed before, you remember, they're on their way to Jerusalem. This is Jesus' date with destiny, right? And the 12 are still discussing amongst themselves who's gonna be number two and number three in His kingdom once He wins, once He defeats their enemy. Once that happens, which one of them will sit on His left and which one of them will sit on His right when he declares Himself the winner? Which one of them will wheel the most power, the most authority? In fact, it's even worse than that. Luke in Luke chapter 9 tells us about, describes this incident where they're going from, you remember our big map that we've used before from Galilee to Samaria to Judea, they're moving from Galilee towards Jerusalem and they decide to go the shortcut right through Samaria.
And so as they move into the area of Samaria, Jesus sends a couple of disciples ahead of time to a Samaritan village, to secure lodging for the night, because this is gonna take two or three days. So Jesus and the rest of the guys are moving toward this village where they're gonna spend the night and they look up and here comes the two folks He sent to secure lodging and they're coming back toward Jesus. And they say, Jesus, these folks don't want us in their village. When they found out that we are Jews on our way to Jerusalem, they don't want us spending the night in their village. And how did the disciples respond after three years of being with Jesus?
Here's what they said, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them"? Jesus, they are so offensive. They are not our friends, they are our enemies. Would you like for us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them? Would you like for us to leverage our power in such a way that we win? Clearly, they don't know who you are so let's teach them a lesson. Let's use our power to win. And if you've read this passage before, you'll remember what Jesus said. The text says, Luke says that He rebuked them. He uses the same term that he uses to describe Jesus when He rebuked demons.
This was His way of saying, guys, not in my kingdom. That's not how it works. That's how everybody else does it. But if you aren't willing to lose, if you aren't willing to go to the back of the line, don't even bother getting in my line. I am the king who has come to reverse the order of things. Don't touch those dials, don't grab those levers, and don't push those buttons. That is not my kingdom. Now, let's go to Jerusalem where I'll be arrested.
And here's what they're thinking. But Jesus, wait, wait, wait, wait. "Jesus, if you're arrested and killed, how are we going to win"? To what Jesus would have smiled and said, fellas, that is how we are going to win. I'm going there to lose their game. And in doing so, we will win the game that I have been inviting you to play for three years. And so they go to Jerusalem. And the best possible person would suffer the worst possible death to illustrate that even the best possible person, even the son of man had not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Even the son of man had not come to win a game of tug of war between the kingdoms of this world. He came to establish a completely different kind of kingdom with a completely different set of values that operate under the assumption that the last would be first and the first would be last because in His kingdom, there is no first and there is no last. And finally they get it.
As they gather for that final Passover, Jesus washes their feet and then they would stand and watch Him crucified. And they would hear Him forgive the men who crucified Him. And then they would listen to Him as He promised a criminal paradise. And then after the resurrection, it all came together for them. This is so important. And that first generation of Christians, that first generation of Christians refused, they refused to leverage privilege or power for their own benefit. It was always for the benefit of others. They were not in it to win anything. They weren't even in it to change anything. They lived selfless lives in Jesus' name. They let go of the old way and they embraced the law of Christ.
And as Jesus predicted, neither the gates of Hades or the legions of Rome with all its imperial power could stop them. Jesus, how are you gonna build your church if you're arrested and crucified? Guys, that's how I'm gonna build my church. The only question is, will you follow me? Will you take up your cross and not your rights, your cross and follow me? Throughout history when the church has opted for the tools and the machinery of the kingdoms of this world, the church ends up looking just like this world. And the church ultimately becomes a pawn. When the church leverages the tools of the kingdoms of this world, the church looks weak. It looks desperate, it looks fearful.
When we, the church, demand our way, defend our rights, not as citizens, that's different, I'll come to that in a minute, but as the church, listen, we actually abandon our distinctive, the distinctive that sets us apart to begin with. The distinctive of we are not in it to win it for ourselves. We are in it to win it for others. When the church digs in its heels in order to win on behalf of the church, we've already lost. We've surrendered our voice and our influence. We're just another organization with a self-serving agenda.
Now to be clear, as an American citizen, vote for and stand for your rights and your freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. But when we speak as, and when we act as the body of Christ, it must not be for our benefit, but for the benefit of the community and the people in our communities. If Jesus didn't play the God card...
Come on, think about this. If Jesus refused to play the God card, if Jesus refused to exercise His authority and His rights for His own benefit, then neither should we. Political parties, by nature, are in it to win it. We all get that. The church is not, and the church must never be. This is why, in my opinion, this is why pastors and churches should never, ever publicly align themselves with anything or anyone other than Jesus of Nazareth. The minute we do, we abandon our defining virtue, the defining virtue of the kingdom of God. We abandon our commitment to play to lose so that others might win.
So church, church people, Christians, we are not in it to win anything for ourselves. We are Jesus' followers. Jesus, who being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage. Rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in the appearance of a man. He humbled Himself. Think about this, He humbled Himself. He who was highest became lowest. He who was highest became lowest. He did not fight for His rights. He did not demand His way. He submitted Himself to evil men by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross, and the world has never been the same.
Remember, it was Christianity, not the Republican or the Democratic party that shaped Western civilization. It was the teaching of Jesus, not our political parties that laid the groundwork for our modern notions of justice and fairness and dignity for all. So with all of that as a backdrop, here's why we have chosen our current course as a group of churches. It is not what's best for us. Our decision is not what's best for us. The best thing for us, for our churches, in fact, to be honest, the best thing for me personally, would be to open up as soon as possible. That would be a win for us. That would be a loss for our community, both in terms of what could happen and in terms of the message it sends.
So we are saying no to us as a way of saying yes to those around us, because it's not about us. We did not suspend services because of government pressure. There was none. We're not afraid. We're not bowing to social, cultural, or political pressure. We've not bowed our knee to Caesar. I've heard that so many times. So a quick history lesson, okay? And this is so important for Christians to understand in this climate. We don't have a Caesar. The last Cesar died in the fifth century. The government, our government is not Caesar. A president is not Caesar. We have a we, the people representative form of government.
The person at the top, come on, they're here for a few years and they move on. Every four to eight years, we have a new person. That's why it is a mistake. It is always a mistake for a church to drape itself in the garb of either political party. And it's why every American, it's why every American citizen should exercise their ultimate freedom. A freedom that was, well, it was unimaginable in the age of the Caesars. Every American should vote. And Christians, Christians, you should vote in accordance with your law of Christ informed conscience.
Now back to us and I'll wrap this up. Our decision to suspend weekend services or gatherings was not politically motivated. It wasn't fear-based. It wasn't anti any person or any party. As we stated at the very beginning, at the very onset of COVID-19, this is how we are choosing to love our neighbors. And this is how we're choosing to love our neighborhoods, because that is what Jesus commanded us to do. And that's what He did for us. We are erring on the side of caution, but our churches are certainly not shut down.
So for those of you who have written to encourage me to take a stand, this is our stand. For those of you who've asked where's your faith? This is our expression of faith. We are putting the good of the community ahead of our enjoyment of gathering together inside on the weekends. For those of you who are convinced that we've given into fear, let me assure you, that if the leadership of our church was motivated by fear, if I was motivated by fear, we would have never suspended weekend services to begin with. But, well, I'm not fearful, to be honest, I am concerned, not for our survival. My concern is that we get so focused on what we can't do, that we miss this once in a life opportunity to do what we can and must do.
Come on, you know this. Our mission has never been to gather on the weekends. Our mission is to inspire people to follow Jesus, right? And for us to get distracted by what we can't do and miss out on this unique opportunity to do what we can and must do, to miss out on this unique opportunity to inspire more people to follow Jesus would be tragic. And I know most of you agree, so congratulations. You are doing the difficult thing. You are doing the courageous thing. You're doing the kingdom thing. You're doing the others' first thing, the thing that is best for people whom God loves and Christ died.
Now I know some of you are asking, so do you think every church in America should follow our lead and suspend weekend services? No, that's up to the leadership of each church as they take into consideration the health risks to their local community. But I would encourage every church and every church leader to resist the temptation to do what's best for your church, if it jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of the people in your church's community. So that's the why behind our decision.
Now, the next question is what do we do in the meantime? I mean, your amazing church staffs are already rolling out plans even as I speak. One initiative that involves all of us is Be Rich. If you haven't heard already, we launched Be Rich on September the 13th rather than in November, the way that we normally do it. And I'm hoping that Be Rich 2020 is bigger than ever because the need is greater than ever. On the personal side of things, I wanna suggest four new habits for you and your family during this season. Four new habits to replace some good habits that, well, circumstances have forced us to curtail for now anyway.
And I suggested these to some of you in an email recently, but I wanna go over them again. The first habit is this. I want you to establish a new Sunday morning routine because for most of us, our old Sunday morning routine just doesn't work anymore. And I want you to establish a routine for you and your entire family. As you probably know, our services open up at 7:00 a.m. So you don't have to wait until 9:00. If you have kids at home, you can let them sleep while you get up, grab some coffee and enjoy the service before the kids are up. If you have older kids and enjoy watching the service together, pick a specific time and announce it to them ahead of time.
The second habit I want us to stay in is our small group habit, our small group routine. Again, circumstances have forced most of us out of our small group habit. If you're in a group and your routine has been disrupted, I want you to take the lead and establish a new routine even if you're not the leader of the group. Obviously it can be online, in a driveway, on a patio, inside, but don't give up on community. It is more important than ever. And then the third habit is this. Keep your kids connected. Make sure you keep your kids connected to the local church. Get your kids to our events. And if you have middle school or high school students, encourage them to participate in their small group. They're gonna love some of what we do. They won't love everything we do because well, they're kids. But don't make church optional during this season and we will do our best to make their experience exceptional.
And then the last thing is this. I want you to begin praying for your church every single day. For some of you, honestly, it has never crossed your mind to pray for your local church. And why do I want you to pray for us? Well, for the reasons I've already outlined. I do not want us to be consumed by what we can't do and miss out on what we can and must do in this season. And specifically, I want you to pray three things. I want you to pray for innovation, influence, and impact. I made it easy for you. Innovation, influence, and impact. 25 years ago, our church was one giant innovation.
I say, let's do that again. Ask God to give us more influence in our communities during this season and as a result, greater impact. So think about it. That when we reopen for Sunday services, there would be hundreds, maybe thousands of adults and children who became followers of Jesus in this season, because instead of sitting around, waiting for a reset, we took advantage of an upset and we seized these opportunities. And here's the thing, here's what I know. If you will pray to that end, you will be far more inclined to see those opportunities when they present themselves. We are all inclined to see what we're hoping for. And we're all inclined to see what we are praying for. So here's your takeaway from today's message. Establish a new Sunday morning routine, establish a new small group routine. Keep your kids connected and pray for your local church.
Now close with this. As I've reminded you on so many occasions, you're probably tired of hearing this, but it's so important. Once upon a time... Imagine it, once upon a time, a handful of disorganized, socially disenfranchised, landless, technology-less Jewish men and women took to the streets of Jerusalem with the most outlandish message imaginable. But if it was true, it would have been the best news imaginable. And as it turned out, it was true. And that good news changed the world. That good news perhaps changed your life. It certainly changed mine. And here we are, and we have no excuse, do we? But we have an extraordinary opportunity. So come on, let's do something remarkable. I have never been more excited about church and I've never been more excited about our church. And I've never been more excited about partnering with you to inspire people to follow Jesus.