Iron City Church – “For Diversity”

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Philippians 3:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

It was the fall of 2007 that the Lord began giving me the vision for what is becoming Iron City Church. I wasn’t living in Birmingham at the time, I had no plans to move to Birmingham but a spark was born that has since grown and now it is becoming a fire that I hope and pray will overtake this city for the glory of Christ. The vision obviously really began to take shape about a year ago when I moved to Birmingham, and it was something that I shared with the Search committee before my coming, and here we are inching forward to this reality, and as we have put forward this vision there were a few thoughts that were pervading. Most obviously we wanted Iron City Church to be for the Glory of God, if that wasn’t its primary purpose, then all efforts would be futile. We also wanted Iron City to be for the City. I believe in Cities, I believe God has specifically called his church to the cities. The more I understand God and his plan of salvation the more I believe that he loves cities. Unfortunately right now the church is strongest outside of the cities, and weakest in the city. In fact people run to the city to run away from God, to run away from absolutes, and to hide in the crowd. We also wanted the church to be for unity. Unity between races, unity between classes, unity between churches… And how that unity is achieved is only by the power of the gospel in the Kingdom of Christ and how that works itself out practically is where I think we as a congregation have a lot to learn from one another.

But very intentionally we wanted Iron City to be for Diversity.

I grew up in Alabama, and I think like most people that grew up in Alabama for a long time in my life I accepted racial division as something that was a part of life. There was no racism in my house, but I lived in a white neighborhood, and I knew other places in my city that were black neighborhoods and other places in my city that were Indian neighborhood or Asian neighborhoods. I went to a basically white church and a basically white school. Not that there was no diversity in my church or in my school or that there was any overt hatred between groups in either place but these environments weren’t diverse. The closest I got to any sort of diversity was on the sports field but I never thought about this when I was a child, there were white schools and black schools and white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods, and white churches and black churches and that was just the way that it was. As along as everyone had an opportunity as long as there wasn’t hatred between the groups I assumed this is fine, this is just the way life is, this is the way people prefer it. It didn’t bother me and it didn’t seem to bother anyone else.

I went to Auburn University and like a lot of guys I joined a white fraternity, and unintentionally my life in Auburn was just as segregated as my childhood home. But again this didn’t really bother me after all it was all I had ever known; this is the way life is. This all began change in my sophomore year of college. Two other all white fraternities on our campus had some of its pledges dress up in black face for Halloween. The motivation may not have been hate but it was certainly humiliation. And being involved in Greek life I was very bothered by this and so was the black community on Auburn’s campus. The African American Student Union hosted a meeting one night where these fraternity parties could be discussed and I went. I was one of if not the only white face in the crowd and I think maybe for the first time in my life, my eyes were open to how evil the racial divide in our country and specifically in our state really is. I saw racial pain like I had never seen before, I realized how divided my campus really was, and our state really was. I think I finally began to realize how deep our sins of separation go.

Around this same time in my life I really began to study theology and I began to see and understand God’s picture of his Kingdom, and love for every tongue tribe and people. I began to learn and consider what the full manifestation of the Kingdom of Christ is going to be like. It of course was very different from the world that I was experiencing. So, I began to ask myself that question why are we so divided? Why do we live in such a divided culture and world? And why can’t our communities, and why can’t our churches come together? And this is not just white black even though that is very pronounced in this state especially considering our history. There is a black/ Hispanic divide, and white/ Asian divide, a rich/ poor divide, a young/ old divide, and I could go on an on an on. Why is our culture, and more specifically, why are our churches so divided?

This text Philippians 3 has been really helpful for me in terms of answering this question. And I think we can learn two things from it. And that is really all we are going to look at today. First of all why are people so divided, and How can divided people unite?

So why are people so divided?

Have you ever thought about that? I mean before we get to how are we going to come together or why should we come together, and what does it look like when we do, I think we need to answer the very simple question. Why are we divided in the first place? And here is why? People divide, people segregate themselves based on what is most sacred to them. So whatever is most sacred, that becomes the dividing line, see?

So for example race is something sacred, so people divide on race, nationality is something sacred for people, so people divide on nationality. Sexual orientation is sacred for people and therefore people divide on what is most sacred. Several weeks ago I went to Israel with a group from our church. I love that trip and it was incredibly moving for me. So our guide and he is a guide that I had the last time I went is a guy named Ralph Levinsohn. Ralph has a very typical Jewish story.

His ancestors were pushed out of Israel by the Romans in the dispersion in AD 130, then they went to Spain where they lived until the 15th century, when they were pushed in the Reconquista, then they moved to Germany, and they were good German citizens, and Ralph’s grandfather fought and died for Germany in World War 1. He gave his life for his country, and then some of Ralph’s uncles, that man’s sons were killed by the German’s in the holocaust. Fortunately Ralph’s family got out and moved to South Africa and then in the 1970s Ralph moved back to Israel. And he said, from now on, I will fight for no one except Israel, I will only fight for my people. Now what is Ralph saying. Ralph is saying, my race, my people, that is what is most sacred to me. And even though Ralph and I are friends, even though we have gotten to know each other over the years, if American and Israel ever went to war. He would fight to kill me. Because his nationality, his race as a Jewish man is what is most sacred in his life. People divide based on what is most sacred to them.

So that is why people divide.

But the second question is where I want to spend most of my time.

How can divided people unite? And the answer is this Divided people unite when they find something even more sacred that whatever it is that is dividing them. Divided people unite when they find something even more sacred that whatever it is that is dividing them.

When that happens and only when that happens can you truly have diversity, because then and only then, do you have people forsaking other sacred things in their lives for something more sacred.

Remember after September 11 how we all came together for a few weeks. People were united, people cared about one another, political battles went away, we were together Because we realized that being an American was more sacred than being a republican or democrat, or being rich or poor or whatever and for a few weeks, we were really united as a country. Then the immediate threat of terrorism went away and we went to back to being divided again. We forgot about our common citizenship and we became more committed to smaller things.

The reason that the church is so divided is that we have forgotten our common citizenship in Heaven and we have our eyes fixed on earthly things. If the church is ever going to be a picture of unity with diversity. We all have to forsake our bellies for our heavenly citizenship.

If the church is ever going to be a picture of the Kingdom, then we have to forsake the earthly things that we all call sacred.

Age is an earthly thing, we have young churches and old churches dividing over something earthy. Socio Economic Class is an earthly thing. Music Style is an earthly thing. Race is an earthly thing.

In Christ you are given a citizenship that far outweighs all of those things. Let me say this and let me say it clearly as long as earthly things are most sacred to us. The church will never be diverse, society will never be diverse, our neighborhoods will never be diverse, and we won’t experience the Kingdom.

I want the Kingdom, and I want the Kingdom now. I want to pray Thy Kingdom Come and Mean It.

So with that said and I am not going to preach long tonight. I have to be willing to lay down preferences, I have to be willing to lay down things that are sacred to me in order for my citizenship in heaven which is more sacred.

I am proud to be an American, I’m glad I’m from Alabama, I recognize my generational norms, I recognize I am white, I don’t know if I am proud of that, but I realize I am from a family and there is some pride in my family. But still Jesus taught us even that, nationality, family those things are earthly. Remember Matthew 12 a man comes up to Jesus and says, hey your mom and your brothers want to see you. And Jesus just says, who is my mother and who are my brothers? Its these guys, it is the one who has exchanged something less for something more, it is the one who has the greater citizenship.

I want diversity because I want the Kingdom. I think that is what we all have to decide here if we really want to be For Diversity it is going to require us all laying something down, that we love that is sacred in our lives for something more sacred.

Iron City is For Diversity because Jesus is for Diversity. Jesus in his grace is opening the door of his Kingdom to the Asian boy the black woman, thewhite man, the Indian grandmother. To the poor, to the rich, to weak to the strong, to the righteous, and to the sinner.

But Diversity is hard, it was hard for Jesus and it is going to be hard for us. It cost Jesus his life, and his Kingdom may cost us ours.

So lets pray that we would be willing to lay down whatever is sacred in our lives in order take hold of something more sacred, something more eternal, a citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ.

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