Good morning. If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. We're going to be in James, chapter 2. We're just going to look at three verses. Those three verses are embedded in a much larger text that needs to be fleshed out so we don't get confused. I won't have the time to do that today, but if you remember, we walked through the book of James about two years ago, and you can find a sermon called Faith/Works on our webpage or on our app, and you can listen to that 52-minute sermon there that will do the more work on this passage than I have time for today.
This weekend is Epiphany Sunday. What we've done is we've taken Epiphany Sunday and just rolled it all over the month of January, because Epiphany is about the celebration of the manifestation of Jesus Christ. What that means is that Christians on this Sunday throughout church history have celebrated the fact that Jesus is not just some good teacher, not another prophet, not just some moral philosopher, but he is God in the flesh, the second person of the Trinity, and has shown himself to us, manifested, condescended from heaven and has gotten into the muck and mire with us.
Jesus is in the mud and the blood and the brokenness. We talk about this a lot here. When we talk about Jesus and we talk about what Jesus is doing and what Jesus has given birth to in us, it's not just an ethereal spirituality, but it makes a difference here and now. It's alive and living and working. As we covered in our series on the kingdom, it is actively pushing back darkness and establishing order where there is chaos. This is one of the things we see the kingdom of God doing even in the "already but not yet" that you and I are stuck in.
We don't believe that, as Christians, we can usher in a utopia. If we got everything we wanted and we got the right politicians and the right laws in place, you still have sinful human hearts everywhere, which is going to make a mess of that system. You cannot legislate love for Jesus. Correct? You just can't do it.
So the Christian's goal, the Christian's heart is not just political, although the early church would clearly make a political statement when it said, "Jesus is Lord." You and I have been trained to think about that in a kind of vague spirituality, which ultimately makes things sentimental and not full of power, but that statement, "Jesus is Lord," stood in contrast to "Caesar is Lord" and was what led to a ton of persecution against the early church.
So what I want us to do today is to look at a passage, and I want to remind us on the cusp of where we're going this month that our faith is an active faith and that the gospel isn't just a vague spiritual message but a good news that breaks through the real darkness and brokenness of the world, and Christians are called up into a victory that is assured in Jesus Christ.
With that said, let's look at this passage. If you're like, "You seem a little amped today," well, I am. Look at James 2:14-17. Many of you will know this passage. Again, I'm going to try to clarify quickly, but it requires a lot of work. I have to point backward to that sermon, because I'm just not going to have the time today. Let's look at verse 14.
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
Surely, if you've been at The Village for a while, you know this passage is not in any way laying before us a works-based mentality around our salvation. We know the gospel message is that we cannot earn salvation with moral deeds and good actions. That is not James' point. If we could continue on through the book of James that would become extremely clear. The argument in this passage is not, "You had better do works if you want to be saved."
He's arguing actually the other way, that if your heart belongs to Jesus Christ your life will bear fruit, and if your life bears no such fruit, then there should be some concern, some doubt about whether or not salvation actually exists in your heart, whether you have actually fully surrendered to Jesus. Now, most churches want to stay away from this, because it creates this kind of space that makes us anxious, and I think that's not kind. I think it's unloving, because James here is pressing this: "You should bear fruit."
Charles Spurgeon would use this illustration of an apple tree in an orchard. He said that life comes from the roots, and if year in and year out the tree in the orchard produced no leaves and no fruit, the owner of the orchard would eventually assume the tree was dead. Maybe not year one, maybe not year two, maybe not year three, but by year four or year five, if that tree had no leaves and bore no fruit, he would tear it out of the orchard and consider the tree dead.
James is making the point that conformity to Christ over a period of time leads to good works; good works do not lead to conformity to Christ. It's so important that you get that. Are you with me? I just need a nod or some kind of affirmation that you hear me saying that you don't work for your salvation but, rather, if your heart belongs to Jesus…this is an important phrase…over a period of time we are conformed more and more and more into the image of Jesus, which means we begin to get the heart of God for the world in its brokenness.
As we become conformed into the image of Christ, we begin to get the heart of God toward the brokenness of creation. It means we begin to see broken places and hurting people, and we step into that space with…this is important…the gospel message. Throughout Christian history, people have left off the atoning work of Jesus Christ and turned to something theologians would call the social gospel. It's helping people with physical needs, which is a good thing…
Even a cup of water in Jesus' name is powerful, according to the Book, but ultimately, it does nothing to get at what's ultimately wrong with humankind. Where someone is doing social gospel work or is an SJW, if I can use that derogatory term, they're engaging something leaving behind the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The way to figure out whether someone is working for social justice or biblical justice is where the blood of Jesus falls in all of it. That's the way you define these terms.
If the blood of Jesus is the primary solution to the problem, then you know you're in line with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. If the atoning work of Jesus is left behind and it's just we have to legislate this or we have to do this or we have to work this out, this needs to change, this is the solution, then now you're actually trying to use man's methodology to solve man's problems, when what is man's problem is not just political, not just legal; it's actually the state of his soul.
So, he's asking the question… I love it. It's a question you can't answer without indicting yourself. Here's his question: "What good is it if you have faith and you have no works?" Then he puts it on the ground, because that's kind of an "in the sky" question. He's like, "So, if a brother says to you, 'I'm starving and I'm freezing to death' and your response with your faith is, 'Well, stop that. Be warm and be well fed,' and you are able to help and you do not help…"
James is saying, "What good is that? What good is that for the starving, freezing brother, and what good is that to you who has been blessed by God and able to be a blessing to others?" The person in need stays in need, and the person with the capacity to bless misses the blessing of being a blessing. James' argument is, "It's worthless." A faith that does not engage the brokenness of the world around them is a worthless faith because it does not help with the brokenness and does not receive the blessing of being a blessing.
He's saying it's dead. It's like that apple tree in the orchard that at year four or year five still is producing no leaves and no apples. Maybe not year one, maybe not year two, maybe not year three, but eventually. He's saying here that such faith (this is scary) isn't faith. Can such a faith save us? Well, the answer is no, because it's not legitimate faith. That doesn't mean we trade out the gospel message for good deeds. That's not what that means.
I found this study years ago. It was in 2012. There's a man named Robert Woodberry, and he did this decade-long study on the fruit of evangelism and church planting in developing nations. Here's what he found. I'll just quote his study. "Areas where Protestant [churches] had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in non-governmental associations."
Woodberry's argument is if you go in trying to simply help people's felt needs, there's not much difference between that nation and those issues, but if you go in and you're going after hearts, if you're preaching the gospel, if you're planting churches, if you're doing the work of evangelism, then you get all of those other things also. If the end goal is the felt need, you rarely get the felt need, but if you go in with the gospel, then over a period of time, as transformation occurs in the hearts of people, the culture itself begins to change.
Education becomes important, and all of a sudden health care becomes valid, and then education of women skyrockets, and you see all of these things that people are so passionate about in our modern day and age changing. They can't be changed by focusing on the symptom. You have to actually get underneath it and go after the heart of it. So across the spectrum, you have a passion for justice? Your best shot is pushing all of your chips in on the person and work of Jesus Christ and the good news of the gospel for the human heart.
Now I need to shift really quickly. That also means that in our proclamation of the gospel, the gospel cannot be made so narrow as to not include the felt needs of others. I knew I would get fewer "amens" on that one. Some of you are like, "Just preach the gospel. Don't worry about all that. Just preach the gospel." Yet we know from the Bible and we know from church history it's simply not true, because in saying that, oftentimes you shrink the gospel into being just a spiritual message and not the message of good news to all the world.
Let me show you some of this. Let me show you the Bible first, because it's the most important, and then we'll get into church history. In Galatians 2:9-11, Paul… There's this mess in the churches at Galatia. It is a train wreck. The Judaizers have come in. They're trying to make people go back to the law, trying to do the old festivals, that the only way to become a Christian was to become a Jew first. There are arguments around circumcision, and Paul is making the argument that he is an apostle.
In the first couple of chapters, he's giving his résumé of becoming an apostle. If you remember the story of Paul, he was not hanging out with the original Twelve. He actually is made apostle on the road to Damascus when Jesus shows up and converts him, which I've always just… What a great conversion story. "How did you meet Jesus?" "Jesus showed up and told me about himself." You're like, "Yeah, that happened to me too, but he used my brother." "No, no, no. Jesus showed up. Jesus was the one who told me about Jesus."
It's just a great testimony. In the middle of all that, he's saying, "Okay, here's what happened. I went up and met with the pillars of the church. I went and met with the apostles. I went and stood in front of Peter. I went and stood in front of these brothers, these pillars, these apostles of the early church, and I laid before them my call to the Gentiles, that God had given me a call to go preach the gospel to the Gentiles." I want you to look at this. This is Galatians 2:9-11.
"…and when James and Cephas [Peter] and John…" Remember John, the disciple whom Jesus loved? "…who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." See the mission divide there? They're going to stay in Jerusalem. Their focus will be the Jews, and Paul is headed to the Gentiles, or all other people groups. Right hand of fellowship. "The Spirit of God is on you. Go preach the gospel to the non-Jews of the ancient world."
Verse 10: "Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." "Wait. What? Paul, just preach the gospel, man. You don't have to worry about the poor. Preach the gospel, and the poor will just, by themselves, be lifted out of the muck and the mire." But that's certainly not the view of the Scriptures. "Preach the gospel to all non-Jews, and don't forget the poor." The very thing that Paul is like, "Oh, I'm eager to do that. I'm all in on that already, but thanks for the reminder. I won't forget it."
Then in the book of James itself, James 1:27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Here would be a bet I would be willing to make. I might lose. My bet is when you have heard that passage preached the emphasis has been on keeping yourself undefiled from the world. When you've heard that passage over the course of your Christian life, if you've heard it, it has been, "Don't be defiled by the brokenness of the world."
But the thrust of the text is twofold: "Remember orphans. Remember widows. Remember the marginalized. Remember the oppressed. Get involved with the poor." These are not things that save us. These are, as our hearts are conformed into the image of the Son, we see with the Father's eyes. Our heart feels empathy. It's crushed. It wants to help. It wants to step in with the grace that has been given to us, with the blessing that has been given to us to help.
This is true biblically, but it's also true historically. If you know your church fathers, if you've been through the training program, Pliny the Younger and Basil of Caesarea both would not stop talking about Christians' response to be involved in the political realm, not in a way that would make them party affiliated but in a way that made the world be able to see that they belonged to a kingdom that was not the current kingdom; to live in such a way politically that the world could see, "They have a King, and it's not Caesar. They have a King, and it's not Rome. They have a Lord, and it's not the empire. They belong to a kingdom that's other than."
Probably some of the ones you would be most familiar with, maybe… There was the Clapham Sect, often called the Clapham Saints. This was a group of men and women in the Church of England. They were very affluent men and women. They were intellects in their day, and they gave themselves over, for a period of about 40 or 50 years, to the abolition of the slave trade, to increase the standard of education among the poor, and they gave themselves over into correcting what they called manners, just the way a society behaved and acted.
For 40 years, they wrote to this end, they worked toward legislation, and the gravitational pull of the Clapham Sect was…who? Anybody know? Shout it out if you know it. Wilberforce. The Amazing Grace movie. Wilberforce. He was the gravitational pull of this elite group of men and women who had power and money and intellect, and they rallied for 40 years and fought the good fight around what many today would consider social justice issues, but at the time, and even now, looking back, they would be viewed as champions of our faith.
Then in our own nation's history, the United States of America, it has been evangelical Christians who built the earliest hospitals, the earliest institutions of higher learning, and provided food, health care, and education to the masses. It was the church that historically has driven those things. Why do you think you go to Baylor Hospital or First Presbyterian Hospital? Because the church, conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, saw a need of brokenness in their area and stepped into it with the good news of the gospel and help.
I am at times… If you're a guest, maybe this will make sense. If you know me, I can just swing the pendulum of sadness and rage when I watch us try to tease these two apart; to watch us, as Christians, oftentimes go, "Oh, you're freezing and hungry? Well, stop that. Just get warm. Well, just get something to eat. Bless you in the name of Jesus." James is going, "What good is that?"
It has only been recently that such activity might be considered under the derogatory term SJW and pressure applied to be silent about it and to get back to preaching the gospel. It is a modern notion that these two things have to be teased out. It is a highly politicized notion, and we must, by the grace of God, remain prophetic in our day and age, speak what is true even when it is costly, but do so in a way that's winsome and kind and has in view the permeation of the atoning work of Jesus Christ through any and all situations.
So how does this look at a church like The Village? Well, let me lay a couple of things before you. First, I think these things normally flow through the domains of society that God places his people in. What that means is that in your job, where God has placed you in one of the seven domains of society, whether that's education or government or business or agriculture, whatever domain you're in, you are a representative of the kingdom of God, and you live your life as a citizen of that kingdom in a way that is greater than your allegiance to any other kingdom.
We've talked about this before. I am a military brat. I grew up on base, memorized the first Red Dawn. I grew up in Cold War movie propaganda. I grew up watching Rocky fight the Russian. He was all 'roided up. Our boy is just eating spinach and running in the snow. I grew up drinking all of that, and I believe that as far as human systems go, the United States of America has the better one. I just believe it. I believe it when it comes to economics. It's the better system.
A democratic republic is the best humans can come up with. There are a lot of broken sinners involved, which means it will always be a need of reform, and as much as I'm grateful for the United States, she is not my kingdom. My kingdom is the kingdom of God. My loyalty belongs to him, which oftentimes will make me offensive, not because I want to be offensive but because I can't get onboard with things that might be nonsense.
Again, I know some of this is really hard, especially if you grew up in the spaces I grew up in, where there's no fault in the United States. "God shed his grace on thee." I would just say, "Oh my gosh. Yes, he did." If you grew up thinking like, "All other nations do shady stuff but us. Not us. We are a city on a hill." Come on. Really? We can't be that naïve. Hear me. I'm just trying to save myself from some emails. I love the United States. I think we're the best humans can do.
It's not ultimately our kingdom and where our ultimate loyalty lies, which means there will be times that our very lives are offensive because we can't get onboard. Now we're not jerks about that. We don't rejoice in that. We lament in that, because that would be the heart of God, wouldn't it? To lament the brokenness in our country, to lament the wickedness we see around us, not to rejoice that we won't bow the knee to it. We should be heartbroken when these things flare.
As a church, if this is what God has called us to, we want to be faithful in the domains God has placed us, which means if you're in education, you're living out the kingdom of God in education. If you own your own business, you're living out the kingdom of God in that business. It means that when it comes to political conflicts and stuff, we want to be very careful about how we engage. We want to engage in such a way that shows that we aren't blind allegiant to our party but we are open-eyed allegiant to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
It means we will not back off from being a prophetic voice in our day, and it means, as much as we can, we will be planting churches filled with people who are serious about the Word of God, who are full of the Holy Spirit, who are serious about evangelism and understand rightly the kingdom of God is driving out darkness and establishing order in chaos.
If you remember, several months ago we commissioned Rob Daniels, whose first meeting at Christ Freedom Church is this morning. They're launching this morning. They'll be with us at Encounter night. If you remember, we planted that church 10 minutes from here, and then this morning we want to commission Travis and Katy Cunningham. They're headed to Rancho Cucamonga in California, so, out with the pagans.
He's going to come share his heart about Story Church, because it's tied to these beliefs we're talking about this morning. We're going to get out there and get in the middle of it. We're not going to shrink back and play the politically correct thing. We're just going to engage with the good news of the gospel, kindness, love, compassion, and truth all mixed together. So will you guys welcome Travis as he comes out and shares quickly his heart for California?
Travis Cunningham: Man, it's good to be with you this morning. Praise Jesus for the gathering. I honestly thought this day would never come, where we got to stand up here and say goodbye to you guys. In a lot of ways, we didn't want this day to come. We kept extending it and waiting and delaying, because we just didn't want to feel the pain of leaving this place, yet this morning is the morning that we say a gospel goodbye.
We use that language a lot around here, gospel goodbye, because it is so important. It is goodbye, and we're sad about that. It's going to be hard to leave family, yet the gospel is what is compelling us to go forth, what we just talked about. The love of Christ is what is compelling my family and me and our team to pick up our lives and go to California to bring the full weight of the gospel to a place that needs it. So, yes, this is a gospel goodbye, and it is hard, and we love you.
I would love to spend the bulk of my time this morning just sharing our dream and our visions and our hopes and this big grand plan we have for the gospel in Southern California, but I think we would be missing out on what God has for us a little bit if I didn't spend some time publicly praising Jesus for you all, publicly expressing my thankfulness to this church.
First, to the members of this church, Katy and I love you. We moved to Lewisville without knowing a single soul, and you guys became family to us. You became home to us, friends, community. When we went through seasons of trial and suffering, you guys held us up. You encouraged us. You showed us how to live lives of love and hope and joy and faithfulness and perseverance, so thank you. We love you.
To the staff, especially to my beloved Groups team, you guys took a 25-year-old punk and turned him into a man. I am a better son of God, husband to Katy, father to Peyton and Owen because of you guys. You have showed us how to serve the bride of Christ and how to be heralds of his gospel, and I can't wait to spend eternity with you.
To the elders here at Flower Mound, I have never seen and witnessed such godly, faithful, tender, joyful leadership of a body of Christ. In so many ways, the vision we have of how we want to lead and serve the church God will give us to steward is so informed by your leadership, men, that I cannot separate the two. Thank you for laboring for the souls of my family and the families in this church these last three years.
To those of you who are going with us from this place and those of you who are waiting for us in California, your confidence in the Lord and your zeal for his mission is stunning. Your trust in the leadership team of this plant and in me is sobering, and it is a good weight that we are feeling. I cannot wait to serve you, to shepherd you, to lead you on mission, and to watch God display his glory through us all. It's hard to put into words how much Katy and I already love this little team of people. We love you.
Now if I can hold it together for a minute, let me share with you a bit about Story Church. Our story does go back about 11 to 12 years ago. I was, like I said, a punk kid, kind of living in rebellion to God and utter sin to him, yet in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, the Lord completely intervened in my life and renovated my heart. Through the prayer of many (Mom, thank you; I love you), through the witness of several, the Lord came in, and he changed the trajectory of my life and my eternity.
I still haven't gotten past those days. I had an encounter with Jesus I cannot shake, and in that moment, God gave me a vision to see more and more people in my city, my people who I love so much, to have that same encounter with Jesus I had just had. For the last decade or so, it has been a lot of the Lord just saying, "No, not yet," saying, "Wait," saying, "Be trained, raised up. You're not there yet."
In the last decade, the Lord has continued to refine that call and give us vision for what that could turn into. At the end of the day, here's what we know. Our target region, our target location, Rancho Cucamonga in Southern California, east of Los Angeles… Here are some statistics. There's one evangelical church for every 17,000 citizens. It's less than 10 percent Christian, and there is a huge, huge, vast need for the gospel there.
Even this past week, I got three or four emails from folks who are scattered across the nation who were born and raised there, saying, "We are cheering you on. We are for you. We are praying for you, because we know our family and friends need the gospel. Can you bring it to them?" Here's what we know. We have nothing to offer anyone out there except for Jesus, and in offering people Jesus we are offering them everything.
So we're going to go live like maniac missionaries in our city. We are going to make disciples, build them up in the faith, and we are going to tell the gospel story. We're going to bring the gospel story to bear on our city, the true story of freedom for those who are enslaved to sin, the true story of life for those who are dead in trying to impress people, the true story of joy for those who are sad because they just can't keep up, the true story of rest for those who are exhausted and weary because they just can't make it. This is the story we are going to bring to bear.
So, church, would you pray for us? Would you continue to pray for us? Would you pray that my family would stay united and our core team would stay united, that we would be of one mind in our focus to go make disciples, build them up in the faith, and see them flourish? Would you pray that we would be guarded from the temptation and attack of the Enemy?
Would you pray that we would be the most humble, happy, joyful, helpful people in our city? Would our reputation be not of us but of Jesus in our city? Would you pray for our finances? We have seen God move in stunning ways in our finances. The generosity prayer we pray every week has come to bear in our lives. We've seen that, but we need one final push to get us over the edge to be completely unleashed for the gospel. So would you pray about how you might partner with us?
Then in the end, would you pray that we would be singularly fixated on the glory of God in our city? This isn't about us. This isn't about me. This isn't about Katy. This isn't about our leadership team. It's not about Story Church. This is about the kingdom of God that he is establishing on earth and the King who rules over it and the glory that he alone is due. This is why we are doing this, compelled by the glory of God and the gospel of grace to go plant churches.
We pray that in the coming years we'll have many of these Sundays where we'll get to gather teams of people up on stage and lay hands on them and say, "Now you go forth, and you plant more churches across all of Southern California, a place that needs the gospel." So, friends, as you pray this week and consider how you might partner with us through your prayers, through your finances, maybe even through going with us (there are several who are), if you want to talk more, visit our website at ourstorychurch.com or email me at [email protected]. Church, the Cunninghams love you. That's it.
Matt Chandler: Let me say a couple of words, and then Jared is going to pray over you. Brother, I just want to applaud your courage. It's not an easy thing to leave what is safe and what is known and surrender to the call of God on your life. The thing I'm always hopeful for is I want God to double and triple that special something God has done here and lavish it all over your whole family and the mission of God out there.
It's with great confidence that we send you, brother. For three years here, you have been faithful and upright. You have leaned into hard things. You have faithfully made disciples. You have spoken the truth in love. Your family has flourished through the highs and lows, and that's a testimony to God's Spirit on you. Katy, no man does this without a wife who loves and supports and is willing to let him run, so I just want to commend you, sister.
This isn't Travis going to plant a church; it's your family going to plant a church, because God gave you to Travis as a co-laborer in this. This isn't about Travis fulfilling his dream; this is about God's call on your family, and your part in that is… I don't have enough time to talk about the significance of your role and how I've watched you love and support him here and have watched you minister here. Today is about God's call on your family.
Jared is going to pray a prayer of blessing over you, as we all pray a prayer of blessing over you, but I want to thank you for your faithfulness to Jesus Christ in these kids and at this church and, Travis, for your three years of… We run hard here, and you've just embraced that, brother, without complaint. You're a man of God, and I just want to affirm you.
Jared Musgrove: Church family, would you stand? We see in the Bible very often the people of God laying hands on brothers and sisters who are commissioned for great works, so would you extend a hand toward the Cunningham family as I lead us in prayer?
O Father, thank you so much for your grace in our lives, for the grace of Jesus and how your power, Jesus, shows through the lives of those you've called to yourself. The Cunningham family are some of those people, your people, Father. Lord, I thank you so much for the time we've had with Travis. I pray over him the very words that were spoken of David, as David stepped in and began leading others. They were true of your servant David. They are true of your servant Travis.
He is a skilled man, and he is a man of valor. He is a man who fights your battles, Father, and he speaks powerfully. O God, he has been to us and to me a man of good presence, and you are with him. As you've always done, throughout the history of your people, go before them. Thank you for the signs we're already seeing, Father, some that Travis just shared, some he has shared with me, just of people already excited about Story Church.
I pray the same over Story Church, that it would be true of them, that they would be a skilled people, that they would be a brave people, they would be a people given powerful words, that they would be warriors for the gospel and, Lord, that you would penetrate darkness through them. Make them a people and a church of good presence. O Lord, be with them. I will miss this man. We will miss him, yet his presence remains. It's just the proximity that changes, Father.
Thank you that you have promised us a day where all of us who believe in Jesus Christ will be together before you. I look forward to being around that table, and I look forward to hearing about the stories that are going to happen because of what we are doing here right now today and because of how Travis and Katy and their family are being obedient to you.
I pray that this church would bless many, not the least of all being their children, that Owen and Peyton would come to faith at Story Church, that they would see you, Jesus, and that you would make them lifelong servants of yours. Thank you for these servants. We love them, and we commit them to you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.