Tony Blair was the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and his autobiography is called A Journey, and he tells this very interesting story in his autobiography.
Here is Tony Blair. He said, a friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe, who came to America in search of safety told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York.
They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time, my friend succeeded and became wealthy.
He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside of America. She never did. When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there was another box. There was no key, so they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel was in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping, and finally, an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers.
Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most. Interesting story, isn't it? Goody and I became U.S. citizens here in Charlotte, and so our U.S. citizenship is precious to us. You may not know, but becoming a U.S. citizen is not easy. For several years in this country, we were classified as aliens.
I had a card. I was a legal alien, but I was an alien. For political reasons, apparently the word alien isn't used now to describe immigrants, whether they are legal or legal, but we were legal aliens, although sometimes coming through immigration, we were treated as if we were criminals. Going through immigration before we were citizens was always interesting, challenging. Goody had a Danish passport. I had a British passport. Our son Christopher had an American passport, and sometimes it was fairly routine, but more often than not, we were sobbed, interrogated, and I remember one immigration officer being very skeptical as to why a former Scottish lawyer was now a pastor.
I shared his skepticism, in fact, and I thought, you know, you need to take that up with God. And I tried to explain that I had a good president with Apostle Paul who had moved from law to grace, but he was not impressed, apparently. And remember on one occasion, we were taken out of line. Some of you immigrants have had this experience.
We were taken out of line, put into an office, and interrogated. Welcome to America was not the theme that day, apparently. So you can imagine our joy when we became U.S. citizens. It is indeed something that we count very, very precious, that we're proud to be Americans, but today I want to think of something which is much more precious to me than being a U.S. citizen, although I am very, very thankful for that. I am more thankful that I have been welcomed, not just into America, but I am welcomed into the family of God. I have been welcomed by the Lord Jesus Christ into an eternal family, the family of God. And the wonderful thing is, once you're in the family of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you're never thrown out of the family. I'm not going to be disowned by my Heavenly Father. I have, in fact, been eternally welcomed. Paul writes, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we have boldness with access and access with confidence.
Think of this, that I can come at any time into the very presence of my Heavenly Father through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I know that I am always welcomed. Today we're considering the second of our themes for 2023. We thought last week of reaching out. Today the theme is welcoming in.
Next week, it will be growing deep. During the Christmas season, Gunan and I went, were invited to a party at our neighbor's home, and as we went in, there was a big sign, welcome. Wonderful to be welcomed into someone's home. We want to think of a wonderful welcome of being welcomed into the family of God.
If you have your Bible, turn with me to Romans chapter 15 verse 7. Romans 15 verse 7, Paul writes to the Christians at Rome, therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God. We are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Everyone is welcomed by the Lord Jesus Christ. In the church at Rome, there were former Jews, there were Greeks, there were Gentiles, but they were all welcomed for the glory of God. The wonderful thing is this, that the gospel, this message from heaven to earth, is good news to Jew and Gentile.
Look at verse 8, Paul writes, I tell you that Christ, that's the Messiah, became a servant to the circumcised, the Jew, to show God's truthfulness in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs. Yes, the Jews are welcomed in the family of God because Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, but the Gentiles are also welcomed. Verse 9, in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. It's of God's mercy that I, a sinful man, a Gentile, have been welcomed into this magnificent eternal family of God as it is written. He's going to quote from the Law of the Prophets and the Writings, therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing to your name. Verse 10, and again it is said, rejoice, O Gentiles with His people, and again praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol Him. And again Isaiah says, the root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the Gentiles. In Him will the Gentiles hope.
How wonderful. In the family of God, in that church in Rome, there were Jews, a fulfillment of God's truthfulness of His promises. But there were also Gentiles, an evidence that those who were once outside, as it were, in the mercy of God, have been brought into the same family. We know that historically, the gospel went first to the Jew. Paul says, the beginning of Romans, I'm not ashamed of the gospel, for it's the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, also to the Gentile. This message of the gospel is so powerful that it comes to every single individual, historically to the Jews, but it also comes to the Gentiles. That through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, provision is made for the salvation of every single person. Because God so loved the Jew, He loves the Jew, the Gentile, yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever, think of that, that universal offer of the gospel, whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
All are welcomed. I want to say to you, whoever you are, you are welcome, and Christ is here to welcome you. Central to the Abrahamic Covenant was that in Abraham, all of the families of the earth are going to be blessed. Israel certainly was a chosen nation, and they were greatly blessed.
But God says, I want you to do this. I want you to pray that my grace will be on you, that my face will shine on you, so that the ends of the earth, all nations will know that I am God. Over the Christmas season, we rejoice. Remember the word of the angel to the shepherds, unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this is great news of great joy, remember, to all the people. No one is excluded.
The shepherds are Jewish. It comes to them, but it also comes to the wise men who were Gentiles. Whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever your educational level, whatever language you speak, whatever your ethnicity, whatever the color of your skin, the Lord Jesus Christ comes into the world to save sinners like you and me. That's the wonder of the gospel, and that Jesus said and still says, come unto me all.
Think of the wonder of that, all. All ye who are labor and heavy laden and are weary. Anyone here weary with life, heavy burdened with your sin, feel that life is very, very hard? This is the welcome of the gospel, that Jesus stands with His arms open and says, come to me for rest. And if you come and repent in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, He will not cast you out. This is the welcome of the gospel, that the message of the gospel comes to you. Have you come?
Have you come to Christ? Now, we also see that all authentic followers of Jesus Christ are welcomed into the church of Jesus Christ. And in the church of Jesus Christ, there's no second-class membership. The context of Romans 15 verse 7 is that there are, in the church, Jews and Gentiles. And in the church, there's some disagreement. There are people who feel very strongly about what you eat and what you drink, and so there's some argument there. There are some people who feel stronger than their fellow brothers and sisters.
A little bit of superiority there. And Paul is reminding them, listen, in the church of Jesus Christ, verse 5 of Romans 5, we are to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus that together they may with one voice glorify the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. So whoever you are in the church of Jesus Christ, we're to live in harmony. Are there differences? Of course there are differences, but we are with one voice to glorify our great God. Look around, we're very different, aren't we? But there is only one church, only one body.
If you're in Romans 15, go forward in your Bible a little bit to 1 Corinthians, it's the next book, Romans, Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 12. This is so important we understand this. 1 Corinthians 12, verse 12, just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ.
Here's the basic point. You have only one body, you have only one body. Yes, I've got arms and legs, there's many members of my body, they're quite different. My hand is very different from my eye, and my toe is very different from my heart, but it's still the one body. Many members, one body.
That's the metaphor. So it is with Christ. Verse 13, for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of the one Spirit. It's not wonderful. It doesn't matter who you are.
What's your background? Through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we receive Christ as our personal Savior, we are baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. And there is only one way of salvation, and that is through Jesus Christ. Salvation, irrespective of who you are, is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And the Holy Spirit who indwells you is the same Holy Spirit who indwells me. And the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses you from your sin is the same blood of Christ that cleanses me from my sin.
The same Spirit, the same Savior, the same blood of Christ, and the same eternal destiny. Yesterday, I had the privilege of conducting a funeral for one of our members. And death is difficult, isn't it? Losing a loved one is tough. But here is the hope of the Christian, the very real hope, that one may die before us, and we are left, but we're going to the same place.
They've just gone ahead of us. They are presently with the Lord in heaven, but we miss them, we mourn them, but we have this glorious hope that one day we will be where they are. Do you believe that?
I do. That is the uniqueness of the Christian faith, the same destiny. So this means, I want you to get this, that in the church, a church like Calvary Church, this is where we are, the natural barriers that are in our society. The divisions, the prejudices, the differences between us, these are unimportant.
And can I say very, very strongly, this is why racism is so sinful. It's unbiblical, but it is, as you think about it, is an affront to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and His church. He and He alone is the head of the church. What are we? We are all His children, and we are all on the same level. All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Every single one of us. Every single one of us, if we're following Christ, have come in the same way into salvation. That is through our Lord Jesus Christ. The one body, the one spirit, the one salvation, and that is why we reject, Calvary Church rejects, I personally strongly reject it, what is sometimes called the homogeneous unit principle. This was thought to be wonderful for church growth, and you say, what on earth is a homogeneous unit? It is basically birds of a feather flock together. That is that people who look alike, have similar interests, same backgrounds, they come together and they attract other people of the same kind. And this is the way you grow a church.
So if you're in your 20s, you've got a little group around 20s. If you're Caucasian as I am, you just have Caucasians. If someone's an African-American, they have a little African-American church and so on. I understand the principle. It's true we are comfortable with people who look as we do from our same background, who look like us, who have similar interests and tastes and food and humor and sport and background and so on.
But at Calvary Church, we strongly reject that homogeneous unit principle. And in fact, over 10 years ago, our leadership approved a policy. It's called Unity with Diversity. It was written, listen, it was written 10, 12 years ago. And here's part of it.
Let me read it to you. Our conviction is, this is very important, that there be one united people of God, we're talking about Calvary Church, drawn from all races and cultures, and there are some Scriptures, recognizing our equality in Jesus Christ. Our goal is for different ethnicities and cultures to come together as the body of Christ at Calvary with mutual love and respect. How important. Mutual love and respect, enriching and strengthening one another. Did you get that?
That is so important. And you say, well, how does that work out? Well, at Calvary, we do not form congregations, little churches based on ethnicity or culture or language, meeting independently and permanently at Calvary Church. I'm asked probably at least once a month by some ethnic group, some nationality, they want to form their little church at Calvary, and I always say no.
Our goal, which we believe is biblical, is for all peoples to be members of the one body of Christ. Now, we recognize that some people don't understand English. We do have electives and live groups for people whose native language is other than English.
We recognize that, but these groups are not churches. On Sunday mornings, right now as I'm preaching, this message is being simultaneously translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish. Sometimes we have sign language. We want to thank our translators right now.
You don't know, you can't see them. You realize how difficult it is to translate into Chinese homogeneous unit. So these are very, very skilled translators.
Simultaneous translation. Now, you say, but John, throughout Charlotte, I see many ethnic churches, Korean churches, Chinese churches, Slavic churches, Hispanic churches, and so on. They, in my view, apparently are perpetuating the traditions and cultures from their home country.
They leave their home country for different reasons. They come to the United States, and so they're going to form a little church. As if I come from Scotland, I'm going to form a little church in Scotland.
Anyone who is Scottish is going to come. That would be a very, very small church. Can I say, when you think about this, the spiritual basis of our gathering is not our ethnicity or our culture or the color of our skin. It is our union with our Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and gave Himself for us as He purchased the church with His own blood. What's the basis of our gathering? You say, well, I like being people who speak my language of the same culture and think as I do.
I understand that, so do I. But we're not talking about a club. We're not talking about an association.
We're talking about the church of Jesus Christ with Christ as its head. Listen, I enjoy Scottish food. Most of you don't like haggis.
I mean, too bad. I like Scottish humor. Very few of you appreciate it because you don't laugh enough. I appreciate Scottish culture, but that can't be compared.
I'm very serious here. Much as I love my native country and much as I love being with Scottish people, the joy I have in meeting with my brothers and sisters in Christ who come from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds is absolutely amazing. I trust I welcome them, and possibly with slight hesitation from the Irish, they welcome me. Why? Because we are one in Christ. You may look at things differently based on your background, your culture, the way you've been raised, different priorities.
I understand that. That then is to enrich us rather than that being the cause of separation. It should, with mutual love and respect, enrich us because this is the church of Jesus Christ. Someone said to me the other day, well, you know, you're the pastor of that American church. I thought, is Calvary Church an American church? If it was an American church, they would never have called me. This is not an American church.
Absolutely not. It's a church of Jesus Christ where we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us for the glory of God. Not for the glory of a particular country, including the United States, not for the glory of any culture but for the glory of God.
Listen again to the text. Some of you have forgotten it. Romans 15 verse 7, therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God. Has Christ welcomed you? He welcomed me. Not because I deserved it. Not because I was a religious holy character.
No. He welcomed me, and as He has welcomed me, I am to welcome you, and we're to do that not for the glory of a country or a culture or to base what we're doing based on some tradition, but we're to do it for the glory of God. Therefore, here's my conclusion. We must warmly welcome everyone in the name of Jesus Christ. Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, this is not just a message for me.
This is a strong conviction. I'm asking you, not just asking, I'm really exhorting you based on Scripture that we must welcome everyone in the name of Jesus Christ. That means we welcome non-believers, of course we do. We see an ever larger percentage of international residents in the Charlotte area. Last Sunday after the service when Goodney and I had the newcomer's reception, I asked them, how many of you were born in a country outside of the United States?
And there were quite a number. That is true every time we have it. How wonderful. God in His sovereign purposes has placed a mission field right on our doorsteps. You don't need to go overseas to talk to someone of a different culture.
They are right here. Do you remember what I preached on the Christmas Eve? 1 John 4, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Basic Christianity. Does God love me? Yes, He loves me.
We were singing about it. If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. So we have many different peoples and cultures and ethnicities coming to our campus. And one of the reasons we're thinking of the building expansion is that we have a better area in which we can welcome people more effectively.
The people who come to Calvary for the first time at least can enter the building easily. At Calvary, we welcome children and students through the Child Development Center, through Calvary Christian Academy. Many of you know, if you don't, I'm telling you that last August we began Calvary Christian Academy, a Christian school. Presently it is kindergarten through seventh grade. We, Lord willing, will add a grade each year. We're going to have an open house. If you're considering your children or grandchildren going to that school, some date, which I can't remember, I think it's this week, you can have open house.
The headmaster try more and others will show you over the school. You can learn about it. Why are we so passionate about it? You say it's a small school.
Yes, about a hundred students. Each one is precious. What are we trying to do? We're trying to show the love of Christ and present the truthfulness of Christ to our children. We do that through Champ Sports. We do it through our children's ministry such as Awana and Sunday School and youth ministries. Some of you don't realize how many people come onto our campus in any given seven-day period. We've got parents, grandparents bringing their children to CDC, to the Christian Academy.
We have parents and grandparents and friends watching their children play in their fields and in their gym. And so part of our expansion project is to make engagement with people more and more a reality. Our goal is this.
It is a spiritual goal. Not always easy, I understand that, is to give an authentic welcome to every person. Every person who comes onto this campus. So I ask you, what's your response to someone who's new? You got out of your car this morning and you saw someone.
You didn't know who they were. Did you introduce yourself? Do you welcome people in the name of Jesus Christ? Or coming to Calvary, is it just you and your little group that you've known for the last 20 years? And you've got this very comfortable little life group and it's all very wonderful and it's all very comfortable, but when you come right down to it, it's rather exclusive.
And you say, well I've got enough friends. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us to the glory of God. And we are, of course, and we must welcome those who are believers in Jesus Christ into the family of God.
Now if you can excuse a personal story here. When Goodney and I first came to the United States, we started attending a very small church in Dallas. Later I was to realize that some churches are small because they want to stay small, but that's another story. Now we'd met some Americans before. We were told that Americans are very friendly, but quite honestly that was not our initial experience in that small church in Dallas. They struggled with our accents, particularly Goodney's, English being her third language. I tried to explain to them that English was not invented in Texas.
They didn't get the humor with that Texas drawl. There was a guy giving out the hymns. Are we going to sing fa, fa, fa? I thought, what on earth is that? And this guy is trying to tell me how to speak.
Amazing. And then you had that time, the fellowship time, you know when you're meant to be nice to each other, and you're meant to greet each other and tell each other you love each other. And so we go to the fellowship hall and they have coffee, which both of us enjoy, and we stand there and people just are looking at us, particularly the woman looking at Goodney.
And I thought, you know, we're going back in the car over these weeks. Is there something about us, our accents? Is it because they don't like Europeans? Was the guy offended when he talked about a football team called the Cowboys? I said, I've never heard of it. And they started talking. And I said, oh, is that, you call it American, American football.
It's American football, sorry. And he had never heard much to my astonishment. He claimed to be up in sports.
He'd never even heard of Manchester United, the best club in the world, who won yesterday, by the way. So, there was a culture divide, seriously. And we thought, this is kind of sad. So eventually, Goodnight said, why don't we invite some of them to our home, which we did.
And we began then to get friendships. I'm saying that, do you think? Do you know how difficult it is? Some of you do.
Most of you don't. Do you know how difficult it is to come to a foreign country? Do you understand how difficult it is to come from a different culture? Do you know how difficult it is for a single person, for a widow, for somebody who's recently divorced, to come on their own to this church, a large intimidating church at Calvary?
Do you know how difficult it is? I'm asking you, will you welcome someone of a different culture, someone who speaks a different language, someone who looks different from you? Will you welcome them? Will you welcome them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you're a southerner, can you welcome somebody from New York City? They're not the enemy, you know.
The Civil War was finished a long time ago. We're here in the East. Yes, welcome people from California. Whoever you are, welcome someone. Invite them to your life group.
Do better than that. Invite them into your home. That's true hospitality, the love of strangers, children, students today. As you go to the Sunday school class, as you go to the Life Center, can you welcome a boy or a girl who's new?
There's a student there. It's their first time here, their second time here. Can you go up to them and welcome them and say, can you sit beside me? Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Can you do that? You know, that's what Jesus wants you to do. Come one another as Christ has welcomed us to the glory of God. And I'm very, very thankful for the hundreds of you who do welcome people. I hear over and over again from new people about the warm welcome they receive.
Not everyone, I trust that's the case. That people, as they come into this campus, are welcomed. And if you're here new for the first time, I want to say you're very, very welcome. Our goal is that whoever you are, we would welcome you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you don't know Christ, we want to tell you about Him so that you will come to saving faith in Him.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, we want as you come here, we want to help you, to equip you, to strengthen you, to pray for you as we do for these parents, that these parents will have marriages and homes founded in Jesus Christ. In the book of Colossians, the theme of Colossians is the supremacy and the preeminence of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in Colossians 3 verse 11, Paul writes this. Here, he's talking to the church. There is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave free, but Christ is all and in all.
Think of that. There's the church at Colossae, a new church. Paul is saying in the church there's not Jew and Gentile. There's not barbarian or Scythian. The barbarians were those who didn't speak Greek. The Scythians were kind of uncivilized, unsophisticated people.
They're slaves and they're free. And they're all in this little church at Colossae, all saved by the grace of God. And Paul is saying, look in the church, these divisions are not the issue.
Why? But Christ is all and in all. Think of that. Christ is so magnificent. Christ is so supreme that He is in each individual believer irrespective of their nationality or culture or language or color of their skin. We are in Christ and He is in us. Christ is all preeminent. We sang, we surrender to the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ. We surrender to that, but the Christ who's in you is the Christ who is in me. Therefore, all distinctions and barriers are relevant in the church. There is no place in the church for discrimination or prejudice or superiority or snobbery. That is not to disown our heritage.
I'm proud of mine, you're proud of yours. That's not the point. Ah, but that is very, very secondary. In the church, that's not the issue. In the church we come, brothers and sisters in Christ. We come around the table of the Lord and we are loving the same Christ. When we go through the waters of baptism, we are symbolizing that we've been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. Here is the mind-blowing truth, the supreme Christ, the magnificent Christ, the eternal Christ is all and in all.
There are two responses. One, if you never come to Christ, come to Him today, He will welcome you. Him that comes to me, says Jesus, I will not cast out.
I can absolutely guarantee you'll be welcomed. You say, John, I'm sinful, I've got a very murky past. You're the very person that Christ came to save. Come to Him, believe in Him, and you will be saved and your sin is forgiven. And then, if you are, if you have been welcomed by Christ, listen to Paul again. Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God. Let's bow in prayer as we make a response to ask God's forgiveness for some prejudice, some superiority. Perhaps you'll never come to Christ, will you come to Him?
Ask Him to come and save you and transform you, He'll do that. And if you are a follower of Christ, ask God for strength to welcome others in the name of Christ. Father, we humble ourselves under Your mighty hand, thank You, for Christ who is all and in all.
How petty we are, how self-centered, how self-absorbed, Father, forgive us. Open our eyes, may Calvary Church truly be a church of love, where all are loved, where all are welcomed in the name of Christ and for Your glory. That we would shine as a light here in the Carolinas and throughout the world. For that we need Your Spirit to graciously fill us and use us and bless us. We anticipate the evening service, Father. May we come again in the spirit of humility. We pray for those who will be speaking that You will help them and again that You will be glorified. As we ask it in Christ's name, Amen.
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