What do you imagine was the first college sport introduced in America? Our favorites these days include basketball with greats like LeBron James, baseball and its record-setters like Mike Trout and Juan Soto, football with legends like JJ Watt—some of the greatest players right now.
But the first college sport introduced in America was the 8-man rowing race named not for a superstar but for the team: it’s traditionally called crew. The first crew race was in 1852 between Yale and Harvard. One 2,000-meter crew race takes as much energy as two basketball games back-to-back. And traditionally, only Ivy League schools were strong enough to make it in competition.
All of that changed when the faraway University of Washington tried a different approach. Instead of trying to attract wealthy East coast elites, they built together with a team from kids raised on farms, in logging towns, and near shipyards.
That seemingly random assortment of blue-collar Americans went on to beat their West coast rivals from California, they outraced the cream of the crop from New England, and then they shocked the nation when they were named the American crew team headed to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Adolph Hitler was looking forward to the Berlin Olympics as a way to promote white supremacy and antisemitism. Hitler was in the stands during the final crew race, with 75,000 German fans chanting, “Deutsch-land! Deutsch-land!” (Germany). In that race, the University of Washington’s 8-man crew came from behind to defeat the Germans and take home the gold. And leading the team, at the helm was Bob Moch, who found out shortly before embarking on the trip that he was…Jewish.
Daniel James Brown writes about that amazing feat, explaining:
[Races] are won by crews, and great crews are carefully balanced blends of both physical abilities and personality types…someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh…Even after the right mixture is found, each man or woman in the boat must recognize his or her place in the fabric of the crew, accept it, and accept the others as they are.”
It was with their differences that that band of strangers accepted who each one was and embraced what each one could contribute to the team. And that’s what I want to speak with you about this week, as we look to relaunch public worship gatherings in the Fishers YMCA this September: accepting one another as Christ accepts us so that we can be the best team possible.
We’re continuing our series titled Living Out of God’s Love. Let’s start with a quick recap of the ground we’ve covered. Week one we dipped our oars into the most profound truth ever—that God loves you. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It was love that moved God to act on our behalf. That’s the starting line for running the race of life as God intends: he loves you.
Week two built on that with the timeless truth of who God declares us to be—that we all are a loved mess. And this truth, 1 John insists, is how we can set our hearts at rest when we feel feelings of shame, fear of rejection, or condemnation: believe that what God declares is true and never-changing, unlike our feelings which shift all the time.
This week builds on the first two with a deep dive into what it looks like to accept one another as Christ accepts us—which is key to any local church becoming a great team.
So here are three New Testament declarations about how accepting one another like Christ accepts us can make us a great team. Here’s the first declaration, the starting point:
Christlike acceptance begins with how we see one another.
Becoming a great team begins with a mental transformation, a mind-shift in how you view fellow members of the local church. The 1st-century church in Corinth struggled with this.
Corinth back then was kind of like Las Vegas today: decadent and divisive. And so naturally what was in that culture was carried into the church. In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul sets out to challenge and change how we view and approach one another in the local church. He writes:
“Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God…”
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
The love of God so powerfully put on display in Jesus Christ is meant to radically reshape how we view one another in the local church. That’s his point. Christ’s love compels us to see one another differently from the way society around us judges and slots people according to their perceived value or lack of value.
Today, it is broadly acknowledged that the strongest force pressuring the American church is consumerism and competition. When I was on staff with a large church in another city, a consultant was brought in who had been on staff with one of the largest megachurches in America. One of her key emphases was that when we asked church members to serve in the church, we had to present it in terms of consumerism, specifically answering their question, “What’s in it for me?”
By contrast, all of the New Testament images for the local church emphasize belonging and participation, that each member has a part to play in the whole—just like that American Olympic crew team. Every member is to be a minister. You have a part to play that only you can contribute.
And so the NT images for the local church are that:
- The church is like a flock following the Great Shepherd together;
- The church is like a temple, God’s construction project, where we are being built together and in which every piece matters;
- The church is like the body of Christ—that is, we are the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ at work in our community. That’s an image that emphasizes that ever person has a part to play, and every person matters.
All of the NT images for the local church are hugely different from seeing church through consumer eyes.
If Jesus Christ is your Savior, then you are my brother or sister. That needs to be the most important thing about how we see one another. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! In each local church, God is doing what the University of Washington set out to do: he’s pulling together a diverse team, with a range of abilities and gifts and personalities, so that we can row together. And in the local church as on that crew team, it is the differences that can make us a better team. But for that to happen requires this new perspective of accepting one another as Christ accepted us.
One final comment on this point: A pastor from India made this observation about what God calls us to. He said, “Most of what happens in Christian churches, including even miracles, can be duplicated in Hindu and Muslim congregations. But in my area only Christians strive, however ineptly, to mix men and women of different castes, races, and social groups. That’s the real miracle.” That’s the real miracle, when people from different backgrounds unite around following Jesus together, accepting what each one brings to the team rather than trying to make everyone fit one mold.
There’s the first New Testament declaration about how accepting one another like Christ accepts us can make us a great team. Here’s the second:
Christlike acceptance is hard—and contagious.
Just like it wasn’t easy for Washington University’s crew team members to accept the differences between them, but it was their differences that made them a better team, so it is with the local church. We have a mix of personalities and strengths among us. Each one matters. Everyone is needed. And each one has something to contribute to us functioning like a healthy body.
Jesus captured the power of this in the new command he gave his disciples as he was about to be arrested and go to the cross. Thinking not only of them but also of us today, Jesus said:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
That’s a conditional promise: “If we love one another like Jesus loves us, everyone who knows us will undeniably also come to know that we’re the real deal, that we are a church that truly seeks to follow Jesus. More than a country club. More than a place for religious consumerism. Instead, more like those New Testament metaphors for the local church, where each one matters, and so each one is loved well.
I love the true story of Harmon Parker’s bridge-building ministry in Kenya. I don’t mean bridge-building as a metaphor. Harmon is a master mason who heard stories of Kenyans in remote villages drowning because of a lack of bridges. And so the love of Christ compelled him to do something about it. He took his unique skills, and set out to help local Kenyans build their own bridges in remote locations where their government wasn’t going to help but they needed help.
One of the men who helps is David Kakuko, whose parents drowned in a flash flood years ago because there was no safe way to cross the river. “Before the bridge,” David laments, “there [were] so many people, so many who lost their lives.” David lost his parents because there wasn’t a bridge; today he helps build bridges.
Harmon came to Kenya hoping to build 45 footbridges. They’re simply designed, with an average length of 120 feet and a cost of about $6,000. He uses basic, local materials and always engages the people from that community to work and to help contribute.
If you could be transported to any of these remote villages today, you would find locals who believe these bridge-builders truly are Christians, by what they do, and by how well they love one another. Harmon says of their work, “I feel I’m blessed…privileged to do what I’m doing. A bridge is a beautiful metaphor for many things. There are bridges of hope, bridges of peace, bridges of life. To me, bridges are beautiful.”
Jesus says the same. The way people around you and me will know that we’re the real deal is when they see radical love among us.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s contagious: it’s attractive, it’s winsome, and it makes for a winning team.
I got a great taste of this at the church where I started in NYC. Our church included first-generation immigrants from 50 nations, 50 cultures with all our differences.
- Anna was an immigrant from Malta with a bold personality and strong faith. When a young lady came to me confessing an affair with a married man, I connected her with Anna, knowing that Anna could help her find the confidence to break free.
- Eddie de Jesus was a NewYorecan NYPD cop with a huge smile and a heart just as big, loud and expressive. He shined with the love of Jesus.
- Yat Ping was an American-born Chinese quiet librarian and a gifted modern dancer who created a dance group that performed special pieces for the church, uniquely contributing what she could.
- Teresa came to the church after being a college basketball standout, a gifted leader who went on to lead well on the church staff team.
- Scott was a quiet analytical thinker whose abilities helped us in planning and organization.
- Jorge came from the nation of Colombia with a richly passionate personality that came out in his engaging preaching and leading.
- Peter was a soft-spoken music major from Maine who led our worship team with excellence and humility, constantly raising up new musicians and vocalists while pastoring them well. He’s still serving on the pastoral team there, 30 years later.
- High school student Michael was a techie who ran the church soundboard and projection with ease.
Let me give an example of how it was hard to have such strong differences in the same church. From time to time we would break up into small groups to pray, 4-6 people moving chairs in circles around the sanctuary. We would have—a real example—a quiet group of Filipinos circled up next to a group of loud Spanish-speaking Latinos, each group cirtically judging the other. The Filipinos could barely hear each other because of how loud the Latinos were praying. The Latinos thought the Filipinos were so quiet they’re spiritually just about dead. Black church members had times when they expressed feeling ignored in favor of immigrants. White staff members like me were trying to figure out how to mediate these conflicts.
There were all kinds of misunderstandings that came as the result of different cultures coming together. It was hard. But it was also worth it. Embracing the differences between us made us a better team, and a better witness. So it was with Jesus’ first followers, with stark differences between them. The way they came to love and accept one another became their greatest witness to the reality of Jesus among them.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Christlike acceptance is hard, but it’s worth it. It’s contagious. It reveals the reality that we really are following Jesus. And it makes us a better team.
- Christlike acceptance begins with how we see one another.
- Christlike acceptance is hard, yet contagious.
- And here’s the third New Testament declaration:
We know what Christlike acceptance looks like.
- We don’t have to guess. We already know. The apostle Paul, writing to that church in Corinth where they were not rowing together like a great crew, reminds us what Christlike acceptance looks like. Here’s the standard God calls us to in the local church. Just replace the word love with your name:
- “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
You typically hear this read in wedding ceremonies, and that’s a beautiful thing. But this wasn’t written to couples getting married. It was written to a local church about what it looks like when we love and accept each other as Christ does us.
So every place Paul mentions love here, replace it with your name. This is what we’re called to!
Accepting one another like Christ accepts us means:
- Never giving up.
- Caring for others as much as for yourself.
- Not envying what anybody else has.
- Not lugging around a huge ego,
- Not forcing your opinion on others,
- Not insisting on “me first,”
- Not flying off the handle when offended,
- Not keeping score of others’ sins,
- Not reveling when others fall,
- But rather taking pleasure in truth,
- Putting up with anything,
- Trusting God always,
- Always looking for the best,
- And we keep rowing till we cross the finish line…together!
Can you see how different this is from society at large, and how much better it is than enemy-making and looking for faults, and cutting others down?
This is what a church 2,000 years ago needed to be reminded of. It’s a passage that’s often read at weddings, but it was written for a local church about how we’re to love one another.
Friends, this is what Jesus demonstrated when he walked the dusty streets of Israel: it’s how he treated people. This is what he did when he went to the cross—keeping no record of wrongs and forgiving our wrongs. This is how he reigns over the church today—with awe-inspiring patience and kindness.
This is how we are called to interact with one another in the local church. The primary purpose of the church is not what it can do for you, but what God can do in and through us. One is crass consumerism; the other is God’s awesome plan. We together have the unspeakable privilege and calling of representing the living God to a sin-sick world, beginning with the people who know us.
You can tell a lot about what people believe about God by how they treat one another. And this is what those who know you and me need most from us—to see and know that we really do follow Jesus, that he really is alive and powerful, the Savior from sin and the Lord who leads. And the way they will see that…is in how radically we love and accept one another.
I believe with all my heart that God has people in your circle of relationships and mine who would love to grow in Christ and join yChurch if they got to taste and see this kind of radical acceptance among us.
We can be living examples of a group of people who love God and love one another well because God in Jesus Christ has done the same for us. To this we are called, friends. So grab an oar, friend, and let’s pull together.
Would you pray with me right now?
Our Father in heaven, thank you that you are pulling together a diverse team for your great mission—around the world, and even with us. Make us a great team, we pray, as we look toward relaunching this September. Help us to identify the gifts and abilities you have placed among us, and lead us to the people who will be blessed to join us with their gifts and abilities that will make us an even healthier team.
Holy Spirit, we ask you to empower us to do what Paul portrays, no longer regarding anyone from a worldly point of view. So fill us with the love of God that surpasses understanding that your love will be the lens through which we view each fellow Christian. Empower us to do this, so that those who know us will see your presence in our midst and be drawn to saving faith themselves. In Christ’s name and for his glory we pray. Amen!
God bless you this week & make you a blessing!