Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Catching God's Vision

In the month of November, I shared a series of message regarding our new vision. Over the next few days I will post those messages here.

I want us to think about two passages of Scripture right up front as we begin.

The first is found in the book of Proverbs:

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the Law. (Proverbs 29:18 NASBU)

People need vision, or else they are unfocused. The proverb speaks about prophetic visions given by God, but the general principle applies: without vision, people “are unrestrained.” The Hebrew word is “comes undone, fall apart.” On the other hand, clear guidance, a clear direction from the Lord brings us joy: “but happy is he who keeps the Law.”

The second passage is from a speech given by Paul in the book of Acts:

36"For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed.” (Acts 13:36)

The first passage speaks about vision as an anchor that keeps God’s people grounded. The second passage in a sense tells us what God’s people are supposed to be anchored to: “God’s purpose in his own generation.” God had a purpose in David’s generation. That purpose was different that what God’s purpose had been in Moses’ generation, or in Samuel’s generation, or what it would be in Paul’s generation or in John Calvin’s generation or in Billy Graham’s generation, or in our generation.

One of the greatest things that can be said of anybody was that they served God’s purpose in their generation. Discerning God’s purposes in your generation, the time and place that God has put you, is something highly valued in Scripture. 1 Chronicles 12:32 mentions the…

…men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do…

To understand the times! It’s not just a matter of understanding changing times, changing ideas, changing populations and changing cultures. It’s a matter of understanding the times from God’s point of view. What’s God up to?

For example, at the time of the Reformation, God’s purpose was to draw His people back to His word and back to Christ alone as our guide and hope. Later God’s purpose was to get His people moving outward to the nations, and the modern missions movement was born. Still later, the Lord was calling His people back to the basics of making Christ known as the Savior, the Spiritual Rescuer, and the evangelical movement was born. This church, founded in 1943, is a direct result of that great movement of God.

But as times change, God’s purpose changes as well. It’s not as if God changes. He doesn’t. But He has a Big Plan in history.

Where are we now in that Big Plan of God? That’s exactly the question nine people from this congregation have been seeking over the last ten months. Over the next four weeks, I want to share with you what we have observed.

This week, I want to share with you the heart of it all—our Vision as a church. Next week, I want to explore the four Biblical values that this vision rests upon. Then I want to share with you our understanding of the mission God’s called us to. And finally, I want to conclude with a reminder of the one passion that must be at the center of it all: Loving God and serving people.

What’s God up to? Specifically, what is God up to in our area, the San Gabriel Valley? That’s asking a different question than, “How has the area changed over the last so many years?” Things don’t just happen; God is sovereign!

One of the most obvious things that has happened over the years in our area is the increasing numbers of people who live here who were not born in the United States, but who have migrated here from all over the world. In this room are people who were born in China, Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and many other places as well.

The current issue of American Missionary Fellowship News is all about the exciting newly discovered mission field known as the United States of America! 221 million Americans of all backgrounds are utterly “unchurched”—that is they have no vital contact with a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church. That makes the US the third-largest mission field in the world! A significant portion of that huge block of people are the new immigrants to America.

Los Angeles is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. We have 155 non-English newspapers, a 911 center than can respond in 171 languages, 85 mosques and the largest concentration of Mexican people outside Mexico City. I have interacted with Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Jewish peoples, all within a five mile radius of where we meet to worship today.

Clearly, this area is becoming a very international, multiethnic and multilingual area. And it isn’t just “happening.” We need to think like the men of Issachar, “who understood the times.” We must be that it is God who is at work. He is gathering His sheep, and is using the movement of peoples as ones means to gather them.

In John 10:16, Jesus says,

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

God’s unchanging plan of the ages is to gather His sheep, His people from all nations. For generations that meant sending missionaries out from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia to so-called “third world” countries. And yes, for the foreseeable future, there will be a need to keep sending missionaries. But one of the ways Jesus is gathering His sheep is by sending people to places where the Good News is already known—places like the USA—and drawing people from places where the Good News is almost unknown.

Let me share the words we came up with to describe our understanding of the vision God has for us:

Our Vision

We want to be a church in which the greatness of Jesus Christ can be experienced and entered into by people from all nations and which will continue to impact and transform the San Gabriel Valley by deeds of love done in His name.

We want people to experience “the greatness of Jesus Christ.” You can’t top Jesus. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is the Son who cannot be eclipsed. No one stands along Him. He is above all and beyond all.

And He is for all peoples. At the end of history, we’ll see the vision of John in Revelation 5:9b-10 fulfilled:

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."

The vision statement says our intent is to introduce Jesus to “people from all nations.” The international opportunity we have is amazing. We are now and will become more and more a church of all nations—not an Asian church or a white church or a black church or a Hispanic church, but a church that shows the size of the love of Jesus—a preview of heaven!

Now that statement of vision goes on to say that we’ll be a church “which will continue to impact and transform the San Gabriel Valley by deeds of love done in His name.”

A lot of churches say that they’re called to “hold forth the word of life” or something like that. What they really mean by that, in practical terms, is that they’ll have a preacher preach a Biblically sound sermon or two each week. Our vision statement says something more and different from that. It says that we’re going to continue to impact the Valley “by deeds of love done in His name.”

One phrase that came up again and again in our discussions was “service to the community.” We read two excellent books that moved us in that direction as well: The Church of Irresistible Influence by Robert Lewis and The Present Future by Reggie McNeal. Like the men of Issachar, we have begun to understand the times we are in—and they are changing times. The ethnic transformation of our area is barely the half of it. The biggest change of all is how people have changed the way they think about truth.

Do you remember how Pilate scoffed at the very idea of truth when he had Jesus on trial (John 18:38: “What is truth?”)? Well, we’re back to where Pilate was. We now live in a time when people think that truth is relative. Truth is what works for you. If Buddha works for you, that’s your truth, and who am I to judge? If Falung Gong works for you, that’s your truth, and who am I to judge? And if Jesus works for you, well, that’s great, but I have my own truth.

We act like we’ve never heard of this before, but remember—the spiritual environment we’re in now is a lot like it was 20 centuries ago in the Roman world where the Christian faith did just fine. And how did we make Jesus known? It wasn’t by holding worship services and hoping people showed up. It wasn’t even by knocking on doors and talking to people about Jesus. It was by what I’ve been calling “acts of outrageous love”—deeds of selfless service that break through the barriers of relativism. Here’s a line worth repeating: Authenticity breaks through post-Christian prejudice.

The reality is that while many of the people we meet are unacquainted with the Christian faith, there are others who feel they have an idea what it’s all about, and don’t want any part of it. Think of them as “post-Christians.” For them, the church has failed and Christianity has failed. They are the post-Christians. They are you children and grandchildren. They run businesses and schools and non-profit organizations. They are the ones with the Darwin eating the Christian fish symbols on their cars.

What do we do with the post-Christians? Do we just give up on them? Let’s admit that they have some pretty good reasons to be “post-Christian.” All they hear about Christians is what they’re against. They’re against abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, and women’s rights. They see us as angry, backward people. And we’ve often played that role, a role the news media and the movies play up.

What chance do we have to break through this wall of prejudice that now exists? The reality is that as society has decayed, yes, we are against a lot of things. Back in Roman times, we were against people leaving unwanted babies to die in the wilderness. In India, we were against burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre. In the 1850s, we were against American slavery. Sometimes to say yes to God you have to say no to horrible practices.

The way to break through is by deeds of service done in love. The way to break through is by selfless acts of outrageous love. They way to break through is by an undeniable authentic spirituality. Authenticity breaks through post-Christian prejudice. As we grow in service, and as a servant church, we expand the opportunities we have to present the greatness of Jesus to the whole community—both to native-born Americans and to the immigrant community.

Think back to the world where the gospel first exploded. It was a world of moral relativism, of many gods and many religions. Yet the Christian faith thrived. Why? Historian Michael Green writes,

Christians stood out for their chastity, their hatred of cruelty, their civil obedience…they did not expose infants, they did not swear. They refused to have anything to do with idolatry and its by-products. Such lives made a great impact.

Another historian, Rodney Stark, writes about the plagues that afflicted the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries AD:

The willingness of Christians to care for others was put on public display…Pagans tried to avoid all contact with the afflicted, often casting the still living into the gutters. Christians, on the other hand, nursed the sick, even so some died doing so.

The famous historian Will Durant goes on to say:

Never had the world seen such a dispensation of alms as was now organized by the church…She helped widows, orphans, the sick and infirm, prisoners, victims of natural catastrophes…the church or her rich laymen founded public hospitals on a scale never known before. Pagans admired the steadfastness of Christians in caring for the sick in cities stricken with famine or pestilence.

This is how our witness broke through pagan prejudice, and how it can break through post-Christian prejudice: authentic deeds of service that show the reality of God’s love through Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says,

14"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”.

Let’s make Jesus known to all through our deeds, our acts of outrageous love, our service to the community.

Remember the Vision:

We want to be a church in which the greatness of Jesus Christ can be experienced and entered into by people from all nations and which will continue to impact and transform the San Gabriel Valley by deeds of love done in His name.

Amen, Lord! Let’s pray.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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