Monday, December 04, 2006

More on Vision

Last week, I posted the first message I shared in December about our church vision. Here's the second message, from November 12.

Four Biblical Values for a High-Impact Church

Last week we talked about the absolute necessity to understand our times and to seek God’s will for the generation we live in. We saw what Acts 13:36 says about what a blessing it is to serve God’s purpose in our times. There Paul speaks about King David, 1,000 years in his past, and says:

"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.”

What a great thing! David knew that God’s unfolding plan was to unite and establish the kingdom of Israel, and he did it. He knew that his purpose was not that of Adam or Noah or Abraham or Moses or Samuel—all who had gone before him. And looking back, we can see that what God had planned for those who followed David would be completely different: for Solomon, or Elijah, or Isaiah, or John the Paul or the apostle Peter.

We also had a look at the…

…men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do…
(1 Chronicles 12:32)

The examples of David, and of the “men of Issachar” are reminders that we are called to be people of discernment. We are called to be wise. We are called to think carefully. God does not change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. God’s word does not change. It’s the fully inspired, infallible word of God. God’s truth does not change. God’s standards of right and wrong do not change. But the times change. God’s plan for our moment in time is different that it was for 1906, or 1946, or even 1996.

I’m a real fan of the space program. When Armstrong and Aldrin landed Apollo 11 in July 1969, I was a few weeks short of my 12th birthday. At the time it seemed simple. Walter Cronkite and all the news media were slow to let us know just how close they came to crashing that day.

For months, the astronauts practiced their descent in a simulator. For a long part of their descent, the Lunar Module had to fly “on its back” with the astronauts looking up away from the moon. At the right time, they would pitch forward and then they would sight the landmarks they knew as the headed to “Tranquility Base”, the name for their landing spot—a very smooth section of soil that would make for an easy landing.

As Armstrong and Aldrin pitched forward, just 7,500 feet about the lunar soil, they were shocked to find that none of the landmarks they’d become familiar with in training were in sight. They were off target. The area before them was rugged and full of boulders and craters. Aldrin later wrote that his first thought was, “Where’s our craters? Who moved our craters?” Armstrong had to take over from the computer and manually land the Lunar Module—with only 19 seconds of fuel to spare.

And sometimes we find ourselves saying, “Where’s our community? Where are our friends? Where’s our church? How come things changed so much? Who moved everything?” No matter how much the terrain has changed, God’s with us as we come in for a landing, and He’s provided us with all the fuel we need.

Last week, I explained how nine church members have been meeting over the last several months seeking just what God’s vision for us it—what his purpose for us in 2006 and in the immediate years to come. And I shared with you the statement we wrote to express our understanding of that vision:

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.

Jesus at the center! He gets the glory! But people, real people, the people “out there,” the people who live here in the area, the hundreds of thousands who don’t know Jesus are on our minds and in our hearts.

You can think of vision as the goal. Say you decided to drive to Jacksonville, Florida. US 10 runs all the way across the country. The west end is in Santa Monica and the east end is in Jacksonville. Your vision, your goal, is to drive to Jacksonville. But you need more than a vision. You need a car!

Now at the risk of really oversimplifying a car, let’s break it down to just two parts: the wheels and the engine. The wheels are where the rubber meets the road and makes the car move forward. The engine is where the action really is: it’s what makes the trip to Jacksonville possible.

This week, I’m talking about the wheels: four biblical values for our church to “run on.” Next week, I’ll talk about the engine—the mission or purpose of our church. It’s where the vroom! comes from.

Here are those for values stated briefly:

1. Worshipping God
2. The Family of God
3. Growth in Christ
4. Impact on the Community

The order is very intentional. God comes first. His worship is number one.

Next comes the value of the family of God. God’s plan from all eternity has been to create a family for Himself. We are called to be an active part in that family.

Next comes growth in Christ. We were never designed by God to sit and wait to die. We are called to grow in our faith, to grow in our love of God and love of His word and ways. We are called to be more like Jesus—to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” That’s the next value.

Finally, the last value we identified, the last wheel on this car, is “impact on the community.” Personal growth is not enough. God’s kingdom is the issue. He wants to expand His kingdom through us. The heart of this is to gather more and more people into God’s family, to know and to love Jesus Christ. And at the center of that is a heart to reach out and serve the needs of this community. As a servant church, we gain a hearing to people who don’t know Him. That kind of authenticity breaks through walls of prejudice.

Let me go through each of those in a little more detail.

Worshipping God

Here’s how we stated that value:

We were made to love God with all our hearts. We believe that real worship is both the celebration of the love of God as well as surrender to the will of God.

Real worship isn’t defined by the type of music that’s played. It isn’t defined by whether worship is at this time or that time. It isn’t defined by terms like traditional or contemporary or liturgical or informal. It isn’t defined by being “seeker-friendly” or by being “evangelistic.” It isn’t defined by singing praise out of a book or off of a screen. Real worship is loving God with all our hearts.

Jesus defined real worship for us when He told us that the greatest command is…

30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)

Love of God comes first! And so it is.

The second value is…

The Family of God

Here’s what we wrote about that:

“We were made to experience being the family of God. We believe that real fellowship means time together, study together and service together. We believe that this best happens in the context of a small group. We believe that we are called to be an English-speaking church that warmly welcomes and enfolds people from all nations and languages.”

The family of God isn’t just a vague idea; it’s supposed to be experienced. We’re connected to each other. That means time, study and service that we undertake together.

Since you can’t know everybody, it means that a smaller group is essential. For a lot of us, that happens in our Sunday morning classes—but it’s not limited to that. Whenever we come together to fellowship, study and serve, the family of God should be “happening.”

The chief characteristic of a properly functioning family is love. God’s word is full of commands and reminders that we need to intentionally love one another. Love means putting the other person first. Love means imitating Jesus in the way He put others first. Paul tells the church at Philippi to imitate Christ in the way the relate to each other (Philippians 2:1-8:

1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made Himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself

and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!

All kinds of churches are needed to reach the peoples of our area. We talked and prayed and talked some more and agreed that the Lord was calling us to be an English-speaking church that rolls out the red carpet, that makes it as easy as possible, for people from other lands where English is not the language spoken, to enter here, to be ministered here and to find real life in Christ. That’s part of our unique call, and part of this value we live by.

That leads to the third key value we identified:

Growth in Christ

Again, here’s what we wrote:

“We were made to continue to grow as followers of Jesus. We believe that real spiritual growth is a lifelong process. This means obedience to Jesus’ commands, regular study of God’s Word, living a life of prayer and serving one another in love.”

How long does it take to make a fully formed disciple of Jesus? A year? Three years? 10? No—it takes a whole lifetime, plus a little bit!

Jesus doesn’t want to make a superficial difference in our lives. We’re called to a way of life that is distinctly different. We are called to a life that becomes more and more centered on the Lord and His word. We need to learn how to live like Jesus in the way we love and care for one another.

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes this spiritual about growth:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Spiritual growth is like flying a plane. When you turn off the engine, you glide for 10 seconds, then you crash! You have to keep growing or you slip back. When you rest, you rust.

Now here’s the last of the four. It’s…

Impact on the Community

Here’s how we wrote it up:

“We were made to change the world by making disciples from all nations. We believe that there is no one thing more important than sharing the greatness of Jesus to all persons, locally and globally.”

Jesus is great—too great to be kept to yourself! He gave us this command:

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.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus didn’t tell us to set our sights low. He told us to set them high—and wide. As wide as the whole world. The Great Commission is global.

These are four great values to stand on:

Worshipping God
The Family of God
Growth in Christ
Impact on the Community

Next week, and the week after, we’ll focus on what that means in very practical, hands-on terms.

The first time I led a mission work team was while I was pastoring in New Hampshire. When we came back, one member of the team, a guy named Ron asked me. “I know why we did what we did in the Dominican Republic. Why don’t we do that here?” When he said that, my heart leaped for joy. Why not? Why not look at the local community as our mission field?

Missions doesn’t start south of the border. It starts one inch outside the door. There are people here, within feet of where we’re sitting, who don’t know Jesus, and don’t know what they’re missing. And they’re unlikely to come to know Him if the first thing they hear from us is how messed up they are that they don’t know Him!

It can happen when we look out the doors with love and hope and faith; with a desire to serve and work and take the time needed. Jesus told us to change the world, and to let our light shine. Let’s light lamps of hope for the people who live all around us—for Jesus’ sake, and in Jesus’ power!

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