Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Are We Here?

This is the third message on vision I shared at my church, Nov. 19 just past.

Why Are We Here? The Mission and Purpose of First Baptist Church

November 19, 2006
Vision 2006 Message Three

Rick Warren was recently named by Newsweek Magazine as one of the most influential leaders in America. They cited his church, Saddleback Community Church down in Orange County, one of the largest churches in America; his work to alleviate AIDS in Africa; his philanthropy (now’s that he’s a best-selling author, he’s giving away vast sums) and his book The Purpose Driven Life. What they didn’t mention was that well before Rick wrote The Purpose Driven Life, he wrote another book called The Purpose Driven Church. All the life principles found in The Purpose Driven Life were first worked out at Saddleback church and then put to print in The Purpose Driven Church.

Rick’s point in both books is that most churches, and most Christians, wander through life as if God just wants us to do whatever sounds good to us and hope that he’ll bless it. So we meander through life, doing as we please, and hope that that’s OK with God.

But remember the way we talked about God’s vision for the church last week—comparing that to driving to Jacksonville? God’s directive to His church as just as clear and concrete as a road trip across America to north Florida. That’s our “vision.” That’s our goal.

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!

For the car to move, it has to have wheels and an 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.

For the last several months, a team of nine people from our church body has sought God for our vision as a church, here in the first decade of the 21st century. God is changeless, His word is changeless, but as we saw, His purposes do change. So went we put pen to paper, we expressed the vision God is calling us to this way:

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.

That’s the destination, that’s our “going to Jacksonville.” Then we saw the four wheels on this car, the four values we hold dear as a church:

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

Values are things you hold dear—the things truly important to you. We are saying that the highest value to us is that of worshipping God. That our life together in the family of God is also of great importance, as well as continued spiritual growth and finally that we cannot rest until we see the Kingdom of God have increasing impact on our community, especially as we see people turn to God and become part of the family of God.

But there’s one big piece missing yet. We have a destination and we have the wheels. But where’s the engine?

That’s when we talk about what’s at the core, our mission. You might as well say (as Rick Warren would) our purpose. Why do we exist? Why is First Baptist here? What is our purpose?

I’ve told this story before, but bear with me. When I was in Ohio, there was a real up and coming church about 30 miles south of us, Ginghamsburg United Methodist. Mike Slaughter’s been the pastor there for about 20 years. He came and spoke at my church, Piqua Baptist. He told the story how when he went to Ginghamsburg, it was a little country church on the I-75 freeway just north of Dayton. They had about 75 people and the church was best known in the community for the chicken dinners they put on. People would literally come from miles around for these chicken dinners. As a matter of fact, as he met people in the community and would say that he was the pastor at Ginghamsburg, people would say, “Oh, the chicken dinner church!”

10 years later, that church of 75 was a church of 750. They had built a new facility that was visible from the freeway and sponsored all kinds of ministries, even an inner city ministry in Dayton. And yet, Mike said, he would still have the occasional member say, “I remember when we were the chicken dinner church. Boy, those were the days. I wish we could go back to that!” If there was ever a case of missing God’s purpose, that’s it!

As we talked and read and prayed, it became increasingly clear to us that there were two great issues we needed to grapple with to seize, understand and act upon to be part of God’s plan for us in this place and time. The first one we talked about is the international nature of our community. That’s the most obvious big change in our community now as compared to even 10 years ago, and the farther back you go the difference is all the more striking.

Go into the lobby at either Temple City or Arcadia High. Look at the portraits of the valedictorians. In the 60s or the 70s, they are all native born white Americans. But starting in the late 80s to the present, it starts to shift. And today, for the last several years, those valedictorians are more likely to be named Wong than Jones.

I am convinced that God has a purpose in the movement of peoples. As a matter of fact, George Barna reported that the single greatest movement of people living in the United States toward the gospel of Jesus in the 1990s was the influx of Asian Americans. If you live in the San Gabriel Valley, you’re in the center of one of the most dramatic things God is doing in the USA today. I’ve had numerous encounters with Asians who are running hard after knowing Jesus Christ, and many, many of them are young people.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be left on the sidelines of what God is doing. I want to be in the thick of it. That requires some intentionality. It doesn’t happen by chance. It means focusing, making it our central to purpose and our mission.

The second thing that we discussed at length is the fact that the Christian faith, and the church, doesn’t have the same respect it had in the general population a generation ago. For people who have never been “church-goers”, the church seems kind of weird. We’re mostly known for what we’re against: abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, evolution and so forth. To people on the outside, we seem negative and gloomy. We may know that the word “gospel” means “Good News”; for them, “gospel” is a type of music.

The image of the church has as well taken a beating from scandals—from the Catholic Church child abuse scandals back to the Jim Bakker to Jimmy Swaggart sex scandals of the 1980s. And for some, 911 was proof that anybody who takes any “religion” seriously are at least potentially dangerous.

All this was again was taken into account when we set out to write down our understanding of our mission. Here it is:

Our Mission
Our purpose is...

--To spread the news that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and to make faithful disciples from people of many nations. (Matthew 28:19-20)
--To demonstrate the reality of God’s love for our neighbors through service to the community (Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:29-37)
--To glorify God by preparing believers for personal growth and purposeful action(Mark 1:16-18, John 15:8)

To spread, to demonstrate, to glorify: all words that speak of action. Let’s look at those one by one.

To spread the news that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and to make faithful disciples from people of many nations. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We don’t exist to do chicken dinners. We don’t exist to serve the needs of our members. We don’t exist to enact legislation. We don’t exist to maintain an interfaith dialogue. We don’t exist to uphold a tradition. We don’t exist to uphold a denomination. We exist to “spread the news that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and to make faithful disciples from people of many nations.”

Making Christ known is number one. There are many good things, but only one Best Thing. The best thing is spreading the Good News that Jesus is the Savior—the Spiritual Rescuer—of the world. He calls all people everywhere to turn to Him. And in this place, with the international nature of the community, we make it clear that when we make Him known, then we “make faithful disciples from people of many nations.” That means native-born Americans, people from Latin America and the Caribbean, from all over Asia and from anywhere else people come from to live in this area. We are an international church with an international congregation with an international mission.

The pattern was laid down by Jesus Himself in Matthew 28:18-20:

18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

He has all authority, and He sends us to all nations, and He’s with us always. Making Him known is what gets us up in the morning. We have a purpose, a mission, each one of us: to make Jesus known to peoples from every nation God sees fit to bring within our sphere of influence.

The second part of that mission or purpose is:

To demonstrate the reality of God’s love for our neighbors through service to the community. (Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:29-37)

The world is tired of windbags who talk about love and who don’t deliver. A wife knows she is loved not by the words her husband says but by the deeds he lives by and the respect she is shown. The world will listen to us talk about God’s love if they see some demonstration of it in our lives. This is the second thing that gets us up in the morning; that puts wind in our sails: the opportunity to demonstrate the reality of God’s love to our neighbors through tangible service.

So we’re not talking about demonstrating God’s love through fliers, or preaching from flatbed trucks, or through some way that feels like it’s some kind of trick or manipulation. We’re going to focus on those kinds of things that show Jesus’ love and care and character through deeds, through service to the community. We’re going to let our light shine. We’re going to, as Jesus says in Mark 12:30-31, love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. We’re going to stop and help that wounded person by the side of the road, as the Good Samaritan does in the story Jesus tells in Luke 10:29-37. This is an area I want to explore in much greater detail next week, as we share on the One Great Passion God has called us to.

The third part of our mission or purpose is:

To glorify God by preparing believers for personal growth and purposeful action.(Mark 1:16-18, John 15:8)

Many churches think that they are “successful” if they get people to just show up. (Somebody put it this way: show up, sit down, shut up, give money and don’t cause trouble.) Well, we don’t measure “success” that way. In his book The Present Future, Reggie McNeal compares it to a gym. Say you join the local YMCA and for six months straight, you come three times a week. You sign in at the desk. Then you drink coffee and eat donuts and sit with other people who talk about working out. You study the history of exercise and the words for exercise in Hebrew and Greek, and then you go to the Athletic Assembly. You sing songs about exercise and a top athlete lectures on the benefits of exercise. Then you go home. Anything wrong with this picture? You got it. You were there for six hours a week and closest thing you got to working out was carrying in the box of donuts!

God’s word doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. In Mark 1:16-18, Jesus calls us to be fishers for people. That means work. That means getting up early, going out late, getting wet from the water, cold in the winter and hot in the summer to draw people into His net of faith, into the family of God. He also didn’t call an elite corps of Super-Mega-Fishers; He called all of His followers to be fishing for people. And remember: if you’re not fishing, you’re not following.

He expects us to be fruitful. In John 15:8, Jesus says,

This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

This is a purposeful church:

--To spread the news that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and to make faithful disciples from people of many nations. --To demonstrate the reality of God’s love for our neighbors through service to the community --To glorify God by preparing believers for personal growth and purposeful action

We don’t wander in circles. These are clear Biblical marching orders. This isn’t trivia. This isn’t making chicken dinners. This is being on the cutting edge of what God is doing, and what God is calling us to.

And beneath it all there is one great holy passion—a holy passion that I want to share with you next week.

1 comment:

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