Monday, February 29, 2016

A Limited Detail (Strategy)

On April 12, 1970, Apollo 13 launched with a mission to land on the moon. A little more than two days into their mission, everything changed. Why? One of the oxygen tanks had a slight malfunction. The tank (known as Tank #2) had been installed on Apollo 10 the year prior, but was removed to be modified, and had been damaged in the process. This same tank, now on Apollo 13, did not function properly on two different tests conducted in March, yet was put on board after a work-around had unknowingly severely damaged the tank. The explosion of Tank #2 caused Tank #1 to fail as well. These events caused issues with the electrical system and the water system. The last minute crew replacement, John Swigert, added because of the possibility of measles spreading on the crew, would utter the infamous words, "Houston, we have a problem..."

Of course, this is not the only issue of NASA. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off due to an O-ring seal, which was less than two inches in diameter. On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere because a small piece of foam insulation broke off and struck the wing when it launched on January 16, 2003, over two years from its originally scheduled launch date.

The purpose of this brief history of spacecraft-related malfunctions is not meant to find fault with NASA. On the contrary, if we look at the complexity of space travel, we can see that NASA has a rather remarkable record. NASA has successfully launched over 1000 unmanned missions including the highly anticipated Mars mission which landed on the planet in August of 2012. Additionally, well over 100 manned flights have occurred, including the flights to and from the ISS for over 22 years. In fact, it has been continuously manned for over 15 years now. So why do I mention these accidents? Because details matter. Details are often small, but in the three examples I mentioned, we see how highly important they can be.

Our focal passage for this series, Matthew 16.18, revolved specifically around Jesus words, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH." In these words, we have already seen that we can trust Him, that His will can accomplish the purpose, and that He has the right plan to do it. But that plan, as we saw last week, also included using the right materials…us. We are the chosen materials, but we have to be willing. We must make ourselves available.

But besides being available, we must also realize that we are a significant detail to His plan. Without us, God will not be stymied. Jesus is the only human in history who was irreplaceable, and yet His humility (see Philippians 2.5-11) was inexplicable. We cannot consider ourselves irreplaceable. To do so would be incredibly arrogant. But we are significant...even if we might be limited.

Fitting into the "MY"

A few weeks ago, we explored the "I" part of the statement. But today, it is the possessive word "my" that gets the emphasis. Most humans are appalled at the idea of slavery, and rightfully so. Yet, Paul called himself a bondservant (slave) of Christ. And elsewhere, the Bible says that we were purchased by the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6.19-20). But that discussion will wait for another time. The intention of this post is to show that each person (though limited individually) is a detail that when combined with others (who are also limited) can do much greater things. This truth is evident from the passage of 1 Corinthians 12. Please take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 12.12-27.

The verses are in the context of a larger passage in which Paul is writing about unity. Most famously is Chapter 13, which speaks of the kind of love God has for us, and therefore, the kind we should have for one another. But after focusing on the divisions within their taking of the Lord’s Supper, Paul addresses spiritual gifts. And he does so with the concept of the plural into the singular. So this week, I want you to consider the message under the idea of How do I fit in to the MY of Jesus? Next week, we will transition to the group aspect.

Let me give you five truths about the "MY" and His relation to us.

1. The "MY" controls the body, not us.

In 1 Corinthians 12.22-27, Paul compares each person to an individual part of a body. But just earlier (vv. 4-6), he shows the context of these parts are a part of the plan of one Spirit, one Lord, and one God. Last week, we talked about our need to unify. These verses are one of the reasons…we all serve the same God. And that God has made us in a unique way so that we might partner together to serve something greater than ourselves. We are the individual members which make up the body, of which He is the head.

2. The "MY" provides one or more gifts, to us.

Last week, I mentioned that God only uses one kind of people. It is the available. And for those that are available, He provides us a gift to be best equipped to serve Him for the sake of His church and His Kingdom. Some can do one or two things. Some can do more. But like we saw at the beginning of the message regarding a few NASA missions, when a slight detail is not applied correctly, misuse or not having the right pieces to use can cause major problems.

3. The "MY" overcomes the limits often placed, on us.

As individuals, we are limited in what we can do. That is expressed in the title for this post. Limited is not bad; it is simply a reality. As 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, the body is made up of different parts, and each part has a function. That is, WE MUST BE WHO WE ARE because we cannot truly be someone else, just as a foot cannot be an elbow. We should strive to maximize who we are, but we cannot be someone else. When we partner with Jesus - the "MY" from our passage - the collective is able to support so much more than any single part.

4. The "MY" is the owner, not us.

This one may sting a little. Think about how often each of us use the phrase, "my church."

"Why don't you come to my church?"
"Did you hear what happened at my church?"

Whose church is it? A fictional book was written a few years ago entitled, Who Stole My Church? The premise of the book surrounds some overdue changes for a church in the northeast US. The feedback led one person to exclaim that her church had been stolen.

The truth is that we call it "my church" because we have an investment in it. For the church I serve, the truth is none of us was here when it started in 1884, and prayerfully, this church will endure long past our lifetimes as well. Truthfully, it is His Church, and we are just the stewards. But when Jesus says, I will build MY Church, THIS church is a part of that. This church is a small part of "MY CHURCH."

5. The "MY" sets the standards, not us.

Last week, I mentioned a quote by Winston Churchill - "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." The problem is that for too long we have set standards that do not measure what Jesus measures. For too long, churches have allowed people to be considered a good Christian if they are faithful in:

  • Showing Up
  • Serving
  • Stewardship

These are important standards in one sense. And they are chosen standards because they are measurable, that is, the questions can be simply answered. Was so-and-so at church? Who is going on that mission trip? What was the amount of the offering last week? (If more people gave, we could do more.)

Learning to Think Differently

Jesus did talk about service, and being stewards. But He also talked about love. It is difficult to measure that. Or how about measuring a question such as how many disciples someone has made? Again, we can count how many people we have invited to church, etc. But making disciples, that takes time. It also means we have to allow people into our lives at levels most would rather not exposed. And thus, instead of making disciples we don’t even make converts. LifeWay Groups recently sent an email with the headline reporting that 95% of all Christians have never led another person to Christ. 95%! But we, as "good Christians" worry about the budget. And we are good Christians because we show up, serve occasionally, and give a little money. We have convinced ourselves we are good, and yet do not follow Jesus command to make disciples! 

The fact is that a person can come to church every week, give a lot of money to a church (or other causes), and serve occasionally (even often) and not love Jesus. They may not even know Jesus. And yet, by most standards they are an excellent church member and a "good Christian." On the other hand, a disciple would do all of these things - show up, serve, and give) because that is what it means to follow Jesus. And each disciple is one of many significant details that Jesus uses to partner with Him in building His Church and extending His Kingdom.

Instead, by choosing not to live out the gospel in every aspect of our lives, "good Christians" provide their children alternatives to Jesus. Because of sports and other activities five nights a week (or more), children and their parents are too tired for church on Sundays (or any other day). Effectively the children become atheists because they do not know God. The fact is that if we do not disciple our children, they will not disciple their children, and no one is a disciple. And thus we see churches all over America closing. "But it isn't our fault!" cries the congregation. The pastor is blamed. So one pastor is fired, and another hired. A band-aid is put on the situation for awhile, and the church feels good, not because things new building is taking place, but because the furniture has been rearranged, so to speak. After a few years, the process repeats - again, and again.

  • The truth is we all must take ownership.
  • The truth is that our understanding is different than His.
  • The truth is we need to make sure that our results are good measured by His standards, not ours.
  • The truth is that the ideas of showing up, serving, and stewardship are not enough to be effective as a church.

As I said the first week of this series, "Good gets in the way of great." So, if we want to be better, or greater, then we need to look at Jesus' perspective. He wants us to love God, love others, and love one another, and make disciples here and abroad. If we are the kind of people described in that graphic, we will be a large church in a small town. In the book, Transformational Church, the authors describe this phenomenon as:

  • Individuals Being the People of God
  • Congregations Acting like the Body of Christ
  • Community Reflecting the Kingdom of God

Any church that wishes to be included as part of the "MY" that Jesus is building likely needs to change some things. We need to think like a follower of Jesus instead of an attender of a church. We need to engage in being a disciple of Jesus and be willing to help others find Him as well. And we need to do this together. That was last week’s message – unity. But this week, it is not about us, it is about Jesus. It is not about what He is building, it is that He possesses what is being built! Does God possess you?

His Church = His People

Jesus said, "I WILL BUILD MY…." My church. And the church is the people, so we are the church. And the church is His, so we are His. When someone says it is my or mine, they are claiming ownership. So, Jesus is claiming ownership over each one who has given their life to Him (that means you have given ownership of your life to Him). That ownership is for you as you are, not just how you could be. Certainly, Jesus wants us to be better than we are…more than we are. But God. Romans 5.8 says, "But God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." His blood purchased you, so He owns you. And when He purchased you, He made you whole, casting aside your sin. Many times we may want to build. We want to succeed. We want to be what Jesus wants…but without Him, it is not possible. We forget that far too often.

And so we get discouraged or even depressed. We feel like the wood scraps I mentioned last week. But, if we believe, Jesus says we are His. And because we have limitations, any success that we have ensures that He gets the glory. Or at least that is how it should be.

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:

  • R - Revere

A couple of weeks ago, the focus was on the will of God. But John 12.32 contains another "I will" statement of Jesus. Here, Jesus says He will draw all people to Himself…IF He is lifted up? So, what does that mean? Do you and I lift Him up?

First, we must understand that in one sense Jesus meant that He would be physically lifted up on a cross for execution, and once complete all men would be drawn to Him by the blood He shed. However, secondly, lifting up can have the implication of us revering Him - that is, lifting Him above ourselves. Again, it is Jesus that provides our hope. Isn’t that worth lifting Him up?


So, what about our next steps?

Our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp.

An on-ramp gives us time to get up to speed so that we are able join in with the rest of the traffic. Sometimes, we get to the end of an on-ramp and we must still wait because the traffic is too heavy. And that happens in ministry as well. But ultimately, just as a responsible driver tries to make room for someone about to merge into traffic, a wise servant will make room to allow another person to merge into a ministry role of some sort. On a freeway, everyone may need to slow down for just a short time, but in the end, if everyone is following the principles of driving, all parties get to their destination. Likewise, servants who include others when serving may need to go slower and explain some things along the way (making the initial completion slower). But in doing so, a new ministry partnership may be formed, and more importantly a stronger disciple may be made of both individuals.

But as we close, let me talk about an exit ramp for a moment. Have you ever exited a highway and then realized there wasn’t an on-ramp to get back on the highway on the other side? Being in an unknown area, all of a sudden you find that you don’t know how to get back on the same path (highway) you just exited. Your journey has been disrupted. It wasn’t intentional, but it happened. Now, if we are talking about a trip in a car, the longer it takes to get back on the highway, the more frustrated we get because we are losing time. But we will find a way, because we are determined to reach our destination.

But if we are talking about people who leave the church, then the exit ramp can often mean their JOURNEY is aborted. Over time, as people get away from church, they tend to get more comfortable because they have more time (i.e. I don’t have to go to church, so I have more time to do …). But can I suggest that while they have more time, they have less life – at least, life as described by Jesus? Because Jesus promises a life that is given abundantly (John 10.10).

So, find an on ramp. As we talk about opportunities in the coming weeks, months, and years, some opportunities will arise that are not a good fit for you. But others will fit you perfectly. I will post some thought on this in a few weeks related to the "gates" and the "keys" from later in Jesus' statement. But for now…as you are looking for opportunities to serve, consider how you might include others as well – either using the on-ramp to join them, or inviting others to use an on-ramp to join you. After all, the other person, or persons, might be just the detail that God will use to make everything run as planned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Luxurious Design (Strategy)

Today's post is about building. Specifically, we are going to talk about Jesus statement, "I will BUILD." But before we get there, we must consider that before we can build something we should have a plan, unless what you are building is inconsequential. For instance, consider a young child with a set of building blocks. Some children may develop a plan, but most will just start building because, after all, once the building is complete, it will be torn down to begin building again. The same is true as a child grows. But blocks, Lincoln logs, and Legos become wood and metal and concrete. And the structures being built become larger and less temporary. And because of that, a plan is needed, so a plan is developed.

But a part of the plan must be include a consideration of the type of materials. For instance, what if you are building a boat. Now ideally, you would choose fiberglass. What might happen if you use bricks for your boat? Or if you were building a phone tower, what if you used Styrofoam like the old cup games with a string? So not only is the plan important, but so is the knowledge of the planner.

Consider a ship. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that building a boat out of a fiberglass would be appropriate. But large ships, like navy vessels, use steel, or at least, an aluminum alloy today. And what about a plane. To make something fly, the Styrofoam I mentioned above might seem appropriate. But put me, a not-so-skinny guy, in a piece of steel crafted in just the right manner with just the right know-how, and you can carry me across an ocean with a couple of hundred people, with all of our luggage on board too.

So, the right plan, and the right materials, and the right person can make all the difference not only in what might be built, but also how good, strong, or effective the product might be. Which brings us to our focal verse for this series – Matthew 16.18, and specifically the words, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH."


Two weeks ago, we explored the word "I" and determined that Jesus not only has the authority to use the word as God, but that we should trust Him when He does.

Last week, we examined the word "Will" and concluded that we often choose to follow our own will, but doing so often gets us in trouble. Therefore we should submit to the will of the One who is in control anyway.

Well, this week, we find out what the "I" "will" do. The "I" Jesus, plans to, or "will" BUILD. And because He has the authority, and because He has the power, what He plans has been, is being, and will be done. And that means that this century’s old building campaign will continue until He is finished with it. If this is true, let’s take a look at Jesus building campaign, but we will do so in reverse order of our earlier discussion.

The Right Person

Again, this was our focus two weeks ago, so I am not going to go into all of that here. But let me say that if we truly believe He is the right person, then we need to get out of His way to let Him lead, and fall directly in-line with Him so that we can do what He asks.

The Right Materials

Jesus chooses people to be the material for his building project. In two weeks, we will further clarify that the church is not a building, but the people. But for now, just realize that you are the material of choice for the greatest building campaign the world has ever known. People marvel at the pyramids, are amazed at the Great Wall of China, speak of the beauty of the architecture of a building like the opera house in Sydney. But none of those compare with you.

His design is luxurious. And the materials He uses are luxurious. And those materials are you.

But the truth is that God only uses one kind of person. It isn't the smart or dumb. It isn't the pretty or ugly. It isn’t the tall or short. It is the available. To be available is to one who is humble, one who forgives, one who loves, and most importantly one who trusts God enough to become what God wants you to become by living according to the instructions He has given.

I realize someone reading this is probably saying that I can’t mean you. Perhaps all that is left of you is the scraps. For just a moment, consider a few pieces of wood that have been discarded as scraps. I have no carpentry skills, so I couldn't do much with those scraps.But someone who knows what they are doing might use these for some great purpose. Last week, I said that our purpose was significant purpose because God has called us to it. Well, maybe you feel like you are part of a scrap heap and so you are not significant. The first question you must ask is: Who told you that? Yourself? Someone else? Well, I can assure you one thing - IT WAS NOT JESUS! How do I know? First He was a carpenter, so He could probably fix just about anything with whatever was lying around. But more importantly, He purchased you. In fact, Jesus purchased all the material He would ever need to build His church? It wasn’t cheap either. He gave His blood for you. He gave His blood for me. So, don’t tell me you are worthless. God thinks you were worth the price of His Son. The question is what are you going to do about it?

He can repair you and restore you. Yes, you may have scars. Scars are real. But they don’t have to define you. Let Jesus define you. Let Jesus use you as His material. Find your worth in Him.

The Right Plan

  • Jesus said He would build. (Matthew 16.18) This is the theme of this entire series.
  • Jesus bought the materials. 1 Corinthians 6.19-20, says, "19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
  • Jesus sent a guide. In John 14.25-26, Jesus tells His disciples that though He must leave, He will sent the Holy Spirit. "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
  • Jesus holds the church together. Paul later writes to the Colossians, "And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." (Colossians 1.17-18)

A Call to Unity

This last sub-point is parallel to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In the first ten verses of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the word Christ, ten times. His point is that the church is about Christ, not us. He holds us together, not us. It is He that is head of the church, not ourselves. And it is He that unites us, not our own thoughts and ideas. And that is why in verse 10, Paul can write that the Corinthian church must be united – because it is about Christ. Some claim to follow Paul, some claim to follow Apollos, or Peter, or Christ Himself. It is not about following friends, a pastor, or even a church (though in discipleship we may follow a person as they point us to Christ). We are to follow Christ. We are to be united in Christ because Jesus is the one who died for you AND me. More importantly, He LIVES for YOU and ME..

Two weeks ago, I talked about our need to do great things for God. Great accomplishments often take great plans and great execution, all of which takes harmony – or unity. We might attempt great things, but without unity, it will not last. And without God it is not possible. Consider an Old Testament instance of a group of people united in purpose, but being against God. In Genesis 11, we have people committed to building a tower which will reach to heaven. And it is important to note that God does not say they cannot do it. In fact, God says because they are one people, of one language, they are just beginning to do great things and that nothing would be impossible for them, at least in their own minds (Genesis 11.6). But God! People may design their own schemes, but if God is not a part of the plan, then it will always, ultimately fail.

That is why our vision (two weeks ago), and our mission (last week), and now our strategy must be accomplished not only in unity with one another, but in partnership with God. Yet, it is one thing to have a strategy, and another to know if it is working. Winston Churchill once said, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

I would say that our strategy has served as a relative guide so far, but we don’t have much to show for it - yet. In one sense we must all take some responsibility for this, but ultimately, I have not led as strongly as I have needed to lead. Truthfully, we needed to get healthy as a church, and we have taken the time to do that, but now we must change our approach. We must go and we must grow.

A Call to Respond

I recently read two quotes related to what most people want from a pastor. I don’t believe this to be entirely true of our church, but if there is any truth in these for anyone, let us all realize, neither of these are me, nor have they been. But whatever part of me they have been they will be less true going forward.

"Many churches are not looking for a pastor so much as a spiritual yes-man employed to affirm their religiosity."
– Jared Wilson

I don’t want you to be religious, I want you to be holy. And I want you to become all that He wants you to be so that we, as a church, can be all that He calls us to be. (See Ephesians 4.1 and 5.1)

Whatever truth exists in that statement, realize the time for that thinking is over. That has not been me, and it will not be me. But in today’s world, we must get real about our faith, or we will abandon it. It is like the fake wood we install in our homes. It looks nice as a material, and it costs less, and thus it is appealing for a while. But it is not real and it will not last. Jesus paid a steep price for you and I – let’s not be fake about our faith.

The second quote is this:
"Wherever a pastor starts getting prophetic, you'll also see churchfolk eager to put him in his place as an employee."
– Jared Wilson

Yes, I am an employee of the church. But I was not hired as your pastor, I was called. And ultimately, I was called as a pastor of God to serve this church at this time. And there are times to slow, and there are times to go. Now is a time to go! Ronnie Floyd says it this way, "If you don’t learn how to surf the seasons of ministry you will never be successful."

Again, we have been in a season of getting healthy, but that season is past. It is now time to push ourselves beyond our own comfort and follow where God is leading. That is the reason we are moving from the idea of the Vision Team to the MAP Team. Again, MAP stands for Ministry Action Plan. It is a plan for ministry, but not just a conceptual plan, but one for action. The goal will be to emphasize people, not programs – though programs may be a part of the process.

A Call to Engage

As I first mentioned four years ago, when we first introduced the idea of being on a JOURNEY, it is important to understand the destination. The church is not the destination. It is a tool. God’s Kingdom is the destination and the church is the tool He has chosen to use to bring people into His kingdom. But too many people all over the world think of the church as the destination. And more than that, they maintain a false view of what the church should be taking a consumer mentality, instead of a producer mentality of making disciples.

Sam Rainer says it like this, "The church is not a DESTINATION for you to have your needs met. The church is a VEHICLE to send people into the world."

And that is why we have to be united. We have to work together to make sure that vehicle is headed in the right direction. In the words, of Captain Picard, we must "Engage."

But as we engage, we must remember our JOURNEY letter for today is: U - Unite

Unity may be difficult, but it is God's will. Consider the words of Paul to the Romans and to the Ephesians. Both verses show the necessity of unity. Both verses show the will of God, and both verse show what Jesus made possible.

Romans 12.3: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." This verse is specifically in regards to Jews and Gentiles hating one another because they felt superior to one another.

Ephesians 2.14-16: "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility." Again, Jew and Gentile, reconciled by the blood of Christ. If Jesus could bring unity to these two groups, it applies to everyone. Just as nails often hold various construction materials together during a building project, remember it was nails that held Jesus on the cross so we might be united.


So, what about our next steps?

Well, our next steps must build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

  • Remove the obstacles. (What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?)
  • Create a MAP Team. (Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!)
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. (We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.)
  • Commit to one another.

People may disregard the cross, but true faith in Christ cannot be lost. The cross leaves an imprint on our lives. And we should leave an imprint on each other. When people come and go from our lives, if we have been united with them, we should feel the pain. This is true for most people regarding family members. And it is true for many people regarding friends who die. But it should be true of any Christian who has a fellow brother or sister leave the church. People may move, or people may just grow weary, but we should try to understand why they left or are leaving and determine what is causing the unity to be severed. Otherwise, we must evaluate if it ever existed at all.

But in the midst of unity, we can do great things - for God. After all, it was His purpose to plan the building, purchase the materials, and build His church. And He has not concluded building it yet. He still has others He will use for materials. Each church has room if they are willing to let Him build, because God still has room. His Kingdom still stands, and is still growing around the world. But we must allow ourselves to be the kind of material which is available for Him to use as He wishes.

  • Will we choose to be materials He can use to build His luxurious design?
  • Will we choose to be materials that He can use to fill His significant purpose?
  • Will we choose to be materials that will help our magnificent savior to continue to do great things in and through us for the glory of our Father in heaven?

If we choose to commit to Jesus, making ourselves available, and uniting with other Christians around us, I think we will be amazed at what Jesus might build in, and through, us for the Kingdom of God and the glory of the Father. And whatever that means will be greater than the greatest Lego set in the world could ever build.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Significant Purpose (Mission)

What goes into the consideration of your planning? Do you plan based upon your own desires or based upon the desire of others? Or do you consider God's desires in your planning. Consider the following verses from James 4.13-17.

13 "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."

The thought here is about keeping your will in check, at least, when it comes to God’s. We may plan or even wish to do something, but it is the Lord who wills it. We just saw what James wrote, but let me give you another example from a story Jesus told in response to a man arguing over an expected inheritance. The story is in Luke 12.13-21, but we will pick up the story in verse 16.

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

This parable is referred to as the parable of the rich fool. He didn’t get rich by being a fool. And I don’t even know that he became a fool when he got rich. But I can tell you, based on this story, that he was foolish thinking that just because he wanted something, he thought it would happen. "I will do this…"

We have already seen two instances of how what we say is less important than what God decides. But how does that fit this sermon series? Well, today, I want to show you that God does invite us to know His will, and wants us to be a part of what He is doing. So, first we head back to Matthew 16.18 where we review Jesus promise: "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH." (Matt 16.18)

The Authority Behind the Will

Last week, our focus was on the word "I" of that statement. We saw that Jesus has the authority to use the word I because He is, indeed, God. So, this week, we can begin with the idea that when Jesus says I will, it is virtually the same as God saying, I will.

But I use the word virtually, because Jesus submitted to the Father’s will by dying on the cross. Jesus came to do it. That was His purpose. That is why He came. But when the actual time came, Jesus prayed for another way to be made. He pleaded to the point of sweating blood, as Luke describes, for God, the Father, to provide another option. But even in that plea, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will when He said, “not My will, but yours.”

The truth is when we argue against God and His will, it is like biting the hand that feeds you. CS Lewis said it like this: "When you argue against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on."

A Need for Prayer

So, rather than arguing, what about praying? A lot of people say that we should get prayer back in our schools. That might be nice, but we should first get prayer back in their church. And let’s be honest, we (Fairfax Baptist Church) have to admit our own negligence here. We still meet in homes on Wednesday for our Community Groups. But our Wednesday night prayer meeting here died. It reminds me of something I heard or read many years ago:

"You can tell how popular a church is by the crowd on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor is by the crowd on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by the crowd on Wednesday night."

Take that as you will, but I think some truth exists in that statement.

And when we pray, what is the purpose of our prayer? It is often to get what we want – our will.

But ideally, prayer is meant to invoke God’s power. Think about it. Why else pray if you aren’t seeking help from God. But too often, we seek help on our terms, not His. Instead, what if we prayed for His power to be made known in and through us? Again, as we saw last week, in Matthew 5.16, that our good works would cause other people to glorify our Father in heaven. What if that was our purpose in prayer?

Ronnie Floyd says it like this. To invoke the power of God, we should:

  • Pray in His name.
  • Pray for His purpose.
  • Pray with His permission.
  • Pray to be His people.

When we do, we invoke the power of God. It may not happen right when we want it, but it will happen just when we need it. And again, since we are considering the idea of God’s will, His response is when He determines we need it, not us!

Now, God can invoke His power on people without them specifically praying for it. Acts 1.8 makes the promise that God’s power will come upon them, and it did at Pentecost. That same power is available to us. Because like the early disciples, we are to carry out the same purpose – make disciples in all of the nations.

Let me show you one place where the will of God was made known to all because they invoked His power through prayer. Acts 4.31 is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible for what happens when God's people prayed!

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."

Is that what we want? Let’s be honest, our prayers are about being kept safe, not being made bold. Ladies and gentleman, I think that is what is wrong with this church and most every church across America. We are more concerned with our will, here described as safety, than we are in carrying out God’s will, regardless of what it takes.

This prayer was on Facebook the other day. I think we have probably all prayed a prayer similar to this, right? Do you see the problem? Nothing in this prayer is about God, it is all about me. But to make us feel like God should do it we add, In Jesus' Name. OK, good now He will bless us. But that is not what that means. Praying in Jesus' name is to pray in His character...for His His will!

What Is the Mission?

What are the purposes of Fairfax Baptist Church? The purpose is not to be a large church in a small town. That is what we believe God will do if we are faithful to execute the purposes that have been adopted by this church many years ago. Now, we have simplified how we remember them since I came, but the three three-word phrases have been around since the summer we came, and have been on every bulletin, and nearly every handout, letter, or other document that has come from the church since. Say them with me. The objectives of Fairfax Baptist Church are to:

  • Exalt the Savior
  • Equip the Saint
  • Evangelize the Sinner

In order to follow, or should I say, observe them, we must know that they are. The title of this post is "A Significant Purpose." These three ideas are our purpose. They are significant. But how often are we engaged doing this with other people apart from Sundays? As it relates to the idea of prayer, these objectives are about what we do, but each one is for the benefit of another. In terms of English grammar, The Savior, the Saint, and the Sinner are the direct object of the verb. And, in this case, each of the verbs, Exalt, Equip, Evangelize speaks of action. So, our actions, not just words, help us to fulfill our objectives which are ultimately for the benefit of others (though we are a part of the saint and/or sinner group). And again, these objectives are biblical so they are a part of God’s will. We just need to choose to do them.

Significance Through Sacrifice

To do God's will requires that we sacrifice our personal desires and ambitions for the sake of God’s. Paul sacrificed his personal ambitions for something greater. (Read Philippians 3.1-16). But he also gave us instructions to do it as well. A passage that is familiar to many people is Romans 12.1-2.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We are to be a living sacrifice – the plural as singular. We, the collective, are to sacrifice ourselves as a singular entity, so that we may learn to know the will of God – specifically, the good, pleasing, and perfect (complete) will of God. In the context of the passage, God’s will includes harmony among differing types of people. But the point is that these verse show not only that we can know God’s will, but that we must sacrifice our personal, and even, the worldly desires of the group (in this case our congregation) to do so. Which finally, brings me back to our central passage of Matthew 16.18. And within that passage, we see the word WILL.

How do we know what God wants? We spend time with Him? Remember, that is the recurring theme of Jesus question. Those that spend more time with Him know who He really is. And thus, knows what He really wants. We are not perfect in this by any means. But we become closer to perfect, and thus perfectly understanding Him as we spend more time with Him.

To Say, To Know, or To Do?

As we have talked about the idea of God’s will and prayer today. I want to mention one final piece. What we do is important, but why we do it is more important. Do we do what we do for ourselves or for God? If we do it for ourselves, it might be important, but it might not be significant. If we do it for God, it is both important and significant. Think of it this way. Jesus came to do both important and significant work. And now He has called us to serve Him. So if you think that you are not significant, or that what you do might not be significant, or that your purpose is not significant, consider this little bit of logic.

His purpose was significant.  He chose us to do His work. Thus, our purpose is significant.

And, simply, but radically, that purpose is to carry out God’s will on earth. We even pray these words to be true, but do we mean it? "Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6.9-10, ESV). Again, do we mean it? Sure, but often only if it means someone else is responsible for the work, or especially the sacrifice! If you are like me, then perhaps you can relate to what Jesus said to His disciples in the Garden the night of His arrest, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 27.41).

Are you willing to follow? Are you eager and willing to Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saint, and Evangelize the Sinner? Everything we do should be evidenced by one of those purposes, and doing every one of them should lead us to fulfill our vision. But that is the rub, we must not just say them or memorize them, we must DO them.


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: O - Observe. Jesus told His disciples, just before He ascended to heaven to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe, and to baptize, with the promise that "I WILL be with you" like His earlier promise that "I WILL build my church."

The reality is that we are going to do something. But are we going to follow our own purposes and desires or those of God? In light of Valentine’s Day I developed a little poem for the thesis of this message today. "God has a will. And a will have we. One will prevail. Which will it be?"

If we are going to observe all that He commanded, then we are giving ourselves to His will, not enforcing our own. The objectives set by our church (to Exalt, Equip, and Evangelize) are certainly biblical and, thus, are a part of what He wants us to do (observe). They are also attainable. But we don’t just want to do them for the sake of doing them. We don’t just want to observe for our own purposes. Rather, we do them for the Creator who has given us life. We do it for the Redeemer who rescued us from death. And we do it for the Sustainer in whom we have our Hope. We do it for God’s glory, not our own. And thus we must strive to do great things in a great way because He is a great God. But as I saw this week, if you faith does not have you prepared to do great things yet, then "if you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way."  (Craig Stumpf)


So, what about our next steps?

Well, our next steps must build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

First, we must remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?

Second, we need a plan of action. For this church, we are in the process of creating at MAP Team. (MAP stands for Ministry Action Plan). This team will find, develop, execute, and evaluate the opportunities which come our way as a church.

Third, we must pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying. We can express our willingness. And we can develop plans, but until we are ready to submit to God’s will and respond to His call, then we are going nowhere. The plan will provide direction for us to meet our objectives with the goal of fulfilling our vision. But it only matters if it is God’s will. That is why one of, if not the most critical, person on the team will be the Prayer Guide who will help to coordinate not only the prayer on the team, but of the church to determine what God is leading us to do in some particular area, and even how we might do it.

That is an awesome opportunity! But we all have the opportunity to respond. And we must all respond to the opportunity. We must do more than say we will, we must actually do something. The choice is your will or His will. Like the story of the rich fool at the beginning of this message, the rich fool and Jesus made an "I will" statement. Both had their lives demanded of them before they could accomplish their goal. Yet, Jesus’ is still building His church and expanding His Kingdom through people like you and me. And we must respond by living out our mission. We must Exalt. We must Equip. And we must Evangelize. We must, in the words of Captain Picard, from Star Trek, The Next Generation, "Engage!"

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Magnificent Savior (Vision)

This post is derived from the current sermon series where we are reviewing the vision, mission, strategy, and steps of Fairfax Baptist Church as we consider how to respond to ministry opportunities around us. While the specifics might be for our church, the principles can apply to anyone.


Last week, the Broncos and Panthers played in the Super Bowl, arguably the greatest spectacle in sports. So, imagine if you will that someone comes up to you on the day of the game and tells you they have four Super Bowl tickets to tonight’s game they want to give you. A private plane is waiting at the nearby airport to take you to Santa Clara. A limo will be waiting at the airport, stocked with food. All expenses of the trip will be covered (tickets, the plane, food, souvenirs, etc.) And the plane will bring you back home tonight.

Now again, if you are not a football fan, this example may not excite you, but play along for just a minute. So, fan, what would be your reaction?

Well, I think your reaction might depend on who said it.

What if it was someone you knew to be a notorious liar?

What if it was me? You might think, well Andy doesn’t lie, but does he have the resources to make that happen? (BTW – the answer is no!)

What if it was someone who you didn’t know, but knew they had the resources to make it happen?

See what we know about someone, or at least what we think we know about someone, is important in helping us to decide if we can trust the promises they make. For instance, this year is an election year and we will hear many promises being made by many candidates. We hear many slogans. But because of previous politicians (or even the current set) who may have broken their promises, we become skeptical. The real problem then is that we often allow our skepticism of others to be projected towards Jesus.

So, the question we must ask is: Can we trust Jesus?

As we continue this series about our need to Engage! our focus today is on our Vision. But it isn’t just about our vision as a church, it is God’s vision FOR this church. So we begin by considering not what this church is, but by looking at The question: What Can We Be?

Please note the question is not what will we be? It is what can we be. What we do become, or will be, is up to how we respond to the opportunities God puts in our path. But what we can be is beyond measure. We can always be more than we are. And we should always aspire to be more than we are.

Why? Because we have a Magnificent Savior. A Savior we can trust. As we reflect back on our central passage for this series, let's again look at Matthew 16.

The Setting

In verse 13, we are given the setting, Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had just performed many miracles as recorded in Matthew 14 and 15. He had fed 5000, walked on the water, healed the sick (many in fact), and then fed 4000 more. Then Jesus is approached by the religious leaders of the day who ask for Jesus to show a sign from heaven that He was legit. Seriously?!?

So, he takes His disciples away and asks them what people are saying about Him? The general public give Him high praise. They call Him John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah. This would be very good company. But Jesus is great. And thus, He probes His disciples for more. And Peter makes the Great Confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus blesses Peter stating the God revealed this truth to him. And then Jesus gives one of the most important, as well as profound, promises in all of Scripture. The first part of that promise is five words I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH will be the focus each week for the next few weeks. Then we will look at the word GATES and KEYS. So today, the focus is on the word "I."

Jesus has asked who others say He is. Jesus asks His disciples who they think He is. Again, and I will say this a lot over this series, because we need this firmly ingrained in OUR heads, the answer should be different because they know Him best. Likewise those of us who call ourselves Christians should know Jesus better than those who don’t.

Like, Peter, we should confess who He is. But we must also profess what He has done and what He is doing. Christianity has a long history behind it. And God has chosen to partner with us to not only keep it moving in the present, but to extend our work into the future as well. But our work is for the master builder. It is Jesus who has promised to build His church. And He does so through us.

The Promise Maker

So? Can Jesus make that statement? Like the person who offers you an all-expenses paid trip to the Super Bowl, can we trust the person behind the promise. Is Jesus a liar? Is Jesus like me, and says what is well-meaning, but simply doesn’t have the means to do it? Or is Jesus telling the truth and has the full authority to carry out His plan – beginning nearly 2000 years ago when He made such a bold promise, and continuing today.

To determine Jesus' authority, let us look at three instances where the word I is used by God, as the Son.

Exodus 3.14: God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'"

Looking back to Exodus 3.2, it says it was THE angel of the Lord who was in the bush. Based on this passage, and so many others in the Old Testament, this angel was not AN angel, but was the pre-incarnate Son of God. So, God spoke to Moses from the bush. But it was God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, that said it. And history shows that the Israelites did indeed leave Egypt.

John 8.58: Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."

Jesus is talking to the Jews who thought Jesus had a demon. These Jews considered Abraham great, yet understood that he had died. Jesus makes the comment that no one who keeps His word will ever die, speaking spiritually. So the Jews get angry, especially when Jesus said that Abraham saw "his day" (which would have been about 2000 years prior). Jesus responded by saying He was alive before Abraham, and they tried to stone Him for blasphemy. Why? Because Jesus used the words I AM, just as He had with Moses. He was claiming His divinity before them. Then, the very next set of verses, record the healing of a blind man Jesus that causes the religious leaders to get worked up (imagine that!). The problem was these Jewish leaders could not accept that Jesus was not only above Abraham (in the previous verses), but also above Moses (subsequent verses).

Revelation 22.7,12,20: "I am coming soon."

Granted, Jesus says a bit more than this in each case, but these words are the recurring statement at the very end of Revelation, indeed, at the very end of Scripture. It is not said just once, but three times. It is certain though it has not yet happened. But it is a promise of what, and specifically Who, is to come. But again, for us, the focus is on the word I.

In these three instances, Jesus makes three statements about Himself. The first tells of His promise to take a seemingly insignificant people who were serving as slaves to now serve God and be a light to the nations for the glory of God. Secondly, Jesus is challenging the thoughts of the day and finding an opportunity to bring light to a man who had never seen and would now testify on behalf of God before those who placed themselves in authority. Why? John 9.3 says so that God’s might (His power) could be seen in the world. And third, we have a statement which is yet to happen. But if everything that God has designed to happen so far has happened, shouldn’t we trust that Jesus will come, when the Father says it is time? Galatians 4.4 says God sent His Son at the perfect time the first time, will He not do so again the second time?

Can We Trust Jesus?

So, can we trust Jesus? With what we have heard thus far, we might say probably. But let me add one more element. Most people make promises to others for a) the benefit of the other person, then b) for themselves. What I mean is that by the promise being fulfilled, we look good. You have heard, and likely said, “Well, I kept my promise.” But Jesus doesn’t care about Himself in the same way. His promises are for others benefit, but for the Father’s glory. Let me show you what I mean:

Jesus made several other promises, but let me give you three with which many people are familiar:

"I go to prepare a place for you." (John 14.2)

"I will be with you always."  (Matthew 28.20)
"I will send the Comforter/Helper."  (John 14.16)

These three promises are all about us - a place for us, being with us, comfort to us. But who gets the glory? As I noted above, in John 9.3, the man was healed so that God's power would be known among the people. Matthew 5.13-16 (the verses for our vision statement) provide further evidence of Jesus serving for the glory of the Father. Jesus tells us to be salt and to be light. Why? So that He can get the glory? No. So that the Father in heaven might be glorified.

Jesus, as the Son always deflects glory to the Father. The Spirit always deflects glory to the Son. This is not natural for humans. We like to receive recognition, praise, honor, and even glory. But God! Jesus asks for things for the Father. Jesus commands us to serve for the benefit of the Father. It is the Father who is glorified when we are salt and light, and it is others who receive the blessings. Jesus gets nothing, and yet He gave everything!

That very reason is why you and I should be able to trust Jesus. He gave everything for you and me, yet He wants all of the glory to go to the Father. He is not selfish. This is why I have a problem with a song like Above All. I know the song means well, but when Jesus hung on the cross, I may have been on His mind, but He wasn’t thinking of me, He was thinking of His Father – above all.

A Grand Vision

So, how does this relate to a vision statement? Again, our church's vision is based upon Matthew 5.13-16. As I said last week, a vision for the church that we can accomplish on our own is worth little now, and even less from an eternal perspective. We must involve God in the vision because if we fulfill it, then others will see our good works and give glory to the Father. Our vision, To Be a Large Church in a Small Town, is not something we can become apart from God.

Our vision must be larger than ourselves. Why? It isn't for us. Our vision isn’t about Andy. It isn’t about Fairfax Baptist Church. It is about Jesus. And yet, He says, the Father is the One who is to receive the glory. So, is our purpose great? Yes. Because our Jesus is great. Because our God is great!

And our God can do amazing things through us. It is as Brian Houston recently tweeted, "Vision is an eye toward the future with a heart for the journey and faith in the God of the impossible."

It is our vision, and our trust in God that will give birth to ideas on how we live out our purpose. But ideas cease when we begin to put limitations on God. Do you have perceived limitations on God? Do you believe God can do, and still does, His work today? Do you believe the potential of this church could be greater than its past? Jesus said, I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH! Do you believe that? He has been at it for nearly 2000 years. He put this church in this place almost 132 years ago. But is He done building this church? I don’t think so. But He asks us to get busy? He asks us to ENGAGE! We must know what it is that He has called us to do. Then we must do it. Stephen Covey says for someone to be effective, that person must organize and execute around priorities. What is true for the person, is true for the church.

A Magnificent Savior

That is why we are doing this series. Over these next weeks, we will continue to look at Matthew 16 and related verses as we unpack not just our vision, but our mission (goals), strategy, and steps. I would suggest that we should each have our own vision, mission, strategy, and steps, and then we see how that fits the collective. And all of this is related to the opportunities that God has for us as individuals and for us as His church.

But as we seek to determine how these possibilities fit, and which priorities we should plan to organize and execute, we must not settle for what is good. For too often, good gets in the way of great. And our Savior was more than good, He was, and is, magnificent Savior.

We must do what we have been called to do. Knowing who we are and what we have been, what we are doing, and what we will do. But what has been done must be done differently now. As William Carey once proclaimed, we should, “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.”

Yet, we are often more concerned with turning faith into a matter of belief. Faith certainly includes belief, but as one of the earliest Christians, Ignatius, rightly claimed, “Christianity consists not merely to persuade people with ideas but in inviting them to share in the greatness of Christ.”

I want to be known for more than ideas. I want to be known for action. And I want to be known for not just talking about Christ, but for helping people to experience Him. I want people to see God’s glory manifest in, and around their lives. I want that to be me. I want that to be us. I want others to look at the ministry of Fairfax Baptist Church and say, "Wow. Look what they are doing! God is doing an amazing work there!" Isn’t that exactly what Jesus described in Matthew 5.16?


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: J - Jesus. Jesus is our Magnificent Savior. He is the "I" that makes everything we have talked about today possible. Today is about understanding our vision is a God-given vision. This is about what He wants to do. This is about what Jesus is building. This is not about us at all, other than Jesus has asked us to play our part. And I know it is possible because Jesus promised to build His church. Thus this church can be great, because He is great. We can be great because Jesus makes us great. Not for our own pride, and not for our own glory, but for God’s.


So, what is/are our next steps? Well, our next steps are going to build on what we started last week.

We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. We do that by removing the obstacles.  Last week, we said the obstacle usually includes ourselves. Well, this week we see that is because we often settle for the good, or even the ok, and don’t push for the great. We do that because we have failed to connect with Jesus' teachings about the greatness of God and that everything we do can bring glory to God? Again, I don’t want to give God something that is ok! I want to give Him the best. My best! He gave me a MAGNIFICENT SAVIOR, and I want to return to Him something magnificent as well.

So, our next step today is the announcement of a new leadership team for our church. The team will be called The MAP Team, which fits well with the idea of a JOURNEY. MAP is an acrostic for Ministry Action Plan. We are scrapping the Vision Team, which did generate some ideas. But we need more than ideas, we need action. This new team will be led by various coordinators (called Guides) that will help determine if certain opportunities fit the vision, mission, and strategy of the church, and work with others to determine the necessary steps to execute the strategy, to fulfill the mission, so we can reach our vision To Become a Large Church in a Small Town.

As this team gets its start in the coming weeks, let each of us prepare ourselves for what God is preparing for us. May each of us be ready to respond to the opportunities that come our way. And may each of us desire to do great things for God. But it can only happen if we are ready to Engage!