Me, My Church and I
It has often been said that “Anything worth having is worth fighting for.” This is especially true in the spiritual realm because we are engaged in spiritual warfare against a powerful enemy who is determined to challenge the plans and purposes of God in his attacks against God’s people. Just as the land of Canaan belonged to Israel….but to receive its benefits and blessings they would have to conquer many enemies….so new experiences through the gaining of new ground belongs to us, but there are enemies to be fought, and walls to be torn down.
Jericho was a fortified city surrounded by two walls fifteen feet apart. Some scholars believe the outer wall towered six to eight stories high and were so thick that soldiers could drive chariots on top. Inside were well-armed and fiercely warlike people. What Joshua saw was indeed a giant of immense proportions. As far as mere man was concerned the walls were impenetrable! But, with God all things are possible!
How was it that Israel experienced such victory? Well, it began as only it could have: with a God-given vision. In Joshua 6:2 God said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, it’s king, and it’s mighty men of valor.”The word “see” comes from the Hebrew word râw-âw, and it means to envision something: to see far beyond the physical realm of present reality to see something as it can, and will be. God’s call for Joshua to envision the fall of Jericho was based not upon Israel’s power and might, but upon God Himself, as He declared unto Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand…”
Joshua knew what it meant to have vision of future things. He and Caleb were two of twelve spies sent in to spy out the promised land some forty years before.
Like the others, Joshua and Caleb saw the inhabitants of the land; they had seen the fortified cities; but they also saw the blessings of God that lay before them, and while ten spies saw themselves as nothing more than grasshoppers in the eyes of their enemies, Joshua and Caleb were visionaries, and tried to encourage the people to move forward to receive God’s blessings.
The word vision is defined as simply a dream, or a revelation. I cannot help but think of the late Dr. Martin Luther King who often proclaimed: “I have a dream!”
His dream, or vision was for equality for men and women of all races. Well, long before God appointed Joshua to succeed Moses and lead the nation Israel into the promised land, Joshua had a dream! His dream was to possess the land of Canaan. His dream was to receive and enjoy the promise of God. His dream was to live in a land of plenty in peace. It was something that he longed for so badly that he could taste it. He lived and breathed the dream.
I would ask you, this morning, “Do you have a dream?” Of course you do! We all have dreams of the future and how bright it can be. We have dreams of peace and prosperity. Perhaps those dreams include a new home, or a new car, or a rewarding career. But, while you may have personal hopes and dreams, what is your dream for this church? What is your vision of the future?
In February of 2004 God put a burden in my heart and Renee’s heart as well for the city of Midlothian. That began over a one year spiritual tug-of-war between us and God during our prayer times. But during that year the more we talked to people, the more we were involved in the community, the more we prayed, that although there are some great churches in our community … still more than 80% of Midlothian residents aren’t going to church anywhere. People are disconnected from each other. Teenagers are struggling. Marriages are falling apart. We began to see that God wanted to do something new in Midlothian, and it wasn’t going to be church as usual. It wasn’t about a “block” of time on Sunday morning, but about a life-long journey with people. VISION WAS ABOUT SEEING WHAT LIFE CHURCH WOULD LOOK LIKE … BEFORE THERE WAS A LIFE CHURCH.
Last Friday we celebrated some of our accomplishments from 2008 at our Celebration Banquet. We celebrated a great numerical growth in attendance from 30 at the beginning of the year to more than 130 at the end of the year. We celebrated new people who have been saved this last year, we celebrated our purchase of equipment last year, we celebrated our community outreach events, we celebrated the beginning of our Life Groups, we celebrated the quality of our children’s and youth ministry programs, and we celebrated all the faithful volunteers that makes Life Church happen. 2008 was a very successful year. But we don’t want to stay there. We thank God for what we were able to do, and now we look to the future and we see some new horizons ahead.
Vision says that with God’s help this year…
…Life Church will have a place to call home.
…Life Church will continue to be involved in our community with an even greater effectiveness.
…Life Church’s ministry to children, teenagers and adults will continue to grow.
…Life Church will need to bring on additional staff to help with the ministry.
…Life Church will grow exponentially and see many new people saved and won to Christ.
Joshua received a command from God. He was given a vision. He responded in faith.
It has been said that “Vision that looks inward becomes duty; vision that looks outward becomes aspiration; but vision that looks upward becomes faith. Whatever our vision for the future may be, it must be given to us by God, and we must look to Him for it to become reality. The writer of Hebrews, in Hebrews 11:1 declared: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is praying for rain, and carrying an umbrella.
Notice their options: Scale walls, and get killed, beat down gates, and get killed, tunnel underneath, and get killed, use bombs, not invented. Faith had an alternative. God had a plan.
Now, imagine trying to organize the army of Israel to act in obedience to God. It was not as if they were actually going to war against Jericho with swords and spears. Joshua told the people vs 3-5, “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” Marching around the city once each day for seven days, making a lot of noise and waiting for the walls to collapse certainly were not in any of the military manuals of the day. But the prominence given to the “ark of the covenant” in the march of the Israelites around the city of Jericho indicated that this is not the Israelites battle but the Lord’s.
Now, what would your response be if I shared with you such a plan for our future? Some, if not all of you, would say: “Yeah, right! Like its really going to happen?” But, note that Joshua really was just the messenger. The words were from the Lord, Himself. Joshua needed just as much faith to believe what God had said as did any man or woman in Israel. Faith is taking God at His Word, and responding in obedience to Him, knowing that God will never lead you in paths where His grace cannot sustain you!
In the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Claus utters what much of the world thinks faith is. He said: “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” In other words, faith is irrational, contrary to experience, logic, and knowledge. If we cannot see it, explain it through simple logic and reasoning, we have a tendency not to trust it.
FAITH is the food that vision lives on. Without FAITH our vision will wither on the vine.
FAITH says with God’s help…
…we will be able to place an LOI on a lease space in order for Life Church to have a home. Knowing our ability to make a reasonable payment and what the property owners are asking for, it will require a miracle to agree on a payment. But I have seen God do bigger things. My Faith says God can do it.
…we will be visible and evident in our community and our community will turn to us to lead them. Our goal is to begin this year with the largest Easter Egg Hunt Midlothian has ever seen.
…Life Church will be the logical choice for people who have children and teenagers.
… 80% of our congregation will be involved in personal spiritual growth and relationships in one of our Life Groups.
…we have decided to ask Caleb Carnes to take on more responsibility at Life Church. We are able to pay him a part time salary in order for him to give much more of his time and energy to ministering to your teenagers, and to all of us. We celebrate this milestone in our history. I’m thankful that we are at a place where we need to bring on additional staff … but that doesn’t stop us from being a church where each member is a minister.
… we will end this year with a weekly attendance of 250 and we’ll see 100 new people – kids, teenagers, adults won to Christ!
What is the key to making this possible?
I am afraid that we are sometimes like the man who was walking down a long, narrow path one night, not paying much attention to where he was going. Suddenly he slipped over the edge of a cliff. As he fell he managed to grab hold of a branch growing out of the side of the cliff. Not being able to see because of the darkness of night, he had no idea that he was just two feet from the bottom where he could safely drop without injury. Believing that he could lose his grasp and plummet to his death, he began to cry out for help.
He yelled…”Is anybody up there?”
A voice was heard, “Yes! I am here.”
Who’s that?” the man asked.
“It’s the Lord!”
“O, Lord! I am glad you’re here. Please help me!”
“Do you trust me?” asked the Lord.
” I trust You completely, Lord.”
“Good. Let go of the branch.”
“I said, Let go of the branch.”
“Help!!! Is anybody else up there?”
Israel could have said to Joshua, “Have you really thought this thing through?” “Don’t you have a better plan?” No! They simply responded in faith to what they believed God had led them to do. They believed God and acted upon what He has said.That is my prayer for Life Church! Not to go ahead of God and presume upon His provision, but most certainly not to lag behind and miss His blessing.
As we look back to our text, we find in vs16 and 20 “And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people, Shout for the Lord has given you the city…..So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sounds of the trumpets, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat….”
In fact I envision that at some point that the front line began to overlap. Now there is not one line of people, there are two, then three until the city was surrounded on every side by Israelites many hundreds deep. (Remember that we are talking about two million plus people surrounding a city on 8.5 acres)
Hebrews 11:30 recounts that “by faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people marched around them for seven days.” Dr. Alan Redpath in his commentary on Joshua suggest that many people don’t see the answers to their prayers simply because they have stopped one round short in their conquest of their personal Jericho. We may have been doing the right things, but we simply stop doing them. Like we mentioned last week… What if Naaman had only dipped in the river six times? What if Elijah had only prayed for rain six times? What if the Israelites had only walked around Jericho six times? I think they would have forfeited their miracle!
The African Impala can jump a height of 10 feet and cover a distance of 30 feet. Yet, these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo by a 3 foot wall. How ? They want jump if they can’t see where their feet will land. Sounds a lot like us…….God I’ll do anything you want…..just show me the outcome….just don’t expect me to do something I’ve never done before…..don’t ask me to do anything challenging….don’t ask me to do anything foolish !
Obedience is a word that’s fallen out of favor. Like submission, moral absolutes, etc. Success is dependent upon obedience.
BUT OBEDIENCE is what says this year…
…we will approach Life Church’s future home location with an openness to what God is doing. We will knock on a door and if that door opens we will walk through it.
… we will prepare and execute even better than last year conducting the largest Easter Egg Hunt Midlothian has ever see, being involved with the 4th of July, Movie Night’s in the Park, Fall Festival, ministering to our community through summer Camps, Blockparties, and finishing the year with Midlothian’s Real Life Christmas. We will do them with greater excellence because we are representing Christ, we will do them with more effectiveness because new people are going to see their vital role in ministry.
…we will put our greatest resources and personnel in reaching, training, and discipling our children and teenagers. Our church of tomorrow is being shaped today … we are going to put our money and attention to making sure we leave a lasting legacy.
…each one of us will personally find a Life Group to be plugged into and make spiritual growth a priority on our life’s schedule.
…we will take on the ownership and responsibility of growing this church together. We each have an obligation to engage in personal ministry and find our place of service.
…obedience says we will pray for, build relationships and invite people to church with us. From a merely numbers point of view; if we redo what we did in 2008 this year we will grow. Look at this chart…
Let’s start out 2009 with our ending 08 attendance average of 101 and we plug into that our average rate of guests walking through the doors we would than have 24 guests walking through our doors. If we keep 73% of them (again based on our past history) we would end March 31 with an average of 118 in weekly attendance. If we continue that growth trend throughout the rest of the year…We end the year with 191. Now notice that this is weekly attendance, not necessarily people who call Life Church their “home” church. There are many more of those.
Now what if we each took on the responsibility and obedience of doing our part to grow the Kingdom of God. These numbers could easily grow much higher than this.
Simply put: Vision + Faith + Obedience = Victory!
About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.
In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles into the wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?
Here were people who had the vision to see thousands of miles across an ocean and overcame great hardships to get there. But un just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. May we never become a church in maintenance mode that we loose our pioneering spirit!