"Surfing in Central Maine"
Sermon for Nov. 1, 1998
Iíve never been to California. Iíve never taken a surf board into the water. I have surfed the Internet a bit. . . and I have gone fishing. But you donít have to be a surferóthank goodnessóto pick up on the analogy. This is the first of a sermon series promised a while back based on Rick Warrenís book, The Purpose Driven Church, which come to us highly recommended. Weíve even had a few moments of instruction based on this book. . . and there will be more Iím sure.
Surfing is used here as an analogy for discovery. In order to successfully surf, you take your board to the beach, find a suitable wave and catch it for the outcome of riding the wave. We want to discover what God is up to and we want to catch the wave both on an individual level and as a congregation. The wave is Godís initiative. No one sets out to build a wave in real lifeóif there are no waves, you donít surf. If you try to surf when the surf is down, you will have a dead in the water experience. . . much like trying to have a yacht race on a becalmed ocean.
We profess belief in the sovereignty of God. In the matter of church growth that truth means only God can make a church grow. Paul alludes to this in 1 Cor.3:6: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." So what we need in order to navigate the waters of our future are five attributes:
If we seek Godís purpose as our purpose, we will both be able to catch and ride the waves of growth and to get off the waves of death.
Insight tells us to begin with rich anticipation. That is a key word for Christians whether living in New Testament times, or in our times. God is up to something great. God is going to do some amazing things in His world today because, from the beginning God has been into doing amazing things! Creation was amazing and creation is amazingóthe incidence of wonder only increases as we reflect on God creating all that is out of nothing, on Godís preparation of a land for His Chosen People, the Exodus, the time of the judges and the age of the prophets. Then, we are astounded by the exile, and the return from exile. . . the gift of the long awaited Messiah in Jesus Christ. We marvel at the amazing church Jesus planted, and Paul extended and the work of salvation and redemption that continues even in our day. Our God is God of the present and the future as well as of the past. So we ask this sovereign and amazing God to include us, to use us. We pray to be part of His program rather than to ask Him to bless our program!
Insight also persuades us to examine ourselves, to ask hard questions like: what is it that is hindering Godís growth in me, in my family, in my church? What are the spiritual, human and institutional barriers to growth? How do my gifts, or as we say, how does my gift-mix contribute to the divine program in my situation? Is there too much conflict? Am I too shy? Is there a lack of zeal and urgency? Are we lazy, not applied, or mis-directed? Do we have a weak vision of the benefits and the purpose of the costs of being Christian, of being church? Are we fundamentally purposeless? Our sense of purpose is like a trellis upon which we can be trained up into spiritual fruitfulness. . .a life without discipline in spiritual matters is like to a wild vine which can only produce a few, sour grapes. Is the faith community we share perceived as unsafe because people donít know where the boundaries are? Are people feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of hurt in the lives of those they worship with? Are we overwhelmed because we have no picture of the church as a hospital for sinners in which the Lord Jesus moves as the divine physician? If we could break out, and see the magnitude of hurt as Godís opportunity (no need, no ministry), we might recall that the church is Christís prescription for a lost and broken world! And we only distress ourselves unnecessarily when we falsely assume that we have to have all the answers, or able to mend that all brokenness right nowóor, before we can think of inviting others to join us in the Lordís work? It is encouraging to hear Rick Warren remind us that Christian ministry is a marathon, rather than a quick fixó"loving and leading consistently and ending well."
Some of us may feel discouraged because we doubt that we can have a healthy church if the East Winthrop Baptist Church is filled with so many unhealthy persons. Put so bluntly, that prejudice may cause even those who feel that way to gulp a little. Are we presuming a measure of health for ourselves that is overstated. We well remember that Jesus once said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." In this context of assessing the health of our church, the Lord might be paraphrased, "Let him who is the perfect picture of spiritual health decide who is to be excluded from the hospital known as the Christian church." We are all needy folk, and we are fortunate indeed that our needs are not identical because, as things stand, we are able to lend our strength to anotherís weakness and vice versa. We can cover and serve each other perfectly in this body of worshippers.
Glancing briefly at our culture, we might note that the crying need of our day is for the spiritual influence of our church (moral, behavioral and spiritual) to expand in our towns and the Kennebec region. God is the author of such change, and, in a very real sense, we as Christians are the pre-eminent change agents. Others without a whole vision grounded in truth have seized that role (educators and legislators, for example) and are creating discord and disorder which promises to bring terrible suffering in its wake. What is really needed today, as in every age, is not change for changeís sake, but change driven by a sense of moral necessity and truth! Godly change is what matters infinitely. The church is Godís chosen instrument of blessing and redirection, or for change that is truth driven.
The New Testament is the church growth manual we are going to follow in our pursuit of purpose. However, the whole of Scripture is ours to utilize. A good place to begin our search for Godís purpose is in worship, in the exaltation of Psalm 145. This psalm helps us gain the big picture, or the whole picture. God relishes the praises of His people. Secondly, let us keep in mind that above all else, God wants His lost sheep to be found. That is the heart of Godís redemptive purpose and whatever we end up doing, it must at least be in accord with that great purpose.