They knew the cadets were waffling. Some were pulling south, others north. They knew that the only hope they had to unite them was to appeal to their sense of patriotism and duty. So on that February day they marched them into the chapel to celebrate what they designed to be a unifying event. They thought that just maybe the words of the father of the country would serve to unite these rebels and yankees.
The year was 1861. In far off South Carolina, Fort Sumter was about to become the birthplace of the bloodiest war in America’s history. All of this turmoil was a real problem at West Point. Since the military academy included men from all the states in the union, there was, of course, a great division. What had once been a place of great unity began to stress under the same controversy that divided the country. That’s why they had the celebration. Surely a little meditation on the farewell address of George Washington would remind them of where their real loyalties lay.
After the service was over the cadets returned to their quarters and the West Point band marched across the campus playing the Star Spangled Banner. When the cadets heard it, they ran to their windows. Those from the south began to shout “Dixie,” while those from the north shouted out the words to the National Anthem. So much for unity.
What was wrong? Both groups respected Washington’s memory and both groups surely appreciated his birthday, but the event that was supposed to have unified them only caused more division. Why was that? It was because both groups perceived the event differently. Those from the North honored the celebration as an attempt to emphasize the importance of remaining one country. Those from the south saw the celebration as a vain attempt to prevent them from leaving. You see, their perceptions brought them to different and quite divisive conclusions.
That’s always the way it is: Perception determines response; what I perceive to be true will often decide how I respond. That’s especially true in church. I bet you’ve tried to witness to people who want nothing to do with the Lord, haven’t you. Now they may not even know anything about Peace Church, and they may even like you personally, but they have a perception of Christianity and the church that causes them to have a negative response. We’ve all seen it: perception determines response.
And the same is true for people inside the church. How you perceive your church determines what you do or refuse to do for it. If you see church as a place for you to come and have your needs met, for instance, you will hang around as long as we’re meeting your needs. But if we, for some reason, don’t scratch your itch, you may decide to move on somewhere else to try to get it scratched. Perception determines response.
Which just leads me to ask: What is your perception of Peace Church? What is your vision for our future? Why do we exist? You see, your answer to those questions will really determine whether or not you’re happy here. Your answer to those questions will really determine just how long you stay here.
So that’s what my message is about today. I want to describe for us what I believe our vision ought to be. Now that can be a dangerous thing. You see I realize that when you really come to understand what our vision is, you may realize that you’re wasting your time here. You may come to realize that the way you see church and the way we see church are so different that we’ll never be able to reconcile. If that happens, I must tell you, I will be sad, but I’ll feel as if I’ve done us both a favor. After all, life’s just too short for us to waste time, right?
And you might be saying, “Well, what do you mean, exactly, Rusty? What do you mean when you say that we don’t see church the same?” Well, I mean that first of all, you may not agree with our philosophy. There is a philosophy of the way church works that we follow. Now we believe it is biblical and that it is what God is leading us to do, but I must tell you that there have been good people who have disagreed with us and that’s ok. God never called us to all be alike or to even all be in the same church. But here’s what I do know: If we are to move forward together, we’ve got to have the same vision!
Others of you don’t disagree with our vision, you just aren’t willing to be involved in it. It isn’t that you won’t agree with it, its just that you either think you’re to busy, or you just don’t care enough to be involved. My goal today is to paint such a vivid picture of what I believe God wants to happen here that you walk out of here determined to be a part of it.
Which brings me to one more group. You’re the ones who just feel out of step. You like Peace Church and you really enjoy it, but you’ve never really gotten connected and you feel a little out-of-sync. I want to suggest that the reason you feel that way is that you’ve never really had explained to you just what we’re trying to do here. Today could move you to take some first steps of involvement that could make you an integral part of team ministry like you’ve never been before. Listen. I want to tell you about the vision of Peace Church.
So just what is that vision? Several years ago, we, as a staff, began to ask ourselves some questions about our purpose. We looked around and saw that different people entered this church and had very different experiences. Some came in, grew in the Lord, assumed leadership roles and went on to do some powerful things for the Lord. Others came in never really did much of anything and ended up leaving before very long. We realized that the last description fit far too many people whom we were trying to reach, so we decided we needed to change that. We decided that we had to become very intentional about the way we approached spiritual growth. We decided to design a process by which a person could come into our fellowship, perhaps with very little church background and grow in the Lord to the point that they could become a powerful witness, an effective minister, and even a great leader for Christ.
That process we have chosen to call the Journey, and it is that process which I see as the vision to which God is calling this church. We don’t want you to join here just to have your name on the roll. We don’t want you to join here just because you want to belong somewhere. We want you to join here because you sincerely want to go somewhere. We want you to come here in order to take “The Journey.”
What is that journey like? Well, it includes four steps and it is our desire that everything we do here at Peace Church fall into one of these four steps. Now, today we’re going to take a look at those four steps, and as we do, I am going to try to show you how these four steps define all that we do and how each one of these steps may challenge the misperceptions you may have about church. The first step in the journey is this:
Now the vision of connection contrasts a prevailing attitude many have about church. Since the 1980's, consumerism has infected Christianity. Many people view church like a mall. They see themselves as shoppers who are going from church to church, much like they would go from store to store in the mall. If a particular church doesn’t have what they think they need, they move on.
Now there’s a whole lot wrong with that picture of church, but the one of the biggest is that it’s impact is to destroy the very essence of what Jesus intended the church to be. You see, the New Testament teaches us that church is not a mall, it’s a body. We are not to simply go to church to see if our needs can be met, we are to go so that we can become part of a living organism the New Testament calls “the body of Christ.” That means we don’t just brush by one another as we pursue our own designs: we genuinely and intimately connect with one another.
Can I give you a biblical example of this? The Apostle Paul wasn’t always the grand leader of men and writer of letters. At one time, he was the arch enemy of the church who sought the lives of other believers. In fact, chapter nine of Acts begins with this description of Paul: Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord . . . I love the way the Message renders this. It says: All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill.
But we all know what happened: On his way to Damascus, Saul meets Jesus and his life is forever changed. There’s only one problem. No one knows about it but Saul. The Holy Spirit has to convince Ananias to go and meet with him and then something interesting happens when Saul makes his way back to Jerusalem. Look at 9:26:
And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. 29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. 30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
Now you can say a lot about that story, but one thing you have to say is that it is a story of connection. Paul needs to be accepted in order to succeed. Even though he would become the great Apostle; even though he would go on to write much of the New Testament; even though he could have tried to do it on his own, solo ministry has never been God’s way. Paul needed to have connect. It really wasn’t optional.
And I just have to throw this in: I love the way Barnabas behaved here. Barnabas, in effect, became Paul’s sponsor. The leaders are not wanting anything to do with him because they are afraid, but Barnabas boldly brings him in to the other disciples and gets Paul connected. Now I want to submit to you that Paul may have never been the great man of God he became had he not connected.
Connection is something all of us need. We need it because we need to be effective. Team work is so much better than foolish attempts to fly solo. Yes it’s harder; yes it takes a lot more humility, but, in the end, it is so much more effective.
Connection brings effectiveness and just as importantly, it brings accountability. Left to ourselves, we will eventually go astray. Remember the saying about power? Power always corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As long as I am on my own and no one gets to question my decisions or examine my motives the question isn’t if I will fail, it’s when. The sinful nature of man guarantees it! Connection isn’t just important, it’s critical!
In the movie, The Gladiator, which I have never watched because of its R rating for graphic violence there is a scene which I read about which is very riveting. The story centers around Maixmus, a Roman general, who through a maze of events goes from celebrated warrior to caged slave, then to unvanquished gladiator. He becomes a fugitive, then caged slave, then unvanquished gladiator. His growing fame in the arena brings him to the sport's pinnacle: Rome's magnificent Coliseum to face her elite warriors.
The games open with a re-enactment of the battle of Carthage. The gladiators, all foot soldiers, are cast as the hapless Carthaginians. It is a stage for slaughter. They are marched out a dark passageway into brilliant sunlight and met with a roar of bloodlust.
Maximus, their leader, shouts to his men: "Stay together." He assembles them in a tight circle in the center of the arena: back-to-back, shields aloft, spears outward. Again he shouts, "Whatever comes out that gate, stay together."
What comes out that gate is swift and sleek and full of terror. Chariot upon chariot thunder forth. War horses pull, with deadly agility and earthshaking strength, wagons driven by master charioteers. Amazonian warrior princesses ride behind and with deadly precision hurl spears and volley arrows. One gladiator strays from the circle, ignoring Maximus's order, and is cut down. Maximus shouts once more: "Stay together!"
The instinct to scatter is strong. But Maximus exerts his authority, and they resist that impulse. The chariots circle, closer, closer, closer. Spears and arrows rain down on the men's wood shields. The chariots are about to cinch the knot. Right then Maximus shouts, "Now!"
The gladiators attack, and decimate the Romans. Commodus, the evil emperor, caustically remarks to the games organizer: "My memory of Roman history is rusty, but didn't we beat Carthage the first time?"
Whatever comes out that gate, stay together.
You see, this is where the journey begins. You’re not ready to travel till you’re connected. We’re only going to prevail, Peace Church, if we are connected . . . if whatever comes out of that gate . . . if whatever Satan throws at us, we stay together.
Which just leads me to a question that some of you may be asking. Hey, Rusty, how can we “stay together?” How can I as a visitor or a new believer get connected to Peace Church? Well, when it comes to connection, Peace church has two primary goals:
First, we want everyone to connect to God. That simply means that we want you to come to know Him personally. We want everyone to have a firm assurance that they are Christ-followers. Did you notice how I put that? I didn’t say that we want everyone to tell us that they are Christians. That term has been so corrupted over the years that it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. What we are interested in seeing is people connect with God to the extent that they turn their whole lives over to Him.
By the way, we offer many opportunities for people to make this kind of connection. In fact, this church has always had a heartbeat for evangelism and outreach and I never want to see that change. This is why we offer Upward Basketball; this is why we put on the Christmas Theater; this is why we have GROW visitation; this is why we have Peace Athletics. We are simply seeking to develop relationships in which we love others and share with them how much God loves them. We want everyone to connect with God.
Then, we want everyone who connects with God to connect with Peace Church and we have at least a couple of ways for that to happen as well. On the first Sunday of every month, I teach the Discovery class in which I explain the process of uniting as a member of Peace church and just what membership means. That class is required for anyone who wishes to join this fellowship and some of you here this morning need to sign up to take it. You may have been coming for months or even years and you’ve never gotten the courage or taken the time to unite with us. Listen! It’s time to connect.
Another avenue of connection is called Life Concepts. This class is taught by Doug Rogers and the first one will begin on February 28th. This class is for those of you who know you need to grow but don’t know how to get started. It will give you some background in the faith and will prepare you to enter a discipling relationship. It is a great “on-ramp” if you will to connecting to this body. Some of you need to make a firm commitment to sign up and take this class this morning.
But you may be here and you might say something like this: “Hey, Rusty, I’m already connected to the church, what is there for me to do?” Well, I’m glad you asked! You can become a “Barnabas.” That’s right! You can become a Barnabas. You remember, it was Barnabas who took Paul under his wing and helped him connect with the Disciples in Jerusalem. Maybe you know someone this morning who needs connection but may be a little undecided or shy about stepping forward and seeking it. Maybe God would have you go to them, put your arm around them, and help them connect.
Now you need to do that because if we are ever going to have the ministry that God wants us to have it will be because we trade consumerism for connection. Church really isn’t a mall, it’s a body. We must be connected. That’s the first step on our journey to maturity. Here’s the second. If we are to be what God would have us to be, we must
DIV 2: GROW
Of all the things I love about living in the south, there’s at least one thing I can do without. No, I’m not talking about chitlin’s! I’m talking about the country club atmosphere in many churches. Now, lest I be too harsh, let me be quick to tell you that there are some great believers in many of our churches who are much farther along in their spiritual life than I can even think of being, but we might as well tell it like it is. There are a lot of our church members down here who haven’t got a clue about what the real purpose of the church is, much less live it out. They come to see other people, make social connections and enjoy the potlucks. They’re country club Christians. They want to sit down, take it easy, make conversation and never be challenged to do anything, much less grow.
But that’s not the biblical picture of a church. You see, biblically speaking, the church is not a country club, it’s a gym! We’re not here to pat one another on the back, go to one another’s weddings, and throw showers for one another’s new baby! We’re here to grow in Christ! That’s the second step on this road to spiritual destination.
And, again, you really see this in the life of Paul. At first glance, we get the impression that Paul was an “instant apostle.” One day, he’s riding down the road to Damascus to kill the Christians, and the next week he’s writing the book of Romans. We tend to minimize what went into his development. If that’s your view of Paul, may I show you an interesting verse?
Look at Galatians 1:15
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
In the book of Galatians, Paul is defending himeself against the charge that he was just parrotting what other apostles had told him to say and that he was not legitimate. He is saying, here, that he didn’t get his message from other, but from God. What I want you to see is this curious mention of Arabia. It seems that, after his conversion, Paul went to Arabia which would have been the Nabatean Kingdom. Where he was wasn’t as important as what he was doing. Given what he says here, many scholars believe that during these three years, he was being taught by the Holy Spirit as he studied God’s word. You see, he was not an instant apostle. He was taught! His growth began with a God connection.
But that wasn’t the only connection he had. Something interesting happens in Acts 11:25. Look who shows up again in Paul’s life:
Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Now I’m not sure exactly how Galatians and Acts go together here, but it seems like, at the end of Paul’s Arabian adventure, he ends up back in Tarsus, and Barnabas goes after him to get him into ministry. There seems to have been almost a discipleship relationship between them. From Barnabas’ willingness to be his sponsor to this little demonstration of accountability, Barnabas makes sure that Paul isn’t left out. He goes after him and introduces him to ministry. You know, they might not have called it discipleship, but that’s exactly what it seems to have been.
Now here’s the point: Growth in the Christian life is never accidental. It is the result of intentional pursuit and accountability. The person who is growing must pursue God with all their heart and, in this pursuit, they must not seek to be the “lone ranger.” They must allow God and other believers to be involved in their lives so that they can develop accountability.
That’s what we seek to achieve through several ministries of Peace Church. Our Sunday School and Life University classes along with our men’s and women’s ministries seek to connect you with God and others so that you learn, and so that you are accountable. The primary way we seek this kind of connection however is through our discipleship process.
A little over a year ago, I sat with our deacons and told them of the burden of my heart. I was tired of seeing many people profess Christ, then never change. I was tired of bring people in the front door and having them go out the back. Most of all, I was tired of a pretense of evangelism that saw no lasting results.
That’s when Doug introduced me to a discipleship process that God has been using over the last year to change lives. I could point to the lives of people sitting in this congregation today that have been changed through intentional discipleship.
How does it work? Well the discipleship process involves two people: a disciple and a discipler. They study material and work through the basics of the Christian life one-on-one. Disciples are taught how to have a quiet time and given practical spiritual insight on their individual spiritual struggles. It is all about relationship and accountability.
In addition, the discipleship process involves two courses of study. The first is Directions I. This class is the one-on-one process I just told you about. Directions 2 is a course of instruction for those who are discipling someone else. It covers the biblical background of discipleship and it’s value to the growth of belivers.
It is my vision that we have every member of Peace Church go through the discipleship process, Directions 1 and 2. You might say “Why, Rusty? I’ve been a believer for a long time. I just don’t need that.” Well, you may be surprised. You might be surprised at what you might learn.
By the way, the great leaders, preachers, businessmen and coaches are masters at repetition:
If you’d have had the pleasure of playing basketball at UCLA during the glory days of Coach John Wooden, you’d have learned the value of repetition. Freshmen arriving for the first day of practice were full of anticipation. How would the legendary John Wooden open his first practice? Would he speak of character? Would he give them some nugget of wisdom? How would he set the tone for the long season to come.
Veterans knew what was coming. It was the same thing every year. Wooden’s first instruction had to do with . . . socks! That’s right! At the first practice, the venerable John Wooden reviewed with he players how to put on a pair of socks.
Wooden discovered many players didn’t properly smooth out wrinkles in the socks around their heels and little toes. If left uncorrected, these wrinkles could cause blisters that could hamper their performance at crucial times during games. Many players thought the practice odd and laughed about it then. Wooden knows some of them still laugh about it today. But the coach would not compromise on this basic fundamental principle: “I stuck to it. I believed in that, and I insisted on it.”
In our desire to grow as Christians, we can easily forget about the fundamentals of our faith. If we do, we run the risk of developing painful spiritual blisters that can hurt us as we run our race. You see, you never get to far along to relearn the basics.
Besides that, you can’t effectively be a teacher till you’ve been a student. You see, the one-on-one discipleship process isn’t about covering material. If it were, there are plenty of you to whom we could just give you the material and turn you loose. But it’s about more than learning: it’s about life. It is relational and until you’ve had the experience and understand the concept, it may be hard for you to see it happen in someone else. That’s why we’ve put together a process that everyone can get involved in.
If you’re new to the faith, new to the church, or if you’ve just never been involved in discipleship before, I encourage you to get involved in a one-on-one relationship with another believer taking Directions 1. If you want to know how to best do that, see Doug Rogers and he will get you connected with someone else who can work with you.
If you’ve already taken Directions 1, I encourage you to see Doug about taking Directions 2. This class will teach you how to be a discipler and will encourage you as you grow in the Lord as well.
WILL YOU BE THAT SOMEONE - SERMON SPICE