- Part II: Remember Who You Are
- Deuteronomy 4:7-9
- Bill Couch April 17, 2016
This is my last series of messages as your pastor. As I began to think and pray about what should be my theme, I was directed to the book of Deuteronomy. It is a compilation of the last messages of Moses to the Israelites at the end of their forty year period of roaming in the wilderness just before they cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The Israelites are in “the land between”—that awkward space between who they have been and who they are about to become. The leader they have followed for 40 years is about to leave and a new leader, Joshua, has been chosen by God. It is a time of uncertainty. Moses knows that as they prepare to move into the future the most important thing they can do in this time of waiting is to remember who they are regardless of where they are.
7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:7-9
“Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart.”
A significant portion of Moses’ last message is reminding the Israelites of what they have seen and experienced with God—their defining moments that have made them who they are. He reminds them of those pivotal moments not to just reminisce or dwell in past glories, but to encourage them to have crystal clarity about who they are that will provide them with momentum for moving into the future in a new land with a new leader.
Moses reminds them of what their eyes have seen:
Remember when you were slaves to the Egyptian Pharaoh making bricks seven days a week. Remember how you suffered daily beatings at the hands of the cruel task masters. Remember how God delivered you from slavery by sending plague after plague upon the Egyptians. Remember the night when the death angel passed through Egypt and all the first born sons in Egypt died. But the death angel passed over your houses that were marked with the blood of a lamb. Remember that Pharaoh released you from slavery because of this demonstration of the power of God. As you left, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his chariots to wipe you out. But God opened up the Red Sea and allowed you to escape.
Remember when God descended in lightning, thunder and smoke upon Mount Sinai. He gave you the Covenant of the Ten Commandments which guided you in how to live as the people of God motivated by gratitude for all that he had done for you.
Remember how he provided for hundreds of thousands of you an abundance of manna, quail and water in the desert every day. Remember that you experienced his presence guiding you with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Remember the day the Tabernacle was dedicated and the glory of the Lord filled it.
Remember these moments that define who you are. You are the chosen people of God. You are a holy nation set apart for God. You are blessed to be a blessing. God has chosen to dwell among you.
Today, I want us to remember some of the defining moments in the life of our church that have shaped who we are. “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart.”
You have followed the same leader for 37 years—he resembles Moses. This is a picture of me in costume at the Trunk or Treat last year! And now the time has come for me to retire. You will be moving into a new chapter with a new leader, Lyndol Loyd. Taking my cue from Moses’ last message I want to remind you today of who you are. I thought of many experiences that have shaped our identity, but this morning I only have time to focus on a few of them I want you to remember.
In the summer of 1979 when our church was six months old, I attended a conference on starting new churches. One of the speakers had started a church that was two years old, he shared with us that his church had a mission statement that articulated their purpose. I came home and shared the idea with our steering committee and within a month we wrote a mission statement. LakeRidge UMC seeks to be an accepting, transforming, equipping and sending, community. Even though we have adopted a new mission statement, I believe those words still describe who we. One of the descriptions that I still hear from our members and guests is that we are an accepting community—where people wherever they are socially, spiritually, economically can find a home. Being an accepting community is part of your DNA. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
Also in the fall of 1979, we started our first Leadership Bethel Bible Study class. At the time we had about 100 adult members and 25 of them (1/4 of our membership) enrolled in an intensive overview of the entire Bible. It was a two year commitment to meet for 2 ½ hours each week and study during the week for 8-10 hours. These folks who were solidly grounded in the Bible became the core leaders and teachers in our church. Bethel Leadership classes continued for 16 years and established our church solidly upon Biblical Principles. Since that time other Bible Studies like Disciple, Precept, and Beth Moore have continued to saturate our church in God’s Word. Remember you are a church solidly grounded and guided by the principles of God’s Word. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
In the fall of 1989 our church was reeling from a staffing change that created a lot of turmoil. In God’s providence, the women of our church had invited a lady named Margaret Therkelsen to lead a retreat at Ceta Canyon. Margaret was a prayer warrior. She encouraged and taught the women of our church how to pray. They came back from that retreat and started to pray for their pastor and staff and church family. Our church attendance had been plateaued for about six years. Two years after they started praying regularly our church healed from the turmoil and began to grow—in numbers and in impact for the Kingdom of God. The primary reason for the change was the Holy Spirit moving in response to their prayers. Over the years our prayer ministry has grown to include a prayer chain, prayer vigils and the Healing Prayer room. People stop and pray for one another in the foyer and during all our groups and meetings. I believe that the transition process has gone so well because of faithful prayer. The daily prayer guides provided by our Transition Prayer Team have enabled us to pray together for God’s guidance. The members of our Staff Parish Relations Committee and Transition Team have listened to God through prayer. They have grown spiritually in their dependence upon God. You are a praying church. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
In the early 90’s a shift in my style of leadership unleashed a tidal wave of ministry and outreach. Leaders told me for years that I needed to delegate and let the staff and our members do the ministry. I knew they were right but I did not know how. Leadership principles were not part of the seminary curriculum when I attended back in the stone ages! A Wesleyan Pastor, John Maxwell, was part of the first wave of Leadership Speakers who taught pastors how to be leaders. He taught me how to delegate and let go. It was a struggle because I was used to being involved in everything. For the church to continue to grow I could no longer attend everything that was happening. I remember driving down 82nd Street one evening and passing by the church. There were cars everywhere on our parking lot. Margaret said, “What is going on at the church tonight?” I responded, “I have no idea. I just hope I was not supposed to be there!” You have initiated, expanded and nourished the ministries of this church far beyond what the pastors and staff can do alone. You have discovered your spiritual gifts and you are using them to serve God. He is working through you to bless thousands of people in our community and far beyond. Remember who you are. You are all ministers serving Christ in the unique way that he has called you. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
1994 was another defining moment. We released the plans for our new sanctuary to the contractors. We were scheduled to break ground on Palm Sunday. We opened sealed bids on the Thursday before. The lowest bid was 40% over our budget. I did not know what to do. I thought about cancelling the ground breaking. It would take months to redraw the plans. I prayed. I heard the nudging of the Holy Spirit say, “Go ahead and break ground Sunday in faith.” I argued with him. “But Lord, I don’t see how this is going to work. If we break ground and nothing happens for several months, the congregation will get discouraged.” The Holy Spirit responded: “What has been your theme for the building program?” (Bill):“Forward in Faith.” (Holy Spirit): “If you could see how this would work out it would not require faith. Break ground Sunday in faith.” On Palm Sunday, in fear and trembling, I shared that conversation with you and we broke ground. The lay leadership of this church stepped up and, lead by the Holy Spirit, began to think creatively about how to solve all the challenges. It was a joy to watch. Within a matter of days construction began. God deepened all of our experience of faith through that process. You are a church of faith—who trusts God to do the impossible. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
In 2009 we distributed 900 copies of “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision. He challenged us to pray, “God break my heart with the things that break your heart. As a result of this prayer, the outreach of our church exploded exponentially. Our Faith Promise Mission giving escalated from about $30,000 a year to over $140,000 and eventually to over $300,000! Many ministries were launched by our church members to reach those in need in our own community. Our mission outreach expanded throughout the world to Guatemala, Africa and beyond. We have provided clean water to developing countries. We have provided funds for villages to dig wells and install water distribution systems that have dramatically reduced water-borne illnesses and saved countless hours formerly spent hauling water long distances. The lives of thousands of people have been improved because of our provision of clean, accessible water. You are church who takes seriously the mandate of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and give a cup of clean water to the thirsty. You are fulfilling the Great Commission to take the Good News of Jesus to the whole world. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
Over the years we launched so many wonderful ministries that we realized our church was doing too many good things. All our energy was going outward and not forward. We hit another plateau and for the first time in our history saw our worship and Sunday school attendance begin to decline. We felt the need to focus our energy. We entered into year-long Visioning Process that resulted in a new mission statement and vision initiatives. We discovered what our church does well. We provide a place of connection. Many of the couples in our church come from different church backgrounds and they choose LakeRidge as a place where both of their needs are met. We focus not just on personal spiritual growth or mission outreach but on both. We believe that a personal relationship with Jesus will motivate and empower us to serve others. We noticed that families were no longer attending worship together. We adopted a goal of providing intergenerational worship and spiritual growth opportunities to connect families together spiritually. Beyond the walls of our church we saw the impact of our Change for Children to feed hungry students. We felt led to expand our vision to something God sized. We are developing plans to “Break the Cycle of Poverty among Middle School students in the Lubbock area”. We also transforming villages in Africa and Guatemala through sending mission teams and providing clean water. You are connecting generations with Jesus to Impact our World. Don’t let that slip from your hearts.
I could list many other important moments in our history, but as I look at the trajectory we are on, these are the top moments that come to my mind. Remember these defining moments that have made you who you are. Don’t dwell on the past. But carry with you the truth of who you. Boldly venture into the future of LakeRidge United Methodist Church. You are on the threshold of your next defining moments.
As we close in prayer, reflect for a moment on the pivotal moments on your spiritual journey in this church. “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart.”