- Without a Vision the People Perish
- Matthew 22:36-40 & 28:19-20
- Lyndol Loyd September 29, 2019
This morning we are wrapping up our church wide experience, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World, where we have been taking a serious look at the idea of evangelism as a way of life.
As a part of this series I’ve asked us to read together out loud our theme passage of scripture which comes from Matthew 5:13-15. Would you please join me as we read from the screen together?
Matthew 5:13-15 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”
Our core convictions are that evangelism
- …isn’t about trying to be someone I am not or could never be. It is about allowing God to use who he created me to be.
- …isn’t about yelling, arguing or being aggressive. It is about having authentic conversations with people where they can ask questions, express their doubts and fears and wrestle with issues of faith.
- …shouldn’t be thought of as an event that I go and do, but more of a lifestyle that I live out as I go about my everyday life.
This morning we want to review our vision of what it means to live as radical disciples of Jesus in this broken world. We want to focus on what it means for us as a congregation to have a vision and a passion for giving our faith away to others and how that vision is made REAL in the life of the church.
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT
One of the great joys of my life when my daughters were little was to sit and read to them. One of the children’s stories that I particularly enjoyed reading to them was a classic by Margery Williams called The Velveteen Rabbit.
In the story a little boy receives a stuffed rabbit as one of his many Christmas presents. After the festivities are over the velveteen rabbit ends up spending most of his time on the nursery floor pushed over into a corner.
Worried about his place in the life of the boy who owns him, the Velveteen Rabbit strikes up a conversation with the Skin Horse who he considers to be the oldest and wisest of the nursery toys.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
My task today is talk to about how the mission of the church is made real in the local church. And I would submit to you that the way the Skin Horse said the Velveteen Rabbit could be made real is the same way the mission of the church is made real in the local church – by LOVE.
GREAT COMMANDMENT & GREAT COMMISSION
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in California says in his book The Purpose Driven Church that “A great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission will grow a great church.”
I think he’s right. Our mission as the church is found there within these two passages of scripture.
Matthew 22:36-40 “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart…soul…and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love Your Neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 28:19-20 “Go and Make Disciples of all nations, Baptizing Them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and Teaching Them to Do everything I have commanded you.”
It all begins with the words “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” Making disciples, baptizing and teaching people, all first begin with loving. The mission of the church is made real in the local church when we begin to love like Jesus loves us.
Way back in 1998 my assignment as a pastor was to plant a new United Methodist Church in Hot Springs Village, AR. It wasn’t an easy task. It was almost always challenging. One of the reasons it was so challenging was because we tried to start the church by reaching out to unchurched people.
Because I have grown up in a Christian home and I had always been part of the life of a church it challenged me. I can’t remember very many Sundays in my life that I haven’t been in church so it really required a shift in my thinking to try to get inside their minds and try to think the way they think.
What I discovered was that their frame of reference was quite different than mine. For instance, early on we had one guy playing guitar and singing in our praise band who was very new to faith in Christ. The song lyrics for the song they were rehearsing was supposed to be, “The cross you bore on Calvary.” He was singing, “The cross you bore on Calgary.” When Joni explained it to him, he very genuinely said, “O I thought maybe Jesus had done something up in Canada or something.”
Of the unchurch people that I got to know one of the most interesting and intriguing to me was a woman in her mid 30’s named Lynn. When my wife Joni met Lynn at one of my daughter’s playgroup sessions, she commented to me that she thought it would be a miracle if we could ever get Lynn and her husband to come to our church.
Lynn had been doing some hard living. But we knew that she represented exactly the kind of person Jesus would have connected with if He was in the room. Lynn and her family were the kind of people for whom we felt led to start a church.
At first we simply hoped that maybe if we were lucky we could get Lynn to visit the church within two or three years, but we weren’t counting on it happening.
Knowing that it would only turn Lynn off to start by inviting her to church, Joni just spent time trying to be Lynn’s friend. She tried to find ways to let her know that she cared about her. She tried to let her know that she was just a normal mother of preschoolers just like she is.
One day just before our church launched, Lynn was at our home for another playgroup session. I came in the door just as several of the mothers and their children were leaving when Lynn began to speak to me.
She said, “I like reading your newspaper column.” I about fell over. I couldn’t believe that Lynn would actually read my newspaper column. I said, “Thanks I really enjoy getting to write the column.” She said, “I know. I can tell.” I had to pinch myself to believe that I was actually talking to Lynn.
Lynn stood there for a few moments longer and then she said, “My husband and I don’t go to church anywhere.” And I remember thinking, “Yah I realize that. The fact that your two-year old is getting in trouble for cussing at daycare sort of tipped me off about that one.”
She said, “As a matter of fact. I haven’t been to church since I was in high school, but I think we are going to come to your church on Easter Sunday.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing come out of her mouth. And sure enough Lynn was there with her family on Easter Sunday just like she said she would be.
A few weeks later, Lynn called Joni on the phone and wanted to talk to her. She began crying as she told Joni the following, “I want to thank you for helping make God real for me. My husband and I had both given up on even believing in God and now we can’t imagine our lives without Him. By being my friend you made God accessible to me once again. Before the church I always thought Christianity was something I couldn’t attain.”
Reality is that people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. It is by loving God and loving people that the mission of the church is made real in the world and in our local church.
If we took the time, I’m sure that we could go around the room and each person could share similar stories of how God has used the lives of ordinary people in our churches to work in extraordinary ways. And in every one of those cases I would be willing to guess that the common denominator of how the mission of the church is made real in our local congregations begins with love.
RECOVERING OUR VISION
It starts with loving God and loving people and then it moves out into mission. The fact is that I am standing in front of you today and we are gathered here to worship God because generations of men and women were faithful to heed this great commission of Jesus. My great hope is that what we do here today moves us closer to becoming the kind of disciples makers Jesus intended when he gave the great commission.
It was the goal Jesus had in how he lived out his mission here on earth. Think about it. Jesus’ public ministry lasted for three years. His goal in that time wasn’t just to put together twelve men, or to build a community of believers who would follow him. Jesus didn’t just want them to be disciples, but disciples makers.
And what if it is true that you are not a bona-fide disciple until you are a disciple-maker?
My friend JD Walt works as the “Sower in Chief” for Seedbed which is a publishing arm of Asbury Theological Seminary where I went to school. In his role with Seedbed, JD publishes an online devotional series called the Daily Text. In one of his Daily Text posts he recalled his time as a Cub Scout when he was a young boy.
He wrote, “I began as a Cub Scout, progressed to a Webelo and was on my way to the summit of Eagle Scout when the wheels fell off. What happened? My Pack broke up. There weren’t enough kids in my small town who wanted to keep going. And because there was no way to go it alone, I was forever relegated to the lame status of a “Webelo.” Know what the word means? It means, “We will Be Loyal,” WeBeLo.
JD went on to write that he thought maybe that is a decent analogy analogy for the Church. We’ve got a whole lot of Webelos and not nearly enough people on the path toward Eagle.
Why? It’s not that people are content to be Webelos. We simply don’t have the the kind of communities it takes to make Disciple-Makers. We have churches aplenty and they are doing their best to keep us engaged in disciple-making activities. We have small groups galore and Sunday School classes and we are being faithful to gather together around good Bible study and teaching and so forth. We are even doing mission oriented things, from reaching out to our next door neighbors to taking trips to the ends of the Earth to help people in need.
All of this is good stuff and it is making a lot of difference to a lot of people, but it is never going to get us past the Webelo ranks. Sure, there will be the occasional outlier who rises toward Eagle, but the chances are we will do our best to fast track him or her toward professional Christianity. Chances are they will do their best to build a better mouse trap, but it will at best be a better version of the Webelo making machine that defines the church-industrial complex of our time.
What if all this time we’ve misunderstood the Great Commission? I am convinced after fifty plus years on this Earth, with twenty-seven of them spent in the ranks of professional Christianity, that when Jesus said, “go and make disciples,” he was not envisioning Webelos, a.k.a. loyalists.Jesus is not looking for those who pledge to become loyalists, but for those who will not stop until their entire existence is defined by the capital “L” Love of God. That’s what it takes to be a disciple maker.
We don’t have a “content” problem. It’s not that our Bible studies aren’t good enough. We don’t have a “community” problem. It’s not that our Sunday morning worship services and midweek activities and home group fellowships aren’t cutting it. We don’t really have a “compassion” problem. It’s not that our mission trips and local outreaches aren’t helping enough people.
We have a “connection” problem. The problem is with our relationships. We are simply not related to one another in the kinds of ways it takes to make us disciple makers.
We have a Love problem. Only love can move us into the work of making disciple makers. And I don’t think it is so much a “lack of” Love issue as it is an “ignorance of” what real Love really is.
We have for too long put love in a “soft” category which has resulted in the substitution of a lot of sentimentality for real love. Love is not sentimental. It is supernatural. And yes, it is hard. You’re seeing the challenge. The catch 22 of it all is we can’t solve our ignorance problem until we have solved our connection problem.
The real mark of the health of the church is not the size of the budget, the size of the staff, the beauty of the choir, the glory of the music, the wonder of the architecture, or any of the worldly measures we like to use. The real mark of the church in Jesus’ eyes is a church that is 100 percent dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission.
Getting in the parade and bringing others into the parade and sending them back up into the stands to get some other people and bring them back down and send some others back into the stands who will bring some others back down.
That’s a good standard for evaluating ourselves as a church. Are we equipping people to do this? Are they somehow involved in the disciple-making process? If we are not doing that, we need to ask ourselves why?
If this is the Great Commission, then this ought to be our great commission. Everything else is of lesser importance compared to these ultimate words of Jesus Christ. Nothing is as important as becoming this kind of people and this kind of church.