Dawn of the Decade 20/20

We are not only starting a new year but a new decade.  Moving into this new year and decade we should reflect on the decade and year gone by.  Take inventory of the last decade personally and as the people of God.  Where has God brought you?  What difficulties have you been through?  What celebrations have been meaningful?  What relationships brought you joy?  Can you see the hand of God at work in your life over time?  At the beginning of the last decade you had dreams and plans and did those work out?  Did the last decade include a focus on your relationship with Jesus?  Did your plans include following Jesus and seeking his direction?

At the dawn of this new decade we cannot change the past, but we can reflect, repent, refresh, refocus, and revision with an honest look to the past and a hopeful view to the future.  This new year and decade start with the year 2020.  When I think of the date of the year 2020, I also think of writing it this way 20/20.  20/20 is a description of vision acuity or accuracy.  It means at twenty feet away things will look as if they twenty feet away.  If a person has 20/100 vision that person will have to be as close as twenty feet to see what normal vision can see at one hundred feet.

When our eyes are able to see properly, we are able to understand the world around us much more safely.  When reflecting on the past decade, do we see it for what it was and celebrate where possible, repent where necessary, and thank God for the grace that has brought us safe thus far. When we can honest look at the past, we are better able to step into the future with hope.  What hopes and dreams do you have at the start of this decade?  Do they include God and walking with Jesus?  Only Jesus knows the future plans God has in store.

At the dawn of this decade starting in 2020, do we have spiritual 20/20?  Does the year and decade ahead include seeking Christ to lead and guide us personally and as a people?  Proverbs 29:18 cautions us, “where there is no vision, the people perish.”  We must become people of vision.  Looking to an uncertain future trusting Christ to guide and give vision.  It will people of God will cease to be God’s people if they can no long see him and have a vision of Christ’s movement in our midst.

When we do trust faithfully and look longingly, the prophetic words of Joel encourage us, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”  Is it our prayer that God will pour out his spirit on all flesh, sons and daughters, men and women, young and old that they will dream dreams and see visions?

Are we a people of vision, forward looking, and promise filled?  In 2020 and beyond do we personally and as the people of God see with spiritual 20/20?  If not, what corrective measures need to be taken?  In all things remember to be grace filled and graceful in the living out of our faith.  Embrace the words of the timeless hymn Amazing Grace, that reminds us ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

The Hopes and Fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight

When I see these words from the O Little Town of Bethlehem I am struck by their expression of the tension of faith.  There is always in our faith as believers a tension between what it is, that we hope for and also the fear that our faith won’t meet our hopes.  At the time of Jesus’ birth there had been nearly four hundred years since the last word from God through a prophet.  Then the first word was not actually a word, but the Word, become flesh.  There was not a word by cries and coos.  God sent the Word.

I can only imagine the hopes of the people deferred for centuries.  The fears that maybe God had grown silent, distant, or unconcerned.  While this tension is real, God was doing just the opposite.  God was not becoming silent, distant, or unconcerned, rather God was writing the story in the stars, becoming personal in Jesus, and showing love through God’s great gift of Jesus. The place of this humble miraculous birth was the town of Bethlehem.  The name of the town Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”  God has provided the Bread of Life, in Jesus.

The name Immanuel means God with Us, and Jesus means He will Save.  The hopes and fears, the tension of all of creation, human longing, and faith are found in Jesus.  As we are in the season of Advent now two thousand years since Jesus’ was physically on earth.  Are there hopes of his return? Yes!  Are there fears that our faith is unfounded, and Jesus is not coming back?  Yes!  When we look to this little town of Bethlehem, we are able to see in that quite unexpected place, the hopes and fears of all the years were met in thee tonight.

Hold on dear friend God sent His Son and we know that God is faithful.  God did it before and promises to send Jesus back again.  We are hopeful and fearful, but let’s always remain faithful.  In God’s time Christ will return and the hopes and fears of all the years will be realized.  There will no longer be a deferred hope or fear of God’s silence, distance, or unconcern.  There will be hope realized and fears relinquished as the hopes and fears of all of the years will be met in Christ.  Remain faithful through the tension of hopes and fears, for God is with us.

Calling Us Out

In recent months we have been looking at a scriptural Vision Statement that is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 and a Mission Statement: “Know, Grow, Go.”  The last two months we’ve looked at the Know and Grow parts of this Mission Statement.  Now we will consider “Go.”  Verse eighteen tells us that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Christ and because of his authority, commands us to go and make disciples.  Although the phrase may be better read, “as you go, make disciples,” the verb being “to make” it is clear that faith by its very definition is not just an intellectual exercise but a physical one as well.  There may be hesitancy in doing what the Lord asks us to do, either because we don’t want to or don’t think that we can, but this concluding verse tells us that we do not go alone.  Christ is ever with us.

Let’s look at this “going” in a different way.  When we hear the word go what comes to mind is the idea of being sent, but what if “going” is not about sending but rather calling?  Another series of events in earlier Matthew 14 brings this into focus.  Jesus teaches the crowd and he had his disciples to look for food and found a kid’s lunch.  Jesus blesses and breaks the bread and fish feeding five thousand men and who knows how many women and children.  The scraps filled twelve large baskets.  Jesus goes away to pray to the Father, the crowd leaves, and the disciples go across the Sea of Galilee in a boat.

It is now the middle of the night.  Jesus had not yet come. A storm was upon them and they were three or four miles from shore.  Then they see Jesus walking to them on the sea coming near the boat and they were afraid, some thought he may be a ghost.  Jesus tells the disciples that it is truly him and they shouldn’t be afraid.  Peter then says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Peter does something extraordinary, he in speaking to the Lord asks the Lord to command him, to order his steps.  Those steps would bring him out of the boat and on to the water.  Would we have the faith to ask the Lord to command us and then follow the command?

Jesus commands Peter to “Come.”  Peter got out of the boat and walked on water and came to Jesus.  Jesus did not send Peter he called Peter.  He called Peter to come and meet him where he already was.  Peter’s response was to “go.”  Go out of the boat, out of the place of safety to an uncertain place and future, but where Jesus is.  “Going” is responding to Christ’s invitation to meet him in the world and future that seems scary and uncertain, but where Jesus already is working.  “Going” is about our response to Christ calling us out beyond ourselves.  Out past the waves of uncertainty and the deep waters of doubt.  The future and the world can seem so uncertain, yet Christ is there calling, calling us to walk with him on the water, into the world, and toward an uncertain future.  We know he is there.  We know he is calling.  How will you and I respond?  Will we go?  The water, the world, and the future is waiting.

Growing in the Son and Waiting for the Harvest

The days are getting shorting and the nights longer.  The seeds and labor of days gone by are now beginning to yield its harvest.  Many factors go into a successful harvest, sun, soil, water, and work.  Growing takes preparation and dedication.  Last month we looked at the “Know” part of our Mission Statement, “Know, Grow, Go.”  This month we will look at “Grow.”

Knowledge is an important first step but growing is active in the sense that it involves preparation.  Growing fruits or vegetables requires the preparation of clearing, tilling, planting, pruning, and watering and yet with all the preparation you cannot “make” some grow, only prepare for it.  Body building is much the same way.  Training the body and lifting weights actually breaks the body down and as a response to the stress the body with proper preparations of rest and nutrition will be built stronger.

Our faith will grow through times of stress, if we remember proper Sabbath (rest) time to reconnect with God, and a diet of His Word.  The larger body of Christ will grow when the members that make up the body grow and when then cultivate an atmosphere that allows for God to grow in our midst, and in the world.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6  We may have different gifts, callings, and tasks in this cultivation process, but the goal is the same, to allow God to grow inside each of us and to prepare the seed of God to grow well around us.  When we grow closer to God and understand his work in the world, then we are able to see other believers as companions instead of competitors.  It is in preparing that growth can happen.  We prepare, but God is the giver.

As we look ahead to the “Go” part of our mission statement next month we are reminded as God grows, we must go into the harvest fields.  “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:37-38

Know

For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  1 Corinthians 13:12

In recent week you have had the opportunity to attend a series of roundtable discussions called, “Growing in the Son.”  These discussions have been guiding us as we discover, articulate, and live out God’s vision for us in real and practical ways.  Through these discussions a phrase continued to surface, “Know, Grow, Go.”  From that phrase “Know Jesus, Grow in Jesus, and Go with Jesus.”  In the months ahead we will briefly look at each of these parts.

A basic building block of religion is knowledge.  It is key to know what it is you believe and continue to learn all you can about your faith that you may then become a good or faithful practitioner.  Without knowing, one has no proper point of reference from which to begin their journey and no understanding of the direction of that journey.

In a religion or faith system, there are things to know and learn about the founder of the faith, key leaders, and rules to ascribe to so that you may become faithful to your religion.  While I know who George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are, I do not actually know them.  I know facts and details of their lives that I can read in history books but do not have a relationship with them.

Thankfully, Christianity is not a religious set of practices, but a relationship with Jesus who was God’s Son in flesh and bone.  He is not just someone I read about from history but is alive today and I can have a relationship with him.  A relationship changes how you know and respond.  A relationship is alive and dynamic.  A relationship is not what you know, but who you know.  You may know your grandma’s address, dad’s place of work, mom’s birthday, or your child’s favorite toy, but that’s just the details and we know them differently because we have a relationship with each.

Paul writes here in Corinthians that he at first sees dimly (as if blinded), he knew things about Jesus but on the road to Damascus, he came to know Jesus personally.  Paul never met Jesus physically face to face and looks forward to that day.  Jesus first command was also an invitation, “come and follow me.”  Knowledge without relationship is a very dim understanding that does not ultimately change us, it may change our opinions but not our lives.

Many will say they know Jesus when they mean they know about Jesus, that Jesus from history or the Bible.  While knowing about Jesus isn’t bad it allows room for us to keep Jesus at a distance, like the distant past.  Treating him as a guru to help get us through a tough time.  Knowing about Jesus may allow us to use Jesus for our gains, purposes, or agendas.

Do you know his heart?  His words are still there, “come and follow me.”  Many will choose knowing stuff about, rather than knowing the Savior.  Why?  It’s safer, after all a relationship is about mutuality and giving.  As we come to know someone personally and intimately, the danger is they may come to know us the same way.  Some will fear that if Jesus truly knows them, he wouldn’t love them.  Our scripture reminds us, that we can know fully even as we are already fully known by him.  Jesus already knows you fully and loves you, will you come to know Jesus’s heart and not just details of his life?

Failure Is Not an Option

The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 signaled a point of no return.  The colonies now were not trying to change the mind of the crown, they were fighting to break away from Great Brittan.  They wanted to birth a new vision and a new country.  If they failed the names on that document would have been tried and hung for treason.  Failure was not an option.  Trying to birth something new will be risky, will experience growing pains, and living as if failure is not an option.

Another birth also happen in 1776 Boar Swamp Baptist (Antioch) was born.  In the midst of the Revolutionary War a risky vision to bring the gospel to the area east of Richmond was born.  There have been through the years many growing pains including the burning of the building twice.  The church also changed her name, but never her mission.  Why?  Change was necessary for the mission of church to continue.  If failure is not an option, then change must be at some point.

What happened in those very early years shaped the life of our country and our church.  The newly formed Boar Swamp Baptist believed in reaching unbelievers with the gospel.  They took risky steps to ensure they were faithful to their mission.  Two things stand out as both representative and foundational.  First, a group of fourteen went into Richmond to plant a church that other unbelievers would have the opportunity to hear the life saving gospel.  That church is now First Baptist Richmond.  Second, they joined with other local church to form a local association for the equipping and sending of missionaries.  The Dover Baptist Association is still active in supporting missionary efforts in our community and around the world.

The core identity of Antioch’s begins have been mission and ministry.  Calling forth and sending out.  Bringing the gospel to those who do not yet know the life-changing hope of the gospel.  Let’s continue to fulfill our mission to bring Christ to the world starting in our own community.  Looking back our birth, remembering our mission, we can now look at our present time to ask are we still participating in the mission with which it was birthed?  How can we do that better and more effectively in the future?  Is it risky to ask these questions?  Yes.  Will there be growing pains if change is needed?  Yes.  Can we live and lead into a new future with a commitment to mission?  YES, if we believe failure is not an option!  If we don’t believe failure is an option, then change must be.

Father’s Day

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-9)

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The tradition was said to be started from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1907. It was first proposed by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909.  Father’s Day from the beginning had ties to church in honoring fathers that had passed and in time came to honor all fathers, father figures, and the influence of fathers on society.

There is also research showing the influence of fathers in matters of faith.  According to data collected by Promise Keepers and Baptist Press, if a father goes to church regularly, regardless of what the mother does, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will attend church as adults. If a father attends church irregularly, between half and two-thirds of their kids will attend church with some regularity as adults.

In this day and time, we should look at the faith of the fathers and father figures as deeply influential to the faith life of our children.  We honor our Heavenly Father by sharing and living our faith as earthly fathers and father figures.  Let’s bless and grow the next generation and let’s pray for our fathers and father figures.