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Beyond the Horizon

Testing Series
April 8, 2018

A Vision From God   I want to share some thoughts with you about the VISION that God has given our church this morning. As most of you know, we’ve had a Vision Team meeting for the past 9 months, and they have completed their work, and reported back to the Consistory, as to what they believe God is calling this church to do and to be in the next 5-10 years. I’ll say more about all this at the congregational meeting later this morning, but let me share some basic things the Vision Team discerned   Through our discussions we found that God kept bringing us back, again and again, to “Fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandments.” It’s a relief to know that God isn’t asking us to reinvent the wheel here. He’s asking us to do what He’s been telling His people to do from the beginning. He’s also not asking us to be or do something that we don’t already understand. Our Vision Team did an assess-ment of this church’s Strengths and Weaknesses, and talked about what this church has done well over the years, and really believes is important…i.e. what are our core values? We came up with many, but let me share with you what we arrived at as the 4 Primary Core Values” of FGRC:  

  • Caring for other people…loving people
  • Proclaiming the Word of God
  • Teaching and discipling people
  • Fostering real community, and a sense of “family”
  Those 4 things have mattered the most throughout the 149-year history of this church, and God is not calling us to change that. He wants us to “build upon our strengths,” not strive to “be something we are not.” But, that said, we believe God is calling us to shift everything to an OUTWARD FOCUS. Which is why it is so timely that the Lord has us replacing these colored glass windows with clear glass this coming week. God wants us to look out and around, not IN. He wants us to see and remember that “the fields are white unto harvest.” It should not surprise you to hear me say that our new vision has everything to do with God GROWING His Church. On the one hand, that means growing US, because we ARE His church. We’re His ambassadors, and His hands and feet in the world. That’s a discipleship piece…all of us growing in our faith and maturity. However, it also means God growing His family by ADDING people who are not yet a part of Christ’s Body. That’s about making NEW disciples, and it’s more of an Evangelism and Missions piece. Growing a church is no simple task…but it is crucial to the advancing of God’s kingdom and our witness to the world, which we have talked about a lot in the past couple of months. One thing we can be absolutely certain about is that growing and renewing a church is about more than just US!   In just the past few months, our church secretary, Amy, and her husband Todd completed a major renovation of the kitchen in their home in Zeeland. Amy recently showed some of us a few photos of their project’s final outcome. The kitchen looks great now, with new countertops, island, plumbing, lighting, and flooring. It’s a place where you would definitely enjoy hanging out. But Amy said it was quite a challenging and messy process. At one point, the floor was bare, wires & plumbing were exposed, and the sink was missing. During the construction it was not a desirable location, but it was a necessary process for getting to their desired end. Now here’s why I’m telling you this: The same thing is true if you want to become a church that embraces the grand vision of God to reach lost people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Some uncomfortable and inconvenient de-construction and reconstruct-tion will be required for the transformation to take place. That is a lesson we can all learn from Acts chapter 10. What does transformation in the New Testament church look like?  We’re going to jump around a bit in Acts ch. 10 this morning, but we see transformation displayed in vs. 44-48.   So we see in this passage that there were Jews and Gentiles, churched people and non-churched people, probably working class people and wealthy people, men and women, young and old, and they’re all worshipping God together. God is obviously in their presence and the people are showing evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. They’re praising God! They’re giving their lives to Christ and getting baptized. They’re building relationships and spending time together. But remember: this is the finished product. How did they get there? What de-construction and reconstruction had to take to place in order for this transformational worship service to be a reality? To learn this, we have to go back to the start of the chapter. And what we notice there is this:  
  1. We Must Make Prayer Our Priority.
  So we see that both Cornelius and Peter were in prayer when God began to speak to them. We learn from this that. We don’t pray to change GOD’s heart…we pray to change OUR OWN. When our Vision Team starting meeting together last October, the first thing we talked about was the priority and the importance of our praying. We all knew that that was going to be the determining factor in the success of what we were setting out to do and discover. WHY? Because when we pray, we put ourselves in a posture of humility where we are asking God to bring our heart into alignment with his. It’s the same posture that Jesus took in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, “Father not my will, but Thy will be done.” If we are going to break down the walls that divide us, and break down walls that keep the community from us, and keep us from this community, it must begin with a personal broken-ness before God, and a passionate desire to know and experience God. All of that begins with PRAYER being the priority in our lives, and in the church. Another principle that we should notice from this account in Acts is this:    
  1. We Must Remember that Unity is God’s Will.
  All through-out this passage we see that God is working in the hearts and lives of Peter & Cornelius to bring these two men into relationship with one another:
  • God speaks to Cornelius (vv. 3-4)
  • God tells Cornelius to send for Peter (v. 5)
  • God introduces the idea to Peter that Gentiles are not unclean (vv. 9-14)
  • God tells Peter to go with Cornelius’ men (v. 19)
  • Cornelius’ men acknowledge that they have been “divinely directed” to reach out to Peter (v. 22)
Again and again the call of God is to “enter into relationship” with them. Get to know them. Serve and love your neighbor as yourself. Even love your enemies! This work of reconciliation, of tearing down walls that divide people, is clearly the heart and the handiwork of God. In John 17:20-23 Jesus prays with deep passion for the unity of the church. And then in Revelation chapters 5, 7, and 14, St. John sees a congregation worshipping at the Lord’s throne that was purchased by the blood of Christ, comprised of people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Brothers and sisters, the unity of the church is not some sociological construct - it is a divine design that expresses that heart and mind of God. So what does this mean for us and for the pursuit of the vision God has given us? It means, first of all, we must GO to our neighbors. And second, it means that as God brings different people to us, be ready to receive them and welcome them as part of this family. You ARE the Hospitality Team of FGRC! If these visitors aren’t from the Grove, it doesn’t matter. If they’re not dressed the way we think they should dress, it doesn’t matter. If they have a reputation as sinners, it doesn’t matter (so do the rest of us!) If they’re not of our ethnicity, it doesn’t matter. And if you don’t like them, that doesn’t matter either. You need to ask God to change your mind and heart, because if God sends them here, God wants us to welcome them. That leads us to consider a third principle that flows out of this story in Acts ch. 10:   III. We Must Yield in Obedience to the Will of God   In vs. 7-8 Cornelius responds in obedience to God’s directive to send men to Peter. In vs. 20-21 God tells Peter to get up and go, so Peter got up and went. Let me ask you a basic spiritual question that anyone who is a true follower of Jesus should be ready to answer: How is God at work in your life? Perhaps God is bringing people into your life that are different than you are, who challenge your worldview or your upbringing or your spiritual understanding. Maybe He is telling you to reach out and build a relationship with someone of a different culture. Perhaps God is putting it on your heart to pray for, or try to help a particular person…for example a classmate, or a co-worker, or a neighbor. How is God at work in your life right now? There are two big questions that this reality produces:
  1. Are you being sensitive to God’s moving in your life and heart?
  2. Are you being obedient to do what God is telling you to do?
  We all need to think about our individual responses to those two questions. But let’s take it up a level, and think about how we might respond to these as a congregation. These are not merely personal, private questions for individuals to consider, but also questions that entire churches need to consider. When our Vision Team started meeting we started with a fundamental commitment to do these two things – 1) to listen to God, and try our hardest to be sensitive to what God was saying and doing among us here, and 2) to be obedient to whatever God told us He wanted us to do. After all, if you have no intention of really listening to what God tells you, or doing what He tells us, why should God even bother giving a vision to us? We’re not going to do it anyway! That leads me to say this:  
  1. We Must Confess All Sinful Attitudes and Behaviors.
Let’s look at verses 28 and 34. We learn here that Peter had to confess that he thought God favored the Jews over the Gentiles. To put it bluntly, Peter had to admit his prejudice, and his negative attitudes towards people of a different race and background than himself.  If you look back at Peter’s response to God’s initial challenge in vs. 13-15, you can see that He thought that he was completely justified in his views. God says to him, “Rise up, Peter. Kill and eat.” And Peter replies, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” It took quite a bit of effort on God’s behalf to show Peter that he was wrong. Verse 16 tells us, this happened 3 times…”. Peter could be a slow learner. As a devout Jew, Peter thought that it was perfectly acceptable to say, “The Gentiles are going to hell. They’re not one of us, so that must be where God wants to send them.” But Peter is not just a Jew now…He’s a Christ-follower. He’s become a Christian, and God is showing him that he can’t hold on to his old attitudes & behaviors. Well, guess what? Those of us in the church can be slow learners at times too. And our Vision Team was given something like the vision that Peter received on the rooftop in Joppa. It was as clear to us as the vision of the sheet that God dropped down in front of Peter 3 times: REACH OUT TO THE LOST AROUND YOU!” Don’t lay there on your couch and smugly call people “unclean” and refuse to have anything to do with them. Don’t sit there and say, “Those people are obviously going to hell. They’re not one of us, so that must be where God wants to send them.” Brothers and Sisters, listen! God does NOT want your classmates, and co-workers, and neighbors to go to hell! II Peter 3:9 tells us that “God is not willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance and faith.” One of the most significant barriers to the growth and health of this church is our deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and values. That’s true of MANY Christian churches across our land…and by way, most of those churches are dying or already dead! It is very easy for us to want to define God according to our cultural norms rather than seeking to define Him according to Scripture. Very often our religious practices become our cultural norms, which over time, become crystalized into our definition of rightness, and even righteousness. And then it can turn into self-righteousness. Jesus condemns this way of thinking. So what does God want us to do? We need to start by praying as the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:23-24:Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We all need to go before the Lord and allow the powerful light of His Word to reveal the sinful attitudes and actions we have towards other people and cultures. And we need to repent – to change our ways – and ask God to help us think and behave differently. Well, there’s so much more that needs to be said about all this, but our time is gone, so let me wrap up with a concluding comment.  
  1. We Must Keep God’s Word as our Focus
  This was the second of our Primary Core Values, but it bears repeating. In v. 33, Cornelius says to Peter, “Now we all are here, waiting to hear the message the Lord has given you.” And then, in vs. 34-43, Peter clearly communicates God’s Word to those Gentiles that were gathered there. Rom. 1:16 tells us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power of God to transform ANYONE and EVERYONE.  So many of the social and moral issues in our country, and which have brought conflict and division in our churches, are not really sociological problems…they’re spiritual problems. And so, they can only be overcome by spiritual means. The solution to those problems begins with us choosing to know, and obey, and stay true to the Word of God. That is the only way to be a TRUE Church. If we are going to remain a true church that pleases the heart of God and advances the work of His Kingdom, it is going to take intentional, concentrated effort on all of our parts. Like renovating a major room in your house, it will require patience and diligence, and yes - MONEY. It will require a spirit of grace and respect towards one another, and towards newcomers, and toward those who express their worship and their faith in a way that is different than what we are accustomed to, or comfortable with. It is in that diversity and grace that we can demonstrate to the world the transformative power of God to break down walls and build bridges. Brothers and sisters, It’s time to put on our hard hats and get to work. I hope you will stay for the Congregational Meeting after worship this morning, as I will share more specifics about the Vision than what we had time for in this service.   Let’s bow in prayer please.