A new year; a new vision. A chance to start over again; to realign our life. God is moving in my thoughts in some very specific ways, and I want to share a bit of that with you. These things are for all of us, even me. These things come as the next step that God has put before us. They come as part of a plan He has for us as a church. I have invited friends here to day so that we can share a bit of who we are and where God is leading us. I have been asking myself a question for several years. “How does discipleship work?” I know there is no one easy answer, in part because we are all unique and need different things in our lives. But I do believe there is a core of knowledge, a core of behaviors that make up a body of discipleship. One of the largest churches in the USA discovered that they had been missing the boat for the last 20 years. Willow Creek has done a phenomenal job of reaching people for Jesus, but they have done a lousy job of seeing people discipled. How do we move pole into a deeper place in their relationship with Jesus. I know it is the work of the Spirit that does that, but God chooses to use us in that process. What can we do with our resources to help you become more Christ-like? I want to leave you with two thoughts. The first is the vision, the picture of what we can be; and the second is some foundational elements that drive our programs to that vision. We don’t do stuff for the sake of doing stuff. We do stuff for a purpose, a reason. First, the vision; one for the men, and one for the women:
Strong Men – it’s a guy thing
When one thinks of men one tends to think of sports. It is the area in our society where men can be men – rough and tumble, mixing it up with roughness. Heroes emerge and we look to the winners or the home team. Where else do we see real men today? Sometimes we find a political figure that takes a strong stand, but often the media represents that man in a negative light as a result. It is hard to be a man in today’s world. What would it look like if we had a church where we understood what it was like to be a man – a godly man?
Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.” So if the men of our church banded together to challenge each other to go further and harder for Jesus Christ, would you be interested in a church like that? If we encouraged our men to grow in each of those areas of life – physical, intellect, spiritual, and social – would you want to see what God would do with those men? And men – what do you want out of life? Many guys like to cruise, to take the back seat and let others drive. Most often it is the women that pick up the slack… and the slacks! Our “get up and go” got up and left. We believed society and culture telling us that we are powerless, that the time for male leadership is past; that we need to let women be the things that used to be us. So men today are in confusion and stand on shaky ground when it comes to trying to define who they are and need to be today. As a church we want to provide the building blocks it takes to reinvent the Godly man of today.
There’s a commercial on today connected to the Olympics that shows athletes working hard at training and saying victory isn’t about destiny, it is about the months and years of discipline that comes before the event. The same thing rings true for men of today. We don’t just grow into men because we get older or because we get married. We don’t become mature Christians by osmosis or wishing. Men become men by working at it and by the encouragement of others. The verse in Proverbs says that as “iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another.” Don’t read into this more than I have said. I am not advocating a return to aloof and power hungry leadership. I am talking about living out the calling Jesus has on our lives as men. He said that we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. Does that sound like an easy task? Does that sound like something anyone can do without effort and support? The Romans pulled a guy out of the crowd to help Jesus with His literal cross because He stumbled. What if we stumble? Who do we have to help us? That is what the body of Christ is for. The church, our church, is here to help you be all you can be in Jesus. You have marching orders from Jesus. In Philippians 3:12 we read that Jesus laid hold of us for a purpose. Generally we find that purpose in verse 9 – to be “found in Him” with a “righteousness that comes from God”. And this “laying hold of” isn’t just a tap on the shoulder. It grabs and is forceful – do you want to turn your back on that?
Men, you are called to be strong; to reflect the image of Jesus. Ezekiel was a prophet in exile 2600 years ago. He spoke from the banks of the Euphrates River when Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. Jerusalem and all Israel were under judgment for being a people of apathy and idolatry. The spiritual walls of Israel were being breached by the enemy. God stood and “looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before Him in the gap.” He found none. Today the spiritual walls of our men and youth and society are still being breached. The enemy is still pouring through the holes with lies and deceptions and false promises. God is still looking throughout the land for men who would build up the walls and stand before Him in the gap.
How this applies, men, is really between you and God. I don’t know what God is calling you to. You may already be fulfilling that place and all we can do is come alongside and cheer you on. Regardless, you are not called to be a lone wolf. Each of us is called to function within a local body, using your gifts to build up not just yourself before God, but everyone around you.
Connected – for Women only
Now you ladies have heard the challenge to men. Don’t think we haven’t got a place and a challenge for you as well. We have, as a society, been inundated with strong feminist ideals. How is it then that we have so many women who don’t like themselves? I was trying to think of what the ideal woman would look like in our community. You can’t define ideal by anything external for the simple reason that God doesn’t look at the externals. Anything ideal flows out of what is inside. My thoughts went to “vibrant” or “full of life”. I pictured someone who was involved and happy and energetic, but I was still seeing externals. Proverbs 31 comes to mind as well, and there is a large online community of women called just that – Proverbs 31 Ministries. My desire as pastor is not to create any mould that people must match in order to belong. I desperately want people to be free to be who they are, to help people throw off the expectations and obligations so that they are free to be themselves – to live in the way they were created. So I asked Bonnie the question, “How would you define the Ideal Woman with one word?” Her answer was what I was trying to speak but couldn’t articulate – Connected.
So think about this: what would it look like if the women of our church were Connected in life; connected to their Creator, to themselves, and to those around them. To be connected to your Creator speaks to your spiritual condition. It speaks to holiness and the Spirit working in and through you.
To be connected to your Creator gives you the foundation to self. It gives you purpose, it gives you direction and focus. Your connection to your Creator gives you what you need to connect to yourself. God loves you. He died for you, and He lives within you to give you confidence. Your self-esteem should be through the roof because the Eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth loves you, relates to you, has gifted you, guides you, and so much more. If God has your back, you can go out into the world and do wondrous things in His power. There is nothing to fear. God calls you to places where your love makes all the difference in the world. He calls you to places that men would be stupid and inept at. He made you for a purpose to, and is calling you to join Him in this wonderful adventure of life. If I could do one thing for the women of Canada, the women of the world, it would be to let them know that they are accepted just the way they are. The god of this world beats you down in so many ways; but in Jesus you can find strength, acceptance, purpose, and so much more. As a pastor my desire is to make this place a sanctuary where we can all come and feel accepted, and in accepted understand the confidence that comes with God’s Spirit working in and through us.
Having this confidence in yourself gives you the strength to connect to others around you in deep and meaningful ways. Women often do so much for so many already, but much of it is done in isolation, even in the midst of a crowd. My desire is that your connections to other ladies becomes a catalyst for a larger work of God than is possible with everyone doing their own thing. I was so proud of the ladies involved in the Girls’ Night Out event a year and a half ago. We had numerous obstacles, and frankly, some of them were quite large. But the ladies involved and persevered and prayed, and God used us to reach over 200 ladies with the truths of Jesus. We did that. Us! We have also had some 70 women of Saskatoon go through 2 Your Best You conferences here in Saskatoon; another 40 in Olds, and an expected 40 the end of this month at the Bridge on 20th. No one person could do this alone. You have prayed and pulled together when needed, and given of your time and allowed others the freedom to do what is needed. God has much more in store for you ladies and for us as a church in the months and years to come. Isn’t it exciting?
So, here is the challenge for men and for women. How are we going to do it? It is one thing to get a vision and get all excited, but another to plot the way to reach that lofty goal. The Biggest Loser TV show takes obese men and women and through a combination of diet and exercise gets them to lose weight. How does one lose 213 pounds? The answer is one pound at a time. Every journey starts with a single step. The road to the grey cup starts at the first training camp with a sit down like this. The coach looks at his players and asks, “Why are we here?” Are we here to get some fresh air and exercise? Are we here to settle for 4th place? Are we here to get a big pay cheque? No! We are here to win; to win the Grey Cup. It starts today with this list of drills and skills development activities. And tomorrow we will do these ones… and so it starts.
And so we start here at Louise Street Community Church of the Nazarene. All that has gone on before has brought us to this point. I don’t know all your commitments, but plug in when you can. Make following Jesus your top priority. This church is only one of many ways you can do that. I am not offended by people who go outside of what we have to offer so they can get what they need. We are all on the same team. My responsibility is this group, and so I teach and organize and equip with the resources at hand. Here are three things that are part of our game plan:
1. Identity in Jesus. At this church we focus on who you are in Christ. You will hear it from the pulpit, you will hear it in Sunday School, and if you phone me and ask, you will hear it on your cell. Don’t compare yourself with people around you – look to God instead. He is the one that loves you with an undying love that caused His Son to give up His life for you. He has promised to provide all that you need for today, both physically and spiritually. His Holy Spirit is at work in your life, quickening you with His eternal purposes. This is fundamental to our church.
2. A Focus on the Word. You will not get far in any argument with me if you do not bring Scripture to the table. My ministry and the ministry of this church is founded on the Word of God. I preach it on Sundays; it is taught in Sunday School, and if you phone me up… well, you get it. This book really is our playbook. The stories and truths it contains provide guidance and principles for us to live by. I will always challenge you to get into it. I was encouraged this week by one of our members who mentioned he was working on reading it through this year, as he has the last couple of years. Wow! One of Bonnie’s blog friends talked about how she tries to do that every year. She mentioned how she always fails, but that she knows the book of Genesis really well.
3. A Foundation of Prayer. This is another key element, without which we will not survive. You are a praying people. And we will continue to provide opportunities to do that, both individually and as a group. We will be starting a men’s weekly prayer group with a study. On top of that the men will be challenged to work through a booklet called Herald of Christ for Men. Who knows what God will bring out of that? Your Best You conferences will continue to be held, but we will also be starting a women’s prayer group. There is more that we will be doing in time to come, but know that God is leading and guiding us into some exciting times. Consider how you can be apart of what is happening here at church.