Do we Really Believe This Stuff?
During Lent our theme was “Restoration.” We talked each week about how God can restore what is broken. Throughout Lent, as I prepared for each sermon, I found myself asking, week-by-week, “Do I really believe this stuff?” Do I really believe God can fix what is broken in our lives? Or, is this just stuff we talk about? I’ll come back to this in just a moment.
Over the last four weeks, I’ve asked the members of First Church to dream about what kind of church we can be. Each week, we have asked members to complete the statement, “I want to be part of a church that…” As we have sorted through those responses, they seemed to fall into the following 8 categories; I want to be part of a church that…
- Offers Warm & Caring Fellowship
- Welcomes EVERYONE
- Reaches the Next Generation
- Transforms People & Places
- Celebrates Diversity
- Serves the Community
- Strengthens Families
- Shares the Good News
As I read this list, “Transforming People and Places” resonates most strongly with me. I deeply believe that Go’s love transforms. And, my question is, “Do we really believe that God can transform people and places?”
Figless Fig Trees
Jesus once told a story about a fig tree growing in a vineyard. Notice – it’s growing in a VINEYARD. Figs don’t grow in vineyards. Grapes grow in vineyards. The fig tree is taking up valuable space, and potentially blocking the grape-vines from the sun. But, the main problem was that it wasn’t producing figs. Why have a fig tree taking up space in a vineyard if it isn’t producing figs?
The owner told his worker, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
But, the worker replied, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
The owner of the vineyard had given up hope on the fig tree, and only saw it as a liability – a waste of space. But, the worker still saw potential. With another year of fertilizer, the tree could possibly produce fruit. He believed in the possibility of transformation.
Methodists and the Middle Class
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once wrote, “What may we reasonably believe to be God’s design in raising up the Preachers called Methodist? To reform the nation, particularly the church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
John Wesley and the early Methodists believed in the power of God to transform lives. And, as individual lives were transformed, he believed families would be transformed, and then neighborhoods and cities would be transformed – To reform the nation, particularly the church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land”
Methodism was birthed in 18th Century England, when there was a deep divide among the wealthy elite and the poor working class. Among the poor, who worked on the docks or in the mines, there was rampant addiction, gambling, and debt. That was where John Wesley and the Methodists directed their efforts. And, as people came to Christ, they tended to quit drinking, give up gambling, become more responsible with their money and become harder workers. As they did, their lives and their neighborhoods improved.
Many expert sociologists and historians believe that the development of a middle class in England was a direct result of the Methodist’s efforts to transform society.
Wouldn’t it be great to be part of something like that now?
Scripture teaches that anyone in Christ is a “new” creation. The clear expectation of God, expressed in Scripture, is that we are meant to change – to become more and more like Christ, and that our lives are meant to look more and more like the Kingdom of God on earth. That is God’s intent – the movement of his Kingdom on the earth. The expectation is that, like the fig tree in Jesus’ parable, we will become increasingly fruitful for the sake of the Kingdom and that the Kingdom’s advance will have a transformative effect on this world.
In Colossians, The Apostle Paul writes, “The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Colossians 1:6
He then goes on, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10
And, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Colossians 1:13
Two key phrases – “bearing fruit” and “rescued from darkness.” Both mark a change. Our lives are meant to bear fruit. And, we are no longer who we were. We may have lived in darkness. But, now, in Christ, we have been invited into the light of the kingdom where we can live fruitful, productive lives. That’s transformation! That means…
- If I was irresponsible before knowing Christ, I can become more responsible.
- If I was self-centered before knowing Christ, I can become self-less.
- If I was unkind and uncaring before knowing Christ, I can become more kind and loving.
- If my life was fruitless before knowing Christ, my life can become fruitful.
- If I was an addict, I can get sober.
- If I was sick, I can get well.
- If I was lost, I can find direction.
- If I was broken, I can be restored.
- If my life was in chaos, I can find order and purpose.
- If I was trapped, I can be rescued and set free.
Just like a fruitless fruit tree, God can take our lives, and transform us into people who live healthy, productive, fruitful, kingdom-focused lives.
And, if Christ can transform a person who is broken, then he can transform marriages and families that are broken. If he can transform families that are broken, he can potentially transform neighborhoods that are broken. And, if he can transform neighborhoods that are broken, then cities, then counties, the societies, then nations.
Vance’s Vision: Transforming People and Places Through the Power of God’s Love
My personal vision for ministry, in a sentence, is the “transformation of people and places through the power of God’s love.” God’s love has and is transforming me. I’ve seen God’s love transform others. The reason I became a campus minister was to be involved in shaping and forming young people into future leaders of the Church and world. I used to tell my students that I was doing all I could to mess them up for Jesus, so that they could graduate and go mess up churches and the world for Jesus. (If Jesus and his Gospel haven’t messed you, then you might not be paying attention!)
My vision hasn’t changed. My vision is to mold and shape each of you – young and old – with the power of God’s love, so that we can all be fruitful agents of transformation in this community and the world. Everything I do is with the intent of changing someone’s life. I never get in the pulpit, without that intent.
As a pastor and as a believer, I have absolutely no interest in just doing religious activities. I have no interest in maintaining the religious status quo. I have no interest in coddling and hand-holding people who don’t want to change. I refuse go through the motions.
I’m not a pastor to just play at this. I’m a pastor for no other reason than my deep conviction that God can and will transform people and places, and that he invites us to be his agents of transformation in a world that desperately needs transformation.
Do we really believe that God sent his only beloved Son, to die a violent death on a cross and conquer sin and death, just so we can have nice religious services and activities??? It is way for radical than that! Jesus came to save and transform broken people and a broken world. I don’t care anything all about being part of religious activities, but I desperately want to be part of what Jesus came to do!
One of my favorite quotes is from a El Salvadoran Arch-bishop named Oscar Romero, who fought for the poor, and who was murdered by the El Salvadoran government, while he was offering the Mass, on March 24th, 1980. Here’s the quote,
“This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.” Oscar Romero