It was the last semester of my last year of college. I was facing the reality of impending adulthood; and, I wasn’t ready. I was about to graduate, but I had partied my way through college. My degree was unmarketable. My grades were pathetic. I didn’t have any real-world work experience. I didn’t have any purpose or direction. I was scared.
But, I had hopes. I wanted to be a responsible adult. I wanted to marry. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I just didn’t know what, or how.
As graduation approached, my anxiety intensified, daily. One night, alone in my fraternity house bedroom, overcome with anxiety, my Bible caught my eye. I’d never read it. Something told me to pick it up, and start reading. I read a few pages. The next night, I read a few more. I read a little every night until I worked my way through the four Gospels. By then, Kelly and I were searching for a church.
A year later, I was the Youth Director at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando.
The point of this story is that a particular message stirred me as I read the four Gospels. Over and over, I discovered Jesus saying things like…
- “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
- “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossiblefor you.” (Matthew 17:20)
- “If two of you on earth agree about anything they askfor, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)
- “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22)
And, finally, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
Notice the theme? Over and over, Jesus says anything is possible with faith and prayer. All things are possible, with God’s help! In fact, Jesus says, we’ll do even greater things than him!
At that moment in my life, those were powerful promises. They still are. I was scared and unequipped for adulthood. I felt like I was facing insurmountable obstacles. But, Jesus said anything is possible. I took him at his word – literally. Ever since, I’ve believed, with faith, God does impossible things. Throughout my ministry, I’ve operated out of this core belief and promise.
A small, old, rinky-dink church…
It was February, 2016 – just 18 months ago. I’d been the Senior Pastor at Ortega United Methodist Church, in Jacksonville, for just 18 months. I’d just rearranged my office, and just hung some things on my walls – settling in, for the long haul. I’d just preached a series, introducing our new vision. I’d just led town-hall meetings to discuss how we would implement the new vision. I planned to be there for many years, and to watch that vision come to reality.
Then I got the call. I was, unexpectedly, being moved to First Church Coral Springs.
You should know that I said, “no.” I thought moving was a mistake, for Kelly and me, and for Ortega. It was too soon. We weren’t ready for a change. Ortega wasn’t ready. But, the decision wasn’t up to me – that’s how it works in the United Methodist Church. We go when and where we are sent.
The reason for the move was that First Church needed a specific kind of pastor. For some reason, I was discerned to be that pastor.
I was told that First Church is large, growing, and preparing for future growth. I was told that First Church is culturally diverse, with the opportunity to become more diverse. I was told that First Church is committed to missions and impacting the world. I was told that First Church is a warm, welcoming church. I was told that there are vision and dreams and plans for the future.
And, I was told, from the perspective of the United Methodist Church, First Church has the kind of ministry potential that could impact the entire south east region of Florida. We are seen, by our denomination, as one of the strongest, healthiest, most vital churches in Florida, and in the denomination.
Even though I didn’t want to move, I admit that I was excited by the potential.
First Church is, in so many ways, the great church that was described to me. This is a large, dynamic church. This church is committed to mission and service. This church is warm and welcoming. This church has tremendous possibility and potential. And, we are blessed with more diversity than any church I’ve ever served before.
But, more often than not, that’s not the way I hear “us” describe our church.
This year, our average worship attendance is about 800 people, per week. The average church attendance in America is only about 184. Half of all churches in America only worship 75 people, or less. 90% of the churches in America worship less than 350 people, per week. We are, at least, twice as large as 90% of the churches in America!
We are a large church! We aren’t a mega–large church, like Church by the Glades or Calvary Chapel. But, by all comparisons, we are a LARGE church – much larger than most, including most of the other churches in Coral Springs and Southeast Florida! And, a church as large as ours, is capable of doing remarkable things! In fact, we have a responsibility to!
And, yet, I’ve heard our leaders describe us as “small,” “rinky-dink,” and “declining.”
My point? There’s a significant difference between how we are seen by others, and how we see ourselves.
This church already does great things; Bethlehem Revisited, Food Share, Vacation Bible School, and great Children and Youth Ministries. But, when I bring up new ideas, I’m told – over and over – “We can’t do that,” “We can’t afford it,” “We don’t have enough volunteers,” “We don’t have enough leaders,” “We’ve tried that before, and it didn’t work.”
When I ask about our hopes and dreams for the future, the best I’ve heard is that we like what we currently do, now, or that we like what we used to be. Don’t get me wrong. I know we love First Church, and love what we currently do. But, when it comes to the future, I don’t hear much dreaming.
My point is not to be critical. My point is, there is a problem with self-perception. There’s a gap between how we perceive ourselves, and how we are perceived by others.
The Johari Window…
During college, I learned about the Johari Window. The Johari Window is a box, divided into four windows. The top left, window #1, represents things I know about myself, and others also know about me. Window #2, on the top right, represents things about me that I don’t know, but others do know – they call this the bad breath window. Window #2 could also be the potential others see in us, that we don’t see in ourselves. The bottom left window represents the things I know about myself, but others do not know about me – my secrets. And, finally, the bottom right window represents what is unknown to both of us.
In the case of First Church, there are things that we know about First Church, that are also public knowledge. That’s window #1. Window #2, I think, represents the potential others see in First Church, that we don’t see in ourselves. Window #3 represents what we know about ourselves, that others don’t know: things we’ve tried and failed, challenges we face. And, window #4 represents, I think, what only God knows about our future.
My point, today, is to challenge us to see First Church, as others see us; to challenge our ideas about who we are, and what we can do; to move us into the second window – to see what other’s see; and even the fourth window – to begin to believe that there is potential and possibility that only God can see.
We can’t, but God can…
I want you to imagine being me, sitting in my fraternity house bedroom, anxious about the future, reading my Bible for the first time, desperately looking for hope and direction. Instead of reading that anything is possible with God, and that God answers prayers, and that God opens doors, imagine if I read passages that said, “Ask, but don’t expect much. Seek, and maybe you’ll find something – but, maybe you won’t. Knock, but you better have the key to open the door yourself.”
Not very inspiring, huh? I can tell you, if that’s what Scripture said, I would NOT be here today.
Instead, I am here today because I deeply believe that Jesus was telling the truth when he said, “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
I’m here, at First Church, because I believe, with all of my heart, that God has big plans for First Church. I’m here, because I believe that First Church’s greatest days are not in the past, but are in our future.
The missionary, C.T. Studd, said, “Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible.”
The Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said, “If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility.”
Who does this church belong to? Who does this church exist for?
Let me ask you two questions…
- Who does this church belong to?
- Who does this church exist for?
My hunch is, while we might know the correct theological answers, the honest answers are: “This is our church, and this church exists for us.” But, that’s not biblical. In fact, it’s heretical. First Church is not ours! First Church belongs to Christ – he’s the head of the Church, and we’re his body! And, Scripture says the Church exists for the needs of the world. Our two primary functions are to honor God, and to serve the world.
Honor God and serve the world. The church doesn’t exist to serve us – the members. We are the church, and we exist to serve the world!
Earlier this week, I heard a pastor friend said, “The Church does not exist to feed its membership. The Church, and her members, exist to offer a plate of life-giving food to a hungry world!”
So, if the Church belongs to God, and the Church exists for the world, then there’s NOTHING we can’t do, NOTHING’s too big to try, and NOTHING’s impossible, because God will provide the inspiration, the motivation, and the resources to do it. It isn’t up to us. It’s up to God!
Maybe we don’t have enough money – now. Maybe we don’t have enough leaders and volunteers – yet. Maybe we don’t know exactly what to do or how to do it – at this moment. Maybe it will stretch us out of our comfort zones – that’s fine.
But, the issue, I think, isn’t lack of resources. The issue, I think, is lack of faith.
Jesus did NOT say that anything is possible for US. He said ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE for HIM! We don’t need more faith in ourselves. We need faith in what God wants, and can do through us, if we’re willing, prayerful, and faithful.
That’s my question: “Are we willing to be prayerful and faithful, to be the church God is calling First Church to become?”
Listen – if we prayerfully discern together that something is unbiblical, unwise, or that God simply doesn’t want it, that’s one thing. But, until we’ve dared to dream God-sized dreams, and set God-sized goals, given generously, and prayed audacious, impossible prayers, how dare we say what we will or won’t, can or can’t do?!?
Let me tell you something. First Church is not small, and not rinky-dink! First Church is not declining! First Church’s best years are not in the past – they’re in front of us, not behind us! And, we haven’t even begun to dream of all God can and will do here, if we believe and if we will act. God wants to do more at First Church, than we’ve ever dared to dream!
I believe that with all of my heart. Do you?
I love what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)