Pastor Michael reflects on his summer travels and looks ahead to our vision to Love God, Love His People, Love His World.
On our holiday over summer we did a lot of travelling. Driving for 3,000 mile, I appreciated the wonders of the Sat Nav or (as the Americans call it) GPS system. For our road trip in the south west USA it was essential. Long gone is the occasional glance at a map with a rough guess of where we were and when we might arrive. It is replaced with a constant update of information, where we were, where we were going along with estimated times of arrival.
The one thing I had to allow proper care and time for was setting the route. After collecting our hire car, in a tired state, we set off and didn’t realise the Sat Nav was set to shortest route by distance. This caused much confusion as it took us off the interstate and onto the back streets of LA. Yes it was the shortest route, but not the quickest and probably not the safest, adding a frustrating ¾ hour extra to our journey.
At the beginning of autumn we set aside Vision Sunday to set our route for the year ahead. This should not be rushed. Proper time needs to be spent preparing for the journey ahead and selecting the best route. Four years ago I shared a simple vision statement of Engaging with God, His people, His world. This has helped us to keep on the right track. However, I have felt that the word ‘Engage’ is too mechanical, it needs explanation, lacks emotional connection and can take us off route. I believe God wants us to renew the statement, to a more biblical term that better reflects his character. This is to ‘Love God, Love His People, Love His World.’
We know that God is love. God showed his love for us through Jesus’ sacrifice. We are in turn to respond to His love by loving in return. We love Him because He first loved us. The great and first commandment is; "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matt 22:37. To Love God, means engaging with everything. We can engage with God in servitude; however we should love Him simply as His children. I want us to have an exciting meaningful dynamic relationship with God which overflows to impact the live of not just our Church but also the world around us. So through preaching and teaching, small groups and fellowships, we are going to continue to inspire people to grow in our love for and in God.
Community engagement is a widely used phrase to describe building relationships to benefit people. However, the Church has a mandate to go beyond engagement to love. Many people have come to Christ through our Church because they first encountered the love of God being shared amongst His people. I believe this is a unique feature and need of the Church, following the call and command to love one another. The outworking of loving God is to Love His People. Jesus told his disciples; “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” John 15:12.
How we love one another is a living demonstration of Christ’s love. Ideally it is a witness to the world, something to actively grow into. Going to two Sunday morning services has created space for new people to join the Church. However it means we need to be more intentional in growing in love for God’s people. We are changing the name of the end of the month ‘United Service’ to ‘One Church Sunday’. This will retain the features of a United Service where all people of all ages and backgrounds can join together in worship, word and prayer. Also we are going to do something excitingly different in the afternoon or evening that brings people together - picnics, quizzes, games, gigs etc. While it would be accessible to family and friends from outside the Church, the main aim would be to grow meaningful, loving friendships within our Church, where we can Love His People.
Through the recent ‘Convinced?’ sermon series from Romans 8, our minds have been reminded that there is no condemnation in Christ and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Then through the ‘Courageous’ series from Joshua, our hearts have been encouraged to be strong and courageous in faith, obedience, holiness amongst other things. We are progressing from head to heart to hands as we will be called to action in our new preaching series ‘Church is’. Throughout Romans 10-16, we will learn what it is to be a believing, worshipping, authentic community and become it.
The final element of the Vision statement is to Love His World. Jesus said the second part of the great commandment is; “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Matt 22:39-40. I have differentiated between the love within the body of Christ – the Church – and the wider world. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die for us. God loves His world, it is His creation. God loves the people, all made in the image of God, despite its rejection of Him. We are to be the bearers of God’s good news of Jesus to the world; to share the gospel in word and deed. The motivation to do this needs to come from love rather than obligation.
Is the failure of the Church to share the gospel due to duty bound evangelism rather than heart- felt love for God’s world? Evangelism is more than engaging with God’s world, it’s loving God’s world. Jesus saw people and loved them. So we are called to Love His World. We are going to continue to go and share the gospel and be actively encouraged and stirred not just witness but to Love His World.
So what next? I want you to allow God’s Spirit to stir you to Love God, Love His People, Love His World. This is not just a catchy phrase but a simple statement to guide us and live by. Let the Spirit stir your head, heart and hands so we are hearers and doers of His word. We want to be a real, functioning community, applying God’s word and love practically and radically; everyone taking their responsibility individually and corporately. To do this we need to be convinced and courageous. By loving God, His people and His world we live out our lives as living sacrifices; holy and acceptable to God. Let this be our good and acceptable worship to the glory of God.