This morning as we continue our series on The Mission, I want to briefly walk us through where we are right now. We started with God himself. What is God up to? What does he want to accomplish in the world? If we’re honest about what Scripture says, we find out that God is about his Kingdom. If we look at God in the beginning and we attempt to understand Trinitarian theology at all, we see that relationship is at the center of everything. God is three persons in one individual celebrating perfect unity and relationship with himself. And it’s so wonderful that God invites us into relationship with him because good things are meant to be enjoyed with others.
So everything is about God. It’s God’s universe, God’s creation, and God’s salvation. It’s not about us at all. We are simply invited into this relationship, invited into communion with God, to celebrate and enjoy him for eternity. The Westminster catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God should be the object of our worship. In light of who God is, what is his purpose? He is working to draw all people into relationship with him. His desire is that all would inherit eternal life (2 Peter 3:9).
But man is sinful. The world is broken. We cannot reach God on our own. A way had to be provided so that we could come into the presence of God. So the Father sent the Son. God sacrificed greatly in order to purchase us back from sin. God provided a way that we might be washed clean from our sins, clean enough that he could actually send his own Spirit to replace the corrupted spirits we possessed. Jesus lived a perfect life and paid a gruesome sacrifice. We can accept his sacrificial death as a replacement for our own and come into a relationship with the Father.
Jesus sacrificial death allows us to come into salvation. His perfect life and his bodily resurrection tells us that we have been called to a new life after our salvation, a holy life, a life that represents Jesus to the world with which we come in contact. We have been called to be holy. God is holy and can only commune with that which is holy, so we must be holy. God is sanctifying us, as long as we are still alive. He is making us more like himself. We know that we who are called to be the Church must set an example for others to see. We must be salt and light. We are a royal priesthood and a holy nation, set apart to do good works that the world might see so they can give glory to God. We are supposed to give as clear a picture of God as is possible, that the whole world might know.
So where does that leave us as a church? Where are we as Cornerstone? We do some good things. We’re seeing God at work in this community. We’re even beginning to see cooperation between churches in this city. We’re seeing the body of Christ come together for the purposes of the Kingdom. It’s a really exciting time to live in Kilgore, TX. And what’s really amazing is that there are some really exciting things beginning to take place in the communities around us. In Longview and in Tyler there are churches and small groups and families who are beginning to wake up to the mission that God has placed on their lives. It feels as if there’s something on the cusp of happening, that God is preparing to do something miraculous, waiting on his people to figure out how to live so that he might glorify himself through us.
This is where we are, but what does it mean?
I’ve got several scriptures I want us to look at today. There is a mission that we have been called to in a universal sense and also a local sense.
I’ve been trying to work on crafting a clear, concise vision statement for Cornerstone. The problem with that is I like words. My statements would get longer and longer and include a hundred words or more. I wasn’t writing statements, I was writing paragraphs. And the more I wrote, the more I discovered that everything I was writing sounded like somebody else’s statement. Every time I thought I had something I would read it again and it would sound like I statement I had heard or read before. Solomon had it right. There is nothing new under the sun.
So rather than depend on my own cleverness, I decided I would turn to scripture. It’s funny how when we can’t come up with something on our own we turn to what God has already said. I searched scripture trying to understand God’s vision for his church. That’s where this series came from. I was trying to write a statement and I wrote five sermons.
A funny thing happened, though, as I got deeper and deeper into scripture. I discovered that God’s vision is very simple. I like that about God. When you really look at what he’s saying, it’s not hard to understand. It’s very hard to live out, but it’s not really that difficult to get. In this passage in Matthew we find Jesus being confronted by a group of Pharisees. Jesus was constantly tripping up the religious leaders in their theology. Maybe that’s why Paul called Jesus a stumbling block to those who believe. When we think we’ve finally got a handle on who God is we look up and we find something that’s different than what we thought before.
The Pharisees came to him because they heard he had stumped the Sadducees. They were too smart for that, though, so they used all their brain power to come up with a question to stump him. They asked this: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” They were looking for one of the Ten Commandments that they could claim as the most important, probably so they could neglect the other nine. But Jesus summed up all of the Ten into two: Love God with everything you can muster and love people. Love God and love people.
Strikingly simple, isn’t it. He even said “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Everything else in life comes from these two commandments. Simply put, when you do something, test it in this way: Does this show my love for God or other people? If it doesn’t, perhaps you should rethink your motives.
So in searching to clarify the vision of Cornerstone Fellowship this is the first thing we learn. We are supposed to love God as much as we possibly can and we are supposed to love other people. Test all our actions by this greatest commandment. What else?
We know these verses very well. I’ve preached them myself many times throughout my ministry. We know what the verses say, but how do they apply to us, in our context?
“Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… (and) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” This commission contains two parts. We are to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them. First, let’s address the baptism. Baptism is a unique thing. There is deep meaning behind it, and yet is doesn’t do anything for us really. Salvation doesn’t come through baptism but through faith in Jesus, yet we are commanded to be baptized. Why? Baptism is a representation of what is happening within our souls. It shows a picture of our own deaths (which we will talk about next week) and a symbolic resurrection into new life. It shows to all who observe it that our lives are different. We are not the same person we were before. We have been resurrected into a new life.
So we are to baptize people, help them experience this new life. Love God and them enough that they develop their own faith in Jesus and choose to follow him. But then we are also to teach them, to help them become disciples. This is where the perfect example given to us by Jesus and the sanctification process of God come into play. Jesus told his disciples to “(teach) them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Simply put, making disciples involves living our lives like Jesus so that others learn to live like him too.
Putting these two passages together we get something that seems to involve loving God, loving people, and helping them to become more like Jesus. This is the mission of the Church. We’ve been called into mission with God to help accomplish his purpose of making much of him. We’ve been tasked with serving the Kingdom of God by taking his Kingdom into the world. We are ambassadors establishing embassies in strategic locations around the world in order to take the culture of the Kingdom to which we belong and the laws of the King to as many places as we can. During the imperial age of the 19th and 20th centuries there was a saying, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Wherever you went in the world you were likely close to a colony of the United Kingdom. They took their culture and established little Englands all around the world.
Regardless of what you feel about imperialism, I think this gives us an interesting example to follow. God’s kingdom is bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than any one nation or people group. God’s Kingdom infiltrates everything and goes everywhere. That’s what we’ve been called to. That’s who we’re supposed to be: ambassadors for God’s Kingdom.
In the course of loving God and loving people, we’re supposed to teach them how to love God and love people as well. We’re supposed to make disciples, but how? There are four passages I want us to look at with the remainder of our time today.
This is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. This is a broader conversation and context than what we’re covering this morning with all sorts of great implications for us to consider, but I want to focus on these two verses for just a moment. Jesus says that true worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. More often than not we focus on one of these two things, either spirit or truth. We either focus on the emotion of worship or the biblical truth being spoken. Jesus is saying that we must have both. We must be faithful to scripture. We can’t simply have an emotional experience and talk about how good we feel about Jesus. We can’t just throw up our hands during the music and not engage in an honest discussion about how we should live. But neither should we just search for truth devoid of emotion and praise. I think of it this way: When I encounter the truth of the gospel and learn about the magnificent grace and love of the Father, I can’t help but throw my hands up and praise. And when I praise God who made the heavens and the earth and loves me deeply, I want to know more about him and his truth. I want to be more like him in his holiness. You can’t have one without the other and to separate the two gives us an incomplete worship, a worship that is not true.
So worship becomes part of the disciple-making process. Why? We are trying to illustrate the greatness of God and live in such a way that God is glorified and others are drawn into relationship with him. What better way to do that than to allow people to watch us worshipping? If I want to show you who God is I’m not going to sit around with some dusty old commentary and read to you. I’m going to show you the God that I worship, so I’m going to worship him. I’m going to worship him by singing songs, I’m going to worship him by praying, and yes, I’m going to worship him by learning about the truth. It’s a complete package.
We’ve talked about community quite a bit recently. We really think this is a major part of who we are as a church. When I read the Bible and encounter the first church, it seems like they didn’t have to be taught this and that’s what’s amazing to me. As a function of their culture, they intuitively knew that they were supposed to take care of each other, to bear one another’s burdens and meet one another’s needs, and to celebrate and mourn with one another. It seemed more normal for them. Perhaps we have a disadvantage here, but scripture seems pretty straightforward.
Part of making disciples is about being a Godly community. Paul says in the first verse that mature disciples are supposed to build up and hold accountable younger disciples. Community is about affirming and loving other people. Real discipleship takes place in gospel-centered community. This is not simply a gathering of people who meet together because they enjoy each other’s company. This is a community of faith that has at its center the goal of edification and maturity in Jesus Christ. This means that there are opportunities to cry together and rejoice together, but also a concerted effort to study the word of God and develop in Christ-likeness. Remember that for disciples, being like Jesus is the point. This must be the point of community, then, to be more like Christ.
Remember that our goal as Christians is to help others fall in love with God and love others better, to make disciples who look like Jesus. So we’re also given the task of service. This is where the example of Jesus comes into play. We have a model life for us to follow, and it involves service. In our community, we are faced with the struggles of life. This gives us the opportunity to bear one another’s burdens. Paul says for us to “not grow weary of doing good…” Let us not grow weary. Service should be a joyful thing. We get to join God in his mission. This is where iServe comes in, yes, but it’s a broader picture of the joy we get out of a lifestyle of doing good.
If you remember earlier I mentioned that it feels like God is getting ready to do something very big in this community. I think that perhaps this involves iServe and the community of believers here in a way that we have never before imagined. I believe that if we as Christians will get into our heads the beauty of living like Jesus and will actually live out what he says, we will see an unstoppable movement of the Spirit. If we will simply learn what this verse means: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…” we will experience God’s power in unbelievable ways. As we have opportunity let us do good deeds. If we’re filled with the Spirit and living Christ-like lives, we will seize opportunities to do good works. As we have opportunity…
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Discipleship is about leading people to Jesus. I believe discipleship is simply about living our lives in such a way that others see who Jesus is through us. It seems clear in the teachings of Jesus and in the writings of Peter and Paul that our lives speak volumes about the person of Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi once said “Preach the gospel. If necessary use words.” In this passage Paul reminds the Corinthians that we are ministers of reconciliation. There is a gap between who we are and who God wants us to be. God has taken our sinful souls and purchased them back. He has reconciled us in a relational and economic sense. He has restored our relationship to him and he has paid the price for our ransom. In light of what God has done for us, we ought to share that good news with others.
Paul says here that we are indeed ambassadors. We are emissaries of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. He says that God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. Through us, God is making his plea that everyone might know him. We are the messengers. We are the evangelists. It’s telling that in the Greek the word evangelist simply means “one who is sent out with a message.” We are messengers of God’s love and grace. We are reconcilers.
So we are to love God and love others and through that love we have for others are called to make disciples who will also love God and love others. We worship God together, share in gospel-centered community, serve those around us, and bring with us the message of reconciliation.
I’m supposed to be using this time to tell you about our vision. At the RightNow conference last week I went to a session that talked about vision and how to speak about it with clarity in such a way as to inspire and motivate others to follow. There are many devices of public speaking designed to sink one’s message deep into the hearts and minds of the hearers.
When I read the Bible, though, these techniques don’t seem to be the way the apostles preached the gospel. It seems that people in the Bible simply told who Jesus was. What set them apart was the way that they lived. We talked about it last week: when the Holy Spirit comes into a person, a complete change takes place. They become new people. Because of that, their lifestyles also change. Changed people equal changed lifestyles and changed lifestyles equal the body of Christ, the called-out ones, the church.
So what is my vision for Cornerstone? I’ve wrestled with this question for a long time. I’ve struggled with how to communicate it clearly because that’s what everyone tells me I need to do. There are perhaps churches who hire wordsmiths to capture pithy phrases that would distinctly enumerate a specific statement designed to evoke an emotional response. That’s not necessarily the way I approach things. We still need a vision, though, right? Where there is no vision, the people perish. This is true.
As I dream about whom we could become and what God would have us do, I find it impossible to ignore God’s greater vision for the whole world and the sacrificial work done by Jesus enabling us to be holy. So when confronted with the task of clarifying a vision for Cornerstone, this is what I think: What would it look like if the people who claimed to follow Christ actually gave up their own lives for the sake of the gospel? What would it look like if people simply looked to Jesus and said, “All I have is yours, use me for your glory?” What if we believed the Bible and lived out what it told us to do? What if we looked like what the church is supposed to look like, not four walls and a steeple, but the people of God living out the grace of God so that the world around us might be drawn into the Kingdom of God?
What would it look like if we lived like we said we believed? What would it look like if we actually believed the Bible? This is my vision.