Today is the day that we celebrate nine years of ministry together. I can remember like yesterday arriving at Britton Christian Church and being welcomed by many of you who are still here nine years later. As the years have passed we have seen so many people come into the fellowship of the Body of Christ here at Britton Christian Church. We have shared in the funerals of many godly men and women who have led our church in years past. We have seen some people come into the church and bless us with their many gifts only to be led by God to move on to some other city or some other church. We have seen much take place during the past nine years and I have to tell you that I have been tremendously blessed by serving as your pastor and friend.
As we begin our tenth year of ministry together God has impressed upon my heart how crucial these days are that we are experiencing right now. We know where we have come from during the past nine years. It is very apparent to anyone who has been here any length of time that God is moving in a powerful way in our midst as He continues to lead people to this little, out-of-the-way church. We have seen God move in the past, we are experiencing an outpouring of His Spirit in the present, but still the question has to be asked, “Where are we going? What does the future hold for us as a church?” Today is the day of decision! Where are we going?
We are not the first people whom God has confronted with this important question. I can imagine the Israelites walking through the wilderness all of those years feeling misguided, misinformed, and mistaken about God’s promise of going to the Promised Land. They had seen God work in the past. After all, it was God who freed them from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. They had witnessed His mighty hand of deliverance, His hand of sustenance fed them through the desert years, and His hand of blessing promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. They had witnessed God’s faithfulness in the past, but they were yet to see all of His promises fulfilled.
Moses had been the leader of the Israelites from they day they walked out on their jobs and began to walk into the promised destiny of God. They had looked to him during difficult days and Moses had been a real source of comfort for the people. The day came when Moses’ leadership was nearing an end and a new kid on the block was raised up by God to take on the mantle of leadership.
The mantle was passed on to a young man named Joshua. By the time the Israelites prepared to walk into the land promised by God, Joshua was one of only two people still living who had been allowed by God to see the Promised Land. The other men who had seen the Promised Land had allowed their eyes to be clouded by the giants in the land so that they could not see the prosperity and blessing that flowed through every valley; the glory and grandeur that rested atop every mountain; and the peace and contentment that swept through the trees like a refreshing Spring breeze. Because of their clouded eyes they spread bad rumors among the people, rumors that stirred chaos and brought about fear and despair. The entire generation except for Joshua and Caleb were not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, their lack of trust in Almighty God. They wanted to go back “home” – home to slavery, oppression, and the watchful eye of Pharaoh’s henchmen.
The vision of the great and glorious land had been burned into Joshua’s heart and mind long ago and he was not about to turn around. God had called him to lead the people in taking the Promised Land and he was eager to settle down in the land flowing with milk and honey. God knew that it was a difficult task, a daring task, but He also knew that if Joshua and the Israelites would be strong and courageous they would enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The people who missed out on God’s best for them – the Promised Land – were people who saw the perils and not the possibilities. They were filled with anxiety and not anticipation. They saw giants – Joshua heard God!
There have been people throughout history who were paralyzed by the potential perils and never tasted of the great possibilities of God. Then there have been those who realized the insurmountable odds they faced, but they knew they were destined for more than what they were presently experiencing. People who knew God was calling them to make it over the hurdles of their lives.
One such person was a young girl named Wilma. Wilma didn’t get much of a head start in life. A bout with polio left her left leg crooked and her foot twisted inward so she had to wear leg braces. After seven years of painful therapy, she could walk without her braces. At age 12 Wilma tried out for a girls basketball team, but didn’t make it. Determined, she practiced with a girlfriend and two boys every day. The next year she made the team. When a college track coach saw her during a game, he talked her into letting him train her as a runner. By age 14 she had outrun the fastest sprinters in the U.S. In 1956 Wilma made the U.S. Olympic team, but showed poorly. That bitter disappointment motivated her to work harder for the 1960 Olympics in Rome — and there Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals, the most a woman had ever won. (Today in the Word, Moody Bible Institute, Jan, 1992, p.10)
Wilma knew the giants of her life that would try to keep her down, hold her back, but she knew God was bigger than the giants. The giants were not going to keep her from pursuing God’s very best for her life.
Wilma could have offered many excuses as to why she couldn’t do anything, much less win an Olympic gold medal, but she pressed on trusting in God every step of the way.
The giants were a reality for the Israelites as well. They were no illusion and they would have to be overcome to move into the Promised Land. Most of the Israelites shrunk back in fear with excuses pouring from their lips like water. I can hear the excuses coming from the children now. “We’re tired. We’ve been walking since the day we were born and now you are asking us to fight these giants? Let the younger folks fight them. I’ve already done my time. I can barely fight the pain of the calluses on the bottom of my feet, much less giants! “Joshua, we are too weak. We haven’t been eating too well you know. We’ve all read about the advantage and necessity of a balanced diet and all we’ve been eating are manna and quail. They will overpower us!” “There are just too many of those giants for us to make any difference. We’re young, with so many women and children and they are full of well-trained, military-trained, giants. They have brought the best armies to their knees, why should we think we’d end us anywhere else? There are just too many of them.” “Joshua, we’ve never done this before, I don’t feel comfortable.” So many excuses, and good excuses I might add, but excuses have prevented many people, churches, organizations, companies, and nations from excelling and reaching a land of promise that few will ever experience
There are giants in the land! Giants come in many forms, but their aim, their goal, their purpose is unified – to keep the prospective inhabitants out of the land of prosperity and possibility. It is imperative, as we stand at the Day of Decision, that we identify the giants that are awaiting us as individuals and as a collective Body of believers at Britton Christian Church.
I have seen the Promised Land that God desires for us as a church and I want to tell you this morning that it is a land that will boggle your mind, baffle your senses, and simply blow you away. Before I tell you about the land of promise that God has shown me for our church I want us to take time to identify the giants that we will encounter if we choose to move forward. Notice that I said, “If.” “If” is the key word for us this morning, but don’t let that upset you because “if” has always been the way for God’s people. Take for example.
15See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)
25Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. 26He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any
of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Exodus 15:25-26)
After Joshua and the children of Israel had entered the Promised Land and Joshua was nearing the end of his life, he had this to say to the people.
14″Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’S anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” (Joshua 23:14-16)
“If” you will follow the will of God then you will be blessed, but “if” you don’t then destruction will come upon you. This has been the governing rule of God’s people since the beginning of time. The difficulty is the reality of the giants in the land that seek to paralyze us, scare us, and turn us back from God’s voice calling us forward.
The giants that will confront us this year will be many and varied, but each and every one is powerful and capable of turning us back to our comfortable existence and preventing us from moving into the land of God’s promise. I can see them now.
“We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.” Those who quote this often said saying will never accomplish anything. It is those who have a clear vision from God that will stand in the face of the giant of skepticism and say, “I will try and try again as long as God gives me strength. Throughout history men and women of tenacity who were gripped by a vision of greatness have overcome obstacles, made sacrifices, and realized their passion.
Plato wrote the first sentence of his famous Republic nine different ways before he was satisfied. Cicero practiced speaking before friends every day for thirty years to perfect his elocution. Noah Webster labored 36 years writing his dictionary, crossing the Atlantic twice to gather material. Milton rose at 4:00 am every day in order to have enough hours to write his classic work, Paradise Lost. Gibbon spent 26 years on his historical masterpiece, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Bryant rewrote one of his poetic masterpieces 99 times before publication, and it became a classic. It is said that Thomas Edison performed 50,000 experiments before he succeeded in producing a storage battery. We might assume the famous inventor would have had some serious doubts along the way. But when asked if he ever became discouraged working so long without results, Edison replied, “Results? Why, I know 50,000 things that won’t work.” (Today in the Word, August, 1990)
The greatest preacher of his day, Charles Spurgeon once said, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” How many great ministries have fallen short of God’s purposes because of a few people who possess the most cynical of attitudes? While they have been at the church they have tried everything to minister to people, and in their minds, it didn’t work.
The reality is that most of the things churches try that don’t work fail because of poor leadership and lack of a sustained, consistent effort, rather than lack of effectiveness. My friend, Dr. David Darnell, has always said, “It will work if we will work it.” I believe that is true. If God plants a vision in your heart for your involvement in ministry then we, as a church, are called by God to jump in there and support you rather than squash your enthusiasm with our cynical attitudes.
Another giant that all of us will face is busyness. “I would love to get more involved, but I am just too busy.” Too many irons in the fire cause all of them to stay cold. What we call a “lack of time” is nothing more than too much involvement. We all have the same amount of time, it is how we use it that enables us to see things happen. This is one of the biggest giants that we will face during the next twelve months.
The world-renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti once said, “When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song.” “He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, I asked my father, ‘Shall I be a teacher or a singer?’ “‘Luciano,’ my father replied, ‘if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.’ “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book–whatever we choose–we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.”
The giants we will face will seek to encourage us to choose many chairs to sit in, but like Pavarotti’s father said, “We will fall between them.” Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” For us to overcome the giant of busyness we must choose one chair above all others and this commitment will enable us to say, “No” to the things that will only take up our time.
There is much to be done for us to move forward in reaching people for the Kingdom of God. We must make our advance each and every day. If you don’t have time to pray for the leaders and members of this congregation; if you don’t have time to share the Gospel with a co-worker; if you are too busy to invest your time in one of the outreach ministries of this church; if you are too busy to be a part of a Sunday School class each Sunday so that you might grow in your relationship with the Savior; if you are too busy, then this church’s advance to the Promised Land of purpose will be greatly impeded.
Another giant that we are going to face is the giant of smallness. “Hey, we are only one little church – we can’t change the world.” Too many churches have been found having done nothing because they were convinced that what they could do wouldn’t make any difference. I want us to grab that giant by the nape of the neck and say unashamedly, “By the grace of God — We will make a difference! We may be a small church made up of only a few people, but we serve a mighty God!” We can touch the lives of a few people, who in turn can touch the lives of a few people, who in turn can change the world for the glory of God.
I am not na?ve. I know that my voice does not carry very far, but I am convinced that through God’s grace someone within the sound of my voice may hear the message of the Gospel and carry that message to the world.
That great American hero, editor, school teacher, and Presbyterian clergyman Elijah Lovejoy left the pulpit and returned to the press in order to be sure his words reached more people. The Civil War might have been averted and a peaceful emancipation of slaves achieved had there been more like him. After observing one lynching, Lovejoy was committed forever to fighting uncompromisingly the awful sin of slavery. Mob action was brought against him time after time; neither this nor many threats and attempts on his life deterred him. Repeated destruction of his presses did not stop him. “If by compromise is meant that I should cease from my duty, I cannot make it. I fear God more that I fear man. Crush me if you will, but I shall die at my post…” And he did, four days later, at the hands of another mob. No one of the ruffians was prosecuted or indicted or punished in any way for this murder. Some of Lovejoy’s defenders were prosecuted! One of the mob assassins was later elected mayor of Alton!) However, one young man was around who was deeply moved by the faithful man’s death. He had just been elected to the Illinois legislature. His name was Abraham Lincoln. (Paul Simon, “Elijah Lovejoy,” Presbyterian Life, 18:13 November 1, 1965, quoted in K. Mennenger, Whatever Became of Sin, p. 210)
The giants are right. We can’t change the world, but we can change one life, which in turn can touch the life of another, and as the process proceeds under the gracious hand of God – a world can be changed for the Kingdom of God!
Another giant that we are going to face is the giant of unfamiliarity. “We’ve never done it that way before.” There was a small church in the northwest during the fifties that experienced a tremendous revival. The church mushroomed and hundreds of young people were coming to know Jesus as Lord of their life. The people who had been members of the church for years were ecstatic, and everyone was thrilled with what God was doing in the church.
Days, months, and years passed and the people of the church continued to sing the same songs, pray the same prayers, read the same Scriptures, and preach the same sermons that had been effective during their time of revival. Before the folks knew it they had children sitting next to them in the pew, children who were bored to tears and couldn’t see the relevance of what took place every Sunday. The kids had not been a part of the great revival that their parents had experienced and they felt the worship service was slow, not for them, and without power.
The church has got to be sensitive to the leadership of God who is always calling us to reach out to a new generation in a new way with the timeless message of the hope that is available in Jesus. We serve a creative God who is continually reaching out to people of all walks of life, from different cultures, from all different nations, and from all different backgrounds. God is so creative and imaginative that He can reach a White House aide, a kid living on the street, a housewife, professional athlete, plumber, pauper, and even a preacher with the saving message of hope. I pray that God will fill the people of this church with His creative Spirit in this year so that we might continue to seek to reach all people with the Gospel.
There are many other giants that we will encounter, some of them from within and some from without. There are those sitting here this morning who are going to be some of the biggest giants that Britton Christian Church will face this year. Those who shake their head and refuse to see the possibilities of our God. There are also those from without who will say negative things about those na?ve members of Britton Christian Church who really believe they can make a difference in the lives of people.
Undoubtedly, the biggest giant that we will face this year is the giant of faithlessness. If we refuse to make things right with God by accepting Jesus as King and Lord of our lives, repenting of our sins, and actively seeking to follow in His will – then the move to the Promised Land will never take place. If we have no allegiance to King Jesus then it will be impossible for us to move into Canaan land. “If” we will choose to serve Him then we will be blessed, but “if” we turn aside and follow our own plans then we will flounder and fail. It is as simple as that. What choice will we make?
As Joshua reached the end of his life he assembled all of the Israelites in the Promised Land and he spoke to them about their future. Joshua retraced all God had done to bring the Israelites to that point in their lives and as he neared the end of his sermon he said,
14″Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
What will we do this morning? Will we continue to keep the same old allegiances that we’ve held on to in the past or will we turn to God? We all have allegiances whether we will admit it or not, but what is the top priority in your life? Is it your will and desires or God’s purposes for your life?
After having spent nine years as your pastor serving in this community day-in and day-out I want to let you know that I am encouraged. My feelings of excitement are not self-generated, Pollyanna-hype — they are stirred each and every day by Almighty God as He gives me glimpses of His purposes and plans for us if we will yield to His will. I am convinced that God is doing something unique among us. Someone may ask, “How can you say that when we are one of only hundreds of churches in our city? What is so unique about what God is doing here?” I am so glad you asked. Several years ago God showed us through prayer that He was calling us to be a “Lighthouse of Hope” to our community. God then began to unveil His plan of how His light would shine in this community as one-by-one unique community-oriented ministries began as He raised up leaders. The kinds of ministries that God has started among us transcend all barriers that separate classes and races of people and get to the heart of the hurt in people’s lives.
For many years churches have asked their communities to come to them, to assemble in their buildings on Sunday, but Jesus told His disciples to “Go.” In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” In Matthew 25 Jesus painted for us a clear view of the final judgement in which He separated the sheep from the goats. Jesus said to the sheep, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stronger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” We must go to where people are and let them know that the remedy to the emptiness of their lives, the sin that causes them such sorrow and pain, and the hurts that paralyze them is a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
I have seen how God is transforming us from a typical church doing church things on Sunday to a transforming church gathering to worship the King and then leaving to care for the King’s people! What we have seen begun has only started my friend. I will assure you that if you will stick around for another ten years you will not believe your eyes! God is in the process of redeeming, reconciling, and rebuilding a neighborhood through Britton Christian Church.
I see the fruits that are coming from seeds that have been planted during the past nine years. Last week 14 young people boarded a van with Ray and Sylvia and headed to the “Higher Ground” leadership camp. There are more kids attending “Higher Ground” from Britton Christian Church than any other organization in the United States! We are seeing leaders being groomed who will lead this church into the future.
On Friday of this coming week we will take 73 kids to Kids Across America in Branson, MO. There are more kids attending Kids Across America from Britton Christian Church than any other organization in the United States! God is changing lives among our young people and for that I am most excited. With all of the bad news we hear coming from every corner of our nation today concerning young folks – we have Good News to report – God is changing the lives of young people in our community
On Thursday of this coming week there is an architect, contractor, and community developer from St. Louis who are flying to Oklahoma City to meet with us about building a 50 unit apartment complex for low-income Senior Citizens in our community. They want to partner with us in providing care for those in need.
I know some of you have grown weary of hearing me say, “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and He can bring resources from anywhere in the world to meet our needs in doing ministry if He chooses. We are seeing God do exactly that my friend. God has shown Himself faithful, but will we show ourselves faithful to God?
Today is the Day of Decision. Will you decide to give God your all or will you continue to play games with God and give Him only what you feel like you can give up? The choice is yours.