An Open Door (Part 2)
As we look toward the six challenges of the Advance 2020 plan, we need to picture them as an open door that Jesus is calling us to walk through. He told the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-8 that “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”
Is that true for us? Has God placed an “open door” for us to pass through, not in our own strength, but His? Can we see the thousands of new homes and neighborhoods rapidly growing up around us as our “open door” that Jesus has placed before us?
Here is what we know. If God has set it before us:
- He has a purpose in doing so.
- He will bless us, not for having strength but for having faith to go through it.
- He is evaluating, not our strategy, but our faith in following Him.
I felt impressed in a series of messages a couple of summers ago that God was about to call us to something that, if He was not in it… if He was not giving us strength to accomplish it… we would fail.
Soon after, I began to learn about the plans for expansion and growth in the community around us and started seeing the “fields that are ripe unto harvest” as one development after the other came online. We are looking at a total expansion of over 21,000 new homes in the next several years within a ten-mile radius of our campus.
Doing the math, that could mean over 40,000 people coming to St Johns County. Amazingly, this is the second time in our history as a church that unprecedented growth came and changed the community around us. We walked through the “open door” the first time.
And now, the door has opened yet again. The challenge is how to engage a growing and very different population base and embrace them with God’s love. It will require the discomfort that every open door involves: the call to leave our comfort zone to reach new people.
Churches all around us choose to “close their doors” to the open door the Lord provides. They close it through fear, through unbelief and through an unwillingness to change.
We have to decide for ourselves if we will go through the open door that God has given us. And then, decide if we will make the sacrifices and adjustments necessary to take the opportunity.
The door is open. Jesus did it. He is the One who calls us. He is the One who will strengthen us.
But in obedience, we must be the ones to say YES to the open door.
I pray that we will.
FOR MEDITATION: Behold, I stand at the door and knock…. Revelation 3:20
FOR REFLECTION: How is the Lord “knocking” at your door today? Is He calling you to a new adventure… a new direction in life? Is He calling you to go to a neighbor across the street… or a nation across the world? Listen carefully. You’ll hear His quiet but insistent knocking. Will you follow Him through that door today?
It is amazing to me how we can sometimes miss the forest for the trees. I mentioned several weeks ago that the priority of Jesus was clearly proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Yet many of us seldom speak about, preach about, teach about or even think about the very thing that was obviously Jesus’ FIRST priority.
The same is true of disciple making. When Jesus returned to Heaven at His ascension, (see Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8), He left clear and very specific directions to the remaining disciples to “Go… and make disciples of all nations….” Somehow we have misinterpreted Jesus’ words to mean either (1) make converts or (2) bring people to a church service. We have excluded the phrase “make disciples” from our vocabulary and our thinking. When we ask the average Christian “what is your strategy for making a disciple” or “who are you discipling,” the surprised or blank stare that we receive tells us that the church Jesus left behind has not done a very good job with the very thing He told them to be about!
So what is your strategy for making a disciple? Let’s go ahead of that question. Do you realize that, as a follower of Christ… a disciple yourself…. you are called to this? If not, who is to do it? Only pastors and church staff leaders? Only missionaries? Only “super” Christians? Everything in the New Testament points to the right answer: You are. We are. All of us. One-on-one we are to be building relationships with people and imparting the teaching, the things that Christ commanded us, to them. And then they are to go and do the same.
We are to REACH people with the truth of the Gospel. They are to be baptized as a symbol of their belief. Then we are to REPRODUCE the life of Christ in them and they in turn are to reproduce this in other people. Finally, we are to RELEASE people into their kingdom assignment as God has called them. Our job is to “catch and release,” not “catch and keep.”
The fact that this sounds so radical to us is an indication that this process is exactly what is needed today for the church to become what Jesus fully intended and died to leave behind. We are to be disciple-making disciples. Who is already in your network or family that God has put in your life to do just this? Children? Spouse? Sibling or parent? Neighbor or co-worker? We must begin somewhere, and our “Jerusalem” is the easiest place to look. Ask God to open your eyes and help you see the one who is “next” for you.
Let’s change St. Johns and Duval and Clay County and Jacksonville and Florida and the USA and the world… and make disciples.
FOR MEDITATION: And you will be my witness in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts 1:8
FOR REFLECTION: Who has God placed in your path who needs to know what YOU know about Jesus?
One of the most daunting and troubling issues that has surfaced in recent months and years is the prevalence in our culture of suicide, especially among our younger population. Suicide has always been with us as an issue though one that is marginalized and seldom discussed, especially in church settings.
A couple of years ago, Rick Warren, popular pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, experienced the painful loss of his adult son, Matthew, to suicide. Matthew’s death followed months of agonizing mental and emotional issues that had intensified to the point that he could no longer see going forward. He ended his life tragically while still in his twenties.
Recently a young man in our community, a high school senior, took his life with virtually little or no warning signs that he was going to do this. It is rampant, and families and surviving members of the household of these kinds of tragic deaths are crying out for help. Where do they go to find understanding, wholeness and hope?
Our responsibility toward this issue as a church, I believe, is great. Many who take their lives have simply lost their hope. We have hope to share. While some among us have walked the dark valley of depression, there is still not much said or done to address this chronic and enveloping problem in our community and culture.
On Sunday, November 20, we will host the Executive Director (CEO) of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr Frank Page. Dr Page and his wife Dale have experienced the death of a beloved daughter to suicide. He will be sharing some of that experience with us in his presentation. I truly hope that many who need hope or healing in the face of losing a family member to suicide or who may themselves be contemplating taking their own lives will make their way here Sunday.
IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS IN THAT PLACE, PLEASE INVITE THEM TO COME WITH YOU!!!! You never know when something said on Sunday will bring help and hope to a hurting world. This is so vitally important… please don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
And with this said, please pray for those around us who, every day, are struggling with depression and this terrible loss of hope. And may God bring abundant grace as we hear His Word proclaimed Sunday.
See you then!
FOR MEDITATION: Jesus wept. John 11:35
FOR REFLECTION: If you have ever felt so alone that suicide seemed the only solution to your pain, please know that Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. Call out to Him. I promise you, He’ll hear you!
In an article from the London Telegraph dated November 4, a survey was discussed asking the question: Do you intend to pass along your religious faith to your children?
A full quarter of survey participants responded “No.” The majority of those surveyed claimed to be faithful Christians. The reason they gave for not seeking to transmit their faith to their children was “following their religious beliefs will cause them to be socially marginalized at school.” Translation: It will make my child unpopular if it becomes known they are religious.
If social intimidation becomes the criteria for not following Jesus, then the faith we hold dear is in jeopardy. In a world where people are saying yes to Christ at the expense of life itself, is fear of becoming unpopular really too high a price?
Worse, in the survey the participants were asked, “what do you tell your children about your faith?” The reply: Nothing. It never comes up.
While this survey was conducted in London, as an increasingly secular society, we are in great danger of the same thing happening.
This article tells us more about the faith of the parents than it does about the children. Does something that never comes up in family conversation…
…really mean that much to you?
For Meditation: “These things pass on to your children…. Deuteronomy 6:7
For Reflection: How are you seeking to intentionally pass on your faith to the next generation?
Advance 2020 is an initiative that was introduced last summer as a means of Fruit Cove Baptist Church fully engaging the changes, growth and ministry field around us. As St Johns County and the surrounding communities in Duval and Clay continue to expand and grow, we have to look to the “fields that are white unto harvest” that our Lord has called us to tend.
Part of that means we must turn our eyes outward and less inward. We live in a “serve-us” culture that tends toward self-centeredness and leads us to ask the wrong questions in a critical time.
The question is not, “how can we serve US,” but “how do we serve THEM.” How do we turn our attention, our prayers, our resources and our people OUTWARD rather than INWARD in our focus?
This is the primary focus of Advance 2020. In addition to setting a hopeful attendance pattern on our campus of 2,020 by the year 2020, we hope to continue expanding our ministry reach in the following ways:
- By moving toward a multi-campus ministry approach (one to begin this spring).
- By participating with 20 church revitalization projects in struggling churches.
- By participating personally, locally and internationally with 20 church plants.
- By maintaining a total 20% Great Commission giving guideline to bless ministries in our county, state, nation, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
- By establishing a mental/emotional health network and ministry to meet the increasing crisis of these kinds of needs in our community. This ministry will be known as “The Cove” and will ultimately be located physically on our campus but will “stand alone” as a separate entity.
None of these initiatives will take the place of our ongoing presence and ministry at 501 SR 13. They will add to and enhance what we are already doing. This is an aggressive growth initiative that will require much prayer, much exercise of faith and much sacrifice for the goal to be met in three years.
This is our moment to shine as a ministry. This is an assignment so large that, if God is not in it, it will not succeed. We must rely on Him for the vision, the enthusiasm and the direction. As we do so, we will engage, engage, and embrace our community. And we will…
FOR MEDITATION: The fields are ripe unto harvest. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He may send forth laborers into the field. Matthew 9:38
FOR REFLECTION: Which aspect of the Advance 2020 vision most captures your imagination, your vision, and your heart? Begin praying earnestly about how God is already calling you to be part of that.
I felt it important to repeat and restate some key points from last Sunday’s message on Nehemiah titled, Moving Forward…Together. As we begin to think through the implications of Advance 2020, these points may help us:
# Organization is key. Finding ways to distribute workers to the places where they are best suited and gifted to work is a key concept. The idea with this is not to simply corral people into the sanctuary but to help them find their God-given assignments through the church. The church is not “a” church. It is not something we go to or an address on the map. Church is YOU. The people are the church. Everything else is dispensable… only you are eternal. God’s dwelling place is not made with human hands. He created YOU to be that dwelling place of His Spirit.
# Participation is essential. It is my desire that we deploy every person who is willing to serve. There are no ‘”saturating saints” whose assignment is to sit and watch. We all have something that God wants to use us in. There will be different areas of giftedness (1 Corinthians 12:14-27) and each is necessary for the church to fully grow up into Christ-likeness. While our different gifts can become points of jealousy or even disagreement, they should be cause for rejoicing since God has especially selected your gift FOR YOU to uniquely use. And remember this even if your gifts are not recognized or publicized, your work in the Lord will never be forgotten: “For God is not unjust and He will not forget your service in His name to the saints….” (Hebrews 6:10)
# Cooperation is crucial. While unity does not mean we are going to agree on every point going forward, especially the structure and form we may follow, it does mean that we move forward most effectively as we unite around Jesus. “One hundred pianos tuned to the same tuning fork are automatically in tune with each other.” (A.W. Tozer) “We will never get beyond how we get along.” (Chip Ingram) B.C. Forbes, founder of Forbes magazine, said “You spell success T-E-A-M-W-O-R-K.”
We want everyone flying in formation. Geese flying in a V formation are flying with 72% more efficiency than a goose flying alone! We want each person working “at the hand” (holding hands) with the person next to them on the wall. And our rebuilding will be most effective as we do it together… not in isolation.
And most importantly, remember that it all began at the Sheep Gate! That place where the sacrifices were brought into the city was the place where some scholars believe Jesus entered the city… God’s perfect Lamb! Any rebuilding in our lives begins at the Sheep Gate…
He is the Great Rebuilder!
FOR MEDITATION: Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors…. Nehemiah 3:1
FOR REFLECTION: If every member of the church worked and served as you do, would the church be stronger or weaker?
If you would like to hear the whole sermon Dr. Maynard referenced in this blog, click here
Author Malcom Gladwell popularized the phrase “tipping point.” The concept was not created by him. A “tipping point” is a turning point in a given situation. In business, it is that moment when cash flow exceeds outgo. In sports, it is that moment when the momentum of a game shifts. In technology, it is that moment when public acceptance makes it an essential item to own or understand.
Tipping points happen in relationships, business and economics, in political campaigns, wars and in our spiritual life. The tipping point comes for many when the moment emerges and our understanding wraps around the concept that God is FOR us and not AGAINST us.
Paul expressed the tipping point in Romans 8 when he stated, “If God is FOR us, then who can be AGAINST us?” (Romans 8:31). That concept, that spiritual momentum-shift is a profound one. Jesus came to proclaim the “tipping point” by demonstrating God’s love even for His enemies by sending His Son as our sacrifice and Savior to die for us.
For the person who wrestles with doubt and questions about whether the God who made them loves them, this tipping point is significant. It changes the momentum of life when you realize that you are ALREADY accepted and loved, no matter how you may fail or disappoint God’s standards or your own. Our acceptance is not based on how we perform but on how Jesus Christ has ALREADY performed.
This is important for the person who wrongly believes that God is always angry; always standing ready to punish or judge them. It is important for us to know that God’s anger has fully been vented and satisfied by Jesus at the cross. God isn’t angry with you anymore. He loves you.
We need to reject our false gods… our false concepts of who we believe God to be. God isn’t angry with you. God isn’t against you. God doesn’t delight in punishing or judging. God isn’t rejecting you. These false concepts must die.
He’s FOR you!! That’s the tipping point. That’s the game-changer.
And that’s the Gospel.
FOR MEDITATION: If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
FOR REFLECTION: How have you entertained false concepts of who God is? Do you believe God is angry with you? Have you reached the “tipping point” in your life? God loved us so much that He gave His only-begotten Son for us. Knowing He loves us that much changes not only our life… but our eternity!
In our culture, spiritual conversations are happening all around us. Though the world seems to be set on rejecting historical Christian values and principles, there is still a void in people that is being shouted out through music, novels and movies. Many of the most popular movies of our day deal with these issues by depicting a classic, historic and ongoing battle between a “good” god and a “bad” or “evil” one. We seem incapable of writing a script that does not allude in some way to God or spirituality, even if it’s just to try and reject these concepts.
As believers, we need to be ready to enter into these conversations. But we also need to understand that language has changed meanings and the concepts that we will talk about need to avoid “traditional,” Christian language, at least at the beginning stages. In other words, these will not be easy pitches across the plate.
In the world’s language today, though God may be spoken of, often the things that we may associate with “God” are suspect or outright rejected. Rather than becoming defensive we need to understand that this may become the open door we have been praying and looking for, though not exactly where we thought it would be!
Eric Metaxes, author of the notable biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke once at the National Prayer Breakfast. He began his address by saying, “Everything I rejected about God wasn’t God.” He talked of his journey to belief that began with a deep exploration and ultimate rejection of his traditional faith and upbringing.
But God, in mercy, led him back. Recently I had a conversation with a gentleman who was searching spiritually. As we spoke, he told me of the things that he had rejected about Christianity; you know… the usual… “Christians are hypocrites….” “I can be good on my own….” I shared the thought that Metaxes had spoken and said, “It sounds like everything you have rejected about God isn’t God at all.” He grew silent and said, “I think you’re right.”
I’m not sure that our culture has rejected God as much as some false ideas about who He really is. As you speak to friends and coworkers and neighbors and family about their faith, don’t be put off by their rejection of non-essential things.
The primary thing is not that they have faith exactly in the same shape as yours. IT may not be. Our job is not to convert them to our WAY of seeing and expressing it…
… but to truly having a faith that saves!
FOR MEMORIZATION: Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. Romans 1:19 NKJV
FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever rejected things about God that weren’t really God at all? Think about what those were and remember them when you speak to a person struggling with their faith!
As we turn a corner in to a new week, those of you following along know that our devotions are a couple of chapters ahead of the Sunday morning study in Nehemiah that I am leading. So I want to pause here and take a few days to go deeper into an exploration of the Advance 20/20 plan that we started talking about a few weeks ago.
This strategy is an aggressive focus on outreach and ministry expansion as well as a commitment to deepen our walk with Christ. The first point of the plan is simple: grow to an attendance of 2020 by January 1, 2020. We have long needed to move to this level but we (I) have not said out loud that this should be our focus and goal. We have on several different occasions seen 2,600 or 2,800 worshipers on campus for special events like Easter and Christmas Eve. But those are not normal days. I believe we should target that attendance number for a normal Sunday… and then maintain it going forward.
As we know, it is becoming more and more difficult and less politically correct to talk about our faith outside of “faith events” like a church service or other “religious” gathering. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has made the sharing of faith apart from a church service or outside of a church building a punishable offense. This law threatens and intends to hamper the spread of Christianity as well as other “undesirable” ideas (as Mr Putin sees it).
None of us would argue much that we are living in dark times in our country as well. While it is not illegal to share our faith, it has certainly become a matter of social pressure to “speak no more in that man’s (Jesus’) name.” (Acts 4:17) So while we may experience pressures socially and be marginalized because of our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, we are not alone nor are we the first. The Christian movement has always grown up and grown best where opposition is at its worst. While Russian Christians are now facing real persecution for their faith and Christians now in Turkey are facing the same reality, we in America are at the most being intimidated “not to speak in that man’s name.”
Interestingly, most people in our culture would welcome a discussion about their faith (or lack of faith) in God. Those conversations usually remain academic and non-volatile. But when we insert the name of “Jesus” in the conversation, suddenly the anger comes! Instinctively we know this. Therefore, unless we are wired to love conflict and confrontation (some are) we simply pull back and remain silent.
The earliest followers of Christ understood the volatility of the name of Jesus. They had watched or heard about the first Christian martyr, a deacon named Stephen, who was allowed to share his faith before a group of Jewish elders and leaders and spectators; and they listened until he brought Jesus into the conversation. The response was immediate: anger, rage and violence followed. And Stephen died with his face turned toward the One he had dared to mention in public. (see Acts 7)
My hope is that the worshipers who come to Fruit Cove, come to see and hear about Jesus. We believe there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved. We believe that His name… far from offensive… is WONDERFUL! We believe that Jesus is Lord. But will we dare to talk about it? Will we dare to speak it? Will we dare to share it?
Getting to 2020 is not simply an artificial, numerical goal. The 2,020 we would pray would come are people the Lord Jesus Christ died to save and loves. Numbers may not be significant to us but there’s a whole book in the Bible titled “Numbers.” Obviously, numbers are important to God! May He give us strength to extend the influence of the Kingdom in our community in this period of growth… and beyond.
FOR MEMORIZATION: As for us, we cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard. Acts 4:20
FOR REFLECTION: Make an effort sometime in the week ahead to engage in a conversation outside of church about Jesus. Preferably, do this with an unchurched or unbelieving person. Ask God to honor that encounter, no matter what the external result may be.
Note: The following was shared yesterday with the Fruit Cove Baptist congregation
By the year 2020, I would like for Fruit Cove Baptist to attempt to follow Jesus’ Great Commission in the following ways:
- By having 2,020 in attendance. We can accomplish this through an intensification of our evangelism (expansion) and our discipleship (deepening) efforts. These numbers will include on and off campus attendance totals.
- By launching and supporting multi-campus ministry sites located in the growth corridors around us (e.g. Rivertown and Aberdeen) These will reflect diverse worship styles and will be staffed with worship teams and campus pastors. These properties may be purchased, leased or rented for use.
- By partnering in the planting of 20 new churches in St Johns, Florida; North America; Haiti and Cuba. (This number to include those with whom we are already partnering and will not include churches we currently support through Cooperative Program giving).
- By participating in the revitalization of 20 declining and dying churches in the Jacksonville Baptist Association (JBA). These will include churches we are already partnering with in conjunction with JBA through coaching and consultation as well as one-on-one revitalization agreements.
- By maintaining an amount equivalent to 20% of our church budget total through Cooperative Program and Great Commission giving to reach the nations. This total will include budgeted amounts and items outside of normal budget offering given (e.g. Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings)
- By developing a Family Enrichment and Counseling network to serve families in our community related to mental health, crisis counseling and enrichment ministries. The ministry will include the Celebrate Recovery ministry also.
This will be a challenging goal in roughly a 3 ½ year window. It will require God’s supply to make it a reality. And it will require the best we have to give of our time, our energy, our enthusiasm, our encouragement and our prayers. This is not all inclusive list of every program, nor of everything I would like to see us accomplish. This is basically a growth strategy and not a thorough-going ministry plan that will surround and grow up around Fruit Cove as we work together toward these goals. But hopefully we can together rally around this plan to move forward and become all that God wants us to be… for such a time as this!