Pastor Craig Carter
Have you ever wondered why, after we accept Christ and are saved, God doesn’t just immediately transport us into heaven? After all, wouldn’t it make things a whole lot easier?
We wouldn’t have to go through the trials and tribulations of living in this world. It would eliminate theological arguments between Baptists and Methodists about being “once saved always saved” or the proper method of baptism.
But the reason God leaves us here is because there is something for us to do. Consider that, in the next world, there are two things we won’t do – sin and witness. Now which of those activities do you think the Lord left us here to do?
The Apostle Paul understood this divinely-appointed purpose and addressed it in a message recorded in Acts 20:24: “The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me — to tell people the Good News about God’s grace.” That’s true, not just for Paul, but for all believers.
Remember when Jesus prayed for his followers the day before His arrest and betrayal? He made this request of His Heavenly Father: “In the same way you gave Me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.” (John 17:18 MSG)
The all-important question is: How do we complete the work God has for us to do?
The answer is what I’d like to call 3-D mission living. We live out our mission by…
1. DISCOVERING it
2. DREAMING ABOUT IT
3. DOING IT
Let’s break the three D’s down…
God has created each of us in a unique fashion and He has likewise given each of us a unique mission to fulfill. The common denominator is that we are to tell others about the Good News of God’s grace. How and where we do that differs from person to person.
There are two primary tools God has given us for discovering our mission. They are found in Jesus’ own example during His earthly life and ministry.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Matthew 9:36-38 NLT)
First of all, we must PERCEIVE the need. Like Jesus, we need to start by looking around and seeing what needs exist. Christ saw folks who were confused and helpless, like lost sheep. We must ensure we discern the real need, not simply what we think is needed. Christians are very adept at fixing problems that don’t exist. We must resist the temptation to assess other people’s needs based on our own biases and prejudices.
Next, we must PRAY for the mission. Notice that Jesus says the only thing that will impede the harvest of souls is not the lack of need, but the shortage of workers. The problem isn’t them and their failure to respond, it’s us and our failure to go. So you and I need to pray for more and more workers to be sent out in mission.
You can plan on being part of the answer to your prayers. Note that Jesus immediately “sent” the disciples out in ministry and mission.
Before we can live out our mission, we first have to discover what it is. So let’s look around (perceive the need) and then look up (pray for the mission).
DREAMING about it:
Sometimes day-dreaming gets a bad rap as it’s thought of as a waste of time. But I’ve found that most life-changing endeavors begin with a dream.
In The Message translation, we read this about a dream Paul had: “That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’ The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.” (Acts 16:9-10 MSG)
What we’re talking about here is more than a dream, it’s what is commonly called vision. The Bible makes it clear that God’s people are to be people of vision. It’s the notion that we need to know where we’re going and how to get there.
I’ve got some rather big dreams for how we’re going to live out our mission in post-Hurricane Michael Bay County. For starters, once repaired, Fusion is going to give us an incredible platform for ministry. While construction is ongoing, each day we are dreaming and praying about its future. In our 8 am prayer gathering (open to all), we start by reading the “It Prayer” (Ephesians 3:14-21) and it gives an incredible promise: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Other translations speak of God’s power to accomplish “far more than you could ever imagine or [ask for] in your wildest dreams!” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT, MSG)
What’s the craziest thing you can imagine God doing in your life? What’s the wildest dream we could have for our church? God can do infinitely, abundantly, immeasurably far more!!!
Five years ago, we dreamed as a congregation and ended up with our 2020 Vision. One of its key components was the goal to record 2,020 professions of faith. To date, we’ve seen 701 folks come to Christ! But 2020 isn’t even here yet and far from over, so who knows?!
As I’ve said before, the Holy Spirit is an equal opportunity employer. He’s also an equal opportunity dream-giver. You don’t have to be pastor or leader to do the work God has called you to do.
As one example, in 1997, God planted a vision in a LHMC member’s heart and mind to build ramps for disabled residents. This godly man dreamed far bigger than most would have been able to even imagine. Twenty-two years later the Hardly Able ministry Tom Gildersleeve started is still going strong.
Do you think God can do far more than we could ever dream possible? He certainly can.
This is where many believers and congregations get stuck. They spend inordinate amounts of time and energy studying missions, or talking about their mission, or even planning their mission efforts. But they never quite get around to doing anything about it.
I like what James says about the Christian life in general that applies to our mission in particular: “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says…then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22, 25 NLT)
The blessing comes in the doing. We are blessed and we are a blessing to others when we live out the truth of God’s Word.
So it’s not enough to discover or dream about our mission. We’ve got to do it. And what is it that needs to be done? Our own church mission statement tells us: “The mission of the Lynn Haven United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who bring God’s love and life to their community and world.” Along with our Church Vision, “Love God and love others in life-giving ways,” that’s the work God has for us to do.
There is no question in my mind that the LHMC has “it” because we’re living it out in mission in a variety of ways. Another of our 2020 goals was to double our participation in missions. By every measure — people, money and projects – we’ve met that goal and far exceeded it.
A few examples include:
– Since the storm, we’ve held a monthly food truck distribution with 25,000 pounds of food to give to families, no questions asked. Before the storm we did this quarterly and distributed 10,000 pounds of food.
– We’ve got more mentors at New Horizons Learning Center and Lunch Buddies at Southport Elementary School than ever before.
– Though we limited our mission team involvement a little this year, but still built two churches in Uganda (for a total of 8), sent youth to Alabama, and supported a Honduras team.
– And we were able to bring a group of nine brothers and sisters in Christ from Durango, Mexico to assist with VBS and local recovery.
– We continue to support foster and adoptive families with our annual Nesting Place retreat scheduled for November 8-9, among other supports to these families.
On the financial side, our mission giving has quadrupled over the past year and we continue to tithe 10 cents of every dollar we receive to missions. We started doing this shortly after the hurricane when we were the recipients of extravagant generosity from other United Methodist churches and members around the globe.
A few examples of our recent extra giving include:
– $20,000 more to missionaries and ministries we already supported.
– $5,000 for a parsonage in Durango, Mexico.
– $2,000 to Southport Elementary School for supplies.
– $2,000 to a California church that suffered the impact of a devastating wildfire.
– $2,000 in giving from the children who attended VBS: $1,000 that went to the Nueva Vida Church in Durango Mexico and $1,000 for Hurricane Michael local recovery.
– $1,500 for Mosley softball team members to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camp.
– $1,500 for a United Methodist Children’s Home mission trip.
– $1,000 to an Alabama church destroyed by a tornado.
In addition to these and other gifts, we are so excited for the opportunity God has given us to help support the mission of the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation to fully fund the seminary education for all students from the Alabama-West Florida Conference. We were honored recently to receive their 2019 Church Appreciation Award. It is indeed a blessing to be a blessing, isn’t it?
Let’s go back to the all-important question: How do we complete the work God has for us to do?
Someone who I believe has discovered, dreamed about and is now doing the work God called him to do is an artist named Victor Navarro from Durango, Mexico. Victor was one of the visiting missionaries in July. I asked him to use his God-given talent to paint a portrait for our church with the idea being that it would be hung in Fusion or a future facility of our church. I suggested that his painting might represent the partnership between Lynn Haven UMC and Nueva Vida Church in Durango.
Victor named his painting, “The Broken Church?” The answer is, of course, “No, not at all,” because the actual church is the two people portrayed, lifting their hands to God. It’s a wonderful image that serves us well now and in the future as we strive daily to complete the work God left us here to do.
Does the Lynn Haven United Methodist Church have “it?” I believe we do because the Holy Spirit is at work in us, among us, and through us. And we’ll continue to have “the it factor” as long as we remember and practice: it’s all about God, it’s focused on relationships, and it’s lived out in mission. To God be the glory!