A Defining Vision - Pt. 1

Two and a half years ago I asked the elders of my church a question:  If our church ceased to exist tomorrow... who would miss us?
We struggled with this question because we knew the way we answered it would reveal a great deal about the focus, and vision of our church.
Some of our elders were brutally honest back then and said, "Only our people would really miss us."   Believe it or not, that is the sort of answer that almost every church in America would have to give if they were pressed to be truthful.
You see, most churches are focused like a laser on just staying alive, retaining the people they have, making everyone happy, preserving the status quo...
And in our case it wasn't that our church neglected missions and ministry to people outside the walls of our Sanctuary, it just wasn't really our main focus.  It wasn't what defined us.
Our elder team recently commissioned a task force to identify the defining vision of our church. We began by exploring our past.
Our task force discovered that we have always had a great reputation of being known as a church with a beautiful and historic Sanctuary and where traditional worship has always been inspiring and authentic, and our traditional music programs have been second to none.  Until the late 1980's and early 90's we were also known as a very family-oriented church--despite the fact that over the last 15 years our focus on ministry to youth and children has diminished.
In the end, we decided that we the best way to assess our vision would be to return to that question that we had posed over two years ago: Who would miss us?
And we discovered that our answer had changed. 
 What has become clear is that we are still a church with a beautiful and historic Sanctuary.  We still have inspiring and authentic traditional worship with a fantastic traditional music program.  But the thing that has come to define us is the fact that we are becoming the kind of church that does not exist for itself, but is ready to give itself away for the sake of the world.  Our focus is shifting from "inward" to "outward."
We have come to embrace the fact that "Church" is not a place you go... it's who you are.  Church isn't a building.  It's a people.  We are learning that not only do we need to focus on what Calvin called "the preservation of the saints" we also need to be focusing on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors, our community and to the world.
To that end, we felt that God is leading us to embrace the following vision for our church and it's people:
TO REFLECT AND REVEAL THE UNSELFISH LOVE OF CHRIST
Over the next two weeks I'll be preaching on this vision and what it means not only for our church but for each of us.  This week we are going to focus on the word "Reflect."
The Apostle Paul once wrote that our vision on this side of eternity is like looking into a cloudy mirror or glass.  It's hard to see who we are supposed to be, and how things really are.
Here's something about vision that is true for all of us: 
We always seek a vision of what we hold dear, what we want to become, what we desire, what we imagine could be perfect.
 But far too often, our visions of these things--and of ourselves--is cloudy at best and completely wrong most of the time. One of the things that is so hard for us frail human beings to grasp is that our visions of ourselves and what we imagine we can be are not nearly as real as the things that we do.
You are not the vision of yourself you imagine.
You are what you do.
And so lots of us who call ourselves Christians say that we want to reflect Jesus to the world.  We imagine that we are the kinds of people who would share the Gospel to a needy world if we were given the chance.  We might even believe that we are the people we claim to be.
But if our actions suggest otherwise... they are what define us.
Check out this video:

This is the newest Cirque du Soleil Vegas presentation: "Viva Elvis!"  It's an extraordinary mix of Elvis' music, his images, video, unbelievable effects, dancing, singing, acrobats, you name it.  Even The King would be overwhelmed, I am thinking.
I was watching an interview with Elvis' ex-wife Priscilla Presley who essentially runs the Elvis company now.  She said, and I quote: "It was almost like he was here!"  It was one of those moments where I literally said to my computer screen, "Man, I cannot believe that you just said that."  Almost like he was here?  Seriously?  Regardless of how awesome the presentation was, even the ghost of Elvis was most assuredly not in the building.
The funny thing is those of us who claim to be Christ-followers do this all the time with Jesus.  We settle for moments where it's almost like Jesus is present and we think we're awesome. 
That's where our church's vision comes in...  To Reflect and Reveal The Unselfish Love of Christ
What if our purpose as Christians wasn't merely to tell people about Jesus but to actually reflect Jesus with our very lives?
I’ll be preaching from Colossians 3:1-11 this Sunday.  It’s a passage of Scripture where Paul addresses a serious problem in one of the early churches that he planted. They started thinking that Jesus was this remote sort of disinterested, mystical figure and that they had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get his attention.  Paul sets them straight.  He outlines the kinds of people they used to be before they met Jesus and gives them a glimpse of the kinds of people that they have become/are becoming afterward.  The Christ that Paul lifts up is not a idea or a far away deity.  He’s a person, albeit a person unlike anyone has ever known.  And it’s through the person of Jesus Christ that those who call themselves Christians find their identity.
 The presence of Jesus Christ is so powerful in the lives of his followers that we are transformed by it completely.  In Paul’s mind we are called to “put on” and literally become Jesus to the world.  Our transformed life is not something that we merely hope for (although we do) it’s a reality now.  The reality of a Christ-centered/all-encompassed life began for Jesus’ followers on the day he left the tomb. 
Which brings us back to the hard question we asked at the outset: If our church ceased to exist, who would miss us? 
Those of us who follow Jesus need to address the many ways that we divide ourselves and the ways that we set ourselves apart from those who need to hear and experience the Gospel.  We need to confess that we have become so enamored with self-preservation that we have neglected the very person who we claim is the head of the Church. 
And we need to begin to pursue a vision where we don’t just “represent” Jesus--almost as if he is really here--in favor of a vision where we reflect Him and His unselfish love. 

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