Vision Sunday: Knowing & Showing - What It Means To Be Us
What does it mean to have a vision?
Some might say that having a vision means that you can see possibilities where most people might see the impossible. Or some might say that having a vision is the ability to gaze courageously into the future when others are quaking in their boots about tomorrow. You could also say that having a vision is the ability to know something important with certainty when everyone around is at a loss.
And the thing about vision is that once you have one--you can't just let it sit there unattended. You have to return to it, refine it, constantly be reminded of it. Because vision will leak if you let it, and before you know it, it's not a vision, it's a memory.
Several years ago, our church leadership spent a great deal of time praying and seeking discernment over the vision of our church. We knew that we were being called to be a light in our city, and to be an outward focused congregation that was bent in existing not just for the sake of existing, but to be a blessing to our community.
The vision that we felt led to embrace as a congregation is the vision that has transformed us over the past nearly seven years in ways that have surprised and enlivened us. Our vision is simply this: To Know Jesus and Show Jesus. Because we believe "when you know Jesus, you show Jesus." It's not rocket science. The more you get to know Jesus, to draw closer to him, to follow him more fully--the more you want to show him to others.
This is our vision. It's not complicated. And we believe that if we follow this vision, God is going to continue to use our church to be a blessing to the world for many more generations.
When my wife Merideth and I came to this church in August of 2008, we felt like God had given us the opportunity of a lifetime. I had been seriously searching for a new church home for over a year, and I actually had been offered positions at three other churches before I accepted the call to be the pastor of First Church.
During those first few months, Merideth and I spent a lot of time praying, thinking, talking and dreaming about what God might be doing through us and this great congregation.
We would come to the church often late at night to pray--sometimes walking through each building, praying over every room. We would write down our dreams on a notepad, and pray over them.
We prayed over the kitchen in the Fellowship Hall--that God would do amazing things through that kitchen. We prayed over the children's rooms, and prayed God would fill them with children. We prayed over our youth rooms and pleaded with God to transform them into a place where youth would want to be.
We prayed over our Fellowship Hall that God would grow a service there for people who didn't like coming to church. We prayed over the Sanctuary, that God would fill it once again with joyous, expectant worshippers.
We prayed over the Library and Parlor spaces that God would transform them into vibrant rooms full of life and ministry.
And now all of these years later, I look back and see how miraculously those prayers were answered--not always on my timetable, or in the way I would have chosen, but answered nonetheless. When I stop to think about all of it in its entirety, I lose my breath.
I love this church.
I love this church because its the kind of church that I would go to--even if I didn't work here. I love how open we are to people who are different, to people with questions, to the doubters, sinners, broken and messed up outsiders. I love how we're open to them because we know we are just like them.
I love how we embrace a thoughtful faith--we aren't afraid of questions, or of people who disagree with us. We are a big tent--big enough for liberals, conservatives, people who hate church, people who love church, people who have never been to church, people who have studied the bible all their lives, and people who don't even know where to find Genesis (it's the first book by the way).
I love how we are outward focused. We aren't content to just create a church for a few privileged folks, including us, of course. We want the world to know that there is a better story, and we are going to tell that story not just with our words, but with our actions.
And this church rocks for so many reasons. Can I tell you some stories about people who had their world turned upside down because of this place?
Alysa and Mike Hriztik had some pretty negative ideas about church. Alysa writes:
My impression of “church” was very negative and I absolutely did not believe it was beneficial to someone’s faith in Christ. In fact, I saw it as a detriment. A country club of believers that were more focused on spreading guilt and self-righteous competition with each other. Yuck.
That all started to change when I spent some time with a new friend on a business trip to San Francisco. We shared our beliefs with each other and she invited me to her church, First Presbyterian, Eustis. I politely declined her invitations for the following six months. She didn’t give up. She swore that THIS church was different. Sure. Ok. I finally realized how rude I was being by not accepting her invitations and so our little family came to The Crossing one Sunday morning.
The entire vibe of this church was different from the minute we stepped through the door. People were actually smiling and genuinely friendly. The music, the relaxed and open atmosphere, the style of Communion and the focusing on ministering to the “outside” and not just the inside of the church was refreshing. My husband and I truly couldn’t believe that we had maybe, just maybe, found a place we would LOVE to worship. So we joined a small group study on parenting that led to a study on marriage and another study on prayer. We grew to love the families we were getting to know and we loved the teaching style of Pastor Leon.
It has been three years now since that first visit to FPCE and I can’t even begin to explain how much this church means to us now. We have developed deep friendships with other Followers that are just “doing life” with us in the most supportive and loving ways. Our kids beg to go to church activities and services. My husband and I have found practical ways to use our gifts in service to a local church instead of just local charities. I no longer believe that “church” hinders my faith in God, because ours is a Church Done Differently.
Then there's Robyn McMullen, whose family found more than just a home here.
We first began attending FPC Eustis around five years ago. With four kids in six years we were certainly not “regulars.” Someone was always crying in the nursery and I was often solo since my husband at times works weekends.
I feel like I want to be a better person when I leave on Sundays. I began teaching Sunday school a couple of years ago and love feeling connected to the church while serving God and the children.
My husband initially was taken with The Crossing worship style. He enjoyed drinking coffee and wearing flip flops. Let’s be honest, he also liked the fact that the service didn’t last much more than an hour. He grew up Episcopalian, we’ll leave it at that!
MOPS has been a huge blessing as well. The church has encouraged and welcomed a growing group of mothers that come together to worship God and grow as wives and mothers. I am grateful for the beautiful friendships I have made through this group.
I’ve always said that I would go to any church if my husband and kids were happy, but it sure is nice to sincerely love this church myself.
Thanks so much for all that you do.
After the death of her son, Ruth Toombs had a hard time coming to church. She writes:
I had no one to vent my anger at except God. I left the church and God, I could not pray, I could not teach someone else’s child when my own was taken. I had no support group. I’m sure I did not reach out for help.
Then something good happened. After 30 years away from church family and singing, a friend brought me to visit FPCE. I heard the music, I heard the choir. For the first time in all these years, I wanted to sing. I still wasn’t wanting God in my life, I just wanted to sing in a choir again.
When I came to practice, I met the most wonderful, loving person I had ever known in my life. She was so kind and warm. She showed Jesus in her very being. I had met Cindy [Curtis, our choir director]. I broke down and cried, I couldn’t keep back the tears. [This encounter helped me to see] God face to face. I was forgiven, even before I had asked—he knew my heart. Not only [do I have Cindy] but now I have a good support group [in the choir] because Cindy shows Jesus every Sunday and every practice. She and many more [of the members of the choir] are truly persons of God.
The church saved my life. Every song I sing, I sing with joy. Knowing Jesus, I want to be more like [Him].
Just a couple of weeks ago, Ruth was about to have surgery for esophageal cancer--a diagnosis she had received from the Mayo Clinic. She was told that her situation was pretty serious, and that surgery, followed by chemo was probably in her future. We prayed for her the Sunday before she went for her operation. The choir gathered around her and laid hands on her praying for her healing.
When she arrived for her surgery, she was told that all of the pre-surgery testing indicated that there wasn't a shred of cancer in her. Come on!
You want to know how all of this happens? Because when you know Jesus, you want to show Jesus. It's not complicated, remember?
Pretty much everything you need to know about the way our church works--how we make this vision to know Jesus and show Jesus a reality--can be found in Acts 2:42-47.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
When we embraced the vision that we believed God gave to our church nearly seven years ago, our leaders also realized that we needed a how to go with the why. We needed to know how we were going to keep our vision in front of us, and to be the church that we believed God was calling us to be.
So we studied this passage of Scripture from the book of Acts, and we determined that there were Five Things within that passage of Scripture that we needed to do if we were going to truly step into the vision to know and show Jesus as a church. Worship, Pray, Grow, Love & Serve.
We knew we needed to embrace authentic and excellent Worship. In verse 46 of Acts 2 we read that the early church went "Every day to the temple courts," where they praised and sang, and "enjoyed the favor of all the people." What we have learned is when you are authentic in your worship--not full of pretension, and stuffiness--that people actually enjoy coming to church.
We discovered in Acts 2 that we need to Pray like the early church that dedicated itself to prayer--as a community that believes God hears and answers prayer.
We also learned that we needed to continue to Grow in our faith as a congregation. We needed to intentionally engage in Bible study, to learn together in small groups and become more faithful disciples. Just like the early church, in Acts 2 that "devoted themselves to teaching."
Acts chapter 2 also taught us that we needed to Love unconditionally. Acts 2 tells us that people in the early church "sold their belongings, and gave to anyone in need." We sacrifice ourselves for one another out of love, caring for our sisters and brothers whenever they are in need as well as nurturing our children and youth in their faith.
Finally, the early church in Acts 2 teaches us that we are called to Serve. The last line of the passage refers to the Lord adding to their number daily. People were drawn to this early group of believers because they had servant hearts. They had no agenda except for Jesus, and they were willing to do whatever it took to show Jesus to the world.
So here's my question for you. How will you step fearlessly into this story? We need you if we are going to be a fearless church, unafraid of the future and what it brings.
We need your presence in worship each Sunday. We need you to find places to volunteer, and to give of yourself to the missions and ministries of our church.
We need your generosity. We need you to give of your time and your talent, but also your treasure. Your generosity enables us to reach farther into our community, and do so much more to show Jesus to our neighbors.
We need your devotion. We need your prayers, your dedication to studying God's word, and deepening your faith in God. We need this because when you challenge yourself to deeper discipleship, it challenges us as well.
We need your connection. We need you to build relationships, friendships and small groups. We need your encouragement, your desire to lift up your brothers and sisters to new heights.
Imagine what we could do if every one of us was all in. Imagine what we could do to repair the world, one neighborhood at a time--starting with our own. Imagine how we would inspire people who have given up on church or never given church a try. The fastest growing religion in America is "None." Imagine if we could change that.
Imagine what we could do if you simply told the story of your journey in this church family. Could you do that? Could you share with friends and neighbors just how much this place means to you and to your family? Could you testify to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our church?
I imagine what could happen. I imagine it, but I also know exactly what it will take for us to step fully into this as a family. We will need to know and show Jesus. Because when you know Jesus, you want to show Jesus. Say it with me, when you know Jesus, you want to show Jesus.