I want to begin this evening by painting a picture of two distinct visions for this church.
The first is a vision that God has for His Church. This vision is one with this church having an active ministry to senior adults, empty nesters, parents, and children. You might think that I am talking about the past, but I am talking about the future…and a not too distant future. In fact, it is a future that can be true in 2020, and then beyond.
Jesus said that His people are to be salt and light and, therefore, our vision is based upon that aspect.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16)
Per Jesus, our good works can influence others to bring God glory. That is, we can be a large church in a small town. We can be a church of influence. We can be a church who glorifies God.
In addition, to the singing we just did, our church could sound have experience many conversations, children laughing, etc. This does not have to be in the distant future, it could be next year.
Now, let me give you a second vision. This vision is one that Satan has for this church. It might be a few years away, but if you have been here for a while, you have seen the attendance dwindling. Now, don’t get me wrong, we have new faces and younger faces. But we have also lost many due to various reasons, including the busyness of life, and the thought that the church is not important. Those ideas are part of the seeds of a vision that Satan is sowing even now. And, if his vision succeeds, well…instead of singing, talking, and laughter, the crickets will keep each other company.
The question for us is which vision do we want? Why? What will we do about it? The key is that we must do. We may say that we believe, but how we act and what we do is based upon what we truly believe. James 2 tells us as much. The truth is that we cannot accomplish what needs to be accomplished on our own. We cannot do it in our own strength. We need renewal. We need a renewed strength. And we can have both if we understand the greatness of the vision before us.
Let me share what chasing a vision looks like.
Less than two weeks ago many took time to remember the day when man landed on the moon. This was a miraculous moment for many reasons. Consider that July 20, 1969 was only 65 ½ years after the Wright brothers first invented the airplane (December 1903). July of 1969 was only 27 years after the first man-made object went into space (1942). July 1969 was just less than 12 years after the first satellite was launched into space, and 11.5 years since America sent its first rocket into space. And amazingly, it was just over 8 years after the first human was launched into space.
And yet, President Kennedy set forth a vision for a country to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Please understand, Kennedy did not really care much about space. In fact, Kennedy did not care about flying to the moon, he cared about putting a man on the moon before the Russians. The urgency came after Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, became the first human in space (April 12, 1961). This momentous event led Kennedy to quickly change his course; he delivered his speech about putting a man on the moon to Congress just 43 days later (May 25, 1961).
How did this happen? A renewed strength!
Let me tell you the story. (1)
Three times as many people worked on the Apollo projects as did the Manhattan Project (which produced the atomic bomb). In 1961, NASA spent $1 million on the Apollo project. Five years later (5 years after Kennedy set forth the vision), NASA spent $1 million every three hours. Yet, by 1968, 55% of Americans did not think the budget was worth the effort.
Initially, the charge to beat the Russians to the moon was met with excitement. But over time, the mindset switched. Even from the beginning some thought the idea had very little scientific value. However, by January of 1962 (only 8 months after Kennedy’s speech), the cost factor was coming into full view. The NY Times ran an editorial that the “grand total for the moon excursion would reproduce from 75 to 120 universities about the size of Harvard, with some [money] left over…” Later that year, it was evident the space program had fallen further behind the progress the Soviets were making. Kennedy gave another speech in September 1962 saying, “The United States was not built by those who waited and rested. This country was conquered by those who moved forward – and so will space.”
In other words, Kennedy was saying, “To move forward will require a great effort.” Or, in our parlance for this evening, “a greater, and renewed strength.” But the opposition was growing. Besides the editorial comment about education, many people spoke out against the program. Former president Eisenhower called Kennedy “nuts” for spending $40 billion for the sole purpose of national prestige. By Sept 1963, it appeared the momentum was dying. Furthermore, in a meeting that month, Jim Webb, the NASA administrator, told Kennedy the best they could do during his presidency, IF ELECTED TO A SECOND TERM, would be to fly BY the moon. The timeframe did not allow for them to land on the moon during Kennedy’s term as president – again, even if he had been elected again!
The budget was being cut. For all practical purposes, it seemed the dream to land an American on the moon was dead. On November 16, 1963, Kennedy toured Cape Canaveral. Five days later, he spoke in San Antonio on the value of being able to conduct medical research in space. The next day, Kennedy was on his way to deliver a speech about “reinvigorating the space program” when he was shot. Realistically, the chances of the program continuing were very slim. But he was shot. 6 days later, on Thanksgiving Day, President Johnson declared that the space center in Florida would be called the John F. Kennedy Space Center, and the land would be called Cape Kennedy.
A program that was all but dead was revived. The only thing that changed was the perception of the people. The money still had to be spent. The idea was still more on paper than reality. One major challenge was the lunar module. Earth does not have any place to test flying, landing, and taking off in zero-gravity, so the first test was when Aldrin and Armstrong did it live. Additionally, adaptations had to be made that had never been considered before. For instance, the spacesuits needed to be strong, yet form-fitting. Thus, Playtex, the makers of the “Cross Your Heart” bra, was consulted.
But with all of the work, America did it. Less than six years after Kennedy was killed, and just over eight years after he set the vision, America had landed on the moon. And yet, the Russians almost beat us. Two days before Apollo 11 made orbit, the Luna 15 spacecraft began to orbit the moon. But the Russians could not find a place to land the craft to take samples, and not only did America put the first two men on the moon, it was the first to land on the moon. In fact, the Luna 15 never successfully landed as it crashed into a mountain just a short time before Aldrin and Armstrong left the surface of the moon.
I spend a lot of time on that story, but I did so to show what a commitment to a vision and a renewed strength can do. America’s space program was already behind and getting further behind even with a vision to guide it. But when the perspective changed, the people engaged in a new way. Strength was renewed. And the results are mind-boggling. Again, let us consider that for thousands of years, man had not flown, and within 65 years, it went from flying an airplane a few hundred feet to landing on the moon. And less than 30 years later (November 20, 1998), the first module of the ISS was launched so mankind could live in space for periods of time (which first happened in November 2000).
The reality is that what NASA and its partners did, it did with their own strength. Certainly, many of those working on the various space programs have been followers of Christ, but not all. What was accomplished there reminds me of the story in Genesis 11 when the people were building a tower to reach into the heavens.
But as a church, as THE CHURCH, we have the power of God. In Psalm 103, David wrote,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103.1-5, ESV)
That youth is a euphemism for strength. Perhaps, more well-known are the words as recorded by Isaiah.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has not might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40.28-31, ESV)
The Bible is filled with similar ideas. Peter shares the prophecy from Joel that old men will dream dreams (Acts 2.17, c.f. Joel 2.28). 2 Corinthians reminds us that in a new life, the old is gone, the new has come (5.17). These are promises of God.
The question for us is will we claim these promises? Do we truly believe what God has told us or do we simply say we believe? Again, James 2 is clear that true belief leads to real action.
As followers of Christ, we are being conformed to His image (Romans 8.29) which means we are being renewed day by day even when we may not feel like it (2 Corinthians 4.16).
Therefore, we can believe God that He will renew our strength in order to do His work. Otherwise, we can think of excuses when we stand before Him on the doorstep of eternity. The difference is to choose the old way or a new way. Let me briefly describe a few differences.
- The old way is to be cynical; the new way is to have hope for a greater tomorrow.
- The old way is to be critical of others; the new way is to evaluate together.
- The old way is to be apathetic; the new way is to have joy.
- The old way is to be numb; the new way is to live with passion.
- The old way is to be detached; the new way is to desire intimacy.
- The old way is to be complacent; the new way is to live boldly.
- The old way is one of fear; the new way is to live in freedom.
In other words, the old way is to have an old heart, a weak mind, a sour life, and little strength. But to be renewed is to have:
- a heart on fire for God;
- a mind quickened by God;
- a life lived for God;
- a strength given by God.
As we end this evening, we close this set of services. But the real work now begins. The purpose of these services has been to set the table and to whet the appetite for the true work that must be done.
What will we do? Well, beginning Sunday, our evening service will instead be a time of discussion about what we might do, what we can do, and with a renewed strength – what we will do. The goal is to change the perspective. Remember, when Kennedy died, the perspective of the people changed. But Kennedy is still dead. How much more should we be committed because the One who gave us our vision not only died, but rose back to life. Thus, we need to evaluate what needs to be done (and done better) and then to do it because our purpose is for Jesus!
How? Well, I have ideas, but so do you. I want to listen. I want to learn your thoughts. Some have already shared them with me. The reality is that we all want to know How? But if you understand the Why – really understand it, and you know the What, then the How can happen.
So, I am not worried about the How. My focus is on explaining the Why and clarifying the What. That will engage the Who. And the more Whos we have the more ideas we have to tackle the What.
Whoever is willing, let us take a cue from Stephen King, who said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
We do not need more inspiration. We need more perspiration. The time of waiting is done. Jesus said we are to work while it is day because night is coming (John 9.4). God has commanded so God will strengthen. Are we doing? God is leading. Are we following?
What Kennedy said in September 1962 of America is certainly true of Christ’s church. Let me adapt Kennedy’s words. “The Church was not built by those who waited and rested. God’s Church was built in the past by Jesus partnering with those who moved forward. And the same will be true of the future.”
I close with the following prayer from Sir Francis Drake, from 1577. The prayer is entitled, Disturb us, Lord.
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have some true because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we sailed to close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
Disturb us Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.
(1) Most of the facts of the space race come from an article in the Smithsonian magazine dated June 2019. The article, America’s Greatest Adventure, was written by Charles Fishman, and appears on pages 22-35, 72, and 74.