When we return from the summer I like to look back on how God has led us over the past year and give a sense of what I feel God’s priorities are for us in the year ahead.
This is normally referred to as something like ‘setting out a vision.’ I feel a bit unsure about that language. The church has had basically the same mission and vision throughout the last two thousand years and all over the world. We are always about worshipping God in Spirit and in truth, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, and caring for the poor. There isn’t much new about that and, God willing, there never will be.
With that said, however, it is helpful to consider what it looks like to take part in that mission in our particular place and time. It is also helpful to step back and look at what we felt God calling us to prioritise last year so that we can see how we’ve done and how faithful he has been.
The Last Year
At HBC last year we felt God calling us to pursue three values in particular. We set out to be a church which is:
- missionally active, bringing people to meet Jesus Christ;
- pastorally close, caring for one another; and
- theologically deep, exploring the deep things of God.
As I look back on the last year I see God’s blessing on us as we have grown in each of these areas.
We have shared the good news of Jesus Christ in through our words and actions:
- The church has run two Alpha courses and seen people both returning to Christ and encountering him for the first time.
- We have had people coming to our Sunday services and finding peace and hope in the good news of Christ.
- We have cared for the poor by collecting and distributing toys, shoes, winter clothing, money, and food to those who need it.
Similarly, every week I hear stories of how members of this church care for one another:
- Friends taking each other to the hospital;
- Young people visiting and praying with those who can’t get out.
- People providing counselling and coffee for those in distress.
- Those with money sharing their finances with those who are struggling.
Everywhere I look the members of this church are demonstrating the love of Christ to one another.
Finally I see people’s understanding and appreciation of God and his calling on our lives deepening and growing.
- The questions I am asked have become more penetrating.
- The way people talk and which I overhear has become richer and deeper.
- I have seen individuals lives transformed through their understanding of grace and holiness.
Through it all God has blessed us financially and in terms of numbers. Year on year we are growing and this church is becoming once again a sustainable, healthy and vibrant community.
All of this is the grace of God. We have worked hard and are entitled to be happy and feel satisfied yet we know that everything we do is done by, through and for the grace of God. To paraphrase St Paul:
By the grace of God we are what we are, and his grace to us was not without effect. No, we worked hard–yet not we, but the grace of God that was with us.
God has done great things yet we do not want to be satisfied with what God has done. We want to be a part of what God is doing and will do.
The Year Ahead
There are two texts that I want to consider as we think about what God is leading us into in the year ahead. The first is from Philippians 3:7-11.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Every time I pray about Christ’s priorities for this church in the year ahead this is what I come back to.
We want to know Christ more deeply, becoming ever more truly his followers.
I believe God wants us to keep on being missionally active, pastorally close and theologically deep. But through all of those things our aim is to become an ever more Christ Centred Community.
I’m going to explain what I mean by this. Then next week I’m going to explore some ways that we can make it a reality for us.
Becoming an increasingly Christ Centred Community means:
- Encountering the Presence of Christ.
- Becoming the Presence of Christ.
- Presenting the Presence of Christ.
Encountering the Presence of Christ
We are nothing unless we are people who have and are encountering Christ.
Everything flows from meeting the risen Son of God.
- It is when we encounter Christ that we meet God and receive his grace.
- It is the presence of Christ that we find forgiveness for our sin and freedom from its power.
- The presence of Christ brings hope for those who are despairing and peace for those in turmoil.
- It is when we have met with Christ that our mission and work becomes effective.
It was said of the first Christian leaders that people could recognise that they had been with Jesus. He is contagious.
To put it another way, they were a community which knew what it is to be saved by the grace of God in Jesus.
This isn’t something that happens just once. Salvation has to have a beginning in the moment when we meet Jesus and decide to trust him with our lives. Yet it continues past that moment.
I have been saved yet I am still being saved as I meet Jesus:
- In worship.
- In scripture.
- In bringing our sins to Christ and finding forgiveness.
- In learning to receive peace in the midst of trials.
- In coming to the Son of God and asking him for mercy and a new heart.
My desire is that we pursue the presence of Christ so that he is encountered in our worship, in our small groups and in our separate lives.
Becoming the Presence of Christ
This brings us to the second text that I believe God is putting in front of us this year.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
When we truly encounter Christ we are changed by him.
This is what I long for in my life: to be like Jesus.
I want God to remove the bad things in my life and to embrace the good. I want to flee from sin and pursue holiness and through that process come to share in God’s nature.
This is also what I believe God wants for us.
We want to be a community not only of forgiveness but also of transformation. To use theological language, we want to know not only God’s justifying grace – the grace that makes us right with him – but sanctifying grace – the grace that makes us like Jesus.
This is what we are created for – to be like Jesus and to enjoy being with Jesus. It is the destination our hearts yearn towards, to be free from sin and full of holy love, and it flows out of our encounter with Christ as we cooperate with God’s Spirit.
Presenting the Presence of Christ
Finally, I believe we’re called to present the presence of Christ to others.
To put it another way, I want us to become a community of love, sharing Christ with others.
A part of this is what we do together – the events the church puts on to demonstrate God’s love to those around us.
But it goes beyond what the church puts on to the way that we are in our separate lives. It is caring for our physical neighbours, looking out for the child at school who is left out, loving our family, inviting our friends to the Parenting Course or to Alpha or to Church, and resolving to demonstrate God’s unearned love in acts of kindness and grace to those who have no reason or right to expect them.
We’re going to think about how we can work this out in my next post.
For now, however, let me offer three suggestions.
- One of the best ways to encounter Christ is to read the Bible regularly. There is no hard and fast way to do this. If you have never done it before, why not pick a gospel and read a chapter a day? It only takes about 5 minutes. Or if you have a smart phone you can try the Bible in One Year app which is excellent and sends a reading and a short reflection straight to you every day.
- The best way to be transformed to be like Jesus is to join a Life Group. Our Life Groups are on Sunday night and Tuesday afternoon. We meet together to encourage one another, share our trials and triumphs and pray for each other.
- The easiest way to present Christ to someone else is to begin to pray for them and keep your eyes open. If you want an easy way to invite someone to church try the diary or the Parenting Course.
 Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 15:10.
 Philippians 3:7-11
 1 Peter 2:3-4