Last year, God’s vision for our church was simply to be the church. He wanted to rebuild us at our foundation. His call was one of repentance, to change the way we think for the better. We didn’t plan to implement any new ministries or programs or ideas, but rather to return to who Jesus was calling us to be.
We were being called to change how we serve one another and the community, to repent of some poor attitudes and heart motives, and to revisit the question of “Why we are here?” as a church.
Sure, we still have some work to do in these areas, but we’ve definitely come a long way! God is transforming the culture and atmosphere here in preparation for great things that are coming our way.
Unconditional Love, Sacrificial Integrity, Spirit Lead
When these core values are lived out. When we embody them more fully. When we essentially just treat people the way that we would want to be treated:
Something manifests, there is a resulting product; we obtain the fulfillment of why Jesus gave us these core values to embrace. That result is our 2020 vision!
Chocolate. No, that’s not God’s vision for New Hope this year, but chocolate is pretty awesome, right? Sweet, creamy, melt-in-your mouth goodness. Chocolate is going to help us to better understand this year’s vision.
Chocolate, as we enjoy it, is essentially three components combined – cocoa, oil, and sweetener.
This kind of reminds me of who God is, right? Three-in-one. Father, Son, Spirit. Distinct yet unified.
Unlike God, however, the three components of chocolate aren’t the best on their own. I’ll never forget the first time that I snuck into our kitchen at home as a kid, grabbed a spoon, and ate my first mouthful of Hershey’s baking cocoa. It looked like chocolate, smelled like chocolate, was branded like chocolate, but it didn’t taste like chocolate at all! I coughed and choked and spit that stuff out as fast as I could! It was a mess!
Once we combine those three components, however, the result is delicious! The aroma of chocolate being made is incredible, drawing in anyone nearby. Slightly adjusting the ratio of these three components makes different experiences of chocolate as well. There is the 95% cocoa for dark chocolate lovers the whole way down through to light, milk chocolate.
Not only this, but the possibilities of deliciousness beyond these three simple components are incredible!
Chocolate can be combined with peanut butter or caramel or hazelnut or marshmallow or all sorts of other flavors. Chocolate can have added to it nuts or fruit or Rice Krispies or candy. Chocolate syrup or fudge can be placed over ice cream or cheesecake or stirred into milk or used in just about any way that you can imagine!
Now, not everyone prefers certain combinations. For myself, I don’t at all like it when chocolate is combined with certain fruits like orange or raspberry. It’s not that there is anything wrong with that combination, it’s just not my preference.
Also, some things taste great on their own with chocolate, but not when all combined together.
For example, chocolate and coffee are a great combination as are chocolate and strawberries. However, strawberry coffee chocolate won’t likely be a best seller. For example, salty potato chips and chocolate make a great combinations as well as raspberry and chocolate. However, raspberry chocolate-covered potato chips won’t likely hit the top sales charts of a sweets shop.
What could all of this possibly have to do with God’s vision for us this year?
What is His vison for us this year?
God is calling us to rediscover and reconfirm our unique identity as a church family as well as investing in the families of our community.
Family is a group of people who genuinely love, trust, care for, and look out for each other.
Family can mean a lot of different things in the same way that a chocolate treat can mean a lot of different things.
In the beginning, it was Adam and God. God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Think about that, though. Adam wasn’t physically alone, was he? He walked in the garden with God, Himself and was surrounded by all kinds of animals. How could God not be enough of a companion for Adam?
Adam was alone in the respect that he needed someone like him. He needed someone like him who could relate to him, someone to live life together with. We all still need this very thing today. It’s not good for us to be alone, we need people that we can relate to and live life together with.
God presented Eve to Adam at the first wedding ceremony in the garden of Eden. Then, it became God and Adam and Eve. Then, it became God and Adam and Eve and Cain and Able and many other children who, long story short, became the nations of the earth.
Family. Man, woman, children, repeat. No matter what our culture does to try and redefine or reorganize this, it will always remain God’s ideal model for a healthy, whole family in the natural, flesh and blood sense. Man, woman, children, repeat.
However family, even by God’s own definition, extends well beyond mere flesh and blood. There are different types of families and the Bible refers to them all.
In the New Testament, the Greek words are used:
– genos meaning a biological relationship or of the same kind
– adelphos meaning more of a brotherhood or friendship
– patria meaning that you have the same nationality or ancestry
– oikia or oikos meaning people who dwell together as a household
To some, the bonds of family are stronger outside of your biological relatives. Perhaps you have a close-knit group of friends that you consider your family. Perhaps you consider your family to be the members of your community or neighbors. Perhaps you find your family in those of your same national identity or ethnic heritage. Perhaps your family is the members of a social club like a sportsman’s club or motorcycle club.
This year, God’s intent is to have us discover and develop meaningful relationships as we draw together as a church family.
Now, back to chocolate. Chocolate represents God, three-in-one.
Everyone who has put their faith in Christ and received the free gift of His salvation are part of the universal church family. We are like all of the diverse things that are created with chocolate. We have been placed within Christ and He in us. He has created us all unique and distinctly from one another, then He places us within His family.
Each individual church is like a treat made from chocolate. They all share a common foundation of chocolate, or in the church sense, Jesus. However, they are all built very differently and unique beyond that foundation.
Some are dark and reverent, they focus on being separate from the world and seriously devoting themselves to solitude with Christ and their worship is quite private. Some are sweet and celebratory, they go out and invite the world into an encounter Jesus and are publicly zealous in their worship of God.
They all serve and worship the same triune God, but their focus and emphasis varies just like the ratios of chocolate. They all focus on the Father, or Son, or Holy Spirit in varying degrees.
The people who make up those churches are all unique as well. Some have rich, consistent caramel in the center through conformity and some have variety like trail mix; even having a few nuts thrown in there.
Just as there are countless varieties of chocolate treats, there are countless varieties of church families. They are all unique yet they all share the same foundation.
Like walking into Hershey’s Chocolate World, any church family should draw the lost to Jesus by the aroma that they carry with them through the Presence of the Holy Spirit within, making the lost hunger and thirst for Him.
What type of church are we? This is going to be a year of discovering exactly that. Together, we’re becoming the new, New Hope!
We’ve already established our core values defining who we are as a church. This is us. If someone’s attitudes and behaviors don’t fit within the framework of unconditional love, sacrificial integrity, and being Spirit-lead, that’s OK. We just need to find a place where you do fit. It’s not that one is wrong and the other is right, it is just a matter of finding where you fit.
We want everyone placed in the church family which they belong in. There is a family out there who needs the unique gifts, talents, and personality that you possess. There is also a family out there who has exactly what you need as well.
God sets the lonely in families…
It is not good for us to be alone, we belong in a church family and in a church family for which we are a fit.
Why continue being irritated and uncomfortable and try to embitter the rest of this sweet milk chocolate bar with your 95% dark bitterness? There is a dark chocolate church out there full of people just like you where you will thrive and grow. When visiting churches, you can tell fairly quickly what type of church it is and you can sense whether or not you are a fit there.
This year, God is going to help us rediscover and reconfirm our identity as a church family.
No church family is perfect because it is made up of imperfect people. Like any family, we will have disagreements, we will fail at times, we will have issues.
However, our genuine love for one another will overcome them all and we will triumph together. Our genuine concern for each other will enable us to fall and get picked right back up. Our genuine care for each other will bring healing and restoration. Our genuine trust for one another will grow and grow as we open up our lives to each other without fear of condemnation or gossip. Together, we will walk in freedom and grow and mature.
God sets the lonely in families…
This is not to be a divided or dysfunctional family. This is to be a healthy family to which God can draw the lonely into.
Once again, our focus will not be on what we do as a church – events, programs, or ministries. Our focus will be on who we are – children of God! In this alone, we will find our life’s value and purpose.
12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
We are also going to focus on family. We’re going to provide opportunities to invest in and develop families; especially in the younger generation. We value all age groups equally and they are all needed for our church family to be healthy. This year, however, we are called to be intentional about investing in the younger generations.
As we grow together as a church family, the natural outcome will be that we will be better equipped, encouraged, and enabled to take the Kingdom of God with us wherever we go. After all, wherever we go, we are children of God. Wherever we go, we represent our family’s namesake – the name of Christ – Jesus, the name above every name.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Unconditional Love, Sacrificial Integrity, Spirit Lead
When these core values are lived out; when we embody them more fully:
Something manifests, there is a resulting product; we obtain the fulfillment of why Jesus gave us these core values to embrace. That result is that we become a whole, healthy family.
Family is a group of people who genuinely love, trust, care for, and look out for each other. That’s the kind of family that God would like to develop us to become – let’s allow Him to do that good work in us!
Ephesians 2 teaches how we are saved by the free gift of God’s grace through our faith and not at all by our works. It reminds us that we all were dead in our sins following the ways of the world at one point. It reminds us that we all have access to the Father through the Spirit because of Christ’s sacrifice. With this awesome salvation in mind, Paul concludes the chapter writing:
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
We are being built together into a family – members of God’s household together as God’s people. We were once foreigners and strangers, now we have found our home in Christ alone. Now we go out and continue the cycle by inviting other foreigners and strangers to come home and join our family.
In 2020, God desires to develop us into a whole, healthy family. This is the new, New Hope! We’ll embark on an adventure rediscovering and reconfirming our unique identity as a family.
God sets the lonely in families…