In his book, Man to Man, Chuck Swindoll recalls a time when he was eight years old and his mother and he went to a large retail store in downtown Houston.* When they arrived at the toy department, Chuck’s mother informed him that she was going to run to another store on the same street in order to pick up a package she was having gift-wrapped. She told him to play with the loose articles and toys and stay put until she returned.
Chuck quickly became restless with the toys and decided to look for his mother in the other store. He left the department store, went across the street and tried to find her. He was unsuccessful, and he continued to look–four, five, six blocks away. That’s when fear seized him, and he realized he was lost. He couldn’t even find the original store from whence he came.
When we hear this story, we think of our own memories of a time when we were lost and separated from our parents. We can’t help but relate to Chuck’s own feelings of fear and disorientation. As our society transforms and shifts uncontrollably in the current socio-political tectonic tension that is undoing economics, politics, and culture, we can see that we too feel lost in a strange world. We sense our “misdirection,” and we have lost our bearings. Somewhere along the way, something went awry.
We get fearful when we find ourselves in a place of disorientation. It does not take long for us to look for someone or something to blame, and so-called solutions follow: We are losing our moral compass, so we need to balance our federal budget. We need to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. We need to get prayer back into schools. We need to guard the “In God We Trust” motto on our currency. We need…we need…we need…And the list goes on and on.
Before you know it, we have traveled four, five, six blocks only to find ourselves deeper in despair and fear.
My concern is not to tackle these issues–they belong in the small groups of the local church and the debates therein. What I want to propose is that in the midst of all the things that seem to be shifting under our feet, causing some sense of disorientation, we have lost sight of our heavenly Father’s original instruction. We have wandered far from His presence and seek Him in all the wrong places.
So many of us have become so lost, we threw up our hands long ago in resignation and have merely turned to following the crowds–the drones and talking heads that tell us how to think, what to believe, who to welcome in church, what to consider important, and what is most valuable.
And the results have not been pretty:
- More people spend money on eating out or on junk at the big box stores than they do giving to charity or helping others pay for basic needs, like healthcare.
- The percentages of non-churchgoers, atheists, and agnostics are continually on the rise over the past twenty years.
- Our lower and middle-class families continue to outspend every other people group in the world, but manage to save very little for retirement or even have enough money to afford quality healthcare.
- Over 90% of people ages 18-29 never stepped foot in a church; a majority of them never will because they see churches as being hateful and homophobic.
We do indeed live in a world of misdirection. Catholic theologian, Vincent Miller, once wrote:
“We are tugged and pulled by a thousand impulses and desires: spiritual paths we desire to follow, communities we desire to build, political actions we desire to take. Yet we find it terribly difficult to put these great desires into action.”
When we talk about core values in our churches, we are talking about finding our own way back to our Father’s presence and remembering what is most important in our local context. It helps us to choose what beliefs, convictions, and values to act on; core values help us to focus our energy and streamline our use of resources for the deepest needs in our community.
When we consider our core values, we quickly discover that our core values may not be the same as the core values of other churches in this area. That’s OK, because Christ calls us to fulfill our unique destiny in this community, not compete with other churches in the Body of Christ.
For a church sold out to the idea that each person is unique and welcome in this community, we at Trinity Baptist shouldn’t be surprised that our two first core values [of five] that the Vision Ministry Team has proposed rises and falls on humanity, God, and the relationship between the two:
- We value each person as a unique child of God.
- We value creative interactions with God that nurture spiritual growth.
Notice how the language or the grammar of these two values emphasize two important principles: that of each person’s worth to God, and that of creativity in the process of relating to God.
These two values bring us right back to the earliest story in sacred scripture, the creation account in Genesis. Genesis proclaims the amazing majesty of God’s will in creating all things, of which humanity is the greatest achievement:
“So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God, he created them. Male and female, he created them” (NRSV).
You see, in a world of misdirection and, consequently, of docile conformity, we lose the sense that each individual has dignity simply because he or she has a fingerprint of God’s likeness from conception in the womb.
The Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” here do not point to our physical likeness to God–God is a spirit; rather, they involve the idea that we are portraits of God–the “fine art” of God’s masterful paintbrush.
The imago dei–the image of God–demands that we discover “true north” by rediscovering the creative sanctity of all humanity, seeing each person as a portrait in God’s studio. Commentator Walter Bowie asks:
“How is God’s continuing creativity expressed?” He raises up new children in his likeness.*
The qualities of each person are not only unique, they also come to us–this church–as a fresh gift of God from the very hands of God:
Why don’t we exclude people from a life of ministry and participation here at Trinity? Because we don’t believe in rejecting God’s gifts of grace given to us in the ways He sees fit.
Now, it’s in receiving these gifts–these unique and precious God-image bearers–that we get to open these gifts and have the types of creative interactions that lead to our very transformation as a church on mission.
Bowie continues to explain that God’s creativity doesn’t just happen in raising up new children. God also expresses his creativity by taking situations and people already here and making something miraculous happen out of the ordinary:
- In a Saul of Tarsus, God took one who persecuted the Church and made him into an evangelist to the nations.
- In an Amos, God made a simple shepherd into a prophet that advocated for social justice and economic opportunity.
- In an old, motherly Teresa, God made a saint who transformed the poorest communities from the Bronx to Calcutta, founding over 500 Missions of Charities across the globe.
- In a simple, middle-class barbeque restaurant owner, this church gets a passionate man of God who fights cancer by raising funds for Relay for Life.
- In two teenagers, one of whom doesn’t do so well with his homework, God makes evangelists who spent an hour last Thursday morning handing out New Testaments in our community.
Creative interactions happen when we find ourselves in the very place where our deepest passion collides with the world’s deepest need. This creates magnetism–“true north”–that re-aligns our priorities and our compass and brings us home to our heavenly Father’s presence.
This gets us back to all of this church business. When we align our compass as a community, then we move towards God’s reign in all that we do as a church.
Don’t be fooled: Even churches become hindered by misdirection. Our retail society has created retail-driven churches in which consumers search for more in the programs that they think churches should offer. Church looks more like a buffet than a place in which we deny ourselves and surrender our desires for the sake of Christ.
We find in scripture, however, that when people reclaim the imago dei (image of God), they also reclaim their missio dei (mission of God). We shift here from church-oriented ministry–the buffet having more choices–to a missions-centered ministry, in which the church gathers and equips those who are being sent out by God.
You see, to do church is to experience creative interactions in a variety of ways–in worship, in daily devotions, by honoring the sacraments, by engaging in social justice and outreach–that speaks to “a lifestyle of continual conversion as the community hears and responds to the gospel over and over again.”*
Church is not an activity or simply just one more thing to do or consume. It’s a living, breathing agent of change made up of living, breathing God-image bearers who seek to remind others that they, too, are God-image bearers who can have creative interactions with their Creator.
Our core values seek to do just that: bring out the basic passion and essence of our particular identity and communicate that we, too, are made in God’s image for God’s mission in the world.
We are all sacred, and we are all called to interact with God and all creation in a way that draws us closer to the sacredness of Christ.
You want to see the sacredness of Christ? Don’t wander across the street. Don’t get lost four, five, six blocks away. Simply take a look at the person next to you.
Pray a prayer by Walter Brueggemann, “Do Not Fear”:
We thank you…
Because of your new utterance of life to us, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. We, your new people, thank you for your newness and notice that you work newness among us, for we know about being: lame people who walk; blind people who see; dead people who live; poor people who are unburdened.
We rally around your newness that is both our hope and our work. AMEN.*
The sources appear in the order that they are referenced in the sermon:
Swindoll, Charles. Man to Man. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 346-347.
Miller, Vincent, “The IPOD, the Cell Phone, and the Church: Discipleship, Consumer Culture, and a Globalized World.” In Getting on Message: Challenging the Religious Right from the Heart of the Gospel, ed. Peter Laarman. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. 173-191.
Bowie, Walter. “Exposition of Genesis.” In The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1. New York: Abingdon Press, 1952. 483-484.
Guder, Darrell, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998. 86.
Brueggemann, Walter. “Do Not Fear.” Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. 93-94.