Do You Want to Sell Sugar Water?

I’ve never been a huge fan of church mission statements. I remember a statement being posted on the wall of one church I pastored, but could never remember what it said as the statement itself was, like many of mine, long and convoluted. I wasn’t alone as no one else seemed to remember it either. Some churches have no written statements at all, and others have them but may as well not. Why do churches have mission statements? And has the church not done well over the majority of its 2,000 plus year history without them? Are they not just a result of trying to impose contemporary ‘organizational theory’ on the church? Shouldn’t we just look to the future with prayers and the Bible and leave the mission statements to the big corporations?

First, a written statement of mission is a tool for decision making. Without it any organization, including a church, can fall prey to the temptation to make decisions based on either the dominant preference (“we would like this”) or the dominant personality (“he/she wants this”). A written statement helps ensure that it is the understood purpose of the church which dominates the decision making rather than the dominant preferences or personalities.

Second, while the Church seems to have done well over its history, it is by the grace of God and despite many missteps. Had the purpose of the Church been dominant and well understood the history of the church, and indeed therefore the history of the world, may have been much different. What opportunities have been missed because we have followed preferences and personalities down foolish paths!

Ok, but isn’t this just organizational theory dumped on the church? Borrowing from the good folks at Commitment Ministries , a good statement will have three components:
Mission. This is the ultimate goal, the thing we are to achieve. You can think of it as the destination at the end of the journey. We don’t get to choose it, we discover it from the Bible. It should answer the question: “what does God want to achieve through His church?”
Vision. This is the thing we need to do next in order to get closer to achieving our mission. You can think of it as the next hill we need to get over. Again we don’t get to pick it, it is rather a process of seeking what God is specifically calling us to at this time.
Values. These are the non-negotiable things that guide us. You can think of it as the road which we should stay on if we are hoping to reach our destination. We might think of non-negotiables like “we value the Bible as the Word of God.”
While these three things may look alot like ‘organisational theory’ applied to the church, we quickly realise how much these are dependant on prayer, the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

But shouldn’t we be leaving mission statements to the big corporations? It was Steve Jobs of Apple who famously wooed an exec from Pepsi with: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Apple has changed much in the world (I’m typing on an Apple product right now!), but God is looking to change far more than Apple ever could. Apple is an exciting company, but its mission statement is downright boring compared to that of any church that has done its homework. It is too long and convoluted to include here. We might ask “do you want to sell electro-gadgets the rest of your life, or do you want to participate with God in changing the world?” If it is important for a company like Apple to be organized in accomplishing its purposes, how much moreso for the church to be intentional and organized in our participation with God in accomplishing His.

At Calvary Baptist we have much to celebrate as we celebrate our 127th anniversary. But as we look back with gratitude we also have much to look forward to as we discover His call and organize around His mission.

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Genesis 6-8 Up Close and Personal

It is not a song that lasts very long around me, I change the station if I hear it on the radio, and move the song on if it comes onto my wife’s iPod. It has not even made it onto mine of course. The verses I quite like as they inspire us to a greater sense of harmony and the ideal of peace:

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting is for

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

All very nice and all but what ruins the song for me (beyond a lack of power chords) is the chorus:

And God is watching us, God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

Now there is wishful thinking and I suspect there are many who wishfully are thinking this. It seems God our Heavenly Father has been replaced by God our heavenly great-grandfather, whose eyesight is failing, and who cannot tell what the great-grandchildren are up to because their lives are so far removed from his. But they can always depend on him for unconditional love and a hug. Methinks this is how some people want to see God, or better, how they want God to see them;from a distance.

This is not the case in Genesis 6:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5 NIV)
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. (Genesis 6:11, 12 NIV)

No heavenly cataracts here, nor a need for God to squint like I did for three years in school before I finally admitted to needing glasses. God saw what was going on, and his remarkable vision had disastrous consequences for most earthlings:

The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:6, 7 NIV)
So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:13 NIV)

The story of the flood in Genesis teaches us some valuable lessons, most of which many would rather not learn.

  1. Sin and violence does not escape the notice of God. I was and am blessed by a mother who knows her Bible. The Biblical truth most quoted my Mum as I was growing up? “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Good to know and too bad more don’t know it.
  2. God has the right to be judge. All too often people will try to be the judge of God and his decision to send the flood, making it out to be a cosmic genocide. If you or I had done it, it would be a condemnable genocide, and a violence that would grieve God deeply (note Genesis 9:6 from the flood story). But in the hands of God it is justice brought swiftly, which brings us to our next point –
  3. God owes us nothing. All human living is lived in a time and as a result of God’s grace and mercy. We live because God withholds His just judgement. God does not owe us another day, nor an hour, nor even a second. Each breath, each heartbeat is a sign of God’s grace. It is not owed to you. Eternal life in Jesus is grace and mercy taken to the extreme. That is not owed to you either.

Some may object that here we find the God of the Old Testament and that now we should focus on the God of the New Testament, as if God’s eyes are now failing and He is watching us from a distance today. Sorry, God does not change. Here we might consider the rainbow which is very interesting in what we learn from it. Most of us think of it as a reminder to us that God will keep his covenant promise to never again send a flood like he did. This is correct, but in fact we find that twice it is emphasized as a reminder to God!

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16 NIV)

Do we grasp the implication of this? No, it does not point to God’s memory as if it could fail any more than his sight. It points to the fact that from the flood on God still sees the sin and violence of the world, it still grieves him, and he would still be right to just put a sudden stop to it. What is stopping God from doing so is not that he is watching us from a distance as some sort of cosmic great-grandfather who isn’t really seeing what is going on, but because he is watching us with the heart of a father, full of love and grace, bound by a father’s promise. Of course he is not a human father that he might fail, he is God that he shall follow through. God is watching us closely, but his eyes are full of love.

Genesis 5 & The Short Life of a Cricket

Having recently closed the pool I have lost one of my morning rituals; a rescue operation for crickets and beetles. Most bugs that find their way into the pool drown fairly quickly, just like the mice, chipmunk, and a skunk that went for a swim this year. Beetles and crickets seemed to be able to keep their heads above water, so in the mornings I would skim off the dead bugs (and the occasional animal), and rescue the living. The beetles were numerous and began to get annoying, and at one point I considered spray painting them to see if the same ones kept coming back for a swim each night. The crickets however, were even more annoying. They would cling to the side of the pool so I would try to splash them off making it possible for me to pick them up in the skimmer and bring them to safety. Problem is, they were tenacious and held onto the side for dear life, then when I did finally get them into the water, then into the skimmer, no sooner would I get them out of the water that they would leap right back in. This would then often result in my scolding them for their foolishness, and no doubt my neighbours wondering if I was losing my mind. I was trying to lengthen the crickets’ lives, they seemed intent on shortening them.

This reminds me of Genesis 5 where we find some people with incredibly long lives, some reaching nearly 1,000 years. Some people get to this point in the Bible and wonder if the Bible isn’t on the level of fairy tales after all. People just don’t live that long and we have trouble imagining that they ever did. A perusal of Bible scholars will yield four possibilities as to why we find these incredibly long lives in Genesis: 1) Several generations are ‘hidden’ within each person listed, the ancients not being as set on historical details as we are today. 2) There was a different way of counting time back then. 3) The ages are a literary embellishments which allow the lesson in theology to trump a lesson in history. 4) They really did live that long. No matter which option is closest to what you think, we can remember that the book of Genesis exists primarily to teach us theology, that is, it tells us what it tells us to help us know God better. So what do we learn from these long lives? That life is short, of course!

In the Bible, and especially in the early parts, we find a whittling down of life. Adam and Eve were to live forever, but that didn’t work out so well. Then we find these very early people not even making it to a thousand years. It is thought that Moses, who it is also thought to have had a hand in recording Genesis in some way,  wrote these lines:

You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”  For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.  You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3-6 NIV)

We think of these people as living extraordinarily long lives. But from the perspective of the eternal life God wanted to give them,  they didn’t live long at all. It is interesting that in other records from Ancient Near East, there are “kings lists” which record the reign of ten kings, some of whom were said to have reigned for over 60,000 years. If the people who were alive when Genesis was committed to writing were aware of such things in nearby cultures, the Biblical account would have had the affect of reminding them of how short life really was.

Then beyond Genesis 5, we find the average lifespan being whittled down until we get to Joseph who lived for 110 years, as we are told in the final verse of Genesis. Beyond that we get to the time of Moses, again an important time in the bringing forth of the book of Genesis, and the declaration that  “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10

The point of the whittling down of lifespans, from Eve and Adam, through the early generations, down through the rest of Genesis and into the days of Moses, is clear. We are like crickets that refuse to be saved. God’s desire has always been to bless us with life, but we have turned away from His blessings and have chosen death instead. People still do this today. Just like we have a moving away from  the garden of Eden, first with Adam and Eve in chapter 3, then even further with Cain in chapter 4, in Genesis we have a moving away from the blessing of life and the hastening of death, as chapter 5 helps make clear. Besides the ages these early generations, the repetition of their deaths sounds an ominous reminder of the curse of sin. And for the Christian, it serves as a reminder of the depth of God’s grace and His desire to bless us with life:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. . . “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:22,55-57 NIV)