Saturday, October 20, 2012

Vision Sunday 2012

Today, we are celebrating our vision as a church.  We are celebrating what God has been doing among us over the past year, and we are looking forward to how God will do more and more next year.  To help us understand this on more personal terms, three separate people will come up at different times and share how God has been working in their lives.  Each person will tell how God has made one part of our vision real for them this year.

Vision Story #1 - Renewed by God’s Love:  Sarah Bean
I’ve been a Christian all my life.  My parents were pastors.  The church has always been my home.  I have grown up knowing that God loves me.  That is not a new thing for me.  But this year, I have begun to experience God’s love in a new way. 
For those of you who know me well, you know that I’ve had a rough time this past year.  I’ve been under a lot of stress at school.  I’ve been homesick for my family.  I have struggled with doubts.  You know those kind of unanswerable questions of faith – Why do bad things happen to good people?  If God is taking care of me, why do I feel uncared for?  If God can do anything, why doesn’t he step in to help me?  Is God even listening to my prayers?  What does God want from me?  I think that every person who believes - at some point or another - will have seasons of struggle, where you feel silence, where you feel alone, where you feel lost.
Again for those of you who know me well, you know that I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I pride myself on being good.  And I’m good at being good.  I’m responsible.  I do what I am supposed to.  I do the right thing.  I want to make my parents proud.  I want to please people.  I want to please God.  I want him to be proud of me.
Part of my crisis this past year has been the reality that even though I’m doing all the right things, I still feel lost.  Even my best effort falls short of perfect.  Sometimes the best you can do just isn’t good enough.  We are all a bit broken – and we can’t fix ourselves up.
In the midst of this struggle, I have experienced a beautiful truth that I have always known.  God loves me.  God doesn’t just love the things I can do – God loves ME.  Broken, messed up, doubting, lost little me.  And there is nothing I can do to make God love me more. He already loves me to the max.  He loved me to the cross.  He loved me before I was even capable of loving him back.
With all of my failures and all of my fears and all of my weaknesses – He sees me with my faults, he knows me for the mess that I am – and he still loves me!  He calls my name, and says, “Daughter, you belong to me, and I am proud of you.”  He doesn’t ask me to be perfect.  He doesn’t ask me to fix myself.  All he asks of me is to fall into his hands as broken as I am.  
I think we all know God loves us.  But this year I have come to experience that truth.  Not just on an intellectual level, but deep in my core.  And I am thankful beyond what any words can say.  I am thankful even for the painful journey that brought me to this place.  I don’t know where you are right now, what doubts you may be wrestling with, what pain you may be experiencing – But hang on…because God loves you!  He loves you to the max!  There is nothing we can do to make God love us more!  Even in desert places of dark and silence, he is there – waiting for us to experience in a fresh way the renewal of his love.

Call to Worship: Psalm 42:1-8

Vision Story #2: Multicultural Community: Christine and Rich
When we wake up on Sunday mornings, we’re excited about the day ahead and excited that we get to attend KNU IECIt’s been 2 years since we left the US and when we left, we prayed for guidance and wisdom.  After all, relocating a life after more than 14 years is not a decision you make lightly.  But we felt certain the Lord would guide us to the right home church, the right city and the right community. I n our minds, “right” meant strong in the Word, worship, prayer, missions and community.  And it also meant a home church where we as a multi-ethnic family could feel at home
So, this year when we visited the KNU IEC we felt it was for us for many reasons but especially because the ethnicity of congregation was diverse. We love to praise God in different languages and to learn from others because in that way we connect spiritually with God from other perspectives. 
As a couple, we’ve always felt the like love in action is the key to growing together, and we’ve learnt that when we look at cultural barriers – such as communication and marriage from God’s perspective, they cease being impossible situations and begin to look more like the exciting possibilities they are.  A multicultural community such as ours allows us to become more sensitive and more understanding to aspects about others we may have assumed.  We feel that’s why He compelled us to leave the US and relocate; to be His feet; His living message.
We all have a story, and we hope that in some way God can use us – the Lee family while we’re in Korea to tell His story through us.  That somehow we can live in a world and not just our small community that understands that a church of many cultures mimics heaven.  It’s parallel to how we feel about this KNU church.  It’s intentional about caring for all visitors, members and ministries - locally and globally.  We are honored to be part of this “house of prayer for all nations” and look forward to growing with you.

Old Testament Lesson: Micah 4:1-5

Vision Story #3 - Global Change through Local Action: Amy Scott
Global change through local action.  OK, what does that even mean?  Is it even possible?  And are we taking action that will produce change?
The first step to seeing change happen is awareness.  We can each seek to know where change needs to happen.  Many times we think of how other people need to change.  But the first changes need to happen within ourselves.  That occurs as we grow in our relationship with God, as we seek the heart of God, to care for everyone as God cares for them.  As God works in us we begin to see other people, and ourselves, differently.  We see all people as loved and cherished by God.  We see all people, including ourselves, in need of God’s love and grace.
As we open ourselves to see the world through God’s eyes, I believe God begins to show us where to take action, where to get involved.  It may be just small steps to begin with:  donating money to the Bangladesh Village of Hope, having coffee with a person who needs someone to listen, giving a smile or kind word to someone.  As this becomes a natural part of our lives God will present other, and sometimes more challenging, opportunities to us.  You may be led to sponsor a child in the Village of Hope.  You may be led to pay for someone to be able to go to Bangladesh on a mission trip.  Or God may lead you to go on a short term mission trip to Bangladesh or to some other country.
There is a term used in missiology:  “mutual transformation”.  This means that whenever we encounter people we are all changed.  We often think about causing change to happen in other people.  We think we know what they need and we’re going to help them change.  But an amazing thing happens when we open ourselves to God’s grace and love.  Not only are “others” changed, but we are changed as well.  Everyone brings talents to any situation, and as we share those talents and passions, God increases them many times over.  And God changes everyone involved.
When I went to Bangladesh, I went there to do some work, to get to know people, to help out in any way I could.  I’ve talked to enough people who have done missions work to know that everyone comes back changed in some way.  But I’m still not even sure how I was changed.  It was on such a deep level that I’m still processing it, and don’t know the long term effects.
I do know that as I played with the children, as I catalogued books, as I shoveled gravel I was changed.  I also know that as I allowed a widow to massage away my headache, as I allowed her to wash my hair and legs and arms, I was changed.  And I know that those whose lives I touched were changed too.  God’s love and grace was a part of all that was done.
I like to think of it this way.  We are all part of a large ocean, all connected in some way to each other.  When a stone is thrown into the water the ripples keep traveling further and further out.  Even when we no longer can see them, they are still moving.  Every small thing we do affects us and the world.  It’s an adventure to see where God is leading us to take action and to know that what is done in Jesus’ name will change the world.  

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5:1-16

When Sarah, Emma, and I came to this church in 2004, people kept telling us all kinds of things were impossible.  
  • They said we would never be a real church and that we should settle for an identity as a para-church organization.
  • They said we would never reach out beyond the KNU community.
  • They said KNU would never allow us to change our worship time from 9 a.m. to something more welcoming to people who are not farmers and like to sleep a little later on Sunday.
  • They said KNU would never let us use Patch Hall, and they said Patch Hall would be way too big for us anyway.
  • They said we could never reach Cheonan’s English teachers.
  • They said people would never join our church as members because we would always be the “second” church.
  • They said we would never get any Korean professors from KNU.  In fact, for quite a while, Korean professors weren’t even allowed to attend our church.
  • They said the Korean government would never give a foreigner a visa to be a full-time pastor.
  • They said we would never be able to sustain a church over 100 people (which is often considered a necessary benchmark for being stable enough to have a full-time pastor).
  • They said that we should just be realistic and accept that an English speaking church in Korea is never going to be very big or do very much.  
  • They said that we should just accept that our basic purpose is to provide a worship service for Christian English teachers who happen to find themselves in Cheonan.
  • They said that the mission God was calling us to was impossible.

They were wrong!  God is the God of blessing and surprises.  God is the God who starts with a mustard seed and makes a tree that gives shelter to others.  God is the God who does what no one expects.  
  • We became a real, official Church of the Nazarene five years ago in 2007.
  • We had to work for it and pray for it, but eventually we became united on a mission that reaches beyond KNU to include all of the Cheonan and even the whole world.
  • In 2006 in one fell-swoop, we changed our worship time to 10:30 and our location to Patch Hall, both of which were hugely helpful for us.  Now, we are very close to outgrowing a single service in Patch Hall.
  • Now more than 50% of our church is Korean, and also 50% of our church comes from outside the KNU community.
  • We had to get creative with the membership issue.  God led us to the two membership options of “Community Members” and “Nazarene Members,” but today as we welcomed new members in, we have more than 90 members - more than ever in the history of our church.
  • We now have almost as many Korean KNU professors and staff as we do foreign professors.  
  • We have averaged more than 100 people every Sunday for the past four years, and this year we had at least 100 people here every single Sunday except Chusok.  This year we averaged 129 people worshiping with us, and on Easter Sunday we set a new all-time attendance high of 179. 
  • The very next week we hit an all-time children’s high of 29.  Since then, Matt and our children’s teachers have stepped up and have split our kids into two classes - kindergarten and elementary.  This has been great for both the kids and the teachers!
  • Thanks to Adam, Matt, and Sarah Bean, we’ve also added a much needed parents and babies room so that parents can still watch the service even if their kids are being noisy.
  • We’ve baptized dozens of people from at least six different countries as people have found new life through Christ here.
  • Our giving has soared through the years, exceeding our expectations almost every year.  This year, our giving was a full 4-5 times higher than what it was in 2004!  We are seeing a beautiful cycle.  We are being faithful in God’s mission, which inspires people to give more, which enables us to do more in God’s mission, which inspires people to give even more!  Thank you for being faithful, and thank you for jumping into this upward spiral.
  • In 2010, we developed a partnership with Nazarenes in Bangladesh to build the Village of Hope for Widows and Orphans, and this has radically changed how we think about missions, how we feel about missions, and how we practice missions.  Missions has a face for us now.  Missions has a place for us now.  We are in love with the kids in our village, and we are passionately committed to helping them experience life in all of its fullness and goodness through Christ.
  • We continue to reach out to our neighbors here in Cheonan, through the orphanage, through the Dream School for North Korean refugees, through simple acts of kindness and love to newcomers, and through our hospitality to international students.
  • We have now sent out hundreds of people from our community into ministry around the world.  Some are planting new churches; some are working in homeless shelters; some are teachers, missionaries, musicians, artists, business people.  All are living our mission.  All are extending our loving community and changing our world.
  • This year we have seen the activity and leadership of our church grow more and more.  Our assistant pastors have really stepped up their ministry.  Sujin, Matt, Adam, and Shannon are all more effective and more productive than they have ever been before.  They are caring for our kids, our youth, our university students, our adults, and even me - and helping us all grow deeper into God’s love and grace as God transforms us all together.  More and more of what we do and who we are as a church is not started by me, and that is extremely healthy!
  • And you - you are really growing as a church and as leaders.  More and more of you are coming to a pastor and saying “How can I help?”  Or else you are simply finding a job and doing it without being asked.  You are awesome, and God is using you.

People said we couldn’t become who we are today.  People said we couldn’t do what we’re doing today and what we’ve been doing for years.  But we have done it.  God has done it in us and through us.
But God has more for us.  The best days of our church are still ahead.  We will have hard days for sure.  There is no doubt about that.  We will have some special challenges over the next year, but God has a plan for our church.  God has a dream for our church, and God will not let us go.  Our mission is real.  Our mission is important.  Our mission is actually happening in the here-and-now, and there is still more to come.  This is only the beginning of a very long and very good story!
When I think about our church, I often think in terms of Paul’s words in Philippians 1.  That is probably the best way I can conclude today.
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

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