This is the 7th annual meeting message I have given, and as I look back at the messages from previous years, Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Over these years we have made a lot of plans, as I believe the Lord would have us do. Some of them have been established, and some of them have not. As we look back at 2011 and look forward to the rest of 2012, there are many things that have changed and many things that will change. Ministries change, membership changes, staffing changes, relationships change. Some cause us to grieve, while others cause us to rejoice.
Rather than listing out those changes, I want to focus on one question that aims less at the mechanics and details of our church and more at the heart of our church. The question is this: what is God doing right now at Whitton Avenue Bible Church? And the follow-up question is this: based on what God is doing now, where is he taking us?
If I could sum up what God is doing in us with one word, it would be the word “repentance.” God has been working repentance in my life and Rachael’s life in significant ways. He has been showing our church family what repentance looks like through our time of prayer and fasting in January. He is showing us what repentance looks like through our Sunday morning training time through “The Gospel-Centered Life.” And he is showing us what repentance looks like as we explore the beatitudes, namely, what it means to encounter King Jesus in such a way that we embrace our poverty of spirit, we mourn over our sin, we relinquish our agenda and abilities and trust in God’s agenda and abilities, and we hunger and thirst for things to be right with God and others.
What does this tell us about where God is leading us? As much as I would love to stand before you like the late Steve Jobs and unveil the latest product our church will offer this year, as much as I would love to forecast where things are headed and exactly how we will get there, I’m afraid I cannot. But I can tell you this. Back in October when God was doing some of the sharpest, most painful work of conviction that I have experienced in quite some time, a phrase came to my mind: “Prepare for Abundance.” I’m not going to claim that God spoke these words or that they are infallible. But these months later I believe with all my heart that the work of repentance God has started and will continue to do in our church family is preparation for abundance.
I believe we are in a season of laying a foundation, even though we don’t know how tall or ornate the building will be. We are in a time of bulking up in the weight room even though we don’t know what God will have us lift in the future. To use a word picture from Hosea, we are in a season when God is plowing the ground of this field, his people at Whitton Avenue Bible Church. As we pursue brokenness and repentance he is tilling down deep to break up the hardness, the resistance, the parts of us that would inhibit growth when the seeds are planted. I don’t know what he means to plant and what the harvest will look like, but I believe this season we are in can be captured by Hosea 10:12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”
It is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon us. So I ask you to dream with me: What would it look like if God were to make our church a place of abundant crops in the midst of a famine-blighted land? What would it look like for us to be a voice in our culture for truth and righteousness and justice while at the same time extending mercy, compassion, and forgiveness? What would it look like for our church family to reflect the the cultural diversity of our city in a way that celebrates our identity in Christ most supremely? What would it look like to become a place of healing and refreshment and renewal for neighbors who are downtrodden and oppressed and addicted? What would it look like for us to live out repentance from sin and belief in the gospel daily so that our life together backs up our gospel proclamation?
I believe the sky is the limit on what God can do through us. I believe he has extraordinary abundance for us in our future. And I believe he is calling us to prepare for that now through the pride-crushing, vulnerable, consistent work of spending time in his presence and allowing him to purify the idolatry of our hearts and cleanse us with the blood of his Son. The concrete is still wet, the weights still feel heavy, and the ground is still hard, so brothers and sisters, let us sow for ourselves righteousness; let us reap steadfast love; let us break up our fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon us.