Sovereign Ruler of the skies,
Ever gracious, ever wise,
All my times are in thy hand,
All events as thy command.
In 1588 Queen Elizabeth I of England ordered that a gold medal be struck with the motto, “He blew and they were scattered.” He blew and they were scattered . . . why in the world would that phrase be put on a gold medal? Well, here’s the rest of the story.
In May of 1588 Spain was the most powerful nation on earth and the Spanish had set their sights on invading and conquering the much weaker England. To accomplish that task, King Philip sent his navy, a fleet of over one hundred war ships known as the Invincible Armada. As the fleet sailed toward England, it ran into a massive hurricane far north of the path hurricanes were known to frequent. The violent winds in what must have been a category five storm virtually annihilated the Spanish Armada.
The winds had stopped the Spanish before they could reach England. And all of England, including Queen Elizabeth, knew that God had sent the storm. He blew and they were scattered was the phrase of praise that was uttered in every village, pub and church in England. No one attributed the event to chance or strategy or leadership. All the glory went to their ultimate sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
My friends, in every measurable way posterity will note that God blessed The Church of the Cross in 2014 – by His grace new heights were reached in the number of adults and children joining our fellowship; in the numbers baptized, confirmed, received and recommitting themselves to their Baptismal Covenants; in the number of folks actively involved in ministry; in the number and magnitude of our mission endeavors at home and abroad; in our average weekend worship attendance and in our tithes and offerings. In light of such results, it’s tempting to devote our time this evening to congratulating ourselves on a mighty victory over a vast secular armada; but we know better, don’t we?! Oh sure, we put to sea and we did our part. But like Queen Elizabeth, her sailors and all of England, we know the Sovereign Lord deserves all the glory . . . He blew and they were scattered.
That said, our journey continues; and we are again confronted with the fundamental choice: will we, as individuals and as a congregation, be guided by sight or by vision, by fact or by faith. Our answer is critical for it will dictate who we are to be and in what direction we are to head in 2015. A blind Helen Keller once wisely said: “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision.” We have our sight - we can see what is. But do we have vision, can we see what we could be individually and corporately . . . that’s the question.
Most of you came here tonight by car but I doubt you took note of this familiar sight. Have you ever thought about why a car’s rear view mirror is so very much smaller than its windshield? It’s because a car is designed to go forward, not backward - to look in a rear view mirror is to see where you’ve been. Now that can provide some helpful benchmarks; but if where you’ve been is where you’re going, you’re not advancing . . . you’re retreating!
My friends, as wonderful as 2014 was, it’s in our rear view mirror now. Tonight we’re looking through the windshield at 2015 and doing so fully intent on accelerating into our twentieth year together trusting in God’s sovereignty and provision. By faith we know that God has brought us to this juncture for His purposes; and by faith we know, too, that God’s character is unchanging - He is always faithful to His faithful people. Growing up with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, I repeated the Gloria Patri several times in every worship service; perhaps some of you did as well: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” I mouthed those words as a child; but not until years later did I understand them to mean that God can be trusted to a depth we cannot begin to fathom, that unlike us His love and forgiveness and provision know no bounds. Indeed, God is faithful to His faithful people asking only that we be faithful to Him.
The question then becomes: “What does being God’s faithful people in 2015 look like for me as your shepherd and for you as my flock?” I believe the answer is two-fold, having both a personal and a corporate dimension with the first conditioning the second. David Gergen captures my role in 2015 and points to yours: “A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will get there.”
To look at the personal dimension of being God’s faithful people in 2015 let’s go back to the illustration of the windshield and the rear view mirror. A rear view mirror is just that . . . it’s a mirror; and if you look at yourself in it, you’ll see the “you” you are . . . a unique combination of the genetic and social influences of your yesterdays mixed with the consequences of your choices that has given rise to the present reality staring back at you. As you look into that rear view mirror, you are looking at who you have become, not who you could be – to see that you must look through the windshield with your eyes of faith.
My brothers and sisters, our God does not use ditto marks – He does not recreate, He creates. God does not intend for any of us to enter 2015 blithely thinking that we’ve arrived at some pre-ordained level of acceptable righteousness. Rather God expects us to look to the example of Christ, to gauge our unworthiness, and to let the Holy Spirit do His creating work in us as we dig deeper into Scripture, draw closer in fellowship, callous our knees in prayer, tire ourselves in service, and rise to worship.
And my friends, it’s as we reach and risk individually for Christ that our faith matures and we become even more emboldened to do God’s kingdom work collectively. Clearly, among my shepherding responsibilities in 2015 is to be about the business of opening your eyes of faith for it’s true that, “People only see what they are prepared to see.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
So first, God does not recreate what was, He creates what is to be. And second, God does not perpetuate, He innovates. Again drawing on the illustration of the rear view mirror and the windshield, looking at 2014 in the rear view mirror and seeing so much success can cause us to think we’ve got this whole “Great Commandment and Great Commission thing” figured out and, with nothing more than a little fine tuning, we can sustain what we perceive to be a glorious status quo.
But, my friends, I believe God is calling us to look through our windshield to see the countless lost souls in Southern Beaufort and Jasper Counties, those already present as well as the throngs on the way – and to have the wisdom to realize that perpetuating yesterday’s methods is a sure way to diminish tomorrow’s harvest. I believe the Lord is challenging us to innovate, to employ new tactics in an epic effort to grow His family, and to do so in three specific areas. I can’t be a faithful shepherd without simultaneously leading you to God’s greener pastures. “Good leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive to its completion.” (Jack Welsh)
In the foreground of all I see beyond our windshield is the need to recenter our outreach ministries. I’ve long said that we gather on campus to worship and train and we disperse to serve the community; but in reality most often we’ve expected the community to come on campus to be served. My friends, Jesus did not ask the world to go to church, He asked His Church to go to the world. Being God’s faithful people in 2015 demands that we be obedient; and, as I see it, that means moving many of our ministries off campus into the community.
To that end initial agreements have been made and a due diligence process is now underway which, if successful, will culminate in the purchase of a 17,000 square foot building and adjacent property on the Bluffton Parkway by mid-year with renovations completed by September. This facility would permit all of our present service-type ministries, including God’s Goods, Healing After loss, My Father’s House, Financial Peace, Goin’ Home, Stephen Ministry, Divorce Care, Mom’s Ministry, Alpha, Food Bank and numerous introductory Bible studies to be consolidated into what will be known as the Mission Mall.
In conjunction with this, our entire student ministry program will be relocated into the Mission Mall; and, instead of focusing only on our own youth, it will adopt a “through-the-windshield approach” in an effort to reach those young people who are unlikely to ever cross our thresholds . . . and they are legion! This innovative strategy for student ministry will necessitate a new leadership team and so it shall be – Rusty Glenfield will be coming to us from Ireland to lead this effort and in the early fall a group of youth interns will be joining him. These twenty-somethings have no rearview mirror to obstruct or distract their vision . . . they’ll be blazing new trails powered by an exuberant faith and passion for the next generation.
During my college years the slang term “bodacious” crept into usage – though it was not a word English professors looked kindly upon, it may be apropos for this Mission Mall strategy. You see, I believe the time has come for us to be both bold and audacious in our efforts for Christ – we can no longer allow ourselves to be constricted by old paradigms. An endeavor of this magnitude will not be easy . . . but then it has never been easy to be a faithful cross-carrier in the name of Jesus!
And lastly for this evening, through the windshield I see on the distant horizon a third campus for ministry located in the Hardeeville area; and my discernment tells me that it will look more like the Mission Mall than either this campus or our Historic Campus . . . though it will have features of both. In my mind’s eye I see a very large structure with lots of glass and parking and playgrounds. Within it would be all of the components of the Mission Mall now under consideration . . . to include: another God’s Goods thrift store and Food Bank; outreach programs to middle, high school and college students; and the full complement of service ministries. Added to those offerings would be a preschool and afterschool program which would transition children into Cross Schools. Present, too, would be a plethora of daytime ministry opportunities for senior citizens. And set in the midst of it all would be a multi-purpose space similar to this one designed to serve as home to what I believe will become a rapidly growing community of faith in a population hub projected to dwarf Bluffton within the next ten years.
Now after hearing these bodacious challenges I suspect a few thoughts are running through your minds. Thoughts like:
• The Vestry needs to put a blind fold on Padre!
• What’s Padre’s secret? When I was 71, the only goal I had was to get to the bathroom before it was too late!
Well, that’s understandable . . . we’re in a great place, a patting ourselves on the back kind of place; and we want to linger for a while to savor every moment of it. But my friends, God has brought us to this juncture and placed before us a windshield and a rearview mirror – we’re either going to step forward in faith or we’re going to deny our identity and heritage as the sons and daughters of the Sovereign Lord. The challenges I see beyond the windshield are daunting, so much so that some of you might well conclude that ordinary folks like us would be stepping in over our heads to attempt them. But we must not sell ourselves short. “Sometimes it is the people whom no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” (from The Imitation Game) And above all, we must not sell God short. For as Jesus said, “. . . with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) And for that we can surely say, “Thanks be to God!”