Brand New Year Same Old Vision

January 1, 2012

Well here we are about 2000 years down the road from that first church.  I’m sure if Peter and John had of ever discussed the future of the Christian church that they could not have envisioned what it would be like 2000 years later. I mean 2000 years!  The Jewish religion wasn’t even 2000 years old at that point.
Close your eyes, come on work with me people.  For just a moment try to envision January 1st in the year 4012.  It’s twelve years after the Y4K crisis. 
So, the year is 4012, imagine what your work will be like, or your home maybe we will finally have the flying cars they promised when I was a kid.  Imagine what church in the year 4012 could be like. Almost incomprehensible isn’t it?  I know that you’re thinking the church won’t be here in 2000 years, “Denn the world won’t even be here in 2000 years.” 
I can almost hear an echo, “Come on Pete” Paul said, “the Church won’t be here in 2000 years, and the world won’t even be here in 2000 years.” Well it’s been 2000 years, and a lot of water under the bridge.  It started with eleven apostles and a handful of followers.  Fifty days after the resurrection there were 120 of them gathered together in an upstairs room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came just as Jesus promised.  And what were the immediate ramifications?  Listen to the description of that day we read this  Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
Three thousand people, not a bad altar call.  If we added three thousand people to the group we have now we would have to have a Saturday Evening service, 3 Sunday Morning Services and a Sunday Evening Service.  In the new 700 seat worship centre we would have to build.
But it didn’t stop there, listen to what Luke records in Acts 2:46-47 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Did you catch it?  It wasn’t just on Sundays that people’s lives were turned around and it wasn’t just at church where it happened it was each and every day and everywhere.  And it wasn’t that long before it was reported in Acts 4:4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.
Five thousand men, not counting woman and children.  And you know if there were five thousand men there would have been eight thousand women.  We are talking about a period of time spanning months perhaps weeks.  And even then, with that type of growth and that type of expansion, the early believers had no concept of what would happen.  They really were winging it, flying by the seat of their pants at that point.
They had no idea that in just thirty years that persecution would break out under Emperor Nero and tens of thousands of believers would die martyr’s deaths over the next 250 years, or that Christianity would become the religion of the empire under Constantine in 313.  They couldn’t have known about the split which separated the church into Eastern and Western factions.  Or the Reformation started under Martin Luther in 1521, or the Methodist Revivals of the 1700s led by John Wesley, or the Holiness Movement of the 1800’s or that late in the 20th century a new church called Cornerstone would begin.
They couldn’t see that far, they couldn’t believe that far, all they knew was that God was working in their lives, and in the lives of their families and neighbours.  Let me say this, it doesn’t matter if the church lasts another 2000 years or another 2 days the same God who worked in the lives of believers 2000 years ago is still working in the lives of believers today. 
So what can we learn on January 1st 2012from that early church?
1) We Need to Learn From The Past  The early church wasn’t very old and yet they still reached back to their beginnings.  The apostles were the more primary leaders in the church and whenever they were called upon to talk about the church or to defend the church they took their listeners back to the events that had happened with Jesus. 
They spoke of his miracles, of his crucifixion and his resurrection.  Now to us that’s theology, or doctrine.  To them it was their history; it was where they had come from.  It was who they were, and why they were.  And 2000 years later we can’t simply relegate the past to the archives to be forgotten.
To many of you Cornerstone has always been here, or to others we’ve only been around since the building was constructed in 2005.  This is the seventh New Year’s message I have preached in this building.  But it is the seventeenth New Year’s message I have preached at Cornerstone. 
We have a past, a history, and a story of who we are and why we are here.  And we are who we are because of that story.    And we need to learn lessons from our past.  We need to learn from our successes and we need to learn from our failures.  When we look at our past it goes back to August of 1994 when the Guptills arrived in Bedford after four years in Australia and our mandate, or mission or dream was to start a new Wesleyan Church in Bedford.  A church that would be non-traditional and that would appeal to a whole generation of people who were disenchanted with the church they grew up in. 
We often joke that we started with Angela and I, Stephen and Deborah, the cat and the hamster and then the hamster died.  Four months later we had been joined by Ian and Sylvia Richardson and Stan and Karen Wickwire and their family.  In April of 95 we began worshipping as Bedford Community Church, we went into that first service with a firm commitment, to be a part of our church,  from 13 people.  4 of them were under the age of 10.  By the end of the first month we had a group of about 40 men, women and children.  Not quite the 3000 from the day of Pentecost
For the first year and half we worshipped together in the Lion’s Den Community Centre at the Lebrun centre in Bedford and then we moved to the Empire theatre in Bedford in September of 96, yep there used to be an empire in Bedford it was where the Lawntons is now in Mill Cove and we stayed there for over five years returning to the Lion’s Den in January of 2002 where we stayed until the new building was constructed in 2005. 
And we were all beginners, this church planting stuff was a new adventure for everyone involved and we did some things right, and we did some things wrong and we need to learn from all of that.  With caution.  After all there were things that we did in those first couple of years that didn’t work because we didn’t have the right people or the maturity to pull it off.  And we need to be wise enough not to discard those things just because they didn’t work the first time.  We’ve also discovered that nothing we do is now engraved in stone.  When we try something new you’ll often hear the words “This is an experiment” that’s because I got tired of having to backtrack after a mistake and apologize.
There are things that we’ve done that have worked and we’ve learned that we need to keep doing those things, as long as they continue to work.  But only as long as they continue to work.  You see we are not in the business of breeding Sacred Cows. 
The nice thing about starting a church from scratch was that I didn’t have to listen to what I refer to as the seven last words of the dying church: “We have always done it that way.”  So, who cares?  If it works great, and I don’t just mean that it’s not a failure, I mean is it working to help achieve our goal which is to “depopulate hell.”  If it’s not working to achieve that purpose then it’s not working.  And if we are only doing things because we’ve always done them then we are breeding Sacred Cows, and my philosophy with sacred cows is that they make the best burgers. 
Dakota tribal wisdom passed from generation to generation tells us, “If you find yourself riding a dead horse, get off.”  It won’t do any good to reflect on all the great times you had riding the horse when it was still alive, if the horse is dead we need to get off.
It was George Santayana  who wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  As we march into a New Year our goal is not to replicate the past, but to learn from it.  We don’t want to be the church that we were in 1995 or 2005 or 2011.

2) We Need To Look To The Future  In many ways the focus of the early Church was tomorrow, because they were looking forward to the return of Christ.  Time and time again they were encouraged about the “Day of the Lord”, and his second coming.  For them it was something that could happen at any time, and to a certain degree we have lost that sense of anticipation.  But even though we need to anticipate the return of Christ, we can’t lose sight of the future as far as planning goes.  I know he’s coming back, but I don’t know when.  And neither do you or anyone else, regardless of what they say.  And so we need to live as if He was going to return tomorrow, and plan as if we have another 2000 years before he comes back.
I did not come back from Australia to start a church that would average 41 in the morning service, which was what we averaged our first year, nor did I come back to start a church that would average 241 in the morning worship, which is what we averaged last year or the 265 we are averaging now.  I would have been better off staying in Brisbane, growing a church there and enjoying the beaches, and they have some incredible beaches.  I came back to Nova Scotia with a dream of starting a church that would have a major impact in this area and this city.  A church that would not only impact individuals but would impact other churches, and that dream is every bit as fresh today as it was seventeen years ago.
But the reality is that it wasn’t always that fresh.  There were times that I doubted the vision that God had given me, there were times that I would have been happy to walk away from it.  By 2003 and I tired, we had been worshipping together for 8 years and I had been working an outside job for half of that time to keep things afloat.  We had been to 70 in our average morning attendance four different years and then for a variety of reasons we would drop back to the mid-forties again. 
In 2003 we were averaging 51 and I didn’t want to do it anymore.  My home church in Saint John was in the middle of a pastoral search so I asked the district Superintendent to let them know I would be available.  And he tossed my name in the ring and then we met for breakfast and he told me “Denn, past performance often dictates future potential and you don’t have a lot going for you right now.”  I was a little put out.  I told him, “If I had of taken a church of 50 and eight years later it was a church of over a hundred and the offering had increased by $70,000.00  I would be a success but I started with nothing and now we have a church of 50 with a budget of $70,000.00 so I’m a failure?” 
And then he told me that Saint John was going to have an interim pastor for two years and if I could turn things around I might be considered then.  My response was that if I could turn Bedford around,  I wouldn’t be going anywhere, and here we are.
In the first year that we were worshipping together I had two people tell me that they had dreams of Cornerstone at some point in the future with hundreds of people streaming in to be seated in the worship centre.  And there were a number of years that I doubted those dreams but to stand here on Christmas Eve and see hundreds of people streaming in to be seated in the worship centre it’s hard not to believe.
But we aren’t there yet,  I dream of a church that will not only have an impact on individuals but of a church that will have an impact on other churches.
And part of what our staff does it to encourage pastors from other churches.  We share our resources, we coach, we encourage.  That’s part of the plan. 
I love the words that Thomas Jefferson, wrote in a letter to John Adams “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

Cornerstone Wesleyan Church won’t always be a mid-sized church; to steal from Martin Luther King Jr.  “I have a dream, a dream of a day when Cornerstone Wesleyan Church will be a driving force in this community, a day when the most disinterested person in the Halifax Regional Municipality won’t be able to ignore what God is doing in this church, a day when literally thousands of souls have been rescued from hell, by God working through the people of Cornerstone”
Can you see it?  Because if you can’t see it in your heart you’ll never see it with your eyes.  Do I ever get discouraged?  Yep, sure do, do I ever stop believing, nope, it may not happen in this year but it will happen.  Six years ago we were averaging 42 in our morning worship and if you had of asked people if they could believe that in just six years we would be averaging over 250 and would have 643 out to our Christmas Eve service they would have said “That’s impossible”
But I still believe what the Angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”    What’s impossible for God?  Nothing was impossible for God 2000 years ago, and nothing is impossible for God today.
In saying that we need to Learn from the Past and Look to the future, the most important thing is that we need to Live for the Present.  The past is wonderful and as the Russian Author Tatyana Tolstaya  said about the Russian people; “For us, the best time is always yesterday.”  I think maybe that’s true of all of us.  But regardless of how great yesterday was, the key word is was, it’s gone and we cannot recapture it. 
And as rosy as the future may be, its’ not here yet, all we have is the present.  And this needs to be where we are living.  And so what does the present, the next 12 months, the year 2012, that still sounds weird, hold for Cornerstone Wesleyan Church?  Good question.
More Folks Involved in Ministry  Small Groups, youth Group, creative team, children’s ministry.  Wouldn’t you like to be part of the team that shapes who we are?  Not negating all the volunteer opportunities at Cornerstone hands but this is front line stuff, where the rubber meets the road. 
And that’s not easy for me, I want to do it but as we grow and expand and continue to reach more people the reality is that I can’t do it all, and we will never be able to afford a staff that does it all. 
And here is the reality:  not only do we need you to be involved in ministry but you need you to be involved in ministry.  Because you will learn a lot more and go a lot further in your spiritual life as you prepare to teach others than you ever will simply being taught.  And that works from Children’s ministry on up.  When you develop and prepare curriculum you will have eureka moments that you will never get simply setting in a chair on Sunday morning. 
So the question shouldn’t be “Is there a ministry I can be a part of” the question should be “Is there a ministry that I can lead?”
Strategic Planning For The Future  What are we going to do when these two services are filled?  The time to be thinking about that is now, not then.  Are there more services in our future?  Are there satellite services in our future?  Church Plants?  Because I refuse to be content with what we have.    Do I want to be the biggest church in Halifax?  By no means, I don’t even need or want to be the biggest Wesleyan church in Halifax. 
I get so excited when I talk to AJ Thomas at Deep Water Church in the city and hear what they are doing in the centre of the city with a congregation that for the most part is under 35.  Or to talk to the ministry team at Hillside who are talking about a satellite location to reach people that they aren’t able to reach in their present location.


And Ultimately It All Needs To Be Covered In Prayer.  We can’t do it ourselves, Gabriel said “With God nothing is impossible”  he didn’t say “With Denn nothing is impossible or with Cornerstone nothing is impossible”  but “With God nothing is impossible”
I hope that your pray for Cornerstone and the staff on a regular basis.  That you ask God to give us the direction we need, to protect us and to use us.   This is God’s business and he wants us to succeed in it. 
I truly believe that God’s will is to reach as many people as possible with the good news of his salvation and Grace.  I don’t think we are being presumption to say God wants this church to succeed and for every church to succeed. 
A few years ago another pastor asked me asked me if we should focus on being in God’s will or on church growth?  I was a little confused and I looked at him and said “I didn’t know I had to pick one, I hadn’t realized that they were mutually exclusive.”  Personally I’m kind of partial to the theory that the purpose of the church is to grow, that it is God’s will.  After all that’s what the church did in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament.  Why do people think they have to compromise their relationship with God in order to grow a church?
So I’m looking forward to a brand New Year of doing what God called me to do in 1994.