Why Are We Here, Where Are We Going, and How Do You Fit In? 2016

Steve Viars January 3, 2016 John 3:1-21

→ Click to view the Sermon Outline

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 - Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The mission of Faith Church is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.

5 Core Values

  • Growing Stronger – believing that God has a plan for every Christian’s growth, and that He wants godly lives and families built.
  • Reaching Out – believing that a changed life enables us to reach those without Crist in a way that is faithful and creative.
  • Serving Together – believing that God wants us to challenge and equip our members to serve Him, and that He wants every member serving.
  • Meeting Needs – believing that our church should address community concerns by doing good works and sharing biblical truths.
  • Strengthening Others – believing that God is pleased as we seek to strengthen other pastors, missionaries, and key leaders.

2 Corinthians 5:10 - For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

3 truths about God’s love for us and others

I. God Loves the World Even When There are Plenty of Reasons Not To

John 1:1-5 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

John 1:18 - No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

John 8:56-59 - “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

A. Emphasized on John’s Gospel

Matthew 21:33-40 - “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

John 1:10-11 - He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

B. The foundation of this year’s theme

Titus 3:3-7 - For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

C. An especially relevant year

1. We have several unique opportunities in world-wide missions

2. 2016 is an election year

Titus 3:1-2 - Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

3. Another round is brewing in our state’s culture wars

II. God’s Love was Especially Demonstrated by the Gift of His Son

­John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave…

A. Biblical love is giving

1. GS #3 – Develop a comprehensive program to educate our church family on soul care.

2. GS #4 – Consider expanding our ministry to those who are recently widowed.

3. MN #3 – Construct Hartford Hub and begin programming.

4. MN #4 – Purchase and renovate three urban housing units for seminary students.

5. MN #2 – Deploy Greg Wetterlin to begin men’s ministry at Bethany Farms.

6. MN #5 – Design programming statement and proposed facility for ministry to victims of human trafficking.

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…

B. All of our life and ministry is rooted in the Person and work of Christ

Titus 3:4-8 - But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.

1. SO #3 – Explore ways to form partnerships between our congregation and churches on the mission field.

2. RO #2 – Finalize plans and send Hulls to Albania.

3. RO #4 – Deploy Aaron Birk to International Student Ministries at Purdue.

4. RO #3 – Deploy Joey Wright and Stefan Nitzschke to begin a downtown church plant.

III. There is a Sense of Urgency to Our Task Because of the Eternal Issues at Stake

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Manuscript

Happy New Year. I hope you, and your family, and your friends, and your loved ones had a marvelous Christmas season together, and now it's a new year. Don't you love a blank calendar, and don't you love an opportunity to think about all of the ways that you and your family members might be able to serve the Lord in the coming days? Around Faith, we begin every year by having a conversation on, why are we here, and where are we going, and how do you fit in? I really believe that the word of God is a missional book, don't you? It tells a story of our redeeming God, who sent his son to die for the sins of man, and then the possibility of sin-cursed people like you and me being rescued, and then given new life in Jesus. You could say it like this: God is on a mission, and He allows his children to participate in the accomplishment of that plan.

I'll explain it this way to the Corinthians. "All these things he said are from God, who reconciled himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Namely, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. He has committed to us the word of reconciliation, therefore, we're ambassadors for Christ." Are you in that sentence, that we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were making an appeal through us? We beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. It's like this: It's like being rescued at sea, and then being given the assignment to go help rescue others.

We're all a bunch of Louis Zamperinis, if you're familiar with that great story. That's why we encourage every person in this church to memorize our church's mission statement. Everybody over here, even everybody over at Faith West, I could point at you right now, bam!, you can stand at your feet and say our mission statement from memory, could you? If not, that's assignment number one of many that are coming this morning, to have our church's mission statement memorized. The mission of Faith church is to glorify God. That's what we were just singing about; by winning people to Jesus Christ, equipping them to be more faithful disciples. That's why, for example, we put all the effort we did the last 30 days into all of that Christian outreach ministry, why? Well, because that was consistent with the mission that we believe that God has given us, so we want to be passionate about accomplishing our mission.

We also, from the church family word of God, have adopted five core values. I hope you're familiar with these as well and committed to them. One is growing stronger; progressive sanctification. As you think about last year, I hope one of the ways you evaluate the nature of that year was in part by the amount of progress you and your family members made spiritually. God wants every Christian to be going. Secondly; reaching out, believing that a changed life enables us to reach those without Christ. The most effective tool in the witnessing bag is a changed and changing life, then thirdly; serving together. We don't buy into the notion that 90% of the work ought to be done by 10% of the people, now do we? Absolutely not, because everybody around here ought to be serving, right? To a great degree, that is the truth. That's one of our values, and then meeting needs, believing that our church should address community concerns by doing good works, and sharing biblical truths, and if that's a new idea to you, we're going to lay out some of the theological foundation for that this morning.

Lastly; strengthening others, we care about other churches. We care about other pastors, other missionaries, and key lay leaders. God's given us a lot, has He not? We want to be sharing that with men and women around this country and around the world. It's one thing to say that this is our mission and our values. It's something else to have specific and measurable plans in place to try to accomplish that mission in any given period of time. I know this is where you're going logically. That's why strategic planning is so important. Let's just pause right there, and just think about how much you enjoy strategic planning.

There ought to be a delightful sigh, rising up, that I could even hear and see from Faith West, oh, strategic planning. If you really want to get into this conversation, you could even give a little head tilt, like this, oh, strategic planning. Kind of like when you're watching a sappy movie on Netflix; like that. Could you give me one of those? That was moving. That was actually better than the eight o' clock service. Anyway, but seriously, if I were you, I would not hitch my wagon to a church's tractor, unless I knew what direction it was going, or if it's even going in any particular direction at all. Why's that? Well, because the scripture's very clear. Someday every last one of us is going to have to give an account for all of the time, all of the resources, all of the gifts, all of the abilities that He has entrusted to us.

Earlier, I quoted from II Corinthians 5, but earlier in that tact, here's what we read: "For we must all appear." Would that include you? Yeah, that's why this conversation is so important. "All appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad", so knowing why we're here and where we're going, and how you fit in. It's critical information, especially if that's given in a clear, and practical, and measurable way. You walk away saying, "I see where we're heading. I understand why. I see what specific place I have in that program." That's our goal here this morning.

That's also why our church goes through a comprehensive planning process every five years. The initiatives for this particular year are printed on a one-sheet handout; your bulletin. I would encourage you to pull that baby out, put it on your lap. We're going to be referring to it a lot this morning. I would also encourage you to pick up a hard copy of our five-year planner. You'll find it online if you would like to do it that way. Review the five-year strategic initiatives that we set out to accomplish back in 2014. It's important to dust that off from time to time. I'm hoping that what's going to happen is as a result of this conversation, and you just reacquainting yourself with some of those ideas, is that you, or you and your family, will spend some time over the next week crafting your own ministry initiatives. Hopefully, in many ways, they will dove-tail what we as a church family are setting out to do.

Because I don't believe in asking someone to do something that our staff is not willing to do. I'll just tell you, our staff members have already gone through that process. Every one of them has written out their strategic initiatives for 2016, and we posted them online. If you go on our church's website, over to the home page on the left hand column, there's a little tab called 'Our Plans'. If you click on that, you'll see the ones for our church, but also for each one of our staff members. I would encourage you to review. What you'll notice is that of the 42 initiatives that we've set out to accomplish as a church, every one of them shows up on at least one of our staff member's written initiatives. That means somebody has taken responsibility to be sure that we get that one done this year.

That's why our staff will also tell you that dates like April 1st, and July 1st, and October 1st are dates that are seared on their minds. You know why? Cause that's when they have to give an account for the rest of the team for how much of that initiative ... That's the end of every quarter, obviously. How much of that initiative has been accomplished? We don't believe in just talking about stuff. We believe that God wants us to accomplish things together. Now, you might say, "Hey, hey hey! One of those staff members already contacted me about getting one of those initiatives done." Well, that's fine. That's fine. Part of our job, according to Ephesians 4, is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. In many of these cases with these 42 that we were talking about this morning, there's going to be entire teams of people from our church family working on them together. That's the way it ought to be. That's what a family does. Someone has to take final responsibility to be sure that, that one gets done, and ultimately for that, that's someone on our staff.

We also try to organize our efforts around a particular theme every year. To introduce our theme for this year, let me invite you to open your Bible to the Gospel of John, chapter three. That's on page 72 of the back section of the bible, into the chair in front of you. John, chapter three, or on page 72 of the bible into the chair in front of you.

If you're new to studying the bible, the Gospel of John is an excellent place to start. In chapter three, what we have before us, it's a fascinating interview between Jesus and one of the religious leaders who comes to Christ by night to try to gain a better understanding of Christ's message. These versus are helpful for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they give us one of the best known versus in all of the Bible. It also allows us to set up the foundation of what we're going to be especially emphasizing this year.

John, chapter three, beginning in verse one. "Now there was a man in the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he can't see the Kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he's old? He can't enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Don't be amazed that I said you must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it's going, so is everyone who is born of the spirit."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and don't understand these things? Truly, truly I say to you, we speak of what we know, and testify what we have seen, and you don't accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you don't believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one ascended into Heaven, but he who descended from Heaven, the son of man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so, must the son of man be lifted up so that whoever believes, will in Him, have eternal life, and God so loved the world."

There's some good news, that He gave his only begotten son, that so whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged. He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God. This is the judgement that the light has come into the world, and men love the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. He who practices the truth comes to the light so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

Our theme this year is 'loving our world'. Of course, we could take that from many different places in the Word of God, but this morning we're going to start right here in John 3:16, looking for three truths about God's love for us and about God's love for others. It starts right here. God loves the world even when there are plenty of reasons not to.

I. God Loves the World Even When There are Plenty of Reasons Not To

We're taking that especially from the overall context of the Gospel of John. God loves the world, even when there are plenty of reasons not to. If you're familiar with this book, you know that John begins his gospel by talking about the uniqueness of the person in work of Christ.

The book starts like this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, through Christ, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

That's why Christians have to be especially vigilant about Christology; the doctrine of Jesus Christ, because so much theological error is centered on that particular aspect of Biblical truth. You may know, there was a recent flap on the campus of a major Christian university, because one of the professors wanted to wear traditional Islamic Garb around the holiday's because she stated, "After all, we all worship the same God." In her view, Muslims and Jews, and perhaps other religious groups are all talking about the same person as the focus of our worship. This Christian university placed this woman on some sort of Administrative leave. In my Judgement they should have, and the media came out against the university, suggesting that the disciplinary action was religious intolerance on the part of a Christian university. We promote religious freedom for everyone. We're all about that, but not in a way that falls into one of the greatest misconceptions out there, namely, that religious groups are fundamentally the same, and only superficially different. Perhaps the polar opposite is the case. Religions are fundamentally different, and only superficially the same.

One of the core questions is whether a person affirms the tri-unity of God, that he is one essence in three distinct persons, and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God has existed eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Muslims do not believe that. That's why John would later state, no one has seen God at any time. The only begotten God, who was in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. In fact, Christ's preexistence became one of the competitive flash points between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of the day. The one that this professor suggests we are all worshiping the same God; not according to Christ, and not even according to the Jewish leaders at the time.

Here's one of many examples that could be sighted is John 8 where Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple." There were no doubt in their minds that they were not worshiping the same God. What that tells us in part is that the God of Scripture certainly had plenty of reasons not to love the world. Take that back full circle to what we see in John 3:16. There were plenty of reasons, on the part of our God, not to love the world.

You may remember this parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21 about the centrality of accepting Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Here's the way the parable went: "There was a landowner who planted a vineyard in it and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce." Well, of course he did. “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third." Referring of course to the way the Jewish nation responded to the profits. “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

Well, who were the vine-growers? In that context, it was the Jewish leaders who were in the process of rejecting Christ as their Messiah, and their Savior, and their Lord. John summarized that when he said of Christ, he was in the world. Remember John 3:16, "For God so loved the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive Him." Please tie that together with what we read in John 3:16. How does God choose to relate to the world of people. He chooses to love them anyway, for God so loved the world. That's the foundation of this year's theme.

We want to take a year and especially think about what it means for us to relate to our world in a similar fashion. Paul explained this to his protégé, Titus, and you may remember Titus was called to minister on the Isle of Crete, which was a very evil part of the world. Yet, here's what Paul said to Titus just to help him with the whole loving the world business. He said, "For we also once were foolish ourselves." Would you be willing to include yourself in that statement? "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

God so loved the world and so should we. We would suggest this is an especially relevant year for us to have this particular theme. Of course, we could talk about loving our world for profit every year, but there are several reasons why 2016 is an especially fitting time for us to think about loving our world. Why? Well, one, we have several unique opportunities in world-wide missions. I'll say more about this in just a bit, but things are changing in the field of world-wide missions at a dizzying pace, and this church has some marvelous opportunities for sure. Some unprecedented opportunities around the world that we will only fully embrace if we truly love our world. This is very, very important for us to capture.

Also, I don't know if you've heard, but this is an election year. Did you pick up on that on CNN? This is an election year, and if Christians aren't careful, we can end up positioning ourselves like an angry, cynical, political action committee. If we do that, please hear me, I'm trying to pastor you a bit right now, we would be off mission, we would be off message for sure. I hope before you send out that Tweet, or make that post on Facebook or whatever social media platform you use, that you think long and hard about how that affects your ability to love your world.

It's interesting that the versus in Titus just prior to the ones I quoted a moment ago, are political in nature, if you want to say it that way. Paul said, "Remind them to be subject to rulers." I promise you, their governmental leaders were far worse than anything that will ever be elected here. Remind them to be subject to their rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for what? Every good deed, to what? Malign no one. Do we need to chew on that boys and girls? To malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. If you're wondering how much are we going to hear about the election in church this year, here's the answer, not much at all. Not much at all. I do understand, by the way, that frustrates some folks. Do you understand that I don't try to figure out when everybody wants to hear on a given Sunday? That would make me, and many of us, crazy, or crazier, depending on what words you want to use. I just decide what I think the Word of God wants us to emphasize, and everybody who loves the sufficient Word of God will be all happy about that. We're not going to get all wound about the election this particular year because that would get in the way of us accomplishing our mission. That's the point

This is also a particularly relevant year because another round is brewing in our state's culture wars. If you pay attention to any of these kind of things, there's a heavy push right now to add the words sexual orientation and gender identity to our state's anti-discrimination laws. Some believe the solution is forwards and a comma. Others believe those words should only be added if they have to be, if there's corresponding language that protects religious liberty in as many ways as possible. I am in the latter group. You can believe whatever you want to believe about that. That's my opinion. It's not articulated in our church's doctrinal statements. However, if I only get two choices of the two I just mentioned, I'm in the latter category for sure.

I think it's fair to say whether you would agree with what I just stated or not, another fire storm is coming to the state of Indiana for sure, which is why I'm leaving the country this week. That's right. That's right. Dan Wickert, and Newton Payne, and I are heading to the Dominican Republic, then Dan Wickert's going to come back to the US, and Newton and I are going to go on to Cuba, where it's peaceful and gentle in those countries, and you all can figure out religious liberty and all of that while I am gone. We're not going to be talking about a lot of that either. We're just not. I know it's in the paper today, all over the place. It has been. It certainly will be. I may try to take a limited amount of time to equip our church members to have conversations about that, but if we decide to, it will be brief. We may decide an editorial or two might be appropriate, but honestly, that's not even my plan right now for a lot of reasons I'm not even going to get into. I would encourage you, while we're in this neighborhood, I would encourage you to contact your legislature this week, and encourage him or her to take a strong stand for religious freedom as they go through this deliberative process. They'll understand exactly what you mean by that.

The overall point is this is a really good year for us for all these reasons to work very hard at staying on mission.

II. God’s Love was Especially Demonstrated by the Gift of His Son

We could also say from our text, God's love was especially demonstrated by a gift, for God so loved the world that He gave. Contrary to what many in our world seem to believe, Biblical love is all about giving. What that means is if we're going to love our world the way God loves, there's going to be plenty of evidence that we're giving of our time, and we're giving of our talent, and we're giving of our resources to serve them. We want Faith church to be a giving kind of church. I would encourage you just to scan down though these 42 initiatives that we have set out as a church family to accomplish this year and note just how many of them involve exercising love that gives. Let me just pick out a couple for sake of time.

You see under 'Growing Stronger' number three, developing a comprehensive program to educating our church family on soul care. What does that mean? Well, we want to be the kind of church that cares deeply about the condition of every person's walk with Christ, and doing whatever is necessary to have resources in place to help every person who makes this church their home grow spiritually. That's going to require time. If you say, "Where's the 'How do I fit into this conversation?'" Here's one of the places. That's going to require time. That's going to require attention. That's going to require rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. That's what people who love their world are willing to do.

Next in that particular list: consider expanding our ministry to those who are recently widowed. We live in a throw-away society who often views those who are older as expendable. Love suggests the opposite, and by the way, common sense does as well. There may be some sacrifice involved in getting this one done. Well, that's what love does. You could walk through practically every one of the initiates listed here on these two sheets. I get it. We're trying to be more like our God who loves our world by giving, by concentrating on that.

There's also under 'Meeting Needs' the issue of constructing the Hartford Hub, and beginning the programming there. That's one of the 42 initiatives that we hope to accomplish this year. You know that bar you bought? You did. I saw you. You bought a bar. The old Cooler Keg bar on Hartford street, and our accounting team, they're not going to be totally done with all the yearend reconciliation for a couple of weeks yet, but they're telling me it looks very positive. Between the gifts and the commitments for the first six months of the year that we're going to be able to move forward on that project, which means that we're planning a demolition celebration with the city. There's words you don't hear in the same sentence very often, you know, but we're going to have one. They're happy about it too, as are the residents in that part of town, so we're tearing down the Cooler Keg, baby! Where do you fit in? Bring your sledge hammer. We're tearing down the Cooler Keg, we're going to put, Lord willing, a community park there, and across the street on the land that came with your big one dollar investment, we plan to build the Hartford Hub. That's right in the middle of the most economically-challenged places in our city, and we think that's exactly what it means to love our world.

There's going to be plenty of opportunities for you to help in the programming there. You say what? You're asking me to go down to the hood? Yes, I'm asking you to go down to the hood and love your world. That's what love does. We're also in the process of purchasing and renovating three housing units right there around the Hartford Hub. We're going to jump on that one. We have a new seminary cohort starting in July. Their housing has to be ready, but we're actually going to have seminary students living right there in one of the most challenged areas of our city, and just working at as part of their education, loving the world. Not just yakking about it, but looking for opportunities to do that even when it's hard. You see, we're not going to the beautiful parts of town. Have we all figured that out now? It's like, "Where are the beautiful people? Where's the beautiful places?". We want to be like the fire fighters and the policemen while everybody else is running out, we want to be running in because that's what love does.

We're also in the process of deploying Greg Wetterland to begin our men's ministry out at Bethany Farms. You know, God gave us that beautiful hundred acres of property some time ago, but because of the generous gift we were given last year, we're going to be able to launch that ministry to men. The idea is to start a working farm, to use it for intensive counseling, and jobs training for men, similar to how serve ladies at Vision of Hope. It's right at the very heart of what it means to love our world, including the world of people who may have made a mess of things. Do we love them too? Especially if they want to get their lives back on track? Please tell me there's enough love in your heart for that.

I'm glad there's a whole team of people from our church already working on that particular launch. We're also in the process this year of, oh, there's a picture of Greg and Eric. I'm so thankful for them. We're in the process of designing programming and the facility for Ministry to Victims of Human Trafficking. We're finalizing the programming statement with the state right now, and Lord willing, we'll have all the civil engineering work done, the architectural drawings completed, the bids to be able to show you exactly how a ministry like that would work, exactly what it will look like, exactly what it will cost by the end of the first quarter. We want to be on that in a big way, then we'll see what God chooses to do.

I also want to ask you to mark February 24th on your calendar. I hope you pray regularly for your pastors and for other leaders at our church. This is pictures of two dear friends of mine; Dr. Charles Ware and Dr. Bob Kellemen. Dr. Ware and Bob Kellemen are the president and vice-president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis. They specialize in training urban leaders in a multi-ethnic and multi-economic setting. They want to transform urban areas with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don't you love that mission? They have organized ... Here's what's happening on February 24th, Lord willing, a one day symposium for leaders around the state of Indiana, but it's going to be held here at Faith. It's for leader of our church, leaders of College Park Church in Indianapolis, leaders of Bethel Church and Crown Point in Gary, along with some individuals from a foundation in Fort Wayne, to explore the expansion of Bible College training in our urban centers around Indiana.

When you think about all of the racial tension, and crime, and poverty currently taking place in Chicago, currently taking place in Indianapolis, some of what's bubbling up in our town. What a great opportunity for the Church of Jesus Christ. We're going to be exploring at that symposium what it will look like to do that on a much more coordinated scale between leadership churches around our state. Would you pray? That's going to be a pivotal day on our calendar this year for sure. Also, I'm happy to tell you that Dr. Ware is going to be speaking here in March on the topic of racial reconciliation, because if we're serious about loving our world the way God loves our world, we're interested in finding ways to love people regardless of their ethnicity, and he's going to help us think about that in a very, very powerful way.

Please come back around to our text for a moment and think about the identity and the significance of this gift. Yes, God so loved the world, and yes, He gave, but look who he gave. He gave his only begotten son, which means all of our life, all of our ministry is rooted in the person and the work of Christ. The phrase 'only begotten' means unique, Monogenís, it has to do with the character of the gift. I would encourage you to roll that phrase over and over in your mind because it's crucial to this year and to every year. I want to say, strongly, we are not talking for a moment about simply being involved in social work around here. We want to love our world in such a way that there's a greater openness to hearing about God's greatest love gift of all. That's what Paul went on to explain to Titus. I read these versus before. Think about them again, and then I'll read a little further in the text.

"But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Now listen to this. "This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men."

In many of these loving our world initiatives, I mentioned this a moment ago, but let me develop it now. It involves foreign missions. It's important for us to understand that there are dramatic changes taking place, and how local churches like ours most efficiently accomplish the privilege and the task of world-wide evangelism. That word 'efficiently' was a very important word in that sentence, and here's why. We understand that every dollar that this church has first had to be faithfully earned and then generously given. So the whole adage, "Well, we've always done it that way in foreign mission." That's not the way we think. We want to follow best practices. We want to find out what is the best way to do missions in this particular world, and with enhanced technology.

That's a big piece of this discussion; with enhanced technology. That means fewer American missionaries being sent for a lifetime of service. I'm not saying we won't continue to do that, and we certainly value those who are already on the field, but that's becoming less and less a best practice. Along with all sorts of Americans in mission boards state side and all of the expenses there. We're transitioning from that to a model that seeks to identify nationals who are already in the country, who already know the language, who already know the culture, who know the Lord whom we can serve alongside as partners, as providers of resources to help them get to the next place in the accomplishment of their God-given mission.

I'm going to try to make this simple for sake of time. Perhaps we'll unpack this on a different Sunday, but it's amazing how frequently when I have an opportunity or someone else to sit down with Christians in other countries, how frequently the conversation goes like this. They like to think about world-wide evangelism, the mission, in four phases. First; the gospel coming, secondly; theological depths being encouraged and accomplished, thirdly; taking that theological training and applying it practically to the problems of everyday living among the followers of Jesus Christ in their churches, and then fourthly; figuring out how to, on the basis of a changed life, impacting their communities for Christ.

Here's what I frequently hear. In fact, this happened. This was a picture of a meeting I was at a few weeks ago with some leaders in Mexico. You can see Newton there at my side. He's leading a lot of this. Our missionary, Sam Hornbrook is over there on the right. Everybody else there is one of the leaders from churches in Mexico. Here's what they were saying to me. "We feel like we've gotten the first one and the second one accomplished. In other words, the Gospel has come to this country, we've gotten some theological depth. Where we're stuck is knowing how that applies practically in everyday life among our church members. How do we help people who are stuck spiritually, and then lastly, how do we take that changed life and that truth about how to change to the communities in which God has placed us." If that's the case, I know I'm saying a lot. If you just followed that logically, that puts this church and what God has taught us, and allowed us to emphasize right in the sweet spot of what is being desired by men and women around the world.

When I talk to people like that, I said at that very meeting. I said, "How can we best serve you?" How can a church like Faith serve you the best? Here's one of the first things they said. "Continue to offer the Biblical Counseling Training Conference in February." It's amazing how many of them have already been here, and how many of them would like to return. Think about that from an efficiency perspective. Making it possible for people like them from around the world to come here for a week and receive comprehensive training and then go back and apply it in their culture. That's much more efficient. You're thinking, "How do I fit into that?" A number of you serve in the BCTC. You may be serving other people from other countries, and you didn't even know it, who are going to be able to go back and do it far better than you and I could because you serve them that way.

There's a handout in your bulletin about housing. There's a number of persons who would like to come to this conference. It's very expensive to fly here. You can imagine that. What is going to be a tipping point for a number of them is housing. I want to encourage you to open up your home for men and women who would like to come to that particular conference. Here's something else that they tell me. "By being able to select one leader from their culture and send them here for our three year seminary training program, that's incredibly powerful. When that man and his wife can be immersed in what we're trying to do and then sent back three years later, that person will be able to do in that culture far better than any American could." For you, by supporting the seminary or supporting the Counseling Ministry, getting to know these seminary students while they're here. That is so very powerful. Then, also being willing to allot your pastors and church leaders travel and do conferences in some of these countries while they're ramping up their efforts.

As I mentioned, I'd appreciate your prayers, Lord willing, Dr. Wickert and I, and Newton, and Payne will be leaving on Thursday morning. We'll be doing a conference this coming weekend in the Dominican Republic, then Dan will be coming back here, and Newton and I are heading to Cuba. I've always wanted to go to Cuba. We're going, not sure about the coming back part, but we're going. What a great, great opportunity that God has given us. You see some of the initiatives. I can't talk about all of them. One of them; strengthening others, just exploring more ways to form more partnerships.

I'm happy to tell you that the Counseling Ministry has hired Newton Peña. Newton is one of our seminary students about to graduate in July. He and Yadir have agreed to stay a least an additional year to help us develop more relationships in Latin American countries. You might say, "Boy the Counseling Ministry is biting off a lot with all this." They are. We're actually going to have a fundraising banquet for them this Spring. I'll talk with you more about that. I'm also happy to tell you that the Sunday after the Biblical Counseling Training Conference, these two men are going to be our guest speakers. The gentleman on the right, Louis Mendez is a man from the Dominican. He now serves on staff at Bethlehem Baptist up in Minneapolis where John Piper served.

Louis is one of our contacts. He loves this place, and he goes all around the Latin American countries, and he tells them to get up here. People like the gentleman on the left Kike. My friend Kike Torres is a pastor in Mexico. I just met him a few weeks ago, and we are kindred spirits big time. You might say, "Oh, Lord help us." It's true. Pastoring a church of about 15 hundred people, Kike and some of his key staff came up to our conference in February. They went back to their town inner-city church, and they started doing it. In fact, he showed me, and it's so indigenous. It's a beautiful counseling center like you would have it in their city, and they were just finishing up the drywall. I could smell the drywall paste, and they were getting ready to start offering those kind of ministries to people in their community, and Lord willing, they're going to be back up here in February, and at the end of the conference, Louise and Kike are going to be talking to us right here, and you are absolutely going to love them. We're not just talking about loving our world. We're doing it in as many ways as we possibly can.

Then there's the matter of Albania, another marvelous country, and we're so excited about this partnership with this dear family. The pastor of the church in Albania. Same question; How can we serve you? How can we serve you? I know some of you, you hear these stories, and you say, "You know, you're just making that up. You didn't go to Albania, you went to Secaucus New Jersey and were out in the boats." Here's what happened this morning. One of the couples, an elder and his wife, from this church in Albania were in the US, and they called, and they said, "Hey, we're going to be close to you. Can we come to church and just see what's going on?" I said, "Come to church? I want you to talk to our church." So at our eight o' clock service at Faith East, they spoke to us for a minute, and if the technology works, you're going to hear from them now.

Benny: Good morning everyone. I'm Benny, and this is Jane, my wife, and this is Isabel, our daughter, the only daughter. We are glad to be with you here this morning and to worship the same almighty God. Just continuing on what Pastor Steve was saying, Albania is real. Now, I need some help from you because Matt has been saying he's married, he's got a daughter, and I haven't seen her. She's not around. I don't know if he's making up that, but you can assure me she is real. Granted, I'm sure I trust Matt. Albania is real, and you have heard from Pastor Steve that he has been there. Once he brought Matt with him, and we're glad for the partnership we have with you. We are glad for the things that God is doing in the midst of you, and again, for the partnership that we have as churches. Let us share some things.

Jane: First I'll say I grew up in Evansville Indiana, so I'm a fellow Hoosier, and the Lord sent me to the Balkans in 1997. In the year 2000, I ended up in Albania, and then I met Benny not too long after that, and we just recently celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary, so really thankful for what God's done in my life.

Benny: I’m Albanian. I grew up in Albania. I became a follower of Jesus Christ in 1997, just three years before God was going to send Jane in my country. We come from Grace Church of Tirana, Albania, and I serve there as an elder, and I help with worship, like the singing music ministry, with the youth ministry, and trying to disciple youth, young men who are in need of discipleship.

Jane: I partner with Benny in music ministry there, also serve in children's ministry, and disciplining a lot of the women in our church. It's exciting to be in ministry there in Albania. It is a very hopeless place in a lot of ways. In the 25 years or so since communism fell there, people have put their hope in materialism, just like in the West, everything Western, and they are finding that that is very hopeless. It's exciting because we know where hope is found, and we can give it to people though God's Word, through the Gospel, through Jesus Christ, and that's always exciting.

Benny: We as a church, as elders of church, are excited about two things. I'll share two things. When counseling was introduced to our church, it was like a thunder, in a good sense. Like you see the light, and you see how you can serve the people that are around you, just as Jane was saying that are hopeless, and that God can transform those lives. We're thankful for many pastors from United States that have come to do that in Albania. There are pastors from Indiana, from Kentucky, from Ohio, and from Upstate New York, and of course, we're thankful for Pastor Steve. He recently had a chance to come and do some counseling, like conferences over there. We're excited about that. We're thankful about. We are thankful for the training that we can receive, and for the second thing is, We are thankful as a church that you're going to send, just as pastor Steve announced, you are going to finalize that on sending Matt and Dana and Hull to our church.

It's exciting because of the ... There are two special needs, like the third and fourth step that we need. We're stuck. Yes, people can get stuck. Christians can get stuck, and we need that kind of help. Only one percent of Albanians are Christian, or less, actually than 1%. It's not that they have not heard, the Gospel, but they still need for the Gospel, so we can do that together in partnership. The second is that we can train Christians that are stuck as well and continue, God willing, to reach others and to go in the image of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I'd like to thank you. It's been very ... We as a family impressed the way you take care of guest. We thought in Albania we take good care of them, but you exceed, I think, and we are very thankful for the good care that you have taken, and you are very generous. Thank you.

What a dear couple. I've had the privilege of being with them in their church, seeing them in action in Tirana, and to be in a position as a church. Loving our world means having couple like Matt and Dana trained and ready to send for a two year assignment. The leaders in that church said to me when I asked them how we could serve you. They said, "Could you send a couple for a couple of years who could work with our youth, who could work with our young adults, especially if they understand biblical counseling and community-based ministry. I said, "We've got the couple for you." It's one thing to talk about that, but something else to make it happen.

I realize I'm way out of time. One of my New Year's resolutions was to be briefer. But to be able to deploy the Burks, the International Student Ministry right here at Purdue, again loving the world, folks that God is bring right to our doorstep, and then to think about Joey and Stephen beginning a church plant right down town, and loving the world of our urban neighborhoods. What an exciting, exciting year, and I realize you say, "Oh, this sounds like a lot, honestly I just hit the high spots, I really did. Here's why. It's because there's a sense of urgency to all of this.

III. There is a Sense of Urgency to Our Task Because of the Eternal Issues at Stake

Would you agree with that? This is worth committing our lives to, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish.

Do you remember the old hymn? Rescue the perishing. Care for the dying. Jesus is merciful. Jesus will save. I want to encourage you as an individual. I want to encourage you as a family, and to continue to work though these, and to ask the Lord to help you see where you fit in, to write out what you hope to do for the lord, to get that to your deacon, or one of your pastors, your ABF leaders, and let's do everything that we can this year to creatively and passionately love our world.

Would you stand with me for prayer? Father in heaven, when we think about the way the world rejected your son, this announcement in John 3:16 is amazing. I pray that we would put away whatever excuse we might have for apathy or indifference. Lord, I pray that this year, in new ways, in fresh ways, I pray that you'd help us to learn what it means to love our world, and in so doing, to become more like you. We pray this is Christ's name.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video