Series: Preacher: Date: December 3, 2017 Scripture Reference: John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

John 13:14 –  A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 

35 – By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

1st Corinthians 9:19 – Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 

20 – To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 

21 – To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 

22 – To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 

23 – I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

On January 28, 1958, a patent was filed that would change family FLOORS forever. I’m referring to the day the Lego brick was born. Since that day, over 400 billion Lego bricks have been made—which comes up to an unbelievable 62 bricks for every person on the planet! And, in spite of the fact that they can be quite pricey—their sales continue to rise. In fact, approximately 7 Lego sets are sold each second. I was at the LEGO store in Tysons this week—and their Millennium Falcon model sells for $1800!

The original Lego brick was designed by this Danish carpenter. His name is Ole Kirk Christiansen back in the 1940’s. That’s a pic of him from 75 years ago—and a giant Lego sculpture of him today. Ole made his first interlocking blocks out of wood and named his product “Lego” after the Danish phrase leg godt, (lie gaut) or “play well.”  Ironically in Latin “lego” means “we build together.”

Today’s plastic bricks still have the same bumps and holes as Christiansen’s and can interlock with the bricks made 50 years ago. So—if you’ve been saving gray bricks for 50 years—you can just build your own Millennium Falcon! Legos are just as popular among kids and adults alike. Here’s some of the reasons why:

  • They are colorful and easy to use.
  • They aren’t limited to building one thing—you can combine them to make—well, ANYTHING.
  • They help children learn to think in three dimensions.
  • They teach sorting skills.
  • And—perhaps best of all, they develop team-work because, let’s face it, it’s more fun to build with Legos with others than it is to do so alone.

The only draw-back is they are very painful when stepped on by bare feet. I heard one parent refer to them as “lego-landmines.” Anyone ever stepped on one?

In my mind, the coolest benefit of Legos is the fact that they connect in more than the literal sense. You see, Legos help children—and even adults—BUILD RELATIONSHIPS.

I learned this myself earlier this year when we were in Kenya. On our first Sunday afternoon we visited the Imani orphanage that houses infants and toddlers. As part of that visit I sat on a huge tarp with the rest of our Redland team and played with about 50 Kenyan toddlers for over an hour. I couldn’t speak their language—and most of them were too young to speak anyway—but I still found a way to communicate with those little guys. You see, amidst all their collection of beat-up toys—I found about a dozen Duplo’s (the toddler-safe version of Lego’s) and I began to build things with them. When I did that, two or three tiny Kenyans noticed and toddled over to watch. Then they joined in—helping me “build” things—take them apart and build them again. They jabbered at me constantly—as we played. We learned to communicate. I would point to a brick as if to say, “hand me another one” and they would. I’d shake my head if they got the wrong one—and point to the right one and they’d get it. One of them would pull one out of my hand and start chewing on it as if to say, “Not that one—that’s my teething ring.” All kidding aside, we had a lot of fun CONNECTING that VERY hot afternoon.  Plus, as we built, they became more comfortable with me. They let me hold them. We laughed—-we got to know each other. We BONDED.

I mention all this about LEGOS—because I think they are a great illustration of our vision for 2018—which is to do what I did with those little kids—namely CONNECT! Our goal—our focus for 2018—will be to improve our connecting skills as a church in two ways:

  • First—our connections with each other—or FELLOWSHIP according to our study of What On Earth Am I Here For.
  • And second—our connections with people who don’t know Jesus—or EVANGELISM.

Now before we go any further, I want to talk a bit about WHY we have a VISION each year. Well, there are several benefits.

  • A church with a clear-cut vision has better morale. It’s unifying—fun even—to work together for a common purpose.
  • That unity attracts other believers. They are drawn to a church that knows what it supposed to be doing.
  • A vision also reduces frustration for busy people like you and me.

When we know WHAT we are to do—we can take things off our lengthy to-do lists that don’t help the vision.

  • And then, a vision also helps us with evaluation. As we go through 2018 we can check and see how we are doing at connecting with each other and the lost.

We can make adjustments as need be. But perhaps the greatest benefit of a vision is it makes it possible for us to focus all our efforts in one direction. Surely Paul was referring to this principle when he wrote in Philippians 3:13 and said, “I am bringing ALL MY ENERGIES to bear on this one thing—forgetting what is behind and looking forward to what lies ahead.”  (Living Bible)

I’m reminded of something I came across this week about a guy named Kyle MacDonald. Kyle was stuck in a dead-end job and strapped for money so he came up with an improbable plan—starting with one big red paperclip, he would trade on the Internet until he exchanged it for a house. He focused all his energies on this.

  • First, he traded the red paperclip for a fish-shaped pen.
  • Next, he traded the pen for a doorknob.
  • He traded the doorknob for a Coleman stove.
  • He traded the Coleman stove for an electric generator.
  • He traded the electric generator for a Budweiser sign and a keg of beer—
  • —which he then traded for a snowmobile. Must have been a really nice sign!

Exactly one year and 14 trades later, MacDonald finally reached his goal: he exchanged a part in a Hollywood movie for a home in Saskatchewan, Canada. Here it is.

The true story of Kyle MacDonald is told in his book One Red Paperclip.  And the “trades” go on because the book is being made into a movie. Fame, fortune, a book, a movie deal, and a home—it all began with a vision—and one red paperclip. Imagine what we can do if we all FOCUS on connection this year!!!

Okay—that’s the WHY of a vision—what about the HOW? I mean, have you ever wondered how we get the vision each year? I wish God sent it to me in an e-mail or letter every fall—but He doesn’t—because He values my reaching out to Him—my talking with Him—listening to Him. And, in seeking the VISION for the coming year I do a lot of that. I constantly pray for God’s leading. Included in my prayers are a look at the five purposes of a church—the ones we just studied in Warren’s book. I ask God to help me determine which purpose—or purposes—are the weakest at Redland—and then I focus the vision for the next year on strengthening those areas. I do this because every church has the same five purposes: worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and outreach.

Different churches may word it differently by combining one or more of these purposes but they are still the same—and they always will be. So—in my mind—a healthy church is one that is doing all five purposes in a balanced way.

As you know, this year I ADDED to my prayers—a SURVEY—because I wanted to hear from you guys. We had great participation—you were VERY faithful to respond—and the results—plus my observations and my listening ear—told me that we needed to work in the two areas I have already mentioned—fellowship and evangelism. My prayer times with God have confirmed that.

But—speaking of the survey—I want to say a couple things. First, when we published the results we didn’t list the comments that were your answers to the “fill-in-the-blank questions” — for a couple reasons.

  • One—they weren’t helpful in planning.

I learned that fill-in-the-blanks usually aren’t a helpful survey tool. An example of why are the responses I got to the question I asked about topics or books of the Bible you wanted me to address through sermons. Don’t get me wrong. You were VERY responsive but we had so many different answers I couldn’t really get any direction from them. I mean, we had 128 surveys turned in and about the same number of different responses.

  • Another thing—a couple of the responses to other “fill-in-the-blank” questions weren’t edifying.

They were aimed at individuals in a way that was not constructive—not helpful. And—I would just stop and remind you that as Christians we don’t have freedom of speech. According to God’s Word we are use our words—both written and spoken—only to build others up. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul basically says, “Build up—or shut up.” But—even this aspect of the survey responses helped because it underscored our need for help in the fellowship area. It showed that our Sweet, Sweet, Spirit needs some sweetening.

So, the VISION for 2018 will be “CONNECT!” and I want to thank Marcus Day for his amazing graphic design gifts in doing the artwork—and Clara Struthers for using them to create the Powerpoint!  I praise God for giving us people who are gifted and talented in this way!

Now—to help us understand the importance of this year’s CONNECT! Vision—let’s look at this one point at a time. And as we do—take out those commitment cards and be ready to fill them out as we go along. There are extras in the back.

(1) First, why CONNECT with EACH OTHER?

Why is that important? Why focus on fellowship—unity—relational connection? Well, the main reason is that, as we read in our text, Jesus has commanded it. He has ORDERED us to love one another. He has commanded us to get along—even with people we don’t agree with on certain things. Jesus wants us to have STRONG connections with each other as Christians—He wants us to become friends who stick closer than a brother.

Sue encouraged me to watch this past week’s video session of the current Beth Moore study the ladies are going through on Tuesday mornings and I’m glad she did. I think we see God’s providence in the fact that Beth dealt with the importance of CONNECTION between Christians.

And one thing she did with her audience—I want us to do in this one. Everyone stand up.  Now—squeeze together shoulder to shoulder.  You may have to move across an aisle. Good—now look around—remember this experience. God wants His children to be CLOSE. He wants us to STICK together! He doesn’t want ANYTHING to come between us. Okay you can sit down.

Remember this experience—there is to be no DIVISION in the body of Christ. All you “lego blocks” need to FIT TOGETHER tightly! In His last prayer before the cross our Lord talked about the “why” behind fellowship. He said, “Father, I pray…that they may be one as We are one. May they be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”

Listen—this is an important deal. Our connections with each other—help or hinder our connections with the lost.  Our love for each other draws lost people to the love of God. Our lack of it pushes them from the Father.

Here’s something else about CONNECTING with others. Like each Lego made in the past five decades, we were MADE to connect.  And, from the very beginning of creation this has been obvious. I mean, it was NOT good for man to be alone way back then and it’s still NOT GOOD.

We need fellowship. We need friends. As Frazee puts it, “God made us with a CONNECTION requirement.”

I loved the health study that Beth Moore quoted from a book by John Ortberg. This scientific study shows that good relational connections are good for us physically. Ortberg said, “The study showed it’s healthier to eat Twinkies with a friend than broccoli alone.” That’s how powerful connections are!

This connection requirement is reflected in our culture because the number one problem in our culture today is not a financial crisis.  It’s not North Korea with its missile tests. It’s not the government’s latest scandal. No—the biggest problem in our society is loneliness. There are a LOT of lonely people in this world.  They feel alone and they feel disconnected.  Some of them are in this room!

You know, it’s interesting.  We have more “connection technology” than any other time in history. We can literally connect with anyone anytime anywhere—and yet people feel more disconnected than ever before. Part of the reason for this is the fact that social media encourages and fosters shallow connections—surface level stuff. I mean, you might say, “I have 750 friends on Facebook.”  But you don’t—not really.  In fact, those 750 cyber friendships keep you too busy for REAL friendships—real CONNECTIONS.

In their book Next Door As It Is in Heaven, authors Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe discuss the profound loneliness people are regularly experiencing in our world—and the subsequent (and sobering) sense that lonely people feel they have very little value.  Sadly, many of us contribute to this loneliness and lack of self-worth as we move throughout our day—rarely even lifting our heads from our smart phones to offer a simple greeting to a real person. Ford and Briscoe contrast our relational aloofness with a daily practice among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa. Among these people, the most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression: “Sawu bona.” It literally means, “I see you.”  If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying “Sikhona,” which means, “I am here.” The order of the exchange is important because, according to this culture—until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence. Ford and Briscoe observe,

“A deep truth resides in this cultural practice. When we merely move throughout our days without seeing people as people, then as far as it matters to us in that moment—they really don’t exist. [But] being conscious of how we approach people we encounter through the normal routines of our day—is a step toward bringing heaven here on our patch of earth.”

Let’s try it. Turn to the person next to you and say, “Sawu bona…I SEE you.” Now reply, “Sikhona…I am here.” Didn’t that feel good!

That makes me think of my interactions with our youngest grandchild.  Nathan is about 7 months and when I greet him, I say something like “Hey Nathan!” When he looks up and we lock eyes-a smile like this one breaks out across his face as if to say to me, “SIKHONA! I am here grandad! Pick me up!” Connections like that DO feel good don’t they! This good feeling shows that we do indeed need the CONNECTION of fellowship. We need do really SEE each other.

I love that we have a greeting time in our services but we have to be careful that we don’t mistake that quick hand shake for real connections. That kind of thing is nice—but it doesn’t meet our need for connection. It doesn’t keep our fellowship STRONG.

Do you remember when, back in 2007, the I-35 bridge that crosses the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed suddenly during rush hour? Thirteen people were killed and one hundred forty-five were injured. The investigation revealed that the gusset plates that connect girders together in the truss system were undersized, resulting in a structural flaw leading to its collapse. A year after the tragedy, The New York Times summarized what went wrong by saying:

“The designers had specified a metal plate that was too thin to serve as a junction of several girders. The bridge was designed in the 1960’s and lasted 40 years. But like most other bridges, it gradually gained weight during that period, as workers installed concrete structures to separate eastbound and westbound lanes and made other changes—adding strain to the weak spot.”

As I said, the weak connections of that old bridge hurt a lot of people—and weak connections in a church do the same—so we’re going to be working on that this coming year. We’re going to focus on strengthening our connections with each other. Here’s a preview of SOME of our plans.

  • First, in January we’re putting a LEGO table in the lower foyer—and don’t laugh.

I want to ENCOURAGE you to take time to play with it as you go to and from church but not alone. Invite other Redlanders—especially ones who are younger than you. Talk as you build.

Share about your life. I think you’ll find this simple activity helps us BUILD relationships!

  • Second—Kevin and our SS teachers will be working to get more people involved in Sunday Morning Small Group Bible Study—AKA Sunday School.

We usually have about 100 worship attenders—who don’t come to Bible study—and that’s sad because they are missing out on the best way to CONNECT.

  • Third—July 19-21 Sue and I are taking a group of our seniors—or anyone else who wants to come along—to THE COVE just outside Ashville, NC.

Tony Evans will be the featured teacher. He’ll be leading a study that fits this year’s vision perfectly. It’s entitled, “Kingdom Disciples: Heaven’s Representatives on Earth.” The cost is about $600 but that covers two night in their hotel, all your meals, and the conference itself. The only other charge will be travel. I forgot to put this one on the commitment card—so if you’d like to go—just write the word “COVE” somewhere.

  • I also want us to work on ways to deepen our WELCOME time in worship. Maybe we’ll come up with a different question to ask each other every week or something—some way to stimulate stronger connections.
  • Another thing we will do to help us do a better job at CONNECTION is a Health Assessment Study led by Dr. Randy Millwood of the BCMD.

You know Randy. He’s preached for me. He’s led deacon training—and he was a very popular teacher in this summer’s adult MERGE class. Randy will do a survey of 35 Redlanders—carefully chosen to give a good representation of our church family as to age, gender, marital status, etc. You should have gotten a letter this week if you have been selected. Then on April 7 ALL of us will gather to hear the results of the survey—and ways we can strengthen our church’s health. That event will be led by Randy. If you want to commit to coming to that event—check it on your card.

Here are some other RELATIONAL CONNECTIONS we want you to participate in. If you are willing to join a Men’s small group Bible study; if you are willing to serve on the media team; if you are willing to serve as a head usher—check those items on your card. We will also reconvene our summer small groups. If you can help, or would like to participate, put that on your card. Of course, the VISION always steers my preaching so in 2018 I have some special sermon series I will be doing. One is called UP CLOSE — and it is geared to helping with this part of the vision. We’ll look at relationships in the Bible—for lessons we can learn that will help us improve ours—help us learn to “love each other deeply”  as Peter put it in his first epistle.

Part of that series focuses on relationships with people with more life experience—the older part of our church—an age group that is increasing in size. Another sermon will focus on building fellowship with people whose skin is a different color than yours. And in that light I want us to take a group to a conference in Memphis that is sponsored by the SBC—the MLK 50 Conference. It will be April 3 and 4—to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.  Amazing speakers will be there.

Another thing that strengthens our fellowship is our understanding of our essential beliefs so I’ll be doing a series called: Convictions that Connect.

Okay—what about the second aspect of next year’s vision?

(2) Why connect with the lost?

Once again, the main reason is our Lord has commanded it. Do you remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 28?  Our Lord said, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

CONNECTING with people who don’t know Jesus is a command that we must obey. In fact, you may remember from our study of Warren’s book that he says that evangelism is the only reason God leaves us here on Earth instead of taking us home to Heaven. We can worship and fellowship in Heaven but evangelism can only be done here.

And let me remind you—that IS why we are here.  Evangelism, missions, soul-winning, witnessing—however you word it—that is the WHY behind EVERYTHING we do. This week I came across some sobering statistics that show our God-given job of leading the lost to Jesus is far from done. As of April 2012, there were approximately 7 billion people on Earth. At present, just over 50 percent of the world’s population (or 3.5 billion people) have not heard the gospel and most of them do not have a realistic opportunity to hear it.

Here’s another way to look at this connecting challenge. Of the 11,646 distinct people groups on the planet, 60 percent contain between zero and two percent evangelical Christians. Many of these nearly 7,000 people groups have no churches, no Bibles, no Christian literature, and no mission agencies who are seeking to share the gospel with them. And to bring it home—the MAJORITY of the residents of our county don’t know Jesus.

I wish—I pray—that we could ALL grasp how VITALLY important it is that EVERY CHRISTIAN get serious about personal evangelism. I wish—I pray we would EACH get a burning in our hearts to lead friends, and neighbors to Jesus. Nothing we do is more important. It is our God-given task to keep people out of Hell—and to do that we must build connections—friendships with the lost.

British evangelist Rico Tice says, “Loving people means warning people.” He illustrates with the following personal story:

“I was once in Australia visiting a friend. He took me to a beach on Botany Bay, so I decided I had to go for a swim. I was just taking off my shirt when he said:  ‘What are you doing.’ I said: ‘I’m going for a swim.’ He said: ‘What about those signs?’ And he pointed me to some signs I’d not really noticed—signs that said “Danger: Sharks!” With all the confidence of an Englishman abroad, I said: ‘Don’t be ridiculous— I’ll be fine.’  He said: ‘Listen mate, 200 Australians have died in shark attacks— you’ve got to decide whether those shark signs are there to save you or to ruin your fun. You’re of age—you decide.’ I decided not to go for a swim.

[Many of the words about Hell found in the Bible] are all straight from Jesus’ lips. And they’re a loving warning to us. The reason Jesus talked about Hell is because He does not want people to go there. The reason Jesus died was so that people wouldn’t have to go there. The only way to get to Hell is to trample over the cross of Jesus. That is a great motivator for our evangelism.”

My preaching will reflect this part of the vision but there’s more we can and will do to foster this kind of connecting.

  • We will be having testimonies in worship from as many of you as will share your story.

I want these testimonies to include who you are, where you’re from, your family, and most of all how you came to faith in Jesus. This is obeying Psalm 107:2-3 where it says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those He redeemed from the hand of the foe—those He gathered from the lands—from east and west, from north and south.” (NIV) Sharing how you came to Jesus HERE—will help you be ready to share it out THERE. It will also help us get to know each other better. If you are willing to share a “Connection Testimony”—check that on your commitment card.

Here’s something else we will do. We are printing a gazillion “calling cards” with information about Redland on them. We want you to put a bunch in your wallet or purse—and whenever God gives you an opportunity share one. Say, “This is MY church—we’d love to have you worship with us.”

At this point I want ask Kevin to come for a moment to share an evangelism strategy that he teaches our youth.

Kevin comes to share 5 points.

Now I want to point out a few ways we will use this strategy in 2018. First, I’ve asked Sue, who has taught in our ESL ministry to come share.

Sue Adams comes to talk about the need for more ESL workers/teachers.

Think of it! The world is coming to us! Unreached people groups are coming to us!  And you don’t have to have or get a college degree to do this. Anyone can teach ESL.  I have to point out—we have a lot of retired people and more every year—This is a PERFECT way for you guys and gals to connect with lost people.

Now I ‘m going to ask Roger Price to share another way you can connect.

Roger Price comes to talk about Open Night Basketball

Thanks Roger!

I could go on talking about the vision—but I’ll stop so we can each do some vision praying of our own. Take your commitment card—and prayerfully finish filling them out. When you are done I want you to do two things. First, leave your seat and come place your card on the altar—as your public commitment to be a part of next year’s VISION. When you get here, reach in one of the white baskets and get a Lego brick—one per person. I want you to keep it in your pocket or purse or put it on your desk or nightstand—to remind you of our vision for the coming year—CONNECT!

If you have other decisions to make today—come forward. Ask to join our church so you can be an active part of the vision. Profess your faith in Jesus.  But come as God leads.

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