For the first 18 years of my life, I think the highest I ever climbed was a bridge over the railway line in my village, Oulton Broad. I do remember getting a little scared on one occasion climbing to the top of Southwold lighthouse. From the cliffs at Lowestoft I could see Great Yarmouth up the coast which is ten miles away. That was my childhood horizon, as far as I could see.
Apparently at ground level the horizon is 2.9 miles. At a hundred feet the horizon is 12.2 miles away. My passion for travel grew and I was increasingly drawn to places with mountains like a magnet. I think part of the fascination had to do with the desire to see further into the distance – to literally broaden my horizon. So in June when I did a locum for a colleague at St Andrew’s Kyrenia on Cyprus, every day I climbed a mountain just to enjoy the stunning views 30, 40 or 50 miles across the island and out to sea. For most of our lives, we are content just to see as far as the end of the road, especially if we are driving. Our vision is largely bound by necessity. But its good once in a while to look for a higher place so that we can see further. Today is such a day, as we launch our new 2020 Vision and Five Year Plan. It sets out where we want to go. Where we believe God is calling us. It’s a journey and every six months or so we will update the booklet with new insights gained along the way.
But vision is about more than distance. There’s a second dimension to vision. Vision is also about time – seeing ahead chronologically as well as spatially. We all start out in life moaning about how time seems to drag. We want other people to hurry up. We are told to be patient. We keep asking “are we there yet”? But as we grow older, time seems to pick up speed. We soon discover we don’t have enough time to accomplish everything we want. We seem to be slipping down a greasy pole going faster and faster until…. Again, for most of the time, all we care about is getting to the end of the day or to be able to say Thank God its Friday. Just surviving is all that matters. But with important decisions like deciding on a pension scheme or buying a house, or choosing a partner, we take more time and care because they will impact our future, and the future of others also. We rank the importance of decisions on their consequences in time. That is why our new 2020 Vision is important. Because it contains long term aspirations as well as short term goals that reflect our priorities.
But there is a third dimension to vision – its not just about space and time. Vision is also about significance and about purpose. Its not just about where we are going in life, but also about who we are becoming. For most of us, that is a life-long journey of discovery. Without it, life soon becomes meaningless and futile. With God-given purpose and direction, as he reveals in Scripture, life becomes the adventure God intended. And that is why the most important part of our 2020 Vision is not the goals (which will change over time), our strategy, nor even the imagine statements. What matters most is our ultimate purpose summarised in our mission statement “Knowing Jesus and making Jesus known”.
This combined with the Distinctive Values on the back, map out how we will become the people God intended.
Vision is not so much about where we are going. But who we are becoming. When you were young, who were your heroes?? Who did you pretend to be? Who did you idolise? Whose posters adorned your bedroom walls? While my mother wanted me to grow up to be like Cliff Richard, on a good day I wanted to be Paul McCartney of the Beatles. On a bad day it was Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Aspiring to be like someone else is natural. Whether it’s a positive or negative role model seems to depend on whether you are a parent or a child… Let me ask you this – Did anyone, at any time in your life, ever encourage you to become like Jesus Christ? The amazing truth is that you were created for nothing less than to become like Jesus Christ. “From the very beginning, God’s plan has been to make you like his Son, Jesus. This is your destiny. This is your purpose in life. He wants nothing less that for you to become like Jesus. Please turn to Ephesians 4:
- Recognise what we shall be – our future (4:11-16)
- Repudiate what we once were – our past (4:17-19)
- Realize what we are becoming – our present (4:20-24)
- Recognise What We Shall Be – Our Future (4:11-16)
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Paul starts with the vision of the Church – the Body of Christ. “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This is God’s intention. This is God’s initiative. This is God’s plan. To become like Christ, we need to know and follow God’s plan which is found, verse 13, “in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13). This is why the heart of our vision is summarised in our mission statement, “Knowing Jesus and making Jesus Known”. Notice how this process is described. We are called to “grow up” and “mature”, no longer “infants”. And notice too, the word “work” is used twice (4:12, 16). Lets explore that.
What has being a Christ follower got to do with growing up? With moving from infancy to maturity? If you have or have had teenagers, you will know that maturity finally comes only when they get out to work. They really grow up when they get to work. The same is true in the church. God’s intention is that we discover our role in the Body of Christ. In the RSV it says the role of the evangelists, the pastors and teachers is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”. Notice who does the ministry – the works of service. The role of the pastor teachers is to what? Equip the saints for the work. When we promote opportunities for service in the Church don’t think like the adolescent in terms of – “what do I get out of this?” “how much pocket money will I get”?
That is why I’ve tried to ban the word “volunteer” because mature family members don’t volunteer to get the vacuum cleaner out, or volunteer to wash their clothes, cook a meal or do the washing up. In a family you express your love for one another by serving one another. A servant doesn’t volunteer. The two things you will take with you into eternity are your character and your influence in the lives of other people. Your character is shaped by knowing Jesus and your ministry by making Jesus known. From the perspective of eternity everything else will be evaluated on the basis of these two criteria. Did they help or hinder you from becoming like Jesus and did they help or hinder you from helping others do the same? That is why our new 2020 Vision is so important. It sets out where we believe the Lord is calling us to be and more importantly, who he wants us to become. First, by recognising what we shall be – our future (4:11-16)
- Repudiate What We Once Were – Our Past (4:17-19)
“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)
In preparation for writing our new 2020 Vision, we undertook a survey of church members. It was designed to identify those areas of ministry that we are strong and also not so strong in comparison with other healthy churches. This was not easy.
It is painful to face issues you are perceived to be weak or vulnerable – but that is what training is intended to do. That is why in the new Five Year Plan we have prioritised areas of church life we want to grow in, like inspiring worship services and empowering leadership. We believe the Lord will bless us as we give attention to them. Do you remember what life was like before you trusted in Christ? Before you received Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? You may not want to put it in such stark terms but the Bible does.
And if you don’t yet regard yourself as a Christian – maybe you don’t think you need Jesus that bad yet, then I have to say, this is how the Bible describes you. Notice the words used in these verses to describe the condition of the unbeliever: “futility”, “darkened”, “separated”, “ignorance”, “hardening”, “lost all sensitivity”, “sensuality”, “indulgence”, “impurity”, “lust”. God is not saying we are as bad as we could be, just not as good as we should be.
We are unfinished. Notice the insistence in verse 17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Secular society of 1st Century Ephesus was little different to 21st Century Britain. See what happens when you substitute “British” for “Gentiles” “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the British do.”
Hard to take isn’t it? It takes a counter-culture decision to become more like Jesus. Otherwise, other forces like peers, parents, co-workers and culture will try to mould you into their image. That is narcissism, not discipleship. If you want to become like God – First – recognise your future – what we will be.
Second – repudiate your past – where we have come from. Third – if you want to become like Jesus,
- Realize What We Are Becoming – Our Present (4:20-24)
“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life… (Ephesians 4:20-21)
“You did not come to know Christ in this way”. How then do we come to know Christ? Knowing Jesus and becoming like Jesus is a lifelong journey of faith. Spiritual maturity is neither instant nor automatic; it is a gradual, progressive development that will take the rest of your life. That is why I said, our Distinctive Values identify how we will help one another along the journey. Verse 13 in the Contemporary English Version says “This will continue until we are … mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.” (Ephesians 4:13 CEV). Notice how in these verses the imagery shifts to the school – for that is where we are – in school – and we remain in school as long as we live. Twice Paul uses the phrase “were taught” (4:21 and 22). Church is literally likened to a school – which is why our bible study groups are so essential if we want to grow to become like Jesus. If the focus is on the school, what is our curriculum? Who is our teacher? How are we taught? The answer to all three is? Jesus!
- Jesus is our curriculum “come to know Christ” (4:20). RSV translates this as “learn Christ”. We become like Jesus through a personal relationship. He is our curriculum.
- Jesus is our teacher “heard of him” (4:21). This should more accurately read “heard him” for there is no preposition. Paul assumes that through the voice of their earthly teachers they literally heard Christ. We come to know Jesus through hearing from him and so trust in him. He is our curriculum our teacher.
- Jesus is our model “taught in him… the truth that is in Jesus” (4:21). Paul change from the title ‘Christ’ to ‘Jesus’ seems deliberate, because the historical Jesus is our model – he embodies the truth he teaches. So Jesus is our curriculum, our teacher and our model. The Bible is clear from complimentary passages that the Holy Spirit indwelling us uses truth, troubles, time and even temptation, to make us more like Jesus. You are a work in progress. Your spiritual transformation will take the rest of your life. Even then it won’t be completed here on earth. It will only be finished when we get to heaven or when Jesus returns. In verses 22-24, Paul summarises our responsibilities.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
I don’t want to embarrass anyone with a gender sensitive illustration, but how long do you take to choose what you are going to wear this morning? How long did it take to shower and put on your clothes? To brush your teeth? To do your hair? To put on the foundation, the anti-wrinkle cream, the mascara, the lip stick, the deodorant, the moisturizer, the perfume, some, or none of them. Don’t get me wrong, you are worth it. I’m not suggesting you change your lifestyle, just suggesting we think about the amount of time we spend to put on what we are going to have to take off a few hours later. Compare that with the amount of time we give to put on what will last for eternity – the character of Jesus Christ. As we close, let me ask you a question. What are you committed to?
Rick Warren says “Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you make. Your commitments can develop you or they can destroy you, but either way, they will define you. Tell me what you are committed to and I’ll tell you what you’ll be in twenty years. We become whatever we are committed to. It is at this point of commitment that most people miss God’s purpose for their lives. Many are afraid to commit to anything and just drift through life. Others make half-hearted commitments to competing values, which lead to frustration. Others make a full commitment to worldly goals, such as becoming wealthy or famous, and end up disappointed and bitter. Every choice has eternal consequences so you’d better choose wisely. “Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives you should be living!” (2 Peter 3:11).
Christ-likeness comes from making Christ-like commitments. We must commit to living our live for the purposes God made us. We were planned for God’s pleasure: worship. We were formed for God’s family: fellowship. We were created to become like Jesus: discipleship. We were shaped for serving God: ministry. We were made for mission: evangelism. That is why I urge you to read through our new 2020 Vision slowly and deliberately and prayerfully, asking the Lord how you can help us together to realize all He desires of us. But remember the overarching priority we have been reminded of today from Ephesians 4. Our purpose in life is to know Jesus, become like Jesus and make Jesus known.
“Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like himself before he takes us to heaven. This is our greatest privilege, this is our immediate responsibility, for this is our ultimate destiny.”
King of kings and Lord of lords, we understand afresh that we were created to become like Jesus. Lord, we surrender to you our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our souls and our stubborn wills. Lord, may we be transformed by your grace, by the truth of your word, and by the power of your Holy Spirit who gives us victory in our struggles. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from all evil. Help us to grow ever more like your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Redeemer and Friend. Amen.
 John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (IVP, 1979), pp179-180
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002) pp. 176-178.