Descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. —Hebrews 11:12
God made a promise to his friend Abraham. Though he was old, his wife unable to conceive, he would father the nation of God’s people. Abraham, whose descendants are “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” held onto the unlikely promise.
Faith. I suppose the key idea is holding on.
Even today, God may seem distant, his promise a faint memory. But faith holds on to the promise of our Friend.
Sometimes faith means remembering, when everything inside you and around you screams for attention and will most certainly distract you and drown out the voice of memory and cloud your vision of the better things God has promised.
So do this: On a clear night, go out and find a place where there is no light pollution. Look up and start counting stars. You are linked to the promise, the promise God made to Abraham. You are an heir to that promise by faith. You are one of those stars. But what is one star among so many?
It is a flame of promise and potential known by an infinite and omniscient God.
Take a pilgrimage, in your imagination if not in reality. Make your way to the coast. Stand at the shoreline. Look out at the vast immeasurable stretch of ocean. And look down at your feet and all around you. Stoop down and fill your fist with sand. Let the grains filter through your fingers. But hold one. Look at it. Keep it. Imagine its place among all the coastlines of the world. You are that one grain of sand. You are nothing. What do you matter?
No, remind yourself that you are known. That which seems insignificant and forgotten, that which appears lost in the infinity of stuff, is known by God. You, the single star—you, the solitary grain of sand—are part of the promise and known and loved by your Creator.
Augustine wrote: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” A wonderful thought—an idea full of wonder.
One way, then, to take a measure of the love of God is to ask myself, “Does God really love me in such a personal and self-sacrificing manner? Does God love me as if I were the only one, even as he loves you so uniquely?”
If I were the only one, would he still go through the bother of the incarnation? Those long months confined to the uterus of Mary, his mother? The messy and perplexing dependency of infancy?
If I were the only one, would he have spent the long years of childhood, learning and growing, step by patience-testing step, enduring the teasing and ridicule of those who questioned the circumstances of his birth and the integrity of his parents? Would he endure the hunger and the thirst and the fatigue and the grief that are part of the human experience? Would he do that for me, if I were the only one?
If I were the only one, would he face the bitterness and inhumanity of the mob, the injustice of a rigged courtroom, the anguish of abandonment and the agony of the long, tortuous execution? Would he do all this for me, if I were the only one?
Would he rise from death and ascend through the clouds with the promise of return and a place for me, if I were the only one?
If I were the only one, would angels have cause to sing? Would the star still rise, guiding me to the Christ child? Would Mary still smile at the Good News she birthed? Would I have reason to shout and laugh and lose myself in praise?
Why, yes, of course. “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
THE 2018 OUTREACH 100 SPECIAL ISSUE
Highlighting the Country's Fastest-Growing Churches
Francis Chan would like us to re-imagine the American church. “What would it look like to have the faith that what I read in the Bible can happen right here in America today?” A reasonable question for people who adhere to Scripture to ask themselves. Why are our answers sometimes so tentative, tinged with equivocation, hedging our contextualization bets? He presses the point. “What would it mean to live the absolute, life-giving commands and let the opinions and structures we have held so dear all blow away? We’ve taken this easy road,” he continues. “We’ve traded the blessing of God in community for the consumer-driven church.”
Now all this could sound like so much church bashing, but those familiar with Francis Chan’s writing and ministry will have more than an inkling of what he’s laid on the line in his personal pursuit of what the American church could be, what he is convinced it is called to be. Pick up the discussion in the Outreach 100.
Something redemptive happened on the way to succession. It was one of the country’s largest Presbyterian churches, a white church in a transitioning suburb of Memphis. But when the founding pastor presented the board with his vision for succession, it set in motion a dramatic repositioning. And now they have a great deal to teach us about the multiethnic mosaic that is the church.
“The biblical principle of being a mosaic congregation like the first church in antiquity is a gospel imperative,” says Rufus Smith, senior pastor of Hope Church. “But that doesn’t mean that people will automatically accept it.” So what does the process of growing acceptance look like? Check out the leadership forum.
This would be a small, comparative insignificant issue if it were just about the numbers. Instead, we pause to hear the backstory of Mike Burnette, who pastors this year’s fastest-growing church. What animated him? A simple prayer—“Lord, I want to pastor a church that my family would come to, a place where broken, lost people find Jesus.”
And the issue has the list, of course, America’s Fastest-Growing Churches. But the more compelling reading delves into the transformational stories behind the numbers. You’re introduced to 13 in the print issue and more online. We’ve also included “Wisdom From the 100,” as pastors of some of the country’s leading churches reflect on trends, culture and integrity, the first in a yearlong series of insights from the Outreach 100 Consortium. There’s a lot of insight and encouragement here for all of us, regardless of the number of people in our sphere of influence. Read it with joy.
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