Celebrate Sunday

Yesterday was Celebrate Sunday in the life of First Baptist Oakboro. We spent the morning celebrating all the great work our faithful God has done in our midst for the past year. It was a fun morning to say the least. This wasn’t about being excited about what we’ve got going on, but rather about delighting in what our God has done and prayerfully seeking to abide in Him so that He can do even more in the year ahead. This all being the case, I didn’t have a regular sermon to deliver, but because I think it’s worthwhile sharing what God has done and because I’m really proud of what He’s doing here, this is what I said. Thanks for celebrating with us.

A Celebration of Generosity

Isn’t it good to just praise the Lord together, to sing His praises among His people? This kind of stuff moves my heart in a way few other things do. I love this Sunday morning. I look forward to this every single year. There’s just something special about celebrating what God has done. This isn’t about what we’ve done. This isn’t about any particular program, this is about celebrating what God has done and what we are looking forward to Him doing more of as we follow Him into the great future He has for us.

That all being said, when God does His best work, it tends to be done through people. Our faithful God delights in accomplishing great things through people like you and me because when the world sees normal people do incredible things, the only reasonable explanation is that an incredible God has been involved. And one of the ways God accomplishes great things through normal people is by moving through their sacrificial generosity.

Now, we’re going to take up the offering in just a minute, but before we do, I want to do some specific celebrating with you. I want to share with you some of the ways your sacrificial generosity advanced the kingdom of God in this last year. Let’s start with the big picture. Last year we committed as a church, on paper in our budget, to giving just over $30,000 to various missions causes in our community, our state, and around the world. That’s awesome. But here’s the thing: You didn’t think that was enough. Do you know how I know that? Because you gave more than that. A lot more. In the last year—are you ready for this?—what you actually gave to various kingdom advancing causes (I’m not talking about money that keeps the lights on here) was more than double that: $61,000. And that’s not all of it.

In the last year, there are local people who were able to eat and feed their families who wouldn’t have been able to do that without the sacrifices you made. There are children around the world and much closer to home who received Christmas gifts and families who were connected with local churches who wouldn’t have had that opportunity without your sacrificial generosity. There were missionaries supported doing critical work to advance God’s kingdom in places you or I will never set foot because of the giving you did. There are people who will be able to read the Scriptures and have their lives changed by God’s holy word who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do that because you gave. There are people who will stay warm this winter because of the resources you provided. Our local teachers were encouraged (not to mention fed) because of you.

And that’s all just from the money you gave. We’ll talk about some more of what you did in just a little bit.

In addition even to all of that, operating facilities the likes of which our God has blessed us with isn’t free. We’ve been able to do more than just keep the doors open and the lights on this past year, though. We’ve replaced HVAC units (yes, that’s plural) to make sure we can keep our buildings at a reasonably comfortable temperature (unless you’re particularly cold-natured, in which case you bring your blankets for a reason). We’ve added some handrails to make sure folks are staying safe getting in and out of our buildings. We’ve added some much-needed technological upgrades and signage. You don’t think about how welcoming a little piece of plastic that says “restrooms” on it can be until you’re somewhere unfamiliar and looking for them. We’ve done all of that because of your financial faithfulness.

Friends, you have practiced sacrificial generosity in some truly transformative ways and should be proud of yourselves and humbled by what our faithful God has done with it. This is something worth celebrating. So as you keep giving—even this morning—give in confidence; give generously; give sacrificially, because your work is playing a key part in the expansion of God’s kingdom in our community and beyond. Thank you for what you have done and thank you for what you will yet do.

What God is Doing

Hasn’t this been a good morning? Again, I love this day. I love everything about it. I love celebrating what God has done. Stories like Doug and Angelina just shared are what keep me getting up out of bed and coming to work every morning. You, we, are a part of transforming lives for the sake of the kingdom of God. There is literally nothing better in the whole world to be a part of than that. I’d say I don’t even know how to fully put words to my excitement, but I’m a words guy. That’s my thing. So, let’s see if I can give it at least a bit of justice.

For starters and again, I’m excited about what we’ve just heard. Not only are we seeing people connected with the church and because of that with Jesus in a way that is having an impact now, but we’ve been doing it for a long time. Here’s what that means: You are part of or at least worshiping alongside a church that has a long record of faithfulness. There is history here; Gospel history. Now, I love the fact that new church plants are popping up all the time all over the world. I love that at our State Convention meeting last November I got to participate in a church planting commissioning service where dozens and dozens of church planters and their families were prayerfully sent out to accomplish great Gospel work. I hope and pray they each make the kingdom difference their leaders have in heart and mind when they follow God’s lead in starting them.

But for me…and maybe for you too…there’s something to being a part of a church that has a Gospel foundation already built. There’s something humbling about it. We are where we are and doing what we are doing because we are standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. We can see played out right before our very eyes the faithfulness of God over many generations and by that can be encouraged with the fact that if He was faithful then—and we have people in our midst who can tell us He was faithful then because they saw it—He will be faithful now and tomorrow as well.

That’s all by way of context. Let’s talk about more about what all exactly God has accomplished in our midst in the last year. Since we gathered like this one year ago, God’s been busy making us into the place He has designed us to be: A place where people connect to grow in Christ and reach out for His kingdom.

On the connection front, we have seen a new individual or family connecting with this body of believers in a way that is transforming both them and us and this community about every 60 days. Think about that for a minute. For the last year, somebody new has connected with what God is doing in and among this body about every 60 days; less than that really. I don’t know that there’s another church in Oakboro and not too many in Stanly County who can say something like that. God’s doing something here and whenever God does something, people connect with Him because of it. And it just so happens that you are the ones through whom He’s doing it. What if we saw that drop to every 45 days or even every 30 days in the next year?

Well, more people means more ministry work. More ministry work, in fact, than a couple of us can do. So, by God’s grace, we also connected an entirely new staff member this last year: Nate. And because our God does abundantly more than we could ask or imagine, we got Marisa too. Let me tell you: God is already doing great things around here through the two of them.

We’ve seen people growing in Christ as well. I won’t soon forget the Sunday morning back in September when we met over in the other building and baptized seven people. In nearly 12 years of ministry, there has been only one other time that I’ve baptized more than that many people at the same time. That was a powerful morning proclaiming the clear working of God in our midst. I was up there so long my toes started to prune up a bit.

In the last year we’ve seen people connecting to and returning to Sunday school groups. I don’t think I could overemphasize just how important it is to be connected to a Sunday school group. Those are the places where real relationships are forged and built—the kind of Gospel relationships that lead to long-term, sustainable life change. And indeed, the number of people who are involved in Sunday school is higher in the past 12 months than it was for the 12 months before that.

We’ve also seen the Gathering Place continue to thrive. I’ve got to tell you: If you are in a place where you are still connecting here, there’s nowhere better to be than the Gathering Place on Wednesday nights. Ask any of the growing crowd of regulars and they’ll tell you the same. There’s just something powerful about gathering to share a meal and share life without any kind of an agenda; just fellowship and Gospel life-change. Gospel life-change that is fed into during the Bible study and discipleship time that follows for all of our different age groups.

And the thing is, when people grow in Christ, they start reaching out to advance His kingdom. Listen: We’ve done a whole lot of reaching out to advance God’s kingdom around here in the last year. Yesterday our Meals on a Mission team met and did their great work again. That is a team that has been steadily adding members as well as increasing the size and scope of their work. And the folks involved with this do a whole lot more than just bringing meals to seniors. They are making sure that at least once a month some of our most vulnerable and easily forgotten community members are being checked on and loved on in the name of Jesus. That is reaching out to advance God’s kingdom not simply in the lives of these individuals, but of their families as well.

Our Vacation Bible School program this past summer was a huge hit. Not only were there a ton of kids hearing the Gospel in a unique way—most of whom aren’t part of this church and a significant number of whom aren’t part of any church—but they were given the chance to be involved in reaching out for God’s kingdom themselves. With the small incentive of sliming yours truly (along with a couple of other good sports) adding some wind to their sails, they raised almost $1,000 and gave several hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to our great friends at West Stanly Christian Ministries.

Speaking of West Stanly Christian Ministries, we have been steadily growing our partnership with the great work they are doing in this community to reach into the lives of the least, last, and lost with the good news of Jesus in imminently practical ways. Last year’s Poor Man’s Supper hosted by our Baptist Men raised over $2,000—money they are able to translate into several thousands of pounds of food for their actively used food pantry. I can tell you that they are very much looking forward to partnering with us again for this year’s Poor Man’s Supper on Saturday, February 22. You can go ahead and mark your calendars for that.

Much more recently than that, we sent all the extra Christmas gift bags the deacons sponsor to them and I got this note from the director, Robert Britt afterwards: “Your bags wound up in a nursing home and in the hands of addicts and homeless folks tonight. And I was peeling two of your apples for a precious 5-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister who are currently in foster care and they were telling me how much they loved apples. In short, your donation was used to represent the love of God today.” You were a part of that happening.

There’s so much more to tell you, but we’re going to run out of time. I haven’t even mentioned yet the mobile food pantry event we hosted that saw dozens of local families provided easily a month’s worth of food or the hundreds of pounds of food you gave over the course of the year that we sent to Eolia, KY in the care of Scott and Amy Honeycutt and Pattygene Baggie, along with the team from Big Lick Baptist to minister to the children and families of Arlie Boggs Elementary School. You were a part of seeing every child in that school receive a new backpack, some new toys, and enough food to feed their families for a week or more.

Speaking of gifts, you were a part of 168 shoeboxes being sent around the world where local churches held events where the Gospel was shared with unreached people. Samaritan’s Purse has a growing collection of incredible stories of whole communities being transformed because of those boxes. Not only that, but we sent almost 80 people to go help process boxes for shipping. As near as I could tell, our church sent more total people to at least the Charlotte processing center than just about any other church did.

And I dare not forget all the blankets and sleeping bags you gave for the Little Sparrow Ministry in Laeger, WV, as well as a variety of other communities across the state. They will give every single one of them away to folks in need this winter when their heat goes out and they have to make it through the cold West Virginia winter in spite of that.

I’m going too long, but there’s just so much to tell. We haven’t said a word about things like our Halloween Event that is starting to get so big it is taking on a life of its own. There were close to 1,000 people this year who had a safe, fun place to trick or treat with their families. We were even able to adapt on the fly and move the whole thing indoors. Nobody else around here was able to do that as effectively as we were. We haven’t talked about our growing and impactful partnership with Oakboro STEM School. Our daily morning greeters are having a huge impact there. If you didn’t see the thank you note from Mrs. Dombrowski in this month’s newsletter, make sure you find a copy and read it. We’ve been able to use our people and our facilities to bless them several times throughout the school year and will do it more in the weeks ahead of us.

I know I’m rolling here, but I’m just that excited. God is doing so much good work in and through this body of believers that we don’t even have time to talk about all of it. He is advancing His kingdom and we get to be a part of it. But, as great as this past year has been, God’s not done. Jesus is still advancing His kingdom and He is still advancing His kingdom through us.

In the next year we are going to see even more people connecting here, growing in their relationship with Christ, and out of that reaching into the world around them to advancing His kingdom. We are going to see more people get involved in serving the least, last, and lost in practical ways. We are going to see more young people connect with the Gospel for the first time and begin proclaiming it in relevant ways to their friends. We are going to see more acts of radical generosity that will allow this kingdom work to be done.

There’s even more than this. Over the next few months, you are going to start hearing more and more about another big kingdom-advancing project our faithful God is leading us to tackle. I am going to invite all of us to step out in faith together to see a new space created for worship and discipleship just across the alleyway there. We’re not going to do this simply because we need more space—we don’t—but because we believe God is preparing to launch a movement of His Spirit in Oakboro and the surrounding communities and we are following His lead in making sure we have somewhere prepared to handle it—a sanctuary where we can all worship together and still have room for more folks to join us; a nursery that’s under the same roof as our regular worship space and even more secure than our current facilities are (although they are secure); ample connection spaces where our students can be discipled in the faith; a space where small- to medium-sized groups can meet for times of worship and retreat; and the list goes on from there. This is something God has been preparing us to do for many years and the time has finally come to begin taking some concrete steps toward seeing the vision of the giants on whose shoulders we stand come to reality. Stay tuned in the months ahead as we get ready to take this big step together.

I’d love to keep celebrating what God has done, is doing, and will yet do, but we are completely out of time this morning. Can we just declare together that God is good? Say that with me: God is good. God is good. God is good. We serve a good God who is doing great work and we get to be a part of it. We’ll experience even more of it as we keep throwing ourselves completely on Him, as we abide more and more fully in Christ. And that is my invitation to you this morning as we prepare to get out of here: Let us abide more fully in Christ together so that we can see and experience even more of the wonder of God’s great work in our midst. Let us abide more fully in Christ so we are ready when the call comes to step out together with great faith and follow through on this building process coming in a few months. Let us abide more fully in Christ so that we can be both as individuals and as a whole community more of who God designed us in Christ to be. As we abide, we will experience His great faithfulness in ways that will lead only and ever to even more Gospel transformation. I’m ready for it and I hope you are. Let’s close our time together by singing of this great faithfulness and with hope in our hearts for even more in the days to come.

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