November is Special
For us as a church, this month is special.
Forty four years ago, November 21, 1971, the first worship service for what is now Ashworth Road Baptist Church was held.
A lot has changed over the years, but the original mission that set this church on our current path is still the same: to be a church that reaches out to people in our community with the message of Jesus, to show our community Jesus and his love, and to rely upon the Holy Spirit in everything we do.
I took this from the original statement of purpose written over 40 years ago by those who had a passion and a desire to see a church come into West Des Moines and make an impact.
But you know, we don’t have to look back 40 years to see how Ashworth Road has changed. If we look back just over the last year, we see incredible and amazing things happening in and through us as a church.
Some are very obvious, like the changes to our foyer and sanctuary. Your generosity over the last year has helped us to raise almost $96,000 for our Renew campaign and then over $10,000 for our annual Missions emphasis. Stop and think about that for a second. Above and beyond our regular annual budget, you have given over $106,000!
In the year 2015 we have accomplished the following:
Missions – We sent 25 people to the Crow Creek Reservation at different times this year, including our high school youth group. Our junior high kids spent a week in Minneapolis and four people from Ashworth Road spent over a week in Slovakia. We even supported students from Intervarsity who spent six weeks in China.
Outreach – We increased our efforts to reach out to our community by hosting a couple of movie nights, a tailgate at Drake for students, and had one of the best Vacation Bible Schools yet.
Baptism – Seven people this year stepped up to make their faith in Jesus public through baptism, which is the most I can remember in my eight years here.
New People – Over 50 new people have come to Ashworth Road and consider this church to be their home. Would you believe that in the month of October, if you were to add up everybody that added worship at least one time, and put them all in this room today, that we had 299 people?
These are not just numbers to us. They are people, families, kids, who were here, who gave us the opportunity to tell them about Jesus, to show them that our passion and desire isn’t just to build something here for us, but to reach out and make a difference for the kingdom of God.
And what I absolutely love is that of the people that have come to Ashworth over the last year, there are many who a year ago were not in church at all, but for some reason or another, they felt God tugging on them, and they began to search for or return to God and a community of faith. I desperately desire for this to be a place where unchurched or de-churched people come and find a place they can call home.
Why do I tell you all this? For a couple of reasons. First, you need to know this: God is doing something at Ashworth Road. I realize I have only been here eight of the 44 years of Ashworth Road, but what I have seen God do here over the last year I haven’t seen here before. And I can guarantee you it is not the cleverness of the staff or a great marketing plan that is causing what we are seeing today.
The hand of God is on this church.
The second reason I tell you this is because I think there are a few things we need to be aware of or reminded of. I am calling these our four imperatives. They are four attitudes we need to make sure are a constant part of our journey as we continue to be God’s church. Because our attitudes will determine who we become.
The first imperative we have is to be thankful. That’s an easy and obvious one, right? As parents, we work hard to teach our kids to be grateful when others do for them, to say thank you. He must get it from his mother, but I see this a lot in my son, Luke. He gets invitations to attend football and basketball games, and almost without fail, I hear him thank the person who he got the tickets from. As a dad, that makes me proud.
Gratitude reminds us that even though we might be doing a lot of good and right things, ultimately, the results come from God. And we must always be cautious not to take credit for what he is doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
This has been a great year for us as a church and to be honest, it is easier to be thankful in the good years. But regardless of how good or bad our years might be, we need to always remember who has given us all that we have. And so we say thank you to God.
But we are also thankful for one another and the role each of us plays in this church to help us be the church God desires us to be. We have people willing to give up their time during worship service to watch our kids. We have volunteers in the nursery and in the basement loving on our kids, sharing Jesus with them, and creating an atmosphere where they want to be each and every week to hear more and more about Jesus.
A few months ago, we also installed a television in the nursery, so that those who serve could also see what’s happening in here and not be completely isolated from everything else.
From kids and youth workers, to those going on mission trips, to the hospitality team making sure we have donuts and coffee every Sunday, to the greeters who welcome everyone who walks in these doors, we need one another. We each have a role to play in the Big Story of God and we need to express our gratitude to each other.
So, our first imperative is to be thankful.
The next imperative is to be alert. No, I am not just asking you to stay awake during the sermons, although that is much appreciated, even when they do run long! But it is critically important that we are alert, paying attention to what’s happening around us. And we need to be alert for two things.
The first is something that Bob Hopper, one of our deacons and a member of our Leadership Team, constantly reminds me of. We have an enemy. I don’t tell you that to scare you, but in this case ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is deadly. We have an enemy. And when we see our church growing, when we see people coming to faith for the first time or coming back to faith after years away, I can guarantee you that it catches the attention of Satan and he will begin to work to destroy it.
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples, tells us in his first letter to be alert.
1 Peter 5:8-9 says,
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
How does this happen? Usually in the little things: gossip, complaining, discontentment. It starts off slow, but little by little it gets louder and louder, and it spreads to more and more people until it blows up and half the people leave the church. It isn’t always over insignificant issues, but it certainly can be. And we need to be on the lookout for it. We need to make sure that we aren’t the ones being used by our enemy to bring about the devastation.
I think we also need to be alert for something else. We need to be watching for the God moments. Those moments in our lives that God will use to bring others to Jesus. Those moments where we can serve someone and it leads to a spiritual conversation or an invitation to church.
For example, our friend and church member Kim Runge, invited her coworkers to her birthday party. Brandi, who Kim didn’t even expect to show up, did, and from there a conversation was launched about Ashworth Road. And God used that in her life to bring her back to Jesus. This all occurred because Kim was alert to a God moment.
In the book of Acts, we read a story of Paul, who was traveling around sharing the good news of Jesus. One night, he had a vision. God spoke to him and told him to change his plans because he wanted him to go somewhere else. Paul listened and obeyed. And his obedience led to the establishment of many churches and many people coming to faith in Christ.
Will we be alert and cautious of an enemy out to destroy us and will we be sensitive to listen to the voice of God when he calls us into these moments where he is using us to show others Jesus Christ?
It is imperative that we are grateful and that we are alert, but we also need to be prepared.
The staff will tell you, I do not like surprises. I like to plan things out. In fact, we have been talking Christmas for over a month now. We might have even been on Christmas before most of the stores put out their Christmas trees.
As we continue to move forward as a church, we must be prepared: prepared for more people and prepared to love others who may not look like us, who may be of a different race, or nation, who may be of a different socioeconomic background. We must be prepared to get our hands dirty, to step into the mess that is some people’s lives. We must be prepared to rush the very gates of hell to bring people to Christ.
Last year, on this very one worship weekend, I asked you the question, “How far are you willing to go to tell someone about Jesus?” Are we prepared to do whatever it takes?
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9,
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”
And if we aren’t prepared, will be resistant and resentful over what is taking place, even if what we see taking place is good?
So, how do we prepare? It begins with understanding that the only thing constant is change. I realize that any time a pastor says that word in a message, there are those who immediately get fearful and begin to white-knuckle the pew in front of them. Let me put your mind at ease. I have no change to announce today. In fact, we have no major plans of change sitting on my desk at this moment.
BUT… can’t we admit, that the church we are today is not the church that was started 44 years ago? Good grief, we aren’t even the same church I became lead pastor of three and a half years ago. We must acknowledge that what brought us to faith might not be what brings this next generation to faith, and the practices of yesterday might not be the practices of tomorrow.
We must be prepared for this, but we can take comfort in knowing that though our methods might change, our message never will. As long as I am here, this will be a church that proclaims Jesus Christ as the only way, a church that will “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” —Micah 6:8
Why do we have two worship services now? It is not to appease people, but to reach more people. What if the next expression of Ashworth Road isn’t another service, but something entirely different? Are we prepared?
If we prepare ourselves for the movement of God, we will receive all God has for us with joy and gratitude. If not, we will be resistant and resentful.
We must be ready for what God has in store.
If we are grateful, and alert, and ready, then we must be hopeful. What God can accomplish through a group of people totally sold out to and dedicated to him is limitless. It is world changing. The disciples in the early church were accused of turning the world upside down. And why can’t we?
Galatians 6:9 tells us,
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
The story of Ashworth Road has been full of ups and downs, full of good times and times of difficulty. This past year has been amazing, but our best days are not behind us. They are right in front of us. We are not here right now for what we have done, but for what we are going to do.
If we stay focused on him, if we continue to show mercy and seek justice, if we continue to reflect Christ, we will see people coming to faith and joining us in the journey. And isn’t going out and making disciples of all nations what it is all about? That begins right here.
So, those are the imperatives that I believe are a word from God for us today. We must be thankful, be alert, be prepared, and be hopeful. And to be honest, I think for the most part, we already are.
This week, the pastoral team spent a day planning for 2016 at a lodge nearby. We started our time together in prayer. I went to the side of the room and began to think about today and this last year, and my heart was and is completely overwhelmed with the goodness of our God, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit.
We serve an amazing and awesome God, who is doing something amazing through this church. And I don’t know about you, but I am excited to see what the next year brings and what God does through us to impact and influence this city and our world.