Essential: God

Pastor Craig Carter

I set aside some time this past Tuesday, June 2 for sermon preparation. I was excited about preaching my first message in our newly renovated building after being “homeless” for nearly 20 months, having had our two facilities destroyed by Hurricane Michael.

As I settled into my study, I received a text alert that Tropical Storm Cristobal had formed off the Mexican coast, in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. I looked at our 10-day local forecast and for Sunday, June 7, it stated: “Eyeing the tropics.”

A bit ironic, don’t you think? But it’s not altogether surprising … after all, hurricane season began on Monday, June 1.

Because it’s that time of the year, organizations like the Red Cross are sharing their hurricane preparedness checklists. I had a good chuckle at some of the items on the list:

– At least a three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day). Three days? What about enough water to flush toilets?

– A battery-powered or hand-crank radio. Where do you even get one of those?

– Personal hygiene items. Why? Everyone else stinks, too!

– Hand sanitizer.  Actually that’s pretty useful, especially now in our Covid-19 environment.

– Emergency blanket. Do you remember the weather post-October 10, 2018 in Bay County? 90+ degrees!

My actual hurricane preparedness list looks more like this:

– Toilet paper

– Rechargeable power pack (for mine and everyone else’s cell phone)

– Church connections with folks who will bring you what you need 🙂

– A friend with a whole house generator 🙂 🙂

One thing Hurricane Michael did was show us what was essential and what is not. Running water? Electricity? Internet? All nice, but not vital.

The COVID-19 shutdown has shown us some more things we can live without: haircuts, gym workouts, dental and doctor visits, eating in restaurants.

When it comes right down to it, there aren’t a whole lot of things that are absolutely necessary. The essentials are: air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and a place to sleep. And for those of us that have to see each other, I’d add clothes to wear.

As a church, the combination of a hurricane and pandemic has stripped away much of what we hold dear and previously considered indispensable parts of our fellowship. We have learned to live without a church building, Sunday School classes, children and youth meetings, fellowship meals, even in-person worship.

Having been scattered over the past year and a half, today marks the regathering of the Lynn Haven UMC. Even though our first in-person worship service has been delayed (yet once again), we’re still declaring this the start of the regathering process, which will take place over time through a series of events.

As we begin to rebuild our life together, what should we consider essential? Is there anything you and I can’t live without? What is absolutely critical to our existence as a body of believers?

What did Jesus say are the two most important things in the world? “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT)

“Love God, Love Others” is our church’s vision statement and it’s emblazoned in large letters in our lobby. That statement communicates in four words what is absolutely essential to our existence as a church: God and each other. We can’t live without either one … nor should we want to.

As we continue our regathering and rebuilding process this summer I want us to look at various aspects of what is ESSENTIAL. Specifically, we’ll explore what God and the people of God provide.

This morning I want to set stage by looking at the most basic ingredient – God. Members of our children’s church will know the answer: “What do we need most? Who can’t you and I live without?” Shout it out: GOD!

It’s the conclusion David reached when he cried out in Psalm 142:5 NLT: I pray to you, O Lord. I say, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.”

During his second missionary journey, the Apostle Paul traveled to Athens, the cultural hub of the Roman Empire. In a city that touted the accomplishments of the human race and paid homage to man’s achievements, Paul declared that God is actually the center of the universe:

God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn’t live in temples built by human hands. He doesn’t need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be. God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn’t far from any of us, and “he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are.” As some of your poets have said, “We are his children.” (Acts 17:24-28 CEV)

In that final verse, Paul quoted two well-known Greek poets and suggested they had it right when they said of God, “he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are” and “we are his children.” In such a way he describes why God is so essential.

God is essential because He gives us the power to…

1) Live

Apart from God, you and I are merely existing. To really live, we must be in God and have God in us.

It’s the very reason Jesus came to Planet Earth, so that in Him, we might have life, and have it abundantly (or to the full; see John 10:10).

According to Paul, God is the essential source for true life for several important reasons. He is the One who made the world and everything in it (v. 24a). He is the Lord of heaven and earth (v. 24b). He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people (v. 25). In summary, “he gives us the power to live” (v. 28a).

I’m afraid many people today, including Christians, fail to realize that apart from God, we’re really not living; instead, we’re just getting by and going through the motions. That’s true for individuals, but it’s also true of churches. It’s easy for congregations to fall into the trap of thinking (and acting like) it all depends on them and their efforts.

Church becomes what we can do, how we can serve, where we can go. And, while not intentional, God somehow gets left out and relegated to a seat on the sidelines.

But we must always remember that “apart from Christ we can do nothing.” God is absolutely essential if we are going to fulfill our stated purpose and reach out to community and world in loving, life-giving ways.

Perhaps more than any congregation, we know and understand this principle. The one-two punch of a Category 5 hurricane and a worldwide pandemic is a potent and even deadly combination. But on June 7, 2020, the LHUMC is alive and well and God has given us “the power to live” and resurrected us from a potentially life-threatening event(s).

In fact, from my point of view, this congregation is more alive and livelier than ever. That’s because we have learned to rely on God and trust more fully on Him. Lord knows we had to, because it was evident we couldn’t do it ourselves.

Our former Fusion campus is testimony to that fact. We bought it in 2012 as an alternative community life center, second campus, and means of community outreach. While some wonderful ministries took place in this location, the building itself became an albatross around our necks (or least mine). Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t make it work, financially speaking.  

So, just being honest here, when Hurricane Michael hit, my greatest disappointment was that it didn’t blow this building away entirely. But look at what God has done – this building, that was a burden, has become a blessing – it is a lifeline to our future.

Can we all agree God is essential to our existence because in Him we find power to live, really live? He is Lord. He gives life and breath. In Him, we don’t just survive, we thrive!

The second reason God is essential is because He gives us the power to…

2) Move

Paul says, “God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be” (v. 26).  And “He gives us the power … to move” (v. 28).

I’ve noticed that a lot of folks just seem to wander through life, with no direction. They have no earthly idea where to go, much less know how to get there. That’s because they’ve left God out of the planning process for their lives.

Again, what’s true for individuals is also true of many churches. It’s easy to fall into the trap of moving based on our own agenda, rather than God’s will.

But what does God say? Where does He want us to go? What does He want us to do?

Notice that Paul suggests groups of people (including entire nations) find their way based on the sovereign plan of God (“when and where … to move”).

Again, this congregation is well-acquainted with that principle, aren’t we? Our plans didn’t include being without our facilities for the past 20 months. But God has directed our path, provided for us at every turn, and shown us that we could still carry out our mission without a building.

When you come into this building (and we promise we’re going to let you in soon), you’ll notice a “minimalist” theme in terms of both ministries and furnishings. The hurricane stripped away just about anything and everything that we had accumulated over our 100+ year history so we’re starting from scratch with just the basics. We know some things (ministries + physical items) are missing, but as time unfolds, we’re trusting God will show us where and how to “move,” and we’ll proceed accordingly.

So it’s essential that we focus on God, listen to Him, then respond in faith and obedience. Finally, God is essential is because He gives us the power to…

3) Be who we are

All of life is a search for meaning and significance. That pursuit ends when we discover our true selves, our real identity.

Paul made it clear to the Athenians that we find out who we really are only when we “reach out and find [God]” (v. 27). Of course, we grab hold of God through faith and when that happens, He gives us the power to be who we were meant to be and live as God’s children (v. 28).

You and I will never know our true identity apart from God – so a relationship with Him is absolutely essential and a necessary part of life. Before I discuss how this principle applies to us as a congregation, let me first address a related issue.

As my fellow pastors and I shared in a recent email, these are troubling times in America as we have watched peaceful protests turn into violent, destructive mob scenes. While there are probably many causes and underlying issues, one thing is crystal clear – we need racial reconciliation and unity in our country.

As Christians we need to be at the forefront of making it happen. We are commanded to love one another, with no exceptions. The reason is simple: we are God’s children, as Paul states. The Lord “made all the nations (Greek, ethnos) who live on earth.” The old childhood Sunday School song has it right: “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Our essential identity is in God’s image.

That song is over 100 years old, it’s time we started living it … Amen?

Back to the subject at hand … Who are we as a congregation?

Lynn Haven United Methodist Church is our name, but that’s not our true identity. As a matter of fact, that label is fleeting at best. Previously, we were the Lynn Haven Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Lynn Haven Methodist Church. And, if not for the pandemic causing the postponement of our denomination’s general conference in May, we could’ve been changing our name this week due to a proposed plan of separation for the United Methodist Church.

Likewise, we never really were the church on Transmitter Road or the Fusion campus. We always have been, we are now, and we always will be the Body of Christ in Lynn Haven, brothers and sisters in the Lord because we are all sons and daughters of God.

It is not a name or circumstances, but Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth (and the church) who gives us the power to be who we really are. And because that’s our true identity, the gates of hell (or hurricanes or pandemics) will not prevail against us.

So, what is truly necessary in life?

God!

Do you believe that?

If we believe God is essential to our existence, let’s be like David and say to the Lord, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.” (Psalm 142:5 NLT)

And, if we really mean that, know that “[God] isn’t far from any of us, and “he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are … his children.” (Acts 17:27b-28)