Vision Sunday 2020 | Part 2
Good morning Chapel family! Great to be with you today. I hope those of you who started school, or who have kids who started school—I hope you’re getting into a little bit of a rhythm and a routine. I know this is such a strange time for everyone, but especially for kids in school. So I hope you’re adjusting to the “new normal.” By the way, did you know that the Chapel Preschool, which obviously had to shut down back in March, is planning to re-open next month? Isn’t that great? And not only that, listen to this: we were recently certified to provide after-school enrichment for older kids—elementary-age kids. So starting in October—this is brand new: if you have kids from preschool all the way up to sixth grade, and they’re spending way too much time in front of a screen and not enough time with other people, you can enroll them in our after-school enrichment program. Obviously we’ll be following all the state health guidelines. We think this is really going to meet a need in our community. So…if you’re interested, email our preschool director, Jasmine Knaus, at .
Alright. We are taking two Sundays to talk about The Chapel’s vision for this new and very strange season. Our mission remains exactly the same. We are all about building a family of Christ-followers who love God, love people, and serve the world. That does not change. But the way we carry out that mission looks a little different this year than it normally does.
And so last week, I laid out our vision in one sentence; here it is: This season, The Chapel will be refreshingly non-political, highly relational, and defiantly hopeful. And last week, we talked about those first two things.
At a time when our country is so divided over politics, and where people get shamed and canceled for not having the right politics, and where, unfortunately, many churches are essentially endorsing political candidates, The Chapel will be refreshingly non-political. We believe the kingdom that Jesus offers is not conservative nor progressive; it’s altogether different. So that’s the kingdom we’re all about, and Jesus is the King we follow.
And then, secondly, in a culture that has become more and more isolated, The Chapel will be highly relational. That’s not easy to do when you’re in a pandemic, but we are working hard to create ways for people to connect—including live, outdoor church, a new thing we’re calling “home church,” and of course small groups. And we’re all praying the governor will raise the capacity for indoor capacity before the cold weather arrives. But overall, you will notice The Chapel being a little less focused on programs and events, and a little more focused on personal relationships.
So this season, our church will be refreshingly non-political, highly relational…and today we get to talk about the third and final thing: our church will be defiantly hopeful.
So today I’m going to build my message around a very familiar event from the history of Israel; I’m going to share with you something that happened to me about a week ago that I will remember for the rest of my life; and I’m going to talk about what all that has to do with The Chapel’s vision. And then we’re going to close with communion. So, before we go any further, let’s pray for God’s help.
Okay—two points today. I want to talk about The Disappearance of Hope, and The Rising of Hope. The disappearance of hope, and the rising of hope.
First, The Disappearance of Hope. Let’s look at today’s Scripture. This is at the very end of the 400-year period when the people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt. And they finally escaped. So let’s join the action in Exodus 14, starting in verse 9.
9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. 10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
If I had to describe this moment in one word, I would use the word “hopeless.” Try to put yourself in their shoes. Your entire life, all you’ve known is slavery. But now, through the leadership of Moses and the power of God, you’re free! And you’re with this huge group—hundreds of thousands of shocked and happy people—and you’re walking toward freedom. And you’re dreaming about this amazing new life ahead of you. It’s the most hopeful moment of your life! And then all of a sudden, everything changes. In front of you is the Red Sea. Behind you is the most sophisticated, most well-equipped army in the ancient world. And they’re closing fast. Can you imagine? Fear…confusion… utter hopelessness.
I’ve been watching people respond to everything that’s happened over the past six months. And I don’t just mean the pandemic; I mean the racial tension; the political division; the job uncertainty; the financial concerns; the school challenges—all of it. And as the months have gone by, I have seen a rise in hopelessness. Have you noticed that? And it’s not just my perception. Last month, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a new report on the mental health of Americans. The results are alarming, to say the least. Let me just give you a few highlights:
Symptoms of anxiety disorder are more than three times higher than this time last year. Last year 8% of people had anxiety symptoms; this year more than 25% of people are experiencing clinical anxiety. Three times higher!
Symptoms of depressive disorder are about four times higher than last year. Think about this, guys! Four times higher in one year! Last year, 6% of people had symptoms of clinical depression; this year it’s 24%. Something big is going on.
One of our staff members is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling at a Christian college. And he recently told me something one of his professors said. He said, “Anxiety and trauma are the new mission field.” Anxiety and trauma are the new mission field. In other words, we used to think we had to go to a foreign country, or at least to the inner city, to serve needy and broken people. But more and more, the needy and broken people are all around us. Right here in the suburbs. They might live in million-dollar homes, but they’re feeling hopeless. Like the Israelites trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, the future just looks bleak.
You know what else is happening? Americans are losing trust in the institutions that used to give their lives stability. And this actually goes back before the pandemic. In January of this year, there was an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by a guy named Yuval Levin. It was called “How Did Americans Lose Faith in Everything?” And he says, look, any culture is made of up of institutions that play important roles in society. So you have the educational system. You have the medical system. You have the banking system. The law enforcement system. The political system. Etc. And in the past, generally, Americans felt like they could trust those institutions. We’ve always know there are some bad apples, and some corruption, but in general, Americans have felt confident that those institutions are doing their job and playing their role. And that gives a feeling of security, right? But over the years, something has changed. We have seen banking scandals; we have seen political corruption; we’ve seen a ridiculously complicated health insurance system, etc. So now, if you asked Americans, “Do you trust your elected leaders? Do you trust the healthcare system? Do you trust the banks?”, more and more, people would say, “No.” Maybe you don’t think that’s a big deal, but I think it is. Because we can’t trust the very institutions that are supposed to serve us, that’s a very disorienting place to be.
So…how do people respond to all this? I mean, when people start to feel hopeless, what do they do? I think three main things. The first is cynicism. They get jaded and bitter and cranky. Always complaining; always criticizing. Lawyers are corrupt. The government is corrupt. Cops are corrupt. They’re all crooks. Do you know anyone like that? It’s actually exhausting to be around people like that. Sometimes their cynicism comes out as sarcastic humor, but it’s still very dark, and very hopeless. But that’s one way to deal with it.
The second way it comes out is distraction. You find something else to do—something else to think about—so you don’t have to face the hopelessness. You distract yourself with work or working out or sex or partying or constantly renovating your home. Heaven forbid your car radio breaks, and you just have to sit there and drive in silence, and be forced to think about your life. And when we live in a wealthy society, we have so many options to distract ourselves with. Some of you are checking the kickoff time for the Giants game right now, and you’re proving my point. Distraction.
The third way hopelessness comes out is despair. This is obviously the darkest path. You become so overwhelmed with the hopelessness around you that you lose all motivation. And the logical conclusion of that is to ask yourself, “Why should I even continue to live?” In the CDC report that I just mentioned, it compared suicidal thoughts of people now, compared to this same period in 2018. Back in 2018, 4.3% of people said, “I’ve seriously considered suicide recently.” 4.3%. Last month—in August, it was up to 10.7% More than double the number.
So look: I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s day. But it’s so important that we deal in reality. And here’s the reality: because of everything happening in our world, more and more people around us are struggling to find a reason for hope. The Israelites looked in front of them, and they saw deep water; they looked behind them, and they saw a bloodthirsty army; and they lost hope. And for a lot of people today, everything they see around them tells them that there is no hope. Can you relate to this personally? I mean, we all live in this world, right? Have you been had any feelings of hopelessness? You are not alone, at all. And I promise you this: even if you don’t feel that way, there are people around you feeling that way. Some of them are so good at covering it up. But under the surface, they are not doing well, at all.
So here’s the question: what does it mean for us to be the church—to represent Jesus—at a time when so many people are losing hope? Let’s talk about that: The Rising of Hope. And actually, before we get back to the Israelites, let me quickly mention one very common place that people are trying to find hope. In our culture today, there is a renewed interest in social justice. Right? You’ve seen that. And in so many ways, that’s a good thing. People are speaking up for the poor, and for the oppressed, and for racial minorities. People want our judicial system and our police system to be just. Those are all good things! So there are actually some people in our culture that aren’t feeling hopeless at all! They’re feeling very hopeful, because they’re working for social justice. There’s only one problem: when you leave God out of it, it will be ultimately frustrating.
I was talking to friend of mine who leads a campus ministry at a nearby college. And we were talking about the marches and the protests and the cry for justice. And he said, “I’m so impressed with some of the students on our campus. They are working for something bigger than themselves, and I love that.” But he said, “Here’s the problem: they want the kingdom without the King.” Oh, man. I took my phone out and wrote that down. They want the kingdom without the King. You know, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God being a place of justice and shalom, and that’s the kind of world so many people are marching for and protesting for. But they’re trying to bring in the kingdom without the King…and that won’t work. Because human nature is too bent toward selfishness. We said it last week: we don’t just need laws to change; we need hearts to change—on both sides. And that doesn’t happen without God. So here’s the point: as followers of Jesus, if all we do is join in with a secular social justice movement, we’re leaving out the power that can actually bring social justice! We’re hiding our light under a basket, and we’re missing our calling.
So…what is the answer to hopelessness? Exodus 14, verse 13:
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.
Verse 21: 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
Verse 26: 26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.
Just when things were looking utterly hopeless, God stepped in and brought hope. And this is so key: it wasn’t the brilliant leadership of Moses; it wasn’t the gritty resolve of the Israelites; hope arrived because God showed up.
About a week ago, I experienced something that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was at the Jersey Shore for Labor Day weekend. And on Monday evening, I was all alone at the beach. It was a beautiful evening; I was waiting for Norma Jean to come and join me. And I decided to go swimming. The water was warm, and I spent the next 45 minutes or so bodysurfing. The waves were fantastic. So at some point, I decided to come back in…and I couldn’t. Now you have to understand: I’ve been swimming in the Atlantic Ocean all my life. I’m very comfortable there; I’ve navigated all kinds of tides and currents. But for the first time in my life, the ocean was winning. I kept trying to come back to shore, but the current, which I now know was a rip current, was incredibly strong. A few times I felt the bottom with my feet, but the traction I got was no match for the power of the current. Yes, I know what you’re supposed to do in a rip current: don’t fight it; let it take you out; swim parallel to the shore. That sounds good on paper. But in the moment, there’s this powerful human instinct to get back to land. And I couldn’t. And as the waves kept crashing over my head, I started to get a little bit concerned. It was about 6:15 in the evening; the lifeguards were off duty; and as my body ran out of energy, I started thinking, “This might be bad.”
As I was struggling, I noticed someone on the shore, waving at me. It was an older man; I noticed he was wearing red swim trunks, and he was waving at me. I didn’t wave back, because I was using both arms to survive. But I was kind of happy someone noticed my distress. And the rest is kind of a blur, but after a few more minutes, I noticed a lifeguard buggy flying down the beach toward me; a lifeguard sprinted out toward me and threw me a torpedo-shaped float on a rope; he told me to grab on, and he pulled me to safety. It was a surreal experience. I later learned that a few blocks down, the lifeguards actually stay on duty till 6:30, and this man who had noticed my distress had run down and gotten the lifeguard. So I shook the lifeguard’s hand and thanked him; the people on the beach cheered for the lifeguard; the man in the red trunks came up to me; he was very emotional; he said he’d been a lifeguard there 40 years earlier and he could tell I was in trouble; and two times he looked me in the eye and said, “God bless you.” I shook his hand and thanked him, and I went back to my beach chair. It was the closest to death I’ve ever come.
And it’s hard for me to describe the combination of emotions I was feeling. I felt embarrassed and stupid for getting myself into that predicament. I felt confusion about what exactly happened, because I’m a pretty strong swimmer and I’ve always found a way out of those situations. A part of me was in denial: I kept telling myself, “I would have been okay. I really didn’t need to be rescued.” But the reality is, I might not have been okay.
Over the past week I’ve reflected a lot on that moment, and on what the man in the red trunks said to me: “God bless you.” God did bless me that night. It wasn’t my great swimming skills or my knowledge of the current that got me out of that mess. In a situation that was quickly becoming hopeless, I truly believe God showed up and rescued me. He used an observant elderly gentleman and a well-trained lifeguard, but ultimately I have no doubt that it was God’s grace that saved me. Just like the Israelites at the Red Sea, things were looking hopeless until God showed up.
And all week long, it feels like God is telling me: don’t forget this. Don’t forget what it felt like to be vulnerable and hopeless…because you are surrounded by people who feel like that. And don’t forget how powerful my grace is, and how sweet it is to be rescued. Don’t forget.
Isn’t this what the gospel is all about? The gospel is all about Jesus doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. Romans 5:6 says “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us.” When we were drowning, Jesus showed up; he lived the life we should have lived; he went to the cross and died the death we should have died; and we get rescued just by reaching out and holding on. It’s pure grace. Don’t forget that.
As a church, let’s not forget that. In world that’s losing hope in so many ways, let’s not forget where real hope comes from. Psalm 20, verse 7 says this: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. As we approach this new season, the reason we are defiantly hopeful is not because of our brilliant ministry strategy; it’s not because of our amazing technology; we are hopeful because we follow a God who shows up and rescues. Amen? We don’t deserve it; we can’t script it or predict it; but He’s alive and he’s still rescuing.
If we really believe that—if we truly believe that the hope people need is found in God showing up in their lives—how would that affect the way we look as a church this year? Four things…
We would pray more. In our homes, in our small groups, in our cars—we would pray for the people we know to find the hope of Christ. We would engage in spiritual battle for them.
We would invite more. Because we love people, and we trust that when they come to church, or to our group, or when they listen to that sermon or that 3-minute message on Facebook, our church is going to faithfully point them to Jesus, the hope-giver. We’d invite people all the time.
We would risk more. Because we realize that life is so fragile. And some people are wondering if life is even worth living. So we would risk more for them. We’d be like the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go after the one lost one. We wouldn’t play it so safe.
And one more thing: if we truly believe Christ is the one who gives hope, We would worship more. Did you ever read the next chapter in Exodus? Exodus 14 is all about the crossing of the Red Sea. But did you ever read chapter 15? It’s pure worship. It’s Moses, and Miriam the sister of Aaron, on the other side of the Red Sea, leading the people of Israel in this awestruck worship of God. They’re so blown away by God’s power and grace and love for them, they fall to their knees in worship.
Listen: if we truly believe that Christ is the giver of hope, we will pray more and invite more and risk more and worship more. We’ll be that kind of church.
I realize some of you might be frustrated, because you wanted to hear more details. You wanted more specifics about what we’re planning for missions and Chapel students and Chapel Kids. And of course we have plans for all of those things. But this is a different kind of year. And I almost died last week, so I get to do anything I want. So I decided it was more important for you to hear the larger vision that will be driving us. So here it is: this new season, in everything we do, The Chapel will be refreshingly non-political, highly relational, and defiantly hopeful. I think it’s going to be a really good year. Amen?
I can’t think of any better way to launch into our new season than sharing in communion together. So let’s take a few moments of quiet reflection and prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Supper…