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On Not Making The Northwestern Mistake

Matthew 6:1-6

Anyone listening to me now who has a connection to the city of Chicago will know the name of Marshall Field, the department store magnate whose business and generosity exercised such a shaping influence on that great city. Some years ago now, Marshall Field’s mother donated one million dollars to the University of Chicago. When the Board of Trustees at nearby Northwestern University heard about her generous gift, they wondered why a similar grant had not been made to Northwestern. A representative was sent to investigate. Mrs. Field’s answer was simple, candid, straight to the point. She said: “Northwestern never asked me.”

Well, believe me, we are not going to make “The Northwestern Mistake” here at First Presbyterian, Orlando. I’m asking you! I’m asking you to join me in remembering the sacred promise we made to God when we became part of this church—that we would support the work and worship of this church to the best of our ability. So we’re not going to make what I would call “the Northwestern mistake”. I’m asking you for your gifts, your prayers and your commitment as we embark upon what we are choosing to call “Faith Odyssey 2001”.

The phrase indicates that during the next year we will begin a wondrous new journey in the faith here at the heart of this city. We have spent much of the past decade building a mission base here at the center of Orlando and all of that construction will be completed within the next several months. Understand, please, that during that ten-year period, we in no way diminished our efforts to take the Good News of Christ’s Gospel to the world and to minister to human need in the name of Christ. However, this next year brings us the opportunity to multiply those efforts significantly. We will have a base for mission in place which will make possible the creation of many ministries which, up to now, we’ve only been able to see in our dreams. Just one example. For more than fifteen years, I dreamed of having a significant, life-transforming pastoral ministry to the homeless and the needy of this community—meeting not just physical needs, but spiritual needs as well. Today you have heard how a new ministry, under the direction of Grant Wells and Joel Miller is going to take us into new arenas that reach beyond even my dreams. I can hardly wait to watch it all begin to unfold. And that’s just one example with much more to come. “Faith Odyssey 2001” sets us on a journey in the faith which will change the life and character of this church and, by God’s grace, may change the city and the world around us.

That’s why I’m asking for your gifts.

I’m asking you to continue your generous support of the work of Christ through this church. We have just come through a record-setting year in terms of the financial giving of the people of this congregation. Even in a time of economic uncertainty, your generosity has been overwhelming. I’m asking us to continue to give of the bounty with which we have been blessed because, the mission and evangelism opportunities which await us this next year are staggering indeed.

Now there are some people who say that the Presbyterian Church is not really evangelistic in its approach, and certainly over the last thirty to forty years, there has been a diminished emphasis on evangelism and mission in our denomination. However, that cuts against the grain of true Presbyterian theology and practice. Beginning at the time of the Protestant Reformation, every great spiritual awakening which has occurred in our world was triggered either by the Presbyterian Church or by people associated with the Presbyterian Church. In the first half of the twentieth century, the strongest, most evangelical denomination in our country was none other than the Presbyterian Church. Furthermore, virtually all of the great para-church ministries in our time were begun by Presbyterians, and, most of those ministries are still led by Presbyterians. Presbyterians, for example, are to be found today at the helm of Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, Young Life and World Vision, just to name a few.

My point is simply this—anyone who either questions an evangelistic emphasis or is uncomfortable with it, is not reflecting our true heritage as Presbyterians. In this church, let me assure you, we are going to build on that glorious heritage and find new ways to deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ in Word and in deed to this city and to the world around us. That’s why I am thrilled to announce that next September this church will produce CityReach 2001, a massive effort to penetrate this city and the region around us with the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over a five-day period, five of the best-known, most effective evangelists in this world will speak from our pulpit. They are:

  • Bill Bright, who, as a beloved member of our congregation heads Campus Crusade, the largest mission and evangelism effort in our world today; responsible for bringing millions of people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Franklin Graham, who has won international acclaim for his efforts at dealing with human need through “Samaritan’s Purse” and who in just the last several weeks, has assumed the full responsibility of leading the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
  • Luis Palau, who is known the world over for his effective communication of the Gospel and for his especially profound work among Hispanics, both in this country and in other parts of the world.
  • Robert Schuller, whose television ministry is now reaching virtually every nation in the world, bringing the Gospel of Christ to parts of our world unreached prior to this time.
  • E.V. Hill, the dynamic African-American preacher whose work at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in south-central Los Angeles has placed him on the front lines of the Kingdom enterprise and earned him the respect and admiration of Christians all over the world.

Leading up to and flowing out of those five block-buster days will be a whole range of activities and ministries which, I believe, will signal a new era in the history of this congregation.

So we are not going to make “The Northwestern Mistake” here. I’m asking you for your generous gifts as this church moves to claim the bright tomorrows God has in store for us.

I am also asking for your prayers.

Please, please pray for this church every single day. Pray for the ministers and the staff. Pray for our church’s remarkable lay leaders. Pray for our church’s programs. Pray for those who are a part of this great family of the faith; the little children, the young people, the grown-ups. Pray especially for those who are hurting—those in this church and those who come to this church—there are so many of them and they need the Lord and they need us. Most of all, pray that our church may be ever faithful in carrying out the preaching, teaching, healing, caring ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, I’m asking you for your prayers.

Do you remember how important prayer was in the experience of Jesus? You could actually write a life-story of Jesus using just His prayer times. Prayer was the way He re-charged His spiritual batteries. It was the way He kept His priorities in proper order. It was the way He worked through the tough decisions He had to make. It was the way He stayed so closely attuned to the will of His heavenly Father. Think about it. He prayed at His baptism. He prayed in the wilderness to understand the direction His ministry should take. He prayed on the mountain before choosing His disciples. He prayed for power to work His miracles. He prayed in the Upper Room. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed on Calvary’s cross. Prayer was as natural to Jesus as breathing. It was as natural as the beating of His heart. And if prayer was so important and so essential to Jesus, how much also ought it to be for us? You see, if we are ever to become all God wants us to be at the heart of this city, it will only be on the strength of our prayers.

So …. we’re not going to make “The Northwestern Mistake” here. I’m asking you for your prayers.

And then I’m asking for your commitment.

I’m asking for your full participation in the life of this great church. No institution in the world serves people like the church. No institution in the world strengthens families like the church. No institution in the world redeems lives like the church. No institution in the world teaches love like the church. No institution in the world lifts up the Lord like the church.

Not long ago, the Gallup Poll unearthed some highly significant facts about people who are deeply committed to a church. The survey revealed that:

  1. The “highly committed” group was far happier than the general population. 68% rated themselves as “very happy” and they demonstrated a greater satisfaction with life.
  2. In the “highly committed” group, family life was far stronger and more meaningful.
  3. The “highly committed” group tended to be more loving, more understanding and more tolerant of people of different races and religions than the general population. They were far more accepting of others.
  4. The people highly committed to the church were far more involved in working with the community to improve the quality of life than the “uncommitted” or “nominally committed” group. Almost 50% of the highly committed group were working in some way with the poor, the homeless, the elderly, or those who in some manner were rejected by society.

That’s why I am calling all of us here to be highly committed to the work of this great church. You see, no other institution or movement or organization can share Jesus Christ with a needy world like the church. And that’s what we’re about. That’s why we’re here. We are here to share Jesus Christ with a needy world and you will be so blessed by being committed to participation in that effort.

Let me dip way back into history to try to make the point: Cyrus and Cagular were two warriors. Cyrus, you may remember, was the famous Emperor of Persia. Cagular was a little-known but courageous chieftain whose troops tried in vain to resist Cyrus’ attempts to expand the southern borders of his empire. Finally, in a huge push for victory, Cyrus amassed his entire army, surrounded Cagular, captured him, and brought him to the capital for trial and execution. On the day of the trial, Cagular and his family were brought to the judgement hall. Cagular, the young chieftain, faced the throne. Cyrus, the Emperor, was very impressed by the tall, noble appearance of the young warrior. Cyrus then asked: “What would you do if I should spare your life?” Cagular immediately responded, “Your Majesty, if you were to spare my life I would return home and remain your obedient servant for as long as I should live.” Cyrus then put a second question: “And what would you do if I should spare the life of your wife?” Cagular then said: “Your Majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you.”

So moved was Cyrus by Cagular’s answer, that he promptly freed both Cagular and his wife and appointed Cagular to be the governor of the southern province of the empire. On the trip back home, Cagular, energized by his encounter with the emperor and by a new lease on life, said to his wife: “Did you notice the marble entrance to the palace? Did you see the elegant corridor to the throne room? Did you notice the Emperor’s throne- it was made of solid gold?” Cagular’s wife replied, “I didn’t really notice any of that.” Cagular was amazed. He asked: “Well, what did you see?” She turned and looked into his eyes and said tenderly: “I saw only the face of the man who said that he would die for me.”

Dear friends, that’s why I’m asking for your gifts, your prayers and your commitment. You see, our high calling is to lift up and to hold high before this city and our world the face of the One who loved us so much that He would die for us.

And He did…

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