- Adam Schell
It was December 22, 1957, when 134 people came together to sign their names as charter members and begin the story of Melbourne Heights Baptist Church…and what a story this church has been able to tell. We’re a church that has been there to minister to one another and our community for almost 65 years.
For almost 65 years, we’ve been there in the aftermath of national tragedies – holding worship services days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, after the Challenger explosion, and after September 11th. And we’ve also been there for you when you’ve faced personal tragedies – we’ve been there when you’ve lost a loved one, or when your marriage was on the rocks, or when you had too much month left at the end of your money.
For almost 65 years, we’ve been the presence of Jesus in our community – we’ve helped build thirty homes for people in need with Habitat for Humanity, we’ve helped feed thousands of families through our partnership with the Cabbage Patch House, we’ve helped hundreds of kids celebrate Christmas through our contributions to the Angel Tree. And we’ve also helped you grow in your relationship with Jesus – through worship services and Bible studies, Small Groups and Vacation Bible School, church camps and mission trips.
For almost 65 years, we’ve stood together in the face of trying times – figuring out how to be a church during a worldwide pandemic, and remaining committed to being a church even when financial struggles made us completely change the way we do church. And for almost 65 years, we’ve celebrated some of life’s greatest blessings together – from births to baptisms, from marriages to personal milestones.
And today at Melbourne Heights, we are taking our next step to make sure that our story continues for another 65 years. Today, we’re taking the next step to make sure that our church continues to be there to minister to one another and our community. Today, we’re taking the next step to make sure that our church continues to be there to be the presence of Jesus in our world.
And that’s because today is our very first Sunday in our new church home. And in these walls that we now call home, we will continue to be Jesus’ presence whenever we face tragedy. In these walls that we now call home, we will continue to serve our community and help those in need. In these walls that we now call home, we will continue to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus. In these walls that we now call home, we will continue to share life together. In these walls that we now call home, we will continue to be the church God calls us to be.
But, as we come together today in our new church home for the very first time, I find myself wondering what it was like to be there on December 22, 1957, when our church officially began. What it was like for those 134 people to put on their suits and ties, or their dresses and pearls, and come to our church that morning? As they held a pen in their hands and wrote their names down on our founding documents, what thoughts were running through their minds?
Were they excited about a new beginning? Were they worried about paying for the new sanctuary they had just started to build? Were they looking forward to reaching out to the neighborhood that was quickly growing around them? Did they wonder if the church they were starting that day would still be around sixty-five years later?
Or did they come to church that morning still replaying an argument they had with their spouse the night before? Were they too frustrated from helping their kids find a matching pair of shoes to wonder what the future held? Were they stressed about finding new work in the new part of town they now called home? Were they too worried about making their own mortgage payment to even think about how the church would make ends meet?
The truth is: I don’t know. I don’t know what it was like to be here that morning sixty-five years ago. I don’t know what thoughts were running through the minds of those 134 people on that December day. And I don’t know because I wasn’t there.
But I do have an idea of how I would’ve felt if I were there all those years ago, especially if I were the pastor leading this church that day…because it’s how I’m feeling right now. So I have no doubt that I would’ve been excited about everything happening all around me. I would’ve been inspired by those people who were willing to step out in faith and get this church started. I would’ve been thrilled that this congregation had a new place to call home. I would’ve been eager to start reaching out and serving the growing community that was sprouting up all around our church.
But I don’t think that’s all I would’ve felt that morning. As I looked on as each of those people signed their names, as my eyes wandered over the freshly broken ground where a new sanctuary would someday stand, as I saw a neighborhood springing up all around me; I think I would’ve been scared to death.
And I would’ve been scared to death for a lot of reasons. I would’ve been scared because 134 people were counting on me to lead them into a new frontier. I would’ve been scared because this new church needed to pay for its new building. I would’ve been scared because there were so many people to reach in this growing neighborhood that I wouldn’t have known where to start.
I would’ve been scared for so many reasons, but the scariest reason of them all is one that we all know well. It’s a fear that you’ve felt on the first day in a brand new school as you looked out on a sea of faces in the cafeteria when you had no idea who to sit beside, or which group might invite you in, or who you might inadvertently offend.
Or you may have felt this fear creep in one day after your youngest child went off to college. As you walked by his empty bedroom – looking at all of the pictures and trophies he had acquired over the last 18 years – you felt a little lost without him sitting in that room.
Or you may have felt this fear after your doctor told you she needed to run some tests. You were poked and prodded, scans were run and blood was drawn, and now you were waiting for the phone to ring or your next appointment time to come.
We’ve all felt this fear before, and it always comes from the same place: uncertainty. I mean, let’s just admit it right here and now, it’s scary when you don’t know what the future holds.
It’s scary when you don’t know what the future holds.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re waiting to hear back from a doctor, or if you’re trying to figure out what your life looks like as one phase ends and another begins, or if you’re hoping that you’ll make friends in a new place…or if you’re trying to lead a church into the future. It’s scary when you don’t know what the future holds.
So what do you do when you’re feeling afraid?
Well, like I said a few minutes ago, I wasn’t there that morning 65 years ago when Melbourne Heights was formed. And I have no idea what the church’s pastor at the time, a man named Willard Whoberry, preached on that morning. But I do know that as we came together to worship today that we’re in a similar place to where this congregation was all those years ago.
65 years ago 134 people came together to sign their names and begin the story of Melbourne Heights. But today, we’re starting a new chapter in this story. Today, we’ve moved into our new church home. And right now, we’re excited about the ministry that we’ll be able to do in this new place. Right now, we’re imagining the lives that we can touch.
But, if we’re being completely honest, we also have to admit that we’re at least a little afraid. We’re afraid that some of our old friends won’t make the journey to this new place with us. We’re afraid that new people won’t be able to find us. We’re afraid that no matter how hard we work and how much ministry we do that our church won’t grow. But mostly we’re afraid because we don’t know what the future holds.
But I also know that God doesn’t want us to be afraid. And I know that because, throughout the Bible, God constantly tells us not to be afraid.
So today, before we can move forward into the future that God has planned for our church, we need to figure out how we can move past our fears. But how do we do that? I mean, it’s one thing to say that we’re not supposed to be afraid…but how do we do that? How do we overcome our fears?
Well, to help answer that question, I want to continue to explore the story we started last Sunday. And just as a reminder for you, last Sunday we began exploring the story of how the people of Israel entered the Promised Land – the place where God would use them to be a blessing to all the people of the earth. And last week, we left off right after God caused the Jordan River to stop flowing so that the people of Israel could safely enter the Promised Land on dry ground.
And today, I want us to look at what happens next. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn with me to Joshua 4. And let’s see what God tells the people of Israel to do to overcome their fears. We’ll start reading in Joshua 4:1, which says:
1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
Joshua 4:1-9 (New International Version)
So did you hear what God told the people of Israel to do in this passage? Right after God caused the Jordan River to stop flowing, right after the people of Israel walked across the dry river bed, God tells Joshua to send twelve people back to pick up stones from the middle of the Jordan River.
After these men go back and pick up these stones from the middle of the Jordan River, Joshua takes these stones and arranges them into an altar – a place where the people of Israel can worship God – and a monument – a place where they can remember what God has done.
Now, take just a second and think about how powerful a reminder those twelve stones would be for the people of Israel. Whenever the people of Israel were facing uncertain times, they could go back to those stones and remember what God had done for them. And it’s not like they were just going back to the Jordan River to look at a commemorative plaque…no, they were able to look at stones that God told them to pull from the middle of the Jordan River when God caused that river to stop flowing.
And that’s why God tells Joshua to send those twelve men back into the dry river bed, God sends them back because God knows that the only way we can overcome our fear about the future is to remember what God has done for us in the past.
The only way we can overcome our fear about the future is to remember what God has done for us in the past.
Now I’ll be honest with you, it was probably a whole lot easier for the people of Israel to remember what God had done for them in the past than it is for us. I mean, the people of Israel literally saw God cause the waters of the Jordan River to stop flowing. And that was no small feet because on average, the Jordan River is 30 feet wide and 6.5 feet deep. And the people of Israel could actually go and pull stones from the river that would remind them of what God did.
But God hasn’t caused any literal rivers to stop flowing for us. There aren’t actual stones that we can go and pick up to remember what God has done for us. So it’s harder for us to remember what God has done for us.
But if we’re going to overcome our fears about the future, we have to remember what God has done for us in the past. So how do we remember?
Well, as much as we would all like to put our past behind us and only focus on what’s ahead, we need to remember everything that our church has faced and everything that we have overcome. We need to remember the financial mistakes we made when we added on to our old building and ended up being overwhelmed by debt. We need to remember how hard it was to say the only way we could continue to be a church was to sell our old building.
And we need to remember that when our old building sold that our debt was erased. We need to remember that long before the sale closed, we already learned we didn’t need a building to worship God because the COVID-19 pandemic had already forced us to do church in a new way. We need to remember that God has provided us spaces where we could meet, and the opportunity to rent this new beautiful place.
We need to remember that no matter what we faced, we never faced it alone…God was with us in the past. And since God was with us in the past we know that God is with us now and will be with us in the future. And that’s not just true when it comes to our church. The same is true in your life. If you take the time to look back you’ll see that God has always been with you. And you can trust that God will always be with you.
So when you’re feeling a little scared about what the future holds, remember how God has helped you in the past. And trust that if God was there before, God can help you overcome your fears now.