I absolutely loved our church’s 30-year anniversary celebration weekend. I’m not completely sure why it was so profoundly satisfying and fun for me. I just know that it was perhaps the most enjoyable time I have had in thirty years of ministry at Oak Hills Church. Maybe it was because we were so very relaxed going into that weekend. Maybe it was because we weren’t really using the celebration for much of anything other than to have a party together. Maybe it was the amazing performance of the Oak Hills Rewind. Maybe it was seeing Rick Leary in long hair. Whatever it was, I had a blast.
The predominant feeling I have coming out of this celebration is gratitude. Thirty years is a long time to be in one place. In one church. There are so many stories, so many beautiful people, so many experiences of God’s grace and transformation. So many people who have sincerely sought to follow Christ in the midst of what seemed like impossible situations. And all these stories flooded over me, and I was, and continue to be, deeply grateful to God and to the people of Oak Hills Church, for all this goodness, all this beauty, all these stories that are a part of God’s great story of redemption. This Thanksgiving, without any effort at all on my part, but simply as the natural result of being overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the people of Oak Hills Church, I am deeply grateful. It’s a good feeling.
Now, on to the next thirty years!
I want to highlight two events to help us bask in the sheer delight of our 30-year celebration. First, we have our Annual Congregational Meeting and Vision Night on Thursday, November 20. We will worship together, meet our elders and vote to affirm them. We will talk about some of the challenges and opportunities in our future and have a time for questions and answers. We will have a scrumptious dessert. And most wonderfully, we will have a repeat of our Oak Hills Rewind. For those of us who have already seen it, we will be able to laugh all over again. For those of you who have never seen it, well, you are in for a treat. Please try to make this night a priority and let’s keep the celebration going!
Second, I want to encourage us all to come to our annual Thanksgiving Eve Service. We will worship together “in the round” and we will share together the Lord’s Supper. There will be ample opportunity to share with each other our deep gratefulness to God for all that He as done for us. I hope to see you all there.
Oak Hills Church is a special place to me, Dawn, and our family. We walked through the doors about 11 years ago, and what a sight we were. Dawn could do nothing but sit there and cry (a story for another time), and I was the “poster boy” for an angry, bitter, ego-centric, self-centered, skeptical atheist. I was about as hard-hearted a person as you would ever want to meet. I thought church and religion was a “dog and pony” show intended to entertain the masses on Sundays and designed to get people in the seats to encourage them to open their checkbooks with no expectation of any real long term change in their lives. Boy, was I in for a big surprise!
I noticed right away that Oak Hills was different. This is a place where people are challenged to live in God’s Kingdom in radically different ways. Spiritual formation and attention to the spiritual disciplines are huge values here at OHC.
So, amidst a community of dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ, I began to hear things from Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken that spoke to me and my life. I heard the Word of God preached in such a way that I started to wonder if this whole “God” and “religion” thing might have some teeth to it. Slowly over the course of time, the Holy Spirit started to soften this hard-hearted jerk and do the supernatural work of molding me into a person whose life would be turned upside down and changed in radical ways.
God met us at Oak Hills Church. We came to know the Living Christ at Oak Hills Church. I have come to experience a life in God’s Kingdom right here and right now that cannot compare to anything the world has to offer. We learned about living with an eternal perspective at Oak Hills Church, that chasing the values of this world will only bring empty, short term gratification and fulfillment. We came to look up from our own lives and see that we are here to love and serve others instead of chasing the next “feel good” experience for ourselves.
We came to understand that being a disciple of Jesus means more than saying a prayer, getting a Bible and maybe coming to church most Sundays. It’s about an intentional, on-going, consistent pursuit of Christ-likeness that involves prayer, Bible study, getting into a small group with other believers, and not only understanding but acting on the spiritual disciplines. It’s about digging deep into the messy, ugly parts of ourselves and working on and asking God to redeem the baggage we all carry around that stops us from living fully in the Kingdom of God. It’s about understanding that as glorious as the promise of eternity in heaven with God is, we have a life, right here and now that can be used to prepare for this eternity with our God, and serve others… looking up from our own self-centered lives and seeing a hurting, dying world that needs true disciples of Christ to come along and be “salt and light, love people, and help usher them into the arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the stuff that strengthens our faith and builds Godly character.
We love Oak Hills Church. And, we are in love with and passionate about the work, mission and purpose of the local body of Christ all over the world.
So, what does this all have to do with the Oak Hills DNA and International Cross Cultural Missions?
Let’s just look at one issue in regards to what this means…
How do we define “success” in missions?
Success in missions should be defined by lost people entering into the community of the Church on a regular basis, joining a Bible study or small group, committing to a discipleship relationship with a mature Christian, and being dedicated to the process of becoming a student of God’s Word and apprentice of Jesus Christ. At Oak Hills, we know that the hard work of becoming a true disciple of Jesus means more than a one-time declaration of faith. All the character and faith building work we do from Monday through Saturday is where the emphasis should be. Living fully in the reality of the Kingdom of God is about taking on His character in the daily routine of our live . . . and that takes commitment and hard work.
When I am in the field with Proclaim International, my desire is to help people see the local church as a place of confession, repentance, restoration and redemption. It’s less about numbers or programs and more about transformation and heart change that equips us to go out into this world, right here and now, and make a difference by truly loving people as we love ourselves. When I am able to see the fruit of our labor in lost people dedicating their lives to daily chasing after God, I know there has been a deeply rooted connection that will stand the tests that this world brings.
My point is simply this: More often than not, entering into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, is a journey, not an event. And if we are on this journey, we need to keep walking with God everyday. Living the Christian life means purposeful, intentional, disciplined work in pursuing Christ likeness through community, study, prayer, service etc.
As a missionary, my job is to Go and “make disciples,” not converts.
From October 10-27, I’ll be in the Balkan country of Albania coming alongside the local church and helping them with evangelism in the public forum, outside the walls of the church. We will also be partnering with the Albanian equivalent of Campus Crusade, a ministry called New Life Institute. We will be partnering with them, in association with local churches, conducting evangelistic events on many universities throughout the country, reaching and discipling students for Christ.
The General Secretary of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance reports that the Albanian churches have dropped in numbers from about 20,000 to about 11,000 in the last few years. Why is this?
There are several reasons for this; increased distractions of materialism and secularism, severe economic recession that fuels illegal and legal immigration, and, of course, the work of the enemy.
However, by and large, I would argue that when people fall away from Christianity and turn their back on Christ, it is largely because people were never really rooted in their faith in the first place. There has not been enough focus on discipleship and spiritual formation in the church. There is not enough time, energy and resources dedicated to shepherding people into a solid, deep rooted community that places huge value and emphasis on long term growth and maturity. My experience has been that in missions, there is a plan for discipleship in place, but for many reasons, it becomes a casualty of the reality of shrinking resources and priorities.
However, this is what Oak Hills Church is all about. This is part of the Oak Hills DNA . . making spiritual formation a non-negotiable piece of the ministry priority list. I have personally seen the fruit of intentionality in pursuing “Godliness” in myself and others. Dawn and I both want everyone we encounter to come to understand what living fully in the Kingdom of God is, right here and now.
As a missionary in the field and as a member of OHC, one part of my calling, is to be a voice in the field, a watchdog of sorts, and help the local church (and other partner ministries for that matter), realize that evangelism without a sustainable, ongoing plan for discipleship is not only un-biblical, but leads to the falling away of people in the church as we see, not only in Albania, but around the globe.
Please pray for Albania, the local church throughout Albania, the people of Albania, New Life Institute and our team as we GO and “make disciples.”
If you are reading this, you are probably a member of Oak Hills Church. Our family is in the midst of a big push to get to our field assignment by next July. We need your help! We are being sent out and “commissioned” by Oak Hills, and we need partners from our body and church family to SEND us! In this economy, it will take a lot of Oak Hillians doing a little bit for us to get there. Would you consider a partnership through a small monthly tax-deductible gift? Please call us at 916.995.8284 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, please visit: www.steveanddawnliberti.comwww.proclaiminternational.com to learn more about what our family has been specifically called to do in Germany, North Africa, Central Asia, The Balkans and Eastern & Western Europe. One of our main points of focus is ministry to the Muslim world.