The Opportunity For This New Era
Where are We?
It has been said that “confidence is the byproduct of predictability.” With seemingly so much in our personal and community life changing so rapidly and so unpredictable, this is an era where “confidence” is at an all time low. There is turmoil everywhere – in the family, in the workplace, in the economy, in politics and government – in every aspect of society, even the church. We are in the midst of upheaval economically, politically, socially, and even religiously. It seems that what is described is a time when “everything that can be shaken, will be shaken”(Heb 12:25-28).
One of the consequences of this upheaval is identified by social psychologist and bestselling author, Jonathan Haidt, who describes ours as a time of unprecedented social fragmentation fueled by the corrosive and isolating influence of social media. This destructive influence undermines what Haidt believes are the three primary forces that characterized ties in a healthy society: “Social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories.” Haidt has written extensively on how each of these three aspects have been so adversely impacted by social disconnection and isolation, with one result being the cultural and moral chaos we now face in all quarters.
In our time, people are more and more yearning for real solutions to intractable problems. With every institution of society under siege, many of our fellow citizens are longing for hope.
Psychologists will tell you that a time of disruption is when people are most open to receiving truth that enables them to make much-needed positive change. In crisis, they reexamine their lives, their choices, and their beliefs, all of which they often take for granted when everything is good. This provides the opening for the hope that God wants to bring. David said it this way, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Ps 119:67).
What is the Opportunity Ahead?
In his book, “The Art of War,” Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tsu famously observed, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
The social chaos and disconnection all around provides a unique moment of opportunity for the people of God, the “ecclesia,” to demonstrate the power of a different spirit, through the single most powerful distinction we possess: the Love of God. Jesus said, “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one for another” (John 13:35).
And when Jesus was asked “what was the greatest commandment,” he quoted the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, about “loving God” and then added to it, and said, “and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus also warned that “in the last days, the love of many would grow cold” (Matt 24:12). And Paul, writing to Timothy, warned us that “men would be lovers of selves” (2 Tim 3:2). So, loving God and loving our neighbor should be our highest priority, yet, sadly, this is often not the characteristic that most people currently ascribe to Christians.
And in light of our current cultural crisis, this moment is perhaps the greatest opportunity in our lifetimes for the people of God to “love their neighbors” and “arise and shine” and make a difference in our communities and the world. When we love as we are called to do, it provides a deep contrast to the spirit of the age.
To love like this, we need God’s help. Jesus said, that “I will build my ‘ecclesia’, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). We have most often translated “ecclesia” as “church,” and the fuller meaning is often lost on us. When Jesus used the word, the hearers understood the meaning to be closer to “a gathering of citizens called out for the purpose of conducting business and considering issues impacting their community.”
Perhaps there has never been more important time for the people of God to come together and love like Jesus loves to help rebuild the social capital of our community. Orlando is our community, and this is our opportunity.
The Bible clearly identifies our mission: to “seek the welfare (peace) of the city, where I have sent you…” (Jer 29:7). As followers of Jesus, we join together to engage the issues and concerns challenging our city – not as holy know-it-alls, but as humble servants of our loving and wise God. By the Spirit of God, we are to bring His creative solutions for the many and varied problems and burdens our city faces, and release a refreshing hope for a better future.
Jesus put it this way, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by people. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:13-16).
God has called us to be His salt and light in our city. Salt is a preservative. Where salt is present, things do not rot. Where salt is absent in a culture, the culture rots. Likewise, where light is present in a culture, darkness is pushed back. We are called to engage in our communities in such a way that our city is positively influenced and transformed by His light shining through us.
The Father’s Heart for Orlando
God loves and cares deeply about every person, every community, every ethnic group, and every nation. That of course includes Orlando, and we have the privilege to bring and to demonstrate that good news.
That said, we have no right or claim to influence our city unless we first love and honor every person in it, as the Father does. That means we pray fervently, serve tirelessly, and show compassion to all those who need hope and encouragement.
There is no situation so hopeless, that God is stumped for an answer. There is no problem so confounding, that God does not have wisdom to offer. There is no obstacle so daunting, that God cannot overcome. Indeed, God has invited us to join Him in this work, and He has called us as His ambassadors and His emissaries.
And Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10) and Paul said that Jesus is “held in heaven until the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). And in Jesus’ “great commission” He said to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19-20). It follows then, that we are not simply to be concerned about discipling individuals, helping them to mature in wisdom and in stature and favor, but also to be concerned about discipling nations. We are to help communities and nations to come into the cultural maturity that God intends, so the welfare of each community and nation is assured.
Yet, God does not bring His kingdom by force. Yes, He is sovereign, but He chooses to express His sovereignty through love, which means among other things, that He patiently serves and blesses, but never bullies or forces His way. He has not chosen to force His will on humanity. The Scripture teaches that it is the “kindness of God that leads to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). He has chosen to win over much of humanity by His love, His kindness, and His goodness. And He has made us, the ecclesia, and His emissaries of this strategy. Jesus said, “by this, the world will know that you are my disciples, by your love one for another” (John 13:35). We are to influence those around us, not through the force of will, but though the power of love, exhibited in many and varied practical ways.
Some have divided culture into three primary arenas of influence: Religion, the Marketplace, and Government. Others have listed seven major arenas of influence on a culture: Religion, Family, Business, Media/Arts and Entertainment, Education, Science/Technology/Heath and Law and Government. Both lists highlight the arena of Religion. And it may come as a surprise to some, but Jesus does not limit His influence to the realm of Religion. He intends to transform all realms of culture, and He wants to partner with us and flow through us to be “salt and light” in each one. Limiting our efforts to focus only on the arena of “religion” is what has allowed darkness and cultural rot to prevail.
When the people of God abandon their responsibility to influence all of culture, society unravels and people suffer. Indeed, this is what we are seeing now. Conversely, history proves that communities and cultures thrive and are blessed when they honor biblical values and principles.
One of our Founding Fathers and second President, John Adams famously said, “We have no government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition and Revenge or Gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The meaning is clear, our form of government necessitates that the people of God, the ecclesia, engage in every arena of culture. The people of God must be about the work of the Father to love their city, seek its welfare, in order to see the redemption and blessing that God desires for their community.
The Great Vision that Got Us Here
In Micah 6:8, the prophet writes, “He has told you, O Man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly you’re your God.”
Later, when Jesus addressed the Pharisees, He spoke of the kingdom priority for “justice and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). As the ecclesia in our city, we need to give ourselves to what God cares about, especially Biblical justice and mercy. This means to actively contend for what is right, with courage and conviction, yet with kindness and humility.
Over thirty years ago, Vision Orlando was started on the foundation of this Biblical mandate, guided by a vision to “seek the welfare of the city” and to build bridges of relationship between faith leaders in the city. Vision Orlando has a rich history of key pastoral leaders in our community together working in partnership with civic leaders to address the needs of the city.
We have been blessed by great leaders such as Dr. George Cope, Dr. Steve Clinton, and Rev Dexter Sanders and civic leaders such as Steven Douglas and The Honorable Alan Lawson. These and more have given godly leadership to this organization as we have sought “the welfare of the city.”
As we honor the great heritage that brought us here, we also discern a great opportunity for Vision Orlando to increase our effectiveness and influence. And at this critical moment in our city and nation, the need for the “ecclesia” to be salt and light has never been more urgent.
What Lies Ahead
The greater Orlando area is a vibrant community with massive international reach and influence. We are blessed to have a strong and growing community of Christ followers, with more than 1400 church families and their members, addressing a full range of needs “from the womb to the tomb.” The positive difference that this makes cannot be underestimated. But there is more…
Our efforts at Vision Orlando to connect pastoral leaders has brought great benefit. Our desire is to expand that work and to build bridges of communication and relationship among Christ followers serving in all arenas of cultural influence. In addition to our positive influence in the Religion arena, we must encourage, inspire and connect key believers in all arenas, including Family, Business, Media/Arts and Entertainment , Education, Science/Technology and Health, and Law and Government.
Individually, we can each make some difference. However, together, our effectiveness and influence is greatly enhanced and multiplied.
Imagine with me what could happen as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in each of these arenas seek the Lord together for the welfare of our city, and work together for the good of all! These efforts will not be through force of will, but through the power of influence, service, love, wisdom and excellence.
Imagine a multi-generational, and multi-ethnic gathering of men and women who come together under the banner of love for Jesus, and love for their city to come together to regularly pray for and seek the welfare of the city together. We can have great confidence that when men and women of Kingdom influence covenant together, collaborate, strategize, and pray together for their community, then they will certainly see the blessing of God expand in their midst. The promise from Psalm 133 comes to mind: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity…. For there the Lord commands a blessing. (vs 1-3)” And Proverbs 11:10 also reminds us that “the city rejoices when the righteous prosper.”
It has been said, that most people highly overestimate what can be accomplished in one year, and highly underestimate what can be accomplished in five years. What could we accomplish together in five years? Certainly, if a good portion of the “ecclesia” in our city would commit to seek the welfare of the city together, then undoubtedly, significant positive transformation could take place in our community. Let us take steps together so to enable Orlando and Central Florida to become a shining example to the nation and the world of the power of Kingdom unity and love.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”