Relentless: Life as Mission – 2 Corinthians

September 13th 2015

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.


Pastor Ryan began by telling how when they were on vacation they had friends of friends staying at their house and allowed them to use their bicycles and other stuff.  Recently, Ryan pulled out his bike for a ride and tried to put his helmet on.  It was too small.  But he kept trying to make it fit!  Kelly knew that someone had borrowed it and it would be easiest to just adjust it, because you can pull as hard as you want but it’s not going to fit!  As he took that helmet off, he thought to himself, “I wonder how many followers of Jesus….the gospel that we hear…the gospel that we put forward…the invitation from God….just feels a little bit too small.”  I don’t know if you’ve ever been in church and felt like the message that you were given…or maybe around followers of Jesus and the message that you heard, the invitation you heard, was just felt too small.  Maybe it sounded a little bit like this:  Give your life to Jesus.  Then come to church on Sunday mornings.  Period!  That was it.  As if Jesus saved us from sin, redeemed us from all that was wrong with us, is making us new and the bottom line is come to church for an hour on a Sunday morning!  Okay, I’m all about church, but I’m just going to throw it out there…..if that’s the end game, that’s LAME!!  Is it not?  If the gospel leads us to ok, now you get to come to church for an hour and maybe an hour and a half—-depending on how long-winded the preacher is that morning.  If THAT’S the end game, I just want to throw out to you that we might have missed the point!  If you’ve ever felt like the story’s too small….if you ever felt like the invitation just didn’t fit with all that God created you to be and everything the Spirit stirred inside of you….if church, in and of itself, just felt too small….this message is for you.  If you’re like me, there’s something inside of me that just longs to be part of something big.  To be part of something beautiful.  To be part of God’s redemptive plan.

There’s something in us though, isn’t there? Sir Ernest Shackleton, an explorer in the early 1900’s, put an ad in the paper in Great Britain that says “Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small Wages. Bitter Cold. Long Months of Complete Darkness. Constant Danger.  Safe Return Doubtful.  Honor and Recognition in Case of Success.”   Five thousand people said count me in!  You tell me there’s something inside of us, inside of you, inside of me, that just longs to be part of something grand.  For our story, our little story, to count for something far bigger than our little story.  I don’t think Ernest Shackleton had anything on Jesus.  Listen to what Jesus says:  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, {Every people group.  This message is not just for a select or elite “some”, this message is for “all.”} baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to KNOW {No wait.  That’s what we do in church sometimes, isn’t it?  We want to teach people to KNOW what Jesus says…to memorize Scripture.  But Jesus says no, no, no, no, no. I’m not interested in people just knowing.  Teach people to observe.  Teach people to walk in my way, because that’s where life is.}  …teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:19-20)

So something devastating has happened in Christendom over the last 1700 years.  We’ve given that invitation to a select few.  It’s like we’ll send money to people who’ll go and do this.  Which I’m all for….please don’t hear me saying anything else.  I like that.  I’m for missions.  I’m yes and amen.  BUT, please look up at me for a second.  If you’re a follower of Jesus you don’t get the chance to subcontract this out!  This is YOURS as much as it’s anyone’s.  Jesus wasn’t interested in creating some subculture of professional Christians and then the rest of us just go well, it doesn’t seem to fit, but we’ll pull harder, right?!  Keep gathering and they get to live the great story, but the one we get to live we’ve just given snippets of what God is doing.  If you’re a follower of Jesus this is God’s invitation for you:  to be a disciple who makes disciples on mission wherever God has planted you.  Whether it’s in your home or your workplace or in your neighborhood….wherever you go, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you bring the kingdom with you.  So when Jesus was calling his first disciples, listen to what he says and if you want to memorize one verse that gives you a blueprint of what it looks like to be a disciple, may I propose this is a great verse to memorize.  Here’s what Jesus says:  And he said to them, {He’s walking along the shore of Galilee.} “Follow me, {That’s where discipleship begins.  We say alright, Jesus, I want to follow you.  I want to live in your way.  Not just know what you know, but do what you do and live like you live.} “Follow me, and I will make you {This is transformation. This is I’m going to take you from where you’re at and who you are and I’m going to work inside you, by my Spirit, through my Word and I’m going to change you to be something totally different. I’m going to transform you.  But not just you, as an individual, I’m going to transform “all y’all.”  This is a communal endeavor.  So, I will transform YOU, community YOU, to be fishers of men.} ….fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19)  You started out as fishermen and your mission was in one small sea that you grew up living around and that your boat knew.  And that you knew really well, but follower of Jesus, as you chase after me, your mission goes from being one little pool to being the whole world!

If it feels too small, I’ll propose to you today, we missed it!  We’ve given it away.  What Jesus would have for the whole church has just been embraced by some, but I want to tell you today, it’s for YOU!  So turn with me to 2 Corinthians 5:20.  I want to unpack for us the way that God invites us through the words of the Apostle Paul to the church of Corinth to be a part of His great mission.  I imagine a church, friends, where the mission is so big that it takes every single person to play a part.  That the mission’s so big and so beautiful and so grand that no person in this room can think I get to sit on the sideline and watch the “professionals” do it or the “gifted” do it.  The mission’s so big that every single person in this room, if you’re a follower of Jesus today….you play a part.  I imagine a church of people finding joy in living on mission with Jesus trusting that God wants to use their lives, your lives, for His kingdom and for His glory, by His power displayed throughout all of Littleton, Denver, Colorado and the world.  You want to be a part of that kind of church?  Listen to the way Paul writes to the church at Corinth:  Therefore, {Anytime we read the word “therefore” in the Scriptures, we should ask ourselves what’s it there for.  We’re going to unpack what it’s there for in the rest of our time.} Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 

Look up at me for a moment.  You are an ambassador.  You carry the name of Jesus.  If your faith is in Him, you carry the name.  Paul writes to the church at Philippi and he says listen, your citizenship, your passport, doesn’t say the country you’re born in.  Your passport, your citizenship, is in heaven!  You carry that DNA.  You carry that kingdom wherever you go and wherever your feet hit.  You are carriers of the kingdom of heaven.  That DNA is in you if you’re a follower of Jesus.  That DNA is in you as followers of Jesus.  Jesus said in the gospel of John after He’s resurrected…..John records these words for us: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  You’re a sent person.  You’re an ambassador.  Not some of you.  That’s what makes the story feel way to small.  When we go man, that’s awesome….some people get to live that.  No, YOU get to live it.  Wherever God’s planted you.  Wherever God divinely has you, you get to live it.  An ambassador, in the Roman empire, was someone who would be sent by the emperor to go and do two things:  He carried a message from the emperor.  And he carried authority from the emperor.  So when an ambassador went in to a certain colony or town, he carried a message and he carried authority and for those receiving an ambassador it was as though the emperor himself were coming to meet with these people.  He carried authority and he carried the message.

I was trying to think of the modern-day equivalent of ambassadorship in the U.S.  We’ve had a great ambassador as of late, haven’t we?  (Showed picture of Dennis Rodman)  This is a few months ago, where Dennis Rodman somehow became an ambassador for the United States of America.  He’s like I’ll go to North Korea and hang out with Kim Jong-un.  Everybody in the U.S. is going no, no, no, no.  He can’t represent us!  That’s not what we’re like!  So he carries the flag and he carries the name and not in a way that we’d look at it and go yes and amen that’s awesome.  But because he plays that role he carries that name.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look at some followers of Jesus and that looks better.  But make no mistake about it, if you’re His follower you’re His ambassador.  This is not for some, this is for all who carry His name.

I want to give you four things that ambassadors are or that ambassadors do.  Ambassadors, first and foremost, listen to the orders of their superiors.  They do not carry their own message.  They do not stand on their own accolades.  They carry the message of their sending delegates…..in Rome, they carried the message of the emperor.  When they went, it wasn’t on their own volition.  They carried his message.  Here’s the deal, first and foremost, ambassadors are people who listen to the king.  Because not every message we’re going to be giving is the same.  Not every context we’re suppose to give it in is the same and we contextualize for the people that are listening.  That’s the second thing ambassadors do: They speak two languages.  Ambassadors speak the language of their citizenship.  Which is the language of heaven for you.  And ambassadors speak the language of their culture because we have a message to deliver.  Ambassadors build a bridge between where they’re coming from and where they’re sent to.  This is huge, is it not, for followers of Jesus in today’s day and age.  One of the ways we get to be ambassadors, I think, is in the public arena of art and cinema, creativity.  One of the things you see followers of Jesus doing is abdicating ambassadorship.  Instead of saying we have a message from the kingdom of Heaven of beauty, of grace, of love, of redemption, of a God who’s saying I’m inviting you back in and we’re going to learn to speak your language so we can invite you into this story, what we’re doing is saying you learn to speak our language and come into our story.  So we’ll create Christian movies that aren’t bad, but they just aren’t penetrating in the deepest beauty of the human soul the way that they could be if we’d take our role as ambassadors a little bit more seriously.  We speak in two languages.  We carry the language of our citizenship and we speak to the language of our culture.

Third, ambassadors are never off duty.  You never get to a place where you’re like alright, I’m going to punch the clock.  If I’m a follower of Jesus then I’m a follower of Jesus at home, in my neighborhood, in my workplace.  Someone tested my follower of Jesus-ship this week.  I was dropping my son off at the bus and this dog ran up to me and he was slobbering.  I had just left a dog who was running up to me slobbering at home, right?  Fended him off, walked out the door and was met by a dog running up to me slobbering.  He goops the back of my leg.  His owner runs after him, bends down with a full cup of coffee and pours it all over the back of my legs.  I’m like oh, Jesus, please!!!!  I wanted to punch that clock so fast…..OFF DUTY!  Who do you think you are??  Dog on a leash, hot cup of coffee……   But we can’t do that, can we?   Luckily I didn’t because he walked right down the cul-de-sac right next to me.  So I’ll see him again!  We’re never off duty.  As Paul says:  We carry the aroma of Christ. (2 Corin. 2:15)

Ambassadors are obedient to their sending delegates.  What the king requires and asks of ambassadors they step into with everything they have.  David Livingstone, the great African missionary, says this: “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” Friends, you are commissioned by the King, not some of you, but all of you.  Living in this relentless mission of God to redeem, restore, renew His creation is not something you’re called to do.  That’s when it starts to feel way too small.  It’s something we’re called and invited to live…..with every fiber of our being.  Every moment of our day.  There’s no time we punch the clock and are off duty.  We are, if we’re followers of Jesus and disciples of His, his ambassadors.  Something’s happened as followers of Jesus over the course of Christendom.  We’ve seen this mission as a part of our lives.  We go to work and eat our meals and we hang out in our neighborhood and we mow our lawn and we spend time with our family and we do all these things…..and then one of the things we ADD to our lives is….oh yeah, I’m a follower of Jesus so I should probably be on mission with and for God.  That’s way too small!  If you live 10% of your life like this that’s way too small for this grand invitation from this grand God.  This is the way it was designed to be.  Not that part of your life is mission, but that your whole, entire life is one of “sent-ness.”  That God’s designed you, wired you, gifted you…..not to spend an hour sitting in a chair on a Sunday morning.  But to spend a life hearing His voice, embracing His call and stepping into the invitation He’s given you to be part of what He’s doing in His world.  Every moment of every day on every corner of His great globe!  A “missionary” is simply someone who does this….lives on mission…who does this here….listen to their king, Jesus, and as they’re doing this here, He says to them you know what you’re doing here, maybe you go do in China. Maybe you go do in Africa.  Maybe you go do somewhere around the globe.  It’s not categorically different, it’s the same mission in a different place.  It’s a mission not for some, but it’s a mission for all.

Here’s what I want to do.  I want to go back and unpack for you what this looks like in the life of the Apostle Paul.  And how he gets to this point of this massive gospel, this beautiful invitation and this calling for you and I AND him to live as ambassadors for and with Jesus.  What happens in his life to get him to this place.  Verse 14 of 2 Corinthians 5.   For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  Here’s what Paul says:  The motive for ambassadorship at the forefront of his mind is one thing:  Christ’s love controls us.  In the Greek, it’s this picture of somebody being tied up or hemmed in.  Or somebody who’s backed into a corner and all options are taken away.  It’s an interesting way of looking at the love of God, isn’t it?  Paul goes listen, I am so absolutely surrendered….it’s a picture of being in a strait jacket where Paul is going I would love to do something other than this but I can’t. His love so compels me that I go out into the world as His ambassador.  I want to live as an ambassador.  I don’t know about you, I do.  I want to follow Paul’s lead in this and find the fuel for that.  The energy for that.  The motive for that and the love that God has for not only you, but for His great creation.

If you look at this closely, here’s what Paul does.  He gives you a foundation for this love.  He says we have all died.  He’s talking about the death that you and I are given through just being human.  It’s called “original sin.”  That we are in a desperate spot.  Without God’s intervention we would be absolutely desperate, desolate and have no hope in the world of reconnecting ourselves to the God of the universe.  Paul says that everybody, all have died.  And if we’re going to understand the love that God has for us, we first have to understand the desperate need that we all find ourselves in.  And then he says this: We concluded this: that all have died and that one has died for all.  Who’s that one?  Jesus!  So the offense of all dead is met by mercy and grace that’s just as big and he goes and for everybody mercy and grace is available through the work of Jesus.  Yeah, we’ve sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but by His grace and by His mercy hope, redemption, is available not to some, but is available to all.  Paul says it’s that message that has tied me up!  I can’t get over it!  He says I was in desperate need and Jesus has matched my desperation with His matchless grace and mercy.  That’s good, isn’t it?  It ties Paul up.  Our impact on the world is preceded by our devotion to Jesus.  Our impact on people’s lives is preceded by our care for their soul.  His love starts to get inside of us and we see people, not just through the natural lens, but through the supernatural lens of what’s going on inside their soul.  Early followers of Jesus were marked by this love.  You read about early followers of Christ, the church, in the first through the third centuries….where they were living and where they were being the church was absolutely ravaged by plagues.  When a plague hit, most people and even family members were put out, quite literally, in the gutter, because it was feared the plague would come and take out their home.  Early followers of Jesus were known for going and taking people who were in the gutters and in the ditches—left to die—and take them in and care for them because there was an intrinsic value placed on the human being, by followers of Jesus, because they’re stamped in the image of God.  They would invite them into their homes and all the writings you read on the church….what it says about them is that they were not afraid to die.  There’s no fear in death, no guilt in life, just the power of Christ in them.  This shaped the early church.  Their love did.  Friends, will our love shape this culture?  Shape this church?

I read this week that the U.S. is going to be welcoming 10,000 refugees from Syria.  Then I read a lot of people are afraid of the security breaches that could be possible because of that.  I’m going to get up on my soapbox and say, “Is there potential for harm in that?”  Yep, absolutely.  Was there potential for harm in people bringing somebody stricken with the plague into their home?  Absolutely.  So I’m not saying we shouldn’t be wise and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing our due diligence, but I’m also saying that if we don’t open our homes, if we don’t open our lives, if we don’t open our doors then we are categorically not the church!  We need to be the type of people that say to the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow there’s room for you because our God cares and we believe that we need to fill this gap.  We know it’s dangerous, but the love of Christ has tied us up!  It’s backed us into the corner.  He’s been so good to us….how could we not be good to those around us. Maybe it’s modern day slavery or sex slavery that you just go as I listen to my Father speak to my soul..that’s what His love is compelling me to step into.  Maybe it’s issues of hunger or issues of clean water…whatever it is for you as you listen to your sending delegate where’s He sending you?  What role is He asking you to step into?

Here’s the way Paul continues:  From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.   So he goes once I just thought Jesus was this normal, homeless Galilean who was wandering around preaching.  But Paul goes now that I’ve met Him I don’t view Him that way anymore.  Verse 17.   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away {In the Greek it’s the aorist tense which means it’s a done deal!}  …and behold, the new has come.    This “new has come” is in the perfect tense in the Greek which means it’s an action that happened at a definitive point in the past that has implications that reach all the way into future.  The new has come!  That’s great news!   So Paul starts to look at the world differently.  He not only is compelled by the love of Christ, but he starts to see the world around him in a different way.  Here’s what he sees.  This is good news.  He sees the world through the lens of Kingdom potential.  He looks at himself first and goes I was one driven by zeal for the law and now Christ has redeemed me and I’m compelled by love.  He goes He’s made me new. This is just for free:  Did you know that followers of Jesus are simply maturing into who they already are?  We’re not trying to be somebody different.  God’s already planted the seeds of the kingdom, new birth, new life, into our souls.  We’re not trying to be different, we’re just trying to become and be all that God has said we already are.  Paul looks at the world and goes that’s the way I see the world now.  I see the world through new birth.  I see the world through new potential.  I see the world through….what if the kingdom got ahold of that area and started to drill down.  What if the kingdom got ahold of that person and started to redeem them and renew them and what if they gave their life to Christ, maybe they too could go from zealous for the law to preacher of the Kingdom.  I sense for Paul that this potential is like a tidal wave that overwhelms him, where he goes oh my goodness!  We see the world differently because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

I think sometimes we see the world maybe in a different way than Jesus would have us see it.  We see it as a marred thing.  We see it as just simply evil.  Jesus sees it as oh, what if my kingdom came?  What if my will was done, right here on earth as it is in heaven?  What if my people carried that kingdom and spoke that word and what if I started to redeem and renew and make whole?  You tell me that’s too small of a story!  I just think we lost the prophetic imagination.  We can’t see it anymore.  I think we’re sorta like….I don’t know if you followed this or…..there’s this court reporter in mid-August who did a rendering of Tom Brady sitting in court.  It wasn’t good enough for people to think Tom Brady walks on water.  I thought it was fine.  But for everybody else they thought it didn’t look good enough.  Even Jane Rosenberg who did this rendering said, “I want to apologize to Tom Brady for not making him as handsome as he really is.”  She went on to say, “It’s hard to capture that in a short amount of time.”  I think this is how we view the world oftentimes, though.  That it’s evil.  I don’t think we see it the same way God does.  What Paul says is now I see the world through kingdom potential.  Do an interesting study and read through the gospels and listen to the way the gospel writers talk about the way that Jesus sees.  He sees Matthew sitting on the sidelines.  He calls him out of his tax collector’s booth and into the kingdom.  He sees things that aren’t and calls them into things that are.  And He invites you and I to see the world the same way.  Will you give people value that they intrinsically have as human beings?  And see the kingdom potential in all. When you see people differently, you start to imagine different possibilities of ways you could reach them and hold out the hope of the Gospel.  We do.  That’s the motivating factor.  We love Jesus, we see kingdom potential, but if we lose sight of the kingdom we lose sight of the passion and power that’s behind sharing this beautiful good news.

Paul goes on saying this:  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us {Look up at me for a second.  That’s YOU!  He gave us…He gave the church, people who are citizens of Heaven, people who are sent in the same way Jesus was sent….He gave US…} …gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  That’s good news!  You’ve been entrusted, you’ve been given, you’re carriers of the good news.  Paul says in Romans 10:15:  Blessed are the feet of those who carry the good news.  That’s you!  You’re carriers of the kingdom wherever you go, whatever you do.  In your neighborhood, you carry the good news.  You declare it and you deed it.  You declare it and you live it out.  Both.  In your families, in your homes, in your workplaces….wherever you go you’re on duty….for your joy and for His glory!  Not a person in this room who’s a follower of Jesus is outside of the realm of that!  I love how we see the father-heart of God in this.  He longs for people to be reconciled to Him.  He made a way that all people could be reconciled to Him. During the crucifixion where was God?  He was in Christ….redeeming and restoring His good and beautiful creation because He’s for it and He loves it and He’s inviting you.  You get to persuade.  You get to carry the beautiful message.  Here’s the gospel in one verse (verse 21): For our sake he made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  The reformers called it “the great exchange.”  It’s great if you’re on our end.  I think God got the short end of the stick, but praise Him for His mercy and for His glory and for His providence in reaching down into a life like mine, drilling holes into my soul and planting the seeds of the gospel, the hope of the kingdom and the glory of God.  Oh, man!!

You carry the message of God’s loving embrace.  I love the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of the Scriptures called The Message:  Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  That’s the message. God’s already done everything on His end to forgive you, to reconcile, to bring you back.  He’s already taken care of it.  If there’s any blocks to you moving towards God or thinking He’s for you or in a relationship with you, it’s in YOUR head.  It’s not in His heart.  He’s already done everything it takes.  Paid the price you could never pay to give you life you could never earn.  To launch you on mission bigger than you could ever imagine.  We have a number of people in this church that are beautifully living out this story.  I want you to hear from Ruth and Don Nichols.  {Video plays.  Ruth and Don followed God’s direction and started New Song School and help establish a church for the Vietnamese community.}  Don and Ruth are here.  Your faith is inspiring.  You’ve lived a big story….not because you’re great, but because God is great.  You’re really ordinary people….to the glory of God.  But your faith……through that God has done great things.  I want to say that to all of you.  This is not an invitation for some, this is an invitation to ALL.

You may be wondering where we go from here.  A few pieces of encouragement for you.  Believe that God wants more from you and for you than just coming for an hour on Sunday.  He does.  His mission is way bigger.  Would you use your gifts and step into it.  Maybe a baby step is you participate in “Attend 1/Serve 1.”  You come and one service you serve here in a variety of different ways.  One service you come and worship.  Maybe you can give an hour and that’s all you can give.  I get it.  Maybe you’re a part of our third service team that’s going to relaunch that service right here 4 o’clock next Sunday and you want to be a part of something that’s really just getting going.  Maybe you go to your local park and start to interact with people in your neighborhood.  Maybe you share your faith with people in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your family.  Maybe you have some of your neighbors over for dinner.  Maybe you service in Whiz Kids or the Food Bank, two awesome ministries.  Maybe you just go before the Father and say, “Here I am.  Would you use my whole life to be a part of Your relentless mission?”  It’s an invitation for all, not just for some and when we don’t embrace it the story feels too small, but I can assure you it’s big enough!  Mission isn’t something we do, it’s a way that we’re invited to live….because we’re convinced that one day, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is God to the glory of God the Father.  So, Lord, we want to live our lives with that day in mind.  Lord, we believe that living as people who are ambassadors is not something we get to subcontract out.  It’s something that we get the joy of living in as your followers.  Would you remind us of it today?  Would you compel us, tie us up, with your love?  Would you give us a kingdom perspective….what could happen if your kingdom invaded in every corner of the city, of our homes, of our workplaces….give us a kingdom perspective and a prophetic imagination…..what could happen if…???  And Jesus, remind us that we are carriers of this beautiful news.  That we are friends with God, because you’ve taken down every barrier by your cross.  We love you.  Send us out as ambassadors for you.  Amen.

Relentless: Life as Mission – 2 Corinthians2024-06-19T09:20:15-06:00

Relentless: Life In The Round – 1 Corinthians 12

September 6th 2015

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

Right now, as we gather here in this nice, cool building, there’s a group of—about 65 or 70 thousand—people who gather in Nevada’s Black Rock desert creating a temporary city called….”The Burning Man.”  Have you heard of this?  It’s a temporary city in the middle of the desert, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, where every year around Labor Day weekend this community of about 70,000 people forms.  The uniting factor of this community is that they’re all weird!  Or, as they would say, unique!  They have these uniting mantras about them.  One is that they are artistic, creative, self-expressing and self-reliant.  That’s the community of the Burning Man.  They gather, quite literally, around a 150 foot tall wooden structure that looks like a man.  They’ve been doing this since the mid-80’s.  It’s grown in magnitude and splendor.  At the end of the week—-I believe it’s tomorrow at some point—-the group will gather around and light said man on fire, burn him to the ground, give each other some high fives, go back to their homes and somebody will stay behind and start building next year’s burning man that they’ll do all over again.  Interesting, isn’t it?  To form a community around a wooden structure.  What we see in this community that forms….really just to be a community….is that God has wired something deep into our DNA where we long to be connected to other people.  Is it true?  Where even something as trivial and silly as gathering around and camping in the middle of the desert for a week….we will do that in order to be connected to our fellow human beings. We will build something so ridiculous as a 150 foot wooden structure to say, this is enough to unite us.  There’s something in us that cries out and longs to be connected to the people that we’re with.  Isn’t there?

This last week—you may have read—Facebook announced that there were over 1 billion active users on Facebook in the same day!  One billion active users!!  That’s a lot!  That’s about 1/7th of the world’s population.  2.2 billion people have a Facebook account.  You tell me we’re not crying out to be connected to the people around us.

As those who follow the way of Jesus, we want to affirm two things.  One it’s that this is not an accident.  It didn’t happen by happenstance and it’s not some evolutionary coping device to make it in the world.  That’s not how this came about.  We are a reflection of, as we’ve prayed and sang today, the Triune God.  That God, in and of Himself, is community.  He is relationship.  In His word he says I am love.  And He puts his stamp, his image, on us as His image bearers.  We are created in His image, so this isn’t an accident that we want to be connected to each other.  That we want to find places where we’re known, where we’re valued, where we’re loved.  There’s something in us that just screams out for it.  Isn’t there?

Jesus, in the calling of His first disciples….listen to what He does.  It’s really fascinating.  In this one verse we see this sorta mode for discipleship.  We see this picture of what being a disciple, which is God’s calling on your life and mine, looks like.  Jesus, walking along the shore of Galilee: He said to them..  Now this is a group of people who are in a boat.  It’s not just hey, PETER, come and follow me…it’s “he says to THEM.”  He calls THEM, not him, them.  He says “Follow me, and I will make you…{Now you can’t tell in the English, but what’s under this word in the Greek is that it’s PLURAL.  This is I’ll make Y’ALL or…..actually it’s not y’all.  In Texas, it’s not y’all but “ALL Y’ALL.”   Follow me, and I will make “all y’all” fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19)    I will transform you, make you “in” and “for” community.  It’s not only God’s calling on our lives, it’s God’s stamp of discipleship.  It’s impossible to be or become a disciple just in isolation.  It’s woven into the DNA of our being to need each other.  It’s not just an added benefit…..it’s a need.  God’s formation of His church and his relentless pursuit, which we’ve been talking about over the last six weeks, to bless his world—to holistically redeem, renew and restore all of creation…..we saw it in Genesis 12 and it weaves its way through every single page of His Scriptures….His desire to bless his world is intricately woven into his creation of what we call…the church.  Here’s what God knows:  He knows that He cannot bless you, in its fullest extent and its fullest measure, as an individual.  It can’t happen.  He cannot bless His people without uniting them with each other.   In the Greek, it’s this word “ekklesia.”  We translate it church.  Everywhere you read “church” in the New Testament, most of the time it’s from the word “ekklesia.”  It’s a compound word.  “Ek” is “out of.”  “Klesia” or “kaleo” is the root and it’s “to be called.”  So what Jesus is saying is this is a group of called out people.  The word is plural in nature, indicating that believers are automatically, when they put faith in Christ…they’re called TO Christ, out of the world and placed IN community with each other.

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: “A self-sufficient human being is sub-human.  God made us so that we will benefit from each other?  {No, that’s not what he said.  I think Tutu hits the nail on the head when he says that God created us and made us so that we would NEED each other.}  God made us so that we will need each other.”  THE CHURCH, what you’re a part of here today, this gathering of and uniting of people under the good news of the Gospel, God’s faith community is God’s answer to humanity’s desire to be part of something far greater than themselves.  What we do isn’t trivial….here on a Sunday morning….in Life Groups that happen mid-week…in chats that happen around coffee…in getting together for barbecues at peoples’ houses….this is not trivial.  And by the way, all those things listed are all CHURCH.  You cannot go to church.  You know that, right?  You can’t go to church.  That’s why when I welcome you, I don’t say “Welcome to South Fellowship Church.”  Listen, I say, “Welcome! South Fellowship Church.”   Those are two very different things.  You can’t go to church.  You ARE the church!  Where you go….the church IS.  Here’s what’s deep in my soul:  I imagine a place where people are KNOWN, where they’re VALUED, where they’re LOVED.  I imagine a church where no one walks through the door and is lonely.  Where no one feels like there’s nobody that cares.  Where no one feels like there’s no one that really knows them.  I imagine a place where you come through these doors, or down at Solid Grounds, or in your homes, or in coffee shops all around the community, wherever it may be, where you find places where you are known, valued and loved and lonely, disconnected and distant Christian is an oxymoron.  That’s the place I imagine.  Who’s with me?  That’s what I long for us to be and to become a part of.

1 Corinthians 12….let me paint for you the way that the Apostle Paul says it to the church at Corinth.  He’s writing to the church to give them instruction in how to use spiritual gifts in a way that would build up the people around them and build up the body, but even more than that, he’s talking about how do we really function in this thing that we call church.  The body life together.  What are the rules of engagement?  What are God’s goals in forming us and shaping us together?  How do we hold on to the things that are most important?  Verse 4:  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit {Immediately he’s going to start making some contrast.  We have these things different, but this is the same.  This is different, but this is the same.}  …and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit {So God’s Spirit placed inside of you at the time of faith has gifted you and wired you uniquely and supernaturally, as you’re gonna find, to play a part in this Body.}  ….for the common good.    That’s why you have that gift.  We’re in this together, friends.  This isn’t trivial.  The gift that you have been given is designed to—-and look around—-build up the people around you.  And in their building-up you are built up.  So let me say it like this today: The common good of the Body (or of the whole) is the greatest good for each individual.  The gifts that we’ve been given are not for our sake alone, they’re to build up this Body, but it’s a Body that you are a part of and as it’s built up and strengthened and matured and honoring to Jesus and looks like Jesus and displays Jesus to the world around us….as THAT happens and you’re a part of it using your gift, your part that you play, you’re built up.  Follower of Jesus, you’re never built up simply as the Lone Ranger.  Doesn’t happen.  It happens as we’re built up together.

Listen to the way the prophet Jeremiah says this to the nation of Israel as they’re in exile.  I’m going to summarize:  He tells them to sink some roots down.  Get married.  Plant gardens.  Work for the welfare of the city.  He says: Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.  So even as you’re in a place you don’t want to be and never imagined you’d live….even there.  Pray to the Lord of its (the city’s) behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)  As the city is looking more like the kingdom of God, you’ll find your welfare, Israelites.  It doesn’t happen independently of the whole, it happens alongside of God doing and building something up that you get to be a part of.  We know this is true.  Let me tell you how I know.  Because whether or not you have money in the Stock Market, you were looking at the Dow Jones, I was looking at the Dow Jones and the S&P this week going I have very little in there, but I know that if this thing crashes it affects me.  If you think well, 50-50, just travel to Greece.  Go ask them how that’s working out.  You can’t go the ship is sinking, but I’m okay!  It doesn’t work that way!  It doesn’t work that way in relationships either.   We were wired for this.  We were designed for this.  The success or demise of the individual is deeply connected to the whole.  The common good of the Body is the greatest good for each individual.  Listen to the way Paul writes this to the church at Ephesus:  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by very joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)   This is the church.  God building, not just individuals, but as you’re a part of the whole, you are strengthened and you are built up.  I hope that’s good news for you this morning.

I want to point out four things that are convictions, common convictions, that followers of Jesus must have if this is going to be a reality.  Paul’s going to list these in here in the section that focuses on how we operate as one body with many parts.  (I Corinthians 12:12-13)  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body…  {Do you get the picture he is painting?  That we are all part of this whole.  The hand doesn’t go: Man, it’s great to be a hand.  Or an ear go: Man, I’m looking good today!  It’s part of the whole.}  …so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.   This is a beautiful picture of the common confession that you and I share as followers of Jesus.  That the life of the Body is grounded and founded in this common, uniting declaration that Jesus is Lord.  We’re baptized into His Body.  We’re associating with His death, with His burial, with His resurrection.  It says also that the Spirit is in us, uniting us and pushing us together.  HE is the thing that unites us.  {Pastor Ryan asks two people up to help.}  Often we think unity is holding hands with each other and thinking we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Body, we are one in….and we’re holding hands with each other and that’s where our unity is found.  But that’s not the picture that Paul paints here.  {He hands the individuals a corded rope—Jesus—to hold on to and it links them together.}  Paul says we are united, but it’s far tighter than a uniting of just holding hands with each other.  The uniting factor for followers of Jesus is this common confession of Jesus is Lord.  When I lose hold of this (the rope or Jesus), I lose hold of community.  I lose hold of the togetherness that the gospel purchases.  But when I’m holding on to Jesus and so are others than we are intricately, very intimately united with each other because we are united with Jesus.  Your unity as a Body is far greater than the things you share in common, as far as your preferences, the songs that you like, the things that you enjoy doing in your off time, the hobbies that you hold….or even around some wooden figure that’s 150 feet tall and you get to express yourself individually because of him.  Your uniting factor as a Body is around the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and the confession of faith where we say we’re in this together, because we affirm that Jesus is Lord!  When we lose hold of that, we lose hold of the thing that uniquely unites us as followers of Jesus.  You see that happen in marriages.  You see that happen in churches.  You see it happen all around us.  What I’m saying is…..here’s what the Apostle Paul writes:  You’re part of something far bigger than yourself, don’t lose hold of Him!  In holding Him, we get to walk with each other.  {Dismisses helpers}  I love the way that Paul says it to the church of Colossae (Colossians 1:18) when he says that Jesus is the head of the Body.  We read it in Ephesians 2 as we started the service in the call to worship: that we are all members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…  That’s who we’re all built around.  That’s who we’re all holding onto and our shared faith should be bigger than anything that could potentially separate us.

Paul continues in verse 14:  For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?  If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.    Here’s what Paul is saying:  You are part of the whole, not just an individual soul.  He starts off with feet because back in this culture feet were the least appreciated part of the body.  In fact, rabbis would teach that the moment a shoe left the shoemaker’s anvil and hit the ground, it was considered unclean.  When rabbis would teach, anytime they would say the word “foot” or “feet” they would apologize beforehand.  It was sorta like swearing.  It was a four-letter word!   Paul starts with what they would consider to be the least appreciated, the least needed and the least welcome part of the body and he goes if we don’t have that part we don’t have something that’s deeply necessary.  I love the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it in his great book Life Together: “Church is not a community of souls, but the real body of Christ on earth.”  Hey, you guys, if we are going to operate like this, we have to have this shared common ground of every single person is valued and every single person is needed.  If we are going to become all that God intends us to become as a body, as a church, we (it’s not optional) need you to play the part that God has uniquely wired and called you to play.  Because if you aren’t who you are called to be, we will never be who we are called to be.  My dream is that there is no such thing as a side-line Christian at South Fellowship Church.  That you know that you’re not just an individual soul, that you’re part of the whole and we need you to play the part that God has wired you to play.  My cards are on the table….there’s not some mold that I want to fit you in.  Do we need people to work in our Children’s and Student ministries?  Yes!  But I firmly believe that because we need it—and I think God’s calling us to do those ministries—He’s going to put it in your heart, He’s going to give you the gifts to build this body up in that way.  But I don’t have a mold I want to fit you into, I really don’t.  I want to create at South Fellowship Church a “yes culture.”  Where you come to us or go to your Life Group leader and say, “I have this desire in me to reach out to…fill in the blank.”  And the answer is, “Yes!  How do we help you?  How do we walk with you?”  Because if you’re not who God’s called you to be, we will never be who God’s called us to be.

The common good of each individual is the greater good of the whole Body.  That’s what Paul’s teaching here.  You have value.  You have worth.  We need you to play the part that God has called you to play.  If you have either grey hair or no hair, look up at me for just a second.  We need you!  You cannot check out!  If you’re not dead, you’re not done!!!  This Body needs mature followers of Jesus who have walked that road, who are willing to say maybe this is not all about me anymore, but I’m willing to come alongside of……  Titus 2….this church which is training and mentoring, which is older men walking with younger men, older women walking with younger women and teaching us and them how to live in a way that would honor Jesus and lead to their joy.  If you’re not dead you’re not done and if you have grey hair or bald head, please don’t check out on this place.  We need you!!  I’m going to get up on my soapbox a second.  I have no interest in being a part of a multi-generational church.  I don’t.  I want….I envision…I imagine us being an INTERgenerational church!  Where the wisdom of the old can brush up against the passion of the youth and we can say Jesus is better.  We’re united in Him.  There’s a hill to take and He is worth it….let’s do it together!  That’s the church I imagine in the New Testament.  You’re not just an individual soul, you’re part of the whole.  That’s hard to do on a Sunday morning, wouldn’t you agree?  It happens in Life Groups.  It happens in Men’s Ministry.  It happens in Women’s Ministry.  It happens as you gather in homes and coffee shops throughout the week.  It happens in Sunday School classes on Sunday morning.  It’s harder and harder to have it all happen as we grow—praise the Lord!  It’s harder to have it all happen right here.  It happens outside of Sunday oftentimes.  But I’m inviting you to something way bigger than two hours on your Sunday morning!

Verse 24 halfway through it.  Listen to what Paul writes to the church.  But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it.   So he goes:  The part that you thought didn’t play that big of a part…God says oh man, they’re indispensable!  When I read this I think of our tech and media team.  That is the worst ministry to serve on.  Shhh, don’t tell them!  Here’s why:  You only notice them when something goes wrong.  Nobody has gone back there and said high five, you guys are doing a great job!  Why?  Because the lights were on when you came in and slides are up there and they’re doing a great job!  They get your emails, right, when it’s too loud, it’s too soft, it’s too bright, it’s too dark, it’s too this…..  Man, but we need it all. We’re not just individuals.  We’re part of this body and we want to honor one another.  Paul goes the parts that lacked it God gave greater honor….that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  Here’s what Paul’s saying:  We have a common fight: We (if I could go back and reprint your bulletin I would say something stronger than “preserve.”) long for, we strive for, we actively set our mind towards unity because division is disease.  That’s what Paul’s saying.  I love how he says it to the Ephesian church:  Therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you {He’s like come on church!} to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another {Don’t you love this?  Turn to the person next to you and say, “Some days I just have to bear with you!”  Some of you loved doing that!!  But this is real, isn’t it?  Paul’s writing to a real church in a real context where there’s real offenses that have been made to the people in the body interpersonally, and he says some days we need to fight to preserve the unity and we need to bear with one another.  I love that because it’s not just flowery, ethereal, perfect church life.  It’s the nitty gritty real that you and I know.  This is something that’s messy that doesn’t always look exactly the way we want it to look.}  …bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.    I love that because he says it’s not always pretty and it doesn’t always work out the way that we want it to, but there’s something greater that unites us than what could ever divide us and we’re fighting to hold onto that.  We’re fighting to hold onto Him and in holding onto Him, I can say to my fellow brother I forgive you.  Bear with me.  Forgive me.  I’m gonna need that, you guys.  You’re going to need that.  If we’re both holding onto Him, we can give it…..by His grace.  By His power.  By His goodness.

I love the way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes this, once again, in his book Life Together, which, by the way, would be great supplemental reading if you’re interested.  This is a lengthy quote so stick with me.  It’s important enough to focus on.  “By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream.  God is not a God of emotions but the God of truth.  Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment {Which means this isn’t going to be exactly what we dreamed it would be.  It’s not going to always serve us the exact way that we want it to serve us.  It’s going to be messy.  It’s going to be gritty.  We’re going to need to bear with one another.  Forgive one another.} comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. {So, Bonhoeffer goes the moment the honeymoon wears off, we can actually get down to what it really looks like to be married. Don’t say amen too loud.  He ends with this.}  He who loves the dream of a community more than the community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”   Here’s what he’s saying:  true community only forms when the ideal community dies.  Where we go yeah, this isn’t exactly what we thought and it’s completely imperfect.  And just a side note anecdotally:  If you ever find the perfect church, don’t join it!!  You will mess it up! Just stay away and admire it!  But if you join…you’re a sinner and you’re saved by grace.  You’re gonna need somebody to bear with you, don’t join that place.   When the ideal community in your mind dies and the real starts to take place and we can sink our feet it and go we’re fighting and we’re striving for there to be no division, because naturally, there’s things that could divide us, but what unites us is greater than any of those things, amen?

He gives us two applications that I want to point out and then close.  He says this in verse 26:  If one member suffers, all suffer together.   This is a vulnerable picture of community, isn’t it?  Where we’re willing to say to each other I’m hurting and I’m not okay.  And the people of God dive in.  They go we’re with you in that.  We’re going to walk with you.  We’re going to empathize with you.  We can do a certain amount of that from the platform on a Sunday morning.  We can make announcements about births and deaths and things like that, but we can’t do the nitty gritty of:  I am not okay today.  Which is why to be the church we need to move beyond Sunday.  It can’t just be a Sunday morning, two hour thing.  Your life has to rub up against other believers where we can really mourn with each other.  Be vulnerable with each other.  Be intimate with one another. Aware of each other where we can enter in and sit with people because we know a God who entered in and sat with us.

Second thing he (Paul) says:  If one member is honored, {Literally in the Greek it would be “crowned with glory.”}  all rejoice together.   We celebrate with each other.  You know what cannot be present if celebration is?  Competition.   If I celebrate your accomplishments and we’re in competition with each other, I have just automatically slid down a rung on the ladder, haven’t I?  So if competition is present, celebration or rejoicing with each other can’t be.  This is not easy!  For the single person to rejoice with someone who gets married, when everything inside of you goes that’s what I’ve been praying for and longing for for years!  For the jobless person to celebrate a promotion….and you’re going God, could you just have maybe the leftovers come my way?  For the people who’ve struggled with infertility celebrating the birth of a child.  There’s something deeper inside of us that unites us…than that which could divide.  In the community of faith, in Life Groups, in Men’s ministry and Women’s ministry….in coffee shops, in homes, in adult Sunday classes, all around our community….this is the type of church we want to see:  where we’re willing to celebrate and say we’re not in competition.  Where we’re willing to mourn and say we’re vulnerable.  And we’re willing to enter in with one another.

Here’s what Paul says in verse 27: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.    See what he did there?  He started out by saying you’re part of the body.  You play a small part of the whole, but he ends by saying:  Don’t let the fact that you are a part of the whole, cause you to lose the fact that God has created you and wired you uniquely, individually and we need—not just an option—we need your unique expression of walking in the body together for us to be all that God designed us to be.  You are individually members of it. Here’s the way I’ll say it for us this morning.  We have this common mentality:  We are convinced that unity doesn’t mean uniformity.  We don’t just want to create people that all look the exact same.  We love diversity and we love gathering together and saying we have different perspectives on how this whole thing should go and what we should be involved in and what we should do, but we have THIS in common.  We’re holding on to the one who’s holding on to us.  And that’s enough.  In the church, God has made a way for the manifold beauty of His glory and grace to be displayed and it’s not in all of us looking the same.  It’s in all of us confessing Jesus is Lord.  He’s big enough to create space for us to be who God’s called us to be and still be unified with each other.  God has made you to be someone unique and this body needs that uniqueness.

How does this play out at South?  I’ve mentioned a number of these things already.  Life Groups are intended to be places where you can live out the “one anothers.”  Some of those happen in Men’s ministry and Women’s ministry and homes throughout the week.  Sunday School classes that happen on Sunday mornings.  Service teams are designed…..you serving together and linking arms with one another.  You know what God does in those instances?  He unites your heart with other people.  You want to connect deeply with people?  Serve alongside of them.  A few other ideas.  How do you connect at South if you’re feeling disconnected?  Let me throw out a few things.  One: Come early and stay late.  Two: When you’re here….this is going to be earth shattering, I know…..I’m going to throw it out there…..when you’re here….TALK to people!  As a pastor, there’s nothing that makes me go “oh man, I need to bear with you” more than when people come to me and they’re like nobody talks to me.  I’m like well, are you talking to anyone?  Well, no.  Here’s the thing:  People may not know that you want to talk if you don’t open your mouth!  Can we be a community where people interact with each other and are known beyond tweets and Facebook comments, but maybe over cups of coffee, in our lobby.  Get here early.  Stay late.  Sit in the same area.  Talk to people.  Shake hands during the greeting time, etc., etc., etc.  I long for us to be a place where you’re built up as this body grows to become more and more what Jesus died to purchase.

{Pastor Ryan plays video of John Sarazen.  John talks about how the community of South has helped him. He felt acceptance in the groups he participated in.  Acceptance made him feel free and it was a gift.  Before getting involved he didn’t feel good enough for anything.  Today he feels and knows he’s worthy to be part of the community.}

I long for every single one of us:  known  valued  loved.  By both God and by the people He’s invited you to walk with.  Would you share your life here?  Would you share your gifts here?  If you’re not who you are, we can’t be who God’s called us to be.  Right now, in the desert of Nevada, there’s 70,000 people staring at a 150 foot tall wooden structure that they’re about to light on fire and burn to the ground.  In contrast, there’s hundreds of thousands and millions and maybe even billions of people across the globe who look on.  Not at the burning man, but of the crucified man who’s risen and saying back to you, “Am I enough for you to find life in?  Am I enough to bring you together and unite you?  Will you gather around me?  Will you gather around my table and my sacrifice and my goodness and my grace and will you find your life in that round?”  Around me, he says.  And in doing so, also find yourself united with the people around you.  So for 2000 years followers of Jesus have been gathering around this table.  And in gathering around this table they gather around that man, Jesus the Messiah, who paid, purchased and delivered eternal life for all who would come to Him in faith.  My hope and my prayer is that as we hold on to Him it would unite us together.  Life in common is life abundant!  It’s the way He designed it.  It’s the way He designed you!  As we come to the table this morning, come knowing you’re part of something far bigger than yourself!

Let’s pray.  Jesus, we long to be that kind of community. The kind of community that has a shared confession that you are Lord.  The kind of community that affirms we’re not just an individual soul, we’re a part of the whole and You’ve designed us and wired us and your Spirit links us together.  Thank you.  But we want to be the kind of people…not who affirm that we’re perfect, but who recognize that we’re not, but that your grace is sufficient.  We want to fight to preserve unity in this body.  If that’s not there, would you help us to have honest conversations to ask for forgiveness.  To forgive freely as we hold on to you.  Jesus, thank you that this is a room that’s a body together, but also that each individual is unique and special to you and you love them.  Help us not lose sight of that.  As we come to your table, may You remind us of your calling, your goodness, your grace, your mercy that showers down on us today.  We say thank you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Relentless: Life In The Round – 1 Corinthians 122024-06-19T09:20:49-06:00

Relentless: Formed to Follow – Matthew 11:28-30

August 30th 2015

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

One question.  That’s all you get.  One question to ask Jesus.  You could imagine people as they heard the news about Jesus….his teaching about the kingdom of God spread.  As he went from town to town and crowds grew, I’m sure that there were people that were thinking, “If I get my chance, if I get my one question, here’s what it’s going to be.”  In Matthew 19:16 we get to read about one man’s question.  He’s a rich, young man and when he gets a chance to ask his one question here’s what he says to Jesus:  Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  That’s a good question!  Here’s what he’s asking, “Alright Jesus, I need you to boil this down for me, because I want to live the type of life that lasts forever.”  Eternal has two dimensions to it: It’s eternal in duration, but he’s also asking Jesus, what does it look like and how do I live the type of life that I want to last forever?  Those are two different questions, right?  Eternal in duration and eternal in quality that’s what’s wrapped up in this man’s question to Jesus.  His one question.  Listen to what Jesus says (verse 18):  And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The young man said to him, “All these I have kept.  What do I still lack?”   So he goes, “Okay, I’m looking at my resume.  No murder.  I’ve obeyed-ish my father and my mother.  (Probably a little bit of revisionist history going on here.)  I haven’t coveted.  I haven’t bore false witness.  I haven’t stolen.”  So the rich, young man is thinking, “We’re good.”  It was interesting to me that Jesus points out a number of the Ten Commandments, but He doesn’t give the man the first.  The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before Me.”   He leaves that one out, I think intentionally, and as the man says check, check, done, I’m good.  Jesus says, “Oh, oh! Before you leave, one last thing.  Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, then you’ll have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”  It’s interesting the first time around that Jesus doesn’t mention the first commandment, but He diagnoses what’s this man’s god.  What’s number one?  You shall have no other gods before me and He sees this guy’s god is his money.  It’s his stuff, it’s his treasure.  So He says, “Here’s the deal:  If you want to have life, drop the other gods.  Push them aside.  Anoint me as king of, not only the universe, but of your life, come and follow me.”  Isn’t it interesting that a question that starts out what does it mean to have eternal life, ends with an invitation from Jesus to “follow me.”  It’s an interesting turn of events, because it goes from “doing” to “following.”  It goes from what can I accomplish and what are the works that I can achieve? to Jesus saying, “Let me boil all this down.  You want to have the type of life that lasts forever and the kind of life that you want to last forever…..follow me!  Follow me!”  This is the invitation that Jesus gives to his followers…..FOLLOW.  Don’t just hear…..here’s what the rich, young man does.  He substitutes, like many of us do, proximity to Jesus for devotion to Jesus.  He rubs up against Jesus.  He gets to look Him in the eye.  He gets to hear His words, but he decides not to follow. He substitutes proximity to Jesus for devotion to Jesus.  He hears the words of Jesus, but those don’t equate in his life to following.  And he has the knowledge of who Jesus is….he knows His teaching, he’s heard His words.  He’s followed Him, to a certain extent, to see where He is and what He’s doing.  He’s heard the stories, but when it comes down to it, he’s unwilling to relinquish the trinkets in his hand for the treasure of following the way of Jesus.  I think in many ways he paints a picture of modern American evangelicals.  He paints a picture, in some ways, of my life.  I love to be close to Jesus, but when it starts to cost me something I’m like uunnhhh.  I love to hear the words of Jesus.  I love to study the Scriptures, but when it comes time to actually putting them into practice in my life…..I don’t know.  I love to study way more than I love to obey.  I don’t know about you.  Bible studies are great, aren’t they?  So we pack our lives full of them, I think, partially so we don’t have to go, “Alright, what does it look like to actually live this what?”  Bible studies are good, but they’re not the end.  Knowledge of and about Jesus is great, but it’s no substitute for following Him, where He says know me intimately, embrace My person and My way.  

When a rabbi would say to somebody who was looking to be one of his students……a rabbi would say to a student or disciple, “Follow me.”  What he meant was come and be like me.  Come and live like me.  Come and learn what it means to live under the commands of Yahweh, under the commands of God, in the same way I do.  So when Jesus says to the rich, young man, and to you and I, “follow me” He’s putting extreme faith in the fact that by His power and by His work you can actually become like Him!  It’s not just do the things I do.  It’s become like me in my nature and my character.  Look at the way that Jesus, in the calling of the first disciples, echoes this.  He says to the first disciples…they’re fishing…..Follow me, and I will make you….stop there, because here’s what Jesus’ saying to them: I’ll transform you.  I’ll do something in your life that causes you to live a little bit differently.  I’ll turn you from fishermen into fishers of men, that’s what I’m going to do in your life.  I’m going to take you from where you’re at and as you follow and as you walk in My way, you’ll start to take and clothe yourself in my character and I’ll make you….you’ll be a little bit different.  

Did you know that your decision to FOLLOW Jesus always determines your FORMATION to Jesus?  There’s a lot of people who love to be around Jesus, love to hear the words of Jesus, love to learn more about Jesus, but when it comes time to actually put this into practice, we go, “Whoa! I’m not so sure!”  This invitation from Jesus is come and be transformed.  Come, and by the Gospel of Grace, I will change the very inner-workings of your soul.  You can go from being an angry person to being a free person.  From being somebody who’s bitter and looks at the past and goes I’m not sure how I’m going to get beyond that to somebody who walks in the goodness of the Gospel.  Somebody who embraces the word “do” can be transformed into somebody who says by your grace and mercy it is finished!  You always become like the things you follow.  This Saturday, my oldest son, Ethan, was away with a friend in the morning, so it was just my daughter, Avery, and my youngest son, Reid.  Normally, Ethan is our event planner in the family so he decides where everybody goes and what everybody does.  This morning Avery had her opportunity.  She carpe’d that diem!!!  She seized that day!  She said, “Reidie, let’s go!”  She had all these necklaces on him.  He’s dressed up in a tutu holding his Barbie picture camera walking around the house.  It was this picture for me of:  The things that you follow lead to who you become. You can look at any fad or culture that rises up, but this truth is absolutely, 100% applicable in the physical realm, in our culture we see and in the spiritual realm.  The things that we follow, we become like!    So when Jesus is asked the question, “What does it look like to inherit eternal life?  The kind of life that lasts forever and the kind of life you’d want to last forever.”  He says, “How do you do that??  You follow me!  You don’t just hear my words, you actually live them up.  You don’t just see me, you walk intimately with me.  You don’t just know about me, you know Me!”  It’s more than just information, it’s transformation!  The decision for us to follow always, always, ALWAYS determines our transformation.

I’ve often wondered how this rich, young man’s life played out.  Haven’t you?  The decision to hear the words of Jesus and walk away…..I’ve always wondered if he was haunted by that decision.  Did he hold his treasure and his stuff and think is it really worth it.  Have you ever gained more and more stuff and felt more and more empty?  My guess is, the rich young man would go yes and amen!  I can’t believe I passed up the opportunity to inherit eternal life through the following of the Messiah and I’ve sacrificed it for all of this stuff that in the end doesn’t really matter.  Would you look up at me for a moment?  The desire of Jesus is that every single person in this room and every person you meet would be conformed into His image.  It’s not because He’s egotistical, it’s because He loves you and He knows the way He designed you to live.  He wired you for intimacy with the Father.  When we live in His way, we start to be conformed or formed into His image.  But it doesn’t happen by just looking at Him and going, “Man, you’re amazing!”  It doesn’t happen by just hearing His words.  It doesn’t happen by just being in close proximity to Him, maybe like on a Sunday morning.  It happens when we lay all of our life at Him and say, “I’m willing not just to hear and I’m willing not just to know.  I want to FOLLOW!”  Anybody there this morning?  Anybody saying God, I want to follow you!  I don’t just want to hear about you.  I want to actually follow in your way.   

I want to flip over to Matthew 11:28-30 and we’re going to spend the rest of our time unpacking how Jesus wants us to follow.  There’s some really specific things He’s going to say, that He’s going to invite us to. I’d encourage you to go back over the course of this week and read through Matthew 11, because Jesus is preaching a little bit angry here.  Or at least passionate.  He’s just given a few “woes.”  Woe to you…you places that I did miracles and you haven’t repented.  So He knows there’s a lot on the line.  So when we here this invitation “come to me,” we have to hear it with “this is a weighty, weighty call” from the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  It’s not “Hey, if you feel like it, come on and follow me.”  It’s:  LIFE is on the line and it’s too good and it’s too beautiful and it’s too absolutely abundant for us to hold on to our trinkets and miss His treasures!  Here’s what He says in teaching people how to follow His way:  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   

Three things I want to point out for you and what it looks like for you and I to follow—really, truly follow—the way of Jesus, not just appreciate it.  To be a follower, not just a fan.  Number one, Jesus says, “Come to me.” This is an intentional approach.  None of us will wake up some day and go, “You know what?  I think I’m following Jesus.  I don’t know how it happened.  All of a sudden I’m obeying and abiding and wow! this is great, this is awesome!”  It doesn’t happen by accident.  You will not drift there.  So Jesus says: This requires an intentional approach, a heart direction, where we look at the Messiah in the same way the rich young man did, but with a different result.  He looked at him and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus says, “Follow me.”  We must say, “Jesus, we are chasing after you!”  Have you said that?  

When we traveled back to California for vacation over summer break, I love cruise control!!  We get on I-70….we make about four turns from when we leave our house and when we get to California.  It’s like get on I-70 and get on I-15…that’s all you do!  MapQuest is like three things.  So we get on I-70 outside of Grand Junction and it’s like boom! cruise control!  Hit it 85 and wake me up when we get to I-15 and I need to make a left!  Cruise control is a great way to travel!  It’s a terrible way to live!!  I think a lot of our lives, if we were honest and we would say, alright, Jesus, the spiritual condition of our soul probably reflects more cruise control than it does intentionality and chasing after Him.  Some diagnostic questions would be:  What does my prayer life look like?  God, what am I calling out for in my soul when it comes to you?  Am I like the psalmist?  Am I approaching you saying, “My soul longs for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water?  Where can I go and meet with God?”   I love the way that Dallas Willard puts it in his great book, The Great Omission:  “The single most obvious trait of those who profess Christ but do not grow into Christ-likeness {Time out.  That is a devastating thing, isn’t it?  We would say that we know Him.  We would say that we love Him. We would say our faith is in Him, but our life just doesn’t reflect this.  There’s something better.} …..is their refusal to take the reasonable and time-tested measures for spiritual growth.”  He says that’s the only thing that separates people that grow into Christ-likeness and people that don’t.  The people who grow into Christ-likeness are the people who set this intentional approach to God.  Have you done this?  It’s a great, glorious invitation so good that I don’t want us to pass it by!

My question after that is who is this open to?  Is Jesus just writing to the spiritually elite?  Here’s who it is open to:   Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden…  So these are people who are working their fingers to the bone, spiritually speaking.  These are people who have it in their sights of what it looks like to appease God and to make Him happy and to avoid the wrath that is coming.  These are people who are working, working, going, going, doing, doing.  He goes all those who are living that way and those who are heavy laden. It’s this picture of a pack mule that is absolutely weighed down!  Overloaded!! Overburdened!!  With the cares and the pain and the regret of life.  THIS is who the invitation from Jesus is open for.  What a miraculous, beautiful invitation, is it not?  I don’t know about you, but life can get a little heavy sometimes, can’t it?  (Pastor Ryan loads a backpack with bricks/tiles.)  You start thinking about the things that as people, just people, that we deal with and it can add up, can’t it?  I know there are some of you out there right now that are going man, the health scare, health concern, uncertainty of it all….I don’t know what to exactly do with that. Jesus says, “Alright, you’re heavy ladened.”  That abuse that you walked through when you were a kid, and as much as you’ve tried, just can’t work it through.  (Tile goes in the backpack.)  That disappointment with the job just not coming through the way that you wanted it to.  You got bad news from your employer. (Another tile into the backpack.)  Your family’s broken.  You had a dream of what it was going to look like when you got married and it doesn’t look anything like that now.  (Another tile into the backpack.)  Is it me or can life be heavy some times?    So Jesus says all you who labor and are heavy laden, burdened with life, come to me.  Come to me.  I love you and I’m for you and the only requirement to do so is not that you be perfect, but that you would be weighed down enough to say, “I need some help and I can’t do it on my own.”  That’s the only requirement!  That’s the only thing the gospel demands of you! An intentional approach informed by your weakness and saying I can’t carry this load alone.  I can’t go at it alone.  The idea of trying to work myself to God…it always seems to let me down.  Or I think I get there and my pride demolishes me.  Or the pain and the hurt of life.  So He goes the only requirement I have is for you to be heavy laden, burdened by life and if that’s you He says, “Come. Come on. And I will, as you follow me…I will make you.  I’ll transform you.”  

The Pharisees couldn’t do it because their way of approaching God was based on their performance.  To drop their guard and admit the weight would mean failure.  The rich young man couldn’t do it because he was like…that’s not that heavy.  I think I can carry it.  And instead of approaching Jesus in a way to follow, he turns his back on this beautiful invitation for formation.  Listen to the way Tim Keller puts it: “The gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through works.”  Friends, listen to me here.  Transformation begins when we come to Jesus, in all of our frailty and all of our weakness….admit it, receive from Him….and it continues, transformation does, as we abide in Him.  The first disciples drop their nets.  They leave their income.  They leave their identity.  They leave their influence and they say back to Jesus:  We’re willing to follow. Have you said it?  Are you a follower or a fan?  Is Jesus sort of a nice hood ornament on our car or is He the king of the universe, Lord of our life?  How does the load you’re carrying feel?  

Here’s the next thing Jesus says.  First, we approach Him with intentionality.  Listen to what He says to people who are weary and heavy laden and burdened by life, wiped out by life.   Take my yoke upon you.   Just imagine Jesus:  Hey, are you burdened by life?  We’re like yeah!  Are you worn out?  Yeah!  Life got you down? Yeah!  Well, come and take my YOKE?????  I would be like….come and take a vacation.  Come and get an erotic massage.  Come and sit in my hot tub.  But come and take my yoke…that that might lighten the burden?  Here’s the second thing Jesus is saying:  Not only, if we’re going to follow Him, does it demand an intentional approach, it necessitates a humble submission.  God, we will walk under Your Word, we’ll walk under Your Way.  Two things that means for us.  Catch these.  A yoke was a work tool for an animal, an oxen typically.  They would fit it specifically for the oxen, which is what Jesus says when he says my yoke is easy.  Literally, in the Greek, it means “it fits perfectly.”  It would allow them to pull more weight than they were able to pull on their own.  Jesus isn’t inviting us to a vacation, He’s inviting us to a way of carrying life’s burdens that feels way different than if we’re carrying it on our own.  Every rabbi would have a yoke—you could replace that word with “school.”  A yoke was a way that they interpreted the Scriptures and a way that they sat under the teachings of God.  When Jesus says take my yoke upon you, He’s telling the disciples and you and I to come and take my way of walking and living and moving and breathing.  Walk in my way.  Do what I do.  Follow me.  Two words….one obedience.  Demands it.  We cannot embrace the yoke of Christ if we are not willing to follow Him.  And to be obedient to what He calls us to do.  The great thing for you and I is….here’s the way the Apostle John writes about the commands of Jesus to be obedient.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)   So this is a totally different way of looking at the yoke, right?  To follow the way of Jesus isn’t:  Oh, man, I gotta forgive my enemies.  Oh my goodness, I’ve got to pray for those who persecute me.  Man, I’ve gotta rid my life of bitterness.  See, from the outside looking in it can look like work…..from the inside looking out it feels like freedom.  I think we’ve listened to people talk about obedience, for too long, who aren’t actually living it out.  The people who are living it out would say there’s nothing better.  There’s nothing better than, by the grace of God, approaching Jesus, embracing His yoke, walking in His way and being freed from anger!  I don’t know anybody holding on to anger who says this is working out great for me.  Do you?  I don’t know anybody who’s going, “I refuse to forgive and it’s a really good decision!”  No, no!!  People are saying, “I refuse to forgive and I wish I could let go because it’s eating me alive.”    What John writes is listen, to walk in His way, to be obedient to His call and His person, is not burdensome, it’s beautiful.  Number one.

Number two—It’s not only obedience, it’s relinquishing control.  When we say to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: I’m willing to take on your yoke and walk in your way of approaching God through grace, through mercy, through the work of the Spirit, the sacrifice of the Son and the foreknowledge of the Father….when I’m to do that I have to say then that my way of carrying this is not working.  I think the hiccup for a lot of us as we walk with Jesus is we’re selective in what we obey.  We say I like this and I don’t like that.  God, I think you were right THERE, but when it comes to this other point, I don’t know.  Really, at the end of that who’s our God?  We are.  So Jesus is saying: one, embrace obedience. Walk in my way: to love God, to love your neighbor as yourself.  To carry the message of the Kingdom everywhere you go.  To be a disciple who makes disciples. To live the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount.  It’s not burdensome, but it does require obedience and it requires relinquishing control.  I’m not in charge here, God.  You are.  The beautiful thing about that is it results in, if you read John 15:10-11, one, knowing the love of the Father when we walk in His way.  We get to go: Oh, God, You’re amazing and You’re good and Your love never fails!  And two, it means we get to walk in the joy, according to Jesus…as we obey we walk in the joy of our Father.  It’s not burdensome.  

Will you look up at me a moment, friend?  This is way too good to skim by.  This is way too good for the rich young man to go, “You know what?  I think I’ll hold on to my trinkets and relinquish joy and the love of the Father.”  Transformation of our souls is absolutely possible only as we follow.  Approach Him intentionally. Submit to Him humbly.  Then Jesus says this:  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.    It’s deliberate learning.  It’s gaining knowledge then implementing it in our daily life.  The invitation from Jesus is to come to Him and learn how to live.  It’s not come to me and learn how to go to church.  It’s not come to me and learn how to be spiritual.  It’s come to me, take my yoke upon you, take my way upon you, learn from me.  Have you ever thought of Jesus as a teacher?  Have you ever thought of Him as brilliant?  Have you ever thought of Him as living the kind of life you want to live and then putting yourself under His teaching and His way?  It demands deliberate learning.  Once again, Dallas Willard writes: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all of its heartbreaking needs, {that’s a big issue} is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”  This takes practice, friend.  This takes learning.  This isn’t just we’re going to come Sunday morning, walk out of here, well, I’m filled up for next week.  If it’s that, we’re the rich young man.  We hear, we don’t follow.  It’s learning from Jesus….Jesus, teach me how to embrace your way.  

I remember ten years ago, I took guitar lessons.  I started out as an average guitar player.  And I am less than average today!  I can tell you why.  I went in and he gave me scales to practice.  I went home and I watched the Broncos.  I went back the next week feeling guilty.  He asked me how the scales went.  I’m like my dog ate them!  Week after week he would give me things to practice and I would go home and I would not do it.  I wonder if we’ve done the same things with the words of Jesus.  Come and learn from me, He says.  Learn what to do, how to walk in my way and then, maybe even more importantly, learn to allow the grace and mercy of God to penetrate deeply in your soul, not just so you do the right things and can check them off.  But so that you have the right motivation, a grace-drenched, God-loving, Jesus-exalting heart!  Where you don’t feel like it’s “duty,” but feel like it’s “delight!”  It feels like I’m living the life that You designed me to live.  The Gospel doesn’t just tell us what to do, it empowers us through the grace of God to become the kinds of people who can joyfully walk with Jesus.  That’s what it does.   

So we walk under the weight of things like:  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14)  Well, that’s an easy yoke.  That fits, doesn’t it?  Where Paul writes in Colossians 1:28-29:  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.  HIS might at work in me.  That’s awesome!  That is a beautiful invitation:  Come and learn from me.  

In your bulletin is a bookmark: R.E.S.T.  As a staff we’re called to equip.  We wanted to develop a way to learn from Jesus.  This isn’t a program, please hear me on this.  I want to give you tools to help in your marriage, tools to help as you gather with people, maybe on your lunch break…and they want to learn what it looks like to be a disciple and to follow Jesus.  Maybe in your neighborhood or in your small group.  This is a tool, my hope and my heart is, that will help you.  We just call it R.E.S.T.  It’s out of this passage.  Four steps to it. One, that you Read the Scriptures.  I hope you have a method of doing that.  Two, that you’d Engage the text.  You’d ask good questions about what does it look like to be a follower of the way of Jesus.  What’s God saying to me through His word?  Jesus, if your words are Spirit and your word is Truth and Life, then how does it penetrate this hard soul?  Ask good questions. Then to Sit with Jesus.  What a novel concept, right?  Read His word, engage the text and then go God, what do you want to say to me?  Then just pause.  I’ve been a part of a lot of Bible-reading plans that maybe failed to invite the Author into it?  I want to make space for that for us.  Part of the method of the way we approach Jesus is we intentionally listen to Him.  I know, it’s earth shattering.  Finally, to Trust and obey.  Jesus, what are you saying?  How are you inviting me to live today and I want to step into that.  Some of it’s going to require learning and some of it’s going to require unlearning some things that have gotten ahold of our soul that are just absolute lies.  The way you do that is you wash your mind.  You renew your mind with the truth of the Scriptures.  Hide His word in your heart!  The only way to be formed in the image of Jesus is to really truly follow Him.  

There’s a wonderful result that comes.  I love how Eugene Peterson writes this in the Message version.  Verse 29:  Walk with me and work with me—-watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. {Learn to abide with me.  Walk with me.  Love me.}   Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Here’s the promise.  It’s way too good to pass up.  The rich young man heard Jesus, but he didn’t follow Jesus.  He was in proximity to Jesus, but he neglected devotion to Jesus.  He knew Jesus, but passed up intimacy with Jesus.  We can’t do the same!!  It’s way too good!  Because here’s what Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”   Here’s what He says:  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31)   That’s an invitation to rest.  His goodness and His grace and His mercy showered down over you.  That you have access into this grace in which you now stand.  You have access by faith and you have peace with God.  This is a rest for the soul, friends.  If you renew your mind:  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…. and when you do that you will be able to test and approve what is God’s willing, His pleasing and perfect will (Rom. 12:2).  The Apostle Paul to the church at Rome said when you renew your mind and walk in the way of Jesus, when you learn from Him and follow Him, you’ll be able to go God, this is your will, your good, pleasing and perfect will.  You’re awesome.  You’re amazing!  You’re good! You’re glorious and my soul is at rest because of You!  And You get all the glory and You get all the praise and You get all the honor.  But it demands us to come.  Approach Him intentionally.  Submit under the easy yoke that fits really well.  You were designed for it.  And then learn and implement.  And His promise is: As you follow, I will form you!  We call this Gospel transformation around here.  That’s what it is.  To sit under the goodness of Jesus.  To live out of it.  And to be transformed by it.  

{Pastor Ryan ends with invitation to be baptized and also to watch the video testimony.}  

Relentless: Formed to Follow – Matthew 11:28-302024-06-19T09:19:44-06:00

Relentless: Ordinary People Unleashed – Acts 11:19-30


Pastor Rob Karch recapped his biography:  Born in Seattle and grew up in Oregon.  He was invited on a missions trip to France while in college (1998).  Met his wife there on the trip and they were married in 2002.  That summer in 1998 and 1999, God gripped his heart with the French-speaking world.  His heart was broken by the fact that the majority of people in France had never even opened a Bible and didn’t have any interaction with Jesus except as a statue.  They never realized that Jesus is still changing and transforming lives TODAY.  Rob and his wife, Martine, both applied to World Venture and wanted to go back to France.  God redirected them to Quebec.  God did incredible things in Quebec.  Rob and Martine helped launch new churches and sent out church planters.  Caleb and Constance are his children.

Over the last couple of weeks, we walked through and examined God’s relentless pursuit of humanity.  He loves us!  We looked at Adam and Eve and how God created them to have a relationship with Him.  They turned away from that relationship.  We saw how God called and pursued Abraham and to lift up Abraham as a people group, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of the nations.  We saw God work through the life of Moses, pursuing Moses.  We saw King Solomon as he was dedicating the temple; he was dedicating it not just for Israel, but so the nations would know there’s one God, the creator of the universe, that loves all nations.  Last week, we also saw that Jesus came, God in the flesh, to this earth.  He walked and lived a perfect life on this earth.  He died and rose again, conquering sin, death and our spiritual enemies.  Then He unleashed the church, sending His Holy Spirit.  The church was unleashed and left Jerusalem, went to Judea, went to Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth—which includes Littleton, Colorado and we’re part of that unleashing here today.  It’s fantastic to hear this story and realize we’re in the story!  We’re part of it!  And the story isn’t over yet.  We see some hints of what’s to come in Revelation 5, 7 and 21, where representatives of the nations and the people groups of the earth, one day, will be standing in front of the God of the universe and worshipping Him together.  We saw that last week and that was awesome, wasn’t it?!

One of the things that I’m convinced of is that God works through disorientation.  As God introduces disorientation into our lives, especially as adults, our learning ability skyrockets!  When we’re comfortable and in our rhythm, we don’t really want to learn anything.  Like life is good, right?  But when our life is upside down, all of a sudden we want to learn how to get out of the situation.  I believe that right now, when we look around the world and what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa and other parts of the world, that God is using disorientation today to open up the world to Jesus Christ.  Today we’re going to look at “ordinary people unleashed” and how God used a disorientation to unleash ordinary people, like you, like me…..and use them to unleash them to transform a city.  We looked at the broad spectrum.  Today we’re going to dig down deep into one particular city in Acts 11.  We’re going to look at the church in Antioch.

Just to review and not forget this:  “Mission is not ours; mission is God’s.  Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in… It is not so much the case that God as a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission.” (Christopher J.H. Wright)

Let’s pray.  God, thank you for your relentless love, your pursuit of humanity throughout history and your pursuit of us and your love for us and your desire to use us to woo other peoples to yourself.  God, please bring that home to us.  Open our eyes for us so that as we walk out these doors we would be completely enamored with your love and your desire to work through us and to unleash us where we are.  In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

What better way to start a sermon then to talk about the French, right?  Yes!  A little known historical figure called Napoleon Bonaparte.  Prior to Napoleon, European nations had there own professional army that was funded by the royal treasury.  They had these small professional armies of 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 people….they would have their little wars or skirmishes.  At the end of the war, whoever lost got a parcel of land and they would sign it back and forth.  Well, Napoleon revolutionized all of this.  He didn’t have a professional army.  What he did was turn the entire French nation into a military machine.  Every single citizen of France was either on the front lines or supporting the front lines.  When he started a war, it was a tidal wave of this military machine flowing and overflowing into all the surrounding countries.  He was meeting with one of his counterparts in Austria one day and he told him, “You cannot stop me.  I can spend 30,000 men a month.”  The other European powers were not used to this.  They didn’t know how to react.  I don’t know if I’d like my leader to say he could just spend me like that.

During World War II, the United States actually adopted this philosophy.  We’re fighting a two-front battle—one with the Japanese and one with the Germans.  As we’re going through World War II, the United States was transformed into this military machine.  We were.  We won, right? Isoroku Yamamoto, a Japanese admiral, discouraged Japan from invading the United States.  He said, “If we do, there will be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”  We know it’s true, right?  How many of us, if somebody was invading Colorado, would wait for the military to arrive?  We wouldn’t.  We’d pull out our weapons and go to war.  That’s who we are as Americans.  {I was in Montana speaking.  I would ask guys in Montana, “How many weapons do you have?  Just out of curiosity.”  They would answer, “You mean total or in my truck?”}

So what we see in Acts 11 is a church that takes this to heart.  That every single person is a part of the mission.  Every one!  Acts 11:19 (NIV)–Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenecia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.  So….a little bit of background.  Jesus came.  He died.  He rose again.  He conquered death.  In that gap between His resurrection and the ascension, he’s spending time with the disciples, unleashing them.  A little bit later, they’re in Jerusalem.  They receive the Holy Spirit.  They’re speaking in tongues.  All of these things are happening.  Peter gets up and explains to the crowd what’s happening.  He tells the people they need to turn away from their own selfish ways and turn to the way of Jesus and 3000 people did that that day.  Later on in Acts 4, we see that the church in Jerusalem had grown to 5000 men.  If you take that and add women and children, we’re talking about a church of 10, 15, 20,000 people in Jerusalem.  This huge church in Jerusalem.  Then we see the government and local leaders clamped down on the church.  They begin to throw people in prison and even murder one of the key leaders, Stephen.  The church is scattered all around the world, like Alexandria and Cyprus and Cyrene and Antioch.  That’s where we are.

…..spreading the word only among Jews.   The parallel is these Jews show up in Antioch and they find people like them who speak a similar language, have a similar culture and traditions and they begin sharing the good news of Jesus with them.  That would be like if your work takes you to Saudi Arabia or to Hong Kong or to Mexico.  When you show up there you find an American ex-pat community and start telling them about Jesus, because Jesus is awesome and He’s the central figure of all human history and He’s the one who came to save us.  So you’re sharing this good news with them and that’s good and we’d applaud that!  What happens in verse 20?  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene {Cyprus is this island out in the Mediterranean and Cyrene is actually modern day Libya.  So they’re coming from North Africa, which is pretty interesting and end up in Antioch.} ..went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also.  {They cross some ethno-linguistic boundaries.  They go and speak with people who do not necessarily share the same cultural heritage, the same traditions, the same mother tongue.  They begin to share the good news of Jesus crossing these barriers and when that happens, when they’re getting outside their comfort zone, they’ve already been disoriented because of the persecution….they’ve been thrown out of Jerusalem.  They end up in Antioch.  They’re going outside the box.  They’re doing this crazy thing….talking to people different than them.}  Verse 21 – The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.   God did a mighty work in Antioch.

Couple of things about Antioch.  Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire.  So it’s basically the Chicago of the Roman Empire.  New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.  In the Roman Empire, my understanding was it was Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.  It was this major urban center.  It was this huge city with Roman and Greek influence.  What ended up happening was this church was begun in Antioch.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed….  This church ended up becoming one of the greatest mission-sending churches in the history of the world!  Who started this (church)?  We don’t see any apostles’ names.  We don’t see seminarians’ names.  We don’t see celebrity pastor-type names.  We see regular, ordinary people that ended up in Antioch.  They began making disciples in Antioch where they were.  It became the greatest mission-sending church in history and we don’t even know their names!  That’s awesome to me!   That means that God can use you, God can use me, God can use anyone of us where we are to make disciples.  We don’t know where that thing could go.  All we know is that God can use us where we are!  If you walk out with anything today, I hope you walk out with the renewed vision that God has called you where you are and God can use you to do amazing things to see transformation where you are as you walk with the Spirit.  Unleashed to multiply unique disciples….ordinary people, regular people.

I was in Marseille a few months ago.  It’s a city in southern France of about 5 million people.  Beautiful city.  Multi-cultural city.  A large Muslim population–about 300,000 or so, mainly Algerian Muslims.  I was in a particular neighborhood (will not mention names since this is being recorded) which was a very difficult neighborhood.  The police generally do not go into this neighborhood.  It’s mainly an immigrant neighborhood with a lot of violence, drug use, drug dealing.  When we walked into this neighborhood we saw it.  You can see the drug dealing.  You can see the drug runners.  I’ve never seen anything that blatant.  The police only show up once every couple of months.  In comes Gilbert!  With the mustache and glasses and scarf—he’s only missing a baguette!  French pastor.  Gilbert is fantastic!  Gilbert has a passion for God and realizes that God sent His son.  He realizes the price that God paid to reconcile humanity to himself.  He realizes that every single person, no matter where we’re from, is made in the image of God.  He realizes that.  He sees that and he has a passion for this particular community.  For the last 10 years, the French government has been throwing red tape in his way, so he could not use a group of seven churches that wanted to invest in this particular community.  A couple of years ago, the local French prefect, a political leader, wanted to meet with the Evangelicals in Marseille to find out who in the world they were.  In France, about 1% of the population would say they have faith in Jesus Christ as the One who came, died and rose again.  In Him alone.  By that they have a relationship with God starting now for the rest of eternity.  Those are Evangelicals.  In the U.S., about 30%, give or take, would claim that.  30% vs. 1%.  This is a minority.  So the prefect sat down with them and asked them who they were.  Gilbert, with a group of pastors, began sharing with them.  Well, we’ve been transformed by Jesus.  We’re going to proclaim the name of Jesus and we’re going to love our neighbors.  We also organize things in our communities and we’re reaching out to immigrant communities.  We’re reaching out and helping single mothers.  We’re helping the homeless.  We’re involved in the communities around each one of our churches.  Our desire is to be a blessing to those communities.  At the end of that meeting, Gilbert said to the prefect, “Mr. Prefect, for the last 10 years there has been that community over there.  The one the police don’t go to?  For the last 10 years we’ve wanted to go in and bless THAT community and you’ve stopped us!  What have you done for that community over the last 10 years?”  The prefect said, “Honestly, we haven’t done anything.  Honestly, we don’t know what to do.”  The prefect continued, “Make us a proposal.  Write a proposal and we’ll look at it.”  Gilbert walked out of that meeting and got together three different houses of prayer to pray for this process.  Then he brought together a group of French sociologists to build a plan for that community….to bless that community.   Then they presented this plan to the local prefect.  It was a plan that included everything from children’s activities to French classes to computer literacy courses to everything to bless this community all in the name of Jesus.  The prefect came back and said that not only do we approve the plan and we say yes to that, but we would like to pay for the space that you’re going to use for that, using city funds.  If it goes well here, then we’d like to open the rest of Marseille to you and your group.  When Gilbert walks into that community, he doesn’t see only immigrants or Muslims or violent people, he sees people created in God’s image….that Jesus came to this earth and He died to save them.  And God’s relentless love is reaching out to them and pursuing them and desires to use the ordinary people in this church, even if the police are afraid to go into this community.  Every single day members of these seven churches are walking into this community.  They’re serving this community where the police fear to tread.  These are ordinary people.  People like you and I that God is unleashing to bless this community.  Isn’t that fantastic?

This is who we are as a church.  We are the body of Christ.  We’re people who have been transformed by Jesus.  Maybe you haven’t yet.  Maybe you’re struggling with this right now and aren’t sure about this.  Just know, this is the vision that God’s given us!  As we live, we’re transformed by Jesus.  We’re living this out in community. We’re loving one another.  And we’re going.  We are a going people as we saw last week.  And we’re going to all different sectors of society.  We’re involved in sports, media, education, health care Monday to Friday.  This is where we’re going.  Government, arts, family, science, agriculture, police and fire.  God calls us to join in His pursuit, His love for people, as we’re going into these different communities.  As people meet Jesus and they see who He is and they’re transformed by Jesus, then they, too, become part of the community.  And then they’re a going people as well.  This is what we’re called to as a people of Christ.  This is what we saw in Marseille and this is what we’re seeing here in South.  A couple of things I want to highlight.  Ordinary people unleashed at South and God is using….the Holy Spirit is working in this congregation right here, right now.  We’re a part of this.  I spoke last week with a couple of people involved in prisons in the area.  They’re involved in prisons and sharing the Good News of Jesus and loving people sacrificially.  Families adopting children.  Family Promise where we’re coming around and loving families who are going through a difficult time.  Isn’t it great?  It’s not just in Marseille, but it’s here, too!  God’s calling us to be a part of this.

A couple of other things.  If you’d like to open your bulletins, we’re launching a third service.  We’re having a third service launch team tonight because we’re convinced that God is not done with this place yet.  So if you’d like to join that launch team, we want to see God work mightily here in Littleton.  This is one of the creative ways that South is being a part of that.  If you’d like to be a part of that, you can sign your name, phone, email and drop it in the basket on the way out.  We’d love to have you as we pray about being a part of what God is doing around the world.  Also, “Adopt a Global Partner”.  South is involved all around the world right now.  We have a privilege of being a part in supporting what God is doing in Kenya.  So I’d encourage every single one of you, when you walk out of here, to walk over to the table and pick up one of the cards and pray about adopting and supporting and loving on some of these people that we’re connected with all around the people.  Both here and there.  We can all play a role.  We can all be a part.

The second thing we see in Acts 11:22 is chaos happening.  This chaotic thing in Antioch.  No one’s directing it, guiding it other than the Holy Spirit.  News of this chaos reaches the church in Jerusalem, so they decide to send Barnabas to Antioch to find out what in the world is going on in Antioch!  Barnabas is called “the son of encouragement.”  He was a leader in the church in Jerusalem.  It would be like sending Pastor Dan down the road to find out what in the world is going on.  (I’ve been encouraged so much by Pastor Dan.)  So Barnabas showed up there.  When he saw what the grace of God had done, he said, “Hey, we need to rein this thing in and stop it!”  No!!  …he was glad….   So this chaotic thing was happening that we’re not exactly sure what God is doing, but He’s doing something amazing and he was glad.  I know my reaction…..I can have a tendency, when I see God doing something outside the box that I’m not comfortable with, to kinda feel skeptical and try to rein it in and kinda want to box it in.  Barnabas realized that if God is working, I’m glad!  I pray that that’s our response to that.  ….he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith… {So he shows up and this thing is happening, but Barnabas does not believe that it is done, it’s finished.  What’s happened has happened.  Barnabas is convinced that this is the beginning of a movement of God.  So then after Barnabas shows up…..}  ….a great number of people were brought to the Lord.   That’s a question I have here.  Isn’t it great to be part of what God is doing here over the last few years?  Are you encouraged?  I am!  Can we have the attitude of Barnabas?  That maybe God is building the foundation for something else.  That’s exactly what was happening in Antioch.  God was building a launching pad for the church to not rest in Antioch, but to explode, both in Antioch and to the surrounding areas and uttermost parts of the earth.  I don’t know what God has in store for South.  It’s possible that five years from now South Fellowship doesn’t look anything like South Fellowship today.  But we pray that the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop today.  That tomorrow and the next day and the next day we see the Holy Spirit work even more powerfully and in mightier ways than He has up to now.

Verse 25:  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul…  This is so ironic.  Jump back up to verse 19:  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution….  That Saul started!!  Let’s go get him and bring him back to Antioch.  So in a weird way, Saul actually launched out these people to start the church in Antioch—against his will.  But Barnabas realized these people need shepherding.  We need to walk alongside them and not just leave them.  We need to not say, “Ok, they believe in Jesus. Great.  Now let’s move on!”  No, we need to walk with them and help them walk in a healthy, long-term way to make more disciples and multiple disciples and invite other people to join and follow the Way of Jesus.  We need to see this thing to grow in maturity.  We need to walk with them and he was convinced of that.  Verse 26:  ..and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.  The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.    Isn’t that incredible?  All of these new beginnings.  All started by people we don’t know….ordinary people the Holy Spirit used in extraordinary ways.  Last week we learned that a convert will never multiply himself, but a disciple always will.  Paul and Barnabas were convinced that we need to walk alongside these people and show them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and see them multiply in healthy ways.  And they did.  They were committed and they stayed there for a year.

The third thing we see is ordinary people unleashed to impact the entire world.  How does this happen? They weren’t seeking it, but it happened.  Verse 27:  During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)  {I love that Luke, who wrote Acts, inserted this parentheses to show that it’s true.  Seek the historical record.  You will see there was a famine during the reign of Claudius.  It happened….real people, real places.}  Verse 29: The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea.   {So Antioch, which is a larger, richer city with more resources, finds out that their brothers and sisters in Judea need help.  So they come together and decide to bless their brother and sisters in Judea.  This is the first step towards this amazing mission.}  Verse 30:  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.    Later on in Acts 13 what do we see?  They send out Paul and Barnabas and then they send out others and this church becomes this mission launching pad, where the city itself is transformed and then it grows and it grows and grows.

I saw an example of this when I was in Montpellier, which is in southern France.  I met a pastor by the name of Daniel Mattioli.  He’s an Italian who grew up in Switzerland who’s a pastor in France.  He speaks French with a Swiss accent.  He also speaks Italian.  I had actually heard Daniel speak in Quebec at a conference.  I was really impressed by him.  I had other friends who had been taught by him at a local seminary and had been deeply impacted by him.  When I was in Marseille, I had to make the two hour train ride to Montpellier and spend a few days there and explore what God was doing in that particular city.  What I found was astounding!  So Daniel’s church is a church of about 200 people, significantly smaller than South.  Montpellier is the fastest growing city in France.  Ten’s of thousands of people are moving into Montpellier every year.  One of the things that Daniel told me as he was showing me this city and showing me the growth…he said, “Rob, one day God is going to hold us accountable for how we do or do not welcome these new people into our community in the name of Jesus.”  That’s true for South, too.  We know Jesus and he’s sending people from all different cultures, countries and nations to Littleton and the surrounding area.   It’s our responsibility to welcome them in the name of Christ. Also, there are four main Muslim communities around Montpellier. They’re mainly Moroccan communities.  Twenty-five percent of the city are students.  One of four are attending a university.

While I was there I was praying, with my wife and other people, what the next steps look like for us.  We were able to pass the baton in Quebec and we were praying what God had for us in the future.  It isn’t clear yet.  If Quebec churches and American churches invested in the Montpellier churches—-we were there on the ground in Montpellier—-then those churches have a vision for church planting.  This is part of being accountable to God for Daniel.  They have a vision for twelve new churches.  Not because he wants to be audacious.  He realizes that God is sending him so many people that they need twelve churches to keep up.    They’re investing in students.  They’re fighting human trafficking and they are building a vision to make disciples in those four Muslim communities, which would trickle back to North Africa.  So we see the possibility.  One of the options for us on the table is to go there and be a part of that.  We’re not sure yet.  Possible timeline for us:  June 2015-We brought our stuff down from Quebec to Colorado.  Martine is applying to become a U.S. citizen…that would facilitate coming and going from the U.S.  She was actually refused at the border once.  Lord willing, we could go on a family vision trip to Montpellier in November 2015 and explore how our family could get involved in that ministry working with Daniel, if that’s what God would have for us.  If that was positive, then possibly move to Montpellier next June.  That’s kinda what we’re looking at right now.  That would cost a lot…what we’re looking to raise right now is a total of $16,500 and a good portion of that has already come in.

I did not mention to you the human trafficking piece.  This is something I don’t have words to express.  The gravity and the astonishment at how the Holy Spirit can work through ordinary people.  Four years ago, a woman from South Africa traveled up to Daniel’s church in Montpellier and shared what she was doing to fight human trafficking in South Africa.  She shared what she was doing and then she shared with a group that human trafficking was a huge problem…in Montpellier!  Daniel was surprised!  He had no idea!  She told him to go to a particular street and look for these particular things and you will see it.  When the meeting was over he drove to that particular street and he saw it!  He saw these teenage Nigerian girls.  He pulled up in front of them not sure what to do.  One of the girls opened the door to his car and started to get in.  He said, “No, no, no.  I’m not here for that.”  She said, “Well, what are you here for?”  He didn’t know what to say.  He said, “I’m here to say Jesus loves you.”  Over the next year, he began to research and explore what was happening in his city.  He began to reorganize his personal life, reorganizing the ministries and structures in the church.  He realized that there’s a part of the city where there are Nigerian girls who were brought in.  Another part had Eastern European girls, another part had boys and another part that had trans-gender men selling their bodies.  There were unique situations and problems in each part of the city.  The Nigerian girls would think they were coming to France to go to school or for a job.  When they showed up in France the traffickers would say, “Now you owe us 80,000 Euros and you have to work it off.  So you’ll work for us until that’s paid off.”  You can just imagine a 14 year old English-speaking Nigerian girl ending up in French-speaking France.  And being told that if you try to run we know your family back in Nigeria—we know your parents, we know your brothers and sisters—and we’ll kidnap one of them to come and replace you.

Daniel said that was another moment when he and his church said, “Okay, God, this is happening right in front of us, right here.  We didn’t know about it, but now we know.  So we as a church have to respond to that somehow.”  They began to organize and send out people in teams on Friday nights to pray with these girls.  They’ll go out every Friday night.  They have four teams—-two teams on each side.  One team praying with these girls and giving them gifts and asking how they’re doing and how they can help them.  Then two teams in the back that are praying for the teams praying with the girls.  They have a limited amount of time and there are issues with pimps and all of these kinds of things.  They started Bible studies with these girls.  They translated their services into English so these girls could listen to an English translation of the service and be part of the church.  The got a group of lawyers together, who are working with the government, to work on legal solutions to these issues.  So there are all of these things happening at the church.  They’re doing everything they can as a church of 200 people.   I had a chance to meet these people who are going out on these streets.  This is not the International Justice Mission.  These are not CIA agents or FBI.  These are 21-year old university girls from the church going out and praying with them.  These are 63-year old women, who have a little bit of extra time, going out and praying with them.  These are ordinary people that God is using in extraordinary ways in their community.  What we see is that Daniel’s church is actually having an influence on Moroccans.  It’s having an influence on Nigerians.  It’s having an influence on Eastern Europeans.  It’s having an influence, now today, on us, because ordinary people decided to give themselves over and join with God in this passionate pursuit, this relentless love for other people.  He desires to do the same thing here with us.  We don’t know where this thing could go, but we know that God is powerful enough and strong enough that He can work through us to do amazing things.

One last thing.  One of Daniel’s good friends is a Muslim.  And as they were discussing the differences between Islam and Christianity and how that works, his friend said that at their mosque every Friday they would have four conversions.  Four French who would become Muslims every Friday.  His friend asked Daniel, “Daniel, you’re a pastor at a church.  How many converts do you have every Sunday?”  That was a troubling question for Daniel. So Daniel’s friend laid down the gauntlet.  We’re all called to make disciples.  It’s up to all of us to respond to Daniel’s friend…where we are, as we’re going, as the Holy Spirit works through us and uses us.

Let’s pray together.  Jesus, these things are too big for us.  They’re too dangerous.  They’re too massive.  But we know that your Spirit is powerful and can work through us the same way it worked through the church at Antioch.  The same way you’re working in Marseille.  The same way you’re working in Montpellier.  God, I pray that anyone here today that’s struggling and doubting that You can use them, God, overcome that doubt.  Give us confidence, not in our own abilities, but in You as the one, Almighty God that has sent us your Spirit.  Oh, God, and us as a church….help us to embrace the disorientation, the chaos, as your Holy Spirit works and leads us into new places that we’re not used to and leads us into being uncomfortable.  Help us embrace that knowing that our comfort is not our God, but You are our one true God.  Use us, please.  Amen.

Relentless: Ordinary People Unleashed – Acts 11:19-302024-06-19T09:19:55-06:00

Relentless: The Church Unleashed

August 16th 2015

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

Rob Karch — Leading Summit and 3rd Service; Biography Summary — Grew up in Oregon.  I thought it rained a lot until I came to Colorado.  When I was a junior in college in upstate New York, I received an invitation to go on a missions trip in France — back in 1998.  I met this girl — she was beautiful, she loved Jesus and she had a French accent, so what do you do?  You marry her.  She’s from Montreal; her first language is French.  Another thing God did in my heart in 1998…..I assumed that spiritually the French-speaking world was similar to the United States.  I found that in each village and area there were cathedrals that were mainly empty.  So they were mainly these skeletal remains of a dead or dying religious institution.  There are many full churches here in Colorado; you don’t see ANY in France.  What broke my heart as I was looking out over 11+ million Parisians, was that the vast majority of these people not only have they never opened (the Bible), but they didn’t know any who had.

Rob and Martine applied to World Venture and were invited to Quebec, Canada.  It’s about the size of Alaska.  There are about 7+ million French-speakers in Quebec.  Almost double the population of Colorado.  We’ve had the privilege of being a part, for the last 12 years, of God raising up people and sending them out into communities and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and seeing people put their faith in Jesus Christ.  We worked with individual local churches as well as a provincial church-planting committee that oversaw church planting throughout Quebec.  We were privileged to complete the nine year plan we had laid out and pass the baton off to local church leaders in Quebec.  We came back to the United States on furlough/home assignment and praying about next steps.  France is a possibility…..but right now God has called us here.  God has called us to make and multiply the disciples making the disciples everywhere we are, everywhere we go, while we are here.  That’s the call for every single follower of Jesus.  Where we are right now and then if God calls us and uproots us to Afghanistan or Highlands Ranch, then we go and make disciples there.

Introduced wife, Martine, son Caleb and daughter Constance.  Caleb is a maximum extrovert.  My wife and daughter are introverts.

We’re talking about God’s unstoppable movement and the relentless love of God.  God’s love and God’s pursuit of humanity all throughout history.  What I’d like to start way over here and go back to the book of Genesis where Ryan has been.  God created all of creation—the entire universe and Adam and Eve.  I love how Matt Chandler put it when he’s talking about perfection and living in that.  Matt Chandler says there was alcohol, but no drunkenness; there was sexuality, but there was no lust; there was marriage, but there were no in-laws.  It was just a perfect time.  We see Adam and Eve decide to rebel against that God and choose the one thing….God said you could have everything, but just don’t do this one thing.  We’re like what are we going to do?….we’re going to do the one thing, right?  Of course, none of us are like that!  As we walk through we see that in Genesis 3:15 right after God makes a statement that He will not leave Adam and Eve and humanity alone.  He is sending somebody who’s going to rectify this and there will be a renewing of His creation.  That’s coming and He’s reaching out to humanity.  This starts to unfold throughout history and Ryan talked about Abraham and God calling him out and calling out Israel as a nation and pursuing.  We move forward and see Moses and see David and Solomon.  And Solomon in his dedication of the temple talking about the nations as a whole hearing about the one true God.  We hear about the prophets and people like Daniel who was kidnapped as a young boy and ripped out of his country and brought to a foreign land….you can imagine how traumatic that was.  What is God doing?  Well, God uses Daniel to impact Nebuchanezzer, the king of the entire known world, to proclaim there’s one true God and He’s the God of Israel.  We’re seeing this happen again and again and the prophets are pointing forward to somebody who’s coming.  And we finally get to the Gospels and we find out his name and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.  And he’s a person–God come in the flesh.  And he walked through life.  And he was fatigued.  And he was betrayed.  And he was rejected.  And he was….there was conflict and there were all of these things and these emotional scars and everything he…..we weep and He wept.  We’ve been betrayed; He was betrayed.  We have gone through relationships that are so arduous and just rip our heart out; he did that.  He’s gone through that and then He gave His life up on the cross.  Voluntarily.  I love where they ask Jesus: We’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth and I think his response is I am He and everyone falls down!  Like if there’s any doubt that it’s voluntarily…..at that moment realize He is GIVING his life up.  But not only does he die on the cross, he conquers death in the resurrection.  Death.  Sin.  All of our spiritual enemies.  Then he appears to his disciples and other groups of people.  At this point in time, THAT’S where we’re at this morning….where Jesus begins to unleash this new concept:  This concept of the church to join in the mission that’s been going from the beginning of time in Genesis and all the way to today and unleashing His church to join and be a part of that mission.  What do we see?  This mission begins to grow.  It goes out from Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria….other parts of the world….up to Europe, down to North Africa to parts of Asia.  Begins to cross up to places like Ireland, up to Scandanavia.  We see these crazy Vikings that are tenacious and violent people that put their faith in Christ.  We see transformed societies.  Finally, it gets all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to this place called the Americas and works its way west and finally gets up to this place called Littleton and eventually this church is planted called South.  This is all part of God’s relentless love for humanity and now we can join it and be a part of it here today.  If we keep going we read to the end to Revelation.  What do we see in Revelation 5 and Revelation 7, Revelation 21?  We see this massive multitude of people….every tribe, language in the entire world.  Representatives of all of these peoples together worshiping God.  One of the things that is remarkable about these scenes is that we see that these are different people with different languages.  They don’t become identical.  But we become unified in our worship of the One True God and THAT’S what we’re looking forward to.  That’s on its way and we have the privilege of participating and being a part of that today, right here, right now.

The church unleashed this morning…and we’re going to look and dive into Matthew 28:18-20 and I pray that even if you’ve read this a hundred times, a thousand times, seen this on the wall over here or elsewhere, that God would open your eyes to different aspects of this.  Christopher JH Wright says this:  “Mission is not ours; mission is God’s.  Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in…It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission.”  And we have a privilege of being a part of that.

Let’s pray together.  God, open our eyes to how great and mighty and awesome you are and what you are doing all around us, both in our communities that we’re living in right now and across the oceans.  Thank you for your love and desire for every single one of us, each one of us, to be a part and play a unique role in this mission.  Thank you for your love.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

So, growing up I had the faulty assumption that the mission began in Matthew 28 when Jesus said, in my English Bible, “Go!”  That’s where I thought it began.  Well, the last few weeks we’ve been deconstructing that and realizing it starts way back then.  But not only that, there isn’t only one commission.  This surprised me.  But we start to walk through the life and teachings of Jesus and we realize that this concept of mission flows through everything Jesus is saying and doing…..how he’s interacting with the Samaritan woman, how he’s speaking to different Greeks that are coming to him and how he’s overturning all these obstacles and these man-made barriers.  We’ll look at five of these commissions just really quickly.  Matthew 28:16-20…..have you ever wondered when Jesus was resurrected, why did he hang around for forty days before the Ascension?  Was he getting Starbucks?  What was he doing?  Waiting until….really?  No, when we read attentively, we realize there are several things going on.  First of all, He’s spending time with his disciples.  He’s spending personal time with them and he’s healing them and drawing them to himself, he’s wooing them.  He makes breakfast for Peter.  I don’t know how many guys…..breakfast is a good way to woo, right.  If you’re wondering…..   He does that.  And we also see He’s walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus.  Then we see, also, in these particular places, He’s commissioning them.  He’s explaining to them, “THIS is what I’m unleashing you into.  This is what it is.”  He does that multiple times in multiple places.  The first one we’re going to look at is Matthew 28.  The location is a mountain in Galilee and it’s at least three days after the resurrection.  Jesus is resurrected, the disciples are in Jerusalem when that happens.  He says he’s going to meet them on a mountain in Galilee…..that’s at least a three days walk.

The second one is Mark 16:15-16.  The location is in Jerusalem and it’s the evening of the resurrection.  So these are the commissions where Jesus is saying variations of “Go into all the world. Make disciples as you’re going.”  Luke 24:46-49….the location is Jerusalem and it is the evening of the resurrection.  We know it’s Jerusalem because He had just spent time walking on the road to Emmaus.  That evening He spends time with the disciples.  In John 20:21-22 the location is Jerusalem and it’s the evening of the resurrection.  However, his wording is so radically different from Luke’s wording that this must absolutely be something different that Jesus said that evening.  How about Acts?  In the book of Acts 1:1-8 it most definitely takes place in Bethany at the Mount of Olives.  This takes place 40 days AFTER Luke’s commission.  Do you see that Jesus is spending time with his disciples and he’s saying: Alright, there’s this new thing.  I’m sending you out.  I’ve spent time with you, now it’s time to get to work.  I have a role, I have a task for you as the church.  I’m unleashing you into the world.  He repeats this again and again and again throughout this 40 day period of time. We see the Gospel genre climaxes with the death, burial and resurrection and commission of Jesus’ disciples every time.  No other thing Jesus said gets this kind of treatment.

There are a number of things we can gather from that.  One of them is that ALL followers of Jesus, not only a small minority, have the privilege and responsibility to make disciples.  EVERYONE has a role to play.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re part of this.  You can say that you’re not like the other person.  I’m not like Ryan.  I’m not like Pastor Dan.  Praise God that you’re not, because God has not called them to your community in the same way He’s called you.  God has not placed them in your family the way He’s placed you.  This is going to look different in each person’s life.  We’re each unique but we’re all called to this.  Where we are as we’re going to make disciples, young or old, rich or poor, experienced or inexperienced, we’re called to the same mission.  Just one key thing.  Perhaps you’re already involved in the church here and you’re doing THINGS.  You’re involved in a ministry of some sort.  That’s great!  I’m not asking you to try harder or to work more.  I’m asking you to think through, right now, and think about what you’re doing.  As you’re working, as you’re at home, as you’re in the community ask yourself that as I’m doing these things am I making disciples or am I just accomplishing tasks?  God calls us to make disciples.  Each follower of Christ is unique.  God desires to use that uniqueness to multiply unique disciples for His glory.  We don’t have to be like somebody else.  God has gifted us uniquely.  This is the church unleashed.

What we see first of all in Matthew 28:18-20 is the church is unleashed on an authorized mission.  Let’s jump back to Matthew 28:16:  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.   {That’s kinda weird.  Have you seen that before?  I love this for two reasons.  First of all, we have the flse notion that if I have true faith that I will never struggle.  Not true.  This life is a journey and there will be times and periods in our life where, for different various reasons, we’re going to struggle with different aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.  Secondly, Matthew is not sugarcoating anything!  I was thinking that if I was writing this and I was just trying to get somebody to believe in Jesus—like I wasn’t concerned about truth—then I would write about: there was a lot of doubting, then Jesus showed up and then no one doubted.  That’s how I would write it.  And Matthew is saying but some doubted.  He’s not sugarcoating.  He’s being honest and saying this is what happened.  Now, you make the decision to follow Jesus.}  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me……(v20) And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   So the one who has all authority, who’s in charge, is with us all the way to the end of the age.  Jesus, God the Son, has complete dominion (it’s the word “exousia” in the Greek), total power, comprehensive authority and when I become a follower of Christ, He demands my complete and total allegiance.  At that moment, I fundamentally become a child of God, a new creation, a member of the family.  My allegiance changes.  My loyalty shifts.  I am no longer bound by laws or authorities on this earth.  My commitment is now to my Creator and His direction to me.  That sounds kinda scary.  Is that going to be chaotic?

God directs us to be good citizens.  To love our neighbors.  Radical love.  Radical obedience to our Father.  But what binds us fundamentally?  It’s because Jesus, our authority, is directing us to obey the laws of the land.  Fundamentally, these laws don’t bind us.  This is kinda scary.

A number of my family members are United States Marines.  I think they understand this.  The United States Marine Embassy guard…..people in my family have done this.  When you’re guarding an embassy in a foreign country, you go to that foreign country and you are abiding by the laws in that country, to an extent, right?  So whether it’s Hong Kong or Algeria or Canada.  You are abiding by the laws in that country as you also obey the orders of your superiors.  As you are involved in that particular country, if your superior sends you out as a Marine on a mission that is going to trespass some of the local laws and you understand that…..then what’s the Marine going to do?  Is the Marine going to say, “Sorry, sir.  Can’t do it.”  No, the Marine is actually going to trespass those laws.  As a rogue person, as a citizen that is just…..??  No! As a citizen of the United States, serving their country and we love that and appreciate it.  So we, as followers of Jesus Christ, as sons and daughters of the one True God, obey the authorities of our land here, because OUR authority tells us to be good citizens.  That’s why we obey.

I love the story of Tony Dungy.  Is Tony Dungy loved in Denver?  It’s hard to tell because I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan.  Tony Dungy was the coach of the Indianapolis Colts and prior to that the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  There’s this story in his autobiography I love.  His son, if I remember correctly, if he got good enough grades or something like that, he could come and stand on the sideline with his father during the game.  So the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the away team at another stadium.  The game was just about ready to start.  There were 70,000-80,000 fans.  Chaos on the sidelines as they get ready for the game.  Tony and his son are there.  A security guard comes up to Tony Dungy and says, “I’m sorry, sir, but we have a very strict guideline here.  A rule that children are not allowed on the sidelines during games.  So, this boy is going to have to leave.”  Tony Dungy turns to the security guard and says, “Well, he can stay.”  The security guard says, “I”m sorry I have to insist.  We’re very strict about this rule.  He has to leave.”  Tony Dungy replies, “No.  He’s staying.”  The security guard says, “Ok. Thank you,” and left.  A few minutes later he comes back.  He says, “I’m sorry, sir, but this is actually a direct order from the owner of the other team.  He’s asked me to come down and ask your son to leave.”  Tony Dungy turns to him and says something to the effect of, “Well, tell your owner that he’s going to have to refund the tickets of all these 70,000-80,000 people.  Because if he leaves, I’m taking the entire team with us.  We’re going to leave and there will not be a game today!”  Security guard says, “Thank you very much.  I’ll relay the message.”   Authority!  Authority!

Jesus is the one who has authority.  If there’s anyone in this world that needs to not be anxious about the next Presidential election or the next Supreme Court case…..it’s Christians!  Followers of Jesus.  Now, we’re called to be involved at every level of our society.  Absolutely be involved.  But anxious?  Afraid that the sky is falling?  Jesus has ultimate authority and He is with us to the end of the age!  This mission is authorized….even when political authorities oppose it.  It’s authorized to exist in public.  I love this when you study church history.  The early church could have claimed to be a “cultis privitas,” in Latin it means a private religion, and just hung out in a dark corner and said…….   How often do we get this objection that your faith is between you and God, it’s a personal thing, just keep it at your place and stop bringing it into the public square.  I can understand the objection.  The only problem with it is Jesus won’t let me keep it in my private life.  He won’t let me.  Jesus calls me to make disciples who make disciples.  The early church could have taken this cultis privitas and probably have avoided a lot of persecution.  But instead they took on the name “ecclesia,” which means a public gathering or assembly with authority.  You can imagine the statement that made in front of the Roman government.  We can’t control these people.  They say they have an authority above the Roman government.  We can’t let this go on.  That’s the title the church took.

This mission is also authorized to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….”  We are not given authority by Jesus to simply personally believe the Gospel.  We are given authority by Jesus to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth!  Secondly, the church is unleashed to multiply disciples.  Disciples are not the end game.  If disciples are the end game, then they are disciples at all.  They are only converts.  This is really important for us to understand.  We’re not looking for people or ourselves to just say yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, but Jesus calls me to make other disciples who make other disciples.  What do we see in this text?  What is the imperative?  There is one imperative and the English kind of mangles it.  That imperative is “make disciples!”  One command.  MAKE. DISCIPLES.  There are three participles:  Going, teaching and baptizing.  So as we’re going, teaching and baptizing….make disciples as we’re going, as we’re teaching, as we’re baptizing.  So we are a going people as followers of Christ.  We’re going and we’re all going somewhere. All of us!  Tomorrow when you wake up you’re going to go somewhere.  Where are you going to go?  Are you going to go to work?  Are you going to some event somewhere?  At some point throughout the week, we’re going.  As we’re going make disciples, teaching them to obey…..not just teaching, we’re not looking for intellectual ascend to more knowlege….we’re looking for people who decide to follow the way of Jesus.  We bring our life into alignment with Jesus.  It’s not just saying Jesus is a great guy.  No, Jesus demands certain things of me for my own good.  To bring my life into alignment with His.  And baptizing….this public proclamation that I, too, am one of these disciples of Jesus.  And in many countries around the world, baptism is the sticking point.  We can be involved in a church around the world.   Maybe even here…..we can attend, but when it comes to baptism that’s the point…..I know if Quebec a lot of people shied away….no, I don’t want to publicly proclaim this.

So we are a going group of people.  We are a teaching group of people.  We are a baptizing group of people.  As we’re going into our communities, into our workplaces and all around the world.  That’s who we are as a Body of Christ!!  As we multiply disciples.  Matthew 23:15….this is a kinda scary verse, because a lot of us could think that if we’re radical enough….if we say we’re going to cross the ocean and I’m going to cross a desert to bring this message to somebody….we could look at that person and think they’re a serious follower of Christ.  Not necessarily.  It’s not in the act of going alone.  It’s not in the act of trying to be somebody and going to a place.  Look at this (Scripture):  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.    That’s scary!  Fundamentally, it’s not about going somewhere or doing some great thing.  Fundamentally, it’s about following Jesus.  I know in my own personal life, this is the struggle.  Am I willing to say Jesus, you are worthy!  You alone are worthy!  I will follow you anywhere!  No matter what question or thing you ask of me, the answer is YES!  If that starts here in my family, in my community and my job, then if at some point in my life God takes me elsewhere, then it’s going to be a continuation of that following of the way of Jesus.

One of the objections to making disciples is that people don’t want to hear.  Have you felt that way?  On the news and around the world, we can say yeah, I’d love to go but people don’t want to hear.  Muslim nations.  Other places in the world so why would I even go?  People in my neighborhood, they just don’t want to hear.  I talked to one person three years ago….they kinda responded negatively…..you see?  Here’s a story about a young couple who were going to Somalia back in the 1990’s.  His name is Nik Ripken and he wrote a book called The Insanity of God.  Great book.  I would recommend it.  It will mess with you though.  He talks about how they were planning to go to Somalia in the 1990’s….remember Blackhawk Down?  They were going to that Somalia.  As they were getting ready to go, they met with a missiologist in the United States to talk about that. Nik says it was a very small, quiet man sitting behind his desk in his office and they walked into his office to meet this world-reknown missiologist.  The missiologist looked at them and said, “So, you’re the young couple that has the audacity to take the Gospel to Somalia.”  Nik was like I know, I know.  We know Somalis are not responsive to the Gospel.  With that the missiologist jumped up and just about jumped over his desk, knocking a couple of papers on the floor.  And this is what he said, “How dare you say that the Somalis are not responsive to the Gospel, when so many of them have never heard the Gospel and been given the opportunity to respond.” There are so many people who have not heard.  So many people that God is preparing.  His Spirit is going ahead of us right now.  We don’t know what their response will be until they actually hear.

I experienced this a couple of times recently.  A few months ago I went into a closed country on a scouting mission to see what God was doing with a couple of other people.  In this particular closed country a ton of things happened.  I came out of the airport and my driver came to meet me to drive me to where I needed to go.  He was a Muslim.  We’re sitting in the car together and we’re talking and he’s showing me his beautiful city.  We had this great conversation—he was newly married—about what it was like to be newly married and walking through that transition.  What his life was like there and how he spoke six languages, but had never left the country.  There are so many people in other countries that are so intelligent and God has gifted them enormously.  I respected him incredibly.  After the end of that drive, he dropped me off where I needed to be.  I was kind of disappointed because I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to him about Jesus.  Couple of days later, we needed to make an hour and a half drive to go to some villages and who was our driver?  It was the same guy!  It was so cool!  So we started talking right away about Jesus.  We talked about Jesus through the entire drive.  It was a great conversation.  I asked him if he had ever read Jesus for himself.   If he’d ever read in a Bible.  He said yes he had!  Two weeks prior to that, he had gotten on his phone and was wondering why the Bible was forbidden to be given out in his country, so he downloaded an Arabic version on his phone and began to read it.  Two weeks later, who’s in the vn next to him???  I am!!  Helping to explain who Jesus was.  Later on, I was walking down the road with some other friends.  It was amazing just meeting people and realizing that since I was not there long term and if I speak with somebody and something happens, worse case scenario I’d get a free bus ticket to the airport and a thank you for visiting their country and please never come back.  So I was thinking I’m going to step out and try to make some contacts and have some conversations.  I walked up to a particular group of young people and began to speak….it was a country where a few people spoke French….so I began in speaking in French.  They spoke back, “Oh, Quebec!  That’s cold there!”  Yes, it is. They made the assumption that since I was from North America I was a Christian because as we know all North Americans are Christians.  We began talking about that and having a discussion about Islam and that particular country and my country.  One of the guys spoke to me and said, “You know that Jesus did not die.”  So I struggled with how to respond to that, because I do not want to debate.  I want to share the good news of Jesus. So I began to share that we all know that God created everything—He created the universe, human beings and all of that.  Everyone nodded yes.  We all know that God is perfect.  They all nodded yes, He is.  We all know that we aren’t.  Yes, that’s true.  We have sin and we have evil and we have pride, we have lust, we have all of these things in us.  Yes, that’s true.  We all know that at the end of time God is going to judge us for that evil.  He’s going to judge that.  They all nodded their heads yes.  But we also know that God is good. Yes. And that He loves us.  They were all nodding yes, we know that.  We all know that because of that goodness He wants to have a relationship with us.  And that’s why He came to this earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  He lived a perfect life, and then he died.  But he didn’t just die, he rose again conquering sin, death, our spiritual enemies.  And then one day, everybody who puts their faith in Jesus Christ….then the evil inside of us is placed on His shoulders.  The perfection of Jesus is placed on us.  One day, on the day of judgement, we can walk into that day of judgement with no fear, because when God comes to judge us, He’s not going to look at us as evil people.  He’s going to look at us as His children, because that judgement was already paid for in the person of Jesus Christ.  So….if we say that Jesus never died then we’re also saying that Jesus was not resurrected.  We’re saying that at the end of time we have no hope.  Everyone in the group was silent.  The whole group looked at me and started to say amongst themselves, “So that’s why Christians say that Jesus died.”  They’d never heard that before.  Let’s not make the assumption that people are going to reject Jesus if they haven’t heard.

I got an email after that trip.  Rob, Thanks for your message.  Great to hear from you.  It was really great to meet and spend a little time with you.  I was just with (no name) yesterday, all day.  The driver that picked you up from the airport.  He asked about you and kept going on and on about the impact you had on him.  And about how nice and kind you were, even in just the short time you were with him.  He talked about Bob, who had the long beard (I had a really long beard at that time), but wasn’t a Muslim, but who follows Jesus.  So it’s cool you wrote today, because I was just thinking about you yesterday and grateful for the impact you, and the rest of the group, had while you were here.  We are also having a meeting tomorrow with a bunch of students.  I’m planning a day to take them and get to know more and share.  This is the university you stopped outside of and had the discussion with the students out on the street.  I’m sure some of the ones we’re connecting with were some of the ones you had been talking to.  Hopefully that’s an encouragement to you and the rest of the group that came about the followup that’s happening on some of the connections you made while here.           Called to multiply disciples.  We don’t know who God is calling to himself and who He isn’t, but we’re called to multiply disciples, that’s what we know.

Of all peoples.  So this word in Matthew 28 is a phrase “panta ta ethne,” make disciples of all nations.  This doesn’t mean make disciple in Iraq, a disciple in the U.S. and a disciple in Japan.  That’s not what it means. It’s talking about peoples.  Example of that:  My wife and I spent the last twelve years in Quebec, Canada.  You have French-speaking Quebecers versus English-speaking Canadians that are so different.  They have a different history.  They have different cultural values.  Here in the United States we have multiple native American tribes who do not share the same cultural history as other tribes.  These are different peoples.  Even here we have different peoples from all nations who are a part of this community, a part of the larger Denver area.  He’s calling us to make disciples of those peoples.  I’d like to talk a little bit about what God is doing around the world and get our mind around that this morning.  Because one of the things that can happen to us if we’re watching the news too often….because the news is not about God’s mission.  The news is about eyeballs, right? Well, God is working all around the world.  He’s doing amazing, incredible things, including places like the Middle East, right now!  In fact, He isn’t working in spite of the chaos.  Often God works because of and through the chaos.  How many times has there been some natural disaster and after that we see a movement of God in that people group that was so hardened to the Gospel.  Or we didn’t have a way to get in there that we knew of and then all of a sudden, this natural disaster happens.  And all of a sudden these people show up and they begin handing out food and loving people.  And the people there ask why are you doing this?  Their answer usually is it’s because of Jesus.  That marks people and places, so today around the world there are seven billion people according to 2010 Operation World.  Eight percent know Jesus, seven percent in 2003.  Sixty-six countries have some sort of persecution against Christians.  There’s all these overwhelming problems:  HIV/AIDS, natural disasters, wars, famine, slavery and extremism and we can get discourages.  (Pastor Rob showed slides of statistics from Operation World.)  Islam — showing up mostly in North Africa into the Middle East and down into Indonesia.  Did you know that 80+% of Muslims have never met somebody who claims to follow Jesus Christ?  We need to see more followers of Jesus interacting with and loving and making disciples of people who call themselves Muslim.  Hinduism is mainly in India, however the influence of Hinduism is obviously greater than that.  Buddhism we see mostly in east Asia and southeast Asia and Japan.  Non-religious people in China, Europe, North America.  Here’s for the accountants in the group (showed a table listing countries with highest and lowest percent of evangelicals).  The left table had listed the countries with the highest percentage of evangelicals in the world.  Of the top 25 countries in the world, only two would be considered western nations:  United States and the Faroe Islands.  We all know where the Faroe Islands are, right?  There are about 50,000 people that live there.

God is working in the non-western world, right now!  He is doing amazing works around the world and we can be a part of it.  Both, making disciples in our communities as well as going over seas.  Each and every one of us…we’re part of this mission that God is accomplishing.  Percent of global evangelicals by continent.  If we took the evangelicals in the entire world and put them in a big pie and cut it up via continent:  17% of the world’s evangelicals are in North America.  33% in Africa.  27% in Asia.  So there are more people who claim to follow Jesus, who claim that only Jesus can save us from our sins/death through his death and resurrection by grace through faith alone….more people in Africa than America.  More people in Asia than North America or Latin America.  However, there are a lot more people in Asia, right?  So the actual percentage of people who would claim to follow Jesus in that way in Asia are only about 4%.  Whereas in North America the percentage of North Americans that would claim that publicly are about 27% (obviously, these are round numbers and we’re getting a general idea).

Unreached people groups by population.  Where there is no indigenous movement with the resources necessary to reach the rest of that people group with the Gospel.  As of 2010, although there have been a few changes.  Most of these groups are in Asia, in countries we generally do not like to visit or that we simply do not understand.  We need to see people interacting, mingling, living and making disciples there.  Who’s going to go?  Top ten countries with unreached populations.  Again, who’s planning their family vacation to Pakistan.  These are generally places we don’t like to go.  We need people going and living there.

I just want to finish with this encouragement here.  The relentless advance of the Gospel 1960-2010.  This is a slide put together by Operation World in 2010.  Don’t miss this!!  Look at Brazil, South America then look over at West and East Africa then look over at South Korea.  (Very few blue dots in the 1960 map in those areas.  2010 map had significantly more blue dots.)  We can ask ourselves sometimes does it really make a difference?  Does it make a difference for me to drive into my community with the eyes of a disciple-maker saying that I’ve been called by God in this community?  Does it really make a difference to move to a place like West Africa and give my life there?  Well, let’s see the difference on the maps from 1960 to 2010!   Traveling to other countries, serving and loving them in the name of Jesus, inviting them to follow the same Jesus as we lay our lives down in radical love for others…..it makes a difference!  It is effective!  This is one of the products of taking seriously the mission Jesus is asking us, His church, to be a part of!  Isn’t that awesome?!  There’s a lot of work left to be done, but God has not taken a vacation.  He’s not left the world.  He’s still moving.

“Our mission is nothing less (or more) than participating with God in this grand story until he brings it to its guaranteed climax.” — Christopher JH Wright   It’s gonna happen.  It’s unstoppable.  Remember, each follower of Christ is unique and God desires to use that uniqueness to multiply unique disciples for His glory.  So what do I take away from this today?  What do I do about this?  I don’t know what God is calling you to right now.  Actually, I do know….in a general sense.  Where are you going tomorrow morning?  Where are you going to tonight?  Who’s going to a sports-related activity?  No one.  We need to work on that one.  Who’s going to a media-related job?  One person.  God’s called you to make disciples there?  How about education—as a student or a teacher?  God has called you to make disciples in that milieu.  What about healthcare?  Who’s involved in healthcare?  God has called you to make disciples there.  How about business?  Some people are raising their hands in multiple places.  That’s great.  How about government?  Municipal, state, federal.  Yes, God has called you to make disciples in government.  How about the arts?  We’re going to have to work on that one, too.  Family-related things:  you’re raising children, you’re caring for your parents, whatever.  God has called us to make disciples there.  How about science or agriculture?  Gotta work on that one, too —- bunch of suburbanites!  Police and fire?  Yes.  It’s unique, so what it looks like to make disciples as a teacher or a student,  it’s very different from a police officer or a fireman.  These are not the same things, but we’re all called to make disciples in that milieu.  That’s a general call that we’re all called to.

Two things the church is working on right now:  We’re relaunching the third service Sunday evenings.  So if you’re interested in being a part of that…..(Rob is leading that.)  Secondly, Aaron and Rodney are working on a push to adopt world partners next week.  To love and bless people who are going out to other parts of the world.

I want to finish with one statement:  Where do you go?  Where are you going?  If you are a follower of Christ, you are unique.  God desires to use that uniqueness to multiply unique disciples where you are going.

Let’s pray.  God, we want to celebrate this.  Thank you for your call to your entire church to be part of this.  We love you and we have the expectation that you’ll do powerful things through this church and through each one of these individuals as we take this role on.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.


Relentless: The Church Unleashed2024-06-19T09:20:39-06:00

Relentless: Enduring Pursuit

August 9th, 2015

I’m not exactly sure why there are some events, as I look back on my life, that I can remember.  One of those events happened when I was 7 years old; I can remember it like it was yesterday.  I was asked to be the ring bearer in my uncle’s wedding.  I wanted to own that; I felt like it was God’s call on my life!  My parents bought me a suit that had a red clip-on tie with blue and white polka dots.  I can remember going to the rehearsal and just owning it!  I felt like I nailed the dismount there!  I’m ready for the day of!  I can even remember my mom, in the back of the sanctuary, licking her thumb and clearing the crumbs out of the corner of my mouth!  I can remember it like it was yesterday!  The processional starts and the wedding party walks in, then it’s my turn and the wedding coordinator pulls me into position and I’m thinking I’m ready—I got the suit, I got the marching orders, I’m dialed in and ready to go.  I walked down that aisle and stood up there as the pastor went a little bit long.  (I understand it.  I get it now.)  It comes to the point in the ceremony where they said, “The rings, please.”  It wasn’t before that moment that I noticed my pillow…..which was my only job….carry this pillow to the front….you are the bearer of the rings…..that I didn’t have that pillow!  Now, we give the rings to the best man which makes sense!!  I don’t know why they thought it was a good idea to entrust a seven year old boy with the most important symbol of the ceremony.  I think to my seven year old self, “Stupid!”  So I’m standing there.  At that moment you have a number of choices.  The one I made was: I’m going to save the day!  I sprint down the aisle, go into the back where I know the rings are.  I grabbed the pillows.  I run back huffing and puffing and hand over the rings.

You may be able to relate to the feeling of being positioned perfectly and having everything you need in order to accomplish what’s set out in front of you and then just….failing miserably.  Some of us can relate in a job, where it was just set up for us and felt like God was in it and we walked into it and it just fell apart.  Everything looked good when we got in….it just became a mess.  Some of us can relate in our families, where the writing was on the wall: This was going to be the ideal family and things just fell apart.  We can relate in a lot of different areas in our life, can’t we?  Where it feels like things are set up well and God positions us to step into what He’s calling us to and there’s something in us where we just have this propensity…..I’ll say it like this: something in ME where I just have this propensity to drop the ball or forget the rings.  Being positioned perfectly and yet, failing miserably.

Let’s think about that on a national level.  What’s the weight of that when you’re a nation, like we’re going to read about in just a moment.  When your nation has been chosen by God to carry this magnificent, beautiful, breathtaking message of God’s blessing to the world and you get to the altar and they call for the rings and you go ooohhhhnnnooooo!  As you read through the Scripture, just in the book of Genesis, here’s what you’re going to see:  God’s calling….remember this is one of the hinges in the whole Bible.  This sets the course of what God is going to do throughout the pages of Scripture.  He says this in Genesis 12:1-3:  Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  {We talked about this last week, but isn’t this typical of God?  I’m calling you to follow me.  Awesome, I’m in…WHERE are we going?  I’ll show you.  Thanks for all the details! I don’t think I can handle them all at once……..  Maybe that’s the point.}  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  That’s quite the calling, is it not?  That’s quite the invitation.  This is God positioning, calling, pursuing, promising and giving Abraham purpose to step into.  But you start to read through the pages of Scripture, right?  You don’t get too far before Abraham distrusts God, doesn’t believe his promise, sleeps with his maidservant and you start to see that this promise of God isn’t exactly going to be executed exactly according to the plan.  You go down the patriarch line….Isaac wasn’t all that much to write home about.  Jacob and Esau had a little bit of a conflict….right….that really defined there lives to a large extent.  Joseph is a mama’s boy who doesn’t really want to work in the field.  His brothers don’t like him a whole lot and sell him into slavery and eventually, THIS family, who God says I’m calling you to be a blessing, finds themselves under the thumb of Pharaoh in Egypt for 400 years….in slavery.  They get to the front of the altar….the rings are called for and they go….we don’t have them.  There’s these shades of grace throughout all the book of Genesis that continues into the book of Exodus, that we’re going to look at today, that the question is stirred up in us:  God, are you going to continue to be faithful to your plan when your people are unfaithful to you??  Are you going to continue to execute what you promised to do here in Genesis 12 even when your people drop the ball?

You and I have felt this too, haven’t we?  God, I have failed you.  I have let you down.  There is a space between who you’ve called me to be and who I actually am and God, does your grace, does your faithfulness cover even THAT space?  Here’s what we see in our passage of study as we dive into the Scriptures, this is the definitive word of God that we’re going to see throughout all time, all nations and it’s simply this: God’s faithfulness to his mission will not be disrupted by human failure.  {As a reminder, His mission is to bless all the nations…all the families of the earth.}  So if you’ve ever thought God, I’ve let you down so I’m sure you’re going to let me down, God wants to respond back to you uh-uh, look up at me a moment.  The testimony of my Scripture is that your faithfulness does not determine mine. Your failure, your sin, your disobedience does not determine whether I’m good on my promise.  I determine that, He says.  Remember, the Scriptures that you’re holding have a central message that carries the story all along.  As we talked about last week, the central message of the story is not that this is love letter.  That’s a substory within the bigger story, but that is not the point of the Scriptures you hold.  The point of the Scriptures you hold is not a road map for life.  You know that if you’ve tried to use this as a road map.  It tells you where to put your affection and who to put it in.  It’s not really a guiding ethic either.  It doesn’t teach you what decision to make for every single circumstance and situation.  What is it then?  What is this collection of historical accounts, letters, gospels, poetry?  It is, cover to cover, one central message.  That God has a plan that He is relentlessly committed to.  That He will not give up on and that your failure cannot disrupt.  His mission is this: That He is for His world, longing to, working to restore, redeem and ultimately, bless His creation.  What you read from the beginning of time until the end where heaven and earth meet is simply this:  God will be faithful to what He promises to do.

But if you’re like me and if you’re like Moses, there can be times and there can be seasons where you go God, just wanted to remind you of a few of your promises.  Here’s what we’re going to do.  We’re going to jump into Exodus 6 and see one of those moments where Moses calls on God to be this kind of God.  I love what God says in response, but can we just admit at the onset that we’re going to walk through seasons like this.  We’re going to walk through seasons where we look back at God and go I think that maybe where I’ve landed has derailed your mission.  Here’s the way He responds.  Context: God has encountered Moses and told him, “Moses, I’m choosing you to go and tell the Pharaoh to let my people go.”  Moses responds, “That sounds like a great plan, I think that’s going to go over real well.”  He goes to Pharaoh and Pharaoh doesn’t exactly oblige at the onset. Pharaoh says, “That’s a great idea, Moses.  NO!!”  Pharaoh’s upset with Moses, then the Pharaoh puts more work on the people of God because they had the audacity to ask to be released from slavery.  Exodus 5:22:  Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? {Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you thought about praying something then thought better of it?  Moses doesn’t have that filter!  I think Moses might realize that God knows all his thoughts anyway, so he might as well pray them back to Him.  We might as well not play games here, God.  You know what’s going on in my soul and so I’m going to speak it back to you.  Some of you know there’s an absolute breathtaking freedom when you enter into that kind of relationship with the God of the Universe.} v.23  For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”   {God, it sure looks like our failure has derailed your faithfulness.  God, it sure looks like….I know people talk about you being relentless, but it sure looks like you’ve taken your hand off of us.  Just a quick raise of hands if you’ve ever felt like that!  Right!} Exodus 6:1:  But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”  God spoke to moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord {This is Yahweh, his covenantal name, his faithfulness, steadfastness name.}  I did not make myself known to them.  {He’s saying that He didn’t step into everything it meant to be Yahweh.}  I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.  Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.  Say therefore to the people of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people,  and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  I will give it to you for a possession.  I am the Lord.'”

Now, those verses that you just read were revisited every single year by the nation of Israel.  This is the passage that informed their Passover feast.  They would go back and they would read.  They would read about a God who brings freedom.  They would read about a God who frees them from slavery.  They would read about a God who’s promised them a land.  They would read about this and they would step back into this story of God….even though we’ve been unfaithful to you, your promises stand to us.  Every. Single. Year.  And you better believe there were some years where the promises just felt absolutely empty.  I want to invite us into this story.  I want us to hear God speak the same things into maybe some of our failures.  Maybe into some of our shortcomings.  Our questions about: God, have we failed you so much that your hands are off of us?  Is that where we’re at?  And I want to allow the word of God to speak into those questions.

Jump back down to verse 6 and let’s look at what God says to Moses in delivering this message to the nation of Israel.  Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord {I’m Yahweh.  I’m this covenantal God.  This stick-with-it God that even when you take your hand off of me, I’ve got mine on you type of God.} …and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.    Here’s what God says to them:  I am breaking into your slavery and I’m inviting you to walk out as free people. (God breaks into slavery and brings freedom.)  The people and things that have their claws in you, nation of Israel and Moses…..the way the Pharaoh is treating you, he’s got his thumb on you….God says, listen, what I long for more than anything else is for my people to walk in freedom, to know Me, to know My goodness, to walk in my joy, to know that I’m God and that I’m for them, so here’s what I’m going to do for you, Moses, I’m going to get you out of that position.  I’m going to get you out of slavery and invite you to walk with me into freedom.  There’s a part that Israel has to play in this, yes?  Many of us our stuck in between the promise and responding to the promise.  You don’t have to read too far in Scripture to understand and know the way that God’s designed you and the way that God loves you is in a way where He’s for your freedom.  He wants that maybe way more than you want it.  It’s the people who walk in freedom who are fully alive and then point back to God.  God, you are glorious, you are amazing, you’re beautiful.  People in slavery don’t declare that.  Free people know and walk in the goodness and promise of God.  Look up at me a moment.  I firmly believe there are some people here….God’s purchased your freedom and He’s inviting you to simply walk into it.  Maybe today’s the day!

I read this story about this POW camp at the end of World War II.  There were about 500 U.S. soldiers in this POW camp.  There were more than 2000 that started with them on this walk to the camp, but only 500 made it there.  They were in this POW camp for three years.  Because the nation of Japan started to understand they were defeated, the soldiers in this camp started to back off and they would give the POWs food and that was about it.  When 112 U.S. Army Rangers got there, what they found was 500 POWs on the brink of starvation, disease ridden.  When the Rangers came, the POWs refused to go with them initially.  They refused to budge.  Listen to the account of this:  Finally, a soldier walked up to Captain Bert Bank, tugged his arm, and said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be free?”  Bank, this POW, being from Alabama, recognized the southern accent of his questioner.  A smile formed on his face, and he willingly and thankfully began the journey to freedom.  Finally, well away from what had been, for years, the site of an ongoing, horrific assault on their humanity, the newly freed prisoners began their march home.  In the description of one prisoner, contrasting it with the walk TO the camp, he said, “It was a long, slow, steady march—but it was a life march, a march to freedom.”

Paul writes to the church at Galatia and says that God longs for you to be free:  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm there, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1)   So is there something that has its claws in you?  Maybe it’s an addiction.  Maybe it’s hopelessness.  Maybe it’s despair.  I wonder today, if God is saying, “Ok, your failure has NOT squelched out my faithfulness.  Follow me.”

It’s really interesting if you look back at verse 4. It says:  I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. (v. 8) I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  I will give it to your for a possession.  I am the Lord.     Look at what’s going on here.  He’s saying, “Your forefathers—the patriarchs—their feet touched the land that I promised them, but they didn’t get to live there permanently.  Have you ever felt like you got a taste of what God was doing?  You got a taste of the joy of following Him and then, just like dipping your hand into a bucket of water and trying to pull out a handful, it just disappeared.  The nation of Israel can relate.  Their feet touched the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey.  They were THERE, but because of their faithlessness and because of, ultimately, the plan that God was weaving in and through their life, they were removed from it and in slavery for 400 years.  God breaks into that and definitively declares, “Your disappointment is going to be overshadowed by my restoration.  The place that your feet touched I’m going to give you as your home.”  (God breaks into disappointment and generates restoration.)  This is a beautiful picture, is it not?  We can all relate.  As a parent, there are days I say, “Nailed it!”  They’re few and far between.  But there are way more days I go, “Whoa! I just need You!”  What God’s saying to the nation of Israel is that you’ve had those days and I’m inviting you back not to live there as aliens and sojourners, but to live there forever.  That’s my plan!

I love the way God prophetically says it to the nation of Israel through the book of Joel.   I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25)   I took it from you in order to win you back and I am going to restore.  I LOVE this about our God, don’t you?  He’s a God of restoration.  He’s a God who says, “I know it’s broken, but I, through my grace and my mercy, can fix that.  I wonder if there’s something in your life that you might just hold out to God today to say, “God, I need the divine breath of restoration over this.”  Maybe joy has just disappeared.  Maybe the peace, the shalom, that God speaks over a life is just gone and you feel like you’re running on that treadmill of life and you’re just running out of gas.  He says over you this morning, I can restore that…if you’ll let me.  If you look at the book of Job, he’s a recipient of the enemy’s pursuit on and on throughout his life.  At the END of his life, he’s the recipient of divine blessing and restoration….more than he started with.  That’s our God.

Finally, here’s what the Lord speaks into the nation of Israel.  (V. 6) Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.  I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.   This is God speaking into slavery.  This is God speaking into people who are oppressed.  People who aren’t a nation in and of themselves, they’re just a workforce for another nation.  He says, “I’m going to speak into your insignificance and I’m going to breath identity over you.” (God breaks into insignificance and creates identity.) You’re going to be my people and I will be your God.  You can follow this theme all throughout the Scriptures.  In the book of 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Apostle Paul writes: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   This is Jesus at work—-restoring, redeeming—-then putting His stamp on the lives of people to say, “You are my people!”  We could push back against that and say, “I don’t know if I like that, God.  I don’t know if I want to be owned by you.”  Look up at me a moment.  You’re owned by something!  The question is whether that something or someone is out for your joy or out for theirs.  Jesus says, “I’m putting my stamp on you.  You’re no longer slaves to fear.  You’re children of the most high God.  I’m putting my Spirit inside of you that cries out ‘Abba, Father!’  I’m adopting you into my family that you might know redemption, that you might know my call, that you might know my promise, that you might know my purpose, my pursuit, my redemption over your life.  You’re adopted, you’re mine!”  In the book of Ephesians 1:18, Paul writes an absolutely ridiculous thing:  He says that you and I are God’s inheritance.  I read that and I go well, He got the raw end of the deal!  That’s where we live!  You are His!  This takes God’s promise to Abraham, his recreation story to the next level.  He says to this people, “You’re going to be free.  You’re going to be restored.  You’re going to have identity.  All that so you might carry my name!”  That’s awesome!

Here’s three things that God does to and for the nation of Israel, in order to fill out this picture of what it looks like to be His people.  Here’s what He does.  First, He calls them to himself and then it’s not that long after this that you see them out of slavery, walking in freedom, where He gives them the Law, the 10 Commandments.  We’ll just call this ethic this morning.  He wants to teach the nation of Israel what it looks like to be His people and for Him to be their God.  So He gives them commands.  This is what it looks like.  You don’t steal from one another.  They’re like, “Whhhaaattt?” You don’t covet.  You worship me above all else.  You take a time to incorporate into the rhythm of your week rest.  This is what it looks like to be my people.   He gives them the 10 Commandments.  Eventually, He gives them, according to the book of Romans….He entrusts them with the oracles of God.  The Word of God.  They are to be carriers of it!  I love this!  What Paul points out to the church at Rome is not that you’ve been just blessed with the oracles of God…not that you’ve just been given the oracles of God, but you’ve been entrusted with them. (Romans 3:2) How many of you know God never just gives you a blessing?  He entrusts you with it….that by it others might walk in the same blessing.  Here’s the deal: I’m creating a people unique and distinct.  A people who value justice.  A people who are defined by mercy.  A people who have space among them “for the alien among them,” because, God says to them, you, at one point, were aliens, too!  Don’t forget your past!  So he commands them, “The portion along the outside of your crops…don’t harvest it, don’t touch it.  That’s for people that don’t have enough.  They can come to your field and take and eat of that.”  This is a brand new ethic…what it looks like to be and to become and to live in the promises of God.

Second, they’re a people of worship.  It’s not long after they’re out of Egypt that God says build a tabernacle. He gives them the specs they’re suppose to build it with and this is the place that God comes and meets and dwells with his people, among his people, the book of Leviticus says. (Lev. 26:11-13):  I will make my dwelling among, and my soul shall abhor you.  And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.   Eventually, when the nation of Israel builds a temple, the temple serves the same purpose. It’s for the purpose of worship, but when it all comes down to it, Solomon, in his dedication of the temple prays: …that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. (1 Kings 8:60)   This worship was never intended to just be about them and God.  The worship was, while at times personal, never private.  It was always meant to be….join in!  Join in as we sing about the greatness of our God.  Join in as we sing about the mercy of our God.  The steadfastness of our God.  There’s an evangelistic element even in the temple.  The nations might come around and go, “Your God’s awesome.  Totally different than our god.”  Join in.

So there’s an ethic, there’s worship and finally, there’s relationship.  Set up in the rhythm of the Israelite life and world was Sabbath, was rest, was walking with God.  They had seven feasts and festivals they celebrated, totaling somewhere around 80 days of pausing and celebrating and remembering God’s activity among them. The center point of that was the Day of Atonement.  This national day where they would confess and repent and step back into relationship with God.  This is what He sets out, “You will be my people.  I will be your God.” Ethic. Worship. Relationship.  All for the purpose of, catch this in Isaiah 42:6:  I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…  Ethic. Worship. Relationship.  All that they might be….a light!  Missions wasn’t something that they did.  It was who they were.  It was who they were intended to be.

But, if you know the story, here’s the way it goes.  The ethic turned into disobedience.  Worship turned into idolatry.  Relationship turned into duty.  There’s this space between who God has called them to be and who God has said that they are and they way that they’re actually living.  I know that space.  Do you know that space?? There’s a ton of things that live in this space for us, aren’t there?  That this is what God’s called me to do and be and this is the reality of where I’m at.  There’s a ton of things that live in that space.  I’ll tell you a few for me.  Guilt and shame live in this space for me.  God, I know this is what I’m suppose to do…..listen, I’m no genius, but I can read your Scriptures.  I know the Sermon on the Mount and I know I’m not living up to it.  I have this unique ability to beat me up worse than any of you ever could.  There’s pain that lives here (in this space), for a lot of us.  Regret:  God, I know that this was the type of parent I was suppose to be and yet, here’s where I live.  I know that as a son or daughter….here’s where I’m suppose to be and yet, this is where I live, this is what I’ve done.  There’s some other scary things that sometimes live in the space between.  Sometimes delusion lives there.  Where we say, “Space between?? What’s this you speak of??”  Everybody else who’s around you….they see it.  Maybe you ask someone who knows you really well, “What’s the space you see?”  Delusion can live here.  Hypocrisy can live here.  I’m going to pretend to play the game, but really, my heart’s just not in it.

There’s things that can happen when the space between—-who we’re called to be and who God says we are and the way we actually live…..when we start to recognize that it has this potential to haunt us, doesn’t it?  I’ll say it like this: It has the potential to haunt ME!  I’ll tell you what.  Here’s what lives in the space between.  I knew who God had called me to be, what God had called me to do and yet……I was a youth pastor on a backpacking trail.  And I held one of my students as he died. We did CPR for an hour and 45 minutes and he passed away on that trail.  I can tell you I knew and know this gap!  God, I should have been…..this is who I am.  I tried to close the gap.  I tried to work my way over here (to the other side) and there were some days I did and I’d pat myself on the back and go man, I’m awesome and immediately I was back on the other side!!

We know what we fill that gap with.  A better question, though….what does God fill the gap with?  What does He speak into the gap?  It’s interesting when you look at the nation of Israel, what God speaks into their gap is “exile.”  He speaks exile.  He says if you’re not going to obey me, I’m going to send you away so that things can worse, that I might woo you back.  His heart is always I want you back, I want you mine, you are my people, I am your God: Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness…And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-15)   I’m going to send them away that I might eventually win them back.  Why?  Because God’s faithfulness to you is not determined by your faithfulness to Him!  So He says, “I’m going to continue to chase. I’m going to continue to pursue. I’m going to continue to run after you.”

Second thing, he loves ferociously in the gap.  We fill it with guilt.  We fill it with shame.  We fill it with trying harder.  We fill it with works-based religion.  He goes I’m going to fill it with love.  I’m going to keep chasing you down, because I’m for you.  And He says I refuse to give up on you!   That’s a word for some of you this morning that God wants you to hold onto!  He is NOT giving up on you!  He does not quit.  He is relentless to the end.  So the question is: What does God fill in the gap with?  What does He fill in the space between?  Are you ready? Here’s what He fills the gap in with for the nation of Israel, for you and for me….our gap is no different.  It’s what He’s called us to be and who He is.  What does He fill in the gap with???  The person and work of JESUS!  That’s what He does!  That’s who He is.  That’s who our God is.  Your faithlessness will not determine His faithfulness.  He says, “I am on mission.  My mission is to restore, to redeem and to bless my creation and your ineffectiveness and your failure will not get me off course.”  He speaks into that.  I love the way the author of Hebrews says it: In these last days he (God) has spoken to us by his Son. (Heb. 1: 2)  He speaks into the gap and says, “Jesus!  He’s sufficient.  He’s enough.  On your best day and on your worse day.”  The space between who He said you are and who you’re called to be and how you actually live…..He speaks JESUS into that gap.  God speaks into failure with the faithfulness of Jesus.  That’s freaking awesome!  You might even call that gospel!

I think if we really believe this, some things would change.  Let me close with a few.  Maybe instead of focusing on my guilt I would start to respond to His pursuit.  Because I’ve noticed in my life that I can either focus on me and my guilt and my shame and the space between, or I can focus on Him.  A lot of us want to try to do both and guilt always wins, doesn’t it?  Maybe we pray with passion for family members and neighbors knowing that God hasn’t given up on them either.  Maybe we’d engage our community with the assumption that God was already present and pursuing out of love—that he has not given up.  Maybe instead of judging people for their gap—between who they are called to be and the way they actually live—we, like God, might step into it with the words and works of Jesus.  What if….as a community of faith…..what if we saw our role as partnering with this God who says, “This is who I’ve called you to be and this is who you are.  And in the in between I want to speak Jesus—His hope, His mercy, His grace, His goodness, His kindness, His steadfastness, His shalom—-I want to speak THAT into the gap.”  We all have a space between in our life.  The question is who or what fills it?  My prayer is, as a community, we would say, “Jesus fills the gap.”

Let’s pray.  God, through it all, you’ve been faithful.  You haven’t given up.  God, I think of my life and how many chances, how many opportunities you’ve had to say I’m just done with Paulson.  I’ve given you so many.  And yet, you continue to fill that gap with Jesus.  You continue to speak grace.  You continue to speak hope. You continue to draw me to yourself.  God, I’m so grateful that my failure didn’t derail your faithfulness.  That you’re relentlessly for your creation to redeem, restore, to make new.  Thank you.  Jesus, I pray that you just speak that over us today, as your people.  Remind us who we are.  Who you are.  What you’ve done.  The way You bridge the space between…with your grace, with your mercy and with your glory.  And God, may we be people who breathe in that grace and breathe out your praise.  You’re good and it’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Relentless: Enduring Pursuit2024-06-19T09:20:34-06:00

Relentless: Unstoppable God – Genesis 12


I don’t know that there’s anything better than living in Colorado in the summertime!  It is absolutely beautiful!  As the sun was setting last night and I was outside enjoying dinner, it was just one of those reminders of God’s glory and God’s grace!  One of the things I love to do in the summer is to climb 14ers.  I only have one rule about climbing 14ers and it’s simply this: I refuse to climb any 14er that you can drive to the top of!!!  Mt. Evans — off the list.  Pike’s Peak — off the list.  Here’s the reason.  Imagine hiking the 13 miles up to the top of Pike’s Peak. It covers about 3,000-4,000 miles in elevation gain.  I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is spend the better part of 8 hours of hiking to the top of the peak, only to be joined by somebody who just got out of their car and is enjoying a cup of coffee and possibly a donut!  Here’s the thing, though.  If you were to stand on that peak with somebody who had a cup of coffee, donut and a T-shirt that said, “I made it to the top of Pike’s Peak”…….you’re going to look out from the top of that peak and see the same view.  Both of you will see Colorado Springs, the eastern plains, the glory of the Rocky Mountains.  But I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the person that spent the majority of their day hiking 13 miles to get to the top of that 14,000 foot peak is probably going to see things a little bit differently.  They’re going to see the same thing, but the perspective of what they see will be different.  The person that walked that journey will be able to say that there’s a valley down there and there’s a lake there and this was hard and we worked to get to the top.  They’ll get to the top and soak it in with a sense of accomplishment and say, wow! we did it!  The person in the car may deliriously think the same thing, but, I can assure you, they didn’t do it in the same way.

I think in some ways the place we find ourselves in modern evangelicalism is we’ve driven to the top of the mountain—-the mountain’s name is Jesus—-gotten out of the car and said, “Isn’t he great?!! Isn’t he wonderful?! Isn’t he beautiful?! Isn’t he Savior and Lord?!”  And I will affirm yes and amen!  But I wonder if our lack of understanding of the story of God in its entirety has robbed us of the absolute, majestic beauty, awe and wonder of being able to see the whole!  I think sometimes we find ourselves on top of this mountain and we’ll sing songs about Jesus, but maybe if we started at the trailhead instead of driving in the car up to the peak, we may start to see things a little bit differently.  Here’s our goal in this series:  Start at the beginning.  Over the next five weeks is one message.  It’s a message about the character and nature of God and what He has been up and what He IS up to.  We believe if we understand what he has been up to, what he IS up to we’ll get a better vision of what He WILL be up to in the future and the place that we play in that story.  I think we’ve often missed the boat a little bit.

Let me give you an example.  If you have a Bible with you, hold it up for me.  What is this book?  First and foremost, it is not just A book.  It’s a library of books, really, that we call the Scriptures that have historical accounts, that have prophetic accounts, that have wisdom literature, that have stories about Jesus, that have apocalyptic…….it’s not just ONE book, but it’s a library we hold in our hands of 66 books over the course of thousands of years of 40 different authors with one singular story.  Question is what is THAT story?  You hear a lot of different things.  Some people say that it’s a love letter from God to you.  There’s a bit of truth there.  But it’s one of the many stories in the big story.  It’s one of the subplots, if you will, that finds itself in this grand narrative.  It’s a fine place to start.  It’s not a great place to end, because it just doesn’t zoom out enough.  If we read this Bible and come to the conclusion that it’s all about just me and God, we probably have missed the point.  It’s not only a love letter.  We’ve also heard a lot of people say it’s a road map for life.  Sort of.  Have you ever been trying to make a decision and gone to the Bible…..alright, I have a decision….I’m either going to move to Colorado or to Kansas.  God, where should I move?  Well, Colorado obviously!!!  Kansas or Nebraska??!!!  If you’ve had a specific question and you go to the Scriptures assuming that it’s a road map for life, I think you’re going to be a little bit disappointed.  We’ve heard other people say it’s a guiding ethic.  It teaches you how to live.  It teaches you how to make the right decisions under the rule and reign of God, and to that I say yes and amen, but it’s part of a smaller story; it’s not the story in its entirety.

So let me tell you what I think the story in all its entirety is about.  This is going to be the framework for the next five weeks that we’re going to be wrestling with, circling around.  I believe, in a nutshell, that the Scriptures you hold in your hand are a declaration of an unfolding plan of God that He is relentless and furiously committed to upholding.  That’s what the Scriptures are:  they are a declaration that God is on mission is His world to restore, to redeem and ultimately, to bless his creation.  The Scriptures declare to us what God has said he will do.  He will be faithful to accomplish.  Now, that’s a bigger story than God loves me and God loves you and let’s hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” is it not?  It’s a bigger story than this is a guiding ethic, this teaches me how to make good decisions.  It’s a far bigger story than this is a road map to life.  It’s a declaration of a God who’s relentlessly for his creation, not just humanity, but all the cosmos and he’s committed to restoring, redeeming, renewing, not some things, but all things!  Amen!  That’s the grand meta-narrative of what God is saying through his Scriptures.  And if we miss it….it’s not that our lives will go completely off course.  It’s simply that we’ll fail to live into all that God’s inviting us to live into.  We’ll get to the top of the mountain in the car, step out, say, “Isn’t Jesus wonderful and beautiful?”  Yes!  Agreed!  But we won’t have the landscape of this is how God did this in the beginning and this is how he carried it through through the nation of Israel and this is how he reminded us through the prophets and this is how the whole story led up to Jesus.  I don’t just want you to drive to the top of the mountain.  I want you to go on a journey with me.

In many ways, that journey starts in Genesis 1 and ends in Revelation 22, with one message:  God’s plan will not be thwarted.  He is relentlessly about completing the mission he has set out to accomplish, which is the renewal of all things.  The restoration of his beautiful creation.  That’s what He’s up to!  That’s the story we find ourselves in.  Here’s what I want to do:  I want to do a bird’s-eye view of Genesis 1-11.  I want to set up shop and camp in Genesis 12.  Really, in Genesis 12, what you see is God pulls back a slingshot that he launches into humanity that’s a story that’s told from Genesis 13 all the way to Revelation 22 of God accomplishing what he promises to do in Genesis 12.  Let’s start at the beginning:  God created the heavens and the earth.  And he declared it’s good.  He blessed his creation: animals, plants.  He blessed it and said it’s the way I designed it and it’s good.  He looks at humanity and blesses humanity; he speaks a good word over them.  The third thing he blesses in Genesis 1-2 is the Sabbath, that it’s good to have a rhythm of life and he looks at his creation, steps back to admire it and goes it’s really good!  Genesis 3:  God’s creation rebels against his creator and the story starts to go awry.  They’re rebelling.  They’re saying back to God, “We don’t need you and, in fact, if we were in your position we could probably do a better job!”  Which is the heart of all sin!  They’re disobeying his authority in regarding his boundaries that he set out for their freedom and creates absolute chaos in his world.  So in Genesis 4 you have Cain who kills Abel and its this reminder:  Things are not as they should be.  You think your family’s messed up?!  From the get-go we have Cain who kills Abel.  He then goes and makes a city “outside” of the presence of God, east of Eden.  We have Noah and the flood, where God says he won’t contend with humanity, he’s just going to wipe it out!  He decides He’ll preserve Noah and will restart the process through Noah that Adam and Eve failed to accomplish and failed to do.  You don’t get too far before you realize the Noah isn’t all that much better!  When the flood subsides, he gets naked and drunk in his tent….and you go, “This isn’t going according to plan, is it, God?”  In Genesis 11, we get to this sorta peak of human rebellion against God.  They start to build this tower in Babel.  And the tower’s all about one thing:  making a name for themselves.  They’re in rebellion against this creator, this merciful creator who says I’m for you and I’m good and they go well, that’s great, BUT we’re going to make a name for ourselves.  And we’re going to get to you, God, and we’re going to overthrow you!

It’s interesting to note that in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, you have these sparks of grace in every single story until you get to Babel.  Adam and Eve are naked in the garden and God comes to cover them.  Cain rebels, kills his brother, but God says to him, “I’m going to be good to you and I’m going to protect you.”  Noah is preserved through the flood……you have these sparks of grace that carry the narrative forward from Genesis 1 to Genesis 11.  But when you get to Babel, the grace that we saw there—sparks of it—is absent.  It’s just not there. On one hand, God’s creation story continues to move forward, but relationship with God is broken and fractured.  I love the way that Gerhard von Rad made the observation after his exposition of Genesis 11 and Babel:  “Is God’s relationship to the nations now finally broken? {That’s the question we should ask at the end of Genesis 11.  Is God over this whole project he started?  Let’s be honest, if we were God we might be over it. Attempt after attempt after attempt….is it finally broken?}  Is God’s gracious forbearance now exhausted; has God rejected the nations in wrath forever?”  You need to feel the weight of that at the end of Genesis 11.  It ends with the story of this guy named “Terah,” who’s actually Abraham’s dad.  His name literally means “moon” in the Hebrew.  It was this metaphor for “the end.”  As if to say, this whole thing is over.

In Genesis 12:1-3, we find ourselves at a crossroads. I want you to feel the weight of that.  God, in justice, could have said, “I’m done!”  But what you’ll see is that he does the exact opposite thing and if we’re going to have a view for what God is doing in and through his creation, we need to understand Genesis 12.  At the end of Genesis 11 He could have rightfully said it’s over, but He doesn’t.  Listen to what He says as we see this picture of a God who is relentless:  (Genesis 12: 1-3) Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Now, you may have read that a hundred times.  My invitation to you today is to read it anew.  This is one of the two main hinges in the Scriptures to understanding what God is like, what God is up to, and what His mission and purpose is for all of His creation!  Listen to the way the great scholar, John Stott, talked about this passage: “These are perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible; the whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.”  Christopher JH Wright, the great scholar, whose book, The Mission of God, has been largely influential in the development of this series, says this: “It is a pivotal text not only in the book of Genesis, but indeed in the whole Bible.”  Here’s what I want us to circle around this morning as we wrestle with the Scriptures that are about far more than a love relationship or a guiding ethic or a road map for life.  We wrestle with the Scriptures in saying this is the story that God is telling, not just in our church and not just in our country, but around the world throughout all time.  The linchpin to living in abundance (the life that God designed you and I to live) is embracing God’s mission!  The reason that this is such an important series is because it’s a series, first and foremost, about who God is and what God is like and what He’s doing in the world, but it’s also a series where we sort of take our puzzle piece of our 80 years and we look at his million piece puzzle and we go, “Alright, God, where does my little life fit in your grand narrative? Where does my little tiny story fit inside your massive story?”  (Don’t) miss the fact that God is on the move, and (don’t) miss the fact that for all of history God has said to humanity, “You’ve given up on me, but I’m not giving up on you.”  From the beginning of the story He says, “My intention is to bless and I will find a way to do that!”  If we miss that…we could be holding our little piece to the puzzle wondering where it fits for the 80 years, 90 years, 40 years, however many years we have.  But God’s intention is far more than you hold the puzzle piece and stare at it.  It’s that you would know what He is doing, that you would know where you fit and that you would partner with Him in what He’s doing, not just in the world right now, but in the renewal and redemption of all things.  Look up at me a moment.  If you don’t know what God is up to, you’ll have no understanding of or awareness of why you’re here.  And people wrestle with this…the deep longing and gnawing at their soul….if they could just understand that this is what God is up to, this is what God is doing in this world….that maybe, we’d be able to take that puzzle piece of our life and go, well, that’s where it fits in His grand narrative.  People wrestle with the meaning of life because they don’t understand the character of God.  When you do, you get invited into the abundance that Jesus says that He is for.

Genesis 12:  That’s where we’re going to be camping out.  I have three stakes that I want to put in the ground at the beginning of this series as we look at a God who is absolutely, whole-heartedly relentless and what God did to Abraham, I’ll propose to you, He does to you, too.  In your outline, when it says something about Abraham, I want YOU to apply these and receive them as your own.  Here’s the way God starts in his address to Abraham:  The Lord said to Abram….   This is epic!  I know it’s just a few words, but here’s what you have to understand about Abram.  Abram lives in this place called Ur.  It’s in Babylon, modern day Iraq.  Abram is not exactly the cleanest, he’s not the shiniest….God doesn’t come to him and say to Abram anything because Abram has it all together.  The Scriptures are going to say in the book of Judges that Abram is an idolator.  He’s a polytheist.  He believes in many gods, most of which he created with his own hands. God meets him in Ur of the Caldeans and He’s going to invite him to go on a journey with Him, but where Abram finds himself is in sorta the centerpoint of what we’d call idolatry.  Ur was known for having the ziggurat.  It was a pyramid shaped structure that had a temple on top.  What the Mesopotamians believed at the time was that the closer the temple got to God, the more God could hear you!  Luckily, we’re in the Rockies!  That was there conviction, so Abram’s life revolves around idolatry, probably revolved around the ziggurat of some sort.  Here’s what we learn in the story of Abram.  He’s the RECIPIENT of God’s PURSUIT.  He’s not the best guy for the choice as we’ll learn.  He’s not a knight in shining armor.  God doesn’t choose him because he has it all together.  God in his grace and mercy is firmly committed to His pursuit of the nations and He pursues and chooses Abram out of all the families of the earth to join Him in this missionary endeavor.

What we learn in Abram’s story is that your past does not and cannot disqualify you from what God wants to do in your destiny.  That’s what you see in Abraham’s story.  That God is at work in his disappointments.  God is at work in his failures.  God is the one who’s saying Abram, I am chasing after you.  This is not unique to Abram.  This is what God is like in history!  You look at Adam and Eve….God chases them down.  You look at Cain….God comes after him.  You look at the anointing and rising up of David….that’s God’s pursuit.  You look at God chasing down the Apostle Paul….meeting him on the road to Damascus….bright, shining light.  Falls off his donkey, meets the living Christ.  This is God at work.  It’s what God is like.  It’s why the English poet, Francis Thompson, declares that God is “The Hound of Heaven.”

Let’s take a step back a moment and ground ourselves 2015 today, right now….is it possible that this God who was pursuing Abraham is pursuing us??  Is it possible that this relentless God, at work throughout all times, for ALL the nations, may be this morning saying, “Will you join me in what I’m up to?”  Will you use whatever I’ve wired into your being for this story?  Your passions, your skills…..you’re like I just sit behind a computer all day or I’m just a….contractor…an electrician…a teacher…a mom.  God goes stay there!  My story’s big enough for you to find your place in it.  You don’t have to leave to be part of this story.  It’s way bigger.  He’s chasing humanity down.  Here’s the beautiful thing about it:  He does NOT tell Abraham come out and then I’ll talk to you.  He pursues him INSIDE and calls him out, yes, but His pursuit of Abraham begins exactly where Abraham is at.  Maybe holding an idol he’s carved with his hands.  Maybe sacrificing to one of the many deities that he bowed down to.  Maybe wondering, in disappointment, why they (he and Sarai) weren’t able to have the kids they so longed to have.  And God meets him right in the middle of that disappointment, that idolatry and He says, “Alright Abram, I’m doing something and I want you to join me.”

Look at the way this story goes on.  Genesis 12:1-2 says: Now the Lord said to Abram, {That’s key.  He’s in pursuit.}  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. {Don’t you love the detail God gives?!  Have you ever felt like this in life? Where God’s like come on. Come to the land I will show you. And it’s as though you want to say, “Well, I thought this was a road map for life! Point to the destination in the road map and I’ll go there.”  It seems as though God isn’t as interested in the map or giving you a path to follow as He is to giving you a person to follow.  Abram was like where is the land?  What’s there?  What’s waiting for me?  This is a huge request, God.  If I could get a few more details, then I’m in.  Raise your hand if you know that God doesn’t always give you all the details before he gives you the invitation.}   And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.    See, Abraham is not only a recipient of God’s pursuit, but he is this BENEFICIARY of God’s PROMISE.  I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna accomplish this, I’m gonna bless you, I’m going to make you a great nation.  Abram, I know you’re old and aging and don’t have any kids, but I’m going to work in your life.  I’m going to give you land, He says.  I’m going to give you a legacy and I’m going to give you a blessing that you could not have purchased, that you cannot earn on your own.  What a beautiful story, isn’t it?  This gracious God pursuing humanity—it’s bigger than a love letter, it’s bigger than a road map, it’s bigger than a guiding ethic….it’s God at work.  Relentless!

Abraham receives his promise. And it’s this promise in Genesis 12 that shapes humanity’s destiny!  If you don’t understand Genesis 12, you will have absolutely no awareness when you stand on top of the mountain–who is Jesus–of all of the weight and beauty and magnificence that led up to that place.  It shapes humanity’s destiny.  God’s saying to Abram, “I’m going to give you land.  I’m going to give you blessing.  I’m going to give you legacy.” But notice there’s a condition attached to it, isn’t there?  What’s the condition?  GO!  So, when you leave, Abraham, if you’re willing to be obedient, not to the idols you hold in your hand and not to the family that you live with and the only thing you’ve known and the land that is really grounded in who you are for the few centuries, but Abraham, if you’re willing to leave….to leave your land….I’ll give you better land.  To leave your people, your ethnic identity.  Step out of that and I’ll create a lineage of faith that’s going to flow through you…if you’re willing to leave.  Did you know Abram’s name is mentioned in Scripture 300 times?  It’s mentioned in the New Testament alone, at least 2100 years after this promise was given, 74 times.  Did you know that 50% of the world’s population, right now, will trace their faith history lineage back to this guy?!  For one reason.  God said I have a promise for you, Abram.  But in order to activate the promise, you’ve got to step out and follow me.  Listen to the way Christopher JH Wright puts it: “It does not mean in any way that Abraham merited God’s favor and covenantal promises.  God addressed Abraham out of the blue without any prior activities on Abraham’s part.  BUT, Abraham’s response of faith and obedience not only moves God to count him as righteous, but also enables God’s promises to move forward towards its universal horizon.”  It’s as though, when Abraham responds yes,……it’s like the fireman walking over to the fire hydrant, hooking up the hose and just going booooommmm!

Genesis 12 is what God is up to.  It’s what God is all about.  God says, “Abram, I want to bless the world, but I won’t bless the world from within the world’s systems…the Babylon systems of pride and power.  I’m calling you out, Abram, that I might redefine who you are, recreate my creation in order to look back and then from the outside bless it, cover it, redeem it, call it forth to be all that it can be.”  This promise hinges on Abram walking out and following Him in trust.  Ultimately, the promise lands on the person and work of Jesus.  Listen to what Paul writes in Galatians 3:16:  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring  It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  {He is the mountain we stand on.}  In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul tells the church that ALL of the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Him!  It’s the promise Abraham receives.  It’s the promise Abraham carries.  He’s a beneficiary of it.  So are you, friend.

Finally, last stake in the ground.  First is God’s pursuit.  Second is God’s promise.  The third is: And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  If we miss this, friends, we miss the heart of God.  When God comes to Abram to make him a promise, to pursue him, it’s not for Abraham’s sake alone that He encounters him, that He blesses him, that He speaks over him….it is for the purpose we read here of ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed.  What’s God up to in the world?!  If Genesis 12 is a slingshot that launches God’s redemptive promise in Israel, what is He up to?  He’s up to……BLESSING.  He’s up to benevolently recreating His creation that sin fractured!  That’s His plan.  That’s His purpose.  That’s the meta-narrative.  That’s the story we find ourselves in.  Is it a love letter?  Partially.  But it’s an invitation to be part of what He’s doing in blessing, not some of the nations, but ALL of the nations.  He’s a CARRIER, Abraham is, and so are you of God’s PURPOSE.  Abraham isn’t meant to just enjoy the blessing of God, but he’s meant to carry it.  He’s meant to distribute it.  He’s meant to declare it amongst the nations.

It’s interesting to step back from that and say, “Alright! How do we fit into that?”  We’ll talk about that over the next four weeks.  But I want to throw this out for you to chew on over the next few days.  Far before we have a church, God has a mission!  A lot of times we’ll wrestle with what is our mission as a church.  That’s a good question to ask, as long as we understand that in the end the church does not have a mission!  The mission has a church!  That shapes the way we understand why we’re here, does it not?  It’s not so much God, what do you want us to do in order to achieve the mission.  It’s: God, what mission are you on?  Why have you brought us together?  We’re not creating the wave….we’re just riding it!  Before He had a church, He had a mission and His mission has been going for all time, through all generations for all the families of the earth, the whole world is His desire to bless.  And not just people, but the cosmos that they might be redeemed.  The ground….buried in thorns…thistles….cries out for His redemption.  The story includes even the world.  Wow!  It’s bigger than a love letter.  It’s bigger than a road map.  It’s better than a guiding ethic.  It’s a puzzle piece of your 80 or so years……to look at it and say, “God, how do I fit in the story you’re telling?”  We’re not creating the mission.  The mission created us.  We’re not trying to dream up what we should do.  That’s not our goal.  We have our marching orders.  Be a blessing!!!  How about we don’t make it any more complicated than that?!  You can do that in your family, can’t you?  You can do that in your workplace.  You can do that in whatever job, field you find yourself in. You don’t need to be a missionary to be missional!  To live on purpose with this God who’s actively, in his creation, restoring, redeeming and renewing, not some things but all things.  THIS. IS. THE. STORY.  He is at work.  In all of our rebellion and all of our sin, He is at work to restore, to redeem and to bless His creation.  That’s awesome!

Here’s a little bit of missional math for you.  PURSUIT + PROMISE + PURPOSE = MISSION    God’s pursuit of you and me and the rest of humanity PLUS God’s promise that He culminates in the work of Jesus on the cross, paying for sin, offering redemption, being the first fruits according to the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15)…..the first fruits of His new creation PLUS His purpose in the world EQUALS His mission.  Now, is God’s love for you a part of that?  Absolutely, amen.  It’s just not the end.  His end is His love for all the nations and His desire to bless them.  God’s pursuing you, be receptive.  God still has a promise for you, be confident and live in it.  God still has a desire to bless the world through you, be engaged.  When you go to work tomorrow, go embracing and riding the wave of God started in Genesis 1 and coming to form in Genesis 12 and eventually breaking and blessing all the nations.  You see, friends, knowing that mission is at the heart of God allows us to see God’s heart.  His desire to bless not some, but all.  So in the past, maybe you drove your car up to the top.  Had your cup of coffee and donut.  Said wow! what a view!  You’re right, it is.  But over the next few weeks I’m going to invite you to maybe see it differently if we start at the trailhead and take a walk together.  Maybe we get a view of all that God is and has been up to in the world.  When we know what God is and has been up to in the world, we see His heart in a different way.

And you see His heart no better than in the table we’re going to come and celebrate today.  For 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been reminded of God’s pursuit of them.  His pursuit of them of giving His body and shedding His blood that they might be invited back into His story.  When you come to partake this morning, know you’re stepping into a stream that for 2000 years has been flowing.  But it started far before that…the declaration of God’s goodness…His desire to bless all the nations and His promise carried to the cross by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  Come and receive from this God.  Your puzzle piece fits in the narrative He’s doing.

Relentless: Unstoppable God – Genesis 122024-06-19T09:20:25-06:00
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