The Heartfelt Cry Of A Wanna-Be Mom | 5.10.20


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The Heartfelt Cry Of A Wanna-Be Mom | 5.10.202023-06-22T11:59:51-06:00

Hope When It’s Hard | 3.22

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Navigating an Unknown Road | Ecclesiastes 9:1-12


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Navigating an Unknown Road   Ecclesiastes 9:1-12   Dr. Scott Wenig   (1st Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content.}  Let’s bow together.  Father, thanks for everything you provide for us, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year.  Lord, as you know, the way we count time we’re entering into a new year and new decade, so we pray for your wisdom, your grace, your guidance.  Lord, I thank you for every person who’s here today.  Lord, wherever we’re at, I pray that you might minister to us in a special way.  Now, Lord, give us ears to hear your word, minds that are attentive, and hearts that are receptive to you and your Spirit.  We ask all of this in the great name of Jesus.  Amen.

Given that it’s a new year and a new decade, there are a number of people and pundits who are trying to predict what the future will bring. It doesn’t matter whether it involves politics, or the stock market, or the Broncos, lots of people are making predictions about what’s going to happen in 2020 and beyond. But it’s always a dangerous business to try and predict the future, because it almost never turns out the way people thought. To illustrate the point, over the past 50 years various individuals and groups have ventured forth with their visions of the future and I’d like to share just a few of them with you.

  • In 1995 one man predicted: Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet’s continuing exponential growth, but I predict the internet will soon go supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.
  • In 1996-97 a number of people predicted the end of Apple Corporation.  The magazine The Economist said, “Apple seems to have two options.  The first is break itself up–selling the hardware side.  The second is to sell the company outright.”  Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, said, “What would I do?  I’d shut Apple down and give the money back to the shareholders.”  Wow! was he ever wrong!
  • My favorite comes from 1962 about the Beatles:  We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out!

As these examples show—and they’re just a very few of many that we could find—trying to predict the future is dicey at best.  Now, while you and I probably aren’t going to spend much time on that, in our more honest moments we probably wish we had a crystal ball to see what awaits us in 2020 and beyond.  Most of us would probably like a glimpse into next week or next month or next year so we could be more in control of life.  This is where the Book of Ecclesiastes is so relevant.  The Preacher, Quoheleth, who was almost certainly King Solomon, tells us that trying to foresee the future is a fool’s errand.  And so, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he warns us off from that and, instead, points us towards the life that God wants us to live right now.  Let’s begin by looking at Ecclesiastes 9:1 and then verses 11-12.  So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them.  (11) I have seen something else under the sun:  The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Solomon argues that it’s impossible for us to know the future; we have no idea what life will bring our way.  In verse 1, he says we don’t know if this week we’re going to meet a new friend who really cares about us or if we’ll meet someone who has no regard for us.  And as we scroll down to verse 11, he challenges what might be called the Success Formula for life, or the cause and effect flow of life.  While the fastest runner more often than not wins the race, that doesn’t always happen.  And while the biggest and best army usually wins the war that’s not always the case; one need only think of the American experience in Vietnam to know that. And while we like to think and predict that wealth and favor go to the smartest or best educated, that’s not always what happens.  A friend once told me about a dinner he had with a man who was an investment advisor. He said that as the dinner came to close and the dessert was about to be served, he asked the investment advisor “You’ve been at this job of financial planning for over thirty years. What have you learned?” My friend was surprised by the man’s answer. The investment advisor said, “I’ve learned that some of the stupidest people in this city are among the wealthiest, and some of the shrewdest have gone bankrupt.”

Solomon would say, “Well, maybe that’s not the way it should be, but sometimes that’s the way it is.”  Then he goes on in verse 12 to reinforce that.   Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
As he says, sometimes unforeseen misfortune comes our way.  It might be a visit to the doctor reveals a tumor, or a drive on 470 that ends up in an accident, or a phone call in the middle of the night brings sad news of an unexpected death.  We simply don’t know what life will bring our way in 2020 and beyond, whether good or bad; we’re too limited to have that kind of knowledge.

And then Solomon goes on to say that the one thing we can know about the future is that someday we’ll all face the same end.  Look at v. 2-3:  All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.  As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all.   Solomon asks us to pause and take a look at the reality of our death.  In a broken and fallen and messed up world, the one thing we can know for sure is that we’re all a little bit closer to death than we were when we walked through those doors thirty minutes ago.  And, as he does throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon verbally processes the weird and evil way that death works:  He says that it comes to the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the nasty and the nice, believers and unbelievers, the risk takers and those who are risk averse.  Earlier generations may have been more in touch with this reality than we are in 21st century America. For example, in the medieval world, one of the most prominent phrases among Christians was the Latin phrase momento mori—Remember, you will die.

Now that’s a depressing thought but, fortunately, he doesn’t leave us there.  In verses 4-5, he turns and offers us some hope in light of the inevitable:  Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward and even their name is forgotten.  He argues that you and I have an advantage over the dead:  we’re alive!  To prove the point—to his cultural audience—he makes a comparison between a live dog and a dead lion.  In contemporary America, we elevate dogs to human-like status and make them members of the family.  On average, Americans spend $1300 a year per dog. That’s a lot of money so obviously we think they’re worth it. But, as you may know, that was never the case in the ancient Near East.  To ancient Jews, dogs were horrible, dirty creatures that scavenged for garbage.  They were never welcomed in the home and the idea of owning one as a pet was culturally disdained.  On the other hand, lions were noble and proud creatures that served as cultural symbols of strength and might and majesty.  But a dead lion no longer exhibits any of its prior outstanding qualities and that’s why a live dog is always better.  This is what I love about Ecclesiastes: The Preacher gives us an accurate description of REALITY!  Death is inevitable, but life offers the hope that we can learn about reality and then live our lives based on that, and the foundation of reality that we want to build our lives on is the sovereignty of God.  As Solomon told us in verse 1, ‘we’re in God’s hands.’

That’s a metaphorical way to describe that God is in control.  He’s the King Who rules and reigns over everything and everyone in the universe. And His Kingdom came to earth in a personal way through the life and ministry of Jesus.  Jesus inaugurated His ministry by preaching ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ And by that He meant God’s rule and reign in the lives of people which would, in time, eventually extend over all of creation.  About 20 years after He died on the cross and rose from the dead, the Apostle Paul wrote to those first Christians in Colossae that …God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)  Then late in the first century, when he was exiled all alone on that island called Patmos out in the Mediterranean, the Apostle John said in Revelation 1:17-18: When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

The resurrected, sovereign and glorified Christ tells us, “Don’t worry about the future because I’m the King and you’re in my Kingdom and I’ve conquered sin and death and hell.”  He says: I was singing to you through your mom when you sat on her knee as a baby.  I was next to you at church camp when you first heard the Good News about Me. I was holding you close during those dark days and nights when you were heartbroken and alone and scared.  And I’m in control of what happens every day the rest of your life, and when you die, I’ll take you to be with Me forever and ever.

Friends, we don’t have to worry, fret, or fear about the future, or even the inevitably of death, because our King, Jesus, is in control. Oh, friends, it’s true we don’t know what awaits us; it’s true that sometimes things go awry and that sometimes bad times come and that it’s also true that someday we’ll get sick and die. But we don’t need to worry or stress about those things because our King, Jesus, loves us. He’s placed us in His Kingdom and He’s in control. And as the reality of all that begins to sink into our hearts and our minds and our souls, over time, we’ll become people of joy. We’ll be people who see life as something we can engage and enjoy, not just endure.  We’ll be positive people of prayer and praise, not Sidney Cynic or Debbie Downer or Tommy Tombstone.

Solomon goes on to show us what that kind of life looks like beginning in 9:7-8—Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  He says that life in God’s kingdom means that we can ENJOY eating and drinking and having fun.  It’s like a lavish dinner party where the food is outstanding and there’s anything to drink that you like. The phrase in verse 8 about being clothed in white and anointing your head with oil is a Jewish reference to wearing your best clothes and putting on your very best, expensive perfume or cologne.  This is a picture of celebration, like we do when someone we love and care about is getting married.

And please notice what the Preacher says in the second half of verse 7 because this is very, very important:  God has already approved what you do.  One person translates it this way: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!  Friends, this is how Jesus lived as traveled throughout ancient Israel.   In Luke 7:34 he says that his religiously minded critics accused Him of ‘eating and drinking and being a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners…’  In Luke 13:29 he says that when the kingdom of God finally arrives in its fullest expression ‘many will come from east and west and sit down and dine with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….’   One biblical scholar said that if we read the Gospels slowly and carefully we can’t help but come to the conclusion that Jesus ate his way through his ministry.

And given that Solomon begins this section with the word ‘Go’ I want to encourage you to leverage His command to eat some food you really like—regardless of whether it’s good for you or not!’   My good and godly wife, Melanie, blesses me every Christmas and buys me some apple strudel from Taste of Denmark!  It’s fantastic and I’m enjoying every single bite to the glory of God!  I know it’s bad for me, but I want to have a blast while I last.  Friends, if we know Jesus, we’re part of His Kingdom and, as our King, He is in control.  So let’s begin to move away from worry, fear and stress and instead have a blast while we last.

And Solomon shows us that there’s even more to this kind of life. Look at verse 9—Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this fleeting life that God has given you under the sun—all your fleeting days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.  Here the Preacher tells us to ENJOY our spouses.  Marriage is a good thing; God designed it to be a blessing and we should take the time and make the effort to love on our spouses and nurture our spouses and do everything we can to make our marriages as healthy and happy as we can, and for this we try to keep good health with exercise and diet, also the use of a keto pills amazon could also help a lot with this.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther initiated a revolution called the Protestant Reformation, and part of that was clergy now getting married.  Luther was 41 when he got married to a former nun, Katie, who was 25.  They had a long and happy marriage.  Here are a couple of quotes that Luther shared with his students and parishioners, which I think are very apropos for us.  “Of course the Christian should love his wife.  He’s suppose to love his neighbor and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.”  “It is impossible to keep peace between men and women in family life if they do not condone and overlook each other’s faults but watch everything to the smallest point.  For who at times does not offend.”  Now while most of us will, at some point in our lives, be married, we’d be wise to take Luther’s advice to heart to love on our spouses.  The broader application of Solomon’s point is to enjoy the relationships we have with those closest to us regardless of whether we’re married or we’re single.

Once again, Jesus serves as our model.  He never married; He never had kids.  In fact, most of His own family didn’t believe His Messianic claims until after the Resurrection. But as we survey His life in the gospels, it’s clear that He had a number of close relationships that He clearly enjoyed and invested Himself in.  There were the twelve disciples of course, and it appears that Peter, James and John may have been the closest to Jesus. There was Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, who often hosted Jesus in their home in Bethany.  There were the women mentioned in Luke 8 – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna – all of whom closely followed Jesus. Friends, we don’t have to be married to have good friendships and great fellowship and thoroughly enjoy those! We simply need to keep in mind that in the Kingdom friendships and fellowship and relationships are one of God’s gifts to help us enjoy life!

Let me ask us a couple of questions:

  1. Whether we’re single or married, what specific relationships are we going to give ourselves too in 2020 and beyond?
  2. Are we willing to invest our time, our energy and our money in those relationships?

Solomon tells us that if we want to live a good life, we should trust in the sovereignty of God and enjoy as much good food and fellowship for as long as we can. That’s a great way to have a blast while we last.  He also tells us to enjoy the work He’s provided.  Look at verse 10:  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.  If we dial back from Ecclesiastes for just a moment to the first two chapters of Genesis, we’re told there that men and women are made in God’s image.  Now while the meaning of that has been debated for centuries, one helpful way to understand it is that when God looks at us He sees something of Himself.  And since God worked in making everything in the universe, He made us to work as well and we see that in Genesis 2.  Solomon picks up on that idea and refines it a little bit. He says that whatever work you have, do it to the best of your ability while you still can, because the day’s coming when you can’t work any longer.  His admonition prefigures what the Apostle Paul would write 1000 years later to those first Christians in the Asian city of Colossae when he told them:  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24) 

In the last couple of years, Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers fame has been gaining a lot of attention, through a movie ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ and a documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’   It’s interesting that in the documentary, it showed him giving a college graduation speech.  After he gives the speech, all these graduates stood in line to talk to him.  One young woman, with tears in her eyes, thanked him and told him that he changed her life because his show made her feel loved.  You know why?  Because he went to work every day and to the best of his ability, he tried to connect with all the kids.

Friends, let’s remember that God is in control of our lives and we should have A BLAST WHILE WE LAST, whether we’re selling insurance, writing code, building houses, managing employees, or teaching kids.  Whatever it is, let’s put our hearts into that because it’s part of the good life God has provided for us.

Just to drive this home, I want us to meditate for a moment on Eugene Peterson’s rendering of verses 7-10 in The Message:  Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, drink wine with a robust heart.  Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning.  Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.  Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive.  Make the most of each one!  Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.   Notice the phrases: Seize life, eat with gusto, dress festively, make the most of each one, grab it and do it!  Friends, as the Preacher has taught us, we’re not in control and we never will be.  But Jesus is, so let’s love Him, let’s look to Him and then let’s have a blast while we last!

Navigating an Unknown Road | Ecclesiastes 9:1-122023-06-22T11:40:15-06:00

Camping Under the Clouds | Numbers 9:15-23


Camping Under the Clouds    Numbers 9:15-23   Pastor Josh Suddath   

(1st Service)  {Manuscript–See Video for complete content}

As a young boy, I remember my dad taking me camping in the Nantahala Forest in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Now if you’re a rugged Colorado adventurer, you might turn your nose up at our itinerary for the weekend, but to me this was adventure.  A weekend with my dad in the woods.  I’d get to ask him life’s questions, we’d share some holy moments, and he’d share his heart, and maybe I’d share mine. We would make a couple meals over a fire, camp under the night sky, and then in the morning, brave the class 2 rapids of the Nantahala River, in our own personal rafts called “duckies.”  As it turns out however, we were not the only ones spending the night in the Nantahala Forest that weekend.  Word had made its way around the camp that it was very likely that an out-of-town guest had also decided to make camp in those woods that night.  Eric Rudolph, top ten on the FBI’s Most Wanted, the Olympic Park Bomber, who, as time would tell, would last for the next five years hiding out in the Kudzu-laden forests of the Nantahala, had made camp somewhere near ours.  Now I was twelve years old. This was no measurable threat.  I owned a Swiss army knife and knew how to whittle. I was not fine.  I was afraid. I didn’t deserve this!  I wondered why God and my dad had brought me to the woods to meet my demise.  I slept with both eyes open and I needed the sun to come up a little sooner than was planned for the next day.  I wanted to get the heck out of that camp, get in that raft, paddle as fast as I could, and get to where we were going.  And looking back, I think I missed out on some holy moments with my dad.

I wonder what life would’ve been like as a young Levite boy, traveling with the Israelites in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.  They were camping out.  If you have a Bible today you can turn with me to the book of Numbers 9:15.  And as we jump into this journey with the Israelites today I was reminded of a quote from one of my favorite pastors, Mark Dever, of Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC. — “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed.” In another book he wrote:  “The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”    Whether that saying is original to him or not, I don’t know, but I know that he’s echoing the words of Paul in Romans 15:4 — For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.  

Let’s look at that first verse together in Numbers 9:15 — On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it.  God is making a statement here that on the day when the people have brought what they have to set up this tabernacle, He is saying to them, by covering it with a cloud, that whatever they encounter along this journey, whatever they’re about to experience, whatever practices they engage in underneath this tent, “I am here and I am covering it.”  As we jump into this account, I want you to be reminded from that verse in Romans, whatever you walked in here with today, whatever the pace of your life was like this week, whatever spiritual practices you engaged in, or didn’t,  whatever pain you may have encountered that you didn’t see coming, you’re here and something about what we are looking at today is meant to teach us to endure and to encourage us to have hope.

The centerpiece of the camp was the tabernacle, a sanctuary, where the people of God practiced the ways of God.  Encamped immediately around the tabernacle were those God assigned to care for the structure.  They were in charge of set up and tear down, maintenance, and care of the holy things.  The tribe of Levi, and if I’m a 12-year-old Levite boy, this is my tribe.  On the outskirts of the camp were the remaining tribes of Israel, each assigned their plot of land by the Lord.  God was really clear that the Levites were to be the only ones that would go near the tabernacle.  If anyone outside of the Levite tribe ever dared go near it, they were to be put to death. I mean if I was that Levite boy, I might just have some fun with this one.  Invite that kid over from the tribe of Dan that I’m not too fond of.  Draw a few lines in the sand.  Come at me, bro!  Cross that line and see what happens. The camp is pretty special, and my family is a pretty special part of what’s happening here. Whatever face I’m projecting on the outside, I still have some questions.  What is actually happening here?  I mean what are we really doing here?  What is this tabernacle about? And aren’t we supposed to be headed somewhere awesome? And I’m watching the older people around me.  Whether they think I’m watching or not, I’m watching, and I’m learning.  How are they going about this whole thing? What are they gaining from all of these practices?  I mean we get it, you go in, you sprinkle everything with blood, you kill a few of our pets, and what gives?  I mean we get it, we go every Sunday, you sit there, you put your weekly allowance in a basket, you drink the most worthless amount of grape juice, and what gives? And sometimes the questions and the monotony of it all begins to drive us to want to take control of our own destiny and travel at our own pace along the journey.

Have you ever taken a long trip with a large group of people?  Maybe it’s just a family vacation or a group tour of another country, or a mission trip.  If you’ve ever experienced this, you have undoubtedly learned that people tend to want travel at their personally desired pace. Isn’t it true, though, that our desired pace is often defined by our perceived destination?  This is why people stuck in lines at customs at the Cancun airport are always so pissed off.  They are all wearing shirts that say, “Tequila on the Beach.”   Unless they are a youth pastor, in which case they are thinking very holy thoughts about their upcoming service to God on the mission field.  Not that I would know. The people of Israel have been promised a destination.  But I get the impression from what comes next in this passage that God had more for them than just a destination.  And perhaps as he’s leading them he sees that they’ve become a little too destination-minded.  Maybe so much so that they’ve forgotten about their family, and what it’s like to be present with somebody or to recognize when he’s present with them.  So the Israelites are made to travel at the pace of their God.  Maybe there are lessons God wants them to learn along the way.  Maybe He wants them to really experience His presence, to get used to what it FEELS like in the holy moments.  I wonder if that’s a question each of us ought to consider—What does it mean for us to travel at the pace of our God?

Here’s how God goes about slowing the roll of the Israelites.  Numbers 9:15–On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it.  From evening until morning, the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire.  Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lords command, the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped.  As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.  When the cloud remained over the camp for a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lords command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out.

I mean why the repetitive nature of this text?  The Israelites obeyed.  The Israelites obeyed.  They are getting really good at this pattern of obedience.  They’re getting really good at being good.  Now I’m not just a teenage Levite with weekly chores at this point. I’m a little frustrated.  I mean I’m part of the help here and you mean we’ve got to keep setting up and tearing this thing down every time the cloud moves?  Who’s controlling this thing and why can’t why can’t I access this Google Doc!

What does is mean to travel at the pace of our God?  I didn’t ask for this pace.  Can we just get where we are supposed to be going? I mean isn’t it really good?  I mean I’m stuck here in high school, but life is really going to start for me when I get out.  I’m stuck here in this job, but I have so many other passions, God, and why aren’t the doors opening for me? In my experience, I tend to get the most frustrated about the pace of my life when I get the most consumed with myself.

I was a 24-year-old living in Nashville, working in the wealth management field.  I had a back office.  I spent my time doing investment trading on the Stock Market.  I had begun to develop gifts, talents, dreams, visions, and hopes of traveling the country and getting out and speaking to people and sharing Jesus and what he was doing in my life. I remembered I called my dad one day from that office and said, “Dad, I’m doing it!  I’m going out on my own.  I’m going to buy an RV and travel the country and be an itinerant preacher.”  You know what my dad said to me?  “Put down the phone, go back to your office, do your job, and stop thinking of yourself as the next Messiah.”   It was a holy moment.  It was a hard moment, but it was a holy moment.  Teaching me to endure. And what do you do when the pace of your life isn’t what you desired?  Look for the holy moments.  And some of them may be difficult and meant to teach you to endure, and some may be encouraging and meant to give you great hope.  And the holiest of moments can be found in the simplest of moments.  They are found in what’s happening around you everyday, right now, where you are, not where you think you are going to be. Nineteenth  century poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wrote, “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God, but only those who see take off their shoes.”

Well eventually in Numbers 13, twelve people are sent outside the camp to explore the Promised Land, the promised destination.  And ten out of the twelve completely freak out when they get outside the camp.  The realities of life outside the camp hit them hard.  Enemies, danger, potential suffering.   Maybe camp is safer after all, under the cloud. Ten out of the twelve bring back a negative report.  Joshua and Caleb return with a positive report.   Ten out the twelve prove they haven’t really learned anything along the way.

The cloud hadn’t lifted at this point.   There wasn’t a direct command to take the land. It’s almost as if God is seeing where the people’s confidence is.  Have they learned to sense His presence?  Have they soaked up holy moments?  Or have they just become really good at obeying?  Did they get so head down in their practices, in the monotony and regularity of it all that they missed out on learning to discern his presence?  Joshua and Caleb might have learned something.  They’re trying to discern his Spirit.  They’ve paid attention to his presence and they’re trying to listen to his voice. Listen to how they say it:  The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead  us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.   IF the Lord is pleased with us.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10—I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud, and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock, was Christ!    Or did they? They ate the food and drank the drink, but anybody can give a little money and enjoy some grape juice once a month.  Paul goes on to say:  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness. Their practices of their life were lacking something.  They were good practices; in fact, they were God-ordained practices.  And they were very regular. And you and I fall into these same patterns.  At the end of this service today, you’re going to have an opportunity to take communion.  I’ve been a Christian since I was four; that’s thirty years of grape juice.   So often I’ve come to the table to do penance for the person I know I should’ve been but that I know I haven’t been.   And when you get into the practice of trying to make yourself better, it can be extremely draining.

The writer of Hebrews 9:19-28 says it this way—When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.  He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God Has commanded you to keep.”  In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies.  In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.  But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.   

That was perfect will of God, South, that Christ would be sacrificed once on our behalf for our forgiveness. Later in the book of Hebrews (10:10), the writer will say—And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.   What do you do when the practices of your life are feeling desolate?  Remember that you’ve already been made holy.  When you come to the table today, don’t come to do penance for the person you should have been.  Come to remember, as Brennan Manning said, that He loves you just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never gonna be as you should be.

Listen to what happens to the people who bring back the report at the close of Numbers 14:36—So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it—these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord.  Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua  son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.  When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly.    When you and I encounter pain that we didn’t see coming we respond in all kinds of different ways.  I’ve run the gamut of responses and you probably have too. The Israelites response is interesting to me.  They mourned bitterly, number one, and don’t miss that word bitterly.  This was a tragic moment of pain for them.  Ten of their brothers died of a plague before the Lord.  Were they killed for disobeying a command?  No.  Seemingly they were killed due to a moment of lack of trust.  This was hard to take.  We didn’t deserve this as a community.  You just sent us in to explore the land.    Here’s how they respond —- Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country.  “We have sinned,” they said, “we will go up to the place the Lord promised.”  They repent!  They acknowledge their sin, and they turn toward the Lord.  Or do they?  But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command?  This will not succeed.  Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you.  You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there.  Because you have turned away from the Lord, He will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.” Nevertheless, in their presumption, they went up, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp.   Neither the representation of the law to the people, Moses, or the representation of God’s presence to the people, the ark, went with them.

Is it possible that sometimes even in our perceived obedience, we are missing the point?  How often do we “obey the Lord” out of a deep sense of guilt?  We know the way forward, after all we’ve heard it our whole life.  We repent, we lean in to our morality, to our religious roots, we go and do the “right thing.”  Maybe we feel like we have to make up for something else we did.  Maybe we feel like the pain is our fault—God is punishing me.  And by running to obey the Holy One, we are running away from the Holy One.  When the pain in your life isn’t what you deserve, look for the Holy One.  Don’t be quick to run and fix it on your own terms.  It’s already been fixed.  God doesn’t want your sacrifices, He wants your heart.

If you’ve followed the Christian music world for a while, you may have heard of Steven Curtis Chapman.  The Chapmans have six kids.  When I was living in Nashville, I was attending the church where the Chapmans attended, Christ Community Church.  The Chapmans went through a tragic experience in their family.  They lost their little girl Maria—she was five years old—in a tragic car accident in their driveway.  One of their sons accidentally hit her with their vehicle.  I remember hearing the story at Christ Community—after the funeral, the family came back to their house and saw a piece of paper on the kitchen table.  It was a drawing Maria had done before she died.  The drawing was a flower with six petals—for the six kids—and one petal was colored in.  Underneath the flower there was one little word that Maria had written.  Steven said she had never written this word before.  She had written the word “see.”  It was a holy moment for the Chapman family.

In Job 42:5, Job says—My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Tim Keller remarked about this:  “Job never saw why he suffered.  But he saw God, and that was enough.”  When you feel like the pain in your life isn’t what you deserve, look for the Holy One and seek His heart.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, help us to see the holy moments you’ve given us and the people who are right here with us.  Help us to slow down a little bit along this journey and to pay attention to what your presence feels like.  Help us to see ourselves as you see us, when we come to this table today.  And over it all, Lord, covering all of it, help us to see You, as we encounter the unexpected and those things we didn’t see coming in our lives.  Help us to look for You and help us to find You.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Camping Under the Clouds | Numbers 9:15-232023-06-22T11:39:38-06:00

We Are South | Exodus 35


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We Are South | Exodus 352023-06-22T11:38:48-06:00

Just a Man with a Can | 1 Corinthians 3:5-9


A MAN WITH A CAN     1 Corinthians 3:5-9

The last two months, for me, have been a rollercoaster, to say the least.  We had the chance to go to Disneyland on our vacation two weeks ago, and I can tell you that Disneyland has nothing on two months of processing a move across the country.  That’s been a way better rollercoaster than anything we rode there.  It’s been an interesting journey, to be quite honest with you.  In many ways I didn’t see the emotional journey coming that I’ve been on, and that we’ve been on together as a family.  I’ve experienced sort of mini panic attacks, and immense sadness, and a little bit of anger, and immense doubt in the midst of it all.  I knew that this day was coming.  I woke up this morning and it was sort of that Brian Regan thing of like, “Oh, it’s due today!”  This day that I’ve been getting ready for for so many days just sort of snuck up on me.  It’s hard for me to believe this is my last Sunday standing in the pulpit here as Lead Pastor of South Fellowship Church.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to take some time to remember and to reminisce a little bit, and to do so with thanksgiving, and that’s been such a natural thing because God has been so abundantly good.  Kelly and I were talking last night after a night with friends in our neighborhood.  We said to each other, “This is so hard because it’s been so good,” in every phase of our life here.  I thought about what do I preach on the last Sunday I have with you and what do I try to impart.  To be quite honest, I feel like my bucket’s a little bit empty today, but I’m going to do my best to impart something to you that I hope gives maybe a little bit of framework for where we’ve been over the last seven years and hopefully, a launching pad for this next season for life as a community of faith as South Fellowship Church.

What I’m reminded of is that transition in the church is as old as the church.  This is something that’s not new, it’s actually something that’s ancient, it’s something that’s old.  I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul as he’s saying good-bye to the elders of the church at Ephesus.  It’s a church that he helped start and pastored for three years.  These are people that he grew to love deeply.  Acts 20:36-37 —  He knelt down and prayed with them all.  And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him….  and sent him off to Jerusalem.  You can read in Acts 13:2-3 where the church is having this prayer meeting and worship time—the church in Antioch—and the Spirit of God says to them to send out Paul and Barnabas and it seems like it’s that next day that Paul and Barnabas are on a ship to Cyprus to start their very first missionary journey.  Can you imagine missing that prayer meeting?  You get there the next day and your pastor and teacher for the past year is gone!  Transition in the church is as old as the church.  That doesn’t make it easy, it just means that we have a little bit of perspective on what this looks like and how this goes.

If you have a Bible and want to follow along, I’m going to be camping out in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  Context is that the Apostle Paul has planted the church at Corinth; he’s no longer the pastor there.  A man by the name of Apollos has come in after him to be the leader and teacher and one of the pastors in that church.  There’s some people saying that we like Paul better and others that are saying, “Well, we follow Apollos.”  What Paul tries to do in the first few chapters here is reframe that whole discussion.  Here’s what he says in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 — What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field, God’s building.

I was struck by the fact that I didn’t plant this church.  Dale Schlafer did back in 1979.  Brad Strait pastored after that.  Then in 2012, God graciously called Kelly and I to come and water.  Yeah.  As I’ve tried to think about what these last seven years have been, this is the image that came to mind.  This is how I want to say it today:  I’m just a man with a can, partnering with a God who had a plan.  I’m reminded of John 9, where there’s this little boy who comes to Jesus.  All these people are hanging onto every word that Jesus has and every word that he’s saying.  They’ve gathered on this hillside and there’s no food.  The disciples ask well, how are we going to feed all these people?  This little boy goes well, I’ve got five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus said, “Bring it to me.”  He brought it to him.  Jesus took what seemed like a totally insignificant, completely insufficient amount of food, looked at 5,000 people and somehow took what was insignificant and insufficient and multiplied it.  Over the last seven years, I’ve just imperfectly—oh man, horribly imperfectly…..but I think the picture I have is that I’m taking my two fish and my five loaves and I’m taking my can and God’s filling it up as he’s gracious…..I’ve just had the chance over seven years to see God multiply my life.  Our lives.  To say that I’m grateful is an understatement.

One of the tensions that this text points out—I think it’s this tension we all wrestle with, whether we’re in “vocational ministry” or whether we work in business, whatever our life looks like.  Whether we’re a mom who stays home and raises kids or whether we’re retired, we have this tension, especially as people who want to follow the way of Jesus.  Here’s the tension:  We wrestle with thinking man, my work doesn’t matter.  God’s just going to do what God’s going to do.  I just want to gently, pastorally say to you that is an absolute lie.  Your life and your work matters greatly.  Somebody needed to bring the food to Jesus for him to multiply it.  Jesus is gracious enough to invite you into his story, to bring your gifts, and to bring your talents, and to bring who you are to him, and to give them to Him and to see what He might do with them.  I think that’s one polarity we wrestle with.  We wrestle with thinking, “My life and my work and what I contribute to this church, or to this community, doesn’t matter.”

Then there’s the other polarity of thinking that it all depends on us.  Larry, who’s one of my best friends in the entire world, usually on Sunday mornings at some point, will pull me aside and he’ll say, “Remember, this all depends on you!”  He did it again today.  He’s speaking my love language of sarcasm.  It’s his way of reminding me, “Ryan, you’re just a man with a can, partnering with a God who has a plan.”  That’s all you are.  I’ve needed that reminder.  Maybe you do too.  To reject the polarity of thinking, “It all depends on me,” and the polarity of thinking, “My life doesn’t matter at all.”  We all live in this beautiful, mysterious in-between of somehow what we bring to the table matters deeply and somehow it’s God who infuses all of it with meaning.

The Apostle Paul is going to unpack this tension.  This is more just from my heart today, but I want to give you just a few things that would be an encouragement to you and sort of some takeaways as we look back together and as we start to look forward.  In verse 5, he says:  What then is Apollos? What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.   This translation is making it seem as though the Lord is assigning belief to each.  In the Greek, it’s really, really clear.  What he’s assigning to each is a task.  Paul and Apollos had this role to serve the church.  They did it in a way that’s just simply following the instruction of Jesus.  Here’s what Jesus said to his disciples  — And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {That’s still the way of the world.  If you have the power, if you have the influence, if you have the money, if you have the fame, use it for yourself.}  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45) 

This isn’t just unique for those who are in leadership in the church, but…..I want you to know that every believer is a servant and every servant has a task.   Sometimes we get the opportunity to choose what our task is, and sometimes our task is given to us.  But what I’m reminded of, number one, is that I’m not the master.  If I’m a servant, I’m not the master.  I just get to come under the wings of the master.  I get to live in his wind, in his spirit, in his love, in his goodness, I don’t need to control it.  My role, as a follower of Jesus, is to be a servant, and that means I don’t need to call the shots, I just get to live under the good Master.

I’ve shared with you a little bit about how God started to—what Kelly and I felt like—maybe start to reassign our task.  I shared some of that with you in the message that I gave when I started to say listen, we might be moving, and God seems like he might be leading in this way.  But I want to give you a little fuller picture of what that looked like for us.  I know there’s some of you may be wrestling with the idea of 1) Ryan, how do you know? and 2) Are you just seizing an opportunity?  As you know, back in January and February, I did a series called “Life is A-Mazing.”  It was about discerning and discovering God’s will.  It really started to mess with me.  About three-quarters of the way through it, I was approached by the church in California, Emmanuel Faith, to ask if I’d be interested in interviewing for their lead pastor job.  I had turned them down a year-and-a-half before for a role there and they called me and I said, “No! I’m happy at South. I love South.”  Then I started preaching on Jonah and I gave a message entitled “Life on the Run.”  I was driving home from church and thinking, “Man, Lord, I wonder if I’m running from you, number one, but number two, I’m so glad I already said no.”  Then the search firm Emmanuel Faith was working with emailed me and said, “Ryan, we heard your name floating around, are you interested in having a conversation?”  I gave him a list of reasons why I was a terrible choice for them.  They said, “Well, if some of those are put off to the side, are you interested in having a conversation?”  I said, “Well, maybe.”  On March 10th, I had a meeting with Janice and Craig Hammersmith.  Over lunch, they were sharing about God’s prompting in their life about missions and potentially moving their family of six to Luxembourg in the next season.  I drove home from that meeting thinking, “They’re willing to move to Luxembourg and I’m not willing to move to San Diego.”  On April 4th, Jodi Nevins, who’s on staff with us, met with me—we have a standing meeting once a month just to catch up.  She came into my office and said, “Ryan, I’m really nervous to meet with you today.”  She said she told her husband Eric that she was feeling that way and he suggested praying about a question to ask me.  She thought that was a good idea but nothing came to her.  She went to bed and woke up at one in the morning and said, “The question was really, really clear what I was suppose to ask you.”  I said, “Great.”  She said, “What would it look like for us as a church to accomplish the mission and the vision without you as being involved?”  At this point, nobody knew any of these conversations were happening, except Larry.  I went, “Are you kidding me?”  She said, “I went back downstairs; I couldn’t get back to sleep.  I was listening to my Bible meditation app, just praying and praising, and the word that came to me was real crystal clear.  I was suppose to give you the word ‘release.'”  It was this process, you guys, of God just slowly prying our fingers off of something we loved.

From there it got weird, if that isn’t weird enough.  We’re still going, “God, we’re not with you on this.”  On April 15th, I got a text message from somebody I have never met before.  They said, “Hi, Ryan, my name is Kelly.  I’d like to speak to you about purchasing 7584 S. Ogden Way.  Did I reach the right person?  Thank you.”  I wrote back, “No, absolutely not!  We’re not interested in selling.”  In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “What is going on?”  You can write that off as circumstance, that’s totally fine.  I’m actually okay with that, but some of the ways God speaks and moves is through circumstance.  I asked our neighbors and friends, “Hey, did you guys get this text?”  Nobody else.  April 20th, Kelly and I sit down on our couch after a long day.  We look what’s on our DVR.  We like this show “Restaurant Impossible.”  There was a new season and a new episode; we haven’t watched this show in a year.  We put on “Restaurant Impossible” and where was the episode filmed?  Escondido, California!  May 5th, I went to meet with someone from our congregation.  She’s been a missionary in Democratic Republic of Congo for forty years.  It was this really encouraging and sacred meeting we had for almost two hours.  At one point, she started to quote a hymn.  I said, “Norma, what hymn is that?  I’ve never heard that hymn.”  She said, “The hymn is entitled ‘I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.'”   May 24th, I was having it out with God.  I told Kelly, “I feel like I’m on a runaway train and I don’t know how I got here and I know where this is going and I’m not sure I like it.”  I was really wrestling with leaving my dad and Kelly’s folks.  In my regular Bible reading, I came to this passage:  Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”  “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30) 

May 29th, we flew out to California.  I preached there and said, “God, if they don’t vote at least 90% I’m not going.”  I’m like praying for an 80% to just say, “Okay!  I knew it!  I knew all this was messing with me.”  The vote was over 95%.  Got home on the night of June 2nd, and on June 3rd we had to make this decision.  I wrote an acceptance letter.  Through tears, I wrote an acceptance letter.  I told Kelly that I couldn’t send it.  I went out on a run.  On the run, I had this idea:  I’m going to write a decline letter also, and I’m going to see which one feels more in line with what God’s doing.  I wrote the decline letter and felt like I worded it really well.  I told Kelly to read both letters and to tell me what she thought God’s doing.  She read them and said, “Ryan, we just know.  We know.”  The assignment has been reassigned.  We’re servants, not the master, and we don’t call the shots.

Here’s a few implications for us, I think, as a community of faith.  The person who follows me as lead pastor of South Fellowship Church will have the same job description, but in a lot of ways will have a different task.  The task is contextual.  The task is unique.  My task for seven years was different than they’ll have, because the church is a different place than it was seven years ago.  We’ll both have the chance to be filled and to pour our little lives out for the sake of the kingdom.  But I think God’s going to grow something different in this new season.  {Will you lean in for a moment?  I just want to say this as clearly as I can.}  That’s a good thing.  That you’re not looking for somebody who’s just like Ryan.  You’re looking for the person that God will call for the next task, for the next season, to lead this church to a place I didn’t lead it to.  One of my pleas with you is that you would support the next lead pastor of South Fellowship Church—the next person who’s a servant with the task of watering this unique field, right here in Littleton—that you would support that person with the same love and support and care that you supported me with from day one.  They’re going to be different, and different isn’t bad, different is probably what this church needs to move into the next season.  So that’s one implication.

Second implication is this:  My task is changing, but that doesn’t mean that yours is.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, transitions are times for the church to rise up.  To say, “God’s planted something in me also.”  Maybe you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a while wondering: A) Is this the church for me? or wondering B) What do I have to contribute?  I want you to reject the idea that you don’t have anything to give and I want this to be the season where you put your hand in the air and go, “What might it look like for me to pour my life out just a little bit more in this church for the glory of God?”  Because you’re a servant too and as the Apostle Paul would write to the church at Ephesus:  For are his workmanship, {In the Greek, that word is poiema and it means poem or song.  You’re God’s song!}  …created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)   Your work matters.  And when Paul says, “Listen, who’s Paul and who’s Apollos?  We’re nothing,” he’s not saying that their work doesn’t matter, he’s saying the story is not about us, it’s about Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, he says:  I planted, Apollos watered….  {That image is one that I’ll carry with me.  That as a pastor I’m just a man with a can following a God who’s got a plan.}  but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who water is anything, but only God who gives the growth.    It’s this mysterious inner working of our work and God’s, and God’s spirit and our sweat and it makes something beautiful.  I think the call is to recognize that our greatest blessings are the work of His hands, not the result of our labor.  Think about this, when you plant a garden, at the end of the summer (assuming it grows), very rarely do you look at it and go, “I’m amazing!  I’m awesome!”  No, there’s this mysterious combination of soil and water and rain and photosynthesis and all of these things that I had zero control over that happened.  I think our lives, in so many ways, are just the exact same thing.  It’s really good—whether you’re a follower of Jesus here or not—for us, every once in a while, to pause and remember that the best things in our life aren’t the result of our work.  Think about that.  The best things in life are not the result of your work.  Whether it’s a friendship…..certainly there’s work that goes into that, but did you arrange the meeting?  Did you create your exact personality that would mesh with this person?  No!  So much of that is gift.  If you’re married, the same is true of a marriage.  If you have kids, the same is true of your kids.  The greatest blessings in your life are not the work of your hands, they’re the result of His labor, His work, His goodness, His grace, and His mercy.

As I’ve had the chance to reflect on the things that I’m most grateful for here at South, I want to affirm this once again.  My greatest blessings here are not the work of my hands, they’re the result of His Spirit.  His hands, not my labor.  A few things I reflected on.  It’s been so fun to see, because ministry and church is all about people.  It’s been so fun to see God grow this church, to see more people come to know and to love Jesus.  That’s been an absolute blessing for me.  I’m shocked at what God has done.  To see him clarify our missions and our values when we had a discussion in our elder board about changing our mission statement to be “helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.”   It’s a huge, huge step for an organization to change their mission statement, and for us, it was one part of one meeting and we just went, “Yeah, this feels exactly like what God’s been doing and this is exactly who we are.”  For me, as a pastor, to carry that banner and go, “Oh man, there’s such alignment in my soul with this church,” has been an absolute joy.  I didn’t create that, God did that.  To look at our values on the wall and go, “Those are things I’d give my life to.”  Absolutely.  Pursuing the presence of God.  Practicing relationship with Him.  Helping people move towards wholeness.  Being and living together as a family of believers.  Being rooted in the Scriptures and grounded in the Scriptures.  Renewal.

When we got here, there was around $300,000 in debt.  We’ve seen God wipe that out miraculously, and move us to a place of financial wholeness.  We’ve seen God birth a Young Adult ministry here.  We’ve seen Him start, in the last seven years, a Celebrate Recovery ministry, where people are getting free from hurts, and habits, and hang-ups.  I can assure you, that is not the work of my hands.  It’s not the work of Nicole’s hands; she’s doing an amazing job leading that ministry and I’m so grateful for her partnership, but it’s nothing that we do, it’s the way that God works when we show up and use our gifts.  We’ve seen support groups started that address mental health issues, divorce, addiction, and grief.  Praise God!  We’ve seen the Food Bank remodeled; that was a lot of work of our hands!  Specifically Bill and Erin and Sharon and Larry and John and so many others.  But God’s the one that’s going to make it grow. He’s the one that’s going to make that meaningful, not us.  We’ve seen Family Promise started here, where we get the chance to open our facility for families experiencing homelessness to come and live for a week and try to get their feet back under them, in partnership with twelve other churches around this area, to create seamless transitions for people to hopefully find jobs and find a place to land.  Man, you guys, that’s good work.  But God infuses it with meaning.

I’m so grateful, in the last seven years, that we’ve seen God move in such a way that South Fellowship now has female pastors.  Personally, I’m so grateful for that, because I always said I wanted to raise my daughter in a church where she saw strong female leaders.  We’ve seen missionaries sent out.  We’ve seen spiritual formation and practices and taking discipleship seriously, in the forefront.  I’ve seen a staff that’s grown together, that loves each other, that is like family.  I could stand before you and tell you I’m just a man with a can trying my best to follow a God who’s got a plan, and it’s the work of His hands, not our labor.

Graeme Keith was the treasurer for the Bill Graham Association and one of Billy’s long-time friends.  He was in an elevator and somebody else was in there.  The man said to Billy Graham, “You’re Billy Graham, aren’t you?”  He said, “Yes.”  “Well,” the man said, “you are a truly great man.”  Billy responded, “No, I’m not a great man.  I just have a great message.”  I would say the same thing.

Verse 9.    For we are God’s fellow workers.   {I just want to set this straight.  Fellow. Workers.  Paul and Apollos: Fellow workers.  Dale Schlafer.  Brad Strait.  Ryan Paulson.  Fill-in-the-blank.  Not competitors; fellow workers.  Just people with a can and some water, doing our best.  Fellow workers, not competitors.}  You are God’s field, God’s building.  According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.  Let each one take care how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.   I just want to remind you:  understand that your fruitfulness, in the past and in the future, is determined simply by our foundation. Our foundation has a name.  His name is Jesus.  He’s unshakable, immovable.  He’s the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, next Sunday.  Jesus is the foundation.  He’s the chief cornerstone.  He’s the head of this church.  He’s the senior pastor.  You’ll just get another under-shepherd.  Where we build matters.  Where you build matters, not just as a church, but as a person.  Jesus would say, listen, you’re either building your life on sand or you’re building your life on rocks, but the foundation that you lay will determine the fruitfulness that comes from your life.  So where is it?

As Aaron and the team come forward, I just want to end by reading one of my favorite verses to you.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:3-7 — I thank my God in all my remembrance of you    {I just want you to know, South Fellowship, that Kelly and I will remember this church.  Not only because you took a risk on a 31-year-old guy who had no senior pastor experience and were gracious with me while I learned (really gracious with me), but because we’ve grown to love you deeply.  We really have!  So when we remember you, not just you collectively as a church, but you, individually, we will do so with fondness and with gratitude and we’ll thank Jesus.}   …always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.    I’m so grateful the last seven years hasn’t been me building a ministry.  It’s been us linking arms and hearts together for the sake of the kingdom.  This really has been partnership.  I’m so grateful for that.

Paul says:  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Hear me, South.  God is not leaving you.  He has great things in store for you.  He’s committed to the plans He has for this church.  He’s committed to the plans He has to you personally.  This is our chance, both collectively….because Kelly and I are in this too.  We’re stepping out—Free Solo style—sort of going, “Alright, God, you’ve been so good to us this last seven years, and we’re just going to do our best to trust that if this is where you’ll lead, this is where you’ll provide, that you’ll be good to us too.”  But hear me, South, God is not done with you.  I firmly believe, with everything in me, that the best days of South Fellowship Church are in front of her.

Finally, I say this to you:  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.   We have both tasted and seen that God is good.  That our eternal home is Him.  That we have the opportunity to make our home in Him today.  Paul says those things knit us together and they drill relationships deep within us.  Kelly and I would say to you all, as a community of faith, but also as individuals, you are deeply, deeply, deeply in our hearts and we love you dearly.  So, South, continue to chase after Jesus.  Continue to serve the people around you in this community, and continue to love each other well.  You’ve done it for seven years, I have no doubt that you’ll continue doing it in the future.  Whatever can God gives you to water in the field that he plants you in, do so knowing that He’s the one that’s at work.  Amen.

Just a Man with a Can | 1 Corinthians 3:5-92023-06-22T11:38:00-06:00

The Gift of Scarcity | Nirup Alphonse


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The Gift of Scarcity | Nirup Alphonse2023-06-21T09:41:15-06:00
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