ETHOS: Renewal     Jeremiah 29:1-14

If you’re new with us, we’re in a seven-week series called “Ethos.”  We’re looking at the values, dreams, and hopes we have together as a community of faith, as we seek to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  This week we’re talking about renewal, next week we’re going to be talking about roots, the last in our series.

A few weeks back, my wife took our two boys to a mother-son event, so I got the chance to take my daughter out for a little daddy-daughter date.  We went out to dinner together and came back to the house to watch a movie of her choice.  She picked the newer “Beauty and the Beast.”  We were having a great time watching it together.  About three-quarters of the way through the movie, the boys and Kelly came back home so we stopped the movie and everybody went to bed.  We stopped it at this very tension-filled moment, where the Beast had told Belle that she was allowed to go and help her father.  He released her from the captivity she was in.  So, you have Belle, who’s free, then the Beast, who it seems like, is going to keep on living as the Beast for the rest of his existence.  I thought, what a terrible story that would have been if that’s where the movie ended.  If the movie ended with Belle being freed and she’s happy to go and do what she gets to do and back to her normal life, and the Beast is still the beast.  There’s something in us that wants the Beast to be redeemed, isn’t there?  There’s a reason the movie doesn’t end in that place.

What I started to realize is that if you ended the story in the wrong place, you often get the wrong meta-narrative of what’s going on.  I think a lot of us have ended the gospel story in the wrong place.  I think most of us, when we talk about what God is up to and has been up to, we have a two-part story in our mind.  We have the reality, in our mind, that there’s been a fall and that sin has entered the world and that humanity is fractured.  And we have in our mind, the reality of what Jesus has done on the cross and the resurrection and that we have been redeemed.  That’s where our gospel story ends.  It’s as though Belle has been freed from the Beast and we get to run free, but the question is. . .what happens to the rest of the world?  The reality is, friends, you don’t live in a two-act story.  That’s not the story that God is telling.  The story God is telling actually has four acts.  The first is creation.  Our story about what God is up to begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3.  God creates and it’s good.  Humanity falls because of sin.  Jesus redeems.  But God’s work does not end at the cross.  It does not end at the resurrection. God is still up to something in the world, right now, today.  If we can’t recapture our vision of a four-act gospel—-creation –> fall –> redemption –> restoration—-I think it’s going to hurt us, as followers of Jesus.  As Bobette Buster said: “Narrative is our culture’s currency; he who tells the best story wins.”

I believe we have the best story as followers of Jesus, but our story is not fall –> redemption.  Our story is creation —> fall —> redemption —> restoration.  God is still moving and God is still at work in our world, and the end of our story is the heavens declaring, “Behold, look!”  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)   So the question isn’t just how do we enjoy salvation?  The question must be, for those who follow the way of Jesus, walking in his way with his heart, how do I participate in what God wants to do in restoring his world.  It’s certainly broken, but he loves it dearly.

If you have a Bible, turn to Jeremiah 29.  I think the prophet Jeremiah gives us a little bit of a picture of what God would have us to do as followers of Jesus, as we live in a world that longs for renewal.  Jeremiah 29:1 — This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.  Quick time out.  Let me give you a little bit of context.  Here’s what’s going on — Jeremiah is living back in Jerusalem and he’s sending word through two men to go and give the king of Babylon a letter.  On their way there, these two men are called to stop in this exile camp to deliver a word from God to the people who are in exile.  Imagine that you’ve been taken from your home.  Imagine that you’ve been distanced from everything and, maybe, everyone that you love.  People around you speak a different language, eat different types of food, and have different rituals and symbols, and an entirely different lifestyle.  As a people of God, you get a letter from God; what would happen in your heart?  Probably you’d lean in a little bit, right?  Oh, God’s going to move.  God’s going to tell us He’s on our side.  God’s going to free us.  God’s going to work.

It’s important the way we process what we would assume God would say to those in exile, because the entire letter of 1 Peter is written to followers of Jesus and they are called “elect exiles,” people who aren’t quite home.  Who live in a world that doesn’t quite fit with their ethos, with their DNA, with their dreams, and their hopes.  They’re sojourners, they’re wanderers, they’re waiting.  If you opened (saw) your news app this Friday, you were reminded that you’re an exile.  Yet another school shooting.  I don’t know about you, but I just. . . .one, I lament.  I grieve.  I also, I just. . . .this isn’t a political comment, this is just reality and common sense that it seems to me that the only non-option should be continuing to do what we’re doing, because it just doesn’t seem to be working.  Can we get more creative and try to solve a problem that’s literally killing our kids?  That’s a side note, but it was a reminder that the world is not as it should be.

The question becomes what do you do when you’re in exile?  What do you do when the world that you live in doesn’t quite fit the way that you hope, and the way that you dream, and the things that you long for, and the things that you pray for?  What do you do?  Jeremiah 29:4-9.  Here’s what you do, or at least, here’s what the exiles in Jeremiah’s day stuck in Babylon were called to do.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you.  Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.  They are prophesying lies to you in my name.  I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.   Now, this is not what the exiles would have hoped to hear.  They would have hoped to hear that God is on the move and he is going to release them.  If you keep reading, he says, “I will bring you back, but it’s going to be seventy years.”

Now, let’s take a step back from this text and ask a few questions.  Have we heard this story before?  Have we heard this commandment from God. . . .plant a garden and be fruitful and multiply?  Yes, we’ve heard it from Genesis 1 and 2.  There is an original commissioning that God gives to humanity. . . .be caretakers of the earth, be fruitful and multiply.  It’s as if God would say to those in exile, the world is not the way they hoped it would be, or the dreams that they had have sort of failed and gone into oblivion.  He’s going, I am not letting up on my original mandate for humanity.  Continue to work, continue to follow.  There is restoration that God wants to bring about through your life for his world.  Every exile has to wrestle with this question:  Are we going to throw our hands up in the air and just hope and wait?  Or, are we going to link arms with what God wants to do in a fractured, broken world?  Are we going to be like Belle and run away from the Beast, or do we believe that God has a plan even for the Beast?  The reality is, friends, that we are not, we are NOT, called to be passive observers of reality.  We are, however, called to be active participants in renewal.  {Screen:  We aren’t called to be passive observers of reality, but active participants in renewal.}

Jesus did not just save us FROM something, he saved us FOR something.  This is the testimony of the Scriptures all throughout.  In Matthew 5:14-16, in the Sermon on the Mount, which we’ll start studying in a few weeks here, Jesus says:  You’re the light of the world.  He’s saying this to people who are living in the kingdom.  You’re the light of the world, don’t put your light under a basket, let it shine, he says.  Before that he calls them the salt of the earth.  In Ephesians 2:8-10, the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and says:  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—-not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork {Literally, in the Greek, it’s the word ‘poiema,’ or poem, or song.  You are God’s poem, you’re his song.  The conductor is moving his church, are you listening?} created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   So, friends, lean in for just a moment, because the end of the story is NOT ‘aren’t you glad Jesus has saved you?’  That’s part of the story, it’s not the END.  The end of the story is that Jesus has redeemed you in order to release you to be agents of reconciliation—people of hope, people of love, people who long and fight for justice, people who hold out mercy.  People who allow their hearts to get broken with the things that break God’s heart and then assume that God doesn’t want us to sit on the sideline and just pray, but maybe assume that God wants us to be the answer to some of our prayers.

So the question becomes what is this calling to be people of renewal?  What does it look like?  Three things it looks like — a new vision, a new attitude, and a new perspective.  A new vision. . .look at what the prophet Jeremiah says.  Verse 4.  Actually this phrase is going to show up twice.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile…   He’s going to say it again, just in case you missed it.  He carried them there.  If you’re an Israelite, you’re going, hey, God, we’re like your chosen people.  We’re intended to be a light to the nations.  It’s really hard to be a light to the nations when we’re under the thumb of the nations.  How exactly do you want us to work this out?  One of the temptations for religious people has always been to embrace this sort of “us versus them” type of an attitude.  Typically, what the prophets and diviners to the nation of Israel in exile was, “God’s going to get you out.”  God’s going to come and he’s going to free you and this thing is going to burn down.  Justice will be served.  Does this narrative sound familiar at all?  God’s going to free you and destroy everything else.  It should, it’s still a popular misconstruction of the gospel in our day and our time, right now.  No, no, no, no, no.  It’s not God’s going to get you out of this place, it’s God’s got a plan for you IN this place.  That’s the story that God is telling through Israel.  Not only that, He has a plan for the way exile will be the crucible for their faith.  It’ll be the thing that forms them.  The disappointing situation.  The lack of home and rootedness. . . .they’d just go, oh gosh, we long for you to work, God.

Here’s what God would say to us to be people of renewal in a place of exile.  Instead of longing for a new place, we embrace a renewed purpose. (vision)   Wherever you are. . . .it may not be your choice, but it is God’s place.  {Let me say that again.}  Wherever you find yourself, it may not be your choice, but it is God’s place.  So don’t seek to be removed too soon, seek renewal within.  Within the marriage that feels broken and irreparable.  Be a person who says, God, you’ve got a purpose in this.  At the job that just feels like it’s not going anywhere and you just want to continue to move forward and jump to the next thing, don’t do it prematurely.  Those who flourish in whatever comes next are first those who are faithful where they are.  And they battle to feel God’s presence.

We live in a world, don’t we, where we’re always looking for what’s next.  If we’re in high school, we’re looking to graduate from high school.  If we’re in college, we’re looking at what’s next after we graduate from college.  If we got that job after we got out of college, we’re looking for when we can get the next job.  If we have the next job, we’re looking for when we can retire.  If we have retired, we’re going, what now, God, what do you want me to do now?  We’re always looking for what’s next.  If we’re single, we’re looking to be married.  If we’re married, we’re looking at when we have kids.  If we have kids, we’re looking at how to care for the kids, and then how do we get them out of our house, and then how do we get them back out of our house, right?  What if we were people who said instead of looking for a new place, we’re going to be confident that God has a purpose for us right here and right now.

It may not be a new place physically.  I asked my friend Eddy Squire….  Eddy has had a difficult life.  He was sexually abused as a child, by multiple people, multiple times.  Just a few years ago, his life sort of hit a brick wall and fell apart.  For the last two years, he’s been doing work with God and with counselors to try to repair the broken, fragmented pieces of his life.  During this same time, the #MeToo movement started to rise up in our culture, where there were other people saying I’ve walked that same road and I know that same brokenness.  Eddy started to ask this question:  Well, #MeToo’s great, but what happens after #MeToo?  Where do people go to find healing after they say yeah, I’ve been through that dark night of the soul also?  Eddy just sensed this prompt from God to start a nonprofit that he’s going to call #MeTooWhatNow, to help people who are coming out of that same place and saying I’ve walked that road.  That is not a place that Eddy would have ever chosen to be.  You’re probably in a place where you have some things in your life where you’d say, “I wouldn’t choose this either.”  The question is not whether you would choose it, the question is how are you going to use it?  How will you partner with what God wants to do to bring about beauty from brokenness?  You can check him out on YouTube, #MeTooWhatNow; his organization is just starting to get rolling.  And maybe more than checking it out. . . .PRAY!  Pray that God would use him to be a voice of hope for many who are still hurting.  God says, I’ve got you there.  You wouldn’t choose it, I’ve got you there.  So instead of looking for a new place, embrace a new purpose.

Look again at verse 5 with me (Jeremiah 29:5).  Build houses and settle down; {Like, put the tents away, you’re not just camping here. You’re going to be here for a while, get used to it.  Don’t you love it?  God says selah, chill out, settle down, Israel.}  …plant gardens and eat what they produce.  The soil in Babylon is different from the soil in Jerusalem.  Different things grow in Babylon than what grows in Jerusalem.  Can you imagine the Israelites tilling that field, and just under their breath murmuring, “I can’t believe we’re going to have to plant whatever, fill in the blank.”  I can’t believe we’re going to be eating THIS!  I can’t believe we’re hearing this language the entire time.  I can’t believe God wants us to build our houses right here, when it seems like there’s a better life over there.  Why not, God, just come through and rescue us and bring us back?  That’s what we’re really longing for.  What God says instead is plant a garden, get a Babylonian cookbook, and start getting to work!  It’s as though God is saying listen, instead of being a critic, choose to be a contributor.  (attitude)  Instead of talking about all the stuff you don’t like, choose to be a contributor.  I love the way Eugene Peterson said it:  “The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible, but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible — to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, and act out love.”  That’s really good!

The question becomes well, Paulson, aren’t we suppose to be critical of some things?  To that I say well, sure.  We’re suppose to be discerning.  The church is called to be a prophetic voice, that when we see things that do not go in line with the heart of God, we’re suppose to speak out and we’re suppose to speak up.  {But look up at me.}  If all we do is speak, we do not live out the heart of God.  The church is known to be a clanging gong or resounding cymbal, because love has hands and feet attached to it.  We cannot simply say something’s wrong and go, good luck with that!  That’s called deconstructionism.  Deconstructionism is easy!  You can do it from a blog.  Reconstruction—bringing hope and renewal—is hard work.  It’s ‘dirt under your fingernails’ type of partnership with the Spirit.  God does not call us to deconstructionism, he calls us to renewal.

I was wrestling with this because I’m like, well, planting a garden doesn’t feel like all that spiritual of a thing.  Shouldn’t they be out telling people about Yahweh?  And yet, planting a garden is this partnership with God, isn’t it?  It’s a partnership with the dirt he’s given us.  We take our ingenuity and creativity and God’s natural resources and they come together to create something beautiful.  That’s what we’re called to do all over the place, you guys.  We have done a massive disservice, as the church, in telling you, congregation, that here’s the way you serve God.  There’s three ways you can serve God — You can be a pastor, you can be a missionary, or you can tell people about Jesus at the job that you have for forty hours of the week.  That’s it.  Throughout the church’s history, we’ve had a way better story than that.  It’s a story that has one word attached to it and it’s the word ‘vocation,’ or calling.  Vocation is simply our call to bear the image of God faithfully by living with God for the world.  Let me tell you this.  If you have a job that doesn’t require you to come to THIS building or to be a missionary out there somewhere, you still have a mission from God.  It’s not just. .  . .it IS. . . .but it’s not just to gather people around a water cooler and tell them about Jesus.  It’s to do a really good job at whatever you’re doing.  It’s to be an active participant in the common good in society.  It’s not just gather around a water cooler, it’s to create space where clean water is more available to more people in the world.  These are all part of the same calling, and if we sequester life with God to what happens on a Sunday morning or to a few little vocations or occupations, we’ve missed the point.  God would say to you and I, all of life, ALL of life, is what He wants from us.  Every little piece of your life matters.  If you create a business, create a great business.  If you work as a school teacher, love people well at school.  Teach them whatever subject you’re called to teach them and do it in a way that reflects ‘God loves you.’  If you’re an electrician, man, don’t burn down houses, right?  That’s part of your vocation.

But the big idea is. . . .man, how do we. . . .it’s so easy to be critical, isn’t it?  I can find out a hundred things that are wrong way easier than I can find things that are right.  I can find a hundred things that are wrong and find it hard to step into being a solution.  I’ve friends named Neil and Hannah Levers.  They started to sense this calling from God, a few years ago, to be people who actually, instead of just being critics of the refugee crisis that our world is in right now. . . . .and news flash, our world’s in a refugee crisis. . . .instead of just saying that this is about politics, they had this perspective that this is about people.  They started to ask God, God, what would you have us do?  How would you have us step in. . . .not to be critics, but to be contributors?  I wanted you to hear a little piece of their story today.  This is Hannah and Neil Levers.

{Video}    Neil:  I mean there were 2500 hundred people in this camp while we were there.  Before we were there, in the initial influx of refugees and even now, there’s 7500 people.  So in the same camp, what we saw was 2500 people.  There’s now 7500 people there.  If you look at a map, people are coming from Middle Eastern countries, people are coming from Africa.  There was even a couple of guys from Sri Lanka.  There was a group of guys I met from Pakistan.  We’re in the worst refugee crisis since World War II.  The Lord put something on our heart that we need to step out.  Stepping out, the Lord stirs in our hearts and as we get to see the Lord moving in that, it totally stirs our heart more to want to do more.  

So, I’m Neil Levers and this is Hannah Levers.  We’ve been coming to South two-and-a-half years.  It started with taking the Perspectives class.  There was one guy that came—I think he came from Frontiers—that spoke about refugees, I think specifically, right, along with a topic.  Shortly after or before that, I don’t remember exactly when, I ended up having a hand injury where I lost portions of my fingers.  That was a pretty traumatic experience.  Through that, God just really showed his presence in my life and being able to have hope through a traumatic situation.  Refugees go through really traumatic situations and God really stirred that in my heart and I wanted to build a ministry in some form or fashion.  We ended up going on a trip with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) to Greece.  That happened within a month.

Hannah:  My journey was a little different in the sense that I was not as there in the beginning.  The Lord wanted me to walk forward with Him, and He changed my heart as we continued walking forward in that way.

Neil:  Definitely, my situation and her situation is not the same as refugees, and even between refugee and refugee or immigrants, their story’s not the same either.  We can know, even having gone through difficult situations that the Lord is present.

Hannah:  One time when I was doing the nail polish with the ladies, most of us were just doing the fingernails.  One lady wanted her toenails polished.  In sandals.  Dirty feet and all of that.  I know it’s not water, but I felt like the Lord was like, I want you to pray for this lady right now that sees this as though you are serving her as though you’re washing her feet and be Jesus to her in that way.  Even though it was just blue toenail polish.

Neil:  When coming back and processing it with the Lord in a month.  Really just not wanting that to be it.  We want it to continue.

Hannah:  We had friends that went on the trip with us to Greece, that we became friends with while we were over there, and they had invited us to come and meet some of the refugees that they have met that are living here in Denver.

Neil:  We didn’t know the refugee situation coming into the U.S. in general, as well as specifically in Denver.  There’s people from all over right here in our backyard.  We got challenged.  That couple actually challenged us to be able to co-lead another trip with them overseas.  But in addition to that, asking if we would want to get involved with refugees here in Denver.  We think that’s a great opportunity to be able to continue what we’ve learned.  And then also to be able to go on a trip overseas, as we’ll be going to Jordan at the end of June.

Hannah:  It’s just spending time with them.  They want friends, just as much as we want friends.  They want to be loved and cared for.  The ends of the earth are coming here.  We’ve been able to go and minister, and we’ll again be able to do that when we go to Jordan, but also being able to minister to people here.  The ends of the earth are here.  As I step out in obedience, there is a joy that. . . .there’s no other. . . .I don’t know how to describe it.

Neil:  But it has opened my eyes immensely to a lot more of what the Lord sees.   {Video ends.}

You know what I love about that story?  Here’s the reason that it gets me jazzed up.  What did NOT happen was that Neil and Hannah sort of read a story and they said this is something that we should be involved in.  They did NOT come to my office and say, “Ryan, we need to do this.”  What they did was come and meet with me and said, “Listen, our heart is breaking with this, and we want you to walk alongside of us as we step into where we feel like God is calling.”  We’re not asking the church to create a program.  We’re just asking for you to support us and pray for us and dream with us about what God might in this world.  And I thought, what a beautiful picture of people whose hearts are breaking, who God’s Spirit lives inside of them and they say God, we want to partner with you in the renewal that you want to bring in your world.  We’re not going to wait for South Fellowship Church to start a program, we’re going to follow the Spirit of God.  To that I say YES and AMEN!  Because there’s no way, as a church, that we could start programs for everything that you’re passionate about that God is calling you to step into.  Our role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and then to release you to say to God, God, what is your Spirit uniquely asking us to do in light of this?  We want to move from, not a place of criticism, but to a place of contribution.  You may not be in the place where you’re like Neil and Hannah, where you have the freedom to go and do some of these things, but wherever you are {Listen to me.}, you can make this movement from “I’m critical” to “I’m contributing positively to a change.”

Finally, here’s how Jeremiah ends the section (Jeremiah 29:6-7) — Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; {Exile is for increase, not for decrease.} do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.    This is a unique vision for how the world comes to a place of flourishing and, as a church, what we should actually, really be praying for.  Our prayer should be not God, would you make South Fellowship Church prosper, but God, we want to see Littleton prosper, we want to see Centennial prosper, we want to see Denver prosper, we want to see Colorado prosper, we want to see the U.S. prosper, we want to see your world prosper.  We believe we are not a disconnected entity from the organism that we call this community around us, but that we are uniquely and distinctly a part of it, so we flourish WITH it. . . . .not apart from it.

God is challenging his people to slaughter three mindsets that get us stuck.  The first is tribalism.  This is an ‘us versus them.’  We’re going to push them so we can be lifted up.  God goes that’s not the way it works.  The second is individualism, so we’re just going to focus on us.  The third is narcissism, where we’re going to use everybody else to feed ourselves.  God goes that’s not the way that flourishing and renewal works in my economy.  Instead of focusing individually, start thinking communally.  (perspective)

So here’s a really good place to start.  What are the issues that you see in our culture, in our day, in our time, in the place where you live, that break your heart?  What are the ‘ought nots’ that you sense?  Like, this ought not be.  Then we start praying, God, how would you call me to be a contributor to a solution?  Maybe it’s things that are going on in schools, or with law enforcement, or in health care…   Wherever your passion is we start asking this question, God, how can we see our community start to flourish?  Then we step in.

Let me share one more story before we end.  The Saturday before , our lobby was packed with round tables and little teacups on them.  Royal Family Kids ministry hosted their annual fundraising tea at our church (like they always do).  Royal Family Kids is a ministry that ministers to foster care kids between the ages of 7-11.  Every summer they put on a summer camp for foster kids.  They bring people there and they have sponsors, and they have counselors.  For some of these foster kids, it’s an eye-opening experience because they’ve never been in a place with people who are walking through a similar thing.  They get this feeling like I’m not in this alone.  There’s other people who are walking this same road with me.  Randy Brannberg, Janet Brannberg and Gina Higgins have been serving this ministry and partnering with them for over a decade.  They’ve seen amazing things happen.  They just had this sense that this ought not be, so we want to partner with God in what he wants to do in the lives of these foster kids.  I asked them what their favorite part of this camp was and here’s what they said.  They sing a few songs throughout the week, but one of the songs they sing always changes towards the end as they see the kids spirits start to lift.  Here’s a portion of the lyrics of that song (singing about God):  I will change your name // You shall no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid // I will change your name // Your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one // Faithfulness, friend of God, One who seeks My face.   Friends, that’s renewal, that’s hope.  That’s people saying God, this breaks our heart, this breaks yours, and we want to step in and not just pray — prayer’s really, really important — but God, we want to be a part of the good news and great love that you want to bring into the lives of these kids, so how can we play a part?

You know what I love is that Randy and Janet and Gina didn’t say, “Hey, South Fellowship Church, you should start a program for this.”  There’s already a great program for it.  But did you know what?  It’s not the church starting a program.  {Look up at me for just a second.}  YOU. ARE. THE CHURCH.  If you start something, if you do something, WE do something.  It’s this prayer, God, we want to be a part.  We believe your story is four parts:  creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and we want to play a part in what you’re doing in the final two acts of your play with everything that we have.  Followers of Jesus have had this anthem that’s really two-fold.  We want to be people who share the good news, that Jesus is King.  By his life, death, burial, and resurrection, he has conquered sin and conquered death and that there is hope in him.  We are people who passionately share good news.  We are people who live, in every crack and crevice of our lives, in our vocations, in our spirituality, in the way that we live in our homes, we are people—and the church has always been known—who live with great love.

I did not tell you those stories today for you to go, man, those people are awesome (although I think they’re amazing).  I told you those stories today for you to ask yourself one simple question:  God, what stirs my heart that breaks yours?  What stirs my heart that also breaks yours?  And God, how would you want me to step in to what you’re doing in the restoration and renewal of your world?  Would you ask yourself that question today?  Don’t leave without wrestling with it a little bit.  God, what’s my part in your grand story?

Would you stand up with me as we close our time together?  I’m going to read a statement.  I hope these statements at the end of each of these values messages would start to shape our community.  I want to read it first for you and over you and then I want us to read it together.  Listen first and let it sink in a little bit.  As South Fellowship, we will be a community committed to joining God in his mission of renewal.  We will share the good news of Jesus and live out the great love of Jesus.  We will work and pray for the good of our homes, neighborhoods, city, and world.   To that I say yes and amen.  Because the end of the story of Beauty and the Beast is actually that Belle gets released and then she comes back.  Her love for the Beast transforms him to become the prince that he was.  May our love for our city transform it, friends.

Jesus, we want to be that kind of people who partner with you, who aren’t just passive observers of reality, but that we’re active participants of renewal.  So, Lord, the things that break our hearts, and break yours, would you give us the wind in our sails to step in?  Maybe in really little ways, maybe through an encouraging note to somebody, or maybe through financial support of somebody, or maybe it’s a trip that we take.  In a ton of different ways, would you give us creativity in how we can step in with the amount of time that we do have.  Lord, we love you and we are so grateful that this is a four-part story.  We want to be part of your restoration of all things.  It’s in your name that we pray, Jesus.  And all God’s people said. . . .Amen.