Poetic Imagination Week 3: Arise

Sermon Transcript


Our world: It seems as though it has drastically changed in the past 30 years. How does the church respond? In times of calamity and turmoil, the prophets arose. Where is that prophetic voice today, and what would it look like? The answer may surprise you.

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Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re in a series called “Poetic Imagination.” Most of you all know at the beginning of a message, especially when we’re in a series, I like to sort of just do a summary of what we’ve been doing, especially for those that maybe this is your first time, or for those that maybe missed a couple of weeks, or maybe just for all of us just to know what we’ve been accomplishing.

We’ve been looking at a group of people that have written us a particular type of literature, and that is the prophets and the prophetic literature. I think most of us would agree that, as a general rule, many of us have been around people that all they do is talk about Revelation, everything’s end times and everything’s sort of crazy, and it’s sort of hard to know exactly what they’re saying or doing. And so, we see that extremity, and many of us have decided, “Well, I don’t really fit there, and I don’t really know what those books are saying. They’re sort of crazy to begin with, so just let me stick with the Gospels, the epistles, and just have my relationship with God that way.”

And I think that whereas I understand that, I understand that a lot of these things in the church and in our understanding of who God is get sort of distorted and taking to extremes, that doesn’t mean that we should give up. So that’s why the big idea, as we study the prophets and the prophetic literature, has been that when we settle for “less than,” we get “less than.” And I believe that with all of my heart. And let me just say here, as the pastor of the church where I stand, we have 66 books that are in Scripture, and I believe those books are the Word of God. Paul calls it theopneustos in the Greek. It’s a compound word which means God-breathed.

I believe Scripture is God-breathed. And I think that if we settle for bits and pieces that we like rather than looking at the whole council of God, I think we settle for less than. And you see it all the time. You see people, they sort of get in their little doctrinal categories and they’ve got their little things that they believe or their persuasions or their soap boxes. And then what happens is they sort of read Scripture through that lens, and that becomes sort of the totality of their Christian experience.

And let me just say that if God fits into every little category that you have, you’re probably not looking at Scripture in the right way. I’ve never been able to get God fully stuffed into my box. Maybe you all have, but there’s always parts of God that’s hanging out when I try to stuff Him into the box. They tried to put Him in a box one time, too, and He rose on the third day. So, He doesn’t work that way. Seriously. And what I would also say is this: If you feel like you have God figured out and you have Scripture figured out, then what you have is a manageable deity, and I would say in all kindness and all love that a manageable deity ceases to really be God, because God is above what we could comprehend or understand.

So, we really do need to sort of back up at times and not look at everything through the lens where we think we’ve got everything understood. Sometimes we’ve got to back up, and rather than trying to interpret Scripture, we need to let Scripture interpret us. So, we’ve been looking at the prophets, we’ve been looking at the prophetic literature. Week one of this series, we talked about who the prophets were and how God used them to remind the people of Israel of what He had called them out of, into that alternative community.

Last week, we talked about some skills and some ideas on how to better read the prophetic literature. And we probably could spend a lot more time on that, but we talked about that. This week, what I want to talk to you about is maybe one of the grandest themes that is found in the prophetic literature, and I find often missed, when people read the prophetic literature.

Most people read prophetic literature, as a general rule, thinking that it is telling the future. In fact, prophets do two things. They forthtell. Forthtell means they’re telling everybody what’s going on right now at the time they’re writing. They also foretell. They tell events that are going to happen. So, prophecy has both elements to it. But traditionally, when we read Scripture, we’re reading Scripture, the prophetic works, especially like the book of Revelation, we’re reading it as if it’s like a blueprint of what’s going to happen in the future, or we read some of the other stuff in the Old Testament and read it and try to think, “Is this a blueprint of the future?”

I would like to challenge that notion and tell you that the prophets, when they write, and they talk about, “Thus saith the Lord,” that they are telling you that they are speaking not for themselves, they are speaking for God. And when they tell people what is going to happen in the future, it’s not for them to understand a blueprint, because nobody understood what was going to happen when the prophets told them what was going to happen, because they write in poetry. What the Word of God is in that moment is when the prophet speaks and says what God is going to do, when you see that God does what God says He will do, we start to learn through that process that when God says He will do something, when God’s Word says He will perform something, He will do it. And the prophetic literature reminds us of that fact that if God says He’s for you, if God says He forgives you, if God says He can do these things in your life, we can take Him at His word because we have case study after case study after case study where God has said, “I’m going to do something,” and then it doesn’t look anything like what He said He was going to do, and then He eventually does what He says He will do.

And that’s why we have to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. In fact, Paul told the church at Rome — one of the grandest epistles in all of Scripture, the Epistle to the Roman Church. This is what he says to them in Romans 15:4. Listen to this. This is pretty incredible.

He says, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction.”

Think about that for a minute. Paul’s saying, “Hey, all of the stuff that was written before you guys happened to be in Rome was written for your instruction.”

So, everybody in here. All of these things here in the Old Testament, all of this stuff was written for our instruction. Listen to what He says here:

“So that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

That God’s Word is going to happen. That when God speaks, what He says will come to pass. And let me show you how this works in a certain prophet and in a certain book, and that book and that prophet is the book of Isaiah. Now, we’re not going to be able to go through all 66 chapters today, but we are going to take some highlights out of this book and show you how prophetic literature works. What I’m hoping is when you leave here today, and those who watch via the internet and the mobile app, that you are encouraged, that you walk out of here going, “You know what? I really can trust God.”

Isaiah is an interesting study. Isaiah starts off in the Bible, he is the first of the prophets because he’s the largest of the prophets. Sixty-six chapters. Some people have made note. I think it’s sort of interesting. The first thirty-nine books of Isaiah are dealing with Israel’s imminent captivity. They’re going to be taken captive into Babylon because of their sin. The next twenty-seven chapters, which is forty through sixty-six, deal with God’s deliverance of Israel from the Babylonian captivity. Sort of interesting. Thirty-nine and twenty-seven. We have thirty-nine Old Testament books. We have twenty-seven New Testament books. Maybe there’s something there. I don’t know. I don’t really think there’s something there, but maybe there is.

But what we have is this: Isaiah, in 722 B.C. — so, he’s an 8th century prophet — writes to the children of God and tells them, “You’re going to go into captivity. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’re going into captivity. That’s the way it is. And then God’s going to deliver you from captivity.”

What’s interesting is between Isaiah 39-40, there is 150 years that takes place. Most people, when they read the book of Isaiah — and you’ll see it today — in scholarship, they say, “There’s got to be two Isaiahs.” They call it Deutero-Isaiah. They say there’s no way in the world that anybody could’ve understood what was going to happen before it happened, because that’s not the way it works. That’s not true. Isaiah wrote the entire oracle that he writes, and he’s dealing with some really big ideas that I think you and I will see.

First of all, when he writes, he deals with this idea of sin. The children of Israel have sinned. They’ve sinned so bad that they’re going to go into captivity. But they’re going to go into captivity, and when they go into captivity, it’s going to be years, 70 years, precisely, before they come out of their captivity. Which means some people are going to go to Babylon and they’re going to die in Babylon. Those people are probably going to conclude from their circumstances that their sin is so bad, that they’ve sinned against God so egregiously, that God could never love them again.

That’s stuff we deal with in the church. People will say, “I did this in this relationship. I treated this person this way. I turned my back on God at this point in my life. Is it possible that He could still love me?”

Okay. Isaiah is speaking to these grand themes. How do the people of God sin so bad? If God’s all good and powerful, how come He can’t keep His people from doing these things? What’s going on? Can you give us an answer? Can you tell us?

Isaiah writes about that. Not only that, he writes about Babylon. How in the world can God allow a Pagan nation that worships other gods to defeat the people of God and take them into captivity and destroy God’s house? How does that work? How come God can’t subdue the nations? If He’s all powerful, if He’s almighty, why in the world does He allow all these nations to do all these crazy things?

Well, today, that makes a whole lot of sense because there’s a lot of things going on in our world that are pretty crazy. There’s even stuff going on in our own country that’s crazy. We have craziness everywhere, and many people go, “Where’s God? Why is He allowing all this stuff to happen? Why doesn’t He intervene? Why does He allow Christians overseas for these things to happen to them? Why? Why? God, if You are all powerful, if you are so big, why in the world would You allow Babylon or nations in general to do the things that they do?”

Not only does he deal with that, but he deals with this idea of evil. “God, how in the world can You allow evil? I mean, God, there’s evil. This is evil. The people have taken people into captivity. They’re killing them. They’re Your people. This is evil. It’s right there in front of us. I just saw my wife die. I just saw my brother die as they went into captivity. This is absolute evil. This is terrible. It’s false gods. It’s false idolatry. How can You allow this to happen?”

What happens is you and me, what we want is we want answers. Isaiah doesn’t give us answers, and the prophetic books don’t give us answers. They don’t give us the answers that we want. What we want is we want empirical data. We’re children of the enlightenment. We want everything to make sense. We want everything to be able to — and that’s why we have apologists that stand up and go, “Let me tell you why there’s evil in the world.”

Even though it may sound good and even though you may go, “Hey, that’s a better answer than what I had,” the reality is that answers not going to answer someone who doesn’t believe in God because our faith is not a faith that’s based on knowledge, it is a faith. At some level, we have to trust God. So, Isaiah’s answer to these problems — and it’s the answer that all the prophets give to these problems, and it’s the answer that all of Scripture gives to these problems — doesn’t address, “Here’s all the issues and the way that they work. What we’re given is we’re simply given God’s Word. We’re given these great, grand gestures that, “Hey, before any of this happens, you’re going into captivity. And, by the way, He’s also going to deliver you.”

Because what God says He’ll do, He’ll do. Now, you’re not going to be able to understand why all this stuff happened. You’re not going to be able to understand why nations are the way that they are. You’re not going to understand the evil of the world because you’re not God. You don’t have the ability to understand it even if He shared it with you. What you can do, what I can do is trust God’s Word that somewhere in the midst of all of this, God is working out a plan, He’s doing the things that He needs to do, and He’s ultimately going to accomplish good in the lives of His children, and that, my friends, requires faith. We have to trust Him at some level. We have to say, “God, I believe.”

And His Word shows us that when He says He’ll do something, He’ll do it. Like, He actually does it. We have story after story after story where God said, “Okay. Here’s what I’m going to do.”

Then they started walking that way to what God was going to do, and every bit of the facts that were presented to them was exactly the opposite of what God said He would do. And most of them, at that point, give up, or they lie, or they cheat, or they steal, or they do whatever, and then God shows up and does what He says He would do, because He always is going to do what He says He’s going to do. The question is do we believe Him? Do we believe when He says in His Word? And isn’t that the very first thing that the old enemy does in the garden? He questions God’s Word.

“Did God really say? Did He really say that? No. Come on. You don’t want to get too fanatical. You don’t want to put too much — I mean, hedge your bets a little bit. Make sure you’re okay here, and then trust God a little bit. But, whatever you do, don’t go all-in. Whatever you do, don’t trust Him with everything.”

Man, let me tell you something. The only thing that pleases God — and the writer of the Hebrews tells you this. The only thing that pleases God is faith. And God’s going to continue to give you and me facts that do not support what He said He’s going to do. Why? Because that’s the only place that faith can be generated. So, we ought to assume, as Christians, as we follow God, that we’re going to get facts that don’t look like what God said He’s going to do for you and me, because that, then, gives us the opportunity to have faith. And Isaiah writes, as all the prophets do, to tell us, “Hey, when God says something, He’s going to do it. It doesn’t make a difference.”

So, the first part of Isaiah, in Isaiah 1-39, we’re dealing with this idea that judgment is going to happen to the children of Israel. And we see the call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 where he’s to go out and preach to the children of Israel. Remember? He’s there. The voice says, “Who’s going to go?”

He’s like, “Me! Me!”

He’s like Horshack. You know? “Hey!”

You know? He’s like, “I’m ready to do it. I’m ready to do it. I’m ready to go.”

And God says, “Great. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go preach this to the people, and nobody’s going to listen.”

Isn’t that awesome? That’s like a great call. That’s why I keep telling everybody here that what’s going on here at Grace is the anomaly. This is not the way it normally goes down. Like Noah, he preached for 90 years. Do you know how many people listened to him? Zero, until they started swimming. But the reality is that God has said, “Hey, this is what’s going to happen,” and it happens. And then, 150 years later, God’s already spoken His deliverance before it happens. And here’s the way Isaiah pens it for us in Isaiah 40:1:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”

Now, I’m always a little reluctant to say these things because what I don’t want to do is create this feeling that, hey, I would’ve never read this in my Bible if you wouldn’t have told me this. Because what I don’t want you to do is think that somehow, when you’re reading Scripture, you’re not getting what you need to get because that’s absolutely not the case. I believe in the English translation, whatever translation you read, you’re getting 99.9% of everything you need to get if you just read Scripture. God can speak to you.

But what I will tell you is, yes, if you’ve studied original language, and you’ve studied some of those things, you might get a little bit of things that are different than the average person would, but here’s what I would say to you: If, sometimes, I say things to you and you go, “Man,” — like my dad does it all the time. My dad comes over to our house after Sunday when he comes down from Tampa, and he always goes, “Chip, I’ve been in church my whole life and I’ve read the Bible a lot. I don’t know where you get this stuff.”

National Enquirer, Dad. But here’s the thing. Honestly, what I would say to you as your pastor is this: You want to go to a church that’s stretching you, pushing you and making you see things more. I don’t know about you all, but if I had a disease, I wouldn’t go to the gas station attendant to get cured. I’d want to go to the doctor that knew more than anybody else to make sure that I was taken care of. So, what I’m saying is when we go to a church, we should learn. We should try to get some things that we don’t see.

So, when I tell you this, you’re going to go, “I would’ve never seen this.” I get that you would’ve never seen this. I don’t expect for you to ever see this. But I’m telling you this because it’s important. What’s going on here — and you can’t really get it in the English language — is what we call an imperative plural in the Hebrew. This is being spoken not just to a prophet. This is being spoken, in the way it’s written, in the divine counsel of the heavenlies. In other words, there’s a decision being made that we’re going to comfort my people, says your God. That’s the way this is written.

So, in other words, even though Babylon’s controlling right now, and God stands above that, in the heavenlies, they have decreed that the comfort’s coming, deliverance is coming, for the children of Israel. Okay? So, he says:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

And you can imagine reading this and hearing this when everything’s going well. I mean, Hezekiah, in Isaiah 39, finally gets told, “Dude, everything’s going to captivity.”

Remember? He was the guy that took everybody in and said, “Look at all the money we’ve got. Look at all the gold that we’ve got. Look at everything.”

And the bean counters from Babylon were going, “Yep. That’s going to be ours really soon. Yep. That’s going to be ours. Thank you for showing us that. We’ll take that, too. Alright. We’ll take that.”

And Isaiah’s like, “Dude, what were you thinking? You’re going into captivity.”

Okay, but imagine when everything was good. They were prospering. Imagine Isaiah saying, “You’re going to go into captivity.” Everybody’s like, “Psh. We ain’t going into captivity. You’re crazy, dude.”

And then they’re going to read this. Like, “What do you mean? God’s going to comfort us in our affliction?”

Because, see, none of that makes sense until it happens. Then the prophetic literature really makes sense. It’s not written for us to have a blueprint. It’s written for us to have a word in-season when we’re going through difficulty.

So, he says, “Speak tenderly. Everything’s been done. Everything’s good.”

“A voice cries:” — this is in the heavenly realms. There’s this voice that cries. What does it cry?

“‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

What this is, in the ancient near east, when a king would beat another king or whatever, they would have a victory processional. So, this victory processional is not about the children of Israel coming out of Babylon. This is a victory processional showing them that God is God, because, see, God told everybody before this happened that it was going to happen, and they were supposed to trust Him. Which, obviously, most people don’t. Sometimes we don’t trust God. But that’s what God’s Word is there for, to tell us, “You can trust me. I will do what I told you I will do. It may not come when you want it. It may not come in the way you expect it. But if I told you I’ll take care of you, if I told you I will deliver you, if I told you that I will forgive your sins, it’s as good as gold. My word is my bond. If I say it, I’ll do it.”

He says, “So what we’re going to do is we’re going to have this highway built through the desert to show how great God’s glory is. And every valley. God don’t want to be traveling like this. He don’t want to go 4x4. He wants to go straight. I mean, this is going to be a straight path.”

“‘Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.’”


“‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,’” — listen — “‘for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”

As good as gold. Even though this is way before this happens, it’s going to happen. Because when God says it will happen, it will happen. And we have to decide in our lives, do we believe when God speaks that God is saying to you and me, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if we don’t feel it, do we believe that when God speaks to you and me that God will do what God says He will do?

He says, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken this. This is going to happen.”

Then it says, “A voice says, ‘Cry!’”

We’re still up in the heavenlies here. You know? You hear this voice, “Cry!” Well, obviously the response would be like, “What?” Which is exactly what the person says.

“‘What shall I cry?’”

“What do you want me to yell out to everybody? What is the voice that I need to cry?”

Here’s what you’re going to say: “‘All flesh is grass,’” — you all know that because you were conquered by the Babylonians and you thought that you were really powerful and had everything, but it’s just gone and now you’re captive to the Babylonians. Well, guess what? The Babylonians are like that, too, because I’m God.

“‘All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.’”

Cry this out! Let everybody know that people, nations, kings, none of that really matters.

“‘Because the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.’”

What God says He will do, He will do. And He goes on to say, in Isaiah 40, “All these nations that you’re worried about? They’re a drop in the bucket. Leaders? I just blow on them and they’re out of there. Islands? Islands in the ocean? I just lift them up. What’s underneath there? Okay. No big deal. Because I’m God. The stars? I put them all in the sky. What are you worried about? Guys? I’m going to deliver you, and I’m going to deliver you because I said I would deliver you. And if I told you in my word I’ll do this, I’ll do it.”

And now you can look back and you can go, “Whoa, what You said you’d do, you did exactly what you said.”

“Yes. Because if I tell you that I will do it...”

See, we try to figure out predestination, free will and all of this stuff. None of that’s really dealing with this. This is dealing with the simple fact. The prophetic literature is dealing with the simple fact that if God says He will do something for you and me, He will absolutely do it. Every time, every way. And we get hope from that. And then He says, “Dude, just chill out, man. I know that you can grow weary, and I know that life can be tough when everything’s not going your way. Wait on me. Trust. Believe in me. Watch what I do. You’re going to mount up with wings like eagles, and you’re going to run and not grow weary, and you’re going to walk and not be faint. You’re going to do all those things because I, the Lord, have declared it and it’s going to happen. If I told you in my word I’ll do it, I will do it. Don’t look at what you see. Trust me. I will come through every single time.”

Now, okay. Very important here. There’s a couple of really big take-aways that we need to get. The first one is this. This is really big. There’s a divine and a majestic order to God’s actions that are revealed to us in God’s Word, and they are good. What we see when we start to look at God’s Word and we see how God has done certain things, what we’re able to do is look back and go, “Wow. You know what? I’ve been like that before, wondering where God’s at, how come this is going on and why is God allowing all this stuff. Those are just really not the right questions to be asking. I’ve just got to trust Him. I’ve just got to have faith.”

See, what we’re looking for is knowledge. What we don’t want to have is faith. We want to hedge our bets. We want to make sure, “Yeah, I’ll sort of trust God. God, I can trust You a lot more when everything’s going the way I like it to go.” That’s the way it works here, God. If You could just do everything the way I want it to go, and if I could have all the abundance that I need, and if I could be in perfect health and have all the cars and business going well, and all my kids turned out just perfectly, then, you know what? I might be able to raise my hand in worship and say, ‘Hey, everything’s awesome.’ But, God, unless You can get on my program, I don’t know that I can trust You when the program isn’t working the way the program’s supposed to be working.”

See, that’s not called faith. Faith says, “God, I’m trusting You. Even though all hell has come my way, even though it doesn’t look like what You told me it was going to look like, even though it don’t feel like what You told me it was going to feel like, I trust You because what I see in this Word is that there is a divine and a majestic order that I’ll never understand, that I’ll never fully be able to explicate, but what I can do is I can trust You, I can trust Your Word because I know what You’re doing is good.”

And this is what Isaiah shows us. He says, “The nation’s sin, evil and idols, in a way that you and I don’t understand, they’re nothing to God. They’re nothing to God because God not only put them in captivity, He delivered them from captivity. Babylon didn’t keep them in there. Their sin didn’t keep them in there. Their idols didn’t keep them in there.”

When God decreed deliverance, deliverance came because He stands above it all. And we either get to trust that, or what we do is we bog down and start going, “But I don’t understand. Why, God?”

That’s not faith. Faith says, “God, I trust You. I’ve got enough evidence in this book that You’ve over and over and over and over and over done exactly what You said You would do. At some point, I’ve got to trust God.”

Because what happens is, see, God uses the evidence of our lives to display His sovereignty, power, deliverance, grace and ultimate goodness. What happens is our response is faith. Here’s the way it works: So many of us, we get going in life and where we go is, “I’m going to serve God. I’m going to do God. Look at what I’m doing. I’m serving people. I’m giving. I’m praying.”

And it sort of becomes about us. God’s like, “No, no, no. Time out. You trust me and what I’m going to do in your life is I’m going to display to you my power, my sovereignty, my deliverance, my grace, and my ultimate goodness.”

How would you know God’s power if you never had something that had to show you His power? How would you understand grace if you didn’t understand the flip side of it? How would you understand deliverance if you’d never been in a place where you needed to be delivered from? God says, “Listen, here’s the way it works: You trust me and what I’m going to do in your life is I’m going to display in you my sovereignty, power, deliverance, grace, and ultimate goodness.”

And this is the way it works. We start off and we say, “God, I’m following You.”

Anybody in here wants to debate this, that’s fine. You can debate it with God. We don’t usually walk in a straight line with our faith. It’s usually a zigzag.

“Yeah. I don’t know. Then sometimes it goes backward this way, then, oh, I better go back this way. Oh, I got distracted. Oh, I did here. Oh, my goodness. I think I’m going to turn my back on God for a little bit, because I don’t know why He did that to me. Well, I sort of love You, God, but I’ll sort of walk ahead and I’ll do whatever.”

Anybody in here doesn’t act like that’s the walk of the Christian, you’re just fooling yourself. Everybody does it. The pastor does it. The apostles do it. Everybody does. I mean, Peter can be like, “You are the Christ, the Son, the Living God.”

“Great. I’m going to die.”

“No, you’re not!”

And Jesus turns around and goes, “I rebuke you, Satan.”

He went from aces high to murderer’s row in like 10 seconds. Okay? Like all of us. And what happens is as we follow God with that little bit of faith that we’ve got trying, and we’re zigzagging, what happens is one day we turn around and we go, “Wow. Look at God’s sovereignty, power, deliverance, grace and goodness in my life that He did when I wasn’t even paying attention. He was working in my life.”

See, the story of the patriarchs is not about Abraham. The story of Abraham is about God. The story of David is not about David, it’s about God. The Bible’s about God. It’s not about heroes. There are no heroes. They all make mistakes like all of us do. The story’s about God. God says, “Abraham, follow me.”

He says, “I will.”

He says, “Don’t take anybody with you.”

He takes Lot. And, like I always say, when God calls us to follow Him, we usually take a lot with us, right? So, He takes Lot. He gets to the promised land, and what does he get? A famine. Abraham trusts God, right? No. He goes to Egypt. What does God do? Blesses him. Why? Because when you look back at Abraham, it’s not the story of Abraham. It’s the story of God’s faithfulness, which is exactly what it is for you and me. At some point, we have to trust God and realize that all the crazy things that are going on in our lives are His way of showing you and me His sovereignty, His power, His deliverance, His grace and His ultimate goodness.

The second big thing that we need to take away — and this is all through the prophetic literature — is that God is both really, really, really, really big, and He’s also very, very, very, very near. That’s called transcendence and imminence. If you have a transcendent God only, you will not be able to understand Him, you will not be able to have a relationship with Him, and you will ultimately fear Him. If your God is only imminent, He will be your friend and He will not be your God. You need both. And we need a healthy both of the transcendence and imminence of God.

I want to go through something real quickly with you. In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of Jesus at the very beginning. It says, “He turns to see the voice.”

Well, you can’t see a voice. You can see a person, you just can’t see a voice. Again, that should be telling you that we’re not reading something that needs to be taken literally. In fact, John tells us not to read literally. Remember John 3? He said, “You’ve got to be born again.”

Nicodemus goes, “How do you climb back up in the womb?”

Jesus was like, “Dude, I’m not talking to you about that. I’m talking about something else.”

John 4. He says, “The water I give you, you’ll never thirst again.”

She looks down in the well and goes, “You don’t even have anything to draw from.”

He’s like, “Wrong. I’m not talking about that type of water.”

John 6. He says, “If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part.”

They go, “He’s a cannibal. Let’s run.”

He goes, “No. You’ve misunderstood me.”

John tells you you don’t read Scripture the way we read it. There’s more going on there. John is having these visions of Jesus, and what he’s doing is he’s using what much of the prophetic literature does. He’s using a form of literature, or a style of writing, that is called a “merism.” Merism is stated opposites in order to comprehend a totality.

I grew up in Kentucky. A farmer that had cows would say, “I’ve searched high and low for that cow, but I can’t find her.”

Okay. Well, Kentucky doesn’t really have mountains, and we don’t really have deep ravines. What he was saying by saying I’ve searched high and low, “I’ve searched everywhere.”

That’s a merism. A merism is taking opposites to show a totality. Look at what John does with Jesus when he sees this vision. He says, “His head is like wool, and His feet are like burnished bronze.”

See, He’s the full stature of man from head to foot, from top to bottom. He says, “His hair’s white like snow. His eyes are like a flame of fire.” He comprehends both the frozen cold and the blazing heat. “His voice is like the sound of many waters, and His feet are like bronze in a furnace.” He expresses the extremes of both wet and dry.

Not only that, “His breast is girded in gold, and His feet are like glowing bronze.” He reconciles both the precious and the base. “His right hand holds the seven stars up in the heavens, and His voice is like the many waters on the earth.” His dominion spans heaven and earth. “He has the keys of death and hell, and His mouth is a double-edged sword.” He has authority over life and death because of His word. “He holds the seven stars representing the seven churches in His right hand, but He also reaches down to touch John with His right hand.” So, He can hold all the churches in sovereignty, He can hold everything together, but yet, He can also reach down and touch one individual person that is in need.

“His love reconciles the one [you and me] and the many [the body], and His strong right hand that was pierced combine strength and suffering, power and weakness, might as well as vulnerability. Because, in His person, He combines both the transcendence and imminence of God. In Him, all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily,” Paul tells us Colossians 2:9. Jesus is what we need. Jesus comprehends all of it. There’s nothing that Jesus — He is a full resource for everything that we have need of. And ultimately, all the prophetic literature is pointing us to Him.

So, what are the take-homes? What can we take home? Real quickly here. The first one is we can trust that God is good. So many people go, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t understand why He let this happen. I don’t understand.”

What about Mary? You don’t think Mary wondered why her son died? You want to hear how good God is? I didn’t plan on preaching this here. I’m going to just drop something here. Just listen to this. This is important. In Luke, the very beginning, Luke 2, we’re told that Jesus and all the caravan has gone to Jerusalem. And they leave. Mary and Joseph leave with this big caravan. They traveled in caravans back then.

Well, they go one day. On the second day, they go, “Where’s Jesus?”

Now, see, you and I don’t understand that, because we’d be going — we lose our kid for one second and we’re on it. Okay? Back then, though, they traveled in caravans, so everybody just sort of pitched in. It was all family. It was familiar. Very different than what we do. We wall things up, put gates up and separate everybody out, and shop on Amazon rather than going to the mall because we like to do our own, individual thing. They had family back then. They all did it together.

Well, on the second day, Mary looks up and goes, “Where’s Jesus?”

They go, “Wow.”

So, what did they do? Well, they went back to Jerusalem. When they got there on the third day, where was Jesus? Well, He was in the house of God, teaching and listening to the professors. What was important here to realize, you want to talk about how good God is, you know when Mary lost Jesus, you know what she thought? She said, “Oh my goodness. Maybe He’s lost. Maybe He’s dead. Maybe that’s what’s happened.”

But, see, she found Him on the third day. God was preparing Mary’s heart for when she would lose her Son for real, and on the third day find Him again. That’s the goodness of your Lord. He is a good God. If we understand how good He is, we can be blown away.

Second: We can count on God’s Word. If God says He’ll do it, He’ll do it. And some of you in here today, you’re probably going, “I’ve got this going on in my life. I don’t know.”

At some level, what you have to do is you have to decide, am I really going to take God at His Word? And if I take God at His Word, I’m probably going to have all kinds of things hit me that don’t look anything like what I just trusted God to do, but can I trust God? And I want to say to you, as your pastor, you can trust God. You can count on God’s Word. He will do what He says He will do.

Lastly, all the deliverance that the Bible talks about, ultimately, is speaking of Jesus and His ministry. The Gospel writers, when they talk about John the Baptist being the messenger, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the one preparing the way for the Lord, He’s quoting Isaiah 40. Isaiah 40 literally meant that the Jews were going to be delivered from Babylon, but it had so much more meaning, because ultimately it all talks about Jesus.

And here’s the beauty: In Isaiah 40:8, it says, “The word of the Lord will stand forever.”

The Hebrew word is “rise.” The Word of God will rise forever. Listen to this: The word of God in material form can be destroyed. Moses gets the Word of God on the two tablets, right? The Word of God is written in a material form. He comes down and sees that they’ve gone into idolatry. What does He do? He takes that, and He crushes it. The Word of God can be destroyed in material form. But He goes back up to the mountain, and guess what God does? He writes it again on the tablets because the Word of God may be destroyed in material form, but it will rise forever.

Jeremiah writes on a scroll, an animal scroll. On animal skin, he writes the Word of God and Baruch, his amanuensis, writes it down. It’s taken in front of the king. The king doesn’t like what he’s hearing. So, as it’s being read, he takes a knife and he pierces that animal skin. He cuts that skin. He takes that skin and he throws it into the fire and says, “Read me some more.”

He cuts it, he takes it, and he throws it into the fire. He cuts it and he throws. See, the Word of God in material form can be destroyed, but what happens is Baruch goes back to Jeremiah and says, “Hey, the king destroyed it.”

He says, “Dude, get a pen and get some more animal skin. Let’s write again.”

And the same words come again. Because, see, the Word of God in material form can be destroyed, but the Word of God will rise forever. That’s why, when Jesus came in the flesh, they could destroy the material Word of God, but on the third day, the Word of God rose again. Because the Word of God rises forever. Which means we can trust God. You can trust Him.

Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to shut your eyes and I want you to bow your head. I want to read God’s Word over you, and then we’re going to pray. Listen to this. Just shut your eyes and just listen to the Word of God read over you.

“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who’s against us? He who didn’t spare his own Son but delivered him over for us all, how is he not also going to give us freely all things? Who’s going to bring a charge against God’s elect? God’s the one who justifies. Who is the one that condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died — yay, rather that was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who is going to separate us from the love of God? Will tribulation or distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword? Just as it’s written,

“‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“But, in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the Word of God spoken over you, and even though it may look, daily, that you’re being delivered as a lamb to the slaughter, even though it may be facts that don’t show what God is doing, Paul says, “Oh, no, no. In all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer, because nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”

Lord, I pray right now in Jesus’ name for every person here and for those watching via the internet and the mobile app. I pray, God, that You would raise faith in them to be able to trust You in what You’ve said to us. Let us be people that step out and believe that when the Word of God says that there can be healing, when the Word of God says that eyes can see again, when the Word of God says marriage can be restored, when the Word of God says that finances can be restored, when the Word of God says that families can be restored and families can be reconciled, and brothers and sisters that have fought can be reconciled, Lord, let us believe, in faith, that the Word of God is true and what You say, You will do.

Give us the faith to trust that today for Your glory and for Your honor, Lord Jesus. So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today, You’d watch over us and protect us, that You would lead and guide us. I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again, and Lord, help us to remain faithful to what You’ve called us to do. And Lord, that is to be a church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.

We love You. We thank You for it. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.

Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. Have a great day.

Poetic Imagination Week 2: What's This Stuff?

Sermon Transcript


Our world: It seems as though it has drastically changed in the past 30 years. How does the church respond? In times of calamity and turmoil, the prophets arose. Where is that prophetic voice today, and what would it look like? The answer may surprise you.

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody. We are in a series called “Poetic Imagination.” I always try, at the beginning of every service, to make sure that if you’re new or you missed last week that you know what’s going on.

We started this off last week, and we’re continuing it and we’ll take it all the way up to Easter. We’re dealing with something that is sort of a little strange subject to deal with in church, but one I think we need to. We’re looking at who were these people called “the prophets,” and what was this writing that they did; this prophetic literature? And I know you take a gamble whenever you talk about this stuff, but I think that it’s important because I’m committed. As the pastor of this church, I truly believe that there shouldn’t be any verses or books in Scripture that we should be afraid to talk about and teach. I think that there are 66 books, and I want to make sure that we go through all of them. And it was sort of the big idea for this whole series that when we settle for less than, we get less than.

And I think that if you were to go home this afternoon and you were to pick up your Bible and you were to start going through it and you went through Ezekiel, and you sort of put a paper clip on all the pages of Ezekiel, then you took Isaiah and put a paper clip on that, took Daniel and put a paper clip on that, all the minor prophets, the book of Revelation and you put a paper clip, and you look at that, you’d go, “You know what? There’s quite a bit of information here that if I didn’t pay attention to those books, I’d be missing a lot of things that are in this book.

So we want to sort of tackle them. And I know it’s a hard subject because many of us that grew up in church, or many of us that didn’t even grow up in church, we met that one person and they were that person that always wanted to tell you about the end times and Revelation, and they were weird but you couldn’t tell them that they were weird — you know what I’m talking about? You know? And it’s like, “Oh, goodness.” And they want to tell you how everything goes out.

And I don’t know if you all grew up around where you lived during the 80’s, but during the 80’s there had been a book that was written in the 70’s by Hal Lindsey called “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” He had sort of written this book, you know, and everybody sort of got excited. And then, in 1988, because they took 1948 from Israel’s statehood and added 40 years to it to 1988. A guy wrote a book called “The 88 Reasons Why Jesus is Going to Return in 1988.”

And He didn’t, and then he wrote the subsequent book called “89 Reasons Why He Will Return in 1989.” And after he had blown it really bad, there wasn’t “1990 Reasons Why He is Going to Return.” His name was Edgar Whisenant. He was not a wise nut, by the way.  But anyway, that being said, you’ve heard of this. I remember growing up when Reagan was elected, there were people in the church that went, “Ronald. Six letters. Wilson. Six letters. Reagan. Six letters.”

I’m like, “Seriously?”

Then Gorbachev with the little thing on his head. They’re like, “Oh, that’s the guy.” And then the barcode came out. Remember? “That’s it! The barcode’s it.” And then there was the Procter and Gamble sign on the toothpaste, you know? “That’s the mark of the beast.”

All that stuff. It’s like, we’ve been around that stuff and it’s so weird. It’s like people are like, “Dude.” So a lot of us are just like, “You know what? I don’t want to deal with that stuff at all, because who knows what’s going on and how this works out.”

So I get it. I get why so many people are just shut down to all of this stuff. But I’d like to submit to you that reading these books that way is just not what they were intended to be read by. And listen, if you’re a big prophecy nut and you like all that stuff and I may be saying some things today that sort of mess you up a little bit. Listen, I’m not up here to say that I’m the one that understands everything. I have a humility. I mean, I teach theology. I get paid to do it. I teach eschatology, the study of last things. But the fact of the matter is I’m here simply as a pastor to do my best to equip everybody so that we can read all of Scripture together and we can go home with our families and at least understand what we’re reading.

I’d like to submit that rather than reading these books as like a secret code that if you’ve got the secret code and you know the statues and you know the horns and the symbols and the stars and all of this stuff, that you can figure out who’s who and what’s going on. I’d like to submit that those books were never written to be read that way, that they were written as a book of hope. That they were written to give people that were in calamities and in difficult times a message of hope. That no matter how bad it was, that God was a God that was ultimately going to make everything right and they could trust in Him.

Much like — I don’t know if you all like sports at all, but I am a huge UK Basketball fan, and all Christians should be as far as I’m concerned. But, oftentimes, because I have to preach four times on the weekend, I don’t get to watch all of the games, depending on when they’re going on. So, you know, I can DVR them, but here’s the reality: I get in the car and I want to know, because I love UK Basketball — and all Christians do. So what I do is I get on my phone and I look and see if we won.

Well, it’s great when we win, because when I go back home and I’m watching the DVR and we start off in the first quarter and we’re terrible and we’re missing everything and we’re down by 15, I know that we won. So I watch that game differently than had I not known. And what I would like to suggest to you is these books that are written are written so that you know what’s going to happen at the end, so that no matter what’s going on in the process, you have hope in the midst of all of those things.

So, that being said, what I want to do today is I want to try to give you some guidelines on how to read prophetic literature. And before I do that, I want to give you sort of a little example here that I think everybody will understand. You might not know exactly what I’m doing at the beginning, but you will in a minute.

If you go to school and you go to seminary or you do post-graduate work, at some point you’re going to probably have to take Greek and Hebrew. That’s just the way it goes. Old Testament was Hebrew. New Testament was Greek. And Bruce Metzger, he’s deceased, but he was a Princeton professor. Doctor Metzger. And he was a Greek maverick. I mean, so many things we do in Greek are because of Metzger. And this was a book that you’d get like first year Greek. It was “Lexical Aids for Students.”

So you open it up and what it does is he has taken all of the words in the New Testament and he’s said, “Okay. These words appear 200-500 times. You need to memorize these, because you’re going to see them a lot.” And then there’s words that appear 23 times and 18 times and 10 times. So, knowing those words are good, but knowing the ones that are really there a lot is really important. Then he gets into root words and all of that stuff.

Why do I say this? Because you’re like, “This is all Greek to me.” You know? Why do I say it? Because this book — and you naturally will intuit this when I show you. You will read this book differently, if you were going to read this book, than Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. You understand what I’m saying? See, these are different literary genres. You’re going to read them differently because they’re not the same. If you try to read this book the way you’re reading this book, it is not — if I say, “This is a science book. You need to read it.” You’re going to go, “Hold on. That’s not the case.”

Because they’re different literary styles. What I’d like to submit to you all is this: When we go to Scripture we cannot read Genesis all the way to Revelation the same way, because the Bible is filled with different types of literature. And if we don’t understand the literature that we’re reading, we probably are going to misinterpret what we’re reading. Wisdom literature is read differently than narrative. Narrative is read differently than Gospel. Gospel is read differently than the epistolary literature. And the prophetic works are read differently than the other ones.

And if we don’t know sort of how to read these things, we probably will misinterpret what’s going on. Let me give you an example: The book of Lamentations. Many of you may not even know what it is. You may not have read it. But it is Jeremiah’s Lament. It’s a five-chapter book where he laments over the fact that the Babylonians have come in and destroyed the temple and taken the people of Israel into captivity. He doesn’t understand why God has allowed this to happen.

And you read the book and you just see him pouring out his thing. He’s trying to trust in God. He’s trying to say that God’s mercies are new every morning and all of these great things, but there’s a lot. He’s just lamenting over the fact that this has happened, this is terrible, this is no good. I don’t quite understand.

But, if you understand how he’s done his book, this book becomes very powerful. Chapter 1 has 22 verses. Why? Because there’s 22 verses in the Hebrew alphabet. Alef. Beit. All the way down. We get the word “alphabet” from Alef and Beit of the Hebrew alphabet. There’s 22. He takes each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and he writes a verse. He does the same thing in Hebrews 2. Twenty-two verses. He does the same thing in Hebrews 4. Twenty-two verses. He does the same thing in Hebrews 5. Twenty-two verses. But, in Hebrews 3, he does 3. There’s 66 verses. Three A’s, three B’s. All the way down.

Why does he do that? Why does he write that way? Because what he’s saying is even though I don’t understand why God has allowed this to happen, there must be some sense of order in which God is doing the things He’s doing. See? Now that book takes on a whole different meaning when you understand how it’s written.

So what I’d like to suggest to you is that the prophetic works can be understood. It’s not all this deciphering codes and charts. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of those conferences where they pull all those charts out. I remember, as a kid, I’d go to those things because I really wanted to know what was going on. They’d pull out the charts, you know? And I’d be like, “Dude. Who could’ve ever found that in Scripture?”

I mean, it’s like all these charts, you know? The guy gets up. I remember one time I heard the guy get up and he’s like, “Michael Jackson just went on tour with his brothers. It’s the Victory Tour. They’ve got this big thing in the back, and it’s a scorpion, and it’s found in the book of Revelation.”

And I’m like, “I’m out.” We don’t need to read it that way. These are books that we can understand and that we can sort of — we don’t have to decipher, we can just read. So here’s what I want you to do. I’m going to be a little bit more Professor Chip today than I am Pastor Chip. I’m going to teach a little bit more than I normally teach, but I really would like for you to get out something, write these down. I think this will help everyone in understanding how to read prophetic literatures, but we need to have some guidelines on how to read.

First thing is this: Everything that’s written by the prophets, in whatever book we’re reading — whether it’s Isaiah, whether it’s Daniel, whether it’s Revelation. Whatever these books are, what they’re ultimately saying and what they’re ultimately dealing with is the problem that when people are going through difficulties — for instance, when the Babylonians have taken the children of Israel into captivity, that’s when Jeremiah, that’s when Ezekiel, that’s when Isaiah start writing and explaining what God is going to do.

You know the passage in Jeremiah that we all read? “I’ve got plans for you,” and all of that? Contextually, those plans are for the people that are in captivity. He’s got plans for them to come out after 70 years, and he’s writing to them. He’s giving them hope. And what the prophets want everybody to understand is that no matter how bad things are, no matter how messed up life may be, God ultimately is going to make things okay. And that’s a great message for all of us because all of us have stuff in our life. I mean, I know I do. Stuff in life where you go, “God, You’ve got to help me out here, dude.”

And hearing the prophets speak saying, “God’s ultimately going to work everything out alright,” is real hopeful. But here’s the way it works, and I want everybody to listen here. This is so important. This is understanding how the Bible speaks, because it speaks to people a long time ago. It wasn’t written to you and me. Written for you and me, but not to you and me.

Here’s what happened. In the original creation, heaven and earth were together. They were created together. Man walked with God; God walked with man. Everything was together. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that. Well, Genesis 3 happened. We call that “sin.” Sin separated heaven from earth. They’re not completely separated, but they’re not the way they were intended. That’s why, at the end of Scripture, Revelation 21 and 22, what do we see? Heaven coming down to earth — again, poetic language; high language — bringing everything back together.

I often say if it weren’t for sin, we’d have Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 22. We’d have a pamphlet. We wouldn’t have a Bible. But, because of sin, we have this eruption. And so, how’s God going to make these things work? Because this is separated, there’s injustice. Because there’s separation, there’s sin, there’d death, there’s darkness, there’s war. There’s all of those things. How is God going to bring those things back together?

The prophets speak to that. They say that God’s going to bring justice. He’s going to. You may not see it, you may not know it, you may not think about it, but God is going to bring justice. And He’s going to do that because He’s a righteous God. He’s going to bring righteousness to bear on the earth. He’s a holy God, so He’s going to do that. And even the judgments that you read — you know, you read them and it’s like, “The darkness, the day of the Lord, gloom and doom,” and all of that. We’re like, “Oh, man. I don’t want to read that.”

Those judgments are there to let you know that God is not silent, He is working things out to make everything right. And even the judgments that He does in the prophetic oracles are always to restore and to bring about something good. The prophets always end the oracles with, “After God has done this, then the wine’s going to flow and the animals will get together and people will beat their weapons of war into weapons of peace,” because all of this is ultimately grand language that’s telling us, “Hey, there’s hope.”

Even though you don’t see it, even though you may be in captivity, even though it may cost you your life, there’s hope. God’s going to restore everything. The problem that you’ve got is when you’re talking about earth and heaven being sort of estranged, but still somewhat together, but not completely together, but going to one day be together even though that they’re not. How do you talk about that? What language do you use to talk about that?

Well, the prophets have that language. It’s cosmic language. They use things like clouds, and they use things like the moon turning to blood, and stars not shining or the stars falling, and winds and trumpets and all of this stuff. They’re using this cosmic language to show you that what’s going on up here has affects here, and what’s going on here has affects here. Even though they’re not completely together, they’re still there, but they’re coming together. They’re going to come together.

And so, a lot of this language is really high, poetic language that’s tapping into our imaginations to get us to understand God’s ultimately going to bring all of these things together. You see this stuff in Isaiah 13. I mean, I could go through all the Old Testament. The prophets use this language. It’s not new language that’s only found in the New Testament. It’s all throughout the Old Testament. It’s like in Isaiah 13, Isaiah says to the children of Israel, “Hey, listen. Even though you’re in captivity and the Babylonians have captured you, there’s going to be another group of people that come in and conquer the Babylonians, and they’re going to set you free.”

And that’s when Ezra and Nehemiah start rebuilding the temple after the 70 years of captivity. That group of people is called the “Assyrians,” and Cyrus is their king. Well, Isaiah tells you what that day is going to be like when the Babylonians are conquered by the Assyrians. He says things like this: “The stars of heaven and the constellations will not flash forth their light. The sun will be dark and it won’t rise.”

Well, the sun still rose and the stars still shined. He’s using language to show you and me that heaven and earth are still together. There’s still a combination that what’s going on here is going on here, because God ultimately is trying to bring those things back together. And they use language that’s really high and lofty to make that point, because what they’re ultimately moving towards is this. And this is so important to get.

They believe that we live in an age right now and there is an age that will come in history. No Jewish person, no Old Testament prophet believed that there was going to be an end of the world. We do, because we have concocted some crazy things in reading the Bible. They didn’t see that at all. Solomon said, “The earth abides forever.” Psalm 24:1 says that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Paul, in his grand treatise to the Romans, says in Romans 8 that the creation itself is not looking to get destroyed, it’s looking to get redeemed. It’s longing to be redeemed.

God’s going to purify the world. He’s going to make it like it was, and heaven and earth will join together again. So when they talked about the age to come or the latter days or the last days, they weren’t talking about the way we talk about things. Like, “You think we’re in the last days? Are we in the last days?”

The writer to the Hebrews says, in Hebrews 1:1, that we’re in the last days. That’s 2,000 years ago. See, they’re not using the categories that we use. Like when they talk about the end in Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13, they’re specifically talking about the end of the temple. When is the temple going to be destroyed? What’s that going to look like? What are those signs? And Jesus tells them what that is. And we’re reading this as the end and all this stuff. We’re not reading it right because that’s not the way they wrote.

They were looking for a day where the age to come was going to come into the now. Jeremiah talked about it in chapter 31. He says, “In the latter days, God’s going to put His Spirit in people and the Law is not going to be this external thing anymore, they’re going to do it from within.”

Well, the writer to the Hebrews says that’s gone on. That day has happened. The prophet Joel said, “In the latter days, God’s going to do this stuff and there’s going to be all these signs in heaven and smoke and all that.”

And Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost and says, “This, what you’re seeing, is exactly what Joel said.”

And we always go, “Well, okay. That first part’s that, but the second part, all the signs and all this stuff, that hasn’t...”

No, no. He says this is what Joel said. Boom. Because, once again, he’s using the language of Joel. Joel’s talking about the locust plague that came upon everybody and all of this stuff. And it’s all this imagery saying, “Hey, the judgments and all this stuff, God’s moving everything to right.”

But, one day, right smack dab in history, God’s going to pull the age to come into the now, and it’s going to be a different experience. And that happened when Jesus rose from the dead and the Spirit of God comes within us. That’s why the New Testament writers say that we have received a deposit, we’ve received a deposit which is like a layaway plan that we have some of the “out-there” in the now, living within us right now, and that’s why we’re called to be different. That’s why we’re called to look uniquely different from the world, because we have God’s Spirit living within us.

And so, this is sort of some of the literary clues that we need to read the prophetic literature but let me get more specific here. I don’t know if you know this or not, but Jesus says He’s going to come on the clouds four times in the New Testament. Matthew 24, Matthew 26, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Now, when I say that, you probably have an imagery of what you think that means. Well, let me help you out here in reading some of the things in the New Testament. Do you know that Jesus is quoting the Old Testament when He makes that statement? Most Christians don’t. Because, let’s be honest, most Christians don’t know their Old Testament very well. We just don’t sort of know it.

All the early Christians knew their Old Testament really well. We don’t know the Old Testament very well, so we pay a price. Jesus is quoting the Old Testament when He says He’s coming on the clouds, so it might be important to understand what the Old Testament has to say about coming on the clouds until we just assume that we know what that means in the New Testament. That passage is quoted from Daniel. Daniel says this:

“I saw in the night visions,”

This is important here. This is a vision. This is not a Polaroid camera shot of something concrete. This is a vision. He says, “And, behold, with the clouds of heaven...” — cosmic language — “...there came one like the Son of Man.”

Not quite sure. It’s a vision, so I can’t really tell you if it’s like the Son of Man. I think it was. Not quite sure. But, like the Son of Man.

“And he came to the Ancient of days.”

That’s Yahweh. So, whoever the Son of Man is on the cloud, He is coming to the Ancient of Days and is presented before Him. Why? Why is He coming to the Ancient of days? Why is He being presented before the Ancient of days? Because this is a coronation ceremony. This is a vindication motif, because look at what the Ancient of days says to the Son of Man that rides on this cloud in a vision and goes before Him.

He says, “And to him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages, should serve him.”

In other words, whoever the Son of Man is that’s riding on a cloud, going to the Ancient of days, is being coronated, is being crowned, is being vindicated for whatever He’s done. He’s being vindicated for whatever He’s done.

“And there was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that will not be destroyed.”

So when Jesus quotes coming on the clouds — and I think the visual here is important. You probably may have intuited it by reading it but let me show you the visual here. The Son of Man on a cloud, like the Son of Man, is coming to, is being presented to the Ancient of days, and He’s being coronated. He is not coming from heaven to earth on the cloud. He’s going up. That’s huge. Because if you don’t understand what He’s quoting, you might likely read Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 in a way that it was never written. Because this is where He’s quoting from. And the visual isn’t there to here, the visual is there to there. He’s going to. He’s being presented. And whatever He’s done, He’s being crowned for what He’s done, and all authority and all dominion and everything is being given to Him. Which makes total sense, because if you read Matthew 24 and Luke 21 and Mark 13, you’ll read that the disciples are looking at the temple in Jerusalem and they’re like, “Whoa. This is really pretty. This is awesome.”

Jesus says, “You see the stones? Not one of them is going to be left not thrown down.”

And what do they say? “Lord, tell us when this is going to be and when the end will be.”

Not the end of the world. The end of the temple. That’s what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about anything else. People go, “Oh, that’s the second coming.”

Okay. Well, if it’s the second coming, when the armies have surrounded Jerusalem, why does Jesus say, “Run to the wilderness?” Why does He say, “Flee to the mountains?” Why does He say, “Don’t go back in the city?” Why does He say, “Pray that you’re not a lady with a small child during those days?”

Because what He’s saying is, “I’m telling you, this generation will see it.” And they did. He said, “This generation is going to see the destruction of the temple, and these are the things that are going to happen that lead up to it, and this is what it’s going to look like when it happens. And when it happens, you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. You will realize that the work that I did on the cross, there’s now no temple for forgiveness of sins anymore. There’s no other way to be forgiven other than through me. You will see the vindication in front of you. In this generation, you’ll see it.”

And see, Jesus knew that and so did the Sanhedrin. So did the high priest, because the other passage that’s not in Matthew 24, Luke 21 or Mark 13, which is all talking about the same thing. The only other passage where He quotes it is when He is in front of the high priest. He’s gone to Caiphas’ house. And the high priest is looking at him. You’ve got to understand, the Jewish people were looking for a military leader to overthrow Rome, lead them in military victory, and Israel would then conquer everybody and then they could go into the world and tell everybody about Yahweh. That’s what they were expecting.

That’s why, when James and John said to Jesus, “Hey, when You come in Your glory, can we be on Your right hand and Your left hand? Dude, when You finally get this thing right and You understand that You’re supposed to overthrow Rome, because right now You don’t. You’re touching people that You shouldn’t touch, You’re doing crazy things. But we believe You’re going to get it one day. And when You get it, will You make sure that we’re on Your right hand and Your left?”

Jesus is like, “You guys don’t know what you’re talking about. My glory’s going to be the cross, and who’s on my left hand and my right hand is prepared for by the Father.”

See, they’ve got a different understanding of what’s going on. And Jesus is before the high priest, and here’s the conversation. The high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the Living God. Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God. Are You really the Christ? Is this really who You are? You don’t look like it. You don’t match up anything that we’re looking for at all. Are You the Christ?”

Jesus says, “You’ve said so. But I tell you, from now on, you’re going to see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

High priest knew what He was quoting. High priest knew exactly where that’s coming from. He knew exactly what He was saying, that Jesus is saying to him, “I’m going to be the one that Daniel talked about that’s going to be given all dominion, all glory and all power, and you’re going to see it in your midst.”

What do you think the high priest does? Does Matthew tell us that he went out and got binoculars and started looking in the sky to see a cloud come from heaven to earth? No. What he did is he tore his robes and said, “This man has uttered blasphemy. This man is not the Danielic Son of Man. This man is not the one that’s going to be receiving all the glory and dominion and all the nations will serve him. It’s blasphemy. That this man would say he is the one coming in the clouds of Daniel? Blasphemy. What further witness do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.”

And see, that changes everything because when we see that the cloud visions are Jesus going to the Ancient of days, what that does is it helps us reconstruct some of these passages that we read, and we can read them differently. That’s why when Jesus says, “Hey, there’s going to be somebody grinding at the mill, one taken and one left,” we go, “Where’d they go? Where’d they go?”

Well, Jesus says, because the disciples say, “Where’d they go?” He says, “Well, where the bodies are, the vultures will be.” What He’s saying is when the Roman soldiers come into Jerusalem, they’re going to be grabbing people in judgment and killing people in judgment. Some of them will be taken, and when they’re taken they’re going to be killed. And where their bodies are, that’s where the vultures will be. This is a judgment on Jerusalem, and Jesus is saying, “You’re going to see. This generation right in front of me, this generation will see that what I said is true, and there’s going to be no other sacrifices for sin.”

And that’s what the writer to the Hebrews says. Jesus is the only sacrifice. He is the one. He told them beforehand that all of these things were going to happen so that they would know when they saw it that Jesus really was who He said He was.

Now, all that being said, what can we sort of take home here? And these are some take-homes. Write these down. Jot these down. I think these will help you out. First of all, the prophetic message is misread. We misread these things when it becomes about anything other than God putting all things back to right through Jesus. In other words, there’s a plan God has, and Jesus is the one that is being used to bring everything back to right.

That’s why when we read the book of Revelation most people think that’s the blueprint for the future and it’s telling us everything that’s going on in the future and mapping all of these things out. It doesn’t say the revelation of the future for the 21st Century church. What it says is this: It’s the revelation of Jesus Christ. Now, I’m not trying to be impressive here, but there’s three Greek words that start off the book of Revelation. Apokalupsis, Jesu, Cristo. The unveiling of Jesus. And the ending, which is an omicron and upsilon, is a genitive, which means it should be read, “This is Jesus’ revelation.”

It’s not a revelation of the future. It’s a revelation of Jesus. That’s what it’s about. It’s about how God is using Jesus to put everything back together. So important because the second take-home is this: This message that we’re reading is a hopeful vision of a glorious future where God puts things back to right. But listen to this: Reversing chronology. The book of Revelation isn’t going forward, the book of Revelation is going backwards. And I’m going to show you how that works here in just a second, because it’s taking us back to where God used to have it this way, and then it became this way and God’s putting it back to this way.

Let me show you how all that works. Revelation 1. Jesus looks out and He sees the seven churches from the Isle of Patmos, and in each one of those churches, there’s a lamp stand. Well, that reminds us of the original temple that was built for Solomon that had the seven lamp stands that were there in the temple. But Jesus told us in the Gospels He was a greater than Solomon. So, as He looks out, the temple’s no longer what’s important. It’s all these churches going out to Asia Minor, but it’s very important that it’s seven because it’s reminding us here that as seven churches, like the temple’s seven lamp stands, recall the temple of Solomon.

Well then, we have a couple of letters, in Revelation 2 and 3, to the churches. But in Revelation 4 and 5, the Lion of Judah, the root of David, is enthroned. We see a lamb standing there that’s slaughtered. And you’re not expecting that. You’re expecting a king with swords and shields and powerful and muscles. But, instead, it’s Jesus there, dripping in blood, because He’s been slaughtered. And everybody’s going, “Who can open these seals?”

Well, it’s the Lion of Judah, it’s the Root of David that can do that. He’s enthroned. He’s the true Davidic King. Because, see, Matthew, you read Gospel, right? Gospel is telling you theology. Remember if you read the original genealogy of Matthew, normally we just run through that and act like there’s no big deal there. No. Matthew is telling you something important. From Abraham, which was Babylon, to David is 14 generations. From David back to Babylon is 14 generations. And from Babylon to the Christ is 14 generations. What is Matthew telling us? That David was not a king that could deliver the children of Israel. They ended up back at the very same spot when they started with Abraham. It took Jesus to be the one to deliver the people of God. He is the true Davidic King.

So we’ve gone backwards. We were in Kings, now we’re in Samuel. Well, in Revelation 9 and 11, there’s seven trumpets that sound, and a great city, which is home to a whore, falls. Well, anybody who’s ever been in Sunday school knows about seven trumpets and a big city that’s got walls and the walls fall and there was a whore on the inside named Rahab. Everybody knows that. That’s Joshua. Okay. We’ve just gone from Kings to Samuel to Joshua. We’re going backwards. We’re not going forwards. We’re going backwards.

In Revelation 15, having escaped the beast of the sea, the people of God sing the song of Moses standing on a crystal sea. Well, you remember when they came out of Egypt, they stood on the other side and the women sang and they said, “The horse and the rider God’s drowned in the water.”

They sang the song. Well, that happens in Exodus 15 while singing the same song. Why? Because we’re going backwards. In Revelation 20, there’s a judgment on all the earth where God covers the earth in fire to purify it. He said He’d never destroy it again by water, so now it’s fire. And that fire recalls the narrative of the flood. Well, that’s Genesis 7. Well, then we get to Revelation 21 and 22 and we have a garden and we have the Tree of Life. That’s Genesis 2. And then we have a new heaven and a new earth. Genesis 1.

See, John wrote to seven churches — not you and me — that were dying. They were being killed. He writes a message to them that he says, “I want it to be read aloud.” He’s not anticipating everybody going back and trying to figure out crowns and horns and who’s this and who’s that.”

They don’t have time for that when you’re getting your head chopped off. What they’re hearing is an oracle, because they know their Old Testament. They’re going, “God is bringing everything back to the way it should be, so I can endure my calamity because I know that my God is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and He’s ultimately going to accomplish all that He said. No matter what’s going on in my life, I have faith and I have hope in my God.”

And see, that changes everything. Rather than fear and confusion and who’s getting a chip in their hand and all this stuff, it’s written to remind you and me that our God is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and no matter what may be going on here on the earth, no matter what beast comes up out of the sea, no matter how bad it may be, if we could be whisked into the heavenlies, we see that the beast merely has the power that God has given him. We see that those who have been slain are reigning with God in white robes worshiping around the throne, not worried about what’s gone on because they know now that God has a plan. This gives you and me hope. It doesn’t give us fear. It gives us hope. And that’s what this literature is all about.

And the last thing is this: The prophetic message massively impacts our life now. Listen to me. This is so huge. If you don’t hear anything else that I say, please hear this: Heaven, out there, has come into the now. And what we’re supposed to be, as Christians, is looking like what out there is, because we know that out there is coming. Nothing is going to keep that from happening.

So, in heaven, guess what? There isn’t any unforgiveness, which means that as the body of Christ, that Jesus told us to pray, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We shouldn’t be a place where unforgiveness is found within our place. We ought to be doing whatever it takes to work through things, whatever feet we have to wash, whatever cheek we have to turn. We ought to be people that look like what we know is coming. In heaven, there’s not all kinds of racism and divide and socio-economic divisions and all of that stuff, which means in the Church we shouldn’t be that way. Everybody should feel welcome when they walk in here. Everybody that walks through that door should know that we have something for them, because we serve a God that has a plan for them and a purpose for them, and He doesn’t look at the color of skin and what care you drive. He looks at you as someone that He died on the cross for with an everlasting love, with a message of grace.

That’s who we should be. We should be a community that looks so different. Because we know that’s where we’re going, we ought to be living in the now what that is. No enemies in heaven. That’s why we can love our enemies. No smacking each other in heaven. That’s why we can turn the other cheek. And see, the early Christian Church, they got this message because Peter says, “They’re going to come and ask you for the hope that is within you.”

These are people that are on the line for their faith, but they have hope. Why? Because they’ve watched the DVR and they know that UK — I mean they know that God is awesome. Because they know that God is an incredible God. And I just want to share that with you. Listen, whether you’ve been here first time, or you’ve been here for all the years that we’re here, I want you to know that God is a wonderful God that has such a plan for you and me. And He wants to use you and me to do great things. He wants us to look like His community and to live out all of those things. And, in doing so, folks, we can change Lakewood Ranch, we can change Sarasota, we can change Bradenton because the same power of God that lived in the first century church lives within you and me, and the same people that could’ve turned the world upside down, God can do the same thing through you and me if we’re willing to embrace the fact that that future’s coming, we know it’s coming, and we want to live like that right now.

And if we do that as a church, people are going to beat the doors down because they’re looking for hope. The one thing the world doesn’t have right now. It’s got fear, it’s got confusion, it’s got calamity, it’s got division. The Church can’t look like that. We’ve got to be a place that looks like heaven so that people can find out that there’s hope. And then when they come and ask you, “What’s your hope?” you can say, “Let me tell you about the one that died on a cross for me and rose again on the third day. Let me tell you the one that took me from the pit of misery and put a smile on my face. Let me tell you the one that took me from where I was and made me something different. Let me tell you about my Jesus, because He can change your life.”

When we live the Word, our voice has teeth. We’ve got to learn to embrace living what we are in the now, and the prophets help us to understand that by giving us a message of hope.

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity to be able to do what I do and to be able to speak to Your people. Lord, this is Your Church and these are Your people. I am merely just the mailman delivering mail. But Lord, I pray that every person in here today would realize that this is not about a church or a song or a preacher or a message. We do what we do because we believe Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead on the third day and can make a difference in people’s lives.

And Lord, I pray if there’s anybody in here today that doesn’t know You — maybe they’ve been burned by religion, maybe they’ve been burned by church, maybe they’ve been burned by a lot of things — I pray, Lord, that they would realize that they’re not here by accident. They’re here today because of a divine appointment. You wanted to speak to them.

Lord, help us to all understand that. None of us are here today by chance. We’re here, Lord, because You want to do something in our lives that is legacy building, that brings people into the Kingdom of God. You want to use us to do that. So Lord, I just pray that as we think about these things and chew on these things over the next week, I pray, Lord, that we would truly well up inside and realize the great things that You want to do in our lives for Your glory.

So Lord, as we leave here today, I pray that You would watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, and I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, continue to help us be that church that truly reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. We love You, we thank You and we praise You for it. In Jesus’ name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless you. See you soon.

Poetic Imagination Week 1: Poetry

Sermon Transcript


Our world: It seems as though it has drastically changed in the past 30 years. How does the church respond? In times of calamity and turmoil, the prophets arose. Where is that prophetic voice today, and what would it look like? The answer may surprise you.

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re starting a new series today. I don’t know how you all are, but I love it when we start new series’. And this one is going to be fantastic, because we’re going to be dealing with something that so many of us don’t really understand if we’re being honest. And it’s this crazy group of people that dress wild, as crazy things, lay on their side in front of frying pans, see all kinds of visions. It’s this group called “the prophets.”

And I know, here in America, when we say prophets, we go, “That’s what I want my business to have,” but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about prophets, okay? The real people in the Old Testament. And the reality is this is a crazy group of people. And so often you find in the church people flip over to the Old Testament and they’re reading some of these prophets and they’re like, “Man, I don’t understand any of this stuff. They’re sort of rough. They’re sort of nasty. Why don’t we run back over here to the New Testament? Ah, Jesus is so nice. Isn’t He?”

But even that, we’ve got Jesus, He turns the tables over in the temple. You’re like, “What is He doing?” It’s a prophetic act. I mean, who are these people and what can we learn from them and what are they saying to us and what’s the literature that we’re reading? So I think, for everybody in here, even if this is like your first time here and maybe you were at First Friday and you thought, “Hey, I’m going to just show up today,” I think you’re going to enjoy this.” Or it’s someone who’s been here the entire time that we’ve been in existence, or whether or not you’re like — you’re not even sure if you’re a Christian at this point. You’re just here. You wanted to sort of come to church and see what’s going on.

And let me tell you something: If that’s where you’re at, you can belong here before you believe. Just sit back. We’re a church that welcomes people, so you can hang out. But if you’ve been a Christian for 30 or 40 years, I think that this particular series is going to challenge us, I think it’s going to inform us, I think we’re going to learn. And hopefully, and it’s my goal in everything that I do, I hope this all draws us closer to the Lord Jesus in our relationship, looking at these people that we call “the prophets.”

Now, many of you all know this. If you’re new, you wouldn’t know this. But at the beginning of every series, and at the beginning of every sermon, I like to have a big idea that we sort of talk about that’s going to sort of, you know, be what we discuss over the next several weeks as we open up here a new series called “The Poetic Imagination.” When I do, let me give you a little inside thing here about the way I think about when I preach.

The reason I do a big idea is because I know that all of us have tough weeks, and we get busy and things are going on. And I believe that when I give the big idea at the beginning of every sermon, it just sort of — we go, “Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re going.”

And so I try to make something that’s memorable, that you can remember, and go, “Oh, yeah,” and it jars the memory know what we’re studying. So we’re going to be looking at the prophets. We’re going to be looking at what they say and do. But the big idea that we want to sort of capture here at the beginning of the series, and one we’ll talk about at the beginning of every sermon in this series, is this: When we settle for “less than,” we get “less than.” That’s just the truism, and the way it is. If we settle for less, we get less.

And the reason I say that is because of this: Properly communicating the entirety of God’s Word is far too important for “less than.” We can’t afford to only preach some of the things that we like or teach things that we like out of the Bible. We need to be people that believe that, you know, all of these books in here, there’s 66 of them, we can’t just go, “Yeah, those prophets. Ezekiel. I don’t know what he was smoking, seeing some of that stuff that he was seeing. I mean, he was on better stuff than people in Sarasota are on.”

You know? And we go through and we read Micah and Nahum, and Nahum is saying things like, “Man, what is he talking about? I mean, this is some strange language.”

And so what we can’t afford to do is go, “Okay. You know what? I just don’t want to deal with that stuff. I want to stay over here and pick and choose the stuff that I like.”

I don’t think we need to do that. I just think we need to properly understand what’s going on. And, you know, have a commitment to preaching Scripture. There’s nothing in Scripture that I won’t preach. I mean, we’re going to do all of it together. But we can’t settle for less than, because prophets have a number of great things to say to you and me, but I think if we can understand them a little bit better and understand what they’re doing, it’s going to help us out immensely. So this is going to be a fun time. You’re going to learn a lot. I think you’re going to see prophets and their literature in a way that you’ve never seen it before, and I think this is going to be a great series.

But before we get going, I want to do a little mind exercise with everybody, and I think most of you will remember this as growing up as a kid. And I’m going to come back to this mind exercise a couple of times in the message. I think it will sort of, at critical points in the message, remind us of some things.

But do you remember growing up — And I think everybody can remember this, especially if you’re my age or older. We had some vivid imaginations when we were growing up. I mean, my kids have laser tag. We had sticks. Can I get an “amen?” You know what I’m talking about? I mean, I grew up in Kentucky. That’s where the toothbrush was invented. Did you know that? If it would’ve been invented anywhere else, it would’ve been the “teethbrush.”

So, anyway, but we had a vivid imagination. Some of you all are getting that. It’s like it’s a little early. You know? And those of you all who were in Israel with me, you’re sort of like, “What?”

Anyway, but we did. I mean, listen, my kids have these game systems, and there’s like nine buttons that you have to play with. And that’s not it. There’s buttons on the back of the controller. I mean, it’s like — it’s crazy. We had a stick and an orange button. That’s what we had, and that’s the way God intended it, folks. Because this other stuff is just, I don’t get it. And so, here’s the deal. Remember when you — at least for me, we thought that a triangle was a spaceship. We did. And these jagged things were asteroids. And we would shoot at the asteroids and we were in. Today, it’s like they’ve got VR. They’re in the spaceship.

But we had a vivid imagination. All of us did. I mean, we could do anything. I remember growing up in Kentucky — that’s God’s state, by the way, and the basketball program —  but I grew up and I remember in ‘78, Kyle Macy was our point guard, and I was 8 years old and I thought I was Kyle Macy. I mean, I had a picture of him in my room, and all I could envision was, you know, I was on the UK Wildcat team, and it was like 3 seconds left, National Championship, and there I was. And I’d count it down, “Three, two, one!”

And I’d miss, and I’d go, “Redo!” I’d come back, get the ball again, you know, and say, “Okay. Here we go. Three, two, one!” Until I made it. And then like everybody, you know, Joe B. Hall’s got me on his shoulders. You know? He was the coach back then, if you don’t know. You should know. Study Kentucky basketball, because God wants you to do that.

Anyway, so they’re carrying me around. I mean, life was great. This vivid imagination. And all of us can relate. I mean, it’s like we know, when we were a kid, it was like the world was out there. I mean, we were going to be rock stars, we were going to do all this stuff. I mean, even my own little boy, Jack, he’s out dribbling one day. I’m sitting in a chair. My back’s a little injured right now. And he’s like, “Dad, I’m going to get a 55-million-dollar contract in the NBA.”

I’m like, “Son, shoot some layups.”

Anyway, the thing is, see, that imagination is there. There is nothing that you can’t do as a kid. But this is sort of sad, but it’s true. Along the way, we settle. We settled somewhere. Maybe it was a bad relationship or maybe it was a bankruptcy or maybe it was something that happened in our lives. Maybe we lost somebody that we loved. And all of a sudden, that imagination that, “Man, I can do anything. I can really do something great.”

We just sort of settled. I don’t like the word settled. I like the word we became “numb.” We just became numb. You see it as a pastor all the time. People say, “You know, I’m working hard and 60 hours a week. I’m just sort of tired. I go home. I want to love my wife and love my kids, but I’m sort of exhausted. I’m just sort of numb, pastor, to life.”

And that vivid imagination that they had at one time, or we had at one time, is sort of gone. And the Bible talks about this. It doesn’t use the word “vivid imagination.” It doesn’t use the word “settled.” It doesn’t use the word “numb.” But it says the same things. And it’s a story that runs all the way through the Bible that we need to understand. It’s the paradigmatic story of Scripture. And it’s the story of deliverance out of Egypt. The people of God are in Egypt. They’re in Egypt and it’s an oppressive environment. It’s the empire. It’s, you know, work hard, people are numbers and they don’t have any value at all. There’s no dignity, there’s no value to humanity. And some people say, “God, there’s got to be something more. This just can’t be the existence. This just can’t be the numb existence for the rest of my life.”

And God delivers them out of Egypt and He delivers them into the wilderness. And in the wilderness, you wouldn’t get to eat. I mean, everybody knows in the wilderness you wouldn’t get to eat. But see, God’s got big plans. God provides manna for them in the wilderness. And if they stored too much of it up, you know, because that’s the way we would do it, like, “I need to get more, because what if it goes out?”

God’s like, “No. It turns to worms every morning and you have to go out and get your daily bread.”

That’s why Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray for daily bread.” This story is all through Scripture, this idea of coming out of Egypt. This idea of, Paul says in Galatians 1, “God has delivered us from this present evil age.” That’s Exodus thought. Galatians 4, he says, “You’re no longer slaves, you’re sons.”

That’s Exodus speech. In Matthew 11, when Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden.” Those are words that are used in the Old Testament. That’s Egypt. He’s saying, “You don’t have to do the Pharaoh thing anymore. Come to me and I’ll give you rest. You see in the book of Revelation, He says, “Come out of her, my people.” The City of Babylon. It’s all about this coming out and becoming the new community that God has created you and me to be. And that community is loving God and loving neighbors and figuring out how to rest in God. That’s the fourth commandment. The first three are serving God, the last six are loving other people and tied together by our relationship with God.

God wants us to be a new community. He wants us to be different than it was in Egypt. He wants us to live in ways that are new, and all kinds of imagination and everything. But here’s what happens, and it happens all throughout Scripture. The people of God get delivered out of that oppressive system, but those sirenic voices, they beckon them to come back and somehow get God and culture, and God and Egypt, and God and patriotism, or all of those things, and nationalism all put together in such a way. And God’s like, “No. I want you to come out of all of that. I am creating an alternative community. You’re no longer citizens of this world. You’re citizens of heaven. You’re ambassadors. I’ve got so much more for you to do. I want to tap into that imagination. There’s so many things. You’re going to be another community that’s going to be walking in this world, telling people to come out and join this community.”

But what happens is we go back, and we keep going back. And we don’t like the new man, we want the old man. It feels more comfortable to put on the old clothes rather than the new clothes. And what happens is when the people of God forget, and they lose that imagination and they settle for the things of the world rather than for all of the things that God has, God has some people that He sends on the scene, and they are prophets. And what they do is they talk about this world and this age and Pharaoh’s Empire and the city of man. This is the story that they tell.

Because, see, in this world and this age and Pharaoh’s empire and the city of man, what’s happening is people become or are commodities in Pharaoh’s Egypt. And you talk to people and they go, “I just feel like I’m a number. I don’t feel like anybody knows who I am. I don’t feel like my boss cares about me.”

See, this is empire, and in the empire, bricks have got to get made. It’s all about production. And when you say, “You need to go get a job, and you need to work harder,” is that Pharaoh talking or is that God? See, the empire pulls us in. We’ve been delivered from that, and all of a sudden, now, we’re loving enemies, turning cheeks, loving on the fatherless and the widows, bringing in foster kids and doing all these great things. But empire says, “No. No. Come back. Come back. People are just commodities. They don’t have the value and dignity. Don’t treat everybody the same. If they don’t look like you and smell like you and taste like you, they’re people that need to be rejected. If they live across the sea, we don’t care about them. We don’t like different things.”

That’s the empire. But God says, “No, no, no. I want everybody from every tongue and nation, color and kindred and tribe, I want everybody together, but the bricks have got to get made, and that oppressive work leads to numbness”

And we see that in society. We see people are numb. There’s people that are in the church and they smile real big and they say everything’s good, but the reality is they’re numb. Because where they’ve been delivered, they’ve gradually just sort of walked back into that lifestyle. And, oftentimes, that lifestyle, they sort of mix it with God and they convince themselves that what they’re doing is what God wants them to do, or they just sort of wonder where God’s at. But there’s a numbness. And into that world, God always sends these people called the prophets. And what the prophets do is they come to the community of faith. They don’t go to the world. If you read the prophets, they’re going to the people of God. Every one of them. They’re going to kings. They’re going to priests. They’re going to the people that serve them.

And what they’re doing is they’re saying, “Guys, you’ve lost it.”

It’s like, you know, I grew up and my mom and dad, they had assisted living facilities, and I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people who have lost their heartbeat, and the emergency people will come and take the pads and shock them to get that heart going again. The prophets come in with these pads, and they shock the people of God to say, “You look like Egypt. You look like Pharaoh. You don’t look like God. You’re not providing people the alternative community. You’re trying to mix the two or you’ve confused it, but you need to remember who you are.”

So the prophets, they stir up the people of God by reminding them of who and what they are to be. Not to do, but to be. Because, see, our “doing” flows from our being, not the other way around. And they remind everybody, “No, no, no. You’ve been delivered. You’re treating the poor in a bad way. That’s the way it’s done in Egypt. It’s not the way we do it. We believe that everybody comes together at the same table whether they’re rich or poor or whether they’re from this country or that country. We come together because we’re the people of God that have been delivered from the oppressive city,” and the prophets say, “I need to stir you up to remind you.”

And they use graphic language and all kinds of crazy things. And what are they doing? Well, it’s important to understand that they’re using a literary device. They’re using a genre to arrest people’s attention, and that genre is poetry. It’s not prose. It’s poetry. And they say all kinds of stuff, you know? The sun’s going to stop shining. The moon is going to turn to blood. And we’re like, “Well, what does that mean?”

It’s poetry. It’s expanding something that we’ve lost. It’s expanding our imagination. It’s trying to get us to think again and to arrest us; to realize that we’ve been delivered, and we are far more than what we’ve settled for. We’ve settled for “less than,” and the prophets want to remind us that our God is a great God. Our God is the God that can separate the Red Sea and we can walk across on the dry ground. Our God’s the God that can have somebody walk on the water. Our God’s the God that on the fourth day when Lazarus smells, He can roll open the stone and old Lazarus can come out of the grave because God can take the dead things and make them live again. He’s the God of Ezekiel 37 that takes the dry bones and forms them into an army. That’s who He is. And the prophets say, “That’s who Yahweh is. Don’t settle. Don’t settle for something less than.”

Believe that God has something greater for you. And what they do is they always end with hope. They never come in and say, “God’s going to judge.” Why’s God going to judge? Because it’s the same thing with Egypt. He’s going to bring the plagues even on the people of God. Why? Because they forgot who they are. But what He’s trying to do is He’s trying to push those people to come out of that system. And the prophets always end with a message of hope. They always say, “And after God does this, He’s going to restore. And after God does this, He’s going to redo these things. And after God does this, wine’s going to flow, and trees are going to grow, and snacks are going to sit down with animals, and lions with lambs, and all of this great stuff.”

And it’s tapping into this imagination to give us hope again to believe that our God truly is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And so what the prophets do, they contrast the mantra of this world that brings us in and brings us to numbness. They talk about the world to come. They talk about the age to come. They talk about the exodus. They talk about the City of God that’s not the City of Man, whose builder and maker is God. They refocus everybody into what the plan of God is, and so they remind, they recall, and they’ll rebuke the community of faith to remember who they are by arresting the collective imagination of the people through poetry.

So what do they say? What are the grand themes of the prophets? Well, there’s three. There’s a number of things that they do, but there’s three major categories that they speak. And you can read all the way through them. They’re always saying the same thing. The first one is they’re kingdom heralds. They realize something that we don’t always realize as the church. We’ve settled for less than. Here’s what they know: They know that the goal of earthly kings, or the goal of earthly pharaohs, or the goal of earthly leaders is to bring stability, peace, order and prosperity, or things like that. And here’s what they know: They can’t. They can’t.

See, Christianity usually falls within two systems. There’s the conservative side of Christianity, and the liberal side of Christianity, and both of them settle for less than. The conservatives want to stand on the other side of the Red Sea and say, “You’re doing it wrong. You’re not right. That’s wrong. You’re going to go to hell for doing that. Can’t live that way. Can’t do that. We know. Here’s what the Word of God says. And Egypt, you’re going to crash and burn, baby, because here’s what the Word of God says.”

Liberals say, “Do you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to go back into Egypt and we’re going to do all kinds of social things, and we’re going to reform Egypt.”

The bottom line is you both have settled for something less. This is never going to work. There’s only one king that can bring stability, peace, order and prosperity, and His name is Jesus. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He’s the one. That’s why Jesus, when He comes on the scene and He goes through Galilee teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming what? The Gospel. The Good News of the Kingdom, of the true King. See, we settle. We just want to get the right Pharaoh, and we think that everything will be okay. That if Pharaoh just does it the way we want him to do it, life’s going to be good. We’ve settled for less than.

You see it in all kinds of social media. Everybody attacking everybody. You’re not called to reform Egypt. You’re called to come out of Egypt. Man, I’m about to preach. It’s funny. Jim Donato, he’s in the medicine world, he’d give me some Tamiflu to take to Israel. And he was like, “Man, you had energy at nine o’clock.”

I’m like, “I just ate all your Tamiflu right before I started preaching.” I said, “You gave me speed, didn’t you?”

Anyways, no. I’m kidding. The Gospel and the kingdom is about the true King and let me tell you something: The true King is the only one who can heal every disease and every affliction. See, the prophets understand they’re kingdom heralds. We need to be kingdom heralds. Don’t get distracted with Egypt. You’ve been brought out of Egypt. Our goal is to show an alternative lifestyle where we love people, where we pray for people, where we love enemies, we turn the other cheek, we forgive so that the people in Egypt want to come out and join us. We’re not going back and reforming. We’re not getting the right pharaoh. None of that stuff. We’re not going to yell across the Red Sea. What we’ve got to do is lead people to Jesus, and when we settle for less than, we get less than. And the prophets come and arrest us and say, “It’s about the kingdom.”

You see it throughout the Old Testament. The prophets, they talk about the mountain of the Lord’s house being above all the other mountains. That’s poetic ways of saying God’s kingdom is going to come, and one day it’s going to be above all the other kingdoms of the world. It’s coming. Folks, the kingdom of God is coming, for a fact. And we herald that kingdom.

I’m up here spitting. I’ve got spit on my glasses. Some of y’all watching by the internet, you’re going, “Man, there’s spit all over my computer. I don’t know what this guy’s doing.”

Some people are down on the front row going, “I think I’m going to get an umbrella.”

Okay. So, kingdom herald. Second thing is the prophets are always time tellers. They tell us what time it is. And the time is now to come out of Egypt and join up with the family of God. Paul says it this way to the Ephesians. He says, “Look carefully, then, how you walk.”

This is really important, too. Listen to me here. When we are called to be the alternative community that’s come out of Egypt, if our actions are not our actions, we have no voice. See, the church, for too long, has told everybody what to do, but hasn’t done it itself. See, it’s when we’re living the Gospel of the kingdom in our lives that our voices matter.

Paul says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

What time is it? It’s time to let people know that the kingdom is coming, and that there’s deliverance. That they don’t have to live in the numbness of Egypt. They can live in the abundance of God. You see, Paul says this to the Corinthians. He goes, “Those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”

So we get so involved, we get so inculcated with our culture and our nationalism and all of those things, and what it does is it brings us down. We’re not called to represent one country above the other countries. We’re called to represent the Kingdom of God to every country, to every nation. And when we settle for less than, we get less than. And we don’t see God move in the way we want to see Him move.

He says, “For the present form of this world is passing away. Don’t get bogged down with that stuff.”

Stay focused. This is what time it is. John says it this way: “The world’s passing away, but however does the will of God abides forever.”

Don’t get caught up in those things. So the prophets, they’re kingdom heralds. They are time tellers. But this is the most important one, and this is the one that we’ve got to get right. If we really get the prophetic voice of the church right, is this. Number three: They’re hope dispensers. They constantly are giving hope to people. That’s one of the things that we need to realize. And let me tell you something. As a church here — let me salute you as your pastor — this church dispenses a lot of hope into Lakewood Ranch. We do a lot of things right here at Grace Community Church. And so, that’s an awesome thing.

I want to read you a passage of Scripture really quickly, though, that maybe you’ve read before, and I think this will minister to you. David, in Psalm 3, is being chased out of Jerusalem by his son Absalom. And he’s got a big ol’ army, and they’re out to get David. And he writes Psalm 3. Here’s what he writes.

He says, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me!”

Now, if you understand Hebrew — and I don’t expect for you to understand Hebrew, but if you understand Hebrew, Hebrew goes from here to here. It’s sort of a real funky language because you’re reading backwards. So you open up the book on the other side. Okay. The first word in Psalm 3:1 is “Lord.” The last word in Psalm 3:1 is “me.” What is David saying? He’s saying that there’s many foes and many people rising up to separate the Lord from me. And he uses the word “many” three times. Two here, and one in the next verse. He says, and listen, for you and me, it may not be the military battle of Absalom coming to displace us out of Jerusalem where we have to flee, but it might be life. It might be finances. It might be a relationship. It might be a marriage. It might be someone that you lost. It might be a lost loved one. It might be a child that died. Something is just getting in you and trying to separate you from God.

And these many foes that are rising up against him, he says, “Many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for you in God.’”

And that, my friend, is a real desperate place and depressing place to be when you have lost the hope in the Lord that He can deliver you from the things that you’re going through. He says, “Many, many are trying to separate me.”

What are the things in your life? What are the “manys” in your life that are trying to separate you that are telling you, “There’s no salvation. There’s no deliverance for you. This is just the lot you have in life,” and you get numb, and that imagination goes?

But see, David says this: “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, You’re my glory, and You’re the lifter of my head.”

See, David says, “I know what a shield is. I know a shield here. I might be able to protect my face, but the rest of my body’s open. I might be able to protect my legs. I might even be able to protect a lot of my body, but my back is here. He says, “Oh, and let me tell you something. My Lord is a shield all the way around me. He is the one who protects me from everything. He’s my glory. Not in my title. Not in me being king. He’s my glory. And He’s the lifter of my head. He’s the one that takes me when I’m depressed. He’s the one that takes me when life isn’t going good, and He lifts up my head and He says, ‘You have dignity and you have value.’”

And maybe you find yourself here this morning, many foes are around you, many things are coming at you. Let me remind you of something: The Lord is a shield, and He is your glory, and He is the lifter of your head. He is the One that gives hope.

David says, “And I cried to the Lord,” — he’s looking back. He remembers crying out to God and what God did for him.

“I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me.”

He says, “I laid down and slept;”

“I’ve got all these people coming after me, but I know who my God is. And I’m going to lay down. I’m going to sleep. I’m going to sleep good and I’m going to wake again. And do you know why I’m going to wake again? Because I know even if they kill me, when I’m dead, they haven’t killed me, because our God is a God of resurrection. So I’m going to live no matter what. There’s no reason for me not to lie down and sleep. There’s no reason for me to be afraid.”

And that’s what he says: “I’m not going to be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.”

“Because I know who my God is.” And here’s what he says. He goes, “Look, arise, O Lord!”

He understands that God is a God of resurrection. He says, “Save me, God. You’re going to strike the enemies on the cheek and break the teeth of the wicked.”

That’s a Hebraism to say that they’re going to be insulted, because a smack on the cheek is an insult, and he’s saying he’s going to take their teeth away. So they’re going to be the toothless dog. You know? Like when that big Rottweiler comes at you and he’s showing teeth? It’s like you’re running. If that old dude comes at you and just goes, “Ah!” and there’s nothing but gums, you’re like, “Come here, buddy! Gum that arm. Come on. Right here. Right here. Gum my arm.”

He says, “This is what God’s going to do to my enemies. He’s going to defeat them, and He’s going to take the teeth out of them. They’re not going to have anything.” He says, “Because salvation belongs to the Lord, and blessing on your people.”

See, God is a God of hope. And if we’re going to get the prophetic message right, it’s not telling everybody what they do wrong, it’s a critique and an action to lead people to wake up, to realize that God has more for them than they’ve settled for. He has more for you and me than maybe we’ve settled for, and the prophetic voice speaks poetry to you and me to reinvigorate that imagination, so we realize all of the grand hope that we have in God.

So here’s the brief things here. What are the take-homes? Three quick take-homes, then we’re going to pray. The first one is this one, and this is so important. The prophetic message of the church is far more than social critique or social concern. See, we’ve got it good in the evangelical church. We just tell everybody what they do wrong. That’s what we do.

“You did that wrong. Oh, look here. Right there. There it is. Right there.”

Listen: Don’t judge people because they sin differently than you do. That was better preaching than you all are letting on. Or social concern. There’s nothing wrong with social concern. There’s nothing wrong with social critique. But when we settle for that being what the message of the church is, we’ve settled for less than. The message of this church is to reinvigorate that imagination, so people realize that God really is a God that can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think, according to the power that works within us.

Secondly, and these two hinge together, usually we settle for less than with critique or action when this happens: The prophetic message of the church cannot be subverted by culture to the exclusion of Christ. And it’s so easy to get our culture and the things that we love about the world or the place that we live and try to put Christ into that. You know, it says, “In the beginning.” That doesn’t mean that God loves baseball. It’s because we’re baseball and apple pie. “In the ‘big inning’” is “in the ‘beginning,’” not the “big inning” of baseball. You know? And oftentimes, we try to put God together with those things, and the reality is that God transcends culture. He transcends nationalism. God says, “Go into all the world,” and when we are promoting something first rather than God, we’re settling for less than.

We can’t afford to do that. And the third one — and this is so huge. The prophetic message of the church needs to ignite the imagination of people, not crush them with the weight of their sin. People are aware that they’re in need, and what they don’t need is a message that crushes them under the weight of their sin. They need to hear a Gospel that says there’s good news. No matter what you’ve done, there’s a God that can atone. No matter where you’ve been, there’s a God that says, “Come, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

He says, “Come. Whoever’s thirsty, come and drink of the waters that I freely give.”

And what He wants to do is tap into our imagination. He wants to tap into Grace Community Church and say, “Don’t settle. I’m the God that can raise the dead. I’m the God that can heal the blind. I’m the God that the deaf can hear again. I’m the God that can take the paralytic and make him walk again. I can do those things. Don’t settle. Believe in me. Believe that I can do. Believe that as Mary, there is nothing impossible with God.”

See, when we get tapped into that imagination — and remember, that’s why Jesus said, “Unless you come to me, you need to come as a little child,” because what He knows is that we sometimes settle and get numb. The prophetic voice is to remind us that there’s far more for you and me. And what I want to do is I want you to envision taking that last-second shot, and when it swishes, all of a sudden, the angels of God come around you and lift you up. And as you walk into eternity, because you made that last-second shot, the Lord says, “Hey, didn’t we do some incredible things? Well done, thy good and faithful servant.”

God wants us to believe again. He wants us to believe that He can do far more than maybe we have settled for. Let’s let the prophets speak to us. Let’s let this poetry capture our imagination again and give us a radical hope, that I can assure you that the one thing the world out there needs is hope. And we have it. Pharaoh doesn’t.

Let’s bow our heads.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the privilege of being able to share Your Word with the wonderful people here at Grace. Lord, I am fully aware that there are so many things here going on that we’re doing that looks authentically like what we should be doing. But Lord, I also realize that there’s more. Lord, we don’t want to settle to just believe in You and to go about the mundane things of life. We want to see You do the great things. We want to see You heal people. We want the dead to be raised, Lord. We want people that could never hear to hear again. Lord, we want to see You do those things that You can do. And so, Lord, we want to be reminded, even shocked, into listening to the message and the literature of the prophets to remind us that we don’t need to settle, because when we settle for less than, we get less than.

And Lord, we don’t want to do that. We want to get every single thing that You have for us. We want to be that community that walks into Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota and Bradenton and watches the dead come to life by the power of God that resides in the church. So Lord, we just thank You for today. We honor You. We ask that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us in everything that we do. We pray that You would watch over us and protect us as we leave, and we pray, Lord, that You would continue to help us be the church that You’ve called us to be, which is constantly wanting to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.

We love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless you.

It Takes a Congregation: Pastor Brian Lowery

Sermon Transcript


I lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my hope come? My hope comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil. He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever more.

[End Video]

Good morning, Grace. My Name is Brian Lowery. I’m the young adults pastor here at the church. Seeing as Chip thought the commute was a little rough, I’m the guy you’re stuck with this morning. Right? So here we go. I wanted to spend some time in this psalm, and I think that even if we hadn’t broadcast which psalm this was that was being read in the midst of the video, I would suspect some of you out there would’ve known the psalm. It’s Psalm 121. It’s one of the most beloved psalms that we really have in the Psalms. I know, speaking for myself, this has always been one of the psalms that I have most cherished. I’ve really cherished Psalm 121 because of what it says.

If you were listening there, over and again what this psalm does is it speaks to us of the beautiful guardianship of God. Right? The compassionate, kind, loving, protective guardianship of God. The word that we sometimes translate from the Hebrew, we translate it “keep.” It really should be translated “guard.” And it’s just a beautiful psalm, and I’ve cherished it for that because we live in a world that is sometimes incredibly dark and very threatening one.

So I’ve cherished this psalm for what it says. What’s happened for me, though, is that in the last four, say, five years, I absolutely still cherish this psalm. But I have found myself maybe even more so being challenged by this psalm. I cherish the psalm for what it says. I am challenged by this psalm — as odd as it sounds — because of how I know this psalm would have been said by Israel when it was said long ago. Or maybe because when we talk about a psalm we’re talking about a song. How it was sung by Israel in her worship. It just says something so powerful. And it challenges me. It confronts me sometimes in my life. What I will say is it has become — Psalm 121 has become for me an apologetic. You know what I mean by that? A defense of this. A defense of this.

And when I’m talking about this, what I mean is Psalm 121 has become a really strong defense for the necessity of what happens in this place, in this hour, among us and through us. Right? Let me explain what I mean by this. Maybe you know this, that Psalm 121 is actually part of this really beautiful little bundle of psalms that we have that collectively are referred to as the Psalms of Ascent or the Songs of Ascent. If you had, actually, a print Bible with you — I know sometimes, obviously, we’ll put it up on the screen, and maybe you don’t bring a hard copy of the Bible with you. But if you had one, starting in Psalm 120 and all the way through Psalm 134, under all of those headers of the psalm, Psalm 120, 121, 122, there’s a subheading that says, “A Song of Ascent,” or, “A Psalm of Ascent.” So, collectively, the Psalms of Ascent.

Really, scholars have long debated what exactly this little collection, this little bundle of 15 psalms is. That’s what scholars do. They debate things. They have a lot of time. So they sit back, and they wonder, “What exactly were these psalms?” They really are kind of set apart in the midst of the whole book of Psalms. And where they have most conventionally, generally landed is that what we seem to have here is a collection of the 15 psalms that the people of God, that Israel would sing as she made her way to Jerusalem for one of the three major festivals back in the time of Jesus. Like, as Israel would gather up from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west, they would make their way into Jerusalem for Pentecost or for Passover or for the Feast of Tabernacles — or Booths. Whichever you want to call it. And they would come together. And on their way there — and remember, Chip said this a few weeks ago. He said when people would travel in the ancient world, they wouldn’t travel just one, two, three of them or maybe just one family. There would often be caravans of 100, 200 people coming from the north, south, east, and the west. And they’re coming to Jerusalem. And they would sing these songs along the way.

The way I’ve described it so far in the services is it’s almost like they had a church on wheels, right? It’s like traveling church. They would come together, and they would sing songs of celebration as they made their way to the celebration. And the reason why it’s called the Psalms of Ascent or the Songs of Ascent is because, quite literally, when you make your way into Jerusalem, you actually do have to go up a little bit. You have to make an ascent.

The folks over in Israel realized this. When they rolled into that old holy city of Jerusalem, you do actually go up a bit. Jerusalem rests upon kind of a plateau-ish foundation. This is why, in the Old Testament Scriptures, it’s often spoken of as going up to Jerusalem, going up to Mount Zion, going up to the holy city. And you literally ascend, hence the Psalms of Ascent. And the people would be singing these psalms as they travel, as they’re making their way over one, two, three, four days, maybe a week, two weeks to get there.

And the reason why I think it’s really important to keep that in mind is I think knowing that these are traveling songs, that they sang as they were making their way through the ancient climate in the Middle Eastern setting, I think that actually really shows the power of the opening verse of Psalm 121. What you’ve got is you’ve got one individual, it would’ve been someone who was probably walking to the front of the group of 100 or 200 people, who would, at some point, this guy or gal, cry out and start the song by saying this: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come from?”

It’s powerful, mountains, because in the ancient world, mountains, there are few things more terrifying than the mountains. Because anyone who was traveling in the ancient world recognized all of the threats that the mountains held. I mean, really, I think the rest of the psalm really speaks to what the psalmist, this person in Psalm 121:1-2, has in mind when they’re talking about the things that are terrifying them. But, first and foremost, it would be this: For you to travel in that time in any kind of mountainous or hilly region, is for you to be under threat of being pounced on by robbers or thieves. Because in the ancient world, I mean, all the crags and the crevices of some of the rocky structures all around people traveling, that’s a perfect place for a robber to be splayed out and ready to pounce on some pilgrim who’s making their way to Jerusalem. To rob them of everything that they have and to possibly even murder them. This is why, when Jesus tells he parable of the Good Samaritan, no one bats an eye at a turn in the story where a poor guy traveling gets jumped by robbers and thieves. They were probably hanging out in some crag or crevice and jumped him and took everything he had and left him for dead.

And what the person in Psalm 121:1 is saying, “I lift my eyes to the mountains. I have no idea who’s there. Where does my help come from?”

Or I think it goes further. Again, I’ll point out in a moment here that I think the rest of the psalm also tells us what else this person in Psalm 121:1 has in mind that they’re so terrified by. It really is that when you’re looking up in the mountains or some kind of mountainous structure, your eyes are going up, up, up into the sky. And eventually, your eyes are going to be blinded by the sun staring back at you. The sun in the Middle Eastern world is public enemy number one. I mean, if you think robbers and thieves are bad, let’s talk about the ball of fire in the sky that will strip away at your scalp. It will suck you dry of water and dehydrate you. It sometimes could kill you as fast as a thief.

And so this person in Psalm 121:1 is saying, “I’m looking up toward the mountains, which has me looking to the heavens, which has me looking at this ball of fire and wondering where does my help come from. Do we have enough water? Are we going to be okay? Are we even going to get to the holy city?”

But I think it goes deeper than that. Again, the rest of the verse, as I’ll show you in a moment, really point this out as well. When you look at mountains — and maybe you’ve seen mountains in person — there’s something about it that is obviously just so awesome. But at the same time, it really is — it’s ominous, mountains are. And what has happened in the ancient culture is this idea of mountains, that geographical marker, becomes kind of a symbol for evil in a lot of contexts, because there’s just this feeling of in the mountains an evil lurks that we cannot see. And the feeling that as you’re traveling you feel like you’re being watched. It’s like some hound of hell that’s nipping at your heels, and it’s terrifying. In the ancient world, in fact, scholars are very quick to point out in this verse that mountains are where a lot of pagan religions would raise up pagan gods and they would gather to worship. And if they looked down through that mountainous region and they spot the people of Israel, they are excited to have a power encounter with them. Because if they can take out that group of 200 Israelites who are just saying their God is above all other gods, then our god is above their God.

It’s terrifying. And so you’ve got this person, this poor soul, this man or woman who stands up before the people and they set out on a trip. And they’re being a little bit of a Debbie Downer, if you’re honest here, because what they say to everyone is, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we’re surrounded by mountains. They’re everywhere. And I don’t know what’s out there. Where does my help come from?”

And you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guy and gal, because just as much as they raise a little bit of a problem for everyone that’s traveling with them, they do catch themselves and they say this:

“Well, I know that my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

It’s really a beautiful statement that’s being made here, because there they are, terrified at the mountains — and I love the statement that just said, “Mountains? I am helped by the one who made the mountains.”

And in many ways, it’s absolutely beautiful because what happens here is you’ve got that same guy or gal traveling in front of the 100 or 200 people, they’ve raised the confession, “I am terrified. A little help here would be nice. Oh, but I know that my help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth. I know that my help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth. I know.”

And they’re kind of talking to themselves. They’re trying to talk themselves into faith. They’re trying to steer themselves away from doubt and a crippling fear so that onward they would march. But let me ask you this question: When you’re terrified, how good are you at talking yourself into faith? Just you. How effective are you, waking up in the morning, when you just look at life with the dark turns that it has taken, and you can stand in front of that mirror in the bathroom and you can tell yourself over and over again, “I see the mountains and I’m terrified by what they hold, but my help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth. My help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth.”

And you have this resolve and it seems as rock solid as the mountains you’re terrified of, and then you go out into a storm of a day and you come back home and you think to yourselves, “Well, I don’t really know if I was onto anything when I said that, because it seems like it’s just gotten worse.”

So you’re saying to yourself, “I believe in the Lord my God. He is my protector. Is He? I mean, I know He is. Is He? He is. Is He?”

Have you ever tried to talk yourself into something? You’re terrible at it. I’m sorry. You are. I’m terrible at it, too. The good news is I’m maybe worse than you. Okay? Like, I take any situation in my life, I will look at it from every single angle and I will drive toward disaster every single time. If you ask my wife to describe me in one word, it would be “insufferable,” okay? Which this is a good spot for me to tell you that we are leading the young married small group. Alright?

But, like, I am really good at ducking and dodging every single statement of faith that I try to make to myself. I’m terrible at talking myself into faith. And the reason why you are too is because it takes a congregation. It takes a throng of voices to get you to actually believe what you think and hope you believe. This is where I get into the power of how this psalm would have been sung in the time it was first sung by Israel.

And look, I had not noticed this for years in this psalm. As much as I had cherished it, we even sang — this song was put to music and I remember singing it in youth group. I had never noticed something so incredibly powerful, the change that happens in this psalm. There’s a lot of things we don’t pay attention to, if we’re honest, in biblical texts. We skip past geographical markers, things like that. One of the things you and I don’t pay attention to is pronouns. Because they’re just pronouns. But there’s a big shift that happens after Psalm 121:1-2. Look at this. In Psalm 121:1-2, you’ve got first-person, singular pronouns. I. My. I’m talking to myself. But all the rest of the verses of this psalm, Psalm 121:3-8, you’ve got second-person, singular pronouns. You. Your. You. Your. Your. Your. Your.

There’s suddenly, in this psalm, this shift of direction as to who’s talking to who. Isn’t that strange? At one point, the man or woman in Psalm 121:1-2 is talking to themselves, but who’s talking to who in the rest of the verses with that shift in pronouns? Now, you keep in mind this is a Psalm of Ascent, so you’ve got that person that’s kind of leading the group of 100 or 200 people. Is it that maybe they’re talking in Psalm 121:1-2, but they’re still talking in Psalm 121:3-8? And they turn, then to the 100 or 200 people and they speak to them encouragement? That can’t be, because remember, I already told you these are singular pronouns. These are singular pronouns. So they’re not talking to 100 or 200 people.

So was it this? Now, this would be really weird. But is it this? Is it the person who’s leading the group and they’ve got some kind of resolve and then they just decide, “Well, I’m just going to turn to one person out of the two hundred and encourage them? The rest of you are on your own.”

That’s not very pastoral. What’s going on? What’s going on is that in Psalm 121:3-8, you’ve got the congregation speaking to the person in Psalm 121:1-2. What happens is that in Psalm 121:1-2, you have got one person who offers up this very cracked confession of whether or not there is a God who will bring hope, and then they have a declaration that, “Man, I do believe He’s there. He’s there somewhere. Isn’t He? I mean, He is. Is He? Is He?”

And then you’ve got 200 people traveling to Jerusalem who come alongside of this one man, this one woman, and they say, “No. You are onto something. What you’ve just said about the maker of heaven and earth who can make these mountains crumble, that is truth. Don’t you let go of it. Onward, you need to march.”

It’s the congregation speaking to the person who spoke out in Psalm 121:1-2. The voice of 200 people coming together. It is, in fancy terms, what scholars would call this is a responsorial psalm. That’s what most of the psalms sung by Israel were, really. Psalm 121 is not unique. You see this all over the psalms, and this is how they worshiped in the synagogue at that time and in the temple. And it’s beautiful what you would always have when they would come together to worship, whether it’s in a set place or they’re traveling to Jerusalem is you’ve got one man, one woman who stands up, and they are a stand-in — listen — for every individual that’s out there, and they offer up, with one singular voice, “I think we’re in trouble here.”

Or they’ll go further, and they’ll offer up, “But I think we’re going to be okay,” but everyone realizes that one voice is not enough, because the world is a terrifying and dark place. So the congregation knows their role. They come up around that person, they surround them, and they say, “You are onto something. Onward, we march.”

In fact, that’s what so beautiful in this psalm is that you’ve got the individual believer. I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? It seems to come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. And then the congregation — and I love this, because if you listen to this, they systematically deal with every fear the person, the individual believe has in Psalm 121:1-2.

He will not let your foot be moved. That terminology that’s used in Hebrew really does speak to the dangers you have in traveling. It’s the idea of being struck down, of being attacked. It’s the stuff of robbers and thieves and crags and crevices that are looking to take you out. And they say to this individual, “Don’t you worry. Do not be afraid. He will guard you.”

Remember public enemy number one? The sun? Well, the Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade on your right hand. In fact, they go further and say, “You’re not even in danger because of the burning away at you by the moon itself, for the God who created them guards you. You are onto something. Onward, we march.”

The individual believer is scared of the evil, the hands of hell that just nip at their heels. Look at this: “The Lord will keep you from all evil.”

He is going to keep your life. He will keep your going out, your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. You’ve got this one person who’s terrified in Psalm 121:1-2 who says, “Where does our help come from? Is there any source of guardianship within this terrifying world?”

And the congregation comes around and this — I mean, this is powerful to me. It’s almost obnoxious, because in Psalm 121:3-8, you have the same Hebrew word used six times. And that word that we translate “keep,” remember I told you should be translated “guard.” You’ve got these people coming around after someone said, “Am I guarded here?”

And the congregation says, “You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded.”

Again and again and again. You hear that six times in six verses. Guess what? You start to believe it. It takes a congregation. So you’ve got, in the beauty of this, and the beauty of Israel’s worship and the way they sing it is the individual, that we are all the individual, expressing our terror and we come unto life and we’re slumped in our terror. And then the throng of the voices come around us and tell us that we’re guarded again and again and again. And it’s hard for me not to imagine, as they’re making their way to Jerusalem, the guy or the gal that was slumped one minute is just sauntering the next and saying, “Okay. Let’s go.”

So it takes a congregation. In fact, I will confess to you I have no idea. I have no idea if the order that these Psalms of Ascent have been given us is the original order that Israel had. And what I mean by that is I don’t know if they sang Psalm 120. Okay, now Psalm 121. Okay, not Psalm 122. But if they did sing it in the order we have it, to me it’s pretty awesome to go from 121 to 122. Because in Psalm 121:1-2, you’ve got an individual who is terrified and slumped, and then you have the congregation come around them, 200 voices strong, declaring the majesty and the truth of God in His sovereignty and His power. And then that same individual who’s the leader of the congregation who had said at one point they were scared, they come into Psalm 122 and call out to the people, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

Isn’t it beautiful how that comes together? I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” He’s glad, she’s glad because it takes a congregation. You know that, right? It takes a congregation. I know that.

April 23rd, 2011, my mom gives me a call. My wife and my daughter and I are planting a church on the west side of Indianapolis. My mom calls me up and says, “Brian, you need to come home. Your dad’s dying.”

For a little less than a year, my dad had been battling Stage 4 cancer, and my mom called that morning and said, “I could hardly get him to wake up. We took him to the ER. He’s been admitted. Brian, I need you to hear me. He’s not coming home.”

So I just threw everything I could think of in our little Hyundai Accent, and I just tore over there, three hours straight west, from Indianapolis to get to the little hometown I grew up in, Lincoln, Illinois. And I just raced up to the hospital room, and I sat there with my mom and my sister. And we talk and we pray and we cry and we laugh and we cry and we talk and we pray. And then mom sends us home to get some rest, my sister and I, and she says, “I’ll sit with your father through the night.”

So we go back to the house that I grew up in. We’re sitting around the kitchen table we had so many meals around. I’m talking with my sister, and she looks at me and she says, “Are we going to go to church tomorrow?”

And before she could even finish a sentence, I said, “No. I’m not going. I’m not going.”

And she looked at me with horror because she goes, “Brian, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Like, everyone and their hamster goes to church on Easter Sunday. Like, we’ve got to. What are you talking about we’re not going to go?”

I fought with her back and forth and was like, “I just don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to hear from anyone. I don’t want to see anyone. This is awful. What are you even talking about?”

And we fought and fought. And my sister is aggressively persuasive. Is that a nice way to put it? Aggressively persuasive. And so, finally, I said, “Fine. We will go to church.”

So I go to bed and, after a very fitful night of sleep, I remember waking up and getting ready to go to church and looking in the mirror and just starting to weep. And I’d never had it before. I had a full-on panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. Because outside of my wife and my daughter, the person who has meant more to me in my life is my father. And all of these things start to crash in on me, and I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I try to hold onto these things that I even preach and teach, but what if? I mean, what if? What if all of these things that we hold to be true — like, what if?”

I mean, it was a terrifying time. And then it’s time for church and we climb in the car and we take off to Jefferson Street Christian Church, the church I grew up in, and I walk in and the congregation is waiting. And yet, if I’m honest with you, I was like just kind of blown away by the noise of it all. I mean, I walked into all these people dancing and clapping and waving their hands in the air, and again and again and again they’re saying, “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!”

And I’m trying to make my way through there with my sister to find a seat. She picks one in the middle of a row, so we’re making our way down past all these people who are happy, and if I’m honest with you — I know, this makes me a terrible minister — I wanted everyone to just shut up. And everyone’s just going, “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen! Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you great?”

And I’m like, “No! My father is dying!”

So I stood up and I made my way back down the row. I’m tripping over pews and getting people out of the way. And my sister is horrified. I don’t care at this point. I just want to get out of there. And I’m pushing past all these people that I’ve known since I was in diapers, and they’re all trying to tell me, in each their own way, “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!”

And I just want to get away from the congregation. I tear out the door. I am running through the parking lot to just get in the car and drive away. And half way there I remember I didn’t drive. My sister did. I don’t have the keys. So I get out here, and you’ve got all these women bopping in with their Easter bonnets. “He is risen! He is risen!”

And finally, I just call my mom and said, “Get me out of here.” And she says, “Well, I was just going to make my way back home, and you can come and sit with your father. I’ll come pick you up. I’m only like two minutes away.”

So she picks me up, we go to the hospital, I tear up to my father’s room, I sit down by his bedside, I take his hand in mine and I pray with him. And I sit there in silence and then I look up, and I look over to my left where the big whiteboard is, the one where they put down different medicines that they’re doing, and whoever the nurse is on duty. And it’s all a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make sense to me except for three words that are in the lower left-hand corner that someone has scribbled. Want to take a guess what they are?

He is risen. And in that moment, what happens for me is I remember what my mom told me. On the short drive over, she had said, “You know what? Just after that first Easter service had gotten over, your dad’s friend Gary, an elder at the church, just tore over here to the hospital and came up. He prayed with us and we had communion together. And he said, ‘I want to give you the message I just heard, and anyone who’s in this room. He is risen.’”

And my first thought in that moment was, “These people won’t leave me alone.” My second thought was, “I hear You. He is risen, indeed.” And my third thought was, “And in Him, my father will rise.” And my fourth thought was, “And I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

Because it takes a congregation, right? I mean, how is this for take-aways? You need this. I know that’s nothing fancy, but it’s revolutionary. You need this. You need this. You know, we don’t think in these terms. We never think in these terms, and I get that, but my goodness, all day long — like, what we have here in this place, and I know there’s other forms a congregation takes. But just hang with me. I’m talking about this place. This hour. What happens here. We only get this for one hour, one day. The throng of voices, 200 or 300 people strong, speaking truth over us. And we don’t think in these terms, but this congregation we get is beautiful. But my goodness, do you realize how many congregations you have in your life?

And absolutely so many of these congregations in your life, they are life-giving. I’m not saying there’s no other life-giving assemblies of people that gather about you and speak life. There absolutely are. But, man, we’ve got congregations in social media. The media is a congregation. The music you listen to is a congregation. The books you read are a congregation. The articles you read, the books you read, the conversations you have. Your workplace is a congregation of people who are speaking several things over you. And again, I’m not saying that they’re not sometimes very life-giving, but one of the things I think we need to acknowledge is that we have really, as a culture, stumbled into being incredible peddlers of bad news.

Our greatest — listen, guys. Our greatest threat is not fake news. It’s bad news. We are feasting upon bad news. We feast upon people pointing out mountains to us that terrify us. And God bless our little heads. We will sit back and say, “I believe that the Lord my God is my help, the one who made the heavens and the earth,” but we find ourselves stumbling because of all of these congregations. And we think, “Well, He is. Well, is He? He is. Well, is He?”

And so we make our way slumped here, and we come to this hour and we come to this place to be among this congregation, and we offer up this cracked confession that all week long I have seen these mountains, and we will offer up a very quiet and whispered declaration. “I do believe there’s a God somewhere, and my help comes from Him.”

And then the congregation, two to three hundred of your brothers and sisters crying out over you, “You are onto something. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded.”

We do this through the songs, but don’t think that small because we do this through communion. And I love communion. Because I spend so much of my week — this is one of the mountains I spot is mountains of guilt and shame. And I think to myself, “Surely this is the time where I have run out of all of my ‘get out of jail for free’ cards with God. He’s probably done with me for the things I’ve said or left unsaid, the things that I’ve done or left undone.”

And I stumble my way here clinging to the hope that my help comes from the Lord my God, who has delivered me through Jesus Christ, but I offer that sometimes as a cracked confession until I see you take the bread, until I see you take the cup. And for you, no offense — which means I’m about to offend you — you are as much of a mess as I am. And yet, for you to stand up and to receive the body and blood of Jesus tells me once again that what Paul says is not false. We are more than conquerors and nothing will separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.

And look, this doesn’t just happen through communion. This happens through offering. All week long we spot mountains of selfishness. People who will cling, with white-knuckled tenacity, to their material wealth for their own self-preservation. And we will wonder, “Where will our help come from in a selfish society?”

But to come together, and in something revolutionary like an offering, we watch all of us come in with what we have been given, and to release it, to let it go for the glory of God and the building up of my neighbor. And I look at that and I believe, “Yes, my help does come from the Lord my God.”

We need this. We need this. There is nothing more life-giving than this. Nothing. But I will also say this. It takes a congregation, but it takes a congregation. It takes a congregation willing to be a congregation with marked consistency. I will say this: You need this. This needs you. This needs you. You know, one of the things I think that we all have to acknowledge is that someone on a Saturday or Sunday, whenever you’re going to come to a gathering here where the congregation will assemble together, there are absolutely moments where you will wake up and this is like your own kind of variation of Psalm 122. You’ll wake up and say, “Well, I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Hey, let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And that’s good, but I’m good. I don’t think I need it.”

And look, this is one of the things. I was just talking about this with the young adults on one of the Tuesday nights. We are, all of us, not as gifted at knowing what we need. We’re not as gifted at it as we think we are. In fact, that’s one of the things I’ve always found fascinating is that we will come on a Sunday morning and we will come in and say, “Man, I needed that because of the week there was.”

Switch your thinking to also realize you need this because of the week that is to come, maybe. Sunday is as anticipatory as it is reactionary. So you need this. But, at the same time, I’ll go ahead and I’ll honor your statement. “I don’t think I need this.”

Okay. Let’s say you don’t need this. Guess what? You are still needed. Because one of the things that I have to tell myself — and this is acknowledgment. I made it every service. I’ll just go ahead and make it here, too. It probably means I’m going to get fired. But I don’t wake up every Saturday and Sunday being like, “And I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

Sometimes I’d rather sleep. Sometimes I’d rather go to the beach. Because in those moments, sometimes, I think to myself, “I don’t know if I really need it.” So sometimes I do. I wake up and I think to myself, “Well, I was kind of, I don’t know, when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

But what I have to push myself to remember is that somewhere across some street in some darkened home, I have a neighbor who is saying, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

And the last thing I want is for him or her to show up here and not be able to hear my voice, one who has made his way through the mountains, declare the goodness of the Lord our God. The saddest thing of people who are kind of losing their heads about them don’t come into a congregation of people who do have their heads about them to lift them up in their time of struggle. It’s what Anne Lamont said. She goes, “You know, really, the only way that any of us really get about living this faith is that not everybody in the tribe is nuts on the same day.”

We gather because we know that we’re needed. Not just because we need it, but because we’re needed. I heard this story from Len Sweet a long time ago in a book that he wrote. And I will be honest with you, I have no idea if this story is true. I had a preaching prof who would always say, “Hey, I don’t know if this next story is true, but it should be. Because that’s good.”

But Len Sweet in his book said that he had heard about a church in Europe that didn’t have any electricity, didn’t have any power or lighting. And I think it’s because, you know, it was an old stone cathedral. And there was something about stringing it up with all that wiring that was just going to take away from some of its beauty. So you’ve got a church with no lights. And they realize, “Well, we probably should have some lights.”

So what they decided to do, by way of their tradition, is that every single family in this church was given a torch. They would take it home with them, and every Sunday morning, before the congregation would gather there, outside of their houses these families would light the torches, make their way down the streets toward this old cathedral, and then, once they got there, there were these placeholders all along the walls in the main sanctuary of worship. And one by one, the families would place their torches and the room would light.

That alone is a beautiful thing, but what I love is their tradition that when someone hadn’t been there on a Sunday for the assembly of the congregation, the special nature of this, this hour, this place, they wouldn’t do what we usually do where we come and say, “Oh, man. I really missed you. I really missed you.”

They would go up to that family who’d been missing for a while, and they would simply say this: “It’s good to see you. We missed your light. We missed your light.”

Because you’re needed and it takes a congregation. You need this. This needs you. Now, let’s embrace the beauty of this. In an age when so many are giving up meeting together, let’s embrace this, the bigness of this. But let’s be this, right? For our neighbor.

Let’s pray.

God, we thank You for Your love. We thank You for the gift not only of Your Son, but we thank You for the gift of Your Church. Because, man, we need one another and it’s beautiful when we come together. So stir in our hearts a resolution to gather and let You do a good work in us, through us. But let us commit ourselves, also, to recognize that we are needed and that You are forever using us for us, because it takes a congregation.

We love You and we thank You for this hour and for this place. And it’s in Your Son’s name that we pray, amen. Y’all have a great week.

Through the Threshold Week 6: Building Grace Beyond Ourselves

Sermon Transcript


[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re in a series called “Through the Threshold.” Many of you all know that I do this. If you’re new, you’ll appreciate it, probably, or if you missed a couple of weeks. I try to do a little bit of recap or a summary of what we’ve been doing and covering in the series, and I’m committed to doing series’. Let me explain, once again, why I do series’. I think that my particular role in the body of Christ, as I read it in Ephesians 4, being a pastor and a teacher, is to equip the saints so that the saints can work ministry.

In other words, you all are the saints and you’re the stars. This is just like every time we come in here on the weekend it’s like half-time. You know? And the coach goes, “Come on. We’ve got to do this and change this and get this going. We’ve got to block this guy or tackle this guy. We’re going to go out and do it again.”

So the stars come in. You all are the stars. I do my best to equip you so we can go out and go get ‘em after half-time. To come back in here, it’s like the perpetual half-time every time we come in.

So what I want to do is to equip you so that you can do the work that God has called you to do. And the best way for me to know how — or the best way I think I can do it is doing it through a series where I take a big idea, and whatever that big idea is, then I sort of run different angles and different lenses through that big idea so hopefully we learn how to grow in that area and to make a difference in our lives. So this particular series, “Through the Threshold,” the big idea that we’ve been trying to look at is how to learn to really live life by unlearning large portions of the life that we’ve been living. See, as we go through life, we pick up ways in which we learn to live. We pick up thoughts, habits, coping skills, mechanisms, interpersonal relationships. And then, at some point, you and I make a decision that we really want to follow Jesus. We say, “I’m in for the Jesus thing.”

And let me just take a moment here. If you’re new here and you’re not really sure where you’re at with Jesus. Maybe you just showed up today and you’re not quite sure. That’s okay. You can belong here before you believe. Just listen to what I have to say. But for the majority of us, we probably have decided at some level we want to follow Jesus. And what happens, inevitable, is we open up Scripture, we hear a sermon or we start going to church, and the pastor or the Scripture or something that we’re watching on the internet says, “This is who Jesus is, and He’s different than that.”

And we go, “Wow. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know.”

And some of it, we read and we go, “Man. That’s not the way I would’ve done it. I definitely would not have loved somebody the way he loved them. I surely wouldn’t have turned the other cheek,” or whatever it may be. So what happens is is we learn that as we’ve been living life, there are things that we have to unlearn in our lives so that we can learn the way God does it so that we can live the abundant life that He has for you and me.

So we’ve talked about a number of different things this whole series, and I think it’s been profitable as we’ve learned to sort of unlearn some things so that we can grow in who the Lord is and what He has for you and me. But I knew when I titled this series “Through the Threshold,” I knew at some point during this series, we were going to have to walk through a threshold that would be probably the biggest threshold this church has walked through as a body up to this point. And that is are we going to move from where we are to the place that we think we are going to move? And I knew that was going to be a real challenge for all of us. I know that we had voted and it was unanimous, but some time has gone by and I knew that we needed to re-up this and re-talk about this and do all of these things.

So what I want to unlearn with you today — I want to start the process unlearning this, and it’s probably going to continue on for a year or two. Not that we’re going to continue to talk about the same subject over and over again, but I’m hoping that the way we do things and the way we communicate things will help all of us to unlearn bad church capital campaigns. Can I get an amen?

Right? There should be a big shout. I mean, that’s like, “Come on!”

You know? Already preaching better than you all are letting on. But I don’t know about you, but I’ve gone through some doozies. If you never have, God bless you. I hope that you never do. But I was in a church, and I won’t name the church or where it was at, but it was about 1,500 people. The pastor got together with the staff and said, “We’re going to build a building.”

“Okay. We’re going to build building.”

He said, “This is what it’s going to cost.”

And I’m listening. Like, I have no mechanical bone in my body. I have no construction bone in my body. I couldn’t put two bricks on top of each other. I mean, I can’t even get Legos to go together. So it’s just none of that. Give me a Greek word, I’m in. Give me Legos, I’m out. Anyway, he called us in and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do and this is what it’s going to cost.”

And I’m sitting there going, “There’s no way in the world. This is like three times more expensive than what he’s saying.”

And I don’t know if it was me or somebody else on staff, but one of us got up enough nerve to go, “How are we going to build that for that amount of money?”

“Oh, it’s going to be real easy. We’re going to go down to Taylor Rental and we’re going to rent cranes, backhoes and tractors and bulldozers, and we’re going to get all the people in the church riding those things and doing those things.”

And I’m going, “No.”

I’m just seeing Brother Jim fall through the roof of the church and dying. Like, church campaign ended; Brother Jim went to heaven. You know? It’s like, seriously? And I was like, “This is not going to work.”

And I’m not trying to be negative. I’m just saying they ended up building the church. It got done. I’d left. I got out of Sodom and Gomorrah before that thing — I’m just kidding. But they built the church, God bless them, and I’m sure that some people have been touched or whatever. But here’s the bad part: That church has not paid one principal payment toward that church. It’s only been paying interest only, from what I can ascertain, for probably the last 15 or 20 years. So that’s not a great church campaign. It’s just not.

What we don’t want to do is do something like that here. So we want to be as open, honest and transparent, and work together as a church as we can. So here is the big idea. This is what we want to try to get at this weekend. We want to learn how to go through a capital campaign in such a way that we don’t end up needing a full-frontal lobotomy, leave the faith, have a picture of the pastor and staff to throw darts at, and going full-on social media rant about the church we just left. Amen? So that’s what we’re going to try to do here and talk about today going forward here as a church. And I’m going to try to be as honest as I can be and as transparent as I can be.

How are we going to do that? Well, if you do take some notes and you like taking notes, there’s three things that I think are sort of imperative as we go forward that we get right. First, this is not about a building. It’s not. This is about God growing us as people. I’ve always said this, and I will continue to say this: Michael Phelps was an Olympic gold medalist swimmer before he jumped in the pool on the race that he got his first Olympic gold medal. He already was there. The gold medal was just a coronation of everything that he had already become.

I want you to see, as we try to go from here to there, this not as trying to buy a piece of land or building a building, but this is a process and a journey where God is going to do things in us that He’s never done. We’re going to grow in areas that we never knew that we could grow. And that’s what happens. See, God wants you and me to grow in every area of our life. We can have — in suffering, we can grow. In pain, we can grow. In jubilance and all kinds of enthusiasm, we can grow. In a good marriage, we can grow. In a bad marriage, we can grow. There’s all places that we can grow, but what God’s wanting to do is birth His Son in us. And the more things that we can do and the more experiences that we can have give God more opportunity to grow us.

We’re going to grow as a church through this process, because it’s not going to be about a building. A building is a temporal thing. It’s not like when Jesus comes back He’s going to go, “Yeah. You know what? All the other buildings in the world are going to just sort of get burnt up. But we’re going to keep that one in Sarasota, because that’s a special building.”

Dude, it’s not. It’s temporal. If that’s where our heart and our affections are at, in a building, they’re in the wrong place. This is asking God to grow us. Look at what Peter said to his church: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

He says, “I want you to grow. I want you to constantly be growing. I want you to know more of who He is. I want you to grow in His grace. I want you to grow in the knowledge of more of who Jesus is.”

This is going to give us an opportunity, if we do this right, to grow in areas that we’ve never grown. Secondly, and this is huge if this is going to be done right: This is not a fundraiser. This is a faith raiser. And there’s a big difference between the two. I don’t know how you all are, but during Christmas time, because we have a lot of kids, Mindy will usually send me to Wal-Mart or “Tar-jay.” Y’all shop at “Tar-jay,” right? I’m just making sure. If you shop at “Tar-jay,” it’s better than “Target.” Just use that attitude. So, anyway, she’ll send me there and, inevitably around Christmas time, the Salvation Army person is there ringing the bell or whatever. I always come out, I reach in my pocket and put a couple dollars in or whatever, because that’s a fundraiser. There’s nothing wrong with a fundraiser. There’s plenty of things to give money to and to help them in raising funds.

That’s not what we’re doing here. This is not about a fundraiser. This is about a faith raiser. We’re hoping that in this church, as we move forward and people are stretched and people are pooled and people make sacrifices, that what they’re going to do is they’re going to increase their faith and their trust in the fact that God truly can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think. We’re hoping that that is what goes on here. It’s not about raising money. It’s about us raising faith and becoming the church that God wants us to be.

We’re not going to be ready for that building and more people if we’re not already the people that God wants us to be in the process. And we have to be. And you see — people look at church campaigns and they go, “Oh, it fell apart because they didn’t raise enough money, they didn’t do this, or they did this.”

Usually why church campaigns fall apart is because what’s going on is the people are not growing and they’re not having their faith raised. God’s not doing that spiritual work that needs to be done to get them to where they need to go. And we want to make sure that that happens.

I want to show you here how Paul saw that. How Paul saw ministry and how it worked. He’s in Roman prison. In Rome, the Philippian church is giving to him in his ministry. They believe in his ministry. They believe in what he’s doing. So they’re giving. And I want you to look at the way Paul addresses that to them.

He says, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel,” — when I started off, when I was a nobody — “when I left Macedonia, no church [not any] entered into partnership with me...” — “Nobody believed in the ministry that I was doing and gave like you guys did. Nobody did. Nobody did.” — “in the giving and receiving, except you only.”

Now, Paul is saying, in the giving and receiving, as they gave to his ministry, they received from God in that partnership. They receive the fact that when Paul would preach the Gospel and people would get saved, they were a part of that because they were a partner with Paul in his ministry. But I want you to look at what he said, because it’s so important here.

He says, “Even in Thessalonica you sent help for my needs once and again.”

In other words, “You were giving gifts to me. You were bringing gifts to the Kingdom of God to do ministry.”

And this is so important what he says here: “It’s not that I seek the gift,”

“It’s not a fundraiser. I’m not after you Philippian’s money at all. What I’m after is I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”

Paul says, “See, I realize that when you give, what happens is God does things in your life. I’m not looking for your gift. I’m looking for what God accomplishes in you as the process goes forward.”

That’s what we want as a staff. We’re not looking for the resources. We’re looking for the fruit that increases to everybody here as their faith raises. Now it doesn’t mean that we don’t have goals or we won’t need resources, but that’s not the primary focus. The primary focus is, “How can we move from here to there and become all that God wants us to be?”

Because if we have become all that God wants us to be when we move into a new building, God’s going to continue to do the things that He’s doing because we’re the people that are ready for those things.

Third thing, and this is important here, too: We’re not asking for equal giving, we’re asking for equal sacrifice. Big difference. Big difference between equal giving and equal sacrifice. Paul writes to the church a Corinth. Paul knows, and you can read all through the Scripture. He always talks about giving to the local church. He talks about elders and the ministers can live out of the ministry and all of those things. He has no problem at all in giving to the local church. But he also realizes that above and beyond giving to the local church, there are offerings, collections and things like that that are above and beyond.

In Jerusalem, at the time Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, they’ve gone through a really bad economic time and there’s famine. And they need help. Paul sees a great opportunity to bring Jew and Gentile together by taking up a collection from the Gentile churches to bring to Jerusalem. But look at what he says here. This is the above and beyond giving after they’ve given to the church. Look at what he says here to them.

He says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints,” — these are the Jewish people in Jerusalem — “as I have directed the church of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you...” — not 20% carrying 80% of the deal. Each of you. Every single one. Paul expects everybody in the church to be a part of this.

He says, “Each of you is to put something aside and store it up.”

This is not taking up an offering for the church at Corinth. This is an offering for people in Jerusalem. This is above and beyond local church giving. This isn’t an offering. He said, “What I want you to do is I want you to put — each of you, not some. Each of you put something aside and store it up.”

And here’s what he says. Listen: “As he may prosper.”

In other words, if God gives you a lot, you can put more aside. If God doesn’t give you a lot, you can’t put as much aside. But I want everybody to be a part of what we’re doing here, because I realize this is the way it works. And he says, “So that when I show up, I don’t even have to take up an offering. I don’t have to go, ‘Hey, guys. Let’s give to this thing. You guys have done exactly what you should have done.’”

That’s the way Paul sees this. See, Paul does not see this as equal giving. He sees this as equal sacrifice. Let me give you a story here. This is a true story. This happened. And we know it happened, because we know the people that were involved. A church was going through a campaign and when the church had started the campaign, they picked some team captains that would sort of lead that group and be a part of that group as we’ve done, and we may add some more along the way. But we’ve got sort of a group, and we’ll talk about that in a second. But each person wasn’t picked because of what they could give. They were picked for different reasons. There were different reasons why they were a part of that group. Some of them could give, but some of them were really involved in the church and really involved in ministry.

So the pastor got that leadership team together and he said, “We’re going to do what the Bible did when they built a temple. David gave first. Me and my wife have given. Then the leaders gave. We’re going to give. Then we’re going to go to the people and give.”

So he’s sitting around the table. They talked about it. This was the time for them to say, “This is what I’m going to give for the campaign.”

One man at the end of the table said, “I’m going to give 100,000 dollars.”

That’s a lot of money. Everybody in here knows that’s a lot of money. So he writes that down and he turns his card over. The lady sitting to his right is poor, but she’s got the biggest heart for the church and she is just a servant. And he knows that her giving just to the church probably taps her out. To give above and beyond, there’s going to be no money. And he looks over at her card and she says, “I’m going to give one dollar a week for the next 52 weeks.”

Well, when he left that conference room, he got in his car and he started crying because he realized, “She has sacrificed so much more than I have.”

So what did he do? He wrote a million-dollar check in addition to his 100,000 dollars. He sent it to anonymous group to send the check to the church so that nobody would know that he had written that check. But that check happened.

What happened to that individual? That individual realized, “Hey, it’s not about how much we’re giving. It really is about if we’re willing to sacrifice.”

And ultimately, that’s going to come down to you and me here in the church. We’re going to realize, “Do we really believe that God has done things here or not?”

And it’s going to get to us. And nobody’s going to get up here — I’m not going to get up here and beat this and preach and spit and try to get you all. We’re either going to do it or we’re not going to do it, because I really don’t enjoy getting up here and doing these things. But I knew that rather than having a business meeting, I needed to do this with the entire church, 1,200 people or so, to make sure that everybody knew what was going on.

So, that being said, what’s going to really make this journey different? I want you to listen to me, because this is a story that you’ve probably heard. But I want you to hear the way I’m going to take it, and really sort of shape it for what we’re doing. What really makes the journey? Those three things are great, but what really makes the journey for you and me?”

It says, “The same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood on the beach.”

Jesus understood. He didn’t have sound equipment or any of that stuff, but He understood how to use acoustics. He had pulled a boat out along the shore, and He would talk to the people.

Matthew says, “And he told them many things and parables,” — and then He started the parable.

He says, “A sower went out to sow.”

Everybody who was on the beach, they understood what that was. This is an agrarian society. This is the way people live. You’ve got to plant seeds and then you’ve got to tend them and then they grow and hopefully you have food so that you don’t have famine or you don’t have enough to eat.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.”

And we don’t really understand the first century as well as probably we should, but when you had a piece of land, there would be paths that would go through that piece of land. They didn’t do it like we do today with perimeter stuff and tractors and stuff, because you had to get out into the center. So there would be paths along the way. What you would do is you would walk out the path and you’d try to make sure that the seed went on the soil rather than on the path, but some of it would fall on the path inevitably.

Birds, when they saw the sower going out to throw the seed, they sort of started circling around. They’d come down onto the path. I don’t know if you all have ever been to the beach and met these birds called “Satan-gulls.” Have you met them? I hear in the south you call them “seagulls,” but they’re definitely “Satan-gulls,” because we were out one day and Luke, my little boy, had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He had taken a bit. He was having a good time. All of a sudden, one of those birds comes and grabs his sandwich, and off it goes.

He said, “Ah! Mommy!”

You know? I’m glad he yells “mommy” for stuff like that. Because I just look at Mindy. I love it. I’ve got them trained good. “Yell, “Mommy,” at three o’clock in the morning, not “Daddy.”

Anyway, “Some of the seed fell by the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground.”

Rocky ground, for those of you all who are Tennessee, is not the same as “Rocky Top,” but rocky ground was where there was a little bit of soil and limestone underneath it, and the water would gather on the limestone with the soil. So those plants would pop up fast.

So, “Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil; and immediately they sprang up since they had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seed fell among thorns.”

In other words, they fell into an area where there were some bushes that would come up and choke them out.

“And the thorns grew up and choked them. But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain: some a hundredfold and some sixtyfold and some thirtyfold.”

And Jesus says, “Those who have ears, let them hear.”

And if you go on to understand the story, Jesus is talking about those people that teach the Word of God. It’s talking about when you hear the Word of God or the Gospel, what type of result that there is. And He tells them that. But here’s what’s important about this parable, and it’s important to you and me: This parable is not about the sower or the seed. It’s really about the soil. I know when we read it in our Bible it says the parable of the sower, but it’s not about the sower. It’s about the soil. What soil is that seed taking root in?

And what we learn is that the seed that falls on good soil has the best chance of growth. So what I’m asking everybody to do is, knowing that we’re going to try to go from here to here, the best thing that you and I can be doing right now is saying, “God, make me good soil for all of the growth that’s going to go on around here, so that I can get everything that I’m supposed to get during this season. Help me to be good soil. Shape my heart. Shape my soil to be the best soil so as You start doing things here and You start pouring out things, I’m at a place where I can receive, and I can grow in the maximum way.”

The more all of us do that together, the more this is going to be an incredible journey as a church. So, that being said, what do we, as a church, need to know this weekend? What are the things that we need to know? First of all, we have goals here at the church. This may surprise you, but the first goal that we have going into this campaign is spiritual. You may have thought that it would’ve been financial. We do have financial goals, and we’re going to tell you how that’s all going to work out here in just a second.

But the first goal that we have here is spiritual. If this isn’t right, this will never be right. This has to be right. And I don’t want a building and the church falling apart because we didn’t have this. It doesn’t work. The goal of this campaign is primarily to watch God grow us as a church into what He wants us to be in that next step as His people.

The next thing I would tell you is people say, “What’s my part, Chip? What can I do?”

Well, there’s two things. First of all, you can start praying. We’re going to talk about that here. We’re going to have all kinds of different prayer times and other things. We will bathe this thing in prayer, I can assure you of that. It’s to pray. God, what would You want me to do? How would You prepare my heart? All of those things.

And then participate. We really want to see everybody participate. We don’t want a 20% doing 80%. We want to see everybody in the pool together. Because, honestly, for this to work, it really takes all of us. And if all of us aren’t in it, then we’re not going to shoehorn this and try to make something happen that can’t happen. This is going to take all of us involved. And what are our expectations? We expect God to move. We’re not just looking like, “How do we get from here to the next building?”

We’re going, “How do we get God to move in our church in such a way that He’s changing lives and doing all this stuff and that we really, truly live out our vision and put the hands and feet to the vision of our church to really reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ?”

Those are the expectations. Now, that being said, this is the timeline, because this is really important. And there’ll be much more that we talk about not in services. We’re only going to do this this one service here in the way that I’m doing this, because it’s important that everybody gets this information disseminated to them.

But the first thing that we have here is we chose some team captains. Now, I’m not saying it is limited here. We’re just starting this thing off. This is what we’ve got right now. It doesn’t mean there won’t be other additions. So please don’t think this is an ironclad thing. But the people that we have right now as team captains have primarily been involved in our building committee. That doesn’t mean this is not going to grow. I just want you to see who they are so that you can at least see their face.

We have Barry, Larry, CJ, Larry, Michael and Dee. These are great people. They’re all different backgrounds, all different things. I will say this, though: For CJ, he has been the biggest proponent of a new building. He has hounded me and Tom for two years going, “Are you guys going to do anything? Are you guys doing something? What are you doing? We’re running out of space. There’s too many people here. There’s too many people here. Are you — hey. Are you guys Christians? Do you listen to God? We need a building. Chip, what are you doing?”

So, CJ’s been awesome. But this is a great group of people. I think we will have some additions here. But I just want you to get an idea of who initial team captains are.

Next thing is first steps, which we’re going to do right now in just a minute. I’ll come back to that, so hold on for that. And then we’re going to pray today, and then we’re going to start doing some initiations where there’s going to be some times of prayer, times set aside, prayer meetings and those things and all of that great stuff.

Then the next thing that we’re going to do after we start the first steps and get prayer going on, we’re going to have what we call VIPs. These are Vision Information Parties. What we’re going to do is probably break up in terms of small groups that we have, and then other people that are not in small groups ill break up into groups of 10 and 15. And what’ll happen is we will come in, have a meeting and in that meeting we’re going to be so incredibly transparent. I mean, we’re going to give you everything. Like, there’s going to be nothing. You don’t have to think, “When’s Toto going to come and pull the curtain back?”

We’re going to do that for you. We’re going to be as honest and real as we can be. We’re going to listen to your feedback. We’re going to listen to what you think. We’re going to show you this stuff. We even have brochures that were being made up that have all questions answered, that have stuff laid out, how this is going to happen, how we’re spending money, how we’re doing stuff. I mean, we’re going to be as transparent as we can possibly be.

After we’ve done all of that, then — and only then — will we talk about collecting anything. And that’ll be a commitment weekend, which will probably be towards the end of April if you want to get an idea of where we’re going. That way, we want to know that everybody’s in, that everybody agrees, that we have passion about this, that we’re excited. Otherwise, we don’t want to go into a bad burrito church campaign. We just don’t want to do that, because it’s just not who we are.

So what are we doing today? First thing we’re doing is we’re not calling it a capital campaign anymore, because I don’t like that term. We’re going to call it a vision expansion campaign, because the reason is the building isn’t what we’re trying to get. What we’re trying to do is reach more people. We want our vision to have a place to do more, and a building just accomplishes that. But it’s not about the building. It’s expanding the vision that God has given. So these people will be called “Vision Expansion Captains” rather than “Capital Captains” or whatever else. But first steps is what we’re doing this weekend.

And here’s what we’re doing. There’s a card on your seat. If you notice here, we’re not taking up an offering. There’s no money. None of that. There’s no phlebotomist out in the sanctuary or out in the hub to take your blood on the way out or anything like that. None of that. All this is is introducing to you what we’ve called this next time, and this is going to be probably a campaign that takes about 24 months to fully go.

It’s called “Building Grace Beyond Ourselves.” Why did we choose that? Because we’re not going to be able to do this within ourselves. We’re going to need God. But it’s also who we are as a church. We believe that we want to get outside of ourselves and reach the community. On the back of the card, it’s real simple. It says, “I’m excited about what God’s doing at Grace Community Church.”

If you go, “I’m not excited,” well then, just put it in your pocket and don’t sign it. It’s no big deal. Nobody’s going to come around with a spotlight. “Did you do it? Did you not do it?”

None of that. What we’re trying to do is we had a vote, as you all know, and it was unanimous that we would go forth and do the things that we’re doing. We’re just trying to make sure that everybody’s still there, because some time has gone by and this is a great way to do it. It says, also, “I want to do my part.”

And if you’re not there, that’s fine. But it just says, “Pastor Chip, you can count on me. I’m going to begin to pray that God will bless, and I’m also going to start to ask God for guidance regarding my financial commitment.”

All we want is a name. Please nobody write their name in tongues, because none of the staff has the gift of interpretation. So, if you would, just make sure that we can read it. You can sign it here. We really want your email. Why do we want your email? Because we can communicate to you about all the things that are going on so that we don’t have to do it here on Sundays and Saturdays, so that we can tell everybody. And then you can date it. So, if you sign this. If you need pens, they’re passing out pens. But don’t jack the pens, because we’ve got one more service that we’ve got to do.

No five-finger discounts. Okay? So make sure, if you need a pen, let them know. All we’re asking you to do is we’re trying to get a temperature for our church. Are we still in? Do we still want to do this? Is this what we want to do? So, as you’re signing those, you can tear that off, take the card with you, carry that around, pray about that card, put it in your car, put it on your refrigerator, tape it to your forehead or whatever you want to do and all that. And you can sign these and we’re going to collect them in just a second.

I want to tell you, though, what’s going on. We have started into contractual — we’ve not signed anything as of yet, but we’ve started talking to Lakewood Ranch. I want you to know, in that process, we’ve saved 130,000 dollars off the bat just by doing some of that. On top of that, the first schematics of what the church could potentially look like in terms of the flow and everything have started. I’ve been working with an architect. I want you to know that we have found a way to build a 750-seat sanctuary down, 250 up. I want you to listen to this. This is so cool.

The sanctuary will not be any deeper than from the front of the stage to the back of that wall. So we say, “Are you going to build this big church?”

You’re not going to feel like you’re walking into a big church. It’s going to be wide, but it’s going to be in the round, which means that everybody can see what’s going on, you’re not going to be in the back in the cheap seats having nosebleeds trying to see if Chip’s there or whatever. You know? None of that stuff. We’re really being intentional in the things that we’re doing. We’re going to have a covered portico, so when it’s raining we’ll be the one church in town where you can pull in, drop your wife off and be a Christian, and you get wet and she doesn’t. You know? And all of those good things.

But there are a lot of things going on here. We just really want to know that the church is behind us. We really want to know that everybody wants to see this thing happen. What’s important here is that this not become something about money, but this become something about you and me growing together. So the ushers are going to come. They’re going to just collect the cards. You can just throw them in the bucket as they come. Again, nobody’s watching you. Nobody’s going to police this. We’re not asking you to do something that you don’t want to do. There’s none of that. We’re just trying to get a gauge of where the church is at on this thing. And then what I want to do is I want to take a moment and I want to pray with you as a church that God will bless this time and God will bless this effort as we start, today, to move from talking about this to actually doing this. And I hope that you all agree that rather than doing five and six and seven services, and burning out the staff and volunteers, it would be better to have a little bit bigger place that we could do the things that we need to do.

Yeah. Tear that off. I told them to tape it to their forehead and all that good stuff. So, tear that off and keep that, because we want you to have that. And then what I’d like you to do is you can keep one eye open if you haven’t put your thing in the bucket. You can watch and pray. Jesus talked about that. You know that? Watch and pray. So we’re going to watch and pray here as we close out service. So, if you would, bow with me and let’s ask the Lord to bless us.

Dear Heavenly Father, we realize that when a church undertakes something like this, it really is a defining moment. Many churches undertake this, and it just really goes sour quickly. Lord, You know our hearts. I stand here publicly before You. God, search me and know my heart. If there be any wicked way at all, show it. Expose it. Lord, don’t just expose it to me. Expose it publicly. Because, God, the last thing I want to do, in any way, shape or form, is do something here at Your church with Your people that causes any problems. But Lord, in my heart and in the staff’s heart, we believe that You’ve called us to such a time as this. We believe, Lord, You’ve opened up doors for us to move forward.

So Lord, what I’m asking is that you would help us not to go to the left or to go to the right, but Lord, to follow You in everything that we do for Your glory and for Your honor. And I pray that this would be such a special time for our church as You stretch us and mold us and move us and show us things that we’ve never seen and grow us in ways that we’ve never been grown. And Lord, we look back and realize that the journey that we’re on has just brought us to the point of where we are at that point. And we’re ready, because You’ve prepared us in the process.

I pray, Lord, for everyone that put a card in the bucket. I pray for those that didn’t. Lord, this is just a time where we’re trying to figure out if this is what You want us to do, do we have the church support. And Lord, if we do, I pray that You would lead, guide and direct all of us as Your body together to do the best things that we could possibly do for Your glory and for Your honor so that we can see You move in Lakewood Ranch in ways that You have never moved before.

So Lord, as we leave here today, I pray that You would continue to lead, guide and direct this church, I pray that You would watch over us and protect us, and I pray, Lord, that You would keep us always focused on the fact that You have brought us here to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. And help us to do that in everything that we do. We love You, we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a big hand clap. God bless everybody. See you soon.