Everybody wants to be the first, the one to overcome, the one to break the barrier. In this world, we are told to do, try, perform. But, sometimes, we feel like we’ve hit a wall. What if true living was an unlearning? What if real life was not found in performance, but a person? It’s a new year, a new opportunity, maybe even a new life. Let’s find a way through the threshold.
Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. You know, you don’t have to be around Grace Community Church for very long. You can walk through the hallways, you can walk through the hub, you can come in here and listen, and before long, whether it’s probably within the first five minutes, or at least in the first couple of visits, you’re going to hear somebody say that Grace Community Church exists to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. And I can tell you that that is our “why” of everything that we do.
You know, people say, “Why do we give out free water at the races? Why do we do the book bags? Why do we do Christmas on Main? Why do we do foster care symposiums and all of those things?”
Because we want to reach unchurched people by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. And, you know, sometimes people will ask — and it’s a great question — “Where is the part about us? Where is the part about learning?”
So, every year I usually get up here and I go through what that means. Unchurched people are people that don’t know Jesus. They can also be people that used to go to church. They can be people that got burned by religion, hurt at church or whatever else. Or maybe they haven’t been to church for 10 years. We want to reach those people, bring them back to the house of God, and get them back connected with Jesus. And we do that by being intentional neighbors. That’s where we have to learn those things in small groups, teachings, church and all that stuff. We have to learn to be intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
So, every year I’ve gotten up and sort of talked about that, but I realized that what I’ve never done — and I want to do that this weekend with the church — is I’ve never given everybody the “why” behind the “why.” Like, “Why that? Why that statement? Why would we want to do that as a church?”
So, I want to take that one this weekend. I really believe, with all of my heart, that it’s going to be a profound moment for our church. I think we’re going to leave profoundly different than when we came in. It also really coincides with the current series that we’re in, which is “Through the Threshold.” At the beginning — well, sort of towards the end of last year, knowing we were going into the beginning of this year — I wanted to do a series where everybody in the church saw the benefit of living a life that really follows Christ. And, so to speak, to move through that threshold of where we’re really chasing the Lord and doing the things that He wants us to do and living by the power of the Holy Spirit that’s within us.
To do that, I knew that we were going to have to do something. It’s the big idea behind this series. We were going to learn to really live life by unlearning large portions of the life that we’ve been living. What do I mean by that? Well, we go through life. As we go through life, we pick up certain things. We learn to cope certain ways. We learn to interact with people in certain ways. We learn how we do things in business, and we learn those things. And then many of us in here would say we became a Christian. And if that’s not where you’re at today, you’re at a great place. You can belong here before you believe, so sit back and I hope that what I have to say ministers to you.
But, as Christians, those of us who’ve said, “I want to follow Jesus,” we’ve all had that moment where we opened up Scripture and we went, “Wow. Jesus doesn’t do it the way I’ve been doing it. This is a little different here. I wouldn’t have done that. I wouldn’t have lived that way.”
So, what we find is that we have to unlearn certain things in our lives so that we can learn the things that God wants for us so that we can live the abundant life. Last week, we talked about one of the things that we needed to unlearn, which is learning to live a life of vulnerability, honesty and openness before God and before others. The world that we live in does not teach us to do that. You hear it all the time. “Don’t show any weakness. You have to show strength. Don’t let anybody see you sweat.”
We learn those things, but yet, when you look at the way it really works in people’s lives, the more we hold in, the more angst, guilt and things that come out of our lives that are not really that pretty. In learning to live a vulnerable life, a life of what I called “confession,” is a life that really frees us up.
Well, this weekend, we’re going to take on a perennial subject that not only is going to minister to you and me as individuals, but it’s also going to explain the “why” behind the “why” of why we exist to reach unchurched people by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. It’s a perennial issue within all of humanity. It’s something that we learn early on. We learn it as babies. We cry real loud and we get fed. We go to the nursery. If anybody’s ever worked in the nursery, you know that kids, when they get their toys, they by nature don’t like to share. Have you ever noticed that? They like their toy. If you take their passy, they let you know that you took their passy. Right?
What that’s called is learning to live life “me first.” And we’ve all learned that. We’ve all learned, “I’ve got to get mine. I’ve got to make sure I get mine. I’ve got to do mine.”
We take it into our marriages. Like, “I can get mine first. You’ve got to do this for me.”
We do it in our businesses and the way that we respond. “Me first. Us first. All the way. Got to be first.”
Until we come to Scripture, and then Jesus says, “Hey, there’s a lot of things I want to teach you all, but there’s two things that everybody’s got to get here. Love God. Love others.”
“Whoa. What about me?”
Jesus says, “Listen, it’s God first, not you first. God first. If God’s first, then the things of God are going to be the things that are on your heart, which is others.”
And we go, “Whew, but what about me?”
God says, “Here: If you put me first and you do the things that I’ve called you to do, I’ll take care of you.”
That’s called faith. “Me first” isn’t faith. “Me first” is just reason. “I’ve got to get me. I’ve got to get me. I’ve got to get me.”
But it’s God first in Scripture. So, what I want to do here is I want to take you on a journey today. We’re going to have a really good time here. I’m going to read a passage of Scripture. I’m not going to make any commentary about it. I just want you to put it in your back pocket, because we’re going to come back to it after I sort of talk for a little while in between. So, here’s the Scripture we’re going to read.
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive. For as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. Now, we read that — and you may have read that passage of Scripture before. You may have read it several times. You may have never read it. It may be the first time you’ve ever heard it. But what I can tell you is this: As a general rule, we probably don’t hear that Scripture in the way those people that were there at that particular moment heard that Scripture. And let me explain why. If you look at the sermons that are spoken in the West, in the American church, 85% of the sermons that are spoken in America are out of the New Testament. 80-90% of the sermons that are taken out of the New Testament come from the Pauline Epistles, which mean we have a really malnourished diet of Scripture, because the one thing that we don’t know very well is the Old Testament.
Well, I can assure you that everybody in Jesus’ day had a really good understanding of the Old Testament. The way they would’ve heard that Scripture is probably totally different from the way that we would’ve heard it. So, what I want to do is I want to just talk to you for a minute. I just want to have a dialogue here. I want to talk to you about some grand themes in the Old Testament, and then we’re going to come back and revisit this Scripture. I think when we revisit it, it’s going to be a moment here for all of us as we really see what’s going on.
So, let me sort of talk to that issue. The grand themes of the Bible — and this’ll help you understand the Bible a little bit more. One of the things that I find Christians in America are really good at is we’re good at the bits. We have little bits that we know about things, but what we really struggle at, and I see it as a professor, is we don’t understand grand narratives. We have bits and then we’ve sort of put in our own narrative to make the bits make sense, but sometimes we’re not really seeing the narratives that are there.
Much like my kids. We have puzzles at the house. For Esther, my youngest girl, the puzzle pieces are like this big. You know? Because she’s small. They’re like nine pieces, and she can put them together. The kids obviously have the small ones. Have you ever noticed, when putting a puzzle together, if you dump out like a thousand pieces on the kitchen table and you say, “Go for it,” the first thing that we’re looking for is what? The top of the box. Because the top of the box makes the bits make sense. Well, I want to talk to you about the top of the box here. And then when we understand the top of the box, we’re going to go back and revisit this. It’s going to be a moment for all of us.
In the Old Testament, we start off with a creation narrative. The creation narrative is not multiple gods fighting over everything. It’s one God, Yahweh, as He creates the world. As He creates the world, in the way it’s written, He creates a temple motif. Anybody who would’ve known anything about the Ancient Near East would’ve known that, that God is ordering and getting everything. So, the creation there is more functional. He’s getting everything. Like, you create something. It wasn’t there, and there it is. He’s making everything work. Because, you know, when He comes upon the screen, the earth is there, and it just doesn’t have any form. It’s void. It needs to have a functioning to it. So, he starts doing things. He creates time and space, matter and all this stuff, and the people that are involved in all this stuff.
But, at the very end as He has created this grand cosmic temple, He places His image and likeness in His temple. Usually, you would read a piece of stone or a piece of wood, and that would be the image and likeness, but He places humanity as His image and likeness. He tells Adam and Eve, “Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to go and multiply, I want you to have dominion, and I want you to subdue.”
And we know that when they get kicked out of the garden, it’s ugly outside. I mean, they can’t go back in to how nice it was. They go to the ugly parts. So, what you’ve got there is that here was this garden that God had created humanity to tend, and He wanted them to expand it. He wanted God’s glory to be expanded through humanity. Well, we know what happened. They sinned. And the biggest thing that happened in the sin was that heaven and earth were separated. They were separated. And where they had been together, God and man, heaven and earth had been together, they were separated.
And then, the large, large, large story of the Old Testament — and it permeates through the New Testament — is the story of what we call the “Exodus.” The Exodus is the motif that’s used throughout all of Scripture. It’s used in all of the epistles. It’s used in Jesus. Jesus, in Luke 9, says He’s going to perform the Exodus in Jerusalem, and most of our translations say “His departure” or “His death.” The Greek work is exodon. It’s the exodus. But, again, we understand bits, but we don’t understand the story.
Well, the story of the Exodus is pregnant, because everybody’s in this empire. And this empire is built on living near the Nile so that you can have the things that you need, because it’s “me first.” You’ve got to be where you need to be to get the things that you need. And these gods that we’re serving, they’re gods that want us to work, want us to perform and want us to do all of these things. And people have no value. And, all of a sudden, out of the big mess of this whole empire where there’s terrible people that are leading, people have no value, they’re just commodities, God calls an unlikely guy named Moses to come and deliver the children of Israel out of this Egyptian empire.
Where does God need to take them? He takes them to the wilderness. Why? Why does He take them there? Well, He takes them there because they would naturally assume that they need to be near water, that they need to have food, because if you don’t take care of yourself, who will? It’s all about “me first.” Well, God takes them out into the wilderness to show them that there can be provision even in the wilderness. They wake up every morning and there’s manna. Well, what do they do? They do what we would do. They see a piece of manna and they’re like, “I need to get a bunch of it.”
They’re tucking it underneath their shirt, and, “Hey, look over there, man. Don’t see this one.”
They’re grabbing everything. They take it back to their tent. They’re stacking it up because you’ve got to make sure that you have everything for you. You’ve got to make sure that you take care of yourself. Well, they wake up the next morning and all that manna that they’ve stored up has turned to worms. It’s no good, because God goes, “No, no, no, no. I’ve got to teach you how to do this thing. You’ve got to trust me.”
You can see that in the Lord’s Prayer. “Give us each day our daily bread.” We don’t like daily bread. We want to have tons and tons and store up and store up and store up. He says, “No. You’ve got to trust me for daily bread.”
“No, no. I’ve got to take care of me. I’ve got to.”
God says, “I’ve got you. Trust me.”
So, life of faith here. Then what does He do? He takes them to Sinai. At Sinai, there’s ten words that are given. In the Hebrew it says, “Ten words.” The first part of the Exodus motif. It doesn’t say, “Ten Commandments.” It says, “Ten Words.”
Well, that’s important. Why? Because in the creation narrative in Genesis 1, how many times does God speak Ten times. So, God’s doing a new creation here at Sinai. What’s He teaching everybody? Love God. Love neighbors. The first three commandments? Lord God. Put Him first. The last ones? Love your neighbor. Don’t steal their wife. Don’t steal their property. Don’t do those things.
It’s not a “don’t do” thing, it’s a love thing. If you love somebody, you don’t do these things. We get all that messed up. So, He says, “I’m ordering a new society. A society that really looks like what it’s supposed to look like.”
The problem is when they get towards the promised land and they finally get into the promised land, they’re like Adam and Eve. They’re in the promised land, but they don’t do the things that God wants them to do, so they get kicked out. But in the process, God teaches them something. He says, “I want you to construct a tabernacle. In that tabernacle, there’s going to be one place in all of the world where heaven and earth still meet.”
Now, nobody can get in there. There’s barriers, but there’s a place where heaven and earth still meet. And they walk around with this tabernacle and they go places, and everywhere they stop and put it up, heaven and earth meet. Well, they eventually take that to the temple. They build the temple. In the temple, here’s the place where heaven and earth still meet. And there’s going to be a day one day when heaven and earth will meet again, but right now there’s a place where heaven and earth meet in the temple. And we can go there because God’s back there behind the wall and we can offer our sacrifices and we can listen to the Law because there’s a place where heaven and earth meet. Only one place in all the world, but heaven and earth still meet.
Well, then the Babylonians come in. Not only do they destroy Israel, but they destroy the temple, which means there is no place on earth where heaven and earth still meet. It’s gone. And they’re deported to Babylon and they’re there for 70 years, which means the people that knew are going to die without ever having a place where heaven and earth meet. Well, during that time, God raises up the poets. The prophets. The prophets come in and say, “No, no, no. Isaiah 2. There’s going to be a day when God establishes His house again. And when He establishes His house, He’s going to come into His house and the Law is going to go out from Jerusalem, and all the nations are going to hear about it. And what’s going to happen? They’re going to take their weapons of war and they’re going to beat them into weapons of peace, and God’s going to flood the world.”
In Isaiah 55, he says, “There’s going to be a day when everybody that’s thirsty can come to the waters. Everybody can come and drink.”
And in Isaiah 55:3, he says, “It’s going to be a Davidic covenant for everybody now. It’s not going to be just for Israel. It’s going to be for everybody.”
Well, Ezekiel, who’s in captivity, has a vision. His vision goes from Chapter 35 all the way to Chapter 47. He says, “Hey, we’re in captivity. But in Chapter 35, we’ve got all these shepherds that have been shepherding us that are ‘me first’ shepherds. All they want is what’s theirs. God is going to give us new shepherds. The new shepherds are going to instruct us. They’re going to help us, because in Chapter 36 we’re going to get cleansed with water, and God’s going to put His Spirit within us. Because in Chapter 37, He’s going to raise up this valley of dry bones and create this army that’s going to slay, in Chapter 38 and 39, the great foes of God, Gog and Magog.”
Which we take into the future and just rip that passage apart. I don’t have time for that.
“Then, in Chapter 40, God’s going to start building His temple again. And He starts building it and building it. But, in Chapter 47, God comes back to the temple.”
And when heaven and earth are united again, all of a sudden Ezekiel sees water bubbling up from underneath the temple. Water is bubbling. And, all of a sudden, it starts pouring out of the foundation of the temple, and down into the hills of Jerusalem, down in all the valleys, and it goes all the way to the Dead Sea, where there’s no life. And that water turns the Dead Sea into a place of life, and now there’s plants, grass, and fishermen that are fishing in the Dead Sea, catching fish.
Zechariah, who writes a little after Ezekiel, goes, “Oh, it’s even better than that. The water doesn’t just flow to the east towards the Dead Sea. It flows all the way to the west into the Mediterranean, and everything’s getting populated again. God’s doing all that stuff.”
When God comes back to the temple, new covenant will be restored, restoration will happen, the Spirit will be given because God will have come back to His house. Well, Cyrus, year 70, says, “You can go back to Jerusalem,” and now they can rebuild their temple. And they do. They rebuild the temple. But there’s a problem. The Lord doesn’t come back like the prophets said. Where is this day of all the nations coming in? It’s not like what we thought. And the last prophet in the Old Testament says, “Oh, Malachi. He’s coming back, but it’s going to be a lot different than what we thought. It’s going to be markedly different.”
Well, then we walk into the New Testament, and God does come back to His temple. And His name is Jesus. And in Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13, when the Lord comes back to His temple, He says, “You see this place? It’s going to be destroyed.”
Everybody says, “What? Don’t You know the stories? Don’t You know the prophets?”
And He says, “No, no. You’re going to destroy the temple, and I’m going to raise it again in three days.”
And they’re like, “What? What is that?”
Jesus is like, “You haven’t seen it. See, I’m a portable temple. Everywhere I go is forgiveness. I don’t have to go to the temple, because God’s here. I am God. The Law? I can give it wherever.”
He’s walking around. And the New Testament writers seize on this. Because, after Jesus dies and they realize that all the Old Testament that they were reading about Israel was all about Jesus. Israel is not the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Israel is not the nation that’s going to crush the head of the serpent. It’s Jesus in Genesis 3:15 that’s going to crush the head of the serpent. And, all of a sudden, they start going, “Oh, man. If that’s true and the temple is going to be destroyed, now we get it. Jesus was saying He was a temple.”
And Paul goes, “I get it. God, when He created the world originally, when He created this temple, the place that He wanted to house His presence wasn’t a building, it was people.”
And Paul goes, “Oh, man. Yeah.”
1 Corinthians 3. Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? You’re a temple. 1 Corinthians 6. Don’t you know that you’re the temple of God? Paul says, “Oh, in Ephesians, yeah. The Church is individuals. We’re the temple. We’re built on Christ, the cornerstone. And the apostles and the prophets are the foundations, because we’re a temple being built.”
In Revelation, Jesus calls across the water at Patmos to the churches of Asia Minor, Gentile churches, and they have the lampstand of the temple in their churches, because now people in the church have become the temple, because Jesus is Israel. He is the Israel of God. He doesn’t have twelve tribes, He has twelve disciples. He goes to Egypt just like Israel, and He gets delivered out of Egypt. He goes through the waters, He goes into the wilderness, and then He goes up on the mountain and gives the new law at the Sermon on the Mount.
And everybody’s going, “Oh, man. We get it. We understand it. This is way different than what we anticipated, but we understand the magnificence of this.”
And while the children of Israel are wandering out of Egypt, God also tells them some things that they need to know. One of those things is called The Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles. Here’s the way that worked: Right at harvest time, when they would gather all of the harvest, they would take it into the city. The cities were walled cities, because you wanted to keep the enemies out. They were walled cities. God says, “Hey, here’s what I want you to do. When you’ve got the harvest and you take it into the city, I want you to come out of the city for seven days and live in booths. I want you to get some palm branches and some twigs and live outside.”
They’re like, “Whoa, whoa. God, of all the times that we’re going to get attacked by the enemy, it’s going to be now, when all of the food is in the town. I mean, God, do You not understand? If we don’t have food, we die. I mean, God, You want us to live outside and trust You?”
They never did this, by the way. Of course, they didn’t. We wouldn’t do it either, right? That’s what God said. “Do this.” And then He said, “Hey, while you’re out there living in booths, sacrifice 70 bullocks, because 70 nations are mentioned in Genesis. I want you to sacrifice all that because I want for you to envision a day that will be like it was, where there won’t be walls, that all the nations will come together.”
Well, now we have some information to start looking at the text. One more thing: The children of Israel didn’t keep the Feast of Booths, but when in Ezra and Nehemiah they re-found the Law, they realized, “Oh, there was a feast that we were supposed to be keeping. I guess we hadn’t done it.”
And by the time of Jesus, the way they did the Feast of Booths was this: They didn’t go live outside. They didn’t do the booth. Because who would do that? It’s “me first.” Who would trust God to do that? I mean, we need to keep everybody out. Who would trust God to do that? So, what they decided to do was they said, “We’ll get water from the Pool of Siloam for seven days. We’ll bring that water up, Day One, and pour it around the altar. Everybody can remember that God is a God of provision, God is a God that provides us the water. We’ll have the heart of Booths in this ceremony.”
Well, on the seventh day of Booths, they would bring seven vials of water and they would pour the water around the altar seven times, signifying that Yahweh would provide for them. Now we’re ready to go to our text.
“On the last day of the feast,” — Booths, Tabernacles, where they’re pouring the seven vials of water around the altar, significant Yahweh’s provision for Israel — “the great day [Day Seven],”
Jesus stands up and cries out. This isn’t a whimper. This is a cry.
He says, “‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’”
There’s not anybody that would’ve been there that wouldn’t have been, “Dude. We just poured out water around the altar, signifying God’s provision of water for us, and Yahweh’s ability to take care of us. Are You saying You’re the One that we’re doing this about? You’re the One to give us the provision of the water?”
He says, “If you’re thirsty, come to me.”
So, when somebody comes and knocks on your door and says Jesus isn’t God, “Umm, yeah. What do you do with this right here?”
He was either wrong or He was right, but there’s one thing we can say about Jesus. He wasn’t confused about who He thought He was. “Come to me and drink. All the stuff you’ve been doing for these last seven days, all the things you’ve been thinking about Yahweh providing, I’m the One that provides.”
Then He says this: “‘Whoever believes in me’” — in other words, “Whoever has drunk the water — “‘as the Scripture has said,’” — the Greek word here is really “belly” — “‘out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.’”
And what’s interesting is you go to the commentaries and good academics, and they’ll be like, “Well, there really isn’t an Old Testament Scripture that says this.”
Bingo. There’s not. We understand the bits. We don’t understand the story. What Jesus is saying is, “Hey, if you believe in me, you’re going to be the temple that all these things we’re talking about, because I live in people. Out of your belly is going to flow those waters that Ezekiel, Zechariah and Isaiah talked about. Those waters aren’t for you to sit around and have a reservoir and just experience all the things that God has for you. Those waters are there to pour into your communities and bring the Dead Sea back to life. Out of your bellies are going to flow rivers of living water.”
And He goes on to say, because this is important, “This He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive. For as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead. He says, “Hey, come to me. I’ve got your water. And when you get ahold of the water that I give you, it’s going to flow out of your belly. It’s going to be something that goes out. It’s not going to be something that you sit around and soak and sit and try to get all that you want. It’s going to flow out of you. My water doesn’t sit. My water flows.”
Now, if He’d have left us there, we’d have been like, “Okay?”
Well, He doesn’t. John knows He said what He said. John’s a great writer. So, in John 20, when Jesus shows up and the disciples are hunkered down because Jesus has died and they’re fearful for their lives, Jesus shows up and He’s like, “Peace.”
He showed up and He said, “Peace.”
And everybody’s like, “Whoa, man.”
He’s like, “Check it out.”
They’re like, “Whoa!”
Thomas isn’t there. He has to show up again or Thomas, which shows you how much He loves us. He’ll come back for the other one, right? So, He says, “You can feel this.”
They’re like, “Dude, what is going on?”
So, He says to them again, because they need to hear it again, “‘Peace be with you!’”
Listen: “‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’”
You’re going to go. Because, remember, there’s going to be some living water coming out of you. Well, then, exactly what we would expect if we understand the story, is when He said this, he breathed on them. Because, see, in the first creation, when He created Adam, He breathed on him and gave him life. He says, “I’m breathing on you. Receive the Holy Spirit. What you’re going to do is you’re going to go out and you’re going to start unwinding the sin in people’s lives, because out of your bellies will flow rivers of living water.”
What does that mean for us as a people and as a church? Well, the first thing I can tell you is that the church’s primary task is incarnational mission. There is no way around it. We are called to carry Jesus everywhere we go. Because just as Jesus, in human form, carried God everywhere He went, we now, because of the Spirit that lives within you and me, carry Jesus everywhere that we go. Which means this, and this is important: Everyone in the Church is a missionary. Every single one of us. So, what we want to do, because we’re American Christians, “Oh, put some money in the plate. We’ll do this.”
But don’t send me. No. “Even as the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Everyone’s called to be a missionary. Everyone’s called to take the waters of life to let them flow out of us into our places of business, into our places of work, into our families, into our neighborhoods and all of that. We’re called to be incarnational missionaries. And what does that look like? Well, I could take you to John 13 and talk about Jesus washing feet. I could take you to Philippians 2 and talk about how He left the splendor of heaven and took on the form of a human and gave Himself as a servant.
See, when the Church stands up and says, “Hey, let’s go do something for God,” when the Church stands up and says, “Hey, we need you to give,” when the Church stands up and says, “Hey,” people go, “Aww, man. Taking advantage of me.”
See, that’s “me first.” But, if we’re going to look like Jesus, this is what it looks like. You want to know what Jesus and God looks like? You want to really know what they look like? Look at Psalm 113. It says, “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is seated on high? Who is like this dude? He is seated on high.”
If anybody could be “me first,” it would be God. But listen. Listen to who your Heavenly Father is: “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is seated on high, who looks far down...” — the Hebrew word is “humbles himself.”
He is deserving of all of it. But what does He do? “He stoops down, and He starts looking along the earth. For who? He raises the poor from the dust and He lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
God isn’t “God first.” He’s people first. Do we want to look like Jesus? We’re going to be people first. We’re going to be like Jesus, looking for everyone that’s poor and on the margin, the outcast and the one in the trash. And what is He going to do? He’s going to raise them to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people. That’s the Gospel. That’s the Gospel. It’s the message. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. It’s who our Heavenly Father is.
“Even as, so I send you.”
It’s the way to life. It’s the way to abundance. It is not “me first.” It’s “others first.” And it should permeate everything that we do. Not only that, but He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. You better understand he’s going to say “praise the Lord” on that one.
So, knowing that the primary focus of everything that we do here is incarnational mission, then the second thing is true: That the primary teaching ministry of the church, then, is to learn, live and demonstrate the Gospel. See, Paul says it’s not our opinions, it’s not our positions, and it’s not our thoughts that save people. He says, in Romans 1:16, “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”
Not your points. Not your thoughts. Not your affiliations. The Gospel. So, the Church has to be equipped. The thing that we do more than anything is to learn the Gospel, live the Gospel and demonstrate the Gospel. That’s what we’ve got to do. We have to be a place that the Gospel is permeating. That’s why we go out and give free rides to the people of Lakewood Ranch. That’s why we serve free water to the people who are running. That’s why we give free book bags to under-privileged kids. Why? Because we are living and demonstrating the Gospel that says, “There is a God that will give you unmerited favor. There’s nothing you can do to earn it. It’s all based on what Christ has done. So, come. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pray about it. You don’t have to do it. Just come.”
And that’s what we should look like, not only as individuals, but as a church. And the third thing, then — and this is huge. It means church is a place of equipping to go, not a place of entertaining to stay. And that’s what we’ve done in America.
“I want groups for me! What about me? I mean, I’ve got needs.”
Let me tell you something: Your needs will be met when you’re doing the things that God has asked us to do. He will take care of His people. The word “entertain” comes from a Latin word that means “to hold together.” That’s what it means. How do you hold people together? Laugh, have a good time, enjoy everything. Do you want to know why the Church in America is anemic? Because we’re a bunch of consumers.
We come here to get equipped to go. That’s why Isaiah says, “Come, everyone who thirsts.”
Man, there’s going to be a day when the waters are flowing. Isaiah could see that day, but Jesus is that day. Jesus is the one who gives water, and the water that He gives to you and I doesn’t stagnate. It flows out of our bellies. And the more it flows out of our bellies, the more we go, the more we serve, the more we can tell people, “Come to the waters. You see the waters here? You see them.”
And those waters start to cleanse people. Those waters are the waters of baptism. Those are the waters of all the great thirsts that people will go, and they don’t have to thirst anymore. We have the waters of God flowing out of us, those of us who are His followers, which means we have to keep the waters flowing.
I’ve read this every year. I’m going to read it every year until I die. You may have heard it a million times. You’re going to hear it a million and one. Listen to this story. Listen deeply.
“On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut. There was only one boat, but a few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea. And with no thought of themselves, they went out, day and night, tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associate with the station and give of their time, money and efforts to support its work.
“New boats were bought. New crews trained. The little life-saving station, it grew. Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped, they felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea, so they replaced the emergency cots with beds, and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members. And they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.
“Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do the work. The life-saving motif still prevailed, though, in the club’s decoration. There was a liturgical lifeboat in the life where the club initiations were held.
“About this time, a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty, they were sick, some of them had black skin, some of them had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hinderance to the normal life of the social club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out they were a life-saving station, but they were voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in the waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast.
“So, they did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”
Nineteen years old, this was my textbook at Lee College in pastoral care and counseling. I remember reading that story. I said, “God, if I ever pastor a church, please don’t ever let me deviate from why we gather as the saints of God.”
Now you know why we exist to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ, and now you know why “me first” cannot be the agenda of the church. It has to be “God first” and “others first.” When we do that, God will bless us.
Bow with me, if you would, and let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, I’m humbled and honored to be able to get up and testify about Your Son, Jesus. Lord, my prayer is that You would burn in our hearts why we exist. We are a life-saving station first, not a club.
Lord, I pray that if there’s anybody in here that doesn’t know You as Lord and Savior, who feels like maybe they’ve been out in the waters and they need saved, Lord I pray that right there at their seat they would say, “God, I want to come home.”
And Lord, I pray that they’d find somebody after church with a name badge or a Grace shirt on and say, “I need to know more. I need to learn more. Please help me out.”
Lord, let that be a reality. And then, Lord, for our church, I pray today would be another stake in the ground that we fully understand why we’re here and what we’re doing. And Lord, I, as the pastor, promise with all of my heart, Lord, with everything within me, to do everything that I can to keep this church focused on the things that we need to be doing. Lord, as long as heaven and hell are a reality, this is the highest stakes game in town. So, Lord, please burden our heart to be a church that exists to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
And Lord, I pray that as we leave today, You would continue to watch over us and protect us, that You would continue to lead and guide us. I pray, Lord, You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again, for Your glory and for Your honor. And Lord, help us to continue to lift Jesus up in Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota and Bradenton for Your glory and for Your honor. In His name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody.