Now, I recognize there are probably still some lingering questions about how we are doing groups this time. And I know there are also even bigger questions than that out there. Like, how long are we going to be in this building? I think we can all agree that while it does work for the time being, it certainly is not ideal. So, how much should we invest in being here if it’s only temporary?
Another questions I’m sure is out there is, where is this going? What does the future hold for Reality Church? With significant changes in location, staffing, and really almost everything – what are we supposed to be doing now? What are we to be aiming for? Have we just given up on the dream of growing?
These are all valid concerns and questions.
And over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize some things about myself that have not helped the situation. Most of you heard my confession the first week we did church here where I explained how I had failed you as a leader in many ways of the summer and I asked for your forgiveness. Well, it turns out God wasn’t done pointing out my errors to me. Errors that have led to many of you being confused and frustrated about what is going on right now at the church.
For those of you that have been with me since I became the Lead Pastor two years ago, you may remember that I often said that I really don’t know what I’m doing. That I’m just making this up as I go. That I don’t have a big master plan. Well, I still don’t. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m still just making this up as I go. And I definitely don’t have a big master plan. But I serve the God who does. And fortunately for me and for you, His plan does not depend on us. His plan includes our mistakes and failures. But that doesn’t excuse our failures and mistakes, because they tend to hurt people. And when you are a leader, they hurt lots of people.
And one mistake I’m realizing I made over the summer and somewhat even recently is that I started thinking that maybe I do know what I’m doing. As I told you already, it boils down to pride. And we are all prone to it. And when a leader does it, it comes across as arrogant. And one way that pride and arrogance comes out in me is in expecting others to just understand me and give me the benefit of the doubt because I’m the leader and you should know my heart. Well, in the real world it doesn’t work that way. I think I knew that before, but this summer and even recently my pride made me forget.
But God is good and again he puts people around me that will show me those errors, and I am thankful.
And so, I believe it is that faulty mentality of mine that has caused some of the confusion and concern some of you have, and for that I am sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness. I also hope to clear up some of that confusion today.
I had a rather different talk planned for today, but God intervened. I like it when He does that.
Because you see, I’m a human being just like you. I’m not perfect in any way. And so, God is working on me the same as He works on you. And a lot of what I end up preaching about or directions I move the church come straight out of personal convictions and lessons that God is teaching me. Two summers ago, that’s what the “praying church” thing was about. And this new focus on Jesus and all the Life Groups doing the same thing is no different.
A few weeks ago, when the move we had planned came to an abrupt halt and we ended up here at the office, I did a lot of soul searching and asking God what went wrong and what we are supposed to do. And the overwhelming conviction I felt was the fact that I had turned Acts 2 into a recipe for church growth, when Jesus made it so perfectly clear in John 15 that the only way fruit is produced is by abiding in the vine – Jesus.
In part of that teaching, Jesus spells it out in no uncertain terms.
I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.
That a double sided guarantee. Abiding produces fruit. Trying to do it on your own with a recipe of human actions, even from the Bible, produces nothing.
And even more than that, the even deeper thing I realized about myself was that I had been treating Jesus like a means to an end. I was focused on the fruit instead of the vine. I was Martha instead of Mary. And if I am that way, then it only follows that those I lead would be the same to varying degrees.
Now, this doesn’t mean that everything we’ve done and learned the last two years has been wrong and a waste of time. It’s not. God isn’t like that. He knows we take time to learn things, so He doesn’t give it to us all at once. And so, it’s a journey, and at this point in the journey He is showing us that our focus has been a bit off. My focus has been a bit off.
Hence the last three talks I gave talking about focus, and the fact that we MUST focus on Jesus. We MUST, as Hebrews tells us, fix our eyes on Him because he is the author (the beginner and leader) and finisher of our faith. Not only that, but as I’ve shown you in Romans, becoming like Christ is the whole purpose of our salvation. And how do we become like Christ – well, through the renewing of our minds. As Paul points out in Philippians, we must all have the same mindset as he, where knowing Christ is more valuable than anything else in this world.
And as all those things were coming to my mind, I was realizing that I did not share Paul’s motivation. That I did not desire to know Jesus above all else, and so I repented as I told you to do. I prayed the prayer of Psalm 51 when David was confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
And then I instructed you to do the same. Because this is what I’m called to do. It’s not arrogance that moves me to do these things. It’s actually quite the opposite. As I learn from my own weakness and failures, I then turn that into a lesson for you.
Because I am on the same path of growing that I am called to lead you on.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
A major way I equip you and build you up is by teaching you out of my personal struggles and what God teaches me through His word and other pastors and people I listen to. None of this comes from me.
Such as a few other Scriptures in this vain that speak to why I’m insisting that we as a church all do this together, because UNITY IN THE FAITH and KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S SON are my Biblically mandated goals. And the goal of knowing Christ is such an important one that we are all united in that at least of a time, I believe we all need to be fixing our eyes on Jesus in a way we have never done before in this church.
Because there is even more to knowing Christ than you may think. Even more importance to this than I’ve already communicated. There are a few passages I haven’t covered already about this that really should put it into perspective for you, because that’s what it’s done for me.
Here’s one from the Old Testament. Remember that Jesus IS God.
23This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
How many of us do put more effort into building and fine-tuning our wisdom, strength, and wealth than our intimate knowledge of God?
All of those things are temporal. They do not last. They do not even last in this lifetime much less in eternity. In fact, according to Scripture, there is only one thing that counts in eternity, or as Jesus puts it, there is only one thing that actually IS eternal life.
John 17 is after the last supper and before His arrest, and he is praying for various things. He begins his prayer with these words….
1 “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
You know, we all love the most famous verse of the bible…
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Well, guess what Jesus just said was eternal life…to know Him.
Most people think it’s heaven. Well, guess what heaven is…to know Him.
Not to know about him. But to know Him personally and intimately. And to be known by Him. Because a personal intimate relationship is two way. And do you really think that Jesus knows you personally if you haven’t bothered to get to know Him personally?
In fact, Jesus made it clear that he doesn’t.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
How can the omnipotent and omniscient creator, owner, and sustainer of the universe say he doesn’t know you?
The same way the barista at Starbucks doesn’t know you. Sure, maybe you’re a regular. Maybe you know each other’s name and have light banter as you order and wait for your daily Venti Non-Fat Mocha Frappuccino. Maybe you’ve been doing this for years and he knows your orders by heart! But does he really know you? No! Nor do you know him. And why not? Because you never invited him in and he never invited you in. Your relationship is surface and need-based. He has something you want, and your relationship with him is based on his ability to give it to you. If he quit or moved to another store, you wouldn’t follow him, because it’s not him you want, it’s what he gives you. And vice versa.
And how many of us treat Jesus exactly the same way? I know I have, and do.
We want him to fix our problems. We want him to mend our relationships, and fix our finances, and make us better parents, or solve our lust or anger or pride or greed temptations. No, actually we don’t want him to do that, we want him to tell us how we can do that. We want practical, how-to, step by step instructions on how to have the abundant life completely on our own effort and we expect Jesus to hold up his end of the bargain.
How can it be that Jesus does not know you? I believe it happens when we learn as much as we think is needed about Jesus and then just assume we know Him and move onto more “practical” things.
Now, I’m not saying practical teaching is wrong. The New Testament is full of it! Jesus did it too! But if that is where we start and that is where stay, then it’s getting the cart before the horse. It’s focusing on the fruit instead of the vine. It’s addressing the symptoms instead of the disease. It’s being a Martha instead of a Mary.
We want Jesus to show us the way, tell us the truth, and give us eternal life so that we can take it from there and do it on our own.
But instead, Jesus IS the way, he IS the truth, and he IS the life. And to not seek HIM, to not know HIM is to be lost, deceived, and dead.
And as all of these things were coming to my mind, I’m certain from the Holy Spirit, I became quite convicted that I do not know Jesus like I should. That I did not desire to know Jesus like I should. That I was in danger of being one of those who say “Lord, Lord” but in truth He didn’t know me. Because I had in many ways been using him as a means to an end. Treating him like a barista. Loving what He can do more than loving Him.
And so I repented. And I encourage you to do the same if you feel the same conviction. And I encourage you to join with me and the rest of your family here at Reality in changing that about ourselves. That is what these next three months are about. It’s not about me trying to control things. It’s about finally trying to let Jesus control things by focusing on nothing but Him. On spending some time sitting at his feet like Mary instead of trying to solve all our problems in our own effort. It’s about truly believing what Jesus said about the vine, the branches, and the fruit and putting it into action by intently learning about Him – who He is, what He’s like, and in so doing aiming to be like Him.
And as we do that, this is the promise of Scripture
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
So, please, please, please, join a group and do this with us. Pursue Christ with us. Seek the Kingdom with us. Fix your eyes on Jesus with us during this time.
Because to not do so would be to waste this amazing opportunity God has given us as a result of all of the recent changes.
To the world it may seem we are stepping backwards, but I believe we are poised to see a miraculous work of God. Just as God pointed out to Samuel – man’s concern is the outward appearance, but God’s concern is our hearts.
And what I believe God has given us in moving us to this place and making the other changes is that he is giving us an opportunity to not only fix our eyes on Jesus, abide in the vine, renew our minds, etc – but he has given us an opportunity to be faithful with a little.
It’s a common theme throughout Scripture.
Jesus himself pointed out that
Whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
That “dishonest” is not a very good translation in my opinion. The Greek is..
Original Word: ἄδικος
Definition: unjust, unrighteous, wicked.– properly, without justice; unjust, because violating what God says is just; divinely disapproved.Injustice as a breach of divine justice, i.e. in violation of God’s standards.
And what is God’s standard?
1 Thessalonians 5
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
In other words, I believe that if we treat this place – this building – with disdain and ungratefulness – then why would God want to give us something more?
It’s the exact same thing Jesus illustrated in the parable of the talents…
The two that invested in what they were given were commended “‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”
But the wicked servant who was upset he only got one talent and buried in the ground…he had his talent taken away from him and he was cast out.
So, what has God given us here? An opportunity to show ourselves faithful with little, and perhaps He will give us more. If we go around grumbling and complaining, and just biding our time here, why would God give us more?
It’s not unlike when I give things to my children. There are times when I was about to give one of them two cookies, and before I could hand them the second one they complained of only having one. So, instead of giving them more, I take the one away to their great displeasure. I don’t believe my response is much different than how God feels when we do the same with what He gives us.
Why, because He wants us to be content instead of feeling entitled.
And guess where we learn contentment…it’s not when we have plenty. As Paul states..
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Again, God has given us a great opportunity – to learn contentment. And perhaps some patience as well. We don’t learn patience when we get what we want instantly.
And so, how long will we be here? As long as it takes for us to learn contentment and show ourselves faithful with a little.
My hope and belief is that could happen in three to six months as we fix our eyes on Jesus and invest ourselves fully into what He’s given us. As we abide in the vine completely and with our whole hearts. Who knows, perhaps, as Jesus promised, we will bear fruit.
Maybe we will experience what another church experienced in a similar situation. I read about it just this past week in Experiencing God, a special group I am part of.
Let me read it to you.
Like I said, this was just this past week, and I almost cried when I read that because it was like God was telling me – don’t give up. Just look to me. Seek my face. Seek my kingdom. Pursue Christ as a unit with all of your being and you will see me do mighty things through you.
And so, my friends, that is my appeal to you. Pursue Christ with me. Let’s fix our eyes on Him for the next three months and see what happens. Let’s be faithful and content with the little we have been given to show God that we are grateful, that we appreciate that He is not done with us, that we rejoice in the trials, that we know He is treating us like His children.
As Hebrews 12 tells us… (same passage where we are instructed to fix our eyes on Jesus and run the race with perseverance)
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Discipline is not punishment. It’s training. It’s making us into disciples of Christ. It’s conforming us into His image.
So, let us pursue Christ together. Let us forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. Let us press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has calls us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Let us invest ourselves fully, with rejoicing and thanksgiving, in the circumstances God has placed us in. Let us do MORE than we did before in a bigger place. Let us serve more – all of us – as much as we are able. Let us give more – all of us – as much as we are able.
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
And let us pray.