Defining Moments: The Big Step
Rhythm and Blues
Defining Moments: The Big Step
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
May 4/6, 2007
Let’s read this verse out of Ephesians 3 together out loud:
Slide: ___________________ Ephesians 3:20-21
20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. God is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine…think about that…ask big, imagine big, as big as you want, and he can do immeasurably more. To me, this is the “Make my day” verse of the Bible, where God says, “Go ahead, make my day, imagine big. Make it interesting.” Two years ago today we did ask and imagine big with our Imagine campaign. Two years ago was Big Step weekend, where our church took a huge faith step. We needed to raise at least 15 million dollars in 3 year pledges that day, and the Big Step is when all of us made our decisions, which totaled up to over 16 million dollars. That was clearly a defining moment for our church and for many of us as individuals. Today that is what we are talking about, such defining moments, as we revisit the big step two years later, examining where God has us as a church today, what he is calling us to, and what that means for each of us. As I’ve said many times, it is no accident that you are here. You are here because God wants you here, and he has a purpose for you. Today is another defining moment day.
A defining moment is a time in our life where we come to a point of decision that we know will change the trajectory of our lives…a time when God puts a faith challenge in front of us and we have a decision to make. Many of you may be at some defining moment, some faith challenge point, right now in some area of your life. You have a sense that God wants you to take some step or make some choice, but it is scary because you don’t know the outcome. To move forward would force you out of your comfort zone, whether in a relationship, a job situation, or some faith step spiritually or financially. You have the choice to play it safe and not take the step, or step into the faith adventure. Such decisions define your life, either as a person who steps forward or a person who holds back. Today we are talking about such defining moments, such faith steps. And we are going to do so by taking a fresh look at the passage we considered two years ago, at a time when the nation of Israel was at such a defining moment. Today we are going to look at Joshua chapters 3 and 4, when Joshua and the people of Israel were standing at the Jordan River, when God had called them to cross that river into the promised land. If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Joshua 3, as we gain perspective about our defining moments as we look back to their’s. Let’s read the story together, and then we’ll talk about it:
Slide: _______________ Joshua 3:9-17
Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD -the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap." So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
· God gives a clear vision
God was not fuzzy about what he wanted them to do—he wanted them to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the promised land. What was not so clear was the how, but the what was pretty clear. The what of the vision may sound easy to us looking back since we know how their situation turned out, but what God wanted them to do was staggering in its fear factor. First, they were to cross the Jordan with a couple of million people, and God has them cross this time of year that we are in now, which is flood stage. What would normally be a formidable border was now an impossible one—100 feet across and 30 feet deep of billions of gallons of fast moving water. And then on the other side of the Jordan was no picnic either—seven nations all with real armies and real weapons and real fortresses. From a human perspective, the Israelites didn’t have a chance, this little rag tag group of slaves from Egypt. Las Vegas would put their odds at a million to one against them. But what God told them to do was clear—to cross over and take possession of the land.
And likewise, what God has called his church to do is very clear as well. He told us to go and make disciples of the nations, to be his witnesses—to bridge people to a transforming life in Christ. Jesus’ dream and vision for the church is not a fortress but a bridge-building, missional community, helping connect people to God’s love. Our vision is to bridge people to a great life in Christ.
And it is that vision that is motivating us to take this replant step. We are not replanting our church because we think it might be fun or we like construction projects. We want to cross over to the land God has for us because we believe that the 720,000 people in a ten mile radius of our church matter so much to God that he gave the most precious thing he had to save them. We want to reach them for Christ and be a church that extends Christ’s love to those who are marginalized, the hurting and hopeless and poor. We want to be a place of rich community where people are loved and where people grow spiritually in the Word of God. We want to fully express the vision that is Christ’s dream for the church.
We knew that our facilities were constraining that vision, and once we realized that we could not solve our problems on this 11 acres, then we knew it was time to take the step. When we made the decision as elders to replant our church, it was very clear what God wants us to do. Yet, it was a huge faith step, and would mean each of us in the church as individuals pray about what our part would be. Defining moments always involve a point of decision, where we have to respond.
- You must make a choice
God gives the opportunity, and then we must make a decision about what we are going to do. That’s the way it was for those with Joshua 5000 years ago. They had to choose to take the step or not. That was significant for the Israelites, because this was not the first time they stood in front of the Jordan with the opportunity to go in and claim the land. 40 years before, the previous generation stood there on those banks contemplating the big step.
Forty years before, they stood at Kadesh Barnea where God had told them to enter the land. They sent spies into the land, Joshua being one of them, and when the spies reported the circumstances, they were intimidated from doing what God wanted. There were millions of reasons they could all think of to not go into the land, a thousand what-if’s, and so even though God was calling them in and Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were ready to go, they stalled. They hesitated. They didn’t go.
It was a defining moment for that generation. As a result, that generation would be defined as the ones who would not take the step. As a result, that generation would all wander in the wilderness until they died. That’s how they would always be known, as the generation who did not take the step.
At times in our lives and in the life of a church, God places us at a point of decision that really is a defining moment. At that point, we have a choice—a choice really about the kind of life we want. We can wander aimlessly until we die or we can be the kind of people who take faith steps…we can as a church wander aimlessly or we can as a church step out in faith when God calls us. We can be known as a generation that refused to take the step or the one who chose to move when God said move. Joshua’s generation would always be known as the ones who did take the step, and they God to see God work. They were known by the Canaanites as the people who crossed over. That’s what the Canaanites called them. And that fact of crossing the Jordan River is what scared those nations silly, because they knew that their God was real and really powerful.
Big steps always involve faith risks, and it is always a risk from our perspective because we don’t know what will happen whenever we take the step. How willing are you to take risks in your life when you sense God is leading? Taking risks is not easy for anybody, because it always involves overcoming fears to move forward into the unknown. We have to overcome fear, but the great news is that we can. Listen to this quote from Mark Batterson, a pastor out in DC:
According to psychiatric reference books, there are approximately two thousand classified fears. Those documented fears run the gamut-everything from photophobia (the fear of never looking good in pictures) to arachibutyrophobia (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth). There is even a phobiaphobia-the fear of phobias. What's interesting is that psychiatrists posit that we're born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. That means that every other fear is learned. And more importantly, that means that every other fear can be unlearned.
So, when we are born, we only have two fears…which makes sense. First, the fear of falling…think about it from the baby’s perspective. He or she is very comfy in the womb, and then one day, your world is falling…being born can’t be fun, and you could see why you would learn to be afraid of falling. Then you are confronted with lots of loud noises, and for the first few days all these giant people looking at you and making strange, loud noises…(baby talk). That would scare anybody. From there, we learn to be scared by lots of things, but faith means overcoming those fears to take steps when God is calling us to take the step.
The ironic thing is that the reason we typically don’t take the faith step is that we fear losing something, like control or comfort or security…but when we don’t take the faith step, we lose out on so much more. We lose the potential of what could happen and who we will become if we take the step and trust God. A survey of 95 year old people a few years ago asked these older folks what they would do differently as they looked back on their lives…almost all of them said that they would have taken more risks.
At times God gives us Jordan River moments, and you may be at one right now. This whole Replant is that for our church. It is so much more than just raising money to build buildings. That’s big. But it also means all of us stepping out of our comfort zones by asking God to show us how we can participate. As we reach many more people, none of us can afford to sit back and watch. It means all of us asking God how he wants us to be involved. Replant is a huge step of faith for all of us in this room. It really is a defining moment.
- You step into a faith adventure
The Israelites did take the step, and God did part the waters—but that was just the beginning of their faith adventure. After crossing the Jordan, they then had the seven nations to conquer. Right after the Jordan River was Jericho, this powerful fortified city. Clearly they were doing God’s will, but God did not make the adventure an easy one. It was tough and scary.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that when God urges us to take a faith step and then we move forward that his job is to then make everything smooth and easy. If that doesn’t happen, we start to wonder if it was really God’s will. We sometimes equate easy with a sign that it is God’s will. Yet, when you read the Bible it becomes very clear that almost always God does not make it easy. Everyone who followed God’s path, from the prophets and leaders of the Old Testament, to New Testament people like Jesus and Paul, had a tough road. Yet, that is how they grew.
The same is true with us. I’ve seen that in the money part of this replant step. A few months ago, I asked those of you who made an Imagine pledge to write your Imagine story on a 3x5 card so that we as elders could pray for you. As we read and prayed through those, as you might imagine, the experiences varied widely. For some, God made it easier than they expected, and many were actually praying about or had already decided to increase their pledge because of some windfall or just the way circumstances worked. That was really cool. Others found that the step was about as difficult as they suspected. Many people gave to the point of sacrifice, and they were feeling the sacrifice. Like childbirth, there is pain before the outcome, and they were in the pain part. And of course, there were others who found that it was a lot harder than they expected. One guy wrote me that in his mind, he had this scenario all laid out, that he would make this faith-stretching pledge, and that week be called into his boss’s office and be given this big promotion. He wrote that he was called in that week to his boss’s office, but instead of a promotion he was laid off…not the way he dreamed it up. Yet, he also talked about how God had stretched him and how his faith had grown. And the reality is that it is those in that last category that will grow the most. We just don’t grow without difficulty. Those who get to the end of their own ability are those that get to see God’s ability come into the picture.
That’s true for us as a church, too. I have to admit that if God asked me my preference, it would clearly be for all the Imagine pledges to come in without a hitch, and for us to have way more money than we know what to do with…to have not financial need or nervousness. Even with all this talk about what really grows us spiritually, I would sign up for easy in a heartbeat.
But as you might imagine, God has not made it easy. We do have a giving gap in Imagine that we need to make up. God knows that, and he is not panicking…but there is a gap that is significant. I mentioned how some people were on track, some behind on their pledges or circumstantially unable to fulfill it, and others were ahead. When that all shakes out, we are currently on track to collect about 85% of our pledged amount, which is certainly behind the 120% we are praying for (due to increased construction costs with Katrina) and also behind what we are planning to collect to make the numbers work in our construction budget. When it all shakes out, right now it seems that the gap we need to raise to make up for the pledges that are not able right now to happen, is about 1 million dollars. We do have a very significant gap of about 1 million dollars that we need to make up in order to be where we need to be financially with the project. We are managing to the shortfall and keeping to our construction budget, but to stay on course means that we really do need to trust God to enable us to raise 1 million dollars to make up for the shortfall.
Now, God knows all this, and we are just letting you know, because I know you want to know. God always does his work through his people, and it is an opportunity for us to ask God what he wants us to do. He doesn’t need any of us. He can meet the need without us, but this is opportunity for those of us who can, to see how God can use us. I know you are the kind of people who want to know, and who will pray about it.
For some of you, your circumstances have changed since the campaign to the positive, and you can pray about this gap. Others of you, your priorities have changed. You perhaps did make a pledge or maybe not two years ago, but your spiritual priorities have changed and your faith and heart are bigger. As we said two years ago, the Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver, so we said, “Pledge what you can give cheerfully right you’re your heart may grow over time, so you may be able to give more as your heart for God grows…but right now, do what you can do cheerfully.” So, some may be right there. Of course many of you were not here two years ago and missed out on the opportunity and want to pray about making a pledge now. I had to ask Tyrone’s permission to share this, but one thing I thought was totally cool, is the second day Ty was on the job here at Fellowship, on his own he went and found our business administrator to get an Imagine pledge form. He and Angela prayed about what they could do because they didn’t want to be left out of what God was doing. He didn’t tell me about it, but Ginny did…which was really cool. Some of you who are new have a Ty kind of heart for God, and you don’t want to be left out. Also, if you are new and do decide to make a pledge, please be sure to get sign a rock today. There are these river rocks and sharpies out at the info centers, because we are building a memorial like the Israelites did back in Joshua. When they crossed over, God told them to build a memorial with river rocks. We are building one in the new building to commemorate those who made the big step. So, if you do want to participate, please sign a rock with your name or your family’s name and the date you took the big step.
And please understand, I know that many of you are in the faith struggle to meet your existing pledge, and you are not in a position to consider something new, and I understand that. That’s great. You are being faithful, and God is honored by that. Yet, some of you are in a position to consider the gap, either by making a pledge or upping it. Whatever situation you are in, if you would like to make a one year pledge or up or change your Imagine pledge, there are pledge cards in the seat rack. As you pray about it, give what you can give cheerfully. If you can give nothing cheerfully, give that. Really. That’s what would honor God. Whatever you choose to do, or with whatever other defining moment you may be facing, taking that first step is a huge step, but just one step. It is the beginning of the faith adventure. When we take faith risks, life gets interesting…never boring.
- The Big Step involves everyone
Nobody stayed behind when they crossed the Jordan that day. Even though it was a huge faith step, and what lay beyond the Jordan was unpredictable and scary, they took the step—every last one of them. Nobody said, “You guys go on ahead. Me and the misses are going to stay back and see what happens.” That wasn’t an option. When they decided to go, they were all committed to going. And that is true in our church, too. We are all in this together. When God calls us a church to replant, it means all of us are to ask God, “What do you want me to do?” That’s not just about the financial part of Replant and the relocation, but also about the ministry part. As we are bridging people to a growing life in Christ, it means that there are roles for all of us to play. We talk about our mission as bridging people to a growing life in Christ…here’s how that involves us.
On the bridging part, the way God reaches people is through people…relationally. He invites us to build relationships with people who may not know God and help make the connection. There is nothing more thrilling than to be part of that. It doesn’t mean that we have to be the ones to close the deal, but it does mean that we build relationships and build bridges, and allow God to work in those. That may well include inviting them here. The truth is our strategy is not, “If you build it, they will come.” We reach people through people. Chances are, every one of us came here to this church because someone invited us.
The second part is the growing part, and we have ministries that help connect kids, students, and adults to God, to each other in small groups, and to need as we reach this community. All of those connections require people to make them happen. In Replant, we are asking everyone in our church to choose one way to make these three connections happen: connecting people to God in large group worship (kids, students, adults)—and in these areas we have big needs for technical support and for the first impressions teams. For connecting people to people in small groups (k,s, a), we need small group leaders in all the age groups. And for connecting people to need, we need those who can help coordinate various outreach ministries in our community and around the world.
I am 100% confident that one of the reasons you are here is because God wants to use you to bless others. And one thing I know is that this replant will take all of us to step up to be involved. The truth is that we are growing already right now faster than our ability to keep up with people wanting to get involved. I hated that we had to close registrations to Grouplink, for example, last time, and we just can’t do that. We need everybody we can to step up in all these areas. If we are having trouble keeping up now, then we are really going to be in trouble when we relocate and expect hundreds of more guests. So, please pray about what God would have you do. Don’t just stand on the sidelines. We need you in the game, and of course that’s where the action is, where the fun is, where the growth is.
To make taking that step as easy as possible, you probably noticed all those ministry booths when you came in. Today is a ministry fair, where you have the opportunity to find out more about a ministry or talk about how to get involved. We don’t want one person who wants to engage have a hard time engaging. So, here’s what we are going to do today. We are ending our services __ minutes early so that you have time to check out the booths. And please do so. If you have kids, we would ask that you please not go get them, because they are in their programming. You’ll interrupt their service or their small group if you get them before _:_. So, you’ve got time. Make yourself available for God to use.
I know for many, that is a big risk. It is easier just to sit back and watch, stay safe. But remember, it is moments like this that define us, as either people who are stayers, who don’t go, or people who are goers, who take faith risks for God and live beyond themselves. Replant is a defining moment for all of us.
Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a daring adventure -- or it's nothing." Because think of the alternative. The alternative is to live a non-threatening, safe little life devoid of both risk and reward. It's like a little story that author Lois Cheney tells about a man who clung to the railing all his life. It goes like this:
The man saw people love each other, and he saw that all love made strenuous demands on the lovers. He saw love require sacrifice and self-denial. He saw love produce arguments and anguish, and he decided that it cost too much. He decided not to diminish his life with love. He saw people strive for distant goals. He saw men and women pursue high, high ideals, and he saw that the striving was frequently mixed with disappointment. And he decided that it cost too much. He decided not to soil his life with striving. He saw people serving others. He saw men give money to the poor and helpless, and he saw that the more they served, the faster the need grew. He saw some ungrateful receivers turn on their serving friends. And he decided not to soil his life with serving.
And when he died, he walked up to God and presented him with his life. Undiminished, unmarred, and unsoiled, his life was clean from the filth of the world, and he presented it proudly, saying, 'This is my life.'
"And God said, 'What life?'"