Far More In Our Communities

Good morning, my name is Phil Human and I am one of the pastors here at Journey, and it’s a pleasure to be able to speak with you today.  I’d like to thank you for your willingness to adjust to different seating today as the high school took all but a few chairs for the graduation today.  Congratulations to all of our high school graduates today – will you stand if you are graduating or graduated from High School?  We’ll give you a hand.

This morning we are revisiting a series we did two years ago that we called Far More.  And it comes from a wonderful verse in Ephesians 3:20- Jody and I loved this verse so much we had it inscribed in Jody’s wedding band.  And it says,

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we might ask or think. 

I love how the writer triples up his efforts to underscore God’s infinite power.   Not only is God able to do more than you think – he can do abundantly more.  Not only abundantly ar more – he can do exceedingly abundantly far more than you can ask – or even imagine!

He has exceeding power to accomplish anything.   He can do anything.

And where does God choose to flex his might and bring glory to his name?

21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

God can do all things – and he chooses to use all of that infinite power primarily through the church.

Now when I say Church I don’t mean a building, or an organization.   Church is made up of people.  You are the church.  You are the salt and light of the world.  You are the hands of God in this kind of world, reaching out in love to care for people who need to be cared for.

Your words are what God uses as an instrument to encourage the discouraged – you, church, are the primary source of God’s love and compassion in this broken needy world.  You make this kind of world a more loving and tolerable kind of world to live in.

Now the cynical might here me say this and scoff.   There’s reason to be skeptical.  Perhaps you had the misfortune of growing up in a legalistic and graceless church.  You might have felt hurt, maybe abandoned, maybe even abused by a church in your past.  Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to find stories like that.  It’s far too easy to find churches like that.

Sometimes churches lose their way.  Sometimes churches get caught up in religion. Religion sucks the life out of everything it touches.

Jesus didn’t come to establish another religion.  He came to set the world free from it.  He doesn’t want us to walk into a religion.  He wants us to walk into a Kingdom.  The Kingdom of Heaven.  That right-now place on earth where we allow God to lovingly and compassionately and wisely  governs the days of our lives.

There are unloving churches, it is true.  But they didn’t become that way by following Jesus’ teachings. After all it was Jesus who said that the world will know we are his disciples because of our love. John 13 Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

I want to talk with you today about the importance of the church, the importance of this church.  I want to remind us that God has plans for this church in this community.  And that He has plans for our future.

I want to talk about our church this morning.  Where we came from, what we are about, and where we are going.  It’s important to remember what makes us, us.  My goal for the day is to remember and celebrate our role that God has given us to play within the Kingdom of Heaven.

First- where we came from…

Nine years ago this month there was a small group of adults meeting in Jim and Patty Warren’s home, and we were praying that God would be kind to us and help figure out how to start a new church.

I had been in church ministry for 18 years at that time, I had never been a lead pastor of a church.  I had never even considered starting a church, but the Spirit of God began working inside of me – leading me to begin thinking about what it would be like to start a church.

Jim Warren had been in ministry much longer than I had been.  Though Jim was born and raised in this town, he will tell you that it wasn’t until 2008 that Jim felt God tell him that the time was right to start a church in his home town that he had devoted his life to serving.

Jim and I knew one another but not very well.  We were connected by a friend Ian Vickers – who is currently one of our elders here at Journey.  Jim had been talking to Ian about his desire to start a church for people who don’t like church.

Not even a week later I had a cup of coffee with Ian, and I started talking to him about this desire to start a church for people cynics and skeptics and people just starting or maybe restarting their spiritual journey.  And Ian said, you and Jim need to talk to each other.

We met for coffee at the beanery on a Tuesday morning in the summer of 2008 and as we talked it was obvious that God brought us together.  And one of the biggest issues in starting a new church is where to meet.

By lunch time that day God had provided us a school to meet in – rent free.  Dr. Riley told us that he felt every student in this town should have a family who loved them, a school that supported them, and a faith that guided them.

We asked him, how long can we stay in the school – and he said, you can’t stay forever – but if it helps the last church was in that school for ten years.

There were a host of other confirmations that morning and on my way home that afternoon I was so excited my hands were shaking.  I called Jody and said, Babe, it looks like we are moving to Gretna.

We began calling friends.  Some friends promised to come and help us start the church by attending and serving each week.  Some of them are sitting here in this room this morning.

Other friends said, we don’t feel called to attend, but we will give money – and for two years a group of people who never planned on attending Journey gave money every month in order to help us get started.

And without them – this church never would have happened.  Such generosity.  This church exists today because a group of people loved you all before we ever knew you.  A group of people sacrificially gave so that you might be able to hear the good news about Jesus today.

We began our church officially on March 1st 2009.  We had about 165 people in attendance.   And this Easter we had the most ever attend our services with more than 820 people.

Why is Journey Church growing?  Seriously, does anyone know?  What in the world?  We’re sitting on bleachers for goodness sake!  Is it the donuts?  They don’t hurt.  But the real reason is

…Because Jesus is growing it.  This church belongs to Jesus.  It is His – and He is building it. The Church belongs to Jesus and he has been growing it for two thousand years.  And it was Jesus who said in Matthew chapter 16 that He is building His church – and that all the powers in hell will not be able to stop it.

This church belongs to Jesus.  For two thousand years Jesus has been growing his church – and nothing will be able to get in it’s way.

Now let me talk just a bit about what we are about here at Journey.

Every local church has the same mission.  Jesus gave us our mission in Matthew 28:  We call it the great commission.  Go and make disciples of all the nations.   But each church has it’s own vision to how to make that happen.

And so God looked at our culture and community and said, this community needs a church that has a vision to help the skeptic, the stalled, the new starters, the re-starters, and the people who love those people.

God said, I want a church in Gretna that will honor people and treat them respectfully wherever they might be on their spiritual Journey.  I need a place who will say out loud that you who are struggling with belief – you have valid reasons for believing the way you do.  Though we will do our best to help you come to place your faith in Jesus.  In the meantime you are welcome here – doubts and all.

And so for generations to come someone will stand here and say, welcome to Journey church.  Wherever you might be on your spiritual Journey, we are glad that you are here.

So how are we to accomplish this vision?

In the books of Acts we read the earliest description of the church.  We find it in one sentence, Acts 2:42, which says, All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

When I read this I see two things that stand out to me that we want to make sure are the bedrock foundation for Journey Church.

First, I see a church that was committed to the truth.  They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching – which, btw, eventually is collected and turned into a book we now call the New Testament.

We at Journey are committed to teaching truth from God’s word.  Some people don’t believe there is anything called truth.  Some people will only go far enough to say there is truth for you, which might be different than truth for me.

We understand why one would say that, why one might believe that.  We are hoping however to show you why Jesus’ teaching is unsurpassed by any teacher ever.   And if you give us a chance we will try to prove to you that Jesus’ teaching about life, and how to live it are superior any other view one might put up against it.

Not only was Jesus the most loving and compassionate and good man you will ever read about, he is also the smartest.  His teachings make sense, and make sense out of life.

And so if you are relatively new to Journey we promise we will teach you how to do what Jesus said we can do – and how we can become the kind of human being Jesus said we can become.

And that means that sometimes you might hear things you don’t want to hear.  You might hear something that makes you uncomfortable.  That you will have to struggle through to see who’s right, Jesus, or you.  And so it takes a measure of humility to be a follower of Jesus.  He wants us to be willing to be movable and moldable.

The early church committed themselves to the apostles teachings.  And so will we.  But secondly, it says they were committed to becoming people who love.  They devoted themselves to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayerIt’s a church that loves God with all their heart soul mind and strength, and loves their neighbor as themselves.

Unfortunately, many people who are reluctant to walk into a church today would say that the church is filled with people who don’t love one another.  It is filled with people who are judgmental – waiting to pounce upon you if you make a mistake.  Ready to exclude you and shun you if you don’t have your act together.

Isn’t that a far cry from this picture of an idyllic church in Acts 2?  Jesus built a church and they loved one another.  In fact, they were famous for their love.  They loved one another so deeply that they were willing to sell their possessions to make sure that they were caring for the poor – for the hurting.  It says 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.  That they freely gave what they had in order to care for those in need.

If we are becoming like Jesus, then we will become more loving.  And this love stood out to the community – it was noticed.  Listen to how the love of this church affected the community.

Verse 47 says that the church enjoyed the favor of all the people.

Jesus is building his church.  And one of the hallmarks of the church was that it was a positive influence in the community.  It was a church that blessed the community.  People were cared for.  The poor were taken care of.  The widows, the orphans, the needy – cared for through the hands of Jesus’ people.

From the very beginning – Jesus expresses love to a community through his church.  And now, two thousand years later – Jesus is building his church here at Journey.  And it’s a joy to see a church that is committed to becoming loving people, who genuinely love others.

We dream that Journey might be the kind of place that is so loving and compassionate – that cares so much for our town that, should one day we announced that we were shutting our doors – the community would come and say, no way.  You guys can’t do that.  You’d leave a hole in our community.

About 300AD a historian named Eusibius was writing to try to explain the rapid growth of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.  To give an example of what Christians were like, he wrote about a terrible plague and famine that struck Alexandria… He said those that the plague did not kill, the famine was wasting away.  Listen to this quote from Eusibius…

“The zeal and piety of the Christians were obvious to all the heathen.  In this awful adversity they alone gave practical proof of their sympathy and humanity.  All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them.  Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from the famine and distributed bread to them all, so that their deeds were on everyone’s lips and they glorified the God of the Christians. 

This is exactly what Jesus said would happen, by the way.  Jesus said, in the sermon on the mount,

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

What would a modern day historian write about this church?  It was filled with people who cared for orphans, cared about Africans they will never likely meet.  Filled with people who donated time and money and food to a food Shelter – who cared for formerly homeless single mothers and their children, who generously made assistance available for people who could not pay bills due to unforeseen circumstances – who made professional counseling available and affordable.

Such actions convinced the cynics and the skeptics that there really is something different about followers of Jesus.

Can we be praying that for our church?  That people who currently are cynical about the church might see in us, that the church can be a force for good in the world, and certainly in the community.  That transformation is possible, that Jesus transforms people into agents of love and compassion.

Two years ago I asked you to believe that God wants to do far more in our church and in our community.  I asked you to believe that God would have us build a future home for Journey.  And I asked you to pledge to support our efforts to buy land upon which we can build.

And you responded wonderfully by pledging 1.2 million dollars over a three-year span.  That was two years ago – can you believe it?  And to date you all have given more than 718 thousand dollars so far.  And I can’t thank you enough.

We do not have any big news to announce regarding our efforts to find that right spot of land.  We believe it will take about 10 acres of land to build the right sized building.

What I have discovered is that it’s not as easy as looking up on a real estate website and finding ten acres.  It really needs to be part of a larger development.  Water and Sewer lines and traffic patterns and hundred more things go into the process.  Many of these developers love what we are proposing and many have said they want us to be part of what they are doing.

This is what I will tell you – Jim Warren and members of our board have met with every large developer in this county.  The right plot of ground will be available – and it will be as clear as the day I drove home from the Beanery and told Jody we are moving to Gretna.

It will be clear.  And we will celebrate.  And in the meantime, I will continue to ask you to support this project.

If you were not part of journey two years ago when we asked for pledges – no worries!  You can give to the building fund in your offering envelope and we will put it toward the project.

If you are newer to Journey, or maybe this is your first time at Journey and you are thinking, oh great, this church is hitting me up for money!  Well, no we’re not.

But two things:  First, I am doing you a favor when I tell you to give your money away.  Everyone wants to be a generous person.  That’s pretty easy to accomplish.  Give some of your money away.

But don’t give it to Journey until you are 100% certain that we are trustworthy.  I understand that takes time

But if you believe in this church, if you’ve bought into it – I want us to be able to have a picture in our head – of a building that is used and useful to the community, where a group of peculiar people meet weekly to worship their King.

And I want you to imagine that you are a 90 year old rocking in your porch on your rocking hoverchair.  And you are telling your grandkids about back in the day – .  And that you were part of that Journey church back in it’s beginning – back in the days we used to meet in a school gymnasium and baptize people in metal horse troughs, and sat on bleachers on graduation day, and we ate donuts and bagels and we cared for orphans and the widows and the hurting and we told people about Jesus and then I hope your grandkids stop you and say,

We’re still doing all of that today.  We’re still doing that, you old geezer!   And they will be the bearers of the good news just as we were today, just as our grandparents were yesterday.

And for generations to come Journey is a place that helps people to discover the real Jesus.  Because we believe that when you discover the real Jesus you will find him irresistible!

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