Well it seems official; summer seems to be coming to an end…the party is over in so many ways!  School has started…which really seems to scream summer is over in the Hepner house.  I will just say I had to grab my emotions this year taking the first day of school picture in front of the house as I realized this was my oldest daughter’s LAST first day of school picture…that was a bit of a moment for this dad for sure.  So with that, the school buses are on the road, the fall schedules are starting to ramp up, and the days of summer seem to be behind us!  Soon we will be drinking pumpkin flavored coffee and watching the leaves change in our hooded sweatshirts…maybe that’s just me!  So for those of us like me who love the fall it’s a fun time, but I will say with the end of summer we also see our summer series coming to a close, and I am bummed to see this one go, because it has been a lot of fun if you ask me.  We have been working through a series on the church.  If you think about what we have been doing with this teaching, we have been asking some pretty specific questions about the church and looking at how you answer these questions. Which is so important.  The way I see it if we take a step back and look at this series the big questions look something like this; How do you VIEW church?  Maybe it’s better said this way; How do you DO church?  And I think by now you know, that how you answer these questions is a really big deal because we the church are called to something very specific.  We are called to help people far from God come to know Him and to empower Christian’s to engage the mission of Christ.

So today is supposed to be a recap day.  And we will review where we have been but I think it’s going to be important for me to ask you some personal questions as we enter this fall season.  But to start just to say I did what I was supposed to do, let’s review this journey we have taken through the series on the church.  I want you to be thinking about the spiritual growth process that can be seen throughout this series…remember it starts with our walk with God and then moves out from there.  The focus starts inward, then overtime shifts outward.  This shift in focus happens as we spend time with God…

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” MSG

As we spend time with God and grow, the focus shifts off of us and onto God and we live differently.  I think the series really mirrors this concept which I would call the spiritual growth process.  We started by talking about the church and what it is and after that we really started to press in on your personal relationship with God.  Did you think this way?  Did that sneak up on you?  Did you ever realize that your heart condition would be so important to the church and what the church is up to?  It is, and we took three weeks to go over the choices we expect you to make if you are going to be part of our church family.  Remember that?  We expect you to choose to love God, love others, love growing, love serving, and love giving.  We stepped into that discussion pretty hard, and I really wanted you to see that those 5 choices aren’t about Sam and Ken trying to figure out how to get you to do things around here, but all about your heart condition…everything is about your personal walk with God

Then the series shifted again, and we started looking at our seven “We Believe” statements that we will be working our way through for the rest of this series.  You can find these statements on our website in the “What Matters to Us” section under the heading “I’m New Here.”  These statement are really the heart and DNA of who we are as a church, but I don’t want you to lose site of the fact that these statements come after we spend time focused on our own walk with God, and our own personal heart condition…if that isn’t right, these statements will be very empty.

So here’s the seven statements that mean so much to us here at MRC…

We believe the mission of Christ, His passion, cost Him dearly.

This means it wasn’t easy, but because Jesus was fully submitted to His Father’s will…He sacrificed Himself so that we all could have ever lasting life, tearing the barrier of sin down that stood between God and us so that we could once again engage true, pure, intimacy with our Heavenly Father.

We believe Jesus empowered His church to fulfill His mission as He ascended into heaven.

We call this the Great Commission, and it’s an incredible moment where Jesus hands His mission of making disciples off to the church to be fulfilled.  Frankly, this is what it’s all about.  Making disciples of all nations, helping others experience the life changing presence of Jesus in their lives.  This is who we are, and what we are to do.  Then Randi was here and did a great job talking to you about the third statement which is…

We believe the mission is so important, that God is literally pushing back the end of time.

Did you know that?  Think of everyone you know that hasn’t yet experienced God’s grace.  God is so in love with them, He is pushing back the end of time to give them time to fall in love with Him.  What an amazing and intense thought…I was here to speak to you on our fourth statement…

We believe that the local church is at its best when, like Jesus, it focuses on outsiders.

This led me to really press in on where your focus is…is it on you and your needs, or is your focus shifting off of you and onto God, so that we can engage those around us who need to know Jesus and experience His love, grace, and mercy as we are…this was the week we looked at one of the biggest tension points around Christians and church.  Can a church say they focus on outsiders who need God and still meet my spiritual needs?  Then Ken had statement 5…

We believe finding the one lost sheep is our unique identity. 

I really enjoyed his talk.  Ken was very transparent about the tension he feels as we talk about the mission of Christ, and how we challenge the church to focus outward.  It’s amazing how offensive the idea of going out of the church and making disciples can be to the religious…it was in Jesus’ time, and sadly it still is today, which was a great follow up to last week where we looked at shifting our focus outward.

We believe the greatest discipleship anyone could engage is joining the mission of Jesus.

Only in losing yourself, Jesus said, will you find yourself and during this talk we looked at how hard we are search for ourselves, and the irony of Christians wondering how to find themselves, while reading their Bibles where Jesus tells us how to find ourselves SEVEN times!  Remember that?  Seven times Jesus explains to us that that the way to find ourselves is to forget about ourselves and look to Him and we will find both ourselves and Him…Seven times…and we still are searching for our own way to find ourselves.  There are things you discover in serving that you cannot discover in a book or a conference.  And we are all for books and conferences.  But only in serving do you learn things like empathy, humility and purpose.  The greater things in life, the things that change our hearts forever are discovered when we serve.  This is statement you hear a lot around here…the greatest form of discipleship is to serve.  Ken was up last week and talked to us about our seventh, and such an essential statement…

We believe, that Jesus meets our needs.  And, the local church is a place that should empower Christians to reach people far from God.

Romans 3:22 -25 The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this.  Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.  God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. 

God did what we could never do.  Not us.  Not a Pastor.  Not a Church.  No one.  As Christians, it’s important to enter into that mindset every day.  That means enjoying our relationship with Jesus who gives us life and energy.  Ken did a great job sharing with us about the expectations that can be places on churches and leaders and people that just can’t be there…because it’s a God thing.  It is all about Jesus, and our Pastor’s job is to lead and point us to Him, not to be Him for us.

So all summer long we have really been on a mission to explain to you our mission.  It’s been an awesome time, and I have really enjoyed pressing in on your relationship with God and how you view and do church because it’s such a big deal.  It matters to us that you are growing in your faith, and that you are engaging God in a way that is building into heart condition and on top of that we have loved talking to you about the mission of Christ and just showing you the things that mean so much to us here at MRC, and maybe one of the most fun parts of this series for me has been showing you how all of our values and priorities line up with Scripture.

But it’s over now…we are at the end of the summer, and we are now full go into the fall.  We often joke that at church we love the fall because people start getting back to church, which is nice for us Pastors, but I really want to talk to you about this next season that we are about to enter.  It’s often a busy one isn’t it?  It’s like summer ends, the school year begins, which adds so much to our schedules…even if you don’t have children something just shifts in the fall and it’s like play time is over.  I don’t know if you will remember this but way back when summer began, I shared with you a prayer that I had for all of us here at MRC for the summer season.  That as we engage summer, and sunshine, and hopefully moments where we can find rest…where we just have a little more time and space than we do the rest of the year…my prayer was that we would use that margin and space to really connect to God in a real way.  My hope was that in that little bit of margin that we seem to find in the summer, it could be a time for you to rest, and really draw closer to God than maybe you ever have before.  And I really hope you were able to find that time to connect to your Heavenly Father…it’s really all we would really want for you.  Everything really comes back to your connection to Jesus.  He is our lifeline, and without Him we know we can do nothing right?

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV

As I thought about how I wanted to close down this series I kept thinking about that prayer I had for you all summer long…and couldn’t get past the idea of the importance Jesus shares here of our connection to Him.  We must stay close to God.  He is our lifeline and it’s pretty clear here…apart from Him we can do nothing.  Well have you ever noticed how easy it is to let go of the Vine in the culture and world that we live in?  I mean it’s one thing to find time and space for God when you are on vacation or in the summer when all the activities seem to slow down…but what happens now?  I mean the fall is here, and we are already feeling it…we just aren’t in Kansas anymore are we Toto?  We have our work lives, our home lives, our children’s sports and school activities, and all the other things that we do and life just starts piling up now doesn’t it?  And I will say the one thing that almost doesn’t seem fair is that we still only have 24 hours in the day.  It’s amazing to think about how easy it is now as the seasons change to lose the intimacy or closeness that you feel to God…because life just ramps up.  And I think what can happen very quickly in the busy season we are entering is the first thing we sacrifice time wise is the one thing that matters most…and that is our relationship with God.  Which is a recipe for disaster.  We must stay connected to Him.  As we distance ourselves from God, it empties our hearts and our souls.  It’s leaves us dried up, and frankly it leaves us in a weakened state, and then we go into all of these activities, where we are around people…sometimes very difficult people, and because we aren’t connected to the vine…we get picked a part emotionally, and spiritually.  But here’s the deal, because we are so busy…I’m not sure we even realize how much we are struggling and hurting until we are really in a bad spot.  It’s so subtle and so sneaky and I think we are entering a very busy time, where if we aren’t careful our hearts get torn to pieces, and all the margin we had in summer to engage God seems to just disappear…and I want to talk about how we can continue to walk with God even in the busiest moments of life…and again remind you of just how important it is to be attached to the vine…not sure if you heard this yet but Jesus says He is our lifeline…

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV

So if you are paying attention I have already pointed out some really important things that when I say them you would all probably agree with and maybe even think they are pretty obvious…but let’s slow it down and get even more deliberate and think this through.

First, we know the importance of spending time with God.  He is our lifeline.  Jesus says this…

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  NIV

Seek God first.  It’s so important…it is the most important thing you can do…seek God first.  It’s about taking care of your heart.  Staying close to God.  Which Solomon who is the wisest man that ever lived says our hearts are a really, really big deal!

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. NIV

So Jesus tells us to seek Him first.  Solomon tells us that above all else we must guard our hearts because everything we do comes from there but there is a really big set up for us here as we enter the fall.  Let me ask you this, when life ramps up and you get busy, what is the first thing we often stop doing?  We stop seeking Him first…we stop guarding our hearts…which leaves us empty and dry and not emotionally or spiritually ready to take on the amount of “crazy” that life will throw at us on a daily basis here this fall…and believe me life will throw it at you!  Which leads me into the next clear but somewhat obvious statement I made today that you would probably agree with which was this…

We are entering a very busy time of year…and with that we know that mathematically we have the same amount of hours in the day in the fall that we have in the summer when we are sipping iced tea in our hammocks and enjoying time with family, friends, and hopefully God.  So if I’m not careful I’m not spending time with God and taking care of my heart which is the most essential thing…then I’m plowing head first into a hard day at work, then right to the sports fields, or band practices with the kids, but I want to point something out to you…this isn’t just an errand.  You aren’t just going to the soccer fields, or the school to see a play.  You bump into hurting people who hurt people.  You worry about your children.  Family, relationships, hurts, details…all are taking energy from you.  You bump into people, and deal with messy relationships and hurts and you may not even realize it because you are just running a million miles an hour…and so are the rest of the people on this planet.  It’s volatile and messy and can just tear us up but we may be moving too fast to even realize how busted up we are becoming running around with our spiritual and emotional and physical tanks on “E” just trying to survive this fall.  So you feel the tiredness and the stress and just try to convince yourself that it is a season of life and that you can push through and you don’t even recognize how hard the enemy is attacking you and you don’t see the toll that your distance from God is taking from you…and I have to say I think this is exactly the world our enemy has set up for you…and I would like to expose it, and give you three simple things to do, so that this fall is not another season of “I hope I make it through as I hang on for deer life.” but maybe this time it’s one where we stand in our true selves and stay intimately connected with Jesus.

I loved challenging you this summer to use the extra margin we find in the laid-back schedules of summer to engage God, His word, and His creation and I hope you experienced Him in such a real and tangible way this year.  But fall is here, and I don’t want that closeness to end for you.  So here is a simple 3 step Fall survival guide.

Sam’s Fall Survival Guide:

Step 1 – Spend Time with God Every Day.  I’m sure it shocks you to hear me say this, but it is so important.  I’m not going to pretend that you aren’t busy.  I know that you are, but here’s what we know.  Jesus says we are to seek God first.  Solomon says that we are to guard our hearts as the highest priority.  We see the idea of being a disciple of Christ which we studied two weeks ago this way…and we need to highlight the word daily here…

Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” NIV

Life happens every day…and I will tell you life isn’t easy.  We must stay in contact with our Heavenly Father daily.  So let’s get practical…what does this look like?  Well this will involve you engaging having a quiet time each day with God.  Look at your schedule and find 15-30 minutes and lock that time into your calendar.  You might tell me you don’t have 30 minutes…well it may be time to take an honest look at where you place your time.  If you spend 2 hours a day on social media or watching TV I may have just found where you can find 30 minutes to do the most important thing that you could possibly do for your heart and soul.  Then I think this time with God needs three things.  We pray…talk to and listen to God.  We read scripture.  Find a version of the Bible that makes sense to you and read God’s word…it’s more relevant than you think.  You can download the Bible ap on your phone and do devotionals that are pushed right to your phone, they even have audio versions for free in the Bible ap if you aren’t a big reader…and something that I find helpful is a time of reflection, for me I do this by journaling but it can just be a time to think a bit before the crazy of your life begins.  Spend time with God…make this a priority…we will get into this big-time this fall as we jump into Emotionally Healthy Spirituality…but we must Seek God first.

Step 2-Focus Daily on Your Priorities – I have really been trying to paint a picture for you today of what life does to us.  It’s beats us up and pulls us around and if we aren’t careful we can end up in a really unhealthy place in a hurry just running through life…which is why this next step is so important.  We must focus on our priorities every day.  As you end your time with God I think a good practice is to write out your priorities and for me this is something I must do, or on any given day I will lose track of them…I like to keep my priority list this simple, and I really try to work on the first three everyday.

  1. God
  2. My heart condition
  3. My family – my spouse and children.
  4. Everything else.

I think this is something to write down every day as you end your time with God.  Why because it’s important to focus on what matters because you live in a world designed to pull your eyes onto everything else.  This summer I spent a lot of time reflecting on where I was at, and one of the things I realized was how easy I get distracted from what matters…and I began a process of pulling things away that were pulling my eyes from what matters most.  So, for me things like Facebook and social media…were just distractions that pulled my eyes off of what matters most.  There were even some really good activities in my life that needed to go away so that I could stay focused on what matters most which is my relationship with God and everything else moving from that point would take care of itself.  This doesn’t mean we don’t work hard, and it doesn’t mean that we just isolate from the world, but it does mean we center on what matters most and work out from there.  Remember what Solomon told us?

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. NIV

Everything starts there, in my heart.  So when that is right, I can move out to my family…when that is right I can move out to my friends, my job, and outward from there.

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV

So, if I’m distracted from the most important thing which is my relationship with God while I try to do all these other things, Jesus would say that I can’t really do anything.  Even as I write this, I’m thinking of Peter’s moments walking on the water towards Jesus, do you remember this?

Matthew 14:25-31 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”29 “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” NIV

What happened here?  Peter was doing something amazing and was doing great as long as His focus was on Jesus…but when the waves got bigger and the wind blew harder his eyes left Jesus, his focus shifted…and he got in trouble in a hurry…and so can you and I.  Ask yourself what are your priorities? Write them down and then continue to write them down every day.  Also ask yourself what is your wind and waves?  What pulls your eyes off of what matters most?  For me it was things like Facebook, and social media…and extra activities that just didn’t fit my priorities, that had me sinking…and I’m thankful that Jesus is there with us to pull us back up and save us in those crazy moments but this is essential…focus on Jesus…and prioritize your life on Him.  Now for the last one and it’s one that just doesn’t make sense here in the busiest time of life.

Step 3 –  Rest.  I know what you are thinking…this isn’t possible.  Sam you have already explained to me that this is a busy season of life, so how in the world could I ever rest and get anything done.  Well I think something incredible happens when we actually rest.  Some how we get more done…some how as we rest we seem to gain productivity and a freshness in our souls, but it’s the last thing we would ever do.  We also gain some clarity in our thinking that we just don’t have if we keep plowing through life.  We must rest…and we will talk about this a lot more this fall, but this was a command of God not a suggestion and something happens when we rest that just doesn’t as we work harder and harder and run faster and faster.  We must stop, breath, and find real rest for our souls.  We must stop.  We must be still and when we are still we recognize something important…He is God, and we are not.

Psalm 46:10  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God”

So the summer is coming to a close, and our schedules and lives are ramping up and I want to ask you how will you get through it?  Will you drag yourself through another year just hoping to survive or will you stay connected to the Vine, and not just survive the fall, but live…really live in it?  I think it’s as simple as engaging these three things we spoke of today.  Daily time with God.  Focusing on our priorities.  And finding real rest for our souls.  These three things can change the game for you this fall, but you can’t just talk about them, you actually have to put them in practice.