Well, we made it! We are through the Holidays, and here we stand on the first Sunday of a brand-new year! For some of us, we may be bummed that the holidays are behind us, for others we may feel some relief that we made it through all that comes with the holidays, and for others, we may still be trying to recover from all that those holidays throw at us! Well, regardless of how you feel or got to this point, I want to welcome you to our first Sunday of 2024! Now, I know it’s been a whole year since we last talked but last week, we talked about 5 Biblical Steps to True Life Change (to setting good resolutions and how to follow through on them!) Hopefully, you used the picture you took on your phone of the screen from last week, and continue to come back to those 5 steps, because if you are following the plan we find in God’s Word and truly working towards the best version of your life here in 2024…you can do it, it’s all yours if you want it, this can be the last year you have to discover a new you in the new year!
Today, on the first Sunday of the year we start a new conversation, and it’s one Ken and I are very excited to jump into with you all. In our first conversation of 2024, we are going to answer 15 God questions. These are questions that we all have, popular questions that so many of us ask about our faith and this God stuff. It’s going to give us a chance to hit some important topics. We will be looking at questions like, is there more to life than this? How can I make the most of my life? How can I have faith? How and why do I Pray? How and why do I read my Bible? Who or what is the Holy Spirit and what does He do? How and why do I share God with others? Who is Jesus and why did He die? What about the church? Do I matter? And more…and one of the coolest features of this series is that we will also be sharing an Alpha Video with you that matches that question that you can watch at home and share or watch with family and friends. Those videos will come out in our Saturday evening Announcement emails. This first video will be coming Saturday night…so be sure you are signed up for those emails! So that is what is to come, but before we start on these God questions, at the start of this new year, and the start of this conversation it is very important for us to discuss who we are, what we believe, and the unique identity of our Spiritual Family. So over the next two weeks, you will hear from Ken and me about that Next week Ken will be showing you, who we are, our unique identity, and talking through what we expect of those inside our Spiritual Family, and today I have the opportunity to talk to you about MRC’s hopes and dreams and our prayer for our Spiritual Family for this year, and beyond. Why would we do this, why push in on our beliefs and what matters to us as we start on this journey into the God Questions? This is very important because what you believe shapes who you are, and who you are determines where you are going, and how you answer the God Questions to come here in this series! So, with all of that said, let’s jump into this first conversation of 2024, and look at our hopes, goals, dreams, and prayers for our Spiritual Family.
Today is a fun day, and a bit of a challenging one for me, because we are talking about the areas that I’m most passionate about which are fun because I love this, and it’s so important to me. But it’s also very challenging for me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s because I can get so excited about this, and also because Ken and I have also spent over 2 decades fighting for and protecting the very things we will be discussing today! So there is a lot of emotion, heart, blood, sweat, and tears in what we are discussing, so it can be very personal, and with that, I could go off on tangents, and tell stories and lose my ability to truly focus on what we need to discuss and just end up all over the place which would not be good because the subject is too important for me or any human to get in the way of what we need to talk about! So I prepared differently for this talk. I spent a few days just praying about this talk, and doing my best to be patient. Praying that I could not only be focused, and stay out of the way of what we needed to hear, but also that we could just have a conversation that would land in our hearts and minds in a real way.
So, that’s what I did. I didn’t do my normal sermon prep, and I just stayed patient, prayed about it, and got to a place where I knew where we needed to start the conversation, and where we needed to go. Even then I didn’t start writing, I just wrote down the primary thoughts and prayers and got to this place where we needed to go today. So, I want this to not only stay focused and to the point today, but I want you to be open and ready because what we are discussing today matters and will shape so much of who we are and where we are going. So please buckle your seatbelt, and hold on tight, and be open and ready as we discuss MRC’s prayers, hopes, and dreams for all of us this year and beyond.
The primary prayer is that we would be the church we say we are.
I just kept coming back to this thought, that we must be the church we say we are. For so many people, words are just words. Websites are just websites. Social Media posts are just social media posts, and all of it is just sort of fluff, or marketing, but that isn’t real, and we want to be real here at MRC. It is so important to us that we are who we say we are here at MRC. So, it stands to reason that we must know who we are to be who we say we are, right? Well, Ken is going to really be focused on this next week, but here at MRC, from day one, long before we had a building, and long before our first Sunday, from the day we set out on this adventure as a church, we have never wavered from who we say we are. We have always been locked into the primary objective Jesus gives the church, and that is to reach people for Him…this has never changed, and never will at MRC. Here’s our vision statement.
Imagine a church that wasn’t built around people’s likes or dislikes but instead was unapologetic, passionate, and relentless in pursuing the lost.
This is who we say we are. From day one we focus on reaching the lost and empowering Christians to understand that they will find their purpose and real life as they engage God’s plan and follow God’s Word. This is the mission of Christ. Now, to be transparent with you today, watching how Christians respond to the mission of Christ, and what Scripture asks of us Christians has been a wild experience. We come to a church that says it isn’t about us but is all about those who need Jesus as much as we all do, this isn’t a hidden thing, it’s important that you know it coming in, and it’s been interesting to watch people agree, nod their heads, and get excited about that concept, while they continued to ask, and wonder what is in it for themselves! They could say it, but it didn’t mean they were living it or wanted to engage in it. We must be the church we say we are, not only for those around us in deep need of God’s love, not only to model real Christianity to those around us but also for our own Spiritual Maturity and Development. So, many Christians read Scripture, have knowledge, and have been around church for a long time and would believe themselves to be Spiritually Mature, but our Spiritual Maturity is measured by what? It’s measured by love. It’s found in our ability to not focus on ourselves, but to love, serve, and engage the mission of Christ. This is found all through Scripture, Jesus constantly challenges the prideful, the self-focused, and those who have knowledge but no love, no ability to live out the information they so proudly know, and so do we. This is the primary prayer we have for MRC in 2024 and beyond. That we would be the church we say we are! Now I’m going to show you how we can do that in 5 prayer points for our Spiritual Family.
Prayer 1 – That the first thing, would always be the first thing.
In every aspect of MRC, we would have one focus, one draw, and one central goal, and that would be Jesus. Everything must focus on who He is, what He has done for us, and how we can share it with others. Jesus must stay central. He is the showstopper, not any human. This is the focus and what draws people, not us people, not our worship style, not our building, lighting, programs, or activities. Everything we do is for Him and because of Him! Jesus must stay central, for us individually it cannot be about us, it must be about Him!
Matthew 10:38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. NLT
Matthew 10:38 “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. 39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. MSG
So, individually this is a must, we go ALL IN for Jesus, and it’s also so important as a church, here Paul is writing back to one of His church plants and He says this…
Colossians 3:17 Let every detail in your lives — words, actions, whatever — be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. MSG
The first thing is Jesus, and He must always be the priority, the motivation, and the attraction! If we are going to be the church we say we are, it cannot be about us, it must stay all about Him! If you are thinking, where do they get this idea that the church must be ALL IN on Jesus? It’s from Scripture.
Ephesians 1:22 He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. 23 The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. MSG
This must be primary and central in our words, actions, activities, programs, and lives…the first thing must be Jesus, and it must never waver from the highest priority of our Spiritual Family.
Prayer 2 – That our faith would be seen, felt, and heard.
This is so important; we can’t be the church we say we are if we are not the Christians, we say we are. When we say we are Christians we are saying that we live differently because of what Jesus has done in our lives. God’s love is pouring into us in such a way, that it overflows out of us and onto everyone around us. This is how Jesus is shared with those who don’t yet know Him, it’s how people know we are followers of Christ, it’s because we live differently because He is in our lives!
John 13:34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: 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.” NLT
This is so important. We must live out our faith. It isn’t just something we know in our head, and it isn’t just somewhere we go on a Sunday morning. Our faith must be seen, felt, and heard. When we are truly living out our faith we are impacted, and so is everyone around us…quite frankly, when we say we are Christians and do not live out our faith, we are impacted and so is everyone around us, just in a much more painful and negative way. This was the big confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders and people of that time. It wasn’t that they didn’t have enough knowledge, and it wasn’t that they couldn’t teach it. The issue was they missed the most important part of their faith, they didn’t live it out…and the more Jesus confronted and warned them about it, the harder they pushed against Him.
Matthew 23:2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. 5 “Everything they do is for show. NLT
It amazes me how many of us have been hurt by religion somewhere along the line, and how far that pain and judgment can drive people from Jesus. This is something we must see, if we are going to be the church we say we are, we must live out our faith! If not, and this is just a show, it does more damage than good and we are no different than those religious leaders we villainize in Scripture!
Prayer 3 – That we would be the church God wants us to be not the church people want us to be.
This prayer is so important and has been at the very center of the battle to be the church we say we are since the first day of MRC’s existence. It is wild, but what God asks of the church in Scripture, and what people (even good people, who love God and the church) want the church to be, tend to be very different things. It’s amazing how often people come from a church to our church and love it here. They hear of our unique identity, they see what it can do for people, and it’s a new experience for them that they love. They find freedom, joy, and life-change in a place that doesn’t look like the church they came from or their idea of what church should look like and it’s awesome and refreshing and meaningful to them, and then what happens? They set out to make this church look like the one they came from, or what they think church should be. It’s like the thing they learned first, will always be what it should be, so even though this Spiritual Family is helpful, it can’t be right unless it looks like…what I think it should, you know, like the place that did nothing for me. Interesting right? The toughest part is, that if we do not budge, or move in the direction they would like us to go, well, all that passion and energy they felt when coming to MRC, well, it dries up, and we become frustrating, confusing, or disappointing to them. Eventually, they burn out or just move on to another church that makes more sense to them. I think about that often. The other day I was watching the Marvel movie, Endgame, with my sons. I was thinking a lot about this idea, that people struggle to see what could be in the church, because of what we learned first, and what ideas we have of what it should be…and at the big confrontation at the end of the movie, the bad guy, Thanos, who is a big purple alien, not necessarily a philosopher says this to the heroes…and I had to write it down because it really hit me. This is what we experience around church all the time as we try to create what could be, and a unique, free, Biblically accurate environment.
“As long as there are those who remember what was, they will never know what could be.” Thanos
It’s a wall we hit often. We struggle to get past what we think it should be and because of that we struggle to know or experience what could be, but our job is to be the church God wants, not the church people want us to be! This is where so much of our focus and energy goes, protecting this environment that doesn’t look like the world thinks it should so we can be everything God knows we could be, and if we love God and our people, we will continue to lead them to Godly Truth, regardless of the push back or response. We will obey God’s word and love you enough to lead to truth!
Luke 6:26 “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests — look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.” MSG
If we love you, and if we are a loving church we will lead, and present The Truth and we will stay focused on God’s Truth and lead our Spiritual Family toward it…even if that means we aren’t going to win the popularity contests. Our job is to follow Jesus not people, and it’s fascinating how often people with the best of intentions will pull you off God’s plan and into the popularity contest. If we are going to be the church that we say we are, we must follow God’s desires, not what people want for us. Our task is to be true, not popular.
Prayer 4 – That we would have ready, open hearts.
If we are going to be the church we say we are, we must have open and ready hearts for Jesus…otherwise, we won’t be able to embrace His teaching, guidance, and the disruption to our everyday lives that Jesus truly is. I want to talk to you about the concept of being open and ready for the disruption of Jesus. This concept of “ready heart” is way more than just a catchy name for a podcast, it’s a necessity for a disciple of Christ. It comes from this moment where the disciples are asking Jesus why He tells stories and just doesn’t seem to clearly explain himself, and Jesus says this…
Matthew 13:12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. MSG
Do you see what a big deal a ready heart is? Without it, we will never get what Jesus is up to. We can listen but never get it. We can hear about Jesus and think we want Him, but we will never allow Him to do what He does or could do in our lives. And if there was a word, I would use for what Jesus does in your life, it would be the word, DISRUPT. Jesus comes into our lives and offers us so much more than our current lives and this world can offer, but it is a disruption to everything our flesh and human desires say should be, and for so many of us, we don’t have ready hearts, we aren’t open to the disruption. Have you ever wondered about verses like this? I sure do.
Matthew 7:13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. NLT
It’s so interesting, isn’t it? Through Jesus, the greatest thing that could ever happen to us can happen to us. We can have eternal life and find and experience our best lives possible. This is The Good News that Jesus came to us people, to help, to set the world right…and because of Him we all can enter God’s Kingdom. BUT…so few do. What is up with that? If this is the most important thing, and it’s something we all want, and need in our lives…why is the gateway to life so narrow, and the road so difficult? I’m telling you, it’s the disruption. It’s because of our will, and our struggle to live for God and fully follow Jesus…we just don’t want Him to disrupt our lives. We want to do what we want, how we want when we want. We aren’t willing to let Jesus disrupt our lives. I’ve been stuck in this verse lately and will bring it up again on Sunday…because it shows how simple and accessible God’s Kingdom is to us, but also shows us the major sticking point for so many…I know I have been stuck in this Scripture for a few weeks, but it’s such a big deal!
John 1:12 But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. MSG
Simple, clear, easy, and accessible to us all. All we must do is WANT, BELIEVE, AND DO! For so many of us, we want Jesus, we need help and a Savior. We believe He is who He says He is…but the sticking point for most comes in the last part there. For those who would DO what He said…that is the issue, isn’t it? We don’t want the disruption of Jesus in our everyday lives. Ken sent me this image the other day, and I have kept it in my phone because it hits my heart and I want to share it with you today. Check this out…
Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. NIV
We cannot be the church we say we are without ready open hearts to the disruption Jesus brings to our lives. We must be those who are ready to open the door as Jesus knocks and let Him all the way in! A church that is open and ready-hearted to the disruption of Jesus, ready and willing to truly live for HIM! So, ask yourself before we move on to our last prayer, are you ready and open to the disruption of Jesus? So many of us are blocked from Him by the way we live our lives. We live busy, chaotic, reactive lives with no margin for Him, we don’t have the time, the energy, or the resources to engage Him, let alone the desire to live past our momentary desires and needs. So, be very honest with yourself in this moment, do you have a ready heart for this, are you ready and open to the disruption of Jesus? If the answer is yes that is great, let Him in! If the answer is no, what is blocking you or holding you back? This is so important if we are going to be the church we say we are!
Prayer 5 – That what Jesus did for us and who He is for us would never grow old.
Through November and December, this is something that has been on my heart for our Spiritual Family. That we would always love Him and appreciate Him as we first did…that what Jesus did would never grow old. You know Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus about this very concept in Revelation and I think it’s the perfect warning and prayer for all of us inside our Spiritual Family today.
Revelation 2:2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. 4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. NLT
You see this church did a lot of great things. They were working hard; they patiently endured things. They stayed true to God’s truth and didn’t tolerate sin. They have patiently suffered without quitting, which is so admirable, but in all the effort, activities, and battles fought along the way this church, and the people in it, aren’t loving Jesus or each other as they first did. This happens, doesn’t it? I mean, think about the joy and passion you had on that first day you truly understood God’s love and grace for you. Think of the energy and gratitude you had on that day, when you realized that while you were still a sinner Christ died for you. Think of the joy, passion, and energy you once had for Him and ask yourself this question…do you still love Him in that way? Like you first did? It’s wild being part of a Spiritual Family for over 20 years because you see so many come and go. You see the joy and passion and energy of those who find Jesus and jump into our church with energy and life and it’s so awesome to see! You also get to watch what unfolds over time. For some, it stays, and they never lose sight of Jesus and what He did for them, they hold it so close! But for others, well, they struggle to keep that passion over time…it’s like somehow in all we do, we can lose sight of that day, of what He did for us, and we lose that energy and love and worshipful gratitude we had when we first found Him. So how are you doing with this? Would you say you love Him as you first did? Why do you think so? Why do you think you don’t? And what would you need to do, to remember, to go back and turn back to Jesus and do what you first did? If we want to be the church, we say we are, what Jesus did for us should and cannot ever get old!
Listen, we love you so much, and as we start into the New Year, Ken and I wanted the opportunity to share with you our hopes, goals, dreams, and prayers for you here at MRC for this year and beyond. Our deepest prayer is that God’s love will truly impact your life, and as that love pours in and overflows out of you it will impact you and those around you as well. We want this to be real, and we pray for it to be real every day, and every week…so let’s take one more look, I will put it on the screen, and just like last week, I would like you to take a picture of it and come back to it through the week and year as needed!
MRC’s Hopes, Dreams, Goals, & Prayer for 2024 & Beyond
Primary Prayer – That we would be the church we say we are!
Prayer 1 – That the first thing, would always be the first thing. In every aspect of MRC, we would have one focus, one draw, and one central goal, and that would be Jesus. (Matthew 10:38-39, Colossians 3:17, Ephesians 1:22-23)
Prayer 2 – That our faith would be seen, felt, and heard. We can’t be the church we say we are if we are not the Christians, we say we are. (John 13:34, Matthew 23:2-5)
Prayer 3 – That we would be the church God wants us to be not the church people want us to be. (Luke 6:26 MSG)
Prayer 4 – That we would have ready, open hearts. (Matthew 13:12-13 MSG)
Prayer 5 – That what Jesus did for us and who He is for us would never grow old. That we would always love Him and appreciate Him and what He did for us as we first did! (Revelation 2:2-5)