Did you hear Sam’s talk last week?  I helped record it for YouTube and it was awesome.  It meant a lot to me because, like Sam, this is very personal to me.  It’s a decision we made over twenty years ago and we are still living it out today.  It’s the subject that I care deeply about and get very passionate about.  Last week you heard this in Dillsburg.  Next week you will hear his message in Heidlersburg.

Sam shared MRC’s hopes, dreams, goals, and prayers.  He shared that the primary prayer is that we would be the church we say we are.   Have you seen churches or businesses that say one thing and do another?  Doesn’t that bug you?  We want to be the church that we say we are.  And that can be hard when people want you to add or change things over the years.

Sam then shared five prayers.

Prayer 1 for MRC – 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 for MRC – 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 for MRC – 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 for MRC – That we would have ready, open hearts. (Matthew 13:12-13 MSG)

Prayer 5 for MRC – 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 what He did for us as if it was day one! (Revelation 2:2-5)

This message is important because it’s the heartbeat of Mountain Ridge Church.

To understand why MRC is who we are, I want to take you back to what happened before MRC.  After college, I felt empty inside.  I was a spiritual mess and didn’t how bad I had become.  I was having success in business but felt so dry and empty.  I went back to church and that is when God’s grace completely destroyed me.  It destroyed me because every understanding I had about God, about life, about myself, was destroyed.  God’s grace transformed me.  I learned about God’s love and acceptance of me.  It rocked my world.  I didn’t say I was perfect.  I didn’t say I didn’t sin.  I didn’t say I was fully healed.  I said God’s grace transformed me.

After that, I fully engaged the church where I found God’s grace.  I began serving, leading, and tithing.  I did it for years and years.  It wasn’t hard for me; it was so much fun.  We attended church, Sunday school classes, small groups, retreats, and conferences.  The problem I had was that we did this for years and years.  I was becoming bored of it all.  I wondered, “When do we take our knowledge and go do the things we are learning?”  I felt like we were walking in circles.  More books.  More teaching.  More knowledge.  More conferences.  More retreats.  More Sunday School.  More small groups.  While at the same time never actually living out what we were learning.   Not taking God’s grace outside the church.

It was then that the pastor shared with me that the prayer team was praying and felt like I was supposed to be the next church planter.  Here is a fun fact before we move on.  The pastor of that church was Sam’s dad.  He asked me if I would be interested in starting a new church.  I said yes but under one condition.  If we started a new church, it would be a church built on scripture that was unapologetic about reaching people far from God.  I simply would not, I could not be a pastor who has to keep people happy.  I can’t be the people-pleaser pastor.  It’s not at all what we see in scripture but unfortunately, it’s what can expected from church people and what we see in many North American churches and denominations.  I always wanted to be a part of a church that lives out the mission of God more than keeping people happy.

That’s when we started Mountain Ridge Church.  Do you see why it’s personal?  Why it matters?  Why there is passion?  Do you see why we care and care deeply?

What is our unique identity?  In one word, Imagine.

Imagine a church that isn’t built on the likes and dislikes of people but instead is passionate, relentless, and unapologetic about reaching people far from God.

As a funny side story and to be transparent with you, I was very naïve when we started MRC.  I was giddy with so much excitement.  I thought to myself, ‘Can you imagine what people will do when they discover that we are building a church based on what scripture says?  Can you imagine what will happen in this church when people know we are going after people far from God?’  I was so excited and all I could see in my mind was a unified church passionately loving each other and people far from God.

And since day one of the church plant, I have been amazed at how people have responded.  It’s like people know what the Bible says but they have absolutely no desire to live it out.  People have looked us in the eyes and said, “God bless you guys, we love it here, you are doing exactly what is in scripture, but my husband/wife is looking for something else.”  I have been stunned at how people have responded to scripture.

Now, our unique identity isn’t actually that unique.  It’s based on scripture.  It’s based on what Jesus said.  I want to share two scriptures with you.

“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” NIV Jesus in Luke 15:7

Jesus here shares with us the priority of heaven.  The priority in heaven, the reason heaven celebrates, is people far from God find Jesus.  Later Jesus even explained why He came.

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” TLB Jesus in Luke 19:9-10

There it is.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  Our unique identity is built on the words and life of Jesus.  I would like to tell you that we fasted, we had a retreat, and God gave us a unique calling, but I can’t.  We just read the Bible.  Our identity wasn’t our idea.  It’s based on the words and life of Jesus.

Let’s make this real and watch this interview.

Video of Jen: https://mountainridgechurch.org/2017/12/built-video-jen/

How does a church reach Jen?  How does a church, who knows about God’s love and grace, share that with someone who felt unlovable, unlikeable, and felt like her life was a mess?  Here’s the answer.  It takes a group of people to walk with God and build a church that’s not about them.  It takes a group of people who are consistently praying, setting up, and tearing down while Jen would inconsistently visit.  And I must add, it had nothing to do with success – the way our world defines it.  It was about what God wanted to do in a no-name church, in a no-name town, where real people live.

The problem is that most Christians can’t stop thinking about themselves and what they want.  They can’t stop comparing themselves with Christians.  They can’t stop comparing themselves to other churches and constantly thinking about success, success, success.  They can’t stop thinking about what they need and what they want.  The North American Christian seems to struggle to just relax, enjoy a relationship with God, and live it out.  They just seem driven to ignore God and make things happen.  It is a North American sickness.

I don’t know if you know what I am saying so let me try an analogy.  Do you know the best way to catch a butterfly?  What seems like the right answer?  You chase it.  You get a net and chase it.  Have you ever chased a butterfly?  If you have ever tried it, you know how hard that is.  The best way to catch a butterfly, obviously go to where butterflies are, is to sit and relax and a butterfly may come right up to you and land on you.

The best way to live out a relationship with Jesus is to stop doing so much, stop searching for what you think the church needs, enjoy the relationship with Jesus, and live it out.  It’s then when God moves.  But the North American Christian struggles with that.  We are so full of ourselves, our plans, our strengths, our solutions.

To reach Jen, all we did was live out the simplest of Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus taught,

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 Matthew 10:39

Jen’s story is a story is a beautiful story.  But there is something missing in that video.  What you didn’t hear was the group of people who decided to take their focus off of themselves.  Instead, they walked with God and built a church that wasn’t about them.  They consistently prayed, set up, and tore down while Jen would inconsistently visit.  What you didn’t hear was how many people left a comfortable church that offered everything a Christian could dream of.  Sunday School class, small groups, youth group, more books, more conferences, and I could go on.  What you didn’t hear was how that group of people went through emotional ups and downs watching people come and go.  What you didn’t hear was how many years it took Jen to discover God’s love.  What you didn’t hear was how new friendships were created as we laughed and cried together.  What you didn’t hear was the early morning bumps and bruises we had setting up.

I want to share a picture I took a couple of Sundays ago.  What do you see?  You see Jen with her grandson standing in front of the church watching the band warm up for church.  Here is what I see.  I see the impact of God in Jen’s life that now will ripple into the next generations.  Wrap your mind around this.  A grandson is now being raised by a grandma who has been loved and redeemed by God.  How did that happen?  A group of people walked with God and built a church that wasn’t about them.  A group of people who consistently prayed set up and tore down while Jen would inconsistently visit, for years.  It had nothing to do with success – the way our world defines it.  It was about what God wanted to do in a no-name church, in a no-name town, where real people live.

Let me ask you something.  What would you do to reach the next Jen?  We want you to answer that question.  Why?  Because that’s our unique identity, our vision.  If you have been transformed by God’s grace and you want others to know about it, you are going to love it here.  If you are going to look back to your previous church experience or other churches you know of and think, ‘MRC should really do what my church did 30 years ago,’ you may struggle a little here.  And that’s okay.  Our unique identity is trying to reach the next Jen.  And of course, we chuckle because it’s not unique at all.  After reading scripture, we feel it’s what it means to be a Christian.

What does it practically look like to build our unique identity?  What does it look like when a group of people get together to build a church that isn’t about them all the time?  We ask people to do five things.  And the more people who do these five things, the vision gets stronger.  When fewer people do these five things, the vision gets weaker.  That’s why we like to ask the question, if everyone made the decision you made about church, what would your church look like?

Five choices.  Love God.  Love others.  Love growing.  Love serving.  Love giving.

Why would anyone ever do that?  Let’s go back over 25 years ago.  For me, because my life was a wreck and then I met God who gave me His love and grace and it wrecked me.  Then we started a church and God met Jen and wrecked her with His love and grace.  And in that process, my girls got to see what it means to live out Christianity.  Not just go to endless Christian activities where we learn and learn and learn but never do.  And in that process, we found a new friend.  Her name is Jen.

Can I just say that everything people are looking for is found when you simply do what Jesus said.

The question I leave you with is this, what would you do to reach the next Jen?