Invitation to Integration

 

We’re taking a break from our Elijah series. We’re calling this “Integrate Sunday.” Nathan and I have been talking for almost a year about this idea of how our lives can become so fragmented. How, sometimes, there’s this dichotomy that we have about those people who go and do mission work, and then there are just the rest of us schlubs who have a job; and we don’t realize that God created you the way he created you with your dreams, with your hopes, fears, with the hurts that you’ve been through, the hard things, the good things, your interests, passions, hobbies, personality, all of it because he wants to use you as a vehicle of his to communicate his love.

So, we have this idea of integrating. Integrate means to combine one thing with another so that they become whole. And I’ve been thinking a lot about just how fragmented we are. As a nation, it just seems like we’re more and more fragmented. I get so discouraged with how much I hear people just shouting each other down, and maybe that’s always been true, but it just seems like in political discourse, the goal is to shout louder than someone else. And just in so many spheres, our lives can feel so disintegrated, right? We have our sphere of family and that has one set of relationships, and then we have our sphere of work and that often is a completely different set of relationships. We have our church life and that’s like another set of relationships. It’s just like so many things, so many plates spinning. And I believe God wants to center us. He wants us to be integrated people.

I talked last week, for those who were here, about the trip I just made to India. One of the most compelling things that I saw while I was in India is when we were in this little village of people, where everyone in that village, their life is that they catch rats. I’ve done some reading, studying about the caste system; and in the caste system, whatever little bucket you’re born into, the chances are like 99.999% that you’re going to die in that same bucket. So, if you were born in a village where what you do is catch rats, the chances are astronomical that you’re going to die catching rats, and yet, as I said last week, those people just seemed very joyful, and they were just so gracious, and I just felt so much hope.

But at the same time, just being aware – what would it be like to know that what you’re born into is really how you’re going to die? To have so little choice? To be honest, as we were driving away from that village and we were in the van, I just felt a kind of claustrophobia. I don’t know if you can relate to that, but it was just so suffocating to think of living without choice because I’m an American! And we get to choose everything! There has never been in the history of the planet a culture that is so mobile, that is so fluid. We can choose everything. We can choose who we want to associate with, where we want to live, what kind of career we want to have. In fact, we’re to the point, I think, for young people, that it’s just paralyzing how much choice there is.  Now we can even choose our gender. We can even choose to be another species evidently.

We just have a lot of choice, and sometimes, I think, it almost seems as though we have the power to fashion our own perfect world. Can you imagine, if you’re a rat-catcher living under a tarp your dream house is that your tarp doesn’t leak? But we imagine ourselves with a certain kind of house, and a certain kind of car, and certain kinds of kids, certain kinds of friends. We eat certain kinds of food, and we go certain kinds of places. We have bucket lists. What’s a bucket list for a rat-catcher? It’s a bucket of rats.

But yet with all our mobility, with all our freedom, with all our ability to shape our own world, there is this pervasive cloud of disappointment that hangs over our culture.

I read an article in Fortune Magazine this year. It said a new study has found that nearly half, think about this, nearly half of all Americans feel lonely.  How can you be lonely? You’re never alone. We have Facebook or Instagram or whatever you kids do. Facebook is so like 90s.

The article says the health insurer Cigna did a nationwide survey of 20,000 adults and found that 54 percent of respondents felt that no one actually knows them well. How can that be? Everybody knows what you ate yesterday. How can people not know you well?

Fifty-six percent of people said the people they surround themselves are not necessarily with them. And approximately 40 percent of Americans say they lack companionship, that their relationships aren’t meaningful, and that they feel isolated from others. See, we live as never before in a world where we have this illusion that the perfect world, my ideal world, is just around the corner. But speaking as someone who’s been around a few corners now, you round the bend and you find out that it’s just five more miles. Or as somebody said to me at Starbucks the other day, it’s like we thought that when we climbed this ridge, that we were going to arrive at a new kind of life only to find that from that ridge, we could see a whole landscape of ridges yet to be climbed.

C.S. Lewis wrote in mere Christianity,

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

And that other world is God’s world. The Bible calls it God’s kingdom. And we live in the shadow of that reality, and it haunts us. It’s a world of perfect love, an absolute beauty without decay. It’s a world where there is fulfillment and perfect power and perfect peace, and everything is where and what and who it should be. But that introduces us to what we read in John 1, the biggest cosmic plot twist that we could have ever anticipated because the Bible says,

“The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Right there, we are plunged into the reality of God that transcends all of our religion. Because this doesn’t happen. When you have power, what do you do? You consolidate your power. When you increase in riches, there is a very clear trend that we isolate, right? We move into gated communities; we hire private security; we start controlling our public image. The more access to resources we have, the more we want to use them to shape our world.

But the God Who is of infinite wealth and power and resource chose to enter a broken world. He chose to come from his world and integrate into our world. God moved into the neighborhood.

I was one of the first people in Greenville to integrate. It comes as a huge surprise to a lot of people that I went to a local conservative university, and after my junior year, a friend of mine actually bought a little house in Nicholtown. I think he was the first white person that I know to buy a little house in Nicholtown. I don’t think he even knew what he was doing, but he bought this house and he was going to get married and be away all summer, and he said, “You want to stay in my house in Nicholtown?”

I’d never even heard of Nicholtown. I’d been in this town for three years, and I said, “Is it free? He said, “Yeah.” I said, “You bet!” So, I went to this house, and I had my Chrysler K-car. Some of you know what that is. And if you don’t, you don’t want to know. And in my car in the back window, I’ll just say it, it said Bob Jones University.

I got out of my car and I had all my worldly possessions in some boxes. And I was getting ready to go in the house, and this 16-17-year-old black, young man came walking down the street.  He was he was walking pretty fast and he just stopped. He looked at my car and he looked at me and he said, “You’re moving in here?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You went to Bob Jones?” Or he said, “You go to Bob Jones?” I said, “Yeah.”  And without even thinking, he said, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.” And then just walked off. It was awesome!

It was surprising, like it was unexpected. But you know what’s infinitely more surprising is the fact that God moved into our neighborhood! And the sticker on his window is “Kingdom of light and love and perfection.” And he’s moving way down slum from Nicholtown than anything we could ever imagine because he’s moving into what is, essentially, a toxic waste dump of human depravity and need and sinfulness and brokenness. This is what we call the Incarnation. The Incarnation into flesh. Jesus is God in human flesh. The Nicene Creed, which is a very ancient Christian creed says,

“I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, The only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds. God of God. Light of light. Very God of Very God. Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

Wow! God took on true humanity. God became something that he wasn’t before. He laid aside the robes of his invisibility. This wasn’t just like a costume party. It wasn’t like some of these alien movies, like Terminator. I was showing my age. But you know where the alien looks like a person, but he’s not really a person. God actually became a human being in every sense of the word. God took to himself a true human nature so that he was hungry, and he had to eat or he would die. He was thirsty, and he had to drink. He knew disappointment. He knew loneliness. He was constrained by the physics of our nature and ultimately, he could be killed and was. The Word moved in.

This is in the deep end of the theological pool, if you will, but it is so practically important. So, when the Word became flesh, this was like the expression of God. You have no idea what is in my head until I open my mouth and you hear my words. When you hear my words, you know what’s in my mind. In the same way, Jesus came to earth to be the full expression of everything that God is. God didn’t just say, “OK. Well, I’m going to give you a message, and I’m going to write it down, and then I’ll just drop it from heaven. It’ll flutter down to earth.” God became flesh. The Word became flesh.

But the difference is this Word is eternal. It was in the beginning. It’s absolute. The Word was God. It’s creative.  If I say the word “rhinoceros,” there is no rhinoceros here, but there’s a rhinoceros in your head, right? You know what a rhinoceros is. When I say the word, it corresponds to a thought that’s in your brain.

But when God says Word it actually creates the reality. It didn’t just reflect the reality. When God says, “light,” light appears. I can say light, but nothing happens. There’s no power in my words to create the reality. But when God says, “light,” light happens. When God says, “rhinoceros,” you get a rhinoceros and not just the idea of a rhinoceros. God’s words are life and light and power. God’s words equal reality. And so, when Jesus came, we had the very expression. It’s not just that Jesus came to tell us what life is.

Jesus didn’t just come to tell us what life is. Jesus is the Word; He is the embodiment. He is physically everything that God is made visible to us as human beings. And that’s awesome. The Word became flesh. But it’s like the word on the street. And I just want to say, because I can’t take time right now to stop and take a deep dive into the Incarnation. We’re going to do some of that around Christmas time because that’s the designated time that we’re supposed to do it. But I just want to say that if this to you seems like “Wow! This is confusing and it’s a little bit complex.”

I really believe that of any single thing the confusion that many Christians have about Christianity flows directly out of the fact that we don’t understand the Incarnation. I think a lot of people think that God is wearing a costume, like a man costume. You dress up like Spiderman, God dressed up like a man. But God wasn’t wearing a costume. He is a man.

And it’s so important because how can you understand what it means to relate to God as a Father unless you understand the way Jesus as a man related to God as a Father? How do we as human beings relate to an infinite being our Father in a very practical way? And if you don’t understand the Incarnation, if you don’t understand that Jesus is walking the earth with a body and with feelings and with emotions just like us but he’s relating to the Father, you can’t really understand how that works. And how can you relate to the son of God if you don’t understand the incarnation?

Because if I look at all those signs and wonders that Jesus is doing and he’s doing them as God, that’s impressive. But what does that have to do with us? I’m not God. But if, as the Bible says, that Jesus as a man is doing what he’s doing in the power of the Holy Spirit, that has everything to do with us because the same Spirit that dwelt in Jesus, the same Spirit that empowered Jesus is the same Spirit that empowers us as God’s children.

And if you don’t understand that Jesus is a man, why would you relate to him? He knows you. He understands what it is to be disappointed. He understands what it is to live with a family that doesn’t get him. He understands what it is to lean on friends and find out that they are as substantial as a cotton ball.

He was in all points tempted as we are, and if that’s not real to you, why in the world would you think you can have a friendship that’s meaningful with him? And you can’t understand life in the Holy Spirit if you don’t understand the incarnation because Jesus is living his life. One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible Isaiah 42:

“Behold,” God says talking about Jesus, “behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him.”

And again, everything that Jesus did, everything that he did – all those mighty words, all those mighty works Jesus did by a communicated power, by the power of the Holy Spirit that’s in him. And you know what? The Holy Spirit is in us as he was in Jesus.

So, this doctrine is so important. But I want to get to the meaning of why. Why? Why did he do this.  Why did God move into our neighborhood? Well, the passage says, “the Word became flesh,” and literally, the word where it says “dwelt” in some of your translations, it’s he “tabernacled.” It’s a very specific word, which takes our minds to the idea of the temple, the Tabernacle.

I showed this clip about a year ago when we did wisdom fest last summer, but I want to refresh your memory for those who were here or introduce you if you weren’t here to this little piece from something called The Bible Project that I think really helps us grasp the significance of Jesus tabernacling among us. So, give it a watch.

“This is where we have to start talking about temples because in the Biblical world you experience God’s presence by going to a temple, that’s where heaven and earth overlap. Now there are two types of temples described in the Bible. One is a tabernacle, basically a tent that was built by Moses, and the other was this massive building made by Solomon. And these temples were decorated with fruit trees and flowers and images of angels and all kinds of gold and jewels and so on.

And these are designed to make you feel like you’re going back to the garden. And at the center of the temple was a place called the Holy of Holies, which was like the hot spot of God’s presence. Now we can go and be with God again. But not so fast because the Temple also creates a problem. So, God’s space is full of his presence and goodness and justice and beauty, but human space is full of sin and injustice and the ugliness that result.

So how are these spaces overlap if they’re so different and they’re in conflict with each other?

This was resolved through animal sacrifice.

Yeah, that’s kind of weird. What do animal sacrifices have to do with this?

Yeah, the idea is this: animal sacrifice is somehow they absorb the sin when the animal dies in your place and it creates a clean space, so to speak, where you are now free to enter into the temple and be in God’s presence.

So, if I’m an Israelite and I live in Jerusalem, I might be able to be in God’s presence. But you said the story of the Bible is all of Heaven and Earth reuniting.

Right. So, we have to keep going in the story where we come to Jesus in the New Testament, and in the Gospel of John, we hear this claim that God became human in Jesus and made his dwelling among us. Now this word “dwelling” is really curious: it literally means he set up a tabernacle among us. And so what John is claiming right here is that Jesus is a temple. He is now the place where heaven and earth overlap.

What’s interesting about Jesus is that he isn’t staying in this safe, clean space. He’s running around, hanging out with sinners. He’s healing people of their sicknesses and forgiving people of their sins. He’s basically creating little pockets of heaven where people can be in God’s presence, but he’s doing it out there in the middle of the world of sin and death.  And he keeps telling everyone that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He even told his followers to pray regularly that God’s kingdom come and that his will be done here on Earth just as it is in heaven.”

So now we begin to see the significance of God integrating with us, of Jesus integrating with us, that Jesus comes into a world that is full of sin and brokenness, but he doesn’t just set up camp in this little building like the Wizard of Oz and then say, “You know, you can come and see me if you get in line.” He goes out and finds lepers and touches them. He finds broken people. He finds widows and embraces them. He finds the poor and the lost and the excluded, and he welcomes them into the presence of God and that then becomes the ultimate template of our lives because do you not know that you now are the temple of the Holy Spirit and His spirit lives in you? You were created in the Gospel to host the presence of God.

Every single person in this room right now who knows Jesus Christ and it has the spirit of God living within you is called to go out and integrate into the world and create those little clean spaces, those safe spaces in our homes, in our jobs, in our community, in every sector of our culture where people can come into an encounter with God. Those little mobile hotspots, that’s what you are, carrying the presence of God everywhere you go.

Paul captures this in Philippians 2. I want to read it in the Message paraphrase. Paul says,

“Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” (That really captures everything I’m saying.)  “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave and became human! Having become human, he stayed human.”

If you were to go to heaven, parenthetically, today you would see Jesus Christ still has a body. Because he not only took on himself a humanity, a true humanity, but he continues. And that’s part of the argument of the scriptures of why Jesus really does understand. It’s not just a slogan. It’s not just something we put on Pinterest with a picture of a sunset. He still is the God Man.

“Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless obedient death and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. And because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on Earth, – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.”

Now let’s get honest, OK? Even as Christians, sometimes I’m troubled with myself and what I hear in my brothers. Sometimes, we think the greatest thing is getting over. I hear, sometimes, Christians talk about how they got over on some kind of deal or something. Sometimes we’re so proud of the way that we stand up for ourselves, that we demand respect from others. And sometimes it seems like, functionally, our greatest goal is to avoid discomfort and minimize risk. I’m just being real. I know we’re in church, but can I be real for a minute?

And that whole thing doesn’t really look very much like the template that God gave us in Jesus. And so, because that whole thing of moving toward need and humbling ourselves and living to integrate with the need of this world, like who wants that?

So, we come up with another set of values, like I mind my own business. I take care of my family. I live and let live. You know what? Those things may be somewhat good or bad, you know. But it’s not the same. It’s not imitating the incarnation. Or even the one that, I think, gets the greatest play and acceptance in religion world is I have a really good testimony.

So, what does that mean? Usually, it just means I’m thinking about my reputation. Did you know the Bible never uses the word testimony the way that we and religious world, especially southern religious world, use it? To us testimony means “no one can accuse me of anything.” Or maybe it means “I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew. And I don’t do the coochie coo. And I don’t go with girls do.” If you want to know what the coochie coo is, ask me later.

But really? This is what’s replaced true Christianity. It’s this idea of some kind of sanitized life where we don’t go to movies and we don’t speed, which is fine if you don’t do those things, but we almost have this idea that I’m just going to be a really good person and be nice to people and then what’s going to happen is people are going to come up to me and say, “Jim, I couldn’t help but notice that you’re a really good person and you’re so nice. I want to be like you,” which has happened never because the world, this broken world, this hellish broken world, where there’s human trafficking and broken homes and broken dreams, they’re not out looking for nice moral people. In fact, nice moral people are really discouraging and sometimes pretty annoying.

This world is dying for the embrace of a father who won’t abandon them. They’re dying for something that’s real. You know what my testimony is? My testimony is not about the coochie coo thing.

My testimony is “I’m garbage.” My testimony is there has never been a human being on this earth who is created with more of a tendency to only think about me and what I want than this human being standing in front of you today. My testimony is that there is a God who moved into my neighborhood and pursued me and saved me and cleaned me up and adopted me and accepted me and put his Spirit within me. My testimony is not about my upright, moral, sanitized life.

My testimony is that I am a hot mess of garbage that is now loved beyond the moon by an infinite, holy, perfect Father. That’s our testimony. And anything else is just religion. So, this is the proof of love that Jesus came to provide. He came to move into our neighborhood, not to condemn us, not to show us up, but to reveal to us the Father heart of God. Jesus came to bring us into an encounter with a Father, not a moral code, not a system of doctrine, not customs or nostalgic religion. He came to bring us into an encounter with a Father. Twenty times in the Gospel of John, Jesus talked about his Father.

He said things like over and over, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Jesus said in John 14, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me.”  Meaning if he’s in the Father and we’re in him, where are we? We’re in the Father. “And I in you, and whoever has my commandments and keeps them…” then what?  Do we get goodies? Do we get people to say, “You’re so upright, you’re so…”? No!

“He it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and will manifest myself to him. And if anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

So awesome! This integration thing is not just like something that happened 2000 years ago. Oh, that’s so interesting. That’s a nice historical thing that 2000 years ago, this man Jesus came. No, this integration thing is what’s happening right now. This integration thing is about God coming to live inside of us. And he comes and renovates us.

When I was in India, We were driving around more than a thousand miles in this van. Praveen Chakravartiar, our partner, brought four of the rescued kids to be kind of our wingmen. Well, there are two boys, two girls, so they’re wing people, and whenever we got out of the van in a village, each of us had one of these kids who is kind of watching our back, and it was just so sweet, you know. And so there was a girl that was assigned to me, and she is 18, but she looked like she was maybe 15 because some of these kids have been through malnutrition. She just spoke English very well, just so beautiful, so full of love, just smiling all the time.

And so, the second day, we’d gotten in and out and in and out in and out. And she said, “We’ll be like you’re my father and I’ll be your daughter.” And it just broke my heart because I thought this girl never had a father, or I don’t know, whatever father she had, for whatever desperate reasons, sold her into hell.

And it just hit me, that’s what our world’s looking for! And all this facacta religion that we’re so proud of and attached to, it just gets in the way. That’s a Yiddish word, by the way. Jesus said in John 1:51, “Verily, I say unto you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “This is the way it’s going to be.

So, there’s God’s world that’s ultimate perfect, clean, orderly. And then there’s your world: it’s ultimate messed up. And so, what’s going to happen when I’m here is that I’m going to be like a ladder, a stairway, connecting these two worlds. And I’m going to break down the distinctions between that heavenly, beautiful world of God and your world. So much so (it’s crazy) that he told us at the heart of what we pray for, “It’s on earth as it is in heaven”

How can earth become like heaven? Well, when he said that, he was thinking of you because we are as Jesus tabernacles, we are that doorway to heaven.

So, the world is watching and waiting. This is what we have to give the world. It’s not a system of doctrine. It’s not moral certainty. It’s certainly not some political ideology. It’s not even seats and microphones and the clothes we wear, the nice way that we live. It’s the fact that you resident and every single person in this room is the capacity to be that stairway, that door that introduces a broken world to the Father heart of God.

So be filled, so you can fill others. Because sometimes when we talk about stuff like this, it just feels like, “You know what? I didn’t get that gene. I didn’t get the sacrificial gene.” But, you know what?  None of us got it.

John says, “From his fullness, we have all received grace after grace.” And God is not some cosmic vacuum cleaner that’s trying to suck all the good things out of your life. God is a cosmic funnel of fullness that he wants to replace the illusions and half expressions of true life in your life with the fullness of everything that he is. And so, it’s in his power, as his temple, that God is inviting us into this life of integration. So, I want to take some time for prayer.

This is an invitation to life. Really.  And I thought, “God, how can I with my human words – how can I move your people to aspire to more than comfort and sterile religion?” And I was pretty frustrated and discouraged about it. Like why even preach? Like, you know, the world when they advertise, it’s so beautiful. If we only had that car, all the women would look at us like “Wow!” If we only wore those clothes or had that aftershave or lived in this house or whatever it is – how do I compete with that?

And in the midst of that, God just came down said, “Alan, you knucklehead.” He didn’t say that. I just put that in. He said, “I’m already doing it. Haven’t you looked around at this church?” And just like image after image started coming into my mind of the history of this church. I mean from the get-go, and I don’t know many of you. I see a few old timers here, but from the get-go, this church really at the nexus of who we are was that this is a place where broken people can come, and you’re going to receive love and not judgment.

And we just saw, especially in those early days, people transformed in this building. And I was thinking back about 20 years ago, longer than that, when Ross and Janiece just got such a burden. Ross Robinson, who works on our staff, got such a burden for adoption, and it just went like a wave through this church, and so many people started adopting. And I was remembering, a few years ago when Peter and Karen Hubbard just really got burdened for fostering and that became another wave that moved through this church. And then God brought me to remember how, about five years ago, Ryan Ferguson just became so deeply, deeply burdened for child safety.

And not because we want to cover ourselves from litigation, but because, unfortunately, for a complex set of reasons, historically churches have not always been a safe place for children. Ans Ferguson’s heart was just broken as he thought, “How can this not be a place where children are cared for and kept safe?”

And that just evolved into a robust child safety policy, and then it evolved into an “Open Your Eyes” conference. and the Father heart of God was so in that and God used that to awaken us and awaken churches in this community to the importance of imaging the heart of God by caring for our children.

And then I remembered things like Beth Millburn. Some of you don’t know her, but she went to Haiti after that giant earthquake and actually work for Sean Penn and worked as a director in a hospital in a tent. And the images that would come back of her just holding these babies, and she looked so happy! I thought, “Oh, that’s just reflective of the Father heart of God.”

My mind was taken to when Baron Howerton, who is our missionary in Romania, was in this church. I think it was over at the grocery store, actually, the church when we were in the grocery store, which was really convenient I guess.  But Barron stood up and he was just weeping, “We have to do something. There are these throwaway kids in Romanian and some of them are living in sewers and nobody’s helping them!” So they went over there, and I was thinking about that, and, as God as my witness, I was thinking about that and an email came into my inbox from Barron’s wife Joyce, and she’s talking about all these trainings she’s getting for TVRI and fostering and they’re having these seminars, and God is just using them to catalyze a change of attitude about fostering and adoption in Romania.

I was thinking about our partnership with Renewal and the way God brings these ladies into our church, and just what a blessing! And how catalytic they are to our joy in seeing God bring them into an understanding of his Father’s heart. Just thing after thing after thing!

I thought about the Love into Light wisdom fest that we had, what? Four years ago?  Five years ago? Where all of a sudden, it was like a light went on in this church, where we are really positing the question for people who have same sex attraction: Are those people meant to know the Father heart of God?

And like a wave of enlightenment, we realized – of course they are! Of course they are. And that ministry continues to expand. As I sat over at Brooklyn yesterday and saw 50 of our people, nobody was there like “Oh, we got to go do some outreach because it’s a churchy kind of activity.” They’re over there just… it’s just, I don’t think there was ever so much positivity in any one place at one time. And people came and just kind of like, you know, get some plastic bowling pins and a plastic bowling ball and it’s kind of you know, whatever. And people stayed for more than two hours. What are they staying for? Because they’re coming in contact with something that’s so different, something that we don’t taste of!

Then I started to think about missions. I just start weeping. Our partners like Michael Olemu in Ethiopia was a homeless refugee. And in his spare time, while doing a full-time job, he started a ministry in Ethiopia that is now ministered to more than two hundred and fifty thousand impoverished people, orphans, people with disabilities. I was thinking about what I just saw on India and how God has invited us into this thing where I have never even heard. I mean I’m telling you there are hundreds of organizations, thousands of organizations, maybe tens of thousands that are trying to make a dent in human trafficking. But so few of them have actually seen actual people liberated, but God has invited us into a partnership where there are more than 20,000!

And all these things are nothing but an expression of the Father heart of God, and this is where the action has always been at North Hills. This is where God has always shown up at North Hills. This is where we have tasted of what God really intended. Not this religious claptrap, but life moving into the neighborhood.

The kids that have been impacted by our Score program. You should all be, if you’re going to be a member, you should be legally required to go to a Score graduation and you wouldn’t believe it. These kids, like one girl, when she started, she was in third grade, she said,

“I had never in my whole life read a book. Any book. And I had no desire to read a book. And now I’m going to be a doctor.”

I mean, that’s more than just somebody praying a prayer and punching their ticket for heaven. That’s heaven invading Earth, and it’s happened over and over and over. But you know what? In almost every single one of those situations I just talked about, if you knew the back story, you would find that there has also been unspeakable hurt and pain and confusion and crying out to God. “God, what are you doing? But you know what? We wouldn’t trade it for anything. We wouldn’t trade it for cathedrals.

So, this is your destiny, North Hills. This is who God created us to be. I’m not speaking to any other church. I’m not speaking in general. I’m speaking to you. This is why we exist. Greenville doesn’t need another church. But Greenville is a city with an orphaned spirit. And a lot of it can be laid at the feet of empty, moralistic religion. This is a city that desperately needs a touch of the Father heart of God. You know what? You are the ones. We’re the ones that God is inviting into this beautiful life.

So, I want to pray as we close the service, and I want to pray for people in four different categories. First of all, with relation to the family.

How many of you here this morning have adopted? Just wondering. We have a lot of yes, yes. Wow. How many people have fostered here this morning? Yeah, great, great. And how many, I’m wondering, how many are even praying actively right now about adopting and/or fostering. Raise your hand. Wow! A lot of people. Praise God! That’s so beautiful.

I just feel like our families, both are natural families and the families that it’s in God’s heart to build, create are just such an expression. And so, I want to pray for you, especially those who are praying about adoption and fostering, but also for those who have. And I also want to pray for you dads. You know, we have some dads in this church that just… you guys are so convicting! Just your heart to really love and care for your children. I just love it, and God’s pleasure is upon it and it’s such an expression of God’s heart. So, as I pray I want to invite you wives to just put your hand on your husband. I don’t care if your kids are 60. Put your hand on your husband as a sign of solidarity. There ain’t no wife in this building that has a perfect husband, and there is no wife in this building who has a husband who feels like I’m really doing all I could do.

But as a sign of solidarity for your husband. And also, you who are single moms. I just want to say I think really God wants to say to you that there is enough fullness in God for you to image the father heart of God in a compelling and transformational way, even as a single mom. You are not less than.

So, let me just pray for you and, wives, put your hand on your husbands. Father, we just thank you for the families of this church, the families that you gave us, and the families that you gave us in all the different ways. Step siblings, adopted siblings, foster kids, second families, found families, single moms. God, all the ways that you put us together, not just so we can pay bills and buy clothes and make lunches. But, God, so that you can pour out a revelation of your Father heart, and, God,

I am just crying for grace, Lord. Lord, I just feel like 95 percent of Dads live with this low-grade sense of guilt and failure, like there’s so much we want to do. We’re so tired. We don’t know what to say. We don’t know how to deal with technology – that’s moms, too –  God, we don’t know how to deal with our changing culture and so Lord God, probably if we’re honest, we want to give up a lot. But we won’t give up, God, because you have invested us with the opportunity to image, to model. And God, forgive us when we think that we came OEM with what we needed to do this job. God, that’s not true. Lord, it is only your fullness that can equip us to do this, and so, God, we confess we are your temples so fill us with your presence. Father heart of God, invade our homes, invade our hearts. God, help the dads, the moms that are ready to throw in the towel, to pick up the towel and serve, and, God, we just pray for an outpouring of your Father heart.

And then I want to pray for those who work in the education space or in other interface with children. If you’re a counselor, if you are a social worker, if you even teach Kids’ Stuff, would you just raise your hands. I can see you.

Yeah, wow! God has given us so many educators. We’re so thankful for you. Father just bless them. God, it is hard in this culture to be in that space with all the regulations and with all the bureaucracy. But, God, I just pray. Come into these folks and just empower them, equip them. God, restore that vision, that hope, that hunger that got them into what they’re doing. Lord, let them not feel overwhelmed because you are with them. And then I want us to pray.

Just look up here for a second. I just want to say something about missions. First of all, if you attend here and you’re not a member, I just want to encourage you to get into the next Connections so that you can be free to serve with children or to go on a mission trip next summer. We take child safety very seriously. We don’t apologize for it.

So, get in, and I did. I can talk about missions a really long time, and you wouldn’t be happy with me. So, I just decided, “God, I’ll just talk about one.” Can I talk about one, he said I could talk about one and that is we have a team right now that is in the Middle East and it’s primarily ladies, who are going to be interfacing with Muslim women and sharing the gospel. I just want you to hear me right now. There’s a there’s a very famous mosque in Jerusalem called The Mosque of Omar. And in the Dome of the rock around that mosque, supposedly, it’s the place where Abraham sacrificed his son, right? Which is a great picture of the gospel but written on that dome one of the things is “God is only one God, far be it removed from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son.” Now, we can get all uppity, you know.

But my point is that Islam is an orphan religion. And I don’t say that in judgment. I don’t say that to be critical. That’s just the reality. And people in the Islamic world are just waiting for a revelation of God, the Father. And we have a group of awesome young people, who are going to be sharing the love of Christ and we just are believing that God’s going to do great things. So, Father, I pray that you would be with our team and surprise them. Give them unexpected opportunities. And Father, may the love, the Father heart of God shine through every single word they say.

And then finally, as we leave today, I want to put an invitation out. There are some specific people in this room right now, and I think the Spirit is – you know who you are – that your relationship with your father is defining your life. You had a dad that was not like God. And you live every day under the shadow of his disapproval. You hear his voice in your head every day.

And I want to pray with you because God wants to break that off you today, and if you’re in this place right now and you have never known God as your Father, that needs to change.

And I want to tell you that this morning, you can come into a relationship with him where he will love you and he will never let you go. It’s not about religion. So, if you’re here this morning and you don’t know him as your Father God, please come and talk to me after the service because I want to introduce you to my beautiful Father. So, Lord, in the name of Jesus, I affirm and declare that your Father heart has redeemed us and brought us together so that we can image this glorious love.

Thank you, God, that you integrated with us, that you left all that made you, all that defined you as a transcendent, infinite God and became instead defined by eating our food and wearing our clothes and observing our customs and dying our death so that we could be introduced to the life of your world.

God, I know right now that there are at least two or three people that your Spirit is moving in, who are choosing to live filled with bitterness and anger and resentment, and maybe they have stuff that it makes sense from a human standpoint, but you’ve come to redeem us. And God, I pray that that will be put away. I pray, Lord, that the people who are living every single waking and even sleeping moment under the cloud of the disappointment of their father would realize that’s not you. That voice is not your voice. So today, let this be the day of salvation. In Jesus name, Amen.

God bless you! Thank you for listening so well. Now go and integrate.

 

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