IMAGINE Big Step manuscript
IMAGINE: The Big Step
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
April 22/24, 2005
Good morning/evening and welcome to the Big Step! As has been stated, today specifically is a huge day, a historic day in our church. What we do today will in large part define the future of our church over these next years. Today for us as individuals and as a church is a defining moment.
What is a defining moment? It is when God has us at a point of decision that we know will change the trajectory of our lives from that point on (show image). When she says “yes” to the engagement question, that is a defining moment. When life brings about a big character test, and your integrity is on the line, and you have to choose, do the easy thing or do the hard but right thing—that is a defining moment. From that point, we are either known as a person of integrity or as a person of compromise.
Other times, God gives us as a church or an individual a faith challenge—a huge opportunity which forces a point of decision, to either step forward or hold back…and that decision will determine the rest of our lives, whether we are defined as people who take faith steps that God gives new opportunity to or whether we are defined as people who shrink back.
Certainly today for us a church is one such moment. God has our church at a place where we really have to choose—go ahead or hold back. That’s why today is not just another church service, it really is a big deal and a moment no matter what happens that we will look back on as a defining moment.
We are certainly not the first of God’s people throughout history to be at a place like this. And when I think of such defining moments throughout biblical history, the primary one I think relates to us the most is Joshua and the people of Israel at the Jordan River. That was a huge moment for them, as God put out in front of them a huge faith challenge—to step into the land that he had provided. Today in our time in God’s Word, I want us to look back to Joshua chapters 3 and 4 at their big step as we consider ours. If you have your Bibles, let’s look together at Joshua 3 and 4, and there we will gain perspective on our defining moment as a church looking back to theirs.
1) God gives a clear vision
God was not fuzzy about what he wanted them to do—he wanted them to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the promised land. What was not so clear was the how, but the what was pretty clear.
The what of the vision may sound easy to us looking back since we know how their situation turned out, but what God wanted them to do was staggering in its fear factor. First, they were to cross the Jordan with a couple of million people, and God has them cross this time of year that we are in now, which is flood stage. What would normally be a formidable border was now an impossible one—100 feet across and 30 feet deep of billions of gallons of fast moving water. And then on the other side of the Jordan was no picnic either—seven nations all with real armies and real weapons and real fortresses. From a human perspective, the Israelites didn’t have a chance, this little rag tag group of slaves from Egypt. Las Vegas would put their odds at a million to one against them. But what God told them to do was clear—to cross over and take possession of the land.
And likewise, what God has called his church to do is very clear as well. He told us to go and make disciples of the nations, to be his witnesses—to bridge people to a transforming life in Christ. Jesus’ dream and vision for the church is not a fortress but a bridge-building, missional community, helping connect people to God’s love. Our vision is to bridge people to a great life in Christ.
And it is that vision that is motivating us to take this step and why we believe God provided the land. We are not relocating because we think it might be fun or we like construction projects. We want to cross over to the land God has for us because we believe that the 650,000 people in a ten mile radius of our church matter so much to God that he gave the most precious thing he had to save them. We want to reach them for Christ and be a church that extends Christ’s love to those who are marginalized, the hurting and hopeless and poor. We want to be a place of rich community where people are loved and where people grow spiritually in the Word of God. We want to fully express the vision that is Christ’s dream for the church.
I want you to hear from just one of these that our church has reached these past few years, and realize that there are hundreds of thousands to go!
We believe it is pretty clear what God wants us to do. He has provided our church an amazing opportunity with the land to better fulfill our vision, to make Christ known in this community. And that opportunity puts in front of us a point of decision. Defining moments always involve a point of decision, where we have to respond.
2) We face a point of decision
God gives the opportunity, and then we must make a decision about what we are going to do. That’s the way it was for those with Joshua 5000 years ago. They had to choose to take the step or not. That was significant for the Israelites, because this was not the first time they stood in front of the Jordan with the opportunity to go in and claim the land. 40 years before, the previous generation stood there on those banks contemplating the big step.
Forty years before, they stood at Kadesh Barnea where God had told them to enter the land. They sent spies into the land, Joshua being one of them, and when the spies reported the circumstances, they were intimidated from doing what God wanted. There were millions of reasons they could all think of to not go into the land, a thousand what-if’s, and so even though God was calling them in and Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were ready to go, they stalled. They hesitated. They didn’t go.
It was a defining moment for that generation. As a result, that generation would be defined as the ones who would not take the step. As a result, that generation would all wander in the wilderness until they died. That’s how they would always be known, as the generation who did not take the step.
At times in our lives and in the life of a church, God places us at a point of decision that really is a defining moment. At that point, we have a choice—a choice really about the kind of life we want. We can wander aimlessly until we die or we can be the kind of people who take faith steps…we can as a church wander aimlessly or we can as a church step out in faith when God calls us. We can be known as a generation that refused to take the step or the one who chose to move when God said move. Joshua’s generation would always be known as the ones who did take the step, and they God to see God work. They were known by the Canaanites as the people who crossed over. That’s what the Canaanites called them. And that fact of crossing the Jordan River is what scared those nations silly, because they knew that their God was real and really powerful.
Today, it is us who are at the Jordan River so to speak. Today is a defining moment for this generation of our church. God has provided the opportunity and given us a huge vision and with that a huge goal—to relocate our church. Today is where we as a church in many ways define our future. Tonight and that weekend will really determine whether or not we can fully relocate or not. To fully relocate will take a huge step of faith for every one of us in this room. It really is a defining moment for each of us in this room, and therefore a great faith opportunity.
They did step forward, and as we will see God responded with his power. But they had to step into the water first. They had to get their feet wet, and then the waters receded. WE should have no doubts about God’s response…he will however leave it up to us whether we choose to step into the water and take the big step or not.
3) God asks leaders to go first
The God always seems to work with his people is that he asks leaders to lead the way—to take the first step. And in Joshua’s case, that is exactly what happened. Joshua 3:14-16 says, 14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea [b] ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
God asked the leaders to go in first, carrying the most precious and important possession they had as a nation—the ark of the covenant. The leaders were the ones who stepped in the Jordan first, they got their feet wet, and they led the way. And it says that they stood in the middle of the river while everybody else crossed by…which I’m sure made everybody else feel better. The next chapter tells us that the people hurried by, and I would too. They were walking through a river that was at least temporarily held back, and you wouldn’t want to be there when the floodgates broke loose again. But the leaders stood there the whole time, as the millions crossed. People estimate that it would have been a crowd of people ten miles wide and ten miles deep to get through in that one day, which would make for a long day as they stood I’m sure urging the people on—“We’re moving, we’re moving.”
As we mentioned last week, when the people of Israel built the temple, David gathered all the leaders and challenged them to make their financial commitments first…and as I mentioned last week, that’s what we did as well. Some have wondered what that initial group was, so I guess I wasn’t clear enough. That initial group that we challenged to make pledges in advance consisted of our leaders—like minichurch leaders, Discovery leaders, leaders in youth, kidzone, mens and womens, etc. They prayed in advance and committed…and that group committed in a big way. They commited 10 million, 300 hundred thousand dollars, which still blows me away every time I think about it.
When our leaders were faced with the challenge, they took the faith step. That initial group is a group that has made a huge faith step in willingness to sacrifice for Christ’s glory and purposes. As I said last week, no matter what happens with the rest of the church, this generation of leaders will always be known as people who stepped out in faith and were willing to take a sacrificial step.
Today is our turn to do the same thing, to step into the river and see God work as he enables us to get to the other side…and that brings me to my next point:
4) Huge faith steps require full participation (we are all in this together)
Nobody stayed behind when they crossed the Jordan that day. Even though it was a huge faith step, and what lay beyond the Jordan was unpredictable and scary, they took the step—every last one of them. What a memory that must have been. Picture in your mind what it would have been like to be one of the Israelites that day crossing that river. Look around and you see Grandparents and grandchildren, little babies, teenagers, and newlyweds….everyone walked across. And I’m sure there were laughs and memories. “Remember when Uncle Joe fell head first in the mud! That was great!” Or, “Do you remember when little Jehoshaphat put that fish down the back of Sarah’s robe? Boy did she scream!” But they would always remember crossing together.
And that is true for this generation in our church, too. We are all in this together. That’s why our teenagers and children are going through this Imagine step in their services just like we are. They are praying how they can be involved.
Last week our children in KidZone gave their offerings, and you’ll see a video of them doing that in a few minutes….but first we have a video hearing from some of them of what they chose to sacrifice. And that’s a big deal. My sons Caleb and Collin sacrificed sugar for two weeks. Christy told them she would give them money if they didn’t eat sugar, and they did so and are giving it to Imagine. Another guy was very willing—he said he’s sacrifice his sister—he’d donate her if that would help. Let’s watch a few more share their hearts.
Isn’t that great? We are all in this together. Today we are all walking through. My prayers all along have centered around all of us doing it together even more than certain amounts. My biggest prayer is that every single person in our church will contribute something. You might think, “I don’t have much to give.” That doesn’t matter. We all are asked to give out of what we can, out of our ability. My prayer is that we will all commit something.
And we need to understand that. Sometimes once a church gets this size, people think that there is some group of other people who will give and take care of it, but that’s not true. This church just comes down to you and me. There is no one else. As we take this step, you need to understand that we as a church will go as far as you and I are willing to go as individuals. We go as far as you go. That’s how this works.
5) Defining moments make forever memories
This is a defining moment for us, and as has been mentioned crossing the Jordan was a defining moment for Israel. That generation would be called “the generation that crossed over.” And that memory would give Israel courage to face the next opportunities and challenges they would face. They stepped into the water, and they got to see God work. They took a faith step, and they saw how God provided.
The same will be true of us. We already have a growing number of stories of how God is working and providing for those who have already made their commitments. And that is going to happen, and we will never forget it.
Remembering was so important 5000 years ago to Joshua and his gang, that they decided to do something to commemorate the moment. God commanded Joshua to build a memorial: 1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight."
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD . When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."
God wanted people to remember this moment, so they took these stones and made a memorial out of them. I always thought they just piled the rocks up, but it says that they fashioned them—meaning they made a memorial with mortar out of these stones.
We also want to remember this time in the life of our church, and so when you leave today you will be handed a river rock. What we’d like you to do is take that rock and write your name and the date when you made your commitment to this Imagine step. Keep it with you as a prayer reminder, and at some point in the next weeks or even months take it to the land and walk around and pray. The bigger rocks are there on the ground that tell you where the buildings are. When you go to pray, drop your rock there around the bigger rocks, around the landscaping. A group of artisits will take those rocks and make a memorial out of them. Years from now when people say, “What is that monument?” People will say, “those are the people who took the big step back in 2005, who sacrificed and gave by faith so that you and I could have a seat, so that our church could relocate to this property. And back then they prayed for you and the rest of the people God has brought to be part of our church.”
But first, we do need to take the step, don’t we. Today is the big step. How will this generation be defined? How will you and me? Today we are defining our church’s future. He has given us a clear vision, and now comes our point of decision. It all comes down to right here and right now, God asking, “What will you do? Will you take the faith step?”
You need to know a lot of prayer has gone into this moment. In fact a team of people have been praying for all of us, not to mention all the prayers of our elders and leaders and I trust of you too. We are all looking to God in this. He will provide, but he asks us to take this step together. Whatever God provides through his people today will determine how far we can go together…based on what we commit right now.
So, let’s take this step together. When you came in, you received the pledge cards. I’d like you to go ahead and take one of those out. We will give you a couple of minutes here in just a minute to fill it out as an act of worship. This card for me and I trust for you represents a moment of courageous faith, where we say, “God, stretch me. God, use me.” Those two prayers to stretch me and use me are dangerous prayers, but God responds to them. In addition to being a moment of courageous faith, this moment is also a moment of worship. Romans 12:1 says that our act of worship is giving our whole lives as a living sacrifice, and that’s really what this pledge represents. It is us saying to God, “I’m yours. You really are what is most important in my life.” This process for me has really stretched me as I’ve prayed about this pledge that I’m about to make. It has forced me to decide what is really most important to me. When I think of giving some things up, that’s not easy, but it forces me to decide what is most valuable. It has forced me to decide how much I really am willing to trust God. It has forced me to decide how much I believe that the church is the hope of the world and God’s chosen instrument.
If you look at the card, you’ll notice an opportunity to write the overall amount that you believe God is calling you to pledge for the three years. If you don’t know the amount, just write out a number that sounds good, then add a zero at the end—then another zero, and that’s your number. It would also help us to know how you think it might work for you, meaning how you plan to give the money over the three years. That will really help us for planning purposes.
In these next couple of minutes, let me encourage you to make this a worship moment as you fill the card out. After a couple of minutes, Anna Hamby is going to come and sing for us and you’ll see video in the background from Kidzone last week. After that, we’ll hand the cards in and worship God together. Let me pray for us, and then let’s fill these out.
2 minutes of silence
I Can Only Imagine
We can only imagine what God is going to do in our lives and in the life of our church. And now comes the time to turn our cards in. Hopefully, you’ve had enough time to fill them out…and this really is an act of worship. In the Old Testament, when they raised money for the tabernacle, the people took part of what they gave and waved in the air as a wave offering…they had so much joy. I hope you have a great sense of joy and expectation as you make this commitment.
Because this is an act of worship, we are going to offer our lives in a time of praise with a couple of more worship songs, saying, “Here I am to worship.” So, please pass your pledge cards to the end of your aisle, either over here or over here. For those who sat on the ends, you love those seats, but today it comes with some responsibility. Ushers will come and collect them. So, please go ahead and pass these on to the ends.
(Give a little bit of time with some underscoring)
Worship Song (2)
Close: In God’s hands now
- Three weeks will share the total
- Let’s keep praying!
Closing Prayer: Elder