This isn’t a transcript, but this is the message from yesterday. I’ll try to post some audio if anyone would like it, but for those who can’t stand the sound of my voice… read this in whatever voice you’d prefer.
I was struck last week by the number of runners in the half-marathon who, most people would assume would not be running. There was one finisher who was 73 years old – and she finished about a half an hour before I did! Not that I’m the swiftest distance runner out there, but she’s 73! I think the biggest thing that keeps people from running a long distance is that they believe a story in which they can’t run a long distance. As Donald Miller suggests, we become the character in the story we believe about ourselves.
We believe a lot of bad stories. Unloved and unwanted… Too fat, too short… Not smart enough, not fast enough, not talented enough… Too old, too young… We need to believe a better story. I don’t mean some kind of self-help, believe and achieve type of thing: I mean that we need to believe God’s story and overcome every obstacle in the way of living His story.
I had a student who walked into our youth ministry one night and sat down in the back row, bringing in a ‘cloud’ that changed the atmosphere of the whole room. I had no idea who she was or why she’d come – she didn’t really seem connected with any of the other students, and every time I tried to get to talk with her she was out the door by the time I got to the back of the room. As it turned out, she was believing a story that started with an abusive father leaving the family. In her story, she was rejected, unloved, and worthless. One of my greatest joys in youth ministry was watching God reveal a better story to this girl – His girl. In God’s story, she found out, she is invaluable!
Some bad stories we sometimes believe:
“I don’t have what it takes.”
“No one cares, but if I sleep with him, he will.”
“I’m too old, I can’t relate to those young people anymore.”
“I’m retired – I already did my work”
If you find yourself buying into these stories, you need to believe a better story. Simon was a guy who was invited into a better story. Early in the gospel of Matthew, Simon was just a fisherman. Passed up by the Rabbis, Simon took on the family trade and spent his days throwing nets into the sea and smelling like fish… until the son of a carpenter invited him into a better story. Simon took Jesus’ invitation and lived a better story. He saw the miracles of Jesus, the healings, heard the teaching first-hand, and saw the love in Jesus’ eyes up close. He even walked on water! Peter lived a better story.
In Mt. 16, the story got even better. “Who do you say I am?” “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” In this moment, Jesus opens a new chapter in His story for Simon. He gave Simon a new name, and invited him into the story of His unstoppable church. The church that even the gates of hell would not overcome. We, the church today, need to believe a better story. Just like individuals, sometimes churches settle for less:
“We’re just a small family in a small town… can’t expect too much from that.”
“We have to keep youth ministry separate from adults and leave it to ‘the experts'”
“The Pastor’s in charge.”
“We’re big enough.”
“Other churches in town are our competition.”
“We’ve been hurt too badly to fully recover.”
“Our best days are in the past.”
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a church that believed a better story. All they wanted was to reach people for Christ and no obstacle was too big to tackle. They weren’t afraid to try things that other churches wouldn’t try for fear of abandoning convention. The result of this was that the people of the church were excited about sharing Jesus with other people. They loved to bring their friends and neighbors… even the kids loved being a part of what was going on in this church. It was an exciting time. But as more friends came, and more neighbors came, another obstacle came up – a big one. It was an obstacle that had stopped many churches in their tracks: the building was hindering ministry to the community.
The church had pulled together to show Jesus to the community, and it was working. They’d stretched resources and rearranged service schedules to accommodate more people, but the facilities were simply maxed out. So in 1994, the church removed that obstacle with the purchase and renovation of an old lumber yard and a relocation. They continued to grow, and in 2004 a new auditorium was built that would facilitate their continued efforts to reach the community.
That room is the room in which we meet every week. That church was the Church at Bryant, which was given the name WestWay when they relocated. That’s our story. But I’m afraid we’ve lost a little of the clarity to the story. Our vision can get a little fuzzy due to a creeping internal focus that leaves us dissatisfied when things don’t go our way. People have left the church for unshared reasons, and some of those reasons remain unshared because they don’t feel like anyone’s listening anyway. We need to believe a better story. Don’t believe that your leaders don’t care. Don’t believe that none of us are listening. Don’t believe that this church belongs to anyone other than Jesus Christ.
In the book of Acts, we find the early Christians believing a better story. The Spirit of God was on a mission to establish the church, and despite all odds and obstacles, the church thrived. Through the last several chapters of Acts, we see a man joining that same mission. Paul was not going to be stopped. He had bought into the story of Jesus with every fiber of his being and was going to deliver the message of God’s Kingdom in every place in which he could step foot! He was accosted, arrested, imprisoned… Paul was challenged and beaten and left for dead… Snake-bit, shipwrecked and shackled… and yet, he proclaimed God’s Kingdom still.
The final words of the book of Acts tell us that Paul was telling everyone of the Kingdom “with all boldness and without hindrance.” No obstacle would hinder him from living a better story.
That is the unstoppable mission in which we have a place.
That is the Kingdom we proclaim.
That is the story we need to believe.
God is not finished with His church. Though obstacles have arisen – and many more will…
Be a people who believe a better story: His story about His unstoppable church.