Discovering & Following a God Who Goes All In With Us
All In - Discovering & Following a God Who Goes All In With Us
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • April 3, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Good morning and welcome to the Vineyard!
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for your presence. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience peace, welcome, acceptance, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
We concluded Holy Week with our Easter celebration last Sunday. I have to say that we had a blast here at the church, welcoming a little over 1400 people who participated in one of our six events. On Good Friday, as we recognized the death and crucifixion of Jesus, our homeless ministry also held a vigil for our friends in the homeless community who didn’t survive 2015. This simple act of remembrance ensures that no one is forgotten. in life and and in death we belong to a community.
As we baptized 9 congregants (including one spontaneous baptism) into the Kingdom, I was moved to tears as I experienced the move the Spirit hovering over the waters, making all things new.
I was encouraged as we all surrendered ourselves to Jesus by acknowledging that our decision to follow Jesus requires a daily surrender.
I’m very proud of our church and what we have been able to accomplish in the past 16 months, but more than the numbers, the baptisms, the conversions, the ministry to those at the margins, I was struck the most by the coming together of the new and the old. In one sense, it is the very realization of Revelations 21:5, “Behold, I’m making all things new.”
This idea that God is taking and transforming what was, into what is, and what will be. It as if God is planting a seed within us as a church. At the beginning of my leadership of the church, I was out of town attending a conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado and during a prayer time, I had this vision, it was of an orchard. Lots of trees, all producing all kinds of fruits and it felt like this was image for the future of the church. That we would be an orchard that gives birth to lots of fruitful trees, producing all kinds of fruits.
As I continued in that vision, I noticed a very bright light at the other end, there was a path down the center of the orchard, and as I drew closer to the light that was emanating from the other end, there was a father figure who scooped me up and swung me around like a father who delighted in his child would. This was a vision that I’ve kept private. What’s interesting to me is that two others had a similar vision of the church as a tree that would produce lots of fruit.
Last year, I was back at that same conference and I received some prophetic prayer and one of folks who prayed for me, saw a similar vision, of a tree bearing fruit.
I don’t know anything about planting, pruning, or maintaining fruit trees, but it is striking to me see the fruit that the church is producing. Lives are being transformed and changed. This has always been our hope as a church to see lives transformed and changed. It’s centered in this belief that as we have encounters with the living God we don’t remain the same, we are changed. Fruitfulness is often described as the outward manifestation of what’s going on internally.
Die, I’ll Make You Great [or a Blessing] - Oops!
In Genesis, the book of beginnings, an interesting story starts to unfold
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Gen 12:1)
This is an odd interaction; Abram, a wandering warlord, a son of Ur, a pantheistic moon worshipper has this unique interaction with a new, strange, unproven God who doesn’t fully introduce himself and opens with a demand: leave everything you know behind and follow me. I’m going to take you somewhere… I will bless you to be a blessing.
The Fruit of the Rebellion - Ugh!
Last week, I retold the story of the first humans and the rebellion they started against God. After God planted them in a garden, gave them freedom, authority, and space, which was very good, they believed an enemy who convinced them that God was petty, afraid, and controlling. The enemy convinced them that they were in competition with God as the source of life. They believe the enemy’s lies and took what didn’t belong to them. God, in his love and care for them, exiled them from his garden, but he didn’t abandon them.
In fact, he launches a rescue mission that would later find God partnering with the very humanity that originally rejected his love, care, and provision. A mission to rescue his creation from the results of their rebellion – the sin that separates us (from ourselves, from God, and from each other), the evil that destroys our peace, and the death that robs us of life. A rescue mission to end our suffering, to remove our shame, and to restore us again as God’s image bearers in his good creation.
From among the people, God calls Abram, a wandering, childless, warlord, and makes this promise to him:
“Do what I say, I will take care of you. I will bless you and bless those who come after you.”
As you read closely, you see that it’s not just a promise, it’s a seven-fold promise:
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. (Gen 12:2-3)
What would you do?
Would you willingly give up everything you knew, understood, and expected in life, and abandon it to follow a strange, new God?
This is question before us: What does it means to follow a God who is all in with you?
Scholars argue that God chose Abram because he was the first ethical monotheist. All you have to do is read a little further in the story to discover that that’s not true. Twice, Abram lies about Sarai, his wife, passing her off as his sister. This is the fruit of the rebellion at work in Abram. He’s afraid that if people knew that Sarai is his wife, they would kill him to take Sarai for themselves. Initially, his lie seems honorable, it’s offered to protect Sarai, but really it’s a lie that centered in his own self-protection. This is what participation in the rebellion does.
Scholars argue that God chose Abram and Sarai because they were unable to have children on their own. Without an heir, there was no way they could produce a great nation. It works as an argument, right? God does a miracle in their lives, he produces an heir, who would doubt a God that produces life from death?
God didn’t choose Abram and Sarai because they were monotheist who believed in the one true god, he didn’t choose them because they were particularly great or because they were really weak. Scripture doesn’t really tell us why God chose Abram and Sarai.
I really hope God chose them because he found them willing and wanting.
Many of us have inherited pictures of God, for some of us, when we think of the God of the OT, all we see is the tyrant God, the angry God, the almighty smiter, laying waste to creation, then we turn to the NT and discover, the loving, patience, kind, merciful God that Jesus reveals. As we follow God, we may have to reconcile our inherited pictures of God, and I think Abram can be helpful here. The God that Abram encounters seems more interested in Abram lies, he cheats, he steals, and you don’t ever see God confronting the results of the rebellion at work in Abram’s life. Just keep reading in Genesis.
In order to receive, we have to believe. - Aha!
In order to receive the promise of this unknown and foreign god, Abram had to believe [accept as true] that the promise was real and that the promise-giver had the power and authority to come through on his promise, so he had to trust the promise-giver, he had to enter into relationship with this new god, and finally, he had to risk everything to take possession of the promise. He had to give up everything he knew and trusted and had to take a risk on this new, unproven, and foreign god.
The Psalms speak of the character of God that God has searched us and he knows us. God already knows the longings of hearts, he knows our desires, our dreams, our aspirations, and our ambitions.
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)
And he also knows our failures, our shortcomings, our egos... God chooses to be in relationship with us, he chooses to partner with us.
In order to receive, we have to trust.
He knows what we need, and he knows what we want.
Why does Abram believe God? The scriptures are mostly silent on this point, but here’s what I think. Abram believed God because God was speaking to his heart; God was speaking directly to his desires, his longings, his ambitions, and his aspirations, so Abram was willing to risk everything to trust this new God and to take him at his word and believe that this promise might come to pass. You can almost hear Abram saying, “If this is true, I’d be a fool to pass this up.”
Let’s learn from Abram and not be fools in the face of what God is offering us. Is it forgiveness, but we are too bitter and broken to open our hearts to God? Is it hope but we feel better despairing--assuming there’s no way out of this miry pit?
Is it the Holy Spirit and his power, but fear stands in our way, threatening us on the path to regeneration? Let’s not be fools; let’s not miss what God is offering us.
This interaction between God and Abram reminds me of the story of the leper found in the gospels. Jesus has just completed the Sermon on the Mount and was heading down the mountainside when he encountered a leper.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Matt 8:1
In order to receive we have to risk.
And that’s the fantastic thing about Abram’s story and this leper’s story: Abram decides to trust the creator God before the creator has proven himself to be trustworthy, before the creator has proven himself to be faithful, before anyone knows that he is a God who doesn’t break his promises. And this leper is taking a similar risk in his trust in Jesus. He knows just enough about Jesus to be willing to risk everything to see just what this God will do.
And Jesus does something remarkable, something that the causal reader would assume is almost unnecessary. Jesus has authority in the earth: he can speak to the fig tree and it will wilt, he can speak to the winds and waves and they will obey him.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was curedof his leprosy. Matt 8:2-3
On the surface it seems that all the leper wanted was to be whole again, to be welcomed back into the community – he just wanted to be healed. However, there is something that has always been with me about this passage, it’s the fact that because of his skin disease, this leper probably hasn’t been touched in a long time. As much as I think the leper wanted healing, I think he wanted to be embraced more. And I love what Jesus does as he comes towards the leper. He touches the leper, before he heals him. (Did you notice that?)
While Jesus asks him what he wants, Jesus also gives him what the leper needs.
However, many of us believe that we can’t receive from God, and we discount ourselves from receiving from God because we don’t believe that we are holy enough, or we don’t believe that we are righteous enough, or we don’t believe that we are good enough to receive anything from a holy God. Rather, what we might receive is everything that we want: his love for us, or his care for us, or his forgiveness of us.
But we should remind ourselves of Abram in our interactions with God. Remember when Abram met God he was an idolater.
I am accepted
Abram doesn’t have it all worked out when receives from God. Abram has exactly everything that we have today, right now. We find him willing to accept, trust, and believe the promise and the promise-giver.
How do you find yourself today?
I believe that God has a lot in store for us as a church and as a community. Over the next several weeks, I want to use the sermons in this series to invite us to consider to follow Abram’s example and go “All In” and trust God. I’ll also be sharing our church’s vision and the strategic plan that I believe the Lord has given us and ask you partner with us to see what God will do with the seeds he has planted within us.
I’ve spent a lot of time praying, thinking, mediating over where we find ourselves and what I believe God is asking us to do and I want to create space to hear from each of you as we continue map our way forward. On April 17th after the celebration we will have an open board meeting to review the strategic plan and discuss the vision of the church with you the people. I hope you can make it.
In the meantime, I have a practical tip for you:
Following Jesus through the narrow gate into life is a lot like Abram believing the promising, it’s risky, and it’s not easy.
At one level, it requires that we are willing to trust Jesus, not ourselves, and not the Empire.
This is hard.
Remember, the goal of the Empire is to keep us dependent on ourselves, not God. The Empire feeds on our worry, our fear, our doubt, and our insecurity. We are promised that the Empire will care for our needs, our safety, our security, and our peace.
Is there anything you want from God?
What if you just stood with me, opening your hands as a sign of your need and your willingness to receive and receive what God has for you: his forgiveness, his mercy, his grace, his love, his provision, his care, and his hope.
God knows what we need before we can communicate it clearly to him. He knows the longings of our hearts, our desire to be whole and to be wholly loved, accepted, and welcomed. He knows that we need forgiveness, and he knows that it’s the pathway to restoration. He invites us to trust him as the loving Father that he is, are you willing be vulnerable as a child and receive from him?