In this message, we learn the definition of church and how we flourish when we’re planted in the church.
Welcome to Valley Creek Church. I am so glad that you’re here with us. If this is your first time, welcome. We want to give a big welcome to all of those of you at our Denton campus and those of you over in the venue.
We are so glad that you guys are here. We welcome you. We celebrate you. And it is back to school weekend!
You know what that means, right? You know what that means. That means all the kids are really sad and all the parents are really happy.
That’s really what that means. It is back-to-school weekend [Laughs]. I am glad that you’re here. We’re going to have a great fall at Valley Creek Church. I hope you will come and hang out with us. We’re going to start a new series today called ‘Upside Down Church.’ And for the next few weeks what we want to talk about is the church that can turn the world upside down. But before we can understand the church that turns the world upside down, I think we have to have an upside down view of what we believe the church is. You see, every person sitting in this room, you have a view of what you believe the church is.
You may not even be aware that you have a view, but you have a view like every one of us has a belief of what we think the church is. [Laughs] Like some of us, we just think church is boring. Like you’re sitting here and you’re like, “Dude it’s 30 minutes in. How much longer until this thing is done and so we can get to lunch?” Some of us, we think church is silly or pointless. Some of us think church is about crisis management, that it’s for people and problems in the midst of crises. That’s where you have to go. Some of us think church is religious. For some of us church is life. It’s our purpose. It’s community in a lot of ways. We all have a different view of the church, and that view was probably shaped by a past experience in your life. Like maybe it was when you would go and visit grandma and she would take you to church. That’s now your view of what church is. Or maybe when you were a kid your parents took you to church every single week and made you sit on the front row on those hard pews, and that’s now what your view of the church is like [Laughs]. There’s something about sitting on a hard pew that would give anybody a bad view of church. Like, aren’t you grateful the chairs you’re sitting in are soft?
Thank you Jesus. It is not more holy to sit on hard pews than to sit in soft chairs [Laughs].
That’s what some of us think. Some of us, our view of church came because we got hurt in a church experience. Some of us, it was a churchy person that gave us shame or condemnation. So that’s what we think the church is. Some of us, it’s the religious experiences that we’ve had. It’s what we’ve seen on the news and people picketing on things that they’re against. For some of us, it’s just the routine that we’ve been in for however many years. That’s our view of the church. And it was probably a past experience that created your view of what the church is today, and the problem with past experiences is past experiences create future expectations. And so what I’m hoping to do over these next few weeks is to turn our view of the church upside down. The Bible says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” In other words, if you will change the way you think, it will change the way you live. It will change the experiences that you have. And that’s my hope for where we’re going to go.
And so the theme verse that we’re going to talk about is Acts 17:6 that says, “Those men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” It’s the people of Thessalonica – people of the world, looking at the church – the disciples and says, “Those men, the church, who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” What the people of the world understood in the first century is that the people of the church, everywhere they went, they turned the world upside down. Everywhere they went the world shook. Things were changed. New norms were created. Current realities were subverted. Things were torn down. Things were built up. Heaven came to earth and people were set free. And when people are set free everything changes. What the world understood about the first century church is that they were destroying the works of the devil and releasing the kingdom of God. That is the church that turns the world upside down. And yet if we’re honest, we sit in a room like this and very few of us have ever seen the church turn the world upside down. To us, the church is marginalized. It’s off to the side. It’s kind of an irrelevant thing that maybe we’ll participate in, maybe not.
We’ve not seen the church turn the world upside down. Why? Well, maybe it’s because we don’t really have an accurate understanding of what the church is, and maybe it’s because the church in a lot of ways has lost its vision. And so what I want to do is I want to create a clarity around this definition of what the church is, walk you through some stuff, and then we’re going to do something together. Okay? Can we start with that? Working definition of the church. Ready? This is a biblical working definition of the church, a little wordy. Let me say it to you and we’ll break it down. Here’s the church. The church is the people of God united by the spirit of God, under the lordship of Jesus, sent to change the world. This is the church. It’s the people of God united by the spirit of God, under the lordship of Jesus, sent to change the world. The church is the people of God. Look at this; 1st Peter 2:9 and 10 – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
The church is the people of God. Church is who we are. It’s not where we go. The church is not a building. It’s not an organization. It’s not a corporation. It’s not a nonprofit. The church is not a political megaphone. The church isn’t even a weekend event. The church is the people of God. In fact, we could get rid of this building today and we’d still be Valley Creek Church.
[Laughs] Some of you are like, “If you got rid of the building, I don’t think I’d come anymore.” Well, but we’d still be Valley Creek Church even if you chose not to come. It’s not a building because Jesus didn’t die for buildings. He died for people. And the church isn’t just any people. It’s people that by faith believe in Jesus. So the church is the people of God, united by the spirit of God. Same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave is alive and well in you and me today as followers of Jesus.
And that Holy Spirit is always drawing us onto Jesus and drawing us to each other. John 17:23 – Jesus says, “Father, I pray that they” – talking about us – “may be one as we are one.” In other words, it’s the Holy Spirit in both of us that’s drawing us together. The Jesus in you is calling out to the Jesus in me and he wants to be united. Or you could look at Ephesians 4:3 that says, “Make every effort to defend the unity of the Spirit.” The Spirit is always unifying us, always drawing us together. The people in this room come from different backgrounds, different experiences, different life stages, and yet he is drawing us together in unity. Which is why if you are a follower of Jesus you can give up on the church and leave for 20 years, but there is always a gnawing inside of you to come back to the church, because the Holy Spirit is drawing you back to the family of God to be a part of the body of Christ and to be unified by the Spirit of the Living God. You can never escape that. You may say, “I don’t like church.” That’s fine, but the Holy Spirit is still drawing you back to the people to be united by him.
Which means that which unites us is infinitely stronger than that could ever divide us. Okay? So people of God united by the spirit of God, under the lordship of Jesus. Acts 20:28 – “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” In other words, Jesus died so the church could be birthed. He is the leader. He is the lord. He sustains it. He guides it. We follow him. The church belongs to Jesus. And when Jesus is Lord, it means I give up the right to determine the direction of my life. When Jesus is Lord of his church, we give up the right to determine the direction of his church. He is the leader. He is the lord. When you buy it with your own blood, then you can make those decisions. Since he is the only one that has, he gets to be the leader and the lord. And the last thing is that we’re sent to change the world. John 20:21 – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The church does not exist for itself.
We do not exist just for us. We have authority and empowerment to be sent out to bring heaven to earth, to be his representatives on this world. Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve. And so we don’t gather to be served, but to serve the world. He has literally given us the authority to turn the world upside down. The church is the people of God, united by the spirit of God, under the lordship of Jesus, sent to change the world. Do you know what that means? That means you are Valley Creek Church. You are Valley Creek Church. Together, we are Valley Creek Church. It is not this building. We are Valley Creek Church collectively, which is why the church can never be stopped. It is the greatest force on the face of this earth. I mean, listen to this. 2nd Corinthians 4 – talking about the church – “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” The church can be persecuted, pressed, pushed aside, marginalized, but she cannot be stopped.
For 2000 years the world has tried to persecute the church, burn down her buildings, make it illegal to follow Jesus, torture followers of Jesus, marginalize them, shame them, reject them, put them off to the sides, but they cannot stop the church. In fact, she just keeps getting stronger. The church outlasts every empire, every dictator, every ruler, every authority, every nation. Why? Because no man can tear down that which Jesus is building.
No man can tear down that which Jesus is building. Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Do you know what that means for you? It is when you align yourself with that which Jesus is building, no man can tear you down, because no one can tear down what he’s building. He is building the church. It’s the greatest movement on the face of the earth, and it’s done by a bunch of normal people, a bunch of nobodies. Think about it. One man dies, rises again from the grave, and then tax collectors, fishermen, zealots and marginalized women turn the world upside down. It’s a bunch of normal people.
And today the church is led by stay-at-home moms and students and businessmen, regular people who are turning the world upside down because they believe in this thing called the church. Not a building – a people with a purpose. Okay? So that’s the church. And not only is that what the church looks like and is. The church is called to be the healthiest environment on the face of the earth. And I realize it’s funny; I’m just realizing this now. When I say that, so many of you look at me like that’s never what I’ve experienced. I get that. That’s why it’s called upside down church. We’re trying to change it, because the church would be the healthiest environment on the face of the earth because it’s a reflection of heaven. It’s an environment of faith, hope and love. Listen to this. Psalm 92:12 – “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree. They will grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age. They will stay fresh and green.” Look at this. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish.
Those who are planted in the church, Jesus’ church, will flourish. It’s not an idea or a suggestion. It’s a promise. And he gives us a couple of examples of what will happen. He says, “You will be like a palm tree.” A whole bunch of you probably went on vacation this summer and you saw a palm tree somewhere. They’re beautiful trees, right? They grow roots way down deep into the ground. They find nutrients and they’re flexible, which means when the hurricanes and the storm comes they bend over and they blow in the wind, but they withstand the storms. So what he is saying is, when you’re planted in the church you will withstand life storms. You will be flexible enough to withstand the storms that life throws at you, and you and I both know those storms are coming. Not only will we be like a palm tree. He says you will be like a cedar of Lebanon. Cedar of Lebanon, that’s like the redwoods –
30 feet around, 100 feet high. They were strong and straight, disease resistant, rot resistant, and they were trees of purpose. Kings used those trees to build their palaces, to build their ships. They were trees of nobility.
So what he is saying is, “When you’re planted in a life-giving church you become strong and straight, disease and rot resistant, and you get to be used for noble purposes.” You get to be used for the king’s purposes, to build and establish His kingdom and actually have a purpose in this world. And then he says, “Even in old age they will bear fruit. They will be fresh and green.” I’m not even going to begin to try to define where old age begins. You figure that one out for yourself.
[Laughs] But what he’s saying is, “You will never grow old in spirit.” No matter how old your body gets, you will not grow old in spirit. You will be vibrant and life-giving, and fresh and green and abundant. And you will produce fruit for the people in your life and the world to feast on. Those who are planted in the church will flourish. It’s a promise. In fact, I think if you’ve ever flown in a plane and you’ve flown over fields you can see where crops are irrigated and you can see the boundaries and everything is lush and green, but right outside the boundary line everything is scorched and barren and a desert.
The church is like that rich, black, potting soil that makes you flourish. The world is like sand. Nothing can grow in it. And God wants you to flourish. He wants you to be at your peak, to develop rapidly, to attract the attention of others, and produce fruit for the world to eat. It’s time to flourish. It’s time for you to flourish. I don’t know when you walked in here thinking today, but it’s time for you to flourish. And so for you and I to flourish we have to turn upside down our view of the church. And well you say to me, “What does it look like to flourish here at Valley Creek Church?” I’m really glad you asked that question.
Let me go ahead and answer it for you. And we’re going to use the easel together for the next few minutes, because we had so much fun with it last week. I’ve been wanting to share this with you for probably about 18 months. So I’m really excited to kind of put this together to share with you. This is Valley Creek Church. This is what it looks like to flourish, be implanted in this place, and it’s really easy to remember – one, three, five.
Can you say that with me? One, three, five. Really simple. We have one vision at Valley Creek Church. Our vision is to help people. Okay, we either have a bunch of new people today or we don’t know our vision, people.
Either way, our vision is to help people take their next steps on their journey with Jesus. Much better. That’s our vision. Our whole vision is just to help you take the next step on your journey with Jesus. Jesus says, “Come, follow me. One next step at a time.” He doesn’t lead us in leaps. He leads us in small steps. We stay in sight with him. He steps, we step. He moves, we move. One next step at a time. And what I love about our vision is whether you’re 8 or 80 you always have a next step. Whether this is your first time here or you’ve been coming for years, you always have a next step. On this side of heaven you never arrive. You keep walking with Jesus.
And so what we say all the time is just ask, listen, and respond. Ask Him what your next step is. Listen to His voice, and then respond in faith and take that step. And what I love about our vision is our vision teaches you how to hear the voice of God. I don’t get up here and tell you, “This is your next step. This is what you need to do.” No, I say, “You listen to God.” I don’t know what your next step is, but the Holy Spirit does. Ask him and listen. And so we’re teaching you how to hear the voice of God, which means wherever you go for the rest of your life you now know how to hear His voice, which means you now know how to follow Jesus, because you can listen to what he tells you and take one next step at a time. Psalm 25:8 – “God, show us your ways, teach us your paths, one step at a time.” And some of you, you look at our logo and you say, “Well, man, that just kind of appeared about 18 months ago.” [Laughs] We never explained it. We never talked about it. It just kind of appeared, I think, like “Surprise!” You’re like, “Well, what does it mean?” I’m glad you asked. Here’s what it means. We are a Jesus focused church. Everything is about Jesus.
The more clearly you see Jesus, the more clearly you see everything else in life. We believe that when Jesus is revealed your problems will be resolved, that Jesus is now who we are because of what he did. We are a Jesus focused church, that his death became our life. Jesus focused church, but we’re also spirit filled – Jesus focused, spirit filled. You want to be filled with the Spirit of the Living God. We want the power and the character of Jesus operating and functioning in our life in every way, shape and form. Same spirit that raised him from the grave is alive and well in us. And then we’re life-giving. We want to be a life-giving church. We want to release the life of God everywhere we go. Jesus focused, spirit filled, life-giving church. I also think our logo represents that we believe that Jesus is the narrow gate that leads to a wide life. He is the narrow gate that leads you to a wide life. Okay? We have one vision – help people take the next steps on their journey with Jesus.
You’re with me so far? Okay. That’s our vision. Now say the number 3. Come on, say it like you mean it – three. Okay, much better. Remember, if you were here last week, you are at the party. You’re happy and you have hair. Okay? Let’s not forget that. Three. We have three values, three facets of our DNA, three places that we’re taking next steps on our journey with Jesus. And so as I started to write this, this is going to be a lot. You don’t need to worry about taking notes. You can get it on the website [Laughs]. I know some of you are thinking, “Man, I’m taking notes anyway.” Well, I like to feel better about myself sometimes and pretend that you do. Okay?
So we’re going to pretend that you’re taking notes, but you don’t need to because it’s on the website [Laughs]. We want to receive his grace. If you hang out at Valley Creek Church, you know it’s all about the grace of Jesus. Everything begins and ends with the grace of Jesus. You have been saved by grace through faith. It’s grace that gives you the ability to say no to ungodliness and teaches you to live a godly life. It’s grace that gives you undeserved favor and supernatural empowerment.
We believe that everything begins and ends with the finished work of the Cross of Jesus Christ. He died so we could be free, and we are alive and well in that grace today. It all starts by receiving his grace. Not only do we want to receive his grace, we want to be people who experience his presence. We are a presence based church. If you hang out with us, you know we love the presence of God, that we don’t want to just cognitively know a bunch of information and facts about God. We want to know God. John 17:4 – Jesus says, “Eternal life is that they may know you.” Not know about, no – experience it, see, touch, feel; get to have this real relationship with. And so that’s why we say we want to be a worshipping church, because when we worship God the presence of God comes. And when the presence of God comes, everything changes. We’re so afraid of Jesus as Lord like as if that’s a bad thing. Jesus as Lord means he comes to provide and care and free and heal and love.
We want to be a presence based church, but we don’t know about God; we experience his tangible presence in our lives. But we also want to be a church that releases his kingdom. We want to release God’s kingdom everywhere we go. We want to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, rule over it, and subdue it. We want to bring heaven to earth. We want to rule and reign with Him. We want to make disciples and develop leaders, and release His kingdom; not build our own. Does that make sense to you so far?
Okay. Now if you’ve been around here, this is all like going to start coming together and you get it. When we receive his grace, what that really is, it’s identity. When you receive the grace of Jesus, your identity changes. You go from being a sinner to being righteous. You go from being an orphan to being a son. When we receive his grace we now know who we are, who we were created to be, who we are in Jesus. Your identity is declared. And when you know who you are, you now know how to have relationship with God.
If I know who I am, I know how to relate to Him. I’m His beloved son. I don’t have to be afraid of Him. I don’t have to hold back. I don’t have to earn or validate or prove something. I can boldly approach the throne of grace because I’m His loved son or daughter. So if I receive His grace, I know who I am. I now can go experience His presence and have relationship. And when I’m living in relationship with Him, I know what my purpose is. I know what I’m created to do. I know now that it’s not about my kingdom. It’s about His kingdom. I get to do it with Him because of who I now am. You see, your identity always determines your behavior. Who you are will always determine what you do. And what happens a lot of times in church – remember, this is upside down church and I’m trying to get you to think differently – is we spend all the time talking here. And we tell people to behave better, do things differently. You know, you’ve got to go do this for God; all this stuff. And so we get locked into this place where we’re constantly trying to change our behavior.
Well, unless you’re super self-willed and disciplined very few of us can actually change our own behavior. You may be really good. You can maybe do it for a day, a week, three months. Some of you are so good you can do it for six months, man! But then we snap back and we revert to what it was. And so we say, “That church thing didn’t work because I was never able to really change. Now I feel worse about myself.” Why did you revert back? Because you never really got a revelation of who you are. And who you are will always determine what you do. So if you really believe about yourself that you are a sinner with shame and guilt, you will always live that lifestyle. It will perpetuate a cycle. But when you start to believe, “I’m forgiven and free. I’m a son. I’m righteous”, you will start to live that lifecycle. Your behavior is always a reflection of who you believe you are. That’s why it always starts with identity. Or I could say it to you like this based on our other stuff. This is Jesus focused. This is spirit filled. And this is life-giving.
This is who we are as a people and this is the order. It goes in a clockwise order like this that sets in motion. You know who you are. You know how to relate. You now know what your purpose is. Does that make sense to you? I mean, think about it like this. If I’ll receive His grace, I can’t wait to experience His presence. And because I’m so moved by His love and the relationship we have, I want to spend my life building His kingdom. But think about it like this. If I resist His grace and I’m going to do it on my own and take care of my own life, I will now avoid His presence because I will have shame and guilt in my life that I haven’t been able to get rid of. So I’ll feel unworthy to be around God. So I’ll actually avoid Him and hide from Him. And because I’m avoiding Him, I won’t release His kingdom. I’ll build my kingdom because I’m still trying to find a level of significance and wipe out the shame and guilt that I feel like is on my ledger. Does that make sense to you?
If you believe you’re a son, you will run to the Father and you will spend your life building His kingdom because you know it’s your inheritance. If you think you’re an orphan, you will be afraid of being around Him and you will build your kingdom because you’re still trying to prove your identity, to prove that you have value. Back it up; go backwards. Think about it like this. Think of how many people you have met throughout the years that strive to earn God’s approval. Think of the most religious person you think of in your mind. Okay? Don’t look at somebody next to you. Just think about it.
Think of the most religious person you think of in your mind. They live here and what they’re doing is they’re trying to spend their life striving to do all these things for God, because they feel like they need to earn His presence, earn a relationship with Him, because they are so embarrassed of the shame and the guilt they know is in the background of their life. They get caught in this cycle going backwards. I mean, some of you are here and you’re not even sure why you’re here today. You’re here because your wife made you come or your kids made you come or somebody invited you and you’re thinking, “Wrap it up. I’ve got business to attend to.”
You’re so busy building your kingdom, and the reason you’re so busy building your kingdom is because you’re trying to find significance. You’re trying to find significance instead of living from the significance. Because when you receive the grace of Jesus, the God of the universe who died for you, you now are significant and you live your life from significance instead of for significance. Does that make sense to you? And in the center of where all three of these cross, this is called the Father’s heart. This is what we talk about. We want you to live as a beloved son or daughter. That’s the Father’s heart. John 14:6 – “Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” So Jesus is the way, but the Father is the destination. Jesus is leading us to receive His grace, experience His presence, release His kingdom, and in the center of all that is the Father’s heart. That’s where we live as the freedom of being a beloved son or daughter, with identity, relationship, and purpose – Jesus focused, spirit filled, life-giving person.
Guys, this is the gospel! The gospel is not just for salvation. Feel really bad about yourself, cry, hit your knees, repent, sign a card, raise your hand; good to go. No!
No! Some of you are just getting it. Upside down church; we’re changing it.
No, the gospel is for all of life! You have marriage issues? It’s coming out right here and it’s because this – you haven’t got this yet. You’ve got parenting issues? It’s here where you’re living in relationship with people, but it’s coming out because you haven’t got this yet. Everything can be tracked backwards when you have issues. The gospel is for all of life. And so what we’ve believed church is that church is a place that tells me how bad I am. No, it’s not! No, it’s not. Church is a place that acknowledges the shame and guilt that you already carry in your life and says, “But somebody did something about that for you.”
And we want to tell you about that. Now receive that grace. If all you heard in church, which is what most of us grew up with – me, on those hard pews, you can tell I have baggage I’m still trying to get free from [Laughs].
When you’re constantly told how bad you are, that’s being a declared identity over you. If all you’re told is you’re a sinner, you’re going to live like a sinner because identity determines behavior. But if you’re told, “Jesus died for you. You were a sinner, but now in him, his death brought you to a place of righteousness”, it will change everything. Does that make sense? I’m going long on this because I want you to get it. And what I love is that as these grow, if you’ve been around here, you know you’re like the light bulbs clicking on. You’re like, “That’s all John talks about is these things.” Like, “Surprise! Yes!” [Laughs]
What we’re trying to do is expand these circles in your heart because when they expand the Father’s heart in your life expands and you live in the freedom of being a son or daughter. Okay?
I mean, let me just give you a couple of biblical examples, just for those of you that need that reference point. Okay? Think of Peter. He’s in the boat. Jesus comes to him and says, “Throw your net over the side of the boat.” He pulls it in. it’s so full of fish. He receives grace. He didn’t deserve it – undeserved faith. That kindness led him to repentance. And Jesus says, “Come follow me, be in relationship, and I’ll make you a fisher of men. I’ll give you purpose. You’ll release my kingdom.” Think of the story of the prodigal son. We’ve all probably heard that preached if you’ve been in church ever before. The son leaves, comes back home. The first thing the father does is declares his identity. “My son has come home” – identity. Then he runs to his son and embraces him. He hugs his son – relationship. He experiences his presence. And then he says, “Get the robe, the ring, and the sandals.” In other words, he reinstates his son’s authority over the kingdom. So now the son rules and reigns the kingdom with the father. He has purpose. How about in Mark 3 when Jesus calls the disciples and says, “He calls to them those he wanted, received his grace, and defined them apostles.” Declared identity.
That they might be with him, he says – relationship. “Then”, he says, “now you can go preach the kingdom, heal the sick, cast out demons”, and so on and so forth. Then purpose. Purpose always comes after relationship and identity. One more. Ezekiel 36 – God says, “I will remove the heart of stone within you” – grace – “and I will give you a heart of flesh.” “I will put my Spirit within you” – relationship. You don’t have to be afraid. “And I will move within you to keep my commands, decrees and laws.” You will have purpose. If you will put this lens on and read the Bible or look at God, it will change everything about how you see it. We believe this so much so that our kids here at Valley Creek Church, here’s what we teach them. “God is good. Jesus has forgiven me. I am loved. And all things are possible.” What if you believe that? Forget the 5-year-old. You – what if right now you believe God was good, Jesus has forgiven you?
You – you are loved and all things are possible. Your life would be so different that it would be upside down. The upside down church with a bunch of upside down people, living in the freedom of the Father’s heart as beloved sons and daughters. Okay? You got it?
Oh, we’re going fast now. Okay, ready? [Laughs] We’re going fast. Say five.
Okay, this is really quick. Stay with me. We’re going to pull all together. We have five really simple strategies to make that happen. I just want you to be aware of them. We do gatherings like this – weekend gatherings, men’s and women’s gatherings. We gather for impartation in encountering the presence of God. Then we do groups, okay? We break up into smaller groups. That’s where transformation happens. You can’t be transformed by yourself. You need other people. We don’t do groups on campus. We do them in the city because we want to bring the kingdom of God to the city. Then we do the next generation. We invest and develop the next generation because the reality is, in our city it is through the lives of the kids we get into the hearts of the parents.
Think about it. In our city that’s dominated by kids and all their activities, it is through the lives of the kids we get into the hearts of the parents. Greatest outreach strategy we have. And not only that, but our kids are going further and farther than we ever have. In fact, I was thinking about this the other day. It took me 30-some years to figure this out. 30-some – I won’t tell you the some. We’ll just go 30-some years to figure this out. Do you understand? My kids are growing up with this as the norm. This is the baseline for them.
Some of you, you just got it at 50-some. That’s great. Now we’re helping these kids grow up with it as the norm, so they don’t have to lose years of their lives figuring it out. So next-gen leader development, we’re all about raising up and reproducing leaders in the kingdom of God. You say, “Well, that’s not relevant to me.” Oh yes, it is, because I believe every person in this room is created to be a leader.
You may say, “No, I’m not.” I’ll say, “Yes, you are.” We’ll talk about that later. Okay?
Leader development and missional moves. We want to take next steps, so that other people can take theirs, both as a church and as individuals. Really simple strategy; really simple church, because if you try to be all things to all people, you won’t be anything to anyone. And whatever you win them with, you have to keep them with. We win people with programs. When you change the programs they leave. Why not let’s just win people with the presence of God because that never changes? Does that sound a little better? Okay?
Really simple. That’s what God is inviting us to. That’s a church that turns the world upside down. And it’s time to flourish! Listen to me. I remember about probably five years ago, Coleen and my family, we all went to Alaska for a vacation; kind of one of those adventure vacations. My parents took us and it was amazing. We got to do crazy things. And one of the things that we got to do is this crazy whitewater rafting trip.
The water was at flood stage. It was about half inch from them shutting down the river and not letting anybody run it. It was 39 degrees. And so we get to the place and you’ve got to put on a dry suit, because the water is so cold. You know it’s going to be an adventure when you’re putting on a dry suit and a helmet and a life jacket. And we’re getting all suited up and we get down to the edge of the river, and the guide is there. He’s kind of walking us through the reality and there’s three boats and the group of people, and the river is running by. And as the guide is talking to us, giving us the instructions, we’re all getting dressed in our dry suits and getting sorted and what not, I watch as the three boats pull out empty into the middle of the road, go about 100 yards down shore, and pull off on the other side. I’m sitting there. I’m watching this and I’m like, “Something is wrong. This isn’t right.” And the guide says, “Okay, well, the water we’re going into is so dangerous we need to make sure you all can swim before we get started. So if you’re going to go on the trip, you need to jump into the river and swim over to those boats.” A whole bunch of people will be like, “We out.”
And so we lost about half the group right there. I looked at Coleen like, “You want to do this?” “Yeah, come on. Let’s do it.” And so we jump in and it’s so cold. It’s 39-degree water. You realize very quickly these dry suits are not dry. [Panting]
[Laughs] And you get to the other side. We get in the boat and we get all sorted and whatever. The guide gets out and we start floating down. And he says, “Okay, here’s what’s going to happen.” He says, “There’s two main stretches that we’re going to go through. We’re going to go through the first set of rapids. It’s pretty intense, but you guys will make it. And at the end of that first set there’s a calm stretch. And if you’ve been overwhelmed by the first set, you can get out. There’s one spot you can get out in that calm stretch. But if you don’t get out at that first stop, you’re all in. You’re committed in that second drop because the only way to get out at that point is to get to the bottom of the canyon.” “So okay, we got it.” So we get to the first stretch. We get in. Ah, it’s amazing! Waves are flying over. We’re hitting rocks. We’re paddling left, right. You know, hooping it and all. We’re high-fiving each other, going through it. It was super intensive [Laughs]. It was amazing. We get done with the first stretch and we hit the calm part.
And the guide says, “Okay. Is there like anybody that wants to get out? Now is your chance. It’s coming up. Does anybody want to get out?” And I watch Coleen and my mom start looking at each other like –
“You know what? We need to get out.” I think one of them said, “You know, we need to use the bathroom.” That was a good excuse. [Laughs]The dry suit wasn’t dry anyway. You may as well just go for it. Some of you are just getting that reality. You know someone else did it in it before you. You may as well [Laughs]. I mean, come on. [Laughs] That’s terrible. Upside down church. Okay. So the guide is like, “Okay, you want to get out.” And we just started to do the peer pressure. We’re like, “Boo, no.” And peer pressure is good every once in a while. This is one of those things. And so we started pushing on. “No, we want to get out.” Like, “No, you can’t get out.” “Guys, we’re getting closer. You’ve got to make a decision.” “Okay, we’ll stay!”
“Okay, you missed the spot. You’re all in. You’re committed to the bottom.” And we go around the corner in the boat, and I look down the canyon and I can see the whitewater coming and I thought, “I should have got out.”
[Laughs] Because I don’t think anybody is making it out of the bottom of this thing. And so we get into this set. I mean, it is crazy. I’m not exaggerating. It is crazy. We’re hammering rocks. Waves are coming in. He is yelling at us [Laughs]. And we hit this rock, and I kid you not – remember, it’s a rubber boat. And I watch my wife as she goes flying 20 feet in the air – “Noooo!”
Makes eye contact with me, in the air. “I’m going to kill you.” Hits the water, takes off in the current. We’re paddling as fast as we can. I’m thinking, “Dear Jesus, please get her back in the boat.” “Get her back in the boat.” We finally catch up to her. My brother grabs the back of her lifejacket. 39-degree water – I hope she did pee in the suit at that point because it was cold, man!
Lifts her back in the boat. We get down to the bottom and I’m like, “Oh, my goodness! This is going to be the worst night of the hotel ever.” Of any vacation we’ve ever had. And we pull over and she looks at me and I’m waiting for it. And she goes, “That was amazing!” Whew! That was amazing. You’re right, yeah [Laughs]. It was one of the most fun, exciting experiences her and I have ever had together. And we still talk about it. We feel like we really understand what whitewater rafting is all about, because we hung in and went through the second drop. And I tell you that story because I think that is a great picture of the church. You say, “What on earth does that have to do with the church, man? It’s a great story, but not the church in it.” A lot of us dabble in the church just enough to go through the first drop. We dabble just enough to feel like we did it. So we have a perspective. We have a view.
We have an expectation of what we now believe the church is because we went through the first drop. We think we know all there is to know about the church. And so we get out and we’re like, “We’re good. We’ve got it”, because when we look down that second stretch you think, “God might ask me to serve somebody. He may ask me to get into the community. He may ask me to take the next step. He may actually ask me to give something.” So we get out. And we get out and we go up to the road, and we have a view of what we believe the church is even though we haven’t fully experienced what Jesus died to birth. And the choice is yours. You can get out and play it safe, or you can jump in and you can live. Don’t let the fear keep you from what God has in store for you. It’s time to flourish. It’s time to live. The church is the greatest adventure of your life. Before we can turn the world upside down, sometimes God has to turn our world upside down. And sometimes our view of the church has to be turned upside down.
And that’s what I’m hoping for in this series together. And so here’s the deal. In a moment when we release and you leave, you’re going to walk out of the atrium and every person is going to get one of these shirts. I told you last week that we’re going to give you something for free that everybody always asked if they can buy. Everybody always wants to buy this shirt. Now you know what the logo means. And when you get this, here’s what I want you to think. You are the people of God, united by the spirit of God, under the lordship of Jesus, sent to change the world. That you are a part of something bigger than yourself, that God wants you to flourish, that you can turn the world upside down, that you are Valley Creek Church. And the truth is that you are the most important person in this church. Not the person next to you, not me; you. And you say, “No, I’m not.” Yes, you are. You know why? Because you are the only person some other people are going to come in contact with. And how you live is going to determine their view of Jesus and their view of the church. And I believe you. And His grace will empower your willingness.
And so whether today is your first time you’ve ever showed up in this place, whether you’ve only come a couple of times. Maybe you’ve left for years and today is your first time you’ve come back. Maybe you’re here with us all the time. It doesn’t matter. When you get this shirt, here’s what I want you to know. You are wanted, accepted, and loved. And it’s time to flourish in your life. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord will flourish. You’re Valley Creek. You’re not Valley Creek because of what you did, because you gave and you loved and you served or what you didn’t do. You’re Valley Creek because He loved, He gave, and He served. And He turned your world upside down, so you could flourish. You are Valley Creek Church. You are Jesus focused, spirit filled, life-giving. This is green because God wants you to flourish. And Jesus is the narrow gate that brings to you a wide life.
That is my hope and my prayer for you, that you will believe that and receive that. You’re Valley Creek. So pray with me quick. Lord, Jesus, we just celebrate you and your church. We celebrate an upside down view of what the church is, that we can laugh today and have vision and understand that you came to set us free, not bring bondage in our life. So Lord, I pray right now for minds to be renewed, hearts to be opened. Would you let us let go of those past experiences that have defined our expectations? And may we see you and your church for the way it is – Jesus focused, spirit filled, and life-giving. I pray for every person in this room, that they would feel wanted, accepted and loved by you and by this church.
Some of you are here and you’ve had a resistance. You’ve sat on the sidelines for years. God is saying, “Today is the day to get back in the game.” Get back in the boat. Go down the second drop. Some of you are here, this is your first time. You got invited. You’re not sure. But this Jesus guy sounds pretty good. Man, your invitation is just a jump in the boat. And say, “Jesus, I submit to you. I want you to be the Lord that I receive that grace that we were talking about. Change my identity. Change my identity because no matter how hard I’ve tried I haven’t been able to get rid of that shame and that guilt and that sin. But you can, and so I receive you now, Jesus.” And for the rest of us, my hope is that this will help you engage a little deeper and a little more, so that you can flourish in Him. So Lord Jesus, we love you. We bless you and you bless us. We celebrate that we are Valley Creek Church. May we take next steps on our journey with you?
May we know that we can receive your grace, experience your presence, and release your kingdom everywhere we go? And would you change our mindset and help us flourish in this life, because that’s what you want for us. We love you, Jesus, and we pray that you’re going to bring it to pass. In your name we pray. Amen.