40 Days of Community Pre-Campaign Message
40 Days of Community
Setting the Table for a God Visit:
How to Get the Most Out of 40 Days of Community
Transcript of Message by Lance Witt
September 25-26, 2004
We are so glad you are here this morning. I want to say welcome to all of you who are worshipping in the venues around our campus this morning, and we are really glad you are here. Over the last several months we have been getting ready for a special event around here called 40 Days of Community which launches next weekend. Now if you are new to Saddleback or you are a first-time guest with us you going to get a good opportunity to sort of take an inside look of what we are going to be focusing on over the next couple months, and we would love to invite you to be a part of that.
As we begin I would like to engage your imagination. I want you to imagine this morning that the queen of England is coming to California. And that the queen in an attempt to try to really get a feel for American life has decided to have dinner with the typical American family, and you get the call. The queen is coming to your house. Now you wouldn't think of having the queen of England in your home without cleaning it from top to bottom without getting the kids bathed and prepared, probably buy new clothes getting your husband a suit instead of that old Hawaiian shirt. You pull out the recipes that are your family favorites you spend all day in the kitchen preparing a meal that would be fit for a queen. And then you set the table. You pull out the fine china, the best crystal, and you gather the family. Isn't that how your table looks every night? Certainly is how it is at my house. The family is gathered, and you wait for the guest of honor.
Well, in a way our church staff has been preparing over the last several months for a sort of spiritual meal. They have been setting the table, so to speak, for a special occasion. Every one of you has been invited to participate in this special occasion called 40 Days of Community. I am sure we are going to enjoy what's been prepared. It's going to be fun doing it together. But I also want to make sure that we are prepared for the guest of honor. Because even more important than us meeting together and enjoying one another over the next few months I want to make sure that we also have a time that we meet with God. We have been setting the table for a God visit.
To set the framework for our discussion this morning, I want to take you back to a story in the Old Testament that happened exactly 3,450 years ago. It is a spectacular God-encounter that I find really intriguing. I want us to try to understand what happened in that story. As you know from the book of Exodus, it is the story of the people of Israel leaving the tyranny and bondage of Egypt and making their way to the promise land. And God through Moses delivers the nation of Israel from the Pharaoh they cross the Red Sea and they are confidently marching toward the promise land. They number a little over 2 million people by now and they have been on the road for 60 days in Exodus 19 opens with the nation of Israel 2 million people standing at the foot of this imposing mountain called Mount Sinai. And the Bible says that Moses climbed the mountain in order to appear before God. This begins one of the most intriguing God encounters found anywhere in the Bible. From this story I want to draw out some principals and applications that you and I can use to think about how we can spiritually get ready for what's going to happen during 40 Days of Community.
So let's jump in. Here's number one:
1. Look back and remember God's faithfulness
As we think about where we are headed in the next 40 days I would encourage you the starting place just to stop for a moment and remember what God has already done. In fact the Lord says in verse 4 of Exodus 19 God says to Moses, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians you know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle's wings.” When a young eagle learns to fly the mother eagle often flies just underneath the baby eagle with her wings spread out to support and catch if needed. What a great picture of God's faithfulness. Always ready to be there in a time of need to support us when we are in trouble.
When Jeremiah talks about God in Lamentations 3 verse 23 he says, “They are new every morning.” and he says, “Great is your faithfulness.” God is faithful. He is reliable. He is trust worthy. His word can be depended upon. We see his faithfulness in the universe for every morning when you wake up and the sun rises in the east and the evening sets in the west it is evidence of God's faithfulness. Every 24 hours when the earth revolves around its axis and tilted at a 23 degree angle and it creates the right atmosphere and conditions so you can live on this planet it is evidence of God's faithfulness. And when each day the sun hangs in the sky for another day and you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin it is further proof God is faithful to keep the universe running.
Colossians 1:17 says this, “He existed before everything else began and he holds all creation together”. Jesus is the glue of the universe and were it not for his faithfulness the world in which we live would come unraveled at the seams. God is not only faithful and running and controlling the universe, but I think about his faithfulness to our church and how over 25 years ago when Pastor Rick and Kay moved to Southern California and began a church in their home and to look back over the 25 years and see the faithfulness of God. And the thousands of people's lives who have been changed as they have met Christ here, as they learn about their purpose in life and now to see a church that's not only as filled on the weekend but a church whose influence reaches to the corners of the earth. You and I are a part of something pretty special and God has been faithful to this church down through the years.
But when I think about God's faithfulness it becomes really personal for me very quickly. I think back to the time when I was just a 12-year-old kid and took God at his word John 1:12 says, “If we believe in him he will invite us to be adopted into his family that we can become his children.” As a 12-year-old kid I took him at his word that God was faithful and he saved me and put his Holy Spirit in me and gave me purpose and joy and peace and contentment in life and fulfillment beyond anything I could ever have imaged. I have walked with the Lord now for 34 years as I reflect over that journey it wasn't always been easy I haven't been able to always understand what God was up to but I have always seen him be faithful, faithful to meet the needs of our family, faithful in my journey with him.
I want to ask you to do something right now. Take your outline, and I want you to write in the margin one area where you have seen God be faithful. Maybe take just a moment right now to celebrate God's faithfulness in your own life. Listen to these words from Deuteronomy 7 verse 9, “So know that the Lord your God the faithful God he will keep his agreement for love for a thousand lifetimes for people who love him and obey his commands.” I hope when you look back over your life journey that you see God's faithfulness and that your heart fills with gratitude. As we think about what God has in store for us in the next 40 days, I want us to remember how faithful he has been in the past and the same God who is faithful in the past will be faithful in the future.
Here is the second thing I want to encourage you to do:
2. Look ahead and celebrate your future
Again the Lord says in Exodus 19, “If you obey me and keep my covenant you will be my own special treasure among all the nations of the earth, for all the earth belongs to me and you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” Now again remember who God says this to. This was a vagabond group of nomads. Sixty days ago they were slaves. They were nobodies. They were poor, they had no influence and no political clout and now two million strong God looks at them and says, “You are my special treasure.” Here's a truth I want you to learn about them and about us that is you will be a cherished possession. The truth about that is that some of us who are in the room today really just have a hard time believing that God thinks about us in that way. You might look around and say to some people I can understand why God would feel that way if them. I mean they are gifted, they are talented, they are put together. I mean they even look like a special treasure. God certainly couldn't feel that way about me. If he really knows what's in my past and what's in my world there's no way he could feel that way about me. My friend, the truth is he does. You are valuable to him. You matter to him just as anybody else in the room and he's just as crazy about you as he is about anybody else.
This makes me think about one of my favorite stories that was in the newspaper of a women in San Diego a few years ago who walking through her day noticed all of a sudden she was not any longer wearing her diamond wedding ring. She thought she probably left if in the bathroom in the morning when she was getting dressed she would often take off her ring when she was putting on her makeup getting ready for the day. She went to the bathroom, but no wedding ring. She mentally began to retrace her steps and remembered the night before while she was doing work in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner that she had taken her ring off and set it up on the counter. She walked into the kitchen, but no ring. She began to try to figure out what could have possibly happened. The only thing she could surmise is that when cleaning up the kitchen somehow she had wiped the ring off of the counter into the garbage can, which was laying at the edge of the counter. She went to the garbage can there was absolutely nothing in the pail. She called her husband and said did you take out the trash today? Yes this is the day the trash men come. I already pushed the bin out to the sidewalk you might see if they are still there. She walks out to the sidewalk the bins are completely empty. She gets on the phone with the waste management people and says can you tell me the number of the truck that picks up in my neighborhood and where it might be at this time of day? So the person makes their best guess gives them the number of the truck she gets in her car begins to drive through the neighborhoods around the block until finally she spots the truck. She signals this guy he pulls over she gets out she explains the situation and he says, lady I am really sorry but I pick up your trash first thing in the morning and I have already dumped that load at the city dump. She said, can you tell me where you left the load? So he tries to describe where at the city dump he left all the trash, and so she drives out there in her car, she gets out and she begins to walk through all of this garbage looking for the trash bags that are similar to the ones they used. She finally found them she goes through one bag at a time one piece of trash at a time until finally in a can of refried beans is her wedding ring.
Here's the point. In the very same way that that women pursued a cherished possession in her life God has pursued us. Even though our lives might be surrounded by garbage and trash, when God looks at you, you are a cherished possession. Because God thinks so highly of you, over the next 40 days he wants to do something wonderful in your life. He wants to continue to work in your life to make you like his son Jesus. You are a cherished possession. But he doesn't stop there. He also goes on to say about them that they are chosen priests. He says in verse 6 of Exodus 19, “You will be a kingdom of priests.” He says that not just to the clergy, not just someone who has been to seminary he says it literally to the entire nation. Some of you are thinking right now okay, I have sort of been hanging with you up to you at this point but you just crossed the line. There is no way that I am a priest. The priesthood is reserved for people who are a lot more holy than me. Look with me if you would at these words from first Peter 2, and they are written to average Christians just like you and me. “But you are a chosen people a, what, royal priesthood.” Circle those words. “A royal priesthood a holy nation of people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful life.” Now, you have been called by God to be a priest.
Three things priests do:
Number one is priests have direct access to God. It's what we call the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer that you don't have to go through any one else in order to get to God. You have a direct connection. And in just a little bit later in the service we are going to take time to actually pray. Here's the good news. You can go directly to God and your heavenly father is waiting and welcoming you to come to him. Would you read with me out loud the words from Ephesians 3 verse 12 let’s read them together, “Because of Christ and our faith in him we can now come fearlessly into God's presence assured of his glad welcome.” You have direct access to God.
Number two, priests represent God to people. A priest speaks on behalf of God, he represents God. They don't just live to do what they want to live on their own agenda they have an assignment from God, a sacred responsibility. Do you realize this morning if you are a Christ follower you carry the reputation of God around with you. And what some people think about God is directly shaped by how you live as someone who represents him. So if you are angry and mean spirited, harsh and legalistic, then some people are going to conclude well that must be what God is like. But if you are kind, compassionate and patient and forgiving and loving, then people are going to know that that's what God -- that's what God is like.
You see in 40 Days of Community it's not going to be just about us getting together as a church family it's about us serving in our local community. And you and I have the wonderful privilege and responsibility out there to represent God. To our neighbors and co-workers to people in need, to be a priest that speaks on God's behalf. So as a priest you have direct access as a priest you represent God, but thirdly as a priest you have dedicated self yourself to a life of serving God. In this particular story as he talks about the priesthood it's not just about a vocational choice it's a calling. You see your strongest devotion in life is not to be to your career but rather to your calling. Your highest calling in life is not to your profession it's to your priesthood. And your job is to stay faithful and serve God as a priest all the days of your life. And sometimes it will be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you will ever do and sometimes it's hard and sometimes it's lonely and sometimes you are misunderstood. But there's no retirement. You have been called to give a lifetime of serving God as one who represents him.
Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 4, “I urge you then I who am a prisoner because I serve the Lord live a life that measures up to the standard God set when he called you.” So we look back at God's faithfulness and remember all that he's done in the past. We look ahead and realize we are his cherished possession that we are called upon to be priests on his behalf.
But there's a third encouragement I want to give you and that is to look around. Listen to this:
3. Commit with the community.
Let me explain what I mean by that. After God challenges the nation to obey him completely and follow him wholeheartedly the people respond back to God. And in fact, their words are recorded in Exodus 19 verse 8, I put them in your notes, “Then all the people answered together we will do everything that the Lord has said and Moses reported this to the Lord.” The word I want you to zero in on the word I want you to circle is the word together. As a community of God followers they unanimously responded to God and said, “We will obey, we will follow.”
I want you to understand this, this morning. We are more than just a collection of individual Christians who happen together for worship at the same time on the same day. We are a community. We are a family. We are a church. We are the body of Christ. And Paul says in Romans 12 that each part belongs to the other. You and I are connected. And during this 40 Days of Community we are asking for the same kind of corporate commitment. We're asking every single small group to study the same 40 Days of Community curriculum that pastor Rick taped a few weeks ago. Our children and our students and adults are all going to be studying and talking about the same theme. We are all going to be in this together. That's why it is not an exaggeration to say we are hopeful that every single person who considers Saddleback their family will say, “I am in.” And I hope that there is something inside of you in your heart that when you hear, hey, this is what our church family is doing, that your response is, “I will do my part.” Because I am a part of a community. It's not just about me and my things. I am a part of a family. If the family is doing it, then I want to be a part of it, because I belong here. So commit with the community.
Now let me give you the fourth encouragement:
4. Look inward and prepare yourself spiritually
As we think about starting this campaign next week what does it look like to get ready spiritually? Listen to the words of God again in Exodus 19 it says, “The Lord told Moses go down and prepare the people for my visit, purify them today and tomorrow and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day for I will come down upon Mount Sinai as all the people watch.” Tucked in these verses are three very practical steps you and I can take, I believe, to get ready spiritually for what God wants to do in these next few weeks.
Here's number one. Set aside time. God says over the next three days I want you to get ready to meet with me. Remember, these people are just like us. They have jobs and they responsibilities and they have families to take care of, they are tasks that are on their list. And yet God says, this is important enough. I want you to carve out time to be involved with meeting me. So again just to be very up front if you are going to get the most out of 40 Days of Community it's going to happen partly because you set aside time. I want to ask you to take out this brochure you should have gotten on the inside front page you are going to find 6 very specific commitments we are asking every single one of us to make through out this campaign. Some of them are very simple. Some of them are a little more time consuming. But the first one is take one of those yard signs put it in your yard or window a way of saying, “Hey, I am a part of this 40 Days of Community.” The next thing is to get in a small group. Just try it for 6 weeks. It looks like right now we are going to have 2,600, 2,700 small groups meeting in 83 cities around Southern California. You can find a group that's close to you that fits the night of the week that you want to meet on. And in this brochure as well as your bulletin there’s information about how you can get in a group. Third thing we’re asking you to do is over the next 7 weekends to be here every weekend. I know your lives are busy. I know you have a lot of things going on. But each weekend will build on the last. We are asking you to commit to being here for 7 consecutive weekends in a row. And then read a daily devotion each day for 40 days. Each daily devotion is going to be about 3-4 pages long. You can read it in about 7 or 8 minutes. What a great way for you to start off your day in God's word and also understanding what his plan is for what it means for you to live in relationship of other people. And then memorize a verse each week. You are going to get a set of memory verse tags that you can put on your key chain and on the back of each tag is a different verse. We are going to ask you to memorize a verse a week because we know the power of putting God's word in your life. Finally we are going to ask you with your group to participate in this project of feeding the homeless in Orange County over the next 40 days.
I was talking with some of the people from the missions team, and this is a huge project. It's going to take 1,050 tons of food to do this. They were telling me that over the next two or three-week ends the critical part of collecting food from the stores where we stand out in front and ask people to buy items and then they bring them out and put them in the box, it's going to take 900 people per weekend to pull this off. So we are asking every single group to decide how you are going to participate in either collecting, transporting, processing or delivering. You can go to the web site or you can call the missions team at the office and find out how you can get involved. It's going to take some time but it will be worth it.
The second thing you can do to spiritually prepare is take inventory. You know when a business does an inventory in a way it's a reality check it's saying here's what we have and here's what we don't have. I want to ask you to do the same thing spiritually to take a spiritual inventory an honest assessment right now and just answer the hard question, “Where am I with the Lord right now in my own relationship?” If I want to be in the right place in my heart to let God to a great work in my life I need to have an honest assessment about my relationship with God. There's this great passage in Revelation chapter 2 where the Lord is speaking to the church at Ephesus a very busy, active church very successful but God looks at the church and says, “I have one thing against you, you have left your first love.”
The honest truth I am sure in a room this size with this many people is even though outwardly we are very busy and involved in the church for some of us the fact is our hearts have drifted in our relationship with God. This is a time for us to just stop and say is there anything blocking my relationship with God? Is there some sin I have been clinging to or have I just drifted and I need to come back in my relationship with God? I hope your heart’s cry is the cry of David in Psalm 51 when he says “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.” Take inventory, set aside time.
And then number 3 maybe this is the most important one, is to pray diligently. Nothing will draw our heart to God's hard like prayer. Nothing will remove the spiritual obstacles and roadblocks like prayer. Nothing will reignite our love relationship with God like time alone just talking with him. Nothing will invite the presence of God into 40 Days of Community like a congregation who is committed to praying, and nothing will set the table for a God visit like prayer. A few years ago I had the opportunity to fly to Asia and visit the largest church in the world. I knew that this church in Seoul Korea had actually purchased a mountain and turned it into something they call prayer mountain. I attended the weekend service, but I wanted to go to prayer mountain and found out they had a bus that ran 24-hours a day 365 days a year from their church worship center out to prayer mountain. So I took the bus out there it's about a 35-40 minute drive. When I got out there I began to walk along the trails and paths and scattered all over this mountain are these concrete bunkers thousands of them. A concrete bunker has on the front of it sort of what looks like a half door maybe stands about 3 feet high and inside in a space about 3 feet wide about 5 feet long all there is, is a vinyl mat laying on the concrete. Yet as you walk along those hills you hear people inside these little bunkers just in prayer praying around the clock. You hear them crying out to God praying for their needs for the needs of their church and the needs of their city. The church's estimate is that 24-hours a day every day of the every day of the year they have approximately 3,000 people scattered across the mountain praying at a time. It's no wonder the church has 700,000 people in one church. Because nothing invites the presence of God into what a church is doing like a group of people who are willing to pray. So we want to ask you to do that.
Would you look with me at this verse in Deuteronomy 4 verse 7. It says, “What other nation is so great as to have their God near them the way the Lord our God is near to us whenever we pray to him.” Would you take out of your program also this morning this 7-day prayer guide. We put this together for you as something we want to encourage you to put in your Bible and each morning pull out your Bible and this little guide and you will find we have given you a couple different prayer requests of things to pray for specifically over the next 7 days. Then you see on the front of that do you have some little stickers that say pray on it? You should have four stickers there. We want to encourage you to take those little stickers and to place them in a prominent place where you are going to be reminded to pray. We have been asking our staff to do that the last several days. This last Wednesday our whole staff had a day of prayer and fasting to pray on your behalf as we go into 40 Days of Community. We want to ask you to take these little stickers and put them on your watch, on your computer monitor, maybe on your bathroom mirror, put it where you will see it several times a day. For some of you that would be on your VISA card. Wherever you need to put it that you are going to see it several times a day. That you will be reminded to pray like Lord help me to be able to pay this bill. Then pray for 40 Days of Community.
We can talk about prayer, we can teach about it, but I thought it would be important this morning just to take some time to pray. So here's what we want to do. You are going to first hear a song that really is an invitation to meet with God. I hope as you listen to the words of this song you will prepare your own heart and afterwards I am going to come back to help lead us through just a brief time where right where you are you can have a time of prayer to meet with God. So I am going to ask these guys to come and lead us in this song.
[SONG: “Meet With Me” by Lamont Hiebert, 1999, CCL#42373]
I want to ask you now to just begin to take some time to just be quiet yourself before the Lord. We are going to put some verses on the screen that will help guide your thoughts as you over the next couple minutes just ask God to open your own life and heart so you can be ready for whatever he wants to do in your life through 40 days. Use these verses to help you as you pray.
[2-MINUTE PAUSE WITH SOFT PIANO MUSIC]
Lord we want to be open. We want to be vessels that you can use and work through. Help our hearts to be in the right place. Help us to seek you above everything else. We want you to have the freedom to do in our lives what you need to do to make us more like you in Jesus' name, amen.
I love this part in Exodus 19 where God says, “I want you to get ready, because I am coming down.” And I think about our prayers today and over the next few days as they go up it sort of just paves the way for God to come down. Which leads us to the last thought for the day:
5. Look up and get ready for a God encounter.
The Bible says in Exodus 19:17, “That Moses led them out of the camp to meet with God and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” That verse has become a symbol of a spiritual truth I think it's important it's there in your notes it says often the most life altering encounters with God require us to leave the routine, the comfortable and the familiar. I was thinking about my own small group a couple of years ago we were a part of the small group of people that we love we were very comfortable with them, they were mature believers we felt right at home. During the 40 Days of Purpose my wife and I thought that maybe we should lead our own group open it to people we don't know yet and open it to people who don't know the Lord yet. As I look back it's been incredible journey over the last couple of years with people now we have really grown to love. And it started because we were willing to leave something that was comfortable to open our lives to something else that God had in mind.
I visited with a guy on Friday night who had a similar story he said two years ago he and his wife said yes, Lord, whoever you want to bring we are not sure who we are going to invite or who will come they said yes. They open their home and now with 11 people they have seen people come to Christ they have walked through crisis together, he said we have become a family. It started because we were willing to say, yes. So what does it look like practically to get ready and to leave that which is comfortable. Well for some of us it might be trying this small group thing just making room in your world for relationships and to do life together with a few people. For some it might mean taking a risk to open your home to a group. It's not too late for that. For some of you it will mean moving outside your comfort zone and beginning to serve people in our community who are in desperate need.
But I want you to image the scene standing in front of Mount Sinai 2 million people men and women, children alike and the Bible says that God came down. Here's how it describes it in Exodus 20 verse 18 it says, “When the people heard the thunder and loud blast of the horn they saw the lightning and smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance trembling with fear.” When God comes down it seems like the only real appropriate response is humble reverence because in those moments we are reminded of how small we are and how big and powerful and glorious he is. Sort of reminds me of the story in Mark chapter 4 when after a season of ministry Jesus said let's get in the boat and go to the other side of the lake. They got in the boat and Jesus promptly went back in the boat, found a cushion and went to sleep. As they were wrenching their way across the lake a squall came up and the wind began to howl the waves were so high the water began to break into the boat and it was filling the boat with water and finally in panic and desperation and frustration the disciples wake Jesus up and they say to him, “Don't you care that we are about to drown?” The Bible says Jesus woke up, he stood up, and he rebuked the wind it says, and he said to the water, be still, and the wind stopped and the waves died, and it says in Bible that the disciples were terrified. Because it is scary to have water in your boat, it is scarier to have God in your boat. And when you have these kinds of God encounters like we are praying for it leaves you in awe.
I just wonder that day when 2 million people left Mount Sinai after hearing the thunder and the mountains shaking and the fire and the smoke if that day when they went home if they didn't go home with the smell of smoke on them, the smell of God on them. Because the presence of God had marked them. And I got to thinking wouldn't it be great if during 40 Days of Community that people would say about us when they watch us, they smell like God. Maybe they don't own a Bible, maybe they don't go to church, maybe they don't claim the name of Christ but when they look at what we do and how we live and what we are like, that they say that must be what God is like.
As I close I want to fast forward you to a day 40 years later when Moses is challenging the people as they are about to enter the promise land. Finally they are here. Moses is not going to accompany them but he begins to warn them and gives them instruction and he says when you cross the Jordan you get on the other side and life gets good and easy and comfortable and prosperous he said don't forget God. Don't forget everything he has done for you and be sure and pass on to your kids and your grandkids all that God has done, the stories of faith and the very first example that Moses uses is Exodus 19. In Deuteronomy 4 verse 10 it says this, “As Moses says tell them,” speaking of kids and grandkids, “tell them especially about the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai.” Forty years later Moses points back to Exodus 19 as the defining moment in the history of the nation of Israel. Forty years later he points back and he says, don't forget to tell your kids and your grandkids about the day when God came down. So my mind jumped to 40 years from now wouldn't it be great if we could sit with our kids and our grandkids and say, let me tell you about one of the most incredible experiences I ever got to be a part of I was a part of Saddleback church at a time when God did some things that only God could take credit for, and we were a part of a wonderful ride in this journey with God where he showed up and people's lives got changed and our community got touched and we were forever different because of that day. I hope that over the next few days you will be praying that there will be that kind of God visit with us as we started 40 Days of Community.
Let's pray together. Lord, we want you to be the guest of honor. We don't want this to be all about our plans. We don't want this to just be a program. We want it to be a time when your spirit changes us, changes our lives and changes our community. We can't manufacture that. We wouldn't want to even if we could. But we ask you to do it by your power. Thank you that you have invited us to the table and that some powerful things are going to happen in the next few weeks and we pray that it would all be about you. We point people in our families and in our church and in our communities to you and that you would be honored in Jesus' name, Amen.