At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Best.Story.Ever.”
The Bible is an epic story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, but it’s also an intimate story describing God’s pursuit of a love relationship with each of us as individuals. We need to understand the big picture so that we don’t miss the personal application. Where do we fit into God’s big picture?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Here is the video of the message John shared:
Here are notes from the message by John Burke:
God is changing the world, life by life by life, as he builds his church and works through all of us together. He makes epicenters of impact that ripple out from every life—your life, my life, our lives connected to other lives around the world. It’s an Epic Story. That’s what we’ve been tracing these 3 weeks. Let me quickly review if you’ve missed it. Week 1, we looked at God’s Story told across the Old Testament, through 39 books written over 1500 years. We saw the thread weaving throughout of God creating free-willed creatures with the capacity to love God and partner with God developing the earth, animals, and people. But that’s risky business because love can’t be forced. Humans chose and keep choosing to reject God’s love and rule by deciding we know best. God is letting us experience the knowledge of Good and Evil. God left a trace of all his love, kindness, good gifts; but He also allowed the knowledge of evil to infect everything so we would learn how good God’s will is, so we will forever choose to follow God’s lead.
So God created a nation, Israel, to do two things – reveal God’s Word and foretell God’s self-revelation as the Messiah in order to bless all nations. All nations or ethnic groups were always on God’s mind. Abraham and the nation of Israel were blessed to be a blessing to all nations. But they forgot about God and forgot about other people, they thought they were better than others. God revealed his heart through prophet after prophet. Yet even in his hurt and warnings, God foretold a day He would unite himself to humanity. The Messiah would be born as a child in Bethlehem. God foretold how the Messiah would die to pay for all our sins. The prophets gave sixty signs, in advance, foretelling that first Christmas so we would know it’s God, see His great love, and willingly love and follow His lead.
And last week we looked at Jesus—how the Gospels show how God entered our history through Jesus, revealed God’s loving character, and suffered with us and for us to reunite our individual stories to His story. No matter how much evil has been done to you, no matter how much evil you’ve done. Whether a God hater, or just indifferent, God takes back all who turn back and accept his forgiveness. He then turns our tragic or self-centered stories into a stories that bless others. That’s what God is doing in you as you’re willing.
But God’s Story is not just about me or you individually, it’s also about us together. What God’s trying to do through a new family, a new community called His church. When you hear that word, CHURCH, what do you think about? Growing up, I thought “Boring meaningless rituals, a Sunday hour of torture totally disconnected from reality”. Maybe that was your experience. Or maybe you thought “Scam, a way to control people, manipulate the masses, bilk gullible people out of their money, televangelists and big-haired Charismatic preachers on the news”. Or maybe you didn’t have a bad experience, but the word Church meant a building or a Sunday experience. I’ve struggled with all those thoughts at times. But these are all corruptions of what God had in mind for church–which is beautiful, and still worth fighting for—because its the hope of the world.
People will come up to me and say “You have a beautiful church”. They mean this building at Gateway North is beautiful. They say the same thing now to Bryan, our Pastor at Gateway Branson with their new building and Eric at South. To Kenny at Central they say “You have a beautiful High School”, to which he says “Thank you, I’m still hoping to get out of High School one day.” But when people say “you have a beautiful church” I say “I agree, we do have a beautiful church—and our building’s nice too.” Because church is not a building. Church is not a worship service. The church is not staff. I’m not the head of the church, Jesus is. I’m just part in His body. Maybe I’m like one of the nerves trying to take messages from the head to the parts of the body. The church meets in buildings sometimes, the church worships sometimes, but Church is people. People being changed life by life by life as God intersects each story, and as you enter relationship with the Living God, your story becomes part of His story, He will guide you, me, others to be His church, if we are willing. That’s both the beauty and the problem with church—it’s not built with bricks, but with willing people, which is a daily choice. And that’s what makes it so difficult.
Next year is Gateway’s 20th year since we started, and since you’re here with us, either exploring faith, growing and serving with us, or just trying to get a date, I want you to see how God’s Story intersects your story and our story as Gateway. After a bad experience with church early on, I said, “All I know for sure is I would NEVER be a pastor—what a waste of a life.” Obviously, God changed my mind. The more I studied the New Testament, the more I saw what God had in mind. The church is God’s idea. Jesus said: I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. Matthew 16:18 They won’t, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gonna try hard. I’ve seen some pretty hellish things infect churches through people unwilling to follow God and teach them to love beyond their hurts.
Yet still, church is God’s idea. When Christians say, “I don’t need church to follow God”, when we treat church as an option, we don’t understand God’s vision. And know this, all the powers of hell want to tear down the church, divide people, and stop us from uniting, loving, serving, and fighting evil and injustice. That’s God’s plan for church and that’s why all Hell wants to convince you to stay out of it. But we need to see God’s mysterious vision for each local church so we can choose to build with God rather than tear down.
Every great artist at one point or another seems to do a self-portrait. It’s usually done in the style and medium that the artist was known for. For instance, here’s a Picasso self-portrait with his famous out-of-place-face. Usually the artist conveys something about herself or himself. Makes you wonder what artist LEOPOLD BOILLY was trying to convey.
Well, God is an artist, the ultimate Creator. God is creating a kind of self portrait, not an exact representation of God, just as a 2-dimensional painting misses the full 3 dimensional being. But God is doing a self-portrait in the medium of unique, willing, people–his church. Through people willing to be reunited to God, like the many colors of the artist’s pallet, He’s taking our unique, multi-colored, messy lives, and painting a beautiful mosaic picture as we willingly follow Him. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:29-29 All the Old Testament promises to Israel belong to you. All nations, all ethnicities, reconnected to God through his Messiah, as promised to Abraham. God is uniting all divisions: Jew and Gentile (no racial/ethnic divisions), slave or free (no socio-economic divisions), male or female (no gender divisions). But you and I choose daily whether we will allow the Artist to create something beautiful.
God’s vision for his church is a living self-portrait. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body [the church]. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4 As we all grow in our love for God and others, using our gifts, passions, time and financial resources together, God creates a movement of love and life that changes the world life by life by life. That’s what God’s inviting you to be part of.
Twenty years ago today, Kathy and I were in Chicago. God had given me the clearest “It’s Time to follow Me”. We knew he wanted us to start a church for people who don’t like church. God was making me feel His compassion, love, and mercy for a wounded, addicted, abused, struggling generation, something most churches don’t see or care about—but God cared. When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:36-37 God sees all the hurts, all the hopelessness, all the dark dungeons, and prideful prisons we get locked in, he’s not wanting to condemn, but lead us out to Life and Freedom. But He needs willing coworkers—His body, His church.
I went and read my Journal from 20 years ago. This time 20 years ago, God had made it super clear He wanted a Come As You Are Church–No Perfect People Allowed—to show his compassion. As soon as we were willing, all these miraculous things confirmed it. A friend called from New York and asked if I’d help his friend moving to Chicago. I started meeting with Hal to help him, told him what God was leading us to do, and without asking he and his wife felt God wanted them to fund the first year (He was a CEO with a Bloomberg company). Amazing. Then people start saying they wanted to move to Austin with us (not a hard sell during winter in Chicago). We had a team of 8 meeting in Chicago preparing to go with us. I started flying to Austin each month, meeting people cause we knew no one. God’s was lining up all the pieces of the puzzle.
Then 20 years ago November, everything started to fall apart 2 months before we moved. I had quit my job, we had a 1 year old and a 4 year old. Hal gets let go and says “Sorry, no funding”. All 8 of the people moving with us from Chicago bail. I fly down to try to get the 10 Austinites to bring 3 friends to our next Vision Night—hoping for 20-30 people—none show! Donuts! Zero! Here’s my Journal entry:
Dec 1997 DISAPPOINTMENT AGAIN Lord, I feel hurt and angry. I know You will be faithful, but I am feeling really let down…are you taking us to the bottom? Our house isn’t selling, we had a team and now we are alone–just me and Kathy. Honestly – I don’t want to do it alone. You didn’t send them out alone, but in twos. And the funding commitments are gone …But Lord, I still believe. I still think You called us to this and You will provide. But if I’m being foolish or ignorant, please rescue me from my deception….I feel like You are not with me. I have cast vision and encouraged people to come and build Your church in Austin, and I can’t get people to follow. What does that mean? Am I not the leader I need to be to do this? Are You not with me?… I go back and forth between defiant determination even if it’s just me and Kathy, to resignation of not wanting to do anything. Lord, can I really be Your servant? Or do I expect You to be my servant? Is that what’s going on inside of me? Am I really willing to humble myself that at the proper time You will lift me up? Help me, Lord.
It’s hard! That’s where all this started. We all get hurt, let down when God doesn’t do things our way, people have free will and they make choices that hurt us and let us down, and no wonder the church struggles to be all God intended. We are free, and it’s easy to say “forget this.” That wasn’t the last time I’ve been tempted. When it gets hard, or we get hurt, do we run or turn inward, look for something easier and more comfortable? Jesus said “The harvest is plentiful—there’s plenty of lonely, hurting, broken people—but the workers are few. For you who have followed Christ a long time—that’s where we grow most—that’s what spiritual maturity looks like—and that’s how God changes us and the world Life by Life by Life. But it does get hard.
So we moved to Austin 20 years ago January, started over. God did answer our prayer with willing people—Ted and Stephanie moved down a few months later, then Charles and Raquel, then Nate, Steve Tarr, Kenny Martin, soon 1 Lifegroup, then 2, then 4. And we kept serving others, like our Networks are doing—inviting people to parties, to serve with us, to come explore faith. 8 months later, we started the Inspire Service. Chris, the guy who designed this building, came to faith that first year, Suzie Martin on our Leadership team found Christ and Life by Life we grew until thousands had found faith, growth, and were bringing that Life and Freedom to others. We needed space, so people financially gave and sacrificed to build North Campus—they paid it forward so many of you could find faith, hope, love and pay it forward for others. We launched Gateway South so the southies could bring Life and Freedom to their neighbors, and people paid it forward to get in that new building so more of you could find a place to belong and grow. And North and South people paid it forward so Gateway Branson and Gateway Central could be Jesus’ hands and feet, his body, to people around you. As you pay it forward, his work continues to ripple out Life by Life by Life.
Everybody has a mission. Like we talked about last week. But there’s another truth too: Everybody working together is more powerful than everybody working alone. We’re a team, a body. Those of you who serve in NextGen, you have greatly helped me and Kathy in raising our kids spiritually. I can’t go into your work, but you can bring people to various Gateway events so we can love and serve them together. A woman opened up to me and Kathy about sexual abuse as a child. We invited her to our Wounded Heart Restore ministry some of you lead – you helped her greatly. I can’t rescue sex-trafficked women, but I got to see Lindi walk up here with a woman she helped rescue who gave her life to Christ, and got out of that life. Everybody working together is way more powerful than everybody working alone. That’s His church at it’s best.
Here at Year End lets do it again—our Epicenter Year End giving will go to 4 Epicenter Partners serving in unprecedented disaster areas. The News has moved on, but the church is still there–meeting physical and spiritual needs. In Houston, Ecclesia church is helping poor people rebuild their lives. After 2 hurricane, our Haiti partners are providing meals and shelter and helping Turks and Caicos rebuild through our giving. In Las Vegas, Verve church which we helped start is ministering to the 1000s affected by the mass shooting, and I met with our Burundi partners last week—they’re mobilizing 100s of churches to change the statistic that 3/5 Burundi children are malnutritioned. As we give above and beyond our normal Dec giving—all above our normal budget goes to show our unprecedented generosity in unprecedented disasters. That’s God’s story of the church at it’s best—but it requires willingness. We’re all free to choose. That’s why Jesus last prayer was for you.
20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
Jesus prayed for you. That we might be Unified. Why? Because God is Creating a Self-portrait– A physical, living representation of his compassionate love—Sculpted out of living, breathing, willing human lives joined together as His church. Are you willing? If So get connected, serve, grow, give and Life by Life by Life we become part of the Best.Story.Ever. God’s hope for the world.