Entourage was one of those sermons that was all about who we are and where we are going as a church.
My prayer is that its strategic place on the calendar, coupled with its logical next step of our LifeGroup Launch event, will lead to an increase in both our number of LifeGroups and numbers of people who take part in them.
Back in 2013, I finally learned how to preach this type of sermon . . . a learning that, naturally, came from Andy Stanley. In his hands, small group life becomes less a matter of “shoulds” and “oughts” and more a matter of regret prevention. That perspective has given new energy to the ways I give these kind of messages, and I pray that increased energy leads to greater impact.
So here is Week Two of Movementum, a message called Entourage, containing this bottom line:
When you have pain behind you and confusion in front of you, you need an entourage around you.
So much of life is spent in the “in between” time, isn’t it? One thing as finished, some other major thing looms, and you’re left to wrestle with the “in between.” Lord, for those of you who believe in Jesus this is true on the grandest scale as we live in the constant “in between” of Easter and then Jesus’ Return. Been a long, long, in between times for both the human race and that subset of Jesus’ followers! But it’s true in the smaller and in the more mundane.
Sometimes you wonder what to do in a busy day when you are in between appointments; a lot of you snack when you are in between meals; sometimes when you have a very difficult decision to make you feel like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. And then some of you are in between jobs, others are in between churches (we welcome you today!), others are in between relationships, and even a few of you are in between marriages. A place some of you have been before.
And the reality is that we often make some of the most god-awful decisions in those in between times. In fact, some of your greatest regrets – that relationship you wish you hadn’t started, that investment you wish you hadn’t made, those substances you wish you hadn’t tried, the email you wish you hadn’t sent – have all come in the times in between the times.
And this episode we’re going to look at from the life and letters of Peter finds him stuck in one of the most remarkable in between times of them all. We’re all about Movementum in this season of our lives at Good Shepherd and we’re going to spend a number of weeks looking at the life Peter lived and the letters he wrote. And the reason I want to dwell on him is this: (aside from the fact that I’ve never done it before!) he was always in motion. He was like a perpetual motion machine, and that motion started with his mouth because he had that uncanny talent of having his tongue in motion before his brain was fully in gear. He talked before the thought. Any of you know about that? But in other ways, he was always moving. The first to drop his fishing nets and follow Jesus. The first to stand and declare Jesus is the Messiah. The first – and only! – to get out of the boat and start walking on the water, however briefly (but he still walked on it longer than you ever did!). Actually, the worst trouble Peter ever got in to was when he STOPPED moving – but that’s another sermon for another time.
Yet Peter’s perpetual motion almost always led him somewhere. In spite of his many flaws, his movement generated momentum that propelled him ever closer to Jesus. Ever deeper into trusting Jesus with his next breath. Closer to that keen awareness that you can count on God, that you can wake up in the morning certain that God knows your name and is worth placing at the center of my life as opposed to wearing as an accessory.
And Peter’s movementum in these brief three verses from Acts 1 means everything. Here he is with his peers, his posse, his entourage. Let me read the verses for you and you circle all the movement words:
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[c] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
All over the place! But you’re probably like, “OK, they walk ¾ of a mile, they went up some stairs, they took roll, they prayed. What’s the big deal?” Only everything. Here are my favorite initials: CIE. Context is Everything. And at the beginning of Acts, the context is, frankly, more than everything. Look at Acts 1:4-5:
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”
OK, wait. Sort of the definitive “in between” isn’t it? Now look at Acts 1:6-8:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So Peter and the others are WITH Jesus, he’s resurrected from the dead and so that’s kind of freaky to begin with and then to these people who have likely never been more than 20 miles away from home (like from here to Chester!), he gives an impossible assignment. They must have been like, “huh?”
And then, as if it couldn’t get any weirder (as if talking to a previously dead guy isn’t odd enough!), look at 1:9-11:
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Whew! A human rocket! And the end result? Jesus is gone. Promising a return but for the here and the now, that Savior is gone. He left them once already, on the cross, but this departure has even more finality to it. Bewildering to this motely crew of fishermen. Painful. For Peter, add to that the memory of his own betrayal of Jesus on the night before crucifixion (you may have heard of it) and in this ultimate in between time he finds all kinds of pain behind. Pain of his betrayal, of Jesus’ rocketry. Pain & abandonment.
But he looks ahead from his “in between” and what? Confusion. You want us to do what? BE MY WITNESSES. When? AFTER YOU RECEIVE THE HS. Where? TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. Like as far as Spain? FARTHER, YOU JUST DON’T KNOW FARTHER EXISTS YET. Got an agenda? NOPE. YOU BE THE DETAIL GUY. So behind him there is pain and before him there is confusion and what I know is that Peter is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to have that kind of in between dilemma. Pain behind, confusion ahead.
You, here, know that. Some have the pain of divorce behind you and in front of you loom the new, confusing rules of dating and romance and blending. Others have the pain of abuse behind you (parents, spouse, significant) and the future has the confusion of who can you trust? Someone has the pain of a child who can’t get it together no matter what you do and ahead is the confusion of how to correct, redirect, heal . . . or let them be. Or, even, some of you have the behind you pain of a disappointment with God and a confusion in the future of do I want to invest that much of myself in faith again? The series may be Movementum but you’re caught up in a major in between.
Which is why despite all the hiking, climbing, gathering, and praying in this little story, the most telling part may well be the most stationary of them all: the roll call of 1:13c-14:
Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
A list of names. Luke goes to the trouble of listing names. To people caught up in the drama of this once in history “in between,” Luke lists some names. They’ve just seen a human rocket (!) and Luke goes to the trouble of telling us they gathered together to wait & to pray. And then I see how, when you’re stuck in the in between that THAT may be the most progressive, forward moving action of them all. Here’s the deal: When you have pain behind you & confusion in front of you, you need an entourage around you. Yes! Because if you have trauma behind and indecision ahead, the worst thing you can do is to press ahead alone! Self-correction is merely a prelude to self-deception & that may be source of pain today.
Because we want your in between times here to lead you to experience in a vital & tangible way that God can be trusted. That you’ll live by his direction, that which is revealed in his word and which is unveiled through your experience. That’s what faith is; that’s what a living rel w/ JC is. And know this: it doesn’t come to life in isolation but only in the middle of an entourage. While you’re part of a motley crew. (Not them! AV) It did for me!
I remember heading up to college in NJ when I was 18. Been a Xn for about 18 months. Behind me is the pain of leaving Texas, of admitting I weren’t good enough to be a pro tennis player and before me is life’s ultimate confusion: how in the world am I gonna survive 4 years in NJ? (Oh, and survive a hard college surrounded by uber smart people in an alien landscape.) Answer? Our college Xn fellowship. I joined an entourage of like-minded Jesus people in an environment that even in the 80s was pretty hostile to him. That entourage is actually where I first heard the call to ministry. REF And the pattern continued; arrive in Monroe and there was Wade Broome (AV) & others and then 9 years later we get here and there’s Mary Hutto (AV). At every step of my Xn life, God planted me in unlikely entourages so that in the in-between of shedding the old & embracing the new my faith came to life. When you have pain behind you & confusion in front of you, you need an entourage around you.
You’re the same. If you’ve been “in Christ” for any length of time, you know that it has been other people who have shaped your faith. Nobody’s spiritual autobiography says this: I figured it out all by myself & I grew in faith by spending time w/ Jesus alone. No one. To see the invisible God, you really need to see people with skin on living his life out.
We believe this so much here. That’s why our pivotal strategy for a l r w JC is LifeGroups. Circles & not rows. We know not all of you but we also know for most of you. We are fanatics about providing you with an opportunity to get into a holy entourage. Between 2013 & 2015 we’ve had a major uptick in the #s of people in LGs, but our progress just demonstrates how much farther we have to go. But in the LG growth, you all have pastored, encouraged, navigated, and entouraged your ways together into lrwJC. My best moments as pastor here come when I see some of you outside the church, together, ask how you got connected and you’re like “Oh! We’re in LG together!” It’s so cool because people’s connection to the church stops being with me and starts being with each other and the Jesus who bonds them together.
And look at 1:14 again: READ. Note: women. In our day, not a big deal. In that day, an enormous deal. Co-ed praying did not occur then! Except through Jesus. It shows us that from the beginning holy entourages were all about breaking down the natural barriers that people build up between not only genders but groups. Every LG here is an opp to be a miniature replica of this full on, full color body. My favorite happening along those lines is a couple who came in in part because they had been at a church that had an . . . unfortunate . . . record of racial reconciliation and so they immediately joined a LG in which they were one of the few Anglos. They brought diversity with their pink pigmentation. Perfect! When you have pain behind you & confusion in front of you, you need an entourage around you.
But hear this: you may get in a LG and it won’t work. You’ll discover the truth of those song lyrics (project, dissolve):
To dwell above with the saints we love, That will be grace & glory;
To live below with saints we know, That’s another story.
True! You know what you do? You never attend one again! Just like you never eat out at any restaurant, ever, if you have a bad meal once, right? Never go to another movie if one is bad, OK? Absurd! Try another LG! We have a whole system to work that out. And while you’re there, in a LG, can I give a hint? So that ppl don’t sing that song about you? To be interesting, it helps to be interested. Edit your own long talking, ask about ppl’s lives and as you connect for bible study, prayer, and life together, you can help each other discover that God is in fact trustworthy in the in between. When you have pain behind you & confusion in front of you, you need an entourage around you.
Because I want your in between times to be not a prelude to decline & regret but instead preparation for growth & progress. Where you know by experience that God is good and that he knows your name. Where you realize that you’re hurt from the past and bewildered about the future sometimes the best moving you can do is to place yourself square in the middle of a motley crew of others trying to figure it out as well. Like the guy in my Mens LG who was explaining to us once why he joined: “I realized that if I died, I didn’t have six people to carry my casket.” Well, now he does.