Have you ever wondered where the church started and why it still matters? When I say the word church we all have different perspectives on what it is. Many people didn’t grow up going to church. They grew up in a stadium watching the Vikings or Packers. Some people spent the weekends on the golf course or lake.
Other people had a parent who was hurt by the church, had no interest in spirituality or was part of a different faith. You may have even collected a lot of baggage at a church if you did participate with one. You have memories of long boring sermons that lasted for hours and hours. Maybe you were forced to go and hated every minute of it. Others have feelings of guilt. Church always made you feel dirty and full of shame. No matter what you did it was never enough. Unfortunately some people have been wounded by the church. They were emotionally, spiritually, or even sexually abused. If you have been victimized, I am so sorry, that is not the church family Jesus invited you to be a part of.
When most people think of the church they think of a building or a denomination or even their favorite pastor. But buildings and denominations and pastors are not the church, believers are, specifically believers who gather together in buildings and with shared values. The church family was founded by Jesus to fulfill the Great Commission he gave. Jesus said: “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The birth of the church family starts with the resurrection of Jesus. Two thousand years later we are still fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples advancing the kingdom of God. This is why I love the church because it’s Jesus church and we are family. If you are a born again Christian you are a member of the family, you are on the team. The church is a family of people who believe in Jesus, his message, and his ministry.
In January 2017 we launched an ambitious vision to raise the spiritual climate of the community. These are the goals for vision 2021.
1. Lower the divorce rate by 5% in five years.
This translates into Freshwater helping 200 couples and over 400 children over a five year period. This is an ambitious goal! We believe that families matter whether you are single, married, currently in a relationship, or involved in a struggling one. We don’t shame those who have experienced the pain of divorce, instead we show grace and love to everyone and offer help and support.
As of August 2018 we have formally helped over 27 couples with a combined total of 50 children. Our marriage mentoring ministry is doing well and is recruiting new mentor couples. We have also established a counseling referral network for family and marriage counseling.
2. Lower personal debt by 50% in five years.
We know that 25% of Freshwater people have unsecured debt of over $5000. This averages out to be about 200 individuals that we are directly trying to help.
3. Positively impact and assist over 300 people struggling with substance abuse and mental health challenges. We know that 7% of the population battle depression on a regular basis and 18% suffer with anxiety. We also know that 1 in 10 people struggle with substance abuse. The struggle is real and I know this because I fight depression. I want to help others who fall into dark holes like I do. I am passionately committed to doing this. We are talking about mental health, doing seminars, and walking with people who need help. This is nothing to be ashamed of, this is something for the church family to rally around.
We have directly helped around 100 people struggling with mental health challenges. We have also helped at least 75 people who struggle with substance abuse.
4. See 1,000 people make the decision to follow Christ in the next five years.
Since launching our vision in January of 2017 there have been 286 people who have said yes to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe there are more, but we have connected with 286 people.
I also serve as the President of International Ministerial Fellowship (IMF). We are an accrediting body and family of believers made up of pastors, parachurch workers, chaplains, and missionaries who are committed to fulfilling the Great Commission (visit IMFserves.church for more information). Last year our IMF pastors and leaders reported 98,286 made decisions to follow Christ. The family of God is growing.
5. See 80% of Freshwater people connected with others in a group.
We believe that you connect better with others in circles rather than in rows. Small groups provide people with a place to get relationally connected for support, encouragement, accountability, prayer, and fun. We have recently launched a group for people in their 50’s, a young adults group, and a financial group. You may be the person who starts the next small group or joins one.
6. Plant five new churches in five years.
Church planting is the most effective way to reach more people for Christ. We need a life giving church in every city in our area. So far we have helped launch Williston Alliance Church in ND and a new bilingual church. We are still working with other church planters who are still assembling their launch teams.
7. Celebrate with over 2,000 people at all of our worship services in five years.
We average just under 1,000 people every week now plus our online campus. Over 2,000 people already call Freshwater their church home, but they don’t attend every week. Our goal is to have over 2,000 people in attendance every week. We have decided to keep our Thursday night 707 service going because it’s been a huge success. The reason we set a numeric goal is because behind every number is a name and every name is a person that matters to God. God loves people and so do we.
8. Build and move into a new facility within five years that meets our needs and leverages our existing facilities. We know that both of our facilities work, but one facility designed around our needs would be best. Our initial plan is to keep the Waconia campus and use it as our student ministries center and community center. Our Learning Center will expand and take over daily operations of the St. Boni campus. This will enable us to build a new facility so that we can worship together in one space.
A generous donor has provided 100k in matching funds to be used specifically for the land/building fund. To date $42,890.00 has been given and with the matching funds that brings the total to $85,780
What can you do to help make vision 2021 a reality?
1. Pray for a movement of God. Add Freshwater to your prayers asking God to move in powerful ways in our community. Pray for one specific person, that they come to faith in Christ and attend Freshwater with you. Prayer moves the heart of God so we pray expecting God to hear our prayers and act on them.
2. Give Generously. Giving generously starts with us. If you currently support Freshwater financially, thank you. If you give a little or only once in a while, I encourage you to start giving regularly. The Bible instructs believers to tithe. That means they are to give the first 10% of their income back to Him in faith. If you don’t currently tithe, start giving something and increase it every month until you are biblically tithing. God promises to bless us when we trust him with our finances. One way to be more consistent in giving is to set up an online recurring giving schedule (http://freshwater.church/give/). You can also give specifically to the building fund.
3. Be an authentic Christian. This doesn’t take much explanation. Honor God with your life every day and if you mess up don’t give up, just keep pressing on. People need to see Christians like you live out your faith every day.
4. Mentor one person. Relationships are so important. Find someone that you can pour your life into and connect with them on a regular basis. Get together to build your friendship, pray for one another, study the Bible, and hold each other accountable as disciples.
Our vision to raise the spiritual climate of the community is going to take a united effort. This vision is too big to be done alone and apart from a work of the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that this is the vision God has set before us and is calling us to accomplish. So why put so much effort into this? Because people matter to God and they matter to us. The greatest investment we can make with our life is to use it for the glory of God to accomplish His purposes for us. This is also where we will find the most fulfillment and the most satisfaction each and every day.
The Book of Acts starts with a handful of people who wait for the Holy Spirit then when it comes they are unleashed and they start making disciples like crazy. Basically this small group of scared people come together and rally around the cross and change the world one person at a time. Today there are over 3 billion Christians all because a handful of people made the decision to take Jesus seriously and make disciples.
Josh was only two months old when I quit my job and Kathi and I decided to start Freshwater. This was way back in 1999 and I was in my twenties. We hardly made any money and Kathi was a stay at home mom. I had no idea what I was doing, but God placed a dream on my heart. That dream was born in God’s word and my understanding of scripture that says go and make disciples and do it in faith so we did.
We launched Freshwater on Easter Sunday with 88 people in attendance including my parents, my grandmother, my sister, and a whole bunch of other people who also invited their families and friends. We were elated that 88 people showed up. But it was short lived because after everyone’s family went home only 23 people came the next week. But something started to happen.
Right around when our church opened I wrote a newsletter. I am sure I mailed it to 50 people, but our official newsletter circulation was 8 couples, 4 singles, and 2 college students. This is what I wrote:
“Can you imagine a place serving over 2000 people who are fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ? Can you imagine a place where everybody is important? Can you imagine a place that provides Christian day-care for over 200 children? Can you imagine a place where the presence of God is felt and biblical truths applied? Can you imagine a place that is known for uniting people for the cause of Christ? Can you imagine a place where you will always be more important than the wallet that you carry?
You are imagining Freshwater in ten years. This dream is well under way to becoming reality and you are a part of it. Freshwater is committed to being a church where REAL people can go to find out more about God and how they can serve Him. Freshwater is committed to being a RELEVANT ministry where people are more important than programs.
Freshwater is committed to planting churches. Ten years from now it is our goal to have planted at least three other churches that mirror the vision and purpose of Freshwater. Our goal is no small task. But with Jesus leading and everyone else following, we are well on our way to becoming a regional ministry center that impacts the lives of thousands of people. Can you imagine Freshwater in 10 years? Can you imagine the good things that God has in store for you? We can and are glad that you have chosen Freshwater as your church home.”
Looking back, our goal may have been a little bit audacious, but I really believed that God had great things in store for us and I still do. That is why we launched vision 2021 last year. I still believe that people need Jesus. I still believe that now is the time and we are called and commissioned to do our part.
You can make disciples wherever you are. If you are living out your faith that is your primary job, to make disciples. You can make them wherever you are. Making disciples is all about sharing the message that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that God has a purpose for each and every one of us because we have been created in His image and for His glory. As a church family we exist to reach people for Christ, connect them with other believers, help them to grow in their faith, serve others, and honor God with their life. This is us, we are the church, we are family, and we have work to do. Let’s raise the spiritual climate of our community.
Judas Iscariot was one of the 12 apostles closest to Jesus. We don’t know when or where he was called by Jesus, Judas just seems to appear in the story. We don’t really know if his intentions to become a disciple were good or bad at first, or if he had false motives all along, what we know is that he was the disciple’s treasurer. There must have been some good qualities in Judas. We just don’t know. Judas spent his time learning and watching Jesus but he wasn’t very spiritual.
If Judas wasn’t interested in following Jesus for spiritual reasons, why would he follow him? Maybe he had other motives. Judas was Jewish and he like so many other Jews hated the Roman government. The Jews wanted the Romans out of Israel. Israel was their homeland and the Romans were not welcome. The Jews hated paying Roman taxes, they hated Roman rule, Roman government, and they probably hated Roman food.
Judas saw Jesus as his ticket to leadership when Jesus overthrew the Romans kicking them out of Israel. If Jesus was who he said he was and was going to do what he said he would do, then why wouldn’t Judas want to rule Israel with him? He played the religious game to get some fantasy political position in the new government he expected the Messiah to usher in. But Jesus never came to overthrow the Roman government, he came to overthrow the powers of darkness.
Judas became one of the best known apostles because of his blatant hypocrisy in betraying Jesus. In ancient times a hypocrite was an actor. Someone who pretended to be someone they were not. The moral of Judas story is to avoid hypocrisy because hypocrisy is a spiritual form of cancer that attacks the core of the gospel destroying the work and witness of Christ in you.
The dark story of Judas is one of the most tragic and mysterious records in Scripture. But we can learn from it.
Hypocritical people are often interested in a noble cause. Judas appeared interested in the noble cause of overthrowing the Romans and helping people. He claimed to have a noble cause but in reality, he was motivated by money and power.
Hypocritical people demonstrate an outward allegiance to Christ but inwardly are self-centered. This became clear in Judas life when he yelled at Mary for anointing Jesus feet with perfume. He wanted the money. On several occasions Judas stuck it out with Jesus on spiritual grounds, but he was really in it for himself.
Hypocritical people want to be perceived as holy. Judas wanted others to think he was spiritual but he was really good at being really fake. He fooled all the other apostles up until the end. At the last supper when Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, none of them suspected Judas. Even after Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, the other disciples still didn’t understand.
What other lessons can we learn? As believers we don’t follow any one person because people stumble and let you down. The Good Shepherd will never lead you astray. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Follow Jesus. He will never let you down or lead you astray. The Holy Spirit will give you wisdom if you ask Him for it.
At some point we have all acted just like Judas. We have pretended to be generous but in our heart we know we are not. We have used God’s name in vein. We have lied, embellished the truth, or omitted information when we should have laid it all out. We have known the right thing to do and done the opposite.
This is why it is so important for us to stay humble, authentic, and teachable.
The Psalmist prayed:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24
Be willing to admit your questionable motives, your selfish desires, and evil thoughts. The Apostle Paul said,
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-10
I encourage you to avoid hypocrisy. Be authentic, be real, keep growing, be Spirit led, and follow Jesus above all else. If we do this, we will grow closer to Christ and honor Him with our lives.
For just a minute I want you to think of someone you know who is solid. Someone from the time you met them until today they are just solid.
The Apostle John was a solid guy. John came from a good family. He was the son of Zebedee who owned a fishing business. John’s family were active Jews and John’s father was friends with the high priest. His mother Salome was Mary (the Mother of Jesus) sister. John’s family had money, so he had a taste of affluence, but when Jesus said to them come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men, John, James, Peter, and Andrew all left the fishing business becoming full time disciples.
So what lessons can we learn for the life of John that apply to use here and now? John knew the depth of Jesus love for him. In the Book of John, he refers to himself five times as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ John got it that God loved him. It so fired him up that he was fearless entering the courts of Caiaphas during Jesus’s trail and spoke without fear to everyone, including the Sanhedrin. This is recorded in Acts 3:1-4, 4:1-31.
In the same way, you are loved by Jesus. He has chosen you. You are his. He wants to walk with you and talk with you and hold you and encourage you. He wants to celebrate with you. God is not some distance unknowable force. He is personable, and we can see this in Jesus.
John was also loyal to Jesus. John was the only one of the 12 apostles present at the cross. After Pentecost, John teamed up with Peter to fearlessly preach the gospel in Jerusalem and suffered beatings and imprisonment for it. John underwent a remarkable transformation as a disciple, from the quick-tempered Son of Thunder to the compassionate apostle of love.
When you are loyal to Jesus it reveals your new life in Christ. When you are loyal to Christ, it translates into living a different kind of life. A life with hope. A life with joy. A life where forgiveness is given and received.
Last week I was in Washington DC. I had the chance to meet several congress people and talk to other legislators. I was there with International Ministerial Fellowship at a chaplain’s conference.
While I was there, a friend from the military reached out to me on social media and we set up dinner. Dave was the guy that took me under his wing the first night we got shot at by insurgents. He was the guy that recommended me for the job I took as an undercover narcotics agent with the Office of Special Investigation. Dave was my supervisor and my friend. And after laughing with him at all the stupid things we did 25 years ago, Dave reminded me that I am not who I was, I am a new creation in Christ.
John loved people because of Jesus. Because John experienced the unconditional love of Jesus firsthand and grew in it, he preached that love in his gospel. On one occasion John was flogged by the religious leaders, but John didn’t hate those who abused him. Instead he chose to glorify God through the pain. He didn’t lose his faith because things didn’t go right, he stayed strong in his faith because he knew Jesus loved him and he was committed to being loyal to him.
When you love people like Jesus, it makes a difference.
“34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-36
I want to love others like Jesus influencing them to know God’s love and share God’s love. I want to be loyal to God because he so loves me. I challenge you to do the same. Love God, love people.