Matt Carter teaches on the danger of apathy
Series: Far More
We’re beginning a new series next week called Far More. So I want to spend a few minutes today talking about why we are doing this series.
I moved my family to Austin in August of 2001. I had this dream of starting a church here. At the time, Austin was a church planting graveyard. Statistically, 80% of all evangelical church plants that came to Austin in the early part of the new millennium ended up failing. I was told by more than a few people there was no way on God’s green earth that a redneck from East Texas who graduated from Texas A&M University would be able to come to downtown Austin and plant a church. With all those fears and voices in my head, my family and I moved here anyway. As you can imagine I spent a lot of time in those first few months on my knees begging God to move.
There was a specific prayer I prayed in the early days of the church. I asked God, “Would you do something so significant through the Austin Stone Community Church that when we look back one day on what You did there would be no way we could attribute it to anything other than the hand of the Living God?” I prayed this over and over again. I prayed for Him to do something so big and significant we wouldn’t be able to attribute it to some preacher, or worship leader or any man, but that we would know all of it was done by God.
Here’s the crazy thing. We’re twelve years in and God has answered that prayer.
Over the last twelve years God has done a work through you and this church that is so much bigger than my wildest imagination. The only thing we can attribute it to is the hand of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A lot of our church is part of the millennial generation, born in 1980 and on. One of the awesome things about the millennial generation is that they’re suspicious and question everything. They don’t just take folks’ word on stuff; they have to have things proven to them. But it’s also one of the difficult things about the millennial generation too. Because of this, our team has been scared to death to talk about some of the ways God has answered that prayer. We thought you’d think we were bragging. I’ll give you an example.
After twelve years, the Austin Stone is one of the largest missionary sending organizations on planet earth. I think you guys may also be the largest missionary sending church in the United States. I don’t know of one church that has sent more missionaries to the nations in the last five years than we have.
I’ve been scared to stand up in the pulpit and say things like this. The Lord, through you guys, has raised up the largest missionary sending church in the country. I thought you guys would think we we’re bragging, but it’s quite the opposite.
God has done something so unbelievable in our midst that I know we didn’t do it. If you would have come to me twelve years ago to our little office where we all shared only two computers and said, “Hey, in twelve years, Austin Stone is going to be the largest missionary sending church in the United States,” I would have laughed in your face. If you had said that in our first meeting in an apartment with fifteen college kids, I would have never in my wildest dreams believed God could have done that.
We have done a great disservice to you by not sharing with you all the ways God has moved mightily in our midst. It’s unbiblical. So one of the things we’re going to do is talk about how God answered that prayer.
There’s a guidebook you’ll receive on the way out. In the beginning of the book it discusses some of the ways God has answered that prayer. When I was reading it, it blew my mind. I didn’t know all this stuff. It ministered to me and I think it’ll minister to you too.
The first purpose of the series is to celebrate what God has done in and through us. The other purpose of the series is for us, as a church and as individuals, to come before the Lord and say to Him, “God, you have answered our prayer once, Lord would answer it again? Lord, you were faithful before. Would you be faithful again to answer our prayer for the next twelve years?”
We want to ask Him to do far more in the next season of our life than He has done in the first until it’s time for us to pass the torch to the next generation. It’s a bold thing to ask, but it’s biblical. We see this in Ephesians 3:20, which is our theme verse for the series.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)
That’s what this series is about. We are celebrating that God, not us, has done far more through us than we could ask for or even imagine and we’re begging Him to continue to do far more through us in the days and years to come.
This is a critical moment in the life of our church to be talking and asking God to do far more than what He’s already done. Why are we asking God now to continue to be faithful?
Typically, years twelve through fifteen of the lifespan of a church, which is where we are, is when churches that have been powerfully used by God begin to plateau. If God doesn’t do a movement within the church, they begin to decline and eventually become a shell of what they once were.
Predominantly, when churches begin they are passionate about Jesus, the lost, and the mission of God. But then something crazy happens. God starts answering prayers, lost people start getting saved, people get discipled, missionaries get sent, and the culture of their city begins to change. But when we look back through church history at these churches, usually at years twelve through fifteen they begin to rest and get comfortable with God’s past victories in their lives.
They begin to look backwards in thankfulness, as they should, but they also begin to rest on those past victories and stop looking forward to the victories in the future. Little by little they lose their passion for Jesus and the lost, get really comfortable and complacent, eventually apathy sets in and they plateau. If God doesn’t move, they decline and become a shell of what they once were.
The greatest tool Satan has to take out the church is division. In John 17, on the last night of his life, Jesus was praying for unity. He knew that one of Satan’s greatest tricks is to make us forget he is our greatest enemy and for us to start thinking we’re the greatest enemy. If he can get the pastors fighting with the elders, or people within a missional community fighting, division gets it and the church becomes ineffective for the kingdom.
Howeveer, his number two trick is that he’s able to take away the momentum of a church being powerfully used by God by getting them into a slow, steady decline of complacency. That’s the point Jesus made in the Parable of the Sower. Jesus was talking about individuals, but it can also be applied to the church.
In the Parable of the Sower Jesus says we will respond in one of a few ways when we hear the Word of God.
For some of us, after hearing the Word of God, Satan will immediately snatch it away and it will never grow or bear fruit. It’s dead before it ever gets started.
Satan can attack a church in the beginning like this. In the infancy of the Austin Stone, he did this in several ways. When I first came to Austin as a sophomore in college, I got out of my car and immediately someone shot at me. They missed, but I got shot at! Then my buddies and me were here for a bachelor party when I was twenty. We almost got in a street fight with some fraternity on Sixth Street. Then on our way back, a homeless guy jumped out of a building and punched one of my buddies. Everything I had ever heard about Austin growing up as an Aggie was true. So when the Lord started leading us to Austin I said no way. I love Austin now. It’s the greatest city on earth. But you have no idea how close this church came to being the Houston Stone Community Church. Satan came in from the beginning and tried to pluck this thing out before it ever got started.
For others of us, when we hear the Word of God it actually grows as we receive it with gladness. But then Satan has another trick. He sends persecution into our life. Jesus said the sun came and scorched it. The persecution gets too tough and we back away.
When we first moved to Austin to preach the Word of God and exhalt Jesus Christ Satan came after us in a way I had never experienced in my entire life. Within a couple of years of planting the church, my mom died, Kevin Peck’s mom died, Halim Suh’s mom died, I got cancer with a family history of no cancer, and one of our founding pastor’s wives denied the faith. All of this was just in the first couple years of planting the church. Those are just a few stories out of a hundred. Satan absolutely tried to bring persecution into our lives to mess this whole thing up. But God, through His grace, endured us through it all and we’re still here.
The third response probably hits a lot of us closer than we’d like to admit. This is the person who hears the Word of God, it grows up, persecution comes, yet it keeps growing, but then Satan takes them out. But not through attack or persecution.
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the pleasures of life, and they prove unfruitful. Luke 8:14
This group of people doesn’t get taken out because of an attack. They aren’t rendered ineffective from persecution. Satan wins this particular battle from lulling them to sleep in their success, comfort and complacency. If Satan cannot defeat you through an attack or persecution he will try to defeat you by lulling you to sleep by the pleasures of this life and rendering you ineffective for the Kingdom of God. That’s exactly what he did with King David.
Later is his life, King David went out on the roof and saw a naked woman bathing. He asked some people about her and found out she was married. He didn’t care and had her brought to him anyway and slept with her. In that moment right there, after he did this one sin, his life was absolutely never the same.
He repented, but his life was never the same. There were ripple effects, four of his children died and ultimately it played a role in the division of God’s kingdom.
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11:1 (ESV)
It was springtime when kings go out to battle. But where was David? He wasn’t where he was supposed to be, with his army leading the fight. He sent Joab to take care of business while he hung back in Jerusalem. I saw something in the scripture I’ve never seen in my life. It’s so telling at how the enemy was able to sneak into David’s life and eventually take him down. Watch what it says in verse two.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 2 Samuel 11:2 (ESV)
David didn’t get taken out in the shepherding fields when he was a little boy fighting a lion and a bear. He didn’t get taken out when he was a teenager on a battlefield having to fight single handedly against a nine-foot tall Philistine giant. He didn’t get taken out as a young man by his best friend’s dad who betrayed him and tried to kill him over and over again.
He got taken out on the couch late one afternoon, bored out of his mind, resting on God’s past victories in his life.
I don’t think Satan is going to take us out through an attack or through persecution. He tried it last year and it didn’t work. He killed one of our missionaries who was one of my best friends and one of our pastors. All it did was make me mad, draw us nearer to God as a church, see more people come to Christ, and have more people raise their hands and say, “If Ronnie Smith can leave everything in America and go to a place to give his life for Jesus, then I’m willing to do it too!”
I think we’re in danger of Satan rendering us ineffective if we start resting on our past victories in the Lord and start lying on the couch getting comfortable with what God has done in the past.
So we’re going to ask you to get off the couch. If you’re off the couch and in the fight, like David should have been, we’re going to challenge you to stay off the couch and take another step towards the mission of God and what He’s called you to.
We’re going to ask you to do two things, to take one step in two areas of your life.
First, I want you to take one step in your involvement in the mission of God through the venue Jesus Christ created to accomplish the mission of God, which is the church. We want you to take one step, wherever you are, whether you just walked in the door or have been walking with God for the last fifty years, toward the mission of God through the venue of the church.
Second, I unashamedly ask you to take one step in your investment of your time, your finances, and your prayer. We need to take steps in our investment of our ownership of God’s church and His mission.
We’re going to ask you to take those steps so we can at least be in a posture to say, “God, will you do far more in the years to come? Will You do far more than we can ask or think, according to the power that you said is at work in us?”
I started this series talking about the generation that questions everything. Well there’s a question I think you ought to be asking.
Will my investment be worth it?
I’m on the couch, if I get off the couch and get in the fight and get on mission and start living for the Lord and start sacrificing for Jesus, will my investment and involvement be worth it? If I spend my life on the front lines of the fight, will it be worth it?
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 (ESV)
If Jesus Christ didn’t come out of the ground then this is the dumbest series in the history of the world. If Jesus Christ didn’t come out of the ground, then me saying to give your life and finances, to pray, and give your gifts, efforts and ownership, is the dumbest thing I could ever say and am a man that is most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…1 Corinthians 15:20a (ESV)
He has been raised!
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV)