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Vision Sunday: Holy Imagination

September 10, 2023

Vision Sunday: Holy Imagination

Passage: Numbers 13-14, Jeremiah 33:1-10, 2 Corinthians 5:20
Service Type:


HOLY IMAGINATION - Numbers 13-14

Good morning, River City Church and welcome to our Fall Vision Sunday! If you’re a guest with us today, Vision Sunday is something we do two Sundays a year, where we try to keep some aspect of the vision of River City in front of us to remind us of why River City Church exists, what we’re about as a church, and what we as leadership believe God is leading us into here in this city. 

First of all, just looking back over the past year, we have a lot to be thankful for, so much to celebrate in terms of God’s faithfulness – This summer we baptized four people who publicly professed their faith; we’ve seen our attendance continue to grow – almost exactly double what it was our first year; we’ve seen Men’s Ministry coming into existence this past year, just yesterday the women’s ministry completed their first full year of their mentorship program, and our Pathfinders 9-12 yr old class has gone its first full year as well! We sent our first team on a mission trip this year, to clean up from the hurricane; VBS was almost double in size from last year… So there is a lot to be thankful for as we start into another school year, and this morning I’d like us to use our imaginations a bit.  

When Jodi and I got married back in 2001, we wanted to plan a pretty sweet honeymoon trip. We didn’t have a ton of money between us, but we wanted to take the opportunity to go somewhere nice. There was no Google or anything back then, the public internet wasn’t all that exhaustive or anything, so if you wanted to see pictures of other places to decide where you wanted to go, you had to know someone who went there who could show you pictures, grab a travel magazine, or visit a travel agent. That’s what we did. We didn’t really know exactly where we wanted to go, but of all the brochures and magazines she showed us, we picked out 6 or 7 days in St Thomas, which is one of the US Virgin Islands near the Bahamas. The island looked amazing, the resort looked amazing, the beach looked amazing, we were going to have a great view of this huge beach right from the deck of our room… We had the option to go parasailing, snorkeling, and take a trip to St John, one of the most beautiful places in the world… our minds were racing as to how amazing this was going to be.. 

I didn’t put a picture up there because your minds are all producing your own version of that resort, that island, and so on. That’s using our imagination. It’s this God-given ability to see pictures in our mind. And what we’ll see today is that two people can be given the same data, but have very different imaginations about how it will work out. For example: 


For those of you who are parents of young children and you want to get away for an evening, some of you can leave your kids off at a babysitter's house, and you imagine they will have a blast. They will find fun things to do, playing with new toys, exploring a new house…they won’t even miss you, the time will just seem like it flew by for them and you will probably show up too soon no matter what time it is. And as a result, you are able to be present on your date or at your event, you enjoy it, you get back when you get back. 


Others of you could drop your kids off at that same house, same sitter, same circumstances, and you can’t even enjoy the event or the food because you spend the rest of the night imagining all the things that could go wrong. They’ll probably be disobedient. They’ve probably broken something by now. I bet they're bored. They’re probably crying right now, and this poor sitter probably hates our kids, and now hates us. She’s probably hoping we come home early… so you either call the sitter 10x during the evening to see if everything’s okay, or you play the sitter card and excuse yourself early… The sitter has be home to study for a test…we’re gonna go. 


Or another example: Some of you hear “missions” and you imagine sharing the gospel, and people immediately being saved, baptizing them in weird places like bathtubs or rivers and seeing them run off to tell their friends. Others of you hear the word “missions” and you imagine blank stares, language barriers, threats or danger, weird food, strange cultures, and you can’t imagine yourself ever doing that. 


We all have active imaginations – but our imaginations have something driving them, and when it comes to major things in our lives, it’s usually one of two things: Faith or fear. One such moment like this in scripture is found in Numbers 13:2-3 CSB. If you grew up around the Bible, this is probably a very familiar story. 


In short, Moses is leading somewhere around 2 million Israelites on foot away from Egypt where these Israelites had been slaves for 400+ years, and now God has rescued them and promised them a new land that is all their own. God said it’s flowing with milk and honey – not literally of course, but “[they]are symbols of the wealth of the land, second only to bread. Milk would thicken quickly and become curds, so it signified the abundance of food for both people and cattle; Honey signified sweetness, or the finer things of life” as well as an abundance of fruit trees and flowers. So once again, our imagination goes to work imagining this incredibly fertile land where crops are healthy, and so on. So right as Moses and the people get to the southern border of this land, the Lord tells Moses in Numbers 13 to send 12 leaders of Israel into the land to check it out. What kind of fruit is there? What kind of trees do they have? Do the people live in tents or in forts? Do crops grow well, or do you have to irrigate? All that kind of thing. And then Moses says, bring back some of the fruit so we can check it out. 


And after 40 days of scouting, they come back carrying some of the fruit, which was unbelievable, huge clusters of grapes,, and they said, Wow, Moses, God was right – it is a land flowing with milk and honey. But, the people there are strong, and they definitely don’t live in tents – they have fortified cities. 


Now, as I read what happened next, you’re going to watch these two kinds of imagination spelled out: [30] Then Caleb quieted the people in the presence of Moses and said, "Let's go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!" 


It would be fair to say that Caleb imagined them taking out these huge strong people. He imagined these grapes being from his own field. He imagined the Israelites swarming these unsuspecting Canaanites, and sending them running for the hills, chasing them down, and finishing the job… not because the Israelites were incredible warriors, but because God had promised them this land! In his imagination, he saw Israel raising their flags in victory! 


[31] But the men who had gone up with him responded, "We can't attack the people because they are stronger than we are!" [32] So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: "The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. [33] We even saw the Nephilim there-the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them."


The other men’s imagination was governed by fear. We saw the grapes, we saw the big dudes, and the only thing we can imagine is getting our tails whipped, with them swatting us like grasshoppers. In verse 33, they even exaggerated the size of these warriors they saw by saying that ancient giants that had been wiped out in Noah’s flood have come back to life! Their imagination, ruled by fear, saw only trouble and impossibility and exaggeration, and so it doesn’t really matter what God promised, we can’t do this. We just can’t. The people are too big, too powerful, the circumstances too risky. 


But once again, the argument is made for faith: [6] Joshua…and Caleb…, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes [7] and said to the entire Israelite community: "The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. [8] If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. [9] Only don't rebel against the LORD, and don't be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us. Don't be afraid of them!" 


The whole nation of Israel has a choice to make right now… either listen to Caleb and Joshua and move forward in faith, or listen to the others and retreat in fear. And in their faithless imagination, the entire nation of Israel could not picture a single way they could win. They could not understand how they would ever defeat giants. They could not understand how these two idiots could even think it would be possible to win this war, and so in Verse 10, the whole community decided to kill them.  


So, two kinds of imagination. One ruled by faith, the other ruled by fear. Time to get real: What is your tendency? Which one do you tend to be? If you look at your life, what do you notice yourself saying the most: We can’t? It can’t be done. Too big. Too messy. Too much risk. I can’t forgive – there’s too much hurt. I’d like to read the Bible, but I just can’t. 


Or do you find yourself saying, with God anything is possible? As much as I’d love to say I’d have been Joshua or Caleb, I’d have to admit that for a lot of my life I probably would have been one of the 10 who said the giants are pretty big, I’m not sure we have what it takes. 


Exactly one year ago, I stood here at this table for Fall Vision Sunday, and I told you about the train that used to run through the city here, with the call letters J 33-3 on the side of it, that reference Jeremiah 33:3 which Angela read for us at the beginning: “Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.” 


Now I don’t want to take that verse out of context. God had allowed Jerusalem to go through things that would make a horror movie seem like a chick flick, allowing them to go through some brutal consequences because they had turned their backs on him. But, here in Jeremiah he was promising them that although the situation looked hopeless, like God had returned the favor and turned his back on them, God was assuring them that he wasn’t done with them. In fact, this affliction wasn’t the end of the story. Check this out…


Jeremiah [33:5] I have hidden my face from this city because of all their evil. [6] Yet I will certainly bring health and healing to it and will indeed heal them. I will let them experience the abundance of true peace. [7] I will restore the fortunes of Judah and of Israel and will rebuild them as in former times. [8] I will purify them from all the iniquity they have committed against me, and I will forgive all the iniquities they have committed against me, rebelling against me. 


That’s pretty sweet in and of itself, and we’ll come back to that. But right here is where I want you to let your imagination run. Close your eyes if you have to. Imagine a scene in your mind when I read verse 9. You ready? 


[9] And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her. 


Now, once again, we all need to know and agree that Jeremiah 33 was not written about Riverside. It was written about Jerusalem. However, the God who made that promise to bring health and peace and joy; the God who purifies sinners and forgives sin and rebellion is still the same, so let your imagination run for a bit – if God HAD said those words about Riverside, what would that look like? If God had promised that Riverside would be a center of joy and praise and glory, and other cities would get reports of the good that Yahweh is doing here… what would that look like to you? What would that look like to God? 


So as a leadership team, we let our minds run wild a few weeks ago. What could it look like if God’s promise to Jerusalem was true of Riverside, that this city would be a center of joy and praise and glory, where other cities in Iowa and beyond are getting reports about a little Star Trek town in Iowa? What if that were true about us? What could that look like? 


Among a lot of other things, we imagined things like mens and womens safe houses for victims of sex trafficking. An orphanage for trafficked kids, as well as educational and vocational opportunities for refugees. 


We imagine a full throttle biblical counseling center for the people in those safe houses as well as those in the community who are in crisis to find healing and hope and freedom in Christ. 


We imagine that discipleship is not a program or a class we take, but that helping someone take a step closer to Jesus is something we all do as a natural response to what’s been done for us. 


We imagine that discipleship starts with KidCity, where we teach our kids the true gospel and give them a chance to respond to it. We imagine our Summer VBS blowing up, to the point where it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of outreach here in town, and then taking it on the road to Lone Tree and Hills as well. 


We imagine a thriving MS and HS youth group, so closely involved in the school system that the Highland schools rely on our youth ministry for backup and assistance with youth who need extra care, mentoring, tutoring, etc. 


We imagine the men of River City to be developed into servant leaders who have a deep hunger for God’s word and a passion to lead their families and the church well, trained to read and teach God’s word with confidence and grace. We imagine women of River City to be hungry for biblical truth, trained in theology, growing in deep friendships, and given opportunities to use their gifts publicly. 


We imagine this would all be headquartered in a large, beautiful building that is occupied 7 days a week with things the entire city can benefit from – things like senior dining, day care, meeting spaces, wedding receptions, soccer fields, an extra gymnasium, and so on. At the moment, we have over $350,000 in our savings account for this building, and as of right now, the Leadership team is preparing to pursue an option for land that sort of came out of nowhere. 


There are some rather large and intimidating giants when it comes to purchasing land and building a facility, especially the route we are about to pursue, but we know that God doesn’t see them as giants – he sees them as opportunities for us to trust him and step out in faith. So, we as Leadership are asking you to please pray with us as we meet this Wednesday night that God would open the doors of his will for River City, and that we would have the faith to step through those. 



But here’s the gospel – we don’t have to have our own building to be doing the work of the Lord or seeing great and incomprehensible things. Maybe it’s praying with a co-worker you never would have imagined praying with, inviting someone to church, sharing something you learned in your Bible. Maybe it’s the fact that after never picking up your Bible for the first ½ of your life, you are 4 books deep into reading through the Bible in a year. Maybe it’s that last week, when I had you circle up for prayer, for the first time in your life you prayed out loud in front of people. Maybe you signed up for marriage counseling this year instead of continuing to pretend everything is fine. Maybe after being a bit stingy with your things, you are now starting to practice hospitality, inviting people over for food and fellowship. Maybe you started having family devotions for the first time; you’re now leading your family in prayer once a day. Maybe you’re a student and you started bowing your head to pray for your lunch even when no one else does, because you want to honor God. Maybe you asked for forgiveness from the person YOU’ve been treating poorly, or stood up for someone who was getting picked on. Maybe you’re later on in life, and you are three days or sober from pornography or painkillers or some other addiction. Maybe you trusted Christ for the first time ever this year, even though you grew up in church and knew all the right answers. Maybe you’ve stepped into a leadership role somewhere this year even though you feel very inadequate. 


These kinds of stories are the ones that don’t always make the headlines because to us they feel so small but all of those things are all evidence that God has done great and incomprehensible things! The Church is made up not of buildings, but of the people of God. We’re going to see in Acts that the way cities became centers of joy and praise and glory is not because a bunch of people buy buildings… It's when PEOPLE become centers of joy and praise and glory, when anyone who has been rescued by Jesus can’t help but pour out what they’ve been given… that’s when the needle really starts to move in a city. 


Because when the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity became a man, adding human being to all the things he already was, that was a great and incomprehensible thing! When that same Jesus who never sinned but became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God, was crucified, dead and buried, was raised on the third day, and Jeremiah’s prophecy of God himself purifying us from our sins that were against him had been fulfilled – that was a great and incomprehensible thing! When he said, it’s better that I go away so that the Counselor, the Helper can come, that was great and incomprehensible! 


When someone is brought from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God, when a sinner is brought from death to life by the power and grace of Jesus, when a person turns away from living only for themselves, repents of their sin, and sees the glory of Jesus and sees him as a treasure worth giving up everything else to find = that is a great and incomprehensible thing! When someone who used to imagine the worst and live in fear, saying I can’t, we can’t, it’s not possible, or it’s too hard, puts their lives into the hands of Jesus, and begins to act in faith, trusting that God is able to exceeding more abundantly than anything we can ask or imagine – that is a great and incomprehensible thing!  


River City doesn’t exist in this town to buy buildings or build buildings. 

Our theme verse is 2 Corinthians 5:20, that we exist to be ambassadors for Christ, living representatives of the God who does great and incomprehensible things. It’s simple. It’s why the global Church exists, it’s why River City exists. And I really believe that if every one of us takes that assignment seriously, that 25 years from now, you won’t be able to go anywhere in Riverside, Hills, or Lone Tree without running into someone who can tell you about the mercy and goodness of God toward sinners, and that there will come a day when every man, woman, and child in Riverside and the surrounding communities would be able to have a gospel-centered interaction on a daily basis. 

For that to happen, we cannot assume that every man, woman and child will come to River City every week. We almost certainly will require partnership with other local churches to see that vision happen. But we can’t assume people will come to us. We will have to go to them. 

To equip you for that, we want to push forward on these 2 things at River City: 

    1. Word & Prayer – We want every single person that attends River City to have an active and growing relationship with God, through his word and prayer. 
      1. The Women's ministry studied several books of the Bible this past year in their Flourish study, and this Fall, our Men’s Ministry team is planning a 6 week study called “Opening the Word.” This is for men of any age… 10/12 on up… any guy who feels like reading the Bible is difficult, frustrating, or impossible. If you don’t know where to start. If you don’t know how to understand what you read. This is for you! That’ll start in October. 
        1. The Bible warns us over and over that there will be false teachers, false doctrines, and even that demons are able to infiltrate their teaching into places where you wouldn’t expect it. 
        2. Ephesians 6 shows us that the two weapons we’ve been given are the word of God and prayer. 
      2. We want to keep prayer as an important part of our Sunday morning gatherings. But instead of always asking you to gather up in groups, we would like to see prayer be something organic that happens as you interact with people after the service. You don’t have to be super spiritual to do this… all you have to do is be willing to listen.
  • Community – Yes, God saves individuals from their sin and knows you intimately as a person. But he has saved us into community, into family, and given us spiritual gifts for the encouragement and building up of others in the Church. So we believe Community Groups are an essential part of the church – breaking this larger gathering into smaller ones where you can share your story, get to know other people, and have a support system within the church. 
    1. I could tell you all kinds of stories about how community groups have helped each other with construction projects, supported each other at funerals, prayed furiously when someone was sick or going through a rough time, and cared for each other. 
    2. We want our community inside these walls and those outside the walls to think of River City as generous and welcoming, non-judgmental and gracious. And groups are one place we can practice those things. 
    3. Groups run from September to May, 10-12 people meeting in homes for food, prayer and a short study to guide the discussion. This year, we are going to be studying what it means to be a disciple, how we make disciples, and it’s going to pair very well with the Acts sermon series. Sign ups…


But here is what I want to leave you with today – 


  1. What is an area of your life where you are still choosing fear over faith? Is there an area of your life where you still are leaning into “I can’t” instead of “God can”? Talk to God about it. Confess your fear, and ask for his help.
  2. We did this a few weeks ago, but who is it in your life that you can help take one step closer to Jesus? Maybe they are all the way to the left as far away from Jesus as you think a person can be. Maybe they are the ones asking YOU questions about your faith, and seem very interested. Who do you know that you could pray about helping take one step closer to Jesus from where they’re at? 
  3. Pray for the faith to see and step into whatever doors God opens for us to have our own building.