BRIAN PHIPPS: Welcome to Church Has Left the
Building. My name is Brian Phipps. I’m the Next Steps pastor here. The Church Has Left
the Building is one of the Sundays out of the year when Westside chooses to worship
in places other than these amazing facilities God has given to us.
And we might ask the question: Why are we doing this? And the answer is important. We
leave the building once a year to remind ourselves of who we are. We aren’t simply a people who
have been called out of this upside-down world to begin living right side up with Jesus.
We are also people who have been sent out into the world to invite others to join us
on this journey with him. And like the church in our earliest years
and like many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world today, we are going
to worship. We are worshiping where we live, where we work, and where we play.
And this year we’re going to go back to where every meaningful journey with Jesus begins.
We are going to rediscover his first love together.
Consider these words from 1 John 4:19. This is where the author, John, writes, “We love
because he,” Jesus, “first loved us.” Did you hear it? Let me say it again. We love
because Jesus first loved us. And in this one verse, we discover that there
truly is an order to loving Jesus. Loving Jesus starts with receiving his love. We love
Jesus and we love others, true. But we do it because he loved us first. Loving Jesus
isn’t first an action. It’s a description of Jesus. He is a loving Jesus.
So let me ask you a question: Do you know — I mean, do you really know that you are
loved by Jesus? Do you regularly hear his voice repeatedly saying into your mind and
into your soul, “I love you. I love you. I love you”?
Regardless of how you answered this question, I invite you to posture your heart wherever
you are and wherever you have been to receive the love of Jesus right now. We’re about to
head into our living room and hear some amazing first love stories from some people that we
all love. And as you listen to these stories, I pray that you will hear Jesus whispering
that into your soul the whole time, saying, “I love you, Karen.” “I love you, John.” “I
love you, Frank.” “I love you.” Come on. Let’s go. [Music plays.] [Music continues.] [Music fades.] [Applause.] ROB WEGNER: You-all can grab a seat. Well, we’re telling stories of first love
encounters with the love of God. And my first love story goes back to when I was 19 years
old. I was rocking an awesome mullet at the time, actually. Business in front,
party in back. And a little bit of context: I had grown up
in a great church, and I heard that God had loved me hundreds and hundreds of times. But
when I was 19, I had an encounter with my own belovedness that was so profound I call
it my second conversion. And I was at Taylor University. It was my
freshman year. And at the beginning of the first semester, they have what they call spiritual
emphasis week. And they’ll bring in an outside speaker. And that year they brought in this
ragamuffin, former Roman Catholic priest, who got defrocked because he got married.
[Laughter.] ROB WEGNER: I think that’s great. This guy
has a crazy story. He, you know, served on the front line in the Korean war. At one point
in time in his journey, he spent two months in solitude in a cave in Spain to see God
Jesus. At one point in time, he spent six months in a prison in Sweden. And the only
person who knew he was innocent of any crime was the warden. He just went to live among
the prisoners. Amazing guy. And his theme that week was healing our image
of God. And the first day, he spoke about what he called the revolutionary life-changing,
history-shaking image of God that Jesus came to reveal to us. And he says it’s in these
four letters: A-b-b-a, Abba. That Jesus came to show us the true face of God as our Abba.
And I had grown up in the church. But that particular title for God had never been brought
to the surface. And he explained that, you know, when a baby speaks for the first time
around 9 to 12 months, typically in the English language, the first word is da, da, dada.
And for an Aramaic-speaking baby in the first century, the first word out of a baby’s mouth
is ah-, ah-, abba. So Jesus came to actually teach us to pray
in baby talk, and that this God who is almighty and infinite and transcendent, creator and
sustainer of all that is — that we’re invited to come to him with the same kind of confidence
and trust and familiarity that a little toddler has when they run toward their father and
scream “Daddy.” And he spoke with the power of the spirit
and with this eloquence that left me literally thunderstruck. And for me it was this moment
where God just pulled this veil back on my heart. And my family — like, the pain that
was in our family system, the particular way we dealt with it was perfectionism. So when
I was 13 and I surrendered my life to Jesus, I took all those kind of — all that kind
of urgency, drivenness towards perfectionism, and just set it down inside of that religious
context, you know. So, like, I was going to memorize more verses
than anybody, study the Bible forwards and backwards. I mean, whatever the metric was.
And in that moment, I suddenly could see that I had been doing all these right things for
the wrong reasons. That I had been primarily driven by fear and insecurity.
And I just felt completely undone. And then I realized I had this image of God where I
was just exhausting myself with all this sort of performance behaviorism to try to get a
smile forced onto this stern face of God. That was my life. And it broke me.
Like, he got done talking; the whole auditorium cleared out. Probably an hour later, I was
still sitting in stunned silence. And I remember the janitor — he made his
way up, and he’s like, “You all right?” And I was like, “No.”
And he was a very compassionate guy. He’s like, “Well, you have to leave now.”
[Laughter.] ROB WEGNER: So I got up and left. And I wandered
back to the dining commons at Taylor, and there’s a lake behind it. And I put my back
up against that brick wall. And I remember I felt a lot like the elder brother. I was
actually mad at God. You know, it’s like, “Man, I’ve been doing all these things, and
there’s this whole, you know, mass confusion about who you are in my life that I didn’t
see until this moment.” And I was like, “I have to know you this way. And I have to know
you this way now,” you know. And I remember saying to God, “I’m not going
to leave here until I experience this.” And God was — I’m, like, fuming and venting.
And he just — I could hear him say to me, “Be still,” you know. And for the first time,
I climbed up into the lap of my Abba and put my head on his chest.
And I had a mystical experience that I can’t really explain. It was like all the best versions
of love I’ve ever experienced — like the love of a parent, the love of the best friend,
you know, your actual first romantic love — it was like all of those loves combined,
times a thousand. And it was like the veil between heaven and earth disappeared, and
I was just swallowed in this love. And that was my second conversion. And then
it was interesting, because it was — it wasn’t like it faded out and then there was this
warm glow. It turned off. It was like someone turned a switch and it just stopped.
And I was freaked out. I was like — immediately, I’m like, “Was that real, or did I imagine
that? Or” — you know? And I started talking to God again. I was like, “God, I need to
know that was legit. Like, I need a sign,” you know.
Anyone ever prayed to sign prayer?>>Oh, yeah.
ROB WEGNER: Right?>>Uh-huh.
ROB WEGNER: Yes? The rest of you are liars. We’ve all done that; right?
And I was like, “God, I need a sign,” you know. And I wasn’t getting a sign. And then
I did this thing — I grew up in a big bible church, you know. And we had been taught never
play that Russian roulette Bible game, you know, where you’re like, “God, speak to me,”
and do this number (flipping pages). [Laughter.]
ROB WEGNER: I was, like, so desperate, I’m like, “I’m doing Russian roulette. Here we
go,” you know. And I remember I flipped through, and I put my finger down. And I looked at
it, and it literally said, “You asked for a sign not out of belief but unbelief.”
And I was like, “All right. I don’t want that one.” [Laughter.] ROB WEGNER: So I started flipping again. I
did. I put my finger down again, and it was Jesus’s words to the paralytic. He said, “Pick
up your mat and go home.”>>Huh.
>>Wow. ROB WEGNER: I was like “whoa.” And that started
— that was 30 years ago. And there’s been this constant repentance in my life away from
that addiction to performance. And he is slowly rewiring me and reordering me to rest in the
fact that, like my true identity, first love shows me my true identity. And it’s not something
I earn or strive for.>>Right.
ROB WEGNER: It’s a gift. And Paul talks about this. He says this in Romans 8, verse 14:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received
does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received
brought to your adoption as children. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit
himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
And that’s my story. I’m Abba’s little boy. That’s who I am.
>>That’s awesome. [Music plays.] BECCA McANDREW: So first love taught me my freedom.
And if you aren’t careful, there’s something really interesting that happens in our culture.
As a young kid, everyone has to go through school and everyone has to go through each
grade, which means that you have to take tests, which means that you have to perform.
And if you want to get from first grade to second grade, you have to pass a test. You
have to be smart; you have to know the material. If you want to get from high school to college,
you have to take a test, and you have to be good enough. You have to be smart enough.
You have to perform a certain way to be able to get to the places you want to go.
And I remember that that was — that was a hard concept for me. You know, and even as
an athlete — I played soccer and basketball — and I did those things for, basically,
my whole life. But there’s even an element of are you good
enough to make the team, because you still have to perform. You still have to go out
for the tryouts. You still have to have the skill set. You still have to have the talent
level. And if you don’t, then you’re not on the team. You literally can’t get on the team
unless you’re good enough. And I remember going into college, and, you
know, my identity was riding on can I pass the test, can I make the grade, and am I good
enough. Even in the dating relationships, you know,
are you pretty enough? It’s the pretty girls that get the guys. It’s the girls that are
charismatic enough that get the guys. It’s the extrovert girls that are flaunting themselves
that get the guys. And I remember just thinking, Man, I have
to perform a certain way in order to get a certain result.
And so I remember — I just kind of ran thin with that. And so I graduate college, and
the Lord really took soccer away from me in a miraculous way. But I didn’t really see
it miraculous at the time. BRIAN PHIPPS: I bet.
BECCA McANDREW: And I get into my first few years of ministry, and I just kind of hit
this roadblock where, you know, if I don’t have a perfect conversation with a student,
if I don’t know how to answer a question — which high school students will reveal everything
you don’t know about the Bible instead of things you do you know about the Bible.
>>Sure. BECCA McANDREW: And so there was a lot of
these days that I just kept feeling insecure. I mean, I was a psychology major. I didn’t
set out to be in ministry, but God put me there.
And so I started to feel this pressure, and really it was debilitating for my ministry.
It was debilitating even just me functioning as a human being.
And I remember, you know, just physically feeling in this spiritual realm just chains
on me. And I’m thinking, Man, this Christianity thing is really hard. I don’t know if I’m
cut out for this either. I mean, I can maybe pass a test here and there, and I can maybe
get on a good college soccer team. But am I actually cut out for this Jesus thing?
And I remember I just had a really bad day in ministry. And I just felt like everyone
hated me and everyone was looking down on me. And I remember I went back to my room
that night, this little apartment in Olathe, and I said, “God, I’m a failure. I’m such
a failure. And, God, I’m so sorry that I’m a failure. I just fail all the time. I’m not
good enough for this. I can’t — I can’t do this anymore.”
And I remember, as I’m telling God that “I’m a failure. I’m a failure. I’m a failure. I’m
a fail- — I’m sorry I’m not good enough, God,” I remember God saying, “I love you.
I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
And every time I would say, “God, but no, I’m a failure. Don’t you understand? I’m telling
you, I’m not good enough for this. I can’t pass the test every time. I can’t perform
like this anymore. I’m tired. I’m in my year two of ministry, and I’m supposed to be doing
this thing for my whole life, and I can’t do it. I’m done at year two. And it’s supposed
to be, like, 50 years, and I’m done at year two. That’s not good statistically. I’m going
to be another person that burns out in ministry.” And he said, “I love you. I love you. I love
you. I love” — he wouldn’t say anything else. And it was infuriating me. And so I thought,
Well, maybe I’m missing the point then. And so I cry myself to sleep, and I wake up. And
I thought, What am I missing with this thing? And so — I didn’t do the Russian roulette
with my Bible. I got on Google. [Laughter.]
BECCA McANDREW: Because that’s what I knew how to do.
>>Because that’s better. ROB WEGNER: That’s because you’re younger
than me. BECCA McANDREW: Yes.
I got my phone, I got on my computer, and I was kind of dual-purposing it. And I remember
looking up every single scripture of love that I could find, because if he was telling
me that I — he loved me, then I had to be missing something with the love.
And so I was reading different verses, and I was waiting for one that really struck me,
until I got to Song of Songs. And in Song of Songs 2:4, it says, “He escorts me to the
banquet hall; it’s obvious how much he loves me.”
In another translation, it says, “The banner over me is love.”
And what I realized is that the banner over me is love. The banner over me was never “Pass
the test, Becca.” The banner over me was never “Well, if you’re not talented enough, Becca,
I’m not going to love you.” The banner over me was, “You have to be pretty
enough in order to be in the kingdom. I only take pretty people.”
That’s not the test with God. The test with God is that can we allow him to take us into
the banquet hall? Because if you read this, it’s the young woman that’s saying it, which
would be equivalent to the bride of Christ. Can we let Jesus take us to the banquet hall?
And can we let him wine and dine us? Can we let him lavishly say what he wants to say
to us? And when he talks to us, he’s not going to say, “You really screwed up on that, Becca.
You really screwed up on that one too.” What he’s going to say is, “Man, I’ve been
waiting to tell you how much I love you.” And the interesting thing about this is that
I don’t think the banner ever leaves us. It can’t. It’s a permanent banner over us. And
it’s not a banner of performance. It’s not a banner of rejection. It’s not a banner based
on anything that we could ever do. It’s separate from us.
The banner was given to us based on what he thinks about us and that’s it. And all the
times that I tried to put “I”m unworthy” as my banner over me, he said, “No. You don’t
get to put the banner over you. I get to place it. And it’s love. It’s not performance. It’s
not rejection. It’s not your sins. It’s not the ways that you don’t feel good enough.
It’s not the days that you’re on your down and out and worst times. It’s love.”
And once I started walking in that, ministry wasn’t as difficult. This Christian faith
actually made a lot more sense, because it’s in my failures that I can realize I’m still
loved. It’s in my times where I screw up conversations, or it’s in my times where I don’t know enough
about scripture, and I just don’t feel qualified that day — it’s in that times where I’m just
kind of speechless at what I see going on in the world that I can sit back and I say,
“No. The banner over me is love, and I’m staying there.”
I’m not going to try to put something else over me. I’m going to sit in the banquet hall.
I’m going to let him give me blessings that he wants to give. I’m going to let him speak
over me. And every single time, that’s going to be how much he loves me. And for me, that’s
a really secure place. And for me, that love set me free.
BRIAN JOHNSON: Jesus, as we’re together, your word tells us you make a table before us.
Your cup runs over. You lavish on us your love. You call us sons and daughters.
God, whatever — whatever banners we’re holding over ourselves tonight, every day that we
wake up, every moment we turn our eyes from you, may we surrender them to you and just
fix our eyes on you and let you cover us with that “I love you.”
[Music plays.] KASEY ROBINSON: Well, my first love showed
me something that has been said already. If you saw my picture, growing up, in the yearbook
and you went to the same school as I did, you would say, “Okay. That’s Kasey.” And you
would say, “Kasey was a good kid. You know, he knew all the rules. He never got in trouble.
He excelled in things that he did.” I was a pastor’s kid. So I grew up in a pastor’s
home. I grew up in church. Knew all the rules, knew everything. I never misbehaved. It was
just — that was who I was. I grew up knowing that I’d be going into ministry, and I ended
up in ministry. And I remember growing up — and even going
through high school, before I ever even got to ministry — and there was this sense that
I had to earn something with God. I almost had to, like it’s been said, perform. I almost
had to do all the rules and hit all the tick marks in order to get God to love me.
And I remember the — what that did to me is I — I remember going to bed at night and
thinking, “God, if there’s anything that I did that would have caused you not to love
me today, would you forgive me?” And I would go to bed every night. And it’s
not that my dad taught this way. It’s not that our church believed this way. This is
just how I imposed who God was. And this is how my belief system I created — even though
I knew what scripture said, even though I knew what Jesus said about love. But this
is what I went to bed fearing every night: That if I didn’t do everything right, he wouldn’t
love me. And the fear that I would live under just
created a pressure. And I would — I was in ministry, and I’d still have this mentality.
I loved God. I loved this. But I felt like I had to earn God’s love for me. And it came
through my behavior; it came through my perfectionism. And that’s how it came out.
And I remember growing in understanding God’s grace that was empowered by his love. And
as I began to grow in knowing his grace, it wasn’t an epiphany. It was just this gradual
understanding that you can’t earn it. You just can’t earn it.
And I remember at one moment — I can’t remember where it was or what time frame it was. But
I was — I was in a church as a music minister at the time. And I remember sitting in a chair
and sitting back and God just telling me — speaking to my heart, “Will you just receive it? Will
you just receive it? I’m not asking you to earn it. I’m not asking you to tick off some
boxes and open this love box. And by your performance, you do enough good, and all of
a sudden, you get my love. I just want you to receive it.”
And I remember at that moment thinking, I’ve missed it this entire time.
And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I try to earn God’s love even
after I’ve had that moment. Like, “God, I still — I still need to do enough good, because
I need you to love me.” Or “I need — I need this. I need you to love me.”
And for whatever reasons we do this, God stands over us — like it’s been said, it’s a banner.
Like it’s been said, you don’t have to be perfect for it — and he just looks to you
and I, and he just says, “Will you just receive it?”
I love what John says when he writes, and he’s kind of trying to figure out how to talk
about Jesus. And he begins his writing there in John 1, and he gets to this verse 12. And
he says, “Yet to all who receive him, to them that believe in his name, he gives the right
to become children of God.” There was no behavior involved there. There
was no “I have to earn something,” which is what — everything I wanted to do — and I
wanted to earn my right standing with him. I wanted to. I felt like that’s what everything
has kind of driven me toward. But he said, “Will you just receive it?”
And as I began to look at that scripture, and as I began to just explore that, that
word is almost like — it’s as if God’s reaching out his hand to you and I, and he’s just asking
you and I to take his hand. And that’s all he wanted me to do. He just wanted me to take
his hand. He just wanted me to receive his love.
And that’s a lot like a gift, isn’t it? Have you ever been to a party where you felt like
— maybe it was a house warming party, and you felt obligated to bring a gift? Or have
you ever been in a situation where someone gave you something, but you felt obligated
to give something back? I felt like that was how God wanted his love.
It was almost like a business transaction. It was almost like, “Okay. You’re going to
give me this, but you want something in return.” And really all he wanted in return was just
me to receive it. That’s the best way I could respond to his love.
And I think a lot of times we get into this mode that we feel like, “Oh, you’ve done all
of this for me. I need to do this — all this for you.”
And, no, you don’t. All you have to do is just simply say, “I’m going to give up trying
to earn it. I’m just going to reach out my hand, lift up my hand” — whatever the posture
it is — “and, Jesus, I’m just going to receive it. I’m going to receive you as my first love.
I want to receive the fact that I don’t have to live the perfect life that I feel is required,
because you came and lived that perfect life. I don’t have to pay for anything in my past;
that maybe I did something wrong, and I don’t feel like I have to go back and make up for
that and pay for that just to be right with you. All I have to do is just receive your
love.” And I remember almost like the light switch
changed in me; that as soon as I got out of that earning it with God — it’s almost like
I had to earn something, like, to get this wage of love — something clicked on the inside
of me, and there was a joy. Something clicked on the inside of me, and everything that I
had done before to earn God’s love, I continued to do. But there was a different motivation
behind it. And to kind of put it in our language, there was a compelling drive inside of me
to love Jesus in return. And there was — there was a force inside
of me now that that first love had revealed to me his love, and now his love was just
like a force in me that was now wanting me to become like Jesus. And I wanted to become
like Jesus. Not to earn something back from God. But because I’ve received his love, now
I just want to be like his son, Jesus. And then there’s this compelling, compelling
drive to serve people around you. And I remember when my motivation used to be to serve others,
to say, “Hey, God. Did you see that? Do you love me?”
No, it’s not that. It’s this compelling force that says, “God, you show me how much you
love me. How can I not serve the people around me?”
See, first love showed me that I can’t earn it. I can only put my hands out, look to him,
and every day receive it. That’s my prayer for you. Grow in that.
Receive it. [Music plays.] [Music continues.] [Applause.] BRIAN PHIPPS: Hey, we started this whole night
in 1 John where this profound statement is made: And it’s “We love because he first loved
us.” Now, I know Becca and I know Rob and I know Kasey. You people, you’re just crazy
in love with Jesus. And I think tonight you’ve helped us kind of get an idea as to why. Because
he took all the brokenness, all the pain, all the striving, and he loved you on top
of it. And you can’t help but to love him back.
So here’s the question I have for all of us here and all of us gathered in wherever you
are around the world. I want to ask you the question: Do you buy it? Do you believe it?
More than that, have you received it? Because hearing all this isn’t really what
it’s about. It’s have you opened your hand and taken it and felt it? Because if you’re
sitting here thinking that’s good for all those folks sitting around the couches there,
but for me, for whatever reason, I’m not qualified, this part is for you:
There was a prostitute caught in the act of adultery, and Jesus said, “I love you.”
There was a tax collector wrapped up in money, wrapped up in himself. Jesus said, “I love
you.” There was a man named Saul that was out breathing
murderous threats, the book says, against Jesus and his people. And you know what he
said to him, even him? “I love you.” If you haven’t heard it tonight, I encourage
you right now: Close your eyes and picture whatever you think Jesus’s face looks like.
Right now, just close your eyes. See him. And I hope that you can see the smile and
the joy on his face as he writes the banner over your head right now: “I love you. I love
you. I love you. And it will never stop. It goes on and on and on until you join me for
eternity in the home that I’ve created for you.”
Jesus, we receive your love tonight. We just receive. We receive the grace. We receive
the forgiveness. We receive the hope. More than anything, Jesus, we receive and we welcome
you. Thank you for loving us and pursuing us so that everything that comes back out
of us is just a sacrifice of gratitude and love and appreciation for who you are. And
we ask this prayer in your mighty name. And God’s people together said?
ALL TOGETHER: Amen. BRIAN PHIPPS: Amen.
All right. One last thing before we go. We’re going to be talking an awful lot this coming
year about first love. In fact, we’re going to get crazy about this thing called first
love. And we’re going to be talking first love — Jesus loved us first, Jesus loved
us first, Jesus loved us first — all over. But not just on the weekend. We’re going to
encourage it in our small groups as well. And so here’s what we need. We need about
30 to 40 to 50 to 60 of you to say, “I am willing to help people. In response to the
love Jesus has given to me, I want to create an environment in my home or in a coffee shop
that I know of or my place of business where I have a conference room, whatever it is.
I want to step up and help other people experience the love of Christ.”
We’re going to be recruiting brand-new hosts to have brand-new host groups or temporary
life groups starting in February. And what we need to do during this first part of January
and the rest of the month is start asking people that are — that have a heart for people,
that can open their home or their place, that can serve a few snacks, and that can turn
on a DVD. We’re going to have some fantastic material that you can work through that will
actually go along with the message series starting at that time.
If you’re interested in being a host, you don’t have to know what all happens. You just
need to be able to walk with a mentor one step at a time. We’re going to provide those
people to walk hand in hand with you for that. Here’s all we need you to do if you have any
interest at all: Please just go online to westsidefamily.church/host. That will take
you to an application form. And when you send that to us, one of our team will follow up
with you and just start taking you step by step through the process.
Lots and lots of people, hundreds literally, have done this in the past and have made great
friends and have grown in their intimacy and their love for Christ. Join us in this. We
need you to. God bless you.