Encounters With Jesus: Part One

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Adapted from Pastor Brian Harrell’s Sermon at Riverside Church in Fredericksburg, VA, on October 22, 2023

It wasn’t hard to come up with an answer because the Bible speaks to this often. So, if you are considering making Riverside your church home, if you are a regular attendee of Riverside, or if you are a person serving or leading at Riverside, I would like to make clear the reason why we exist as a church. This will not startle you. It is not something new and unthought of before. But here it is: Riverside Church exists to create life-changing encounters with Jesus. That’s it. Our whole mission is to create moments where people can have a life-changing encounter with Jesus. We need to protect this mission from all distractions. We need to guard this mission from being forgotten. We need to stay on mission. This mission is why we say “yes” to some things and “no” to other things. Riverside Church exists to create life-changing encounters with Jesus.

Four Ways That Riverside Church Can Create Life-Changing Encounters With Jesus

There are four ways that we believe we can create these moments:

  1. Through Worship Gatherings: Whenever we gather on a weekend there are opportunities for people to encounter the living God in a loving environment. We pray for this to happen.
  2. Through Discipleship: When smaller groups meet together in the name of Jesus, Jesus promises to be in their midst. When Jesus is present, life-changing encounters can happen.
  3. Through Outreach: Riverside is involved in putting together events within the life of our community that can create a moment where somebody will encounter Jesus.
  4. Through Serving: People who serve realize rather quickly that they can do nothing apart from Jesus Christ, so they seek an encounter with Jesus for empowerment. But something else happens when we serve, we are used by Jesus in order for others to encounter a life-changing moment.

These four ways create life-changing encounters with Jesus. We want lost people to become found people by encountering with Jesus. We want found people to grow by having continual life-changing encounters with Jesus. Everything is always going to be about creating moments where people can meet Jesus.

Why Does Riverside Church Want to Create Life-Changing Encounters With Jesus?

To answer that question we say – because when people meet Jesus everything changes. It is the most important life moment for everyone. It is the moment life never ending begins. It is the moment when the dead are raised to new life. It is the greatest moment of life. Encountering Jesus is not just a one-time event. People who need Jesus find that they will continue to encounter Jesus in life-changing ways for the rest of their life. What are we here for? We are here to create life-changing encounters with Jesus.

Where Does This Vision to Create Life-Changing Encounters Come From?

So, where do we get this vision from? The answer is…scripture! Specifically, I take you to a writing of Paul in 1 Corinthians. Here’s the back story: Paul was traveling the world as a missionary when he arrives in Athens, Greece, which is the philosophical capital of the world. All day long the philosophers would do nothing but debate their points. When Paul arrives, he begins to argue his points concerning the message of Jesus. It seems that he’s trying to rely on intellectual arguments, but it goes nowhere. We are told that when he left there were only a few converts. His next stop was in Corinth which was anything but a philosophical town; it was steeped in the kind of sin where everything was permissible – sort of the San Francisco of its day. This time Paul relies on a different tactic; he’s going to rely on the Holy Spirit and the Jesus message. Here is how he writes about the experience:

1 Corinthians 2:1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Paul puts aside his eloquence. He puts aside human arguments. He puts aside persuasive words. He put aside his high-powered speeches. He put aside his philosophical quarrels. He put aside the big words. He resolves to know nothing except Jesus and him crucified. He resolves to know nothing except the testimony about God. He speaks in spite of his weakness, fear and trembling. He calls on the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the power of the gospel. He wants the Corinthians to have an encounter with Jesus that does not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power alone. And it happens. The spirit falls on the city were Satan had a stronghold. What Paul could not accomplish with fine tuned arguments and words, the Holy Spirit accomplished by convicting human hearts of sin and of the reality of Jesus. People believed, not because they were moved emotionally or intellectually, but because the Spirit’s power encountered them. This alone tamed the wild hearts of the people of Corinth.

We want this to happen at Riverside. God didn’t need human manipulation to move. He just needed someone to proclaim the message of Jesus. And God is moving the same way in the world today. That’s one of the reasons that I’m not discouraged in the face of everything that is happening in our world, because when the spirit moves, He is unstoppable. So here at Riverside, we will be resolved, like Paul, that we want people to encounter Jesus. Jesus will always be in the front, at the center, and the main thing of all we do. Our confidence will never be in the performance of the worship team, or in our financial strength, in how good we can preach and teach it, or in our tech-savvy branding – our confidence will be in the moving of the spirit as we lift Jesus.

Riverside Church is Praying for Life-Changing Encounters with Jesus

That’s what we are praying for and why we exist as a church – to create encounters with this very same Jesus that tamed the city of Corinth. We are praying that people will meet the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus who rose from the dead. The Jesus who now sits at the right hand of the father. We know that Jesus is the answer. Jesus is what people need. And He is the answer for the world today.