Through the Threshold Week 1: Confession

Sermon Transcript

[Video]

Everybody wants to be the first, the one to overcome, the one to break the barrier. In this world, we are told to do, try, perform. But, sometimes, we feel like we’ve hit a wall. What if true living was an unlearning? What if real life was not found in performance, but a person? It’s a new year, a new opportunity, maybe even a new life. Let’s find a way through the threshold.

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re starting a new series this weekend. It’s called “Through the Threshold.” For those of you all who are regular attenders and may have been here at Grace for a few years, you know that at the beginning of every year I like to sort of revisit why we’re here and what we’re doing, and sort of just re-up all of that stuff. But, as we were preparing for 2018, we have to sort of prepare a little bit in advance when we do any series because we’ve got artwork to do, bumper videos and all of those things. The word that just kept coming to me over and over again was the word “threshold.”

It made sense, at one level, just personally for me as the pastor here. I knew that 2018 would be a big year for us. I knew we were probably either going to have to go to more services, maybe we’d find something in terms of being able to move or start the move to another location. I knew there was just a lot of things going on. I knew in my own personal life there was a lot of things that were happening. And then, as I started talking to people and realizing, “Wow, 2018 is a big year for a lot of people.” And you look at the world and all the things that are going on. The word just kept sort of dancing in my mind. So, I remember I flipped on my computer and went to a dictionary. I pulled up the word “threshold.” One of the definitions that came up was “the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result or condition to occur and be manifested.”

And that made sense. I mean, we talk about thresholds. If you were to enter into a house, we talk about entering through the threshold there of the door. So, if you go into the house, you’ve got to go through that threshold. Obviously, the result at that point would be that you’re inside the house. If you’ve ever gone to school, there’s usually some sort of precondition to get into the school. You’ve got to have the right ACT or SAT scores, the right GPA or maybe a combination of both of those. So, what do you have to exceed or what do you have to do to get in? That’s a threshold.

So, as I’m sitting there thinking about that, I like visual stuff. I’m a visual person. So, I clicked “images” on my computer, and a number of images came up. But, the one that I immediately went towards was this one, because it’s just so simple. It’s like, “Ah, this makes total sense.”

Here’s the line. Threshold. Here’s all the stuff below the line. Here’s the stuff above the line. And it makes sense. I mean, if you showed this to any group of people, as a general rule, whether you were talking about business, whether you were talking about sales, whether you were talking about marriages, whether you were talking about finances or health or whatever you’d be talking about, everybody understands, “Hey, to get to where you want to go, you’ve got to get above this line to do it.”

The way we learn in life to do that is you try harder, do a little bit more, read another book, engage a little bit more, make more phone calls. Whatever it may be. And we learn that. So, as we walk through life and we just live life, we pick up things along the way. We’re inculcated, we’re barraged with just life. You know? If you want to get through that threshold, you’ve got to go bust through, you’ve got to exceed, you’ve got to do these types of things. And then, somewhere along the way, we’re confronted with Christianity. Sometimes we’re confronted with Christianity and people are like, “I don’t want to have anything to do with that.”

You may be here today, and you may not really think you’re a Christian. You may know you’re not a Christian. You may be thinking, “Yeah, sometimes that stuff just seems to be a little strange.”

But, for those of us that decided, “Hey, you know what? I do want to follow Jesus,” what we find is that the normal ways that we live life, just the normal ways of living, many times, when we go to Scripture, it’s different. It doesn’t seem to be the same. I mean, we work really hard so that we can earn a paycheck. Many of us would say, “Well, to get a better paycheck, I work harder.”

Okay. Well then, we come to the Scripture and we’re told that there’s nothing that we can do, at all, to merit our salvation. And that seems a little strange to us because we’ve gone through life trying to get past the thresholds, and it’s more performance, more doing, more of those things to get to where we want to be. And then we read Scripture and it’s like, “Okay. Well, that doesn’t work with my salvation.”

And then, the more we read Scripture, the more we see things, the more we realize, “Man, this is a totally different world than the world I’ve been living in. This idea of turning the other cheek? I mean, come on. You saw the Rambo movies. That’s not what we do. Loving enemies? That’s crazy. Or forgiving seventy times seven?”

It’s almost like we’ve engaged in a different world when we start to live out our Christianity. So, going through the threshold in terms of Christianity, in many ways we have to sort of rethink some things. If you read Scripture, you’ll see that. Scripture is really clear that as we engage God, it’s a reprogramming for us. You know, it talks about renewing your mind. It’s almost as if we were running a PC operating system, a Windows platform, and what God did is He downloaded a Mac platform into our lives. So, it’s not a matter of doing the Mac platform. It’s a matter of understanding what’s been downloaded into you and me.

So, what I’d like to submit to you — and it’s the big idea for this series, and the big idea for the next several weeks as we go through this — is that we need to learn to really live life by unlearning the life we’ve been living. I want you to think about that for a minute. There’s a reprogramming when it comes to walking out this thing with God. And going back here to the chart, to get past the threshold in life, it’s performance. It’s all the things that we do. In passing the threshold with Jesus, it’s not the same exact way.

In fact, this is the way I’d like to submit it to you: The threshold for real life, the life that God has for you and me, isn’t more works or more performance, but a better understanding of who God is. Which means this is much more of a truth encounter for you and me than it is a doing encounter for you and me. And I’m not opposed to doing things. I’m not opposed to working harder and all that stuff. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is when we come to a relationship with God, the first and foremost thing that we need to understand is that it’s more about learning the wisdom that God has shared with you and me than it is doing the works that we naturally think.

So, let me sort of sum this up: In life, we learn certain things and we develop certain habits and characteristics. Much like there’s breeds of dogs. I’m not saying humans are like dogs by any stretch of the imagination, but we all know that there’s breeds of dogs. And those dogs are, by nature, sort of who they are. We bought a dog a couple of years ago. You may have heard of the breed. It’s called “Satan.”

This dog was an Australian Shepherd dog. So, by nature, he liked to herd. Well, we have six kids. So, this dude would go around the house biting at the feet of my kids, and they would all be running around and he’s just herding them. He’s just trying to get them in the room. And they’re crying, weeping and all this stuff. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. You know? My wife, Mindy, says, “We’ve got to train him.”

And I’m like, “Oh, this should be brilliant.”

So, she brings this nice lady over that has this thing. It’s a clicker. I’m thinking, “You really think you’re going to sit on the floor and click this thing a couple of times and this dog is going to do what you want it to do?”

I’m like, “Impress me. This is going to be great.”

Well, it didn’t work. I mean, he’s chasing everybody and doing all this stuff. Well, I came home one day from work, and when I walked into the house, I see my son Jack. He was a lot smaller back then than he is now. I see Jack running through my house. He’s literally running as fast as he can. This dog has its paws on his shoulders, okay? It’s biting the back of his neck, and it’s running along with its legs as Jack’s running through the house screaming and crying.

I’m like, “In the name of Jesus, you’re going to another house.”

So, we gave him to a wonderful family. The dog is great. He can go be a shepherd. He’s just not going to be the shepherd of my house. So, there you go. But, I say that to say that these dogs, by nature, sort of know who they are. As we go through life, each of us sort of acquires a sort of nature that we have. One of the damaging things that we do is we take that nature — our worldviews, our nationalism, or whether it may be; the way that we see life — and then we come to faith and we say, “I’m going to follow Jesus.”

What we try to do is we try to put those two things together, and it just becomes a disaster because the understanding that we have of God is fused with the natures of things that we’ve learned in this world. And God doesn’t work that way. His program is not our way. I mean, you can see that when Jesus is before Pontius Pilate in John 19. Pilate has his way of the way the world runs. He has his idea of how a nation runs. He has his idea of power and his idea of truth. And it couldn’t be any more opposite of Jesus’ view.

In fact, Pilate’s a great post-modern deconstructionist. I mean, he looks at Jesus and he says, “What is truth?”

To Pilate, everybody’s got their own truth. And that’s just not biblically right. I mean, there is a truth. Jesus lives differently. And power. Jesus is like, “No. My kingdom doesn’t work the way your kingdom works. We don’t fight the way you all fight. We don’t do that.”

So, we live in this tension. Of trying to figure out all the things that God has for us, but oftentimes it’s fused with these things that we’ve brought through life. And the damaging thing is when we start trying to fuse these things together and they don’t work. What they do is they lead us to faulty understandings of God.

And here’s the reality: A faulty understanding or faulty understandings of God, what they ultimately do is they lead us to fear and misery. You see it oftentimes in people’s lives. They’ve grown up and maybe had a bad relationship with their dad. Then they come to faith and they see God as their father, and they don’t understand how to do that because their understanding of God as their father is so tied to their understanding of their earthly father. So, they struggle through all of those things. And that faulty understanding leads them to fear. They fear God. When you fear God long enough or you fear enough things long enough, what happens is you end up in sort of a depressive funk. We see this in the Church. It’s sad. But, you see so many Christians are fearful, and so many Christians are just desperate and miserable.

What it does is it keeps us from a threshold of abundant life that God has for you and me. So, what I want to do over the next several weeks is I want to give us an opportunity to embrace some of these things that are a little counter-cultural to us. Little things that are counter-intuitive to us, but might be the very things, if we were to embrace them by faith, that lead to incredible freedom in our lives.

So, what I want to do this weekend with the church is I want to talk to you about living what I call a “confessional life.” A confessional life is a life that is vulnerable before God and before others, which is way different than what we normally think here in the west. You’re told as a young kid, “Don’t ever let them see you sweat.”

Your dad will grab you out on the ball field and say, “Man, you’ve got to suck it up. Don’t do that. Hold that in. Don’t let anybody know what’s really going on on the inside. Bottle that up. Project strength.”

You know? The last thing you want to do is project weakness, because people will take advantage of you. So, project strength. I mean, we’re just invaded with these types of thoughts in our minds as we grow up. So, this idea of living a vulnerable life, this idea of being open and honest, this idea of living a confessional life of truly saying what’s going on in our lives is really difficult for you and me.

In fact, I talked to a med student just after the last service who had been here, and he was saying to me, “It’s interesting. I worked with addiction this last couple of weeks. It’s so amazing. It’s only when those people are able to fully say, ‘Okay, this is what’s going on,’ that they really start seeing help.”

But, for some reason, we like to hold that in. And 70-80% of everybody that you know has something they’re holding on the inside that nobody else knows, and they don’t really want to talk about it, and they don’t want to share it. And the reason we live that way is because fundamentally, this is what we think: We think if anybody knew everything that we had done, every bad decision we had made, every person that we had hurt, every attempt at something that we had failed, some of the stuff that we had done that was really bad, some of the things that we had thought that were terrible things — we think if anybody truly knew the true me or the true you, there is no way they would love us. And that’s why we hold it in.

Scripture teaches us a completely different way to live. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to go through Psalm 32 this weekend. As we go through Psalm 32 — it’s 11 verses — we’re going to see that this is a confessional psalm. This is a psalm that was done in the liturgy of Israel. They did it corporately. This was probably a psalm that was recited or chanted. What it did is it taught the children of Israel about this confessional life. And it’s going to be a little counter-intuitive, all of us, and sometimes it might poke a little bit, because many of us have things that we don’t want anybody to know at all. So, this is going to be a little exposing, but what I’d like to tell you is that by unlearning some of the things that we hold to be true, and grasping God’s truth, will set us free.

So, let’s look at Psalm 32. It starts off with what’s called a superscription. That’s a heading. They are not divinely inspired, but they are in the text. It says it’s “A Maskil of David.” I’m not a Hebrew scholar. I know enough Hebrew to be dangerous, but the idea of Maskil here, if you get two good scholars together, usually there’s two camps on what that means. One will say it’s a musical type of instrument, so this was a song that was put together in a harmonious way. Others will say, “Well, ‘maskil’ comes from a root word that means to teach or to instruct, so this is an instructional song on a confessional life.”

I would like to submit to you that I don’t think you have to go to one or the other. I think this is a song, this is a musical piece that was put together to instruct and to help the children of Israel to understand how to live a harmonious life between God and between others. I think that it really will speak to you and me because we’ve gathered here in a corporate way, we’re going to read this together in a corporate sense, and I think we’re going to feel the magnitude of the psalm. And I think by the end we’re going to see some freedom that this psalm brings to our lives. So, let’s get into the psalm.

He starts off, “Blessed is the one...”

Now, I stopped it there. He says some other things, but I just stopped there because if you’re really intuitive of you’ve read Scripture and it’s in your bones, it’s in your fabric, you’ve really spent time in Scripture, when you hear the word “blessed,” especially in the psalms, it takes you back to Psalm 1. I mean, this is the way the Psalter starts in Psalm 1. And David wrote that psalm.

It says, “Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

So, when we start off here, the Psalter starts off, this collection of 150 psalms starts off with living a life of holiness, pursuing God, not doing this and not doing that, and all of these great things. But, this psalm starts off differently. And it should echo. “Blessed is the one.” You should be thinking,” Maybe Psalm 1?”

But, he says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven.”

There’s just an absolutely surety that everybody has done wrong at some point in their life, but he’s telling us what the blessed life is. And, let me tell you, when you read “the blessed life,” the blessed life is not “do these things and you will be blessed.” It is “you are blessed because this is already who you are.”

So, when you read the Sermon on the Mount and it says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those that seek God and are hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness,” it’s not saying, “Go get hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness so that you can be blessed.”

He says, “You’re the blessed ones that are this way.”

So, “Blessed are the ones whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

And I’m going to show you this here in a second. He uses different Hebrew words to exhaust the whole vocabulary of “sin” in Hebrew, and then he uses “remedy” for each one. So, you have three different words for sin and three different remedies here. This is the blessed life. The one whose transgression is forgiven. They’re done. They’re forgiven. Whose sin is covered. It’s covered.

“Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Let me try to make this make sense for everybody here. David is saying — and we’d be saying this corporately — that the blessed life is the one who’s laid it all down in front of God and in front of the community. There’s nothing on the inside that they’re holding on the inside. There’s nothing that they’re smiling, even though it’s on the inside. There is no deceit whatsoever in their spirit, because they’re living fully and completely forgiven before their God. That is the blessed life David tells us about.

And he tells us what this means by the words that he uses for sin. The first word he uses here for transgression is to rebel, revolt or break with. And everybody’s done that. There’s nobody in here that hasn’t, at some point in their life, rebelled against God, revolted against God or revolted against somebody or rebelled against somebody. And he says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression, this, is forgiven.”

Not that you’re going to get forgiven, but the one who walks that way — I mean, everything is open. It’s vulnerable. There’s nothing, nothing, to hide at all. There’s no deceit whatsoever in their spirit.

Secondly, to miss the mark. He says, “The sin is covered.”

This idea of you tried to do something, but you missed the mark and it didn’t happen. Or this idea of to twist or distort. In other words, it’s really easy to take the Scripture and sort of twist it. “Ah, that’s not really what it meant. Culturally, it meant this. But I’m doing to redefine this and make it that way.”

He says, “Blessed is the one who the Lord doesn’t count even this against them.”

So, David has set up, as we’re saying this publicly, the blessed life is the life where we have nothing at all to hide, because we have truly confessed it all — not only to God, but in the corporate group that we’ve assembled with. That’s way counter-intuitive to the way that we would live, because we go, “Yeah, but. Yeah, but. Yeah, but. Yeah, but.”

Once again, we’ve learned how to live a certain way. We may have to unlearn to live. Maybe some of the reason why we’re not experiencing the full victory of God in our lives is maybe because we’re not doing it the way God said. And it’s not a matter of performance here, it’s a matter of simply accepting what God has said about you and me. So, he says, “This is the blessed life. This is the blessed life.”

And then, here comes the moment. This is the hinge moment of the psalm. He says this:

“For when I kept silent,”

“When I held it in. When I didn’t tell anybody. Maybe I was afraid God wouldn’t love me. Maybe I was afraid my wife wouldn’t stay with me. Maybe I was afraid if my friends knew this.”

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”

“I held that in and all it was was a battle.”

In fact, most addictions and most problems come from some of us who want to hold that in and not let anybody know that we did that. Or maybe what was done to us. He says, “When I held it in, when I didn’t use confession, when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”

“For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;”

He’s using language here about God. God doesn’t really have a hand. What he was saying is that it just felt like I was being compressed with all this stuff going on inside.

“My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

“It was all gone,” and then he says, “Selah.”

That’s like a pause or a rest. He’s like, “Take that in.”

Let’s take that in. “The blessed life is the one who’s laid it all down. But, guys and gals, when I held it in — and that’s what the world teaches you to do — I was rotting away. It was always there. It was always something that I needed to forget, and I couldn’t forget it. When I held it in, what happened was is my whole inside wasted away, and my strength was dried up. So, pause for a moment and think about that.”

Then he says, “I acknowledge my sin to you,”

“I laid it out here with everybody. I laid it out. And I didn’t cover my iniquity anymore.”

“I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’”

Again, all these three words for sin. He did all this stuff.

“And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

“I thought that if I shared it, maybe You would judge me. I thought that maybe You’d get me, or You’d punish me, so I’ve held it in. Or I thought that maybe people in the service would think a certain way about me, but as I gave it to You, what happen was You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Pause again, Church. Soak that in. Now, pick it back up.”

“Therefore let everyone who is godly...” — “godly” in this psalm is not living right. Ungodly doesn’t mean not living right. “Godly” simply means, in this psalm, those that are open, honest and vulnerable for God in the community.

It says, “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer...”

Say it now. Don’t worry about the person next to you. Speak it out. Let it go. Pour it out there. Let God do His thing.

“...offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters,” — those waters that you feel that are drowning you, that are completely swallowing you up, the stuff you’re holding on the inside. He says, “Right now, pray. Speak it out. Let it go. Confess it. Just let it go. Those waters aren’t going to reach you. Why?”

“You are a hiding place...”

That’s who our God is. He’s a hiding place.

“You preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”

In the Old Testament, when the children of Israel would go to war, or one that you probably will remember very clearly is when the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, the women came together and got the musical instruments and they started singing the song of deliverance. When you read the book of Revelation, there’s the song of deliverance again being performed. David says, “Listen: We hold it in and we hold it in, don’t confess, and aren’t vulnerable. We don’t want anybody to see our weakness.”

I mean, we say it all the time. “We need to project strength.”

Totally opposite of what Scripture says. Project vulnerability. Project weakness, because it’s in my weakness He’s made strong. It’s in my vulnerability that I’m healed. It’s in my confession that my bones don’t rot away anymore. It’s in my acceptance of the fact that I have done these things, and understanding who my God is that He’s ready to forgive me that things change.

He says, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”

When we confess those things, there are shouts of deliverance of the victory that has gone on in our lives. He says, “So, stop and think about it. Selah.”

Now God starts to speak in the psalm: “I will instruct you...”

That’s where the word “maskil” comes. It’s from this idea of instruction.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;”

“Trust me. Lay it down.”

Why?

“I will counsel you with my eye on you.”

“I love you. My eyes on you. Not to judge you, not to condemn you. My eyes on you because I love you. If you will come to me and not hold it in, those waters that you feel that are drowning you will be gone. I will instruct you. I will watch over you. I will counsel you with my eye on you.”

“Do not be like a horse or a mule,” — “Don’t do that. Don’t run away” — “without understanding, which has to be curbed with a bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.”

“It has to be pulled back and yanked back, or it will not stay near you. Don’t be like that. Don’t act like that. Understand who I am. Understand how much I want to be involved in your life and how much I want to take that sin and that iniquity and that transgression and cover it for you.”

“Many are the sorrows of the wicked,”

Who are the wicked in this psalm? It’s the ones that won’t confess. And, see, this really comes down to it. I’m standing here in bright lights right now. The difference between those that go to be with God and those who don’t go to be with God is simply who wants to stand in the light. See, the light exposes all of it. It exposes all that you are. The Bible talks about standing in the light. Are we willing to stand in the light and let ourselves be exposed for the fact that I’m not always the best husband? I’m not always the best dad? I’m not always the best pastor?

You say, “Well, Chip, you shouldn’t say all of those things.”

No, because, listen, if I project strength, then I’m going against God. It’s when I share my weaknesses and my vulnerabilities that I allow God to work. That’s the way it is. And we all want that. Every single person wants to believe that there’s a place that they could come, that there’s a God that they could serve that would say, “I love you with an everlasting love, and I know everything that you’ve done and everything that you’re going to do. The verdict is I sent my Son, Jesus, to die on the cross not for past sins, not just for present sins, but for future sins so that you can stand in the light. And even though you’re exposed, you can know that I have provision for your exposure, and I have your back.”

Don’t let those sorrows eat you away because you won’t stand in the light. Have you ever gone in the kitchen at 3 o’clock in the morning, flipped on the light, looked down and there’s a bug? And He’s off underneath the cabinet. You know what I’m saying? He don’t like that light. Well, many people don’t like to stand in the light, because pride and ego get in the way. We hold it in and we rot.

It says, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but the steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

See, this is what happens: You find people that come to faith. Maybe they came to an altar, maybe they had a moment at a chair in a church or maybe it was in their car. When those floodgates open up, when confession starts happening, when we realize that God is really there for us and we can share the things that we’ve done, there is such a freedom that takes place. I’ll tell you, one of the greatest freedom expressions I’ve ever seen was many, many years ago. I was pastoring a church. I had an elder’s meeting. We started off the meeting and one of the elders, you could just tell his lip was quivering, said, “I’ve just got to share this.”

He shared a sin that had been going on in his life for 10 or 15 years that had been hidden. Finally, as it was just bubbling up, he couldn’t deal with it anymore and dumped it right there on the table. We rallied around him. We prayed for him. He wasn’t expecting that. He was expecting to be removed. The freedom that that man had that night was unbelievable. He knew what it was to be glad in the Lord and rejoice and shout for joy. He understood that his righteousness didn’t come from him, it came from somewhere else. He understood that.

That’s the blessed life. The blessed life is being able to be vulnerable, and being open and being honest. So, now that we’ve read that psalm and we’ve seen how powerful that is, let’s do what I call the take-homes. For this serious, we’re going to call it “Unlearned Life I’ve Been Living Take-Homes.”

What can we unlearn here so that we can learn again so that we can become more like what God wants us to be and live that threshold living not by how much of a performance that we’re doing, but how much we’re understanding about God. That’s why in the New Testament you see all the time — the prayers in the New Testament, you should read them. The prayers in the New Testament are not about a job, or somebody had a cold, pray for them. They’re not about getting a car or a marriage. Not that we should be praying for those things, but that’s not what the New Testament people pray for. Ever. They pray that we would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation of understanding God’s love for us. That Christ would be perfected in us. That we would truly understand the things that God has done for us. See, it’s an understanding. It’s a re-learning. It’s a reprogramming. It’s not a doing. It’s a truly embracing what God has done in our life.

So, what are some things that we can unlearn here? Well, the first one is this one: God’s more ready to forgive us than we’re ready to disobey Him. See, we’d like to all act like none of us have a heart that would like to run the other way. That’s not true. Most of us, if we were honest, when we are confronted with biblical stuff, we run the other way. I’m not picking on anybody. I’m not giving anybody a hard time. But, let’s talk about where it hurts. If you were just to say, “How many people in the church are regular givers and trust God with their finances,” it’s usually not that many. So, even right there, we’re disobeying.

How many of us really love our spouses the way Christ loved the Church? We don’t. We get mad at them on a regular basis, and frustrated. How many of us really are always perfectly there for our kids, and they never frustrate us? Not me. I can tell you that right now. So, maybe you’re holier than me and you’ve been more sanctified in that area, but the reality is, as a general rule, when it comes down to it, if somebody does us wrong, usually we’re not the people that go, “Oh, let me pray for you and let me forgive you seventy times seven.”

We go, “Oh, did you hear what this person did?”

We’re out in the hub, “Can you believe that?”

That’s where our heart’s at. And God’s more ready to forgive you and me than we’re ready to disobey Him, and we’re pretty ready to disobey on a regular basis. Let me let the Word of God speak over you. Listen to what the psalmist says.

“For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”

Notice there that those who call upon God, what do they get? They get good, forgiving and abounding in covenantal love towards them. Listen to Micah. Micah says, “Who is like You? I mean, where did You come from? I don’t get it. Somebody who’s got power, when you offend them, they go after you with everything. You’re not even like that. We’ve offended You. We’ve revolted against You. We’ve done things that we shouldn’t have done. Who’s like You? You pardon iniquity and You pass over transgression for the remnant of Your inheritance. Who is like You, God? You don’t even retain Your anger forever. And You could because You’re holy, but You’re driven by something even more than that, because You delight in steadfast love.”

I mean, think about that. Think about if every single one of us got up every morning and realize that our Heavenly Father had a better understanding, that our Heavenly Father delights in steadfast love for you. He says, “He’s going to have compassion on us again.”

What does that mean? That means that we’ve done the same thing again that we shouldn’t have done, and we’ve done it again. You know, we talk about making mistakes. When you’ve made the same mistake 20, 30 or 40 times, I think we need to call t something other than a mistake. You know? We may not like the words that the Bible uses, but we’ve got to call it something. Okay? And it says, “You’re going to have compassion again.”

Really?

“Yes. Again. Again. Why? Because He’ll tread our iniquities under foot.”

Isn’t it crazy? You talk to so many people and they think God wants to tread them under foot. “I did all this stuff and God wants to get me.”

No, no. He wants to tread your iniquities. He’ll cast all of our sins into the depths of the sea. See, God is willing to meet you and me. He’s ready to forgive. Maybe you’ve heard that God isn’t. Maybe you’ve heard you’ve got to climb these ladders, jump through these oops, turn around and do all of this stuff. Let me just break through all of that religious stuff. Your Heavenly Father is ready to forgive you right now. You don’t have to hold that in and rot away. He’s ready for you to take it out and say, “God, this is the deal,” and He’s ready to be there for you.

The second thing. This is important here. Confession isn’t a work, it’s the wisdom key needed to unlock the flood of God’s compassion in our lives. This next thing that I want to say to you is so important. Let it sink into your spirit. If you don’t write anything else down today, I would write this next one down. This here: Confession doesn’t merit God’s forgiveness. It helps us to realize it was already there.

See, what God’s wanting from you and me is to say what we did, not so that we get Him to forgive us, but so that we can understand the love that was already there. See, when we don’t say what we’ve done, or we don’t say what’s been done to us, or we don’t say it and we go, “Well, you know, God, I had that thing that I did a couple weeks ago. I hope you can forgive me.”

That’s not confession. Confession is to speak the same thing. In other words, “God, when I went and did this thing with that person and did this, I want You to know I did and I want You to know that I am sorry that I did those things.”

What you’re going to find is that you say it and God’s there. I sang a song when I was a kid growing up in church. It was called “He Was There All the Time.” Waiting patiently in line, He was there all the time. He’s waiting for you and me, not because we do some work to merit the forgiveness. He wants us to realize the forgiveness that He has for you and me. He’s already forgiven. Jesus doesn’t have to come die again on the cross so we could be forgiven. He forgave all the sins, past, present and future. We have to embrace the fact that that is true. And when we hold it in or we don’t really say what it was, we’re missing out on this incredible freedom that we could have.

And not only that, but confession not only delivers compassion and forgiveness to us, but to others. In James 5:16, James says, “Confess your sins one to another, that you may be healed.”

The “you” in the original Greek New Testament is plural. It’s not you singular, it’s you plural. It’s the Church. Think through this for a minute. Think through if we had an environment where no matter what you had done, no matter where you had been, no matter who you had done wrong, no matter what act you had performed, you could come in here and you could lay it down in vulnerability and not only experience God’s forgiveness, but could find people to rally around you and to say, “Hey, you’re accepted and you’re loved. Because, man, we’ve done something, too. This is a healthy community where we can come together and share.”

Imagine what would happen if we could live in that type of confession and that type of vulnerability. We would have people beating the doors down to get in here, because nobody believes fundamentally that anybody could know everything about what they did and still love them. We have an opportunity to expose them to the God who does, and we have an opportunity to be the people who reflect that love that He’s shown you and me.

When a church starts living like that, watch out. Because it doesn’t live like the world, it lives like the Kingdom of God. And, all of a sudden, the Lord’s Prayer, where we say, “God, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” heaven starts to come here, and the kingdoms of the world start to be destroyed and we start to see the Kingdom of God be pervasive and do things that nobody could even ever imagine. And we see people’s lives healed, wholeness brought, and all kinds of victory happen because we’re willing to live a life in faith that God wants you and me to live. You can clap. It’s okay. You’ll warm up.

And the last thing is God Himself — Himself; a person — is the place of refuge, and the entrance into that refuge is simply confession. David says, “You’re a hiding place for me. You preserve me. You surround me with shouts of deliverance.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that there are many in here that are desperate for that hiding place. There’s no doubt in my mind there are people in here that are desperate to hear shouts of deliverance spoken about you. But it really comes down to are we going to take the things that we’ve learned and be a certain way, and then even exonerate them — they’re Christian principles — or are we going to embrace God, embrace His Word and realize that His kingdom’s different? Maybe the difference in our lives is just, by faith, embracing that vulnerability before God and being honest before others is the place of freedom that we’re all looking for.

So, as we start out 2018, I would like to challenge you. If you aren’t a Christian, or if you haven’t really thought about where you’re at with God, this would be a great opportunity to make that decision today and settle eternity once and for all by just saying, “God, I’ve been living my way. I want to live Your way.”

Look, there’s no secret prayer or magical formula. It just simply is, “God, I want to come home, God. This is what I’ve done. I believe You’ve already forgiven me. I need to know that. I need to experience that.”

If that’s where you’re at, it’s as simple as saying, “God, I just want to follow You. I just want to come after You.”

Sign up for our Next Steps class. Get baptized. Find somebody with a name tag or a badge on and say, “Man, I want to go forward. I want some of this.”

But, for the vast majority of us in here who are Christians, we’ve learned to sort of meld Christ with our culture. We’re going to have to unlearn some of that if we really want to live what I call threshold living, because I can tell you this: There is a great freedom in not having anything to hide. There’s a great freedom in being vulnerable. God wants you to live that way. God wants you to live in freedom. When there’s nothing to hide, there’s nothing to lose. It’s when we feel like we’re going to lose something that the fear and the doubt and the despair happen. Let it go. Lay it here today in front of Him.

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, that Your Word is what it is. And I thank You, Lord, that Your Word doesn’t go forth and return empty. It accomplishes that which You send it to do. So, this morning, Lord, as we pray, I pray if anybody in here does not know You as Lord and Savior, or if anybody’s been living their life for themselves and not living their life for You and wants to make that change, I pray, Lord, that they would realize it’s not a bunch of hoops to jump through and a bunch of prayers to pray. It really is just a matter of the heart saying, “God, I want to come home. I accept what You’ve done for me. I want to come home.”

And then, Lord, I pray if anybody is there that they would find somebody on staff, find somebody and say, “Help me. Point me in the right direction so I can continue to walk in this thing.”

But, for those of us, Lord, that call You our Savior and our Lord, I pray, Lord, that You would help us to unlearn these unhealthy lifestyles that we lead often, and to embrace Your Word and Your truth by faith.

So, Lord, I pray that as we leave here this morning, You would watch over us and protect us, that You would lead and guide us. I pray, Lord, that we would all realize that You are our hiding place and that You do surround us with shouts of deliverance and shouts of salvation. I pray, Lord, that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, continue to help our church passionately live out what You’ve called us to do, and that’s to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ in a vulnerable and confessional way so that people can come home for Your glory.

It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a big hand clap. See you soon. God bless everybody.

Recap Week 2

Sermon Transcript

Good morning to everybody. We are in a series called “Recap.” If you’re new or maybe you missed last week, this is about as short of a series as we do. It’s only been two weeks. So, if you’re new, it’d be a great sort of time to hear a little bit about what’s going on at the church. If you’re a regular attender, what I wanted to do is I wanted to end 2017 and I wanted to begin 2018 with two specific things in mind.

The first thing that I wanted to do is make sure that we as a church would remember and celebrate what God has done among us. Oftentimes, when we’re doing life and we’re just sort of going through life and God’s doing things, sometimes we don’t pause for a moment and just go, “Wow. God is doing some incredibly great things.”

I mean, we’ve had well over 100 baptisms in the last few years. We’ve grown from 200 to 1,200 people in 3 years. I mean, God is doing some incredible things here. And I just wanted to stop, as a pastor and as a church, and remember and celebrate what God has done among us. And then with the aim of doing that to encourage and inspire us towards the future.

So, what we thought we would do is this: We thought that we would ask for some people to come in and sort of give some testimonies about things that they felt like they wanted to share. Anything that God had done in their life. Anything that had happened. And, of course, in typical Grace fashion, we got way more than we ever bargained for. And so, what we found was we couldn’t use all the testimonies that we got because we’d be here for weeks. So, what we did is we had to select a few. If you did a testimony and you didn’t get picked, don’t feel like somehow we didn’t like what you said. We loved what you said, and we’re going to get all those testimonies out to the body eventually so everybody can share in all the things that went on. But we didn’t have the time to do all of them.

So, what I’m going to do here today — a little bit different message than I normally do — is I’m going to show three quickly sequential videos here. They’re really cool. And then in the latter part of the service, we’re going to talk about going into 2018. I think I’ve got some things that I really think will challenge all of us, and I really think can be life-changing for many of us here.

So, the first three videos are really cool. The first family, the Catones, found us at First Friday. He not only found us at First Friday, but his wife and him have gotten in here and they have been almost like evangelists. I mean, they have drug people in. He’s going to tell you about that. It’s just great. It’s awesome what God is doing in their lives, and you can see that.

The next family are the Dahlbergs. They’re a young, married family. I just love what he has to say. He says, “If you knew me, I was raised to sort of be a lone wolf. I’ve come in here and what I’ve found is how important other human relationships are. It’s just really changed me.”

He makes this statement: “This is not the course of action I would’ve chosen for my life.”

So, God’s done this in him. Then the last video is really dear to my heart. It’s a mother and her son who’ve been around for a long time. They were at the old building, and they’re going to recount some things to us. So, let’s rejoice here and let’s watch these three videos. I think you will absolutely enjoy them. Let’s watch the first one here:

[Video]

I used to be afraid to talk about church with my non-church friends. Lately, I don’t do that anymore now. Now that I feel more comfortable — and I’ve never had this comfortable feeling before in my life. Again, being at a church for a long time, this church just happened and clicked in me within the last two years. So, now, in my local development, I have brought other people to this church. I now have a group of about probably ten people that now attend Grace. Probably six regularly, and the other four are still tentative, but I think they’re going to be coming to church with us. So, I’ve never done it before. I don’t want to say I’m an evangelist, because I’m not. But it’s sort of like witnessing or not being afraid to just say, “Hey, you need to try this Grace Church with me. Just come.”

Grace Church. I knew nothing about it. I attended my very first Friday on Main Street with my children and my wife. At that particular time, we were at the other side of Main Street, and you guys were up on the opposite side. My daughters came running to me and said, “Dad, we hear Christian music in the distance,” and it happened to be a Chris Tomlin song that we all love. So, they grabbed me and they said, “Let’s go check this out. Let’s go see what’s going on.”

We found a few people that had your Grace shirts on. We asked them, “So, where are you located? What is this all about?”

They said, “Oh, you should come.”

Somebody may have handed me a brochure, pamphlet or whatever you guys had at the time. So, that’s really how we came. It was through Main Street and through the music that we all love and enjoy. I thought that was a good start. The mission statement that this church has, being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ, was amazing to me. I saw that mission statement and I said, “Wow. That’s the kind of church that I want to be involved in.”

That is, again, another way to outreach to people; to bring people that are not churched, that really don’t know anything about it. What a great statement to have for this church to bring an outside people that have no idea what’s going on. Amazing. That just blew me away.

[End Video]

Make sure, when you see the people that are giving testimonies, that you walk up to them and tell them thanks, because sometimes it’s not easy to do these things. I’m just glad that was the night —  they thought Chris Tomlin was singing — that I was singing on Main Street. So, I’m thankful. Just kidding.

The next couple is Aimee and Adam Dahlberg. Let’s listen to them. This is a great testimony as well. Let’s watch them.

[Video]

[Adam]: You first.

[Aimee]: My name’s Aimee.

[Adam]: Adam.

[Aimee]: Aimee Dahlberg.

[Adam]: We’ve been attending, I would say, as regular attendees, since March of 2016. Right? When we first started coming to this church, we went for like six months, probably. Having not spelled out my character to you, we would sneak in and sneak out. Right? And that was probably more my doing than hers. She’d rather probably hang out and linger and chat with people. I would come into service, quietly sit in the back, and then I would be probably the first to leave afterward. We were raised almost to be like line wolves. Right? To not be so concerned about other people, what they have going on, not be concerned about how they feel about me and just kind of isolate myself. But doing it, to some degree, unintentionally. And I think being able to be reshaped — and, truly, it was a God-given thing because I wouldn’t have done something like this on my own. This isn’t one of the changes that I would’ve gone after on my own. You know?

[Aimee]: Grace’s view hasn’t always been focused on, “This is how you can feel better in this, and this is how you can live your life better in this way.” It’s so focused around Jesus. And His character, and then just learning to follow His lead, because life isn’t about us feeling great, life isn’t about even just us coming to salvation. It’s learning to be more like Jesus so then other people can come to salvation.

[Adam]: You know, my perspective on the inside has changed, too, where I realize that people are so much more important than I ever took the time to realize before. Allowing people to feed into me, and also feeding into other people, letting people share their highs and lows with me and also doing the same with them, and I just don’t think I had ever taken the right time or the right perspective in realizing how important it was for me to be a part of something else besides myself. Right? I mean, we were so inward focused in our upbringing. That, I think, is just a breath of fresh air, too, to be closer to the right track.

[End Video]

Amen. You know, as we start in 2018, and every year and every day and every week, we get to choose the church that we want to be collectively. Let’s make sure that we always remain the church that no matter who comes in, no matter where they’ve been, no matter what they’ve done, they feel valued here and they have worth and dignity, because believe God wants us to be a place that looks like that. Amen? Do you agree with me on that? Okay, great. Let’s make sure that we do that.

The third video is great. The Pedros. They’ve been around for a long time, and many of their other, extended family has ended up here as well. It’s a great testimony. Let’s listen to Keisha and Chris.

[Video]

[Keisha]: it’s really been transformational being a part of Grace Community Church from the beginning, from six years ago when we relocated from Pennsylvania. The hardest thing for me leaving Pennsylvania was leaving my church family, because my church family had been a part of my life for fifteen years of raising three children as a single mom. When we relocated to Florida, we found this little church called Grace Community Church which was down near Gulfgate at the time. It was so different than the church we had been going to in so many aspects, and I remember thinking, “God, this can’t be the church that you’re sending me to.” I remember sitting down with Pastor Chip and I’m like, “I’m out of here.”

Pastor Chip pulled out the Bible and he said something to me and I was like, “Oh, my gosh. That makes sense.” So, God knew what was best for my family. It wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting in a weekend service, sitting there watching how God moved in my son’s life. He was up playing the keyboard. My daughter was singing on the stage. My youngest son, still in church, 17-year-old, now 18-year-old, standing next to me worshiping the Lord. My ex-mother-in-law worshiping at Grace Community Church.

[Chris]: My aunt, your sister, just got married through Grace.

[Keisha]: My brother and his wife got baptized at Grace.

[Chris]: Just to see that growth.

[Keisha]: A lot of growth.

[Chris]: Yeah. It’s really cool how God has really used Grace in our family. It’s really cool to see, no matter how much we’ve grown, the backbone and the DNA of Grace never really has changed.

[Keisha]: Grace is really special because it’s a church that accepts people no matter where they are in life. We don’t ask questions. Pastor Chip is not judgmental.

[Chris]: It’s really cool that no matter if you walk into the Hub, you get a big hug from Jen, or after every service Pastor Chip is there greeting everybody. It’s that personal aspect of a church family that you can really see that that’s never changed for Grace. And I think that when we first got here, that’s something that we always appreciated. I think no matter how big we get, it’s that part of Pastor Chip, that part of Grace that’s just who we are. And that’s really cool to see in a church body.

[End Video]

Amen. The moral from the Pedros is that Grace Community Church is like the Hotel California. You can check out at any time, but you can never leave. So, there you go. But, listen, there’ve been so many great things that have happened over the last year, and especially over the last several years. But, specifically, last year. I just think it would be appropriate, which is what I wanted to do, as we left out of one year and into a new year, let’s just take a moment here and just thank God for all the great changes that have gone on in lives here at Grace?

Unbelievable. Some incredibly great things. So, probably, if you’re here, some of you are going, “Man, that’s great. You know what? I could get up and testify.”

Maybe some of you are here and you’re new. Maybe it’s a new year’s resolution to be in church. Or maybe some of you are going, “Man, I could use some of that in my life.”

I think everybody finds themselves at a different place. But what I can say — and I think it’s common amongst all of us, even for those who are cynical about this — is when there’s a new calendar year — and many people are cynical, like, “I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions. I’m not doing that.”

But, every single one of us — and this is if we’re just being honest here, because we should be — when we flip into a new calendar year — I don’t call it new year’s resolutions. I call it, as sort of a state of mind that’s what I call it, the “more, better and healthier.” Everybody, at some level, has a more, better and healthier moment. It may not be for long, but it’s there for a moment.

“I want a little bit more of this, or a little bit better this, or a little bit healthier that.”

The band Sugarland had a song called “There’s Gotta be Something More” that was a smash hit, because that resonates with people. And I guarantee at the beginning of every year, whether you get on Facebook and go, “New year’s resolutions are terrible,” and all that stuff, deep down inside, every single one of us has a moment: More. Better. Healthier.

Let me drill into that a little bit so that we can all go, “Yeah, that’s sort of true.”

You know, we talk about a relationship or relationships. Everybody in here has that moment where they’re like, “You know, in that relationship I would like to have a little bit better this, or maybe it would be healthier.”

Or like our health. I mean, many people start off the new year wanting to be healthy. I know last year, in 2017, I did. I was going to lose 10 pounds. I’ve only got 19 more to go. So, health. We want a little bit more health. Better spirituality. You know?

“I’d like to have more God in my life, or better spirituality or a healthier spirituality.”

With conflict, maybe in our lives. Stuff like that. Finances. A lot of people start off the new year going, “I want to get this right.”

Or their marriage. “I want more here. I want better this, or healthier that.”

Our kids. Jobs. All of these things. Every single one of us has a “more, healthier and better moment.” Whether we say it or not, it’s like God’s hard-wired it in us. As those calendar years change, there’s that desire. But here’s what happens. And people don’t like to talk about it. And people don’t like to share it, but here’s what happens: We start off the new year and we have that more, better and healthier moment. We’re thinking about, “I want more here, better here and healthier. I won’t tell anybody.”

The reason we won’t tell anybody is because we know that every year we have that “more, better and healthier” moment, but as soon as February comes around, or June comes around, or August comes around, we bog down. So, we’re like, “Man. We wanted to start off with a more, better and healthier, but what happened was it bogged down. It just didn’t happen.”

You know? Like, you say, “I’m going to have a good job this year. I’m going to get along with my boss. Everything’s going to be good. It’s going to be awesome.”

And then March comes and you’re mad at your boss, and you’re in the car and you’re on the country radio station, and the guy’s singing, “Take this job, and shove it,” and you’re like, “Yes! God is in my car.”

You’re listening to that country music that’s god-awful music. I mean, I don’t know why anybody listens to country music. My wife does, but she’s not even a Christian. So, anyway. But, no. The point is what’s funny about this is it’s true. We want more stuff. We want better stuff. We want healthier stuff in our lives. But what happens is we start moving forward in, say, our marriages, our finances, our kids or whatever, and you try to do the right things. You try to move forward.

And then what happens is it just sort of bogs down and everybody knows that that’s the case, and everybody knows it goes on. But, every year, we have the more, better, healthier. It’s like a beacon. But yet, we get in the middle of the year and it doesn’t work. So, nobody wants to talk about it, because we go, “Man, over here in Scripture it talks about the peace of God that passes all understanding in Philippians 4. And John 10:10: ‘I’ve come to give life, and life more abundantly.’ And Matthew 11. ‘Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’”

We’re like, “Man, I don’t want to tell anybody that that’s not really happening in my life, but it’s not really happening. I mean, I want ‘more, better, healthier,’ but this is where I’m at.”

So, let me use an illustration here that will help you and me understand this. I think this’ll be a good illustration for how we sort of get bogged down. Probably nobody in here knows what the intertropical convergence zone is. The intertropical convergence zone, there’s a word that used to be used in our vocabulary years ago that referred to this. However, as words change over time, it doesn’t mean this anymore. It means something different. That term is called “the doldrums.” You’ve probably heard the doldrums. The doldrums, if you look it up in the dictionary, it’d be like, “A state or period of inactivity, stagnation, depression,” or things like that. And we’d go, “Yeah, yeah. I know what the doldrums are.”

But the doldrums were a term that was used by nautical people hundreds of years ago when there weren’t engines in boats, but there were sails. And what they knew is that there was a period in the globe, what we call now the “intertropical convergence zone,” that they called “the doldrums.” The doldrums were a place where, when you were here, there was wind going, you could get your sails up and you could move. When you were here, there was winds up, and you could get going. When you were here, there were winds, and when you were here.

But in the doldrums, right along the equator, where the winds would meet together, there was this inclement area where it was rainy, nasty and storms, but there was no wind. And if your boat got in the doldrums, it was tough to get out of the doldrums. And that is what many of us experience. We want “more, better, healthy.” Nobody doesn’t want “more, better, healthy.” Everybody wants “more, better, healthy.” In fact, the way we’ve learned to cope by not talking about “more, better, healthy,” is to go, “Ahh, new year’s resolutions? Nobody keeps them. Nobody does that stuff. It’s terrible.”

You know? That’s the way we cope. But, deep down inside, everybody wants “more, better, healthier.” And, as Christians, we definitely want “more, better, healthier,” because we believe that Jesus can change our lives. So, something has to give.

Well, what I want to do is this. This is going to be really simple. It’s not going to be profound. It’s not going to be anything — I mean, it can be profound for your life, but it’s something that’s so simple that oftentimes such simple things are missed. Like, oftentimes, I’ve had counseling before with married couples. I’ve said to the husband or to the wife, “Hey, it’s not what you said. It’s how you said it.”

And they’re like, “Oh, yeah. That’s great.”

Then they get in the car and start arguing again. And it’s like, “Dude, you didn’t listen to a thing I said. You just did exactly the opposite.”

And it’s so simple, yet we just run past it. So, what I want to do is this. I want to just take a moment as your pastor — and I believe this with all of my heart. I believe what I’m going to share in the next few minutes can be life-changing for you. It can be massively changing for your life. It can be a massively different 2018. But it’s simple. And it’s stuff that maybe you already know, but yet, sometimes we just don’t do it.

So, what I want to do is I want to take three things. I can call it a person, people and purpose, or we can call it a number of other things. But I want to talk to you about just three simple things that will make the biggest difference in you and I’s lives. Here’s the first one: The first one is we’ve got to drag this out right here. This is the throne of my life, and somebody’s going to sit on it. It’s either going to be me or something, but the question is who’s going to sit here? Because the person who’s supposed to be sitting here is Jesus.

It’s tough. It’s a tough thing to go — because, typically, what we want to do is we go, “I want to be here. I’m going to stay here. What I’ll do is, Jesus, You can have some part of my life, but I’m not giving everything. Let’s make a little pact here. You can be savior, You just can’t be Lord. That works good for me. You know? You can be my savior. I like that idea. I like forgiveness. I’m just not letting You be Lord. Because if I were to put You here, that means that there’s things that I don’t get to do the way I do them. You know? My marriage is not going to be about what my wife does for me or what my husband does for me. It’s going to be about what I’m supposed to be doing for them if You’re here, and I don’t know if I like that gig. So, let me sit here and give you some of that, but I don’t want to get out of my throne, because that’s where I want to be. And, man, I don’t want to do that with other things in my life. I spent all kinds of — Lord, I just don’t know.”

Well, here’s the thing. Listen. This is what Scripture says. Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith...”

Okay, faith is saying, “I’m going to let You be Lord of my life. I’m going to let You sit on the throne of my life, and I’m not going to be on the throne of my life. I’m going to trust You and that Your ways of running my life are better than my ways of running my life.”

That’s faith. Listen to what it says here.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

You can’t please God without faith. There’s got to be some element where we say, “I trust You, God.”

And listen to what he says: “For he who comes to God must believe that He exists...” — you’ve got to believe there’s a God — “...and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

At some level, you’ve got to go, “Okay. I believe if I put Him there and I trust Him — because I’m not going to probably do the things the way He wants me to. I’m surely not really wanting to do the ‘turn the other cheek’ thing. That seems crazy. I surely don’t want to love my enemies. I surely don’t want to forgive seventy times seven. But, to do that, I’ve got to trust God that His ways are better than mine. So, at some level here, I’ve got to figure out, ‘Who’s going to be the person in this chair?’”

What I’ve called that is the first step is to give up. Now, when I say give up, I don’t mean that you don’t do anything. I’m talking about how there’s got to be a point here where there’s a surrender. We use the word in the New Testament, and Jesus uses the word “repent.” Many people think that that word means come down to an altar and cry. The word comes from two Greek words. It’s a compound word. Metanoia. Meta is change; noús is mind. It’s a change of mind. It’s, “I’m not longer going to be here. I’m going to turn around and I’m going to do it Your way. I’m going to give up.”

When I was in college, I went to Lee College. I never went to this place, but there was a place called “the blue hole.” It was interesting. Last night, somebody came up to me and said, “Hey, my kid went to Lee. I know about the blue hole.”

I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool.”

I didn’t go there, but it was a place where you could jump off rocks into a body of water that was deep enough, so you didn’t get hurt. And everybody loved to go there and jump into the water and all that stuff. So, somewhere near there, there was a place like the blue hole, but it had a waterfall that cascaded down. So, I guess somebody had jumped into the waterfall. When they went into the waterfall, the current was pulling them under. So, they jumped in, they’re under the water, and they realize, “I’m sinking.”

So, what did they do? They started exerting all of their ability that they could to come up to the top so they could live. Well, it didn’t take them very long to realize, “I don’t have enough strength. There’s no way in the world that I can swim against the current. I’m going to drown.”

And it didn’t take long before they had exhausted themselves and they were fatigued and they gave up. When they gave up, the current pushed them down, further, further and further, and then it hit and that current shot them like a balloon up to the top of the water. So, had they just jumped in and gone down, and come back up, everything would’ve been great. But it was counterintuitive. Well, they lived when they gave up. Oftentimes, in our lives, we don’t realize that life comes not by seizing control and white-knuckling on the throne of our lives, but sometimes we just have to say, “Hey, Jesus. You’re the one that’s supposed to be here.”

And Jesus says things like this. And here’s the cool thing about Jesus, and it’s the cool thing about coming here to Grace: You can belong here before you believe. You can take a moment here to sort of let this sink in, and you can evaluate this. But, as your pastor, I want to tell you the truth here: Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Here’s the great thing about Jesus: He’s either right or He’s wrong. This is the great thing about Jesus. It’s really simple. He either got it right or He got it wrong. C.S. Lewis said, “He was either the Lord or He was a liar or a lunatic, but He definitely wasn’t just a good dude.”

He never said that. He said, “I’m the way. I’m the truth. I’m the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

That is a strong statement. And sometimes it’s polarizing to us, but that’s what He says. So, it comes down to, “Okay, if He’s the way, the truth and the life, then He really is the way, the truth and the life.”

He also says it in ways like this. He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life, whoever swims really hard is going to lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake is going to find it.”

You’re not giving up to not get. You’re giving up to experience an incredible life. And He goes, “Listen, what does it profit you, what does it profit any of us if we gain the whole world, but we lose our own soul? What shall a man give in return for his soul?”

At some level, when we start of 2018, when we’re talking about sometimes we start things off and I want “more, better, healthier,” and I want all that stuff, where the real first question is, “Who is the person that’s going to be here?”

Who gets to be here? Do I or does Jesus? And that encompasses all of our lives. In your marriage, with your kids, with your job, with our car, with your finances and with all of those things, who gets to be here? Because, if we really want “more, better, healthier,” if we really want to see abundant life, if we really want to see the life that we feel like God could give us, it starts here. It starts right here. And that’s a really tough place to be. Because, we all do it. “Okay, Jesus. You can have it for a little while until something starts going on. If you could maybe go over here for a minute and stand over there. Let me take control again for just a little bit.”

And if we’re honest, that’s sort of life. Who’s going to be here? Well, for us to really have all the things that I think God has for you and me, we have to settle that. Now, that’s the primary thing. We’ve got to get that right. Okay? But, if you get that right, that’s still not going to be the full-on “more, better, healthier,” because once you get that right and you say, “Jesus is here. I’m going to give up,” the next thing that has to happen in our life is we have to do, then, what Jesus has asked us to do.

And that is what I call “friend up.” This is the right people. See, Jesus taught us all something: We cannot do our spirituality, we cannot live our lives, we cannot accomplish all that we need to accomplish alone. It doesn’t work that way. You can even read it in the creation story. It was not good for Adam to be alone. God created you and me social. We need other people. We need the body. Some of us are fingers, some of us are toes, some of us are noses, some of us are eyes, and all of those things. You need everybody. The Lord’s Prayer is not, “My Father which art in heaven,” it is, “Our Father which art in heaven.”

We want to experience great, abundant life. We’ve got to get Jesus first. But then, we’ve got to get the right people in our lives. This is the way Scripture talks about stuff. It says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.”

This is so true. You know that. You know if you hang around people that are smarter than you, you’re going to become smarter. It’s just the way it works. Paul says it this way: “Don’t be deceived, everybody, that bad company ruins good morals.”

You want to get corrupted? Hang around the wrong people. What people are is soil, and we are a seed. That seed will get deformed or not even grow if it’s in the wrong soil. What God wants for you and me, that’s why He created the Church. That’s why we come together. God knew that, “Hey, Jesus first. You’ve got to get that settled. If you don’t get the Jesus first thing, none of it matters. Jesus first, then friend up. You need to have people in your life that can pour into your life, because you can’t do life alone.”

This is one of the profound passages of Scripture in the pastoral epistles. Paul says here, in 2 Timothy, “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.”

Paul was in prison. So many people had left Paul. They were like, “Ah, we don’t deal with him. He’s in prison. He’s in chains.”

Paul said, “No, no. I’ve got a buddy. Onesiphorus. I’ve got somebody in my life that refreshed me. I’ve got somebody in my life that...” — the New Living Translation says — “...put wind, a breath of fresh air into my life.”

Here’s the question. You’ve got to have Jesus first.

“I’ve got Jesus first. He’s the Lord. I’ve got that stuff.”

Well then, the second question we have to ask is who do we have in our lives that we can call at 2 o’clock in the morning, that no matter what we’re going through, no matter if our marriages are in a mess, finances are in a mess, we’ve gotten into an addiction or gotten into a problem or whatever, they’re not ashamed of your chains at all. What they’ll do is they’ll refresh you because they’re a friend.

And see, it’s only when you and I allow people to pour into our lives that are not ashamed of our chains that we learn to return the favor to others and love them in a neighborly way and not be ashamed of their chains. It’s so important. It’s so simple, but so important. We make it so complicated. It’s, “Jesus, You’re first. You’re the right person.”

Then it’s the right people. Getting the right people in our lives. And I’m not talking about you can’t go out and go talk to the lost and do all those things. We need to do all those things. But who are the people that are pouring into our lives? That matters. And then we get that. Typically, at that point, that’s where most churches end. We go, “Okay. Come down and say the prayer. You’re good. Get involved in a small group. You’re good.”

People are like, “No, I’m not good. I’m still having struggles. I’m still not getting where I want to be. I’m still in the doldrums.”

But nobody says anything because nobody wants to say, “Yeah, it’s not working very well,” because then it’s like, “Whoa. What happened to you?”

So, what we do is we’ve created a system where we get people to say a prayer, and then we put them in a small group and what we do is we basically put them in a high chair. We say, “Okay. Just sit here and we’ll feed you and we’ll feed you and we’ll feed you, and all this stuff.”

And when they don’t get fed, they get upset, and they’re crying or whatever. And the reality is God has not called a church to tend the aquarium. God’s called the Church to fish for men. God’s not called us to put people in high chairs. He’s called us to go out and bring other people in and bring them back to the table, which is why the last part of this is huge. You won’t do the last part ever right if Jesus isn’t first. I can assure you of that. And you won’t do the last part right if you don’t have people in your lives that are pouring into your lives, because you’ve got to have people in your lives that will pour into your lives.

The third point is to then give out. This is where it all changes, because this is exactly where Jesus wants you and me to be. He wants you and me to be at places where we are giving out, because it’s in giving that we are massively, massively changed. I mean, it is just absolutely massive when we learn to give out.

And here’s what Paul says. Paul says, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up.”

Paul never thought that there would be an institution called “the Church” that wasn’t out doing neighborly things, reaching out to neighbors and building them up. He never even thought about that. And Paul knew. You get Jesus, right? He’s the Lord. You get people in your life. That’s community. That’s why we come to church. That’s why the writer of the Hebrews says, “Don’t neglect getting together. Stir one another up to love and good works.”

In Hebrews 10:24-25, that’s what he says. He says, “You’ve got to come together. You’ve got to be together. You’ve got to be a part. You’ve got to have the right people in your life pouring into you and loving you and treating you as neighbors so that then you and I can go out and start loving on other people.”

Paul says it this way to the Philippian church: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

He doesn’t say they are more significant. He says, “Count them that way.”

Well, you’re never and I’m never going to. We’re never, as people, going to do that if we haven’t settled who’s on the throne. We’ve got to get the right person. Then, if we don’t have the right people in our lives, we’re never going to do those things because we’re always going to see people as wanting something, needing to get something or it’s a bad investment. You know? We want to take care of our self. It’s when we learn, “Hey, you know what? I can trust others because there’s people that will absolutely not be ashamed of my chains. They will pour their life into me, which means I can then, in turn, pour my life into others.”

So, when you get the right person, the right people and the right purpose going on in your life, all of a sudden things start changing massively. And he says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others.”

This is simple. It’s who’s Lord or my life. Me? I’m not going to be happy, ever, if that’s the case. I might have moments. I might have periods of time, but it’s not going to be the only. Because if Jesus is the life and He’s right, then the only way that I’m going to have the life that I want is in Him, which means I’ve got to give up to get. I’ve got to lose so that I can gain. I’ve got to give up. Then I’ve got to friend up. I’ve got to really take that seriously. Let me let you in on a little secret here. Some of you may not know this: We do small groups around here, and we do supper clubs, and we do things like that. We call them circles, because we believe relationships are made in circles, not in rows.

We do circles for one reason. We hope that you grow in God, but that’s not why we do small groups. We hope that you get more spiritual, but that’s not why we do small groups. We hope that you learn to pray better, but that’s not why we do small groups. We hope that you learn to Bible more, but we don’t do small groups for those reasons. We hope all those things happen when you do small groups, but the reason we do small groups is for one reason: We want people to find relationships, because we know that relationship matter.

If you don’t have an Onesiphorus in your life, there’s going to be a time that you need an Onesiphorus in your life. And if you don’t have them, life is not good. It’s just not where it needs to be. That’s why we’ve got to have the right friends in our lives. And then, on top of that, we have to be involved in ministry.

And here’s what’s awesome: Paul says, in Ephesians 4 — and this may be a revelation for somebody — that God has set apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the body. Those are offices of the Church. Why? To equip the saints. Who are the saints? You. Why do you need to be equipped? So that you can work ministry. Which means every single person in this building, if you’re a saint and you say, “I’m a follower of Jesus,” you have a ministry.

You say, “Well, I don’t feel called to be a pastor.”

That’s not the ministry. Those are offices in the Church to equip saints. All saints have a ministry. All saints have a ministry of reconciliation. All saints have a ministry of bringing people back into Jesus. All saints have a ministry in the local church. There’s a position that they have that they’re desperately needed, and the church does not work as well as it does if they’re not doing what God has called them to do; you and me.

So, that’s where God wants us. We’ll never get to the place of where we’re giving out if we haven’t got the right person. Right? If we haven’t got the right people in our lives. And now we’re able to start giving out. That’s why when we put together this year, we said this is why we exist: We exist because here we’re giving out. We want to reach the unchurched. The component of what we want here at Grace is if you’re here and you’re a part of this church, we want you to be passionate about reaching the lost. That’s the goal here. The goal is to reach out. The goal is not to sit in here and get. The goal is to be able to go. But to be able to go, we have to learn to be intentional neighbors. How do we do that? We do that by working with other Christians in our midst; pouring into lives and allowing them to pour into us. We learn how to love people that are not like us.

What do most people do when they get upset at church? They leave and go to another one. That’s not what God wants you to do. He wants you to work through that situation so that you can learn He is powerful enough. Whenever two Christians get together and they can’t get along, what you’re saying is that God doesn’t have the power to put you guys together. And I reject that. I believe that God always has the power to bring people together. It takes both. Don’t get me wrong. But what we do is we say, “We’re just no different than the world.”

So, why do we want to be intentional neighbors? Because we want to be able to truly love other people. We truly want to love people in their afflictions, in their chains and in their misery, because we have been loved in that way that reflects Christ, the right person. We’ve realized that this is what it’s all about. That’s why this is here, because we realize if people are reaching out and being intentional neighbors, and reflecting Christ, we know that the life that they’re going to have is going to be incredible.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. We did this in every service, and we’re going to do it I this one. We’re going to pray for ourselves for these things in our lives. And I’m going to lead. I’m going to lead. Me first. I’m going to be vulnerable and pray a prayer for me, and show you how I pray this so that maybe you can pray this. And then I’m going to pray for you, as the pastor of this church, that we understand, “God, You’re the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and I’m not. And God, I need to be humble enough, and I need to have faith enough to have somebody in my life that can pour into my life.”

I’m going to ask You to pray in just a minute that you will find somebody in the church — not a staff member — that you can go to and say, “Would you pour into my life in 2018?”

If you’re someone who gets asked a first time, don’t accept it for the second one. Because everybody needs to be a part of this. Everybody needs to be a part of someone who’s pouring and somebody who’s receiving, because that’s the way this thing is going to work. And if you’re new and you’re like, “I don’t know anybody,” get involved in some small groups, get involved in some serving and you’ll find somebody that you can work with. We all need that in our lives.

Lastly, we need to pray, “God, what do You want me to get involved? I need to be involved I ministry.”

The Church is the ordained institution of God. Oftentimes, we go, “Oh, but I’ve got a ministry outside, over here. I’m doing this here.”

No, no, no, no, no. I’m not saying those ministries are wrong. The only ordained ministry in Scripture is the Church. Who’s supposed to be taking care of the widows? The Church. Who’s supposed to be taking care of the fosters? The Church. Who’s supposed to be taking care of the indigent. The Church. We’re supposed to be doing all of these things. We’ve maybe shirked that responsibility in many ways, but that’s what we’re called to do. That’s why everybody has a role in the Church. Everybody has a ministry, because to really reach everybody, everybody’s got to be pulling from the same end of the rope.

So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to pray. I’m going to pray as vulnerable as I can pray as your pastor. I’m hoping that as you hear me pray, it’ll help you pray. And then I’m going to pray for all of us here at the church. If you would, would you bow your heads with me?

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You. Lord, the first thing I want to do, starting off 2018, is reaffirm that You are the Lord of my life. I’m not. Lord, I know there’s going to be tendencies. There’s going to be times when I want to grab that authority back, when I want to pull that throne back over to myself. Lord, give me the faith, the courage, the strength and the ability to not do that. It’s better when You are the Lord of my life.

And Lord, give me the faith to trust You. You being the Lord of my life means that the things that You’ve asked me to do in Scripture are the things that I should be doing. Even though they may be contrary, even though it may be hard to turn the other cheek, even though it may be hard to love an enemy, even though it may be hard to do certain things, Lord, give me the faith to trust You. That You are a good God and that You really do have my best interests at heart if I’ll trust You.

Secondly, God, I pray that You would continue to develop me as a human being by having people in my life that will pour into me. Lord, I thank You for the Warren Gages and the Allen Reesors, our board members, that constantly call and ask what’s going on in my life, and are part of my life. And Lord, give me the humility to continue to want their input into my life, to not be prideful and arrogant, and to push that away.

And then, Lord, thirdly, I pray that as I minister and as I fulfill the callings that You’ve placed on my life, Lord, I pray that You would help me to do even more and greater things for the Kingdom of God this year; to give out even more, to spend the body, the breath, the arms, the legs and all of this that You’ve given me, to give in service to You for Your glory.

So, Lord, as I’ve tried to lead and tried to be honest with the way I would pray, Lord, I pray for everybody here that’s in this service right now. Lord, I pray that those who say, “You know what? I do want to see a transformation in my life,” Lord, I pray that right now where they’re at they would say, “Lord, I want You to be on the throne of my life. It’s scary, God. It’s white knuckles, because I really like that control. And it’s hard to give it up. It’s going to be really hard to give it up in areas of my life that I really don’t want to give to You. But, Lord, please give me the faith to trust You and that Your ways are better. If I could just believe You and trust You, I would see so many great things. That You are a rewarder of those who seek You. You are a rewarder of those who put faith in You. Lord, let us have the faith to trust You for that.”

And then, Lord, secondly, I pray that everybody in this church would have the humility, the courage and the faith to find somebody and say, “Would you pour into my life in 2018?”

Lord, let that be something that transforms our local church massively, that somebody’s in our corner, that the Jesus that lives in the friend is pouring into us by not being ashamed of the chains, and refreshing us when nobody else was around.

Lastly, I pray, God, that everybody would realize that there’s a ministry for all of us, and there’s something that we can do. Whether it be in the children’s department, the youth department, the nursery, whether it’s shaking hands and greeting, whether it’s working in the parking lot, whether it’s First Friday, whether it’s a small group, whether it’s music — Lord, whatever it may be, maybe taking photography, maybe helping out and doing other things, Lord, it’s limitless. Working with widows and people that need help, Lord. It’s limitless. But, Lord, give us the faith to also give out.

Lord, I believe with all of my heart that if we as a church will give up and friend up and give out, it will be a magnificently different 2018 than it would’ve been if we wouldn’t have made those commitments here at the beginning. So, Lord, give us the faith, give us the courage, give us the ability to trust You for those things.

And Lord, as we leave here today, I pray that You would continue to watch over, protect, lead and guide everyone here at Grace. And Lord, help us as a church to continue to be a light that truly shines, that truly wants to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ for Your glory and for Your honor. Lord, we look forward to 2018 as we know that you’re going to do great things, exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think.

We love You for it. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.

Recap Week 1

Sermon Transcript

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. Many of you probably know this, but some of you may not be aware. There’s a great story in the Old Testament — one of the great overarching stories of the Old Testament — and it concerns the children of Israel being released from bondage in Egypt. And God chooses a man named Moses. You’re probably aware of who he is. Charlton Heston, right? Everybody remembers him.

But Moses delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt. As he did, they went through the Red Sea and God parted the Red Sea. They went over to Sinai and God gave the Ten Commandments there. A lot of things go on, but they wandered in the wilderness because they didn’t believe. As Moses was sort of going to take them into the promised land — that’s what God had sort of called him to do — there’s this sort of crazy passage of Scripture where God says, because the children of Israel are really thirsty, “Speak to the rock and the rock will give water out.”

But instead, it seems like Moses is sort of really irritated at the people of Israel and he strikes the rock twice with his rod, and that particular incident — which we don’t have time to go into this weekend — keeps him from going into the promised land. He’s never able to get into the promised land. So, God passes the torch from Moses to Joshua. Just a quick aside: Even though Moses did not make it into the promised land, in Mark 9, Luke 9 and Matthew 17, there’s a passage that we call the “Mount of Transfiguration” where Jesus is standing with Moses and Elijah. In Christ, Moses actually got to stand in the promised land. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Just think about that. I don’t have time to preach on that, but that’s just a little, quick, cool aside.

Anyway, the torch is passed to Joshua. Joshua’s got, somewhere, we don’t know for sure, at least several hundred thousand Jewish people — up to maybe two or three million. We’re not quite sure the amount of numbers. But, he’s got to cross the Jordan. So, God says to Joshua, “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to get the priest to carry the Ark of the Covenant, and I want them to go down into the Jordan River. As they go into the Jordan River, the water is going to part like it parted for the Red Sea, and people will be able to go across on dry ground.”

So, as these seven, eight hundred thousand, up to two or three million people go across this dry riverbed where God’s holding the waters back and the priests are there in the water holding the Ark of the Covenant, God says to Joshua, “While they’re in there, make sure that they pick up twelve stones from the riverbed. When everybody’s passed through, they’ll come back up onto the other side of the bank, the water will go back, but I want you to get those twelve stones.”

So, we’re going to pick up the story there. It says, “And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.”

So, here’s these twelve stones out of the riverbed where the river’s dry, as God’s parted the seas. They’ve gone through the Jordan and into the promised land, and Joshua has set up these twelve stones. Maybe he stacked them twelve high. Maybe he did two of six. Whatever he may have done, he stacked those stones up as God had told him to do.

“And he said to the people of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’”

Joshua knew that the generation that went across the Jordan and saw God do the miraculous, maybe subsequent generations wouldn’t experience some of those miraculous things of God. Maybe they wouldn’t see God move in the same way that God had moved for them. And it’s true of our Christianity. You know, if you would’ve been the first people into Egypt, you would’ve known that you were going to be in Egypt and you were going to die in Egypt because God wasn’t going to deliver the children of Israel for 400 years.

So, how do you live in that circumstance? Well, you live pouring it into the next generation knowing that God’s going to deliver in subsequent generations. So, God does those things. Sometimes He’s moving in lives and sometimes it feels like He’s far away. And Joshua knew that. Joshua said, “Hey, guys. Listen. Here’s what’s going to happen here: We’ve got these stones set up, and there’s going to be a time when your children, and maybe your children’s children, a subsequent generation, may be not feeling like God’s so near, may be not feeling that God’s there, may be feeling that God’s distant, and maybe even doubting whether or not God exists.”

He says, “Your children are going to come up at some point and they’re going to ask, “What do these stones mean?”

And Joshua says, “Then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’”

“Why did he set those stones up? Why did he do that?”

He did that so that they could remember what God had done among them. And in future generations, people could remember what God had done. What I want to do over the next two weeks here is I want to set up some stones. I want to make sure that we remember some things that God has done in our midst, because it’s so easy when you’re in a generation where God’s parting seas and everything else, it just sort of becomes normal and you don’t realize the miraculous nature of it. But people down the road that are not experiencing that, they’d give anything to see some of the things that God did in those particular times.

And let me tell you something: We are seeing God do some incredible things here at Grace, and we want to document that and recap that so that everybody can remember. So, here’s what we’re going to do over the next couple of weeks: We’re going to remember and celebrate what God has done among us, and I think you’re going to really enjoy this and this is going to be really uplifting for everybody. But we’re going to do it, also, to encourage and inspire us towards the future.

So, here’s what I want to do. I want to give you a couple quick facts, because oftentimes when we say these things, we don’t realize how miraculous they are. We’re getting to see things that most people have never gotten to see. And sometimes you don’t even feel like it’s going on in your midst because you’re a part of it. You’re going across the Jordan on dry ground and you don’t even realize how significant that is until three generations later people are going, “Man, I would’ve loved to have been a part of that thing that’s going on.”

So, let me just give you an idea here of some facts that are really remarkable and things that we should celebrate and honor God for. First of all, in 2017, we have grown from around 800 people to around 1,200 people. Now, I want to put this in perspective, because this is huge. The average church in America is under 80 people. Now that’s not bad. I’m not knocking any of that. I’m just saying the average church in America is about 75 people. So, we’ll round up to 80 people. God, in our midst, has birthed 5 average American churches at Grace Community Church. Think about that for a minute. You want a real shocking number? We’ve grown from 200 to 1,200 in 3 years.

The reason I say that is not so we can go, “Alright! We’ve got all these numbers and everything else.”

I’m saying that to say stop for a minute and take a deep breath and realize you and I have seen something that most people don’t ever get to see in the world of church. If it stopped today and we never grew another person, if all of a sudden I became Noah — remember that Noah preached for 90 years and nobody converted? Remember that? Okay. I’m going to build an ark.

The deal is if God never did anything else in our midst, we have seen something that very few people have ever gotten to see. Not only that, but our children’s ministry has experienced explosive growth. We’re getting to the place of where we’re nearing almost 200 kids on the weekend, 11 years and younger. Now, listen here. Not only is that several normal churches of 11 years and younger — listen here, this is important — but that means God, in His sovereignty, has entrusted you and me with almost 200 kids to pour into the next generation with the Gospel.

Think about that for a minute. God, in His sovereignty, in His goodness — that’s a huge responsibility for us. But, just imagine. Especially in Sarasota. There are churches in this town, many churches, that wouldn’t know what to do if they had young families with kids coming into their church. And God has blessed us with that. Not only that, but our outreach has been spectacular. I mean, what we’ve been able to do as Grace Community Church. What you’ve been able to do. I mean, as hundreds of people and hundreds of people have volunteered, we’ve been able to do outreaches and Thanksgiving and book bags and all kinds of stuff.

And then, of course, everything sort of culminated at Christmas on Main. I just want you to take a minute, look on the screens here and just take this in for a second, because this is unbelievable. Just take a moment there and let that sink in. That’s greater than a football field of people that not only did you as a church and all of the other groups of people that come to all the other services that we have — we had hundreds of people out there serving — that believed in what we believe in here as the vision of our church. We exist to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.

Listen: They shut down a street so that we could go out there and love on people and we could get up as a church and let people know that God is not mad at them and that they can come home. I mean, that’s something to remember and celebrate, isn’t it? I mean, incredible. Set up those stones in your life to remember this, because there’s no guarantee that God’s going to continue to do what God’s been doing here. I hope He does. I pray He does. But He may not.

And it’s important that we remember along the way and not just think, “Ah, this is just sort of normal. This is the way everybody else has it.”

It’s not the way everybody else has it. On top of that, we have tremendous testimonies here. We catalogued so many videos of so many people. We’re never going to be able to disseminate all those videos in the two weekend services, but we will get those videos out to you as a church. But I wanted, as a pastor, you to see your brothers and sisters be able to talk about things that are going on in their lives so that you can see. Because we need to see sometimes what God’s doing in our midst.

It’s my heart — you know, we keep buying larger and larger drives so that we can store more and more videos on them. And let me tell you why: My hope and my prayer is that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, Grace Community Church is in a building and we have multiple sites. Hopefully there’s a pastor that’s preaching there better than me at that point, and I’m on some walker with cool tennis balls. You know? Telling everybody, “You need to repent because Jesus loves you! Welcome to Wal-Mart!”

All the kids I’ve got, baby, I’m going to be at Wal-Mart, let me tell you something. Greeting everybody.

But what I’m saying is in my mind I’m thinking that the journey that we’ve had and the journey that we’ve experienced, there’s going to be a time at Grace Community Church where it’ll plateau. There’ll be a time where maybe it prunes for a season. Maybe a time that it declines for a season. I want posterity. I want the future of our church to be able to look back and go, “Man, they crossed the Jordan on dry ground.”

These videos and these stones are a remembrance of what God has done in our midst. As we started letting people talk, and we didn’t coach them and say, “Say this or say that,” — we just sort of let people talk and tell their story. We found, as everybody was talking, that there were three real themes that ran through almost every testimony. The first theme was major life changes. Not like little steps forward. That people here at Grace Community Church were experiencing major life changes. I mean, 180-degree things where people were going, “Man, that is not the same person that I used to know.”

Major life changes. And that’s exactly what you would expect and we should expect in a church that God’s active in. When Paul writes to the church at Corinth, who he calls saints — they’re Christians, but they’re not really acting like Christians. He reminds them, “When the Kingdom of God is present, it’s not words. It’s power. It’s power to change lives.”

In fact, when he writes to the Thessalonian church, he says, “You guys turned from serving idols to serving the Living God.”

In other words, there’s a change. Paul writes another time to the church at Corinth, and this is what he says: “If anyone’s in Christ, he’s a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come.”

In other words, there’s life change. And we’re seeing that in the testimonies that we’re recording and logging. So many people here aren’t just having a little bit of an experience or maybe one goose bump on the left arm or whatever. They’re really having major, major life changes.

The second thing that we’re seeing here is that they’re getting involved through serving. And let me say this: It was a while back, several years ago, that I just kept saying to myself, “There’s something not right.”

Not just here, but as a church in whole — I mean, I’m a professor, too. I take church growth seriously. I take preaching seriously. I take theology seriously. Those are all things that I dabble in and teach in. I teach systematic theology. I teach homiletics. I teach how to preach and do those things at seminary and college level. And I started looking at Scripture again and I’m going, “Man, you know what? The way Jesus did things, we’re not really doing it the way He did it.”

What Jesus did is He took people that were really not ready for prime time and He said, “Go do ministry,” which is the exact opposite of the way we do it. You’ve got to be able to stand on one foot. You’ve got to be able to recite this and say that. Join this, go through that, jump through that and do that. Maybe, just maybe, in six months we’ll meet you again and talk to you and see if you can maybe shake hands at the door in the back where nobody comes in. And we do that, you know? And we wonder why people aren’t going.

Jesus would get the disciples and say, “Hey, guys. Go into that town.”

They’d go into that town and what would they do? They would make the biggest wreck of all. They’d come back and Jesus would say, “How’d it go?”

“Man. It was fantastic, man. We were going to call down fire on those kids in that town.”

He’s like, “No, guys. No, no, no, no. That’s not the way you do it.”

They’d come back to Jesus and they’d go, “Oops! We prayed for some dude and it didn’t work.”

He’s like, “That’s because you guys are pagans. You’ve got to learn to pray.”

You see this way Jesus did things so different than the way most churches do things. I just had this vision. I’m like, “You know what? What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to cut through all the red tape of service. We’ve got to get people not involved in just learning more, but we’ve got to get people involved in doing ministry.”

Because when they do ministry and you go out there and you try to do ministry, and you say, “Let me tell you about Jesus,” and you don’t even know a Bible passage, they’re like, “Well, what do you know about Jesus?”

“I don’t know nothing about Jesus. I just know my pastor told me to tell you about Jesus.”

And then they start telling you things that you go, “Well, I don’t know anything.”

And you come back and you’re crying. On the way back, you learn to pray. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry.”

You’re learning to pray for the first time. You come back and you go, “Hey, you’ve got to help me out. You’ve got to equip me so that I can get better at sharing Jesus.”

All of a sudden, you realize that going out and getting involved in ministry does all those things that we’re looking for. The prayer life, the Scripture study and all that stuff. You get out there and throw yourself out there for Jesus, you’ll get really dipped quickly in trying to figure out how to make this thing work. So, we said, “That’s what we’re going to do.”

When I sit around and I talk to the staff and I’m trying to figure out what we’re doing here at Grace Community Church, I like it that we’re growing and I like it that we do things that we do and I like the outreach. But my heart, the thing I want to know, is how many of our “x” people — if it’s 1,200, 1,500 or whatever it is — are actively involved in doing something for the Kingdom of God. That’s what I want to know. Because, to me, the more people we get involved in ministry, the more things change. So, getting involved through serving, what we’re seeing is that the people that are experiencing the most life change aren’t the ones — and we’ve done this. Oftentimes, it’s like we just sit everybody in high chairs. You know? And they just say, “Feed me!”

Have you ever seen a baby that you put Cheerios in front of? And when they don’t get their Cheerios? “Ahh!” Crying and all that stuff. What we’ve got to do as a church is get people out of the high chair, out into the world bringing other people to the table, trusting that God will have food for you and the person that you brought. That’s getting involved through serving.

The writer of the Hebrews says it beautifully. He says, “God’s not unjust as to overlook your work and the love you’ve shown for His name, serving the saints as you still do.”

When you’re loving on people and you’re caring for people, God doesn’t go, “Oh, I didn’t see that. Oh, I didn’t notice that.”

That touches God’s heart. God’s heart is people. When we’re out loving on people and serving people and doing stuff, God takes care of the rest. He just does. And then, one of the other themes that we saw — and we were sort of shocked, or at least I was sort of shocked at seeing this — is a real sense of true community. Usually a church that grows the way we grow, one of the things that’s severely lacking is the sense of people feeling like there’s a belonging in the midst.

So, as we started interviewing people, we started hearing these testimonies and people are going, “Man, I made friends. Man, I’ve got people that love me. Man, I connected with people and everything.”

But what we’ve found — and, again, I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes. Please hear your pastor on this. This comes out of a heart of love. We found that those who do get involved in ministry, those who do get involved in service are the ones that are experiencing the community. Those who sit back and say, “I want to experience community before I do anything,” are not getting it. And what we’ve found is that it’s not a problem with what’s going on here. It’s a problem with those who don’t want to get involved in doing the things of God. True community comes out — listen to what the writer of Hebrews says.

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

So, here’s meeting together. The writer of Hebrews says, “Hey, we want to make sure that we assemble.’

We’ll call that “church.” But, listen to what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say anything in here at all about getting your needs met, getting fed or anything about that. He says, “When we meet together, let’s stir up one another to love and good works.”

So, if we’re stirring up one another to love and good works, guess what happens by faith? God takes care of all the things that you have need of. It’s so prevalent in our society. “I’ve got to get me first, and then everything else. I’ve got to take care of this first, and then do whatever.”

Listen: The Kingdom of God does not work like the kingdom of the world. God says, “You put me first, my Kingdom first, and I’ll take care of all of the other things that you have need of.”

That’s the truth. So, let’s look here at a couple of these testimonies that we have. I think you’re going to be encouraged and inspired. I think they’re going to minister to you. The first testimony here that we have is a young man, David Kovacs. This is just great. I want you to listen. Listen to what God is doing in the lives of these people that are sharing their testimony with you. First of all, let me say something. It’s tough to get in front of a camera and speak. It’s stuff to share our life. So, everybody, for the next two weeks that you see that went up here, make sure that you go up and tell them that you love them and that you appreciate what they said and that you encourage them. Because it’s tough sometimes to lay it all out there in front of people.

So, what I love about this testimony is that he says that his parents are being able to see the major life changes that are going on in him. He talks about how he’s connected with people. He says he didn’t have very many friends until he came to Grace, and now he’s got friends that he’s really connected with. He says his dreams are coming back to life again. Things that he thought were dead. Just listen to this story. It’s beautiful. So, let’s listen here to David Kovacs and let’s enjoy what he has to say as one of our brothers in the Lord. Let’s listen.

[Video]

[David]: My name’s David Kovacs. I’ve been coming to Grace since July of 2016. So, I got baptized on April 30th of this year, and I consider that a huge turning point in my life. It was my decision to hand my life over to Christ. God’s been doing a lot of restoration in my life over this last year. I feel a lot happier. I’ve seen a lot of dreams of mine that I thought were dead come back to life. A few months ago, one of my parents told me just how much they’ve noticed me change over this last year. They mentioned me being a lot happier, more outgoing, less inward-focused and more outward-focused. I could have a horrible day, just be stressed out over work or whatever the situation may be, and go home at night and, through prayer, just work those things out with my Heavenly Father.

I’ve been a lot less anxious. I worry about things a lot less now. I have a couple of roommates that I live with now that I wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t been for the Grace family. I didn’t really have a lot of close friends before coming to Grace. I feel like I have a lot of people here that I consider brothers and sisters. We’re that close now.

[End Video]

Amen. Just great stuff. As a pastor, you want to make sure that you don’t come across saying something that’s not true, but this is exactly what Jesus does in our lives. He just makes things better. And that doesn’t mean that there’s never difficulty. It doesn’t mean that there’s not valleys. It doesn’t mean that there’s not disappointments. That’s not what we preach here. There’s all of that. We live in a fallen world and there’s going to be all of that. We’re not going to see all the fullness of everything until we get into eternity. But what I want to stress here is this young man, believe it or not, is here every single service working in the children’s department. He’s here on a regular basis with the young adults. He’s made community here. His life has been transformed. That is a testimony to what God is doing here at our church.

The next video is just a cute couple. It’s Eric Price and Lauren Zahn. They moved from up north. Eric had been in church years ago, but he wasn’t going. And Lauren wasn’t a Christian when they came here. What’s happened here — just listen to their testimony. It’s incredible what God has done in their life. So, let’s listen here to Eric and Lauren as they share their testimony here.

[Video]

[Eric]: Major changes have happened in the last year — in the last 18 months, really. Prior to our moving down to Sarasota, we didn’t really attend church. I kind of felt a calling to come back to my faith. One year ago, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a car. We’d moved down here, and we were beginning to question whether things would work out the way we’d hoped that they would. And it was kind of like a tough time for us trying to figure out, “Are we in the right place? What are we doing?”

[Lauren]: We were about to break up...

[Eric]: We were...

[Lauren]: ...because we weren’t getting engaged.

[Eric]: ...because I couldn’t afford a ring. All the pieces have been put into place for us to build a life together. Not only is it just our wedding that we have to look forward to, we have a whole group of family members, friends, loved ones that see our lives and they’re saying, “Something’s different. We don’t quite know what,” but there’s outreach there. There’s hope. And all along the way, everyone here at Grace has been super supportive of us, too. I’m convinced that that would’ve only been possible had we turned our focus to God...

[Lauren]: We obviously couldn’t have done it by ourselves.

[Eric]: ...to really spend time praying, being in fellowship with others and learning from people in the church.

[Lauren]: All I know is that I was so against going to church. So, if there wasn’t something special here, I wouldn’t be here. And I truly feel like I am supposed to be here. We are supposed to be here. We are supposed to grow here.

[Eric]: Being able to just talk and be in fellowship. It’s Gabriel’s hug on a Sunday when you’re feeling down. It’s your study groups on a Monday or a Tuesday night when you feel like the week couldn’t get any worse. Everything turns around when you’re here.

[Lauren]: I find that even with serving or anything it might be you come a weekend and it’s like, “I don’t really want to serve today.” But then you come and you’re like, “Thank God I did that.” It really changes everything.

[Eric]: We love you, Grace.

[End Video]

I don’t want to come across sounding like the guy on TV, okay? But I do want to say that God does still provide jobs and God still does provide cars for people. You know? And He’s a God of provision. And I just want you to hear their story. Here they were. Just listen to the restoration that’s going on in their life and the things that they’ve found here.

This next testimony is Betsy Pierce. It was touching because, last night when I checked in at the six o’clock service on Facebook, she replied, “I wish I was there.”

She’s out of town like many people are this weekend. She really would want to be here even though she’s out of town. And, I’m sure she’s enjoying the time that she is out of town. She’s had a tremendous life change since she came here. She was married for 38 years and went through a divorce, and came here pretty much broken. I want you to listen to what God has done in her life, and I want you to hear clearly, when she got involved in serving, how God really started to open up some things in her life.

Let’s listen to Betsy.

[Video]

[Betsy]: My name is Betsy Pierce, and I began coming to Grace at the beginning of February 2017. When I first started coming to Grace, I would characterize myself as just surviving. I’d been divorced for a few years after being married for 38, and felt like I was kind of treading water. When I first went in to talk to Mrs. Nanette about volunteering with the kids, there was not a moment’s hesitation with her acceptance of me. She said, “What do you want to do, Betsy? Where do you feel like you can best serve?”

No waiting to see, no periods of, “Well, you have to be a member for six months before you can do that,” but just, “If you want to minister, then we’ve got a place that you can minister. We will help you do that.”

I have found that before I would have happy days sometimes. Now, even when some things are happening that aren’t so pleasant, I still find I have joy in my life. A joy that I can only explain as coming from God because of the ways I’ve been able to plug in here at Grace. My daughter, specifically, has commented that I’m out of the house more, that I’m smiling more, that I seem to be happier than I used to be. And I find that’s because I have found more purpose in my life working in ministry at Grace.

I am happy that I have the opportunity to use my gifts and talents in ministry. I have found that God not only can use me, He wants to use me, He’s eager for me to still be useful. I’m not too old, I’m not too divorced, I’m not too anything else. I am still one of His children, I am loved, and He wants to work through my brokenness in order to minister to others.

[End Video]

Amen. Not too old, not too divorced for God to be able to use me. Man, that is the absolute truth. Listen: It’s not a matter of how well we get it together. Listen. We went Old Testament North Carolina, me, Mindy and the kids at the beginning of last week. We came back on Friday. Trust me: If you’d have been in the car with all those kids, you’d have thought we were a pagan family. We left three of them on the side of the road in Georgia. We still have a lot of them.

What I’m saying to everybody here is that — listen — God works through our brokenness. The reason we, as a church, so want you to get involved — and it could be a handshake, it could be children’s ministry, it could be Bible study, it could be small group or whatever it may be — is we believe that when you and I get involved in doing ministry, God just shows up in ways that are different from just sitting around and soaking. You know?

So, listen to these stories. I hope I don’t get in trouble here. But, just so that you understand, her divorce was from a minister. I mean, this is a lady that came here pretty hurt. To hear her talk and to hear her shed all the religious trappings of, “I’m not too divorced. I’m not too whatever. God can use me.”

Let me tell you something. Hear me and hear me well: God wants to use you. I don’t care where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’ve said, what you didn’t say. If you’re hearing my voice, if you’re hearing it through the internet and all the other places, the podcast and all that other stuff, listen to me: God has a plan for your life. He wants to get you involved in doing Kingdom work, and He wants to show you that He can do exceedingly, abundantly above all that you could ever ask or think in your life. Amen?

The next video I chose, she’s only been coming for a couple months. Makayla. I chose her because of what she has to say about the way she found community here at Grace. I just want you to listen. She’s just a sweet soul. You’re going to see it. Just as sweet as can be. But I wanted you to hear how she’s walked in here and found a community that she didn’t think she was going to be able to find because of some things that have happened in her life that showed her some different things. So, listen to this story. I think you’ll be ministered to. Listen to Makayla.

[Video]

[Makayla]: My name’s Makayla Dove, and I’ve been coming to Grace for a few months now. I lived in Uganda for four months about a year and a half ago, and that was an experience that changed me and shook me. It was very hard. What affected me most about being in Uganda was definitely the poverty. Poverty like I had never seen before. I lived in a mud house. I think what really stuck with me was the reality that in America we have what’s called a “poverty of community.” We tend to think of poverty as something that’s just material. Lacking shelter. Lacking food. Obviously, that’s very important that we address those needs. But, I’ll tell you, the people I saw in Uganda, the vast majority of them were so much happier. They were full of so much more joy than the people I know here.

I got to experience that with them for four months. I got to experience a richness, a fullness of community and caring about people and being part of an international family like I had never before. Coming back from those kinds of rich, deep, intimate relationships was hard. It was really hard to come back to the states where people just don’t tend to take strangers under their wing like they do in Uganda. So, I think that that’s part of the reason that Grace was important to me, because it was that taste of Uganda again; that community, that culture of caring about people who you don’t even know that well.

I mean, I still have a long way to go to know some of my friends, but people will tell me that they care about me, that they value me, that they’re praying for me. And it really means the world to me. I’m learning more and more to value human relationships, because after being in a period of isolation for about a year and a half, having these relationships again is just so wonderful, and I treasure every moment. It just reminds me what life is supposed to be about. Loving God. Loving people.

[End Video]

And let me remind all of us that that sense of community, that sense of involvement in ministry, the things that we’re seeing here at Grace, that’s up to all of us to continue to allow God to do. It’s real easy to get to a place where you get comfortable and you just go, “You know what? We’re really cool with where we’re at. It just feels good right now. We like everything that’s going on. We don’t want to have to have anybody else come in and get involved and disrupt our comfort level and everything.”

That’s just not who we are. I want every single person — I don’t care where they’ve come from, what they believe, what they’re doing. I want everybody that walks into this church to feel loved and accepted. I want them to be greeted with a smile. I want them to know that their Heavenly Father loves them, and they can see it through each of the people here at Grace Community Church.

And it’s up to us to have that sense of community. It’s up to us to make sure that we go out of our way to serve one another and love one another. And, you know, I try my best at the end of whenever I speak to try to take a moment and say, “What can we do with what we just experienced? What are actionable steps? What can I take home with me?”

That’s the way I normally say it. So, what can I take home with me this weekend? What can I walk out of here with, with the videos that I’ve seen and some of the stuff, the 12 stones and all that? What can I do?

Well, first of all, what I would say is this: God is truly restoring people’s lives among us, and He can restore mine. That’s what I would leave here with. I would leave going, “You know what? God can restore me.”

Maybe 2017 didn’t work out for you as well as you had hoped that it would. But, let me tell you something: God is not on a calendar year. He’s not on a New Year’s resolution. God is a God that can make every single day a new day. He can change your life daily. You know? What I want you to hear is what God is doing among us. Just open yourself up in your seat.

Say, “God, I’m ready. I’m ready to stop sitting back here and waiting for things to happen. I’m going to get involved. I’m going to follow You. I’m going to do what Your Word says. I’m going to take You at Your word. I’m going to walk by faith like all the great men and women of God did, and I’m going to trust You that You’ll do what You say.”

And can I tell you something? If you trust God to do what He says He will do, He will not let you down. He won’t. He is a good, good Heavenly Father. And then what I would do is I would encourage you to also walk out of here today thinking of this: “It’s readily apparent that those who’ve caught the vision at Grace are really seeing change in their lives as they get involved. And this church wants me to be involved, too.”

That’s you. Everybody in here. We want you to be involved. We want you to be doing ministry for the Kingdom of God. We believe that what God is doing here is incredibly special, and we want to make sure that every single person in Lakewood Ranch, every single person in Sarasota, every single person in Bradenton knows that their Heavenly Father wants them to come home, He’s not mad at them, and He has grace and an extravagant love for them. All they’ve got to do is turn towards Him and start walking that way, and they’ll find that there is a Heavenly Father that will jump off the porch to come find them and to make sure that they are taken care of.

So, let’s do that. And here’s the deal: When we get done with Sarasota and Bradenton, then we’ll go to Tampa. Because it’s “go into all the world,” it’s not just “go into your city.” Right? Amen? So, here’s what I want to do as we conclude the service: First of all, I want to pray for all of you. I want to pray for those that have had massive restoration. I also want to pray for those that are in need of massive restoration. You’re hearing that, and you go, “I want some of that.”

I want you to have that. It doesn’t make a difference what I want. I’m telling you God wants to do restoration in your life. And then I also want to pray that we will commit as a church, because it takes all of us, that we’re going to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we’re going to keep our eyes focused on reaching the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ, and we’re not going to turn to the left or to the right. We’re going to keep doing the things that God wants us to do so that we can continue to walk in the blessing and favor that God has on this church.

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, as we end one year and walk into another, there’s a significance to the calendar year, a significance of turning the page into a new year. For many people, that’s a real significant moment. But, Lord, it really speaks of the Gospel. It’s not a calendar year. It’s a daily thing. You can change our lives daily. Lord, I thank You for the people that have experienced massive change and restoration in their life in 2017. I pray, Lord, that You would continue to minister to them and strengthen them and encourage them in every way.

But I also pray for those that maybe are feeling like they’re on the outside today looking in and seeing what You’re doing in people’s lives and wondering, “Could it be that God could do that in my life?”

Lord, I pray that You would fill their heart with faith to trust You that You are the same yesterday, today and forevermore, and that You can still do restoration even in their life. Let them believe the good news that there is a God in heaven that truly wants to make a difference in their life.

And then, Lord, as a church we pray collectively, Lord, in every service, all four of our services, we’re going to pray that You would help us to stay focused on the things that matter. Lord, help us to be a place that truly wants to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Help us to continue to be a church that puts Kingdom work ahead of our needs, and trust that Kingdom work will ultimately result in You taking care of us. If we can trust You, You will take care of us.

So, Lord, I pray that as we leave here today, Lord, as we walk out of here and everybody experiences a new year, I pray that we would remember what You have done among us, that we would set up those 12 stones and we would celebrate and rejoice in the fact that we have seen You do some things that are incredible in our lives.

Continue to lead, guide and direct us, watch over us and protect us. Bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, I just pray that You would continue to pour out Your blessing and favor upon our church. And Lord, I pray that we would continue to reach out to the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. We love You. We thank You. We praise You. We honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Happy New Year to everybody. Give the Lord a big hand clap. God bless you.

2017 Christmas Message

Sermon Transcript

[Intro]

[Jeremiah]: Hello, Grace family, and merry Christmas. Madi and Jeremiah here from The Plug to bring you a Christmas message.

[Madi]: P.C. has put together a two-part treat for all of you to enjoy right in your own home. The first part is his biblically brilliant Christmas sermon for you adults to enjoy.

[Jeremiah]: However, the second part is for the whole family. So, grab the kiddos, gather around the screen, fast forward to part 2 and enjoy the Christmas story read for all ages by Pastor Chip.

[Madi]: From all of us at Grace Community Church, we hope you enjoy this Christmas morning message.

[Jeremiah and Madi]: And have a very merry Christmas.

[End Intro]

[Pastor Chip]: Well, good morning and merry Christmas to those of you all who attend Grace, and also to those of you all who may watch via the internet or the mobile app. Maybe you’re watching this not at Christmas time, but merry Christmas to everybody regardless of where you get this and what format you watch it in.

I want to be upfront really quick. We’re going to do two messages. So, if you have a family with younger kids, what you can do is you can sort of fast forward. You’ll see that there’ll be a place where we start another devotional. And you can do that with your children around the house. Hopefully it will be a blessing to you. But, this first one here will be for the regular people at Grace; for the adults, so to speak.

So, I just want to start off by saying thanks for allowing me into your house, your car, your computer or wherever you may be to talk to you about the Christmas Story. And I really hope that, even though this is in video format, this will speak to you in a real and significant way.

So, before I get started, I want to say just a quick word of prayer. We’ll pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for the wonderful Christmas story. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus. And I pray, Lord, that whether it’s adults or children that watch these videos, I pray that You would speak to all of us and You would minister to all of us at this Christmas time. For Your glory we pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.

I want to read today out of Matthew 1:18-25. I’m going to just sort of read some Scripture and make a little commentary on it. Then, at the end, I’ve got a couple of questions that I think it would be appropriate for us to answer. And I really do. I hope this speaks to you. So, whatever you’re doing, put the gifts away, put the candy away or whatever it may be, and focus in here. I think you’ll be blessed here at this story.

Matthew says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”

What Matthew does here is Matthew tells us how Jesus’ birth came about, and He’s very particular here. He wants to make sure that we understand that this is the way it happened. Now, he’s got a different story than Luke. In Luke, Mary is sort of the main player, but in Matthew, Joseph is the main player. So, they’re writing for different reasons and different audiences, but for Matthew he wants to make sure that the reader — that’s you and me — understands this is the way Jesus’ birth came about.

And I suspect he wanted to make sure that we knew how it came about because it came about in a way that’s not normal. It is a miraculous birth.

He says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows [here’s the way it happened]: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph...”

Now, that word “betrothed” is sort of a little strange to you and me. When we get married here in America or in the West, we usually date for a little while, figure out we like somebody. Then what we do is we get engaged and we’ve got to tell everybody on Facebook with ring posts and all of that stuff. But, we get engaged. And then what we do is we plan a wedding, and then we have that wedding. Well, it’s similar in the 1st century, but it’s also dramatically different. The betrothal period was not like our engagement period. It was a little different.

When you were betrothed to someone, first of all your marriages had been arranged by your parents. So, where we like someone, or we like the way that they dress or like the cologne or perfume that they’re wearing or whatever it is that attracts us to someone and then we get to know them and fall in love, that was not the way the 1st century worked. Parents would put a couple together, oftentimes without them even knowing who they were going to marry. So, the betrothal period was, first of all, the parents coming together and deciding we’re going to put these two people together.

Then a contract was prepared. What happened is as that contract was prepared, there was a dowry that had to be payed, sometimes by the groom’s parents, but sometimes by the groom himself, to where the bride was purchased in this contract period. And then there would be a period of wait. Now, the marriage was binding as soon as that contract and dowry was paid, but usually there would be somewhere between a six-month to a year waiting period before the couple came together. They were considered married, but they had not consummated the marriage. The biggest reason why they usually would wait was two reasons. One was to make sure that the lady, after five, six, seven, eight or nine months, if she had been with another man and was pregnant, then you would be able to know that that had happened, and the marriage could be called off because she would’ve been unfaithful.

The other thing was that the groom would go and prepare a house for the place where they would go stay. So, there was a period here in between. So, Mary and Joseph are betrothed, but they have not consummated the marriage. And that’s why Matthew says, “Hey, follow me now. This is how it happened.”

“Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together...”

That’s really important here. Matthew’s stressing here that this is how it happened. Make sure you write this down. Understand. This is the way it happened. They were betrothed, but they had not come together. But she was found to be with child. And he’s saying all of that because he wants us to understand there was no union whatsoever between these two people, nor was there a union with anybody else. This was a child that had been born by the Holy Spirit. And that’s why he uses the phrase, “Before they came together she was found with child.”

So, he says, “Here’s the way it happened. They were betrothed. Before they’d come together, she was found to be with child.”

And then he says, “And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.”

There’s a lot of things here to unpack. First of all, notice something. Notice that we’re told that Mary’s got a child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph doesn’t know that. What God’s doing, Joseph doesn’t know yet. Maybe sometimes we all are that way. We don’t know what’s going on. God knows what’s going on, but we don’t. But, what we know about Joseph was He was a righteous man. We think of righteousness and we think of somebody who’s holy or somebody who keeps all the laws and everything else. But, to be righteous before God is sort the same word as justice and holiness. All of these words sort of bleed together.

It really has to do with how we love God and love others. Joseph was a righteous man. He was going to do what God had asked him to do, which is you don’t marry someone that’s been a sinner or has committed an infidelity in the betrothal period. So, he was righteous because he was going to do what God said. But, he was also righteous because he loved people. Notice it says he was being a righteous man and he didn’t want to disgrace Mary. He had every right to bring Mary in front of the elders of the community and have her stoned for being pregnant, but he didn’t. He was a righteous man, which means he loved God and he loved others.

So, he was a righteous man and didn’t want to disgrace her. And it shows the character of who Joseph was. And he was going to put her away secretly. He was going to take care of her. He obviously cared for this lady. He was a good man. So, Matthew goes on to say:

“But when he had considered this,”

So, as Joseph is sort of thinking through, and I’m sure that was a traumatic moment for him. I mean, you can imagine if you’re going to get married and you realize that your wife’s pregnant and it’s not you that’s done this, as he’s thinking through this, behold — and, for those of you all who go to Grace, remember: When you’re reading Matthew, when you hear the word “behold,” make sure you go, “Behold!” Because it’s important.

“But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.”

And this is what the angel said: “‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’”

So, Joseph didn’t know what was going on and Joseph acted in a righteous way. Now he knows what’s going on and the angel has specifically come to him and said, “Joseph, you don’t need to be afraid. You don’t need to worry about this. The child that is in Mary has been conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

Notice here that as Joseph is considering how he’s going to address this situation, he’s visited by an angel. And he is assured that no indecency or no infidelity has happened. The angel says, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

I often think when I read this how I would’ve responded. Think about this for a minute. You’re told that the wife that you’re going to marry is pregnant and it’s okay. You can marry her. You don’t have to be afraid. This child is not out of infidelity or indecency or anything like that. This is a child that God has conceived in Mary. But, almost to add to insult to injury, and, by the way, not only is this a tough pill to probably swallow for Joseph, the angel says, “And, by the way, you’re not even going to get to name the kid. We already got the name picked out. His name is going to be Jesus.”

I often think, “How would I have responded? What would I have done? I don’t even get to name the child.”

I mean, I think this is a really powerful story.

“‘She will bear a son, and call his name Jesus, because he is going to save his people from their sins.’”

Then Matthew tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what was spoke by the Lord through the prophet.”

Now, I want to just pause here for a minute because this is important. I mean, I don’t think that any words in Scripture are just there just to be there. Notice here that Matthew is telling you and me a lot about what we talk about in terms of inspiration of Scripture. The prophet wrote, but what the prophet wrote was what God had spoken. That’s really important here when we talk about as Christians when we go to Scripture and we think, “Is God speaking to me?”

Notice here it says, “All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.”

That tells us a lot about how Scripture works. God speaks, but yet it’s through people.

So, the prophet said, “‘Behold, the virgin will be with child and shall bear a son, and they will call his name Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).”

I want you to think about that for a minute. God with us. Not just a person. God with us.

“And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary as his wife.”

But just to make sure — because, remember, back in Matthew 1:18 he says, “This is how it happened.”

I mean, he’s making very clear here. I want you to pay attention here. Because listen to what he says here.

“Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife.”

Listen: “But kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Matthew is making very clear that Jesus is a miraculous birth and it was a virginal birth. This woman had never been with any man, never laying with any man, and this was a child that God put inside Mary. This was a miraculous child. Matthew goes out of his way to make sure that we understand that.

So, backing up here, as we’ve read the story, and thinking about Christmas, and most of you, probably, are watching this on Christmas morning, what are some thoughts or some things that we can think about today? I mean, today’s going to be a great day. There will be fun around the house, probably, and food and gifts and all of those things. But, when we step back for a minute and start talking about spiritual things, God in our lives, what that means, and what’s the deeper meaning of Christmas here.

I’ve got a couple of thoughts I think that should resonate with you today. Number one: Will you and I be righteous people even when we don’t know what God’s up to? I think that’s a real question. At least it is for me. It’s so much easier to do what God wants me to do when I know that God’s behind it. It’s so much easier. When I don’t know what God’s up to, it’s hard. It’s hard to treat people that maybe you think have done you wrong. I mean, you can imagine the situation here with Joseph. I mean, he’s having to struggle through this. I mean, here’s a wife that’s pregnant. Look at all the ramifications of what’s going to happen in this guy’s life, and he’s righteous even before God speaks to him.

He’s going to do what God has commanded him to do, which is to put her away, but he’s also righteous in the fact that he shows love to others. He’s not going to do it in a way where he stones her. He’s going to do it in a secretive way. He’s going to put her away without any harm to her. Joseph is righteous even when he doesn’t know what God’s up to. And I think that’s a really good question for all of us today, especially in the world that we live in. Are we going to be people that really follow God even when we don’t know exactly what God is up to? The ramifications of that are huge. I mean, that goes to our marriages, that goes to our family lives, that goes to the things that we say and think about other people, that goes to the way we treat our stewardship of the things that we have or our finances. I mean, there’s a lot of things that that really speaks to. Will I be righteous? Will I love God and love others even when I don’t know what God’s up to? Even when it’s something that’s really bothersome to me, or am I going to give in?

Am I going to give in and exact some pain or get something back or get a pound of flesh back for what someone’s done to me? Because I don’t know exactly what’s up. I think that’s a great question to ask and I think it’s something that’s right here in the Christmas message. Hey, are we going to be righteous like Joseph even when we don’t know what God’s up to?

The second thing — and I think this is a huge part of the Christmas Story. Imagine the questions that Mary and Joseph had to field as they followed God. I can’t even imagine all the questions. For Joseph, he has ventured his righteousness — because he’s a righteous guy — and put that on the line, and his ego to do what God has called him to do. I mean, do you think that most people in the 1st century, when they find out that Joseph has this wife, Mary, and they’ve not come together and she’s pregnant, do you not think that if Joseph goes, “Yeah, it wasn’t me,” that they’re going to think, “Oh, no, no. That was God. God did that.”

No. Nobody’s going to think that. They’re all going to think either Joseph’s lying and he did it and he’s lying because he wants to sort of save face and save his righteousness, or something’s wrong with him because he’s not following God’s law because he should’ve put her away. So, Joseph is really going to have to field a lot of questions here to follow God. Mary? Unbelievable. I mean, she has ventured her reputation for purity here to carry the Christ Child. I mean, think about that. She has to live with the stigma the rest of her life that something happened. She slept with someone or Joseph and her sort of went away for a night or something. And none of these things are true. We know what’s the truth, but both of them are going to have to live a life of questions and wonder and family members poking at stuff.

And when I think about that, I think about as we follow God and we do the things that God’s called us to do, if we really are following God and really doing what He’s asked us to do, people are going to ask questions. I mean, why would you love somebody like that? Why wouldn’t you just forgive them? Why wouldn’t you get back? Why would you forgive that? Why would you turn the other cheek?

But, it is. It’s a real question. Are we willing to lay down and to follow God? And the third thing — and I think this is the beauty of it all — is that Jesus is God with us. He is Immanuel. God come in the flesh. He came to humanity. He still comes to you and me today. He’s God in the flesh. Because He’s God in the flesh, you and I can be secure of the salvation that He secured for us, because this is God in the flesh.

Listen: The Christmas story is beautiful. It’s a story of a God who loved the world so much that He came Himself, in our world, in our midst, in our discomforts to come and to save us. I truly hope that as you listen to this and you think through the Christmas story and you see the depth of it and the profoundness of it, I pray that it speaks to you wherever you’re at right now. Whether you’re watching on Christmas morning or you’re watching this three weeks after the fact that it’s posted on a computer, I hope you know that God loves you. Wherever you’re at, I just would ask would you just take a moment with me, shut your eyes and would you pray with me just for a moment to the Lord?

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, we are so grateful that You loved us with this everlasting love. We are so grateful that You came to us. Lord, we would’ve never thought to come to You. You came to us. And Lord, I pray that the Christmas story that we’ve heard here, these few texts that we’ve read together, I pray that they would warm our heart. Lord, I pray that they would teach us some things. I pray that they would challenge us in many ways. And Lord, I pray that if we know You as Lord and Savior, I pray we would just pause for a moment to thank You for the salvation that You’ve given to us.

But, Lord, I also pray that if there’s anyone watching at all that does not know You as Lord and Savior, I pray, Lord, that they would make that commitment, ask You to come into their heart to forgive them of the sins that they’ve had committed, and to have a new creation and a new birth created within them.

Lord, we pray for all those that are watching this. We pray, Lord, for our church family. We pray, Lord, for our internet watchers, our mobile app watchers. Lord, we just pray that this Christmas season we would realize, in the middle of all the commercialism that goes on, that You truly are the reason for the season, and You came so that we could have life and that we could have it more abundantly.

So, Lord, we thank You, we worship You and we appreciate the ability to come together here on Christmas morning, or whenever it is that we’re here, and to think about You and to be reminded of who You are and what You’ve done in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen. God bless all of you all. I really, sincerely hope that you have a merry Christmas.

[Part 2]

Well, good morning, Grace, and also to the children or the young boys and girls that will be watching this. This is Pastor Chip. This is for families. I want moms and dads and young kids to sit down and gather around, whether it’s a phone, a tablet or your computer. And what I want to do is I want to read to you some of the Christmas story so that everybody, whether you’re young or old, can enjoy this as a family.

So, sit back and just listen to this story. And let’s let it sink in.

It says, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for him in the inn.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were all filled with great fear. And the angel said, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you this day is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is going to be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying,

“‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased!’

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds came together and said, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.”

Listen. It’s Christmas morning and we’ve all sort of gathered around. There’s going to be a great day. You’re going to have things. You’re going to have presents and all of those things. But, the real meaning of Christmas is that Jesus came in a human form so that we could be okay with God. And no matter where you’re at or how young you are, what’s important to understand is that our God, the one that created the heavens and the earth, loved us so much that He sent Jesus so that you and me could be His children. Let’s make sure that we remember that this Christmas morning. As we’ve read the Christmas story, let’s celebrate Jesus and let’s truly understand that He loves us so much that He sent His Son.

If you would — and I know it’s going to be tough for some of you young ones — just shut your eyes for a moment and let’s say a little prayer. And then you can go about enjoying Christmas for the rest of the day. But, let’s all bow our heads. Okay, so, come on. With Pastor Chip, let’s shut our eyes. Okay? And let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us. Thank You for carrying for us. Thank You for sending Jesus. Jesus is really what Christmas is all about. Lord, we love You and we thank You and we praise You for how good You are to us and how great Your love is towards us. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. God bless you.

 

Hey, Grace. It’s Pastor Chip. We want to come into your household and wish you a merry Christmas. A couple of our kids decided they want to be on camera. So, go for it.

-Hi, Grace Community Church. We’re the Bennett Family. We hope you have a merry Christmas and happy holidays.

-Hi, Grace Community Church. Have a wonderful Christmas.

-[Garbled]. Merry Christmas.

[Chip Bennett]: There we go. So, anyway, on behalf of our family to your family, we really wish you a — ready? Come on, guys. One, two, three: Merry Christmas!

Vantage Point Week 3: Story Within a Story

Sermon Transcript

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re in a series called “Vantage Point” over the last couple of weeks. I like to bring everybody back up to speed. Maybe you’ve been to every service, but maybe you’ve missed one. Maybe this is your first time here. I want everybody to feel like they know what’s going on. We’ve been looking at the Christmas story through the lens of other people’s eyes. In other words, what I decided to do was to take characters or people in the Christmas story and sort of look at what happened through their eyes, thus the idea of “Vantage Point;” that we all see things differently depending upon where we stand or where we sit.

So, a couple weeks ago, we looked at Christmas through the eyes of the shepherds and what that would’ve meant to them. Last week, we looked at Christmas through the eyes of Herod and what he might’ve seen at Christmas time. And I was planning on talking to you all about Mary this weekend, and I just could not get away from the fact that I just felt like God was steering me in a completely different direction. So, the beautiful thing about that is you’re either going to hear a great word from God, or I had a bad burrito the night before. So, hopefully it’s the former and not the latter.

But, what I want to do is I want you to work through this with me, sort of how this happened for me. All jokes aside, I really believe that this is a word in-season for our church. I mean, you all who have been with me for a number of years know that I very rarely do one of those, “Hey, I really feel strongly that God’s in this message.”

This is one of those weekends where I really feel like this is a word for our church at the appropriate time, at the appropriate season, in the appropriate venue and all of those things. So, here’s sort of what happened. When I put a message together, I start working on stuff. This stuff is done well in advance, because we have to do the bumper videos and put stuff together. We’ve got to create the little artwork for all the stuff. So, these things are usually multiple weeks in advance. So, I knew that I was going to be speaking on Mary and I’d done some work. But, over the last seven to ten days, as I continued to sort of hone in on what I was going to do, I just felt like God was moving me in a different direction. And I want to show you how this worked for me. I think it’ll speak to you.

I started off going back and looking at Luke 1 and Luke 2, which is the story that Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth. I always find Luke compelling. For those of you all who really enjoy your studying of the Bible, you may know this. But, Luke wrote what we call a “diptych” in the literary world. That is a two-volume set or two-volume compendium. That is both Luke and Acts. He wrote both of those books, and they are very tied together. They’re so cool the way they’re tied together. Like a lot of the miracles that Jesus does in Luke, Paul does in Acts. All of the miracles that Peter does at the beginning of Acts, Paul does at the end of Acts. And Luke is telling us a lot of theological things that I don’t have time to get into, but he is a really, really, really good writer. I think it bespeaks of something behind what’s going on of divine authorship in these books.

But, Luke starts off in the temple after he’s told us he’s writing an orderly account to a gentleman named Theophilus, and he’s gathered a bunch of material together to write his Gospel. He tells us that in Luke 1:1-4. He starts off in the temple where an older man named Zechariah is in the temple, and it’s his time to lead prayer meeting, for lack of better terms and to make it sort of in our day and age.

So, he’s in there burning the incense like they would do in the temple. Everybody’s outside praying. It’s like prayer time. And of all the times you would think that people would be believing God, it would be at prayer time. You know? I mean, you’re praying. Hopefully you’re not just using words. You’re praying. So, God shows up in angelic form and he’s shocked. You know, it’s sort of funny if you’re reading this the way it’s supposed to be. It’s funny. This guy is praying, but he doesn’t really believe. God shows up and he’s like, “Whoa!”

So, the angel shows up and says, “Hey, greetings to you. Fear not. Your wife, Elizabeth, who’s been barren and is old in age, is going to have a child.”

Well, he doesn’t believe. So, Luke sort of sets that setting there. Here’s an older man in Jerusalem, in the temple at the time of prayer, who doesn’t believe. And then he contrasts that with this young little girl, Mary, that’s in Galilee, who’s a peasant. And the angle comes and same thing. “Greeting. Fear not. You’re going to have a child.”

And what does she do? She believes. So, I’m going through that and I’m looking at all those things and I’m trying to gauge how Mary would’ve seen these things. And then I get to Luke 1:39. As I read from Luke 1:39-45, I’m just affixed to these passages of Scripture. I can’t let them go. It’s like I keep trying to go back, but I can’t let them go at all. They just keep coming back. And then I start thinking, “Why are they here? What is this here for?”

It doesn’t really fit, necessarily, in the story, but I know it’s supposed to be in here because I’m committed to the fact that I think the Bible is God’s Word to us. And I’m going, “What is it there for?”

So, I want to read that to you, and just make a few comments because it’s a cool couple of verses. But then I’m going to tell you sort of what happened where I had this lightbulb thing and I felt like, “Oh, man. This is definitely for our church.”

So, starting here, it says in Luke 1:39, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,”

Now, what Luke is telling us here is right after Mary has been visited by the angel and she’s going to have a child, and the angel says that she believes, what does she do? Well, she takes off with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah. Now, for you and me that may not be a big deal, but that’s a 90 to 100-mile journey. That’s a long trek for a young, teenage girl. And we’re not even told that she went with anybody. Maybe she went alone. Who knows? But, she goes into this hill country into Judah to see her older cousin Elizabeth.

And it says here, “And she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”

Now, you might assume that when she walked in she would’ve greeted Zechariah. She probably did, but Luke wants to tell us that she greeted Elizabeth. He’s going to use this word “greeting” three times. He’s making sure that he makes us aware that this greeting was important. So, she walks in and she greets Elizabeth. Here’s an older lady that is being honored by a younger lady, and she greets her.

What’s interesting is what Luke tell us happens here. It says, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.”

This is John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb. The baby leaps. The angel had told Zechariah that the child would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born, and we can deduce that this is what’s going on here by what we read next.

It says, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,”

Now, this is cool because young Mary goes and visits older Elizabeth, honors her (greets her), and all of a sudden, she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, the baby leaps in her womb — and that’s not like some little, small leap. Like we have 47 kids at our house, so I’ve felt a baby leap in the womb, but not like that.

Christmas around my house is always crazy. The kids were up one night in the loft, and I heard them. One of them is like, “This is Christmas time. Mary carried Jesus.”

My little girl, Esther, is like, “No, she didn’t. Mary had a little lamb.”

It was great. Kids, man. They’re crazy. They take after their mom. Anyway, she’s filled with the Holy Spirit. What’s cool here is that Elizabeth and Zechariah were not told that Mary was pregnant. They were only told that they were in their barren age, things that they had prayed for, God was going to do a miracle for them and they would have a child through normal ways, but it would be crazy that they’d have it at such an old age. But, she’s not told that Mary is pregnant.

Now, Mary, when she’s told she’s going to be pregnant, she’s told, also, that Elizabeth is going to have a child. But, notice here: Mary walks in and greets the older lady, honors her, she’s filled with the Spirit, the baby is filled with the Spirit, and now all of a sudden Elizabeth is given some revelation that she didn’t know.

“And she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”

Now, she didn’t know that. She didn’t know Mary was pregnant. And, all of a sudden, now she knows that Mary’s pregnant. She’s filled with the Spirit. And what’s cool here — think about this for a second. Think about the fact that she is blessing Mary. Put yourself in Elizabeth’s shoes. You wanted a baby your whole life. Your whole life, you wanted a baby. And now you have a baby. And, all of a sudden, you’re honoring someone else’s baby more than you’re honoring your own baby.

So, she says, “‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me...’”

What a note of humility.

“‘Why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’”

This is an incredible moment here. This is an aside, but it’s a pastoral aside. It’s something that I feel I need to say because it’s here in the text and we don’t want to run from anything. God could’ve chosen to say anything He wanted to say in this text. He could’ve chosen to tell us whatever He wanted to tell us, and I just want to make a pastoral note that as far as Luke is concerned, who was a doctor, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that what is in the womb is a baby. I’ll just leave that there. It leaped for joy. Okay?

“‘And Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’”

So, I don’t know about you all, but I have an iPad. I know some of you all like Android and things like that. Godly people use Apple products. I just want to throw that out there. Just a joke. Just a joke. You can use Windows, Blackberry and all of that. God loves all of us. Okay?

So, what I do is when I’m putting messages together, I have my iPad. It has a pencil. So, I write notes like this. Some people say when they read my writing that it’s in tongues and you need a gift of interpretation. But, anyway, I was in this passage and I just felt like God was speaking to me about this passage. I started writing. I put, “Number one: Neither Mary or Elizabeth brought about what was happening. It was a work of God.”

I was thinking, “That’s pretty cool.”

You know? I mean, they’re joining up. It’s not like they’re denying what God’s doing in their life, but God’s the one that’s birthing this into their life. I’m like, “Hey, I could go there.”

I also saw, you know Esau and Jacob, “The elder will serve the younger,” and how they sort of were holding onto each other’s dream? We have another elder serving the younger. Two kids in the womb. A prenatal message here, but it’s not the same deal. I was like, “I could really preach on that.”

I was thinking, “One child’s closing out one age. The other child’s bringing in a new age.”

I thought I could go there. And then I thought, “Well, I could also talk about the fact that it would be appropriate for Mary to honor Elizabeth, but it would not have been expected for Elizabeth to bless Mary the way she did.”

So, I’m sitting around just having this moment and thinking, “How am I going to go here? What am I going to do? I just can’t get away from Luke 1:39-45.”

I’m like, “God, what are You trying to say? What are You trying to say?”

Well, as I’m doing that in my mind, I get an email on my computer. It’s from a guy named Dr. Thom Rainer. He’s considered by most as one of the great church leaders in our world today, especially in terms of church growth and all of that. And I love it, so anything I can get on church growth I read. Because I want the church to grow. I want every church to grow. I don’t want just our church to grow. I pray for other churches in the area. I want them to grow, too. I want God’s Kingdom to just explode in Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota. So, I want to see God’s Church grow.

So, as a theologian, I live in tension. What I mean by that is people go, “Is the Bible the Word of God or was it written by people?”

I go, “Both!”

And they go, “Well, yeah. But, we want to know...”

“Both.”

And they say, “Was Jesus fully God or was Jesus fully man?”

“Both.”

“Well, yeah. But, wait. Okay. So, is it God who builds His Church?”

“Yes, it is. Absolutely. 100%. Matthew 16. ‘I will build my Church.’ But yet, He uses people to do that. Both.”

What happens is, historically, when you go to one end or the other, if you go to “it’s all about what we do,” then it’s methods, madness and all of this stuff, and it usually leads to pride and ego and usually some sort of denial of something in the Gospel since you can get more people in. And that’s not a good place to go. And if you do the “it’s all God, it’s all God, it’s all God, it’s all God,” then nobody does anything. They don’t work, and they don’t get involved in anything.

The two go together. So, here I am reading this, and the article was saying some things about the Church in America is in decline, that if you look, there’s churches closing on a regular basis. So, I’m having this moment. I’m like, “What in the world is Luke 1:39-45? What is going on in this passage? Why is it here?”

And then I get this email in and I’m reading the email and it says that cultural Christianity has left the building. I’m like, “Okay. That makes sense.”

I mean, many of you all know if you went to church 40 years ago that most of society went to church. Because, if you didn’t go to church, people were like, “What’s wrong with you?”

That’s the way it was back then. Today, it’s not that way. So, in all sincerity, a lot of the numbers in the churches that have gone away were just people that probably went there for whatever reason, but they weren’t there for the right reasons, necessarily. So, some of the attrition isn’t necessarily — I mean, it’s not good. We want people to be in church. But, we can understand that.

So, cultural Christianity has left the building. It also made a note here of the church hop. You may not know what the church hop is, but that’s a new, cool thing. Not really cool. I’m just saying that. It’s an uncool thing, but they think it’s cool. If you don’t like what’s going on, if the pastor wears a yellow vest or an orange vest, you just say, “I’m out. The seats aren’t well. I don’t like Perrier. I’m not an Apple guy. You offended me, so I’m going down to the church where they use Androids.”

There’s just this deal of if I don’t like what’s going on, I’m just out. And it’s sad because in many ways I get it. People don’t like certain things that are going on and they want to move on. But, in many ways, it’s sad. In fact, in the article that I was reading, this was a young lady. This is what she said. She was asked why she had left her church, and she said, “I stuck with my parent’s church as long as I could, but when we had a big blow-up over a projection screen in the worship center, I’d had enough. I wanted to go to a church where matters of minutia were not issues to fight over.”

We could talk about the good, the bad, the ugly and all of that, but there is a church hop going on. And, unfortunately, the churches that lose are the smaller churches, because most people are going to the larger churches when they hop. And that’s not necessarily good because I do believe there’s a place for smaller churches. So, this is going on.

You also have the exit of the Builder Generation. You may not know this, but if you were born before 1946, you’re part of what’s called the Builder Generation. Those people are incredibly loyal to the things that they’re loyal to. So, you see around you, you might look around and see churches all across America where they could not exist with the amount of people that are there, but they have a couple of these older people in their church that are willing to fund the enterprise because they really, genuinely believe in what’s gone on. And they’ve been there their whole, entire life.

Well, that generation is going away. You might not know this, but 13,000 Builder Generation people pass away every week in the United States. So, with them going and their resources going, it’s effecting churches.

Slow response to accelerated change. A lot of times, really, as a church, we’re behind the times. Church, historically, has been about 10 years behind the times. Today, many churches in America are 20-30 years behind the times. So, there’s been a real slow response to the massive accelerated change. And then, the one that’s the saddest of all, is the division between the older and the younger Christians. And, in all sincerity, we live in a place where you can see it probably more than any other place that you would live. There are churches lined throughout our community where they seat 6, 7, 8 or 900 people, and in those churches are 80 people or 100 people, and most of them are 65 and older. They’re doing their thing.

And then you see churches where there’s younger people and there’s like 200 people there, the music is at 130 decibels and everybody wears skinny jeans and there’s all the stuff that goes on. And you go, “How in the world? That’s not going to happen.”

And we go, “It should, but it doesn’t.”

And I’m reading through all of this stuff. I’m reading that. I’m over here in my Bible. Luke 1:39-45. I’m thinking, “Okay. This is the story of Jesus. This is the story of when Jesus was birthed to the world. This is when Mary was carrying Jesus, and she birthed Jesus to the world. You know, we’re called to be Marys. I mean, we carry Jesus. We’re to birth Jesus to the world. We’re to birth Jesus to our generation. Hmm. I wonder if there’s something in that.”

So, I started going back again. I was like, “Oh, man. Lightbulb moment.”

God, of all the things He could recorded in Scripture, recorded us some verses here. It was like, “This is so great.”

At the coming of Jesus, this is what He did. And every subsequent generation, as we carry Jesus and birth Jesus, this is part of the way He did it and it’s part of what we need to be doing. The lightbulb went off. Implicit in the story is that God is at work through both the young and the old in the birth of Jesus. Then my mind just went crazy. You don’t want to live up there. It’s a terrible place. Anyway, it went crazy. And I started thinking about Mary. I’m like, first of all, she goes to see Elizabeth with haste.

I’m thinking, “Man, how many younger people in the church really, with haste, want to go hang out with some of the older people in the church?”

I was like, “Ah, man. This is rich, man.”

She seeks relatable maturity. She’s not going to see Elizabeth because she wants to see if Elizabeth’s pregnant. She believes that. She wants to go talk to Elizabeth because she knows Elizabeth’s got a baby like her and she can relate to her. But, she has also got maturity. She wants to talk through some things, spend some time with her and whatever else. On top of that, she honors Elizabeth. It’s why Luke says, three times, “greeting.”

When Mary goes and visits, when the younger generation goes and hangs out with the older generation, what happens? God fills Elizabeth with the Spirit. There’s a renewed since of purpose. And then Elizabeth blesses Mary. I’m going, “Man, this is so rich.”

Because of this honoring, because of this going and spending time, because of this “with haste,” all of a sudden, Elizabeth and Mary are both blessed. There’s a tie in. I’m like, “Ah, this is great. I’ve got to grab Elizabeth now. What goes on with Elizabeth?”

Well, I said, “Man, you know what? She doesn’t see Mary as a rival at all.”

In fact, she sees God’s plan for her son. Check that out. The son that she had been praying for her whole life — I mean, everything was all there — she gave up the focus of it being about her for it to be about being the next generation. She’s willing to let her son, the older, serve the younger. The older serve the younger. She all of a sudden doesn’t see Mary as a rival at all. And because she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, she doesn’t judge her. See, it would’ve been real easy for Elizabeth to go, “I wasn’t at your wedding. How’d you get pregnant? And those tattoos and pants, I mean...”

But, see, that wasn’t the case. Well, what happened was, like Justo Gonzalez, a great church historian says, “Because she (Elizabeth) is so filled, she’s able to recognize the work of God in what, by traditional human standards, would merit only criticism and judgment.”

Can I say something to you? Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not God. Did somebody say that’ll preach? It will. It will preach. Not only that, but there’s a humility in Elizabeth. Look at what she says. She says, “‘Why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’”

It just hit me. I was like, “Man, here’s the young and the old. Look at the way they responded. God is using both to birth Jesus into the world.”

And in this story, we can see here the older generation is not neglected. They’re included. And if you look around — listen. I’m not saying this to boast or whatever. I’m just being honest. This church does a pretty good job of integrating young and old, but I want to do better. Because I think the more that we can resemble things that don’t go on naturally in the world, the more we say that God is at work in our midst. When people who would not normally get together come together and love on each other, whether it’s from backgrounds or race or whatever it may be, that’s when you know God is at work. And what I want to say is — that’s okay. You can clap. It’s good.

When I talk to people who are older, they’re like, “You know what? I want to be a part of something. I want to be involved.”

I want to say to you that the Christmas story is all about the older generation being included. It’s about you being a part of what’s going on. And here’s the way it works: Elizabeth is a forerunner, or she’s foundational, of what God is doing. She understands that what God is doing in her, what God is birthing in her, is going to serve the younger generation to birth Christ. And she’s okay with that. Not only that, but she’s open-minded. There’s an open-mindedness here. She could’ve easily said, “Hold on. You’re pregnant? And there was no guy in the room? That doesn’t work that way. I know how it works because I’ve lived life a long time. And that’s not the way it works. God has it go this way.”

Except when God goes another way. And there was an open-mindedness here. And not only that, there was a blessed even at age. Who in the twilight and autumn of their life doesn’t want to still be a part of what God is doing? And the Christmas story says, “It’s available for all of us.”

It’s available for every single one of us. We can be a part of what God is doing. And the way He birthed Jesus into the world in our generation as we carry Jesus and birth Him to our generation, the older generation is included. They’re not excluded. Now, the younger generation, there’s something it says about them. What I call it here is that they both honor and they heavy-lift. Now, what I mean by that is there’s an honoring, but there’s also the fact that the younger generation takes on the brunt of doing the work.

When Zechariah hears that Elizabeth is going to be pregnant, what does he do? He goes home. When Elizabeth hears that she’s pregnant, what does she do? She goes up into the mountains and rests. So, as God’s working in them, there’s not all of that youthful vigor that used to be there. What does Mary do? Mary goes. She travels 90-100 miles because she’s younger and she’s got the legs and she’s got the ability and the endurance to make that trek.

And it’s beautiful. It’s really the first Gospel story. Think about it. She has Jesus on the inside and she wants to go share Jesus on the inside with somebody else. And when you get Jesus on the inside, who’s the first people you usually go to? Your family. Where does she go? To her family. There’s this sense that Mary taking this trek is going to heavy-lift. Not only that, but she honors Elizabeth. That’s why there’s the three-fold greeting. And that honoring unleashes, in Elizabeth, God’s Word.

So, I want to say this to you if you’re younger in here. Listen to me. I know culture and I know society says, “Don’t listen to anybody, at all, above you. Don’t listen to leadership. Don’t listen to those that have gone before you, because they don’t know anything.”

Let me tell you something: That is patently false. That is just a lie of this age. That is a lie of the devil. Let me tell you something: You honor people that are in authority. You honor people that God has put above you. You honor people. Listen: Even if they’re at fault, you’re honoring God by honoring them. And when you honor God by honoring others, He will unleash in your life things that you have no idea.

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say the reason we have such a problem in the young adult and the youth of our generation is because we have lost the ability to honor those that are above us and have gone before us. I also say this to those that are young in the congregation: Eventually, you become older. You do. And I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes here, but can I tell you something? You do reap what you sew. And if you sew into the older generation a bunch of “get out of my life, I don’t want to have anything to do with you and I don’t understand why you wear sweaters in summer” type of thing, what’ll happen is you’ll end up in not a great situation when you get older yourself.

So, what are the take-homes? What can we take home here as a church? Because this is a word we need to hear. This is a word that every church in America needs to hear, but we need to hear it at Grace Community Church. These are the take-homes: First of all, we can’t become territorial. We simply can’t, folks. It’s so easy to become territorial in a church.

“You know, we don’t do it that way. We don’t like that. We don’t like this.”

Let me just take a moment, as a pastor, just to speak pastorally to every single one of us. This is for all of us. Every single one of us. Paul says, “If there’s any encouragement in Christ,” — In other words, if you’ve ever been encouraged because of your relationship with Jesus — “if there’s any comfort from love,” — if you’ve ever been comforted by the love of God — “if there’s any participation in the Spirit,” — if the Spirit’s even remotely a part of what’s going on in the congregation — “if there’s any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love and being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others much more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

If we could get together as a congregation and put down all of our stuff at the foot of the cross and serve one another no matter where people have come from, no matter what their age is, no matter what the color of their skin is, no matter what kind of car they drive or the jeans that they wear, if we can do that, we will unleash some things not only in our church, but in the community that people are dying to see. I am tired of the territorialism. I’m tired of seeing churches that are older and younger. I’m tired of seeing black church, white church, Spanish church and all this. Listen: God reaches everybody. When everybody can put down the agenda and come in here and worship Jesus, we’re doing what God has called us to do.

Second thing: What God births in us is always next-gen. It’s always next-generational. I want you to hear me. This is important. I grew up in church and everybody’s like, “We’re the generation. God’s going to pour out His Spirit. We’re the generation that God’s going to do all of it.”

There’s a selfishness in there. It’s implied. It’s selfish. Like, “We’re the ones.”

No, no. Go read your Bible. When God pours out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, He doesn’t pour it out so that Peter and the disciples can have a goose bump. He doesn’t do it so that they can get a dose of the Ghost and have Holy Ghost hoedown on the stairs of the temple. That’s not what He’s doing. When He fills them with the Spirit, He says, “I’m filling you with the Spirit so that you will go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. I’m filling you with my Spirit to go reach the next generation.”

It’s so important that we get this. If God is at work in our lives, it’s to reach the next generation. In reaching the next generation, in doing what God’s called us to do, in putting His Kingdom first, He’ll take care of all the needs that you and I have. So, when we’re filled, when He births in us things, it’s to reach that next generation. That’s why we’re unapologetic here. We want to reach the unchurched. We want to reach the next generation. For us to do that, though, it’s going to require all of us to work together and use the gifts and the talents that we have. And that’s in every way, shape or form if we really want to see God move in a powerful way.

And the last thing I want to say is this: We cannot let our culture polarize us. We live in a culture that is so polarizing. I mean, it’s just everything. I mean, every little thing is argued. Every little minutia is fragmented. What we can’t do is we just can’t let that get in here. We cannot. We just can’t, at Grace Community Church, sell out to 40 and younger or to 70 and older. It’s everybody in the pool together, all of us working together, all of us pulling from the same end of the rope to do something great for the Kingdom of God.

And I wrote down a few things here that I think will help us out. If you’re young in here today, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to seek out some of your elders in this church and gain some wisdom and experience from them. There are couples in here that can help you in your marriage. There are couples in here that can help you steward your finances. There are couples in here that could teach you how to pray.

When I was putting this together, I thought of a couple — I didn’t tell them I was going to do this, so they’ll probably be mad at me — in this church. Very invested. Barbara and Larry Lomana. Every time you take communion in this church, they have filled those communion cups with grape juice and that God-awful gluten wafer. I love all of you all that are gluten free, but I have to eat it four times every weekend. It’s like dog food. I love you. Seriously. I love you. We’re going to keep doing it. But I just want you to know for me it’s like, “I want some gluten.”

Anyway, I think of Barb and Larry, the fact that they’re so happy to put that in the communion cup, and every week almost they want to know how many people were here, because they’re invested. You know, Barb and Larry teach you how to pray. They have a prayer thing that they do. You ought to go talk to them about it. I know next year, when we do small groups again, that’ll get launched again, maybe they’ll teach you how to pray. But, what I’m saying is that there are elders in this church that could help you in your life.

If you’re an older person in our church, can I ask you a favor? Will you believe in the young people in this church even if they do it differently than you do it? Believe in them. Look, I don’t understand how you can worship God with your pants tied around your kneecap. I don’t. That’s like half in-between David taking off and stripping down to his linen ephod or something. I don’t know. But, my point is, you know what? When you believe in the next generation, when you believed in your children and you told them they could do whatever God called them to do, speak that into the young generation. They’re going to do it differently than you, but believe in them.

For both young and old in our church, I want you to go out of your way every time we meet to go find somebody who’s younger or older than you. Go out of your way and introduce yourself. Last night, we prayed a prayer. At the end of it we prayed for the young and old. I was out in the hub and an older couple came up to me. They go, “You won’t believe this.”

I said, “Sure. What’s up?”

They said, “You know, you told us to go out and talk to young people. We did. I’m having surgery on my shoulder Tuesday, and I told them I was having surgery on my shoulder. Do you know what they did?”

I said, “What?”

They said, “They stopped what they were doing, and they prayed for me right there.”

And I’m like, “Well, of course. Not every young person in our church is going to hell. You know what I’m talking about?”

You know? Some of them are pretty good people. You know? So, go out of your way. And then I’m going to tell you to stretch here. Both young and old. Stretch. Take a gamble. Once a quarter, ask somebody that’s younger or older than you out to lunch and just pour into their life and bless them. I’m telling you what, we do some of that stuff and God is going to do some incredible things in our church. And what’s so cool is part of the Christmas message is the old and the young coming together to see God birthed into our world. Let’s be that church.

Here’s what I want to do as we close. Those who are watching via the internet and the mobile app, you as well. I want you to think of somebody that you know that’s younger, or someone that you know that’s older, or just look around the sanctuary and put your eyes on someone who’s younger or older. What I want you to do is I want you to pray. I want you to pray out of your own self. If you’re older, I want you to pray for the young. If you’re young, I want you to pray for the old. I want us to develop a heart of doing ministry together in ways where everybody can be included, and everybody can be a part, and everybody can have God birthing something in them so that we can move God’s Church forward, that He passionately wants to build.

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for Your Word. I thank You, Lord, for the simple, practical things that are found there as we just hang out in these Gospels. Lord, I pray for the older generation. I pray, Lord, that they would realize that there’s no neglect here at Grace; that there’s inclusion. We genuinely want them to be a part. Lord, desperately. Lord, we need the wisdom, the experience, the insight. Lord, I pray that You would fill them anew and afresh with Your Spirit, Lord, with renewed vigor to accomplish things, Lord, that they never thought were accomplished. Like Elizabeth, barren and older in age, not thinking that she would ever have any childbirth.

Lord, I pray that You would birth in them a new work of God. Lord, for our younger generation here, I pray, Lord, that not only would You give them the strength to go and give them the strength to heavy-lift, but, Lord, I pray that You would give them the humility to honor. Lord, I believe with all of my heart, as I looked at Luke 1:39-45 and asked why is it there, it’s there to remind us that in this greatest story of Jesus being birthed, it took both young and old to see that come to fruition. Lord, let that be reality in our church for Your glory and for Your honor.

So, Lord, as we leave here today, I pray that You would watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, and I pray that You would bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, I pray that You would continue to help us to become the church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. We thank You for it in Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

God bless everybody. Have a great day. Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him.