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January 22, 2023

Foundations Week 3: Generosity Opens Doors

Have a seat. You know, I think everybody will agree with me on this. We've all met somebody in our lives that was a significant person, and it may have been in many different ways. It may be a relative, it could be a neighbor, it could be a grandparent, it may have been somebody you met in a book, it might have been somebody that you met watching something on YouTube, it might be somebody that you met in a movie. But I think all of us can relate to the fact that sometimes we meet people in our lives and they create pause, they create moments where we go, “Wow, that was inspirational,” or, “That was challenging,” or, “I could really learn something from this person.”

So, we're going to meet someone, this weekend, that I think will help us all in our lives. I think the interaction with this person in scripture will be significant, and that’s why he was included. But we're going to come back to that, in just a second, as we get into the text. But before we do, I want to remind everybody that we're in a series called “Foundations.” It's a tradition around here at Grace. At the beginning of every year, in January, we go back and we pick several things that are sort of the anchoring foundations of who we are as a church. When you walk through the hub, you see these different pictures. They say different things, and they’re some of our core values around here. What I’ve found, as your pastor, is that doing this every year just sets the tone and the vision for who we are. Because you know it and I know it. It's easy for an organization or a business or a church or whatever it may be to lose what they originally had, to move off-vision, to have mission creep.

All of a sudden, you become something that you didn't intend to be.

So, every year, I go back, I go through some things and explain who we are so that we can, once again, get focused on doing the things that God has called us to do. But what we've also found in doing this is that the people who join maybe mid-year, or maybe just started coming back to church in January, they're super appreciative of these series because what it does is it helps them to understand a little bit more of why we do what we do. So, every year, we have a series — whether it's called DNA or Culture or Bold or whatever. This year, it's called “Foundations.” In this series, what we're doing is we're looking at some of the systems here that hold this thing together, that anchor and support the visions and ministries of Grace. You may wonder, “Why do they do those things? Why do they do that? Why do they do these things that they do?”

Well, that's why we go back and talk about these things because we want everybody to know why we're doing what we're doing, and we're not going to deviate from what God called us to do. And if you're here for just a little bit — you probably could be here for one service, but if you're here for two or three, you're going to hear two words over and over again. You may even see it on people's shirts. You probably will read it when you go out of the building. It says, “Grace Community Church exists to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.”

So, you don't have to hang out here for very long to hear this phrase, “intentional neighbors.” Some of you all intuitively get that. Some of you go, “I know exactly what you mean by that. You don't need to tell me, Chip. I get it.”

But other people have questioned, “What does that mean? What does it mean to be an intentional neighbor? What does it mean to be someone who's intentional? What does it mean to be a neighbor? I mean, is that like a biblical concept? Are we supposed to be Christians? Aren't we supposed to be lights? Why neighbors?”

Well, let me explain that, which is why I wanted to talk about that this weekend. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are called to be neighborly to the surrounding people, to all the different groups of people. They’re called to be a light. They’re called to reflect, in the Old Testament, Yahweh to all of the surrounding peoples. They're called to be neighborly. When you get into the New Testament, Jesus talks about, “Who is my neighbor?”

What does that look like when He’s asked the question? This idea of being a neighbor is so central to being a follower of Jesus, that do things in a neighborly way. But this idea of being intentional neighbors means that we're putting thought into how we, as a church, are neighborly in this community. And what we don't do — we don't just do neighborly things, but we do it to reflect Christ.

Jesus says, “You can give a cup of cold water,” but there's a difference when you give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. So, what we want to do is we want to be intentional neighbors in everything that we do that reflects Christ, and there's a reason why we want to do that because we want to make sure that the unchurched people, whether they’re people who don't know God, never grew up in church, used to go to church, got burned by religion — whatever it may be, we want to make sure that they know there is a safe place here. This is a safe harbor to come into, and to once again sort of understand, follow, and ask what it means to be follower of Jesus.

So, I want to talk to you about being intentional neighbors, this weekend, and we're going to go to a passage where it's just great. It's a really wonderful passage. I think you'll enjoy it. It comes after the ending of Luke 6. Now, you may have already forgotten this, and it's okay if you did. Last weekend, we were in Luke 6. We ended Luke 6. You may not have known that. You may go, “Oh, wow. Maybe we did okay.”

But in the original languages, in the original text, there weren't chapter divisions. So, this just flows right into Luke 7. So, after Jesus has done this great speech, the Sermon on the Plain, Luke picks up where Jesus is at, and we're going to enter into that story. We’re going to interact with a person who, in many ways, is unlike you and I. We’d have to bridge many, many thousands of years to go back and understand where he is coming from, but there are a lot of things that we can learn from him, and I think, when we meet him, we’ll see why Luke has included him here, and what that means for you and I.

We’re told here, in Luke 7, “After he [Jesus] had finished all his sayings…”

And if you go back in Luke 6, you realize He’s done all these sayings and said all kinds of stuff. He's preached to a group of people, but after he's finished that — and Luke is very careful here to tell us that after He finished all His sayings…

“…in the hearing of the people,”

I remember, many years ago, I was talking to my dad. My dad was raised in church, and has read the Bible many times from cover to cover. I was telling him, “You know, Dad, Luke tells us, at the beginning of his gospel, how he put his gospel together. He took fragments and stories from other people, sort of laid them out, put them together, and then he wrote this orderly account.”

He’s like, “Does it really say that?”

I'm like, “Yeah. It says it in Luke 1:1-4. He tells you how he put this together.”

So, this is why Luke says He finished these things in the hearing of the people because these people heard these things, and Luke has heard from these people what Jesus has said, and he wants to make sure that you understand that he’s telling you, “Hey, this is stuff that went on.”

He wasn't an eyewitness himself, but this is stuff that he has compiled, as a really good historian, in both Luke and Acts.

So, he says, “After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.”

Now, up to this point, a lot of people have been coming to Jesus, but now He goes into this city. He’s now going to the people. So, he's entered Capernaum, and we're told that an interesting person enters into the story. A centurion. What do you know about centurions? Well, a centurion was someone who was over at least a hundred troops. In a town like Capernaum, which was not a big town, he would've been a person of power. He would've been a person that had some authority. He would've had a hundred troops at his disposal to do what he needed to do. We meet this person, and it's maybe an odd person to meet because Jesus is Jewish. It’s not like the Jewish people had the greatest relationship with the people of Rome. Remember, Rome was oppressing to most Jewish people. They were a military occupier in the Jewish people's thoughts. And the centurion or any of the Roman soldiers could grab you at any time and say, “Hey, I want you to walk with me. Carry my stuff for a mile.”

And you had to do it. So, when Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, if they ask you to carry their stuff for a mile, go two,” that didn't hit very well on most Jewish people's ears.

“Why would we do such a thing?”

So, the fact that we're meeting a centurion is pretty incredible because if there would've been readers, especially if they were Jewish readers reading this — and this is probably written to a Gentile. This is probably written to someone that had some prominence in Rome. His name is Theophilus. He says that at the beginning. He says, “I'm writing to you, most excellent Theophilus.”

It’s probably a Gentile person that he's writing to. But if a Jewish person would've read this, it would've been like, “Ah, a centurion.”

We meet this guy, and let's pay attention because sometimes when you're reading scripture, if you're like me, I don't know, you just sort of do what you do, you end up in Luke 8, and don't even remember what you read in Luke 7 sometimes. You’re like, “Well, at least I had a devotion this morning. Maybe God will give me credit for that.”

He's like, “Yeah, go back and read it.”

He says, “Now a centurion had a servant...”

That's not uncommon. This was a man that had some prominence.

“Now a centurion had a servant who was sick…”

And we're told something very, very, very particular here.

“…at the point of death,”

So, this centurion, which is sort of an odd person to meet, has a servant who's at the point of death, and then we're told something really significant about this centurion. The servant was highly valued by him. That tells you something about this centurion because this is a soldier. This is probably someone that's not the person that isn't tough and rough, and he's probably done some things in his life to get to where he is at. These people are sometimes ruthless. They don't really have a thought for anybody. So, servant would not be someone that usually had a high value. But for whatever reason, this centurion is different. There's something about him. There's something about this centurion that he values the servant. And Luke didn't have to tell you that. He could have just said he had a servant that was sick, but he says he highly valued him.

“When the centurion heard about Jesus,”

Can I tell you something? You may not believe this, but I'm telling you that when you allow God to use you to tell other people about Jesus, it is effective, even when you don't see it. People had talked, “Man, there's this dude that runs around and heals people. It's crazy. People who can't walk, they can walk. Somebody was blind. They were blind. I mean, seriously, I've done this in front of them. They couldn't see. Now they say, ‘Three fingers.’”

He hears about Jesus. He's heard about Jesus. It says, “When the centurion heard about Jesus,” because somebody told him about Jesus. You never know, when you tell somebody about Jesus, when they might actually, at some point, meet Him.”

“When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews,”

Now, you probably don't know, and it's okay, and maybe I wouldn't either, if you didn't know, but this is pretty crazy that a centurion, who does not have a great relationship, as a general rule, with any Jewish people, especially Jewish elders, is somehow able to get the Jewish elders to go talk to Jesus. What's he done? Who is this guy? I mean, this is what you should be doing. I mean, Luke's a crafty writer. He got you engaged, like, “Whoa. How in the world is a centurion getting Jewish elders to go to Jesus? What did he do?”

He said he wanted the Jewish leaders to go ask Jesus to come and heal his servant. He didn't feel like he could. Maybe he had done some things in his life that he wasn't proud of. Maybe he had treated some people in ways that he was ashamed of. Maybe he had stood at the foot of many crosses where he had executed people. He said, “Can you go for me, find Jesus, and ask Him to come heal my servant?”

At this point, you should be going, “Whoa. This is an interesting story.”

“And when they [the Jewish elders] came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly,”

Like, go figure. A centurion has asked some elders to go to Jesus to talk about his servants, and the Jewish elders are pleading with Jesus. Now, you’ve got to think of this. The Jewish elders probably had some questions about Jesus. He didn't quite fit all of their religious boxes, but for some reason they're going and pleading earnestly — listen — saying, “He is worthy for you to do this for him.”

What in the world has this guy done? Who is this guy, the centurion, who loves this servant, who’s got a great relationship with the Jewish elders, who they're saying to Jesus, “Man, if You can do whatever it is that You do, this is a guy that's worthy for that to be done?”

Luke says, “…for he loves our nation,”

“I know he is Roman, I know you probably wouldn't think that a centurion would love our people, but he does.”

Not only that, “…and he is the one who built us our synagogue [in Capernaum].”

“That's who this guy is. Jesus, would You please go see his servant?”

“And Jesus went with them.”

He started on His way.

As He's going, we're told, “When he was not far from the house, the centurion…”

He was listening. He knew what was going on. He knew Jesus was close. Instead of sending the elders that he had sent before, this time he sent some friends.

“…saying to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself,’”

“You don’t need to come to my house.”

He probably knew all the Jewish things. He probably had been around Judaism. He probably had an affinity for maybe thinking there might, possibly, could be a God, and maybe that God could accept him. He didn't know, but he knew he had done some things in his life, and he knew that Jesus coming into his house, in his mind, would make Jesus unclean. He says, “You don't have to come.”

“‘…for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.’”

Jewish elders say, “This guy is worthy.”

He says, “I'm not worthy. You don't need to come any further at all. Please don't come any further.”

“‘Therefore I did not presume to come to you.’”

“That's why I didn't come because I knew things I've done in my life. I didn't come to you. What I did is I sent people to you. That's why I didn't come.”

“‘But say the word,’”

“Just say that my servant is well.”

“‘But say the word, and let my servant be healed.’”

Boy, that’s some faith. Something’s going on in this man's heart.

He says, “‘For I too am a man set under authority,’”

“I understand authority. I understand how it works because, see, I work for those above me, and they give me authority for the hundred or so that I am over. I understand how it works.”

He says, “‘I say to a soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and when I say to another, ‘Come,’ he comes; and when I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ he does it.’”

“Jesus, I know if You would just say the word, my servant would be healed.”

Jesus says the word, and the servants healed. Jesus marvels in the passage. He says, “Wow, I've not seen this type of faith even with my own people.”

What can we learn from this story? Because this is another great story. The Bible's full of great stories. Doesn't it sort of make you want to go home and read the Bible? A little bit, maybe? I try. I do my best. Every weekend, you go, “Yeah, that boy from Kentucky, he told a good story today. Maybe I can go home and see a good story for myself.”

That's what I'm hoping. Blow the dust off that book. Kentucky basketball already played today, so you don't have to be home and worry about that. You can just get with God. You know? So, what can we learn?

First of all, the centurion model is what being an intentional neighbor looks like. When we say, around here, we want to be intentional neighbors, we want to be doing things that reflect Christ, we want to do things that really show people that we care — whether it's delivering generators to an island during Hurricane Ian, or whether it's doing First Friday, or whatever it may be that we do, we do all these things around here because we want to be an intentional neighbor. We can learn a lot, and this is one of the beauties of scripture. You may not see the word “neighbor” all the time, but these stories are just chock full of people that we should pay attention to a little bit, because they're not there just because. Luke didn't go, “Oh, hold on. What do I do right after the Sermon on the Plain? I'll just throw in a story about the centurion just so I have a little bit more room here.”

No, no. These are very precise stories to make a point. Let's look here. He's genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of those around him. This person isn't perfect. It's not like they've done everything perfect in their lives. He's a centurion. He's probably seen or been a part of the execution of people, many times, maybe, unjustly. Because if the Roman government said you’re guilty, you’re guilty. But he was concerned. He cared about his servant. He seemed to care about the Jewish people. There was something about him that there was a spirit of compassion and concern.

Not only that, but he models goodwill amid divisive tensions between others. I mean the Jews and the Roman people did not get along very well. I mean, you don't have to take too long in history to realize that there was a lot of friction there. Can I tell you something? As Christians, there's a lot of friction in our world today. Have you seen it? Maybe a little? I mean, what's the thing they say on Facebook? I stepped onto Facebook, and I'm in an argument. I mean, what I'm saying is when you look around and see all the things — people fighting, all the political stuff, all the divisive stuff, everything that goes on, different things, and all the stuff that we've been fighting about. This guy shows us that there is a way to bring two people who are at war against each other, and don't like each other, together. And do you know what we're called to do? We're called to be those people. We're not called to be the ones that push everybody away.

“I'm going to do that in Jesus' name.”

No. We're not supposed to be walls. We're supposed to be bridges. I'm going to say that again because I think I'm preaching a little bit better than you all are letting on tonight. It might be, I don't know, a little rainy outside, or whatever. But we're called to be people that bring people in. We're called to stand in the middle. We're called to be peacemakers. That's different than a peacekeeper, by the way. A peacekeeper can use violence to keep peace. We're called to be peacemakers. We bring peace in the midst of the garbage.

What did Jesus do in the storm?


Can you imagine if every Christian in America, rather than wanting to debate and wanting to fight, everywhere they went, they went, “Peace?”

What did Jesus do when He came into a house?

“Peace on this house. Shalom. Good will.”

This guy shows us how to have good will even in a divisive time. Not only that, but he's humble. There's a humility to him.

“I didn't come myself, and I'm not worthy for You to come underneath my roof.”

There's a humility. We, as followers of Jesus, should be people that are humble. We should realize that He’s the King, and I’m not. You know, if you want to get humble, look at where you were before you met Jesus, and look at where Jesus has taken you to where you are today, and realize that you didn't deserve it, I didn't deserve it, and none of us deserved it. While we were yet enemies, Jesus died for you and I. That should bring some humility.

He turns to Jesus for his request. He could do other things, but he turns to Jesus. He models for us, in so many ways, what it looks like to be someone who is kind and generous. I want you to see this because this is a really big point to get, biblically. The centurion's kindness and generosity opens the door for the miraculous. I want you to lean in here. Those online, listen. Lean in. I want you to hear me here. I know that there are people on TV that take this whole thing about generosity, kindness, money, and all this stuff, and they run it into the ground. I'm with you one hundred percent. It’s terrible.

“Do something nice here and God will give you back a hundred. Do this here and you'll get this. Spend 10 bucks and get my bottle of holy water that was bottled at the Waffle House bathroom,” or whatever it may be. Whatever. I get it. I understand what you're saying, but I want to tell you something, as your pastor. God does respond and bless people who are generous and kind. Okay? We don't want to lose that biblical principle. We don't want to Americanize it and make it all about materialism, but we don't want to lose it because, see, this centurion is not unlike another centurion we’re going to meet in Acts 10. Cornelius. What does it say?

It says, “Because of your alms, your prayers have been heard.”

God responds when you and I are kind and generous. It opens the door here for the miraculous because they come and plead with Jesus. This guy's been generous and kind. This has been a guy who’s built their synagogue. His kindness, his generosity, opens a door to God doing something great. We believe that around here at Grace. We believe that when we're generous, when we're kind, and when we're doing it because it's coming from a pure heart — not trying to say, “God, what can You give to me? I'm doing this so I can get something.”

But when we are generous and kind, I'm telling you, it opens up doors. Have you ever noticed that when you're mean and ugly at people, the doors shut? Does anybody else notice that? Have you noticed that, sometimes, being kind and smiling makes a difference? Favor flows where generosity abounds. The favor of God flows when you're kind and generous. This is why we want to be intentional neighbors. This is why. I mean, the favor of God has been on this house from day one because we have been people that have poured into other people, poured into the community, and God has responded. He doesn't owe it to us, but He just responds. When you and I do good things for other people, it opens up the door to some crazy stuff.

I'm going to tell you a story. This is important. It was a few years after we started Grace, I was working full time, 60-70 hours a week, coming in and speaking. This is before we had all these services and everything. It was like 10 people, they all hated me, and they were my family. They probably still do. If you ever think that ministry is something that you want to do, just make sure you're called. Because if you've never been in your closet in a fetal position, crying that you don't want to not be in ministry, you're probably not called. Okay?

Anyway, I was up, I didn't know what I was doing, and I went to a conference. That’s when God downloaded the “we're going to reach the unchurch by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.” I remember working through Acts 2, and it was like, “Oh my goodness. It’s just right there.”

Luke, the same writer, in a two volume set, Luke and Acts says, “They [the early Church] were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all,”

Now, this doesn't mean that's what you have to do. This is what they were doing. We always say when we're reading the Bible, interpreting, “Is this a prescriptive or a descriptive moment?”

This is a descriptive moment. Okay? So, don't get worried.

“Oh my gosh. We’re getting ready to have the moment here where we're selling all of our possessions.”

We're not doing that. Okay? Don't go there.

He says, “…and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

This is a moment in time. The Holy Spirit had fallen on the Church, and they were so moved that they were selling what they could, and they were giving it. Notice that they were selling it. They weren't forced to. It was of their own choice, as any had need. It created this incredible moment.

“and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” — listen, listen — “praising God and having favor…”

Why did they have favor? Because they were doing good. They were helping people. They had favor. I grew up in a tradition, in a church, that if you did Jesus right, everybody hated you. I'm telling you, the early Church had favor with all the people. Let me show you what favor brought.

“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Do you want to know why we want to be intentional neighbors? Because we know that when we do good in a community, God blesses that, and He gives favor. When there's favor, that means people come to know Jesus because intentional neighborliness includes kindness and generosity.

Here’s the last thing. Now, I want to really focus here because this hit me. I'm going to be candid. I had a pretty long and grueling week, so I haven't been as focused on some things, maybe, as I am normally. I didn't really pay that much attention to the set list of the worship songs this weekend. That's just me being brutally honest with you. When I was listening about faithfulness, “you've never failed,” and “you're the same God,” I was like, “Man, no wonder I felt like this was the last point I needed to say.”

The centurion shows deep respect for the power and authority of the words Jesus speaks. There’s a deep respect for whatever Jesus says because he realizes there's authority behind it. He says, “Say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

Would you listen to me? Listen, I don't know what brought you in here. I don't know why you're watching, right now, online, but you're here. God knew you would be here. Can I tell you something? God, when He says something, there is power behind what He says. In His Word, He says things to you and I that are true and honest. We have to ask, “Do I believe the Word of God is true?”

I want to just do this. I want to speak over you things that God says. He tells you that He is faithful to you and me. He says that nothing will ever separate you and me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

He says that your sins are forgiven. They’re cast as far as the east is from the west. You don't have a past anymore. God has set you free, and you are a child of the king now, forgiven and walking in royalty. Sometimes we forget that, but what God says is true, whether you feel it or I feel it. And the centurion says, “If You just say the word, I know he’ll be healed.”

Do I believe the Word of God is powerful?

The writer of the Hebrew says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I’ll tell you one time, in my life — and you are probably like this, too. Sometimes you go to the Word of God and it's like, “That's not what I want to see right now. That's just not what I want to see.”

Because it pierces. Do I believe the Word of God accomplishes what God intends? Listen to what God says to the Prophet Isaiah.

He says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

I'm going to tell you something. Listen to me. Some of you all are probably facing some stuff in your life, you’re facing some things. Can I just be a pastor for a moment? Get outside of yourself, start being generous, helping other people, and go to God's Word and stand on every single promise. Whether you see it or don't see it in your life, step out of that boat, step onto that water, and believe that if God said He will do it, He will do it. He can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think, and he will do it for you and me. So, sometimes, you’ve just got to say, “This is what God said, and I'm standing on that. I don't see it right now, I don't feel it right now, but God said He would do this.”

And can I tell you something? If He said He will do it, He will do it.

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