Defying Gravity - Pastor Tom
Wow. You're dismissed. I mean, what can I say after that? Wow. Little 12-year-old Beau Dermott of England just shocks the world with that, doesn't she? That's amazing. Nobody saw those big pipes coming out of that little girl. She literally defies gravity singing a song about defying gravity. For those of you who don't know, that song is from the hit musical, "Wicked." It's not a wicked show at all. It's a backstory to The Wizard of Oz. It's actually very creative.
And, you can tell by Simon's reaction, when she says, "I'm going to sing Defying Gravity", he goes – Mr. Positive and Optimistic – he rolls his eyes like, "Yeah. Alright. Good luck with that." Because, that's a really, really hard song to sing. Most people can't pull it off. And, I've been to this Broadway show – and it's a great show – and I've seen some of the best Broadway singers sing this song and honestly, they don't have anything on little 12-year-old Beau Dermott, do they? Isn't that just amazing?
Don't we love it, as humans, when a person does something that seems absolutely bigger than they are? We love to be shocked and surprised when people do things far above what we thought was capable. I know, at least for me, I like to get my mind blown when the bar gets lifted and the heights of human achievement goes up a whole other notch. A notch that, perhaps, we didn't even know existed. It's just like defying gravity.
After the musical Wicked came out, the term defying gravity to explain someone or something actually became such a popular term that it made it to the Urban Slang dictionary. And, you can see it there. I like the part that says, "To achieve above and beyond what most people think is not even humanly capable." Think about it. It wasn't actually to long – for those of us who are a little bit older in here – it wasn't too long ago that the best minds in the world said, "Nobody will ever walk on the moon. It just can't be done."
It wasn't too long ago that the best minds in the world said, "It's scientifically impossible for man to fly. Yeah. We might be able to figure out a rocket where we can go up for 20 or 30 seconds." But, as a normal, standard, daily mode of transportation, they said it couldn't be done. It also wasn't too long ago that scientists and doctors and kinesiologists literally would write papers and say that there's no way in the world that man will ever break the four-minute-mile when running.
It just couldn't happen; It couldn't be done. And, for thousands of years, nobody broke it. And then Roger Bannister, as you know, broke it in the 50's and then all sorts of people after broke it right after that. But, somebody had to break the lid and show that it was possible. It also wasn't too long ago that people said that computers would never be practical. That they were so big that engineers could use them and mathematicians could use them, but that they would never bring it down to what we could use everyday because they could never get them small enough to carry.
And, just think about it. Today, the smartphone that's in your pocket actually has more power, speed and memory than the supercomputers of the 80's and 90's that put men on the moon. Now, that's amazing. You literally have more power, more speed than computers that took up a whole building. Man has achieved some amazing breakthroughs and things we never thought could be done. And, don't we love it when those kind of things happen? Don't we love it when things just seem – the glass roof just seems to get shattered and we take a whole other step?
I love to be thrilled. We love to be thrilled when somebody defies gravity. Now, as a quick side note, as those of us who call ourselves Christ followers, people of the faith, we believe that the greatest gravity defying moment in history was and always will be when Jesus Christ came to planet Earth. That event, that one event, will always be the defining moment that changed everything in human history. There's no bigger gravity defying moment than that. His coming and His helping and His healing and His serving and His loving and His dying and even, then, His rising, He literally did defy gravity.
Nothing or no one else has ever done anything like that since. And, the things He did, let's just remember to review. Does He cast out demons? He fed the five thousand. He raised the dead. And then there was that coming back to life thing He did. I mean, that's some pretty amazing, gravity defying stuff. Stuff that I don't think anybody could ever top.
But, you see, when He was wrapping up His ministry on Earth, He was about to go back to Heaven and He was in the process of passing the torch onto His followers and, eventually, onto us to carry out the mission. The Great Commission to go to the four corners of the Earth and share God's love to the whole world.
He said something very strange. Almost a little scary. And, even though I've been to college and even though I have a seminary degree, this is something that, for the longest time, I just really had a hard time wrapping my head around. And, it's when He said this. It's when he pointed to His followers in John 14 and He said, "Guys, I tell you the truth. Anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I'm going with the Father."
Okay, Jesus. Let's all just be honest here. You kind of set the bar pretty high. I mean, signs, wonders, miracles? Those are pretty hard acts to follow. And He says that not only will we do the same works, but He actually goes on to say "Will do greater." And, I've always wrestled with this. Is He stretching the truth here to make a point? Is there some kind of literary spin that I'm just not smart enough to get? Because, this passage has always frustrated me because I've looked at this passage and I've looked at Christians.
And I've look at this passage and I've looked at Christian. To personalize it, I've looked at the passage and I've looked at me and I've said, "Come on, Jesus. I mean, we can't do that stuff and I don't see people doing that stuff on a regular basis."
Let's be honest about the problem. Here's the problem: As a church and as His people, we know – and I believe that with all my heart – we know, deep down, that God wants to use us and we're supposed to do some kind of great work; some gravity defying thing that changes peoples lives and changes our communities and the world. And, Jesus tells us that in order to do that, we just simply have to do the works that He did.
But, how is that even possible? I mean, how are we going to do the same things He did? Speaking of gravity defying works, one of my favorite shows on T.V. – total side, A.D.D. moment – is ESPN Sports Center's Top Ten Plays of the Day. If you've ever seen Sports Center's Top Ten Plays of the Day, raise your hand. Alright, a couple of sports fans in here. I love that show and I love that segment of the show because talk about defying gravity.
Everyday, it's different sports from all around the world. Different people, from professionals to amateurs, and all they show is ten plays that just make your jaw drop and you're like, "That's just not even humanly possible." And, I love to just sit there and watch that and go, "How did he do that? I can't do that. Nobody can actually do that. How did she do that? I can't do that." And, I love watching and being mesmerized by things that I don't even think people are capable of.
And then one day, guys, it hit me. One day, it finally hit me. Just like Sport Center's Top Ten plays, all of those miracles that Jesus did that are listed in the Bible, those are His greatest hits. Those are His top plays. That's not all He did. The miracles were just the cherry on top. The miracles were just the best of the best. When you read the Bible, we're watching Jesus' highlight reel. The most phenomenal things that He ever did in His life. But listen, guys. That's not what He did 24 hours a day. That's not even what He did most of the time. Most of the time, He was actually doing other stuff. Normal stuff. Simple stuff. Stuff that actually, some of us, can do.
See, I think for many of us, we know deep in our heart that there's a calling on our life. And I'm not talking about a calling to full-time pastoring and all that. There's a calling that says there's something bigger for me to do as a Christian. A calling to do something deeper and more meaningful than the status quo than to just play church. And, I think most of us can feel it tugging at our heart and we hear – if we'll get away from the noise of the world we can hear the Lord of the Universe saying, "Do something great for Me. Take a chance. Do something great for Me."
But, then we read our Bible and we watch Jesus' highlight reel or we watch Pastor Chip preach and make it look like it's so easy for anybody to do or we watch our talented worship band and we say, "I can't do that. I'm not wired like that. I'm not talented like that. Maybe Jesus doesn't have anything for me to do."
Maybe, just like Sports Center, we decide that in the Christian life there are people on the field playing and then there are some of us who are just called to sit in the stands. And, I'm here today, guys, to tell you that there's nothing further, further, further from the truth.
Here's our first Power Point.
Stop looking at Jesus' highlight reel and thinking that's what you're supposed to be doing and start looking at His everyday life.
His real life. Jesus also changed the world by being a good neighbor. He simply met people on their turf and He healed them and He helped them and He loved them and He served them. Jesus is not asking us to recreate His highlight reel. He's simply asking us to love people and to do good deeds and, somehow – here's the part – those small deeds, those things that we think are meaningless – the giving a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, the stuff that we don't think matters – somehow, God takes it and He turns it into something supernatural and He blesses it and He multiplies it and He turns those things into a miracle. Those things can change people's lives, change communities and change the world.
There's a remarkable story in Luke 10 and, I'm not not going to put it up, I'll just fly through it because you've heard it before. It's the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, once again in this story, we find the religious leaders of the day peppering Jesus with a bunch of questions and trying to trick him. They're asking Him a bunch of tough questions. They're hoping He'll say something that goes against the Jewish faith so they can put Him in prison and kill Him.
So, they're asking Him all these questions about eternal life and who's getting in and who's getting out and who's really worthy and what's religion all about? And so, Jesus answers the first thing and says, "Guys, you can boil religion down to this: Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor."
That's what He said the whole point was. And, trying to be clever and philosophical, one of the religious leaders quips back to Jesus, "But Lord, in the grand scheme of things, who really is our neighbor?"
I mean, what does that even mean?
And Jesus said, "Glad you asked. Sit down. Let me tell you a story. And, He told them the parable of The Good Samaritan. And you guys know the story. The story is about a Jewish guy who is walking down the road and he's robbed and beat and left for dead on the side of the road. Three people come down the road; a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Two of the people don't help the poor guy; one person does. That's the crux of the story.
Now, the funny thing about when Jesus tells the story is the characters that He uses in the story, the first person He uses in the story that walks down the road, sees the guy hurt and keeps on walking is a priest. And, as you know, for the Israelites, the priest is supposed to be the most spiritual, most holy, most spiritually mature, wholly religious person in the room. By the way, the people that were hammering Jesus with a bunch of questions, those were the priests. Those were the priests who were actually asking Him that. And He tells them that here comes Mr. Holy Priest and he walks on by.
Now, the second person that comes down is a Levite. Now, a Levite, for those of you that don't know is a temple assistant and they're actually supposed to be the second most holy, most religious people in the room. They're consider the most spiritual tribe out of all the 12 tribes of Israel. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament, do you remember when Charlton Heston – I'm sorry, I mean Moses – goes up to the mountain to get the Ten Commandments and the Jews get bored and they build a golden calf and they start worshipping it?
Well, actually, the tribe of Levite abstains from worshipping the golden calf. And from that day on, they are deemed most holy, most religious tribe in Israel. But, Jesus picks a Levite to come down and, he too, keeps walking on by. By the way, there's not only a bunch of priests in the crowd, but there's a bunch of Levites asking Jesus the question while He's telling us this story. And, Jesus picks the two most spiritual groups and they don't help the guy.
And then, He comes to the third. They've heard stories. They've heard the stories in threes. They know that whoever's coming down the pipe next is probably going to be a good guy and probably help out. And, Jesus starts with, "Oh, look who's coming down the road now. A despised Samaritan." And He actually said the word "despised Samaritan", not because Jesus thought they were despised; He knew that's what Israel thought about the Samaritans. See, the Samaritans, the hated each other. Jews hated Samaritans; Samaritans hated the Jews.
About 500 years before Jesus even got on the scene, a bunch of Jews were taken into captivity and some were released, as you know, to be allowed to go back to Israel. But, some were brought in to same Pagan Gentile camps and they were forced to stay and plug into society. They didn't have a choice. They had to blend in and become part of their new society. So, they would worship new God's alongside the Yahweh God. They intermarried, they melted into their culture and the Samaritans just became a melting pot of a bunch of different people groups. And, the Jews hated them for it because they said they weren't pure. They said they were mutts and they said they were half-breeds and that God hated them and they didn't have a seat at the table.
And, they always hated the Samaritans and then here comes Jesus with the story saying, "Oh, look. It's a Samaritan who comes down the road and takes care of the guy and nurses to his needs and takes him back to the inn and takes care of him all night long. And then, when He was about to leave, he says, 'I've got to go on a trip' and he tells the inn keeper, 'I'm paying for more. Let him stay as long as he needs and, if it goes longer than that, I'll pay you more when I get back.'"
And, right at at this moment, Jesus looks back to all the crowd and He goes – especially to the Levites and the priests – and he goes, "Alright, okay guys. Y'all asked me a bunch of questions. Let me ask you one. Who was the better neighbor?"
They hate Samaritans so much that they can't even say the word Samaritan. They won't even say it back to Jesus. He's like, "Who's the good neighbor? The priest, the Levite or Samaritan?"
And they answer back to him, "The one who showed mercy" because they couldn't even say the word Samaritan out loud.
And, just because Jesus cannot leave well-enough alone, He leans in on them and says, "Well, then why won't you guys go and do the same?"
Wow. That's like a Rambo moment. Do y'all ever read your Bible? Like, this is an intense moment here! And, I know He had to make them mad. But, in this story, we hear a lot of what Jesus thinks about religion and what He thinks about loving your neighbor.
Power Point Two. According to Jesus, true religion is all about healing and helping and loving and serving our neighbor.
Jesus redefines neighbor – just in case anybody is wondering – as anyone who can use your help. See, we hear the term "ministry" and we get all intimidated because we think ministry is complicated or it takes some kind of extraordinary talent or skill. To Jesus, ministry and being a minister is just being a good neighbor. It's just going and loving people and doing good works to those who need it.
Well, let me show you another scripture real quick because sometimes, people get confused between faith and salvation and works and does one have to do with the other? And so, I want to go through this real quick because I think we all kind of need to see some balanced perspective.
Y'all have heard this scripture, Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God– not by any of your works, so that nobody can boast."
This is a popular scripture, and it should be. Because, if you go outside the church and you ask the average man on the street who thinks they're a Christian because they go to church on Easter and Christmas, "Are you going to Heaven?"
And they go, "Yes, I'm going to Heaven."
If you ask them why, they would tell you, "Because, I'm basically a good guy."
You know, and the thing about Christianity, one of the things that we learn is that we don't earn our salvation. We can't do anything good to make God happy. We can't earn a seat at the table. We can't bend His ear towards us because we go out and do good things. That's crossing the line of faith. Reconnecting with the one who made us, what we call salvation, is a free gift of God.
It's nothing we can earn. There's nothing we can do. Works can't get it at all. Works can't help you in any way, shape or form, to get God's love. God can't love you anymore than He loves you today. Anymore. He can't love you any less. He loves you greatly and He'll always love you greatly. No matter what you do, works don't change a thing.
Now, there's some believers out there in Christendom that I would call extreme grace or kind of hyper-grace people that point to this text and say, "See? We're not supposed to do good works. Why does the Church always talk about good works? Why do we always here 'works, works, works' in the church? It says right here that works don't help you. Works can't get you in. Works can't do anything for you. Works don't save us. Works can't help at all so why do we even talk about it? It's 100% grace. It's 100% God's favor that saves us so, why do we even talk about works in the first place?"
Now, here's the problem with the half-truth. They're right. When it comes to your salvation, there's nothing you can do. It's a 100% free gift of God. But, if they would have just kind of kept reading their Bible just one more verse, you would actually see the totality of the picture of what God wants us to understand when we balance out what we call salvation versus works. All we need to do is add verse 10. So, let's do it.
Ephesians 2:8-9, "It is by grace you've been saved, through faith – not from yourselves, it is a gift from God – not by works, so that nobody can boast."
Verse 10, "For we are God's handiwork..." – look at this – "...created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us in advance to do."
See, the word "for" in Bible study 101, "for" in Greek is the word "gar." And, anytime you see the word "for", it's saying, "I've said all this up to this point to now tell you this. This is the point of the text." And, what Paul is trying to tell us here is that both of these are supposed to work together.
You see, it's the Church's job to help people experience and understand both. One, salvation as a free gift of God. But two, the Church is supposed to help God's people understand that they've been created in Christ Jesus to do good works.
I also love the part that it says "in advance." I mean, have you ever thought of that? Did you actually know that? That God's already ahead of us preparing for these divine appointments and divine opportunities? And, all you and I have to do is just show up. We just have to show up and be like Jesus. And you may go, "What do you mean? Be like Jesus where we cast demons into pigs or raise people from the dead?"
No. I mean, if you want to do that, that's great. I mean, if you're at that level, go for it. But, you know, if you're not at that level yet, how about let's just start with feeling and helping and loving and serving. Because, that's what Jesus did. As you know, we here at Grace try really hard to be a community oriented church. A church that's a neighborly church that goes out and does good works. That's who we really want to be and that's who we are. But, we feel like we're just at level one and we just want to keep growing in this. You know, the purpose statement is right out there on the wall.
It says, "We exist to reach unchurched people by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ."
That is our DNA. That's not going to change. That's who we are. The First Fridays, the Holiday Parades like tonight, the Back to School outreaches where we pack up a bunch of stuff for the kids. The Feeding a Thousand at the holidays. I mean, these are things that have definitely started to define us in the community and we want it to define us.
We want people to know Grace is a church that does these things. We spend a lot of time and effort and money and manpower to do these things. And, many of you sitting here today are actually here because you saw us outside the four walls doing one of these things.
Not many, but – let's be honest here for a second. Not many, but a few people have criticized us saying we're doing too much or spending too much or volunteering too much outside the church. Some have said, "You guys are already doing more than most churches. I mean, what are you guys trying to prove? Why are you trying to pound it so hard? Just relax. Pull back a little."
And, I need to say something here important to you today as one of the pastors on staff. I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but this is 100% sure because you need to make sure you're in the right church for you and that it's a fit for what you want. As well as we need to make sure you're the right person for our church as well. And that is this: If you think Grace has been a community focused church up to this point, all I can tell you is baby, you ain't seen nothing yet. You have not seen anything yet because this is who we are and this is who God's called us to be.
Now, I'm not here to cram any new programs or outreach initiatives down your throat today. This isn't a big set-up. I'm just trying to make sure everybody understands what we believe is the heart of God and what we believe God's called us to be and what we're going to continue to be as we move forward. If you know Pastor Chip, if you know anything about him, you know our pastor has a humongous heart to unleash massive compassion on the community. And, that's just starting and we've only begun to be that kind of church that He's asked us to be.
Now, this is important to note because we want everybody to understand that we believe in balance, too. As we grow, we want to continue to educate and nurture and disciple people correctly and we want to have classes and groups for seekers and new believers and Grace 101 formats so people can understand our heart and their various next steps. We want people to grow in their faith; go deeper. We want to create opportunities for you to meet Christian friends so people can have community with other believers. All of that's very, very, very important. And, we want us to continue to do that. But sometimes, there's just people who think church is about showing up and having Bible study seven days a week. I just want to be honest with you here.
When it comes to being Biblically educated – and if we can just be honest. Especially if you've been here at this church for more than a couple of months. When it comes to being Biblically educated, week in and week out, we have a very unique situation here at this church where our pastor is literally a doctor in theology who teaches seminary on professor level and he teaches us the same things he teaches his seminary students. We get college-level Bible education every week. If you've been here for a while, can you say "amen?" Because, that's true.
And, this isn't a throw at any other churches but you know, you'll go out there and you'll see a lot of churches and they'll use one verse and there's a lot of practical advice. It's three steps to a happy life, four steps to a happy marriage, and eight steps how to not kill your kids. You want to go to that one because, I mean, that's really important. But, what you get here is Bible, and then you get more Bible, and then you get more Bible. We're very Biblically educated here at this church. We don't need to be any more Biblically educated. We just need to walk out the Bible that we've actually learned.
Can you say "amen" to that? I mean, that's what we're called to do. But, I can tell you where I need tons of help. I need to know and to learn how to be better at being a better neighbor that reflects Christ in my community. I need to work on that. I don't know about you, but sometimes I walk by my mission field too fast. Sometimes I don't think God can use me. Sometimes, because I'm busy doing stuff, I don't see what God's doing because I really don't think He can use me.
All of us can become better and learning how to be better neighbors that do good works and reflect Christ in our community. It's not real hard. And, my point today, guys, is not to try to sell you on a new ministry, but my point is to try to sell you on you being a minister and being a more effective one at that. That is exactly what God has called each person in the room today. Because, each person in this place is a minister, each person in this place has a unique call and each person in this place, if you'll do small things, short things, little things in Jesus' name, if you'll watch, He'll turn it into a miracle. He'll turn it into gravity defying moments.
So, let me give you a quick working definition of a term. Because, I think the more you're here, the more you're going to hear this term because it really is who we are. There are two terms I'll talk to you about today. One was "missionary." You've heard that. The second term is "missional." Everybody say the word "missional." Now, here's the big difference because you need to know. I missionary is when the church sends people to a foreign community to be neighborly like Christ. But, to be missional is when regular church people send themselves to their local community to be neighborly like Christ. Do you see the difference?
See, God has called all of us to send ourselves outside the four walls in this community. Now, let's take a quick look because there's two ways that you want to make sure you're being missional. And, the first one is a personal mission. Guys, where you live, where you work, where you eat, where you play, the people you know, the people you're about to know. That is your mission field. That is your mission field. And, nobody has the same mission field that you have. And God hasn't called you to go cast out demons and raise the dead. Now, if you want to do that, go for it. But, what He has called you for sure and what all of us can do is go into our mission field and look for God at work. Look for people who have needs and go help them and God will somehow use it.
As I was putting this message together this week, one of the things that I had to pause and go, "Alright, Tom. You've got to work on this", is that I realized that sometimes I just walk right by my mission field because I'm in a hurry to go do something that I'm sure is not really important. I just walk by the harvest. I walk by the mission field. I walk by the people in need because I've allowed my life to be so 2016 like everybody else where we're all running around at Mach 5 with our hair on fire because we've just got to get here and then we've got to get there. We've got to strike 8 things off of our list and we're walking right by God at work all around us.
And, if we would just pause and take a break and look around, we would see God working everywhere. And remember, some of these things, God has prepared in advance. And that's the part I thought about this week. I'm like, "God, you've gone in advance to set up divine appointments and divine opportunities and, because I'm busy, I'll just blow right by stuff."
I don't know about you, but I want to learn how to get better at that. Not only personal mission, but then church mission when we get together corporately as a church and do some things in teams. You know, Jesus sent people out in teams and our Women On the Go ministry has been doing a great job going out into the community showing God's love in a practical way. That's all done in teams. A team can be two people, a team can be fifty or eighty people like tonight at the Parade, and then a team can be like two hundred people like the next Christmas on Main. But, these are the two mission fields. Your personal mission field and the church corporate mission field that God wants each and every one of us to not only be involved in, but growing in.
I'm running a little bit behind so I need to land the plane here. Let me throw, real quick, two big ideas. Because this, I really think will help you differentiate between one and the other. I'll call this two big ideas that missional Christians and missional churches understand that regular Christians and regular churches don't understand. This is some big boy stuff, so stay with me.
First of all, missional Christians understand that great books and great sermons can help you learn, but serving and loving people can help you grow.
See, there's a difference. There's a difference. We learn by scripture, but we grow by serving. We learn by praying and reading our Bible and hanging out with other Christians, but we grow when we become more like Christ when we go do. When we heal and help and love and serve.
The second statement I'll tell you is this: Missional churches understand that good deeds done outside of the church create good will in the community.
And, that makes it so much easier to share the good news. Good deeds create good will and it opens up the door to share good news. Good deeds actually validate good news.
Nobody wants to hear what we have to say about Jesus. But, when we go out and start loving and serving the community, you'll be amazed at how people want to hear about your Jesus. God has granted us good will in the community and it's a good start. But, all of us know that we just need to make sure that continues to move forward.
Now, final thought for both seekers and believers today. If you're a seeker and if you've come in to check the Christianity thing out to see if it's for you or not, first of all, we welcome you here. We want you to seek at your own pace. But, I'm about to give you a statement I think is a total statement that covers both the life of a seeker as well as the life of a believer and I really think this is true.
Here it is: You will never be fulfilled with your self until you come to know the one who created you. But, just as important, you will never be fulfilled with your life until you do the good works God created you to do.
Some of those works He's created you to do, they're your mission field, and nobody can do them but you.
Over the last four months, I've had a very unique opportunity. The older I get – in one way, I'm honored to be a part of helping churches when they're going through a big issue and in another way, it breaks my heart to see when churches go through tough things and you've got to get in there if there's moral failure or whatever and try to figure out the next steps and what to do and church fights and all that kind of stuff.
But, I've recently had an opportunity to work with a church that they're a growing church – a very good church in the southeast, I don't want to say their name – but, they've done a lot of good things in their church but they've just gone through a major morality issue. It just came out that the senior pastor’s wife had an affair with one of the elders. And, you can imagine this is kind of an ugly thing. If you've ever been in a church that's had moral failure, you know how easy the next week is. You show up and nobody's at church anymore. I mean, this can be a church killer.
These things can mess churches up and I've seen churches never get back on track. They just never get back on track after something really tough like this happens. And so, we've been trying to talk with him and, to make matters worse, guys, this church was growing, growing, growing and had a lot of momentum. They had just built a new building and taken on a debt. And, it was a week before Easter.
You know, when all the visitors show up and you're hoping that some of those visitors will stay and help pay for the debt a little. I mean, all at the same time, the week before Easter, this comes out that the pastor's wife had an affair with one of the elders. And, it was a mess. And so, we're all on the phone and we're just trying to figure out what to do. My first thing was well, don't talk about it on Easter, because I'm so spiritual.
I'm like, "Just avoid that! You can talk about it next week, but you've got visitors and people are bringing their kids just to get eggs colored." You know? This is way to deep for visitors to be hearing. But, I've got to give the pastor some credit. He and his wife talked about it. They prayed about it all week and they said, "You know what? We know it's Easter. We know we just moved into a brand new building. We know we owe money. We think we just need to get out in front of it. We just think that's the right thing to do." And so, they did.
On Easter Sunday, the pastor and his wife got up with all the visitors. People who were just being there to have a nice little Easter bunny moment and go home. And here comes the pastor going, "Well, we've got to share something with you. My wife had an affair and, as we've talked about it this week, I've realized..." – and he talked about the three or four things that he felt like he needed to do better as a husband.
And then it was the wife's turn and she said, "I've got to be really honest with you. I really – that was very gracious of my husband to try to fall on the sword. This is all my fault. I was bored and I was curious and I wondered how close I could get to the line. And then I said, 'oops', and it was too late and it's all my fault."
You could've heard a pin drop in this place. And this is Easter, where everybody's supposed to be happy, you know? "He is risen! Woohoo!" I knew people who were there and they said it was just so awkward. Like, the whole moment was awkward.
And I'm like, "Wow. They're going to show up next week and nobody's going to be in this church. And what do we do then?"
Now, just to give you a little backstory on this church, for the last seven years, what I've got to tell you about this church is they've been the poster child for doing missional ministry. They have been out in the community doing it better than almost anybody I know. And they're a medium sized church. They're not huge yet. They're growing. But, they spend tons of time, effort and energy. I'm talking about they go in and do extreme home makeover to total neighborhoods in their city.
Like, they'll go into a school 200 or 300 volunteers strong, skip church on Sunday, go into a school that's dilapidated and run down in a bad section of town. Put new yard, new paint, new furniture, new chalkboard. When everybody shows up Monday, it's a brand new building. They feed the poor. They clothe the poor. They have all sorts of everyday – not just event – but everyday they have daily activities that they're reaching out helping people in their community. The town has just – I can't believe it – the town has actually just turned more and more stuff over to them because they say they do it better than the government.
And so, they've even said, "Hey, we'll give y'all money if you keep doing what you do." This church has been incredible and then, you have something like this happen. So, here's the thing. After the big Easter debacle, the executive pastor has kind of been running the show while the pastor and his wife have some counseling and all of that's going well; it's moving forward. But, every 10 days, I talk to the executive pastor and there's just certain things in church groups that we just call "measuring sticks."
I ask them and grill them with the same questions every 10 days. What's going on with the church people? What are the church people saying? What are the fringe people saying who come every once in a while? What are the top 10 percenters that come and give and serve every week, what are they saying? Who's staying? Who's going? What about the new people who showed up during all of this? Are any of them staying? Are they going? What is the community saying about you? What's going on with the offering? Because, people vote with their money and their feet. What's going on with the money at the church? What is the town saying about you? What are they pastors saying about you? What are the leaders in the community saying about you?
I know the town they live in and they have a local paper that loves to talk about gossip. Every 10 days, my first question is "What has the local paper said about you guys?"
Now, here's the thing that will blow your mind, and it blew mine. Every 10 days, when I talk to this guy, he goes, "Well Tom, the attendance is up and offering is up and nobody's saying anything bad. Most of the people in the church, almost all of them have stayed. A lot of the new people stayed. They're not writing anything bad about us in the paper. The community leaders and the pastors, everybody is being nice. We've actually just kind of gotten through it and we've grown through the whole thing."
Now, first of all, do you understand how crazy that is? And I said to him – because they're even on the town council – I said, "Well, what's the mayor or what's the town council – when other pastors, when they talk to you, what do they say to you?"
He said, "They all just call us every week and say, 'How can we help? What can we do? How can we help make sure you guys get through this?’”
I said, "Well, Jeff, why do you think that's the case?"
And he said, "Well, one of the town council guys, I think he told it to us best. He said, 'We need you guys to make it through this storm because we can't imagine our town without your church.'"
Now, guys, if you're wondering what the measuring stick is for knowing you've done it right, there it is. When a community is saying, "I'm so sorry you guys are having a scandal. Tell us what we can do because we can't imagine our town without your church right in the middle of it."
Guys, that is doing the Gospel right. That's what Jesus meant when He said, "Greater works you'll do, even more than what I've done."
That's what it means to defy gravity and that's the kind of church that all of us want to be. That's the kind of Christian you and I want to be. And guys, I just want to encourage you today to challenge yourself to say, "You know what? I'm taking the next steps. Not only in my personal mission but in the church mission. I am called to do something and I don't need to have the talent of Pastor Chip or one of the worship people. I've got different skills and different things. I have a different story that I can speak life into people that nobody else can because my story is going to connect with certain people."
And God is somehow going before us and He's creating those opportunities. All we have to do is just step up, show up and be Jesus. Not the "cast the demon guy out" Jesus. Not the "raise the dead" Jesus. Let's just start with the healing and the helping and the loving and the serving Jesus. Who knew that small acts done in Jesus' name could really change the world.
Now, you guys sat on something else today when you came in and it's something that looks like this. I talked with Pastor Chip and this is a challenge that we both are just asking you guys to do. See, we can continue to do good deeds and go out in the community and all that. But, we want to be laser-focused and strategic.
And here's the part I want you to hear: We don't want to just do good deeds for good deeds, we want to do the deeds that God wants us to do. Okay? We want to be strategic in this. We want to do the things that maximize impact and build a bridge back to the house. So, I want to encourage you, I'm just asking you, and so is Pastor Chip, that we want, just for the Summer, for us to be on the same page that when you have your quiet times, that we'll all pray this together.
First, for your personal prayer mission:
"Hey, God. It's me. Today I ask you for at least one divine appointment. Put in my path at least one person who doesn't know You yet or know You well. Then help me figure out how I can be a good neighbor and bless them. Set it up, Lord. I'm on the lookout."
And the second prayer is this:
"God, as my church, Grace, moves forward, give us Your heart for the community. Give us Your eyes for the community. Give us Your plan for our community so we can be good neighbors, win the lost, bless our city and change the world."
Guys, let's get laser-focused about this. Let's get intentional about this. And, during the Summer, we'll do some outreach things and I want to courage all of you to step up. But guys, I think it's just now. It's just the clarion call that God's just shooting the thing across the bow going, "You guys have done a great job. But, I have more for you to do. But, do you have the faith and do you have the boldness and do you have the willingness to be used by Me in a new, fresh way? Ways that maybe other people and other churches and other places don't do?"
Are you willing to be that person to step up and live a life that says, "I'm going to be someone who looks for God at work so I can join Him and I can do service and I can love and heal and bless and somehow God's going to take that and turn it into a miracle and change someone's life and change the community and change the world? And that means that one day we can grow up as a church and this town will say, 'We can't imagine life without you here.'"
That's when you know you've done church right. Because guys, anything else is just playing church.
Father, we thank You so much for the opportunity to be Your children. We have so much to be thankful for. You've given so many things to us for free. Your salvation, Your blessings and Your favor. You go with us everyday. Your divine protection. And we thank You, God.
We stand in awe of all the things that You've done for us that we didn't earn or deserve and we're so thankful for grace. We are. We're thankful for Your unmerited love and favor. And, we receive all of that. But, Father, we also know the rest of the story. We read verse 10. That You did all of that for us because You have great plans for our lives. We're actually supposed to be part of the solution to heal mankind.
But, it takes a special kind of boldness and a special kind of diligence to step up to the plate and say, "Use me, God. I'm serious."
And Father, I ask You as a church, God, as a body of people, we say, 'Find us where we are. Understand that we're scared. We're a little intimidated. We don't always know what to do. But, God, give us Your eyes for the harvest. Show us, when we walk through our mission field, who we're supposed to speak life to. God, let's start there. We just pray, Lord, that You would meet us as we take these small steps of faith and You would bless those moments and You would bless those opportunities and help us really be a part to help someone change their life.
And, secondly God, as a church, as a body corporate, we want our church to be the church in town that people don't think they could do life without because that's when we know that we are being the hands and feet of Christ. Father, use us. Use us as Grace Community Church. We want to be a church that changes the world. We want to be a church that defies gravity. And, we don't have to cast out demons yet and bring people back from the dead. All we have to do is show up, speak life and love and serve and heal and help. And You'll do the rest.
And we'll start with that, God. And, if we do that, God, we know that not only will we see this community blessed and this church bless, we know, God, that we reap what we sow and we know that we'll be blessed. Because, You've assured us in Your word that if we'll take care of Your world and we'll take care of all of Your children and all of Your family, that You'll take care of our world and our children and our family. So, give us the boldness to be the people and the church you've called us to be. In Jesus' name, and all of God's people said, "amen."