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.


[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.


[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]: 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.


[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.


[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.

John Flowerree