(un)Apologetic Week 6: Expansion Through Generosity

Sermon Transcript

[Video]

How do you know that Jesus is actually God? What happens to the people that never hear about Jesus? How can a loving God send people to hell? If God knew that Adam and Eve would sin, why would He even bother creating them? Why would God create the devil if He knew he would rebel? How’s it possible God has no beginning and no end? Why should I believe the Bible if God Himself didn’t write it? Can God and evolution both be true? What if I don’t agree with some stuff the Bible says?

So, why was God okay with slavery? Why does He seemingly allow wars? Where was God when I needed Him? If God is loving and all powerful, why is there evil?

[Garbled/overlapping questions]

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We're in a series called “Unapologetic,” and the idea, the genesis of this particular series, was that when you look at the Church and the data in the Church, this is an alarming rate. About 80% of those 18 and older that leave church and go off to school, about 80% of them stop going to church once they leave church at 18. And they stop because they're inundated with all kinds of things that challenge their faith and make them think that somehow their faith wasn't real or that somehow it was wrong or whatever. And so, we decided that, as a church, we want to take on the tough questions. We believe — I passionately believe — that scripture and Jesus and the resurrection and the truth of God's existence wins every single time in the arena of truth. Do you agree with me on that? Amen?

I had two pastor friends who were like, “You're crazy, talking about this stuff and taking on these questions.” No. I think we're crazy when we don't answer these questions for our church. And so, what I do as a pastor — and for those of you all that are regular attenders here, you know that. I always have a big idea when we're doing a series, and part of that is because I'm also a professor and I like to teach. And so, what I know is when I get a big idea, and it's sort of the theme of the series, what I do is I approach that theme through different ways so that we learn. Because my passion as your pastor is that when you come here on the weekend, as the saints of God, as believers in Jesus, what I want you to do is I want you to be equipped, every single weekend, so that when you leave here, you leave better and different than when you came in, and so that you're able to live the life that God has called you to live, and you're able to share the Gospel in the way God wants you to do it and live out the life that God has for you and me.

So, the big idea in this particular series has been for us to get equipped so that we're not afraid to share and defend our faith. And what's interesting is if you talk to a lot of people who've been in church for a long time, they love God, they've read scripture and they've memorize a lot of scripture and all this stuff, but when it comes to actually stepping out and sharing their faith, or actually having people question things, they don't feel very comfortable in giving those answers or in and sharing that. And we want to make sure that you do. We want to make sure that you have those.

So, we're doing a pretty long series here on this. I will say this: Did Mark Mittelberg not do a great job the last two weekends for us? Just did a great job. Bestselling author, good friend. He just did a great job. The next two weekends coming up, I'm going to be talking about the resurrection and the proofs for the resurrection. You want to be here and you also want to bring family members and friends because, let me tell you something, there is so much great evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. I'm telling you, some of you all are going to go, “You know what, I think I'm going to get saved.” You know? I mean, it's just good stuff.

So, please, please, please be here for that because we're going to talk about that. And at the end of the month, I'm bringing in Frank Turek. Frank is one of the best known apologists in the world. He'll be here for one weekend for us. So, we're just going to continue to fill this thing up. We're going to leave here, in this series, knowing our faith and knowing how to defend it because this is what I believe. I don't believe God has given us a building when we first started this church, has given us another building now on Bee Ridge, continues to do this, allowed us to buy the land debt free, does all these things, allows us to see all these people coming to faith, getting baptized and all this stuff for nothing. I believe God is at work and I believe God wants to shake up Main Street in Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota and to see something fantastic happened. And I'm all in. I want to see revival on Main Street. I want to see people getting pinched for Jesus at Pinchers. Can I get an amen?

So, there you go. So, all that being said, I think if I were to take a poll and we were to write down things, like, “What are the number one things you need to know to be a good apologist? To be able to defend your faith?” Most people say, “I need to have better answers about the Bible,” or, “I need to know something about the science,” or, “I need to know something about whatever.” And all of those things may or may not be true, but what I will tell you is this: In the early Church, the greatest defense of their faith, the greatest sharing of Jesus came through their love towards people, through their generosity, through their giving, through just being really focused on loving people.

In fact, let's look at what Luke says here in Acts 2.

He says, “And they were selling...”

This is all the disciples, the followers of Jesus that not only were the 120 that were in the upper room, but those that had become saved after the fact on the Day of Pentecost.

“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Have you ever noticed how we take all of the Bible, we read a passage like this and go, “That doesn't apply to me.” Do you ever notice that? It's like, “Nah, I don't like that one.” Let me tell you something. Can I tell you something? When you see a dead man walking, it changes your life. These people were all-in. Not only that, but they experienced the Day of Pentecost. I mean, these people were all-in. So, they're selling their possessions, they're distributing the proceeds to all, they're pouring into the community. That's on the outside.

On the inside: “And day by day, attending the temple together...” — and we tend to like this one better than the other one. Anyways.

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,”

And look at the outcome, here, of this serious Christian life where they were living out their beliefs in Jesus, but more importantly, they were pouring into the community.

It says, “...praising God and having favor with all the people.”

Because of their generosity, because of their giving, because they're pouring into other people, they had favor with the people. And look at what favor did:

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

One of the greatest ways the early church shared their faith was through their generosity and through their giving. It's a simple pattern. Giving and generosity, and it's not just including finances. That's giving of time and giving of energy and all that stuff. Through their generosity, they received favor and that favor led to souls and people coming into the Kingdom of God. And that's the truth. It works that way. Like, for instance, last night it was so cool. Last night, I had a young man who came up to me and said, “I want you to know...” — he even Facebooked me after the baptism. He goes, “I want you to know that I was one of those at First Friday that met you and I was lost. I met you at First Friday and I came to church, and through the teachings of this church, I accepted Jesus and that's why I got baptized last night.

And I look at that and go, see, because we give into the community, because we're generous into the community, what happens is we have favor. and because of that favor that we have, many people have come to faith or come back to church because of what we do in Lakewood Ranch and because of First Friday and the other things that we do around the community. I get pastors all the time that call in and go, “Okay. What's the secret here? Why are you all able to go into a secular environment and do what you do? And how do they shut down the street for you for Christmas so that you can have like thousands of people out there and you get to preach the gospel?”

And I'm like, “Well, it's real simple.”

“Tell me.”

I’m like, “It's because we're generous.”

We don't stand out there with picket signs saying, “Turn or burn.” You know? Or signs that say, “Get right or get left. Eat the bread of life or you're toast.

You know? We pour into people and we love people, so we've been given favor. And favor, what that does is it leads to seeing people come to faith. That being said, I want to stop here for a second and tell you something. As a church, we as a church have been a direct beneficiary of generosity and giving because the Bee Ridge church decided to merge with us, and they have given, in that merge, 40 plus acres, a building that seat's 1,000 people, and it's debt free and all of these great things. And I'm going to tell you why they did it, because this is important.

They did it because they wanted to steward a resource and see that resource being used by the Kingdom of God to fill that place back up with people that we're not going to church to see the lost become saved. They did it, and because of their generosity, there's going to be favor attached to that. And I'm here to tell you that church is going to fill back up one day, and we're going to see people come to faith there at Bee Ridge. And it's going to be awesome.

And so, I want to talk because we had a meeting not too long ago — two weeks ago — where we had a number of people that were there and we agreed that we would talk about what we need to do. We need to refurbish that building. And let me take a moment here to explain refurbishing buildings. This is what happens, so just take a moment here. This is important to get. When we're not Christians, before we were Christians, most of our friends weren't Christians. That's just the way it works. Then we became a Christian.

When we became a Christian, we tend to not hang out as much with those older friends. We start to make newer friends within the church. We become sort of isolated as Christians and we become a little weird because we can't really talk to the lost anymore because we’ve sort of insulated ourselves as Christians. It becomes all these cliched words. You know? “Brother, you're washed in the blood.”

Most people out there in the world, when they hear “washed in the blood,” they're like, “Whoa, I don't want to get washed in any blood.” You know what I mean? They don't understand the words that we have. So, here's the reality. Listen to me. It’s so important. The church, which is you and me, is not a building. And we know that as Christians. Like, we know that, but we get so weird — there are whole movements all across America going, “You don't need buildings. Church is people. It’s just people.”

Folks, listen to me: The people out there in the world that we're trying to reach with Jesus, when they think of the church, they think of a building. Can you imagine at First Friday if I was out there and I'm like, “Hey, I'm Pastor Chip.”

“Hey. I'm Joe, man. Yeah. I sort of like what you guys are doing. I'm thinking about maybe coming. Where are you guys located.”

“Brother, we are right here. The Church is people.”

He'd be like, “You know what? I'm not coming to your place.”

You know? We say we're located at 6932 East Professional Parkway. Why are buildings important? They're important because they're venues and environments that people come into and find God. And do you know what? The easier access it is, the better. The quicker you can get in the parking lot, the more people that are smiling to get you in. The better the coffee tastes, the better that those cookies taste, the nicer people are, the greater opportunity when somebody sits down for the first time. They go, “You know what? I might listen to what's going on here.”

That's why buildings are important. They're not the Church. We are the Church, but they're important and God has always had buildings. And so, what we want to do is we want to make sure that the building that we have now at Bee Ridge is refurbished in such a way that people are attracted to come there, because at the end of the day, what are we trying to do? Two things every weekend: We want to make sure that everybody that is a Christian is equipped to live out the life that they can live, and we want to make sure that we get as many people into the Kingdom of God while we have breath in our lungs in this life. We want to drag as many people into heaven as we possibly can.

So, we want to have great facilities and great venues so that people can get in. So, when I knew that was going to talk about this, there were two major, major things that I really, in my heart of hearts, wanted to cover. And the first thing that I wanted to cover was this: I wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart and from the staff. Thank you for everybody that has participated in all of the things that we've done because we've done a lot in eight years. You don't grow from 12 people to 2,000 people in eight years and not have a rodeo. Amen? I mean, that’s the way it is.

We had 3,200 people here for Easter. I mean, most people would come into this building and go, “This is a dental office. How do you get these people in here?”

You know? Those used to be offices over there. We tore that out. I had this great idea: “Why don’t we tear all that out.” And some of you said, “You know what, Pastor? I'm in.” And we tore that out. And if you remember, the first day we opened, it was filled. Then I had this great idea: “Why don't we just tear the whole ceiling out in this place, and just tear the whole hub out and get even more space?” And many of you got in and said, “I’m in. I'm in for that.”

And then we said, “Look, we need to do some children's stuff again. We need to do some office space.” And you said, “I'm in.” And then we said, “Hey, we're going to build a building in Lakewood Ranch, but we need to buy the land.” And you said, “I'm in.”

You jumped in and you scratched and you clawed and you prayed. I just want to say thank you because we're now a church that runs 1,600 to 1,700 people, even in the summertime with snowbirds gone, and we're still growing. We have an opportunity, now, to continue to grow a Bee Ridge. We're still going to build the church in Lakewood Ranch. All of these things are going on, ultimately, because God has blessed our church. But they're also going on because many of you have jumped in and helped. And I just want to say thanks because we wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the generosity of this church. Amen?

The second thing that I wanted to do is I said, “Okay, we've got a need.” If you know anything about giving, need giving is not the best. Vision giving is better. Like, if people can see the vision of what's going on, it's like, “Yeah. I can give to that.” Need giving is more tough, but we have a need. We have a need to refurbish a building, and we have a need to do it as quickly as we can so that we can get it up and running because the optimal time would be to get this church up and running around the time when people start going back to school, so that we can do this.

So, we have a need. So, what did I do? I sat down and said, “Okay. Here's what I’ve got to do. Chip, you’ve got to do this. Is there a biblical passage in the Bible — is there somewhere in the Bible where there was a need and we have a blueprint for some of the things that were done and the way that need was asked for or reached for? Is there anything?”

And then I said to myself, “It can't be in the Old Testament.”

Because there's always, in every group of Christians, at any given time, if you preach out of the Old Testament, there's always a small group that would be like, “This is the Old Testament. It doesn't apply to me.” Which it does, but they think that way. So, I said, “It can't be out of the Old Testament. I need to get something out of the New Testament. I need to find a place.”

And so, I found a really great Scripture where there was a need and I’ve just sort of drawn some things from this passage. I’m hoping that it will speak to all of us.

So, I'm going to read the passage first, just a few verses, and then I'm going to talk about the points that we should consider from this passage. This passage has written to the church at Corinth. It's the second epistle that we have to the church at Corinth. Paul is specifically asking for a need giving. He's asking that the Corinthian church would give to the suffering Jewish people, and probably some Gentiles in Jerusalem that are undergoing some severe poverty and famine. He talks to them about doing this and he uses the Macedonian church is a great example of how they did this. So, let's read this and then we'll look at some points here.

He says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”

So, as I sat there — and I did for the last week or so. I read and re-read and read and re-read that passage with one goal in mind: What can I learn? This is a need. They have a need. How did Paul go about doing this need? How did he go about making sure that he did what he needed to do as the writer here of this letter to the church to be able to help get this need met?

And so, I'd like to give some points here to consider. If you take notes, this would be a great time to take notes. God loves notetakers. Amen? And He does is in the book of Hezekiah. That book doesn't exist at all. Okay? It's in the book of First Opinions, and that doesn't exist either. But anyway, if you take notes, it’s a good time to take notes. This is something that I think you can take with you not only contextually here, but you can take with you for the future as well. It just speaks to a lot of things.

First of all, the reasons for giving to a need must be clear, which seems to be self intuitive, but it's not always self intuitive. We're told here that they were begging earnestly for favor and taking part of the relief of the saints. In other words, everybody knew what they were giving to, which was the relief for the saints. Now, I grew up in a fairly large church, and I've been a part of other large churches, and I’ve got to be honest with you: There have been times where they took up an offering for something and I wasn't quite sure what we were taking up the offering for. I just know that we were being asked to give.

Okay? So, what I saw in this passage is that it needs to be clear. It needs to be clear. Whatever the need is, it needs to be clear. In this particular instance, we need to refurbish the church at Bee Ridge. That's what we need to do. That is our need, right now, as a church. We have other needs, and we continue to meet those needs, but this is a very important need for us to continue to grow and continue to do the things that God has called us to.

So, we want to make sure that it's clear. And we will. We'll talk about that in a minute. Second thing, and this is interesting: Giving for need is a grace. And I want you to see this here in this passage. It says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God.” This isn't salvation. This is a grace that has been given to the churches in Macedonia that encourage them, that lifted them, that allowed them to give. There was a grace. And I can tell you this: When a need arises in a church, there really does need to be the grace of God that floods through the church because here's the other reality of need giving: The opportunity for giving to a need will often come in difficult times.

It will. It won't come at the best times for you and me, because we're told in a severe test of affliction — because they were going through a difficult time here, this church in Macedonia. It was not a good time to be asking for gifts. Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty. They were poor. They’d probably be thinking, “Why are we giving to Jerusalem? Why are people not taking up an offering for us?”

Out of their extreme poverty, they have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. Oftentimes, when a need arises in the church, it will be at an inopportune time for most of us. I'll give you an example. If you would've asked me, as a pastor, “When would you not like to try to refurbish a building?”

I would have said, “Summertime.”

Guess what it is? It's summertime. By the way, we're going to take up the census cards at the end of service, so please be focused on those census cards. I'm telling you, some of you are like, “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.” Don't forget about it. Anyway, summertime, it's not the most opportune time because here's the reality: It's vacation time. Kids are home. Stuff needs to get done. There are a lot of things going on. That's why giving to a need, in this particular passage, I see why he says that there was a grace given to this church because that grace enabled them to press forth in their time of difficulty.

Fourth thing I see: Giving to a need is both reasonable yet sacrificial. It's both. We're told here in the passage that they gave according to their means, which is the way most of us give. We sit down and go, “Okay, this here goes to God, and this is what's leftover. And then what I'll do with this is this goes here, this goes here, and if I want to do something here for this group or whatever, I can do it.”

And that's fine because God gave you and me and mind. He expects us to be reasonable people. But giving to a need is not just reasonable. It's also, many times, sacrificial. He says “They gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means.”

They stretched. Oftentimes, that’s what is required to meet needs in a local church. Next thing is that giving to a need should never be coerced nor done out of guilt, ever, under any circumstances. And I've been in churches where I have felt guilted into giving. I felt pushed at times. That's not what we do here. We've never done that here. It's never been our motive at all. It’s never been anything about who we are. I will remind you the name of our church is not Guilt Community Church. It is Grace Community Church. Okay? We don't do that.

It says here, “And they gave of their own accord.” In other words, they chose to give. It doesn’t mean that Paul couldn't tell them, “Here's the opportunity to give, and we do need to take up an offering for this need,” but he wanted them to do it on their own, as any good church would do. And I think the reason they were so inclined to give is because of the next point here in the passage. Giving to a need brings favor. Check this out. This is so cool.

It says, “Begging us earnestly.” Remember, these are the people that are in severe affliction, these are the people that are in extreme poverty. They were begging. That's a strong word. They were begging earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. They realized that in giving and fulfilling a need, it is important for the church that there would be favor involved.

And this happens a lot to me. If I go visit somebody — sometimes I'll get out and go visit somebody in the hospital. We do it as often as we can. We have a whole pastoral team. We're always visiting people. But when I can get out and visit, or I go to somebody's house or whatever, this is what I normally get. This is just the normal thing I get: “Oh, Pastor Chip, we know that you’ve got all those people and you're so busy. We're just so glad that you came here. It’s such a blessing to us.”

And I'm like, “You don't get it. The person that's the most blessed person in the room is me. I walk out of here skipping. I'm blessed.”

It's more blessed to give than it is to receive. You have favor when you give. My kids think it's more blessed to get than it is to give, but they're pagans. But the reality is that that’s not the case. It's blessed to give it. They understood, “I want to be a part of the favor that goes on in being a part of this thing.”

And number seven here: Giving to a need, it requires some time with God. It's not something that — we're not collecting the offering at the end of service because we’re taking up an offering for this deal. We're going to do that in July. It's a month from now because we think people need time with God. The reason we're taking up the offering, if I haven't told you at this point yet, and if you didn't hear it, at the end of service is because we want your census card. That's what we want. Okay? That's why we're doing that. I know some of you are like, “Ah, I see what they did.” No, no. We didn't do that. We're doing the truth. Just believe me when I'm telling you what we're doing. We're taking up the offering at the end because we want the census card.

So, anyway, giving to a need requires some time with God. Look at what it says here. It says, “They gave themselves first to the Lord.”

“God, what would You have me do? What would You want me to do?”

And it says, “Then by the will of God — because they understood what God wanted them to do. Then by the will of God they gave themselves to us.”

See, there are some great, great truths there in this passage of taking up a collection for a need. And so, you can look at that and go back and watch that. If you're watching via the internet or online app, please. You can participate. And this many snowbirds are watching, and you do, please get in with us. We can use your help. But here's what I want to do before we talk a little about the refurbishing of the church. I know that I'm overgeneralizing here, so please, please, please forgive me for this, but I do want to sort of just at least talk to what I consider to be a few of the groups that are in the room. I think you'll understand why I'm doing this.

The first group that I want to talk about is those that this is your first time here. You’ve never been here before and you're going, “Great. I came in here and they're talking about giving and all that stuff.” I'd like to stop you for a second and just and just ask you to maybe rethink that. Rather than looking at it as, “Hey, they're talking about money and they’re talking about giving,” what I'd like for you to do is most of you who come new, you’re probably looking for a local church. That's what you're looking for. What I'd like to ask you to do is rather than looking at it as they're asking for money, look at what we're really saying in our heart. We're saying we don't want to be a church that is just the status quo, that just sits around and looks at everybody's navel and tends the aquarium. We want to be a church that fishes for people. We want to be a church that grows. We want to be a church that reaches other people.

The reason we want to refurbish a building is so that we can reach souls. So, if you’ve come in here and you're looking for a church that's out getting it done in the community and wants to see people won for Jesus, then you ought to walk out here today and say, “Man, I found a great church to come to,” because that's what this church is doing. Amen?

So, that's for those that are new. The next group that I want to address are what I call the early adopters. The early adopters are this: We would not be where we're at today without you. Period. End of story. We wouldn’t be here. We couldn’t have done the things that we've done without you. So, as your pastor, I want to make sure that I'm very clear here on this. It's your discretion going forward, but if you say, “You know, I'm tapped out, man. I've really been scratching and clawing here for a while. I need a little bit of break.”

Totally cool, 100%. I want you to hear that because we've never been about pushing and doing that stuff. I get it. I totally get it. A lot of you all have really helped and pushed. What I would say, though, is if you can help, we could use your help.

The other option that I'd like to at least throw out to you is this: If you are, right now, giving towards the Lakewood Ranch building, would you consider — you don't need to do this. You can continue to do whatever you want to do. But would you consider now, through the end of the year, redirecting that to the Bee Ridge campaign, and then picking that back up in January towards the other church? Would you consider that? Just consider it. But if you don't want to, that's fine. I'm just thankful, we're thankful, that you have done what you have done to get us to this point. We would not be here without you, so I want to say that to you.

The next group that I want to talk to are what I call the “wait-and-see-ers.” You were here, you saw that we were going to buy some land and you were like, “You know what? I don't think they're going to do this. I'm not quite sure. I'm just going to wait and see what happens.” What I'd like to kindly suggest to you is that we were able to purchase the land debt free. We paid for it debt free. Not only that, but we've paid for every soft cost up till the final permit that just needs to be pulled so that we can build that building in Lakewood Ranch. I mean, we still have money in the bank. I mean, we have done such a great thing. Not only have we done that, if you were waiting and seeing, but on top of it, God threw  us this huge curveball and gave us over 40 acres and a building that seats 1,000 people.

If you're wanting to wait and see, “Is God at work here in the church?” I think you have your answer. He is definitely working. Here's the deal: We could really use your help going forward. Like, really, importantly, could use your help.

The next group of people that I'd like to just sort of talk to are those that have come from Bee Ridge. You were at the Bee Ridge church and this is maybe your first ever service here at Grace. You’re like, “Whoa. This is way different than what we had there.” And it is. I totally agree. We get that. This is a dental office that we've done the best that we could do to make it look like something. We're doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

What I'd like to remind you, and I'd like to say to you, and I hope that everybody here will give a huge round of applause, is this is your church now, 100%. This is your church. You are as fully a member here is if you've been here from day one when we started eight years ago. Right? A little over eight years ago. You are in. This is your church. I would understand — and I would, if I was from Bee Ridge, if I was a little reluctant right now. Like, “I don’t know. I mean, they're doing this thing. I don't know if I want to.”

But I would just kindly say that we are refurbishing the building that you have worshiped in for so long. We're going to get it refurbished and you can still go back there and worship. That can be your building that you worship in. And I think that you will see, if you think about it, that it does need some refurbishment. What we want to do is get that great. So, if you would just consider that, we could use your help as well.

And then the last group are what I call the “new since.” And the “new since” are those that joined us after we took money up and bought that piece of land. And it's maybe shocking to some of you all, but this is the minimum that it is, but that's about 600 plus people since then. Tom thinks it's 900, and it may be. He's just usually more evangelical than I am, and I'm more conservative, but it’s somewhere between 600 and 900. But it's 600 plus, for sure, that joined, and we could really use your help. Like, if you're here and this is your home church now, and you are like, “Man, I am all-in,” then we just ask you, could you please jump in with us?

So, let me give you the timeline here so that everybody knows what's going on. We're going to try to get this church refurbished. If we could have it next week, we would have it next week, but it's probably going to take about 90 days once we get started. Realistic time frame, September, October, probably, is the realistic time frame. If we can get it done in August, do you think we would get it done in August? If you don't know me, you know that I would have it done next week if it were up to me. I am the most driven person. The staff will tell you, they'd be like, “This dude would do six and seven services every weekend if we didn't hold him back. Just keep him off the Mountain Dew. Keep him off all that stuff. Put him in a room and don't let him talk to anybody. Just bring him out when it's time to preach.”

But the reality is we’ll go as fast as we can go. We're going to get that church up and running and launched. We're going to make sure that we've got it running smooth and we're going to be going right into that Thanksgiving, Christmas season. Our goal, at this point, the way we're thinking, is we'll get that church up and running, we'll add so many more people, and right at the first of the year we will be ready to go. We will probably start breaking ground, hopefully, for the Lakewood Ranch church. What I would ask you is this — and if it were me, I would do it all at one time, but I think it's fair — and the staff has asked and I've listened to them. They said, “Please don't put us in a position of having to do two things at one time and burn us out and wear us out.”

I said, “I hear you.” So, that's sort of the cadence of what we're going to do. But I can tell you this, and I want you to hear me: We are going to build this church in Lakewood Ranch, and we're going to do it as fast as we can. And there's nobody here in this church that wants to see that church go up any faster than I do. So, I'm telling you we're going to do that. But I think it is wisdom to get the church going at Bee Ridge, get it refurbished, get it growing, get it going, and then turn towards that. So, that's the cadence. Now, what I'd like to ask you to do is this: Would you guys turn the lights on so everybody can see?

At your chairs, you have this brochure. We are not collecting an offering for this church today. Please don't rip the card off and put it in the offering. Do you know why we're taking up the offering at the end? Because we want your census cards. Remember those things? Some of you are like, “Oh, yeah. Okay.”

So, please get that written. Do that right now. So, what we've done here is put this together for you to go home and to pray and to seek God and ask God what you could do to be a part. And we just have a little thing here that says, “On May 19th, over 500 people gathered together and we took a vote. It was about 99.9% of the room stood up and said, ‘Chip, spend a service talking about what we need to do. Tell us what we need to do.’”

Why are we doing this? Well, first of all, we're growing. Let me go ahead real quickly and deal with the church growth thing. You hear it all time. The average church in America is 70 or 80 people. There's a reason why it's 70 or 80 people, because people like their comfort zone. They do. Growing a church is difficult. It’s more people, more stuff. Some of you are like, “I don’t want to go to a big church. I don't want to be a part of a big church.”

Okay. This is what I want to ask you. I want to ask every one of you all who are a Christian, who loves God and believed that Jesus died for people — everybody. He died so that they could have eternal life. I want to ask you if somebody walked through that door right now and said, “Hey, I'm stumbling in here. I need to accept Jesus.” Is there anybody in here that would say, “You know what? We're pretty full. I think there are some churches down the street that can probably lead you to the Lord. Go.”

No. We wouldn't do that. We'd say, “Let's pray right now. Let's get you into the Kingdom of God.” And then, as a church, we would feel a responsibility to get them baptized, to get them trained and to get them equipped. So, here's the deal: If you believe that, then you must believe in church growth because it means that we want to continue to see more people come to the Lord.

Some ppl are like, “Oh, I don't like numbers or whatever.” Well, read the book of Acts. There are numbers all through the book of Acts. In fact, there's a book in the Bible called Numbers. Numbers are not scary. It's not the most important thing around here for us, but people are. And do you know what? People are most important for us because that's who Jesus died for, and we want to reach them.

So, we've been growing fast. We were in the top 100 churches last year. I got an email that we are going to be in the top 100 churches again this year. And so, God is doing great things. What do we need to do? We need to raise a million dollars. It’s simple. We need to refurbish the building. What's the call? Would you just pray about it? Would you be a part?

You don't need to tear this off. Take the whole thing home. Don't drop this in the offering bucket because you're doing it too fast. I want you to really go home and think about it. In July, that's a month from now — so, remember, there's no coercion. There's none of that here. A month from now, we're going to take up one huge, big offering during the month of July. We won't call it one weekend. It's just going to be the whole month of July. We're going to say, “As much as people can give, let's give.”

That's like your one-time big gift. Then if you could do weekly or monthly, like I said, this is only through the end of the year. We're not doing a long-term thing. It’s the end of the year. That's it. We want to get this thing knocked out. We'll turn these in at some point. We'll give you a timeframe. We'll probably have more of these out on chairs, again, at some point. We just want to get you thinking about this and doing.

So, this has nothing to do with the offering at the end. I know some of you thought, “Oh, that's what they're doing. They're sneaky.” We're not doing that. That's not what we're doing at all. This is July. Do you know what I want in the offering? Your offering and your census cards. Census cards are really important. So, that's what we're doing. Would you please pray about this? Ushers, come on down. We're going take up the offering. We're going to take up the census cards. I'd like to just take a moment and pray, and then we will take up the offering. After the offering's taken up, I'll come back and say a few concluding words and we'll get out of here.

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You for the opportunity to be able to give. I pray that as we give today, that we would give cheerfully and that we would give fully realizing that You are the one who ultimately provides for all of our needs. I pray that as we take up this offering that You would not only bless it, but I pray, God, that You would multiply it so that we can continue to do what You've called us to do here at Grace, which is to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.

And so, Lord, I pray that You would bless this for Your glory and for Your honor. And I pray, God, that as we also collect all these census cards, that You would help us, God, to best steward all the resources that we have and to best steward the buildings that we have so that we can reach as many people and equip as many people as possible.

So, Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus' name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Worship as you give.

I just want to say thanks to everybody for letting us take a service out of the series to talk about this, but I think this is hugely important. God has really blessed this church massively, and we just want to make sure that we steward what God is doing here. Not everybody gets to experience the growth and the salvations and the baptisms and all the things that have gone on here. I was reminded last night, somebody said, “This isn't the first building that you all have been given,” and I'm like, “You're right.”

When this church first started, I was a general manager and part owner in a Land Rover and Lotus franchise, and the majority owner came into my office one day and said, “I'm going to buy you a church,” and he wasn't even a Christian. And, sure enough, he went and bought a church. We started Grace Community Church there with 12 people — all of them my kids. But God has just blessed this church richly, and I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, that I am humbled and honored to get to do what I do. I feel like I am the most fortunate person in the world. I get to pastor a growing church in Sarasota, Florida, with Siesta Key Beach, in such a beautiful place. I mean, I really do pinch myself almost daily, to think this.

But I can tell you this, and this is the truth: We have not seen anything yet. The best is yet to come. God is doing great things. So, next weekend, we're going to talk about the resurrection for the next two weekends. Please be here. Please bring your friends. I promise you that you're going to be blown away when we talk about the proofs of the resurrection. You're going to go, “My goodness.” You're going to walk away just buzzing. Even if you've been a Christian for 30 years, you're going to walk away going, “Man, this is the greatest thing ever.”

And it is. The greatest thing about Christianity is a person, and His name is Jesus. And He loves you. And if you were here today and you don't know that, today would be a great day to settle eternity. Find somebody with a name badge, grab me or whatever. We’d be happy to talk to you, get you plugged in and all those good things. But I love all of you all. Let's bow our heads and let’s asked the Lord to bless us as we leave.

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for the opportunity today to be able to talk about what we've talked about. I pray, Lord, that You would give us favor and that we would knock out this need quickly so that we can get about getting this building refurbished and can continue to grow and watch You just continue to bring more and more people into the Kingdom of God.

I pray, Lord, that as we walk out of here today, that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us. I pray that You would watch over us and protect us. And I pray that You'd bring us back safely to when we meet again. Father, I pray that You'd help us to stay focused here at Grace on what You've called us to be. Don't let us turn to the left or to the right. Help us to stay focused on being the church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.

Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus' name, and everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.

Chris Pedro