“A Game-Changing Chapter

(The following is a transcript of Bill Hybel’s message “A Game-Changing Chapter,” from our Game Changers series. The video is also available to you.)

Hey, everybody, as you notice, I’m sitting on a chair, and it will become very obvious why I’m doing this in just a few moments.

This is the final installment of our Game Changers series. Which Steve has done an incredible job leading us the last several weeks. And he’s asked me, he said, “Would you be willing to point to some part of Scripture that was a game changer in your life?”

And I thought about it for a little while. And I thought well, I certainly can think of one part of Scripture that had a huge impact on my life maybe seven or eight years ago. But I wanna begin by saying... I’m sitting on a chair. And you know that, since the early days of the church, we have urged every one of you to find a chair... and to read God’s Word for fifteen minutes a day. Because we believe, and we know from the Scriptures and from our own experience, if you do this... it’s not gonna be like the clouds are gonna part, you’re gonna hear an audible voice. But... God will speak to you... quite regularly... through the pages of this book.

Fifteen minutes. Your favorite chair. Have a cup of coffee or whatever. And see what happens. Okay?

So I think the first time I taught and challenged the church to do this was in 1977. We were still in the movie theater. So I’ve been at this pretty much my whole life, urging people to do this. Well, I came to a point, after having done this for decades... where it got a little stale for me.

And the general rule of thumb is, whenever you have a spiritual practice that isn’t working for you anymore... change it up. Experiment with a different practice. Try something new. Don’t keep doing practices that don’t connect you to God. Cause there’s nothing meritorious about just the method. The whole idea is that we do spiritual practices so that we can connect with the God we love.

So, anyway, I started to get a little worried. I’d done this fifteen-minute thing for decades. And... then a thought occurred to me. When I read through the Bible in fifteen-minute increments, I don’t actually get a saturation knowledge or impact of God’s Word. I keep getting overviews of hundreds of different texts.

And I thought, what would happen if I would choose one chapter... and stay in it for a really long time?

 Well, my favorite chapter in the Bible is Romans chapter 12. And so, I said, “I’m gonna read Romans 12. It has twenty-one verses in it. I’m gonna read Romans chapter 12, once a day. Each day in my chair time. And I’m gonna read it until it stops having impact on my life.”

So, after about a week, I thought, man, I’ve never done this before, you know? Read the same passage of Scripture every single day for a week. It was still having impact. And by the time I hit thirty days, I was getting into this. And by the time I hit six months, I was starting to look at the world through the eyes of this tremendous chapter. 

Long story short, I read Romans chapter 12 every single day for twelve months. Just the whole year. Then I thought it was getting into the addictive state, so I bailed.

I’ve only done this kind of thing one other time. I read Romans chapter 8... which is my second-favorite chapter... I read that for eight straight months. Every day for eight months. The, what I’m telling you here is... I had to change out of a practice that was getting stale... and, I just, I’d never heard anyone else talk about this saturation-Bible-study method. But it has worked for me twice in very dramatic ways. And what I’m gonna do, if you can believe this... I’m gonna rapidly talk you through all twenty-one verses of Romans chapter 12 so that you can get an idea of how beautiful this chapter is. And so that I can make some comments on how certain verses took me months to understand... and sometimes many months to apply to my life. And I’ve learned some things. And you might learn some things, too.

So here we go. You’re gonna see it on the screens. We’re gonna walk through twenty-one verses. So did you bring a pillow?

Paul writes:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

 I might... I might want to show you this. When you read a single page from the Bible for a year, look what it does to your page. So. I’m having a little trouble around some of these sections here.

But here’s how Paul starts this thing. He goes, “I want, I want to urge you to do something.” And then he uses a kind of imagery that seems weird to us. Cause we don’t practice any of this stuff in our day. Back in the ancient world, animal sacrifices were common-day experiences. If someone was really grateful for what, for God providing them with something, what they would do is they’d go out into their herd, they would find their best lamb—the one that would bring the highest cost at the auction—the thing that was most valuable to them. They would build an altar. And they would kill this lamb and burn it. And the idea was it was a sacrifice of something valuable given from the heart of someone who... just loved the God who had provided the blessing that sort of started the idea of doing this sacrifice.

And so all over the ancient Near East, you’d see altars, and every once in a while, someone who’d received a blessing, or someone who had been forgiven from something terrible, they would put their best lamb on that sacrificial altar, and then they would sacrifice it to God.

And Paul says something mind-blowing here. He says, “Here’s what I want you to do. No more animals. No more animals. I wanna take... I wanna present this idea to you. I wanna use the imagery of the animal sacrifices. I want you... to crawl up on the altar. And surrender... and tell God you wanna do His program. And tell God that you love Him. And tell Him you’re taking the most valuable thing you have... which is yourself... and you’re up on the altar saying, ‘I’m all Yours, God. I love You.’”

He said, “I want all of you to do that. Every day.” And he goes, “And I’m not just saying this cause, like, it’s meritorious.” He says, go to that, back one phrase. He says, “In view of God’s [mercies]” I want you to do this. What are God’s mercies? Let’s just chart—you’re in a church. On a Sunday. You’re all here. Which means, at some point in your life, God tapped you on the shoulder. I don’t know how old you were. God tapped you on the shoulder. And you met God through the work of Christ, His Son. And you began a relationship... a two-way, back-and-forth relationship with the Living God. And then, as a part of His love for you, the Scripture says, “His mercies are new for you every single morning.”

He’s given you the mercy of redemption... the mercy of adoption into His family. The mercy of answered prayer. The mercy of protection and provision. The mercy of guidance. The mercy of the Holy Spirit in your life. The mercy of heaven... in the afterlife. Paul says, “In view of this flood of mercies that God is pouring out on your life... every day, present yourself back to God, and say, “I love You, God. In view of your mercies toward me, I will give You my life. I will do Your will. I will follow Your path. And I worship You.”

It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? And from there, he says, “Now, here’s another thing I’m gonna ask.”

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

 What’s the pattern of this world? I read a statistic this week that kids in junior high and high school spend about six hours a day in front of a screen of some sort. Six hours a day. Now just think real fast with me what’s coming over those screens. It’s not all bad. But it’s the value system of this world.

It’s: “Here’s how to be cool.”

It’s: “Here’s what to buy.”

“Here’s what to experience.”

“Here’s a thrill you can try on.”

“Here’s clothes that you can wear.”

It’s... it’s the culture’s value system that floods our minds every day. Every billboard. Every television channel. We’re assaulted by the values of the culture all day, every day.

Paul says, “You know what? I don’t want you to conform to the values of the culture. I want you to be transformed. I want you to live above the value of the culture. I want you to be transformed.” But how are you gonna do it? He says, “By the renewing of your mind.”

You will sink to the thoughts and the behaviors of this culture. You will. I can. Unless you’re putting something other than just cultural stuff into your mind. Which is another reason why we say get God’s Word into your mind. Get Christian music into your mind. Get Christian books into your mind. Have conversations with other Christ followers. And get their thoughts into your mind.

Because when you put a higher standard of quality of stuff into your mind... the better stuff you put into your mind, the more you can transform the value system of this culture. And he says, “When you do that—when your mind is renewed...”

Then [you’ll] be able to [figure out] and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

As we say around here, “God’s writing a story for your future. You can join His story... for your future. If you do, it says right here, it’ll be “good.” It’ll be “pleasing”—to Him and to you. And it’ll feel like a “perfect” fit. If you get on His story.

Next he says:

By the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance [to] the measure of faith God has given you.

 Look at any employment survey. What do workers detest about bosses? Arrogance. The air of superiority. What wrecks a lot of friendships?

“I’m better than you.”

“I fly straighter than you.”

“I’m smarter than you.”

This idea of conceit and superiority... Paul says, “This is a problem all over. People think more highly of themselves than they should.” And he says, “I don’t want you to think more lowly of yourself than you should. I’m asking for the standard of sober judgment.” Which is ironic to me because this was written two thousand years ago, and... the shelves are sagging in bookstores these days about, with books about the subject of self-awareness. This is the cutting edge of leadership stuff right now. Be self-aware. Understand what’s going on in you, the effect that you’re having on other people.

So how do you get self-aware? How do you get this sober judgment?

Through self-reflection and through feedback from people who know you and love you. And so you ask some of your closest friends, “Do I come across as self-righteous? Do I over opinionate? Do I come across like I’m always right and stuff?” Self-reflection, feedback, you get to that point of sober judgment. When you develop sober judgment about yourself... you... people are attracted to you. They wanna be around sober-minded, sober-judgment-oriented people.

So then next he says:

Just as each of us has [a] body with many members [of the body], [the] members [of the body don’t]... have the same function...

 You know, you got arms, legs, all that.

So [we who are] in Christ [and we’re many, we] form one body,

 Get this next line here—it’s really important:

And each member belongs to all the others.

This word, belong, is a big one in the New Testament. Paul writes a lot about it. A sense of belonging. Here’s the big idea. The New Testament knows nothing about church people who church hop. You know, we just keep going from one church to the next. If they’ve got a hotter youth ministry or a louder worship band or whatever.

And there are a lot of people who just hop around, okay? Paul says, “No, no. If you understand the body of Christ, you understand that it’s, that you belong to each other in the community of that local church.” In fact, in another text, if you want your mind blown, Paul says, “Your spiritual gifts don’t actually belong to you... they belong to the community.” God gave you spiritual gifts for the common good of the community. So... these wonderful, talented musicians that we see up on stage—God gave them those gifts not for themselves. He gave them those gifts for a blessing of us who belong in this church.

And all of you who deploy your spiritual gifts, God gave them to you for the common good. So that the belonging church would be strong. It’s a beautiful concept.

Right after that, it says:

We all have different gifts, according to the grace given.

Some people have the gift of prophecy. And you should prophesy if you have it, it says right here. That does not mean the ability to foretell the future. What it really means is, sometime, when you’re reading the Bible—and I’m just using this as an example, and maybe the book of Ephesians where it says, “Don’t be drunk with wine,” and, you know, don’t get out of control with alcohol. Maybe you’re reading that. And your closest friend has a drinking problem, and he or she is on a road to self-destruction... and no one’s talking to them about it. No one’s willing to bring the subject matter up.

The gift of prophecy is you having the courage to draw principles from God’s Word and then, lovingly, with great humility, saying, “Hey, can I, can I give you a word from God? I’m concerned about your life. Concerned about your family. I’ll go to a twelve-step program with ya. We gotta turn this around. I have a word from God for you.”

I think my ministry has been saved several times by members of this congregation... who were reading their Scriptures, and they would stop me out of service or out in the community, and they’d say, “Bill, I’m a little worried... about you. In this way or that. Can I give you the word from God that God gave to me?”

And I’m like, “Hey. If God gave you a word to give to me, I want it. All of it.” And so some people have that gift. And if that’s you, he said, “Then you should prophesy.”

If you have the gift of serving, in another place it’s called the gift of helps, so that you should serve. Some of us don’t have... gifts of teaching or leadership or administration. We have willing hearts. And we can attach spiritual value... to physical labor. And when you leave the campus, you’re gonna see all these people in orange jackets directing traffic. That’s repetitive work. And in the winter, it’s terrible work. And every one of those volunteers—they’re using their gift of helps, their gift of serving. And they feel like they’re serving God and they’re belonging in our church. And deriving spiritual fulfillment from serving in that way. It’s a beautiful gift.

It says, if you have the gift of teaching... what do you think you ought to do if you have the gift of teaching? Take a wild guess. Teach. You should teach. Might be a Bible-study-scale gift. Might be a classroom-scale gift. It might be a little larger than that. But... the miraculous thing about the gift of teaching—I’m asked this on the road quite a bit: “What is the spiritual gift of teaching?”

And I summarize it this way: “You know you have the spiritual gift of teaching when while you’re reading the text, God illuminates something from a text that normal people wouldn’t probably see in the text. And, here’s the catch, while He’s illuminating one little part of the text, simultaneously He gives you an idea of how you could communicate that to other people.”

When you see someone who has worked very hard on the spiritual gift of teaching, and... you’ve been in this room before. You’ve been in the rooms at our regional sites as well. When someone has been teaching and it seems like everything stops and it gets quiet... you can feel the Holy Spirit move in the crowd. And you know... cause I’m in the crowd sometimes when Steve or other people are teaching. And I say, “God’s changing the hearts right now. God’s moving.”

That’s why we gather for teaching. We ought to have our fifteen-minute chair times, but we gather for that special anointed kind of teaching. And if you have that gift, you need to use it.

And it says if you have the gift of encouragement, you should be an encouragement machine. Someone with the gift of encouragement is someone who has an antenna that can spot someone who’s having a bad day, and instead of walking by... you head over to them, and you say, “Hey, I’m not trying to interrupt here. You okay? You got a couple minutes? Can I pray for you about anything?”

Many of you have this gift. You’re not confident in the usage of it. So you think you’d be interrupting. Gang, if you do this... sensitively... people will be amazed that you noticed. And that you cared. It’s a beautiful gift. I wish more people would use it.

If you have the spiritual gift of “contributing”—another place, it’s called the gift of giving—then you should give generously. The spiritual gift of giving is the supernatural ability to earn lots of money and the wisdom to live well within your means, and here’s the big one, and the joy to capitalize Kingdom initiatives. You have the knack for earning, the wisdom to live within your means, and then it just gives you... untold amount of joy to underwrite exciting things that are happening in your church or other great NGOs or causes around the world.

We have many of you in this church. And you don’t actually do I really have that gift? If you were to come to clarity on that... and say, “Wait a minute, I think he’s talking about me right now.” Try this. Earn all you can earn. Work harder, even. Live on a little less even so that you have more resources to underwrite the purposes of God in the world. My dad had this gift. I watched him use it. It gave him untold amounts of joy. And you can have that joy, too, if you have this gift.

And it says... if you have the spiritual gift of leadership, you gotta lead diligently. This verse changed my life cause I never knew there was such a thing as the spiritual gift of leadership. All I knew was that people tended to wanna follow me. And when I started to realize, wait, there’s a spiritual gift here. And it involves vision casting and team building and motivating people and problem solving and establishing and enforcing values. And it involves raising up the next generation of leaders. That’s all this powerful thing called the leadership gift.

Every church I know asks me, you know, when I’m in there, they go, “How do you raise up leaders in a church?”

And I say, “You teach about the spiritual gift of leadership, and then you challenge people who think they have it to get in the game.”

But, man, there’s very little that’s more exciting than seeing something that needs to be fixed in the world. And if you have the spiritual gift of leadership, cast the vision about fixing it. Get a team around you. Inspire the team. Motivate the team. Get a strategy and fix something. That’s the joy that happens in the heart of a leader.

Okay, then it says... if you have the gift of showing mercy, then show it “cheerfully.” Person with a gift of mercy moves toward... suffering. In the early days of Willow, there was a businessman in our church. And he knew I didn’t have the gift of mercy. I don’t know how he comprehended that—how he was so, how he could see that as clearly as he could. But... he said, “Let me visit all the Willow Creek people who are hospitalized.” He would walk into hospital rooms, and he knew where to stand, what to hold, how to pray. He... was an amazing individual. And he helped suffering people. And he did it cheerfully.

Now listen to some straightforward shots from Paul. Here it goes, okay:

Love [has to] be sincere.

Now, again. Two thousand years ago, he writes about this. What’s the biggest beef in society today? Spin. Fake news. Social media that’s all tricked out and people presenting themselves as leading a better life than they really are.

Paul, if he were in the room today, he would say, “All that stuff’s gotta go. Let your love flow from a heart of sincerity. No spin.”

I like this next one:

Hate what is evil.

Hate it. It took me months to really understand what those—what that little phrase meant. I didn’t, I was just kind of naïve thinking we shouldn’t hate anything. Paul says, “I want you to hate something. And I want you to hate evil with a hatred so intense... that it might fire you up to get off the couch and do something about it.”

Steve and I were interacting with each other over email when the mosque in Egypt had the horrible shootings. I’ve just come back from Cairo. And I knew that violence was festering. And... we were going back and forth. And I was like, “Steve, this is at a mosque—305 people.” And I wrote to him, in an email, I said, “Steve, I hate this stuff! And I hate it worse every time it happens.”

And I felt the freedom to do that because there are some things we should hate. I hated it this week when I read a news report of slave auctions that are happening in Libya. Did you see that? Yeah. They actually show human beings being auctioned off. One guy only got auctioned off for four hundred bucks. Another guy got sold for eight hundred dollars. This is happening in our world today. We should hate this stuff so badly... that we try to rectify it.

I had the unusual opportunity of spending some time with a US senator this week. And he’ll be leaving office soon. And I said, “Do you have your future sorted out?”

And he said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing I’m gonna do. I’m gonna give massive amounts of my life toward ending human slavery. If it takes me to my dying breath,” he goes, “I’m gonna do this.” And... so I was thinking, you know, he hates it, and he hates it so much, it moves him to action.

So anyway. Hate what is evil. It’s okay. Hate it. Hate it more all the time. And then:

Cling to what is good.

Whatever is good. Whatever is beautiful. Cling to that.

Be devoted to one another [you know] in brotherly [sisterly] love.

 Here’s another one:

Honor one another above yourselves.

You’re headed toward a doorway. You’re in a hurry. Who goes through the door first? Oh, I do, of course, because I wanna honor myself... above the other. Right?

I, at about the six-month period of reading this chapter every single day, I finally said, “I gotta come up with a definition of what that verse means. When it says, ‘Honor one another above yourselves.’” And for me, I finally decided, “I need to be way more courteous. In every social situation, I just need to be more... I need to actually think of others and honor others and open doors for others and serve others and get their overhead—their bag out of the overhead compartment. I gotta be more courteous.”

And... that changed in me. I’m not batting, you know, perfectly. But people who know me well would say, in most situations... I try to extend courtesies to other people in small ways because this verse wore me down. How courteous are you, really?

This next one, one of the most powerful verses in all of Scripture. And I’ll bet you no one here has it memorized.

Never be lacking in zeal, but [you] keep your spiritual fervor [high, you keep it high], serving the Lord.

Okay? Whose job is it to keep you fired up spiritually? Is that my job? You want it to be. Cause then if you have a bad week, and I preach a bad sermon or something like that, you’re like, “Well, I’m gonna have another bad week. Cause, you know, Bill didn’t do his magic, you see? It’s his job to fire me up spiritually.”

Not. My job. It’s not your spouse’s job. It’s not your small-group leader’s job. It could not be said more clearly: “You keep your spiritual fervor... hot. You keep your zeal hot.” By what you read. By who you hang out with. By where you serve. By the experiences that you have. It’s your job... to keep yourself fired up spiritually.

And I find... yeah...

I got three relatives here today. And exactly when I told them to clap.

Everybody wants to blame everybody else for being in a spiritual slump. Paul says, “I’m taking all the guess work out of whose fault this is. Draw near to God, He will draw near to you. Keep your spiritual fervor high.” Okay?

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

 Just beautiful verses.

Last year, I went to Zimbabwe. Been reading about what’s going on there. They’ve had a dictator for thirty-seven years who has decimated one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. Used to be the bread basket of the entire continent. Zimbabwe was productive and rich and, again, fruitful in every way. Robert Mugabe does a coup, steps in... and has looted the country, corrupted all the departments. The schools are dysfunctional. The institutions are broken. The traffic lights don’t work. Currency is completely frozen.

So we have a Summit site there. And they begged me to come. The city is Harare—the capital. I could not believe my eyes. Just before I left to go to the next city, I met with some of the city fathers and business people, and they’re like, “Bill, we’re hopeless.”

And I said, “Well, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna pray... for your country. That God will supernaturally intervene somehow, someway.” I made a commitment. Gang, I’m not proud to admit this, but that commitment only lasted for about thirty days, and then I gave up because I thought, this guy’s gonna live till he’s a hundred. And he’s got himself so well protected, no one’s gonna take him out. So I gave up.

This last week, he was deposed, as you read. The entire country, sixteen million people, are in a state of euphoria now. And it wasn’t... and it wasn’t because of my faithfulness in prayer. And it really stung me.

Who have you given up praying for? What have you given up praying for? When you write down your prayers, keep some kind of prayer journal, you remind yourself, pray every day. Even if it looks like a long shot, pray every day for something. Be faithful in prayer.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.

You do great at that. I don’t need to... you know, say anything more about that.

Now, here’s one:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and... not curse.

 And let’s just change one word. To bring it into modern day. “Bless those who criticize you.” I’ve been a fairly public person for the last couple decades. I know the sting... of criticism. And... much of it I create and I deserve, so I’m not, you know, playing a violin here. But some of it feels unfair to me. And even untrue. And if you knew my reflex reaction of wanting to... curse those people. Wanting to... damage their reputation. Want terrible things to befall them.

At about the nine-month time of reading Romans 12, I realized, I gotta stop that. Paul was serious. No more cursing people who criticize you. Discover if there’s a kernel of truth in it. And... bless them. Bless them. Let it go. Unbelievable.

Now here’s, this should be framed, this is one of the best short definitions of friendship I’ve ever seen:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

I meet with people all the time. They say, “I don’t have any friends.” And I go, “Well, start with having several acquaintances. And then, if anything good happens to any of your acquaintances, be the first one there to celebrate with them. You buy the flowers. You buy the gift. You show up and just say, ‘I’m so happy for you! Because this good thing happened to you!’” And that person will become a friend.

And if something horrible happens to an acquaintance, be the first person at the wake or the visitation or the funeral. Send the flowers. Show up.

I’ve had a lot of deaths in our Hybels extended family. Six or seven uncles and aunts and cousins and... both my mom and my dad. I’ve been around death... more than I wish I had been. And I can still remember the people from this church that drove 180 miles to Kalamazoo to stand with me at my dad’s funeral when I was still in my twenties. And I can remember the group of people who went over to stand with me at my mom’s funeral. You never forget people who mourn with you. So rejoice with people who are rejoicing.

And speed kills the beauty of all this. If your life’s going so fast, you don’t have time to rejoice or you don’t have time to mourn. And that causes friendships to break up. This is a wonderful reminder for me. Maybe for you, too.

Live in harmony with one another.

There’s two kinds of people in life. Harmonizers and agitators. Be a harmonizer.

How about this one?

Do not be proud... be willing to associate with [the lowly].

...And he says, again, do I have to say this again? “Don’t be conceited.”

Alright, we’re getting close to the end now:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

 I’m gonna... there’s another verse coming up that I’ll elucidate on that a little bit.

...Do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

 This next one says:If it is [at all] possible, as far as it depends [upon] you, live at peace with everyone.

 Real quick.

A month or so, maybe two months ago, Steve or Heather—I forget which—asked how many of you have a relationship that is under pressure, tension, fracture in some way. As I recall, about half the hands in the place went up.

Now, Jesus said broken relationships are... are taxing. They’re sad. They take so much out of you. So Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “You go”—doesn’t matter who caused the problem—“You go, in private”—don’t tell ten other people about it—“You go, in private, not to accuse, you go with a reconciling sprit. And then you seek to fix the relationship. You go. In private. With a reconciling spirit.”

Might take several attempts. And you might even have to... have a spiritual director try to help you a little bit. That will solve most of these things. But, in my experience, after being a part of many of these over the years, some people don’t want to be resolved with me. They want me to know that they’re still ticked. Even though I’ve apologized a whole bunch. They wanna hold power over me. And... you see?

I love this verse. It took me many months to fully understand it. What Paul is saying is... if you’ve done your level best to reconcile a broken relationship, if you’ve gone, in private, sought to reconcile, engaged a counselor or spiritual advisor... if you’ve kind of exhausted your part in this deal, then he says, “Hey... this verse is for you. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you”—and it looks like you’ve taken as far as you can—“live at peace with everyone.” You can just... you can let it go now.

You... a person doesn’t have to have power over you. You’ve done everything you could. Live in peace. Okay?

Do not take revenge, my friends...

 I like this little phrase:

Leave room for God’s wrath.

 You don’t have to even... you don’t have to even every score! Am I reading straight from the Bible? What he’s saying here is, sometimes, we feel like we have to get even when we’ve been wronged. And Paul says, “You don’t have to even every score. Give God a chance! Cause He might even the score in a very creative way. So give Him an opportunity, okay?”

And then there’s this famous final two verses.

If your enemy is hungry...

 Now, your enemy, he’s talking about... are we clear?

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him... to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

 I’ll explain that in a second.

Final verse:

Do not be overcome by evil... overcome evil with

 What? Say it?

Good.

 Overcome evil... with good. Final story. Random text in the Old Testament. I’ll bet most of you’ve never read it. Now, there’s the prophet named Elisha. And he walks so closely with God, that God whispers to him where this archenemy nation is going to try to ambush the Israelites next time. God gives him that secret information.

So this powerful king of a neighboring nation, he’s gonna come and try to... kill all the Israelites, and he’s gonna set up an ambush by this river, and God says to Elisha, “Put a bunch of soldiers by the river, and it’ll foil their attempt of an ambush.” Well, this happens again and again and again. Finally, the king of this enemy state just goes, “This is driving me crazy. Who is this spy? Who’s reading my mail?”

And one of his counselors says, “It’s the prophet Elisha. And he gets the word from God.”

So this enemy king goes, “Then everybody saddle up. We’re gonna go kill that guy.”

So they find Elisha and his servant in a little city called Dothan. They surprise—they surprise this little city. And Elisha’s servant guy gets up, pokes Elisha, and goes, “Even I know we’re going to have a bad day today.” You know, it’s like ten thousand to one.

And so, Elisha says, “I can handle this.” He goes, “Dear God. Strike them all with blindness.”

I’m sure the servant’s going, “Is that all you got?” You know? “You think that’s going to happen?”

And they were all struck with temporary blindness. So Elisha goes to the head commander, and he goes, “I think I know the guy you’re looking for. Follow me.” So everyone follows him, and he takes them to a powerful Israelite city called Samaria. And all of the troops come in. They shut the walls. So they’re now inside an Israelite town, surrounded on all sides by Israelite soldiers. And then Elisha says, “Hey, God, restore their sight.”

So God restores their sight. And, all of a sudden, all of these soldiers are like, “We’re gonna die. It’s done.” And the king of Israel says to Elisha, “Let the slaughter begin! Right? They were doing evil toward us. We are gonna do evil back! Right?”

And Elisha says, “No. Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna let ‘em all get cleaned up. And then we are gonna serve them dinner. We’re gonna serve them good food, good drink.” The text says “a feast.” “We’re gonna put on a huge feast.”

Which, they do. The next morning, it says they open the gates to the city, and that whole, all those troops, go all the way back to the king. And the king says, “They did what? They fed you? You were trying to kill them, they could’ve killed you, you were sitting ducks, they fed you and sent you home?”

And here’s how the text ends: so the king, that enemy-state king, decided to never attack Israel anymore.

That is one of the sweetest... one of the sweetest metaphors, if you will, of that final verse. Stop trying to overcome evil with evil. Gang, we’re in a world where the violence is spinning out of control, and I hear people every day say, “Well, we’re gonna cure violence with more violence. And then we’re gonna respond to their violence with more violence.” And it’s this ever-escalating cycle of insanity.

And the apostle Paul says, “You know what you ought to do sometimes? You ought to overcome evil and violence... with good.”

This chapter, over the course of a year, changed my life. It was a game changer. I’m not expecting all of you to choose a chapter and to read it for a year. But I do think there’s the general point... the general point I’m making is true. If things in your prayer life get a little stale, try a different way of praying. If things in your Bible reading get a little stale, try something else. And maybe, someday, try this saturation approach. Because when this stuff gets in your head... it’s a powerful, powerful thing. Yes?

 

 

Remembering

by

Shannon

 

I am the stepdaughter of a warden. The warden of Statesville, maximum-security prison. The warden who has processed some of the most sinister serial killers. Stories of prison in my house were not filled with hope or love—they were filled with warning and danger. Never in my life did I ever think that I would have a heart for prisoners. God has the funniest, most curious way of working “all things for His good.”

The Bible says that we are to care for prisoners as if we were in prison ourselves. I’ve read about caring for the prisoner, but I felt that that verse was just not for me. Someone else can care for them—not me.

God always has other plans when I say a “no” for Him.

A few months ago, some friends of mine who have HUGE hearts for prisoners invited me to visit men in the very prison about which I had grown up hearing stories—maximum security, the worst of the worst. One visit led to another visit to a different prison (again a facility at which my stepdad worked).

During each of these visits, I experienced firsthand the hopelessness of the men who are sentenced to live out their lives there. So many are literally forgotten. Some are even buried there after they die because no one claims their bodies. Each of these men has a story. I am not excusing anything that they have done or dismissing any hurt caused by their actions. My own cousin was strangled to his death by men who broke into his house to rob him.

This weekend, so many of you joined in packing gifts. For many, this will be the only gift a man/woman in prison may receive this year, and it is a reminder of how much Jesus loves us. He doesn’t always love what we do, but He LOVES us! He wants US. He wants you, He wants me, and He wants every single heart—even the hearts of those who are in prison.

My heart fills to overflowing when you come into the hallways and work around a table for people you will probably never meet but who matter to the God who is crazy in love with you, and with me, and with every single one of His creations. I never thought my heart would have enough room to love people like the men who hurt my cousin or the men I heard so many horrible stories about from my stepdad.

Louis Dooley and Bryan Stevenson are leading the way in showing us how we can love and remember and fight for what God is calling us to fight for—remembering and hope and love.

Thank you for opening your hearts this season. It isn’t always easy, but you did it. Praying that God will bless our Prison Packs with overflowing love and joy and that He will bless you this season knowing you loved some of the “least of these”.

Christmas blessings to you and your families.

Healthy Relationships with Time and Money

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Healthy Relationships with Time and Money,” from our Game Changers series. The video is also available to you.)

 

So we are going to continue in our Game Changer series. You remember week one. We taught on how to find rest in a culture that’s so anxiety ridden. And week two, we unpacked what it meant to find energy—to actually view our bodies as a temple for the Holy Spirit. And week three, we taught on how love does not keep score.

 

And I’ve been really impressed, because a number of you have sent me pictures on social media of you stepping into the gym or certain salads that you have chosen to eat. You have been sending me pictures of score boards with your family’s name on it and almost like you ripping it up: “We’re not keeping score anymore.” Your vulnerability... I was impressed by.

So I thought I would return the favor. What I want to do today... I want to teach with you... for you... the two biggest arguments that happen in the Carter household. And... I think some of you might relate.

Now, I’m not gonna pull up a couch and pay you all $100, because you’re not my counselor. But I hope that this teach will be honest and... connect with you in some reality.

So some of you are wondering, what’s he going to say? Well. I drew out for you the two biggest arguments in the Carter household. And it’s... time and money. Can anybody relate? Yeah. Uh-huh.

This is such a good drawing. I’m going to sign it. So if you wanna help me get my finances in order, there we go. You can buy it. Just kidding. Such a terrible joke. But I love it.

Let me begin when Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John. I want you to hear the words that He says. John chapter 10 verse 10, He says,

 

I have come that they [the disciples, the people] may have life, and have it to the full.

 

Jesus says, “I’ve come so that people would experience the fullness, the abundance, the goodness of what life can offer.” But I wonder. How many of you are experiencing that? Cause many of you that I sit with, and many of you that I talk with, are experiencing a full, anxious, overwhelmed, frenzied, stress-filled life. And Jesus is like, “No, no, no, I didn’t come for that. I came that you would have life to the full, not this full, overwhelming life.” And He also says in John chapter 10 that there is this enemy... this thief. He says that the thief comes only to steal, to kill, and destroy.

 

And if I steal something, that’s because I wanna take it as mine. I don’t have it. I wanna take it. If I wanna kill something, I wanna end its life. But if I want to destroy something, I want there to be no memory or recollection that it ever... existed. And this is what the thief does. He wants to steal that joy, steal that peace, steal that freedom. He wants it to be killed and destroyed. He wants you to live that full, overwhelming, frenetic, stress-filled life.

 

And for many of us, here, or watching online, our relationship with time, and our relationship with money... it’s quite difficult. Maybe for some of you, you grew up in a house where, man, any time one of these two topics came up, there was just conflict. And so you made the choice, “I don’t wanna go near these topics, because I don’t wanna create more tension within me or more tension for those around me.” And so we just... don’t ever talk about it.

 

And I want us to have an open and honest conversation. Because I believe if you can have a healthy relationship with time and with your finances... it can be an absolute game changer.

 

Let’s start with time first.

 

I remember going to my father. I was in my twenties. My dad’s really good with his schedule. If you threw out a day of the week and a time at night, I could tell you what he was doing. He was... very detailed. I always knew where he would be. And I didn’t live like that early on.

 

I remember going to my dad and I just simply asked him, I said, “Dad, why is it that you... live this way?”

And he said these three words that became so influential in my life. He said, “Steve, structure breeds freedom.” Structure breeds freedom. But I think for some of you right now, you hear that, and you’re like, “Finally, somebody said it.” You’re the one who has your time manager. You love—you’re like Type A. Everything scheduled. Everything has a home. Everything’s detailed.

 

And I also know that there are some of you here who are like, “Structure? Those are for nerds. Like, I’m always spontaneous, man. I wanna live into the moment. I wanna be free. I want... why put it down in schedule? Let me just do what I wanna do.”

 

And yet, for many of you, who live more like that... let’s be honest. It sounds like freedom. But is it really?

 

And I wanna take you into Paul’s words. Ephesians chapter 5. He speaks the same kind of verse and anthem in many of his letters. But he says this to the church in Ephesus:

 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.

 

Paul is saying, “Hey, how you live? It matters.” Friends, how you choose to orient your schedule and your life? It matters. And you have two choices. You can be wise... or unwise. But for Paul, he understood that every moment was brimming with redemptive potential. It was an opportunity for God to use him... use the spiritual gifts that God had given him, and he did not want to miss a moment.

 

Have you ever missed a moment in which God wanted to use you?

 

See, our lives are built on moments. And the wise, they see moment after moment, opportunity after opportunity, and they wanna do whatever they can... to orient their life to be ready for when God wants to use... them.

 

The unwise... there is no structure. They’re just going and going and going. Doing and doing and doing. Chasing and chasing and chasing. And they’re missing it. They’re missing it.

 

I don’t know if you feel this, but I know these next five weeks, going into the Christmas season, many of you might have company parties and it might feel like family gathering after family gathering. And you might be looking at your schedule, and you’re like, “It’s already... crazy making.”

 

But I want you to actually get ahead. If you can’t make changes right now, into the next week and the next month, I want you to begin planning your schedule for 2018. I want you to take ownership of this. I want you to grab your schedule by the reins. And I want you not to be someone who just goes through life. But I want you to be someone who makes the most out of every opportunity. Cause structure? It breeds freedom. And the wise understand this.

 

So how do you do it? How do you be someone who actually understands the power of a schedule? Because here’s what I want you to know. Bill’s been saying this for twenty years. Even before I was on staff, when he was mentoring me, I remember talking to him about schedule because I was so fascinated... by how he approached both leadership and teaching. And he told me this. He said, “The way that you arrange your schedule is one of the most holy endeavors you can do.”

I was like, “Woah. Say that again.”

He said, “It’s one of the biggest spiritual practices. Because how you view the 168 hours in a week, 720 hours in a month, how you view that and arrange that... is not about trying to get things done. It’s about who God wants you to become.”

 

When you start thinking about a schedule like that, it is a game changer. I’m not just trying to check things off a list. I’m trying to become everything God has intended me to be in this world. And the same is true for you. If you just kind of go through your day, you’re gonna miss moments. But if you actually become quite active in your planning and your preparation and in your belief that one of the greatest spiritual practices you can do is arranging your schedule... you’re not gonna miss very many moments. So let’s even take it a little bit deeper.

 

How do you do this?

 

So in my schedule, my wife and I, we have four buckets: God, You, Family, and Work. And this isn’t just a list of things that we want to check off. This is about, again, who does God want us... individually and as a family... to become?

 

For me, this begins with my relationship with God. It has to. I have to attach, like John 15, to that vine. Apart from Jesus, I know I can’t do anything. So it begins in my chair. Now, for the four months that it’s really, really nice in Chicago, I go on early-morning prayer walks. For the other eight months that it’s filled with snow, rain, and freezing-cold weather, I sit in a chair. But I read the Scriptures. I spend time reflecting. I spend time in silence. I spend time journaling and praying. This is in ink in my schedule.

 

Second is church. Jesus, the Scriptures say, went to the synagogue, as was His custom. He didn’t miss. He showed up. And I think about this because, so often, in our community, it’s so easy just to go one week, miss another week, go one week, miss another week. I keep thinking about what this means for our kids.

 

If you think about this from a generation standpoint, if you only go 50 percent, the stats say your kids will only go 25 percent. And your grandkids will probably only go 15 percent. So when you make it a priority, what you are showcasing to your kids and the next generation and the next generation is that it is a priority. I go because I wanna connect with God. I go because I want my kids to understand that this is so important for their life and who they become. It’s important. Chair. Church. Number three, community.

 

If you show up at a local... restaurant on a Wednesday mornings, you’ll see me sitting in the same booth with my two close friends. For five years, we’ve been meeting—accountability. Talking about life.

 

Thursday nights, in someone’s living room, just sharing, living life. Sunday afternoons, twice a month with another family, doing the same thing. Community. I was never meant to live this on my own. Christianity is not a solo sport. We need each other.

 

This is in ink. It’s not in pencil. It’s in ink.

 

I think for you, for me, personally, there’s ways in which I wanna put my gifts on display, and I wanna serve. What does that look like for you? Every one of us who is a Christ follower, God has given us gifts. How are you using those gifts to spread the good news? To live out the good news?

 

For me, personally, I like to go to the gym, work out. My friends and I, we started a little sports podcast. I thought if I talked about sports, it would make me not talk about sports as much on the sermon. So it’s hopefully helping people out.

 

Family. You know my daughter. She likes what she would call “spinkle” donuts. So we have a spinkle-donut date every week. We go to a little local bakery. We get some sprinkled donuts. Spinkle for her. And then we sit and we talk. My son and I, once a week, we do a mandate—that’s what he calls it. He likes the word—mandate. And we go to this breakfast joint. He gets pancakes or French toast. We sit and we talk about life. My wife and I, we have a date night. Twice a month. It’s in ink! It’s in ink.

 

And the other nights, you’ll just see, it just says “Home.” And when it’s in my schedule, and somebody says, “Hey, do you wanna go do this?”

I’m like, “I’m booked. I got church or I got home or... it’s already in ink.” When it’s nothing there, it’s easy for me just to fill it and let life happen to me. And then... there’s no margin. There’s no space. I keep missing moments with my kids and not making the most of that opportunity.

 

And then with work, obviously there’s stuff with content and teaching and developing communicators and meeting with people on our congregation. All of that matters. But one thing I have been doing that’s been a game changer for me is in hour-long meetings, I’m only doing them for fifty-five minutes. And at the end of that fifty-five minutes, I have five minutes to just breathe, to pray, and to prep for my next meeting.

 

For so long, I was just going sixty minutes, and then another sixty minutes, and another thirty minutes, and another thirty minutes, another sixty minutes. And by the end of the day, I was like, oh, I’m so tired. But just giving myself space to pray.

 

Friends, you... control your schedule. You are the one that chooses what goes in ink and what doesn’t. And the day in which you take ownership of that and you say, “For my schedule, for my household, for me as a person, I wanna honor God with my time... all hours. All minutes. All seconds of the day.” When you start to live with that as your primary focus... game changer.

 

You will feel the fullness of God’s love and His abundance. And you will watch where the enemy can’t steal, can’t kill, or can’t destroy the joy and the grace and the peace God wants for you.

 

That’s just the schedule. Now you ready to talk about the real thing?

 

Let’s talk about the most boring word. Budget! Alright? It is a boring word. Any of you in this room... grow up in an environment where money was quite tense in your household? Yeah. I think, for many of us, we were not given a map on how to handle this conversation well. What I wanna do in our remaining time is kind of invite you into our living room. And allow you to experience that second big argument... around finances.

 

And I wanna do this through Proverbs 21 verse 5. And oftentimes, when my message prep, I’ll start with the NIV, and then I’ll start looking at different versions of that text. And Proverbs 21:5, I’m gonna read three different versions. I’ll start with the New Living Translation that says:

 

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.

 

Or look how The Message translates it:

 

Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; [the] hurry and scurry puts you further behind.

 

Or in the Christian Standard Bible, the CSB, it says this:

 

The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless certainly becomes poor.

 

So you have these two kind of types of people—the wise or the unwise. You got the wise where there’s this good planning. They’re people who have this careful planning and hard work. You have this sense where they are diligent. But you also have those that... take shortcuts. Those that live with the hurry and scurry. And those that are quite reckless. And they both lead to certain places.

 

Let me just ask you. When it comes to your money... are you someone where there is careful planning? Where there is this sense of hard work and looking out ahead? And being diligent and working your plan? Or are you someone who’s taking shortcuts? Hurry and scurry. I got no time for a plan. And, to be honest, maybe you’ve even been a little bit reckless with the resources that God has given you.

 

And what I want you to understand is three numbers. Sixteen, six, and one trillion. That’s twelve zeros. One trillion—let me start there—is the combined total of credit-card debt in the U.S. alone. One trillion dollars. Which means... that the average U.S. household has $16,000 of credit-card debt. Which means that $6,000 is the average amount of money... that the U.S. household, average U.S. household, pays each year in just interest. Not against the actual $16,000, but just in interest, is the average amount of money we are paying banks.

 

And I sit here and I read Proverbs 21:5, and I go, “Hurry and scurry. Reckless and shortcuts.” And just the weight of it. And I think it would be pastoral malpractice if we never talked about this. Because there are companies and there are thought processes trying to raise this money and trying to get you to pay more interest and rack up more credit-card debt.

 

And until we actually create a plan, we’re not gonna live a life of freedom and peace. We’re gonna live a life of slavery and debt.

 

So how do we do it?

I often talk about this when anybody asks me. Your budget, it’s all resources given to you by God. And I think of it from a 10, 10, 80. Ten percent, right off the top, is a tithe. I give back to God right away. Because it’s God’s. The other 10 percent I put in savings.

Now... can I just talk about savings for a second? What is savings?

Many people, I hear you use this word—savings. That you told me you “saved money recently.” And I’m like, “Well, what?”

“There was a television that was on sale. It was going for $1,000 dollars. And I saved $800, and I bought this brand-new television for $200. I got a deal!”

Let me just tell you one thing. You didn’t save any money. You spent $200 dollars. If you took the $800 and you put it somewhere, to save it, then you saved $800. If you just... mysteriously watched a number of a thousand drop to two hundred and you thought you were getting a deal, you did not save money. You just spent $200.

Savings is money you have placed in a specific home. This is what I do. And I want you to be able to do. Ten, ten, and then try to live off this eighty. If you can live like that, you will learn what Paul calls “the secret of contentment.” What is the secret of contentment? It’s simply this: learning to live with joy below the line.

And Paul says in Philippians chapter 4 he has learned the secret of contentment. He’s learned when he’s had much. And he’s learned when he has had little. He’s learned how to live below the line.

But, for many of us, it’s a struggle, isn’t it? Because we might get paid every pay period $2,500. But, all of a sudden... in two weeks, we’re actually spending $2,800. And we’re racking up $300 of debt.

And what is debt? Debt is telling God, “You’re not doing a good enough job.” Debt is saying, “God, you’ve given me this much to live with, but I think I can do it better.” Debt takes us back to the garden. When the man and the woman decided not to live in God’s arranged design. And they said, “You know what? I think you’re holding back on me, God.” And it created this legacy, this generational broken pattern, that happened... until Christ came.

And I find myself thinking about this often. Man, how many of us have found ourselves, not intentionally, but we find ourselves just spending more than we actually bring in? And what are we doing? We’re just basically buying slavery. We’re buying anxiety. We’re buying pressure. Or we’re buying stress. And, all of a sudden, for what? For the goodness of some feeling that we get in a store?

And I’m watching this happen. And watching family after family, person after person, single person, college student, racking up more and more debt. And who gets that money? Banks. Let me just ask you this. If there’s $6,000 that people are paying to some bank or organization... for interest... what if our church was actually filled with people who were 100 percent debt free?

What happens... instead of paying $6,000 to banks, what if we actually could leverage all of that money for the city of Chicago? For good news to be advanced? For Kingdom initiatives? Don’t you think our city, our county, our state, and our country would look wildly different? I do.

But it requires... us to have a plan. And let’s just be honest. Budgets? Boring. They’re so boring. And I know, I got a few people who texted me, they’re like, “I love my budget. I love it. I love it.”

I’m like, “I will never be you.” But... here’s what I’ve learned. If you’ve ever found yourself tasting debt, and I’ve sat with many of you who have, and you’ve gone through Financial Peace or you’ve gone through a ministry here at Willow, and you’ve fought, and you’ve clawed, and you have worked and you’ve watched every cent that’s come in, and you’ve fought your way out of debt, you’ve tasted freedom, and you’re like, “I’m never going back there. Because I never wanna put myself willfully in that place.”

And I find myself sitting with people... who... and this church is filled with them... day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, they have had a plan and they’ve worked that budget plan. You know what they have? Peace. Freedom. Contentment. Joy. And they have tasted what it feels like to see God use their resources to watch good news advance.

They’re not living in stress. They’re not living in anxiety. And when I sit with every one of these people, it always comes back to working a plan. And I’ve met many of them. They’re like, “This is the boringest thing ever, but we sit with our—each other, with our spouses, or with help, a counselor, and we walk through it. And we just keep working that plan.”

Friends, here’s my question to you. Do you have a plan?

My wife and I, one afternoon a week, we sit down, we pull out our schedules—our time, and our finances, and our budget—and we have the conversation. And we wanna work that plan. Because, you know what? I wanna give my kids a different life. I wanna give them a healthy relationship with money. A healthy relationship with time. I don’t want them to be pushing that. I don’t want them to be filled with stress. I want them to understand what Jesus taught two thousand times, or what was taught about two thousand times in the Scriptures, I want us to be able to have that in a real and honest and human way. God wants that for you.

So how do we do it?

I wanna tell you that freedom comes in three ways. Number one, freedom comes when you have a plan. Do you have a plan? Do you have a plan for your schedule? Do you have a plan for your budget? Don’t leave today if you don’t have a plan. Make that decision before you walk out of these doors or before you stop watching, make that decision. Today, I’m gonna have a plan. And I’m gonna start. Maybe you find yourself just stressed or in slavery to debt. Make the plan. Today, I wanna begin to take a step towards freedom. Freedom comes when you have a plan.

Number two, freedom comes when you choose contentment... over debt. When you choose to be content. When you choose to live below the line. And not tell God, “I can do it better.” And contentment might mean you wear the same outfit every weekend. That’s what I do. I don’t care.

And I know a lot of people who don’t. But they live, and they choose, different, different, different, different, different. Every day. And I’m like, “I’m gonna choose contentment.” Every time. Every time. Because there’s joy, there’s freedom, there’s peace, there’s more of God in that. Choose contentment, friends.

And freedom comes, number three, when you stay diligent. When you work that plan. And you stay focused on it. And you keep saying, “I want to be free.” Because, you know what? The enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But freedom comes when you stay diligent on the vision that Christ has put before you. And it’s not about getting things done. It’s all about who God wants you to become. And God wants more for you.

God wants more for you. More of His favor. More of His blessing. More of His love. More of His grace. More of His goodness. Not just for you, but so you can give that away. And it begins when you make the decision with your schedule and with your finances. And I, I just gotta say it, watch what God’ll do. Cause structure breeds freedom. Amen?

 

 

 

Pause

by

 

Sam

 

(The following is a reflection on Steve Carter’s message “Invite People to the Banquet.” The video and the transcript are also available to you.)

 The wear and tear on objects in our lives betray something about us.

Growing up, the couches of my family said, “Yeah, the humans spend a lot of time on us. We’re barely keeping it together, as you probably can tell.”

That is to say, the name of “living room” was fitting. Where we ate. Where we hung out to talk. Where we drank our warm beverages of choice. Where we hosted their group of “disciples.”

And it’s where we watched all of the movies. Where we talked about them, too... before and in between—we little humans sometimes didn’t love that—and then once the credits rolled.

Back to during, though.

Someone would get up. Maybe for a bathroom break. Maybe for some tea. Maybe for a snack. Maybe for something else. And in that moment, whoever’s hand had the remote would click the button—pause.

Granted, sometimes it became a full-fledged intermission.

“Oh, in the meantime, I will...”

“In that case, I am going to...”

“Well, now I might as well...”    

But even if it was just the original instigator, we would wait. We wouldn’t hit the button—play—until we all were gathered once again.

To the person(s) that stood up, the messages were clear.

We see it if you’re here. We see it if you’re not.

And there is no point to this thing if you’re not here.

I think of many things around this one word—family. And that is one of them. How much of a difference it legitimately makes if one person is missing. And how much of an expression of love it is to verbally share that reality with the person. Verbally in actions. Verbally in words.

I don’t believe that we instinctually long to return to somewhere where we’ve felt invisible... or visible in undesirable ways (“Who’s that? They don’t belong here.”)... where we have felt not like an insider but like an outsider inside (which probably is worse than being an outsider outside).

...I can’t remember where I heard this line, or something very close to it, but the idea has stayed with me anyway:

People fall in love with community before they fall in love with God.

But how likely is that to happen unless someone comes to feel like an insider?

And what brings that reality about truly is ongoing, authentic relationship.

That is how I want to live—building that sort of relationship.

 

 

Invite People to the Banquet

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Invite People to the Banquet.” The video is also available to you here.)

So for my ten-year anniversary, my wife and I, and our two kids, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, my brother-in-law... we went to Hawaii. Now, I spent a couple years saving up. And I had never been to Hawaii before. But all I wanted... all I wanted was to be in like some condo on a point on a cove where there was good surf and where I could see the ocean.

 So we get this. The problem is the only way I could enter into the water was I had to go through three different condo associations to enter the beach. First world problems. But I found myself, one day, 5 p.m., grilling out... looking out at the water. Whales are breaching up out of the water. It was stunning.

 Now this cove to the left of me... two times during the day, there would be a sea change. It would go from low tide, it would go to high tide. And when it was low tide, you could stand in the cove. You could walk pretty far out. Have some goggles on. And just look down and see... the beauty that lives under the sea.

 But when the tide would change... the water would rise. Big six-, seven-foot waves would start breaking in. Which I love, cause I love to surf. But for people who were standing, it wasn’t good.

 It was about 5 p.m. I’m grilling. When, all of a sudden, I hear someone scream, “Help!”

And I look over, and I start seeing a set of massive waves coming in. And I realize... oh, no, this person can’t swim. And the seas are starting to rise.

And something came over me. I just started running. I hopped a fence into the next condo association. I start taking off. It was like the spirit of David Hasselhoff from Baywatch came over me. And I’m just running as fast as I can. I jump another fence. Jump another fence. And I’m running towards the water. And inside my mind what I’m thinking about is my friends who were life guards in southern California. When they went to their post, they would gather up all of the life guards, and they would kind of have this, this huddle. And they would pray. And the thing that they would say is, “Not on our watch. Nobody dies on our watch.”

And as I entered the waters, that was my prayer. Not on my watch, God. Not on my watch. Not on my watch. And I start to swim as fast as I can. I get to this woman. I put her on my back. And I start coming back, swimming. I’m like, “It’s gonna be okay. Not on my watch. Not on my watch. Not on my watch.” I get to the water. I pick her up. I bring her to the shore. I put her down. I look up, and I see her five-year-old son beginning to cry as he makes his way to his mom. I look up and I see also her daughters, probably eleven or twelve. And she ends up like regaining her breath. And she ends up being fine. Someone next to me high-fives me. And as I start to walk back to my condo association, I look up at the cove. Where all the condos are. Where I had run from.

And you know what I saw? I saw forty to fifty people standing up there with their arms folded, watching.

And as I looked at it, it was as if God whispered to me... impressed something on my heart... and He said, “How often have you been one of those up on the cove? Watching somebody drown. Drown in their finances. Drown in their marriage. Drown in addiction. Drown in their questions about faith. And you didn’t run in to rescue. You stayed up there on the cove, and you watched.”

And in this moment where I felt like a hero... I found myself walking up going, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve done this so often.” And I went back to my room. I grabbed my Bible. And I started flipping through the Gospels. I started coming across these passages where Jesus said, “I came to seek and save the lost. I came to go and not just heal those who were well. But I came to find the sick. I wanted people to have access to the Father. I wanted people to experience grace.” And I, in my journal, wrote down these words... that my mentor used to say all the time:

Rescued people rescue people.

And the truth was there was a season where people I knew who were suffering... and I was one of those people up on the cove. And for some woman I didn’t even know, I didn’t even know her name, she was drowning, and I did whatever I could to save her. And it was as if God was saying, “Aren’t you just a little curious... aren’t you just a little curious why you rescued her but not these friends, or these people, in your life who need Me?”

And so that’s what I wanna go after today, because I believe that every one of you in this room... can live an invitational life. I think every one of you in this room can help someone discover the beauty and the power of grace. And I believe every one of you in this room... can truly... participate in what Christ’s mission was. To seek and save.

Now, you have to understand, Jesus was a rabbi. He’d go around from city to city, and He would teach people about the Kingdom of God. And, whenever He would go into a new city, there were certain kinds of questions that rabbis would always have to answer. It was just standard.

 One of the questions that a rabbi would have to answer was, “Tell us your interpretation of Isaiah 25.” It was just this simple passage about a great banquet. So Jesus finds Himself in a prominent Pharisee’s house, when, all of a sudden, that question comes up. If you have a Bible, you can turn with me to Luke chapter 14. It says this, the parable of the great banquet. Verse 15:

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

It’s a setup! He’s wanting to know what Jesus’ take is gonna be on Isaiah 25. Which just, real quick... have you ever been to a great feast? Like a great banquet. The kind of banquet that’s just filled with just splendid wine. Incredible food.

When I was in high school, I worked at Spanish Hills Country Club. I picked up range balls on the golf course and the driving range. And my hope was to do such a good job there that I could become a caddy, cause that’s where all the tips were.

So, one day, the general manager calls me. He says, “Steve, I wanna promote you.”

And I’m like, “To caddy?”

He goes, “No. I wanna promote you to our banquet facility.”

Now, you have to understand. Spanish Hills had one of the most opulent... banquet facilities in all of southern California. The weddings that they put on had celebrities. It was unbelievable. The best wines. And so this guy, the general manager, this was his baby. He loved it. And he said, “I think you can do this.” He said, “I will give you a raise. You will make tips. But you must learn how to dance.”

And I was like, “What? Like, what do you do in there?”

So this is what we would do. I said yes to it. You get all dressed up. You would stand in the kitchen. All the guests would come. They have their seat. And then the band would start to play “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. Your hand would be like this. And they would put a platter of coconut shrimp—that was our standard starting appetizer. And you would walk. We’d all have certain tables. And we’d walk in circle around the tables of ours, and we would do this dance, where we would serve the exact same seat across all of the room, and we’d go. We’d have like forty of us just doing this. Dancing. Serving. Dancing. Serving. 

I’m so glad this was before the days of YouTube. But people would be taking our pictures. And we would come out. We would serve the best wine and serve the best food. And people had such a powerful experience.

And right now, Jesus is setting the table... for this parable, which He’s gonna describe an incredible feast. The kind of feast that you wouldn’t wanna miss. The kind of feast that you would just want to experience. Maybe you’ve had one of those. Maybe it was your wedding. Maybe it was a friend’s wedding. Maybe it was just some invitation, and you’re like, “I, I didn’t deserve to go.” But you went. And it was absolutely stunning 

This is what Jesus is gonna say.

He says this, verse 16:

A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.

Now, when you would invite many guests, you would... basically send out a save the date. In three months... I’m gonna throw the greatest banquet you’ve ever seen. Here’s the date. Be ready. And the person, when they got this save the date, they would say, “I got that day free. I’m ready. I’m gonna be there. Just let me know when the food is ready. I will be there.” 

Now, when you would serve this invitation, you would first serve it to what I would call a group of insiders. This is the friends and the family. The prominent people in your kind of inner circle. So this is who the save the date went out to. Verse 17:

At the time of the banquet, he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

The stake. The lamb. The wine. The food. It’s ready. Come!

And so the servant would go out to all of the insiders and say, “It’s time!

Come on! Come on! Be dressed. Be ready. The band is ready. Everything is ready. Now come.”

But look what happens. Verse 18:

But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I have just bought [a] five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.” Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.” 

So here this servant goes out and goes, “It’s ready!”

And all the people who had previously said yes now say, “Sorry.”

“I gotta test out my oxen.”

“I gotta go check out my new land.”

“You know what? I decided to get married.”

And, basically, what these three insiders are doing is trying to publicly shame... the master.

Don’t you struggle with... when you invite a friend... and they say that they’re gonna come and then, at the last minute... they deny you? Or they make some excuse? “I, I can’t come tonight.” Maybe you’ve experienced that... when you’ve made an invite for someone to join you to church. And... they’ve thought about. And... or you asked them, and they go, “Sorry, the Cubs are playing.”

And you go, “I get it. I get it.”

And maybe you ask them, “Hey, do you wanna join me for a service?”

And they go, “Ah, no.”

When I planted a church in southern California... I realized that a number of people were struggling in my leadership core with making invitations and getting rejected. And so what I saw was the whole invitational temperature began to drop within our church. And I started to see this. Because people were like, “I, maybe I’m just not good at it. I made the invite. Nobody’s coming.”

And so I instituted something called “invitational fails.” And here’s what it was. At every meeting that we gathered at, we would talk about how we took a risk. And even if someone denied us, we would cheer and celebrate because we took a risk. For instance, one guy said, I said, “Let’s, let’s try this out. Who have you invited?”

Guy raises his hand and goes, “I was sitting in my office, and I was working on Excel.”

And I was like, “Boring.”

And he’s like working on Excel, when, all of a sudden, his manager boss walks by. Sticks his head in. And this guy, who doesn’t seem like the guy who would typically make invites, but he looks at his boss, and he goes, “Hey, what do you do on Sundays?”

The guy goes, “I watch football.”

He goes, “Cool. Do you wanna come to my church?”

The guy goes, “No.” And then he walks off.

And we all go, “Yeah!! You did it!!” The whole room goes nuts.

And then another person. And another person. And another person. And another person.

And we started to normalize this. Because we really believed that rescued people rescue people. And we wanted to be the kind of community that, even in the face of the rejections or the excuses, it was not going to stop us from extending the goodness of God’s grace. And an invitation for people to come to the banquet.

Now, look what happens. Verse 21:

The servant came back and [he] reported this to his master. 

All of the excuses.

Then the owner of the house became angry and [he] ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

I would call this group of people the... outcasts. They were people that had been pushed to the fringe because of some ailment. Some disease. And they were still Jewish, but they had been pushed out. And you know what? What’s so beautiful to me about this is the master. The owner of the house... is angry. He’s angry at the betrayal. He’s angry at the rejection. He’s angry at the disappointment of people saying no.

But you know what? He channels all of that anger into what? More grace. More grace. He begins to say, “If the insiders don’t want it, I’m gonna go after the outcasts. I’m gonna go after the people who actually want to be here.”

And I think this is such a beautiful picture of the gospel. Because Jesus experienced being denied, being betrayed, being doubted, being beaten, being rejected, being disappointed, being abandoned. And you know what He did? He channeled all of that into more grace on the cross for you and me. And in this parable, He invites us, as the servants, to do the same.

But, for many of us, when we feel the rejection, how many of us channel that into more grace? Into more invitations? Into more opportunities?

Or how many of us go, “Must not be my spiritual gift. It must not be my responsibility. It must not be what I’m supposed to do. And I just stopped. 

The gospel is us, “No, rescued people rescue people. And we’re gonna go out and continue to extend that invitation and that grace to the feast.” And the servant comes alive. Look at this. Verse 22. 

“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done,”

So the servant goes out, and he begins to invite the outcasts. But then he realizes something:

 “But there is still room.”

 It’s as if he went out and invited all of these people. And he comes back to the banquet. And he sees there’s still an open table! There’s still open seats! And he tells his master, “Man, we did it. But there’s still more room!” He’s getting swept up in the fact that people on the fringe... who maybe have felt neglected, abandoned, pushed to the side, now are getting to taste the best wine and the best food. Getting to have this profound experience of being seen and known. And he wants more of it. he wants more of it. And look what the master says. Verse 23:

 Then the master told the servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”

 It started with insiders. Then it went out to the outcasts. And then the master says, “I want you to go out all the way to the outsiders. To the Gentiles. I want you to compel people who would never believe that they would be worthy to actually sit in this banquet. I want you to compel them. Because, you know what? I want my house to be full.”

And here’s the truth, friends. That’s what God desires. That’s what Jesus desires. Every one of us in this room... we’re servants, if we’re followers of Jesus. He’s our master. And the invitation for us is to go out there and to really begin to invite people to experience... the power of His Word, the power of His grace, the beauty of His grace, the truth of His love. And we all believe that with Christ at the center of our lives, our marriages, our jobs, our careers, would be better. And I think that there are so many people on the fringes of our lives that are missing this.

And, sometimes, we say someone’s no for them. Or sometimes, we think, man, I just don’t wanna be rejected, so I don’t wanna invite someone. But the invitation... from the Master... is for us to fill the house. It’s for us to be the servants who go, “Man, the seats, there’s still more room. Who can we invite? Who can we bring in? Whose life could be transformed by the gift and the beauty of grace?”

And you know who was really good at this? Someone who just spoke to me? Was Paul. Paul had this way about him. He understood that this message was for insiders, outcasts, and outsiders. It didn’t matter. And when you start to read 1 Corinthians chapter 9, you see him say certain things. For instance, verse 19:

 

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Look at, he uses that word, all, all, all, all, all. And then he goes, “So that I might win some.” Even Paul was realistic that he probably wasn’t gonna win all of them. But he does “all of this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” When I read this passage, I realize Paul had something. “To the Jews I because like a Jew. To the weak I became like the weak.” I took this deeply. I started to think about, hey, how do I do this in my everyday life? How do I live invitationally? How do I look for those moments—those opportunities—and invite people into the house of God so that they can experience grace?

For me, in these next few moments, I just wanna show you, teach you, what I’ve learned.

For instance, “To the Jew I became a Jew.” Sometimes, I’m at the airport. And I see someone. And they’re wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt. To the Notre Dame fan... I became a Notre Dame fan. It’s hard to say. It’s very hard to say. But... in my mind, if I want someone to experience grace, I’ve gotta be willing to... come under.

And so I walk up to them, and I ask them, “You’ve had a lot of great players who have worn the Notre Dame helmet. Who’s your favorite?”

Someone will say, “Joe Montana. ‘Rocket’ Ismail.” And, all of a sudden, I start asking them questions. And then... I look for the opportunity to start to say, “Do you go to church?” Just in conversation. Simple.

When we find ourselves engaging with people’s interests, we have those moments that God might just use for us. And what I realized with Jesus, with Paul, with other New Testament leaders who lived this invitational life, they did some things that I think every one of us can do.

Number one, they lived... deeply with Jesus. When you live invitationally, man, you gotta live deeply with your Master. You wanna follow what your Master commands you to do. You believe that His way of doing things is the best possible way to orient your life. And when servants get that, they go, “Man, this is what the Great Commission is all about. This is what He’s ordered us. I want to participate in that.”

When you live, number two, you will show up with expectancy. Live. Show up. And you show up believing that every moment is brimming with redemptive potential. Every moment the Spirit of God might want to use you. And when I show up, whether at a Starbucks, whether at a restaurant... whether even here. I know God is there. And I’m looking for two things—who is here? And who is not?

 What do I mean by that? When I go to the same place over and over and over again, I become aware of who’s there. And how God might want to use me in that space. But I also become aware of who usually is there, but, for some apparent reason, I haven’t seen.

I’ll sit in the weekend service and, sometimes, I’ll just look around in the room. Here. I’ll get up on stage. And I know where many of you tend to sit. And sometimes I won’t see people. And so, after I haven’t seen someone for a couple weeks, sometimes I’ll text them. Or email them. Or call them. “Hey, I haven’t seen you for a couple weeks.”

Sometimes they’ll just say, “Oh, I just moved to a different section. I was there.”

I’m like, “Okay.” It’s like Where’s Waldo? I will find you.

 But sometimes, they’ll say, “You know what? I haven’t been there. There’s been something that’s come... up in my life.”

And you know what? There’s power when you say, “Man, I miss you. Come this week. I’d just love to pray with you. Don’t give up on just going to church, man. We need you.

One of the greatest ways that when you show up with expectancy is realizing who usually sits around you. And if they’re not there, find them. Remind them that they matter. And two, when you are in another environment, show up with expectancy that God wants to use you. There. You live. You show up.

Number three, you build ongoing relationships. It’s about your ability to relate to those around you. When I think about this, when I meet someone, sometimes, many good-minded Christ followers, they go, “I’ve got the gospel. It’s pocket aces. And I’m just gonna play that.” Well, let me tell you. The gospel’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

But you know what? I wanna know the person first. And I wanna see the person. I wanna see the good. I wanna know their ache. And when I know the person, I have to ask myself, honestly, honestly, what is my position in that person’s life? Do they know me? Do they respect me? Do they respect what I do? Do they not have any idea who I am? Am I just some guy who’s sitting next to them on a plane? What’s my position? And, connected to my position, what level of influence or chips do I have in that person’s life?

And when you begin to be aware of this, you get to actually come alongside that person, guided by the Spirit of God, and helping them take a next step. And hopefully it’s a step into the church.

 It’s live. It’s show up. it’s relate.

 And, lastly, it’s risk.

 When you live well, deep with Jesus, when you show up, and when you build those relationships, it’s going to require you to take a risk. And, for me, the idea of a risk has been an acronym. If you flip through the pages of my journal, this is what you will see. It is my anthem. It’s how I want to orient my life. I do this as much as I can. Because I believe this.

 R. Rescued people rescue people.

 I have been given such a powerful invitation. And the call in my life is to share that invitation. With as many people as possible.

Number two. The I. When I share that invitation, it’s probably gonna lead to an invitational fail. It’s just gonna happen. But I gotta celebrate the taking the risk.

My son and I, last summer, we were serving in the Care Center on Tuesday mornings. And it was amazing because, if you’ve ever served in the Care Center, you get this amazing opportunity to kind of bag up groceries, if you’ve got that position for the day, and then take the groceries out and load them into the car of our Care Center guest. Now, on the card, it will say their name, and it will say the car. And then there’s a few questions. And one of the questions is: “Do you go to church?”

And they have a box they can check, Yes or No. And my son, who was eight at the time, saw this and said, “Hey dad, look at this card. They don’t go to church. You should invite them.”

And I was like, “You should do it.”

He goes, “No, no, no, you go first.”

I said, “Okay.”

 So I walk up, putting the bags in there, I was like, “Hey, I see you don’t go to church. I just want you to know... this is a church. You’re welcome to come. Would love for you to come check it out and be my guest.” And by the time I said, “Guest,” the trunk was closed, and they were in the car, driving away. And my son looks at me and goes, “Nice try.”

I was like, “Alright. Alright.” Bag up the next bag of groceries. And I look at it, and he goes, “They don’t go to church.” And he goes, “I got this.”

He walks up. I’m loading the groceries in. And he goes, “Hi. I’m Emerson. I’m eight years old. I’m a part of this church. And we’re just a big family. And I just want you to know on Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings, we gather as a family just to learn about grace and God’s Word. And I’d love for you to join us. I don’t go to the main room. I go to a kid’s room. You probably can’t come there. But, like, I’d love for you to come check it out.”

And the woman leans down and goes, “Okay.”

 And then he looks at me, and he goes... yes.

And so she gets in the car and drives away. Six months ago, I’m walking in the lobby. And just talking to some people in Dr. B’s. Walking. And this woman stops me, and she goes, “Hey, hey, do you remember me?”

And I was like, “Um, no, I’m so sorry.” That’s like the worst question to ask me, cause I always feel so bad: “Do you remember me?” I’m like, “I want to lie. I want to lie. But I shouldn’t lie.”

And so she said, “Hey, I was at the Care Center.” And then, all of a sudden, it started to dawn on me. “And your son invited me. And... I... took a risk. And I came. And this place has changed my life. And so tell your son, ‘Thank you.’”

And I was like, oh my goodness! Like, guys, it’s not that hard, yeah!

You know the first person I met when we moved to the Northwest Suburbs five years ago? It was at Egg Harbor because, when I moved here, someone told me, “You’ve gotta go to Egg Harbor.”

And I was like, “Alright. I love breakfast. I’m gonna do it.”

So I drive to downtown Barrington. I go to this Egg Harbor. And we’re, it was at this old house at the time. And so we’re up at the second story, eating. And I look over across the table, and I see this woman, and she’s... she’s just down. Here’s the thing. If you ever wanna know what someone’s going through, look at their eyes. A lot of us can cover everything else up. But if you see someone’s eyes, eyes don’t lie. Shoulders don’t either. But I look for eyes and shoulders.

And I saw this woman. And I could just see something... was going on in her life. And in me, I wanted to like leave my table and just go talk to her. But I felt that that was just going to be awkward. And I just kept leaning over to my wife going, “Man, we gotta pray. I need a conversation with that woman.”

She’s like, “Okay, okay.”

So we just start praying. It happened that our checks came at the same time. And we’re walking. And then as we walk out to the parking lot. Our cars are parked right next to each other. And I’m like, only God. This is awesome. And so then I look at her license plate, and her license plate says, “SWT LIFE.” The sweet life. And I look at her. So I put my son in. And she’s walking around. And I said, “Hey, I saw your license plate. And I’m praying that that is true—that you would experience the sweet life.”

And she looked at me, and she said, “My life is far from sweet right now.”

And I said, “Well, I’ll be praying. I’ll be praying that you can taste and see God’s sweetness.”

And with a tear coming down her eye, she said, “Thank you.” And she got in her car. And I was like ah! Man! I didn’t invite her. But I’m like, “Uh, please, God, give me more opportunities with this woman.”

I show up at a Jewel-Osco just getting... and she’s down one aisle. Like four, five months later. And I’m like, it’s the sweet life! And so then, like, I try to have like this random conversation with her. Awkward. And then, and then like, a couple months later, I happened to see her again. And then, last baptism, I teach, I go change, I get in the water. Baptizing people. Baptizing people. And then, all of a sudden, she comes in and goes, “Do you remember me?”

And I’m like, it’s the sweet life!

And she’s like, “My life is finally sweet!”

And I’m like, “Yes it is!” You know? And I... yeah.

And you know what? She would say this. She just said, “It started when you just... saw me.

Friends, you can do this. When you have that prompting and you see someone... you just gotta just try and lift their spirit. Share that invitation. Rescued people rescue people. You’re gonna have some of those invitational fails.

And then S. I’ve said this before. But I believe this. I want to have an Only God story every seven days. I want to challenge myself to that. I’m playing that EP, that Only God EP. I play it over and over again. Because I want that to be true of my life. Every seven days, I want to have this Only God story. I don’t wanna live off the past... seasons where God showed His faithfulness. I believe that God wants to be faithful to you and to me and to us right now. This week.

Do you have that? And when you make those invitations, oh man. You have the greatest chance of experiencing God using you.

Rescued people rescue people. Invitational fails. Every seven days have an Only God story. And then K. Be on your knees in prayer. Every great move of God has started by a people who were dependent and expectant on God through prayer.

And when I know those names, ah, changes everything. It starts praying boldly, begging God for Him to work. And you know what I love about this church? Is even, way back, when we used to meet in the Lakeside Auditorium, and some of you old timers will remember this. I’ve heard this story over and over again, but... there would be people who would just meet in the Lakeside lobby on a bench.

And they would sit down. And they would be looking at somebody else from the church. And they’d say, “Who are you waiting for?”

The person would say, “I’m waiting for my dad. He said he was gonna show up to church for the first time. I’ve been asking and praying for twenty years that he would come.”

It’s ten minutes after the service has started. Dad hasn’t showed up. You could just see this person being down.

That person would say, “Who are you waiting for?”

“Coworker. Been praying for them for four years. They said they were gonna come. They didn’t come.”

And this bench got nicknamed the Fool’s Bench. And it was kind of like invitational fail. Like, “We’re trying. We’re trying.” And people would sit at this bench. Waiting for their friends. Because when their friends showed up, they wanted to usher them into the banquet. So that they could feast on God’s goodness. And that was the spirit of this church. That was what made this church so special in my eyes.

And I believe that God wants to bring that back. God wants us who have been rescued to have that servant-minded heart. To go out and risk it all for what matters most to Him. And that’s people. And I have bought into what Bill has said for years and years and years. It’s that the greatest gift that we can give another human being is an introduction to the God who loves them. And we must get back to that!

 

 

Love Doesn’t Keep Score

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Love Doesn’t Keep Score,” part III of Game Changers. The video is also available to you here.)

So we are in week three of this series called “Game Changers.” Week one, I taught you, straight from God’s Word, about how we could fight anxiety. We could fight for rest in an anxious world. And I told you we’re like air-traffic controllers. We allow what lands in our mind and in our heart. And then, last week, we talked about how our bodies are a temple. The Spirit of God wants to reside in us. And how do we treat our bodies really matters.

And this week, well, I’ve got a little bit of a prop. And I have to tell you that when I was in high school, I had three jobs. My first job was at a restaurant called Pastabilities. You got to choose your noodle... and choose your sauce. Because it was endless pastabilities. So cheesy. But I love it. And then I worked at a golf course where I picked up range balls. But my favorite job was the day that someone allowed me, for a season, to work the scoreboard.

Now, I’m gonna be honest with you. This message is gonna go twenty-five minutes starting now. And every one of you said, “Yes!” We’re in the third quarter because it’s week three of Game Changers. And we’re on the 42-yard line because it’s the 42nd year of Willow.

Now, here’s what I want you to know. I remember, when I got this chance to have this piece of machinery, I got to control the scoreboard. So when the home team would score, I got to add the points. And the entire stands, they looked up at the scoreboard, they’re like, “We scored a touchdown!”

And then, when the visitors scored, I got to add they got a field goal. Oh no, I just made it 63. Nope. There we go. Yes. They scored a field goal. And everyone’s like, “Oh my goodness! Yes!” You know. And so, all of a sudden, every time they score, I would add a point here, a point here, a point there, a point there. And something hit me as I got older.

I realized... I keep score. I have this internal scoreboard in my heart. It happens when I even just get on my phone and go to Instagram or Facebook. And I’m looking. And, all of a sudden, I see that two people are out on a date. And they’ve got this massive picture that they’ve posted of this incredible dessert. Chocolate cake. And then they just write, “Delicious!”

And you’re like, “Oh, good for you. You get a date. You’ve got in-laws close by to watch your kid. Good for you.” Internal scoreboard.

Or I’ll see people post a picture. And it’ll have, on the picture, the bluest water I have ever seen. And you see this picture. And you’re like, “Great. You’re on a family vacation. Good for you.” And then, on the bottom of it, it just says, “Best. Vacation. Ever.”

And you’re like, “Ugh. Make me bitter. Make me bitter.”

You keep scrolling down and, all of a sudden, you see someone—maybe you have a friend or maybe you even did this. You decided to upgrade your phone. Because the iPhone X came out. And so now you’ve just posted a picture of your phone so everybody else on their phone can see what you have. And you just write, “iPhone X!!!!!!” iPhone X.

And you’re like, “Good for you. Good for you.”

But we keep score, don’t we?

What about in your marriages? Do you ever play this game? Well, if you would’ve picked up those clothes on the floor that I’ve asked you to pick up... then I would’ve gone to the store and picked up the things that you asked me to pick up. Scoreboard.

Or maybe you do this with your friends. You get a phone call from a friend. And they say, “Hey, would you please help me out?”

And you’re like, “For sure. What do you need?”

“I need a ride to O’Hare tomorrow.”

“Sure. What time?”

“4:30 a.m.”

“Okay. Sure. I would love to help out.”

Three weeks later, you have to go out of town. You know who you can call. You helped them. You call them and say, “Hey, I, gotta return the favor. Uh, can you take me to O’Hare?”

“What time do you leave?”

“6:30 a.m.”

They’re like, “Ugh, I’m so sorry. I can’t.”

And you’re like, “Really? You can’t do it? Alright. I can’t wait for the day when you need me again. So I can deny you.”

We keep score, don’t we? We do this with our kids. We do this with our in-laws. We do this with our spouses. We do this with our friends. We do this with our coworkers. And, friends, all of a sudden, you have a home team, but something happens when you keep score—you make them... the enemy.

You create distance. You create separation. And, all of a sudden, what once was you and this person together in a relationship now becomes us versus them. And I’m watching this happen throughout our culture. I’m watching this happen within the church. And I’m saying to myself, “What would it look like if a church... could clearly take the words of Scripture deep, deep within their heart?” I think it would be an absolute game changer. Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 5: “Love does not keep score.” It does not keep score. There is no scoreboard in God’s economy.

But my question for you today is simply this: Do you keep score?

And who do you keep score with? Is it a sibling? Is it a spouse? Is it a friend? And why are you keeping score with that person? See, love does not keep score. But fear keeps score. Shame keeps score. People who are passive aggressive keep score. Worry keeps score. Anger keeps score. But, friends, love... never... keeps... score.

And what I wanna do is I wanna walk you through thirteen chapters. And I’ve got 19 minutes and 52 seconds. I’m watching the clock.

Now, here’s the deal, in these thirteen chapters, we meet a character of Scripture who had every reason and every right to keep score. But he chose love. He chose a different way. And if he, with everything he went through, chose love... I think we can, too.

This character is named Joseph. We meet him when he’s seventeen years old. And he is the pride and the joy of his father. His father loves him so much... and all of the other sons... that this father has... they can’t stand Joseph. Because they see the way their father loves Joseph. Joseph receives this ornate robe from his father. This bright, shining, power-filled robe. And every time his brothers saw it, the Scriptures say they hated him. They couldn’t stand him.

And Joseph just took a gift that he received from his father.

One night, Joseph even had a dream. And he had this vision. And he decided to share that with his brothers. And this was the vision: “One day, brothers, all of you are gonna be bowing down to me.” Which they did not like.

Now, maybe true, not the best EQ to share. Especially when you’ve got this ornate robe that you’re wearing that they don’t have.

And so, the father kept Joseph close to him. And, one day, the father said, “Hey, Joseph, go check up on your brothers. Make sure they’re actually doing work.” And so Joseph puts on the robe and he walks out there. And the brothers saw the robe from afar, a distance off, and they began to... devise a plan. To hurt and to harm Joseph.

One of them said, “Let’s kill him. Let’s just end his life. I can’t stand him. This little dreamer. I wish he would be so... gone. Let’s just end his life.”

And they’re like, all the brothers are like, “No, you can’t kill him.”

Then, one of them said, “Look at, over here, there’s a cistern.” This old well that had been abandoned. There’s no water in it. “When he comes here, let’s just throw him in there.”

And so they throw him in there. And he’s just laying there, at the bottom of a cistern.

One of the brothers who had this plan to maybe go rescue him, he ends up running off to do some errands. And while he’s away, some merchants... are traveling by. And some of the brothers go, “Wait, wait, wait. We don’t have to kill him. But we can make some money. Let’s sell Joseph to these merchant travelers.”

And for twenty shekels of silver, they sell their brother.

And these merchants take Joseph down to Egypt. They sell him, and he finds himself being purchased by the second most-powerful person in all of Egypt. His name is Potiphar. And the Scriptures are really, really clear—that God is with Joseph. Just like God is with us. God was with Joseph. And Joseph was aware of it.

And so, whatever Joseph touched, there was favor. And he rose to prominence and power within Potiphar’s household. Where, one day, he was assigned to be in charge of all of Potiphar’s household and affairs. And, one day, he finds himself being wrongly accused. And Potiphar has no choice—even though Joseph is innocent!—has no choice but to throw Joseph in prison.

The Scriptures are clear, though. God was with him. God was with Joseph. Just like God is with you, God was with Joseph. And he found himself rising in prominence, even in prison.

Well, two people that he meets while he’s in prison used to work for the pharaoh. But they had done something wrong. And the pharaoh was the king of Egypt—the most powerful person in the land. And so... he sees these two. And they’re just downcast. And Joseph walks up to them and goes, “Guys, what’s going on?”

And both of them share that they had a dream. But they don’t understand what it means.

And Joseph says, “I, I, I can... help you.” And he listens to their dreams. And God gives him insight on how to interpret those dreams. And he tells one of them, “You know what? You are gonna be reinstated in your position. The pharaoh, in a couple days, is gonna call you, and you’re gonna be reinstated to your role. And, when that happens, please, whatever you do, don’t forget about me.”

The guy says, “For sure, I won’t. If it comes true, I won’t forget about you.”

Two days later, it comes true. He gets reinstated to his role. And while this man is in his role, what happens? He forgets about Joseph. And Joseph’s in prison.

If that was me! ...I would’ve been like, “Seriously? You forgot about me?” I would be keeping score, going, “Every day that you have forgotten about me, I helped you, I told you... what?” And everything Joseph had experienced, he had every right and reason... to keep score. But he chose, continuously and consistently, not to.

Well, one day, pharaoh... pharaoh has this dream. And it rattles him. He doesn’t know what it means. And so this person who used to be in prison, who was reinstated to the role, goes, “Hey, there’s a guy. I can’t believe I forgot about him. He’s been in prison. He, he knows how to interpret dreams. He interpreted a dream I had. You should go find him.”

And so, all of a sudden, Joseph is summoned to pharaoh’s house. And pharaoh shares this dream. Actually, two dreams that he has. One dream he shares doesn’t understand. The next dream he shares, doesn’t understand.

And Joseph goes, “I think God has given me insight.” He says, “Your first dream is this. Egypt is going to experience seven years of fruitful abundance. It’s gonna be more than you’ve ever seen, ever known. But after those seven years, Egypt is gonna experience seven years of severe famine. And what you must do is this: in the sheer abundance, create storehouses and barns. And begin to stockpile grain away. Because you, the Egyptians, and the rest of the world... are going to need it. And all of the world is going to travel to you, to Egypt, to actually get food.”

And pharaoh’s like, “This is incredible. Who, who will be able to pull off this kind of leadership... exercise? Who’s gonna actually install this?”

And Joseph goes, “I can do it.”

So pharaoh takes him out of prison. And he becomes the second most-powerful person in all of Egypt. And, for seven years, the Egyptians are filled with abundance. But in the second year of the famine, Joseph is thirty-nine years old. It’s twenty-two years since he was thrown into a cistern by his brothers. Two years into the famine, people are needing to now come to Egypt. And who comes to Egypt? His brothers.

And, one day, Joseph sees his brothers coming to get grain. And if I was Joseph, I would be like, “Scoreboard! You’re done now. You thought I had power back then? I’m the second most-powerful person in all of Egypt. Which is the superpower of the day. Scoreboard! Your life is over.”

But that’s not what Joseph does. Joseph calls and begins to have a meeting. And he sits with them, and he hears, and he learns about his younger brother, and he learns about his father. And he simply begins to start up this relationship with them. And I imagine, all the while, there is this tension. “I could play the scoreboard game.” But he consistently chooses not to.

And in the end of Genesis chapter 50, we learn that Joseph’s father dies. And in the Middle Eastern culture, when the father dies... the father was kind of like the patriarch—held the family together. And the brothers believe that because the father was alive, Joseph wasn’t gonna harm them. Cause he didn’t want to hurt his father. But now that the father was out of the equation, the brothers were scared. They were afraid that, even Joseph who had shown kindness in the previous years, now, without the father here, he was gonna revert to the scorekeeping game.

But look what Joseph does. He hears about this. And in Genesis chapter 50, verse 19, he says these words:

But Joseph said to them [his brothers], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

At this moment, those brothers were scared out of their mind. They knew there was no way that they could repay their brother for what they had done. And Joseph, in my opinion, in these two verses, shows us the outline, if we wanna be the people who do not keep score, if we wanna be the people who throw away the scoreboard, if we wanna be the people who declare, today, that scorekeeping stops, Joseph shows us how.

First and foremost, he prioritizes love. If you want scorekeeping to stop, you must prioritize your love. The brothers were there. And he told them, “Do not be afraid. Do not let fear be anywhere in this equation.” And people who play the scorekeeping game, they make others walk on egg shells. Fear is what they say. Fear is how they act. Shame is what they give. Manipulation is what they do. Everything is about them.

But when you prioritize your love to give away because love does not keep score... you allow the people around you to not be afraid.

Second way... for scorekeeping to stop. You must have a perspective of gratitude. Look at what Joseph simply asks. He says, “Do not be afraid,” to his brothers. And then he goes, “Am I not in the place of God?” He frames it. And he basically tells his brothers, “God has placed me here. God has given me influence. God has given me power. God has given me an opportunity.” And the same is true for you, friends. You are in the place of God. And whenever you lose perspective of the blessings that God has given to you—your family... your friends... your job... your spiritual gift... the opportunity to make an income... your home. And, sure, it might look different than other people’s, but you have breath. You have life. “Am I not in the place of God?” Is not God with me and God for me? And when you have a perspective of gratitude, you can’t play the scorekeeping game.

When you prioritize your love, and when you have a perspective of gratitude... man, something begins to change inside you. But then, number three. Joseph does something. You gonna make scorekeeping stop, you must... see the potential for grace. What Joseph was able to do is he named to his brothers, “What you did you intended to harm me. You betrayed me. You neglected me. You threw me in a cistern. You sold me into slavery. You did all of these things. But let me tell you. I’m not gonna let that be the finale of the story. I see this harm that you intended. I also see that there’s something greater. And that is grace.”

And in this moment, he saw the potential for grace in what God was doing in and through him. And, friends, the same is true for you. There will be people who say things. There will be people who... try to harm you. There will be people who actually do evil. There will be people who neglect. There will be people who do all of these things. And, yet, we cannot let that be the end of the story.

And, in many ways, how we showcase grace is going to look wildly different. But it is a moment for grace... to show up. And Joseph recognized this. Cause he wanted to prioritize his love. He had a perspective of gratitude—God’s put me here. He saw the potential for grace.

And number four: scorekeeping stops when you see the purpose to save. Rescue. Redeem. Restore. Make whole. Make new. When you see what God wants to do in and through you—His purpose is to rescue. To heal. To not make us us versus them. But to bring reconciliation.

Jesus, towards the end of His life, he taught his disciples how to pray. And you know what He said? “I want you to fight for unity. Don’t get into the scoreboard business. Don’t get into the us versus them. See your purpose to save a relationship. To rescue. To redeem. To be... one.”

But I think about this. It’s still so hard for many of us. I mean, we kind of know this, but, deep down, the scoreboard just gets lodged inside our heart. And we just keep score. And, friends, I can’t tell you enough. That passage of Scripture—1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 5: “Love does not keep score.”

Can I ask you again? Do you keep score?

And if you understand the gospel, the good news, the story in which this whole book points to... it’s towards a God who, when you flip through the pages in 1 John, says that God is love. God’s whole action is to prioritize His love towards us. And that’s what the good news is. He had this sense, this perspective of gratitude, for His kids, for His creation. And He saw, even in a broken, fallen, destructive world, He saw a potential for an outbreak of grace. And He sent His Son with the sheer purpose to save, to rescue, to redeem, to heal, to make new. And what did the gospel represent?

It represented, once and for all, on the cross, when Jesus gave His life—for every one of us in this room or watching online—when Jesus took that final breath, it said this: “Evil will not have the last word. Fear will not have the last word. And the scoreboard! And the scorekeeping system! ...is gone! Is gone.”

Now, you can study this. A lot of other religions... and our Senior Pastor, Bill, has taught us this. It’s all about what you do, right? How you live. What you do. If you do enough, you get enough points. And if, at the end of your life, you’re at 63 and the rest of your life the others are at 3, then you’re like, good, right? It’s all about what you do.

The gospel? No, no, no, no. The gospel is about what has been done for you. What God has done... for you. Which literally means this. That the entire scorekeeping game, the whole thought of a scoreboard... is gone. It’s over. It’s finished. It’s as if, on the cross, God decided, “I’m gonna remove the scoreboard forever.”

And if God’s removed it... then we ought to, too.

If God does not keep score, because His Son gave His life for us, then, in our relationships with our spouse, in our relationships with our friends, in our relationships with our family, coworkers... we... must... stop... keeping... score. Because that’s what fear does. And we are people of love. We are people of grace. We are people of good news. Amen? 

Let it Grow

 

by

Olivia Stepp

I was driving to work last week and had K-Love playing on the radio when something someone shared stuck with me: “I was in such a difficult season, and I felt God trying to shape me. So I asked Him to make me grow… and, immediately, it began to rain.”

Lately, I felt like I, too, had been going through a season where God was speaking to me about taking a step further into His purpose for my life, so I began to pray that same prayer. About twenty minutes later, I received a phone call from my mom, forewarning me that she was on her way to the hospital because she felt like something wasn’t right in her chest region—something we had been monitoring for a few days now... and were starting to grow concerned over. The next day, after hours of tests that came back negative, numerous needles that poked and prodded, and minimal exposure to sleep, my family was told by the head cardiologist that there may be an abnormality near the exterior wall of my mother’s heart, and that an angiogram and potential angioplasty would be the best medical plan for her physical well-being.

To say that I was devastated was the understatement of the century. I was lost, aimlessly searching for answers, and honestly felt like I might collapse from the stress that weighed on my shoulders. I asked God to make it rain only yesterday, and it felt like a monsoon had hit our family. I couldn’t breathe, let alone grow!

The next forty-eight hours were excruciatingly painful, but during that time, I tried to find healthy outlets to center that pain on. I listened to worship music. I called family and friends who I knew would let me cry it out (and boy, did I!). I had coffee with someone who made me smile, laugh, and eased that weight on my shoulders. I prayed—constantly. I wrote in my journal. And all of these outlets helped.

But what really softened my heart and brought clarity to my situation was Steve Carter’s sermon, “Your Body is a Temple.” As he broke down what it means to truly have E.N.E.R.G.Y. and give our bodies to God, I felt like this was God’s own personal gift to my family and me. This message was something that we all desperately needed to hear. It’s true that it may be difficult and uncomfortable to fully surrender our bodies to Our Father. But when you’re placed in a situation like the one that my family was in, you come to realize that our bodies are only temporary—simply vessels that are being rented, while our spirits make a home on Earth to fulfill God’s purpose. And if we don’t take care of those vessels, we’re essentially breaking God’s lease, His plan—for us and for our lives.

I felt God speaking through Steve that day. More than usual. So much so that I went to the hospital later that day and watched his sermon again with my family. It ended up speaking to my mom, too. I am beyond grateful that it is by His grace that my mom is home resting today. But I’m even more grateful to have discovered that, through this horrible storm, I’ve been able to truly see growth in myself and in my family.

My mom’s health will not be something that will resolve itself overnight. It is going to be a long journey with devoted time, effort, and yes, E.N.E.R.G.Y, in order to get back on track to where she needs to be. But she’s not ready to break the lease that she signed with her Father, and she’s begun to make renovations to restore her body back to not just a livable space but a holy temple. I don’t doubt that she’ll get there; just like I don’t doubt that God placed that quote in my life right before I needed it most. Rain or shine, I forever count the blessings that shower down on me. Because, regardless of what each day brings, I know He’s looking down on His daughter with love, continuously watching her bloom. 

 

Your Body is a Temple

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Your Body is a Temple,” part II of Game Changers. The video is also available to you here.)

So last weekend, we kicked off Game Changers. And we touched on a passage from Philippians chapter 4, and we discussed how we could fight... for rest... in a world filled with anxiety. And, remember, rest is an acronym where the R stands to rejoice always. We’re gonna be people of joy all the time. And the E, we are gonna earnestly seek, because the Lord is near. And we are gonna be the kind of people who surrender our concerns. We’re constantly praying and giving God our problems and our struggles and believing in His promises that we will prevail. And we are going to think about what is true. What is right. What is pure, what is noble, was is excellent, what is admirable, what is worthy of praise. Because we are the air-traffic controllers of our minds. We decide what lands in our brain, what lands in our heart; and anything that’s not true and good and right and pure and holy and worthy of praise, we send that off.

And I received so many emails from people... in our congregation. People who are watching online at willowcreek.tv. And they just said, “Hey, that was a game changer for me.”

But we challenged you to memorize a passage of Scripture. Did any of you take that challenge? Alright. Alright. Well, we’re gonna give you a chance to recite it, cause I just... it’s your pop quiz. You didn’t know it was coming. Next week, you know it’s gonna come. But I want you to memorize it. And I want you to know it because we need to have Scripture that we can turn to.

Now, for some of you who don’t know—don’t worry, it’s gonna be on the screen. Cause I’m giving you a pass this week. Alright, so here’s the verse. Philippians 4:6, which simply says, repeat all together:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Well done. Hold that verse. Each week, we’re gonna be trying to memorize a passage of Scripture.

Now, a number of weeks ago, I walked into Bill’s office, I pitched this series, I had all of the topics. He said, “Good, I like it. Good. Sounds great. But you’re missing one.”

I was like, “Well, calendar, I’ve got it all mapped out. I think- no, I don’t think so.”

He goes, “No, no, no, you’re missing one.”

And like a good coach and mentor that he is, I said, “What do you mean?”

He goes, “I think you need to talk personally... about something that I’ve seen God doing in you.”

And I quickly responded, “I think you... should speak about that.”

And he said, “No, I have seen you... grow in this area of your life. And I think you’d be a gift to our congregation for you to share it.”

And, I’ll be honest... I’ve never taught a message on this topic before. Nor, in my thirty-eight years on planet Earth, have I ever heard a teaching live on this topic. And then my coach, my mentor, our Senior Pastor, is like, “And now, it’s your time.”

And I was like, “Once again... I can slot you in to give this message.”

He said, “No.”

So, I wanna read a passage of Scripture. And this is gonna be the game-changing verse because it was for me. But I’m gonna tell you that this topic, when I name it, and when I say it, you... will feel a wave of shame... come.

And, please, from the bottom of my heart, I’m praying for protection on you. Because, somehow, this topic, I get why people don’t talk about it. Cause there’s so many landmines around it. And when this topic is spoken, the storm of shame... will want to fall.

But please, please, please, hear my heart. I just wanna give you a biblical perspective on this.

Now all of you are like, “What’s it gonna be?”

Romans 12. Turn with me there if you have a Bible. Verse 1 says this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy...

It’s all because of grace. It’s all because of mercy. 

...to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  

Today... we’re gonna talk about our bodies. And... I think it’s an important conversation because when you... begin to discover... Greek thinking... the Greeks, thousands of years ago, began to discover and discern and say, “Heaven is good. The soul is good. And, someday, in heaven, the souls will go to heaven. But earth, and the body... are bad.”

And I think, for many people, we have been okay at giving God our soul, giving God our mind, giving God our heart—but that passage that Paul writes, “I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer” what? Your bodies.

Now, this brings you back to the Old Testament. When people would take a perfect lamb without blemish, they’d walk it to the temple, they’d find themselves leaning into this lamb, almost symbolizing as if their sins were being put on this lamb. They’d place this lamb on the altar. And they would sacrifice it.

And it would be this pleasing aroma. And Paul is saying, “Hey, I want, every moment of every day, for you to not get off the altar. Every moment of every day, I want your pleasing, true act of worship to be you offering all of you—head, mind, heart, soul, and body.”

 

And the truth is many of us wrestle with this. Because, when we think about the body... we have seen it tainted in our culture. We’ve seen people objectify the body. We have seen people find their image and identity in their body. And we know people, maybe some of you even in this room or watching online... can’t stand your own body. But that’s culture. That’s shame. What does the Bible tell us?

And I think you have to really wrestle, what does God say about the body? And why is the body so important? You can flip through Scripture, and verse after verse, and you’ll see that God has a high view of you and your body. So let’s lean into that.

But I want to lean into it because I’ve watched people in our culture... see something about their body. August 3rd, 1977, Tom Brady came into this earth. He’s forty years old, and he’s the quarterback for the New England Patriots. He’s forty. And he would say that his skill is decent. But his ability to maximize all of the energy from his body is what has separated him as a quarterback.

You can look at Kobe Bryant. He took care of his body. He wasn’t out partying. He wasn’t out just kind of hurting his body. Everything was about maximizing the energy of his body. I have spent time with business leaders, Fortune 500 leaders, vice presidents of massive companies, and you know what they do? They take care of their body. And they believe that it gives them a focus and an energy.

But some reason... for some reason... the church has had a low view of the body. And today, of all grace, the pastoral heart, and a love for you, I wanna just show you what God believes about you and your body. And what could happen if you could maximize the energy that He wants to give you for such a time as this.

If you have a Bible, turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 6. And it says this in verse 19:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

There are three primary truths from these two verses. The first one is simply this: Every one of us in this room, whether we are a believer or not, you must recognize you were bought at a price. This is the gospel. That Jesus came. Didn’t stay up in heaven. He came to this earth. He took on a physical body. He walked this earth. And He taught us how to walk in step and in tune and in harmony with God.

And it led Him to the cross. Where He broke His body, poured Himself out, so that we... could have access to the Father today and forever. We were bought at a price. The cross was that price that God gave for you.

Second truth is that your body is a temple. It’s a temple. I don’t know if we ever think about it like this, but this is what God views your body. It’s a temple. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the temple mount in Israel. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to another temple. But whenever you walk, and I was in one in Haifa, the Bahá'í Garden, I just, I get curious about buildings and temples. I just wanna see it. And something evangelistically comes across me, where I wanna have conversations with people.

But I was walking. And whenever you’re on the grounds of a temple, it’s detailed. It’s manicured. It’s taken care of. And God says your body is a temple. For what? For the third person of the Trinity. For the Holy Spirit to reside in. You were bought at a price. Your body is a temple.

And then the third truth, from that passage of Scripture, is God says for you to honor God with your body. Honor God.

Now, the word honor is where we get the word doxology. And I love when our church stands up and sings, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” But, really, from the way that we live our life and the way that we view our body—from the way that we are in meetings and at tables and at board rooms, with our friends, in our cities... we are to be a living, breathing doxology that proclaims the blessings and praises of God with our words, with our songs, and with our temples.

This is who you are. This is how God sees you.

Now, how do I bring this to everyday life?

I was driving through my neighborhood, and I believe that God is a God of props. I think God is like constantly trying to say, “Hey, hey, Steve, you don’t get this. I’m going to make it so easy for you.”

Do you remember the first house you bought? Or maybe the first... home your parents bought or your family purchased?

I was driving through my neighborhood, and I saw one of these signs [HOUSE FOR SALE BY OWNER], so I just went and took it. No, just kidding, I didn’t, I didn’t.

But you see this sign, right? And, and all of a sudden, do you remember when you were like, you called the realtor? And you’re like, “Hey, can we go check out that home?” And you walked in. And you were like, “Pink tile in the bathroom. Wow. Okay. Alright. I will change that. Um, fluorescent green walls. Nice. Okay. I’m gonna change that.”

And you begin to go into negotiation. And you end up getting a lender. You get this price. You wait forty-five days. And then you sign the title. And someone hands you the keys. And you begin to move in. And you begin to transform room after room. Basement. And it becomes yours. And now, you get the chance to have this peace and allow this home to be this fixture of what you desire for years and years to come.

But just imagine... just imagine...

You found the right price. You found the right home. Found... the Smiths, who were selling, and you agreed to pay this price. And you signed the title. They gave you the keys. And then you showed up at that house, and their stuff was still there. And you were like, “Whoa- we bought... this is our house.”

And they’re like, “Yeah, I know, I know. But can we just stay in this room?”

And you’re like, “No. Get out of the pink-tiled, fluorescent-green-walled room. This is our home.”

“No, no—just, just let us stay here. We’re gonna squat here.”

And you’d be like, “No... no.”

And I started really thinking about this. Like, I pulled over on my street. And I’m like thinking about this. I’m like, “This is a message idea. This is a message idea.” I wonder how many of us have given God our souls, given God our past, given God our minds, given God our hearts, but we have never really understood that the gospel was also for our bodies.

And the truth is, I imagine, that, for some of us, we’ve never put a for sale sign... on our temple. And I think God goes, “It’s not even a house. I’m going to transform it... into a temple. And I’m gonna put the third person of the Trinity. And I want access to every room. Every organ. Every limb. I want... My Spirit to have full...”

But I think, for some of us, we’re like, “We’ll just give You the heart, and give You our mind... and I’ll give You my soul, but everything else is mine.”

And He’s like, “No. I want all... of... it.”

And I believe that God doesn’t just want our bodies to be a temple... so He can go, “Hey, look at My temple.” I think God believes that if the Spirit of God was at work, it had the full freedom, the full reign in your life... that you’d actually have more energy. Throughout your day, you’d have more focus. Throughout your day, you would have more opportunity to be present, to be free, to be fully who God made you to be. This is what it means to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.

So how do we do it?

How do we do it?

And, to be honest, this is where Bill said, “Hey, in the last couple years, I’ve seen... you... go on this shift. And it’s become something where I’ve seen this game-changing moment happen in you in regards to how you view your body and how you view food and how you view energy.”

And today, I wanna help you. Cause I believe that God wants to give you this Holy Spirit sustained energy for not just a little sprint or a little burst but for the long haul. So how do we do it?

It’s this acronym that I call E.N.E.R.G.Y.

And I wrote it down, in my journal, about fourteen, fifteen months ago. And I got back to the basics. Many of you know I played college basketball. It was something that I loved. And then, once the game ended, I just was like, I’ve given so many years of my life to that, I’m just gonna... just veg out for a long time. And I did. And I wrote down this E.N.E.R.G.Y. It was something that I held on to years and years ago, and I had to get back to it.

And I wanna share this with you.

And I believe if you actually take this word, and you begin to lean into it—you view your body as a temple and you choose to honor God with your bodies and to offer it all as a living sacrifice, God’s gonna do something in your life.

So first. If you want that Holy Spirit sustained energy for the long haul, it begins with what you eat. What you eat.

Now, food is really... interesting. Because, for many of us, how we view food is the game changer. For some of us, we view food as the fuel. As the energy so that we can live out the teachings of Jesus. But for others of us, we view food as an escape, don’t we? All the pressures. All the stressors. We use food to escape from the present. And there are some of you in this room... that you view food... as an enemy.

I have a dear friend who struggles with bulimia, anorexia. She stopped me, and she said, “Steve, you know, you gotta understand. My relationship with food... is that it’s the enemy.” And I was like, oh, man.

Well, how do you view food? Now, true to formation, if you don’t hear anything else, take this. If you flip through the Old Testament.... If you wanna be formed and shaped into the best possible version of who God intended you to be, hear this. There are three letters, or three environments, that we find in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. They are Egypt. And Egypt represented—it symbolized being chained and enslaved. The Hebrew people were in slavery for 430 years before God freed them.

And then God took them to the wilderness, where they spent forty years. And the wilderness was a place of God shaping and God forming before He brought them to the Promised Land where they experienced freedom and favor. And this, my friends, is the same path that every one of us must go on.

So let’s talk honestly about food.

Where are you today?

Maybe, for some of you, you’re like, food is my escape. It has me in bondage. I do not have a healthy relationship with it. Or it is the enemy, and I find myself... stuck. Maybe, for some of you, you’ve begun a journey to have a healthy relationship with food, and you’re watching God shape you and form you to see food as an energy so that you can be free to actually have the favor and live out the teachings of Jesus.

To be honest, the succession process... was long. And many of you knew the process was happening, but, every day, every meeting, every teaching, every moment, it felt like an interview. And I’ve been in long interviews—six months. But it felt like a very long interview. And I didn’t—couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t really discuss it. It was just something that was happening inside of me, and what did I turn to? Ice cream. It was the only way I knew how to process this. And probably for a year and a half, I just came home... and I just ate my way out of the tension or the unknown... of succession.

And I would have moments where I would feel God say, “No, no, no... you’re here. Let me shape and form you.” And then I would have a teaching that I didn’t feel great about. I’m like, “Yeah, ice cream. Back to Egypt.” And then I would stay there for a couple days. And then I would feel like... God invite me to shape and form me. And then I would go back. And I just kept zig zagging back in here. Until God really said, “No, no, no. Surrender it all.”

But think about this. This same progression of formation happens with how you view money. For some of you, you’re here. Money controls you. You’re enslaved to credit-card debt. And God wants to give you this opportunity to shape and form you. And maybe you’ve done a course of FPU or some other kind of mentor or coach who’s helped you find freedom and favor. And you’ve learned to make money behave.

Or maybe it’s in regard to how you view time. Well, that’s peace, but um... maybe you get angry. And you find yourself... or time. And you think about it. When it comes to time, maybe you’ve just stayed busy, and you’ve found your identity in what you do and how you go, and you’ve never learned how to actually properly view time. And God wants to take you on a journey to shape and form your view of time. So that you can find freedom and favor in that.

That’s the journey. And if you want to actually have Spirit-filled, sustainable energy for the long haul... how do you view food? Is it for energy? Is it to escape? Or is it the enemy? You have to get this right.

N... of this kind of acronym... is the word notice. And this is really important. Because you have to learn to notice the stressors and the triggers that will want to bring you back into slavery. There are moments throughout your day where there will be these pressure points—these moments of frustration where the enemy just wants to pull you back... to Egypt. Back to a place of oppression. Back to bondage. And if you can’t name these triggers and notice these triggers that are coming at you... friends, you’re gonna get stuck. And you’re gonna watch your energy decrease. And you’re gonna watch your view of your temple... leave.

I don’t want that for you.

You know, growing up, just by osmosis, I learned how to handle stress, pain, and frustration in six ways. Now, I had some great parents. But I learned six unhealthy habits. And I can feel these six habits come after me, these six triggers, come after me. And the enemy just wants to pull me back. And those six were, when stress comes, eat. And eat a lot. When stress comes, drink. Drink a lot. When stress comes, stay busy. And work your tail off. When stress or pain comes, go out and buy whatever you want. When stress comes... hold secrets. Don’t tell anybody. Have it all together. When stress comes, sexual brokenness. Those were the six that I saw in my family, pulling me back to Egypt. And I can feel it. And you have to notice those triggers. What are they for you?

You’ve got to be able to name them and share them. If you’re going to see your body as a temple, you’ve gotta be able to know and name how the enemy wants to come in and... mess up... your house.

Third, E, if you want this Spirit-filled kind of energy for the long haul... exercise. Exercise. Now, here’s the thing. You know what is today’s version of smoking? Our HR director, Colby Burke, was sharing this with our staff a few months ago. He said, “Today’s version of smoking is sitting.” We sit at our jobs. We sit behind a computer. We sit and binge watch an entire season on Netflix. We sit and sit and sit, and you go back two hundred years ago, people were walking. They were walking to work. They were walking to hunt. They were walking to gather. They were walking place to place... to get things. But today, we sit.

And there’s something inside of us where we have to get up and get that blood flowing. Where we have to train our bodies. Where we have to exercise. And, I’m not asking any of you to... just sit here and go, “Okay, I want you, in one week, to run a marathon.” I would never wish that on any of you. But I will say... that I think all of us have to get back... to... getting that endorphin high. Getting those moments of just stretching our legs and walking and running.

And no matter what your age is. I know some of you might go, “Steve, that works for you. Cause, you know, your age. You probably still have energy.” I’ll tell you what. I go to the gym, and there’s an eighty-year-old guy. And he’s on the treadmill. His name’s Ken. And he’s nice. But he’ll challenge you. I walk into the gym, there is a woman there who has, kind of, these braces and crutches on her wrists that she walks with into the gym. She takes those off. She picks up a sledgehammer, and she starts hitting a tire. And I’m like, “Man, you are the toughest, most inspiring woman I’ve ever been around.”

And I’m watching this. None of these people are making an excuse. They’re moving because they believe with their lives they’re better people. And whenever you have that time to exercise, you always feel better. You feel clearer. You get kind of all the callous and all of the stuff that’s in your brain, it somehow just goes away. And throughout the rest of your day, it gives you this vitality and this energy.

But, for many of us in the church, when you have a low view of your temple and a low view of your body, you’re kind of like, “Ah, I can’t do it. I don’t wanna do it.”

Now, every morning, when that alarm goes off, I do not want to get out of bed. But I know, at the end of the day, I’m better because I went on that walk. Or I’m better because I stepped into that gym. And, again, people will have these expectations that I’m supposed to go to the gym. And if I go to the gym, I’m gonna look like Ryan Gosling or George Clooney or whoever you think... it’s not about that! It’s not about that. It’s about having the Spirit-filled energy for the long haul. It’s about having clearer focus. It’s about having something that you can maximize the gifts that God’s given to you. It’s about giving the Spirit more residence in your temple. That’s what it’s about.

Let me ask you... when’s the last time you were consistently committed... to exercise? It’s important for your overall health and endurance and stamina and energy.

The fourth letter in the acronym called E.N.E.R.G.Y. is the word rest. You know 25 percent of our culture struggle with sleeping throughout the night. And most people don’t get the hours of sleep that they need depending on their age. Many of us are just walking around tired. And when we walk around tired, what do we do? We drink more coffee. And when we drink more coffee, it makes it harder for us to sleep. And when we can’t sleep, then we get a little bit more grumpy... and take things a little bit more personal, so we feel bad, so what do we do? We don’t work out; we just eat some more. Which only... doesn’t help. Do you see how this process just holds our lives in check?

And it really begins with how do you view rest. Do you take sleep seriously? If I could tell my younger self something, I would say, “Invest in a good pillow.” It’s a game changer. Like... you want to be able to sleep. The other thing that struggles for sleep is, I know, for many people, who tell me they can’t sleep, I’m like, “Well, tell me about your pattern into bed.”

They’re like, “Well, I lay down in bed, and then I get, open my phone or my iPad, and I start checking Facebook.”

And I’m like, “Oh, so you’re just, it’s like social media crack cocaine for your brain. And your brain is just wired. And now you’re like, ‘Okay, I can’t sleep.’ You have to train your brain to turn off.”

And many of us are struggling with it. And we’re giving it more and more caffeine, and we’re not sleeping, and it’s making it difficult in our relationships. How are you turning it off... earlier and earlier throughout the night? So that when you hit the bed, you can go... to sleep. Your body needs that rest.

Fifth in that letter, in that acronym... is the word goals. Every one of you should have a goal. And they should be realistic goals. Don’t set something that’s unattainable, cause that’s just gonna add shame. Every time I walk into the local gym, I write down on a piece of paper the same four goals. And those four goals are attainable. And when I hit one of those four goals, I celebrate. I celebrate. I wanna create attainable goals so I keep going. I don’t want anything that’s unattainable. I wanna hit the goal. And I wanna keep going.

Do you have those goals? Around food. Around exercise. Around rest. Do you have those goals? And when you do, celebrate those. Because they give you, kind of, a path. And many of us haven’t been given a map. Have been given a map for our finances. We weren’t given a map for health. We weren’t given a map to how to walk with Jesus. You gotta find those guides.

And when you can find someone that maybe has this area of their life kind of in a good place, ask them questions. Be honest. Be human. Say, “Help me with this.” It doesn’t matter your age. Do that. Lean into it.

And then the last letter in this acronym of E.N.E.R.G.Y. is the simple word you. You. You have to ask yourself what is the motivation for you. What drives you? Is it the Scriptures? For you to honor your bodies because your body is a temple? Is it... because... you’re watching yourself not having energy? I went months after months after months coming home and feeling sluggish. Not wanting to play with my kids. I don’t want that.

Maybe you’ve experienced that with your kids or your grandkids or even with your friends—just not being present. What drives you? And the question is, what kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family?

But also... maybe, for some of you, what drives you is the pain or trauma that has come into your family because someone hasn’t been able to take care of this area of their life.

I’ll be honest, at the age of two, it was probably the last time I saw my biological father. And I was able to locate him years and years later. And he lived in upstate New York. And I was really excited to go out and meet him. We had hired a private investigator. But two days before we bought our tickets—or two days before we were supposed to go, we had already bought our tickets... the private investigator called and said, “I’m so sorry. I gave you the right address. But I just found out that he died two years earlier of a massive heart attack.” And I never got to meet him.

I never got to introduce him to my kids.

And that... that rocked me.

It really, for the first time, kind of shook me, and said, “How are you taking care of you, Steve? Cause this is part of your lineage and hereditary and DNA, like, how are you taking care of you?”

Maybe, for some of you, you’ve experienced that. I have a friend whose dad had a heart attack this past year. And it was a game changer for him. And he made massive shifts. And I have another friend whose dad has had three heart attacks. And the third one took his life. And he never made the shift.

And, friends, I don’t know what it is for you, but I do know... that when you begin to take this area seriously, you have to ask yourself what drives you.

Now, you can work really, really hard. And only do a couple of these. And you won’t see results. There are some of you who will try to eat well and exercise. But you will not rest. And it won’t work.

For some of you, will exercise and rest well—many marathon runners do this. They’ll run 26.2 miles, be tired, and sleep well... but they eat whatever they want. And even at the end of their marathon-running season training, the event, they’ve gained fifteen pounds. Blood pressure’s even higher.

You have to do all three to get the maximum results for energy.

And the same thing’s true for noticing your triggers, the goals, and your motivation—what drives you. If you don’t name and notice those triggers, and you don’t have goals, and you don’t really clearly articulate what is driving you... you’re gonna stop doing this. And what’s gonna end up happening is your energy’s gonna drop. Your effectiveness is gonna drop. It’s gonna affect your decision making. It’s gonna affect your relationships. And it’s gonna affect God’s ability to use you in every moment of every day. And I just don’t want that for you.

I want us to be known as a community that’s filled with Spirit-led energy... for the long haul. I want us to feel good and not let culture define how we see our bodies. I want God... to define our bodies as His temple. And the truth is... there’s only one of me. There’s only one version of your temple. And I wanna do whatever I can to maximize my energy, my years on this planet, for the most amount of Kingdom effectiveness, and I want that for you.

And we take that away... it limits how God can be at work through us if we’re not here. And God wants to use... us.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking. And I don’t know if this hits you, but this is just my thought. Bill’s taught a lot about second conversions. And I wonder if today... is a day for a second conversion. Doesn’t matter what your age is. Doesn’t matter how you feel about your body. Doesn’t matter about anything. What if today was the day that you said, from now on... I’m gonna view this as a temple. From now on, I want to give the Spirit more freedom. I want the third person of the Trinity to actually fill this temple. God, give me energy to do more of your Kingdom work today. I’ve given You my soul. I’ve given You my mind. I’ve given You my heart. But maybe today... is the day that you declare... that your body was bought at a price. That your body is a temple. And the invitation for you is to honor God with that temple.

 

And if you wanna make that declaration today, our prayer is that you’d see For Sale signs on homes and you would be reminded, every one that you pass by in your neighborhood... and you’d be reminded, “No, no, no, I was bought at a price. This house is a temple of the Lord. And I’m gonna honor it in everything that I do. To bring more praise. To be this vocal doxology that just spews from my body and from my lips and from my heart and from my mind.” I want that for you.

But here’s the thing. Maybe for some of you, shame is what’s holding you back. Maybe fear. Maybe struggle. Maybe you’re sitting here going, “Steve, you don’t understand. I have tried to get on a plan around food, and it hasn’t stuck.”

“Steve, I’ve worked my tail off for exercise, and it hasn’t ever stuck.”

“Steve, I can’t do this.”

And I hear you.

But I’m not asking for you to do it. I’m asking for the Spirit of God to give you strength to do it in you. And through you. And not just for you. But for your family. And for your community. And for your church.

How many of you today just need to say, “I gotta start today”?

“I gotta start today and make my body a temple. Spirit, help me.” And if that’s you, I’m gonna invite something vulnerable, cause we’re a place of high challenge here at Willow, and I love it.

But if that’s you, I’m gonna ask that you would just stand. And say, “God, I need Your perspective. Let me view my body as Your temple. I’m putting up that For Sale sign. I’ve given You my soul. I’ve given You my mind. I’ve given You my heart. Today’s the day where I give You my body. Allow your Spirit to fill... me.”

And maybe for you it’s just putting out your hands. Putting out your hands and saying, “God, help me. Help me.” And with your hands open... I want you to hear these words. I want you to say these words. This song that we’ve been singing, that “You can have it all.” It’s gonna require us surrendering the keys, the title, and saying, “God, make this a temple for Your glory. For Your glory.” So let’s sing this together...

...You are a temple for the Holy Spirit. And my prayer that this week... is that you wouldn’t allow shame, you wouldn’t allow the past, to hold your life in check. But you would give God everything. Heart. Mind. Soul. Future. Past. And your body. And let’s see if God... what He will do with the Spirit having that freedom to give you energy and how that will affect your relationships, your future, your job, your family, and your life.

And I believe it. I believe if we have that... phew.

Every environment, everywhere we go... people will see something different in us. And it will be because we’re a temple... of something that gives praise and honor to Someone so much greater. And it will be an opportunity for you to share what God is doing in and through you.