Preached this sermon yesterday at Main Street and it was well received.
(Romans 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:9-10)
“I think every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend. Why? Because the church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are his body. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well.” I just read that quote on Friday and it is amazing how well this fit into the sermon idea that I wanted to talk about with you this morning. A few weeks ago I shared a blog post chronicling my usage of marijuana in middle and high school and I received many warm comments but most of them had to do with me having courage to share that information. In that blog post I wrote:
I am not sure why I am telling all of you this now as many of you are finding this out for the first time. I guess because I have seen a few of my own youth struggle and have heard of so many others that I feel it is probably time to share my story.
Some of you in this audience knew of my past and some of you did not. Perhaps some of you are thinking to yourself, “What is this guy talking about?” The blog post simply told part of my story where I struggled with drugs and alcohol in my middle and high-school days. The struggle could have been worse but it did not have to happen. I tell you all of this to ask this question:
Why did people say that I had courage to admit that I used drugs?
Why does that take courage?
I read the New Testament and people who were responsible for the death of Jesus, the Savior came to Peter asking for repentance and desiring baptism. Smoking weed is nothing compared to killing the savior.
It takes courage to admit things like my broken past not because there is a loss of people in the church who have similar pasts but there are people in this church and every other church who are either afraid of what people might think (i.e, “they will judge me”) or, even worse, they do not want to address those demons of the past. It also takes courage to admit that those types of things because most of time many people in this auditorium spend 45 minutes to an hour pretending to be someone who they are not. This is why so many people who are unchurched do not want to attend a church because they feel like they have to have everything in order before they can be a part of the church. That’s not the way the New Testament church operated.
What I am going to do this morning is going to take some courage on your part. I am going to ask a bunch of questions and all I ask of you to do is to be honest and raise your hands. If you are visiting with us feel free not to participate but if you are a member of this church I ask all of you to participate. I ask you to trust me in what I am about to do and understand that I am making a point with all of this. Finally, this goes without saying, those who raise their hands are free from judgment on your part. There is only one judge and you are not he. This should make good lunch discussions…
So here we go…
We’ll start easy…
- How many of you come from a Christian home where you church was talked about all the time and you absolutely loved going to services, participating in VBS, youth the whole nine yards? How many of that was you raise your hand?
- How many of you did not grow up in a Christian home as Christ was never talked about or if he was it was only around Christmas time? How many of that was you raise your hand?
- How many of you grew up attending church but then hated going to church because mom and dad forced it on you so you left when you got old enough and then played a little, visited other churches but eventually came back? How many of that was you raise your hand?
- How many of you came from some other denomination before you landed here at Main Street?
- How many of you became a believer after your 20th birthday? 30th? 40th? 50th? Any higher?
- How many of you, your parents are still happily married?
- How many of you are from homes where your parents were divorced either early on or at some point since you left the house?
- How many of you, your parents are married, but not necessarily happily?
- How many of you have experienced divorce?
- How many of you have a master’s level education or above?
- How many of you did not graduate high school but have a GED or some sort of equivalent?
- Any democrats in here?
- How many of you were born in the north above the Mason-Dixon line?
- How many of you were born in another country?
Again this is a safe environment where you will not be judged….
- How many of you have a past in addiction whether it is alcohol, drugs or pornography?
- Last one, how many of you have experienced some sort of abuse (physical, sexual or mental) in your background.
Let’s take a deep breath. There is this lie from the handiwork of Satan himself that says God only saves certain people. As if God loves republicans more than he does democrats. As if God loves people who have been to church their whole lives versus those who just made it. Here is the gist of this sermon, the big point…
“God, by his grace and mercy, wants all to be saved and the gospel is for everybody.”
Let that marinate on your heart rate now. Let that sit in your stubborn chambers where the “ideal Christian” image sits. God saves the person who cusses like a sailor and get’s drunk all night long and God saves the person whose worst words are “silly goose” and who feels guilty drinking a Pepsi. You know what I mean? God saves all of us and we should be courageously unashamed of that fact.
Some of you are walking around saying, “I never tried drugs and I never have touched alcohol and I have gone to church services my whole life and feel like my testimony to God is insignificant.” Hogwash! Praise God that he saw it fit to save you from that situation and now uses your story to teach all families that God-fearing people can raise another generation of God-fearing people. Some of you are walking around saying, “If church people only knew of all the things I have done they would not want me into their church.” First off, it’s not their church it’s Jesus Christ’s church. Secondly, if they really knew about all the things you have done and if they had an ounce of authenticity in them after hearing about the things you have done they would not say, “How horrible you are,” they would say, “How great is our God!”
Don’t you think it’s time church that we become a little more authentic and a little more genuine? I am not saying we have to unload every personal detail every time we come to services but I can honestly say that many of you I know but few of you I know on a deep, personal level. The apostle Paul was very upfront about who he was and how God saved him from the wretched person that he was. There are a ton of verses I could share (especially in Acts where he recounts his conversion story a couple of times) but I felt like this one sums it all up…
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Cor. 15:9-10)
In context Paul is talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how Jesus appeared to him who was the least of the apostles. He calls himself one who was “untimely born.” Paul is forever having to defend his apostleship to people who think he is a nobody. Imagine the criticism he got:
“This guy is not one of us, he was a persecutor of the church. How dare he think he can tell us how to run this church?”
“He was not an apostle as he barely even saw the Lord Jesus.”
Yet, Paul understood that and in the wake of his past he came to the conclusion that the suffering, the persecution and the pain he causes to the church he could do nothing about right now. He said, “by the grace of God I am what I am.”
I think churches are starving for people like Paul who just puts all of his cards on the table and lets whatever falls to fall. He does not say what he did gives people license to do bad things but he allows other people to see how God can save people from horrible circumstances.
So there is this myth that there is this certain type of person God saves. It does not exist. He saved a rich tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus and he saved the woman caught in adultery, in the very act. How rough would that one be if a woman caught in adultery interrupted our services begging to be saved at the very instant? We would probably escort her out so we would not disrupt the order of worship. God saves all kinds of people. If we want this church to grow we need to be more authentic. We need to be the church that does not seek other church-going people but we need to be the church that seeks the people nobody wants… the unchurched. There are plenty of churches in this county who brag about their numbers when all they are doing is swelling from other churches. We need to be that church where unchurched people look at and say, “I want to be a part of that.”
How do we do that? We started today… honesty, integrity and openness. I titled this sermon God’s Kaleidoscope. One definition for kaleidoscope on Dictionary.com was, “any complex pattern of frequently changing shapes and colors.” Sounds a little bit about what church is supposed to be. As the leaves change in the fall I am reminded about how different people from church are. We come from every background imaginable and the one common theme is that we are all trying to give God his glory and reach others to do the same. We all are spared by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ so that we do not live lives in the “used to be” or “what could be” but we live in the already.
So we have all been a bit honest. This should help us reach others. This should help us start. We do not have to have this mask put on. “Fake it until you make it” is a cliché for people who don’t know what they are talking about. Let’s stop faking. Let’s stop living in our empty cisterns of despair. Let’s live in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I am not scared any more are you? Let’s do this church! My name is Robbie Mackenzie. I used to do drugs, I used to drink heavily, I was not a virgin when I got married, I treated God like a genie in a bottle and God saved me from all of that. HIS GRACE REACHES EVEN ME….
 Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 57-59). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 The idea from this came from Matt Chandler’s masterful sermon entitled, “City on a Hill – Part 1: A New People” preached at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX on September 2nd, 2012. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/sermon/a-new-people/. Some of the questions are directly from his sermon.