Good morning everyone! Welcome to Hope City Church, we are so glad that you’re here today. My name is Peter, and today we are kicking off a brand new series called “The Red Letter Challenge”. Maybe you’re here today for the first time, maybe you got one of these post cards in the mail… or maybe you had a friend invite you a long… no matter why you have found yourself here I hope that you enjoy yourself here. In fact, we believe that church is meant to be fun, so we encourage you to loosen up, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to look at the person you came with and say, He’s talking about you right now… no, I’m kidding… because that would be super judgey… and we’re not about that here…
Church is a funny thing though, isn’t it? I’ve heard from people who were first time guests here at Hope City, they say things like, “I didn’t know that I could actually like going to church.” Or, “I didn’t know that my kids would like going to church.” Many of us have an impression of church that was formed because of someone we knew, an experience we had, or a movie we watched. Right? Anybody ever disappointed when your church choir came out and it didn’t have Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act breaking it down? It was more like Sister Gertrude with a broken hip…. Who let her on the stage?
Nah, for real though, we run into problems in the church and in our faith journey when our experiences with God are defined by the PEOPLE OF GOD. Sometimes what is represented about God, looks nothing like God himself.
It is too easy to say whatever we want these days and sound like an expert! For example, I could never have guessed that I would know so many meteorologists until moving to Florida. When I lived up north, I basically only knew one… and He was on TV. Now, I have about 400 of them, and they’re all on FB. SO DO YOU! You didn’t spend one hour in college learning about weather but you learn the words, spaghetti model, wobble, and rain bands and you’re basically Jim Cantore.
Listen to me, Just because we say something doesn’t mean we are something!
I met my wife Tiffany in college, and we quickly became best friends. It was all over. I knew we were going to get married, I just needed to convince her to go out on a date with me. Minor detail… I was ready for that though. I was prepared. I had a baseball T, you know the kind… sleeves one color, shirt another color… it was from Abercrombie & Fitch… I had it neatly tucked into my Eddie Bauer Jeans… and I was ready to go! I got her attention, and quickly asked her out on a date… to which she said no. You’ll have to wait for that. Okay… well, Winter Break was coming, and I didn’t want to go home for a month and let this thing cool off, I had a good thing going here, so I suggested that I drive to her house and meet her family, and we could spend the day together. So I drive two hours over to her house and I knock on the front door and who answers the door other than her dad. Her dad is basically King Triton from the little mermaid with a shaved head and legs. He rolled up to the door in, Hurley, Quicksilver Surf Gear and a pair of Ugg boots on. I was like, “excuse me sir, I’m here to see your daughter”, In my JCrew Turtle Neck Sweater.
I quickly found out that this was a surfer family. All the boys surfed… they not only surfed; they were really good at it. So I did what any future boyfriend would do, I jumped in determined to surf as well. I had to impress my future father in law. I wanted his approval…. I bought the board, I had the wet suits, the gear… and I had the lingo down… And yet, I was still not a surfer. Never became one either.
My thought was I could get his attention, gain his acceptance, and grow in his affirmation… I would be a shoe in for marriage.
This is the way that many of us think though…. We get ourselves worked up saying, if I do enough, say enough, or prove myself enough, then I’ll get attention, gain acceptance, grow in affirmation. We structure our hobbies in a way to get attention. We develop certain habits to gain acceptance, and we put in the hours to grow others affirmation of us.
We can go through much of life with this as the primary way that we relate not only to others around us, but also to God. It’s easy to think that if we’re good enough God will love us more. Or that we can do something to earn God’s love, because that’s what we’ve seen or heard from people who claim to know God and love God. Just because you’ve stepped into church doesn’t make you a follower of Jesus, any more than watching the weather channel makes you a weatherman.
This is what religion does. Religion says, let’s get a list of rules, a list of dos and don’ts and if you follow them perfectly you will earn God’s love. Religion is man’s way of working to heaven. But Jesus is God’s way of coming to us. Religion frees you from the need to think. Just do this, and this. IT says GO AND DO. The Gospel frees you from what others think. The Gospel says, COME AND SEE!
I wonder if it’s possible for us to be so mixed up… we think we know Jesus, but we know a version of Jesus that has been passed down and interpreted for us through the lens of culture, comfort, and the American Dream? For the next 40 days, here at Hope City, we are going to be taking a look at Jesus words, the Red Letters, and asking Him to show us who He is, and what He wants for our life. Because here at Hope City, we believe Jesus when He said in John 10:10,
“The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I think that over the next 40 days, as we take the RED-LETTER CHALLENGE that we are going to see that Jesus is offering us far more than stale religion… Jesus is offering us a life changing relationship.
This morning I want to invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 7:24-27, that’s page 662 in the Bible’s around you. This is the very end of a message that Jesus shares with his disciples that we have come to know as the sermon on the mount. This is the largest recorded collection of Jesus teachings that we have. Here at the end of Jesus’ message on the mountain we find that Jesus has been presenting us with a single main idea: What is going to guide your life? Is it going to be you and your desires or is it going to be God? So here we are after Jesus has gotten done sharing his message on the mountain with his disciples, we find his closing words… He says,
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
Do you know what’s going on here? This couldn’t be more appropriate for us today… we’ve got torrential rain, flooding, and strong winds… what do we call that? A hurricane! There wasn’t a thing that this little house could do. This is like the three little pigs. The storm huffed and puffed and tried to blow this house down. Hurricane Dorian, Irma, Michael, Charlie, or any other named storm came at this house, BUT NOTHING happened, because this builder had built his foundation on bedrock!
Jesus goes on…
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” [i] Matthew 7:26-27
You see what’s going on? This same storm is being experienced by two people. The same rain, the same wind, the same flooding… But this contractor has a different end result. His house collapsed; it was blown away…. There were two houses, 2 lives, and one storm. Jesus tells this story for a reason. He tells this story because it represents what we do with His words. He says, the guy whose house is still standing is the man who hears my words and does something with them. The other house is the man who heard my words and did nothing. One house was built on something immovable and unchanging; bedrock. The other was built on something that shifts with the slightest change in the tide, or strong breeze.
Jesus is saying, PT 1. EVERYONE BUILDS ON A FOUNDATION. From the day that you left your mama’s house, you took the first day of school picture, grabbed your lunchbox and stepped into school, you have been building on a foundation. From that day to this one, there is a consistent stream of decisions that your mind is making. From where I sit at the lunch table, to what will I watch on TV, to what do I spend my money on. From a very young age, you started building your life on a foundation, a foundation of decisions, and a foundation of values.
Jesus shares this story not to show that one person didn’t work hard. It was that they worked hard on the wrong stuff! They built an entire house in and on the wrong spot! Everyone gets somewhere in life. But few people get there on purpose.
When my wife Tiffany and I were first married, we watched some close friends of ours walk through one of the hardest times of their lives. This couple was massively influential in our lives. We easily would have called them mentors of ours. One day we learned that infidelity became a part of their story. In a matter of weeks, this happy couple, separated, and went through intense counseling, trying to regain and repair their marriage.
Tiffany and I looked at each other and said that the foundation of our marriage was going to be different. The vows that we expressed to each other, before God, and before our family and friends, would be the vows that we would keep. Not because we’re something special, but because we have as our foundation that marriage is to be between one man and one woman for the rest of our lives.
I’ve seen people build on the foundation of Money, of Comfort, Sexual Pleasure, Personal Gain and Desires, and I want to remind you that Jesus says, there is a better way. Are you working on building your life on the right things? Every one of us is building our life on something, are you happy with what yours is being built on? It may be possible to succeed by the standard of culture and fail by the standard of heaven.
Let’s go back and look at the two builders… Little is known about them as individuals, other than the fact that one listened to the words of Jesus and put them into practice, and the other heard the words, but did nothing with them.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Do you know what this guy was willing to do? The hard work that the other wasn’t. I worked construction for a while, and I’m telling you the hardest work was digging in soil with bedrock in it.
My dad paid me once to dig a French drain in our backyard. We lived in the suburbs of Philly, there was rock everywhere. You couldn’t put your shovel in the ground without hitting rock. It took me days to dig a 4 foot by 2 foot by 3 foot hole. There is every challenge, and every reason to give up when it comes to the rock. But do you know what is easy? Digging in sand. It’s why kids love to play at the beach… what do they do? THEY DIG IN THE SAND! You don’t hear kids in Pennsylvania saying, I’m gonna go dig a hole… NO! It’s hard work.
Hearing the words of Jesus and putting them into practice that’s a different story. PT. 2 Jesus’ words may bring hard work, but they produce heart results. And Heart results get very little praise and affirmation. It’s all internal work.
If you’ve ever built a house, or watched a friends house get built, the least exciting part of that phase is the foundation, pouring the concrete. Did you know that inside of the concrete, there is metal rebar that runs throughout the whole thing. That based upon the thickness, and overall size of the concrete slab, there is a predetermined amount of rebar. This rebar gives the slab strength.
When the house is completed, and the keys are handed to the new homeowner, do you know who never gets the tearful hug of gratitude? The guy who laid the rebar. No one even knows he’s been there. You only know when HE HASN”T BEEN THERE because the foundation is all cracked up and your house is settling.
The same is true in your life. Few people see the heart work that you do in your life. Few people see the foundation that you are laying in your life until the lack of your foundation is exposed. It’s all of the things that we “DO” those things that we fill our life with, that keep us busy, that get people’s attention. This is the allure and the pull of Religion. Religion checks boxes. Religion completes tasks and assignments.
RELIGION GETS THE ATTENTION OF MAN. Look how Pious he is or holy she is. BUT REVERENCE GETS THE ATTENTION OF GOD. Reverence is the deep respect for someone, it’s hard to revere someone and ignore someone at the same time. And yet, this is what happens frequently with Jesus’ words. On Sunday we say things like, Jesus, you’re my base, my foundation, and the place from where all of my life comes… I revere you! But it’s Monday and I’ma go ahead and ignore you right now. It’s my time with the guys… or this is my spending spree. Or, this doesn’t affect anyone else, it’s my little secret habit. It’s easy to fake religion, it’s hard to fake reverence.
Do you know why we are tempted to fake religion? Because we want others to be impressed with us. I’ve checked more spiritual boxes than you, I’ve served more hours on the Roadies than you. Well, I stay and help tear down… We can begin to stack ourselves up spiritually in hopes of showing up others. Stop being so impressed with others. We show others what we want them to see. This is why connect groups are so important. We need one another… you need your circle, you need your group because in your group, people get to know you, and care for you. And quite honestly, we get to move beyond being impressed with you. There is a difference when you’re impressed with someone then when you have respect for someone.
Do you know what else happened in this story? Look back at verse 25…
25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
This builder, this obedient builder, watched as rain fell, flood waters rose, and winds beat on the house… The hurricane hit, and the builder witnessed a miraculous provision, and blessing. This may not always look like the provision of a house standing in a storm, but it could look like the relationship you thought was done, being brought back to health. See, PT. 3 OBEDIENCE BRINGS OPPORTUNITY. When you’re obedient to the Lord, you’re going to see things that you would have missed out otherwise. You get to see God provide in ways you wouldn’t have imagined possible. You get to break free from the weariness of Religion and experience the full life that Jesus was talking about.
I love the way the message paraphrase puts it in Matthew 11:28-30
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”[ii]
This is exactly what we are going to be doing in this series! In the Red Letter Challenge, we are going to be taking a look at Jesus words, focusing on the things that Jesus talks about most, five big principles.
- Being… So many times Jesus talks about the importance of spending time and just being with Him. Before He invites us to do anything, he invites us to be with Him.
- Forgiving…. Jesus is all about Grace. So many of us truly struggle with receiving God’s forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others. And yet, this is one of the things that Jesus talks about.
- Serving… After spending time being with Jesus and seeing all He’s forgiven us from, our lives are motivated to serve Him and others in our community.
- Giving… Jesus talked about the Kingdom of heaven more than anything else, but do you know that a close second was money?
- Going… Many of Jesus’ last words in each of the gospels and even the last command He says in the book of Acts centers on the fact that as Jesus followers we must go and tell the good news of Jesus.
This fall, for 40 days, we’re asking you to join a connect group, today’s connect group Sunday… pull out that connect group menu…. In fact, since last week we’ve added two more groups! We’ve got a women’s group on Tuesday Nights, and a 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade boys group on Sunday night! WAHOO! There is a group for you! We’re going to take what we discover in rows on a Sunday morning and discuss it in a group midweek. Out in the lobby you can purchase your Red Letter Challenge book for you to read every day at home… And on Sunday mornings I’ll be teaching through the words of Jesus. We want to make this super simple for you, just fill this top part of the card out and drop this in the bucket in the back, you can keep the lower portion, that’s for you… to invite a friend, or find a group at home…
We know this… FOLLOWING JESUS SHOULD CAUSE US TO LOOK LIKE JESUS. If not, we’re doing it wrong. What would happen if we took Jesus at His word. Imagine what would be different in your life.
Remember his words in Matthew 11? He invites us… He’s inviting you today… COME TO ME! All of you who are worn out, tired, and weary from religion. I will give you rest. I’ll show you how to recover your life. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
This morning you may be most familiar with a God who has been represented by RULES and RELIGION. You may have a list of things that you’ve been told to do to make God happy and appease God’s people all your life. I want to invite you for the next 40 days to take the Red-Letter Challenge with us, to read the words of Jesus and listen to the voice of Jesus and see… what does Jesus really want for me, and from me?
Or maybe, you would say, Peter I’ve been following Jesus all my life. I want to encourage you, for the next 40 days, would you listen to the words of Jesus and see, are we really following Jesus, or a more comfortable cushy version of Jesus.
Or maybe, you’re kicking the tires of faith today. I am glad that you’re here. I think that this is a fantastic place for you to be. I’m asking, for the next 40 days, would you be open with your questions, open with your doubts, and investigate, who could this Jesus be?
Together let’s discover all that Jesus has in store for our lives.
Can I pray for you?