Community Group Study Notes
Have someone in your group give a brief recap of Sunday’s message, highlighting the primary Scripture passage(s) and main idea of the message.
Why do we fear change, even when it’s good or it leads to our ultimate good?
Has there ever been a time when God brought about change in your life – but initially, you resisted it? Share that experience and what God taught you in and through it.
Sometimes, God will allow change in order to shake loose the things that are hindering our fruitfulness. As you listened to this sermon, what areas of life was God bringing to mind – and what does He seem to want to shake loose?
God will change whatever He needs to change to accomplish his mission. What changes will God need to make in you so that you can step into your role in advancing God’s mission? (e.g. consistent time in God’s Word; sharing your faith; stewardship of time & resources)
What is one action step you can take in light of this sermon and our discussion?
Happy New Year everybody. So glad to see you. Thank you for being here this morning. You know, change can be hard on us. I don't know if you figured that out. I figure it out every single New Year's that change can be hard on us, right? It's kind of the reminder that in January gym memberships go way up, and in February, attendance at gyms goes way down, right? Change can be challenging. It can be difficult on a number of fronts. We actually laugh about it when I get back to Georgia, and I'm able to celebrate a little bit with family members there. My dad has a running joke every single year that we are sitting around a table. We're eating too much. Did anybody eat too much over the holidays? We're eating too much, we're celebrating, we're having fun. And then with a stuffed belly, he just says, "I am so full, but I'm gonna tell you what, in January, I'm making some changes, you know?" And we all just start laughing, right? Because we know, and we are, and we do. But changes can be hard sometimes. They can be hard physically. If you remember, even when you were in middle school and high school when your body was changing physically, and you were like, "This is awkward." And it can be difficult, right? Or when you get older and you start realizing... You know, I mean, some of you are older and I'm not, but some of you are, and you get older and you can't do the things that you used to do, you know? I mean, I'm a grandfather now, I don't know if I told you that, by the way, but I'm a granddad now. And I've got a two month old granddaughter named Josie Marie Gillis, and she is precious. And now I'm just a pile of goo. I didn't know this is what happened. Nobody warned me. I'm just a pile of goo, you know? And I talk weird now. It's just... I've turned into... I'm ridiculous, and I like it And I love it, and I want more of it, right? So there are things that I think that I can do now at 53 that I can't really do, and then I do 'em anyway, and then realize I shouldn't have done that, right? Because physical changes, they happen in all of us, and they can be hard as well. Emotional changes can be hard. I mean, sometimes when I'm back at places where I grew up, like for instance, the campus, the University of Georgia, go Dogs, and if you're Ohio State fan, I'm sorry. It's just your problem, right? We won. Get over it. Move on with your life. Cheer for the Bills today. All right? So Georgia, I go back to the campus occasionally when I'm back in town, and I don't recognize a lot of things. It's changed. Places where, you know, I had a special memory, right? And this was a place. Oh man, This was a place that I ate and this is where I... I talked to Edie, and we had just started dating and those kinds of things and everything's different. And nobody consulted me. They didn't send me like an alumni, "Hey, what do you think? Do you think we should do this?" And I'm like, "No, you shouldn't do it. You should leave everything the same as it was because of me." Right? Well, no one cares about what I think. Change happens no matter what. Time marches on. It doesn't consult with us. It doesn't ask us about it. It just does what it does. And change is gonna come. Imagine the changes that were happening in the lifetime of Jesus and think about all the changes that were going on during that timeframe. All of the millennia plus, you know, history, maybe not, you know, but in that neighborhood of history that you had of people and all the prophecies about the Messiah, and here they are all fulfilled in Jesus. And now the the change that happened in the lives of people and the hope that they had now was different than what it was. The changes were literally a millennia and a half, back to the time of Moses where Judaism had been entrenched. And now Jesus has come, and he's changed everything. This was remarkable what was changing in that timeframe. And then the people that put their faith in Jesus, like in looking in Acts 2 where the life and the death, and ultimately the resurrection and the ascension, and then the sending of the Spirit by Jesus in Acts 2 And you see the transformation of so many people that are added to the church. And you see them living in a community of love and of service and of care and of sharing their resources. And what a beautiful time it was. I mean, everything had changed, the way they identified as human beings, the way that they related to God. Everything had changed for them. But in the midst of all of that change that we start seeing play out in the Book of Acts after the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, there were some people that weren't real fans of change, specifically the religious leaders of that time. They weren't particularly big fans of the changes that were going on during that timeframe in the life of Jesus, and then after the life of Jesus where the apostles are now ministering. And we start picking up on that when we start reading in the Book of Acts. And we're gonna be looking today in Acts 6 and 7, and a little bit in chapter 8. If you wanna prepare yourself there. Acts is just after the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And then you can get to the Book of Acts. It's also written by Luke who wrote the gospel and also wrote this compilation that we call Acts. It's a historical chronicle of the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the apostles and through the church of Jesus Christ. And in that, when we begin looking at it, we see and are introduced to a man named Stephen. And Stephen was a deacon of the church. He was one who was chosen to serve the church of Jesus Christ. And here's how we're introduced to Stephen in Acts 6:8. It says, "Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power performed great wonders and signs among the people." Now, Stephen was a remarkable person, and God used him in significant ways. But my guess is that in that exact moment where we're introduced to Stephen and it tells us about him, in Stephen's real life day, I don't imagine that he woke up that morning thinking to himself that he was going to be used by God as a catalyst to serve the mission of God in the world. I don't imagine he woke up thinking that, but yet, that's exactly what we see in the life of Stephen when we start to look at what happened when Stephen is introduced on the scene and Stephen had been ministering and preaching the gospel and then the response of the religious leaders to that, what we see are we see some realities about change. Let me point out two of them. Here's the first. Some people fear change. Some of you're going, "Uh, yeah that's me." Right? Some people fear change. Now let me pick up after the introduction of Stephen in Acts 6 in verse number 8. Let me pick up in verse number 9. It says this, "This opposition arose however, from members of the synagogue of the freed men, as it was called. Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria, as well as the province of Cilicia and Asia, who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.' So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law, and they seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses who testified, 'This fellow never stopped speaking against this holy place and against the law.'" So what they're doing is they see Stephen. They don't like the message that he's preaching about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it changes everything. And so they start bringing people in. They convince some people to bring false accusations against this man of God, right in front of all the religious leaders. But what is it that they were trumping up these false allegations to do? Watch. Verse 14, "For we.." they said. "We have heard Stephen say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." Do you see what they were appealing to right here in this verse? What they were trumping up against Stephen was they were trying to elicit fear in anybody that would listen. And the fear that they were eliciting was the fear of what? Change. That he would change the customs Moses handed down to us. Now, here's the truth. When Stephen was preaching the gospel, he wasn't saying that Jesus was gonna change all the customs of Moses. What he was saying was that Jesus fulfilled everything Moses pointed to. That's what he was doing. But I will say this. Even though these religious leaders were doing really bad things, when you bring false witnesses against people, that's just an awful thing. Bearing false witnesses, bearing false witness is one of the commandments that God gave to his people. And he said, "Don't do it. Do not bear false witness." That's why we have to be very careful about what we say and how we say it so that we're not spewing out things that are untrue and bearing false witness against people. But they were doing this in terms of Steven, and that's an awful thing to do. And they were doing it actually in the name of religion, which is even more awful to do, right? And in doing so, they brought false accusations. But here's what they got, right? Jesus does in fact change everything. They did get that right. Jesus does in fact change everything. I started thinking about the things that Jesus changed in that timeframe. And I started just kind of asking myself, "What were those?" Oh, there was a... There's a handful you could probably think about more than even I would have time to talk about. But Jesus changed the ethnic division that was going on in that timeframe. You realize when Jesus was teaching, he was at the temple one time, and in his teaching at the temple, and remember the temple was pretty serious about who could go and who could pray and who could do stuff, right? Jews and Gentiles, right? Gentiles means non-Jews. There were signs set up at the temple that basically said this. This is my translation. But they really found these signs like historically, archeologically. The signs, the balustrade that would be there on the temple. And it would simply say something like this, my translation, "Hey Gentile, if you walk past this, we're gonna kill you." That's basically what it said. "Hey Gentile, you're not allowed in this space. We're gonna kill you." Jesus is teaching in the temple, and he's fundamentally saying this, "My house will be a house of prayer for all the nations. It's not just for you, Jewish people. It's for everyone that would call upon my..." That's what Jesus said, right? Jesus taught parables where there's a man dying by the side of the road and he makes the hero of the parable a Samaritan. A Samaritan which the Jews would look at as a half breed. They would be like, what? No, he can't be the hero of the story. Jesus is breaking down all of those things. It's absolutely remarkable what he's changing. He also changes the classes of people, how they're classified. No more are you classified in Jesus and in the church. You're no more classified simply by being rich or poor. You're not just classified by being slave or free. You're not just classified by being male or female. We are one in Jesus Christ. And so he takes those classifications, and he starts to transform them. He transforms and changes the way that we view salvation. He helped remind us that salvation is a person. It's him. It's not... Listen, it's not about the works of the law, which is what was being taught to them, but salvation is a He. That's why when, when Jesus was born, and Simeon, the old man, was in the temple, he said this when he saw the baby, he said, "My eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord." He's talking about a person, folks. He's not just talking about rules, right? But this was what was going on. And Jesus is changing all of that. He's changing the hope that people have in this life and in the life to come. Because through his death and resurrection, people realized He's overcome the grave. What have we to fear? We can now live our lives. Abandon an obedience to God, because what's the worst that can happen? We die. And then guess what happens? Eventually we rise just like he did because he has risen. We too will rise. Jesus, listen. Here, one thing they got right? Jesus changes everything. But I understand, I think, to some degree why the religious leaders were all uptight. Because change is something we fear. You don't have to raise your hand, I wouldn't make you do that. But when change comes, we end up holding on to things that make us feel secure, stable, comfortable. But what if those things are things that God wants to take out of our hands? What if? That's where we have to pause and go, "Okay, maybe I need to pay attention to what the Lord wants to say and wants to do." I mean, the Jewish leaders may have been trying to hold on to power because of what they'd seen Jesus do. And what they saw Stephen now doing, They may have been just trying to hold on to power, and Jesus is basically what God is doing is he's wrenching that from their hands. Or maybe these religious leaders, they were still trying to hold on to manmade rules. See, there were things that God gave, and then there were things that they made up. And there were so many of them that I think that they got confused as to what's of God and what's theirs. And God wants to make sure that we're not confused of that. And he wants to see that changed. And I imagine that that happens in our lives too. When change comes, we have a tendency to just go into places of safety. I understand that maybe over the last few years we've seen a lot of change just in the world, right? Just in the world. In the church world, in the world at large, we've seen a lot of change. And when we see some of that change, whether it's political change, political polarization, whatever it may be, social chaos, any of those kinds of things, stuff surrounding a global pandemic, right? Any of those things, we start then wanting to cluster off into places of safety. And we want to get... So what do we do when life gets politically charged, we just hive off with our tribe. People who look like us, vote like us, think like us, and we just want to be... I bet God wants to pull some of that out of our hands. 'Cause that's not how the church is made up. The church is not made up of tribalism. The church is the body of Christ, and every man, woman and child that comes by faith in Jesus Christ, that's our family. And we have to start waking up to some things in this time and in this place that help us to recognize that if we haven't gotten the message over the last few years, we need to get it. And it's this: the kingdom of God is of greater consequence than the earthly kingdoms of men. Presidents, governors, Congresspeople, if they can ever get themselves sorted out, they all come and they go. They come and they go. We have a king that endures. We have a king that is unstoppable and a kingdom that is unstoppable. And we cannot let ourselves be polarized by earthly kingdoms when we together are a part of an eternal kingdom, right? See, change wants to do something. It wants not to elicit fear in our lives, but to learn what is God doing in the moment and how can we receive that from God so that we can do what he calls us to do. But the religious leaders here in the time of Stephen, they didn't want any of that. They wanted to resist it all, right? But there's a second truth here, and it's this: that change is a part of God's mission plan. So some people fear change, but change is actually a part of what God is doing in the world. It is a part of the mission of God. Like I told you, Stephen was a catalyst. He probably didn't wake up that morning and think he was going to be a catalyst for the mission of God. And so he gets falsely accused, which is an awful thing. But then what he does is he's standing before the Sanhedrin, this kind of the governing body of religious leaders there in Jerusalem. And he just goes ahead and preaches, go on ahead with yourself, Stephen. Just let 'em, let it rip. So he just starts preaching, and in his preaching, he turns the tables. He's being accused of being disobedient and rebellious and all that stuff. And he just turns the tables, and he gives them a history lesson, starting from Abraham all the way to Moses. If you read this message, it's really remarkable. And he basically says, actually, you're the ones. You're the ones who continue to resist God. You've been doing it all along. Your ancestors have been doing it all along. You're the ones who've done it. And then at the close of this message, listen to how he ends this message. "You stiff necked people!" So Stephen, he had not taken a class how to win friends and influence people. And he's not... He's not trying to... He's not being ugly. To call someone stiff necked was to say, you're just unwilling. You keep rebelling. He says, "'You stiff neck people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors. You always resist the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one. And now, you have betrayed and murdered him. You who have received the law that was given through angels, but have not obeyed it.' And when the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him." You can imagine, right? He's just preached a message to them basically saying, "It's not me, it's actually you. You're the one resisting the Holy Spirit. You're the one who keeps rebelling against God." And they were really, really angry. And then as he finished that message, God intervened. He just intervened. It's remarkable really what God did when he just intervened and he did it because God is sovereignly working for the sake of his mission. Let me show you how he does this. First of all, God sovereignly orchestrated a vision, right? Stephen finished this message, the Sanhedrin's really, really mad at him, really upset with him. And God intervenes and orchestrates a vision. Here's what it says in verse 55. It says, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. What a glorious vision that God orchestrated and God initiated. Now, the Jewish leaders were angry. I don't know what they were planning to do in that moment, but my guess is they were planning to do exactly what they had done already to Peter and John, the apostles. Because if you remember, Peter and John had been preaching the gospel and had performing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. And what did they do? They brought 'em in. They flogged them, beat them and said, "Don't do that again." And of course, John said, "Nope." Right? That's... I mean, they, they just said, "No, we..." But that's what they did. They flogged them and told them not to do it again. So my guess is they were probably planning it the very least to do that to Steven. They we're gonna flog him and tell him not to do it again. But while they were planning probably to do that, God intervened and gave a vision, a vision of the glory of God and of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. The reason that this was remarkable is because God was sovereignly orchestrating what he was going to do for the sake of his mission. Watch how it plays out, because secondarily, God's sovereignly fulfilled prophecy. So he gives this vision, but then he sovereignly, fulfills prophecy Right in the presence of all of these... Remember the Sanhedrin, these are religious leaders, These are people that know their way around the Hebrew scriptures, right? They're experts in this. They're teachers of the law. They know these things. And listen to what... Watch what God is doing in their presence. We'll pick back up in verse 55. It says, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God. And Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Look, he said, I see heaven open and the son of man standing at the right hand of God. And at this, they covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Do you see what just happened here? Look at me. He finishes preaching, and they're angry, and they gnash their teeth. He sees a vision and describes it. And they went from angry to homicidal. Did you see that? Why? Why did they go from anger, which would probably have resulted in them flogging Stephen and telling him not to do it again? Because we've already seen the precedent with Peter and John, but no, he sees a vision of the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and they went from anger to murder. Why? Did they think that what Stephen was saying was blasphemous? I don't think so. I think there was more going on here. So Luke wanted to make sure that we understood. And it's why he repeated it twice, that Jesus was standing at the right hand of God. Now, for some, maybe you have read that passage before, and you have made an application and thought to yourself, "Here's, Stephen the first martyr of the church. And Jesus is standing to receive him." And maybe your teaching point or your preaching point could be something like this. If a believer will stand up for Jesus, Jesus will stand up for them. And do you know what? I think that's true. I think it's true. You stand up for Jesus, Jesus will stand up for you. But that's not specifically what was going on here. I think that sentiment is true, but that's not specifically what was going on here in this text. This vision was even more significant than that because the Sanhedrin that was there, they had already listened to Peter's preaching at Pentecost. They heard how Peter preached the gospel and what he said. And Peter's indictment of even those Jews that were there that were resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember what Peter preached in Acts 2? This is a part of it. He said, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father, the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven. And yet he said..." Quoting Psalm 1:10, "'The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a foot stool for your feet.' Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah." You see, here's what all of these religious leaders knew. They knew that the standing of Jesus was for judgment. That's what they knew. Sit at his right hand until I make your enemies a footstool. Isaiah the prophet had also told us about this very kind of picture. And these religious teachers of the law, they knew this. Listen to how Isaiah rendered it. In Isaiah 3 "the Lord takes his place in court. He rises to judge the people. The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people. It is you who have ruined my vineyard. The plunder from the poor is in your houses. 'What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?' Declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty." Are you seeing it? You see this vision that was given here that God initiates and orchestrates was the fulfillment of the reminder that the Lord Jesus would stand at the right hand and he would proclaim the judgment that should be placed upon those who have killed the Messiah. It's what Peter said. It's what Stephen said as well. And this was vindicated by the Lord Jesus. But toward what end? You can see why they're angry, right? The Sanhedrin, you can see why they're super, super mad and they wanna kill Stephen, right? 'Cause they're basically saying, "O-oh, this vision is about us. You're saying this is about us."
- You can see why they're angry, right? The Sanhedrin, you can see why they're super super mad, and they wanna kill Steven, right? 'Cause they're basically saying, "O-oh, this vision is about us. You're saying this is about us." But notice what God sovereignly did. God's sovereignly allowed persecution. You see, change is a part of God's mission, and he'll do whatever he needs to do here to see it happen. So he sovereignly orchestrates a vision. That vision was a fulfillment of prophecy that indicated judgment upon the very religious leaders that had overseen this process. And then here's what God does. He sovereignly allows persecution. Pick up with me again in Acts 7. It says, "Meanwhile, the witnesses to Stephen's stoning laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and he cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' Does that sound familiar by the way? Sounds just like his Lord. When he had said this, he fell asleep, and Saul approved of their killing him. On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem. And all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. And those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went." You see, why was God using what happened to Steven? God didn't make it. God didn't... These men did evil things. The false accusations, the stoning of Steven. This was a godly man. But what did God do? God didn't make it happen, but he leveraged what happened for the sake of his mission, and he allowed for persecution. See, the martyrdom of Stephen sparked persecution that was led by people like Saul. Saul, as you remember, was a great persecutor of the church, but God allowed this to happen because of his very purpose in mission. Listen carefully. When we start the book of Acts in chapter 1, we actually have a reminder from the Lord Jesus as to what he wants his people to do, his disciples to do. He gives them a mission. We read it in a sense at the very end of Matthew's gospel, right? Go into all the world, right? Go and do what? Make disciples, Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I've commanded you, and I'll be with you always to the very end of the world. But then he got very specific when he was talking right before his ascension back to the Father, when he's about to leave his disciples, he got real specific about how this mission needed to play out. Listen to what he said in Acts chapter 1:8. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. He was pointing to the time of Pentecost, right? And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth." So he said, "Here's the mission. It's bigger than Jerusalem, but you're gonna be my witnesses in Jerusalem. And then you're gonna be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth." But guess what? The church was there in Jerusalem, and it was good. We're together. Maybe it was an us four and no more kind of feeling. We're loving one another. We're sharing our goods with one another. Persecution hasn't ramped up too bad for the regular people like us. The apostles get into trouble sometimes 'cause of the stuff that they do. But we're doing good, and we're enjoying life, and we're learning of the scripture, and we're just excited about everything. This is great. And God says, "Actually told you something bigger than this, bigger than Jerusalem." And God will do whatever he has to do to make sure he fulfills his own mission in the world. So what does he do? He allows for there to be persecution. In Acts 1:8, he says, "You'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. That's in Acts 1:8. And in Acts 8:1, the inverse, it says, "Saul approved of their killing Stephen. And on that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem. And all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. You see, God was sovereignly fulfilling his mission for the world. Not to mention, by the way, Saul, who's overseeing all of this, who's looking at all of this, who would continue to persecute and kill those in the church, but who would be transformed on the road to Damascus that we'll talk about next week. He would be transformed and used by God to write two thirds of what we have as the New Testament and to be the greatest pioneer church planter in the history of the world. This is the sovereign God at work. So when we look at this and the time of change that was going on, I want you to understand this major truth, and it's this: God will change whatever he needs to change to accomplish his mission. God will change whatever he needs to change to accomplish his mission. I want you to understand something, and I say this with great love. Your comfort and my comfort is not God's primary concern. Thank God that in the midst of our troubles, in the midst of our trials, in the midst of our tragedies, God comforts us with a comfort that only he can give by his spirit. I thank God for that. But I want you to know that our comfort in terms of our just relaxation and our chilling, That's not God's number one priority. God has a mission and his expectation is that we are on mission with him. The early church might have grown comfortable, but the early church needed to move because God had a mission for the world that he was beginning in Jerusalem and it could not stay there. It was for everyone. There's a reason that we say that the mission of God is every man, woman, and child. Because this is the heartbeat of God. He's extending the good news of the gospel to the entire world. So we can't just stay comfortable. Now, let's be honest, the last few years, they haven't been comfortable, right? They have not been comfortable. Change has happened so fast and so much over the last few years in our world and even in the church world. You know Scott Thumma, who directs the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, he actually said that from beginning of pandemic timeframe to now, you know, three years later or whatever, he said, "The number of attendees in local congregations has dropped by 25% to 35% from pre pandemic to now, in-person attendance, 25 to 35% nationally. Now listen, I'm grateful that we've done a little bit better than that at the Chapel, but not a ton better. We're just like everybody else in the whole country. This is what everyone's experienced. I was on a phone call with a pastor yesterday for an hour who's outside of our state, well outside of our state who's just like, "is it just me? Is it just us?" I'm like, "Oh no man. And this is happening everywhere. This is what is happening everywhere." Do you know brothers and sisters, listen carefully, the median size of a church, of any church, local church in the United States, the median size prior to the pandemic was 160, 137 people. That was the median church size of local churches all across the United States. Now, today, as we sit here, it's 65. The median church size in the United States went from 137 to 65. See, what is this? Change. It's change. What is God doing? I don't know completely. I do have a sense that God is pruning his people all across the country and all across the world. Can I remind you of something, by the way, that the testimony of John 15, if you go back and read it, is this: more branches does not equal more fruit. Pruned branches equals more fruit. See, sometimes we get so caught up in how many rear ends in seats were there? Instead of being caught up in how many disciples are living their lives on mission? That's what we're about. That's what we must stay about. But what this time has done is it has carved off numbers of people in the church. I'm not talking about just our... I'm talking about the church in the nation. Well, you know what else it's done? It's probably exposed some idols that we have over the last few years. And rightly so. I wonder by the way, if the early church, when they were there in Jerusalem, and it really required persecution to get them out, to get them moving, I wonder if they were stuck on the fact that the temple was there, and they had to be there. The temple's here. This is where we have to be. This is where the presence of God is. But Jesus had changed everything by the sending of the Spirit. And no longer was this about God's presence only dwelling inside of four walls because God's presence now was dwelling inside of people and people became the new temple. And so everywhere the people would go, God would go because they were mobile temples. It was a temple on the road. And this is how God was getting his word and his life to all of the people that were in the world. Because it wasn't just about, Hey, everyone come to Jerusalem. It was now, no, Jerusalem is coming to you. God's presence is coming to you in the person of his spirit that dwells in his people. But for us, maybe we've held on to some idols, and maybe those idols are politics or money or you know, comfort or whatever. All of those actually filter into one idol. It's the idol of self, right? It's the idol of self. Because maybe we've learned over the past few years that we don't do very well at considering others ahead of ourselves. Maybe we've learned that we've chosen convenience ahead of service. You know what I just like sitting in my pajamas and just watching it online and it's cool, it's nothing. And we've chose convenience over serving our brothers and sisters in Christ and being in person with them. I'm not talking about people who are sick or super vulnerable. I'm just talking about generally. And I say that lovingly. That's where we are. That's what's happened. Maybe maybe we quit seeing people like Jesus wants us to see people, and he wants to wrench that out of our hands because of the changes that have come. My my guess is that a 24 year old young man on a Monday night football game did not wake up thinking that he would be a catalyst for change. Yet when an entire nation, and frankly world saw a 24 year old young man laying on a football field not breathing, having violent CPR by heroes who helped save his life, people were shocked into something that these people that they're watching for their entertainment are not to be objectified. They're humans created in the image of God. They're not just for our fantasy football leagues. Oh, you know, we've become that people, right? Oh, so and so's hurt. It's so stupid. He's messing up my entire... Your fantasy is more important than his reality? Let's stop... And I'm not talking to the world. I'm not preaching to the world. I'm preaching to the church. Like we can't just objectify... We objectify people, and it's not the way that God calls us to look at people, whether they're football players or politicians or leaders of other... Whatever it is, right? We don't just objectify them. They're people. And we need to see them as Jesus sees them. Now, I thank God that what people also saw is they saw the power of God on display in this young man's life. And I thank God. While he's not nearly outta the woods, I thank God for the progress that's been made in his heart and his life. I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful for the testimony of Jesus Christ that was seen all over the world and all over the nation. When people like Dan Orlovsky on ESPN, a football player, a commentator, decides you know what? We've all been talking about praying for Damar. I'm going to pray for him right here, right now. The boldness of Christ or Benjamin Watson, former UGA player, Benjamin Watson who gets on there, who's a committed believer in Jesus Christ and says everybody ought to realize how frail life is, and you'll be spending eternity somewhere. But that God has so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him, his death on the cross for our sin, his resurrection from the dead, our only hope of salvation in him, that we can be transformed because of faith in Jesus Christ. And our eternity is hanging in the balance because we are shocked by change into realizing how frail human life is. So I don't know that Damar woke up that morning understanding that he would be used by God as a catalyst for the whole world. My guess is is that while this was horrific, that he and some people around him are thanking God not only for his health, but also for the fact of how he's catalyzed so many things as a result. You see God's gonna do, and God's gonna change whatever He needs to change to accomplish His mission, My recommendation to us all is to pay attention and join Him in his mission because he has some creative means of getting you moving if not. Not because He's mad at you, not because He hates you. Because He wants to form you more into the image of his son. And he wants to use you for the sake of people that are lost without God and need to know the salvation of Jesus. So why don't you join him? Let's bow our heads together. In a moment we'll be dismissed. But if you're here in, I don't know, maybe it's because of a New Year's resolution that you came. Maybe it's because you saw what happened with Damar on the field and it sobered you up a little bit. Maybe it's because you're just starting the year, and a family member said, "Hey, why don't you come to church with me? I'm coming." But maybe you've never before entrusted your life to Jesus. Then I wanna tell you that the greatest decision you'll ever make is turning from your sin and putting your faith and trust in Christ. You cannot be saved apart from Jesus. Can't do this on your own good works. Can't somehow work your way to God. If I just check into church a few times, then God will have no choice but to allow me into a relationship with him. That's not how this goes. God went to extremes to save you. The gift of his son who came willingly, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross for your sins to satisfy the justice of God. Jesus took your sin and my sin upon himself so that God could be just and deal with sin. But so also that God could be justifier and make us righteous because of his son, Jesus. What a glorious thing. Don't leave without coming to faith in Christ. Here's how you can do that. When I dismiss you in just a moment, bunch of people will be walking out the back. I want you to walk toward the front. We're gonna have some men and women that are down here. They'd love to take a moment and pray with you, a prayer of faith to trust your life to Jesus and send you home with something that's gonna help you in your journey of faith, not least of which is a Bible if you don't have one. But would you allow us to do that? They'll be down here. They'd love to take a moment and pray for you, send you home with something that's gonna encourage you in your journey of faith. All you have to do is just take one by the hand and say, "I wanna surrender my life to Jesus." That's it. And they'd love to take a moment and pray with you, send you home with something that's gonna help you in your journey. Father, you've said much to us this day by your spirit, and I pray it would take root deep in our hearts and that you change us. You change the way that we look at the world. You change the way that we look at how sovereign you are and the mission that you have called us to join you on. And that we would change our own desires as we submit them to you. And we would allow for you to call us into the places where you want us to minister in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, wherever it is that you'd use us for your glory. We do not know what life will bring us. We do not know what circumstances will arise. We do not know when bad people do bad things that affect our lives. We don't know any of those things, but you do. And you can leverage it all for your glory. And I pray that you would in Jesus' name. Amen.