Chris Hodges - Living in the Tree of Life
Well, I just want to know if anybody loves Jesus today with all their heart, anybody? Oh yeah. Oh, so good to see you. Welcome to week number three of a series that we're in called "My Church". I'll tell you why we're in that series in just a moment. But I always like to start the service by looking into the camera and just make sure every campus knows that while I'm right here that my heart is with every single one of you guys. We are one church that meets in locations all across our region, and we love every single one of you, the dream teamers and the campus pastors and all you guys that are there.
And I want to say a big hello to those of you who are having church at home right now. We're so glad we're able to bring this into your home. Be sure if you have children that you're downloading or streaming our children's content so that you can have children's church after you've had big church. And so, thank you for joining us. To the men and women in the Alabama Department of Corrections, guys, we're bringing this service and really all that we are as a church into 23 of those facilities, and we love you guys with all of our heart. You are not a project to us, you are our church family. How about we put our hands together and say a big hello?
Come on, everybody. God bless you guys. So, you also know probably that we are in the final week of a three-week emphasis that we do every year that we just simply call it 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. And most of you are already involved in that with us. If you're not, it's not too late to join us. This last week is going to be a dynamic and important week as we really focus on God's mission. We're returning to God during this fast, and we're returning to God's mission that we have together. Tomorrow, we're going to be praying for revival in America. How many of y'all believe God needs to move in a mighty way in America? We need revival in our land, I do.
And so join us, you can join us in person, you can join us online, or join us on demand. So, it's available for 24 hours after the prayer service for you to watch on demand. Of course, we'd love for you to join us at 6 a.m. Central time wherever you guys are, and it's such a powerful time together. On Saturday, we'll have our grand finale service at 9 a.m., and then we're all headed to PF Chang's. Come on, somebody, right? All right, good. Okay, good.
All right, we are in week number three of a series simply called "My Church," and it's in preparation for our anniversary that's coming up. We have an important anniversary coming up. Highlands turns 20 in three weeks, everybody. Yeah, I know. And so we have, I think it's going to be both a powerful and a celebratory type service on February 7. Also on our first Wednesday service on February 3, so we invite you to join us. We have some things we want to give you and celebrate with you, and we're going to do a lot of looking back and a little bit of looking ahead as God launches us into the next decade of our church together. And the Lord brought this verse to mind in Matthew 16, where Jesus said, "I will build," say it out loud, "I will build my church".
I love how personal he makes it. This isn't just a church or the church, it's my church. And you would need to know that Jesus is very passionate about the church. In fact, Ephesians says he makes the manifold wisdom of God known through the church. His plan is the church. And people look to a lot of other different sources, but I'm telling you please do not be discouraged, God is setting the church up in this generation to make a difference, and I really believe that. And so he says, "I will build my church and the gates of hell," all that hell has that, all of hell that can throw at it, "it will not overcome the church".
And so, 20 years ago, we started with a few distinctives if you will, some things that we thought, "You know, what are we going to look like"? And the cool thing about planting a church is you get a blank page. You get to make it like you always wish it was. The hard part is you don't have anybody, right? So, but the fun part is you get this blank page. And we sat around as we called it the launch team, about 34 people. We sat in rooms every Thursday night for months and months, just talking about what our church would look like. And I thought in this series that I would bring you some of our distinctives, some of the things that we decided that we would focus on.
And the first week, I talked to you about that we were going to be a zealous, the Bible uses that word "zealous," passionate. That we weren't going to just be mediocre in our walk with God. We were going to enjoy prayer, we're going to go after God in prayer. We always believe that church should be enjoyed, not endured. We always thought that you could actually enjoy your relationship with God and that worship could be passionate. And I always say that, you know, our football stadiums look more like the book of Psalms than our churches do, that we can clap and shout and sing and dance, why? Because we've been set free and God has changed our lives. Can I hear a good amen right there, everybody?
All right, sure. Then last week, we talked about we also thought it was important to be a powerful church, that we weren't going to rest on man's ability, or slick videos, or just that we had our act together. Man, we need a move of God. We need signs, and wonders, and healings, and miracles. And we just happen to believe that the great physician hasn't closed shop, that God is still moving in our generation. Anybody else believe that with me? I mean, I think it's to be true, why? Because we face things that actually there are no more human solutions for. We need a move of God, and we talked about that last week.
Today, I'm going to bring you a topic that I usually do not bring in a Sunday gathering. In fact, there's a lot more in our organization for those of you guys who want to go deeper, you want to have life change, you want to experience some things. Our model basically is that Sundays are this big net. We like to attract as many people as we can. Of course, share God with them, teach the Bible. But man, you can go deeper as you get into small groups and certain types of small groups. But I felt led to bring to you one of those that normally is in our small groups that I want to bring to you today that we simply call the tree of life. And I'm going to talk to you about a choice that God has put in front of you that may not be as clear as you thought in your mind, and how theologically true this is that you can actually find yourself trapped in what I call the two brands of Christianity. That there literally are two different approaches to God, and they're so similar at times, people miss it.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate it, some of you know this story. About eight or nine years ago, I was speaking at my home church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at a conference. And I wanted to get back to Birmingham quickly. And so, I didn't want to do the six-hour drive, that's how far it is from Baton Rouge to Birmingham. And I certainly didn't want to get on a flight, you know, through a hub and that just takes all day. And I found out that there's a flight on Southwest from New Orleans that was direct. Just from New Orleans to Birmingham about, I mean, you basically get up in the air and you come right back down. I mean, it's just that quick. It's about a 35, 45-minute flight. That flight does not exist anymore, but at that time, it was less than an hour drive to New Orleans from Baton Rouge.
So, I asked the host who was hosting me at this conference, "Hey, take me down to New Orleans, I'm just going to get on that Southwest flight". Now, you need to know that it took everything within me to make that decision because I don't do Southwest, I just don't do it. Nothing wrong with Southwest, I'm not saying anything. It's just I don't like randomness. I don't like you don't know what your seat is, you got to go in there and fight everybody else for it. You know, I don't do that. Like, I like order. Like, I got to know before I get to the airport what seat I'm sitting in. And so this is, I'm already nervous, I'm standing in that line, I'm herded. You know, I'm in that line and I'm looking over my shoulder 'cause you know the people near you are going to end up next to you, you know what I'm talking about? And so, I'm assessing all of that.
And so, Tammy and I were together, and I ended up with the middle seat, she's on the window, and we got this empty seat, this mysterious, troubling empty seat, right? And there it is. And so, I got my knee over there, you know, my arm's kind of over there, bags on it. You know, I'm sending every signal in the world, "Find another one. This is not yours," you know? And just, don't look so holy out there, y'all. You've done the same thing. And so anyway, I'm there sprawled out halfway over this other seat and making... anyway, and this girl gets on the plane. She comes, and I'm watching the boarding process and she's making no... I hear her before I see her. This is that kind of girl, all right? She's probably about 30 years old and I hear, "Whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo".
And she rounds the corner and high fives the flight attendant. And she hits everybody down, first row, first row, second row, second row, third row. And I thought, "Dear Jesus, if you love me". Come on, somebody, right? Are y'all with me? My prayer life is improving, I mean, "Oh God in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Lord, if you would just..." Plop, sits right next to me. I thought, "Lord in heaven". And so, I kind of like start hanging out with Tammy a little bit and just trying to, you know, just. And the plane takes off, and the little cart comes down, and she orders a drink. And I thought, "All right, here we go". And so, she gets a drink. And sure enough, as soon as she grabbed her drink, she elbows me and she goes, "So, what do you do for a living"?
Now, I'm just going to tell you when you get asked that as a pastor, you have to decide if you got to lie or not, you really do, all right? I'm just telling you. And so I sit, 'cause sometimes I say, "Well, I'm in sales," which is true, but anyway. But I said, "Well, I'm a pastor". And she goes, "Well, duh. We're all passengers". I said, "No". Duh. I said, "No, I'm like the pastor of a church". And her next line was, "Oh, well, I don't like Christians". And I knew the kind she had been raised around and I was raised around them too, so I decided to play along. And I said, "Yeah, me too, girl, that's why I had to start my own church". She goes, "What do you mean? What do you mean you had to start your own church"?
And I said what I just said to you, that Christianity has this branding problem, that there are two approaches. And if you get involved in the wrong brand, the wrong, it's not a denomination, it's not a certain type, it's a mindset. It's a worldview that if you buy into that, it'll kill you. You'll hate it, you'll hate every part of it. She goes, "I've never heard this before". And I started explaining the gospel to her. Well, she tests me. And she took her drink and she kind of put it in my face and actually spilled a little bit on me, and at least that's my story. Come on everybody, right?
No really, she spilled it on me and... I'm serious. And so, and she goes, "What does your God think about this"? And I said, "He's not thinking about that. He's thinking about you". And said, "If he ever got your attention and got you, then he might talk to you about that later". And she says, "I've never heard that before". I said, "Well, it's in the Bible. A lot of churches don't talk about that Bible anymore". And so, the plane lands. Remember, it's up and down, I'm done. She's going on to Nashville. It's Birmingham to Nashville now, and she says, "Well, Chris, I have to have more". And I said, "Well, look, I don't have time right here 'cause I got to get off the plane, but if you'll watch our church service, we stream live on Sunday. And if you'll watch, I'll actually give you a shoutout". She goes, "You won't". I said, "Yes, I will".
So, Sunday rolled around, and I got in front of here and welcomed the campuses, and welcomed the prisons, and welcomed everybody who was watching, and I said, "Hey, I want to give a special shoutout to my friend Tanya from Southwest flight 35. Girl, I told you I'd do it". You know, it's like I didn't know if she was watching or not. And sure enough, the next day I got this email from her. And in fact, I changed that whole message that day in the hopes that she was watching, and just presented the most life-giving gospel I possibly could. And she sent me this email that said that how she had allowed religion to turn her off of God. And that her salutation was, "I'm ready to surrender, Tanya". And I picked up the phone and led her to Jesus. She gave her life to Christ right there on the phone.
Come on, somebody, are you all listening? What happened? She had bought into the wrong approach. And that's my question for you today, and it's something that I've been asking for 20 years, and it's something that I want to teach today to everybody in church as we enter into our next 20 years. And that is, what is going to be our approach to God? What is going to be our approach of how we... what is going to be the filter? What's going to be the worldview? What's going to be our mindset as we're trying to go after God? My personal belief, everybody's trying. "Oh no, Chris, some of them are atheist". No, no, no, even atheists have a part of them that is made in the image of God.
All of mankind have a spirit. And it's not redeemed and it's as lost as could be, but it is still looking for satisfaction, fulfillment. It's looking for God again. Everybody's on a God pursuit, everybody. That's why you go around the world, no matter which tribe or tongue, you'll find people searching for God. But what's going to be our approach? And I want to teach it to you theologically, and then I'll help you discern between the two. Let's get into a little theology here in the second story of the Bible. So, the first story of the Bible, if you just started with the first page, the first story is the story of creation.
Let me submit to you it's also the first story of your life. You were created. But the second story of the Bible, so we're in the next teaching, and I think it's the second story of the Bible on purpose, and I would even say to you it's the second story of your life, that you need to make a choice. God did it in a picture that was literal that also teaches us something today. 'Cause God does nothing by accident. "Now the Lord God planted a garden in the east, the garden of Eden. And there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food".
By the way, that's always been God's intent for you to live your life enjoying it. "But in the middle of the garden, there were two choices, two trees". They were in the form of trees. I personally believe they were literal trees, but they were pictures of the choices that exists today. "The tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Now, this is where most people's theology is actually wrong 'cause many of us grew up thinking that it was a God tree and a sin tree. It's an apple tree, and that's why we see Eve over there hiding behind a bush with this apple in her hand with one bite taken out of it in our little children's books.
First of all, the word "apple" is nowhere in the story. And the word "sin" is nowhere in the story at that point. If you'll notice with me, it was the knowledge of even good things. It was either this tree of life, are you going to do it this way, life, and I'm going to explain life to you, or is it just going to be just what the knowledge of right and wrong? And the Lord God commanded the man, let me tell you, you are free to eat. Like help yourself, enjoy your life from any tree in the garden. And the word "eat" literally means to ingest, to consume. Let me say it this way, for it to become your worldview. It says, "If that's your worldview, you're going to be all right, but you must not eat from the tree of the," notice again it says not good and bad, just the knowledge of it.
Your mindset, the view of good and evil. "For if you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, if you eat of that one, you will surely die". You'll say, "I hate Christians, I hate church. It's awful". So, enter the devil, chapter three, third story of the Bible. It's the third story of your life, too. You were born, you were given a choice, and you have an enemy who's trying to help you make the wrong one. And in chapter three, the serpent shows up, the devil. "He was more crafty than any of the other wild animals the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, 'Did God really say?'"
By the way, that's how he does it. If he can get you to doubt God's Word, he can get you to doubt God. And let me just say here amongst all the confusion that is happening in our land, there's one thing I know for sure, and that is we're going to be a church that teaches, preaches, proclaims, believes the Word of God. That's who we are, that's just who we are. More on that next week. He says, "But did God really say it? Come on, did God really say that, that you could eat that, you can't do that? Is that what he said"? The woman said, "Well, actually, he said we actually can eat from all these other trees, but we must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden and we must not touch it or we'll die". And then Satan says what he always does, he's a liar. He says, "No, no, no, no, you're not going to die".
Now, watch what he says here, this is very interesting to me. "For God knows that actually if you do eat that tree, that fruit that he said you could not eat, if you'll believe that, if that becomes your mindset, it's not going to make you worse, it's going to make you better. You will be like God". Now, timeout right there and notice with me that he did not appeal to her sin nature. He wasn't like going, "Come on and be a bad girl, be a bad girl". No, he said, "Hey, be a good girl, be a good girl. And you could actually be like God, and you'll actually be a person who knows right from wrong".
Notice that he was appealing to her godliness, her desire for godliness, not for sin. So, that's why a lot of people on their pursuit of godliness can still miss it. So, when the woman... are you seeing this? "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. And she gave some to her husband who is with her, and he ate it". And watch what happens and it happens every time, this is how you know if you're in the wrong tree, "That the eyes of both of them were opened". Loss of innocence I call it. No more is this like a little child. It's harsh, and it's loss of innocence. "And they realized they were naked," shame. Loss of innocence, shame. That's what religion produces, loss of innocence and shame. "So they sowed fig leaves together, make coverings for themselves".
And what I want to do for you guys is to help you see the difference between the two of these things. By giving you four delineations between that tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Here's the first one. And that those who get into the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they're convinced, "I just need to do more. If I just do more". And even religion will tell you that. And those that think they're religious love to measure your religion. How many chapters did you read? Not enough. Oh, only three minutes of prayer? My God, you need to pray an hour. You know, they're always do more, do more, do more. And people think that if I... and then they think they are actually more godly if they do more.
So, if I read more, if I pray more, if I give more, if I serve more, that actually makes me more godly. No, it doesn't. It doesn't at all. And I call it a Wizard of Oz approach to God. Some of you guys are too young to even know that movie, but old folk, help me out up here, right? Okay. But I mean like, I just want to go home. I want a life change, right? I just want to go back to Kansas. God, "What do you want"? "I just want to go to Kansas, that's all I want". And then the next line out of the wizard is, "Go get the broom," right? "Go memorize the book of Proverbs. That's what you need to do". But no, that's a mindset. The tree of life says the opposite of that. You can receive the fact that Jesus paid it all. You have to earn nothing, there's nothing you can do to earn his salvation, it's the free gift of heaven. Come on, say amen right there.
And so, people still are in this crazy pursuit. And that's why even some of the meanest Christians I've ever met are the ones actually sometimes know the Bible. And Jesus said to the Pharisees, you're over there like the scholars of the day, "Diligently studying the Scriptures because you think because you're so stinking smart, that you possess eternal life that way". He goes, "You miss the point. These are Scriptures that testify about me". You weren't supposed to learn it, you were supposed to find the person behind it. "Yet you refused to come to me and have life".
Let me show you a different way. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil says, "Hey, you need to get God's approval because he's inherently mad". Some people's view of God is mad God. And by the way, your view of God will determine what your relationship with God looks like. So, you've got to have a right mindset against the wrong worldview. That was Tanya's. God's mad at me. He certainly wants to judge me about my drink. And so, they inherently think God is just mad, mad all the time. I grew up in church, and I actually enjoy church for the most part, you know, and love the people and things like that, but my view of God was not right.
I was convinced 'cause my pastor, man, talked like hell like he was born and raised there, you know what I'm saying? And he's always pointing at me. Do y'all feel like I ever do that to you? "He's always pointing at me". Like you know, it's okay, so you know. So anyway, and so when I grew up, I grew up, you know, of course, I was born in 1963, and so my teenage years and all that's in the '70s. I gave my life to Jesus in 1978. And but before that, we had these tracts, so that's how you did evangelism back in those days, they had tracts, little cartoon booklets. The older folk know what I'm talking about. And they were more popularized by this guy named Jack Chick, that was his name, and so they called them chick tracts, chick tracts. And they were cartoons of leading people to Jesus. They were actually pretty cool.
The only thing I didn't like about these chick tracts is that anytime he was illustrating what God looks like, he had him in a chair like the Lincoln Memorial. And he was as big as the Lincoln Memorial. So, then when you walked up, they showed people, and they were like little ants next to his toenail. And then God... and the face, there was no face. He just had a circle with beams coming out of it, so he was a faceless, emotionless, mad. And I only imagine that in that right hand sitting on that chair was a club just waiting for me to do something wrong. That was my view of God. And for a lot of people, that's your view of God, and it's the wrong mindset. It's the wrong worldview. You ate from the wrong tree.
The right tree, the tree of life says, "Hey, God already loves you. He's already in love with you. Like, he knows your sin life better than you know it, and he still wants to be in a relationship with you. Like if he had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it". Are you hearing me? That that's the kind, and people don't see him correctly, so they end up eating out of the wrong tree, they have the wrong view of God. The Bible says that God demonstrates his love in this. I love this line, that while you were still a sinner, he dies. So, they didn't like lay him on the cross, nail just sitting on top of his hand, hammer in the air, and Jesus didn't go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, I just want to make sure before I go through with this that somebody's going to love me back".
Nope, while they were still spitting, mocking, rejecting, he died. Why? 'Cause he loved so much. In fact, the Bible says in Hebrews that he endured the cross for the joy set before him. Do you know who the joy is? You. "Oh, if I do this, their lives are going to be changed". How did he stay on the cross? You. And that's just why I love him so much. And when you had that mindset and that worldview, it changes everything about your Christianity. We knew if we got this right, that if we really presented God and the way the Bible actually describes God, we wouldn't have enough buildings to contain the people who wanted to experience this kind of love. We didn't start locations to grow, we did it because we were tired of people sitting on the floor. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil says focus on the external.
So, put on the right clothes, and act the right way, and do this. And the tree of life says no, no, no, focus on the internal. That's why Jesus came along. And by the way, this is the biggest difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Because in the Old Testament, they didn't have anything in them. The Bible says that the laws of God were simply written on stone tablets, so they were external constraints trying to control their behavior. Where the New Testament says, "No, no, no, no, it's a transformed heart. No longer will," the Bible says, "will I teach you right and wrong. I will write the laws on your heart so you don't have to do it, you want to do it".
It's a different motivation. It's why, by the way, a lot of times that we control behavior without changing the heart, once they get free to do their own behavior, this is a picture of like college students. "Don't, stop, don't, stop, stop, don't, don't, stop, stop". And we can make them, we can make them behave, but when they get the choice to do it on their own, a lot of times they choose something else. Why? Because we only control the external and never touch the internal. I'm preaching about 82.5% better than you're responding right now. This is good, yeah. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, God is looking at your heart.
Let me give you one more, and that is that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you obey 'cause you have to. Like I don't want to go to hell. I just don't want to go to hell, so I'll do it. I'll be there. So, you end up, by the way, if your heart has not been transformed through the tree of life and you're only doing it out of duty, you'll be mean. And that's why I don't like Christians, why? 'Cause they're mean. I grew up with mean Christians. I mean, there were some guys, they were always out there looking at who was smoking outside. "Yeah, they're smoking outside". I had a pair tell me one time, "Did you know one of your students was out there behind the youth building smoking"? I said, "Yes sir, isn't that awesome? Aren't you glad the smokers want to hear the Word of God"? "Okay".
You know, they don't even know what to say. Years ago, we'd sent a team of people to go witness during Mardi Gras in New Orleans 'cause it's just a one-hour drive. By the way, it's a fruitless deed, you know what I'm saying? They don't remember nothing the next day. Like, "Yeah, I'll receive Jesus". They're like, "What happened? I don't know". You know, so just anyway. But this one group had gone down there and was witnessing to this huddle of people, and they're explaining the gospel to them. Well, this drunk guy took exception to the fact that he was being witnessed to. It's like he thought he was already holy enough. And he said, "Well, I'll have you know my daddy is a demon in the Baptist Church". And the guy said, "Don't you mean deacon"?
And the girlfriend spoke up and said, "No, he means demon". Yeah, that's when you're operating purely out of duty, you'll hate it. "Oh my God, Sunday here again, oh". The tree of life, you're obeying out of the desire to do it. It's the joy. I even hate it in my own profession. I have ministers, this is my biggest pet peeve with other preachers, I loathe it when they say, "Yeah, 23 years ago, I surrendered to the ministry. Like I didn't want to do it, but God made me do it. I surrendered. I surrendered to it". Like I can't believe he picked me. I genuinely cannot, like I would've never picked me. And it's the wrong mindset, even preachers can get into it. Are y'all listening to me today?
And I'm bound and determined to enter in the next 20 years of Church of the Highlands eating out of the tree of life. I am determined. Come on, somebody, give God praise. I'm not saying we don't obey God. Yes, we obey God. We don't throw out his commands. This is love for God to obey his commands. But his commands, they don't have to be burdensome. They can be what you want to do, not what you have to do. So, how do we get there? I'm going to give you three ways, number one, fall in love. Fall in love. Now, for some of you saying, "Chris, that's a lot easier to say than it is to do". So, let me help you. How do you fall in love? By thinking about who he is and what he's done.
Don't think about the institution, don't think about the organization, don't think about... like there's a lot of people who just need to know that there's a person named Jesus who laid his life down for you. And he's more than a God, he's my friend, the first one I talk to every day, the one who knows the number of hairs I have on my head, the one who watches my life. And when I mess up, doesn't condemn me. He says, "I know what it's like 'cause I was a human too, that is hard. Here, let me show you the way out". And that's why Jesus himself said, "If you love me, you'll obey what I command".
I read this verse in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for most of my Christian life. And this is how it reads in the wrong tree, "If you'll love me, you'll prove it. Don't tell me you love me if you're not obeying what I said for you to do. Like, don't do that". That's not what it says, though. It says, "If you love me, you'll do what I command. And if you fall in love with me, you won't even have to work on it. It'll be desirable for you". And my question for all of you is, what side of the comma do you live on? Are you in the love side or the obey... I'm telling you. I'm encouraging you, why? 'Cause if you fall in love, it compels you to do good. It compels you to do right.
Why do I help others? Not just because they're in need, because I'm in love with Jesus. You really want to know what drives our missions giving? It's not just the need, it's that he was so generous to me. Freely I've received, here. We do it out of our love. And then why don't I do some things? Because I'm in love. Do you know if all I had was the external constraint telling me what to do, like it'd be like Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not commit adultery". All right, it's going to be work, so I guess I'll quote that verse every day, and slap my hand, and turn my eyes. Or I can fall in love with the most beautiful person on earth and I don't even think about being with anyone else 'cause Tammy's so awesome.
And by the way, she's awesome. And how many of y'all know that was a good move to do in church, right? 'Cause you can fulfill the commands of God a whole lot better by falling in love than trying to obey. This is who we are, this is Highlands. The second is we need to respond to sin with life. 'Cause you're going to sin and other people are too. So, when that happens, how are you going to respond? By the way, your response tells which tree you're in. 'Cause now it happens, and it's happening right now in our country. Some people are doing stuff. Everybody's doing something somebody else doesn't like. That's fine, I'm not saying you shouldn't have a standard, I have one too. It's the response that grieves me. "Ahh, comment, comment, comment, comment. Ha, read that. Bam".
You know, it's like what are we... can I call our church, by the way, to not be a part of all of that junk out there? Can I just call you? Can I call you to that? It'd do a lot of you good just to get off social media completely, but at least for the last week of the fast. Just get off of it. It's not us, we don't respond that way. 'Cause you know why? 'Cause that's not how God treats us. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger at us, telling the world how bad it is. That's what everyone likes to do, tell the world how bad it is. No, we came to help. He came to put the world right again.
And that's why if you watch any of his interactions, the sinners, remember the woman caught in adultery? She was caught in the act, and they brought her before Jesus, and Jesus does the whole, "He who has no sin cast the first stone". Everybody leaves. His first words to her, he said, "Hey, where are your accusers"? He didn't say, "Hey, I'll meet you in my office, you need counseling". No. I mean, she did, but not then. He goes, "Where are your accusers"? She goes, "I don't have any". And he says, "Neither do I. Now, go leave your life of sin". See, there was truth, I'm not saying we don't stand for truth. In fact, as culture changes, I promise you we're going to be as strong for the truth of God's Word like we have ever been before, but grace comes first. Because grace will invite you to be free so that truth can set you free. And so, just like Jesus, we're full of grace and truth. And our response to others when they sin is like, "Hey, there's a way out".
That's why Tanya gave her life to Jesus. 'Cause Jesus came to set me free, not make me sorry. This is who we are. This is who we will be. I've had people tell me, "You need to be more bold". I am bold. And my convictions have not changed one bit, by the way. And I will lead this church to the truth of God's Word. But we are going to be a church that says, "Hey, hey smoker, come on in and hear the words of life". We are not going to judge people before they ever get in a room. No, no, no, neither do I condemn you.
Now, come on, leave your life of sin. Come on, somebody, right? That's who we are. And number three, we have to guard our hearts from going back. 'Cause there's a vine, if you're in the tree of life, the vine of the other tree is right there next to you all the time. And it's easy to go... I've watched Christians swing back and forth from the two trees. But some of you have. And what was beautiful and precious has become wearying, and I would submit to you perhaps you're starting to get by into it the wrong worldview. In fact, C.S. Lewis said, "Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something else other than God to make them happy".
So, what do we do? We're going to be as innocent. We're not going to point out people's sin, we're going to help them get free from their sin. We're going to be a church that lives in the tree of life. I have to close, I'm way behind, but let me just say this to you. I was reading a study of people's mental health, Gallup did it. Every demographic has had a decline in 2020. In other words, their mental health is worse than it ever has been. Young or old, Democrat or Republican, married or not, make a lot of money, don't have any money; everybody's down. Gallup, secular poll, there was only one category of people who their mental health was up, and it's those who attend church every week. I didn't write that, that's them. Why, why? You don't have to read it out loud, but read it, just whisper it out with me, because "he who has the Son has life". That's who we are, we live in the tree of life.
God, I pray it over every one of these precious people that call Highlands home. And for those that are maybe even like Tanya, that are looking for something real. God, I pray that you help them eat out of the right tree. God, let us recognize the religious, the part that actually brings death. And Lord, I pray that people would be drawn to you like never before.
Heads bowed and eyes closed, I want to pray for every person who says, "I'm ready. I need to get out of this other tree, I need to get in the tree of life". Maybe you're not in love with the Lord, but you want to be. Maybe you're not a Christian and you'd like to be. Maybe you're a Christian, but you don't know what you are, but you feel you're drawn to God, to commit. I'm asking for those who'd say, "Chris, I'm ready, like Tanya, to surrender my life. I'm ready to commit my life".
Whether you've done it for the first time or this is a fresh commitment to start off a brand-new season of your life, our campus pastors, come to the stage. I'm not going to make you stand up, but I am going to ask you to raise your hand. I'm going to ask you to say, "That's me". 'Cause I think it takes boldness to say, "It's time".
If that's you, lift your hand right now, "Count me in this prayer". Good, good, good. I never get tired of seeing this, good, good. Over here, over here. Anybody else? Just, "Yes, I'm ready, I'm ready". Thank you, anybody else? I'm just ready, way up top, I'm looking. Anybody says, "I need Jesus. I'm ready to give my life, I'm ready". Thank you, that's so awesome. I love that. So, if you lifted your hand, pray these simple prayers, say:
Jesus, I love you. I thank you for dying for me. I give you my life. (Just take a deep breath:) Thank you for setting me free. So, I surrender everything completely to you, and I'm going to live my life for you and with you. Be my Lord. I'm going to follow your Word as my playbook as the way I should live my life. And I thank you for setting me free. In your name I pray, amen.