Craig Groeschel - 4 Heartfelt Stories of Radical Change
So I wonder how many of you know that you were made to make a difference in this world? You know that you're made to do something significant, but somehow you feel like you're always settling for something less. You know that God wants to do something in you, and God wants to do something through you, and yet life just seems to happen, and you just go through the motions, and you wonder, where is God, and why is He not using me in a more significant way?
Today what I wanna do is I wanna show you a portion of a very powerful parable from Matthew 25. And Jesus was speaking to the righteous ones, those who had served others. And he said to them, take your inheritance, take your reward. And then Jesus said this. He said, "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat". He said, "I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me". And then the righteous said, "When did we do this? We did it for others, but we don't remember doing it for you". And Jesus said, "The king will reply, 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
Whatever you do to serve other people, you're actually doing unto Jesus. Today we're gonna do something different, and I'm gonna introduce four of our staff members from Life Church to tell you stories of life change, to help you see that what you do matters. That when you serve someone, you're not just serving a person, but you're actually serving Jesus. And hopefully these stories will convince you that if you want momentary happiness, serve yourself. But if you want lasting fulfillment, serve someone else. Today we're talking about serving. And the first pastor I want to introduce to you loves dancing to Latin music with his wife in the kitchen. Why in the kitchen? I don't know. But this pastor's been on staff for 12 years. He's my personal campus pastor, and he's a very good friend of mine. Would you please help me welcome today, pastor Sam Marin. Love you.
Sam Marin: Come on. Pastor Craig, thank you for the opportunity to share a story from our Life Church Edmond community. Hey, everybody in the room. Everybody say, no guilt. No guilt. No shame. No shame. Come on. Say that one more time. No guilt. No guilt. No shame. No shame. If you're joining us online, type that in the comments right now. No guilt, no shame. Let me tell you about Lauren and Leo. Lauren and Leo, I'll give you some background. They are a blended family, both on a second marriage, and both are entrepreneurs and business owners that early on in their business decided that generosity would be a part of their business model. They decided this, because it all started when Lauren actually heard a message, kind of like the series that we've been in, on generosity and tithing.
Now, Lauren grew up around the things of God. In fact, at a young age she felt called to be a missionary. She felt called to go into foreign countries where people spoke other languages to share the gospel, to share the good news of Jesus. And she grew up around church. She did all the things, go to church camp, she was in church leadership, but at a young age, Lauren suffered an extremely traumatic event, something that should never happen to someone. And unfortunately somebody in the church that she attended, somebody that she trusted, told her that because of what had happened to her, God would never use her. And so at that time, after living life, following Jesus, doing all the right things, serving in church, after she was there for a while, and she heard those words, she said, "You know what? If God can't use me anymore, then what's the point"?
So she just started to live life pursuing riches and materialistic wealth, and she kind of got off track, started partying all the time, and she just said, you know what, God can't use me so I might as well, just well go do this life on my own. So she's partying and then she actually gets married, has a baby, but that marriage ends in divorce. And this leads her to feel these feelings of guilt and shame in her life. The dream of being a missionary, that's long gone. She had a picture of what a missionary should look like, a good Christian girl, dressed in very conservative clothes, carrying a Bible half her size with no sins, no mistakes in her past. And that's not who she was, it's not who she saw herself as. And this, this was really hard for her because she had this dream, and yet she felt like she wasn't worthy.
So Lauren meets Leo, and they start dating. And this is crazy because Leo, he's far from perfect, but he attends church regularly, he's in this process of following Jesus. And he goes to church all the time, and she's not going to church, and he never invites her to church. So finally she says, "Hey, why don't you invite me to church"? And he looks at her and says, 'cause I know like you don't want anything to do with church and this is my time with God. So if you're gonna be complaining, I don't want you there. And she says, "You need to invite me to church". So he finally says, "Okay, come with me".
She comes to church, and she's expecting to be judged. She is expecting that people would look at her just based on how she's dressed, and judge her for her past. But she comes in and she is greeted with love, and grace and acceptance, and shout out to our host team people who make people feel loved. And she begins to attend, and God gets a hold of her heart, and she begins to follow Jesus with all her heart once again. After attending some times, they hear a message on tithing and generosity, and Lauren feels it in her heart that they should give all of their revenue from their business to the church to God. And Leo says, well, you can't give all our revenue. We won't have a business if we do that, but we can give from our profits. And so they decide from the beginning of their business that they would give 50% of their profits to church, to God in an act of generosity and obedience.
So that's what they do. When they get their first client, it's a small amount, but they give half of it, and they've done that ever since. And they would tell you that God has poured out their blessings over their business, but that's not the biggest blessing of all. You see, Lauren told me that she found out that as a church we're committed to ending Bible poverty. We're committed to getting the word of God translated into every language in the world. And so through You Version and Partner, she gives offerings towards that. And what's amazing to me to think, she told me, she said, I never thought that through generosity, that I could be putting the word of God into people's hands all over the world in their language, and be the missionary that God called me to be. And I'm telling you right now, she's been through a lot. She's faced a lot, but she's made it through, perseverance and the love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Lauren, you are the missionary that God created you to be.
Just like scripture says in Romans 5. It says, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us". Laura and Leo, I want to tell you, man, you're an incredible, incredible family. And I'm so proud of the way that you guys live out generosity. And I know the legacy of your family will be one of generosity. You are the missionary that God created you to be, and we're so honored to partner with you. Come on, give God some praise today.
Craig Groeschel: I love it. And I pray that you recognize that wherever you are, that you can be a missionary for the glory of Jesus. And Leo and Lauren, when I think about you, I think of someone that's wholly broken in a good way, and fully surrendered. Some of you, you've been broken, maybe it's time to fully surrender. When you fully surrender, and you use what God has given you and you serve people, you're not just serving people, but what you've done unto the least of these you've done unto me. I wanna introduce to you another amazing staff member who actually met her husband Aaron, while he was serving in Life Kids. If you're looking to meet somebody, maybe you should serve in Life Kids. And this amazing spiritual leader has been a part of Life Church since she was in college at Oklahoma State University, in 2006. She's been on staff for 11 years, and is leading in Lenexa, Kansas. Would you please help me welcome pastor Heather Van Wormer.
Heather Van Wormer: Well thank you Pastor Craig. Now, when I met Brandon, and he walked through the doors of Life Church, Lenexa for the first time, you knew he had a story. Not just because he walked in with a limp, because he had sustained an injury from substance abuse, but it was that he was carrying the weight of the world. See childhood trauma, addiction, depression, he had previous incarcerations, he had pending incarcerations. He walked a life of shame everywhere he went. He was at Live Church because his mama invited him to church because he was on house arrest, and that was her one rule, you've gotta attend church with me. So he walked through the doors, and had an expectation of what church would be. And when he walked through the doors of Life church, it was everything but that. He was greeted by someone who was warm and smiling, people who wanted to know his story, and didn't judge him for what he did, but loved him because of who he is.
And Brandon attended week after week after week, he ended up giving his life to Jesus Christ. And afterwards he walked up to me and said, "Pastor Heather, I really wanna get baptized, but I might be going back to prison, and I've got a house arrest anklet on, so I can't get in the pool". And I said, "Okay, that's okay". So the next weekend he shows up to church, we baptized him a little bit different. We poured water over his head outside of the doors of our church, which I love. Isn't that different? And that joy that's in Brandon's face, that's awesome. But what's even better is the joy in his daughter's face. See, he didn't know his daughter Ray for years because he was in prison. See, she saw a dad who's different, because of the power of Jesus Christ. And it's not Ray, it's his mama. There's power. I praying mama, you don't wanna mess with her. She invited him to church, she prayed and she watched years and years and years of prayer be answered.
So that joy that Brandon left with that day, I said, "Oh, I can't wait for next week to see him. How is he doing"? And he walked in broken again. And I'm like, Brandon, what's going on? And he said, Child Protective Services showed up to his house and said, you can't live with your mom and daughter anymore, because you've got pending charges. And he had two weeks to find somewhere to live. Our Life Group's missions pastor said, hey, have you heard about Hope Is Alive, which is one of our local mission partners that's in multiple communities that our churches are, and he got to move in. It's a sober living community that's centered around God. So he found community, he found accountability, he could keep going to church, have a relationship with his daughter.
And what I love about Brandon's story, is when he went into court, the judge said, I don't know what's happened, but there's something different. We know what that is, it's Jesus, that's what's different about Brandon. Brandon didn't end up going back to prison, but he's on probation. Brandon started serving on our host team. And Brandon, when he serves, he smiles. He gets to welcome people into the church, just like the people who said yes to a decision to serve on our hosting did. He gets to walk his daughter back to Life Kids, where they met her in a season that was different. But when I look at Brandon, and I see these two pictures side by side, see this Brandon right here, the first day I met him, he said, "Pastor Heather, there's a cold seat in hell waiting for me "'cause there's a God that doesn't love me "because of what I've done". But this Brandon right here, Christ has truly set him free, and he knows that there's a seat in heaven waiting for him, because he understands there is a God that loves him unconditionally.
This Brandon right here, years and years of addiction, you name the substance, he was on it. This Brandon right here, 19 months sober. This week he's celebrating 19 months of sobriety. And I think about 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, "Love keeps no record of wrongs". This Brandon lives a life with a worldly record that a lot of us can't even fathom. But this Brandon right here, he's new in Jesus Christ, and he has a record that is wiped clean, because love does not keep record of wrongs and God is love. And so it started with an invite, and then it was because of someone serving every single day, waking up to serve the church, and people like Brandon, that Brandon is different. So if you're inviting someone, if you're praying for them, if you're serving every single weekend, just know that out of the overflow of how you serve, people like Brandon are gonna be different. So thank you guys.
Craig Groeschel: So sometimes you can visually see the change and the work of God in someone's life. And Brandon, you are loved. Congratulations on 19 months of sobriety. And to anyone right now who may be stuck in an ongoing addiction, I pray you find faith and hope in that that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And anyone that the Son sets free, is free indeed. And we believe you can find freedom in Christ. For those of you praying for somebody, and it seems like they would never, ever, ever come to faith in Jesus, let that story encourage you that God hears the prayers of the faithful and he is working even now to draw people to him. We celebrate. Let's give God some praise for what He's doing.
Now what? What message series is next week, what's it called? Save the date. Save the date. And by the way, our next speaker actually met her husband, Blair. Oh my gosh. We see a common theme while applying to work at Life Church together. So if you're looking to meet someone, you may serve in Life Kids, or you may actually apply for full-time ministry at Life Church. And this amazing Jesus follower serves on our church online team, which by the way, every week reaches people, if you're ready for this, in 194 countries. And this year we've seen almost 27,500 people indicate a decision to follow Jesus through church online. We see people all over the world.
Now when we hear that, we kind of just say, hey, that's really cool, that's a lot of people. But when you know that they're actually real lives behind those number, that every number has a name and every name has a story in those numbers from years past, if you can believe this or not, this next communicator, her whole family in Haiti actually gave their lives to Jesus through the ministry of church online, where she served today. She just had baby number three, would you please help me welcome Jas Reynolds.
Jas Reynolds: I am fresh off of maternity leave. I don't have spit on my dress. I'm talking to real adults for the first time. I'm so, so excited to be here. But you know, as a parent, I think of the legacy that I wanna leave behind for my children, right? And the legacy that I wanna leave behind, for not just my children, but every person that I interact with, is somebody who is seen as somebody who just deeply cares. Cares for the person in front of me, and it doesn't matter what my to-do list looks like, or where I'm going, but I stop to care. And that's the story that I wanna share with you today. It's about a six-year-old boy who chose to care about the person in front of him, and do what I call, by asking the second question. But before I get to this story, I would love to share a piece of scripture with you. It comes from Galatians 5:22, and it says this, "But the fruit of the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives".
And you know it, you could say it with me, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Kindness though, it's the kindness in action. One day, Julie and her son Jordan, were just going to a sandwich shop. And as they walk in, the sandwich shop is empty, and Cameo is working behind the counter, already busy making a sandwich. And so Jordan, as kids are curious right, now how many parents do we have? Maybe teachers, counselors, coaches. You know when like your kid goes to say something, and you're like, please let it be appropriate, right? So Jordan goes to ask this question, but he actually just asks, who are you making the sandwich for? Cameo answers honestly that it's for her 15-year-old son, David. And so she continues to make the sandwich.
And I think most people at that point probably would've just moved on, right? Figured out what they wanna order, order, pay, and head out. But Jordan decides that he's going to ask a second question, and little does he know, his mom know, and Cameo know that this is gonna be the question that changes the trajectory of Cameo and David's future. And he simply asked, are you gonna bring the sandwich home to him? Unfortunately, Cameo shares that they're in a season of being abandoned, and so they're right now living in her car. And so unfortunately, no, she won't be able to bring it home. And Julie, a single mom, mom to mom, takes everything out of her wallet, and hands the cash that she has on hand to Cameo, and says that she will save her a seat at church. When Cameo and David go to church, research shows that anybody who has been abandoned has a lot of things that they're feeling, and struggling through, like insecurity. Of course feeling unworthy and unloved, as they're walking up to the doors of the church.
David unfortunately has an anxiety attack, and heads back to the car. Cameo though continues on, and she'll tell you that as she was walking through the doors of Life Church, Mansfield, she says it was like meeting her family for the first time. She goes through the auditorium door, she sits in the service, is listening to this message that Pastor Craig is preaching, and she is being reminded again and again that no matter what it is that her situation currently is, that there is a God who sees her, who cares for her, and it doesn't matter where she's staying, because he is with her and he'll never leave her. And so at the end of the service, when Pastor Craig invites people to raise their hand, and give their life to Jesus, that's exactly what she does. She raises her hand, gives her life to Jesus, and thanking God that there is a God who loves her deeply. What happens when that joy overflows, you tell somebody about it, right? And so it's exactly what she does. She goes to David and she winds up saying, you have to come to church with me next week. Come to church. Come to church.
So David goes to church, and this time courageously walks through the doors of the church. When he walks through the doors of the church, pastor Craig is preaching peace of mind. What's the message that he's preaching? About anxiety and depression, something that David is no stranger to. And for the first time he's sitting, listening to this message and feeling hope, and he feels seen. So at the end of the service, he raises his hand and gives his life to Jesus. You know, I actually called Cameo yesterday to thank her for the privilege of being able to share her story. And with tears in our eyes, she begins to share with me that even though there were so many nights where she questioned God, why her? Why is this her story? She, at the same time thanks him for the very breath that's in her lungs. That invite to church, that started something that changed the trajectory of two people for eternity. And so who is it in your path today, this week, this month, that you can be inviting to church and allowed the Holy Spirit to do what only he can, change lives.
Craig Groeschel: I love it. You have no idea how God might use one single invitation to change someone's life. And what I love about all of these stories is it doesn't just change one person's life, but that a dad becomes a different type of dad. A wife becomes a different type of wife, families are changed, and literally legacies can be changed forever. And so what I would encourage you to do is just, even just right now, just take a moment, and just close your eyes for just a moment. And just, if you just pray. Hey, just pray: "God, who would you like for me to invite? God, who would you like for me to reach out to"? And if God gives you a name, your assignment this week is to invite that person to church or be a light into their lives. Because what you do unto the least of these, you're doing unto Jesus.
Do you guys think you can handle another story? Yeah. Yes. I gotta warn you about this one. I saved him for last because of everybody I've interacted with, I don't know anybody more passionate than this guy. I gotta warn you, I'm telling you the truth. This next pastor has six kids, eight dogs, 21 chickens, one turkey, two pigs, and a partridge in a pear tree. This pastor actually came to faith in Christ at Live Church on April the 25th, 2004. And he is the first of several campus pastors that actually became a Christian here years ago. How cool is that? He's been a campus pastor of four Life Church locations, and he holds the record for pastoring the most Life Church locations as the campus pastor. He's been on staff for 16 years, and he is truly one of the most passionate Jesus followers I've known in my whole life. Would you please help me welcome pastor Trevor Williams.
Trevor Williams: This is the part where I cry for the next five minutes. So let's get it on. What do y'all say? I've got a story that I'm honored to get to share today. It's about a friend of mine, his name is Kevin. And Kevin's story, it doesn't start off easy, guys. It starts off really hard. Kevin grew up in a home where his mom had been abused to such an extent that it was crippling her life, and she was carrying the scars, and her brokenness forward into the lives of her kids. A home where there were lots of men in and out, and where there were brothers and sisters that came from different relationships. And Kevin ended up being the only child that actually stayed with his mom. And as his mom went through her life, there were times because of her addictions, that she would be gone for weeks at a time.
And I believe we have a picture of Kevin and his brother Gary. That's Kevin on the right. Kevin was nine-years-old, the way he tells me, is he had spent weeks by himself, his electricity wasn't working at his house, water wasn't working at his house. He would get up in the morning, and he would go to school so that he could be fed. And there was a lady who was a neighbor who occasionally would feed him who lived next door. And what he shared with me was a Christmas season, where he was praying and just hoping that his mom might come home. And as Kevin sat in the dark one night, as a nine-year-old boy, praying and asking a God that he really didn't know if his mom would come home. His mom actually came in and stumble down and fell. But Kevin tells me that's the first night that he felt the presence of God. God was with him in his struggle.
And you move forward into Kevin's story, and it doesn't get any better. The abuse went on, the alcoholism all around him, the drug addiction and things happened to him, physical and sexual abuse. And there was a night when he was 16-years-old, there was a man who was in the home who was abusing and beating his mother so badly that Kevin felt like he needed to fight the guy. And as he stepped in after it was over with, his mom made the decision that Kevin could no longer live with her. So at 16-years-old, about nine years of homelessness began for Kevin as he stepped out into the world all alone. And as he moved through this time, I wish the story got better, but it was hard. Kevin was alone. Kevin hurt. Kevin had all this brokenness inside of him. All these things had happened to him. And so he himself became addicted to multiple substances. He struggled through things, he was suicidal at different times. His life was so broken, so broken.
Then one day Kevin was at a store, picking up a few groceries for himself, and as he was getting ready to leave, his brother, Gary, who he hadn't seen in years actually, he saw Kevin and he asked Kevin that day, would you just, would you come home with me, and come and stay with me and my grandma? And this is where the story changes y'all. Y'all ready for a change in the story? Kevin, come on up here. You guys wanna meet Kevin today? Come on up Kevin. So Kevin walked through the doors of Life Church. He was met with smiles, he was met with things that he had never felt before. His brother said, hey, I got a church I want to take you to. And as he went up there, people started loving on him. And Kevin started hearing our messages, and he started thinking maybe this God that we're talking about could be for him. And after a couple weeks of hearing the messages, Kevin decided to raise his hand one day, and to receive Jesus Christ.
But that wasn't good enough. So Kevin kept raising his hand week after week after week just to make sure that it took. But we got, I think we got a picture of Kevin's baptism that we can show you guys who. We got a picture of Kevin's baptism. And Kevin started seeing incredible change in his life. Okay. Incredible change. He was serving at the church and he became one of our, one of our most trusted volunteers at the campus. And then one day he pulled me aside and he said, I got something terrible to tell you. And that is I got a D-U-I. And from that point forward, Kevin couldn't serve anymore at our church, not for a while. He needed to heal. He needed to find some things that would help him move forward. And he made a decision even to tell the students that he served with that this is what had happened to him in his life.
Well, how many of you know that we serve a God of second chances and third chances? Now I said, how many of you know that we serve a God of second chances? So we gave Kevin an opportunity to serve in our Switch ministry with one student, a special needs student who was, he was scared to come to Switch, he was scared, but he needed a buddy. And Kevin became his buddy. I know the story really well, because that young man is my son. His name is Blake. And what we got to watch over the next few years is both Kevin and Blake's lives change. Watch 'em change. Change so much that now Kevin sits up here with us. Where's it at there? Kevin's on staff at Life Church now. He's on staff at Life Church now. And even better than that, Kevin found his wife too, Craig, at Life Church. You're blessed, Kevin. Would you like to say thank you to the church?
Kevin: Yes. Life Church, thank you. Thank you for being a church that loves unconditionally and believes in people, even when they don't love and believe in themselves. And if there's anyone here today, and you feel hopeless, you feel like giving up, don't. Know that your past does not define you. God defines you and there is a hope. And His name is in Jesus. God is not done with you yet. God's not done.
Trevor Williams: That's right. Pastor Craig, if you could come up, we wanna say thank you to everyone, because let me tell you something, the Shawnee campus where this happened at, it would not exist without the giving, the faithful giving of so many people. We couldn't have done it ourselves. Literally, Kevin's story wouldn't have happened without that. And so today, on behalf of so many people, it's because of you. Thank you, thank you.
Craig Groeschel: Oh, how good is God? Come on. How good is God? How good is God? So if you want momentary happiness, serve yourself. If you want lasting fulfillment that glorifies God, serve others. Because what you do unto the least of these, you're actually doing unto Jesus. No matter how dark it feels, there is light and there is hope. And no matter where you've been, there's redemption, there's forgiveness, there's grace, there's second chances. And not only can God forgive you, not only can he heal you, but God can use you to make a difference in the lives of others, and that's just how good Jesus is.
So Father, today we thank you for all the lives changed by the grace of your Son, Jesus. And God, I pray that you would inspire us as your church to be the church, to shine your light in a very dark world. Holy Spirit, work in us.
Wherever you're watching from today, you may be watching online, you're watching at a Life Church location, and you say, "I know there's more in me, there's more in me. There's more in me. I want to be wholly broken, and I want to be fully surrendered. Have your way, use me. Use me, God, to do even more. Use me, God, to do even more". If you prayed that today, would you just lift up your hands? You can type it online, use me, God, to do even more.
Father, thank you that you're working, and you're speaking in us. God, show us someone that we can invite, when you show us God, we'll be faithful. God, use us to maybe ask the second question. God, use us to smile at somebody walking in church and to make them feel welcome. God, interrupt us anytime, anytime we're available to be used by you and to make a difference in this world. God, use us to make even a bigger difference.
As you keep praying today, there are some of you that you may feel like Brandon did, or you may feel hopeless, you may feel stuck. You may not know where you stand with God. And the good news is, I hope you'll hear this, that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You can come to Jesus as you are. Scripture even says that Jesus knocks on the door, and if anyone hears his voice and opens, that he'll come in. That you don't have to clean your life up first. You don't have to be perfect first. In fact, you'll never be perfect on your own. You may feel ashamed of what you've done, or where you've been. And Jesus just says, come. Who is Jesus? He is the perfect Son of God. The one who is without sin, who died on a cross and rose again, so that we could be forgiven. There's grace. There's grace. He'll forgive you and he'll make you brand new.
Wherever you're watching from today, those who say, I need that grace, I need that forgiveness, today I wanna surrender to him. We come to him as we are, but we do not leave as we are. Today by faith you give your life to Jesus. He forgives all of your sins and he makes you brand new. The old is gone and the new comes. Wherever you're watching from today, those who say, I need that today, I step away from my sin and I surrender to Jesus. Jesus, by faith I give you my whole life. If that's your prayer, I surrender my life to Jesus, lift your hands now all over the place and say, yes, Jesus, I surrender to you. As we have people today, all of our churches surrendering, online, just type in the chat, I am surrendering my life to Jesus. Type that in the chat. And wherever you're watching from, would you pray aloud. Pray:
Heavenly Father. I surrender. I give my life to you. Jesus, save me, forgive my sins. Forgive my sins, fill me with your Holy Spirit, so I could know you and so I could serve others. Lead me to serve. Empower me to love. Use me to make a difference as you've changed me. My life is not my own. I surrender to you. In Jesus name I pray.