Craig Groeschel - You Can Make a Difference
I wanna take a moment and just sincerely say thank you, like from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for being here today. You made it. And your presence, it really, really matters. Like in all the busyness of your life, you chose to gather together with God's people to hear God's Word and to serve God's people and to praise God's name. And I just wanna say sincerely thank you. And what I wanna do is I wanna show you a portion of scripture that reminds me of how I feel about you. Paul said to the Thessalonians this and God's Word, he said, "So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and sufferings, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you're standing firm in the Lord".
Now watch this. He said, "how we thank God for you." and you're gonna hear me say it again and again and again. Thank you. I thank God for every single one of you. How we thank God for you. Now, let's say these next three words aloud together. Everybody say it with me, because of you. One more time. Let's say it loud, because of you, we have great joy as we enter God's presence. How I thank God for every single one of you. And because of you, we have great joy as we enter into God's presence. What I wanna do is I wanna tell you that because of you, God is changing lives. And honestly this is ridiculously emotional for me because it was 28 years ago this very week that we met for the very first time with 40 people in a two car garage. We just saw the overhead projector there and there's mirrors that made it look like there's 80, but there's really only 40.
And we gathered together for the first time, Paco, you and Jennifer were there. Jerome and Shanna, of course, if you've been a part of our church for any amount of time, you've heard me brag on Jerome and Shanna, you represent what our church is about. And just this month they had 85 people in their life group, 85 people, twice the size of our church in the beginning in their life group. And it is the most diverse group that you have ever seen in your life. And you have to understand Jerome and Shannon to understand their life group. Jerome was a drug dealer who got saved. Now he's a very successful computer programmer, but he was a drug dealer. And before, you know, he had a legal job. We tried to build him a resume and all we could come up with was he was good at sales, good at marketing. That's all we could do. Now Jerome has memorized 58 chapters of the Bible.
Come on somebody that's ridiculous. 58 chapters of the Bible. And Shannon is the strength. She is a powerhouse, she is a mentor, she is a missionary, she's a homeschool mom. She is someone that we all look up to. And even with their mission work, it's no wonder that they have people from seven different countries in their life group. Let me tell you about their group. Drum texted me and he said they had three YouVersion engineers, one architect, one veterinarian, one lawyer, two accountants, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, I made up the last part, but that sounds about right. Attorneys and YouVersion to in, you know, veterinarians and stuff. They also have two prostitutes. One who's been saved and baptized and outta the industry. The other with the support of the group is making positive steps in her life even now. They also have two ex gang members, four ex strippers, two guys just out of prison. Three people who were homeless, now they're employed and thriving.
So what I want you to see is in this life group, you can get free from an addiction, you can escape an abusive situation, you can get your pet spade, you can get good legal advice, you can get your house designed, you can get your teeth cleaned, and you can get your taxes done at this life group. And I wanna say to you, Jerome, and to all of you, thank you for being a church that loves those that other people reject. Because of you, we're a church where everyone is welcome, everyone is needed, and everyone can be changed.
And so today I would invite a few other people to help me say thank you to you, to show you what God is doing through our church because of you. First, I wanna invite Pastor Brian Franco to come up who's been married for 14 years to Sarah. Pastor Brian is the campus pastor at Life.Church in Springfield, Missouri. The reason I show you this building is because this building used to be a concert hall and Brian had his very first date with his wife at a concert. None other than Shane and Shane concert in that very building. And only God knew that years later that would be a Life.Church and he would be the campus pastor. Would you please help me welcome Pastor Brian Franco.
Brian Franco: Thank you Pastor Craig for the opportunity to share what's happening in Springfield. I want to introduce you all to my very good friend Steve right here. This was us having some fun last summer. The little thing we call at the movies and we were having a good time. But here recently, Steve turned 62 years old, or 62 years young as he likes to say it. And on his birthday, I asked him the birthday question. I said, Steve, what lesson has it taken you 62 years to learn? And he immediately replied, "Brian, I don't know, I can't remember. I'm too old". And then he came back the next day, but this time is a little different because this time he said, "I've got got your answer". And with tears in his eyes and his voice starting to quiver, he said, "Brian, I've learned that God is enough".
Now the reason why that's an amazing answer because there is no way he could say that unless it was a miracle of God at work in his life. See, I met Steve in 2018, about six months before the Life.Church Springfield campus opened the doors and he said, I cannot wait to be a part of what God's gonna do in the church. I'm so excited for how it's gonna change our community. "But I want you to know you're never gonna see me, Brian". I was like, what do you mean? He's like, "I'm not gonna attend in person". Because Steve was actually the primary caregiver for his wife Kristen, who had been battling muscular dystrophy for her entire life. Now, when we went through the lockdown in 2020 through Covid and we started to feel the challenges of pain and isolation in our life, that very thing you felt, I want you to recognize, they'd already been feeling it for years. They'd been isolated, they were alone.
And it was my privilege at that moment of their life to enter as their new pastor. And honestly, what was gonna be the closing journey of Kristen's life? 'Cause it was in 2021 that I got the news from a neighbor that said, "Brian, you need to get over there fast. It doesn't look like she's gonna ma last much longer". So I rush over. I get into the house, I find the room where they're at. I grab Steve's hand, I put my hand on her shoulder, we begin to pray. Gotta give her hope, give her hope, give her peace. Lord, let the light of Jesus rise up in her and lead her home. We said, amen, and moments later she passed. She entered into the presence of her savior. And Steve was devastated. He was lost. He didn't know where to turn. He didn't know how to put his life back together. That's all he had known for so long. He probably felt like many of you have felt before or maybe even many of you feel right now.
So lemme tell you what Steve did. Steve went to church. He said, you know what, as much as I'm hurting, I'm gonna take advantage of my opportunity to be involved, to get engaged. So he started attending regularly, then he went to an event where he got to know other people. He started serving on the host team, developing friendships outside of his home for the first time in years. He found himself in his way to a life group where he was surrounded by other Christ-centered people, strengthening him. And he said, it was in those contexts that I began to discover the truth about who I was, my identity that I had forgotten a long time ago, that I'm not Steve the widower, I'm not Steve the caretaker. He said, "No, I am Steven, a follower of Jesus, a man of God centered in Christ. I am called. I have a purpose and I can make a difference". He's like, "I got a second lease on life. Let's do this".
And then 361 days after his li his wife passed, he got that phone call, that phone call that you don't ever want to get. His doctor said, "Steve, it's cancer, it's melanoma, it's stage four, it's metastasized". And so for the last 18 years of his life, Steve has been fighting for his life. But the difference, the difference is this time he's not doing it alone because he has the support of the love of God through the local church, which we have not forgotten is still the hope of the world. Because Steve found hope in the local church. It was his friends from the host team taking him to the hospital. It was his life group that was the life support to him, the strength to him. And yes, he is in the fight of his life, but he is not fighting alone.
So when Steve stands up on his 62nd birthday and he said: Brian, I have learned that God is enough, he's saying that as a man who lost his wife, who lost his health, but he has found that he has the only thing he's ever needed in life. And it is because of you. When you give, when you serve, when you invite, when you do those things, you step out by faith, God uses you to create space for people like Steve to discover that God is enough. So thank you for letting me share this story with you all today.
Craig Groeschel: And the good news is that through the church, many of you will discover that when God is all you have, God is actually enough. And Steve, right now, we pray for you in the name of Jesus, that the power of God would touch your body, that you would continue to be strengthened, healed, that God would extend your days to be a blessing in the church as the church to people all over the world. We pray this in Jesus' name and the church of God said, amen and amen. Next, I wanna introduce a very good friend of mine. This is one of the coolest guys and one of the toughest guys at all of Life.Church. It's Pastor Zane, who's been married for 23 years to Stacey and he actually launched Life.Church in Mustang, Oklahoma. The biggest Life.Church launched with almost 4,000 people on the very first weekend, their switched ministry. This is ministry to teenagers. It is so big that they don't fit on one night. They have to meet on two different nights because they're impacting so many young adults. And I'm thankful for every single one of them. Would you please help me welcome Pastor Zane Rowland.
Zane Rowland: I'm so thankful to Pastor Craig to have this opportunity. I want to first introduce you to my family. This is my wife Stacey, and our five kids ranging from 21 down to 10 years old. And yes, the little one with blonde hair and blue eyes is our daughter. But we thought when we start spitting out blonde hair, blue-eyed kids, we have gotta stop because we have broken something. So we stopped at five. Man, you know what? I love the way that God interacts with humanity. Now here's what I mean by that. When we choose to serve, when we choose to serve him, what he does is he uses simple, ordinary actions to create extraordinary spiritual impact. Simple ordinary actions that we have. And he uses those who create and extraordinary spiritual impact.
That's exactly what he did in the life of Alex. Alex and her husband Derek attend the Life.Church campus in Mustang. And they've been there since 2016. But Alex's story began about a decade before when she was a senior in high school. You see, when she was a senior, she was so excited to get her life started. She was ready to roll and all the possibilities that life had to offer. And so she moved out and was excited to get it. Everything started. And about six months into that, she found herself surrounded by the wrong people, doing the wrong things and eventually had to come to her mom and dad and confess that she was pregnant. Now, for her, it was like the end of the world. She was scared, she was embarrassed, she was full of guilt and shame. So much so that she couldn't even go back to the church that she'd been attending her entire life.
So for the first time, she was looking for a new church and they found the South Tulsa campus. And when they walked in, the very first time she met Pastor Tommy. And as she was walking in, pastor Tommy looked her right in the eye and he said, I'm so glad you're here. Simple, ordinary actions. Because when Pastor Tommy said that, which by the way, he says to everyone, what she heard God say was that, I see you, I love you and my grace is sufficient for you. She said she felt a wave of peace come over her, that silence every one of her fears. Simple, ordinary action that produces extraordinary spiritual impact. She continued to walk into worship. And as she sat down and got ready for worship, the very first song they sang had the lyrics, your love never fails. It never gives up, it never runs out on me. And Alex in that moment just broke, because no more was she scared and embarrassed and full of guilt and shame, now, after God washing over her, she felt safe, she felt forgiven, she felt welcomed, and she felt wanted by a God and people who never give up.
In 2020, she and Derek were baptized at the Mustang campus and that's a picture of them going public with their faith. And man, since that time, they are so consistent and they go to Life.Church every single weekend. And Alex gets to take her daughter Abby and their little brothers, and she gets to take 'em into a life kid's classroom where there's somebody there that knows her name, that looks at 'em and says, I'm glad you're here. So here's what I want you to know. I wanna say thank you to those of you who serve in Host Team, in Life Kids, in Switch, on ops, in worship, or you lead a life group at your house or whatever you do. However you choose to love God by loving people, I wanna say thank you because even though you may never see the impact that you're serving makes, you gotta know because of you, families are forever different. God uses your simple, ordinary actions to make extraordinary, eternal spiritual impacts. Thanks so much for letting me share this story.
Craig Groeschel: I love that. And I wanna just say to you that you are so welcome here. It doesn't matter what you're going through, what you're in the middle of, you are welcome here. You are loved and God's grace is sufficient. God is changing individuals, he is changing families, he's changing legacies. And as your pastor because of you, God is doing something special all over the world through the YouVersion Bible app. It's probably the most humbling thing to me to know that our church stewards what many people are calling the greatest Bible engagement tool in the history of the world. And we give this away for free because of you. And when it comes to the Bible, our vision is big. Just so you'll know, we plan to get God's Word to everyone everywhere, every day. And we will not stop until we see God's Word in everyone's hands, everywhere and every day. And because of you and with our partners around the world, we are making progress. I wanna introduce you to Mastone, who is a church planter in Zambia. And I wanna show you how people are being transformed by God's Word because of you.
Matt Mackie: For a community that is really remote, it gives a community of people so much dignity when they hear the word in their language. As a ministry, we've been developing leaders, local missionaries like Mastone.
Mastone Ngoma: It's important for me to take the gospel into these remote areas. People have no access to the Word of God. These places I go preach the gospel to, they are very remote. The journey to get people to have access to the Bible, you know, it's something hard. It's like passing through the fire. You know, smoke gets into your eyes at times. You get to cry. You want to give up, say "I can't do this". A have to walk for days. My bag full of books, you know? I get into the boat and begin to cross. You see the crocs, you see the hippos. The snakes. It's kinda scary.There are times the books get to be soaked in water.
Matt Mackie: People are so open to the gospel and it hurts because communities who need the word the most in many situations can't afford to buy a printed Bible.
Mastone Ngoma: I found YouVersion, one of our church leaders introduced it to me. The Bible app changed my life, it has changed my ministry a lot. Having it on my phone makes things easy. I don't have to carry all the books. I put them on the site and say I have YouVersion. It has got everything. We get the Bluetooth speaker, we connect it to the phone where everyone is able to hear in their mother tongue. We get to learn the word of God. We get to sing songs. We get to dance together. It's awesome. Yeah.
Matt Mackie: People don't have to die without hearing the gospel. We have the means. We have technology. We have YouVersion.
Mastone Ngoma: With YouVersion in my life, God has made me for this moment so that it can reach out those in remote areas and preach the gospel to them.
Craig Groeschel: Let's go ahead and tell God thank you for that, huh? Because of you, because of your generosity, the YouVersion Bible app is on over 700 million devices around the world, on its way to a billion. And we're not gonna stop. And it's always interesting to me, people often say like, you guys give that away for free. Like why don't you sell ads? Or why don't you just sell it for like a dollar each? And if you've never heard the story, I actually came to Faith in Christ by someone who gave me a free Gideon's Bible and that's how my life was changed. And so just for the record, our Bible is not for sale. It will never be for sale. We will always lead the way with irrational generosity because we truly believe it's more blessed to give than it is to receive.
And not only are you impacting people all over the world with the word of God, but you're empowering churches around the world as well. And to show you what God is doing in churches because of you, it's my honor to introduce Danny to you who was originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. And three years ago she relocated to Oklahoma where I live to intern with Life.Church Online. The good news is she never left. She actually joined the YouVersion team as a YouVersion Global expansion coordinator, which means she works with partners all over the world to expand the content library of the YouVersion Bible app. I'm gonna tell you right now, get ready, 'cause this gal is one of the most passionate Jesus followers you will ever meet. Would you please help me welcome Dani Newkirk. Let's go Denny, come on.
Dani Newkirk: Thank you Pastor Craig. And okay, have you ever wondered if what you do matters or if what you give matters? Let me tell you the story of the church I grew up in back in Mexico. In 2017, my family and I were living in a city called Puebla when an 8.2 earthquake struck the city next to us, which is Oaxaca, where my mom's family's from. After the earthquake struck, my dad and my family quickly began to mobilize resources to bring relief to the people in these communities in Oaxaca who had lost everything. After just a few weeks of doing this work, my dad started feeling called by God to not just meet people's physical needs, but to prioritize meeting their spiritual needs by planting a church in the city.
So you could imagine the weight that my dad was feeling, the weight of seeing people all around us hurting and in desperate need. And now on top of that, the the added layer of now having to plant a church. And my dad knew that he couldn't do this alone, so he started searching for support and came across Life.Church's free resources. We launched the church. And believe me when I say we used everything that this church had to offer every single week since day one. My dad translating Pastor Craig's sermon notes into Spanish every week and preaching off of those to the team and I translating and rerecording the kids' curriculums available on Open Network to using YouVersion Bible plans as our small group's curriculum. We used everything that Life.Church had to offer every single week.
Now around that same time, I started asking myself, how can I better equip myself to serve the church? And after seeing everything that Life.Church was doing, I decided to apply for an internship here. Fast forward a few months later, I got the internship and my dad came to drop me off in Oklahoma. And when he was here, he got the chance to meet the Open Network team. And I will never forget how as soon as he stepped into that Open Network office, tears started filling his eyes and he looked at the team and said, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be in ministry anymore. Or in other words, because of you, I'm still in ministry today.
See, I had never seen my dad so vulnerable. And I also hadn't fully comprehended all that Life.Church had done for us until that moment. At that moment, I realized a huge weight that had been lifted off of my dad's shoulders because of you. And I realized that as my family and I were trying to do everything we could to bring relief to meet people's physical and spiritual needs, at that same time, God was actually bringing relief to us through you. God brought relief, God brought encouragement, God brought people closer to him, and God did more than anything we could have asked for or imagined in it's by his power working in you. So if you are here today, and if you're wondering if what you do matters or if what you give matters, let me remind you that this story is one of thousands of stories.
There's hundreds of thousands of pastors all across the world who today get to do their ministry that they're called for because of you. And because of that, there's millions of people all across the world who today get to attend a church where they feel seen, known, loved, and cared for. Because of you they're able to find relief through a local church. So on behalf of my family and on behalf of the church in Mexico, thank you for not just preaching about irrational generosity, but for actually living it out. The thing I realized today is that as we were doing everything we could to bring relief to the people in Oaxaca, you were actually standing right beside us, bringing relief to us, and therefore bringing relief to the community. So thank you for being irrationally generous.
Craig Groeschel: And thank you. Thank you for being you, love you so much. So I pray that you can see it and that you can feel it, that what you do really matters. And when it sinks in, it's very humbling and sobering to recognize as a church of 44 different locations and globally touching every country in the world through church online and spreading the word to the YouVersion Bible app and resourcing churches all over the world, that we are big enough to impact the world. And we are small enough to care for the one. Alex, you are absolutely welcome and you are loved. And the good news is we're just getting started. Like it's a new year with new chances, new people to love, new people to come to faith, new resources to give, new churches to bless, new languages, to translate God's Word into. And every now and then some people say, isn't the church getting too big? Like no, never. Never.
As long as there's one person without Christ, as long as there's one person in need, as long as there's one church that we can serve, as long as there's one language that doesn't yet have the word of God in, we will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever stop lifting up the name that is above every name. His name is Jesus. And that is why we're here. We'll never stop. We wholeheartedly reject the label Mega Church. We're just a micro church, a little startup organization with a big world that needs the good news of Jesus who loves them. No one could say thank you better than one 14-year-old girl I wanna tell you about. I'm gonna call her Ava, it's not her real name, but I wanna respect her situation because her parents do not support her newfound faith. They agreed to drop her off, but wouldn't go in the weekend that she decided to get baptized.
And so 14 years old, she sat alone in a room full of adults who were being baptized in the pre baptism meeting and a husband and a wife stood up and told their story and they were crying and said, we feel so bad. We raised our children. It was during the Parenting on Purpose series, we raised our children, but we were not a Christ-centered family. And we feel so inadequate. And now we want to be a Christ-centered family to our grandchildren. And we're so sorry that we failed. And little Ava stood up in front of a room full of adults and said, no, no, no, no, no. She started crying. She said, you need to hear this. She said, you are my family and you are my spiritual support. You're my example. She said, "I don't have anybody at home. I don't know anybody around that loves Jesus, but you are my spiritual family". And everyone in that room cried because they realized that who they are, what they do, matters. And then she went on a rant. She said, thank you for serving in Life Kids and thank you for serving in Switch and thank you for serving on the host team.
And I want to say that to you because of what you do, because you serve and because you pray and because you give and because you invite people who would never feel welcome at most churches, our God is changing lives. And I'm gonna say this, not in a way for you to clap, I'm just gonna say it and let it sink in that because of you this year, and I want just to sink in because of you this year, there are over 43,000 people who have said no to their sins and said yes to becoming followers of Jesus. And I want that just to sink in without you clapping. 43,000 people like Ava. And we get to be a part of that. And how did that happen? Because of God's work through you. 43,000. That's twice the size of my town I grew up in. And every one of those has a name. And every name has a story. And every story matters to God. And so I wanna give God the glory and the honor and the praise because he is worthy. And I want you to feel the gratitude. Because of you, God is changing lives all over the world.
So Father, thank you that we get to do our small part and together it adds up to one significant ministry. I pray, God, that your church, your people, these people, they would feel blessed today that they're making a difference.
As you're praying without looking around, I would just ask as we move into a new year, I wonder how many of you think that there's even more in you. There's more ways you can give. There's more people you can serve. There's more prayers you can pray. There's more people you can invite. With nobody looking around today. I wonder how many of you say you know there's more in you. Would you lift up your hands right now? Lift 'em up high, lift 'em up high. Lift 'em up high. Online you can type, there's more in me.
God, I pray that the power of your Holy Spirit would stir up within your church God. That as we launch into a new year, that we would lift the name of Jesus higher, that we would give you praise and all that we do. God, that you would push back all the forces of darkness and that you would draw people to know your son Jesus. God, we pray for miracles. We pray for healings. We pray for provision. We pray for restoration. We pray for salvation. We pray for more of your spirit. God, we pray for more of who you are and what you can do. God prompt us. God, if it's to serve, show us where to serve. If it's to give, God, may this be our most generous year ever. If it's prayers to pray or worship to give, God, let us give freely to you. And God, if it's someone who doesn't know the grace of your Son, Jesus, prompt us, God. Give us the words to say, the heart to care, to invite them to know you. Invite them to church. Invite them to experience the grace of Jesus. God, do more exceedingly and abundantly, more God than all we can ask, think or imagine. According to your power, God, that has worked within your people, that you would be glorified in your church.
As you keep praying today, guess what? There's more of you that are about to have your life changed. In fact, wherever you're watching from today, some of you right now, as you move into a new year, you recognize there needs to be something different in your life. And guess what? It's time for a lion in the sand. As we move into a new year, what better time to move into a new relationship to say, I'm no longer gonna live for the things of this world. I'm not gonna live for myself. I'm not gonna be caught in the old trappings of sin. But today, by faith, I give my life to Jesus.
What does this mean? Who is Jesus? Well, he is the Son of God. And God loves you so much that he became one of you in the person of his son. Jesus who was without sin, died on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. But he didn't stay dead. God raised him from the dead so that anyone, and this includes you, it doesn't matter what you've done, it doesn't matter where you've been. It doesn't matter how dark your life is. Anyone who calls on the name of Jesus, God, here's your prayers and forgives all of your sins. It makes you brand new today as you launch into a new year. It's time for a new faith and a new beginning. The old is gone and the new is coming.
If you need his grace, if you need his forgiveness, if you're stepping away from your sin and stepping toward Jesus today, "I need Jesus. I give my life to him". That's your prayer. Lift your hands high right now all over the church. Lift them up and say, yes, we praise God for you. Hands going up all over. Thank God for every single one of you, say yes to Jesus online. Type it in the comments section. I am surrendering my life to Jesus. Just type that I'm surrendering my life to Jesus. And today, step into new life and prayer. Let's all pray together:
Heavenly Father, forgive me for all of my sins. I step into your grace, your love, your forgiveness through Jesus. Jesus saved me. Change me. Fill me with your spirit so I could know you. My life is no longer my own. I give it all to you, my past, my present, and my future. I give it to you. Thank you for new life. You have all of mine, in Jesus' name I pray.