Craig Groeschel - 3 Promises for 2021
It was 25 years ago this weekend, in the middle of a snow storm that we gathered with 40 or so very passionate people. And we started in a little two-car garage. It was the roughest and ugliest to circumstances. We didn't have anything that you would think that you would need to make for a great church, except we did have the living Word of God. We had the power of the Holy Spirit and we had some faith-filled, big thinking, bet-the-farm risk-takers who believed that God had called us to start a different type of church. Of those people, there are many that are still with us and I've got a group of them. I'd love for you to make some noise. Those of you in this section who are with us this is your cue to make some noise, and I honor and welcome you all.
It was on that weekend that we gathered with a mission. If you know the mission, you can say it aloud. This has been our mission for 25 years, it will be our mission forever and ever. We are called by God to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ. At 36 locations today and around the world you can type it in the chat. I'd love for you to say it aloud. Who are we? What are we call to do? We are called by God, equipped by God, empowered by God, say it with me, to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ. That's who we are. To give you just a little bit of history, I did the math, I've preached now over 1,000 weekend messages. That's why I'm so tired. Over 1,000 weekend messages.
And 25 years ago, I was 28 years of age, Amy was 25 years of age, and we only had two children, who happen to be in the service now. Katie is here and Mandy is here. Thank you, Mandy, for not having your baby during the service. If you could hold off for a few minutes, that would be amazing. We only had two kids. That was back in the days when we could not afford cable TV. There was no such thing as Netflix. So we just had four more kids, 'cause there wasn't much to do back in the day.
One of the most common questions that people asked me back then was, why another church? When there are so many churches, and especially where I live, why in the world would you start another church? And I wanna try to explain, because it's really important to me. I grew up as a kid that went to church, but even though I went to church, I was not a Christian, which may sound weird to some people. I was a churchgoer, but I never clearly understood the gospel. And it wasn't until I went into college and fell into all sorts of horrible sin that a gentleman one day, after I walked out of a business class, offered me a free green New Testament Bible. And I started reading this. I don't know if you know this, but this book is alive. Come on. The Word is living, it's active, it's powerful, it's sharp.
And as I started to read, something started to happen in the inside. I read all the way to Ephesians 2, and I read that you could be saved, not by your works, because I always felt ashamed of all my sinfulness. I tried so hard to be good enough, and I was never good enough. Then I recognized that God loved me anyway, and that he would forgive me, and I could be made right with him, not by my own good works, but because of grace through faith. So without even knowing how, all by myself in a little softball field, I prayed a prayer. And when I knelt down, I was one person. And when I stood up, I was different. I was new. The old guy was completely gone. I'd been transformed by the grace of Jesus.
I kept reading this thing and reading this thing and reading this thing, and I was so confused, because what I saw in Scripture and the gospels was so much different than what I saw in the little church that I grew up in. Jesus cared about the broken, and it seemed in the church that I was in, we avoided them. Jesus loved the sinners, and we seemed to gossip about them. What I read about in Scripture, I saw grace and love and mercy and power. And what I saw in the church, honestly, was judgment and hatred and hypocrisy and apathy. Something didn't seem right. I recognized who Jesus came for. He didn't come for just, like, religious people. He didn't come for the healthy. He came for the sick. Jesus came for the broken. He didn't come for the righteous, he came for the sinners. He didn't come to condemn the world, but to save the world. Satan wanted to destroy it, but Jesus came to bring life and life more abundantly.
So 25 years ago, 40 or so of us started a church called Life.Church, because whoever finds God-Finds life. Finds life. If you wouldn't mind today at all 36 locations, and heck, if you're watching at home and you wanna stand with us, I'd love for you to stand in your living room or your bedroom. But if you would just stand to your feet for a moment for the reading of God's Word. And what I'm going to do today is I'm going to read the same text I read on this weekend 25 years ago. And I'm going to preach to you the very same outline, because hey, after 1,000 messages, I might as well do one over again. And I wanna give you the context of this text, and then I'm gonna give you the title and we're gonna pray. But this is after Jesus had fulfilled his assignment from the Father.
God loved the world so much that he didn't shout his love from heaven, but he showed his love on earth. God became one of us in the person of Jesus, born of a virgin, who never sinned, and reached out to the most hurting and broken people, the people that religion rejected. Jesus loved them. And he never sinned. And he went to the cross to die in our place, stripped naked, beaten, publicly shamed, and abused. He looked up to heaven and he said, "It's finished. I did what you sent me to do. Into your hands I commit my Spirit," he gave his life. And the world went dark and the earth shook. They buried Jesus in a tomb. And three days later that stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. He was not there. The Son of God, my Savior, Jesus the Lord, he was risen from the dead.
And in his grace, what I love is he went back to the one who had denied him, Peter, and he said, "I forgive you. Do you love me? Go and feed my sheep". And he commissioned the disciples, just like he commissions you, us, to go into all the world and preach the gospel. And that's what Peter did. Peter preached a powerful message of repentance, turn from your sins, and 3,000 people were saved on that day. And this early group of radical believers, much like the ones that we started with 25 years ago, had this unbelievable commitment to the gospel in the midst of tremendous persecution. And they met in homes and they gave all they had.
And we're here today because of the power of the Holy Spirit working through that first century church. And the texts that I read 25 years ago is the same text that I'm gonna read today from Acts 2:42-47, when the word of God says this about that first century church, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer". Sounds a lot like our LifeGroups. We're devoted to one another. Life is way better together.
"Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and signs were performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and they had everything in common. They sold property and possessions and gave to anyone who had need. And every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and they ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved". The title for this message is "3 Promises 2021". And I'd ask that you pray with me.
Father, may the truth and the power of the early church fill this body, that everyone would be in awe, and many signs and wonders would be done. And that you would be glorified on earth as you are in heaven. And God, would you add daily to your church family those who are being saved. May every need be met by your church. And God, may we be known by the radical love we show as you've shown your radical love to us. We pray this in Jesus' name, and everybody said. Amen. Amen.
If you wanna air high five somebody next to you, just look at them, look them in the eyes, tell him we're just getting started. Say it like you mean it. We're just getting started. We're just getting started. Three promises for this year and for every year to come, and these promises are very close to the promises that I declared to our little faithful group 25 years ago. One of the promises that I would make to you, taken from this text? The first promise that I made 25 years ago, and holds true today, is this, number one, we will be an intensely devoted church. You need to know that, we're not playing games. This isn't a little playground. This is a battleground, that we'll be intensely devoted to the call of God.
And this is what Scripture said in verse 42, if we look at it again, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and to prayer, and everyone was filled with awe," phobos, just like, wow, "at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles". I love the word, devoted, in the Greek word, which will appear below me. And I will not try to say it because it's a difficult one. I can't even fake it on some Greek words. But this word means devoted. It's translated from the Greek word. It means to be persistently obstinate. I like that, persistently obstinate.
Some of you say somebody say, I'm married to that kind of devoted person, right? It means to firmly adhere with single-minded devotion. I love this. It wasn't a casual or comfortable or cultural Christianity. This was full on, all in, sold out, fully devoted followers of Christ. And that's what we saw a few years ago. And that's what I believe we're going to see. Except for today, the core group is much stronger and bigger than it was years ago. Fully devoted followers of Christ. People sometimes ask, why did the church grow? How did you reach so many people? It's because the core was so devoted. I think of Jerome and Shanna that are here today. I love you guys so much.
When I go back years ago, it's the most powerful story to know that Jerome was a drug dealer, and Shanna, with permission, she was an exotic dancer, and you would never believe that if you know her now. Jerome, he got a finger shot off in a drug deal that went bad, so he only has nine fingers. What makes it really funny is that Jerome was our overhead transparency flipper, which was really, really funny. If you don't know what an overhead projector is, you can Google it or ask your grandma, but that's all we had back in 1996. And Jerome would be flipping the transparencies and the image would be transported up onto the garage wall, and people would just sit there and try to count his fingers in the middle of worship, it was funny. But they were so transformed by Jesus, and Jerome wanted to get a real job, like a legal job.
And so I remember we sat down to build your resume and we had to get creative, 'Cause Jerome had never done anything legal. And so we didn't lie at all. We just told the truth. We said, Jerome is good with people. He's got great sales skills. He's good at negotiations. He's willing to work weekends and late night hours. You know, we built the very first resume years ago for Jerome. And what's so amazing is, number one, the fact that you married your bride is one of the great miracles that rivals the resurrection. Shanna, you're amazing. And now Jerome is an incredibly successful computer programmer and they have six, seven, eight, nine, 10 kids. We never can quite keep count, because they're always adding people to the family.
Jerome, you wanna talk about intensely devoted, has memorized, get this, ready for this? 53 chapters of the Bible. 53 chapters. Not verses, chapters of the Bible. You sit there and give that little golf clap all you want and try to act polite. That's intensely devoted. And because of their passion and because of their transformation, we estimate, very conservatively, that over the past 25 years, not corporately, like I would do in an environment like this, but one-on-one with people they work with, one-on-one with people at the gym, one-on-one with people on the soccer field, one-on-one with people that they meet in a grocery store, they've led well over 500 people into the family of God and brought well over 1,000 people to listen to church.
Listen to me, church isn't a hobby. This isn't something that we do. This is who we are. We don't go to church. Listen, we are the church. Sometimes people will say stupid, stupid stuff about the church. They'll say things like, I can't find a church that meets my needs. I'm looking for a church that meets my needs. That is spiritual consumerism. That is the opposite of what Jesus has called us to be. We've said it for years, and it's always true, what are we? We are spiritual contributors, we are not spiritual consumers. The church does not exist for us, but we are the church and we exist for the world. We will be an intensely devoted church. And Jerome and Shanna, you are the perfect example that Jesus doesn't just make us better, he makes us new, new in Christ.
Number one, we'll be an intensely devoted church. Number two, we'll be an irrationally generous church. Irrationally generous. And if I can just say humbly from day number one that was the cry of our hearts. Amy and I, I don't know if I've ever shared publicly, and probably don't even need to, but when we started the church, we went all in. And by all that, I mean every single dollar that wasn't tied into our home, we put into the church. Every single dollar. It was not ours, it belonged to God. And then when we couldn't make payroll a few months in we did take out a home equity loan to make payroll, which I do not recommend that you do. But it was this sense that whatever belongs to us belongs to God.
And throughout, God has built a spirit of radical generosity in our church. Born out of Acts 2:44-45, it says, "All of the believers," imagine, they "were together and they had everything in common. And they sold their property and possessions to give to anyone that had need". I preached that text, and then I preached two chapters over, the result of that text, in verse 33 and 34, that "God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them". And when I was preaching that 25 years ago, I was overcome with emotion, and just asked the question, what if we could be a church like that? What if we would just take whatever we have and make it available for God to use? And what if there were no needy persons among us?
Well, part of the problem was we were just starting out. And you saw the video, we had nothing. The chairs in there, they were borrowed from a Sunday school class from another church. The speaker, it was borrowed from a guy named Joe. Thank you, Joe. We had no office. We had no office phone number. The office phone number was... That was my home phone number. And my sincere apologies to whoever has that number now. It just came out, so my bad, you know, whatever. But we had nothing at all.
And we were receiving our first offering and I looked out a couple of rows back and there was this guy. I don't know how he got there, 'cause I guarantee you he didn't have a car. And he looked... Unquestionably he had to be homeless. And I just preached that text. If there were any needy persons there, they would just do whatever it took to meet the needs. And I felt moved by the Holy Spirit in that moment to say something that I hadn't planned. And I just said, when we had nothing, as the offering goes by, and I was thinking of him, obviously, "if there's any person who has any kind of need, you need food, you need clothing, you need a place to stay, you can take back out, because whatever is there is God's, and I believe that's what Jesus would have us to do".
And I cried all the way through it, because I was so afraid. And sure enough, I sat over to the side and I watched and he did what I believe God would have had him do. He took out, and I believe he probably ate that day or had a place to stay that day, because somebody put in so he could take out. And God just put it on my heart back when we had nothing that that would be a part of who we would be. And so for 25 years, when we passed the offering bucket, up until COVID and we stopped passing the offering bucket, we've said, "if anyone has need, you can take back out, because that's what we believe Jesus would have us do". We're incredibly blessed today, it's no secret. But we wanted to be generous far before we were blessed.
It was 2006, at the peak of our debt, and when I said we had debt, we had a lot of debt that kept me awake at night. And churches started wanting to purchase our sermons, videos, all the stuff that we were producing, because they weren't able to do that. Every church, up to that point, had righteously and rightly sold product to help other churches, that's just the way it was. And suddenly we felt prompted by God to do something that had never been done before, and that was to give it all away. Everything that we possibly could.
And I remember feeling called by God to do it, and just hoping, begging, praying that we could afford to do it, because we were so strapped. And who would have ever thought that there would be 880,000 pastors in churches around the world downloading free resources by the tens of millions throughout the years. You can clap for that if you want to. And as we gave, when we didn't have much to give, it seemed like God would give back.
Then we stumbled upon an idea when Apple came out with apps to turn a website that we had into the YouVersion Bible app and see what happens. We had no idea that on the first weekend, 81,000 people would download the YouVersion Bible app, created by this church. And I wanna just take a moment and humbly give God all the glory that this little portion of the body of Christ has been able to create the greatest tool of distribution for the Word of God in the history of the world on almost one half of a billion devices for free from the body of Christ, from the local church. Almost a half a billion devices.
And if you'll look up here right now at this moment here's a live glimpse of people. Every single blip-blip is a person opening the YouVersion Bible app around the world. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The living Word of God going out, the Word of God that never returns void out of the body of Christ. And people have said, "Hey, why don't you sell it? Why do you give it away? Why don't you sell it for 99 cents"? Because years ago I got a free Bible, and I want you to know, our Bible will never ever be for sale. We will lead the way, we've said it forever, we'll lead the way with irrational generosity, because we truly believe it's more blessed to give than to receive.
And here we are, years later, completely debt-free, able to be a blessing, putting tens of millions of dollars outside of the church into the world every single year. You cannot out-give God, you cannot out-give God, you cannot out give God. And the promises remain, number one, we'll be an intensely devoted church, we'll be an irrationally generous church, and number three, I said at 25 years ago and I declare it again, we will always, always, always boldly share the love of Jesus. We'll always share the love of Jesus. We'll explain the gospel, because the gospel transforms lives.
This little group of first century Christians, they got together, they broke bread, they ate together, they enjoyed the favor of all the people. And verse 47 says, "And the Lord Jesus added to their number daily those who were being saved". Daily. Daily. So on the first weekend, I read that, and I broke down and I said, "Could you imagine if one day we were a church that saw someone come to Christ every single day? Imagine if seven people a week got saved and transformed by Jesus".
And then I ask a really dumb question. I said, "I wonder, like, how many people would that be a year"? Because I was thinking of seven a week times 52. And so I just said, I said, "How many would that be a year, 7 times 52? How many people would that be"? And someone said, "Uh, that would be 365". And I felt so stupid. I was like, "Exactly, 365". True story, so embarrassing. I prepare my messages much more thoroughly than I did 25 years ago. And I said, "Could you imagine if we were part of a church that saw at least one person on average every single day come to faith in Christ"?
And we came to the end of our little service and I thought, oh, most of these people, they have to be Christians. If I invite people to follow Christ this could be really embarrassing when nobody does on the first day. And then I felt that same prompting of the Holy Spirit, no, declare the gospel, declare the gospel, declare the gospel. Invite people to come. And guess how many people on that first day gave their lives to Christ? Seven people on the very first day. One for every single day of that week. And if you can get your mind around this, there's not a week that goes by now that we don't see over 700 week over week over week over month over month over year over year.
Come on, somebody, don't sit back there and be all polite and act like you're a dead church. We're talking about thousands upon thousands a year are born into the family of God. We've said it, we've said it, we'll do anything short of sin to reach people who don't know Christ, and to reach people no one's reaching, we'll do things no one's doing. And we have been honored to be called and chosen by God to help redesign, this little church, redesign how the gospel could be spread. The first church in the history of the world, perhaps, to do video teaching. That hadn't been done before. And we were able to innovate and do something new.
Multi-site, we were on the very front end of creating a new way to spread the message. When you look at it just in a glimpse over a period of 25 years, here's a glimpse of what God has done. Every single dot represents a church. Every single church represents people saved. Oklahoma City, South Oklahoma City. I'm losing track. I already lost track. Everyone at campus. I hope somebody cheers soon, 'cause there's Tulsa who just came online, but it wasn't just Oklahoma, but Texas, and oh my gosh, Tennessee and Florida and New York and Kansas and New Mexico and Arkansas and Nebraska. 11 different states, 36 locations, with more to come. With more to come, with more to come, with more to come this year.
This year, there's a good chance we could start four more. Do you wanna know where? Yeah! I can't tell you or I'd have to kill you. But there's a good chance we could start more. And some of you say, well, why would we start a church in the middle of a pandemic? I don't know if you've looked around, but right now I see a lot of darkness and I see a lot of division. And I know that a divided world needs a united church. And whenever the world grows darker, listen, the light of Jesus, it just shine brighter and brighter and brighter and brighter.
And I have never seen a day in my adult lifetime where more people need Jesus. The gospel changes lives, and we're coming with Jesus. We're coming to a city near you. We're bringing the gospel with some really devoted people, with some crazy generous people, who believe that what they have actually belongs to God. Their gifts their time, their talent. And we will preach the gospel, preach the gospel. Remain standing. If you're not standing where you are, just stand up. Don't sit down, stand up for the gospel. Just stand up for the gospel. Listen to me, what are we? We are faith-filled, big-thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers, and we will never insult God with small thinking or safe living.
So what now, 25 years in? Well, Pastor, aren't you big enough? Haven't you reached enough people? You're a megachurch now. Listen to me, that's the stupidest thing, we reject that. We're not a megachurch. That's stupid. Do not let someone else put a label on what God is doing. We wholeheartedly reject the label, megachurch. Let me tell you what we are. We're a micro church with a mega vision. We're just getting started. When you look out and when you see the number of people that need grace, need hope, need a healing, need forgiveness, need community, need love, need acceptance, need salvation, when you see that many people, you can't just sit by and say we're big enough.
As long as there's one. As long as there's one. As long as there's one. Because years ago, I was that one. I was so full of shame, so full of brokenness, and so full of pain, and someone gave me this, the Word of God. And now we get to give it out by the hundreds of millions. And let me tell you how I came to Jesus. I came to him with addictions, I came to him with insecurities, with fear, with brokenness, with shame. "Would you mind joining me up here"? I came to him in bondage of things I couldn't overcome. I came to him as I was. Come on, come on.
Our team wrote a song, and it really captures the heart of the gospel. It was 26 years ago when Amy and I heard Crystal Lewis sing a song, an older version of "Come Just as You Are," And we cried all the way through it. And we said, if only we can start a church like that, that people, no matter what their skin color, no matter what their background, no matter how dark their life is, no matter how dirty they've been, no matter how afraid they are, no matter what questions they have, what doubts they have, no matter how deeply they've been hurt and how skeptical they are, they could just come, come to Jesus. So our team wrote a song that captures the heartbeat of who we were and who we'll always be. Because Jesus is the one who says, "Come".
Come on. Come on. If you will remain standing at your location, if you'll remain standing for a moment, I'd like to invite Amy, my bride. Would you mind joining me up here? Got a little something for you. For you. Thank you. That is 25 roses. That's 13 more than you've ever gotten from me before. And each one represents a year, not that you've stood by me, but that you stood with me. And so this is gonna be the hardest part. I just love you. Thank you. I love you. So what I wanna do is ask you to stand with me during the part that honors God the most, where I share the gospel that changes our lives. And so if you can just kind of stand with me, we're gonna see Jesus do what he does.
Someone asked, it was so sweet, someone said, "Hey, can we do anything for you and Amy to bless you"? And I said, "No, no, this isn't about us". Then I thought, "Yeah, I actually could". It would mean the world to us if you would just, in whatever way God calls you, just join us and just go all in. Just go all in. Right where you are. We don't go to church. We are the church. We are the church. You are the body of Christ, you're ambassadors. So, if you would do that, that would mean a lot to me, and it mean be even more to God. Did you wanna say something before we pray? It's up to you. You don't have to.
There's a lot. I love you all. I give glory to God. I love the local church. Is it on? I think so. It's stunning. It's been all of us saying yes and joining the body of Christ, and God does what only he can do when we abide in him. So we're all miracles of Jesus and we're celebrating this together.
Thank you. So let's do this. Yeah, you can clap. At all 36 locations, or if you're watching online, we're gonna do what Jesus said. He said, "Watch and pray". So we're gonna keep our eyes open and we're gonna pray right now. And we're gonna pray, God, thank you for your goodness and your grace and your power to transform lives by the resurrected Christ. I'm gonna ask you, with eyes open, how many of you would say, I wanna be all in? I'm a part of the body of Christ. Would you lift up your hands right now? And now I'm gonna pray for you as your hands are lifted up.
God, would you stir up the gifts within these believers to be the body of Christ, to represent the love of Jesus everywhere they go. God, may we be a church not known for what we're against but known for what we're for. May we be united around the love of Jesus. In a very divided world, God, may we be a united church. Make us one around the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus. God, may we be known for our love when we walk into the room, your love walks in the room. Empower these people as your church to be the church. And when the world grows darker, let this light, the light of the world, this light, your church, shine brighter. We pray in Jesus' name.
As we keep praying today, watching and praying with heads up and eyes open, there's some of you who walked in and you're hurting, ut what I want you to know is you're not here by accident. You're here because God loves you. He loves you exactly as you are. His grace is so good, and he's inviting you to come, to come today. And let me tell you what you're coming to. You're not coming to a church, you're not joining a religion. You're coming into a relationship with a God who is a relational God, who cared so much about you that he became one of you, God in the flesh, Jesus, born of a virgin who didn't inherit the sin nature from an earthly father but a heavenly nature from a heavenly Father. Therefore he could be the lamb of God, the innocent one, the perfect sacrifice, who shed his blood so your sins could be forgiven. And he gave his life on a cross. And three days later, our God raised him from the dead.
Why? So that anyone, listen to me, anyone, and this includes you, anyone who calls on his name, your sins would be forgiven, the things you're afraid someone would find out, the darkest part of your life, they would be forgiven. You would be new. The old is completely gone. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead would dwell inside of you, and you become a new creation because of the grace of Jesus. Wherever you're watching online, those of you who'd say, I need his grace, I need his forgiveness, today I step away from my old life. My prayer is that you would come. Don't ask questions, don't be afraid, don't try to figure it all out, just come, Say: Jesus, I walk away from my sin, I give you my life. Come as you are, you will not leave as you are, because his love, his grace will change you.
All of our churches, those who say, yes, I need his grace, today I surrender my life to him, that's your prayer, lift your hands now all over the room, right here, saying, yes, and right here, yes. And others of you saying, yes, right back here. And here saying, yes, Jesus, I give you my life. Lift them up. Come on, church. Somebody give God some praise. Somebody give God some praise today. Jesus, I give you my life. I give you my life. Would you pray aloud with those around you? Just pray aloud, pray aloud. Nobody plays alone. Pray:
Heavenly Father. Forgive my sins. Jesus save me. Make me new. Fill me with your Spirit. So I can live for you. My life is not my own. I give it all to you. Thank you for new life. Now you have mine. In Jesus' name I pray.
Could somebody shout, could somebody cheer? Who are we? We're the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ. Jesus came to give us life, and life more abundantly. We're here to declare life. Jesus came to give life. We say it all the time, hey, we're just getting started. Come on, somebody. We're just getting started. We're just getting started. Say it like you mean it. Are you ready? Whoever finds God, finds life.