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James Merritt - You Talking About Me

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    James Merritt - You Talking About Me
TOPICS: Ephessians Bible Study

I wanna say good morning to those who are watching online, those who are watching by TV, those who are watching on our Mill Creek campus, and of course to those of you here at our Sugarloaf campus, we're glad that you're here. And I have to tell you, I tell young pastors this all the time, you will never be more excited about my message than I am. And I'll tell ya, I'm really pumped about the message today and I hope you'll see why. If I ask everyone in this room to name the most brilliant scientist they could think of, most of you would say Albert Einstein. We even have jokes that go, "I'm no Albert Einstein". And he was brilliant. And Dr. Einstein had a deep appreciation for the magnificence of the universe in which he lived and he believed in a pantheistic God, not a personal God, but a pantheistic God.

You say, "What do you mean by that"? Well, he didn't believe in a personal being like you and I believe in, he believed that God was in everything and everything was God. He believed there was a supreme power greater than the universe itself and yet he had no interest in church or organized religion at all. And one of his students, Charles Misner, gave a very interesting explanation as to why he didn't have any use for church. This is what he said. He said, "The design of the universe is very magnificent. In fact, I believe that's why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he struck me as basically a very religious man. Einstein must've looked at what preachers said about God and felt they were blaspheming. He had seen more majesty than even imagined in the creation of the universe, and he felt the God they were talking about couldn't have been the real thing.

My guess is that he simply felt that the churches he had run across did not have proper respect for the author of the universe". Here was his point. When Einstein looked at the God that people say the believe in, he was so reduced in His greatness and His power and His majesty that for Einstein, he just said, "You know, that's just not much of a God to be worshiped". And I wanna be very honest. I just wonder how much the world looks at the church, and they kinda see people that kinda live the way they live, and talk the way they talk, and act the way they act, and do the way they do, and they think to themselves, "Okay, if that's all the change that God makes in your life, I'm not sure I need to give much time to that God".

And if you would like to know what the real God looks like, I'm talking about the God who is great and glorious, the God who is magnificent and majestic, the God that is supreme and sovereign, not the man upstairs, you don't need to look any further than a letter that a man named Paul wrote 2,000 years ago to a people in a place called Ephesus. Paul wrote this letter to a place, I've been there many times, in fact it may be my favorite place in the world to go to, even more than Israel, even more than the Holy Land. If you ever get a chance to go to Ephesus, you really ought to go there. And when you read who he says this God is, and what this God has done, and what this God is doing, and what this God wants to do, the only word I can come up with is the word unbelievable.

That's what we're gonna call this series that we're doing on the Book of Ephesians because it may sound contradictory, but I believe in a God that's unbelievable. I believe in a God that can do unbelievable things. And Paul tells us in this magnificent book what God has done for us is unbelievable and what God wants to do through us is unbelievable, because when you read the Book of Ephesians, as hard as it is to believe, you find a God who has taken the lowest of the low and raised them to the highest of the heights. Just as in the beginning God created something out of nothing, God in His magnificent grace reclaimed what was lost, raised what was dead, redeemed what was enslaved, restored what was broken, reconciled what was separated.

So let me tell you right up front what I'm hoping to accomplish in this. I wanna accomplish two things. If you are a follower of Jesus, I want you today to understand and realize how unbelievably blessed you already are. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I want you to be so jealous and so envious of what we have in Jesus that you too will want to become a follower of Jesus so you can be unbelievably blessed. Because as you jump into Ephesians and you realize what God has done for you and what God wants to do for you, it really is unbelievable. Now, if you struggle with self-esteem, and the truth is most of either do or we have at one time or another, then you really, really are not gonna believe what you're about to hear.

When I was on vacation, I came across an article and it was entitled, "Why Highly Successful People Seek Therapy". Well, first of all I thought, well, why would highly successful people seek therapy? Why would rich and famous people go to therapy and go to counseling and go to get psychological help? And this really blew me away. They said of the five common reasons why these highly successful people go to counseling, need psychological help, they said the number one reason is what they called impostor syndrome. I'd never heard of that. Let me tell you what impostor syndrome is. Number one reason why millionaires and billionaires and Hollywood stars and Wall Street financiers and all these people go to all these counselors is because they had this persistent feeling they're just not good enough. They had this feeling that they're inadequate, that they just don't measure up. In other words, they struggle with self-esteem. And I was really kind of encouraged to realize even the richest, and the most famous, and the most brilliant, and the most successful struggle with self-esteem.

You see it in social media, with the explosion of social media, because all social media's about, it's about self and self-image. They did a recent survey of millennials, and by an overwhelming margin millennials said Instagram, if you're on Instagram, is the most narcicisstic social platform ever invented. A person can take a photograph and with a clever caption and some saturation, they can make themselves look like they're really important, and they can kinda send a signal to you that says you oughta notice me, you oughta realize who I am, you oughta just take a look at me, and that's so important because we know that our culture today says image is everything. And millennials will tell you across the board one of their greatest goals in life is to have a good image.

And it's one of the reasons why we constantly compare ourselves with other people. And it's why we get frustrated and depressed when we don't feel like we measure up. And it happens to all of us. My wife Teresa, we're in love, deeply in love, been married so many years, but I have to be honest with you. My wife was madly in love with Patrick Swayze, if you know who Patrick Swayze was. She was just madly in love with... I mean she just thought he was a hunk-a hunk-a burning love. And so I remember years ago I was walking into our keeping room, and she was just staring at the TV. I didn't know what was on. She was staring at the TV, I didn't think that much about it 'til I realized her eyes were bulging out and drool was coming down her mouth and she had that teenybopper look on her face, and I look up and it's Patrick Swayze.

And I walked over and got right in front of the TV and she looked at me like, "What are you doing?" and I said, "I wanna ask you a question. If you took away his money and his face and that muscular body, what would you have"? She said, "I'd have you". So, you don't measure up, you feel inadequate. What I wanna tell you today is you're going to see this morning as a child of God how unbelievably blessed you are, how unbelievably valuable you are, how unbelievably loved you are. It's just a matter of believing what is going to sound like it is unbelievable. So there are three things I want you to never forget about you as a child of God, and you might just wanna write these three things down. It will help you.

Number one, I am who God says I am. I am who God says I am. Now we're in the Book of Ephesians chapter one, I hope you brought your little notebook with you today, but normally when you read the letters that's written in the New Testament, we all have the tendency to kinda skip over the greeting and kinda get to the good stuff. Well, you can't do that in Ephesians 'cause you do that with Ephesians, you're gonna miss one of the most important things that's written in the entire Bible about those of us who are followers of Jesus. Listen to what Paul begins by saying, listen to this. "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, to the," everybody say that word with me, just say it real loud, saints, all right? "To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus".

Paul's talking to a church just like you. He's talking to people just like you. And he says to all these people in that church, "You are saints". You are saints. Now you may get the idea. You may say, "Well yeah, sure, they were saints". I mean, that was the early church, they were kinda rock stars, some of them had seen Jesus, it wasn't too far along after the resurrection, and they were kind of a cut above us. That's just not true. They had the same kind of people in the church that we have in our church. They struggled with jealousy, lust, envy, gossip, bitterness, and greed just like we do, and yet Paul called them saints. So I want you to understand he's talking to ordinary, run of the mill, dime a dozen believers just like you and just like me. And this is the point. There is no special class of Christians who are saints.

As a matter of fact, I'll put it this way. Every believer's a saint and every saint is a believer. I was talking to a guy this morning, I was doing kind of my own little test. I'll just call him Bob, I don't want you to know who it was. He goes to our church, he's here every week. I said, "Bob," he didn't know what I was preaching on, I said, "Bob, I wanna ask you a question". I said, "Do you think of yourself as a saint"? And he immediately said, "Oh, no, I'm not a saint". I said, "Well, then you're not saved". He said, "Oh, I'm saved". I said, "Then you're a saint". He said, "No, I'm not a saint". And I said, "You're not saved". If you're a saint, you're saved. If you're saved, you're a saint. If you're not a saint, you're not saved. If you're not saved, you're not a saint. It's just that simple. And it's really that confusing.

Listen, there's a teaching out there, and this is where we get confused, there's a teaching out there, I won't call the name of the church, I don't have to, there's a teaching out there by a certain church that only very special Christians can ever become saints. Matter of fact, a little interesting fact. Go back to the year 1243. More than 4,000 people had been made saints by this church. Now they've got a rule where only the head of the church has the power and the authority to determine who can be identified as a saint. Well, it's a very complicated process, it's not really easy to become a saint. As a matter of fact, the fastest anybody's ever become a saint in that church is 17 years, and if you go through all 10 steps they say you have to go through to become a saint, which by the way one of those is die, but if you go through all those steps to become a saint, it can easily cost over $1,000,000.

Now there's only one problem with that scenario. Jesus has already beaten the church and the head of the church to it. Jesus says, "Once you believe in me, you are a saint". And Paul says, "It only takes one step to become a saint," that is to believe in Jesus, and the cost is zero. So if you are a follower of Jesus today, or you claim to be a follower of Jesus today, here's my simple question to you. Do you really know who you are? I mean really, do you really know who you are? There's a true story, I love this story, there's a true story. There was a United Airlines gate agent in Denver, Colorado and she was confronted with a passenger who was very rude and very demanding.

What had happened was there was a huge flight full of people, it had been canceled at the last minute, and so there's this long line of people lined up at this gate. They're angry, they're upset, they're frustrated, she's by herself, and she's gotta rebook all these travelers, and I mean they are hot under the collar. Well, there was one guy really angry, he was at the back of the line, he wasn't having it anymore. He pushed his way to the front of the line, he got up to the desk, he got right in her face, he put his ticket down on the desk, and he said to her, "I've gotta be on the next flight and it better be first class". Well, she said, "Sir, I'm sorry for the inconvenience you're going through, I really am, and I'm doing all I can to help, and I'll be happy to help you, but I'm just gonna be honest. Sir, you need to go get back in line and wait your turn, and when you get up to me, I promise you I'll do everything I can to work out your problem".

Well, that just made him more angry. He just really got ticked off. So in a voice loud enough for all the people around to hear him, he looked at her and said, "Look at me. Do you know who I am"? She smiled without any hesitation. She grabbed the public address microphone that could be heard throughout the entire airport. She said, "May I have your attention? We have a passenger here at Gate 42 who does not know who he is. If anyone can find his identity, would you please come to the gate". Now, my question to you is, my question to you is, do you know as a follower of Jesus who you are? You are a saint.

You say, "Well, I'm saved but I'm no saint". No, that's a contradiction. As a matter of fact, if you were saved or you say you're saved, why aren't you a saint? Because there can only be two reasons why you're not. Either you don't wanna be a saint, which is impossible, or you don't believe that God can make you into a saint because the word saint simply means somebody that's holy, somebody that is separated, somebody that is righteous. And see, this is what I want you to understand. We're not saints because of our performance, we're saints because of our position. And here's the secret, you ready for this? We're not saints because of what we have done for Jesus, but because of what Jesus has done for us. I am who God says I am. Say that with me right now. I am who God says that I am. And with all of our faults, and we've got them, and all of our faults, and we've got them, and with all of our failures, we've got them, if you are a believer, you are a saint. So here's the good news, number one. I am who God says that I am. Gets better.

Number two, I have what God says that I have. I am who God says that I am and I have what God says that I have. Now, you know this, we've talked about it. We live in a world where we just measure ourselves by what other people have, right? So we compare what we drive to what somebody else drives. We compare what we wear to what somebody else wears. We compare the house they live in to the house that we live in. We compare the jewelry we've got to the jewelry they have. And so many times we don't measure up and that's why we get jealous and we get envious and we wonder why we don't have more than the next person does. Well, I want you to wait until you hear what Jesus says, what God says every follower of Jesus has. Listen to this statement. Paul said, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has," remember that word, "has blessed us in the heavenly realms with," remember this word, "every spiritual blessing in Christ".

Now I want you to put a circle around those two words, has and every. We're not told, "Oh yeah, one day God's gonna give me all these spiritual blessings". That's not what Paul said. He didn't even say, "You know, right now God has given you some spiritual blessings". Paul makes it plain, doesn't hesitate, doesn't equivocate. He said right now, sitting where you're sitting at this moment, God has already blessed you with every spiritual blessing there is to have. In other words, hard as it is to believe, we already have all that we need to be and all that God wants us to be, and we already have, God's already given us all that we need to do what God wants us to do. Now, what you may do is you may say, "Yeah, but look at that little qualification. He said we have all these spiritual blessings".

Well, let me let you in on a secret. Contrary to what Madison Avenue will tell you and what the advertisers will tell you and what the marketing firms will tell you and what Hollywood will tell you and what Wall Street will tell you, the greatest blessings and the best blessings in life are not material, because one day you're either going to lose them or you're going to leave them. The greatest blessings in life are spiritual because you can never lose them. And if what Paul said is true, then you don't need what you already have, and in Jesus you already have all that you need. There's a story about a lady that walked into a bank and said, "I'd like to see the president of the bank". He said sure, and so she looked like a pretty well-to-do lady, so she walked right into the president's office, she sat down, he said, "Ma'am, how can I help you"? She said, "I would like to open a joint bank account". He said, "Oh that's great, we'd be happy to help you. Who would you like to open that account with"? She said, "A millionaire".

Now, the moment you give your life to Christ, the moment you give your life to Jesus, you're in Christ, Christ is in you. Let me tell you what that means. That means everything you will ever need to be all that God wants you to be, you already have. You say, "But how do I know that"? Very simple. When you have Jesus, you have all that Jesus has. That make sense? When you have Jesus, you have all that Jesus has. Okay, ready? So what does Jesus have? That's not a hard question. He has everything. So if you have Jesus, and you've already got all that Jesus has, and if Jesus has everything, then you have everything. Here's what that means. His position's now your position. His privileges are now your privileges. His possessions are now your possessions. God's greatest blessings, contrary to what you hear some preachers say, God's greatest blessings are not health, they're not wealth, they're not success.

Now those are all blessings from God. But the greatest blessings of God are not the things you can get in this world. The greatest blessings of God are those blessings that the world can't give you. Listen, this world can give you prosperity that you could lose. Jesus gives you peace you can never lose. The world gives you happiness that you can lose. Jesus gives you a holiness you can never lose. This world will give you fame that you can lose. Jesus will give you fulfillment that you can't lose. See, our problem is too often we ask for something that we already have and we don't need as much as we think we need because Paul said whatever you really need, you already have. And once you realize that what you have in Jesus is all these spiritual blessings, we'll quit doing what I do too much in asking for God's blessings when what we ought to be doing is accepting the blessings we have and applying those for your life.

See, we do this all the time. I guarantee you, there's a prayer most of us pray almost every day more than one time a day. Lord, would you bless me? And you know what God says when you say that? "Already have". Lord, would you bless my family? God says, "If they know me, I already have". Would you bless my grandchildren? "Well, if they know me, I already have". God's already blessed us. You say, "How's this so great"? Listen to this, here's how great these blessings are. For our grief, we have His comfort. For our problems, we have His wisdom. For our weakness, we have His strength. For our needs, we have His provision. For our sins, we have His forgiveness. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Now, I'm gonna say something and I'm gonna be very honest. Some of you when I say this you'll probably say, "Okay, I think I need to find another church," and you probably do, if I'm being honest. No, I'm just being honest. You will never hear me say, "When you come to Jesus, you'll have everything you want". You'll never hear me say that, 'cause in fact I'm gonna tell you something. When you come to Jesus, you not only won't get everything you want, you're gonna get some things you didn't want. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Let me tell you why. How many lives have been messed up because people got what they wanted, didn't even want what they got? You ever heard of the word divorce? Yeah, you got what you wanted, then you didn't want what you got. You ever heard of bankruptcy? Yeah, you got what you wanted but you didn't want what you got. A matter of fact, the biggest trouble sometimes we get in is when we get what we want because we realize, man, I shouldn't have wanted it to begin with.

So here's what I will promise you. I will never say to you, "Man, you come to Jesus you'll get everything you want". I'll tell you what I will tell you. You come to Jesus, you'll get everything you need. Every single thing you need. The Bible says, as you know in Philippians, "My God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus". Let met tell yous something. You'll find this one day if you get to be where I am in my life and you grow older, I'm gonna tell you something. You know one thing I thank God for almost every day are the things He didn't give me and the things He didn't do. So, you'll have what you need why? Because if you're a follower of Jesus, you have what He says you have. Oh, but He's not done, one last thing.

When you become a follower of Jesus, you can say, "I belong where God says I belong". I belong where God says I belong. I'll show you. Ready? In Jesus, you are who He says you are and He says you are what? Saint. You're a saint. In Jesus, you have what He says you have. You got every spiritual blessing God could give. All right, drum roll. In Jesus, you belong where God says you belong. And you say, "Where is that"? You ready? As a perfect child in a perfect family. As a perfect child in a perfect family. Now, it's not just how this happened, but it's when this happened that's just unbelievable. Now listen to this, watch this. "For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and His will. To the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given us in the one He loves. In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God's grace".

Now let me just stop. I know your head's spinning, you're going, "Good grief, what? How do you unpack all of that"? And I know it's deep stuff, so I wanna kinda just kinda just simplify it, okay? Let me get as simple as I can. Here's what Paul's saying, and you get this, you'll understand what he's saying. God has accepted those of us who have accepted Him, and He accepts us before we even accepted Him. God accepted us, those of us who have accepted Him, and He accepted us before we even accepted Him. 'Cause let's face it, we were all born with this desire to be accepted, right? I mean, every kid wants to be in the in group, and there's one thing that ever kid fears when he goes to school, every kid does, I did it. We fear rejection. We fear not being in the in crowd, all right? And I want you to listen very, very carefully. Because of Jesus, God has accepted us. Because of Jesus, God has accepted us.

Now let me tell you what that means. This is gonna free somebody here today. That means you can't do anything so bad that God will love you less than He loves you right now, and you can't do anything so good that God will love you more than He loves you right now. Because of Jesus, God has accepted me before I even accepted Him. And listen, it's even better. God accepts you just the way you are, but He loves you so much He won't let you stay that way. He'll change you into what He wants you to be. So I'm gonna do something that's very difficult for me. In fact, we were taught in seminary not to do this and it was bad piece of advice. In seminary we were taught now don't get ever get transparent with your people, don't be too open with your people. You kinda gotta be on the platform, kinda stay above the people. And I realized that's just terrible advice because I'm just like you. I mean I am, I shop at Walmart, I go to Kroger and Teresa uses coupons, and you know, we're just like you folks.

So I just wanna be transparent and open and it's hard for me to even tell you this to be honest. But it just is what it is. But some of you will relate to this, maybe this will help some of you out there 'cause I feel for you. I've struggled with self-esteem most of my life. I learned early on how to put on a good front, how to put on a show. And for me, it began in elementary school and I didn't realize this until Teresa and I years ago went to Colorado and we went to counseling, and this kinda came out in counseling. By the way, we weren't having trouble, we were just going just to... We'd never been to been to counseling before, thought it'd be a good idea, and it really helped strengthen a great marriage. But when you go out to this professional where we went, this guy was great.

I thought he was gonna talk about marriage, he talked about me, and he just drew things out I hadn't thought about before. Well, when I started to school, some of you can relate to this, my birthday is in December. As a matter of fact, if you love me and wanna buy me a present, it's the 22nd, you might wanna write that down. Just a joke, just a joke, okay? I wear large. All right, listen. Back in the day, if you turned six by December the 31st, you started to school. It's a different rule, which I think's good today.

So I started to school when I was five years old. And what I didn't realize for a long time was that I was always a year behind my friend. I was a year behind physically, I was a year behind emotionally, and here's how I made it up 'cause I wanted to be accepted, so you know what I did? I was a straight A student. I wasn't a straight A student to please my mom, to please my dad, I wasn't even a straight A student to please God. I was a straight A student 'cause I thought this is one area where maybe I can excel, this is one area where maybe I can be accepted. I struggle with self-esteem. I had very little self-confidence. I'll give you an example, a great example. I've told you this story before. When I met Teresa, the first time I met her, she's sitting in a chair, she turns around, first time I laid eyes on Teresa two things hit my mind, same time hit my mind.

Number one, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on. First thing I said. Second thing I thought was, and you wouldn't give me the time of day if you were a Rolex watch. That's the second thing I thought. I thought man, I have no chance at her whatsoever, and so I just prayed God, blind her. But then I, look... And God did it. But look, finally, finally, I don't even know where it was, but one day the light came on for me, and I finally realized, and if you don't hear anything else, this is gonna help somebody in this room today, I finally realized it doesn't matter what other people think about me. The only thing that matters is what does God think about me? It doesn't matter what other people see in me. What matters is what God sees in me. It doesn't matter what other people say about me. What matters is what God says about me. It's not who I am in me that's a big deal, it's who I am in Jesus that really matters. God has accepted us.

Oh, but it gets better. God has selected us. Listen to this again. He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In other words, God chose us first. I know what it's like 'cause I went through it for almost eight years in school. I know what it's like to be the last kid always chosen. I know what it's like. It's not any fun when the only reason you were chosen is there was nobody left. Then I read the creator of this universe chose me first. Charles Spurgeon the great preacher was right. I love the way he said it. "God certainly must have chosen me before I came into this world. He never would've chosen me afterwards". So true, God you've chosen me, you've selected me. God, you've accepted me.

Now some of you right there, I know what you're saying, you're going, "You talking to me? You talking to me? I've been divorced, I got a criminal record, I'm addicted to pornography, I struggle with my temper, I have problems with a mate, with a former mate. I don't even like my parents". Yeah, I'm talking to you. If you're a follower of Jesus, I'm talking to you. God accepted you, God selected you. Hey, it gets better than that. God adopted us, He adopted us, listen to this. In love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and His will. Think about that. God says, "You know what? I coulda just made you a slave. I coulda made you a servant. I could've hired you for minimum wage, but you know what? Better than that, you'll be my son, you'll be my daughter, I'll be your Dad".

God is a Father, and in Jesus, He's adopted us into His family. You know there are 39 books in the Old Testament? God is only referred to as Father 14 times and every time this is only on a personal basis, and most of the times it just refers to the nation of Israel, has no reference to individuals whatsoever, then Jesus comes along and everything changed. You talk about a jaw-dropping moment, the disciples had heard Jesus pray, they'd never heard anybody pray like Jesus prayed, and so they came to Jesus one day and they said, "Lord, would you teach us to pray"? He said, "I'd be glad to. Get ready, here's how you pray". And when He said the first three words, their jaw dropped.

Here's how you pray, boys: "Our heavenly Father". Excuse me? Yeah, our heavenly Father. But you're talking about Yahweh. You're talking about Jehovah-jireh. You're talking about Jehovah Shalom. You're talking about Jehovah Tsidkenu. You're talking about the God that created something out of nothing, you're talking about the God that parts the Red Seas, you're talking about the God that flung stars into space and planets into orbits, and Jesus said yeah, He's Dad, call Him your Father. That's who He is, that's who you are. He spoke of God as Father more than 60 times in the New Testament, and He said, "Pray to him as your heavenly Father".

So let me tell you what that means. You say you love Jesus, you say you know Jesus, you are a full-fledged card-carrying member of the family of God. Give the Lord a hand, I just... No, you may not be a Rockefeller, you may not be a Vanderbilt, you're better than that. You're a part of God's family, which leads me to say this just kind of an unpaid advertisement. You know what makes families really stick together is being together. That's why families ought to get together to eat, talk, share concerns, love on each other. You know what, we need to do that here. You know how we do that? Anybody tell me how we do that? Somebody tell me. Small groups. So I'm gonna get on my soapbox just for a minute, okay, so buckle up. Today as you go out into the lobby when you leave, you're going to find leaders in our groups ministry. They'll help you find a group that is a great fit for you.

Now let me just stop and say just a couple of things, okay? If this makes you mad, if this makes you mad, you come up and apologize, I'll forgive you. There's nobody here including this man right here that's too good, too great, and too godly you don't need to be in a group. Well, I'm busy. You can do what you wanna do, you can make time to do what you need to do, we will help you find a group that will fit your schedule.

Everybody needs to be in a group, number one. Number two, if Jesus Christ spent three years of His life in a small group, you're no better than Jesus. I've said this before. If I had my ministry to do over again, the one thing I would change from the very beginning when I started pastoring, I would form a group. I always used to say, well, we had Sunday school, I can't go to Sunday school, I'm preaching. If I had to do it over again, I'd say, "Hey, I need to meet with some people who are willing to meet with me and Theresa. I need to be in a group. I need to have a family reunion. I don't need to be out here by myself". So I am all but begging you and encouraging you and exhorting you today, give our... Listen, you say, "Well, what if I don't like a group"? Then we'll find you another group. "Well, what if I try the second group and I don't like it"? We'll find you a third group. "Well, what about the third group"?

After three groups, we'll put you in therapy. But I'm telling you, you need to be in a group, all right? Now, God has accepted us, God has selected us, God has adopted us, watch this, God has redeemed us. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God's grace. Let me tell you what that means. That means in Jesus we are free men and free women. Let me tell you what that means. Whatever's enslaving you right now, let's be honest, is it pornography? Is it lust? Is it alcohol? Is it money? Is it materialism? Is it sex? Is it gambling? Is it anger? Is it fear? I don't care what it is, Jesus has redeemed you, Jesus has bought you, Jesus has paid you, and I don't care what shackles you're in, He can break any shackle you are in.

See, all these blessings we have from Jesus because of Jesus and that's why in the first 14 verses of this book, Paul mentions Jesus 14 times. That's why the phrases "in Christ" or "in Him" appear 36 times throughout this book. They appear seven times in the first 14 verses. So when you're sitting there and you're going, "You're talking to me? You're talking about me?", if you've trusted Christ, I'm talking about you. With all your faults, and all your failures, and all your flaws, you are who God says you are. You have what God says you have. You belong where God says you belong.

So, I love history. Many of you have heard of John Marshall. If you haven't or you've forgotten or never studied him, John Marshall was a prospector in the California gold rush in 1849. He was panning for gold in Sutter's Creek and all of a sudden he looked down and there glistening in that sunlight was what every prospector wanted to see: rock solid gold and lots of it. Word spread like wildfire, "John Marshall has discovered gold," and the gold rush was on. It became so famous they called those people that went for that gold, remember what they called them, there's a football team named this: the 49ers. Everybody went west searching for gold and many, many, many people went from poverty to prosperity. They went from the outhouse to the penthouse. They became millionaires because they found their gold.

Great story, but what about John Marshall? What about the guy that discovered it all? What about the guy that got the whole thing started? Well, in 1880 they found his body in an abandoned mineshaft. He died in complete poverty. He died a derelict, he died broke. Literally didn't even have a penny in his pocket. You go, "Pastor, how could that happen? I mean, he discovered it all, he found it, he's the one that got the whole thing started. What happened"? He made one mistake. He didn't file his claim. Had the world at his fingertips, could've been one of the richest men who ever lived, he just didn't file his claim.

There's a treasure chest of the greatest riches in the universe, and they're waiting on you and you and you and you and you, they're waiting for everyone and everyone who's just willing to file their claim. I filed mine when I was a nine-year-old boy. I didn't realize then all that I have. I'm not even sure I realize now all that I have. But I will tell you this: there's nobody like Jesus, there's nothing like knowing Jesus, and you can have everything God ever intended you to have and so much more when you come to Jesus. It's just unbelievable.
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