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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Rick Warren » Rick Warren - A Faith That Passes the Tests of Life

Rick Warren - A Faith That Passes the Tests of Life

Rick Warren - A Faith That Passes the Tests of Life
TOPICS: A Faith That Works When Life Doesn’t, Tests, Faith

Hi everybody I'm Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Church. And have I told you lately that I love you? I want to just say to those of you who are members of Saddleback Church, I miss you guys so much. I'm in hug withdrawals right now. I'm a pretty big hugger and to not be able to hug you and see you and get close to you is just killing me. But I love you, I pray for you all the time and I'm thinking of you. Most people would be probably agree that our world right now is in chaos. These days are unlike any days we've ever had in our lifetime. In fact, in 2000 years with the church, churches have never been shut down for worship this long of a period, for any reason at all. We are being tested in many different ways and many different angles. And these tests that we're facing are not small ones. Governments are being tested, businesses are being tested, schools are being tested, churches are being tested, families are being tested and each of us individually are being tested during this season in 2020.

Now, today we're in part 23. If you can then believe that 23 of our series through the book of James, called the faith that works when life doesn't. And today I want us to look at a faith that passes the tests of life. A faith that passes the test of life. Many of you have written to me in the past few weeks expressing concerns and questions and even anxiety about the massive changes that appear to be taking place in our society during this very, very unusual year. So in the next few weeks, what I want to do during this series of James, I want to address those issues and answer your questions that you have raised. We're gonna do that in the next couple of weeks. Now, all of the answers are right here in God's word and James for one reason or another, is the book to look at during this pandemic.

Now to get that started looking at these tests of life, we need to return to the very first verse, verses two and three of the book of James. I want to read it from the message paraphrase all right? let me read you James 1:2-3. "When tests and challenges come to you from all sides. Know that under pressure, your faith life is forced into the open and shows its true colors". Your faith life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. Now what this tells me is that the true test of your faith is not how high you jump praising the Lord in good times. But rather the test of your faith is how straight you walk in tough times. This is where the true colors of your faith are revealed. And when you have to choose between doing what the Bible says to do, or doing what you feel like doing or what our culture tells you to do, that's the greatest test of faith.

In Psalm chapter 53, Psalm 53:2 it says this, "God looks down from heaven on the whole human race to test and see who is acting with understanding. Who's acting with understanding," important phrase if you want to underline that in your notes, acting with understanding and truly seeking Him. Now, I want you to notice that God looks to see how wise we are in responding and reacting to all the world around us. And the Bible says that he looks to see whether we're listening to him or whether we're listening to the culture and the voices all around us. Now it's my job as pastor to help you do what that verse says. Act with understanding. To help you act with understanding in life.

Now, a lot of things that you've picked up and things that you've believed from the world are actually dead wrong. And that's why here at Saddleback Church, we base everything we do on the Bible. My goal in this series and in every other message is to help you see your life, see your relationships and even all of the issues in our cultures that cause you anxiety from a biblical basis and worldview. That's because God's word is always the truth and the truth set you free. But just because you've been saved by Jesus, does not automatically mean that you have a biblical worldview. And the reason why you may not have a biblical worldview is because you spent far more time watching the news than you have in reading the good news of the Bible. Or as I said in the last message, you spend more time on Facebook than getting your face in this book, The book, God's book.

So you can be a Christian for years and still not be acting with understanding, acting with biblical basis. I might watch something happen in society and if I don't know what the Bible says, I might react in a scared way or I might react in a self-centered way, or I might act in a sinful way or a scornful way or a smug way or even a stupid way. Christians do it all the time. If I'm not basing my behavior on the Bible, I'm gonna be wrong every time. The problem is that the Bible often tells me the truth and that truth upsets my biases. That's why it's a test of faith. And the way you and I react to the daily events in the world reveal the true colors of our faith.

Now not only does God test your faith with circumstances, he also tells us that we can test ourselves too. We can do a self-test. Did you know that? You can test your own faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says this, new living translation. Examine yourselves, examine yourself. That's a self-test to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves okay? Now I want you to use these next few weeks, these next few messages as a personal checkup to evaluate your faith. Now let me say this, God can't test your faith with stuff that's already happened, okay? It's over, but he has to use current events. You can't be tested on things in your past because those can't be changed, they're over, they're done with. And you can't be tested about events in your future 'cause they haven't happened yet. And you're not there you until you get there.

So God has to use what's happening in the world right now to test your faith. Fortunately for us, there's plenty of current problems happening right now, where God can see really how much you trust him. How much you love him, how quickly you obey him, when he tells you to do something. And whether or not you act with understanding, you act with biblical understanding, God is watching both of your actions and your reactions to see how well you think and speak and feel and act like Jesus. Now in the days ahead, in the next few sessions, we're gonna look at how Jesus wants us to respond to five current issues. These five current issues that are impacting our lives, you've written to me about them, you've asked about them and every one of them are testing your faith.

Now let me just list for you the five big tests of faith that I see going on in the contemporary environment around us, okay? Your faith is being tested five ways these days, the first test of course is the COVID-19 pandemic. And I call that a viral infirmity test. Viral infirmity test, an infirmity is an illness, or a sickness and a viral infirmity is an illness you get from a invisible virus. That's the first test. Another test, is the social instability test. And I'm talking about all the violence and the rioting and all the stuff that we're seeing going on in our city. And that's upsetting a lot of people. Another test, third test is the financial insecurity test. And millions of people are facing that one right now because they're out of work, they have no job right now and nobody knows what the world's economy is gonna look like.

Another test that's happening right now around the world is the racial inequality test. Is anything really gonna change? It's been brought to the forefront by some very unfortunate events. People have been killed, will it really change anything? That's the test, the racial inequality test. And then another test and everybody knows about this one, is the political incivility test. Because we're in a political election season and the divisions are deeper and people are trash talking each other like never before. In fact, I think hatred and bitterness is at an all time high. Higher than any other time I've seen in my lifetime. People really are not voting for candidates as much as they're voting against a candidate they don't like.

Now any of these five contemporary circumstances, by themselves would test your faith. But when you add them all together, they add up to a giant test of how Christ-like you really are. God is watching how you react to these five things. Do you think, do you feel, do you speak and do you act like Jesus in each of these five areas? Now we don't have time to cover all five issues in a single message. So today we're just gonna consider the first test, okay? But we'll get to all the others, okay, eventually.

Now here's the first test. God is testing our faith through viral infirmity. That's the pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic, the viral infirmity, I said earlier infirmity is just an illness, it's sickness. And a viral infirmity is an illness that you get from a virus. Now what makes this COVID-19 virus so dangerous? Is it it sounds just like the seasonal flu? There are five unusual characteristics about this COVID-19 that make it a test. First it's lethal, it's deadly for some people, it can kill you, it's already taken the lives of over 200,000 people in America alone in just 25 weeks. And it's nowhere near the end. So it's serious, it's deadly.

Number two, it's what's called the novel virus. Which means we have no prior human immunity. We have no vaccine for it, we have no cure for it. They're rushing to do this, but it's a novel virus. Nobody's got the cure or the vaccine.

Number three, many of the 26 million people who've already had COVID-19 around the world, many of those people are they had it and they lived are now reporting longterm damage, to their lungs and their heart and their brain. We didn't know this when the pandemic started. And doctors have discovered that the virus can permanently damage a lot of different organs, that makes it a serious test. People are having a harder time breathing, things like that. Even after they're over.

Number four, the carriers of the virus can spread it while having no symptoms themselves. Well, that's crazy, okay. So they don't know they've got it and they think they're healthy and they don't want to wear a mask. And yet they keep spreading it. Because they're carrying it and don't have, you don't have to have symptoms.

And then finally, fifth, the virus can make a comeback. They just discovered that this week that you can get it more than once. And hospitals now around the world are reporting people getting reinfected a second time. Those five things make this a serious test for this pandemic. Now, when we use the word pandemic, it's a modern term. In the Bible, it's not called a pandemic, in in the Bible, the word they use is plague. And scripture is filled with stories of one plague or pandemic after another. In fact, the word plague or plagues is mentioned in scripture over 200 times, And I've always found it interesting that thousands of years before science knew anything about germs or bacteria or viruses, they didn't, nobody knew about that for thousands of years. God gives specific instructions in the Bible on the importance of isolating and quarantining certain diseases, why did he do that? 'Cause obviously God understands germs and viruses, we didn't.

The book of Leviticus if you want to go and read it, is filled with instructions on what kind of illnesses are to be quarantined. This is 3000 plus years ago, long before literally thousands of years before anybody invented a microscope. Let me just show you an example. 2 Chronicles 26:21 and the message screen says this, "King Uzziah had a contagious skin disease for the rest of his life. And he had to live in quarantine". Yeah, this is 3000 years ago. He was not permitted to set foot in the temple of God, why? He had to be quarantined from his disease. So his son, Jotham managed the Royal palace and governed the nation.

Now, did you catch that when I read that that King Uzziah was prevented from attending worship in the temple because he could infect others? Does that sound familiar? Vaguely familiar, I'm sure Uzziah's in heaven right now, sympathizing with all of us, who haven't been able to go to a church building for 25 weeks and he's gone friends, I get it. I was forbidden to go to worship in the temple for the rest of my life. And I had to be quarantined. He actually lived in a separate house.

Now, just so you know, I thought I'd throw this in there. Just so you know that social distancing is not some modern political plot to take away your rights. Let me show you a verse written over 3000 years ago by King David, about social distancing with a disease. Psalm 38:11 and the English standard version says this, "my friends and companions must keep their distance". Listen, "my friends and companions must keep their distance because of my plague," Pandemic, even my relatives must stay far away. Now that Hebrew word there plague, literally means an infection. And evidently David got sick with some kind of contagious illness. And by the way, he wrote Psalm 38 while he was being quarantined. Because God had explained this long before people knew about germs or viruses. Psalm 38 was written while being quarantined. So by the way, Psalm 38 might be a good chapter for you to study right now. You might want to write that down.

Now for the rest of this message, I want to answer three questions that you have written to me. These came up over and over again. Now here are the questions, when do plagues happen in the Bible? What's the reason for them? Number two, why should we be doing, what should we be doing during our plague? And number three, when are we gonna be able to worship together again? And that's the one everybody wants to know, all right?

Let's look at these three questions. First, when do plagues happen in the Bible? Well, first we live on a planet that's broken. It's broken by sin, the Bible says creation groans, broken by sin so nothing works perfectly. The economy doesn't work perfect, your body doesn't work perfectly, your relationships don't work perfectly and disease and death and destruction and decay, these are all out there. We don't live in Eden or we don't live in heaven where things are perfect, but there are many, many different reasons for the plagues or the pandemics and the Bible. And I'm gonna encourage you to go study that on your own. 'Cause I can't go through all of the different reasons. But well, let me just show you a couple, just two or three to show some of the many possibilities or reasons for plagues, okay? Why don't you write these three down?

Number one, God allowed plagues in the Bible. Number one, when we ignore God's rules for living, when we ignore God's rules for living. Now, God has given us the owner's manual for life. It's this book, it's the manual for life. When in doubt, read the instructions. And in it we find all the laws that God established for living a happy, healthy, holy and productive life. You want to live a happy, healthy, holy, productive life, it's all here. Now when we follow God's plan, things work out well. But anytime we forget God and we ignore the playbook then we disobey what God tells us to do and we whatever and do whatever we please, then things start falling apart in your life. They fall apart physically, they fall apart emotionally, they fall apart financially. They fall apart relationally and every other way. You see, we really only hurt ourselves when we doubt God's goodness. And when we disobey what he tells us to do.

Now, this happened many, many, many times in the Bible. Every time they forget God, turn away from God, they'd go into problems. And one of those problems would often be a pandemic Psalm 106 says this verse 14 and 15, "the people soon forgot God and what he had done for them. And they wouldn't wait for God's plan". Notice that they wouldn't, they got in a hurry. They wouldn't, they forgot God and then they wouldn't wait for God's plan. Instead they became greedy, greedy, and they let their cravings run wild, all kinds of sexual cravings, food cravings, material cravings, they tested God's patience. So it says God gave them what they wanted. But he sent a plague along with it.

Hello, what just happened here? They're testing God, they want to, it says they wanted to give into their wild cravings. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Sexually, morally, physically, monetarily, and it says that they forgot God so God said, I'll just give you what you want. But he sent a plague along with it. Now, what does that mean? What does that mean? Well it means that they're often unwanted consequences to getting everything we want. It's not always a good thing to get everything you want. Having all you want to eat whenever you want to eat it, can lead to obesity and diabetes and high blood sugar, and a host of other diseases. Having all you want to drink, anytime you want to drink it, can lead to alcoholism and heart disease and stroke and liver disease and cancer and many, many other illnesses.

God gave us very clear guidelines, so we would not abuse or misuse or pervert his gift of sex. But the sexual revolution abandoned all of those guidelines of God's word and what did it happen? It gave us pandemics, the pandemic of AIDS of STDs, sexually transmitted diseases. The pandemic of broken hearts, the pandemic of broken families, it's widely known, I've talked to a lot of doctors about this. Why are they known in healthcare? That a majority of the illnesses people suffer. They say over the majority of people in hospital right now they're there because it was caused by our own lifestyle choices. It wasn't something out of their control, it was in their control. But they ignored the healthy principles that God teaches in his word, we think we know better. So sometimes there was a plague because people just ignored what God said to do and then there were consequences to it.

But there's another reason, let me give you a second reason, plagues happened in the Bible. And it was this, when we allow injustice and inequality, did you know that? Did you know that this happened in Jeremiah's day? God hates prejudice, God hates injustice. God hates equality. So he tells the nation of Israel, you guys, you got to set free all of those slaves you've got, okay? I hate it that you've got people in bondage. You've enslaved people and he says, you got to let go of all these slaves and you know what Israel did, they did it. They let go all their slaves temporarily, but then they reneged on their promise to God and they started enslaving people again.

This is going on in Jeremiah's time. And that was the final straw for God. He's seen enough of their injustice and treating people inhumanely and without justice and here's what God tells them in Jeremiah 34:17, God says this, a short time ago, you repented and you did what was right. You freed your countrymen, who been slaves. You even made a covenant with me about this in my temple, showing dignity to everybody. But he said, but now you've changed your mind and you dishonor me. You have enslaved them again in a new slavery. Therefore here's what I'm gonna do. God has ticked off, I hope you can hear the anger in his voice. Since you disobeyed me by not giving freedom to all of your countrymen, I'm gonna give you some "freedom" I'm gonna give you some freedom, the freedom to die, by war or plague or famine. And you will be considered a disgrace by the other nations of the world.

He said any nation that keeps people enslaved, keeps people put down, pays 'em slave wages, He said, you're gonna be considered a disgrace by the other nation of the world. Can you hear the anger in God's voice? God hates slavery, He hates it when people are not treated with dignity and when they're deprived of their Liberty. Do you know what happened right after God said what I just read to you in Jeremiah? He allowed the Babylonian King, a guy named Nebuchadnezzar, to come in with his armies and take over Israel with his armies and destroy, literally flatten the city of Jerusalem and take most of the nation captive as slaves, back to Babylon, where they would be slaves for the next 70 years, hello? That would cure Israel permanently of two sins. The sin of slavery and the mistreatment of immigrants, which God had been telling 'em all along to, okay?

So he says, you know what? Sometimes in the Bible, there was a plague because people were being treated unequally, with inequality. And He says look, if you find a nation that's doing that, there're been set up for a plague. Then let me give you one last one, 'cause there are many, many, okay possibilities. But when leaders sin and disobeyed God, it often brings a plague on everybody else. When leaders sin personally and disobeyed God, everybody who's under their care gets hurt. Whenever we're tempted to sin, Satan always lies to us. And because he's the father of lies and he tells us first that nobody's ever gonna know. And because nobody ever is ever gonna know of the sin nobody's ever gonna get hurt. And he makes you think that because no one else knows about your secret private sin it's a personal sin, it's a private sin nobody's gonna get hurt. But while some sins may be a secret, the effects of them are not, they're not. We always hurt other people, not just ourselves, whenever we sin.

Now, this is especially true of leaders, and particularly leaders in some area at different times. Now everybody is a leader. So he said, well I'm not a leader. Yes you are, everybody's leader at sometimes you lead your friends, sometimes you lead in your small group sometimes you lead in a family. Sometimes you lead, a group of people who you just met in the grocery store. And so everybody is leader. When you sin, it always affects other people. 2 Chronicles chapter 21, we have the story of a national plague in Israel that happened because the leader of the nation did something that God had warned him not to do. Or there'd be repercussions. And who was the leader of that nation? Guy you're well familiar with, King David.

God told David not to do a certain thing and David pridefully ignored it and did it anyway, as the King, as the national leader. And it brought a plague on the entire nation and you know how many people died? 70,000 people in a plague because of the leader's personal sin. When David realized all the pain that he had caused by his own sin, he was broken and he humbly cries out to God. Let me show you what he prayed. It's this verse 1 Chronicles 21:17. 70,000 people have died in the plague, the repercussions of David's sin.

And in verse 17, David says this, he prayed to God. Was it not I who ordered this? I'm the one who has sinned. I'm the one who's done wrong, these people are innocent. What have they done? So, Lord my God, let your hand fall upon me and on my family but don't let this plague remain on all your people. Now, this is a very powerful reminder of how our own actions can actually bring a plague on other people, hurt so many others if we're not walking in the will of God. You may not be aware of some sin that you've committed, that has hurt other people. But if God brings that sin to mind, I encourage you to confess it immediately and to ask for forgiveness.

Now, while I've given you these three examples of just different reasons, there're many, many others for plagues. Different reasons why plagues happen? I want to warn you listen closely as your pastor who loves you. I want to warn you and caution you about presuming that you know the reason why bad things happen because you don't. And I don't, most of the time we have no idea why bad things happen to good people or to bad people. We don't know the reason behind much of the suffering in the world. When people say, why do people suffer? I'm like I don't know. So one of the questions on my list for heaven, I don't know it is presumption to even guess this is what Job's friends did.

Job got sick and they lost everything and the all three friends says, Job, let me tell you why you're sick. Let me tell you why you're in this plague. Let me tell you why you've lost everything. None of them were right and at the end of the book, God rebukes the friends going, you guys were talking out of your own ideas. I didn't say that to you. So don't get busy thinking about, you know the answer when you see somebody hurting really bad that you know the reason, you don't. Also at the same time, I want to caution you to ignore anybody else who arrogantly thinks they know the reason for somebody else's suffering. They don't, you know why am I saying this? Because during this pandemic, the last 25 weeks, I've heard a few people make prophecies about COVID-19, saying with a lot of authority in their voice, this pandemic is the judgment of God on America. I've actually heard that, this pandemic is the judgment of God on America.

Well, I want to tell you as pastor and as a student of the Bible that I've been studying this book for nearly 50 years. I can tell you they're dead wrong. The pandemic, the COVID-19 is not the judgment of God on America. Now I can I tell you the two reasons for it, there are certainly they're right, that God deserves, that America deserves to be judged by God. They're right about that. And if God did decide to judge America, he'd have many, many legitimate reasons for doing so if he chose to do so. But I want to assure you that this current pandemic COVID-19 virus is not the judgment of God on America for two reasons. First, because the whole world's suffering from it.

So if God just wanted to judge America, he missed, okay, because it's all around the world. Everybody's suffering from this. And that would be unnecessary suffering. But more important it's not the judgment of God, because I want to remind you of this, because every time there's a, the reason I'm saying this, 'cause every time there's a disaster like Katrina or a hurricane or fire or earthquake, some smart mouth is gonna attribute it to the judgment of God. But God tells us in the book of Peter, how to actually recognize the judgment of God. 1 Peter 4:17 says this, look at this verse "for when the time of judgment comes, judgment must begin", who, with who? "With the family of God, in the house of God, with God's own family, with God's children," when God's judgment actually does come, He's going to start with Christians, not a bunch of unbelievers. He's not gonna arbitrarily go out there and start having a plague that hurts people of all different kinds of people who know, and people who don't know.

The Bible says, judgments must begin with the house of God. Well, it didn't start with Christians and COVID-19 has infected a whole lot more than just believers, but the Bible says it in the real judgment of God, we will be first to be judged because we know the most. We're the most accountable. We're the most responsible. So you can put that to rest. Somebody says, this is the judgment of God on America. It's wrong for both of those reasons. Now, what should we be doing? That's the second question. What should we be doing during our plague? Well, two things, we keep on continuing these two things. Number one, continue to worship, okay? Pray, ask God to end the pandemic you do what David did when he caused the pandemic, you keep praying until the pandemic ends. 2 Samuel 24:25 it says this, "David built an altar to the Lord and he gave offerings of worship to God. And the Lord answered his prayer and the plague was stopped".

We need to do what David said to do. What he did, build an altar in our heart, build an altar in our home, pray, worship God and ask God to end this and said, God heard David's prayer. He caused it, that particular plague. But the plague was stopped when David worshiped God. Continue to keep worshiping God in your home, in your small group, wherever you can. And the second thing we do is continue to serve other people. Continue to serve other people. And of course, during this pandemic, there's so many people with needs right now. Every kind of need you can imagine. And if you can volunteer, if you have the time to do that, we need you to volunteer if you can.

In my study this week, when I studied all of the plagues in the Bible from Genesis to revelation, there was interesting one particular verse stood out to me that I thought represents what God wants each of us to do during these days. It's in the book of Numbers chapter 16, it's verse 48. And it's one of the other plagues, is when Moses and Aaron were leading the children of Israel. And it says in Numbers chapter 16 verse 48, during this plague, it says, "Aaron the Priest stood between the living and the dead until the plague was stopped". Now listen to this verse again, Aaron, the priest, we're all priests, that's what the Bible says in Peter, that you don't have to go to a priest to confess you can confess directly to God. Every believer is a priest. The priesthood of every believer. "Aaron the Priest stood between the living and the dead until the plague was stopped".

I think that's a job description for every Christian right now. We're to be in the middle, between the living and the dead in this plague, in this pandemic, building a bridge of love, building a, reaching out to those who are dying and reaching out to those who are living. One of the ways you can keep yourself fresh and alive and upbeat during all of this bad news these days is to find somebody who's worse off than you and help them look for ways to get better. And if you'll look for ways in your own life to serve others who are going through the tougher time than you, it gets the focus off you and your problems. For instance, if you're living at home without kids, you've got your own set of problems in this pandemic. But if you are living at home and you've got kids, then you just went up a notch in stress. Because you're trying to get them schooled while they're at home and they're not going to school and you're trying to get work done and your stress just went up.

And if you live at home with kids in a small apartment and they're cooped up rather than being out in the playground in school, your stress went up a little bit higher than that. And if you're living at home with kids in a small apartment, and you're a single parent, your stress is over the top. And you're a hero to me because I don't know how you're doing it. Trying to put food on the table, care for kids, school them, God never called you or trained you to be a homeschooler, most likely. Then what I'm saying is, I said this the very first week of this pandemic, people say we're all in the same boat. We're not, we're not in the same boat. We're all in the same storm, but some of us are in the yachts and some of us are in row boats. And some of us are in speed boats. And some of us are just barely hanging on to a piece of driftwood.

How do you shelter at home when you're homeless? And so find somebody who's gotten more stressed than you and help them out. That will raise the joy in your own life. Don't just go through this thing, thinking about yourself, okay? Continue to worship God, but continue to serve. Find somebody you can help out. We have over 500 different ministries at Saddleback church that operate in our community right now, even now during the pandemic. Let me just mention a couple that need thousands of volunteers first is our Saddleback Food Distribution. So far 13,000 of you have served over 3 million pounds of food to over a 1/4 of a million people. Imagine that, we always need volunteers to help with food distribution. But the best news of all, is that those who serving, have personally led over 11,000 people to accept Jesus into their hearts in one-on-one sharing with people who came for food. That's in 25 weeks, 25 weeks. That's amazing 11,000 new believers in 25 weeks.

Our food distribution has all also opened up enormous doors of opportunity, especially to work with school districts in Southern California. Another opportunity you could do is get involved with care callers and care writers. These are people who either call or write letters to people who are home bound or quarantined in their home, because of their age or their health and they just need encouragement. You could do that, help somebody who's less fortunate, more home-bound than you are. Third and this is a brand new ministry initiative, I got it right here and this is a new initiative. We're just starting this week, it's called first aid for parents. And this is to help parents and kids and teachers this fall, first aid for families. First aid for families. And under that umbrella is a bundle of about, I don't know, five, six major programs and resources and initiatives to support stressed out parents and bored to death kids who are trying to deal with online distance learning.

And our goal in faith is that between now and the end of December, December 31st, our church will impact a 100,000 families just like we've impacted a 1/4 of a million people with food, okay? We can get you this brochure and handout and our goal is to help families between now and the end of 2020. So keep on worshiping, but find a place to give back. I guarantee you that the happiest people in our church right now are those who are serving in those food lines. But there's a lot of other ministries that could use your help too.

Now, third question, when are we gonna be able to worship together again? This is just personal home folk stuff. Now you have likely heard of smaller churches who had less than a hundred people that have already started meeting together in their churches. Well, we're happy for them. We don't feel any competition. We're not jealous of that, we're glad, we're on the same team and any small church that is able to meet with less than a hundred people, good for them. That's a good thing. You may also have heard recently about a couple of larger churches of three, 4,000, maybe 5,000 people who are opening up outdoor services.

Again, we're happy for them too. But Saddleback's a different animal. With over 30,000 attending on weekends and over 60,000 watching online every week now, Saddleback's in a category by itself. And I told you this the very first week that we would likely be the last church to open right along with stadium events and Disneyland. Because there aren't many churches that have the crowds that Saddleback do in America. Now people want to go well, why aren't we doing outdoor services? Let me give you the reasons. We've thought all this through and there's a biblical basis for everything we do. Let me give you the 10 reasons why we are waiting to reopen public worship. We're not in any hurry to reopen it right now, why?

Number one, nothing has changed since March. It's not any safer than it was in March, we're just more frustrated. We still don't have a cure, we still don't have a vaccine, it's not any safer so what's changed? The only thing that has changed is the people are more impatient and they're frustrated. But it's not any safer than it was in March.

Number two, we want to be fair and we don't want to frustrate people. Now, if in California you can have a group of up to a hundred people, well, if you have 30,000 people coming on a weekend, what are we gonna do with the other 29,900? Where are those people gonna go? What do we say to those people who would be turned away? How do you determine which 100 people get to come to church? It would frustrate people to be turned away saying, sorry you can't come, out of 30,000 only a hundred of you get to come.

Number three, this is a safety issue. Why we're not doing it, it's not a first amendment rights issue. Some churches I hear 'em, loudly complaining that not being able to have worship services is a government infringement and limiting the freedom of religion and the right to assemble. Well, they might have a discrimination case if everything else was open and only churches were closed. But every other large assembly is still closed. Including theaters and concerts and even sports events. Even ones that are outside in stadiums. There's no baseball and there's no basketball, there's no football, we're not being discriminated against as a church, this is a health issue it's a safety issue, not a first amendment right issue. When they open up all those if they don't let us, now we start complaining.

Number four, some churches are willing to gamble with the health and the safety of their members by opening before we have a vaccine and that's their right. But I think they're being very unwise. And as your shepherd, your pastor who loves you, and as someone who's commanded and called by God to protect this flock, I am not willing to gamble your life just so I can have a live audience to preach to. Sorry, it's just, you're more important. I don't want to be a super spreader, I don't want you to be a super spreader. And in a church our size, contact tracing would be impossible. So it's a safety issue and it's a love issue. We care about you, we're doing this to protect you.

Number five, this is a big one I want you to hear it. Our church is far more than a worship service. We have five purposes in our church as a purpose driven church, worship is one of them. But we also have fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and outreach and we have five purposes and five circles. And this pandemic has revealed a fundamental flaw in a lot of churches. And that is this, most churches only have one circle. They only have a worship service. And if they can't have that, they don't have anything. They're a one purpose church, rather than a five purpose church based on the great commandment, the great commission. Our church is built on five purposes as I said, Fellowship and Worship and Discipleship and Ministry and Evangelism. And we have a circle of commitment, a program for each of these five purposes and while worship got shut down, the other four purposes have been going full and strong and even growing during this time during the COVID crisis.

So it's incorrect to say, that Saddleback has been closed during COVID-19. It's just incorrect, we're very, very open. The only thing that's closed is the weekend worship and it's temporary closed, everything else we are doing. We're doing ministry to literally hundreds of thousands of people. We're doing outreach reaching 15, 16,000 people in total for Christ. We're doing discipleship and fellowship in our small groups. Even in our weekend worship we're growing. In January before COVID hit, we were averaging about 45,000 people in worship. About 30,000 coming to all of our campuses and about 15,000 watching online. But since we had to move to totally online service only, our worship attendance has more than doubled in the past 23 weeks. That's the greatest growth in the shortest time we've ever seen in 40 years of history of Saddleback church. We certainly aren't foundering. We're growing rapidly, probably more than any other church during this time. Because many people are turning to God.

Number seven, we're winning more people to Christ right now than any other time in our history. As I said, over 5,000 new believers have come to Christ through these online services. In 23 weeks, we've never had that many people saved in six months at any other time in our history.

Number eight, our outreach strategy is the exact opposite of a lot of other churches. Our Executive Pastor Steve Johnson, is on a call with the other executive pastors of the largest churches in America, at least monthly and sometimes every other week. And all the other churches and most churches I know are always talking about, how do you get the community back in the church? How do you get them back in the church building? How do you get the community back in the church? Saddleback from day one took the exact opposite strategy. How do we get our church into the community? And when COVID-19 began, 126 food pantries shut down in Southern California, so Saddleback invented a new way to do food pantries in order to feed hundreds of thousand people and we went out and started over 400 of these pop up food pantries, before when the pandemic hit, we had three existing pantries before COVID and we were feeding about 2000 families a month who were either out of work and just needed help, supplementing their income.

But when we invented the pop-up food pantry and launched the distribution in over 400 new locations in Southern California, by partnering with schools and businesses and hospitals, and even with the Orange County Board of Supervisor, Saddleback has now become, and we're ranked the number one free food distributor in Southern California. Fine, because we weren't focusing on getting the people back into the building, we were focusing on getting the church out in the community. That's what Jesus said to do.

Number nine, the Bible says that there is a time for every purpose under heaven, okay? There's a time to heal, there's a time to go to war. There's a time to laugh, there's a time to cry. There's a time to plant, there's a time to harvest, time to root up during this time, what's going on right now? We want our members focusing on maturity in our small groups and ministry and mission in the community. If we can't meet together and worship, we can do what we're doing right now. You can invite family over or small groups, sit, appropriately, we can do that, but when people express frustration to me that we haven't returned to large group worship, I always ask them the same two questions. First, are you active in a small group? And two, are you serving in a ministry? You know what I found? That the loudest complainer's are those who say no to both. They're not in a small group and they're not serving in a ministry. The people who are meeting with their small group every week, and the people who are serving in one of those 500 or so ministries are happy to wait until it's safer for all of us to meet together. That's loving your neighbor as yourself.

Finally number 10, I want you to always remember that everything we do at Saddleback, we do out of love. We do it out of love, we do it out of faith. Love for God, love for people, faith in God and faith in people. Because without faith, the Bible says, it's impossible to please God. We're not afraid of anything. We're not anxious about anything. We are patiently trusting God. And while we are patiently trusting God and waiting for us to be able to return together in the fellowship, we all want and worship, more people are coming to Christ than in the other time in our history, you got to celebrate that. And through our services online and through one-on-one sharing of faith, now over 16,000 people together between those two have come to Christ in just 25 weeks. That friends is a miracle. That's nothing to complain about. That's God using normal ordinary people in an extraordinary way. They continue to worship and they continue to serve. Now, why does that happen? Well, I'll tell you why it's happened, because Saddleback members are more interested in living out their faith than sitting in a chair and listening about their faith. That's what I want you to be able to do.

Let me close with this. You know yesterday, a man paid my wife a compliment, that I wish could be said of every Christian. I wish it could be said of you, Kay was told this compliment by a man. He said, you know Kay, you don't wear your faith as armor for protection, you wear your faith as a fragrance. That's a good line, I want that to be said about you. I want that to be said about me, that wherever you go, you're not wearing your faith as a defensive armor to argue and fight with people and put them down, but you wear your faith as a fragrance that makes people want to know Jesus, that you are attractive. So let me ask you, I'll close with this question. How are you wearing your faith? How are you wearing your faith? Are you wearing it as armor? To be protected from all the evil, wicked mean bad and nasty people out there and all the people who disagree with you and all the people you think are really bad? Or you wearing your faith as a fragrance? Are people attracted to Christ by your faith? Or are they repelled by your faith? I want you to think about that this week.

Now this next weekend, not this weekend, but next weekend, we're gonna have a drive through communion service at all of our campuses, that are able to do that next weekend. If you have a Saturday service, there'll be a Saturday communion. And if you have Sunday services, there'll be a Sunday communion and you'll get the information on that. But we're gonna do that because we know, that even with our size is where people are driving through, that'll be a wonderful experience and I hope you'll take advantage of sharing communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, if you're new to Saddleback, let me tell you three things we do every week. We've been doing these every week since COVID-19 has started. First, we recommit our lives to Jesus Christ. And if you want to commit your life to Christ, and you've never done that, I'm gonna lead you in a prayer in just a second, okay? And then second, what we do is we give thanks to God by giving online, we give our thanks giving by giving thanks by giving. And you can give online at Your generosity is feeding tens of thousands of out of work families right now. You're helping people who are really needing the help. And the third thing we do is we meet in small groups to discuss what we've heard. And if you want to join a small group, you can text small group to 99,000, or you can email [email protected] and we'll get you in one of our new groups. We've started about 400 new groups just in the past few weeks. If you'd like to be baptized, you can email [email protected]. Now I want to pray for you, but first, if you've never given your life to Jesus Christ, you don't really have the internal power to do what we've just talked about. And so let's bow our heads together. And if you've never opened your life to Christ, just say something like this:

God, I want to get to know you. I want to have a relationship with you. I know about you, but I want to have a friendship with you. Jesus Christ I want to learn to trust you and love you. Thank you that you died for me, help me to understand that. Help me to understand my purpose in life. I asked you to forgive all the things I've done wrong. And I asked you to accept me into your home in heaven when die, not because I deserve it, but because I've trusted you. I want to learn to love you more every day. And I open my life to you, replace the fear and anxiety and anger and all the other emotions with your love in my heart. I pray this in your name, amen.

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