We are in the middle of March Madness. And yes, I love it. It’s the tournament of the best 64 basketball teams. Each team has a slogan to remind the players to work hard. Or, be a team. Or, sacrifice for a greater cause. They use these slogans to try to get the team focused.
If you recently graduated High School, you probably have a crew of kids you hang out with. And everyone in that group knows that when someone from your group gets married, things change. The married couple stops hanging out as much. And they aren’t as available because their focus is now on their spouse.
When you have kids, you discover that you exist for that kid. It can actually be a surprise because up until the birth of your kid, life was all about you, the movies you watched and the games you played. What you don’t realize is, as you drive home from the hospital, everything changes. Your life will soon focus on a baby eating, sleeping and pooping.
Have you seen a financial advisor commercial like Charles Schwab or Prudential? What do they tell you? They tell you to think about your financial future, put a little bit away every month. Focus on money.
Planet fitness tells you, the world judges, they don’t. They are trying to get you to be comfortable as you focus on working out. Focus on health.
What does your dentist tell you? Brush and floss every day.
What am I talking about today? Focus on your priorities. We see priorities everywhere. If you want a retirement, save. If you want healthy teeth, floss. If you have a kid, focus on that kid.
I want to ask you; did you know that God has priorities? Another way of saying it is; the kingdom of God has priorities. Not everything is equal. Some things are more important than other things in God’s kingdom. Not everyone knows this.
Before I jump in to scripture, I want you to know a couple of things about this talk. First, I couldn’t be more passionate about what I am about to say. It is the foundation of why we built Mountain Ridge Church. I was transformed by God’s grace. I read in scripture about Jesus leaving heaven to die for our sins. I am over the top passionate about this. Second, this message, and I am shocked at this, doesn’t inspire everyone. That means, people in the past have heard me share this talk, smile and walk away. Another way of saying it, this isn’t a talk that you give if you want to grow a big church. I don’t why but this subject doesn’t inspire many people.
To help us understand what God’s priority is, I want to read an actual story from Jesus’ life.
1 Dishonest tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus’ sermons; 2 but this caused complaints from the Jewish religious leaders and the experts on Jewish law because he was associating with such despicable people-even eating with them!
I want to point out something here before we continue. Who is Jesus hanging out with? People who were known for being the worst in the culture. Everyone knows them as the criminals. They aren’t the best people. Who was upset with Jesus? The church people, the supposed ‘experts on the law.’ They were self-righteous because they compared themselves with others and concluded, they were righteous.
Quick observation: I believe, as a church, we know things are going well when the people who need God’s grace, busted up people, known sinners, come to church. And at the same time, self-righteous people, supposed experts, you know – the Delta Force of Christianity – are offended or at least unwilling to attend ‘that’ church because they don’t want to associate with people who are notorious sinners. They think the spiritual atmosphere is off. I believe church is for people who need God.
In this story, Jesus was surrounded by arrogant religious people. They didn’t approve of Jesus being friends or being cozy with known sinners. Jesus told them a simple story. Notice that Jesus didn’t go into deeper teaching, because there is no such thing, Jesus told a simple story to pierce their stone-cold hearts. It’s the simple story that everyone could understand.
3 So Jesus used this illustration: “If you had a hundred sheep and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? 5 And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. 6 When you arrived you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found.
7 Well, in the same way heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who haven’t strayed away! ” TLB Luke 15:1-7
Do you see it? Jesus shared heaven’s priority. Heaven is happier over 1 lost sinner than 99 people who don’t need to be saved. That means, everyone who believes in Christ, is not God’s priority. Yes, He loves us. Yes, He died for us. Yes, He cares for us. Yes, our personal relationship with God is life giving. No, we aren’t God’s priority.
Of all the churches that you know of in North America, in general, do they focus on 1 lost sinner or do they focus on the 99 people who don’t need to be saved? Most churches that I know of, in North America, focus on trying to keep the 99 people happy. Truth is, most pastors I know feel like they have to because if they don’t keep people happy; people will leave and attend the next church a few miles away and their money follows them. And here is what breaks my heart. As people hop and shop from church to church in search of programs and comfort, the one lost person is ignored.
It breaks my heart to report to you that the priority of heaven is not normally the priority of a lot of North American churches or Christians.
That’s why I love our vision statement: Imagine a church that wasn’t built on the likes and dislikes of people but instead was passionate, relentless and unapologetic in reaching the one lost person.
I am not saying we ignore the 99 or don’t care for them. Common sense tells us that should be obvious. What I am saying is, because the priority of heaven is the lost, the priority of the local church should be the lost. I would add to that, every person or family who engages this mission, makes their Christianity real.
Let’s read what Jesus told His disciples. Very practical instructions on how to prioritize the lost. How to make Christianity real.
7 Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. 8 He sent them off with these instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.
10 “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.
11 “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”
12 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; 13 right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits. MSG Mark 6:7-13
Basically, Jesus said, go meet people. Tell people about my grace. Be yourselves and don’t create drama. Go to work, be great at work. Go to school, be great at school. Sign your kids up for sports or band or whatever. Meet people. Invite people over to your house. Have a cook out. If you want to make a difference, be a volunteer coach and you will instantly be in relationship with people.
I want to ask you a question to think through. What is church to you? Is Church about you being a real person, creating real friendships, having a cook out at your home? Could it be that simple? Or is Church more complicated and about fill in the blank discipleships, volunteer hours, maybe a title or an upfront role, sending second hand clothes to Mexico with a few missions trips? All these things are good things but at the end of the day, what is most important? What should be our priority?
To you, is church like a battleship on a clear mission? We focus on people who need to know that God loves them? We prioritize our lives to be with people who need to know that God loves them? Or is church like a pleasure cruise? A fun ship that requires nothing from you. A ship that goes out of its way to make sure you are comfortable and happy. A ship that surrounds you with friends for life. A ship that is lead by people who ruin themselves trying please everyone in hopes that you might come back for the next cruise.
I want to ask you another question. As people move from church to church, because that’s very common in North America, have you ever asked people, “Why do you attend that church?” The answer you will get is something like, “It meets our needs,” or “my spouse likes it.” What breaks my heart is what people normally don’t say, “We are looking for a local church that prioritizes the lost so that we can serve that mission and raise our children that way.”
People have asked me, why are you so passionate about this? It almost comes across as insensitive. Jesus said it best, the 99 who don’t need saved aren’t at risk. What I think about is this; when the local church focuses on keeping 99 people happy, they are actually being insensitive to the one that is lost. The one that is lost is at risk.
Why am I passionate about this? Because I remember when I experienced God’s grace. It was an unbelievable moment. When your soul is wiped clean from sin, guilt, shame and fear, you have so much courage and peace. When you realize God loves you more than you love you, it rocks your world. When you believe scripture that God poured Jesus’ righteousness in you, you will never be the same. If you experienced God’s grace to the core of your life, how could church ever be normal again? How could we take that and make it selfish? How could we take that and make it about our comfort? Dear Lord, forgive us for making church about keeping selfish people happy.
The whole reason Jesus left the privileges of being God in heaven and die for us was to give us His grace. It’s everything. The entire New Testament is story after story about the struggle of Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, John trying to spread the good news of God’s grace. They died trying to spread the good news. As we enter into the last week of Jesus’ life, you should ask yourself, “Why would Jesus come to this world and die for me?” He died because you are lost.
Let’s stop here and let me ask you a question. Do you need to experience God’s grace? Maybe for the first time or for the 100th time. Pray. Ask God to forgive you, love you and anoint you with the Holy Spirit.
Here is a follow up question; who do you know who needs to know about the love and grace of Jesus? Tell you what we will do together. You pray for that person. You be a friend to that person. Let’s together prepare MRC for that person to visit. You shake their hand as a greeter when they visit. You pour the coffee for them. You care for their kids and pray for their kids in children’s ministry. We will sing together. After church, go out to lunch, go have fun together.
Our last commitment that we want to challenge you with: Make God’s priority your priority.
God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. MSG 2 Peter 3:8-9
That means, God was going to come back last year to hit the reset button but He didn’t. God is literally pushing back the end of time to give everyone time and space to fall in love with Him. Why would God do this? Because His priority is the lost. He is giving people space and time to fall in love with Him.
The priority of the kingdom of God is the lost. The priority of Mountain Ridge Church is the lost. They are at risk, not you.