People ask a lot of questions. Some have easy answers. Some have hard answers. Some have no answers. And some questions simply make you scratch your head.
One study looked at questions people ask of Google. They compiled a list of states, and which states asked certain questions more than other states.
- North Carolina: How do I open a jar?
- Wisconsin: When is American Idol on?
- Missouri: Am I psycho?
- Texas: Where is the Internet?
- Louisiana: When is Wrestlemania?
- Rhode Island: Did Jay-Z cheat on Beyoncé?
- Kentucky: How to make a baby?
The prize for the most thoughtful question has to go to Hawaii… more than any other state, Hawaiians asked Google, “What is the meaning of life?”
A big question.
When we’ve gotten past the basic needs of food and shelter, that’s when we humans ask the big questions:
- What am I?
- Who am I?
- What is truth?
- Why am I here?
Most people start asking those questions in high school. The questions get bigger and stronger in college. And one thing that might surprise all the students here today, is simple: those questions never go away.
Where did I come from? Who am I? What am I? Why am I here?
Those questions never go away.
I think the reason is because God made us that way. God has planted “eternity in our hearts” the Bible says (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
God wants to lead you on a journey down a pathway. There are four key steps in that path, and that is what I want to talk with you about today.
The Grace Pathway
We are calling that path the Grace Pathway.
For the past year almost, our staff and leadership teams have been working on this. Our goal is to make it super-clear how God leads us through the developmental stages of being a Christian. We’ve talked about this before a lot as a church. But it’s been driving me nuts as to how to make it clear, and always present.
So we’ve come up with these four stages, which really answer the biggest questions of our lives. Let me go through them fast, and then come back to them one at a time.
People ask… What am I?
Answer: I am a child of God, brought into his family, and loved by him forever. That’s the first step in the Grace Pathway. That step is called God Saves You.
Who am I?
Answer: I am accepted. I am forgiven. I am empowered. I am free. I am sacred to God. I am beloved. This is the second step in the Grace Pathway. That step is called God Blesses You.
What is truth?
Answer: Truth is reality as God sees it, God defines it, and God reveals it (shows it) to us. Getting your emotions and your mind lined up with reality is the third step in the Grace Pathway. This step is called God Grows You.
Why am I here?
Answer: You are here to glorify God and to enjoy him now and forever. You can glorify God and enjoy him in your life, now and forever, as you let his love, his goodness, his kindness, and his grace flow through you to others around you. So this step is called God Uses You.
This is the pathway of that growth. And, starting now, it’s how our church is structured, and how our ministries are set up, and how everybody who works here and serves here is organized.
So God saves you, blesses you, grows you, and uses you. God has a plan for you. It isn’t chaotic. It isn’t crazy. It’s an awesome plan where you find an incredible life.
And the cool thing is that following this Grace Pathway doesn’t make you into some kind of weird Christian clone. It makes you into yourself. God makes you YOU, with all the beauty added.
Let’s check them out one at a time.
The Grace Pathway
1. God Saves You
For each step we have a key Bible verse, and an icon.
Here’s the icon… it’s red, and it has the rising sun inside it.
It’s red to remind you of the blood of Christ. It is his death on the Cross that saves you.
It’s a triangle to remind you of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The whole Trinity is planned and made possible your salvation.
It has a rising sun inside it to remind you of the day that new light, and new life dawned inside your heart.
Here’s the key Bible verse:
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
When I was a little boy, my Auntie Jean brought me to Sunday School. I was a baby, and I have a few pretty fuzzy memories of those days. I remember singing that only God can make a rainbow, and only God can make a flower. And I remember telling my teacher that I could make a flower by planting a seed and watering it, so what was that song about really?
I also remember—and this is really fuzzy—coming to Vacation Bible School. I was maybe six or seven or eight… not quite sure. But our church was so tiny, a bunch of us walked down the street a little bit to a lady’s house. Here name was Aunt Alice. She was always funny and always loud. And her furniture had clear plastic covers on it, so my skin stuck to it.
But sitting on that one day, Aunt Alice told the story of Jesus. She told how he died for me and rose again for me. She told that if Jesus had not died, I couldn’t go to heaven. God could not forgive my sins. But Jesus did die, because that’s how much God loved me.
And then she said that if I put my faith in Jesus, and told him so, I could be saved.
Everything that Aunt Alice said that day is what we call the Gospel. The good news.
That day I believed the gospel. That day, I prayed and put my faith in Jesus.
And guess what? I was saved. God reached down and forgave all the sins I had ever committed, and would ever commit till the end of my life. God reached down and scooped up an adorable little Italian boy into his heavenly family, and I became his child forever.
And even though my memories have faded, and even though I don’t remember it all, God remembers, and that’s all that matters.
I know that talk about being saved sounds weird. I know that it doesn’t really sound cool. It makes me sound like a religious freak.
But we can’t skip this step, because without being saved, nothing else counts.
It’s the first step.
We are not inviting people to just be religious. Or to improve their lives. Or to get involved in church stuff, or worship, or even to serve God. Because unless those things come out of a new life inside you, God says they don’t count at all.
We’re inviting people to be saved. It’s a miracle every time it happens.
So here, in step one, it’s all about outreach and evangelism and helping people find God. This is where we share Jesus, and especially his cross.
It’s also where we build bridges of relationship and service and love to our community.
So this step is for you…
- If you don’t know for sure that you are saved.
- If you’ve never really learned what it means to say that Jesus died on the cross for your sins.
- If you’re still investigating the claims of Christ.
If that describes you, you’re welcome to everything that we do at Neighborhood. But when we do an event or a teaching that designed with you in mind, then look for the Red Triangle. That will tell you this event is just for you.
Here’s the second step in the Grace Pathway
2. God Blesses You
Here’s the icon. It’s blue for blessing.
It shows God’s hand reach down to fill your hand with all kinds of good stuff.
And it’s round to remind you that his blessings never end.
Here’s the key verse:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
And so are you, if you are saved.
Here in the United States, we’re not big on royal weddings and all that. But in England and the United Kingdom they are. Let me take you back to spring time a few years ago. It was the royal wedding of Prince William — who was second in line for the throne — and Kate Middleton. They met in University, and she was an upper class person, I guess. So it was a love story made for the Hallmark Channel.
This would never happen, but let’s suppose Prince William wasn’t marrying an upper class woman. Let’s suppose that instead, he went down into the most dangerous, drug-infested part of his city. Let’s suppose he went searching for the first woman he’d ever loved. But her life was a calamity. She was in chaos. An addict. Full of disease, and brokenness, a frail shadow of her formal self.
Let’s say Prince William searched for her through the meth house, and when he found her, he gently wiped the grime from her face. He brushed back her matted hair. Ignored the smells and violence and filth all around.
Then, right there, in that awful dark place, he got down on one knee and said, “I have always loved you. No matter how far you’ve gone from me, I have always loved you. Will you be my bride?”
Imagine that he set a date. Found for her the most beautiful, expensive, diamond-studded wedding dress in the world. And when the big day arrived, he met her at the glorious Westminster Cathedral and said: “She is one with me now. My name is her name. My authority is her authority. My riches are her riches. From now on, I want the whole world to treat her as she now is: she is royalty because she is my bride.”
That wouldn’t happen in England, but that is exactly what happened to you. When you took step one on the Grace Pathway, you were joined to Christ and now you’re living in Step Two.
God blesses you.
- His riches are your riches.
- His rights are your rights.
- His name is your name.
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
On the day you were saved, God gave you a huge mountains of blessings. You didn’t feel it or see it, but all of a sudden, you were dressed for a wedding, and you became the richest person you know.
Before you did one little thing for Jesus, God blessed you.
These blessings give you everything you need for every thing you will ever face in your whole life.
For every test, for every emergency, for every problem, for every benefit, for every relationship, for every worry and fear.
God can’t bless you any more than he has already blessed you in Christ.
Your problem is never that God hasn’t blessed you.
Your problem is that you don’t know the blessing God has already given you.
He has blessed you with SECURITY… once you’re saved, you’re always saved.
He has blessed you with a new IDENTITY… all those horrible labels that life has stuck on you — stupid, failure, ugly, worthless, unwanted… God peeled them off, and he’s put new labels on you… and he calls you Beautiful, Capable, Powerful, and Good. Learn that stuff. It’s all in the Bible.
He has blessed you with PRIVILEGES like Bible study and prayer.
I talked to a guy who hated himself, and who didn’t believe God loved him. He was saved, but after that, he just thought he was a big failure.
I said, DO you know what you need? You need grace rehab. You have years of craziness wired into your brain. You need to get untangled. You need grace rehab, and God loves you enough to help you with that. And so do we.
You can’t expect holiness on the outside until grace has taken hold on the inside.
- Before you get busy for Jesus…
- Before you start serving Jesus…
- Before you give stuff to Jesus…
- Before you do stuff to Jesus…
Sit down and learn what he’s done for you.
And settle it once for all, deep inside your soul, that you don’t serve God for blessing, you only serve God from blessing.
This step is for you…
- If you struggle with your self-confidence.
- If you still worry whether you can lose your salvation.
- If your past wounds and traumas dominate your life…
Then look for the Blue Icons, when they come up in our church, because those events and groups are designed especially for you.
So God saves you, God blesses you, and then…
3. God Grows You
Here’s the icon… It’s green to remind you of growth.
It shows an arrow of God’s wisdom, God’s power, and God’s grace, coming down from heaven, going through you, and back up to God.
Here’s the key verse:
“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
Have you ever gone to a big party or thanksgiving meal at someone’s house, and the table isn’t big enough to fit everybody. So somewhere else they unfold another table, and set it up. And who sits over there?
The kids. That’s the kiddie table.
Listen, when you get saved, God loves you, but you’re at the Kiddie Table. Your food is kiddie food. Your conversation is kiddie conversation. Your maturity is kiddie maturity. Your play time is kiddie playtime. And then, when Thanksgiving Dinner is all over, your nap time is kiddie nap time.
God is raising up a tribe of spiritual grown ups.
- People who have grit and toughness to handle what life throws at them.
- People who can give love.
- People who can receive love.
- People who can rise above the messed up value system of a world gone mad.
- People who can defeat dysfunction and overcome addiction.
- People who don’t fall for the devil’s lies.
- People who know that they are who God says they are, no matter what anybody else says about them.
We need mature men and women. Mature students in junior high, high school, and college. We need mature people in shops and stores and factories and on the job site.
Just because you’re saved it doesn’t mean you have arrived.
The goal of Spiritual Growth is to make you like Jesus.
Not that you dress and speak like him.
But that you have the character he has, and the strength he has, and the courage he has…
You’ve got spiritual muscle because you’ve committed yourself to spiritual growth.
It’s hugely important in the Bible. Too many sermonettes for Christianettes.
God Saves you, you do that once and you’re done.
God Blesses you, you do that for a little while after you’re saved and you move on.
But this, one, the green one, God grows you… this one is huge. You spend your whole life here. You never outgrow your need for growth. God is that big. The gospel is that amazing. The wisdom of God is so big that you can never use it all up.
- Lights your way.
- Builds your muscle.
- Feeds your spirit.
- Restores your soul.
- Guides your choices.
- Ensures your prosperity.
- Heals your dysfunctions.
- Ends your confusion.
- Breaks your addictions.
- Defeats the devil.
- And rewires your mind so that you think like Christ.
Because you can’t live like Christ until you think like Christ, and you can’t think like Christ without the Bible.
Don’t stay a rookie. Don’t stay stuck at the kiddie table. Grow up.
This is for you if…
- You need to be instructed in the deep things of God in Scripture.
- You need life-equipping resources, for your dating, or marriage, or finance, or any part of your life.
We have life groups. We have classes. We have Grow U.
Look for the Green Icon, because those events are to help you grow.
So, God saves you, blesses you, grows you…
Red, blue, green… And then…
4. God Uses You
Here’s the icon. It’s yellow, because you’re shining the sunshine of God’s love into a very dark world.
And it shows a boot print, because you’re leaving tracks of grace wherever you go.
Here’s the key verse:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).
The only reason you are here today is because somebody told you about Jesus. Somebody answered your questions. Somebody prayed for you. Somebody invited you to Neighborhood Church.
God used those awesome people in your life.
And now God wants to you use you in somebody else’s life.
- This is where you discover your spiritual gifts and superpowers.
- This is where you volunteer for stuff.
- This is where God uses you through prayer, and through giving, and through a generous spirit in the world.
Once a person is saved, and knows they are blessed and grows up a little bit, then God wants to use you in mighty ways.
For what? To help other people find the treasure you found when you found Christ.
This is the blueprint. In God’s glorious plan, every Christian becomes an Ambassador of Grace. The world is dying. The world is lost. Without Jesus, this life is needlessly hard… and the life to come is unspeakably horrible.
Yet you have found the wellsprings of infinite grace, and your life is part of God’s never-ceasing labor to win the world to Jesus. Let your light shine at your school. Let your light shine at your job. Let your light shine in your crazy family tree. Let your light shine in your neighborhood.
We have amazing ways to get involved…
You can help in the coffee bar. You can host a life group. You can work with kids in Awana and Senior High and Junior High and Young Adults. You can sing and play on the worship team. You can help with landscaping and building. We’re already planning for Christmas, and you can help us. We have an incredible ministry called Respite Care where we basically give a night out for moms and dads with special needs children. God uses the people of Neighborhood in the mission, in shelters, in every business, in every school, and in every part of our community.
God is using you.
Because lost people matter to God, and he wants them found.
But don’t do it because you think it will make God love you… get involved because you’re so excited that God already loves you that you can’t hold it in.
If all our teaching on grace means anything to you, it means that you come to a place where you want everybody you know to find the treasure you found when you found Christ.
Over the next weeks and months, you’re going to see these little icons around. They are here to guide. They help us know what we’re doing, and they help you know where you need to plug in.
We are a church with a mission and a plan. We’re honest about it. We’re up front about it. We don’t apologize for it.
Neighborhood exists to help people find and follow God… that’s our mission.
…by guiding them along the Grace Pathway. That’s our plan. It’s not something added on. It’s the core of what we do.
There’s a spot for you. You fit in here.
And I’m very grateful that you are part of this amazing family of faith, and this bold mission outpost called Neighborhood.