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Preseason: Get in a Group – Sermon Notes

PRE-SEASON

Part Five: Get in a Group
Pastor Rick Henderson                September 9-10, 2023


Today I’m going to invite you to take the same step that Steve took. Today I’m going to invite you to make the pre-decision to get in a group. Even before you know which group and who is in it. Even before you know what the outcome of that decision will be. Even before you know where exactly this will take you, today is an invitation to make that pre-decision.

If that term is new to you, if you haven’t been able to join us for the previous messages in this series—the concept of pre-decisions is found at the intersection of two pretty important things: wisdom and purpose. When those two things collide, pre-decisions often result. This is the sort of thing you will find all over the Bible. You find in the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs is absolutely dripping with it. You find it all over the life of Jesus. He is the ultimate pre-decider. We find it expressed throughout the New Testament.

This is how the Apostle Paul once expressed this concept. As I read it, look for the collision of wisdom and purpose.

1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

The prize that Paul was after wasn’t salvation or going to heaven. It is anti-gospel to think that we can compete for that, achieve that, or earn that in any way. Forgiveness and new life and acceptance—all of these are a gift from Jesus to anyone who would trust him by faith. Have you accepted that gift?

For those who have given their allegiance to Jesus, we want the prize! The prize that Paul is writing about is helping other people to know and follow Jesus. That prize that he was after is the same prize that we are after as a church. It’s the very reason that we exist as a church. We want to lead people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus.

If you’re ever wondering why we do what we do as a church. If you ever don’t understand a decision that we made, and you want to better understand it. Here is a cheat code: Everything we do and every decision we make is 100% about what we think is the best choice that contributes to leading people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus. I need you to hear me on this. It’s good to want that. But wanting that just isn’t good enough.

A major difference between wanting the prize and winning the prize is found in the countless decisions made in obscurity, that build and build and build on each other, setting us up to win. We’re calling those choices pre-decisions. I’m not waiting for the moment to come later; I’m making decisions now that will pay off later. So, this has been our anthem.

SERIES THESIS: Wise people don’t just make GOOD decisions; they make PRE-DECISIONS.

But what happens if you’re not convinced? So what if we don’t make pre-decisions? Let’s look at it from that angle.

People who only decide in the moment won’t always be WRONG, but they’ll never be WISE.

I want to talk to the young adults in the room. Everyone else can listen, but I especially want to talk to the under-30 crowd. We’re so glad that you’re here. We want to be a church that feels like it’s a church for you. Many of you are grinding right now. Some of you are working and going to school. Some of you are out of school, and you feel like all your time goes to work and sleep, and you barely have enough time for all the other stuff. It would mean the world to us if our church were a soft-landing spot, where you are encouraged and can find community.

If your age begins with the number 2, and you make it a habit to start leveraging the power of pre-decisions right now, it’s going to pay off like you can’t believe as your life unfolds. If your age begins with the number 1, oh my gosh! If you start leveraging the power of pre-decisions right now, you’re not just going to be wise, you’re going to end up being one of the wisest.

You owe this to you. Your life is far too valuable. Your good desires are too precious, and you are far too important not to give yourself the gift of pre-decisions, especially in the most important areas of your life.

Now, let me talk to everyone else. If your age begins with a 3 or a 4 or a 5 or a 6 or higher, and you’re having to admit to yourself that you haven’t necessarily been a person who understood the power of pre-decisions. Or maybe you’re admitting to yourself that you haven’t leveraged the power of pre-decisions in your life, there is encouragement and good news for you today.

Preseason: Get in a Group - Sermon Notes

Do you know the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. Do you know the second-best time to plant a tree? Today!To those of us who are young, to those of who are not young, wherever we are at on the journey of life, let’s be people who plant good things today. Let’s be people who embrace and who leverage the power of pre-decisions.

The very first church ever, from the very first day, got to experience what it was like to win the prize. So, we’ve been looking at them.

ACTS 2:41-47

Grab a Bible or use your phone. I want us to look at this together. What can we learn from them? They are an example to every church, which makes them an example to our church. Let’s deliberately read through this passage again.

ACTS 2:41-47 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is where we need clarity. No amount of effort on their part could ever achieve those experiences if God wasn’t in it and at work. We want to follow their example, and we want to break up with the delusion that if we follow a checklist or tap into a formula, then we will experience the exact same things. God provided the power, and they participated. God started it, and they joined in. I want us to be a church like that.

I’ve got to tell you, I can’t stop believing that what God did in, with, and through that church is what he wants to do in, with, and through every church. Do you believe that? I can’t stop myself from believing this. I’m consumed with it. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by it that I feel like I could burst. How God moved in, with, and through the very first church is how God wants to move in, with, and through our church.

I’m praying for that. Will you pray for that? I’m trying to participate in that. Will you participate in that? This is at the heart of everything we do.

  • Over the course of this series, we’ve invited you to pre-decide to attend a service each week. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work when a congregation gathers to worship, pray, and learn God’s word.
  • In this series, we’ve invited you to pre-decide to give faithfully. We believe there is joy in funding the ministry together.
  • In this series, we’ve invited you to pre-decide to invite others to come with you. We believe that people share what they love with whom they love.
  • We’ve invited you to join a team. We believe there is joy in serving each other and serving together. This is why we do things like Ridgefest. We don’t want anything from the people of our city. We want for We want to be a gift to them. That’s why we do it. That’s why we invite each of you to donate candy and serve at this event. Our church geeks out over opportunities to love the people of this city.
  • Today, we’re inviting you to pre-decide to get in a group. We believe that the abundant life that Jesus wants for us isn’t experienced in isolation. It’s not experienced in a crowd. It’s experienced and enjoyed in community.

Whenever I meet folks who are new to our church or just new to church, I almost always ask this question: Have you made any friends here yet? When I’m talking to people who are going through something challenging in their lives, I almost always ask this: Are you in a small group? Who is on your team? Who has your back? Do you know why I ask those questions?

Our friendships will either BLOW up or GROW up our faith.

We don’t have time to read all the verses in the New Testament that are constantly pushing us into community, into spiritual friendships. Let’s look at just two.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Our friendships will either BLOW up or GROW up our faith.

HEBREWS 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Our friendships will either BLOW up or GROW up our faith.

We know this, don’t we. We don’t need to be taught; we just need to be reminded. Teenagers, this is why your parents ask you all those annoying questions about your friends and who is going to be at the event you’re going to. Your mom and dad probably learned this lesson the hard way, and because they love you, they want you to learn it without having to go through painful experiences.

Adults. Grown ‘em ups. This is just as true for us as it is for teenagers. God made us this way. God hard-wired you and hard-wired me to be affected by our friends and to affect our friends. This truth never has an expiration date. Our friendships will either blow up or grow up our faith.

Preseason: Get in a Group - Sermon Notes

The two men in this picture are Ray Lewis, a Hall of Fame Football Player, and Michael Phelps, an Olympic Swimmer with a record 23 gold medals. I love this picture because it captures the essence of their friendship. Ray Lewis looks like a ferocious hugger. I want to tell you the story of their friendship.

In an interview with SportsCenter, Phelps explained,

“I was just a train wreck. I was just a time bomb waiting to go off. No self-esteem, no self-worth.”

How does the most successful swimmer in history have a self-esteem problem? Phelps had stumbled on to a truth many Christians know: Our sense of worth and purpose was never meant to lie in our own accomplishments or the praises of other people.

The breaking point came in 2014 when Phelps was pulled over for speeding in his hometown of Baltimore. Additionally, he was arrested and charged with his second DUI in 10 years. He spent the next five days secluded in his home. Phelps said he even contemplated suicide,

“For a moment, I thought it was going to be the end of my life. Literally….Yeah, it’ll probably just be better without me. People won’t have to deal with the BS I give them or the crap I put them through…I just figured the best thing to do was to end my life.”

Enter Ray Lewis, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and friend of Phelps. Lewis helped to pull Phelps off the floor, so to speak. Pulling back into his own “dark” past experiences, Lewis helped Phelps to see there was hope to turn around. Lewis and other friends convinced Phelps to seek help at The Meadows, a rehabilitation center outside of Phoenix. “I was just surrendering,” Phelps explained.

Lewis also gave Phelps a copy of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Phelps explained the book helped by turning him “into believing there is a power greater than myself and purpose for me on this planet.” The book contained the message Phelps needed to hear: It’s not about accomplishments, it’s not about praise. Life is about God and our need for him.

If you are a follower of Jesus AND if you want to grow in your trust and confidence in Jesus. If you want to take your next step of devotion and joy, it’s going to require having the right people in your inner circle. When wise people get into your inner circle. When people who encourage you get into your inner circle. When people who love you enough to speak truth to you get in your inner circle. Those are powerful friendships, the kinds of friendships God loves to use to mature us.

If you’re thinking that’s not for you. OK. But let’s at least be honest about what that means.

You can be INFLUENCED from a distance but can only be KNOWN up close.

If you listen to podcasts of great pastors and teachers, that’s fantastic. You can and will be influenced…from a distance. But that can never substitute friendship and being known. If you come consistently to a weekend service but haven’t made friendships yet, I think you’ll discover fantastic benefits. And yet, eventually, I think you’ll begin to feel like everything you get is given from a distance. There is a desire and need to be known, and that only happens up close.

SMALL GROUP FACTS: COMMITMENT trumps chemistry.

Chemistry says I’ll come as long as it’s easy. I come as long as it doesn’t take effort. I’m not talking about the effort to get there. I’m talking about the effort required to build trust and build the relationship.

Preseason: Get in a Group - Sermon Notes

We’ve used this as a way to chart relationships. The best relationships are here, but no relationship starts here. The right kind of relationship inputs over time will move a relationship here.

Commitment says I will keep coming even if things don't click right away. I will be consistent. You can count on me. I can’t guarantee you that if you commit to a small group you will always make profound spiritual friendships. It’s not as simple as that. I can guarantee that if you let chemistry trump commitment, you will very likely miss out on profound spiritual friendships. I don’t want you to miss out.

Here's a second fact about small groups.

SMALL GROUP FACTS: They often start with AWKWARD moments.

My best friendships and relationships all started with awkward moments. True, I’m the common denominator in all those situations. This is especially true for you introverts. It will feel more awkward for us. Extroverts, I don’t know. I’ve lost count of the times that people have given my wife, their life story, in the drive-thru. I don’t know how that happens. There are some of you with friendship superpowers. The rest of us mortals must embrace awkward moments at the start if we want to have awesome, incredible, friendships.

So what’s our response to all of this? What should we do? Before I ask you what you are going to do. Before I invite you to do one or two specific things. First, let me tell you what we do. By that, I mean the pastors, leaders, and incredible army of volunteers—we create environments where it’s possible to make meaningful connections with people, and where there is potential to experience profound spiritual friendships.

Some of you might think, “What makes you so confident that you can make a friendship for me or anyone else?” Great question. We don’t think that. I can’t make friendships just happen. I’m not sure that I know anyone who can. But we can create environments where there is potential for it to happen. Not only is there this vague potential, but we also create environments where there is a high potential for these meaningful friendships to grow. And let’s remember that we’re not alone in this. God wants to work in, with, and through us. Gathering together in smaller, more intimate settings is one of the areas that God loves to work in and through our lives.

Preseason: Get in a Group - Sermon Notes

  • Small Groups
  • Men’s Groups and Women’s Groups
  • Celebrate Recovery

We’ve got all kinds of options. I’ve become convinced of something. I hate clichés. What I’m about to say will sound cliché. But I believe in it so much I must share it with you. You grow weeds on accident, but you grow crops on purpose. I know there are people in this room who grew up on a farm. Is what I just said true?

You grow weeds on accident, but you grow crops on purpose. What do you want? What do you need? If you’re over-invested in the wrong kinds of friendships, foolish friendships. If you’re under-invested in wise, spiritual friendships, chances are you’ve planted yourself in the wrong environment. So, this is what I am inviting you to do.

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Pre-decide that easy isn’t the goal.

Small groups have been an ongoing commitment in my and Heather’s life together for almost 20 years. We’ve seen powerful, profound, spiritual friendships form. We’ve watched people walk through hell together and celebrate on the other side. We’ve seen folks and been with folks on the journey of marriages being healed. We’ve walked with dear friends through a major loss. We’ve welcomed newborns into our groups, and we’ve buried someone from our group. We’ve done life with folks when they got their first home, and we’ve been in the trenches with folks who lost their jobs. We’ve walked the path of growing in Christ together and had a front-row seat to some of the most amazing stories of transformation and God at work. We’ve experienced the sweetness of friendships that can only be explained by God at work.

People have been there for us, and we’ve been there for them. But you don’t get that by being a spectator. You don’t get that by playing it safe and always taking the easy route.

  1. Pre-decide that it’s OK to start awkward.

I’ve got lots of experience with this. It’s OK. Here’s the last one.

  1. Pre-decide to GET in a GROUP.