Happy New Year, Connect! I hope everybody had a great time during the holidays with friends and family. And after a Sunday off, it’s great to gather again as a church family.
My name is Mike Edmisten. I’m the pastor here at Connect, and if it’s your first time with us, I want you to know that we love that you’re here. I know visiting a new church can be awkward and weird, but I promise that you’re among friends. We hope you feel incredibly welcome and we’d love for you to stop by the Connect Center after church. We’ve got a little gift for you, just to thank you for being with us on this first Sunday in the New Year.
What if I told you that 2015 has the potential to be your best year ever? Would you believe me? Or would you think that’s just some crazy thing that some crazy pastor would say? It’s not real. There are way too many crappy things going on in your life for this to be the best year ever.
I get that. I really do. But the truth is, 2015 really does have the potential to be your best year ever! And it has nothing to do with resolutions and goals. It has nothing to do with what happens to you, good or bad. In fact, it has nothing to do with you PERIOD.
I know that sounds pretty messed up, but it’s the truth. For 2015 to be your best year ever, it will be a year where it’s all about Jesus and it’s NOT about you.
Let’s stop right now and ask God to speak to us today as we tackle this crazy truth.
How many New Years resolutions fail? Anybody know? What percentage of New Years resolutions fail?
92%! 92% of New Years resolutions fail. Now that doesn’t stop us from making them. I read an article that said that 40% of Americans make New Years resolutions. For perspective, there are more Americans that make New Years resolutions than there are Americans who will watch this year’s Super Bowl! That’s a lot of resolutions, but only 8% of them will succeed. 92% of them will crash and burn.
I want 2015 to be your best year ever. And I absolutely believe that it CAN be your best year ever. But it has nothing to do with losing weight or quitting smoking or joining a gym. Those are all good things, don’t get me wrong…but they won’t make this your best year ever.
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to explore how this really can be the best year ever. And to find out how to do that, we’re going to listen to the best person ever. His Name is Jesus.
Listen to what Luke writes in chapter 4 of his gospel. “[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)
This is a pretty intense scene. Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, which was Saturday. And as He stood up to read from God’s Word, He purposefully chose a specific Scripture from the book of Isaiah. He read it, and then He sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In other words, Jesus said, “This Scripture is all about me. This prophecy that Isaiah wrote 700 years ago is all about me. This Scripture is what I came to do.”
So if this is really what Jesus came to do, then we should probably know what it says, right? That’s what we’re going to do in this series. We’re going to unpack what Isaiah wrote about Jesus.
Look at it again. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)
This is what Jesus came to do, and this is what He is still doing today. And when we let Jesus do these things in our lives, it will be the year of the Lord’s favor. It will be the best year ever!
So let’s start unpacking this. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18a, NIV)
The good news is the gospel. The news that Jesus came to die for our sin.
And that’s why I believe 2015 is going to be Connect’s best year ever: because we’re all about the good news. If you want to know what we’re all about, we’re all about that. The gospel. The good news of Jesus.
We all know what it’s like to wait on good news. For example, for the longest time, I was waiting to hear some good news about a leftfielder for the Reds. And then last week, I finally got some news in the form of Marlon Byrd.
Not exactly the news I was hoping for, but also not the worst news I’ve ever heard. I like that he’s a leader and has some power in his bat. I don’t like that he struck out 185 times last year and has only played two games in left field since 2009.
But anyway…for a long time, I desperately wanted to hear some good news, but I kept getting nothing but silence.
Every week, people walk into our church starving for some good news. Because they’ve had their fill of bad news. I’m kind of a news junkie. I watch the news on TV. I get breaking news alerts in my email. I listen to a lot of AM radio. I’m a news nerd. But over the Christmas holiday, I really tried to unplug. I didn’t go on a total news blackout, but I definitely stepped back from it a lot.
And you know what I figured out? The world kept turning. The world didn’t end because I didn’t stay on top of the news. And I felt a lot better, too.
We get our fill of bad news in the media. But a lot of times, we also get our fill of bad news in our own lives. Every week, people walk into our church wounded. Hurting. In great pain. Every week, people walk into our church hanging on by a thread because of the bad news they’re dealing with.
That’s why we are so passionate about our church being a place of joy. Of celebration. Of GOOD news. Because people are flat out starving for it.
That’s why we’re so serious about our Connect Team greeting people with a smile and going the extra mile to help them. Because they are carriers of good news.
It’s why our band puts so much time in each week to get ready to lead us in worship. They want to lead with excellence, because they are carriers of good news.
It’s why our setup team gets here early and works so hard to create this environment that we have every week. Without them, we can’t do church. They are carriers of good news.
It’s why our workers in Connect Kids take their roles so seriously and work so hard. Because they want kids to see the church as a place where they can actually have fun. A place they want to come back to again and again. Our kids workers are carriers of good news.
We could go on and on. This is true of every single volunteer team that we have. We are carriers of good news, because our church is all about Jesus. We are laser-focused on the gospel, the good news. And if there is ever a Sunday where a person walks out without experiencing that good news, then that Sunday was a failure. Our mission every single time we gather is to deliver the good news.
But Jesus didn’t just stop at saying that He is all about the good news. Look closer. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18a, NIV)
Jesus didn’t just come to bring the good news. He got more specific than that. He came to proclaim good news to the poor.
And that means that if a church is not ministering to people who are poor, then that church is not following in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s really that simple.
Generosity is the heartbeat of Jesus, and it has to be the heartbeat of His church. And I’m proud to pastor a church that takes generosity seriously.
Over Christmas, our church purchased brand new Christmas pajamas for little girls who have been rescued out of the sex trade. Dozens of girls received a brand new pair of pajamas from our church. These girls have lived through a hell that we can’t even imagine. We thank God that they have been rescued, and we showed them His love through generosity. That’s what the church does.
We’ve got some really cool plans this year, too. We’re going to collect cereal that will be distributed through the Christian Help Center in Batavia. Did you realize that, on average, the Christian Help Center gives out 400 boxes of cereal a week? A little later this year, we’re going to launch a challenge to fully supply them for a week.
We’re also going to be collecting rice that is going to go to some people who live in Haiti, literally one of the poorest nations on this planet. It’s going to be awesome.
And it’s all because we want to be like Jesus. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. If we aren’t caring for the poor, then we are nothing like Jesus. Our church is committed to that. And we want to do even more, but it starts with our partners. It starts with our partners taking generosity seriously.
Now, I know a lot of people decide to check out a new church in the New Year. And you might be rolling your eyes and thinking, “Here we go…another church that just wants my money!”
Nope. If you’re here just checking things out, I’ve got good news for you…I’m not even talking to you right now! We’re just glad you’re here. We don’t want anything from you. Now, you’re free to keep listening, because what I’m laying down is the truth. But this is for our partners…the people who call Connect their home.
One of our priorities at Connect is to really ramp up our efforts to better serve our community and to be even more generous to the missions we support in 2015. But it starts with our partners. It starts with taking the biblical command of the tithe seriously.
Listen to what God said through the prophet Malachi. “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.
Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:8-10, NIV)
When we bring God less than a tithe, which is 10% of our income, we become God-robbers. And if that makes you uncomfortable, I understand that. I hope you understand that I didn’t say it. God did. So you can get mad at me, but I’m just the messenger.
God said very clearly that when we don’t bring the whole tithe, we are robbing Him. And He also said that when we rob Him of the tithe, we rob ourselves of His blessings. And we rob other people of those blessings, as well.
Our church could feed a lot more people through the Christian Help Center if every one of our partners tithed. We could clothe and feed and house a lot more people if every partner at Connect took the tithe seriously.
But it goes beyond that…we could minister to so many more extremely poor people in the nation of India.
And our church is currently exploring a possibility of partnering with Rapha House to rescue girls from the sex trade. And our impact will only grow in these girls’ lives if our partners commit to the tithe.
If we really were a church that just wants your money, why in the world would we turn around and give so much of it away? That doesn’t make any sense, does it? That’s because we’re not after your money. We want to much more for you than that.
We want you to embrace the good news. And the good news is rooted in generosity. Jesus said very clearly that He came to proclaim the good news to the poor. And a church that is serious about that will be a generous church. There simply is no other way to follow Jesus than to be generous.
And generosity has the power to make this your best year ever. I know that sounds crazy. How can this year be awesome if I keep giving more and more away?
Here’s how…you can’t outgive God! God’s capacity to give is always going to be bigger than yours. Always.
I was reminded of something over the Christmas holiday, and that is I’m pretty sure my mom doesn’t realize how many people are actually in our family. Because when the family gets together for the holidays, she cooks enough food to feed a small army. It happens every single time, without fail. When you look at all the food she spreads out, you think, “Mom, how many people do you think are actually coming?”
So when we got together for Christmas dinner, I filled my plate UP. When it comes to things like Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner, I don’t mess around. I come to play, y’all. I filled my plate UP. And after that was gone, I filled my plate up AGAIN. And when it came time for dessert, I went after it yet again. Pumpkin pie. Peanut butter pie. I was all over it.
By the time it was over, I was completely stuffed. I was pretty sure I gained five pounds in this dinner alone. But the thing is, there was enough food left that I could have done it all over again. And again. And again. The food supply just never ended. My mom was giving WAY beyond my ability to receive. When it comes to dinner, you simply can’t outgive her.
Here’s the truth about God. You simply can’t outgive Him. There is always more where that came from. Always.
Look again at what He said in the book of Malachi. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10, NIV)
You can’t outgive God. He’s got more blessings than we could ever receive. But a lot of the time we don’t receive them because we’re not generous.
When you look at this text in Malachi, you see that the fastest way to close the floodgates of blessing is by refusing to be generous. God wants to flood us with blessing, but when we lack generosity, we dam up the river. It can’t get to us. We never experience it.
That’s why if you really want 2015 to be the best year ever, one of the best places to start is to decide to get serious about generosity.
The thing that blows me away about this Scripture is that God invites us to test Him. Do you realize that in other places in the Bible, God specifically says, “Do NOT test Me!”
But when it comes to the tithe, He makes an exception to His own rule. He invites us to test Him. He invites us to see if He will deliver on His promise. And I can’t think of a better time to test Him in this than in a New Year. Test Him for the next three months. Maybe six months. Bring the whole tithe, the whole 10%, and see what He does. Test and see if it’s true, that you really can’t outgive God. See if that doesn’t become part of making this the best year ever.
If you really want 2015 to be the best year ever, you have to start by making sure that it’s a year that’s all about Jesus, and not about you. And that’s what generosity does. When I’m generous, it takes me out of the spotlight. It makes my life about someone other than me. It sounds backwards, but it’s the upside-down truth of following Jesus. To be blessed, I have to be a blessing. To receive, I have to give. To be full, I have to empty myself. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s why generosity is such a core component of following Him.
One of the things that a lot of people tell me that they appreciate is that we don’t mince words here at Connect. We preach the truth, even when it’s not easy to hear.
Well, we’ll see if you still appreciate that after what I’m about to say. If this is your church, if this is where you are given the good news, if this is the church that ministers and loves and cares for you and your family, then you’d better be bringing a tithe.
Now, I realize that some of us need to work up to it. I get that. Like I’ve said before, you can’t go from 2% to 10% overnight. That’s not realistic. It just isn’t going to happen. But you need to be working at growing into it. You need to develop a plan.
Part of that plan mean that you stop spending more than you make. It involves making some cuts. It involves really being honest about what is a “need” and what is a “want.” For example, the premium TV package that you’re paying hundreds of dollars for each month is not a need. Just in case you were wondering.
You need to get serious about pursuing a more God-honoring approach to finances. And we’ve got some people who would love to come alongside you and help you. They’ve walked the same road you’re on. And they can come alongside you and give you the help that you need. No judgment. No condemnation. Just help. And if that’s something you need, talk to me confidentially after church today and we can get you started.
But others of you need to just get real about generosity. The truth is that you could start tithing this week. You can make all kinds of excuses, but you know it’s true. If Connect is your church, if you are serious about partnering with us, then you need to get serious about bringing the whole tithe.
Now, in case you’re wondering if this is just a money grab, no it’s not. Not even close. This is about understanding the good news. Jesus came to proclaim the gospel, the good news, to the poor. In other words, our understanding of the gospel is only as deep as our commitment to generosity.
I want to make sure we’re all getting this, so let me say that again. Our understanding of the gospel is only as deep as our commitment to generosity.
In other words, if you don’t give, you don’t get it. Generosity is at the very core of the gospel, the good news. But if you’re not generous, then you really don’t get it.
Everything you are experiencing today is because somebody gets it. Everything you experience in our church is because somebody was generous.
I told you how much my mom cooks when it comes to holiday meals. But that’s not the end of the story. My mom cooks enough for a small army, but we’re still not done because everybody else brings stuff, too. Everybody brings something to the table.
This Christmas, my sister brought cranberry salad, which was awesome. My wife brought pumpkin bars and homemade noodles, that were unbelievable. And on and on and on.
That’s how it works in families, and that’s how it works in the church. You are here today because somebody brought something to the table. You are experiencing the good news today because somebody brought something to the table. You are the recipient of someone else’s generosity.
And aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad that they brought something to the table? If they didn’t bring something to the table, Connect Christian Church wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be connecting people with Jesus. We wouldn’t be leading them into a growing relationship with Him. It’s all happening because somebody brought something to the table.
And so many of you do…and I want to thank you. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for your faithfulness in bringing the tithe. Thank you for bringing something to the table.
But for others of us, here’s my question…what are you bringing? Do you just come, sit down, and eat every week without bringing anything to the table?
Every family has that person. The person who brings nothing. They just sit down and eat everything.
(“That’s like the third sermon in a row where he’s used an illustration from Christmas Vacation. When is he going to stop?”
When it stops being funny. So in other words, never!)
But seriously, we all know that person who brings nothing to the table, and then sits down like they own the joint. But the sad thing is, that’s the norm in the church today. A few people bring something to the table, and everybody else just sits down to eat.
Now, I’m happy to tell you that our church does better than average. If you look at numbers from churches across the country, we have a better than average percentage of people who tithe. But we’re still far below where we could be and should be.
And that’s on me. Seriously, that’s on me. I haven’t done a good enough job casting the vision. I haven’t done a good enough job laying out the truth that God has called everyone to bring something to the table. I haven’t done a good enough job showing you the impact that your generosity has in our church, in our community, and even around the world. I haven’t done a good enough job preaching the truth that you can’t outgive God. I haven’t done a good enough job teaching that the heart of the good news is generosity.
It’s on me. And as your pastor, I am committed to do better in 2015. I’m committed to that because I really do believe that thiswill be the best year ever in our church.
We have a vision of 150 in ’15. We want to see at least 150 new people walk through the doors of our church in 2015. We have a goal of seeing our average weekly attendance top 200 by the end of the year. And in reality, we really want to go way above that.
We are going to launch a brand new system of small groups this year. You’re going to be hearing a ton more about that in February. These Connect Groups are going to foster and build community in our church in ways we’ve never seen before.
We believe that God is calling us to relocate this year. While the hotel has been a great location for us, we are getting capped on space and we have too many days when our space isn’t available to us on a Sunday morning. And we absolutely believe that God is leading us to a new location.
And like I said earlier, we want to take our impact in our community to the next level. We want to serve more. We want to give more. We want to be a church where, if we ceased to exist, the people in our community would know that we were gone. There would be an incredible hole left if our church didn’t exist anymore. That’s the kind of church that we want to be.
But none of that…absolutely none of that…can happen without our partners bringing something to the table. It’s only possible because our partners take God’s promise seriously. It’s only possible because our partners bring the tithe, believing that God can do more with 90% than they can do with 100%. It all comes down to our willingness to own this truth: generosity is the heartbeat of the gospel, the good news.
I really do believe that this will be the best year ever in our church. And I really do believe it could be the best year ever in your life.
Look at what Jesus said one more time. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)
The year of the Lord’s favor would have to be the best year ever, and the first thing that Jesus said about that was proclaiming good news to the poor. Generosity is at the center of the gospel. It is the very heartbeat of the good news.
The only reason that the gospel even exists is because of generosity. You don’t have to look any further than what is possibly the most well-known verse in the Bible. In John 3:16, we are reminded, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)
The only reason we have the good news is because God gave. There is a reason you can’t outgive God, and that’s because God is a giver at His very core. He gave His very Son for us.
Jesus died on a cross, in our place, for our sin. It is a completely free, no-strings-attached gift. It’s the most lavish, extravagant, over-the-top gift that we could ever receive. Our God is a giver.
And if you’ve never accepted His gift, then we would love to talk with you about that. We’ve got people who will be in our Green Room after church today, and they’re ready to listen and talk and pray with you. They’ll do whatever they can to help take your next step, whatever that step is.
Maybe your next step is becoming a partner with Connect. Our church is on a mission. We’ve got a brand new vision, and we could not be more excited about what God has in store for us! If you’re ready to partner with us, stop by the Connect Center after church. Talk with me. Talk with someone in a green shirt from our Connect Team. We’d love to have you partner with us.
It’s going to be the best year ever here at Connect! I absolutely believe that. I believe that because we’re all about the good news. We’re all about bringing something to the table so other people can have a seat and start being filled with the goodness of God. We’re all about the gospel.
So let’s get this year started right, Connect! If it’s going to be the best year ever, let’s make some noise! Let’s stand and sing like we believe it! Here we go!