Next Steps: Seeking Steps

Categories: Next Steps

How are we doing today, Connect? Everybody doing good? My name is Mike Edmisten. I get the privilege of pastoring this church, and I’ve been really excited about today because we are kicking off a brand new series today called Next Steps.

Here’s why we’re doing this three week series. Because everyone has a next step. Wherever you are in your faith, there is a next step that you need to take. When it comes to following Jesus, no one can ever say, “I have arrived. I made it.” If anyone ever does say that, run. Run fast. Run far, because they are either a liar or they’re out of their mind.

We never “arrive” in our faith. There is always a next step that God is calling us to take. And that goes for all of us, regardless of where we are in our faith. Maybe you’re a brand new Christian. There is a next step for you to take. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for 50 years. There is a next step for you to take. And maybe you’re not a Christian at all. We’re actually going to talk a lot about that today. There is a next step that you can take, as well.

So let me pray for God to lead us in this series and then we’ll jump in.

If you aren’t sure if you buy into all this church stuff, but you’re here today checking things out, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve got so much for you today.

But if you’re a Christian, maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time, don’t check out on me. I’ve got some critically important stuff for you, too.

So let’s go. We’re going to start in Luke 19. Starting in verse 1, Luke writes, “[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.

And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4, ESV)

If you didn’t grow up going to church, you might not know this story. But if you did grow up going to church like I did, you do know this story. You probably even know the song, right? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

And that’s what I want us to key in on. Zacchaeus knew that Jesus was in his city, but there was such a huge crowd around Jesus that Zacchaeus couldn’t see him because Zacchaeus was short. How many of you are “vertically challenged” and can relate to this? I can’t really relate to this, because I’m just slightly taller than average. The average American man is 5’10”. I’m about 2 inches taller than that. I’m not a giant by any means, but I can usually manage to see what I need to see when we’re in a crowd.

But some of you can probably relate to Zacchaeus. You go to a movie and some tall dude sits in front of you. You have to move. Things like that.

That’s where Zacchaeus was. He’s a short dude, and he can’t see over this large crowd. But that didn’t stop him. Zacchaeus might have been a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. But he climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.

Look at how Luke describes it. Luke said that Zacchaeus, “was seeking to see who Jesus was.”

Do you realize that this is exactly why our church exists in the first place? Because we want to see who Jesus is. We want to see Him. We want to know Him. And that also why one of our core values is to focus on the outsider, not the insider. We don’t exist for us. We exist for people who don’t yet know Jesus.

And maybe that describes you. Maybe you’re exactly where Zacchaeus was. You’re not sure about all this stuff about church and everything, but you are seeking. You are seeking to see who Jesus is. You’re seeking to know if there is anything to this Jesus stuff. Maybe you know people who are absolutely sold out to Jesus, but you’re just not sure. You just don’t know, but you want to know. So you’re seeking. You’re checking it out.

That’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how welcome you are here at Connect. We’re so glad that you’re here. If you’re a Zacchaeus, if you’re seeking to see who Jesus is, then this morning is for you. Our church is here for you.

Jesus has always welcomed seekers. In fact, after Zacchaeus climbed that tree to see Jesus, Jesus gave him a little The Price Is Right moment. He told Zacchaeus to come on down! And Jesus ended up going to Zacchaeus’ house, which was absolutely scandalous because Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. There really is no cultural equivalent in 21st century America to describe how the Israelites felt about tax collectors in the first century.

First of all, tax collectors were cheats and con men. They would charge people too much for their taxes, and then they would pocket the difference.

But worse than that, they were the ones who collected money for the Roman Empire. If you know your history, you know that the Roman Empire was a brutal regime. The Romans would tax people mercilessly. They would beat and torture and rape subordinates, just because they could. And if anyone dared step out of line, crucifixion was their preferred means of dealing with it. The Romans crucified thousands of men, women, and children. And tax collectors were the ones who funded the operation.

So you can see why a chief tax collector, like Zacchaeus, was hated. Despised. Reviled. And yet Jesus went to his house. Hung out with him. Had dinner. All of which was a sign of acceptance and love in the ancient world.

But look what happened because Jesus was willing to love Zacchaeus in spite of everything that he was and everything he had done. Start in verse 7. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor,

and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:7-10, NIV)

Zacchaeus had a saving encounter with Jesus. This tax collector, this con man, this fund raiser for a brutal, murderous empire, had a saving encounter with Jesus Christ. But it all started when Zacchaeus decided to seek Jesus. Amazing, incredible things happen when we seek Jesus. And in this series called Next Steps, maybe that is your next step. To just seek Jesus. To seek to see who Jesus is.

Jesus has always welcomed seekers. In fact, it was Jesus Himself who said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

Look at these promises that Jesus gives us. Seek and you WILL find. The one who seeks finds.

That goes hand-in-hand with the promise that God made through the prophet Jeremiah. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a, NIV)

There is no equivocating here. God is making a rock-solid promise. If we seek God with all our heart, He will be found.

And that’s why we are a church where it’s ok to be a seeker. In fact, it’s more than ok. It’s awesome. Every single week, without fail, there are people in this room who are not Christians, but they are seeking. And that gets us all jacked up here at Connect, because that’s what we live for! This is a safe place for seekers to take their next step.

Maybe that next step is asking hard questions. And that’s awesome.

Connect is a safe place to ask dangerous questions.

Do you have questions that you’ve always wanted to ask, but you’ve always thought that a church would kick you out if you did? You’ve got questions, but it’s just always felt like it was too dangerous to ask them. Not here. Connect is a safe place to ask dangerous questions.

In fact, here’s how serious we are about this…we have a Q&A series every year. This year it will be in September. In that series, you can text in any questions that you want, and Brian Morrissey and I will be on this stage to answer them live. You set the agenda. The message is completely directed by your questions. Nothing is off limits. And the reason we do stuff like that is simple. We always want Connect to be a safe place to ask dangerous questions.

When you read the gospels in the Bible, you see that people were always asking Jesus questions. And they weren’t easy, softball questions. They were hard, soul-searching, dangerous questions.

Let me show you a few.

After Jesus was arrested, He appeared before Pontius Pilate. John tells us about their conversation in his gospel.

In John 18, starting in verse 33, John wrote, “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.” (John 18:33-38a, NIV)

That’s a question that a whole lot of people are asking today. What is truth? And maybe that’s a question that you’re wrestling with yourself. What is truth? You are free to ask that question here. You won’t be rejected or shunned or kicked out, because this is a safe place to ask dangerous questions.

Earlier in the book of John, we see another guy that asked Jesus some hard questions. His name was Nicodemus.

In chapter 3, John writes, “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night [probably because he didn’t want anyone to see him talking to Jesus. He was afraid about what the other Jewish leaders would think.] and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

[And Nicodemus responded with a question.] “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:1-4, NIV)

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He was part of the spiritual upper crust. He was one of the spiritual elites. And he still came to Jesus with his questions.

One more. There was a man that God sent to come ahead of Jesus, to prepare people for His coming. His name was John the Baptist. Surely if anyone didn’t have any questions, it would be him, right? Wrong.

Go to Matthew 11. Matthew writes, “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:1-3, NIV)

John the Baptist had proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God. But now that he is in prison, nothing seems to make sense anymore. And in his doubt and despair, he asked an extremely dangerous question. “Jesus, are you the one who is to come? Are you really the Son of God?”

Think about these three questions that people asked Jesus.

“What is truth?”

“How can someone be born again?”

“Are you the one?”

You know what these questions are? They are dangerous. These are honest, hard questions that come from the depth of your soul. And these are the very questions that people asked Jesus. And these are also the very same questions that you’re not allowed to ask in a lot of churches today. Anybody else see a problem with that?

You know what we see from these accounts, and from so many other times when people asked Jesus questions? We see that the questions didn’t scare Him. Jesus isn’t afraid of our questions. Your hard, honest, real questions don’t scare Him. They don’t offend Him.

And they don’t scare or offend us here at Connect, either. So maybe your next step is to just commit to come to church. Bring your questions. Bring your doubts. Bring your skepticism. But just commit to come to church.

When you look at church attendance statistics among Christians nationwide, it’s actually pretty troubling. The average Christian now goes to church once or twice a month. And since every month has at least four Sundays, that means that people who are considered to be committed Christians are at church 50% of the time or less.

Here’s why that’s a problem. Here’s what the Apostle Paul said about the church in the book of 1 Timothy. He called the church “…the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15b, NIV)

If the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, that means the church is the place where God speaks. It is where we encounter Him. It is where we receive hope. It is where we experience His grace.

Do you only want to be part of that 50% of the time?

Look, like I’ve said before, life happens. I get it. I understand that kids get sick. I understand family vacations happen this time of year. I get all of that. But can we be honest? Those things are the exception, not the rule. If you are a committed Christ-follower, being an active, vibrant part of the church of the living God is not optional. If you think it is, then show me your Scripture to back it up. I have a feeling I’ll be waiting a long time.

But what if you’re not a Christian? What if you’re a seeker, like we’ve been talking about this morning? What does this have to do with you? Everything.

If the church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” like Paul said, then it is THE place where you want to bring your questions and your doubts. But if Paul was wrong about the church, then you can walk away. But guess what? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to commit to come to church. To see it for yourself. And if you’re seeking to see who Jesus is, there’s really no better way to do that than through the church.

Now, I want to give a couple of disclaimers here. First of all, I will freely admit that there are churches who have not lived up to their calling as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” There are a lot of them, in fact. But that doesn’t mean we can throw the entire idea of the church out the window. There are still churches that are committed to the idea of “sola scriptura,” which is a Latin phrase that simply means “by Scripture alone.” There are still churches that preach the Bible only. Not manmade creeds or traditions. Not politics or pet agendas. You happen to be sitting in one of those churches right now.

But the other disclaimer I want to give is that if you think this whole thing is just a pitch for me to build our attendance here at Connect, you’re wrong. I just want to see you get plugged into the church. And if Connect is not the right church for you, we’ll help you find the church that is the right fit. That’s not joke. I’m dead serious.

The bottom line is that all of us, from the seeker to the seasoned Christian, need the church. We need a consistent connection with “the church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of the truth.”

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, but man…getting up every Sunday is rough. And if I can just watch the sermon video online later, then what’s the difference anyway?”

Go back to the Zacchaeus story. I want to point out something else that we might have missed.

Luke writes, “[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.

And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4, ESV)

Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” But because he was short, he couldn’t see over the crowd. So look at what Zacchaeus did.

Zacchaeus ran on ahead of the crowd, and then he climbed a tree.

Zacchaeus ran and then Zacchaeus climbed. In other words, he did some work to see who Jesus was. He was seeking Jesus, but it required something from him. He had to put some sweat into his seeking. He had to put some effort into his search.

Here’s my question for you…how much work are you willing to do to seek the truth about Jesus? What are you willing to do to seek the answers to your questions? I’ve got news for you…when it comes to actually finding out the truth about Jesus, showing up at 10:30 on a Sunday morning isn’t that tough. It’s just not.

What else are willing to do? Are you willing to read some books that can help you understand the life of Christ? We’ve got some we can recommend. Are you willing to read the Bible yourself? Are you willing to search out its truth claims? We can help you get started.

The point is, if you’re serious about seeking to see who Jesus is…if that is your next step…it’s not going to happen by accident. Next steps never do.

If you’re a parent, think back to when your kids learned to walk. It didn’t happen on accident, did it? Your child put a lot of work into that. They put work into pulling themselves up. They put work into taking that first step, and then falling down. And then pulling themselves up again. And then taking their next step.

Next steps never happen on accident. They are always intentional, and they always require something from us. But next steps are always worth it.

Your child learning to walk was worth all the fumbling and the stumbling and falls, wasn’t it? It was worth all the effort and the work.

Next steps are always worth the cost. But the question is, are we willing to pay that cost so we can see the blessings after we take our next step?

If you’re ready to take that next step of seeking Jesus here at Connect, we’re ready for you. We love you. And we want you to know that you are absolutely welcome here.

And that brings up something that I want to say to all our partners here at Connect. We can never forget that one of our core values is focus on the outsider, not the insider.

If you’re a partner here at Connect, it is automatically assumed that you will sacrifice your preferences and desires in favor of the outsider. It means that the seeker always gets preferential treatment. And that means that there will always be people in this room who don’t believe what you believe. And it means that we’re going to do whatever we can to connect them to Jesus. And I do mean whatever. We will do WHATEVER we can to connect them to Jesus. Some of the things we do might make you uncomfortable, but it might make an outsider feel welcome and at ease, which could open up the door for them to receive the gospel.

So here’s where we land on this. As long as it’s not sinful, we’re willing to do it if we believe it will open a door to connect another person to Jesus.

That might mean that some religious legalists won’t have much use for us, but that’s ok. We don’t have much use for them, either. We’re too busy focusing on our mission, which is to connect people to Jesus Christ by leading them into a growing relationship with Him.

That’s it, gang. That’s what we’re all about. And that’s why we are all about making sure that people who don’t believe in Jesus feel welcome and at ease and at home in our church.

We are here to make heaven more crowded. And that means that we WANT seekers in these seats. It means we want sinners in these seats. It means we want people with messed up, broken lives in these seats.

But you know what people with messed up lives do? They mess things up! It’s not a neat, tidy thing.

I love the way Jud Wilhite said it. He said, “Ministry is messy, because sin is messy. Get over it! Get a mop and start helping people clean up!”

When seekers came to Jesus, He never complained about the mess they brought with them. Instead, by His death and resurrection, He did what needed to be done to clean up the mess.

And truth be told, we’re all a mess, aren’t we? Some of us are at different levels of messiness in our lives, but we’re all a mess because we’re all sinners. And sin just jacks up everything in our lives. It messes everything up.

So if we’re all messed up sinners, who are we to stand in the way of other messed up sinners who are seeking to see who Jesus is?

You know who we are as Christ-followers? We’re beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. We’re messed up sinners telling other messed up sinners about the One who can heal us of our brokeneness…the One who can actually deal with our mess. His Name is Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross, He took my mess and your mess onto His shoulders. He took our sin in its entirety…absolutely all of it…on Himself. And He died to pay the price for that sin in full. And then He rose again three days later. And His resurrection to life gives us a brand new life.

And here at Connect, we’re all about connecting people to Him. And we will never be about anything else. I promise you that. We will never be about anything else.

Because see, here’s the thing about Jesus. Jesus is a seeker, too. Go back to what Jesus said at the very end of the Zacchaeus story.

He said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10, ESV)

Jesus is a seeker, too. He’s seeking us. He’s seeking lost people so He can turn them into found people. He’s seeking sick people so He can turn them into well people. He’s seeking broken people so He can turn them into whole people.

And that’s why we will always welcome seekers in our church. Because we are all seeking Jesus, who is actually seeking us.

Author: Mike Edmisten

Senior Pastor