During my ‘stay-cation’ this past weekend, I was studying and reading at a favorite spot of mine, Barnes & Noble, in Greenwood. As I concentrated on writing notes for my next talk, my attention was directed to the café area by a man’s voice a few tables over…“Excuse me, are you Danny?” When I answered in the affirmative I found out that the man questioning me (we’ll call him Joe) was a man with a story. And it just so happens that his story was one of my very favorite kinds to hear: It started with him telling me how he had completely blown up his life and basically hit rock bottom. It ended with him being invited to attend Emmanuel, accepting Christ, receiving a Bible, and seeing God start to change his life. Joe was on the receiving end of a restraining order from his wife, he had major anger issues, and had lost everyone important to him. At his lowest point he made the decision to come to our church and God met him there. To quote Joe, “I have been a horrible sinner throughout my life, but I now have a new lease and I choose God.”
The greatest part of this story is that it has happened and CONTINUES to happen time and time again across both of our campuses. I hear from people in the church, our staff members, and people in the community constantly about stories of life change. I hear about restored marriages, addictions that were finally overcome, intense care given through loss or illness, and lives that have done a 180 from walking a path of darkness, selfishness, and despair to lives of grace, hope, and peace in Jesus. These stories are why we exist. God has called us to share the Good News and create environments where He can penetrate the hearts of even the most “horrible sinners.”
Joe’s story reminds me of another in Luke 19. Verse 10 says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Jesus speaks this to a man named Zacchaeus, a tax collector and known sinner. Most of us know the story – a man, short in stature, climbs a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. Not only did Jesus see him, but He went to stay at Zac’s house, an act of intimate fellowship and acceptance.
The truth is, we are all lost. And just like Jesus stopped to meet Zacchaeus right where he was before he cleaned up his act, He longs to meet with all of us and to have intimate fellowship with us through a personal relationship.
Our vision at Emmanuel is to ‘See People Come to Christ and Grow in Christ.’ God is continuing to blow us away week after week as we hear how He is meeting people right where they are and changing their forevers. We want to shatter people’s expectations of church by being a community full of grace, love, and truth where people hear messages that are relevant to their lives. And just like Joe from Barnes and Noble in Greenwood, and Zacchaeus from thousands of years ago in the Bible, I believe God will continue reach down into real individual’s lives and start to change them from the inside-out.
That is why we are crazy about you investing in the people who are far from God in YOUR life and inviting them! When we partner with God and boldly extend invitations to hear the Gospel, we give people a chance to turn from their sin and live life abundantly, life to the max! (John 10:10)