Hear from Fort Worth Campus Pastor, Gary Stroope, on how God can change people that we don't expect, and the part we can play in the process.
About Gary Stroope
I adore my wife Kimberly. Together, we have
raised sons who with their wives and kids love Jesus deeply. God's work through
His word and church has changed... Read more
I love stories. I love to hear people's stories. As a matter of fact, I tell people often, "I won't remember your name, unless I hear your story." I sort of need that to hang on to. It draws dimension on getting to know somebody. Today, we're going to look at one guy's story. Really, really simple. Next week Todd or JP is jumping back in, one of our teaching pastors. I'm not sure which, I forgot. I was in that meeting, but I don't remember.
Either way, today we're going to jump into the really simple little story of Zacchaeus. I believe every story in Scripture is there for a reason. I want to remind you Zacchaeus was a real person. It's not some little fable we tell the kids in Sunday school. Actually Zacchaeus was a real man. He lived. He occupied a real place called Jericho. He lived there. That story becomes fascinating to me because after all these years, we still have his story. We have his story so we can walk away with it with some real specific outcomes.
Let me ask you a question_…Who is the person in your life that is the least likely in your mind to become a Christ-follower?_ I asked that one time with a group of men. One guy raised his hand. I wasn't really looking for an answer. He said, "Madonna." I said, "No, someone you know." I figured you could seem tempted to say, "Well, you know, I met her at an airport." Think about that person today.
One of the things I love about this little brief story in Luke is it gives hope to everybody. I'm always conscious of who is in the crowd on an average Sunday or when we get together. If you're in this crowd this morning, and you think to yourself, "I'm the person, if we were to do a poll today in this room, least likely to be close to God, to receive God's favor, to receive his blessing because of past sin, because of who I am, because of my belief system." Well this story is for you then, because it levels the playing field. You begin to understand the person of Christ.
You see, I am totally convinced that most who have not come to Christ have just not ever seen Christ. Because once they see him, they want him. If you're here today, I'm convinced today is your day of opportunity. Today you have a chance to receive this Christ and to know him. If you know Christ, you have a chance to be reminded about why the person you know and have given your heart to deserves more of your heart and will encourage you how loved you are by him.
I've told this story before, but it was in the early days of Watermark Fort Worth, and you never waste a good illustration, so now that there are more people here, I'll tell it again. Kimberly and I had decided to move from Dallas to Miami. We felt guilty because we were taking our kids out of their home, taking them to Miami. I don't know why we felt guilty, but we did.
We thought, "Hey, here's what we'll do. We'll make the transition go exceptionally smooth for them by taking them to Disney World." Heaven, Disney World. Kind of those are the order right below heaven for a child. We made the mistake of telling our oldest son at the time, Griffin, we were going to Disney World. Because we had a TV set, he knew what it was. He knew what Disney World was. He knew all the characters.
He began to talk about it incessantly, where it drove us nuts. I had forgotten kids have no concept of time. Five days from now is that moment. Every five minutes, he would ask us, "Now are we going to Disney World?" "No. No. We're not going." Two days in the car with a 5-year-old, talking about Disney World. It was unbelievable. I said, "Man, I made a huge mistake."
He was so excited, because he was going to get to see Pluto, except he called him Fluto. For two days, "Fluto. Fluto. Fluto." We stop at a service station, he would tell the service station guy, "Hey, we're on our way to see Fluto." He didn't realize we were going to have to spend the night. We get to the motel, and he's telling the clerk. In bed, he can't sleep because he's talking about it.
Next morning, we get up. We're finally in Florida. We get up. We're eating waffles. He's stopping people. "We're on our way to see Fluto." He is just obsessed with it. We get to the park, and I say, "Man, I have to get this over with so we can have a good day." Sure enough, I look across a big bridge, and there is the character. There is Pluto over there, bigger than life.
Smart man, "Kim, stay here." I run across the bridge. I grab this person inside the Pluto suit, and I said, "Hey, buddy. We've driven for two days with a 5-year-old. You're all he can talk about. You're going with me." He didn't move. He kind of gave me one of those… You know, they can't talk to you, and I just said, "Hey, buddy. I'm a paying guest. You're coming." Somehow in the Disney handbook, it says if a guy becomes hostile, just go with it.
I drug him across the bridge, and we come back. It's a man inside of a suit with a head on. They're massive animals. He starts coming across the bridge, and as he begins to come, he just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Griffin begins to back up. Before too long, he's inside of a bush. He says, "I like him over there! I like him over there!"
When I read the story of Zacchaeus, I think about that. Some of us, we love the whole concept of Jesus. We like his stories. We like prayers before big football games. We like Bible studies. We like to pray to God before a big business deal. We like to pray to God when things are going bad, because we want to get out of the trouble we're in. We're not really sure we want him _this_ close. Because we don't know if we can trust him.
He's a little scary when you think about it, and the closer he gets… Some of us have preconceptions because of some people we know that use the name Jesus. Because if he gets close to us, he's going to rip us off instead of blessing us. He's going to mess with us in some way. Some of us don't want him very close because we have some stuff we don't want him to be involved in or to see. Like he can't see it to begin with.
Today is the story about what do you do with this person of Jesus? What does this person of Jesus do when he encounters us? We like the thought of Jesus; we just don't know if we're into him. Let me tell you about our buddy, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho. He was the head honcho at the tax office in Jericho of H&R of Jericho.
This was a great gig if you could get it, financially. Because what you have is you had Rome, who ruled over this region. They would tell the tax collector, you have to raise this much money out of this district, but anything else you get beyond that, you can kind of put in your pocket as long as you hit your mark over there.
What our buddy Zacchaeus did, he got other guys to work for him. He would incentivize them as well. Everywhere they went, they were levying more and more and more money from these very poor people. You had two classes in Jericho. You had the extremely poor and a few wealthy people. The extremely poor, you can imagine how they hated him because he represented everything that was a threat to them. He was taking food off their table.
Here you are, you have a very modest way of making a living. This guy and his buddies show up at your house and they levy a tax that hurts your kids, takes food out of their mouth, and puts you at peril of being so upside down you lose everything so he can have more and more and more and more. When you pass him, you see your struggle, but you look at him and his cronies, and they have better clothes than you have on. They live in better houses.
I was thinking, I don't know historically this to be true, but I'm guessing the tax collectors lived in the gated community because they needed to, for their own protection, but they are extortionists. They are people who take advantage of people. Zacchaeus was voted "most hated" by his junior college graduating class. Nobody liked Zacchaeus. There was nothing good about him.
What we know about Zacchaeus is he was rich, he was arrogant, and he was extremely short. I think it's almost comical Scripture records, "Let me tell you about Zacchaeus. He was short. He was really short." It just cracks me up. I don't know. I just throw that in there for free. The mental picture, think Danny DeVito, if you're old enough. I want to read to you the passage that talks about this in Luke 19:1-10.
It begins by saying, **"He entered Jericho…"** When he says _he_, he's talking about Jesus. **"He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man name 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. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.' So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it…"** _They_ there is the crowd, the people around them.
**"…they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.' And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods** [or half of everything I make from this day forward] **I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything…'"** Duh! Everybody knew he had. **"'…I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.'"** This is a really, really important verse right here. **"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."**
Some of you guys lead companies and you have your mission statement. You just heard Jesus' mission statement. _Why does he exist?_ "To seek and to save that which is lost." If you say you're a follower of Jesus Christ and you're not seeking and saving that which was lost, you're not a part of his mission, because that is who he is. He is all about that. Because he is all about people.
You can imagine how hated old Zach was. I thought to myself, "If I'm making this into a movie, it would go something like this." Zacchaeus is just walking down the street and as he turns the corner, some junior high boys get just right on the edge of the building so they can get their feet going in the opposite direction before he can catch them. They lob a rock and hit him in the back of the head.
There are some other men in a shop when he passes by, and they think to themselves, "Hey, there's a law that says we can't murder, but we're justified because he has made our lives miserable. He is starving our families to death, he and his cronies. Let's do something. Let's take him out and drown him. Let's bury him where no one can find him." They felt justified in doing it.
He comes into a place where they serve food. He asks for a bowl of stew. He sits down. You can see the woman in the back spit in it, because she feels justified in doing it, because he is so hated. When he goes to the meat market, he probably has to send someone else to buy the meat because if they find out the meat is for him they will sell him meat they know is right on the edge of being rancid.
This man is hated, because he doesn't steal once; he can steal over and over and over and over again. It's a credible story because you see who Jesus is in the story. You see his character, you see his heart, and you see his purpose. It's really important you discover that guys, because if you don't, when you read the things Jesus says, they don't make sense.
When you know what Jesus is all about, you quit running from him and you start moving towards him, when you see he is for you and he calls you to something great, when you see the mundaneness of living in this world is futile, but he offers you a purpose for living, you start trying to claim that purpose. I love this…you learn how Christ responds to people who are wrong. It's really important, guys.
We know how he responds to people who are living rightly, which are not many, quite frankly. When you learn how Jesus responds to people who are wrong and are making wrong choices, here's the second part of the sentence, and are desperate… Here's the deal. I'm convinced most of us have not reached a place of desperation where we know we need Christ. We like Christ. We're not against it, but we don't believe we need him. Because we don't believe we need him, we don't receive what he has for us.
I believe Zacchaeus came to a point of personal desperation where he was willing to risk it all to get a peek at this Christ everyone was talking about. I've said this before to you guys, sometimes when people come, they come to our office or they call on the phone or they grab you out in public and say, "Man, I'm out of gas. I have nothing. I've destroyed my marriage. I've destroyed my job. I've destroyed my relationship. I've ruined the friendship I have." They just go down whatever list it is.
There's a part of me that goes, "Aww, what a great place to be." I know that's crazy. I sense that. Because they're at a place where they are desperate. What you get when you get desperate, you get Jesus. The scariest thing to me is church buildings full of people because of the programming and they don't get Jesus. **"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."**
I was talking to a young adult after the last service, he just said, "If you had asked me five years ago, when you talk about brokenness, I would have said I don't need Jesus because I'm not broken." Because he said that was just pride. It just was a matter of time before I discovered I was broken just like everybody else. We say here all the time, "Hey, we're a group of people who are broken." I didn't say sad, I didn't say pitiful, I said we know we need Jesus is another way of saying it.
We're a group of people who get together because we desperately need Jesus. We forget we desperately need Jesus and we have to get together to remind each other of that. We know Zacchaeus wanted to be with Jesus, desperately, because he risked a lot to go out into public. He risked a lot of his personal safety and he risked a lot of condemnation to be there that afternoon. He really, really wanted to see Jesus. I'll remind you again, he was a real man, not a cartoon character or a story in a book. He walks in the crowd that hates him.
I asked myself this question about Zacchaeus, "How do you become Zacchaeus? How do you become like this guy?" You don't just wake up one morning and say, "You know, I've been living good for 35 years. I think the next 35, I'll just cheat everybody and I'll become really hated. I have really good relationships right now, done that. Just for a change, I think I'll become…" That's not how it happens.
We came in the house yesterday afternoon after going to grab something to eat. I walked in and I thought my dog had gone to the bathroom on the floor. Then my wife told me, "No, there's a leak in the ceiling." I went up in the attic, and I looked around.
I was expecting a hole about the size of _this_, wind blowing in, doves flying, and all kinds of stuff. What I found was a little tiny _drip, drip._ I heard it first. I got my flashlight, and finally I found it. I sealed it off with some caulk and then down below, the leak stopped. Hopefully permanently, we'll see. Great week to test it. You see, I think that's how it happens.
I don't think you wake up one day and say, "I want to be an extortionist. I want everybody to hate me." I think it happens a drip at a time. Then all of a sudden the floor is rotten, all of a sudden the dwelling is rotten, and all of a sudden you can't live there unless you do something about it. It's a slow leak. Little by little by little, sin makes its way into our hearts and we don't think it will really affect us, but it does. Before too long, our lives are not fit to live in any more.
I say it here often, guys, but I really do mean it. Sin has not touched some of us, it's touched all of us. Every last person. Until we realize that, we don't deal with it seriously and we don't receive that which eradicates it. That's Jesus. We think there's life somewhere else and we can have that. That's what is really going to give us life. We want God's insurance program over here and we're not all in with Jesus. Little by little that drip takes its effect.
I remember going to Baylor Hospital when my kids were being born and them handing us our kids. You say, "Man, maybe one day he'll be a doctor. Maybe one day, he'll be a great musician. Maybe one day he'll be this personality everybody wants to be around because he's so full of joy. Maybe one day he'll be a great husband and a great dad." I was walking out, and one of my friends ran to me in the hospital who was a physician.
I had my new son in my arms. He said, "What do you think?" I said, "I think we could screw this up." I was being serious. I'm the slow leak. Every child comes to the earth with great potential. I don't think Zacchaeus' parents looked at their son and said, "Ehh, we'll make him into a tax collector. Let's throw this one away." I think they had dreams for him. Matter of fact, I have proof of it. In this culture, names meant something. You gave a name to set the course. Names meant something.
I'll give you an example. At our household, my youngest son's name is Murphy. We named him Murphy because my great-grandfather's name is Murphy. We had also named a dog that previously, but that just kind of tells you how wacky we are. "Let's give him the dog's name." We named him Murphy because my great-grandfather's name was Murphy.
My great-grandfather was crazy funny, even at his advanced age. I would go see him at a nursing home and the nurses were laughing and I was laughing. He was crazy sweet. My hope is I'll become that kind of person that when I get elderly I can still be sweet. My wife's going, "Today would be good. Work on that now. Get a head start." He was this funny, sweet man everyone wanted to be around. When my son came, I said, "That's a great name. I like the name, but I like the man. I want him to carry that name."
My parents named me Gary, which means boy who someday will mow the yard. Well, Zacchaeus had a name. Get this, his name meant purity, undefiled, pure. How crazy is that? What happened? They named him pure. They named him undefiled. They named him purity. He was anything but that. We go from pure and undefiled, unspoiled, unadulterated, to thief, extortionist, most hated man in town. Somewhere along the way, he never fulfilled what they had named him.
Somewhere along the way, he lost, in the slow drip of living, what he was created to become. Let me ask you something, why do you think God has called you? Have you fulfilled it? Or in the living of life has a slow drip begun to make its way to take away who you are and who you were created to become? I can almost promise you that's true. Or have you even discovered what God dreams for you, his child? I wonder what your heavenly father has dreamed for you that you have not fulfilled but he still dreams for your life.
John 10:10 says, "I have come that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly." I love that Scripture. The Scriptural picture, he says, "I have come to pour life into you, to pour life into you, to pour life into you, so it is so abundant that, guess what? It spills over the edges and everybody who comes near you goes, 'There's life there.'" There's life there. I want to be near that person. I want to be like that person. Then that person says, "Then you need to be like my father." "I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly."
Here's what it doesn't say, "I came that you might have life and you will never have problems and you'll be wealthy and you'll marry a really attractive girl who will…you won't even have to worry about dating her, she'll just come to you and tell you she wants to marry you." That's not what it says. It says, "I have come that you might have life. In the middle of death, in the middle of problems, that you might have life. Regardless of what the economy does, regardless of what your job does, regardless of the choices your kids make. That you might have it more abundantly."
Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do." You know what he's saying, "Before you were even born, I have planned for your life to make a difference. I have it all lined out for you. Let's go!" The slow drip of sin where we don't live up to the potential, the purpose, and the joy.
This is sort of goofy, I know, but one of my favorite moments is when a new baby gets here. It's just so cool. I just got to hold my granddaughter just a couple of weeks ago. As they put her in my arms, I told my wife…she's coming to see us tomorrow…she gets to sit in my lap. Don't let your sisters come in here and want to spend… I didn't get enough time. I'm going to get to hold that baby girl and say to her what she won't even know. It's the intention of the daddy.
Guys, if I love my kids and my grandkids that way, don't you think your Daddy, your heavenly Father loves you that way. Not only that, it's not just ooey, gooey, mushy stuff, he says, "I have stuff for you to do that I planned for you to do before you were even born. Let's go." The slow drip begins to take away from that.
It's our great desire for you to fulfill your destiny, your watermark. Our job is to help you to do that. I love in Scripture where he calls us children of God. I talked about the love of a daddy a while ago, you're the children of God. He's called you his child. He not only wants to hold you and call you his own, he wants to raise you to full devotion and have you walk upright and be joint heirs with him. We desire you to know your destiny.
I don't know about you, but I identify with Zach, because you want to see Jesus, but sometimes you want to operate outside of his personal influence. Some of us know about Christ, we believe in Christ, and some of us just avoid him like crazy because we're afraid of what he might do if he spoke to us directly, what it might mean, what it might cost us. Some of us are afraid of him because we're afraid we might have to give up our pet sin. What we're really saying is we believe there's more life here than there is in Jesus. So you do what you know to do.
I want to declare to you today, not just Zacchaeus, but everybody here today, everybody needs Jesus. How basic can you be? Everybody needs Jesus. Not just to believe in him, we need him. We need his influence, we need his touch, we need his forgiveness, we need his sacrifice on the cross, we need his hope, we need his leadership.
You see, Zach had money to burn, he was wealthy, and it wasn't enough. Where he thought there was life, what he had given himself to, wasn't going to be enough. I can't relate to the whole money thing, but I've given myself to other things I thought were going to be enough. "If I could just get married, just get a guy to say he loves me. If I could just get the perfect job. If I could just get popularity, if I could just get power." You fill in the blank.
What we do know is Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus because he makes his way to the city. Long before Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus, Jesus was looking for him. He was looking for him. I know that because it says, **"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."** First John 4:19 says, **"We love because he first loved us."** What we know is God has been looking for you. I'm just going to be really personal. Some of you here are church attenders, and he doesn't really care. That's not his deal. He's calling you to know him. He's calling you to walk with him, to be forgiven, to receive grace and hope, and a new beginning.
When I was growing up, in grade school, everybody had a girlfriend in grade school. Everybody. You never asked a girl to be your girlfriend without doing market research. Here's how it went. You would turn to your best friend and say, "Hey, Rick, go and find out if Debbie Falco will be my girlfriend." What he would do is he would go to her best friend and say, "Hey, Cindy. Gary wants to be Debbie's boyfriend." She says, "I'll check and get back to you."
Then the next day on the playground, Cindy would come back to her and say, "He's in." So the good market research would come back and that night you would go home and very carefully with a colored pen, you would write, "Dear Debbie, do you like me? Check _yes_ or _no_." It was very rare you got a _no_ when you had done your research, you know what I'm saying?
Hey guys, here's the good news. I have done the research. He loves you. He's checked _yes_. Why are you still sitting there in your hearts? Move towards him. He wants to lead you and love you. He's already died for you. He's calling you to know him and follow him with your life. Have no fear, move towards him.
Be like Zacchaeus and be curious. Be in the tree. Ask him the question. Because he's going to say, "Yes." With great confidence say, "Lord, will you forgive me? Will you be my Lord? Will you be my Savior? Because you know what I've done. You know the things I have done." If he can forgive Zacchaeus, he can forgive you.
If he can forgive me, he can forgive you. Ask him. Ask him today if you've never done that. I didn't ask whether you believed in God. I didn't ask if you think you ought to be a nice person. I said, "Do you know Jesus Christ? Have you ever invited him to forgive you of your sins and to give you a brand new heart that only he can do supernaturally?" Because you can. Right where you sit, right at this moment.
You ought not leave here unless you're an absolute fool today without making that transaction. Matter of fact, there's a little tear-out sheet that says, "How can we serve you?" You ought to write on there, "My name is _X_, here's my email, here's my phone number. Call me. Help me." Because nothing else in this world matters but that. If you're fuzzy on it, we won't embarrass you, we won't talk to your parents, we won't talk to your wife. We'll find a time to talk to you. Make that transaction.
"While we were his enemies, Christ died for us." Jesus knows it all, but he's still in. He knows everything about you. If you have some exception clause, he knows about it. He says, "I'm in." **"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."** The gift of God is salvation through Jesus Christ. Come and follow me.
The price for not doing that is being separated from him for eternity. I think now, you separate yourself from the only person who will love you perfectly. The only person who will ever get you. Single girl, if you think someday you're going to marry somebody that gets you, get married and you'll find out, he does not get you. I'm not saying that to be funny. He was never meant to meet your needs. Reverse it. Guys and girls both. How can he do this? He does this because that's his nature. It's your choice to check _yes_ or _no_. Everything is pointed toward this moment today.
The Scripture says Zacchaeus could not see Jesus because of the crowd. The crowd was filled with anybody and everybody that day. It was filled with religious people, non-religious people, powerful people, people of no consequence. They would not make a space for him. It was actually dangerous for him to be there that day.
He shimmies up a tree. There was a ton of folks there that day who were not happy he was there. He makes his way up a tree. We know they weren't happy because the Scripture says when Jesus got to where he was and stopped, they began to grumble. That's a big statement. Check this out. Streets are lined, Jesus is coming into town, and everybody is pushing their way in to see this miracle worker, this teacher, Jesus.
The stories have been spreading everywhere about him. As he's making his way down the street, there's kids here and there's people asking to be healed. There is bedlam going on. He stops in the middle of this journey through town, and he looks up at this tree. Zacchaeus is there. He goes, "Oh, dude. I've been seen." I don't know about you, but he knows he represents God.
If I'm Zacchaeus, I'm thinking, "Okay, it's over with. If he has the miracle power he has, I'm going to have a heart attack and fall out of this tree dead. I'm going to fall out of here like a canned ham on the street." He's thinking, "If he doesn't do that, he's going to look at me and he's going to say, 'Hey, guys, there he is, get your rocks out. He is an unclean man. Let's stone him. We're going to drop a little Mosaic law on this guy right now.'" Or he thinks he's going to condemn him and bring more shame upon shame.
He stops, looks up at him, and he says, "Hey, Zacchaeus. Hurry, come on down here. Because I want to go to your house. I want to eat dinner with you." In that culture, it was paramount to endorsement. Being here that he would go…he's going to his house. I'm off the Jesus program. He does not deserve that. How can he do that? The guy stole from us. There is unbelievable amount of discouragement among the people. You see, they're learning Jesus hangs out with sinners. That's why we're here today.
He hangs out with rebels, law breakers, self-focused narcissists, and angry people. Because that's why he came. To deliver us, not just from our behaviors but from our own selves. We end each week here by saying, "Have a great week of worship." Because what we're saying is "Hey, don't be a part of the crowd that keeps people away. Matter of fact, let's go give Zacchaeus curb service. Let's go find him."
Let's be people that go out and love guys who are not easy to love. Let's build bridges to people who will never come into this building. Let's go and make peace where there is not peace. Let's forgive people who don't deserve forgiveness. Let's ask for forgiveness when we need it. Let's serve each other. Let's tell each other the truth. By all means, whatever we do, let's do it in love. Let's do it with kindness and gentleness. Why? Because the guy who stopped to look up at our tree did, that's why.
I'll put it another way, we work for him. He's the boss. We're not the boss and he's on our program. He's not our valet. He's our Savior, our leader, our Lord. We do it not out of guilt, we do it because we've been up in trees. I had somebody after the sermon last hour, "Who are you in the story? Are you a crowd guy or are you a Zacchaeus?" I see myself in both of those positions, but I certainly see myself as Zacchaeus, up a tree, in need of a Savior. Some of us should just get out of the way and make it easy for people to come to Christ.
We have the top 10 list here, and the reason we have them is because I'm selfish. I don't think about other people. I think about me a lot. I need something I keep on my desk that says, "Here's who I'm praying for." It may not be 10, it might be one. I need to be intentional, because if I'm going to be about my father's business, I must be intentional about seeking and saving that which was lost. I won't without his help.
You see, we have kind of a moat mentality in the contemporary church. We think the church is like a castle, and once a week they drop the bridge across the moat. If someone happens to stumble in here by accident and find Jesus, we all get real excited, and we didn't have anything to do with it. Then we raise the bridge and say, "Okay. We'll do that again next week." No. You know what it is, you drop the bridge and all the soldiers go where people live, and they love them. They bring them back with them.
Baptism Sunday was a couple of weeks ago. I'm going to tell you something, it is so fun to be in the water while people are getting baptized. You know what I love about it? I love that every one of those people has a story, where someone stopped and looked them in the eyes and loved them. They treated them with respect and dignity, but also said, "Hey, you don't have to live that way anymore. Come and follow this Jesus." They didn't just love them so they would love them, they said, "Meet my Savior. I have love because of him. Meet my Savior."
Guys, I don't mean this to sound as harsh as it's going to sound, but if you stand there and you're not a part of any stories, what have you been a part of? That's why we're together, not so we can just be smarter sinners and know more Bible. He calls you to seek and to be a part of rescuing. Zacchaeus, just like you.
He wants you to be a part of, he wants you to have the thrill of that. To be faithful by loving your kids and teaching them about Christ. By dating in such a way, by including others, by inviting them. You don't even have to do it well. You just have to be faithful. You start noticing people. You start remembering their names. You start looking them in the eyes and realizing they matter.
I love how the story ends. The story ends like this. Zacchaeus came out of the tree, and he was moved. In front of God and everybody he said, "Hey, if I've cheated anybody in this room." Everybody's hands are going up all over the place. "By law, I repay you four times what I've taken from you." Wow! Then he says something that is not in the law, it is not in their culture. You don't see it anywhere else written down. He says, "From this day forward, half of what I earn, I give to the poor." The only place you see that written down is in the heart of a grateful man whose life has been transformed.
When you realize how much you've been forgiven, you don't ask anymore, "How much do I have to do? How much do I have to give?" That's the reason when we talk about giving financially at Watermark, you don't hear us talking percentages. Just try to out give God. Good luck. Follow him, listen to him, be consistent in your giving.
That's the reason when we call you to serve him with your life, we say, "Give it all because it's worth it." I'm going to tell you something. He models how you respond what you've been forgiven. You say, "God, everything I have is yours. I belong to you." Jesus looks at him and said, "This man. Dead, now alive." What a story. I love it, because it's my story.
When I was a youth pastor, it was the beginning of the school year, and we had a big back-to-school event called "Summerset". We'd go out and we'd rent a huge circus tent, put it up in Flag Pole Hill Park in Dallas. To be manipulative, which is what most youth ministers have to do to make salary, you have to get kids there. Because if you don't get enough kids there, they go, "Eh, we have to get a new youth minister." Not here at Watermark, but other places. Not the purest of motivations, is what I'm telling you. I'd like to say it's because I was really motivated to serve Christ. I can't say for sure I was motivated in this way.
I remember the beginning of school, I came back and said, "Hey guys, we have this big event at Flag Pole Hill. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to have a great band." I named the name of the band coming in. "We have these great speakers who are really great. Several of you are going to tell your story of grace there. We're going to help your friends get there. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to put you in huddles by your high school. You pray for this and invite your football team, and anybody whose football team comes we'll stand up and recognize them."
In the Christian culture of Texas, you know, FCA, all that kind of stuff, I figured we'd get 10, 15 players off of every high school campus. So they got together and started to pray. Here were the kids from Highland Park High School. Here were the kids from Lake Highlands High School. Here were the kids from Greenhill, and then the private schools.
So this one little girl, Sarah, comes up to me and goes, "Hey, Stroope, there's nobody…I'm the only girl who goes to my school." I said, "Well, you'll do fine. Don't worry about it. Just do the best you can. Why don't you pray with the private school kids." So she went over there. The next week it was the big event. Sure enough, by no surprise, tons of kids from Highland Park, all in their game day jerseys, tons of kids from Lake Highlands. The big event starts, the tent is packed with people. I'm feeling great. It was a success.
All of a sudden, a bus drives up. These kids come down in these green and white jerseys. I go, "Who is this?" I walk over and here's a guy in his uniform, grey coaching shorts, white shirt, big belly. I knew he was the coach. I went over and said, "Hey, I'm Gary. I'm the youth director, blah, blah, blah. Who are you and where are you all from?" He goes, "We're from Bryan Adams." I said, "How did you get here?"
He said, "This girl, ninth grader, walked into our senior locker room. Knocked on the door. She didn't know any better. She said, 'Can I speak to the team?' I said, 'Sure.' She came in and she said, 'Hey, I'm proud of you guys. I really would like for you to come to this youth event at Flag Pole Hill. We're going to talk about Christ. I know we don't have an FCA here, maybe that would be the start of that. Would you all come?'
We took a vote after she had left. Because she was shaking like _this_ the whole time she was talking. We said, 'If she's going to have the courage to do that, we're going to go.'" A busload of football players from Bryan Adams came down and sat down front. I thought, "Faithful, faithful. God make me faithful and not thinking about me all the time."
After the evening was over with, we were hanging out afterwards and getting to share the gospel with kids. There were just a ton of kids from Bryan Adams. They were down there in a circus tent in a city park saying, "I want Christ to be my Savior." Someday we'll be in heaven together. There are going to be some kids in Bryan Adams jerseys.
They are going to say, "Hey, I don't even know the girl, but she invited me." That's all she did. Guys, I'm just telling you, so little makes so much difference. I have all the reasons why my friends won't come to Christ. I have all the reasons why they won't respond. Here's what you need to know. Long before they were looking for Jesus, Jesus has been looking for them.
Guys, that's why we exist. Because families matter, dads matter, moms matter, young adults matter, high school students matter. Jesus gave his life for them. That's why we exist. He wants to stop by their tree and say, "Come down. Because I want to bring life to you." Let's pray.
God, thank you that there was a moment in my life where I saw you, and I heard your voice, and I knew you loved me. God, I thank you that even today I know you love me because I'm still busted and I'm still broken. I hear you call me and know me and love me and your love is not contingent upon perfection. God, I thank you that you have called us your children.
God, forgive me and forgive us for giving our lives to anything that is pale and empty. Forgive us for thinking there is life somewhere else. God, I thank you for the joy of getting to be a part of something so beautiful as seeing people's lives transformed forever. God, thank you for your faithfulness.
Thank you for how good you are. God, I pray for the Zacchaeuses of our city and that there's not anybody outside of the realm of your love and your influence. God, use us, give us hope, give us life so we overflow onto others. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen.