“Red Letter Challenge Introduction” – Matthew 7:24-27
Easter 2 – April 28, 2019
Welcome to the Red Letter Challenge. I want to spend the next few Sundays unpacking Pastor Zach
Zehnder’s book: Red Letter Challenge. [I’m going to miss a couple of Sundays preaching at Mt.
Calvary, but stay with me into June and we’ll unpack the whole book.] Today, I will just introduce
the concept and the principles, then the next five Sundays will unpack those principles one at a time.
1. Good intentions gone awry
Have you ever had really good intentions that got totally messed up?
Story of RMMC meeting in Calgary.
Good intentions – bought the plane ticket early to get a cheap fare (save the church money).
Good intentions – meeting started on Friday morning, needed to get there on Thursday, so decided on
a late morning flight so that I could visit some former parishioners.
Good intentions – left home 15 minutes earlier than I needed to, just to get to the airport without
being rushed, but this good intention thwarted by an accident (?) on # 99 hwy, on wrong side of
Massey Tunnel – sat on hwy for 90 minutes, and missed plane. [Had to call my wife to arrange for a
next flight – good intentions of saving church money ended up costing MORE! Had to call off my
ride from the Calgary airport, and find someone else! One visit down the drain!! Got flustered at the
airport parking lot and ended up paying twice!!]
Good intentions – had dinner with my friends in Calgary, then got dropped off at the hotel, but there
were two hotels with essentially the same name, and I gave directions / address for the wrong one,
and my ride left… so I had to walk ten minutes rolling my suitcase in the snow to the right hotel!!
I had good intentions, but messed up on many levels!!
As a follower of Jesus, I don’t want to waste time, and waste the church’s money. You know what
I’m talking about. I think way too often in our walk with God we have good intentions but we settle
for something less than what God has in mind for us, or we mess up doing what we intended because
of our sinfulness or just because of circumstances. It’s like that C.S. Lewis quote I mentioned last
Sunday about a child content with making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine an offer of
a holiday by the sea. God has great plans for us – a holiday by the sea.
2. We miss some of God’s things
As Christians, we are notorious for missing some of the things God has placed right in front of us.
The Israelites had the message but still missed the Messiah. Peter, one of the 12 disciples, spent
much time in Jesus’ presence but completely missed Jesus’ purpose. The Galatians had God’s gift
but somehow missed God’s Grace. And I believe this extends to us today. Many times as followers
of Jesus we have good intentions but we are completely missing out on the opportunity Jesus has for
us. Jesus gives us the opportunity to be His disciples, to be His workers.
In Matthew 9:37, Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
There is work to be done and Jesus invites us to be those workers. So if we are His workers, how are
we doing? How are we representing Jesus? We are failing miserably. Some of you would say that’s
too harsh. Well, let’s see…
When I think of Jesus, when you think of Jesus, some of the first words that come to our minds are
grace, love, kindness, joy.
3. We don’t represent Christ well
If you ask Jesus followers what they think of other Jesus followers you get a real mixed bag. Some
say positive things, some say negative things. But the real test is… what do those who are not Jesus
followers think of Jesus followers? What do they say about us?
A few years ago authors David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons spent three years polling young,
unchurched Americans to find out what they thought about Christians. Millions of young people,
they discovered, see Jesus followers as judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual, too political, old-
fashioned, out of touch, insensitive, and boring.
Your immediate reaction, like mine, is that this characterization is grossly unfair. Why don’t these
folks recognize all the good things we do, like starting hospitals, running orphanages, visiting
prisoners, and helping the less fortunate in third-world countries and those impacted by natural
The answer is that, fairly or not, hostile press characterizations of us as judgmental, homophobic
bigots have stuck. But this is only half the answer. A shocking 50 percent of respondents said they
base their negative views on personal contacts with Christians. As the authors write, “Many of those
outside of Christianity… reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”
The fact is that we are broken, we are sinners, and if we take a moment to honestly reflect on how we
are doing at representing Jesus, all of us should come to the conclusion that I, and we, haven’t always
represented Christ well.
4. We miss the mark
If Jesus is known for grace, which is getting a free gift you don’t deserve, and we are known for
judgment, which is getting what you do deserve, we have miserably failed. By definition judgment
and grace are opposites. We have missed the mark. If Jesus is known for unity and we are known
for division, we’ve missed the mark. If Jesus is known for His good works and we are known for our
hypocrisy we’ve missed the mark.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics there was an American sharpshooter named Matthew Emmons.
Emmons was far and away the best shooter in the world. Some said he is the best shooter that’s ever
lived. That year the question was not who is going to win the gold, but who would take the silver
and the bronze. Everyone knew Matt Emmons was going to take home the gold.
Going into his final shot, Emmons was in first place by a mile and all he needed to do to win the gold
was hit the target. With one bullet left to shoot, Matt Emmons needed a score of 7.2 to win his
second gold medal of the Olympic Games. On his first nine shots in the finals, Emmons’ lowest score
was a 9.3. He took careful aim, fired, and sure enough, bull’s eye for the American. He did it. Except
for one small fact. He actually shot at the wrong target, one lane over, which is known as a crossfire,
and got a score of 0. He went from 1 st to 8 th and didn’t even get a medal.
Why do I bring this up? Because Matthew Emmons was literally the greatest shooter in the world but
if you don’t know what you are shooting for it doesn’t matter. If you shoot at or focus on the wrong
thing, you’ll never hit what you need to hit.
As Christians, we can have the best intentions in the world, but if we are succeeding at things that
don’t actually matter to God, then we can do more harm than good. If the targets we are hitting are
the things that Kinnaman and Lynons discovered – judgmental, hypocritical, bigotry, etc. – then
clearly we are not aiming at the targets that Jesus set out for us. We’ve been shooting at the wrong
And there are so many targets out there in our sights, seemingly good targets, worthwhile targets.
Even in our faith, there are so many answers for what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So how do
we know what to trust and what to do? How do we know what to aim for?
5. Jesus’ solution: “Hear… and practice!”
What if we, who are Jesus followers, actually take the words of Jesus and put them into practice?
What if we’ve had the answers all along to what it means to truly effectively follow Jesus? What if
He gave them to us? Jesus did give us the key to following Him. And it’s twofold. Hear His words.
And put them into practice. Listen to His little story in Matthew 7:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man
who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat
against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who
hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his
house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that
house, and it fell with a great crash.”
The thing that sticks out here is that Jesus closes His sermon on the mount with an illustration so
simple that it reminds us of the children’s story “The Three Little Pigs.”
Jesus is saying, "If you want your house to stand up and not to blow over when the winds, or the
storm, or the bad, evil wolf comes, practice what I’m preaching. Do what I say."
In Luke 11:28, Jesus says: "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
James, the brother of Jesus, says it even more simply in his letter: "Do not merely listen to the
word… Do what it says."
That’s the big idea. Our target is to take the words of Jesus and to put them into practice. It’s that
simple… and that profound.
If a dad tells his son, “Go clean your room,” that son is not going to come back a couple of hours
later and say, “Hey dad, I memorized what you said. You said, “Go clean your room.” And he’s not
going to say, “Dad, I know ‘Go clean your room’ in Greek. It’s ‘Pao Katharos sas domatio.’” And
he’s not going to say, “My friends and I are going to gather and study what it would look like if I
went and cleaned my room.” No, none of that is going to work. So, why do we think it’s going to
work with what Jesus said?
If we want the world to see the followers of Jesus as authentic, and honest, and… well, Christ-like
instead of hypocritical, judgmental, out of touch and boring, then we not only need to hear the words
of Jesus but we also need to put them into practice. If you have a red-letter version of the Bible –
that’s one that highlights all of the words of Jesus by representing them in red letters – then those red
letter words of Jesus will be our target.
If you picked up a Red Letter Challenge book last week, or if you would like one today, then
focusing on those words of Jesus may just change us AND the way the world looks at the followers
Jesus has called us to be his disciples. We get to represent Him to the world in which we live. What
an honour! What a responsibility! What an opportunity! We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ!! The
Red Letter Challenge is a 40-day life-changing discipleship experience to put Jesus’ words into
6. The Five Principles
Pastor Zach Zehnder, from Mount Dora, Florida, has distilled those red letter messages of Jesus into
5 principle targets that Jesus followers are called to shoot for.
He spent most of His time talking about these 5 principles:
Being: So many times Jesus talks about the importance of spending time and just being with Him.
Before he invites us to do things for Him, through Him, in His name, he invites us into a
relationship. Our relationship with Him will determine how effective we are at actually doing the
things he asks.
Forgiving: Jesus is all about amazing grace – that is, getting the good things from God that we don’t
deserve… like forgiveness. So many of us struggle with receiving God’s forgiveness, and then
applying that to forgiving ourselves, or forgiving others. To truly represent Jesus in this world, we
have to truly understand God’s grace in our lives and extend that grace to others.
Serving: After spending time being with Him, and receiving His forgiveness, now we are so
motivated. After all that He’s done for me, I want to serve Him. I want to get out into the
community, help those in need, love my neighbors, etc.
Giving: Jesus talked about the Kingdom of heaven more than anything else. A close second was
money. Through the words of Jesus we realize it’s impossible to be a stingy Christian. Jesus
followers are generous and giving just like He is.
Going: It’s no coincidence that many of Jesus’ last words in each of the Gospels and even the last
command He says in the book of Acts centers on the fact that we as Jesus followers must not just be
His hands and feet in the community, but also His mouthpiece, His voice. We are to go out there and
tell the Good News that this same Jesus that has died on the cross for my sins and forgiven what I’ve
done has done the same for everyone.
Being, Forgiving, Serving, Giving, Going: These are the 5 targets, the 5 principles that characterize a
Jesus follower. At least from the mouth of Jesus they are. And they are the 5 principles that we will
deal with and unpack over the next few Sundays.
As you participate in the Red Letter Challenge…
You will be led to spend more time with the God who loves you.
You will forgive people you never thought you would be able to. (Maybe even yourself!)
You will serve and sacrifice more than you ever have before.
You will become a more generous person.
You will become bolder and courageous in what you say and in how you live.
I can think of no greater cause than the cause of living for Jesus. After all that He’s done for you, for
me, after the sins that He’s overcome and forgiven in our lives, there is nothing that I would rather do
than follow after Jesus and help others find life in Him.
We will represent the real Jesus. We will go out with good intentions and hit the right targets… for
Jesus’ sake! Amen.