A friend of mine, Brett Kays, some time back noticed some things that are true of scenes in almost every movie or TV show. If you determined reality according to the way Hollywood defined it, you could be very confused. According to Hollywood:
• All grocery shopping bags contain at least one stick of French bread.
• The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.
• A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious beating, but will wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds.
• Cars that crash will almost always burst into flames.
• It is always possible to park directly outside the building you are visiting.
• Any lock can be picked by a credit card or a paper clip in seconds—unless it’s the door to a burning building with a child trapped inside it.
• All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large red digital readouts so that you know exactly when they will go off.
• Medieval peasants all had perfect teeth.
• It does not matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts; your enemies will patiently wait to attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner until you have knocked out their predecessors.
It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Life really isn’t much like Hollywood portrays it. But too often we are content to accept charicatures for reality. Sometimes we will accept the simple over the complex because it’s easier to understand. Other times we will believe an easy-to-live-lie rather than accept a hard-to-live-truth. I don’t know why. Sometimes it’s laziness. Other times it’s ignorance. Still other times it is selfishness. But if we aren’t careful, we can be fooled into believing that something that’s not real is real just because we want it to be.
Listen to what Paul wrote to the Colossian church (1:3-6, NLT)
We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard that you trust in Christ Jesus and that you love all of God’s people. You do this because you are looking forward to the joys of heaven—as you have been ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day you heard and understood the truth about God’s great kindness to sinners.
Did you notice what Paul was thanking God for in those verses? The church in the city of Colossee and the church all over the world was growing because people were hearing and understanding “the truth about God’s great kindness to sinners.” What changed the Colossians, and what transforms people’s lives today is coming to understand the real deal. It is the true story about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It is the call of Christ to take up our cross and follow Him. The good news about Jesus is a story of blood and sacrifice, commitment and tears. It is not some watered down “feel good” message, something that looks appealing at first glance but had no life transforming substance. The bottom line is that if we don’t let the truth about Jesus saturate our lives, it just won’t spill out into the lives of others. If the good news about Jesus doesn’t fill every nook and cranny of our church life, then Nashville Christian Church is nothing more than a country club or a social action organization. And we will not be satisfied with that. We want to be everything God desires for us. But in order to become God’s church in this place, we have have the good news about Jesus as our very lifeblood.
When you read through the book of Acts, you can’t miss the sense of urgency and the depth of faith that the first century church had as they followed Jesus. Their love for God and their passion for people who didn’t know Him drove them to share the good news with the world that surrounded them. Their desire to serve God led them to sacrifice themselves for the sake of loving and serving one another. From the very beginning of the church, those traits made the church different from a country club or a social action organization.
In the second chapter of Acts we have Luke’s record of the birthday of the church. The apostles were gathered in the Temple, and there was a huge crowd there because it was the feast of Pentecost. At that moment, God’s Spirit chose to move them to stand up and publicly proclaim the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. It was a miraculous event, the apostles spoke in languages that they had never studied, people from all over the world heard the message in their native tongue. But the miracles were not only contained in tongues of fire and the different languages that they spoke. Peter and the other apostles told the crowds that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, but that He was not a criminal but the Son of God. And the crowd miraculously responded to the message. Let me begin reading at the conclusion of Peter’s message.
(Read Acts 2:36-47)
This morning I want to challenge every one of us to recognize that God can move in our culture like that again. He may not use the miraculous tongues of the day of Pentecost, but He will move people with His good news if we will make it known. If we will seek to know and understand and communicate “the truth about God’s great kindness to sinners,” will continue to perform the miracle of changing people’s hearts. There are at least three realizations that we need to have for the Christianity that we know and communicate to be the real thing.
1. We Must Realize The Need For A Savior.
If you’ve been in the church very long, you’ve probably heard the verses so often that your lips move when someone else quotes them. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;” “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s the truth that is the bad news you have to believe before you are ready to hear the good news. Every person is on the road to hell unless they are willing to make a u-turn.
When Peter closed out his sermon about the fact that Jesus was the Messiah anticipated for centuries by the Jewish people, he said this. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Don’t miss the power of that phrase, “they were cut to the heart.” From the top of their head to the bottom of their feet, they came to realize in the very depth of their being that they were guilty as charged. They needed someone to help them overcome their guilt.
You know in my 20 or so years of preaching, I have learned a few things, but one of the most important is that on my own I can never “cut to the heart.” It’s a realization that is both frustrating and liberating. I can lay a mean guilt trip on people, but I can never cut to the heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. If I lay a guilt trip on my own power, people just get angry with me or yawn at me, or laugh at me. But when the Holy Spirit cuts to the heart of someone, they repent and recognize how lost they are. The first step to being found is recognizing that you are lost, but there is one longing to find and save you. If you catch that reality, you will never get over it.
This past Wednesday evening I came over to the Fieldhouse for E.A.T. That’s the teen program, it stands for Exciting Awesome Truth. The theme verse is “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” There was some goofing around, some laughing as things settled down, but the last hour of the meeting was just worship. Jason Gaskins on the guitar, Doug Keaton on the drum, and Lara Heck leading singing with the lights down low by candlelight. It wasn’t a big production, but God moved people Wednesday night. I saw tears shed, and there were some very exciting and moving prayers lifted up. When it was all over, Trent, my 10-year-old son told me, “Dad, when we were singing I just wanted to cry the whole time, but I didn’t.” I told him, “It’s okay to cry, buddy. I did cry almost the whole time.” When you come face to face with the reality that you need a Savior, and then you recognize that Jesus was willing to die to meet that need, it better cut to the very heart of you. When the people recognized their need, Peter gave them direction for their guilt. (Read vv. 38-41) Folks, as a church we have to be completely resolved to know and understand and communicate that everybody needs a Savior.
2. We Must Realize That We Need The Church.
After the people were baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit took all these individuals and made them into a unified group. (vv. 42-47). From that point on, the work of Jesus has been carried out by the church. When a person came to know Christ as Lord, they become a part of a group of people, they are part of the body of Christ, the church. You can’t be a Christian and not be a part of the church.
Now that’s not a popular message today in our culture. Religious faith is seen as a personal issue, something between me and God. But that is a false belief. In Romans Paul describes the process of becoming a Christian as being adopted into a family. While a major part of that image is about the relationship between our Heavenly Father and us, there is also the image of brothers and sisters in Christ. When we join the family of the Heavenly Father, we become a family member with others, we sit down at the table together to enjoy the family meal, we share our joys and our trials. It’s all part of a life of faith.
In another place Paul uses a different analogy. In 1 Corinthians he says that the church is “the body of Christ,” and he talks about how every church member is a part of it, a finger or an eye or a toenail, with Jesus as the head of the body. Now, can a body part truly be called part of the body if it has nothing to do with the rest of the body? Can a severed limb be considered a part of the body?
People that study trends tell us that in the future people will float from church to church. They might have 3 or 4 different churches that they attend, and each Sunday morning they will decide which one to go to. That is a foreign idea to the Biblical idea of community that a church should be. Notice the connections that the Bible says is between these believers. These people weren’t floaters they were as committed to one another as they were to their Lord. You can’t float in and out on Sunday morning and experience the fullness of fellowship that we are supposed to have in the church. You have to commit yourself to one group and invest yourself there. I like what Ben Merold said, “If Jesus could be nailed up on a cross for me, the least I can do is to be tied down for him.”
I know I’ve been beating this drum a whole lot lately, but I’m not going to stop. You need to be in a small group or a LIFE class where you can develop some depth in your Christian relationships. You need to be accountable to others and they need to be accountable to you. If those futurists are right then the future is bleak because church pews will become a graveyard of disconnected limbs and orphans seeking shelter in a building instead of a family. But if the world is going to hear the real, life transforming, powerful message of Jesus Christ, then we have to realize our need for the church.
3. We must realize our need to tell others.
A preacher of 100 years ago was asked why he was so passionate in the way he preached. His answer was a simple one, “I preach as a dying man speaking to dying men.” I don’t notice that sense of urgency much any more. Now I’m not saying that you ought to be “in your face” with Jesus, or that you should fall all over yourself to bring every conversation around to an opportunity to witness. But what I am saying is that we can’t say that we have fully surrendered our lives to Jesus if we won’t tell others about Him. C. S. Lewis said, “The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.”
So what is it that keeps us from telling others? Sometimes it’s fear of rejection, other times its apathy, and sometimes it’s just that we think we don’t know enough. So let me ask you, if you knew the cure for cancer or AIDS, would you tell others? If you knew how to solve the economic woes lately, would you let somebody know? If you knew how a person could live forever, would you love them enough to let them know? If you’re not sure you know enough, let me tell you what they need you to tell them.
Follow Jesus. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and nobody comes to the Father but by me.” The only one who knows the way is Him. In Hebrews it says in essence that Jesus blazed a trail through life that He calls all of us to follow. Picture Him hacking a way through the jungle of life, then looking back at us and saying, “Come on, follow me.” He knows the way and it is described for us in the pages of this book. Our job is to walk in his path and to be about the task of helping others find their way to the path also. You don’t need to know all the answers. Nobody does. The main thing we all need to realize is that we can’t be too shy to introduce the people around us to the one who is leading the way through this life and into heaven. They need to know Him. It’s a matter of life and death.
You know, when we get a strong dose of reality, it is sobering. But isn’t it better to be sobered by reality than to be deliriously happy about a lie. I read a quote by a science fiction writer that I thought was pretty good. He said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Some people think that all of the fuss about God and Jesus is just a bunch of religious mumbo-jumbo that has nothing to do with reality. But the truth is that only in Christ do we come to know reality. We have been told that everything in this world is going away some day, but only that which is “in Christ” won’t go away. My prayer is that our congregation will be solidly enough founded in the truth of Christ, that no matter what happens, we will be a part of Christ’s Unstoppable Church.