When I was younger, I never understood why my grandfather got emotional when it came to patriotic services. My grandaddy would always take his old army uniform out of the closet when I visited and begin to share stories of his time in the service. His eyes would always light up as he recounted his memories among his fellow soldiers, and sadness filled his voice when he explained how some of those men lost their lives. As my grandfather would grieve at the memory of his fallen comrades, I too felt a sorrow for these heroes who had given their lives for the freedom of our great nation. But I was not nearly as heart broken as my grandaddy was. Even though decades had passed since his time in the military, his heart was still pierced at the thought of the brave men and women who had given their lives so that others may live. Grandaddy’s heart never became used to the reality of the price that had been paid for our country.
The reason I didnt grieve at the sacrifice of soldiers in World War II like my grandfather had nothing to do with a lack of patriotism. I fully support our men and women of the armed forces and am so proud and thankful for the sacrifices they make to secure the freedoms we have. And I am equally as thankful for the soldiers who have served in years past. But the magnitude of what was actually done for us loses its impact on our hearts over time. Our hearts become dulled by the world to the blood that has been shed for us.
I believe with all my heart that this is the very same core problem with American Christianity today. I am haunted daily in my own life with this. And I am fearful of my own accountability before the Lord. You see, my grandaddy was a true soldier of the United States Army. He believed in the causes that they fought for. Even today, we see brave men and women returning from the battle fields that get very emotional when asked about their time in the service. And it is because any true soldier never truly leaves the battle front. A true soldier mourns at the thought of having to leave fighting for the mission. And I have to ask myself at times, why arent we as a professing body of believers as passionate and emotional about our mission?
I become overwhelmed each time I read the word of God, and fearful of doing church like a person that never knew Christ. We falsely think our churches today are Christ centered because we do not know our Bibles. Or perhaps maybe we are hearing Gods word on a regular basis, but we are not truly hearing it. Let me explain with one of my favorite ‘preacher’ jokes.
One Sunday morning at church, preacher Morrison was giving his usual Gospel centered message to the congregation. And as always, heads were nodding in agreement and you would hear the occasional “AMEN”, being shouted from the pews. At the back of the church were many coat racks where upon entering, church members would hang their jackets before finding their seats in the sanctuary. In the middle of the preachers message, he looked to the back of the room to see a man stealing all the coats. With an urgent cry, preacher Morrision screamed passionately at his congregation, “Run to the back of the room, a man is back there stealing all of your coats.”
Immediately, heads began to nod and moved by the passion in the pastor’s voice, people began to shout, “AMEN”! Again, the pastor pleaded with his congregation to take action and stop the man behind them from stealing all the coats. And again, moved by the excitement in the pastor’s voice, people began to shout, “GLORY!! HALLELUAH!!!” Shortly after the service ended and the congregation began to file out of the sanctuary as they always did. When they saw that their coats were missing, they began to grumble asking the pastor where the coats were. Frustrated and out of breath from screaming warnings to them, the pastor explained to them what had happened and how he had been trying to tell them the whole time.
“Why didnt you heed my warnings before the thief had gotten all of your coats!” asked Pastor Morrision. One of the deacons came forward with the answer. He said, “Golly pastor Morrision, we thought you were just preaching!”
This is more of a tale of truth than it is a joke. They had heard the pastor’s warnings. But they didnt HEAR it with their hearts. We have the word of God. And there are Godly men who genuinely love the Lord and are soldiers for his cause preaching the word faithfully. But preaching today holds no power for many church member because its more of a concept in their lives and not a reality. The word of God just becomes something we hear Sunday in and Sunday out. Even the most immature person in his faith has the knowledge that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. We know the story of the cross. And so church because sort of a club we come to weekly to give a mental nod to the creator of the universe for dying for our sins. We live like we are spectators instead of like we are soldiers. Although we win the war against Satan in the end, right now the devil is winning the battle. Even in the church. And its because we dont look to the bible to model our ministries, we look to other churches.
If you want to really see how God intended his churches to look and operate, look no further than the book of Acts. One of my favorite accounts in Acts is in chapter 2, where Peter is preaching to the Israelites. Read below and picture in your mind Peter, standing and preaching before a group of people who would say they were religious, but had not yet be affected by the truth of who Jesus truly was….
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:22-24.
Peter is preaching the Gospel to these people. But see how Peter ends his sermon to these religious people.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Acts 2:36.
Read it again. I can almost picture Peter, standing on a platform in the midst of a sea of people preaching Christ passionately. And then at the climax of his sermon, he bravely points his finger at the crowd and says what we see in the verse above. “This Jesus whom YOU”VE crucified is now both GOD and LORD!! Wow! Can you get this picture in your mind? Peter basically just told the Israelites that they are responsible for killing God in the flesh! Now keep this in mind. This message is no different than one that you would hear being preached on a typical Sunday morning from a good Bible believing Pastor in our world today. Yet more people, even professing believers, seem all but indifferent to the message. How did the Israelites in Acts that were listening to Peter’s message react?
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37.
Upon hearing this message of the Gospel, it says they were ‘cut to the heart.’ Some translations say it this way, “their hearts were PIERCED.” (my emphasis added on the word pierced.) They were broken over the realization of what Christ had done to save them from their own sins. Their hearts were pierced and they were devastated at sacrifice that Christ paid. This moved these believers to ask in brokenness what they must do? And Peter answers them. Lets continue reading in this passage.
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call. With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”Acts 2:38-41.
Peter preached repentance to them. To turn from their old ways of following self and to begin to live for Christ. And it goes on to say that about three thousand believers were added upon hearing the gospel that day. The passage doesnt say three thousand “professions of faith.” A profession of faith is simply what it says, professing that you are a follower of Christ. But many people profess Jesus as Lord, yet do not live for him. A profession of faith is not the same thing as being a true believer. Jesus says in Matthew 7 that many people will stand before him who professed him as Lord of their lives, only to hear our Lord say to them, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.”
Jesus explicitly says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me Lord if you do not do as I say?”
The implication is, professing Jesus Christ as Lord doesnt mean that he is truly the Lord of your life! Jesus says in the gospel of John that those that love him, those that are real believers and followers are the ones that obey his commands. They are the ones that are pierced to the heart. And as we see in Acts, three thousand believers were added to their number that day. Why? Because their hearts were pierced. One of the scariest things that can happen to a Christian is to realize that his heart is no longer broken over the atonement for sin paid for with the blood of Christ. Many of us today need to fall to our knees broken over the slaughter of God’s only Son, that we caused over two thousand years ago.
Nehemiah was the cup bearer to the king of Persia. The position of cup bearer basically meant that you had it made. The cup bearers main duty was to taste the kings food and drink to ensure that there was no poison in it. He was a man who held prestige inside of the kings court. Nehemiah lived a lavish, luxurious lifestyle. And in the opening passage of Nehemiah, we see that he is questioning some men who were coming from Judah about the people who had survived the exile. Listen to their response.
“They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”Nehemiah 1:4.
At the news that Nehemiah’s blood people were in great distress brought him to brokeness. His people were in distress because their city walls had been broken down. Seems like a normal response, except for one tiny historical fact. The news that Nehemiah was receiving of Jerusalem’s broken walls was an event that had happened over one hundred years earlier. Was Nehemiah just ignorant to the things going on in the world? I doubt it. Again, he was a high rank in the kings court. I dont think Nehemiah was broken over an event that he knew nothing about. Rather, I think that Nehemiah experienced new brokenness to old knowledge.
I experienced the same things five years ago. I had heard Matthew 7:21 regarding those who say they know God but do not a thousand times. But for the first time, I really HEARD it! And it pierced my heart at the realization that I was that man. Nehemiah was moved at the retelling of the broken walls that lead to his people’s distress. And if you continue reading the story of Nehemiah, he goes to rebuild those walls. His heart had been pierced. What is interesting is what Proverbs says about a city with broken walls.
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28.
The people in Jerusalem were Nehemiah’s people. And they were in danger because they had no walls to protect them. Nehemiah, through brokenness, went to them to help rebuild their walls. Proverbs says that a man living outside of God’s will with no self control is like a city with broken walls. Unable to defend itself against the fiery arrows of Satan.
Are we pierced to the heart daily over what Jesus did for us on the cross? Is Jesus a reality to us or just a concept. Because when he is a concept, how you treat your family doesnt change. When is a concept, how you treat your children doesnt change. When Jesus is a concept, how we operate as the body of Christ doesnt change. But when Jesus and the atonement became a reality…..Everything changes!
And are we broken at the breaking of walls in the lives of others in our church? When you see a brother of sister living outside of the will of God, do you praise God you are not like them and vow to “pray” for them? Or does it break your heart to see brothers and sisters in Christ living like they dont know him? So much to the point where you are so broken you make it your mission to help them rebuild in love? When you see others around you with crumbling walls, are you driven, as Nehemiah was, to help them rebuild?
Are you a true soldier of Jesus Christ? Have you just meditated on the price that was paid for you at Calvary lately and let it penetrate your soul? Because when we become broken, we become radically missional for Christ! There is a beauty in brokeness. We become awake. Being a Christ follower is no longer viewed as a boring Sunday morning religion but an all consuming identity that we are passionate about! May it be our prayer that our hearts never grow dull to the reality of Jesus Christ. Dont just hear the gospel….HEAR it. And begin to live it with Christ’s burden for glorifying his name to the ends of the earth daily! Thats Christianity. That is our sovereign and powerful God!