One of the most dangerous places you can be is in church. Did you know that? To be clear, I’m not trying to say something edgy or offensive to get your attention. But I do want you to think about this with me. If you grew up in church, you know all the stories. You know the scriptures. You know the songs. The old ones and the new ones. And you have heard the stories, the scriptures, the songs for years and years and years. What can happen over time is, we can become so familiar with God stuff, our hearts can become numb to Jesus, the church, the stories, the songs, all of it. Almost like, we heard it so much, we go on autopilot. The story of Christmas can even lose its passion for us. Can you connect with this? Do you know Christians who have become lukewarm and indifferent about God? It should break your heart.
We are in a series called Missing Jesus. We have been talking about how we can enjoy Christmas but miss Jesus. That means we can go to office parties, we can buy and give gifts, we can go to every family get together and miss the peace and joy that only comes from being in a relationship with Jesus.
We said, we can miss Jesus because we are busy. We can miss Jesus because we are in love with our money and stuff. Last week Sam walked us through the Christmas story and showed us the fear people had to walk through. He pointed out, we can miss Jesus because of our fear, our anxiety, our worry. To help us, he gave us a great verse.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. NIV Philippians 4:8
To overcome fear, the question is, what are you focused on? What do you think about? Today I close this series to address one more way we can miss Jesus.
I want to read a part of the Christmas story for you.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” NIV Matthew 2:1-8
King Herod wants to know about the King of the Jews. Herod is king and wants to eliminate any possible rival king. He calls in the religious leaders. That would be the chief priests and teachers of the Jewish law to find out more information. Why them? They were paid to study the scriptures and know the prophecies of a new king.
King Herod brings them in, and they tell him everything. They knew the details. And with this information, what did they do? They tell the king about the prophecies and they go home. They didn’t search for Jesus. They had no passion. No desire. No will to go find Jesus. How does that even happen? They were so familiar with the scriptures: they became indifferent. Passionless. And yet, the Wise Men traveled for miles and searched for Jesus. The wise men found Jesus, the religious leaders missed Jesus.
Do you know how hard it would have been for the religious leaders to check out the story? They were in Jerusalem. The birth of Jesus was in Bethlehem. That’s five-miles away. That’s about the same as us going to Lake Meade. It would not have been hard at all.
And that’s my point. One of the most dangerous places you can be is in church. We can become so familiar with Church, Jesus, and the Christmas story, we miss Jesus. When we don’t even try to search for Jesus, we can miss Him. That’s what happened to the religious leaders.
A couple of years ago, I was hosting a small group for a youth group. My group was filled with young men in high school. Most of the boys in this group grew up in Christian homes and in Church. I challenged them to be honest when I asked, “Do you see and understand your need of God?” I will never forget one young man who said, “No.” How does that happen? He grew up in a Christian home. He grew up in church. He knows all the stories. He knows the scriptures. He knows the songs. He knows all about God and God’s grace. And he has heard them for years and years. And today as a young man, he doesn’t see his need of God. How does that happen?
And that is my point. One of the most dangerous places you can be is in church. We can become so familiar with Church, Jesus, and the Christmas story, we miss Jesus. Obviously, I am not against church, I’m a pastor. I see church as the answer to our problems. Obviously, I am not saying stay away from church, because church is where you can find God. What I am saying is, you can be around church and without knowing it, become lukewarm. Indifferent. Passionless. And the things of God can be so familiar they become, Ho-Hum. I really challenge you to be honest with yourself and ask, have I become lukewarm and indifferent about God? Am I on autopilot?
It’s one of the ways we can miss Jesus. We become so familiar with church stuff, we miss Jesus. Is this you? Do you connect with this? Has the Christmas story become Ho-Hum? Do you remember when you first came to church? That day when God deeply impacted your heart? During worship, you read the words and they inspired you. During the talk you heard about grace and it so impacted you, you left church in tears. The message of grace in the songs and talk was too good to be true and it melted your heart. Now, years later, what has happened? Maybe today, you are looking for a good reason, any reason, not to make church. God in Church at one time left you in tears. Today, it’s something you have to grit your teeth and muscle through. When you were first asked to serve, you saw it as an honor. Now, when asked to serve, you view serving as taking something away from you, something you have to push through. What happened?
The apostle John wrote about this. He talked about what it looks like to love God.
The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. MSG 1 John 5:3
The proof of our love for God is our passion to follow after Him. Love for God means, following God is relaxing and easy.
And that’s my point. One of the most dangerous places you can be is in church. We can become so comfortable, so familiar, we lose our love, our passion for God.
So, what happened? Did God change? Did God’s grace change? Did the church change? Many people who experience a lack of passion, come to different conclusions.
First, some conclude, the grass is greener over there. That means, I feel bored, I need something new. I need a new church, new relationships, new wife, new husband, new house, new job, new town, new anything to help me be excited again about life. By making changes, they are changing what is around them, but they aren’t changing what’s in them. Ultimately, you can make all the changes you want but you are still you. Now in the new place or new relationship, it won’t be long until you become passionless again. And again, the grass will be greener over there.
Secondly, some haven’t really faced anything challenging in life. To them, a huge challenge is not having Wi-Fi, or the right emoji to text. Because life has been so easy and comfortable, they don’t see their need of God. So, they continue to live in a world where they know information about God but don’t pursue Him with passion, because they don’t need to. Chances are, they will stay numb until there is a crisis, a real crisis. And in the pain of that crisis, they will very clearly see their need of God.
Third, some believe they know better than God. God’s way just seems like a roadblock to having fun. They ignore God and keep on doing what is easy and what feels good. If you talk to them, they will tell you all the reasons they can’t follow Jesus and there are many. To them, following God would be a miserable set of rules they can’t live up to. They may even try to live a double life. At church they smile and are kind and show you the Christian version of themselves. But at home, the real them comes out, the, “I will not surrender my life to Jesus” version comes out. They live the same way they have always lived but expect something new to happen. We call this way of living, insane. We continue to do what we want and expect something better to happen. That’s insane.
What do we do if we find ourselves feeling flat? How do we reignite our passion for God?
First, we must take 100% responsibility for our spiritual heart condition. Why? Our heart condition is up to us. Paul said this.
5 Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. NLT Colossians 3:5-15
Paul is clear. Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts. There are decisions we must make for Christ to rule our hearts. It’s our responsibility to put away our old sinful, fearful stuff and become like Jesus. It’s our responsibility to make choices to be kind, humble, and gentle. Our heart condition is up to us. To blame others for our heart condition is being a victim and making the choice to avoid dealing with harder things. Does this sound insensitive? It only sounds insensitive because the world we live in pushes against us taking personal responsibility.
You might wonder, what if I am in a miserable marriage? What if I am miserable at work? What if I feel flat at my church? What if my country is a mess and it’s ruining my heart? It’s true that others can wound you. And we do want to be sensitive to that. Those real moments are painful, and we need to be honest about them. And at the same time, they can’t be an excuse for not making right choices. Because of Jesus, we can have healthy hearts.
After you decide to take 100% ownership of the spiritual condition of your heart, step two is, ask God to anoint you with the power of the Holy Spirit.
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. NIV Titus 3:3-5
Because you are dealing with a spiritual issue, you need spiritual help. Ask God to anoint you with the power of the Holy Spirit every day. Ask God, please help me.
Third, take intentional steps back to God.
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. NLT Colossians 3:1-4
Like the religious leaders, all it would have taken was a 5-mile journey. Take steps toward God. How do we take a step towards God? Everyday wake up and focus on the things of God, the things that matter. Go after the things of God. What are the things of God? Anything that helps you get to know God. Pray. Read scripture. Attend church. Grab the Sunday lesson and read it at home. Grab a book that will help you understand God and your heart. Maybe starting in January, you begin reading the entire Bible this year. This year, we are introducing a daily podcast to help you walk with God. It’s called, ‘Ready Heart.’ You can find it on Spotify.
Please hear me.
Outside of a life crisis, you will never have passion for God until you decide to be passionate for God. It’s a choice, not a feeling.
It’s a choice, not something someone else can do. It’s a choice, not something your church can do for you. It’s a choice, not something God will necessarily do for you. God can absolutely and profoundly change you in less than a second. But that isn’t the normal experience of most. You must make a decision.
Have you become so familiar with Church, Jesus, the Christmas story it has all become ho-hum for you? Have you lost your first love for God? Lost your passion? Take 100% ownership of the spiritual condition of your heart. Ask God to anoint you with the power of the Holy Spirit. Take steps toward God.
What is your spiritual heart condition? Cold? Lukewarm? Passionate?
If you feel flat, who is responsible? Have you blamed people in your life? Have you blamed your church? Have you blamed the world you live in?
If you feel flat, do you think, ‘The grass is greener over there?’ Do you think the answer is changing your environment?
Has your life been pretty comfortable? Has it left you feeling flat?
Are you that person who acts one way in church and another way at work, home and in the community?
What has church become for you? A place to continue to experience God’s presence or a place you try to avoid now and then?
When was the last time you prayed?
When was the last time you read scripture?
When was the last time you read a book to help you deal with your relationship with God?
Do you run the risk of waiting for a crisis in your life before you have passion for God?
What is your relationship with God like?
I want to close with this. I hope it completely changes how you live this coming new year. Outside of a life crisis, you will never have passion for God until you decide to be passionate for God. It’s a choice, not a feeling.