Here in 2023, we have started an important conversation, all centering around a very popular question in today’s world.  What is the point of church?  This is an important question, and we have been learning just how essential the church is, how we should view it, how God views it, and just how critical the church is to our Spiritual development, and to the community around us who don’t have the same eternal destiny of those inside the church walls.  The last time I spoke to you, I was showing you, or reminding you of the key to the church, the rallying point, and source of power, energy, the very thing that launched the church into existence and allowed it to persevere through a lot of challenges and adversity.  Do you remember what that was?  It was the Holy Spirit.  We need God in us, and as God fills us up, we rally around one very specific concept, do you remember what that was?  It is God’s incredible gift of Jesus, and the fact that we, imperfect sinners are saved and have a different eternal destiny!  This Good News is so exciting and amazing, and we are so grateful for that gift that we want everyone to experience Jesus in their lives too.  The key to God’s Body being healthy, strong, vibrant, engaging, relevant, uplifting, and supportive is The Holy Spirit in our lives, empowering us to share Jesus with the world.  One of the things we were doing that day was looking at how the church began, and I told you just like the glimmer of perfection we get in The Garden of Eden, and just how beautiful our walk with God was intended to be, before we humans messed it all up, we get a similar glimpse at church in its purest form as well.  I mean two chapters of God walking intimately, physically with us people before we humans mess it up…and the same thing takes place with the early church, we get this glimpse in the book of Acts of church as it should be, in its purest form before we humans try to “fix” it, or “help” it, and just mess it all up…let’s go back to that as we get started today.

Acts 2:42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. NLT

So, the Holy Spirit bursts onto the scene and into their lives, and the early church is born, and here it is…church in its purest form before we people could really start picking at it, and what do we see?  Everything we could possibly desire from a church community…everything we push for and get frustrated that we don’t see.  We see community, passion, energy, strength, a purpose and focus of sharing Jesus with the world in a group of united people praying and sharing together, it’s awesome, isn’t it?  And it’s important to remember that the church wasn’t focused on building and creating those things for its people, no, the church was focused on its pursuit of God in us, The Holy Spirit which brought all the other stuff with it, and motivated and inspires us to share Jesus with the world.  It was all about God, and the rallying cry was Salvation.  So, this is church in its purest form, right at its start and we talked a lot about how this should still be the church today, but in so many ways the church has lost it’s purest form and primary function.  Ken told you last week, that the church is God’s plan to reach those who need Him on this planet, and I had to wonder how many of us come to church for that reason…it’s sad to say, but it is rare to see churches pursuing the very thing God designed and Scripture tells us to pursue.

In many ways, as we humans get involved with things, things can really begin to get pulled in many different directions.  If you were to take a step back and really think through the world and our culture, we can see a real slow erosion of God and morals and ethics over the last few decades.  I will give you an example, I was born in the 70’s, and a movie in the 80’s that I would have had a hard time watching due to the violence or sexuality in it during that time, that would have had an “R” rating and only the toughest and coolest kids and school would have watched, well today would probably be “PG” and seem soft in comparison to what I don’t even blink at when I watch TV today.  Think of how culture has gone, when I was growing up you didn’t have sports practices on Wednesday nights because everyone went to church midweek.  You would never have games on Sunday’s because that was a day preserved for church and family, now here I am decades later and sports run all week, and games are played on Sunday and it’s nothing to see a tourney on Easter weekend.  I’m not trying to sound old and grumpy here today, but I want you to see a few examples of how the slow erosion of God and morality in our culture over time.  It’s funny because we don’t really see it, or feel it, it didn’t happen all at once, but it just continued from one year to the next and I would say in the last few years, the intensity of this has grown into an all-out tug-of-war.

What if I told you that it’s the same with church?  From that beautiful moment that the church launched into existence through the power of The Holy Spirit with the rallying cry of sharing Jesus with the world to the present, it’s been a battle to keep the church focused and as pure as it should be.  Over the years it’s been a slow erosion, with subtle pulls and tensions points…but I would argue in the last three years, that tension or erosion has turned to an outright battle for the heart, focus, and direction of what church has been and will become and I believe we have come to an actual tipping point…the church sitting on the top of that point, the world, it’s people, and culture screaming for us to go the way they want, with God on the other side of that tipping point and it’s our job now to ensure that the church doesn’t move away from God, and the pursuit of God in us, and the rallying cry of Jesus and into everything, and anything else the world says they need and that the church should be doing to give them all they need, when the reality is there needs can only be meet in God and our pursuit of Him.  As tension between God and our world, and culture, and us people has grown and grown, so does the tension between the church and its people as we sit on a tipping point here in 2023…and if you are paying attention, what used to be sneaky, and covert.  A quiet and slow erosion from God to the world’s ways is now an all-out tug of war, and here in 2023 the church sits on the tipping point, and it’s up to us to ensure we are leaning into and pursuing God and not all the tempting, and reactive things of this world.  I would like to show you just a few of these tension points that are pulling hard on the church today and we will start with a behavior that I believe we are all learning here in the information era, with the world (our phones) at our fingertips.

Surface vs Substance – Basically, I would rather look real, than be real.  And when it comes to church, I would rather look Christian, than be Christian.  We may not see it, but we are always learning, and there are learned behaviors in our culture.  One of the biggest lessons the world is teaching these days is that how we look or project to others is much more important than who we are…and this is in direct conflict with God and the ways of God.  This mindset causes real tension with the church, and a true relationship with Christ, because people are less interested in who they are and more interested in how they look.  Substance, reality, deep inner healing aren’t fun or flashy or the draw in a very shallow world today.  This is very interesting, and frankly, a natural thing for us humans to do, we look at the outward appearance with our physical eyes…but this is not how God values or views us as people…what matters to God is the heart, and who we truly are, not how we look.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” NIV

God values and sees us from the inside out, yet we humans tend to do the opposite.  Quite frankly, in our culture today we are better than ever at projecting how we want people to see us, rather than working on, or even caring about who we really are.  It’s a learned behavior and social media has only made that easier…we can project whatever we want to people on social media.  We put the best images and highlights of our lives out there and we give people the version of ourselves that we want them to see and if we are getting likes and people seem good with it, we are happy.  Now in that happiness or emotion we never deal with the true nature of our heart condition or anything real.  I can look amazingly Christian if I want to…I can look like the greatest parent of all time…I can be so positive or uplifting in that world and have so many people thinking I have it altogether, that I feel better about myself even if none of that may actually be true.  You know over Christmas I was with family and I was listening to them talk about a really sad situation, where a popular Social Media star committed suicide.  His name was DJ Twitch, and as the girls talked they were saying how they just can’t believe it because he was so positive and such a good person.  I asked how they knew that, and they talked about how positive and happy his social media posts and TikTok’s were and I thought to myself, and there it is, I would rather look good than be good.  The projection on social media is good. He must have been a healthy and joyful person…but the inside, in reality, he was not ok at all.

As it is for us individually, feeling this same tension pulls very hard on the church today.  Culture screams at us to keep things on the surface and not dive into the heart or the real, and the church must decide who we will be.  The church must decide if it loves others enough to dive into the real, or if it will stay as shallow as the world wants it to.  It’s amazing, our reality is not shaped off of our projection or any of that, but off of who we really are…it is such a challenge to dive into the real, into the deepest, most important area of our lives when we can deflect and feel better just staying in the shallow…but on the other side of the real is that elusive life to the full we all want…let’s just look at a few scriptures about being real vs looking real.

Isaiah 29:13 The Master said: “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it.  Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it, 14 I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. MSG

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. NIV

1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. NIV

So many people are satisfied projecting to the world that they are Christian while having no interest in living a Christian life.  Zero interest in the real.  So when the church loves them enough to challenge them with a true, daily walk with God, and tools that will help them deal with what is real in their life, they get defensive and will deflect, they point to anything other than a personal walk with God, daily, real engagement of the heart with their Heavenly Father…and start asking the church to do anything else, and if the church doesn’t well, the church isn’t getting it done for me.  What is this?  Well, they are fine, and frankly would rather look Christian, than actually be Christian.  They point to their social media, how they look, or act, or the fact that they attend and maybe even serve in a church and say look how Godly I am, all the while God views, values, and points to our hearts…because to God it is more important to be real than to look real…he isn’t interested in a person looking Christian, he wants us to be Christian…and what is wild is, the person comfortable looking Christian, rather than being one, knows it.

Please, think this all through, are you fine with looking real or being real?  Are you the same person in all environments, have you learned how to project an image?  I want you to think about your faith for a moment.  Do you live out the life of a Christian?  Do you walk with God daily?  Does who you project or tell people you are in your faith line up with what truly matters to God, which is the real, your heart, and your active life with Him?  Does it bug you when the church points to the heart, dives into things like Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, or challenges you practically to walk with God and spend time with Him daily?  Are you comfortable going to church on Sunday’s and living how you always want?

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car.” Laurence J Peter

This is a huge tension point in the church today, will we deal with and be real, and love others enough to dive into the real, into the heart, or will we stay shallow, and never press into what truly matters.  Ok, let’s look at another big tension point trying to pull The Church towards culture and away from God.

Emotions vs Truth – We hear new terms in our world today like, “My truth.”  We hear the question asked a lot today, “what is your truth?”  We see a lot being built today around emotions and feelings with people saying that your emotions build your truth, I have heard people say that they are learning to start conversations with “I feel like…” because when I say that I can’t be challenged, because my emotions trump whatever the reality or truth of the situation may be, because, it’s how I feel.  I was in an interesting conversation not too long ago with a young man who told me that “Truth is only what you believe it is!”  And I thought, wow, that could be dangerous, and no wonder people don’t enjoy or want Jesus piercing their hearts, because Jesus literally tells us He is The Truth!  I mean no wonder we want no part of Scripture!  But this is another great tension point in the church today, we live in a time where emotions and how we feel are valued greater than truth and reality…but this mindset can be very dangerous because if I only did what I feel all the time, yikes!  Well, let’s just say if we adults all did what we feel each day, the world would look very different wouldn’t it?  I don’t always feel like paying bills, getting up and going to work, mowing the lawn, or taking the trash out, and frankly I won’t always feel like doing what is right, Godly, or responsible as the appetites, and desires of my flesh pull me to do other things…do you catch where I’m drifting to?  This is a major tension point or conflict in our churches today…will we love people enough to stay focused on and share the truth, or will we back off and cater or soften the truth to make people feel better emotionally?  You know, I have often said that Paul had a time machine, and seemed to come to today’s world, walked around for a while, then hopped back into his time machine and headed back to his prison cell.  I want you to see something Paul wrote to his buddy Timothy, and just to add to the weight of these words, these are some of the last things Paul wrote before his execution for His faith.

2 Timothy 4:3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths. NLT

Wow, that should really make you take a step back and think…there will be a time when people don’t want to hear the truth, they will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear, rejecting truth and chasing after myths, and the things that make them feel good.  Do you see it?  In the world we live in today this is a huge battle or tension point, and the church has a decision to make, will I react and respond to culture and politics and people and dive into what they want to hear or will I plant myself like an oak tree, and stay rooted in God’s Truth, loving people enough to lead them to truth.  Check out this next verse, Paul goes on to tell us Christian’s what we should do in such a time as these…

2 Timothy 4:3 You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food — catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. 4 They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. 5 But you — keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant. MSG

Doesn’t this describe the world today, what a massive tension point for us as individuals and for the church, emotions vs truth.  Another example of this is found in the wise words of Solomon who says fools will grab at everything that makes them feel good and not listen to wisdom…to truth.

Proverbs 15:21 The empty-headed treat life as a plaything; the perceptive grasp its meaning and make a go of it. MSG

Wise people seek truth.  They don’t chase their feelings and emotions which can at times contradict the truth, they understand that truth is often challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable but leads to so much more…it may not always make me feel good in the moment, no discipline or correction does, but it’s the truth, its reality, and if we love others, we will share the truth redemptively.

This makes me think of something we will continue talking about in this series, and that is the Holy Spirit…God in us. We got to Galatians what comes out of our lives when the Holy Spirit is in us.  It’s the product or fruit of a life lived with God in us…well, Paul also explains what a life looks like that is led by our feelings and fleshly desires.

Galatians 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. NIV

Do you see it?  This is the result of a life driven by how I feel, the desires of my sinful nature, the fleshly desires, completely in conflict with the ways of God.  Paul then takes us to a life lived with God in us.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  NIV

This is the second big tension point that I wanted to show you today.  People just don’t want to hear about truth, and just don’t want to deal with it…but the truth is important, and while it won’t always be easy, and may make you uncomfortable, it leads us to where we all want to go…and to everything we desire from our Faith and our lives, and our church life too so we must lean into truth and never water it down.

“The Truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you.” David Foster Wallace

Relevance vs Jesus – The last tension point that I want to look at is the idea and or question about whether Jesus is truly relevant today.  We can call this one, Relevance vs Jesus.  Should we jump on cultural hot button topics, political issues, and the latest trends to keep Scripture, The Truth, and God relevant or is Jesus actually as relevant and important today as He always was and should be.  As we see less people attending churches here on the other side of the Global Pandemic, what should we conclude?  That we must look and act more like culture, and dive into what the world seems interested in, responding to the latest great debates in political tensions, or is the answer still and always, Jesus.  The church has to wrestle with this today, is Jesus enough?  And if Jesus, a Blood-Stained Cross, and an Empty Tomb isn’t enough, I think we have to ask more questions…but, let’s dive into this, has today’s culture advanced past its need for Jesus?  Well, let’s go to the words of Jesus, and I think it’s these words that we all must wrestle with and decide if we agree with them, or not.

John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through me.” NLT

So, I want to ask you this, what would you say is the source of everything we need in life?  Would you say that it is God?  Ok, so we can agree that everything we want in life is found in Our Heavenly Father.  Now Jesus says the only way to God, to our Heavenly Father is found through Jesus.  Jesus is the way.  Jesus is the truth.  Jesus is the life.  So, if this is true then a Christian must decide if they will live in and focus on Jesus, or so pursue all the other things that people of this world are pointing to right now.  The church really feels this tension today as the world and culture around us tells us that we must push into and respond to so many other things.  Now the irony is, as the world chases other things, pulling farther and farther away from God, it is falling apart, socially, relationally, and emotionally, yet we are to follow and chase the things that clearly aren’t working for the world today?  That is so interesting, isn’t it?  Could the church stay relevant if it isn’t jumping into the latest and most intense hot button debates in politics?  Could all my needs be met at a church that points to Jesus in all things and not cultural, political, and environmental issues during worship and events while challenging me to engage Jesus daily in my own personal walk?  I mean could an Easter service really give people what they want if we are simply focused on Jesus and Salvation or do we need to add to it?  This is a big tension point and churches need to make a decision, will we plant ourselves in the truth and lead people to Jesus and stay focused on Him, or do we try to dive into the next and latest fads, political and cultural hot buttons? Do we need to look more like culture or is Jesus enough?  Is Jesus truly the way, the truth, and the life?  Is Jesus relevant for our lives today right here in 2023? The answer is obvious for those who are honestly searching. The Bible says that if you seek Him, you will find him.  But also, that to find Him you have to look for Him and not you…

Matthew 10:39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. MSG

Jesus’ teachings are timeless. His wisdom and impact for your life really has no limits. He does have the answers you are looking for. He is hope for the hopeless. There is nothing new that we are facing today that makes Christ irrelevant.  Jesus is everything, He is worthwhile, powerful, and relevant!  We talk a lot around here, about the fact that as unique as we are, we all have some things in common…none of us are perfect, we all sin, we all fall short, so that means, we all need Jesus.  It’s amazing as people and as churches, we all have this desire, this pull towards fulfillment in our lives, and I believe God wired it into us so we are drawn to Him.  We are all in search of peace, contentment, and all we want in life, we just look in all the wrong places for it.  And while we search everywhere but in Christ for it, we try to pull the church to do what we want to, we pull it away from Jesus, salvation, the Holy Spirit in us…we stray from the focus of church to be more relevant or impactful which is amazing because the only the thing we all need, is Jesus!  Yet in an effort to be relevant, draw crowds, and fit more in line with culture we drift away from where it is all found and the irony is when we do that, we never find what we are looking for.  We never find satisfaction and we always wonder what else the church should add or being doing that would bring me the things I keep searching for and can’t find…the very things that earlier we all agreed, could only be found in God through Jesus.  We as people and as a church must stay focused and centered on Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, and the life and there is no way to get and find what we want, except through Him.

“Contentment is not by addition but by subtraction: seeking to add a thing will not bring contentment.  Instead, subtracting from your desires until you are satisfied only with Christ brings contentment.”  Jeremiah Burroughs

Listen, we love you so much, and today my job was to look at the church today and give you a snapshot into where things are at, culturally here in 2023 around church and our faith and it’s hard to do that without talking about the fact that in the year 2023, the church, frankly Christianity itself is sitting on a tipping point, with world, and culture trying to pull the church away from God, from truth, from life, and to what the world desires…which ironically can never be found anywhere, other than the very thing the world is trying to pull Christians and Churches away from, which is Jesus…who is the way, the truth, and the life.  So just a few questions as we close.

  • Do you feel the tension between living for God and living the way the world wants you to live?
  • Did it ever occur to you that the tension you feel is also felt by the church?
  • Would you rather look real or be real?  Are you fine looking like a Christian, while not actually living a Christian life? 
  • How do you feel when the church leans into God’s truth?  What about when the church leans into your inner world, or challenges you in your emotional and spiritual health and your heart condition?  Does that inspire you?  Does it make you uncomfortable?  Have you ever wondered why, if God’s focus is your heart?
  • Is your focus on Jesus? 
  • Do you believe that God truly is the answer to everything you need, want, and desire in life?
  • Do you believe Jesus when He tells you that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, literally is the only way to find God which you believe is the answer to all you want and desire in life?
  • If all of that is true, can I ask you a critical question here today?  Are you experiencing contentment?  Life and life to the full?  If it can all be found in God, are you passionately focused and centered on Him…or do you chase all the things the world points to, rather than God.
  • Do you support the church as it commits to the real, to the heart, as it pours into God, pursuing the Holy Spirit and rallies around Salvation and sharing Jesus with the world or are you another set of hands trying to push the church over the tipping point?