Today we are doing things a bit differently. This is a little longer post, so hang in there with me – I promise it will be worth it. When I hear a sermon that really puts a spark in my heart and pushes me to action, naturally I want to share it with you! Today’s post is one of those gems.
First I want to go back to the beginning of when God first started inviting me to join him on adventures in what he was doing in the lives of those around me. One of the pastors at our church, Nick Swan, had preached on the mission of the church and I got really fired up about it. I started rearranging my life in a hundred different little ways in order to make the mission – to spread the gospel and make disciples – the highest priority. In the middle of turning my life upside down, our family took a little weekend trip to Atlanta for my Dad’s retirement ceremony from the Air Force. I had been listening to messages by Louie Giglio online and found out his church was in the area so we planned to go that Sunday. And oh, by the way, the worship leader was Chris Tomlin. Needless to say, we were all excited about it.
Sunday morning we arrived at the church with plenty of time to bring the kids to children’s ministry classes and then head into the sanctuary. We still had 15 minutes until the service started and the place was already PACKED. An usher told us if we didn’t already have a seat saved, we could sit on the back row, stand against the wall, or sit on the floor in front of the stage. Of course, we chose the floor. The next 30 minutes of worship, with Chris Tomlin leading less than 10 feet away, were nothing short of amazing. Louie came out to preach next and his sermon is what I want to share with you today. It fit in perfectly with everything God had been doing in my life at that time, and what he’s still doing today.
My friend Chelsey Miracle took what I’m about to share with you and put it on her blog Miracle in Me. Her blog is an amazing look into how God is moving in the college campuses surrounding our city. I highly recommend you check it out! The response from my guest post is one of the things that fueled my start in writing Life Lived Loud. So, without any further delay, here is “I Am The Church”.
I grew up thinking I knew everything there was to know about what church is. I went to Sunday School and made macaroni crafts, held a heavy hymnbook and sang old songs full of words I didn’t understand, and tried to pay attention to a sermon that didn’t seem to be about anything relevant to my life. Sometimes there would be a potluck dinner with all the old ladies flaunting their best pies or a whole week of fire and brimstone sermons when the revival preacher came to town. Church was where you dressed up in your best most uncomfortable clothes to sit still on a hard wooden pew and listen to the preacher tell you about Jesus who came and died for sins everyone in the church was pretending they had never committed. Everyone put on their best on Sunday – the best clothes, the best smile, the best appearances – then they went home, took it off and put it away until the next Sunday.
Maybe you grew up in a church just like that. Or maybe the stereotype of church turns you off and you’ve never committed to attending one. But church is more than a building full of Christians singing hymns and hearing sermons. I am the church. You are the church. I’m not just an attendee or a name on a roll. The church lives and breathes and ministers through me and through you.
In the book of Acts we get a picture of the early church, those first believers who spread the gospel and began the work of the mission. The 120 people who began the early church included Jesus’ mother and brothers, his disciples and others who were eyewitnesses to his resurrection. They had listened to Jesus teach. They were among the 5000 people who ate and were satisfied by five loaves of bread and two fish. They saw lepers healed, sight restored, mute tongues loosened and dead men rise. They were there when Jesus was crucified. They carried his body to the tomb and in three days returned to find it empty. When he appeared to them after his resurrection, they touched his hands and feet. They stood on the mountain and watched as he ascended into heaven. When the clouds closed up and the glorious light faded and Jesus was no longer standing there with them, what did they do? They didn’t go pick out a building to meet in, print some bulletins and write some worship music. The early church was vastly different from the church we are all familiar with. So how did we get from those 120 people to the millions of believers in the church today?
The early church was not an incremental church with six people professing to new faith in Christ and twenty people baptized per year. It was an explosive church. On day one, the early church went from 120 people to more than 3000. There are three distinct characteristics that separate the explosive church of early Christianity from the incremental churches of today.
First, the brand of the early church was Jesus. They didn’t need a logo or a website, t-shirts or coffee mugs to spread the word about their new church. They didn’t come up with outreach programs or community events. They simply went out and preached about Jesus. They told anyone that would listen, and many who didn’t want to hear, about this man who healed the sick and fed the hungry and fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture. It didn’t matter what the name of their group was, the only name that mattered was Jesus.
The second distinctive of the early church was that each and every one of them was an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus. Peter wasn’t running around saying, “Hey, I met this guy who knew somebody whose cousin said he saw a man raised from the dead who claimed to be the Son of God.” No, he preached “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact.” (Acts 2:32)
The church doesn’t hinge on the teachings of Jesus. It doesn’t hinge on the miracles he performed. It doesn’t even hinge on his sacrificial death. The church hinges on the resurrection – the finished complete work of Jesus on our behalf. Through the resurrection, he interrupts our funeral, breaks the chains of condemnation, and frees us from the slavery of sin. And we are eyewitnesses of this! We need to carry in our hearts the experience of a supernatural power that has brought us to life. We all have a past – we are broken and hurt and filled with pain. But when Jesus steps into the picture, he uses the bow of brokenness to launch the arrows of healing. We feel like we’ve gotten our life back!
Death will not be the final resting place of those who are followers of Christ. The end is not a cemetery plot or an urn on the mantel. Death is just a doorway into the presence of Jesus. And this is only possible because he has defeated death through his resurrection.
The disciples didn’t begin preaching after Jesus’ crucifixion. In fact, they did the opposite – hiding in a locked room full of fear. It wasn’t until his resurrection, when they saw him with their own eyes and witnessed the consummation of everything he had told them would happen, that they came alive and were anxious to preach the gospel. But Jesus told them to wait – there was one thing more that was needed, the third distinct characteristic.
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4, 8)
Remember, these 120 people were the closest witnesses to everything Jesus said and did on this earth. They ate and slept with him, knew him better than anyone else. If anyone was qualified to go preach the good news of the gospel, it was these guys. But Jesus said even that wasn’t enough, they couldn’t do it in their own strength. They needed the power of the Holy Spirit and then they could be his witnesses. He didn’t say, “Hey guys, it might be a good idea if you wait around, because I’m sending you the Holy Spirit and he might be helpful to you in the mission.” No, He said, “Do not leave…but wait”. This is the third distinctive characteristic of the explosive early church.
If these men and women who were closest to Jesus weren’t qualified to preach the gospel without the power of the Holy Spirit, then I cannot assume I am able to. I need the Holy Spirit to empower me to do the work God has called me to do – it’s a non-negotiable. The church today is divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Some churches say they are filled with it and others only talk about it. When the Holy Spirit comes to empower you, then your life becomes a mission to be his witness. That witness is the work of the church and it comes from people like you and me, not from a well designed building or a great website. We don’t want a church that is cool. We want a church that is powerful. And that power comes from the Holy Spirit.
“For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18-22)
Paul describes a church built on the foundation of the early church, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. He describes the church as you and me becoming a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. So how do we know when the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us?
First, the Holy Spirit always brings with it the evidence of a changed life. Acts 3 tells the story of Peter and John going to the temple to pray. As they walked through the temple gate, a crippled beggar asks them for money. Peter tells him they have no money but they will give him what they do have. Then in the name of Jesus, he takes the man by the hand and brings him to his feet. The man immediately begins walking and jumping and running around the temple, praising God. The people in the temple can’t believe their eyes. They know this guy running around the temple. They’ve seen him begging by the gate his entire life. Then Peter says to them,
“Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power and godliness we had made this man walk?…You killed the author of life, but God has raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you all can see.” (Acts 3:12, 15-16)
Peter and John were eyewitnesses of the resurrection and they couldn’t stop talking about it. Even when the Sanhedrin put them in jail and questioned who gave them the power to heal, they continued to proclaim the gospel.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone that you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)
The Sanhedrin were amazed at the courage of these ordinary, unschooled men. They knew they were friends of Jesus. But the thing they couldn’t ignore was the crippled beggar running around the temple. It was evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work, changing the life of this man.
“But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there, there was nothing they could say.” (Acts 4:14)
Secondly, when the Holy Spirit came to the early church, they began to live as one family – caring for one another, working together, eating together. They became aware of the needs of the other believers. This didn’t just stop at the doors of the church or the edge of town.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked, ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?…we hear them proclaiming the wonders of God in our own tongues!’” (Acts 2:4-8, 11)
Can you imagine what it must have been like? Surrounded by people from every nation, suddenly hearing the gospel preached so that each man hears it in his own language. On day one, the church became globally conscious. They didn’t need a missions conference, they just needed the Holy Spirit living in them. Jesus had told them this would happen. They were his witnesses in Jerusalem and then they went out, each to his own land, to the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria, and even further to the ends of the earth.
I’ve heard so many people say that Christianity is a western religion, an American religion that we insist on spreading to the rest of the world. The roots of Christianity began in Jerusalem, the most controversial city in the world, in the center of the Middle East. When the Holy Spirit came to those 120 people, things happened exponentially and 3000 new believers were added to their numbers on day one.
It’s not weird for me to have a mission mindset. The Holy Spirit is not reserved for an elect 4% who went to a missions conference and felt called to serve. There are millions of people who need to hear the gospel and the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you compels you to go!
Thirdly, when the Holy Spirit came to the early church, they began to boldly proclaim the gospel. Being bold has nothing to do with volume. God may call you to stand and preach loudly on the sidewalks of your local shopping center, but it’s not likely. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you cannot help but proclaim the gospel.
Let’s go back to our story of Peter and John and the crippled beggar…the Sanhedrin didn’t know what to do about the situation. Here is this beggar who has obviously been healed and these two men insisting that the Jesus the Sanhedrin had crucified was resurrected and had given them the power to heal him. They couldn’t ignore the evidence right in front of them but they wanted to do their best to keep it from spreading.
“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer in this name.” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:16-20)
In spite of the Sanhedrin’s best efforts to shut them down, Peter and John continued to proclaim the gospel. Many who heard them preach in the temple that day believed and were saved and added to the church, until the number of men grew to about five thousand. Talk about explosive growth! Peter and John returned to the church people and told them everything that had happened to them and they all began to pray.
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:29-31)
Notice that they didn’t ask God to get the Sanhedrin off their backs or even for protection. They asked God to do it again! They prayed for boldness. On day one, the gospel was under fire. Christianity is not meant to be a life of ease, but a badge of honor we wear that says, “I’m with Jesus. I’m never gonna be ashamed of the gospel and I will always fearlessly proclaim it.”
In December 1989, the people of Romania overthrew the communist dictatorship and formed their own democratic government. Christians in Romania who for years had suffered relentless persecution, imprisonment and executions were suddenly free to practice their faith without fear. Louie Giglio had an opportunity to meet one of the pastors who lived in Romania both before and after the revolution. He asked him this question: Was it better for the church before or after the revolution? The pastor said the answer was complicated, but offered this simple answer.
During the time of persecution, Christians in Romania woke up with only one choice to make – am I with Jesus or am I with them? The answer to that question took care of the rest of your day. People in the church prayed constantly with their families, especially before leaving the house. They prayed for protection and strength and the courage to face whatever persecution might await them when they stepped outside. Every goodbye was meaningful and tearful, knowing it could very well be your last. Christians had to make a daily decision to follow Jesus and totally depend on Him in spite of the risk.
After the revolution, the daily choice of whether or not they would follow Jesus became less urgent. It was no longer the main focus of their lives. The choice to choose Jesus was swallowed up in the many decisions of everyday life. And because of that, the church has suffered.
So what does church look like to you now? Are you content to put your time in on Sunday singing worship songs and listening to a sermon, checking the clock to see how much longer until it’s time to eat lunch and watch the football game? Is church just a once a week obligation for you? Or are you ready to be the church?
*Is your identity wrapped up in hobbies or your church or a great ministry you‘re involved in? Or is it in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus?
*Has God interrupted your funeral? Are you a witness to the death of your old life? Can you see the effects of a resurrected heart?
*Are you trying to be the church in your own power? Or are you tapped into the power of the Holy Spirit? Can you see changes in your life? Do you have a global mindset? Are you ready to boldly proclaim the gospel?
We don’t have to wait to find the perfect church. A great church or ministry program isn’t enough. It starts with you and it starts with me. We have to go out and give away what was freely given to us. We have to be the church.
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)
What would happen if we moved this to the top of our prayer list, that every time we open our mouths, God would give us the words to speak so that we can fearlessly proclaim the gospel. We don’t have to settle for incremental church growth. We can see explosive growth in the church. We just have to be willing to open our mouths.
Maybe you’ve been reading this post and you aren’t very familiar with this gospel I keep talking about. The simple facts are these: None of us are perfect (holy, righteous) as God requires. God loves us so much he didn’t want our imperfection to keep us separated from him, so he sent Jesus into the world, to live the perfect life we can’t live and die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice we can’t offer, so that through the perfection of his Son we can also be declared righteous to holy God. When we confess that we believe this, and receive the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place, we become a child of God and he adopts us into his family (more on this part in a future post). If you have any questions about the gospel, or you responded to what you’ve read, I would love to talk with you more about it. Just send me a private email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, comments make my day! I love the adventures God is calling me to pursue and I’d love to hear about yours too so I can cheer you on!