On July 8th, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut, almost 35 years before the Declaration of Independence, an early American preacher by the name of Jonathan Edwards stepped into the pulpit. He took his text from Deuteronomy and began to preach. The title of his message was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It was a sermon about hell and judgment. The story says that the conviction was so strong that as he was preaching men and women in the congregation would moan and cry out, begging him to stop preaching. They would cry out, “Please, what must I do to be saved.”
In June 2011, Rob Bell, the pastor of the mega-church, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Mich. released a book titled, Love Wins. In that same year Bell had been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and one of the 5 most influential pastors in America by Christianity Today. The general theme of his book, though not particularly direct, seems to be that there is no literal hell and that everybody will at some point be redeemed and go to heaven. The book quickly reached the top of the New York Time best seller list and is an oft talked about point of discussion in Bible studies and Sunday School classes.
I’m not preaching on hell today and I am not entering the discussion about which one of these preachers was right and which one was wrong. What I am asking is what happened to us, to our world that brought such a complete change to what we hear, what we want to hear, and what we believe? How did we go from conviction, the fear and awe of God to a gentle, general doctrine that has little power and even less challenge?
How have we come to this place that Dietrich Bonhoffer called “cheap grace?” “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
To answer that question let’s look at one more sermon. It took place about this time of the year 2000 years ago. It’s the sermon that the fallen, disgraced disciple Peter preached on Pentecost in Jerusalem. On that day, Peter came out of a room where he and 120 other believers had been hiding for about forty days. Jesus had come, been crucified, resurrected and now was gone back to the Father. All of Jerusalem and all of the Roman government was still against His followers. Most of the crowd that had supported them had now turned on them. Of all the 5000 people that ate bread and fish with them a few months earlier, of the thousands that lined the streets with palm branches and cried “Hosanna” just 50 days ago, there are now only 120 followers left and they are hiding in an upper room in the city. But now, Peter comes out of that room, stands boldly in the temple court and preaches a very simple sermon.
“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. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 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.”
At the end of the sermon 3000 people are under conviction and accept the news that Jesus is the Messiah. What was the difference?
Well before I answer that I need to tell you what I want. I want to be liked. I want you to leave every Sunday saying, “Man, he is a nice guy and I love to come hear him preach. He makes me feel good.” I want the church to really grow, partly because that’s a good thing but mainly because I will look really good and the people in town will think I’m amazing. I want to be popular, and famous, and loved by you and everybody. That’s what I want. But more than that I want to please God. I want to be a person of integrity. And I want to stand before God with you and know that we did all we could do to prepare people for eternity. So today I may not make you happy. I might make you mad. I might hurt your feelings and step on your toes. But I will do my best to tell you the truth and invite the Holy Spirit to work in us and on us.
Acts 2:1-4 says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”
Pentecost was the name of the Feast of Weeks that the Jews celebrated every year to thank Yahweh, God, for the harvest. But on this Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus something different happened. They were gathered, hiding really, in the upper room and all of a sudden God came. There were some clear, visible signs of His coming. There was the sound of a rushing wind, something I imagine like people describe when they have lived through a tornado or a hurricane. Fire appeared out of the ceiling, separated into individual flames and settled on the heads of each person in the room. Fire has always been in scripture the symbol of cleansing and purity. Remember Isaiah 6 when Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips?” In response to that the Spirit of God takes coals of fire and touches Isaiah’s lips.
The other sign is that the people begin to speak in tongues. Now we have been debating exactly what that means and how it looks ever since that day. Let’s don’t get caught up in that debate today. I do want to say that this coming of the Holy Spirit was not unexpected. Jesus had commanded them, just before He left to “tarry in Jerusalem until you receive the Holy Spirit.” He says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnessed unto me, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.”
They wait 40 days, praying, the Holy Spirit comes, Peter preaches, and 3000 people accept Christ. By the way, when is the last time you saw 3000 people accept Christ? What about 300? What about 30? What about 3?
Listen guys, here’s the deal. We have not lived truly under the power of the Holy Spirit for a long, long time. Let’s be honest. We gather together. Sometimes we see a few prayers answered. Every once in a while we shed some tears and have a little emotional experience. But the powerful, passionate, convicting, challenging work of the Holy Spirit is really a distant memory for us as a church and as individuals, if even that. I remember some services as a kid, even some as a young pastor when God really came and people ran to the altar and begged Christ to come into their lives. But honestly that has been a long time, at least for me. Maybe it’s different for you but I don’t think so. Are you mad yet? Don’t worry it will get worse. Let me be honest. This isn’t the message I planned to preach. We are supposed to be talking about Victory Over the Darkness and getting over disharmony in our lives, our homes and the church. I write the sermons on Thursday afternoon. I prepared a pretty good little diddy, one that would make you love me, put the outline in the worship folder, and then stayed awake most of the night wondering how we have come so far away from Pentecost.
Let me just read you a list I made about 3 in the morning, Friday morning. (This is the part that will make you mad.) Listen, I’m begging you to hear me out. I’m not passing judgment. I’m not telling you how you should live or what you should do. I’m not trying to make up new rules or take way the great grace of God. I am just pointing out how things have changed for us, how different we are from where we once were. Maybe we were wrong then. Maybe the change is a good thing. But at least let’s admit that we used to feel different about some things and we attributed that to the Holy Spirit. Here’s the list and I’m going to make most of it about me:
I used to spend lots of time reading the Word of God. Larry Lea said, “read the red and pray for power.” Now I’m on FaceBook and Pinterest and Twitter but not spending nearly as much time in the Word.
Jesus said to His disciples in Gethsemane, “Could you not tarry one hour?” I used to make sure I spent at least an hour a day in prayer. Now Doris and I read Jesus Calling, a great little devotional book that takes about 5 minutes and we feel really good about ourselves.
There was a time when I was so careful about what I watched on TV and what I allowed in my house. Now one of my favorite TV shows is The Big Bang Theory which is about a group of young adults whose sole purpose in life is to have sex outside of marriage.
I used to pray and fast for God to bring conviction on people. I used to stay awake at night worrying about friends that were lost. Now I’m a counselor and I try to talk people into doing the right thing.
Listen, I’m not saying these changes are bad. I’m just saying they are different from what we used to do as a church.
Let me point out some more differences that I have observed outside of my own life. Not good or bad, just different.
There was a time when the church fought against the opening of new bars and liquor stores and tried to keep alcohol out of grocery stores. Now there is just about as much beer in the Christian’s refrigerator as in those who make no religious profession.
I remember Josh, our oldest son, playing little league baseball and the coaches scheduling a game on Wednesday night, prayer meeting night, the whole town was in an uproar and they had to change the schedule. Now our kids play Sunday morning baseball, tournaments that don’t even consider the Lord’s Day in their scheduling.
I remember when our nation was in a huge uproar over the attempt to take prayer out of our schools. Don’t raise your hand but when as the last time you had a significant family prayer in your home?
What happened to us? How have we changed so much? AW Tozier said. “Bad got better when worse came along.” Please don’t misunderstand me. Don’t get hung up on one of these examples that you don’t agree with and turn the whole discussion off. The point is not which of these are right and which are wrong. The point is to say we have changed as a church, as a culture, as Christians and along with that change has come an apparent absence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Does that resonate with you at all? Remember I want you to love me. I want to talk about grace, and gifts, and our destiny and God’s favor. I want to preach on His love and the life of fulfillment and joy that belongs to we who are believers. And all of that stuff is true and it needs to be preached on. But this is true too. And this needs to be said. There was a time when the Holy Spirit told us what to think and how to live. Now it is hard to find evidence of a life fully directed by the Spirit of God. And on this Pentecost Sunday the Holy Spirit needs to be invited in again to do the work in us that Jesus said needed to be done.
Look at that work for just a minute. Probably the best place to go to find out what the Holy Spirit is about is Jesus’s words in John 16. This whole passage, from John 13-17 is called the Upper Room Discourse. It’s Jesus’s last sermon to his disciples before the Cross. Don’t you imagine that the last sermon someone preaches they will try to say the most important things. I hope you can because that may be what’s happening today. This could very well be my last sermon to you. I’m not kidding. You might say, this guy has gone bonkers and give me my walking papers. Listen, that’s okay. I’ll talk about this more in a minute but I have to tell you that I can’t, we can’t, go on going through the motions and doing church about things that really do not matter.
This is Jesus’s last sermon and He decides to preach on the Holy Spirit. Listen to what He says in John 16:7-11, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
- We need the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction. We don’t really know what is right and wrong anymore and if we do we sure don’t want to talk about it. Jon-Mical, our grandson, has started playing Monopoly. He doesn’t know the rules. He’s only 6. The game is a lot of fun for him but he really doesn’t accomplish much. Please listen to me about the examples I used, I am not trying to tell you how much to pray, when to play sports, or what you should or should not drink. I am saying that we need to live in such a way that we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit teaching us right and wrong. I don’t know exactly what Hell looks like and I sure can’t say what is sin and not sin for you. But I will tell you this, the work of the Holy Spirit is to so stir our hearts that we know when we are living in a way that is not pleasing to God and we avoid it like the plague. Galatians 5:25 “If we live by the Spirit we will also walk by the Spirit.” Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the flesh set their mind on the things of the flesh but those who live according to the Spirit set their mind on the things of the Spirit.”
And what does that look like. Well, the Holy Spirit tells you. But we get some explanation of that in Galatians 5 again. Verse 19 says, “The works of the flesh are plain; fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” If that stuff is going on in you, WHEN THAT STUFF IS GOING ON IN YOU (because it goes on in me) then your mind is not set on the Spirit and you are not walking according to the Spirit.
Here’s the other side, verse 22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law.” That’s what it looks like to have your mind set on the Spirit. And if that stuff is not present in your life then you are not living according to the Spirit of God. And that’s not me talking… it’s the Holy Spirit.
And by the way, what about that “against such there is no law” thing? If we, as a small group of believers acted like that (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…) we would not be able to park the cars in the field beside us. We would not have enough chairs in this building to seat the people. And it wouldn’t be because of some slick program or some puny preacher. It would be because of the Spirit of God.
I work on sermons that are witty and wise, that entertain and inspire you. I try to teach you and talk you into being this way or being that way. And I have lost my mind. That was never my job. The Holy Spirit is the one that will convict us.
- We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as a church. Listen to verses 12-13, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
The Bible tells us 2 things about the Church without the Holy Spirit. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul says “there will be great falling away.” Listen, I want to have a great church. I want to see hundreds of people come to know Christ and worship with us every Sunday. But without the Holy Spirit we are going to go in the opposite direction. People are going to find better things to do. Shoot, I’m going to find better things to do. I am old. I have neither the time nor the energy to play at this thing, to develop a social club or to spend our time arguing about things that we should not be arguing about. If you want to get your feelings hurt, if you want to be upset because the church is not running the way you want it or the preacher is not talking answering your emails fast enough then you help yourself. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe the Holy Spirit wants to overwhelm us, to convict us, to guide us. And I want the Holy Spirit to fill this place with people that beg us to tell them what to do to be saved.
That leads me to the second thing that happens in the church without the Holy Spirit, people get itching ears. 2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers to suit their own liking.” Without the Holy Spirit people will associate themselves with the coolest, the hippest, the neatest program they can find. The church will become one more center for entertainment, like TPAC or the Cason Lane Movie Theatre. And I don’t blame them. If I could do anything I wanted I go to the church with the best music, the funniest preacher, the most comfortable seats and the biggest parking lot. In fact, I used to pastor that church. I’ll be honest, sometimes I sit around and think about how I can make us that church. But that’s not what the Holy Spirit is about. His work is to “guide us into all truth,” to teach us how to do church, and at this point in my life I don’t want to do it any other way.
I don’t know exactly what that looks like but we get a hint of it in Acts 2:43-47, right after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit has come and established the Church. “Everyone was filled with awe (FEAR) at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Let me show you one more picture. Acts 4:32-37, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
There was unity (Okay, that’s the Victory over Disharmony sermon.) There was joy. It was fun to be a part of that church. There was generosity with no discussion of who owned what or who as in charge of what. And the Lord was adding new people like crazy. Listen, I don’t know if that is for us but I will tell you I don’t want to settle for anything less. The Holy Spirit has convicted me that THAT IS WHAT HIS CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE and I can do no less.
Which leads me to the last thing.
- We need the Holy Spirit to turn our hearts toward Christ. Listen to verses 14-15. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
I have had several conversations over the last few weeks about the direction of the church, some of them with myself. What is our future supposed to be? Should we change the name of the church? What will our worship services look like? What will we focus on or not focus on?
Without the Holy Spirit we will forget what He looks like. We will start thinking that it’s about us and not about Him. Illus Forgetting the girls. Jesus says the work of the Holy Spirit is to keep His face fresh in our minds and in our hearts.
I’m going to be real blunt. (This is really the make you mad part.) Almost everyone here today was here when Doris and I came. You have given yourself to this place, to this ministry, this group of people. And you have far more at stake, and therefore far more to say about what happens to this organization than I do. And that’s okay. But I am not talking about this organization. I am talking about THE CHURCH. And this is not my church. This is not your church. This is HIS church. This is about Jesus and His Holy Spirit will keep us focused on Him and His plan for His church. Frankly, I really am not very interested in anything other than that. And my imagination is that you are not either. That’s why the Holy Spirit turns our hearts toward Him.
I think it looks something like “Love God, Love Others, Serve the World.” But what that is and where that is, and who leads you into that, well, the Holy Spirit will take care of that.
So how will the Holy Spirit do that? How will He lead us? Remember the sermon that Peter preached I abbreviated it a little bit for the sake of time. Three times in that sermon He quotes the Bible of that day, our Old Testament. He quotes the prophet Joel, he quotes Psalm 16 and Psalm 110. I won’t read them all but let me read the Joel passage.
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[c]
God says He will reveal Himself with dreams and visions. He says He will show us signs and wonders. And He says He will save everybody that calls on His Name. He will do all of this by the power of His Spirit. And He will keep His hand on us to the very end. And where do we find all of that stuff? In His Word. I have talked to you about a lot of stuff today. I have challenged you to think about how you are living, what you are doing, what you are thinking, and let the Holy Spirit lead you in those things. Where do you start that? You read the Word of God. You live in it. You make it your guide book. Don’t go by what I say, but also don’t go by what you THINK or FEEL. If we become people who really live out His Book I guarantee you all of these things will work themselves out. What if we told Jon-Mical and Jakson to go clean there room? They said, “We talked about it. We memorized it. We can say it in Greek. But we did not do it.” God gives us His Word in the Bible. He gives us the Holy Spirit to direct us in it. And the He expects us to DO IT.
Now my guess is that all of us here have some knowledge of the Book already. So let me ask you, just given the part you know, what are you doing about it? Is it affecting your thinking process? Is it changing your behavior? Do you even believe it is true? Do you believe the Book that God raised a man from the dead? Do you think He really walked on water? Do you believe He fed 5000 and healed the blind man? If you do, do you believe what He says about the Holy Spirit in your life, convicting you of sin, challenging how you engage His church, and keeping your eyes fixed on Him? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit will help us to love each other and love the world? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit will cause you to live in such a way that people around you will ask, “What must we do to be saved.”? And if you believe those things then start living like it. You owe it to Him. You owe it to the world. You owe it to yourself.