Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Came, I Saw, I went Home

My title doesn't quite measure up to the words attributed to Julius Caesar in 47 BC: "Veni, Vidi, Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered). But it does sadly describe the "church" experience of many. The formula goes like this: They come, they watch the show, and then they go home. This is to be repeated until they die or the Lord comes. At least that is the impression often given as worship is "done" for them; as they have little opportunity or motivation to be personally involved; or as long as the church is just one more thing in their life, and not "THE" most important thing in their life.

Granted, it is not for a lack of trying on the part of church leaders. I believe they sincerely want involvement, commitment, sacrifice, and growing relationships with Jesus. They just have skipped some important, but essential parts of the process to get people from "spectator" to "disciples," i.e. involved. The "I'm the one who knows what's best for you" mentality exhibited by many church leaders works about as well for the Church as it does for Barack Obama's presentation for a government takeover of health care. The people just don't buy it, and why should they? They want to walk away from it.

I look back at the first Gospel sermon preached on the "Day of Pentecost." Let's step back a bit. None of the people were "regular church members/Christians." The Church had not yet begun. They were Jews from all over the empire (see Acts 2:9-11). They had traveled great distances for the feast of Pentecost. They had no idea they were about to be preached to about a Messiah by the name of Jesus. They happened to be "in the right place at the right time" for that! You couldn't even call them "seekers," because they weren't exactly looking for what they were going to get that day!

I suspect that most of the people who were at the feast had been there many times before, as the Law instructed them to be. Maybe it was as exciting for them as we get about major holidays in our calendar. But even so, there is a predictability about what we will do on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Our holidays are special and exciting, but once you've done it 20, 30, 40 years or more, it does get a little predictable!

And then comes the sermon! Peter preaches a message to them that ties in their experience from the "here and now," i.e. seeing Jewish men speak in the tongue (known language) of these various visitors. Those who didn't quite understand what was happening thought they were drunk! Peter assures them that they weren't drunk, and it was a little early in the day for drinking anyway (Acts 2:15, about 9 am). He took what was new and interesting and applied it quickly and accurately to the Scripture! He reminded them of what Joel said would take place in the last days (2:17ff.)

In other words he took the real life situation of the audience, and shared with them something that was Biblically relevant and timely. It hit them where they lived! But it didn't stop there. The sermon tied the "here and now experience," with the Biblical background, and from there they preached Jesus!

I could stop there and say many times I hear sermons that talk about present issues, problems, challenges, and throw in a verse or two that are often used as a "cure all." But I hear little about Jesus! Peter smartly takes the confusion of the people about the tongues phenomenon that was taking place around them, something they hadn't seen before in their previous visits to Jerusalem for the feasts. He gives them a relevant biblical basis for what they were experiencing, that it was not unexpected! God had promised that one day it would take place, and they were blessed to see it happen before their eyes and ears! And from there Peter preaches about Christ!

Just like Joel had predicted a day when God would pour forth His Spirit, God had also chosen a time when His Son, Jesus would be delivered up and nailed to the cross (Acts 2:23). But the story does not end there. Jesus would rise from the dead, not seeing decay in the tomb. Peter says that he and the apostles were witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:32).

An amazing sermon on an amazing day! Had Peter stopped right there I dare say that the experience by the multitudes gathered on that day for the Pentecost feast would be the same as many church-goers today. We get a good service, with good music, and good preaching, and then we go home. Peter was offering great lessons and great truths. It was worth hearing!

But then Peter goes the next step. And this is the step I see missing from most services and sermons today. It is the step of conviction. Peter didn't just stop at the end of the lesson and say "see you next week." Rather, he put the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus squarely on the shoulders of those who just happened to show up and heard the sermon! Peter said, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36).

How's that for a mood killer! Peter tells his audience that they are to blame for the death of God's Son!

And then something happened! Something amazing and wonderful happened. The words didn't just go in one ear and out the other. They didn't just say, "well let's go home now the show is over." What happened next is recorded for us in Acts 2:37. They were "pierced in the heart." This seldom used Greek word is, "katanussomai." The lexicon defines it as "be pierced, stabbed, figuratively of the feeling of sharp pain connected with anxiety , remorse, etc." (BAG, 415). Other English translations render it, "pricked in the heart" (KJV); "cut to the heart" (NIV); "they were stung (cut) to the heart" (Amplified Bible).

This message of Peter impacted their lives so profoundly that they couldn't just go home the way they came. The regular and mundane had been wiped away and replaced with an incredible sense of "we are in HUGE trouble with God! What, if anything, can be done?" In other words they were convicted by Peter's words that day.

He went on to tell them what they must do in order to find forgiveness, as well as receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38. But before he got to baptism, his words got to their heart! It led THEM to ask the questions, seek forgiveness, and then to become active participants, i.e. members in the Lord's Church which began that day.

We're afraid to bring people to conviction! We shun the idea of making them 'feel bad' or uncomfortable for their sins. We tell them God wants to forgive without telling them why they need to be forgiven! We fear if people "feel bad," they won't come back to our church any more. So we give them a steady diet of "I'm ok, you're ok; and God will pick up the slack if we think we need it."

When we get "convicted" we'll do things. We'll start exercising, eat better, and lose some weight when we are convicted we don't look good, or are jeopardizing our health. We may give up smoking or other bad habits. Conviction led 3000 who heard Peter preach that day not just to go home the way they came, but to go home changed, to go home forgiven, and to go home "Christian."

Lead people to repentance! Lead people to conviction! Lead people to Jesus!

C'mon, Murphy! Let's go outside.