Let's Talk Week 6: The Lost Story
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. You know, that song isn’t really true. Words do hurt more than people know, but they also can heal. I wonder why I haven’t thought about how powerful they can be. I mean, even God spoke the world into existence. He used His words to create. Not just action. Words. Could my words create things in others — in me? Sometimes we forget how powerful words really are, so let’s dialogue. Let’s unpack this together. Let’s talk.
Well, good morning to everybody and good morning, also, to those who watch via the mobile app and the internet. One of the unique things about people when you study culture and history is we like to tell stories. It’s just sort of part of being a human to tell stories. One of the pervasive themes that you find in the stories that are told throughout humanity, and especially the ones that we like to read, and the ones that we like to watch on the screen, are the stories of redemption.
So, let me just sort of paint a picture here of that. You’ve probably seen the movie where the camera comes in, the kingdom’s there and you can tell the kingdom used to be sort of nice, but there’s weeds, thorns and thistles. It’s sort of grey and overcast. It starts off that way. Then, sort of in the movie, you find there’s this group of people who are sort of dug down in a cave. They find this lost story about the kingdom and they’re like, “Oh, this is what it was all about.” They sort of go through a bunch of crazy things. Eventually, the kingdom gets back to right and the camera comes back in at the end. It’s beautiful, green and the sun is shining in. It’s awesome. These great stories of redemption where the way that they were became something better.
If you have kids, you probably remember The Lion King. Remember that? It was dark and grey, and then Simba has the moment with Mufasa. James Earl Jones is like, “Simba, you are much more than you have become.” I’m not James Earl Jones, but something like that. Anyway, then him and his group of people go and do the thing that they do. All of a sudden, at the end, it’s like the sun is there, the green is there and we’re all singing and crying, “Circle of life.” You know? One of those things. And we know it just speaks to us.
So, what I want you to do is I want you to take what I just said, because it’s in your mind, and I want you to sort of package it up, put it in your back pocket because we’re going to come back to that at the end of the message. At the very beginning of all my messages, I like to sort of do a quick summary because if you haven’t been here or it’s your first time, you may be like, “What are we doing with ‘Let’s Talk?’”
Let me explain what we’re doing here and then we’ll get into the message. We’re in a series where we’re talking about the power of our words. The things that we say really matter. Life and death is in the power of the tongue. The way we talk about others, the way we talk about people, the words that we say to ourselves. We even talked about the power of the words that we pray. But this weekend here, we’re going to talk about the most powerful words, period, that you and I can say and that you and I can hear. Those words are the words of the Gospel. When I say the word “Gospel,” so maybe I’m understood, the story of Christianity, the story of Jesus — you may have it pictured that way. The Bible calls it the Gospel.
Here’s what we know about the Gospel. We know that, number one, there’s a lot of confusion about what that actually is. But, number two, this is what we know for a fact: Very few people in the Church share the Gospel. That’s what we know. So, what we do is pastors sit back and they try to figure it out. There are books written on it, magazines and whatever. It’s like there’s a whole group of people who are like, “The reason people don’t share the Gospel is because they’re not committed and they don’t love God.”
I don’t think that’s true at all. That may be true of some people. I think the reason that we don’t do it is because we just don’t feel comfortable. We just don’t know. We start to share and it’s like, “Oh, no. Don’t say that, Chip. That was terrible.”
We’re sort of a little timid to share that story. I think we need to sort of learn to share that story because here’s what I know. I think a lot of people feel a little strange sharing it because they’re not quite sure that they’re sharing it right, and then I get to talk to a lot of non-believers and I hear what they tell me Christianity is. It’s like whatever we’re telling them is definitely not a good job because I sit down with them — one of the things I like to do when I talk to someone who’s a non-Christian is I like to ask them up front, “Tell me what you think Christianity is. Tell me what you think Jesus is. Tell me what you think.”
And then they tell me. What’s interesting is how common the answer that I get — I mean, there’s nuance to it but, as a general rule, it’s a pretty consistent response that I get from people. So, what I want to do here for a second is I want you to pretend that I’m at Starbucks. I wouldn’t go to Starbucks because I drink Dunkin’ Donuts, but pretend I’m at Starbucks. It’s just bitter coffee and it costs too much money.
Anyway, I’m at Starbucks and I’m talking to — hey, some of y’all are happy. It’s good. Online people are like, as they’re drinking their Starbucks, “I don’t like this guy.”
Anyway, I’m sitting across from a non-believer at Starbucks. Pastor Chip asks the person, “Tell me why you’re not a Christian. Tell me what you think about Christianity,” or whatever question I ask. So, I’m going to be that non-believer for a second. I’m going to give you their response of what they think about Christianity and how they think that it is. So, if you could just imagine that I’m the guy in Starbucks, but I wouldn’t really be there because bad coffee and too much money, but anyway, I’m there. My response is, “Well, Pastor Chip, what is Christianity and why am I not a Christian? I mean, it’s pretty simple. You guys believe that God created the Earth, but your whole thing is the Earth is only a few thousand years old, there weren’t dinosaurs — maybe there were dinosaurs. And there weren’t cavemen unless you’re watching the Progressive commercials. But the Earth is there. You guys are just anti-science. It’s like we know the Earth is old and you guys think it’s young.
“It’s like, from the get-go, you think this is a special place. We know that the Earth is not the center of the universe. It’s just a speck in the midst of this whole, big thing. This whole thing, dude, I’ve been to the museums. There’s dinosaurs. You don’t even believe. And then you guys, from this, which is already enough — I’m out. I’m tapped out because you guys believe a fairy tale, you believe that there was a snake in the garden that spoke. But since you’re anti-science, I guess snakes can speak. So, this snake is in there like, ‘Psst, come here and talk to me.’ The snake is there and this lady comes up and, of course, why’s it always women are the ones who get treated bad in Christianity? Y’all don’t like them. You don’t let them speak. I mean, you guys have got problems with women. Anyway, this woman comes up to this snake and the snake decides to tell her that she needs to eat something. We don’t even know exactly what it is. But she makes this choice and it’s like the whole world goes to hell because of her choice. No wonder women don’t like to choose where they want to go to dinner because the last time they chose, they ruined the whole world.
“But we’ve got this snake and sin, and we’ve got this stuff going on, all this good stuff, which doesn’t make any sense at all. Somehow, out of this crazy world that is there, old and all this stuff — it’s not old. Snake, sin and whatever. It makes me bad. I don’t understand that. But, somehow, I’m bad and I need help. And then you guys give me the answer for help, and all of you give me the same thing. It’s two things that you give me. I don’t think you think you’re giving me two things, but you’re giving me two things. The two things that you give me is that I’ve got to get the right beliefs and I’ve got to try hard. Those are the two things that you tell me all the time.
“And here’s the beauty, Chip. You guys tell me I’ve got to get the right beliefs, but you guys don’t even know what the right beliefs are because I watch you on Facebook and you all go, ‘You’re not a Christian. You’re not a Christian. You’re not a Christian because you don’t believe this and you don’t believe that.’ I don’t know what is the right beliefs that you all think I’m supposed to believe because you all don’t even know the right beliefs yourselves. So, I’ve got to get these right beliefs, which who knows what they are. It’s like you guys have got all these things. You’ve got to do this and got to believe that. You’ve got to do this thing and got to do that thing. And then you’ve got to try hard. Yeah, I know you have those bumper stickers that say Christians aren’t perfect, but you’ve got to really try because God’s sort of fickle. I mean, He just kills people, like, ‘Bam,’ they’re dead. You know?
“So, you sort of try hard. If I get this thing right, this is crazy, anti-science, who knows what in the world this thing is, and then this stuff that you all don’t even know what you believe at all, and try hard and all this stuff, I get to go to heaven. Woo-hoo. Yeah. That’s a great deal. I get to go to heaven if I get all of this right, and who knows what all that is? And heaven? Man, it’s great to listen to you all talk about heaven. If you’re like my younger Christian friends, they’re like, ‘It’s a rock concert for eternity for Jesus.’ It’s like, ‘Really? That’s like Led Zeppelin for Jesus? What the...’
“You know? And then my older Christian friends are like, ‘We’re going to sing out of the hymn book forever.’ It’s like, dude, I’m out. And some people like harps and clouds or whatever. Why in the world would I want to believe any of this stuff? But here’s the beauty: You guys can’t even believe amongst yourselves what the right beliefs are. You’ve got everybody doing this stuff. ‘You’re not a Christian. You can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ You’ve got all this stuff. Okay? But this is what you all do: Even though you all are telling each other you’re not Christians, when it comes to me, all of you Christians unite on one thing: I’m going to hell. It’s like, all of a sudden, all of you all that are fighting come together in unity. ‘Hell.’ You know? And hell is like Sonny’s barbecue pit of humans, but they’re not burning. They’re suffering. It doesn’t make any sense to me because it’s like, I know I’ve done some things that are wrong, Chip, but I mean, seriously, what could I have done that would mean that I would suffer for ever and ever? How bad could that have been, what I did? It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m tapping out. I don’t want to be a Christian. This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Now, I’m Pastor Chip again. It’s here at Grace Community Church in Sarasota. I’m back here. I hope none of you all are going, “Man, that was a great presentation of the Gospel.” That’s what I’m hoping. If you are, then we’ll talk about it a little bit. There are a lot of things in there that might’ve been a little true, and some other things like that, but there’s a lot of stuff in there that was sprinkled in that we need to sort of go back and talk. So, what we need to do is we need to ask, “What is our story?” Because our story’s not that. Our story is a really, really good story. It’s an awesome story. I’m just afraid we don’t really know our story very well.
So, what I want to do is I want to just sort of take a little bit of time and talk about this story. And I think when you hear the story you’re going to go, “Whoa. This is really a powerful story.” So, to start off, what we’ve got to do is we’ll start with Paul because Paul says something in Romans 1:16 that I’m convinced, because I teach, I’m a professor, and I listen to people tell me what it says and they don’t know what it says. I don’t think most people really know what it says because we don’t really understand the Old Testament very well. Paul says this statement in Romans 1:16:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel,”
Most people think that means that Paul’s not scared to tell people about Jesus. That’s not what he’s saying at all. It’s not even in the same ballpark here. What he says here is, “I’m not ashamed,” and what’s important here is this idea of “shame” comes out of a shame and honor culture in the Old Testament. I don’t have time to do this, but I could take you through psalm after psalm after psalm where the psalmist is going, “Okay, God. You’re the King of the universe. You’re God. You’re awesome. You’re all-powerful. But it doesn’t look like You are in my life right now. My enemies are putting me to shame because I’m telling them about You and my life is a mess. It doesn’t look like things are going.”
Paul says, “I’m not ashamed.” And he’s going to say that even though it hasn’t all come to pass and it’s not all here, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel; the good news. I’m not ashamed of this story that we tell that’s from the beginning to the end. I’m not ashamed of the Gospel because it, this Gospel, this good news, is the power of God for salvation. Whatever’s in this message, whatever’s in this story, it is God’s power that brings salvation to people who believe.”
And then Paul goes and tells you — and we’ll come back to that a little bit later in the book of Romans — it’s not about theology. It’s the book of the Gospel. He’s telling you the Gospel. So, we’ve got to go back to the beginning to understand this story. I know a lot of people believe this, but Genesis 1:1 does not say, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earths without dinosaurs, possibly, and hell.” It doesn’t say that God was out to get you with hell. It doesn’t say that at all.
What it says is, “In the beginning.” The “beginning” here is not like the beginning, beginning, beginning because we don’t know what that was. There was no beginning because God is eternal. He’s always. So, this is the beginning for us. In the beginning of this part of this deal, God created heavens and earth. This is not trying to tell you science. Those people who lived back there weren’t even thinking about that. They’re coming out of Egypt. Charlton Heston’s just taking them over the Red Sea. You know? They’re not even thinking about those things. Their cosmology is way different than ours. I mean, they’re not thinking about that at all.
What we’re being told here is something profound theologically, that God created the heavens and the earth. What He did is He created them together. He walked with people. They talked to God. They were together. The story starts together. See? That’s the beautiful thing. And, in this story, there’s no hell. There’s no hell.
Now, hell, we know in the New Testament, was prepared for the devil and his angels. That was not prepared for you and me because we were here. We were in fellowship. Hell was something else and hell wasn’t here. It was just there. It was out there. Heaven and earth were here and it was together. Everybody was together and God talked to people and people talked to God. It was a beautiful thing. In this existence, there was a tree. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
People are like, “What’s the tree? What is it?” It’s not as complicated as we make it. The tree here is a tree that people, the two there, Adam and Eve, get to make a decision. Do they want to allow God to be the one who defines good and evil for their lives, and trust Him, or do they want to take a bite for themselves and determine their own destiny, pull a Frank Sinatra and do it their way?
Well, we know what happened. They decided they’re going to do it their way. Well, there was a consequence for their way. Heaven and earth, that were together, are now separate. There’s been a disjointing here. And we see it because the first thing that happens is Adam and Eve are put out of the garden. Then, as they continue on, it just gets worse and worse and worse. It’s terrible. What we refer to in the English language, we have one word — there’s four Hebrew words and like six Greek words if you’re doing vocab stuff, that have a lot of different meanings. Missing the mark, taking the wrong turn, rebellion and all that stuff. We use the word “sin.” You can use a different word. Nobody’s married to this term. It’s just the term that we use. Because there was sin — in other words, they decided, “We don’t want to let God tell us what’s right. We’re going to do our own thing. We’re going to do it our way.”
This sin, what it did is it allowed hell to attach itself to earth. You see that in the New Testament because the gates of hell and the Church are now fighting against each other. You see it in James 3 where it says the tongue, this unruly member, can be set ablaze by the fires of hell. That’s present. So, all this hellish stuff has come into this earth that was never created that way. That was not the intention at all. The intention was “together.” It’s been broken.
So, the Old Testament, because this is the situation, is telling us a story of the fact that God’s not going to allow this to stay forever. That’s not the plan. The prophets would talk about it: “There’s going to be a day to come.” And then God would also remind everybody because what He did is He said, “There’s going to be one place, just one place, on heaven and earth that are separated, but there will be one place where they still touch again.
The first place that that happened was the Tabernacle. It got heaven and earth. You couldn’t go there. You couldn’t be a part of it. All you could do is be reminded. You could come offer sacrifices and you could come do those things. All it did was remind you of the fact that this isn’t the way it should be. It should be here because it’s still there, here. But it’s not here for you and me. And then that gives way to the Temple and the Holy of Holies. So, by the time Jesus comes, you can understand why John says, in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word,” — the Logos, which is Jesus. He’s with God and He is God. But in John 1:14, keyword here, the Word, this Jesus guy, becomes flesh. He takes on flesh. And what does it say? He dwelt among us.
The Greek word there is the word for “tent.” He pitched His tent or He tabernacled among us. Js becomes the heaven and earth point of contact. He’s heaven and earth together in Himself, which is why, in the New Testament, it goes on to say that you and me, who have God dwelling in us, become a temple of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, God’s bringing heaven to earth in this person of Christ. What you should be thinking in this particular moment is, “Wow, that’s a pretty compelling story. This is pretty good. It’s way better than that other thing we just did at Starbucks, and we had to drink nasty coffee, too.”
Anyway, let’s look at how the New Testament, as Jesus comes, let’s look at how they do it. There are four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Gospel means “good news.” It’s the good news of how God is putting things back together the way they were. I’ll show you how Mark says this. This is verse one. This is the way it starts off.
“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
That’s great. We’re not even having to build up to the point. We’re just right there. Here it is.
“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
You may be thinking, “What’s he going to say?”
He says, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,”
“Isaiah the prophet? Why would you go there?” He says, “Look, if you don’t understand the story, you’re not going to understand the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news because of the story. It’s all together here.”
He says, “Isaiah and all these prophets realized there was going to be a day that God was going to put this thing back together, and he was going to send a messenger who would prepare the way of ‘Yahweh,’” in Isaiah 40:3, but here’s it’s “Jesus.” He’s preparing the way for the Lord to make His path straight.
Then we realize here in the next couple of verses that’s John the Baptist. Now, for those of you all who maybe don’t know a whole lot about the Bible, John the Baptist is not somebody as opposed to like Sam the Presbyterian or Sally the Methodist. This is John the Baptist. He baptizes people. He puts them underwater and they come back out. Some people get all excited about that stuff.
Anyway, he’s John the Baptist and he’s to prepare the way of the Lord that’s coming because the Lord’s going to repair everything. He’s going to make everything right. So, now John has to get out of the way. He’s arrested because he’s prepared the way for the Lord. He’s out of the way and now Jesus comes on the scene. Look at what Mark said just right here in the first chapter of Mark:
“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,”
This is great. It’s like, man, we’re flying through this. This is good stuff here. He’s proclaiming the Gospel of God, so now we’re going to know what the Gospel of God is. We’re going to now know what the Gospel is. What is the Gospel? He’s proclaiming the Gospel of God.
He says, “‘The time is fulfilled,’”
It’s like, “Whoa. What does that mean? The Gospel is time?”
Jesus says, “Okay. Right now, those of you all who are listening to me, the time to get things moving towards where they need to be is right now. Right now in your midst because the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
It’s like, “But it’s coming back. It’s there.”
Here it comes. This is the Gospel. This is what He says.
“‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;’” — and then listen to what He says — “‘repent and believe in the gospel.’”
Well, first of all, the word “repent” doesn’t mean to come to an altar and cry. The word “repent” comes from two compound words in the Greek. Meta and nous. Meta is “changed” and nous is ”mind.” Metanoia is the Greek word. Okay? Change your mind. It’s used in antiquity when somebody would conquer a city or conquer a kingdom. They would send leaflets out to the people saying, “You need to change your mind,” which is “change your allegiance.” This is no longer your leader. This is now your leader.
Jesus says, “Everybody needs to change their mind. They need to change the way they’re doing it and believe in the Gospel. Believe in the good news. Believe in the story that’s happening right now. The story that’s happening right now is that it was this way and then it was this way, but I’m bringing it this way. Are you into the story?”
This is it. This is incredible because what God is saying is, “I’ve got a solution to this, what used to be here. I’ve got a solution. The solution is the story. It’s the story of how I’m bringing this back together. Don’t you want to be a part?”
You can’t do anything to get into the story. He’s inviting you into the story. But when you get into the story, you’re part of a drama. You’re part of the group. He’s using you and me to be a part of people that are bringing heaven to earth now. It’s showing people what this restoration is going to look like. We’re doing it right now. And we have a drama, so you’ve got a script. If it’s a drama, you’ve got props. Bread, wine, washing feet and things like that. It’s a drama. If you want to be in it, you can be in it. There’s nothing you can do. You can just come and be in. This is the good news. Do you want to be a part of the good news? Do you want to be people that are bringing heaven to earth? Do you want to be people that are part of the solution and not part of the problem?
So, visually, what’s going on is this: Jesus says, “The kingdom in Him is coming into this world that’s separated because of sin, that’s got hell on earth. This is the visual. This is what’s going on. And, listen, this is exactly what Mark says. Like, these are just not thrown together. I hope that if there’s one thing I do, I hope I really get you all encouraged to really look at this great script that we have. Look at what Mark says. We’re not even out of Mark 1. Listen to this. As the kingdom’s bearing down and this problem and everything here, here’s what happens: A man with an unclean spirit, a woman with a fever, almost a whole town of sick and oppressed, and a leper all put back together like this. Okay? A man and a women. Now we’ve got both men and women. We’ve got a town. We’re repairing cities. And we’ve got the marginalized out there. We’ve got everybody. Do you think that’s just intentional? No. It’s not intentional. What Mark is telling you and me is that Jesus’ kingdom is coming to bear on this heaven and earth that’s separated. What He’s doing is He’s getting the hell out of His people and He’s getting the hell out of the earth that He created.
This is what it looks like. This is the Gospel. It’s the story of redemption. He’s doing this. This is going to happen again. It’s been inaugurated in Christ. It’s moving towards this and we get to be a part of the drama and part of the team that looks like heaven. See, this is why. And we do this. What we do is we try to take culture, wherever we live, the country, our political agendas and all of this stuff, and we try to go, “Okay. I’m going to put that in on Jesus here.”
No, no, no. The Gospel wasn’t intended for the world. The Gospel was intended for the story to save the world. You compromise the message of the Gospel when you start adding all of these things to it. What you do is you rob it of its power when it’s all the hoops and all the things. It’s just not that. The story is this: It was like this, it’s now like this. Jesus came and He’s bringing it back together. He’s using you and me as portable temples that contain God to be people that are praying to bring heaven to the earth. That’s why we do things differently. We don’t sort of attach ourselves to the other stuff. We just attach ourselves to doing the things that God wants us to do and we look a lot different because we turn the other cheek, we love enemies, we reach out and we love. We don’t nuance that and go, “Well, yeah. But that doesn’t work.”
No, no, no. We’re not trying to cram all that stuff in. This is the Gospel. The story is the Gospel. We’re called to be people that speak this message. And what that message is is good news. It’s good news. Now, hell is going to get out of here. It’s going to go that way. So, why would you want to go with that? We’d be crazy. You all would have to agree with me. Why would you want to go there? Why would you want to? This is the good story. This sounds like the story I want to be a part of. Why would I want to go there? You can. You can go that way, but there would be no reason. That’s why I’m saying, “Hey, if we do this thing right, we preach this thing right, it’s going to be really hard for anybody in Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota or Bradenton to want to go to hell.”
But, to give you an idea, this is the way two Christian people have put this together to understand that. That Jesus is getting the hell out of you and me, He’s getting the hell out of this earth, and if you want to go there, here’s what two great Christian minds have said. C.S. Lewis says, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done. If you want to go, I mean...’”
G.K. Chesterton says it the best, I think. “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.”
If you don’t want to be a part of the great story, you don’t have to be. But why would you not want to be? Why would you not want to be? And we know the end. Even though we’re here and it’s not completed yet, that’s why Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel,” because he knows where the trajectory is going. He’s not ashamed of it.
In the Old Testament, they were ashamed because they didn’t understand. He knows the trajectory. He knows how it’s going. We know the end. Here’s the end. Listen to the end. This is why we can be the people that we are called to be. This is the end of the story.
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
In the book of Revelation, the seas were like the beast and all the hellish things come up out of the sea. The chaos of the sea. No more. It’s all gone. He’s got the hell out of all those places. It’s different now. And “new heaven” is not like new as opposed to there was this one and then there’s a whole new one. It’s a renewal. It’s that the earth is going to be here because Romans 8 says that. We’ll talk about that in a minute. It’s a new heaven and a new earth. It’s put back to the way that it was.
He says, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,”
This is your Bible. Just read here. Heaven, which is here — people go to heaven, but heaven’s coming back here. Heaven’s not the final place for Christians. The final place is heaven and earth together. So, when we sing the song, “I’ll Fly Away,” you may like the song but it’s bad theology. Nobody’s flying away at the end. We’re coming back. Bad theology. I mean, I like the song. It’s fine. You can like the song. I’m not telling you you can’t like the song. We’re cool here at Grace. You can like songs. You can not like songs. We can do whatever. But we’re going to get this thing right: Heaven and earth are coming together. It’s coming down out of heaven from God to be joined back together.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold! The dwelling place of God is with man, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them...”
Heaven and earth together. Here’s the beauty. Listen. Listen to this. This is so awesome.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
That’s where we’re going and we’re supposed to be people living now what we know to be true there because we’re part of the solution of God’s restoration project. So, let’s talk about it. First of all, the good news is really good news. So, let’s not make it bad news because we have a tendency to do that. “You’re not in. You didn’t do that. You didn’t do it.” We do. We make it bad. I don’t know why we do that. This is good news. Okay? I’ll just give you an example. In a couple weeks, we’ll be sort of on this again. Is it amazing how fast we get to Christmas every year? Like, I don’t know what is going on. It’s just every year it’s Christmas again. And I have to work nine jobs because I have thirty-four kids. And they live in Sarasota, Florida and everybody has everything. Like, “Dad, what about that?”
Like, “I’m a pastor.” Anyway, good news is really good news. Listen to how this works. This is important here. So, the angel comes to the shepherds. They’re like the marginalized. They never go to church because they touch animals and are dirty. They can’t go to church. They just can’t go to church. They’re the French.
Angel shows up — we’re a full service church here. So, the angel says, “Fear not.” Well, they fear because they probably think God’s coming to kill them because they’re on the margin. “I’ve got good news of great joy for all the people.” Just listen to that. How do we take that and make that bad? Good news of great joy for all the people. This is our story. Remember singing that song? “This is my story. This is my song.”
Okay. The story and the song that we sing is the Gospel. And He’s using you and me to be a part of that. Are you in? It’s good news. Second, Jesus came to get the hell out of us and the hell out of the world He created. That’s what He came for. “This is not the way it was. It’s not the way it’s going to be. I’m going to do something about it.”
Which brings us back to Romans. Paul says, in Romans 1:16, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel.” In other words, “I’m not going to be put to shame because I know the Gospel is going to work. I know the story.”
So, let me tell you the story of the Gospel. Romans is not a book of theology. We try to concoct it and make it all these little things that we make it. It’s a book of the Gospel. Paul says, “Here’s the way it went: People who knew who God was and had enough knowledge to know who He was, they decided to do it their way. They really made a lot of bad decisions and it’s really ugly,” in Romans 1. “It’s really ugly. God gave them up. They’ve continued to do a lot of bad things and now they rejoice in the evil that they do. It’s a bad gig.”
This bad gig is so bad that even God’s people, in Romans 2, the Jewish people who God gave His law and His commandments and everything to, it affected them. And it affected the whole world, Romans 3, because in Romans 3:10, “There’s none righteous, no, not one.” In Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
So, the position here is that people have chosen to go one way, and here’s where they’re at and it’s not a good situation. But there’s an answer. The solution has always been there. In Romans 4, it’s to have faith. It’s to trust God, not to trust your way. It’s to trust Him. And it’s as old as Abraham. Because, in Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed God, and God credited to him righteousness. It’s faith. Faith is the answer.
But, for us, because Abraham was believing in faith that was something to come, we’re looking back at what Jesus has done. When we exercise our faith, what happens is we have peace now with God through Jesus Christ and we are removed, now, from being in Adam, where all the problems are, to being in Christ in Romans 5. And, because of our baptism in Romans 6, when we went under the waters and came back up, the power of sin and death that controlled you and me has been broken. It may be a struggle from time to time in Romans 7, but in Romans 8:1, there’s no condemnation to the fact for those who are in Christ Jesus. And then we get to Romans 8:18.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.”
Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel. But, look, I know. Right now, it doesn’t look like God’s winning. But what we know is the world, the earth, is groaning for its redemption. It’s groaning for Jesus to get the hell out of it. And then we’re groaning because God’s working in us and sometimes we don’t even know how to pray. But we know that we’re assured because those whom He foreknew, He predestined. Those whom He predestined, He called. Those whom He called, He justified. And those whom He justified, He glorified. And what can we say to these things? If God is for us, then who could be against us, because nothing is going to separate you and me from the love of God?
Romans 9. Well, what happened to God’s people? Well, Romans 9:5, not all Israel is actually Israel. It’s not physical to sin. It’s not lineage. It’s faith. The people that were in Israel were people of faith, not national descent. Because Romans 10, the way in is faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Romans 10:17. So, in Romans 11, there’s one tree, not two. One tree. And it consists of both Jew and Gentile. That is who Israel is, both Jew and Gentile. In Romans 10:26, God will save all Israel in the same way: Out of Zion will come the deliverer, and He will forgive their transgressions.
And Paul says, “Man, this is all going to happen one day. This is incredible. Praise be to God. How unsearchable are His ways? This God is so awesome.”
So, what should I do? Right? What should I do? Romans 12:1. I present myself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of my mind. And I ought to get myself involved in the local church. I’ve got gifts and talents that can be used for the spread of the Gospel.
In Romans 13, I can even honor the people that are over us, that half the time are crazy, but I can do it because I know they’re there because God has them there. But, for me, I’m supposed to do nothing by owe people love. Romans 13:8. In Romans 14 and 15, I can love even the people that are weaker than me. I can serve. I can do this all for the sake of the Gospel. Because, in Romans 16, God’s going to crush Satan under your feet very shortly.
It’s the story. It’s the story. Third, the whole Gospel enterprise literally rises and falls on whether Jesus resurrected. See, the story — it can be a great story, but the story has no meaning whatsoever unless Jesus rose from the dead. Period. End of story. Paul says that. If He didn’t rise from the dead, it doesn’t mean anything. If He rose from the dead, it means everything. That’s the central question. The central question is not — when the guy is hanging on the cross, Jesus doesn’t go, “What do you think about this issue? What do you think about that particular platform? How’d you vote in the last Galilean election?”
He doesn’t say any of that stuff. None of that, because that’s not the story. We try to make it the story. It’s not the story. The story is, “Hey, I want to be with You in paradise. I think You’re the one that’s got the solutions to this. I’m up here because I should be up here, but I think that you have the answers.”
The story is the story. The story is on one thing. This guy believed that Jesus was going to be in paradise that day. He didn’t think He was going to die. He thought something was going to happen. He’s going to resurrect. That is the central thing. And don’t get bogged down. People go, “I believe in Jesus. I believe He resurrected.”
And you go, “Yeah, but you don’t do your Christianity the way I do, so you can’t be a Christian.” No. Don’t get there. The story is the story. What we do is get distracted at all these other base levels, and then people don’t hear the story. And the story is the only thing that can save people, not all of our junk that we add to the story. He either rose or He didn’t. Period. End of story. And if He rose, that means He conquered death, hell and the grave. That means the story will happen exactly the way He says.
So, here’s my question. We have a very compelling story, so why don’t we share it more? Why don’t we tell people? See, we look at our world and it’s ugly. We sort of figure out, “If we do this or do that, or if we can change this or change that law, or do this or whatever, we’ll make it better.”
We’re not going to make it better. Listen to me: It’s not going to make it better. The world is going to pass away. That’s not the answer. The answer is the story. The story is the answer. We have the most compelling story of all. And it’s like, “We’re those people that went and found the lost story.” It’s like, “Oh, man. We see the problems here. We know that there could be the sunlight and the green and all of that stuff, but we know in the interim here, what we need to be doing is we need to be telling people the story.”
And listen, He wants to use you and me to tell the story. A guy from a town in Cynthiana, Kentucky, 6,500 people, to tell a story. He wants to use You to tell the story. And it’s not trying to understand every bit of the story because we’re never going to understand every bit of the story. You just tell the story. When you tell the story, Paul says it’s the foolishness of the story that brings people to God. You go, “Well, they may have questions.” Just tell the story. Tell them the story and let God do what He does. Don’t tell them the story at Starbucks. Tell them the real story and watch what God does. It will blow you away. You’ll be blown away. He’ll use you to do that and you’ll go, “Whoa. I can’t believe that.”
Let’s be people that share the story. I believe, with all of my heart, we live in such a time and a place that Christians are so distracted with all the garbage. I just feel passionately, even if I run some of you out of here, I feel passionately that we’ve got to get focused on the things that really matter. Jesus is the answer to our problems in the world. Him and Him alone. And I believe if we share the story, I believe that you could see things in Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota and Bradenton that you only could dream about. Let’s be people of the story. Let’s get involved.
So, here’s my thing. If you’re like, “Man, I never really joined the story,” get in. There’s nothing keeping you from getting into the story. But if you’re in the story, you do need to be equipped. You’ve got scripts and things that you need to sort of know so that we can help you with the story. That’s why we come to church: To be equipped so that we can do the story. If you decide you want to get in the story, we’d like to help you get on that journey in a positive way, not a negative way. It’s not so that you can be better or God can love you more. It’s that you’re equipped to do the story in a better way.
Some of you all may be thinking, “Man, I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I didn’t realize it. This is a pretty cool story, man. I think I’d like to get in on this thing.”
Let me tell you: The water is warm and the jets are on. Hot tub Jesus, let’s go. You know? Come on. Let’s get involved in this thing. So, I’m just going to throw it out there: Let’s make a difference. Let’s change the world, starting in Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota, by doing the things that we do. Feeding people, going out and opening our church for people to come in and have health screenings, going out and cleaning weeds out of somebody’s backyard, and just going out and being kingdom people doing kingdom things while bringing heaven everywhere we go because we know that one day it is coming to the earth and we’re living it now.
Let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for the honor and privilege of being able to share the story. The story is beautiful. The story changes lives. The story changed my life. Lord, I pray that You would burden our church to be a church of the story. Lord, as we go out trying to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ, let us be people that tell the story; Your story. The story of Jesus. Lord, I pray that You would really speak to our hearts as a church. Lord, during this season that we’re going in, this is the most opportune time to invite people to church. Christmas, they will come. They just come. Our Christmas on Main. Lord, let us be people that seize the moment to take every opportunity to let people know the story and hear the story, for Your glory and for Your honor.
Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us, I pray that You would watch over us and protect us, and I pray, Lord, that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, I pray that You would help us to continually stay focused on what You’ve called us to be here at Grace: A church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.