We have made it to the final week of our series called Door Holders. And I think it’s safe to say that this series has absolutely blown up. God has done far more in this series than I ever expected. It’s been an emotional series, as we listened to some people here at Connect tell their stories. It’s been encouraging as we have learned that our story matters. And it’s been challenging as we’ve been confronted with our responsibility as believers and as a church.
Today as we wrap up this series, all of those things are going to happen again. This is going to be emotional. It’s going to be encouraging. But it’s also going to be challenging. It’s going to get tense in here. But it’s a tension that we need to understand. It’s a tension that we need to feel.
So let me pray for us and we’ll get after it.
Every day, we give both of our boys a Flintstones vitamin. And before anybody says anything to me, I know. I know there is conflicting research about the value of multivitamins. I get it. But Nicki takes a vitamin every day. I take a vitamin every day. And every day, our boys take a Flintstones vitamin. Or that’s what they’re supposed to do, at least.
If you’ve ever had one of those Flintstones vitamins, you know that they don’t exactly taste good. They’re chalky and they’re kind of gross. But we think they do our boys some good, so we give them a vitamin every morning.
One day last year, Nicki and I were doing some cleaning. We pulled out the couch away from the wall to sweep behind it, and guess what we found. Dozens of Flintstones vitamins stuck to the wall.
At first we were confused about what these things were. But after we looked at them, we realized that they were Flintstones vitamins. How did they stick to the wall? Because they were wet when someone put them behind the couch.
One of our boys…and we were pretty sure we knew which one (Brock)…would put the vitamin in his mouth when we gave it to him. But as soon as we walked out of the room, he would take the vitamin out of his mouth and put it behind the couch.
Now, needless to say, this didn’t make Nicki and me very happy. And so we took care of business.
But I’m looking at all these nasty old vitamins stuck to our wall, and I thought, “First of all, that’s a lot of wasted money. These things aren’t cheap.” I was tempted to take all these nasty, old vitamins and make Brock eat them. I spent money on these, and you’re going to eat them, boy! But I didn’t. Chill out. Don’t email me. I didn’t.
But secondly, I was thinking, “These vitamins did him no good.” If you don’t actually ingest the vitamin, then it doesn’t do any good. He made himself look good to us because we thought he was taking his vitamin each day, but it was all a show. It wasn’t really doing any good, because he didn’t actually ingest it. He didn’t actually take it in…all because he didn’t like the taste of it.
Today is going to be tough. There are some things that I’m going to say today that are not going to taste good. Just like those vitamins, there are parts of the gospel that just don’t taste good. There are parts that are hard to swallow. But we have to internalize those truths if we really want God to change us from the inside out. We’ve got to take in the whole gospel…not just the parts that we like. Not just the parts that taste good. We have to take in the whole thing.
And here’s the part of the gospel that really doesn’t taste good. It’s the part I would spit out if I could. If I could take this truth and make it untrue, I would. But I can’t do that. We don’t get to change the truth. We don’t get to twist and manipulate the truth to make it more palatable to us.
This truth is the hardest part of the gospel message.
Here it is: Hell is real.
I want to let that truth reverberate for a minute. Take that in. Internalize it.
For some of you, I hope that the next few minutes are the most uncomfortable…the most tense time you’ve ever spent in church, or anywhere else. I hope it bothers you that much.
The truth is…hell is real. It’s not imaginary. It’s not mythological. It’s not a state of mind. Hell is a real place that will have real inhabitants, and it will last for a real eternity.
But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Just like anything else that I say from this stage, you have to measure it against Scripture. What does Scripture say about hell? What did Jesus believe about hell? That’s the key question…so let’s answer it.
The last book in the Bible is called Revelation. It is a vision, or a revelation, that was given to the Apostle John. It is probably the most bizarre book in the Bible. And by the way…we’ve got an entire series on Revelation planned for 2014. It is going to be awesome!
The book of Revelation deals largely with the second coming of Christ, the end of time, etc. Here’s what John wrote in Revelation 20.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15, NIV)
John was given a vision of what is going to happen at the end of time. And he tells us very clearly that there will be real judgment. And those whose names are not written in the Book of Life (meaning those who haven’t accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord) will be thrown into a lake of fire, which is a common way that the Bible describes hell.
Here’s what Jesus Himself had to say about it. In Mark 9, Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:43-49, NIV)
Flesh-eating maggots that never die. Fire that never goes out. That’s how Jesus described hell. Kind of destroys the idea that Jesus was a nice, tolerant, blonde-haired blue-eyed creampuff, doesn’t it? The real Jesus said stuff like this.
Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. And He never, ever minced words. He never pulled a punch. He never held back. He gave us the hard, unvarnished terrible truth. Hell is real, and it is filled with unspeakable horrors.
“I really don’t like this, pastor. I didn’t come to church for this. I came to church because I want to be inspired. I want to be encouraged. I want to feel good.”
You do understand that I’m not the one who said this, right? This wasn’t my idea. I already told you if I could change this, I would. But it’s not up to me. And it’s not up to you. This is the single most difficult part of the truth of the gospel…but it is just that. It’s the truth.
And for some of you, I hope you are feeling the tension that’s in this room right now. I hope you’re feeling it to the very core of your heart and your soul.
Now, I know you think it’s been blunt so far…but I’m going to take it to a new level.
For some of you, I hope this is turning you inside out because, if nothing changes, this is your destiny.
In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT)
And you thought it was just a song by AC/DC, didn’t you? There is an actual “highway to hell,” and Jesus said that it is broad. It’s wide. There are so many lanes that traffic just moves along smoothly. Nothing to even slow them down.
But the road to eternal life is narrow. In a lot of ways, it makes life in this world more difficult. And that’s why only a few find it.
Somebody in this room is on the highway to hell. And I love you too much to do anything but tell you the truth. If you don’t surrender your life to Jesus, then this will be your eternal destiny.
“Well, that doesn’t FEEL loving!”
Let me ask you this…was Jesus loving?
“Of course He was loving. I mean…after all, He was JESUS!”
Great. We agree on this. Jesus was loving. He was God in the flesh, and the Bible tells us that God is love. Jesus was the very embodiment of love.
And yet, like I said a few minutes ago…Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in Scripture. How do we reconcile that?
Could it be that the most loving thing we could do is to actually tell the truth about eternity? To actually tell people that there is eternal life, but there is also eternal damnation? Could it be that the most loving thing we can do is to compassionately, but urgently, tell people the truth about hell?
A few weeks ago, Nicki was in the kitchen cooking. I was standing there watching, because there is definitely one chef in the family…and it’s not me.
At one point, Nicki turned on the garbage disposal and turned her head for a second. And it was at the very second that Brock stepped up to the sink. And when he stepped up to the sink, he started to put his fingers down the drain where the disposal is located. This all happened in a split second, but you parents know that a split second is all it takes.
And you know what I did? I yelled at the top of my lungs. Nicki wheeled around and she screamed, too. And it stopped him cold.
Now, let me ask you a question…was that loving? It was absolutely loving. We had to warn Brock about that garbage disposal, and we had to do it now.
We didn’t give Brock his space to make up his own mind about garbage disposals. We didn’t hold back because it’s politically incorrect to talk about garbage disposals. We didn’t wait for Brock to discover the reality of garbage disposals on his own. And we didn’t allow Him to believe that there really is no garbage disposal. It’s just a myth designed to spoil his fun.
We warned him directly and honestly and urgently about garbage disposals. It was the most loving thing we could have done. And if you don’t believe me, go find Brock after church and look at his hands. You know what you’ll find on his hands? You’ll find 10 fingers. You know why you’ll find 10 fingers? Because we loved him enough to warn him honestly and urgently about garbage disposals.
Don’t tell me it’s not loving to tell people the truth when there is so much at stake.
Over the last five weeks, we’ve talked about being door holders. We’ve talked about sharing our stories with people who don’t yet know Jesus. We’ve talked about the mission of our church and how everyone who serves at Connect in any way is a door holder. We’ve talked about taking the risk to share your faith with someone who is not yet a believer in Christ. All because we want to open the door for people to connect with Jesus.
But ultimately, when you boil it all down, this is why. This is why we share our stories. This is why we serve. This is why we take risks. This is the very reason that our church exists.
Heaven is real. So is hell. And the difference between the two is someone who is willing to hold the door open for people to meet Jesus.
And there is somebody in this room today who needs to walk through that door. You are on the highway to hell, and you know it. But you also need to know that there is another option. His Name is Jesus and we’re holding the door open for you to meet Him. That’s why we are here. That’s why our church exists.
Most of the time when I study and write sermons, I have music playing. It’s usually something instrumental…piano, jazz, classical, etc. The music relaxes me, helps me focus, etc.
When I was working on this message, I went to one of my favorite Pandora stations. Got some awesome, peaceful music going. Got in the right frame of mind to write. I just knew that it was going to be a good writing day.
Then, an incredibly loud thrashing sound started outside my office. I looked out and there was a tree trimming crew working on the street next to my office. And it was loud. Really loud. The beautiful music that I wanted to listen to was getting drowned out by the violent thrashing sound of a wood chipper.
And that’s when it hit me. When we gather as a church, it’s so easy to get swept up in the beauty of what happens. The band was on fire. The lights were perfect. Everything was beautiful.
But all the while, there is another sound that surrounds us. It’s the sound of lives being thrashed and eternities being lost. And if the day ever comes when we care more about putting on an amazing service than we do about lost people who are going to hell, then we will sell all this gear, I will resign as your pastor, and this church will close down because we have forgotten what it means to even be a church.
Yes, it’s tense. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But it’s also true. And as a church of door holders, it’s this truth that drives us to reach lost people for Jesus. And if you don’t know Jesus yet, you just need to know this about Connect…we’re not going to give up until you do. And if today is making you really uncomfortable, we pray that you’ll listen to what God is trying to say to you today.
For others of you, I hope today is making you incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s not for you. You gave your life to Christ. You’re going to heaven. But the problem is you’re not taking anyone else with you. You’re not telling your story. You’re not sharing your faith. You’re not holding the door open for anyone else.
You have family who don’t know Jesus. You have friends who are on the highway to hell…and you haven’t done anything about it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you become “that guy” or “that girl.” You know who I’m talking about? The person who can’t have a normal conversation. For example, they can’t talk about the football game without eventually turning it to a conversation about heaven and hell.
“I wonder which Andy Dalton is going to show up today. He’s been pretty up and down this year. Do you think it will be Good Andy or Bad Andy?”
“Well I don’t know about Andy Dalton, but I’ll tell you who is good. His Name is Jesus and I want to tell you about Him.”
That’s not evangelism. That’s just weird! But that’s not what we’re talking about.
What we’re talking about is looking for opportunities to share your story. Asking God to show you ways you can hold the door open.
And you know one of the most effective ways you can start holding the door open? It’s a simple question…would you come to church with me? That is one of the single most effective ways you can begin to share your faith. Would you come to church with me?
How many people do you think would respond to that kind of simple invitation? I found something that blew my mind this week from Dr. Thom Rainer, who is the guru of these kinds of studies.
According to his research, 82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited.
Think about that. More than 8 out of 10 unchurched people said that they would come to church if they were invited.
That’s the data from this study. Maybe that seems a little high to you. But whatever the actual number is, here’s what I think we can all admit…the number of people who would say “yes” to our invitation is higher than we think it is.
But here is the problem from that same study. Only 21% of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year.
And, of the people who are doing in the inviting, only 2% are actually inviting unchurched people. The rest are inviting people that already go to other churches!
Compare these two numbers. 82%. 2%. 82% of unchurched people say they would come to church if they were invited. 2% of church members actually inviting them. Houston, we have a problem.
Here’s what Thom Rainer wrote in the article where he published this study. “When is the last time [you] invited an unchurched person to church? When is the last time [you] offered to meet someone and show him or her around the church? The answers…could make the difference in the eternal destiny of a person. It may be that simple, and it may be that profound.”
Now, don’t misunderstand. It’s not your responsibility to save anyone. That’s not on you. That’s on God. Jesus is the one who does the saving. You’re just a door holder to help people meet Him.
Check out this cool little story from the Old Testament book of 2 Kings. At first, you’ll probably think this doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but hang with me.
In 2 Kings 6, it says, “They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!” (Have you ever borrowed a tool, and then lost it? That’s what’s going on with this guy. But thankfully, the prophet Elisha was there.)
The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.” (2 Kings 6:4b-7, NIV)
The guy thought the axhead was gone. He thought it was lost forever. But God made it float back to the surface, and the man reached out and lifted it out of the water.
But notice that both God and the man had a job to do. God made the axhead float, but it was up to the man to lift it out of the water.
God gives us the opportunities…He brings them to the surface, but we have to grab them. God opens hearts to accept invitations, but we have to do the inviting. God does the work of salvation, but it’s up to us to hold the door open. God has a job to do…and so do we.
When is the last time you stepped out and took the risk? When is the last time you said, “Would you come to church with me?” When is the last time you offered that invitation?
There has never been a better opportunity than right now. We are kicking off our Christmas series next week, and we’re going to be doing nothing but preaching the gospel for 4 straight weeks. And that’s absolutely on purpose, because in our culture people are more inclined to come to church at Christmas than any other time of the year. The Christmas season has even surpassed Easter when it comes to peoples’ willingness to accept an invitation to church.
We are pouring everything we have into this Christmas series. And I mean EVERYTHING. You won’t believe some of the stuff that our band is going to roll out. The messages are going to point directly to Jesus. It’s going to unbelievable. But if unchurched people aren’t invited, then it really doesn’t matter.
Now, I want to make something incredibly clear. This isn’t about putting you on a guilt trip. I bet if I asked every single believer in this room, “Do you think you share your faith enough?” almost everyone would say, “No.”
That’s not what this is about. It’s not about guilt. Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…God doesn’t deal in guilt. Guilt has to do with fear and punishment, and that was dealt with when Jesus died on the cross.
But this is about conviction. Guilt and conviction are two different things. Guilt is about staying mired where you are. Conviction is about realizing that God has called you to something higher, and then pursuing that by God’s grace.
Here’s our conviction here at Connect…God has called us all to be door holders. One of our core values here at Connect is found people find people. We were lost, but we were found with the love of Christ. And as found people, our conviction is to find more people.
In our culture, Christmas is one of the most effective times to be a door holder. To look for opportunities. To offer a simple, no-strings-attached invitation.
But it all comes back to this core truth…eternity really does hang in the balance.
Listen to how Jude described it in his little book close to the end of the New Testament in the Bible. “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 22-23, NIV)
Can you feel the mix of compassion and urgency in these words? Be merciful to those who doubt. It doesn’t say start an argument with those who doubt. A lot of Christians are good at that. Everything is a debate. Everything is an argument. No doubt is allowed.
That’s not what Jude says. He says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Be loving. Be kind. Be understanding. Are you more concerned with winning an argument or winning a person? That’s a great question, isn’t it?
Be merciful. But that mercy doesn’t negate the urgency. “Save others by snatching them from the fire.” That’s an obvious reference to hell, and there is an urgency to it. If we miss an opportunity to share our faith with someone, there is no guarantee that we’ll ever get another one. Life is incredibly unpredictable. Opportunities have an expiration date. That’s why there is such an urgency in Jude’s words.
He sums it up when he says, “show mercy mixed with fear.”
That is the tension that we live in. But a lot of people don’t want to live in this tension, so they pick sides. It’s not mercy mixed with fear. It’s one or the other.
Some people choose the “all mercy” route. It’s all love. All compassion. All mercy. And eventually, that completely erases the truth about hell. That concept just doesn’t fit their paradigm of mercy.
Other people choose the “all fear” route. They yell and scream about hell. They talk about hell so much that they get some twisted enjoyment out of it. They can condemn people to hell with a smile on their face. All fear, no mercy.
This isn’t either or. It’s both and. Show mercy mixed with fear. That is the tension that lives inside every person who wants to be a door holder.
We have mercy, compassion, and love for people who don’t know Christ. We don’t yell at them. We don’t seek to win an argument. We don’t walk away when they express doubt.
But at the same time, we understand that the clock is ticking. We know what’s at stake. There is an urgency to what we do because eternity really does hang in the balance.
Mercy mixed with fear. If you don’t want to live in that tension, then you’re going to have a very difficult time following Jesus. This tension is the world that door holders live in. And it’s a tension that motivates us to action.
We’ve been talking about this for the last five weeks. It really comes down to this. What are you going to do with what you’ve heard? Are you going to start serving here at Connect, helping us hold the door open for more and more people? Is there someone who needs to hear your story? Are you willing to take the risk to share it? Is there someone who needs to hear this simple invitation from you: will you come to church with me?
And then there’s this. It’s where we started and it’s where I have to end. Some of us in this room today are not yet believers in Jesus. And I had tears in my eyes as I worked on this message this week. Tears for you. Mercy mixed with fear. That’s exactly how I feel about you.
But you may not care how I feel about you yet, and that’s fine. I understand. But what you really need to know is how Jesus feels about you. He loves you. So much so that He died for you. When Jesus died on the cross, He took the punishment for all your sin. All of it. No exceptions. No exclusions. He took the penalty for all your sin. It is a free gift…but it is a gift that you can choose to accept or reject.
Here’s how Jesus Himself summed it up. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36, NIV)
Have you surrendered your life to Jesus as Savior and Lord? If so, eternal life is your destiny. If not, then God’s wrath remains on you. And that’s what hell is…it is the fulfillment of God’s wrath.
You can either choose to allow Jesus to take God’s wrath for you on the cross…or you can choose to take God’s wrath on yourself. That is the choice, and there is not another option.
You can leave here today angry with me. You can hate me. You can swear that you’ll never go back to “that church.” You can do any of that…but that doesn’t change the truth. And I simply love you too much to tell you anything other than the truth.