Joyless or Joy-filledMay 23, 2020
Eric Metaxas talks with MIchelle Hill about the ripe opportunity the church has, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to display the hands and feet of Jesus to a troubled, hurting world.
Eric Metaxas talks with MIchelle Hill about the ripe opportunity the church has, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to display the hands and feet of Jesus to a troubled, hurting world.
Joyless or Joy-filled
Michelle: It was the 1930s, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was watching the German church turn under the influence of Nazi ideology. Like many, he was concerned for where the church in Germany was going, but there was something else/something deeper that troubled him more. Here’s Eric Metaxas.
Eric: The church in Germany was kind of similar to the church in America right now, in the sense that it had been mightily blessed; there was incredible tradition. They had really something to be proud of; but of course, when you have something to be proud of, you know, you can be prideful. Of course, that’s fatal; because the church cannot be the church at that point.
Michelle: Eric Metaxas has some words for you and for me today about the dangers of pride and how to live a joy-filled Christian life on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. If you’re like me, there is a lot weighing on your heart right now; but maybe you’re part of the two percent that are calm and care-free, and just happy to be alive! No matter who you are, there are a lot of people who are concerned for the next few months and, really, what’s beyond that.
Seven years ago, I was at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention; it’s a conference for Christian radio people. The speaker was a New York Times number-one best-selling author of several books; he’s written children’s books; he’s the host of a nationally-syndicated radio program; keynote speaker of various events. I could go on and on because, well, his credentials are quite long.
The speaker was Eric Metaxas, and he had a burden on his heart for the church/the people of God. It moved me seven years ago; I remember the exact seat I was in. I pulled it out of our archives, and I dusted it off; I wanted to share it with you today. It’s a call for God’s people to really step up, and to be a joy-filled people, and to start laying some things—well, to cast them off to the side.
You know, many of you have heard Eric’s conversion story; it’s unusual. God came to him in a dream; it’s almost unbelievable. That’s where Eric started his story as he addressed the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. Here’s Eric.
Eric: You know, it’s a funny thing to go to sleep, not believing anything, and wake up knowing Jesus is Lord and the Bible is true. I mean, it’s pretty dramatic. It’s like going to sleep single and waking up married. You know, you can’t really—“What happened?!” Everything is different, right? It’s like the end of a fairytale; you’re looking for this thing, and you find it. It’s just the most beautiful, glorious thing imaginable. You wonder why you hadn’t found it before, and why is it that there are people in the world that don’t know this joy/this truth?—the most glorious thing in the universe!
And it changed everything. Of course, from that point on, I kind of handed my career over to the Lord. I think that’s a good move at this point. But the real issue for me—(and it gets to the idea that I’m speaking to media leaders here; I hope I am. Is this the right room?—media leaders?—yes)—was that I realized that there is a grotesque disconnect in our culture. I had been to Yale University, and I had never heard any of the stuff that most of us in this room know. I had watched TV my whole life—you know in the ‘70s, it was not all hellish—but I had never heard most of what we all know and live.
And it angered me—right?—because I thought: “I would have liked to know this stuff, growing up. It could have saved me some pain,” and “I’d like everyone I know to know this stuff; because this is the secret of the universe, in case I’m missing something.”
But we don’t live in a culture where this stuff is in the mainstream; and so I had a passion, from the beginning, to share what I knew with everyone. By “everyone,” I mean the folks who aren’t getting it: the folks who’ve never heard of Moody Radio; they’ve never heard of the Colson Center; they have never heard of any of you or the stars in our world; they have never heard of any of those people; they don’t know who they are. It’s a separate reality, and those people are lost. They will watch tons of media, and they will never encounter what we know.
I had a passion, from the beginning, to communicate the stuff we know in a way that I might be able to share it with my neighbor or my friends—who would not read if I gave them a copy of something spectacular like Mere Christianity—probably wouldn’t read it unless they were really smart and really hurting. In all seriousness, the point is that the culture—the cultural elites, in particular/academia—but the culture—we don’t hear these kinds of stories. You know, you’re not going to turn on the TV and see a mini-series on the Bible, for example. [Laughter] Well, praise the Lord! Very lately, there’s some good news in this direction, very lately.
I always had this passion. When I heard the story of Bonhoeffer, it so touched me; because my grandfather was killed in the war. My mother is German, as I said. My mother lost her father when she was nine years old. He was 31 years old, a genuinely reluctant German soldier, who would listen to the BBC, with his ear literally pressed against the radio speaker; because if you recall, listening to the BBC in those days, you could be sent to a concentration camp. So this history is part of my life and part of the pain of growing up, knowing that your mother grew up without a dad and all this stuff. When I heard this story of Bonhoeffer, I was transfixed and blessed to think that a man, because of his faith in Jesus—a hardcore Christian—did the right thing. Of course, I wrote the book about Bonhoeffer. There are a number of things to think about; but Bonhoeffer, in Germany, was facing a church—I think a lot of people have noticed parallels between the story of Bonhoeffer in my book and some things that are happening in America today.
I think one of those principal parallels has to do with the church, because the church in Germany was kind of similar to the church in America right now in the sense that it had been mightily blessed; there was incredible tradition. They had really something to be proud of; but of course, when you have something to be proud of, you can be prideful in a bad way, or you can take things for granted; you can take this great legacy for granted. You can lose your first love.
I think it’s safe to say that many Germans, probably most Germans, were mere Lutherans; they were church-goers, you know? This is just: “I’m German, so I’m Lutheran,” which leads, of course, to this idea of cheap grace/that you really somehow miss what it’s all about. Maybe you knew once, but you’ve kind of moved on and you’re going through the motions. You’ve become merely religious somehow. Of course, that’s fatal; because the church cannot be the church at that point.
Bonhoeffer was a prophetic voice, speaking into that culture, trying to wake up the church to be the church. That’s what prophets always do, right? They try to wake up the people of God to be the people of God. And the people of God always don’t listen to the prophet; and then, thousands of years later, they say: “Isaiah was just an awesome guy, was he not? Yes, I think we killed him; but you know, we didn’t know.” We tend not to hear what God is saying through His prophets.
I think the story of Bonhoeffer is a cautionary tale for us, and I think that the Lord offers us this story to keep us humble. I praise the Lord that He loves us enough to keep us humble.
Michelle: Eric Metaxas, reflecting on the story of Isaiah through the story of Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” Those are deep words and deep thoughts.
Eric Metaxas is going to continue unpacking the story of Bonhoeffer and giving us hope in these uncertain times. Stay tuned. We’ll be back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. We are listening today to Eric Metaxas. He addressed a congregation of some media leaders about seven years ago. It was a charge to the church; it was a charge to say: “Okay, something’s not quite right. We’re supposed to be joy-filled people.” It has me wondering, “How are we doing right now?” You know, in uncertain times, and COVID, and rebuilding, are we joy-filled people?
Let’s go back to Eric Metaxas.
Eric: The story of Bonhoeffer is God’s story, which I think He offers to the church today. I can speak to you as leaders in the church/as a microcosm of the American church, and ask you what I think Bonhoeffer would ask you, which is whether you have lost your joy.
I know that Chuck Colson dreaded speaking to this group. I can say that now, because he’s passed on; he dreaded speaking to this group. Now, I’m sure it was a slightly different group, so don’t be offended, unless you’ve been here before. [Laughter] He said: “You know, they’ve heard it all. You can say anything; and it just bounces off, like BBs off of a brick wall.”
The question is—those of us who are, to some extent, professionals in the religion business—that’s a scary place to be—it’s very easy, very easy, to begin seeing these things in a way that is not fresh anymore. It’s easy to lose your joy. So the first question I want to ask—and maybe the most important question is—“Have you lost the joy of Jesus? Do you have the joy of Jesus?”
Now, I know many of you don’t because I work with some of you; I’ve worked with many people in this room. I know people in this room, so I can speak from experience. I know that many of us do not have the joy of Jesus. I think that’s the ultimate arbiter of faith; because you can’t really fake joy—and because it’s very clear, from Scripture, the way Jesus talks about the little children—and you know, “Have you lost your first love?”—how many times have you heard that sermon?
But joy! If you know what He’s done for you—and now, we say, “Of course, I know; and I can give a sermon on it,”—but not to know it intellectually, but to know it viscerally. If you know that, the response is joy. But it’s very easy for us, in this room—I think easier than anybody—to lose sight of that, and to have kind of a rote response that lacks the passion that it might have had when you heard it for the first time. I want to say that, as from the Lord tonight.
If you would say, “Yes,” to that; if you’d say: “Yes, I’ve lost—I don’t have joy. I’ll be honest; I don’t have joy,”—first of all, if you can admit that, praise Jesus. That’s God; that’s God, right? Because without that, I really think we can do nothing; because I think that, when Scripture says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” the Lord puts these things in there to make us see ourselves; right? And you hate it when He puts that stuff in there because, you know, “Be anxious for nothing”— like: “Come on! There is plenty of good stuff to be anxious about, Lord.” No; the Scripture says, “Be anxious for nothing,” so we do not have excuses. It’s very clear; the Lord calls us to rejoice in Him always/to be anxious for nothing.
I want to say to this group of religious professionals, among/of whom I am one, “God cannot use us if we do not have His joy.” And if we do not have His joy, it is evidence that we don’t really, really, really believe what He’s done for us; or somehow we’ve lost the ability to apprehend it as a person. Intellectually, we apprehend it: “I get it”; but it doesn’t move us anymore.
If that’s your story, I just want to say—I want to beg you in the name of Jesus—to pray that the Lord would restore that joy to you, because your colleagues see whether you have the joy of Jesus or don’t. Your neighbors/your enemies see that. I really do think that’s the thing that speaks most powerfully about whether you actually believe the crazy idea—because it’s an insane idea—except it’s true, right? But if you believe that, you have joy.
I think, unless the church believes in that way—that people see our joy/that we have been blessed with the amazing grace of God and we’re just giddy; it doesn’t mean our life doesn’t have problems—but if people see that, then they know you can argue and argue, but they can’t argue with that.
I think, ultimately, that’s the question Bonhoeffer was asking the people of his day: “Do you really believe this? Because if you do, it will change the way you live, and it will change the way you die.” You can go to the gallows, as he did, with the peace of Jesus; because you know what you know. You’ve got a little secret.
As I go around the country, and I speak to the church, I really believe the Holy Spirit wants to say to the church: “You’ve got to wake up. You’re sleeping; you’re sleeping. You have to reconnect with Me in a way”—and this can happen in any number of ways; it can be through terrible persecution, or it can be through suffering in our own lives—but we know God can do that. We need to reconnect with Him, because we cannot possibly be the church unless we repent and really find Him in such a way that that childlike joy is restored. He cannot use us; we cannot say much to the world if we don’t have that joy.
Bonhoeffer was trying to wake up a corpse, right? Isn’t that what God does? God’s trying to wake up a corpse. Spiritually, we are dead; we know this, right? And He’s trying to wake us up and bring us back to life. I think there are so many pieces of this. I don’t want to go on much longer, but I do think that, if we’re speaking in a religious way/if we’re communicating in a religious way, you can fake that. We can all fake that; we know how to speak that language, right?
I remember a friend of mine once said to me, “The Lord has quickened us financially.” [Laughter] You know, he couldn’t just say, “I got a raise”; he had to use the religious lingo. We know that religious lingo: “The Lord has quickened us financially.” So we can fake that.
I think where we are, as a nation/as a culture, God is calling His church—and I do think that the story of Bonhoeffer has focused this for a lot of people, certainly for me—He’s calling us to wake up, to stop faking it, to stop being religious. To some extent, most of us are, right? So the only question is: “To what extent?”; but we’ve got to repent of that! We’ve got to repent of any place, where we have bought into something that is not of Him; because I do think we’re going to face some tough stuff. I think we are facing some tough stuff. He needs His church to be His church; that’s His call.
We’ve got to have a broken heart for the lost. We’ve got to care about the salvation of people, like Katie Couric, who—my flesh just wants to hate her, right? It’s much safer caring for the cannibal on some island someplace and say: “Oh, apart from the grace of God, I would be just like that cannibal,” but “Katie Couric can go to hell; I don’t care.” That’s somehow how we think sometimes, right?
I think there are many people hungry for what we have and know. And somehow, they are not getting it—to get back to the beginning—they are not getting it; they are just not finding. We must find a way! If we become alive in Christ/if we find our joy, we will find/we will want to find creative ways to communicate what we know: the greatest knowledge/the greatest truth in the history of the universe. We will find ways to communicate that to a world that’s not getting it.
That’s really what I want to ask tonight: “Are you still grateful for your salvation? Do you know that you don’t deserve it?” These are basic things; you’ll hear these things in Sunday school. This is nothing theologically sophisticated; but to say it to a group like this, because we know it all so well, how can we hear it as from the Lord?
I will again say that this issue of joy for the Christian church: “If non-believers, especially, do not see the joy of Jesus in us and the love of Jesus”—obviously, we’re talking about joy/the love of Jesus—“then they know, because they are created in the image of God, so they have the ability to tell the difference between lies and truth, and right and wrong, or whatever; so they can smell that something is off.” God has given them the ability to respond to truth; so the love of Jesus and the joy of Jesus, they can’t help but respond to that.
Now, thinking of the story of Wilberforce, he did so much for the poor and just poured himself into so many projects that, even the people who wanted to despise him, had to admit—they hated to admit it—but they had to admit that: “There was something there that I can’t account for; I don’t know why he’s so cheerful. I hate that.” He was very cheerful. That’s what people have to see; that’s what people have to see.
Speaking to a tremendously elite/august group like this, I say with all humility that that’s, I think, what Bonhoeffer would say—and what the Lord would really want to say through Bonhoeffer to ask us—because, again, you know “To whom much is given, of them much is required.” I hate when people misquote that; people say, “To whom much is given, much is required,”—that’s wrong. “To whom much is given, of them much is required.”
So much has been given to the wonderful people in this room. The Lord has given us so much; and of course, He will judge us for that, right? You know the teachers/the leaders—we’re going to be judged more harshly—so if this group could think about that issue, I do believe Jesus is speaking that. I don’t say that lightly about that issue of joy and love. If you have lost that, whatever you do, get that back! Get that back, because we cannot possibly be the church and be effective unless we do.
And in conclusion, I would say, if we do/if the church—represented by the microcosm in this room—were to be the church, easily, we could combat the tremendous difficulties that are facing us in this country. If the American church were to be the church of Jesus Christ and wake up, as the German church did not until it was too late, we could change everything. The level of creativity in this room and what God has poured into us is sufficient, friends.
There is hope! When I think that we’re missing Roma and Mark’s [Burnett] Bible series tonight—talk about a sign of hope!—that something like that could get made in Hollywood. Now, that’s a drop in the bucket; but the point is that the Lord has a passion to communicate with all these people, who are watching TV, and never seeing what we know. We’ve got to figure that out. We’ve got to care about those people; we’ve got to care about those people.
I will just say, in closing, I think that many of us know that the church has gotten sort of overly political; and it hasn’t worked out so well. But I think that we have to understand that we ought not to shrink from being political. We need to avoid, at all cost, making an idol of politics—God forbid—but the Lord calls us to be involved in every aspect of a culture. What Chuck Colson quoted over and over again, the line from Abraham Kuyper: “There is not one square inch of creation over which Jesus Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’” We’ve got to be in everything.
I praise God that we finally got involved in politics about 30 or so years ago; and let’s get it right, and let’s be involved in the right way; because there are people depending on us to be involved in those things. But if we stop there—if we are not involved in the wider culture/if we’re not involved in making mini-series and doing all kinds of things like that—then we’re not doing enough.
I believe that the Lord wants to wake His church up to the lost, such that we would begin to get our hearts broken again for them; and that we would try to reach them in a new way, speaking their language, not speaking religious language. I believe that’s God’s calling on His church.
And on that tremendously sober note, I’ll say, “Goodnight; God bless you.” [Applause]
Michelle: Eric Metaxas, giving a charge to the church. You know, what he said, he said seven years ago; but it’s still true today. We need to be joy-filled people, who speak of God and radiate Him as we go about our days. You know, now, in these uncertain times, after we’ve watched COVID ravage through our world—not just one area/the whole world—we need to be joy-filled; and we need to be radiating Christ to those around us: to our neighbors, to emergency workers, to the store clerks, to everyone we come in contact with.
Eric Metaxas wrote a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I want to leave you with a few choice Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes. He said: “Seek God, not happiness. This is the fundamental rule of all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness; and that is its promise.” He also said this: “We pray for the big things; and forget to give thanks for the ordinary small, and yet really not so small, gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”
Those are some very meaty quotes. I want to challenge you to think through those quotes. We’ll have a link to more Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes on our website. Go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Hey, next week, we are going to check in with my friend, Lisa Anderson, who is the host of Boundless radio show for young adults. We’re going to talk about just, well, maybe some of us need to rebuild relationships; some of us have stronger relationships because of COVID and all that has happened. We’re going to check in with Lisa and see how things are going and maybe get some helpful advice for moving forward in life. I hope you can join us for that.
Hey, I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big thank you to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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