This was a sermon I delivered at the Central Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 10, 2016. I'm happy to present the full audio and text of this sermon in its entirety here.
Let's talk about billboards.
You know what billboards are. Advertising. Rolling down the road and seeing these obnoxious, huge signs that say "In a wreck? Need a check?" You may or may not pay any attention to them unless they're really cool or really funny. Like these.
What do billboards do? They represent the company or service or organization that they are advertising for. Whether it's a product, service, or idea - that organization is represented by that billboard. That billboard is a reflection of that company or organization.
Just like these billboards - YOU are a reflection of Christ. Every day - you're a walking billboard for Christ. And everything you do - how you act, where you go, what you say - is a reflection of Christ in your life. You are the lens that people are experiencing Christ through.
Now, that sounds like a lot of pressure, it sounds like a big job. But it's true. If you call yourself a Christian, you are a walking billboard for Christ. So - How are you representing him at your job? At your school? On your ball team? How are you representing him online?
In today's world, we have incredible and boundless ways to be representatives for Christ. Through the gift of technology, we can reach out to people who we might have never reached before. As small as the world has become, we can communicate effectively the Gospel of Christ without even leaving our living room.
So this morning, as representatives of Christ reflecting his glory to everyone we know, how can we be that light for God?
#1. Encourage Others
Being a light starts with you. It starts with those closest to you. Before we can even think about influencing those we don't know, we have to start with those that we do.
Some of you are great encouragers. But when we talk about our modern world, a lot of our communication takes place on our phones, over email, and on apps like Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter. Somehow, some way, we think that different rules apply to us when we're on the internet and on social media, and we say mean and horrible things that we would NEVER say in real life. We lose our minds, and I can't figure out why. I've got news for you - the internet IS real life! It has BECOME our lives!
Before you hit that SEND button, think about this: "Would I say this to that person's face?"
Bring out the old "What Would Jesus Do?" - would Jesus tweet or retweet this? Would he like this video on YouTube? Would he say this hateful thing, even in private? If he was standing over my shoulder watching me type this, would I be okay with that?
Paul tells the Thessalonian church something every important:
[ 1 Thessalonians 5.11] [ESV]
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Paul was so proud of the Thessalonian church. They were doing it right. You see, Paul had been forced to leave abruptly from that church that he helped to start. Something had kept him away - most scholars believe it was a threat from the government or a political blockade that kept him from going back and seeing them.
Remember, there were no phones. No email. No texting. No Facebook messenger or Snapchat. Literally no way of communicating short of handwritten and hand-delivered letters. As Paul had been forced to leave his friends, he left not knowing whether or not he would see them again. He actually had to send Timothy instead to check up on them, and when he got the report back on how they were doing, he was incredibly relieved to find out that they had not only stayed the course and obeyed God and kept going with what Paul had taught them, but they had even grown and prospered in the face of harsh persecution!
So Paul couldn't help but be proud of them. Almost like a proud parent when their son or daughter makes the game-winning play on the ball field: "Yep. That's my boy. That's my girl."
So he said, "Encourage one another. Build one another up, just as you have been doing!"
Church, do we do that?
Are we constantly seeking ways that we can encourage one another and build one another up? I know that no church is perfect, and that we all have hush our issues, but how much are we concentrating on building one another up?
The word for that is edification. That's an old-sounding word. Edify.
It's found in Ephesians 4.12 - it's talking about "equipping the saints (that's you) for the work of ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ (also you)."
What does 'edify' mean? When I think of the word, I think of an edifice, a building. That's what this word literally means, 'to build up.'
When I was a young man (hopefully I still am a young man, but I digress), my father would come in on Saturday mornings and wake me from my peaceful slumber and simply say, "Get up. Let's go." I'd have about 30 seconds to get dressed, which was actually good training for the Marines now that I think about it.
But my dad used to build all types of things - small buildings, shops, extensions on homes - but mostly he built outdoor decks. I remember going out with him on those Saturdays and sometimes spending half the day just getting ready for building. We would have post holes dug (I was usually the one to do that) and we would mix concrete and fill in those holes with posts that would hold up the entire structure. We'd spend hours just on prep work to build the foundation before we actually built anything at all.
The overall theme of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is unity. Unity in the body of Christ. And part of unity is building one another up. But that can't be done unless the building up is done on a firm foundation.
You know the song the kids sing sometimes - "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." The wise man built his house on the sturdy, unmoving foundation and when the rains came, he didn't have anything to worry about, his house stood firm. But the foolish man built his house on the sand, and the rains washed it away. I believe the term the kids use is "The house went SPLAT."
Speaking of things going splat, it is a LOT harder to build something up than tear it down. Anybody can tear someone down - it's a lot harder to build someone up. Psychiatrists say that for every negative thing a person hears, there has to be a minimum of five positives to erase that negative. These days with social media - Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter - we can tear someone down from hundreds or thousands of miles away. With these anonymous apps like Whisper, After School, and Yik-Yak, we can tear someone down and they won't even know who it was! Young people, if you're using an app to mask your identity or give someone a false impression of who you really are, that's wrong. God knows and sees who you really are.
Which brings us to our next point...
Be a light by...
#2. Being Yourself
Let's talk about compartmentalization. Do you know what that is? That means that we put our lives into compartments. We act a certain way at work or school versus at home, we use different language on the ball team versus at church. We set ourselves up like our chest of drawers at home. Instead of putting t-shirts here, socks here, we put church here, home here, school here, internet here. We keep them separated, almost as if we're living different lives.
But God knows who you truly are, online or not. He knows your thoughts and feelings, and that's scary. In order to be a light to this world, we can't compartmentalize ourselves as Christians - we have to be consistent throughout our lives. Be yourself - don't try to live up to someone else's standard or be cool in someone else's circle - be yourself.
When I think about being yourself, I think about who you really are, inside your heart. Only you and God know who that person is. That brings to mind two scriptures...
For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
That's in Proverbs 23.
Above all else, GUARD YOUR HEART, for everything you do flows from it.
That's in Proverbs 4.18.
You probably get told all or tell yourself the time to make decisions with your mind and not your heart, right? Like your mind isn't connected to your heart??
If it's in your head, it'll eventually be in your heart. If it's in your heart, it'll eventually get in your head.
There is no such thing as a non-emotional decision. Everything you think you end up doing. Your feelings affect your faith or your faith affects your feelings, and you cannot separate your feelings from your faith.
John Mayer let stuff get to him once. John Mayer is a singer/songwriter who has had multiple albums go platinum. And there was a period several years ago where he just let all the haters, all the bloggers, all the twitterers - he let that become the only thing he paid attention to and it started changing him in a way he didn't like. He actually moved to Montana from L.A. so he could get away from all of it.
He said this:
"Celebrities will spend hundreds of thousands (if not millions) on personal protection. They'll hire bodyguards. They'll put up fences and walls around their homes. They'll install elaborate security systems. They'll spend all this money and then go check the internet and read the most horrible things that people have said about them every morning. And when they do that, they'll forfeit all that money they spent on security because you let em get in."
You may have not let them in your house, but you let them in your heart. You didn't let them touch your body, but you let them in your heart!
It's not just celebrities, we do it too. We let all sorts of stuff in our hearts and then we wonder why we're miserable and unhappy!
Why am I unhappy? Why am I miserable? Why am I irritable? Why am I a jerk? Because you let them get in your heart!
We gotta keep our guard up. We have to protect what matters. If we can protect our hearts, we can be ourselves. If we protect our hearts, we can be free ourselves to show the light of Christ brighter and brighter and not be held down by our own hearts.
#Represent Christ in Everything You Do
[Matthew 5.13-16] [ESV]
13 "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
God has called us to be salt and light to this dying world! Make no mistake - this world will not get better. It will never be at peace. If you're waiting for world peace you're going to be waiting a long time. And Jesus tells us that and he tells us that while we're here, our job is to be salt and light.
Salt was used back in the day for preservation. Now we use it in everything. When salt is applied, it dissolves inward and disappears. Because Jesus is a master illustrator, he uses the illustration of salt to speak to the inward part of us, our character.
The light speaks to our outward part - our testimony - revealing and illuminating the truth.
You are the light of the world - you are Plan A. There is no Plan B. You are God's plan to save a dying world that is lost in sin.
Going back to our first point today - you are a walking billboard, a reflection of Christ in everything that you do.
This light represents you. It's pure. It's constant. You'd be surprised how far one point of light can go in the darkness. All your job is is to reflect this light. It's not to change it or distort it or shine it in people's faces - it's to simply reflect the light of Christ to the world.
What does it mean to be a light for Jesus? Well it doesn't mean you must be perfect. It doesn't mean you have to preach on the corner. But what it does mean is that you need to love like Christ loved. Have compassion for others like he did. Encourage others like he would. Be His representative here on earth.
It means you conduct yourselves on your ball team, at your place of work, on that favorite social network like Christ would have you to do, because people that are lost are using you as a lens to see the Gospel. What are they seeing?
What if - WHAT IF - we decided to use these devices to glorify God in all things? WHAT IF we decided to use our athletic abilities for God's glory? WHAT IF we decided to use our careers and jobs and businesses to reflect what Christ means to us? WHAT IF we decided to use our lives as a billboard to represent Christ in all things?
I'll tell you what if. If you were to do that, you would change the world.
Jesus used 12 ordinary men 2000 years ago who had no iPhones, no internet, not even telephones or telegraphs to make a permanent dent in this world and changed it forever. Imagine what your youth group could do with the tools and technology and influence that we have now?
I don't how else to say it - your conduct in this modern world, no matter where that may be on Facebook or in the park with your kids - will directly reflect what everyone thinks of the Church and of Jesus Christ. You may be the only Bible some people read. So what are people reading? And what are you advertising?
This morning, how are you representing Christ? Are you representing him at all? If you've strayed from that path, from the path God has set for you to be an example to others, to your kids, to your spouse, come back today. We can pray for you and ask forgiveness for you. If you haven't made Christ your savior, then why not do that today? Come right up front and we can baptize you this morning.
Why don't you come while we stand and sing.