NASHVILLE – Bestselling author Eric Metaxas addressed over 300 CEOs and executives of religious broadcasting outlets on Sunday, challenging them to experience or publicly demonstrate the "joy" that only Jesus Christ can bring into their lives and the lives of people in the world.
"The question is – especially for those of us who are professionals in the religious business – have you lost the joy of serving Jesus?" he asked the industry leaders. "Sometimes it is easier for those of us in this room to lose sight of this."
The New York native spoke candidly of his early life, especially about his childhood and how although he grew up in a home where his parents took him to church, his spiritual life centered primarily around culture and not on the teachings of the Bible.
"Church to me was primarily a cultural experience with lots of tradition," said Metaxas, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. "That could be the case in any denomination or religion. But, if you don't hear the Gospel, if you don't read the scripture and don't learn to pray, you can't experience God. We owned a Bible but we didn't exactly read it every morning with a cup of coffee and a highlighter like I'm sure many of you did this morning," he jokingly told the group.
Metaxas' education at Yale University did nothing to change that experience, either. "The key to attending Yale is to not go in with an open-mind and that was me," he added.
After graduating with an English degree, he took a low-level job as a proofreader with a large manufacturing firm in Connecticut. But as Metaxas described his transformation, he talked of how God "miraculously" worked in his life, first by allowing a graphic designer to share his own faith with him and then to convert him.
"When Jesus enters our life we are dramatically changed – as it should be."
But it was how God used the young energetic writer in the next several years that would really make a mark on people's lives. "There is a gross disconnect in our culture," said Metaxas. "It angered me as I discovered the Gospel and I suddenly had a passion to share that same Gospel with those who had never heard the truth."
Metaxas went on to write for VeggieTales, Chuck Colson and the New York Times. In recent years, it has been his biographies of English politician and abolitionist William Wilberforce and Nazi resistance leader and German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer that have attracted the attention of the nation and the world.
The gifted writer expressed his main point to the evening's invitation-only gathering in simple terms: "The church in Germany prior to World War II was similar to what I see in the U.S. today. It is filled with tradition and culture and they had much to be proud of, but that sometimes leads to pridefulness. Many Germans were consistent churchgoers but somehow missed what it was all about – merely going through the motions. At this point the church can no longer be the church."
Metaxas urged religious leaders to try and wake the Church up by conveying that every part of the Christian life should be about Jesus. He asked the group: "Have you lost your joy?"
"God cannot use us if we do not have His joy," Metaxas stressed repeatedly. "If that is true in your life, then I will pray in the name of Jesus it is restored because your colleagues see whether you have that joy or not. Your neighbors, your enemies see that."
Metaxas ended his remarks by suggesting the Church repent for its shortcomings. "I believe the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to wake up because we are sleeping. You (Christians) must reconnect with me (God) in some way because we cannot possibly be the Church unless we repent and have the child-like joy in us restored."
"To whom much is given, of them much is required, and we as religious professionals have a larger responsibility to share this message," he concluded.
Metaxas will be traveling in the Midwest and the Southeast for the next several days for his Bonheoffer book tour, which has sold out in most cities, including Nashville.