April 5, 2020 Strengthing What Remains

Strengthening What Remains

Watch the video replay here.

(time stamp 27:45 for sermon)

 

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.[1]

 

The Lord speaks to the church in Sardis. Do you know that the Lord still speaks to the churches? He can speak in many ways. But, the two ways that he most often speaks to the local church today is through his word and through those whom the Lord has called to lead the church.

 

The letter to the church at Sardis begins as Jesus describes himself as the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. As in chapter one of Revelation, the seven stars are the seven angels. These are angels who have oversight over the churches in Asia minor.

 

He holds these stars in his right hand as we saw in chapter one. This shows that Jesus is sovereign over the Angels. They are under his authority.

 

He also has the seven spirits of God. What are these seven spirits? Are there really eight spirits because there is the Holy Spirit, too? No. Numbers are symbolic in Hebrew culture. The number seven signifies either divine completion or divine perfection. Hence, the “seven spirits" represent the Holy Spirit perfect in his work among the churches. Those who constitute the churches are quite imperfect but the Spirit’s work is always perfect.

 

Jesus has the Holy Spirit. The spirit is under his direction. This speaks to his divinity for no one but God can direct the Holy Spirit.

 

As he does to each of the seven churches, he says,"I know you're works." Christ’s judgment of the saints, both in this life and at the judgment seat, is based on works. This is a judgment for rewards, not for eternal life.

 

The church at Sardis had a reputation of being alive. But the Lord says that they are dead. This characterization of being dead is corporate or collective Quality. He is describing the church as a whole. There are some in this church who are alive. Further, he is using hyperbole. He is saying that they are dead but they are not quite dead. Verse two makes this clear: "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die…” They are nearly dead and if they heed this letter of admonition they can be revived through repentance.

The second half of verse 2 two is revelatory. The reason they need to wake up and come out of the process of death is because their works are not complete in the sight of God. Do you see the relation there? They're works testified, without words, to their spiritual condition! We do not like to think that way. We like to think that the way we feel testifies to our spiritual condition. So, if we have warm feelings in our heart for Jesus or if we feel a thrill when we sing songs about Jesus then we think that we are doing well.

 

Then the Lord says, “Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die.” There are many churches that die each year in the U.S. According to the latest statistics, there are about 7,000 churches that permanently close their doors here[2]. Among Southern Baptist churches, about 1,000 close their doors every year.

 

In addition to these alarming numbers, the number of rapidly declining churches in the U.S. is 72,200. Meaning that those churches are deemed as “terminal or near terminal.”[3] This represents 19 percent of all churches.

 

In addition to this 19 percent, an additional 61 percent of Protestant churches are simply declining in numbers. That means that 80 percent of churches are declining and only 20 percent are either growing or remaining the same.

 

Jesus speaks to the church today and says, “Strengthen what remains and is about to die.”

 

How can we obey Jesus in this regard? I recently read a book by Thom Rainer, who has expertise in helping declining churches. He has spent a good portion of his life dedicated to this worthy cause. The book is entitled Anatomy of a Revived Church. From this book, as well as some of his previous books (He has written over thirty), I am going to share with you some practical actions that we can do, each one of us, to revitalize our church. I can put it more strongly than that. I am going to share actions that we must take, otherwise our church will be among the 10,000 Southern Baptist churches over the last ten years that closed their doors.

 

After working with multitudes of churches over many years, brother Rainer discovered that there was one thing most of all that members of dying churches could do to turn their church around. If they didn’t do this one thing then their church would likely die. If they did it there church would usually revive. That one thing is:

 

[1] The members of the church must take responsibility for the church’s decline. He noticed that churches that asked for help but then died anyway were those where the people of the church blamed others for their church’s condition. They blamed “mega churches” in their community. They blamed their neighborhood. They blamed church leadership. They blamed the style of music. But they didn’t take responsibility.

 

The truth is that, except in rare instances, it is not any of those factors that cause a church to decline. It is the average church member not living the way our Lord has called us to live.

 

When Jesus addresses the seven angels of the churches in Revelation he is really just addressing the churches themselves. This is obvious by what the apostle writes as he records the words of our Lord. And, the churches are just the people.

 

Even if a mega church nearby is drawing people to it, so what? That is not a reason for a smaller church not to obey the Lord in reaching out to their community. Even if the neighborhood is changing, so what? Every person of every race and every economic strata needs the Lord. Rich people need the Lord and poor people need the Lord. Westerners need the Lord. Asians need the Lord. Latinos need the Lord. Everyone does!

 

It is not the responsibility of the elders or a pastor to share the gospel any more than any other follower of Christ. Church leaders are responsible to equip the saints for ministry. Most do. The problem is that, even if equipped, most disciples are not living as disciples do.

 

Every member of the church must say, “The life of the church depends on me being faithful. I commit myself to the life of this church.” Don’t wait for anyone else. You step up!

 

Here is the second way we can strengthen what remains:

 

[2] Every revival in our nation and every revival of a local church was begun through prayer. Even though the individuals within a church must be faithful, we are not looking to that as if we are depending on human effort. The life and power for revitalization must come from the Spirit of the Lord and this is why we need to pray.

 

Rainier discovered something contrary to what you might expect. He discovered that it wasn’t the number of people praying that was important. Rather, it was the consistency of a very small number of people. In one instance he relates, just one woman who prayed for the revival of her church. And it happened!

 

He calls these people prayer warriors. We need a couple of prayer warriors here in our church. It should be anyone that finds prayer a joy and who is willing to commit to daily prayer on their own and is also willing to meet with a few others once per week for the purpose of praying for the revival of our church. The once-a-week gatherings do not need not need to be long. They can be only ten or fifteen minutes. The key is neither large numbers of people nor large amounts of time. Rather, it is simply consistency.

 

Who is willing to be a prayer warrior?

 

The second aspect of needed prayer is one that every one of us must be involved in. We can all start each day by praying about two matters. First, simply that the Lord would cause our church to grow. That is simple enough. We are asking him to bring about what he Himself desires. Hence, we can have confidence that he will answer this prayer. Second, pray that the Lord would bring you opportunities to share the gospel and give you the boldness to speak.

 

This leads to the third way we can strengthen what remains.

 

[3] Every member must speak on behalf of the Lord. Thriving churches take the Great Commission seriously and enthusiastically. A healthy number of members in the local church take it to heart and it is their lifestyle.

 

We need to consider the words of Jesus and we need to recognize that, as a church, we are disobedient. Now, we are not wholly disobedient. We support missions. We support one evangelist in a country so dangerous and restrictive to the gospel that I cannot even say the name of the country because that country monitors the internet! Most of you know to which country I refer and you know who it is we support. We also support a dynamic and evangelistic Baptist church in the Philippines where, by God’s grace, people are getting baptized every month and getting discipled. Thank God that there is freedom in the Philippines to worship and evangelize!

 

It goes without saying, does it not, that the Lord is pleased when we reach out to far away places and send the gospel? But, I am afraid that we have neglected the gospel in the place where we can have the most influence and where we can see the most results: in Winfield and the surrounding communities. Neglecting the command of Jesus where we live will result in a dying church.

 

Let us turn to Matthew 28:16-20. Although we have great familiarity with this passage, we need to look at it in a fresh way.

 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

This was shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. The eleven went to a mountain where Jesus had told them to meet him. They obeyed. They went. Some doubted. The “some” were not among the eleven but were among many others in attendance. Many scholars think that “the over 500” who saw the resurrected Christ (I Cor 15:5) were present here at this hill.

 

They worshipped him. The “they” are the eleven disciples. The ones who knew him the best, who lived with him for over 3 years, who heard his teachings daily, who saw his glory and now saw him in resurrection, worshipped him. Only God is permitted to receive worship. Therefore, by the disciples worshipping him, they recognized him as God in the flesh.

 

Jesus says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God the Father gave to God the Son all authority! Why does Jesus tell his disciples this? It is not only to let them know that he does have all authority. It is correlated to what he is about to command them. As Jesus tells them this he is saying:

 

  • I have absolute dominion.
  • My word is authoritative over your lives.
  • You must do as I command.
  • He is saying in effect, Because I have all authority you must obey me.

 

What he is about to say next is not only for the eleven. It is for every disciple in every age. It is for every person who gives their allegiance to Jesus. It is for you. It is for me. It is not just for preachers and evangelists. It is for every follower of Christ.

 

He commands, “Go therefore…” For the eleven, some of them would go to distant places like Rome and even India. For us, our going may be only our own town or St Peters. But all must “go.” Go and make disciples. Then Jesus tells us how to do that in a few words. “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” When a person makes a profession of faith they demonstrate the reality of that profession by being baptized. Hence, baptism is the result of sharing the gospel and having it received.

 

Then Jesus gives the other half of what it means to make a disciple. “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” There is a new life to be had and the character of this new life must be taught. How do you make a disciple? Baptize and teach.

 

We do not do this by our own power or strength. For Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age.

 

The main reason that churches wither and die is because they neglect Jesus’ commission. Thom Rainer says that to use the words “neglect” or “forget” is not accurate enough. We must tell it like it is. Many Christians and many churches disobey the Lord Jesus by refusing to go and make disciples. Thom is right.

 

Brothers and sisters, we must take the words of our Lord seriously and we must embrace them. We must allow them to take us over. We must decide to stop playing church and we must become living, obedient, active, and dynamic members of it.

 

The main reason that churches flounder and eventually die is because they neglect Jesus’ commission. Let us make New Salem great again by obeying Jesus’ commission.

 

How can we do that? I know that many are apprehensive about sharing the gospel and talking to others. That may be. But that is not an excuse, and never can be, for neglecting (I’m using the less offensive word!) Jesus’ command to each one of us! Some of you are apprehensive. Sharing the gospel in one sense is like anything else in this respect: if you are not used to it then you may feel anxious about it. But, as soon as you do it a few times, you realize that it is nowhere near as daunting as you thought it was. It is actually easy.

 

[4] The fourth way of strengthening what remains is understanding that membership in a local church entails more than just showing up, even though it is important to be at all the meetings of the church. Meaningful membership in a church means “sacrificing for the greater good of the body.”[4]

 

One way, and a vital way, of showing meaning to one’s support of the church is through financial giving. Although church leaders don’t like to talk about finances and neither do many like to hear about them, nevertheless when giving drops so does the work of the church. At least part of the work of the church depends on receiving the income needed to support the ministries in the church. Diminishing churches are marked by diminished giving. Growing churches are marked by increased giving.

 

Thus, every member must commit to be faithful in their giving. This means giving more than 10% of our gross income for God to use and bless. I say more than 10% because 10% was required under the Old Covenant and we are under both a greater mission and greater blessing from the Lord now.

 

These first four ways of strengthening what remains are for ever person here.

 

  • We must, each one, take responsibility.
  • We must each one pray.
  • We must each one speak.
  • We must each one give more than 10%.

 

This last one is the easiest one to do and can be done by the staff. After much research, brother Rainer found that simply…

 

[4] Keeping a scorecard helps a church to keep its focus on the goal. It is good for a church to keep track of four metrics: Sunday School attendance, worship attendance, baptisms, and one-on-one discipling (meeting with a person or family to teach them and ground them in the faith). The first two are counted weekly and the second two are counted monthly.

 

In order to facilitate the first four avenues of strength I have created a reminder sheet. {Pass out.] Place this in a prominent place in your house. Maybe your bathroom mirror or your dresser mirror. This sheet has suggested prayers. You do not have to use these prayers. They are only an example. Please feel free to use your own prayers.

 

What brother Rainer also discovered was that there were very few fast turn-arounds. Most churches only noticed small growth. But – and this is the good news – they sustained their small growth over time and, after a few years, an appreciable difference was noted.

 

Jesus is speaking to New Salem Church. He is commanding us to strengthen what remains. Will you answer his call?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 3:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Thom Rainer, Anatomy of a Revived Church (Rainer Publishing, Spring Hill, TN) 2020, 14.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 115.

 

Strengthening What Remains

 

I commit to strengthen what remains in New Salem so that my church will be revitalized. I am taking personal responsibility to enliven and grow my church.

 

I commit to pray for the growth of New Salem and that the Lord would both give me opportunities to share the gospel and to open my mouth to speak.

 

I commit to cast away any timidity regarding God’s word and to speak it confidently to those who need to hear it.

 

I commit to give faithfully to the work of the church which, by God’s design, is giving to God Himself.

 

“Lord, may you make my commitments come alive and empower me by your Spirit to carry them out. Amen.”

 

Two Sample Daily Prayers

 

1. Lord Jesus, you are the Lord of both the church and the harvest. I ask that you cause New Salem Church to grow in numbers and to grow in faithfulness. Amen.

 

2. Lord Jesus, you are the Lord of the harvest. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. I beseech you, Lord, to send out laborers into the harvest. We are the laborers. I ask you to send out many from our church into the harvest. I have been called to be one of the laborers. Send me out into the harvest!

 

Make a divine appointment for me today. Make me aware of it. Give me the boldness to speak for you. Fill me with your Spirit so that I will speak.

 

May I be a laborer in your kingdom and not a spectator. In your name I pray. Amen.