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JULY 17 2016 BECOMING GREAT AGAIN PART TWO

Becoming Great Again

Part Two

 

One of the candidates for the Presidency has a motto. It is Make America Great Again. Whether his ideas can be successful will be up to the voters. He has been successful in other areas of his life. It is a good thing to seek to make the country to which we belong great, but there are other entities that are better than nations. One is the family. As good as it is to make our country great, it is even better to make our family great. In Proverbs 31 the character qualities of an excellent wife are enumerated. One of these is found in verse 27.

 

            She looks well to the ways of her household

                        and does not eat the bread of idleness.

 

She looks well to the ways of her household! It goes without saying that this is the will for the husband as well. He looks well to the ways of his household. Family, meaning parents and children, is God’s design and is the bedrock of a nation. If you want to make a nation great, make its families great. There is only a little that you can do to influence the greatness of our country. And, what little you can do I hope you will do. Vote, campaign for candidates that uphold godly principles, and contribute to candidates who uphold God’s laws. One reason why the wicked reign is because good people are not involved. Get involved! Still, as individuals, our influence will be small. But, we can do much to make our family great! Devote yourself to your family!

 

Another entity that is better than a nation is the church. The church has been created and ordained by God to both bless his people and to reach others with the life-saving gospel. It is not a man-made institution.

 

  • It is from God,
  • It is loved by God.
  • It is headed by Christ,
  • and it is the means for all spiritual goodness.

 

Let us labor to make the church great.

 

Our nation is in decline. The family is in decline. And, the church is in decline. Numerical growth is not the only indicator of church health, but it is one indicator and it is an important one. When considering all churches in the USA, a surprising 9 out of 10 are either shrinking or remaining the same while the communities around them are growing – meaning that, practically, they are also diminishing.

 

Among Southern Baptists, between 900 and 1000 churches close their doors each year. About 1100 churches per year are planted. So we, as a distinctive group of God’s people, are barely keeping up.

Research has identified four main reasons why churches die or are on their way to dying. We talked about two of these reasons last week. One is that they do not serve the community. By God’s grace, New Salem does serve our community. We have ministries, such as the Product Pantry and the Back-to-School Giveaway, that helps the less fortunate and is appreciated by the community.

 

Another is that the members have a wrong view of church membership. As a result, many members do not function. They become attendees only. Although there are many here who do serve (we recognized them last week and there are others who serve who were not recognized such as the elders, the trustees, the deacons, and still more), there are many among us who do not serve. If we want to see New Salem great again then we all need to take a pledge. This pledge is nothing more than what the Bible calls us to do. This pledge is for your benefit. You do not have to turn it in. But, I am calling upon you to sign it, date it, and place it in a prominent place in your home so that you see it and read it each day. Your bathroom mirror would be a good place! Don’t run away from it. Embrace it. Allow it to move you!

 

This morning I want to talk about another one of the four reasons. It is the main reason out of the four why churches diminish and why they die. The reason is disobedience to Christ. Disobedience? To what? There was one church where fornication – sex outside of marriage – was rampant. The leadership was aware of the problem but did not deal with it. The city that this church was in started with a “T.” It wasn’t Troy, MO. It wasn’t Town and Country, MO. It wasn’t Tulsa, OK. It was Thyatira in Asia Minor and we read about it in Revelation chapter two. Churches are damaged by sin. When Paul said, “A Little leaven leavens the whole lump,” (I Cor 5:6) he was speaking about sin in the church.

 

But the main reason for the death of a local church is not sexual immorality (although it can be) or sin in general. It is disobedience to the Great Commission. 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.

 

We like to “amen” a speaker when he addresses sins of which we are not guilty.

 

  • “Same sex marriage is an abomination.” Amen, Pastor!
  • “Abortion is murder.” That’s right, Preacher!
  • “Sex before marriage is a sin.” Did you hear that, young people?
  • “Drunkenness is a destructive sin and will keep you out of the coming kingdom.” Amen!
  • “If we are not making disciples we are disobeying the Lord.” Silence!

 

We must own our sins. Confess them, turn away from them, and call upon the Lord to change us! That includes our disobedience regarding Jesus’ words here.

 

I am afraid that many among us have the notion that the Christian life is just saying a prayer, getting baptized, and then just waiting to get to heaven. If most of us do not have that notion we live like we do. This may be because some came to Christ under a weak gospel message, what some call an easy-believism message. A “Just raise your hand and pray” invitation rather than a call to repent and give yourself completely to Christ.

 

The great preacher and author of a century ago, Arthur Pink, defined conversion thus:

 

Conversion is an about-face, the heart and will repudiating sin, self, and the world. Genuine conversion is always evidenced by “Lord what wilt thou have me do?” (Acts 9:6); it is an unreserved surrendering of ourselves to his holy will.[1]

 

Pink is right for this is the biblical witness.

 

Some also may have had a genuine conversion but have lost their way because so many other Christians are lukewarm. We are influenced by those around us.

 

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.

 

For those who were here on March 20th, this is a good time to refresh your memory of a tool that some of us learned at the Evangelism Conference in February. If you were not here on March 20th you missed something quite good, but now you will get to see it.

 

What is so good about this illustration is that you do not need to memorize any Bible verses or even have a Bible with you when you use it (although every Christian should have verses memorized and should have at least a New Testament with them anyway!) and it is so simple that you can remember it easily.

 

Jimmy Scroggins, the developer of the circles, shared an experience that he had when he was traveling. He was sitting next to a woman and they started talking. She shared with him a great struggle she was having. She was going through a difficult time and she was telling him about it. He listened with compassion. When she was done he asked her if he could share with her an insight that he had that was an answer to her struggle. She said “yes,” and he showed her the circles.

 

We live in a broken world, surrounded by broken lives, broken relationships, and broken systems. This brokenness is seen in suffering, violence, poverty, pain, and death around us. It also results in disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement.

 

Brokenness leads us to search for a way to make life work.

 

In contrast to this brokenness, we also see beauty and purpose around us, although it may be hidden at times.

 

The Bible tells us that God created a world that worked perfectly, where everyone and everything fit together in harmony.

God made each one of us, made you, with a purpose: to love him, walk with him, and glorify him.

 

Life doesn’t work when we ignore God and his design for our lives. We selfishly insist on doing things our own way. The Bible calls this sin. We have sinned and distorted the design.

 

The consequence of our sin is separation from God in this life and forever. Separation from God now leads to brokenness.

 

When we realize that life is not working, we begin to look for a way to fix it. We usually go in many directions, trying different things.

 

Brokenness leads to realizing a need for something greater.

 

We need a remedy. We need good news. This “good news” is the gospel given by God and proclaimed by Jesus Christ. The word “gospel” just means good news.

 

The good news is that God did not leave us in our brokenness but made a way out. Jesus, God in the flesh, came and died for our sins on a cross. He took some people’s sins away at the cross and was then raised from the dead to prove that is what he, indeed, did!

 

I said that he took some people’s sins away. Whose? Those who would do two simple things: repent and believe.

 

Repent means to turn away from our sin and commit to live for Christ. Believe means to trust in a Person – Christ, who He is and what He did. We stop trusting ourselves and trust Jesus.

 

When we repent and believe we experience new life and a new direction as God begins restoring us to his original design. Our brokenness will be mended by God.

 

Say: Now that you have heard the good news, God wants you to respond to him. Do you desire to respond to God?

 

In the New Testament the way that people responded was by being baptized. Just like it is easy for a man to say he loves a woman (maybe to get something he wants from her), it is another thing altogether to vow to fidelity all the days of his life and give her a ring. That vow and ring, of course, represents the covenant of marriage.

 

Likewise, it is easy for people to say a prayer. But, just as it is easy to say words to people without genuine commitment, it is easy to say words to God without genuine commitment. Baptism is a formal declaration that you mean what you say and that you have begun a new life – that you have identified with a Person, Jesus Christ, who mends our brokenness.

We respond to the gospel by obeying in baptism. Peter commanded “Repent and be baptized,” as did Jesus before him (Mark 16:16). Hence, baptism is showing that we obey. It is a demonstration that our repentance is real. Baptism also identifies us with our Savior.  Paul wrote in his letter to the churches in Galatia: 

            For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

(Galatians 3:27 ESV)

Then, we are filled with the Holy Spirit to live the design that fulfills who we were meant to be.

 

Belief, repentance and baptism leads us to recovering God’s design for us. As we experience returning to the way we were meant to live, we experience joy in our journey. Design in place of degradation. Joy in place of sorrow.

One way to end such a conversation is by saying something along these lines: Hearing the gospel by itself is never enough to rescue us from our condition. We must respond. If you are ready to respond I can pray with you right now and we can baptize you at your earliest opportunity. Would you like to pray together?

 

One group of God’s people pledged to pray this short prayer every day for six months: “Lord, help me to have at least one gospel conversation this week.” There were about 1500 people that took the challenge and started praying that prayer on a Monday morning. After six months they reported that 1100 had their prayer answered one time or more. That is a 73 percent positive response. Out of that 1100 there were approximately 450 that became Christians! When God’s people commit to obey him and pray the Spirit moves and good things happen! Praise Him!

 

Do you with to make New Salem Great again? Do you desire to obey our Lord’s words in Matthew 28? Then pledge to say this prayer starting tomorrow morning, or tonight, and say it daily. If you find the circles helpful, use them. Or, you can just rely on your own experience, your personal testimony, and the Spirit leading you when you do have a gospel conversation.

 

Let us see what God will do with our obedience. Remember, Jesus is with us when we speak, even to the end of the age!

 

[1] From the tract, Is Christ Your Lord?, published by Chapel Library, 2603 W Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505.