Monday, October 26, 2009

Harvest Time

We had an absolutely wonderful time working in the harvest in October. We had scores of people participate in the Harvest Day canvassing on October 15th. Only eternity will reveal the fruit of those homes visited, flyers distributed, and hands shaken.

I am especially grateful for the great crew of folks who took part in that vital outreach event. On October 18th our Harvest Day with Dr. Junior Hill was a tremendous blessing. I cannot recall the last day there were that many public decisions on a single Sunday. I am also particularly thankful for Brother Junior's sensitivity in the time of invitation. Sinners were called to salvation and Christians were challenged to obedience and discipleship, particularly in the area of believers' baptism. No gimmicks, no arm-twisting, and no tricks.

When the final count was in 35 public decisions were recorded. 14 individuals publicly professed Christ as Lord and Savior, 20 believers responded to obedience regarding a Biblical baptism and there was 1 additional candidate for membership (not counting those who were saved). For the Emmanuel members who had other unavoidable obligations, you missed a great blessing. For those who had other priorities, you missed a blessing and will one day miss out on an eternal reward.

The beauty of an annual event like Harvest Day is that it calls the church's focus back to soul-winning. It is your pastor's prayer that evangelism would be a constant event in our lives and not merely an annual event on our calendars. The recent sermons and emphases on evangelism have brought both conviction and commitment to this preacher's heart.

I am blessed to be back in the pulpit for the remainder of the year in all services. As November and December roll around it is my intention to move toward completion of our morning study in Revelation and our evening study in Galatians. I pray that you will be here for each service with an open heart, a warm smile, and a Bible.

God is up to some incredible things at Emmanuel. I am blessed beyond words that He (and you) allows me the privilege of serving as your pastor. Andrea and I love you with all of our hearts!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shameless

This past Sunday I preached a message called, “Shameless.” The text was Romans 1:1-16 with a primary focus on verses 14-16. The title of course was based on Paul’s glorious and familiar statement, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

As part of that sermon I dealt with the phrase “the gospel” and focused on the exclusivity of the gospel message. Namely, there are certain unwavering and immutable components to the gospel. Without these fundamental tenets, there is no communication of the gospel.

For example, some seem to think the gospel means, “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I do not want to go to hell.” Those are wonderful statements which I affirm. But our personal confession must move beyond those truths. In fact, if you study Christ’s encounter with the Gadarene demoniac you will find that “Legion” believed in God, believed in Jesus, and had not desire to go to Hell (the abyss).

These statements (belief in God, belief in Jesus, no desire to burn eternally in the lake of fire) are all great statements. But they do not comprise the gospel. Frankly they do not even get us beyond the doctrines and desires of demons.

Many well-intentioned, would-be soul-winners have engaged in a conversation like this one:

Witness: Do you believe in God?

Prospect: Oh, yes.

Witness: Do you believe Jesus is His Son?

Prospect: Yes, I believe in Jesus.

Witness: Do you understand that if you don’t ask Him into your heart you go to Hell?

Prospect: Yes and I sure do not want to go to Hell.

Witness: Have you ever prayed and asked Jesus to come into your heart?

Prospect: No.

Witness: Is there anything that would hinder you from doing that right now?

Prospect: No.

Witness: Well, amen. Then pray this prayer after me and mean it with all your heart (insert sinner’s prayer).

Let me be crystal clear. I agree with everything in this fictitious dialogue. But it is simply not complete. To say the gospel was presented in this scenario is the equivalent of saying that A, B, C, D, E and F comprise the English alphabet. What about the other 20 letters?

As an alliterative preacher by nature, I gave the church a 4-part list comprised of R’s and S’s that I believe gives us a complete picture and presentation of the gospel. This post assumes that readers here are familiar with relevant Scripture passages, though a few are cited.

1. Recognize you are a sinner.

The Bible teaches that we have all sinned and come short of God’s standard of perfection. (Romans 3:23). As a sinner I am deserving of the just condemnation of God. In other words, God would be right if He sent me to Hell. I deserve it. I am a sinner.

This is much different than simply admitting imperfection or mistakes. A bad investment is a mistake. Backing the car over your child’s tricycle is a mistake. Accidentally calling your wife by your high school girlfriend’s name is a mistake. A big one by the way.

But a sin is radically different from a mistake. A sin is something I have done (or failed to do) and that action (or inaction) is an offense and affront to a Holy God. In order to be saved I must recognize that I have offended the God of heaven by my life.

2. Realize Christ is the Savior

I cannot save myself. I need a mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). The only One who can save me is the Lord Jesus Christ. By His virgin birth, sinless life, sacrificial death for my sins, and His resurrection from the dead I have the opportunity to be reconciled to God. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 1 Peter 3:18, etc.)

I throw myself completely on Him. No human effort. No good of my own either before or after salvation. No baptism or act of piety. No other religion or religious leader. No other hope. He is it.

3. Repent of your sins.

When the NT speaks of repentance, the Greek word literally means a “change of mind.” It does not mean that I have ceased sinning. 1 John 1:8 (written to believers) makes it clear that I will still deal with the struggle against sin and carnality. But when I repent my mind has been changed about my sin.

Before repentance, I sinned and it did not bother me. After repentance, it does. Before repentance, I thought the Bible-preacher, Sunday School teacher, or faithful witness were stupid lunatics. After repentance, my soul cries out either “amen” or “oh me” when the Word of God is proclaimed. Whether I am convicted or encouraged the Spirit of God in me affirms, “That’s the truth!” Why? Because by the mercies of God my mind has been changed about my sin.

Jesus said…and before I quote Him could readers of this blog agree that if Jesus is about to address the issue of salvation…could we agree that He knows what He is talking about? Could we agree that Christ is the resident expert on the doctrine of salvation?

Jesus said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5) Now, Christ promised Nicodemus that saved people would never perish. Remember John 3:16?

Let’s put this together.

Those who are saved “shall not perish but shall have everlasting life” but those who have not repented “shall all likewise perish.” That simply means that those who have not repented of their sins are not saved.

Scroll back up to the illustration above where the witness encounters the prospect. Where was the mention of repentance from sin? I am afraid it is in the same place it is in many “evangelical gospel” presentations. Completely and totally absent.

4. Receive Christ as Sovereign

I confess I am greatly disturbed when people say they received Christ as Savior but He did not become their Lord until years later. It would be impossible to make a statement that is any more unbiblical.

“Lord” is not merely something Christ does. “Lord” is who He is. He cannot come and merely “do” what a Lord does (redeem) without “being” what a Lord is (ruler).

I do understand that discipleship involves a maturing process. Truthfully, I am continually yielding to His Lordship over my own life. On a daily basis the Holy Spirit reveals to me some corner of my life’s kingdom where I continue to fly my own rebellious flag. But the fact is if I am saved then Christ is my Lord. When I stake a mutinous claim to some corner of my life, I do so as an interloper and a rebel to the rightful dominion of heaven.

The issue is not His Lordship. The issue is my obedience and submission to His Lordship.

Simply put, the call to salvation is a call to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

I do not think that a gospel presentation has to use any particular format (FAITH, EE, CWT, witness bracelet, gospel tract, marked Bible, Romans Road, etc). But if it is truly a gospel presentation it will call the lost to this reality:

I am a sinner in the sight of a holy God. The only hope I have of salvation is to place my faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do that because my mind has been changed about my sin. I hate it. I can’t stand it. I don’t want to live this way another moment. I surrender my life to the dominion of Jesus Christ. From this moment forward I will follow Him. Perfectly? No. But the issue is my obedience and not His right to rule and reign over the affairs and actions of my life.

Does a gospel presentation have to use those words? Of course not. But if these truths have not been communicated by the witness then the gospel has not been presented. If these truths have not been embraced by the prospect then the gospel has not been believed.

And where there is no gospel, there is no salvation. For it (the gospel of Christ) and it alone “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.”

To my pastor friends: Please do not automatically assign me to some unwarranted soteriological camp. I would hope both Calvinist and Arminian readers would desire to get the gospel right. I simply desire to lead (by example and exhortation) my congregation to give the gospel to everyone with fervency, urgency, and accuracy.