Monday, January 19, 2015

A Ten Year Old Call to Revival

In doing some sermon prep this month, I stumbled upon this letter I wrote to a church where I was serving ten years ago.  We were preparing for a "revival."  I am happy that it still lines up with my thinking today, and that it is still the thinking I use in planting churches and instigating movement in Europe all these years later.

Did it work back then?  Well, I wasn't convincing enough apparently.  That church is still around, but from what I hear just barely.

How to regain the life we have lost.

Jesus is speaking to His disciples in the upper room. Soon He will no longer be with them. After three years of discipleship, the time has come for Him to go. From chapters 13 through 16 of John, He is teaching His disciples the final things He wants them to hear.

Is He worried? Soon they will be one their own. Will they make it? Jesus is about to provide salvation for the entire of humanity, and it is up to these eleven men to tell the world. (Judas left in chapter 13) If they tell no one His life will have failed.

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He cleanses it that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

In these verses from chapter 15, Jesus lays out the purpose of Christian life here on Earth. In everything that a Christian does, he or she is ultimately called to “bear fruit”. What does this mean? Some would suggest that it is living a life pleasing to God; others would suggest that it means good works. Both of these suggestions are true desires of God for His children. Paul even reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:10, but this is not what Jesus was saying. To understand Jesus, we must first look at this metaphor literally.

A vine is a plant. When God created plants He commanded them and all other living creatures to bear seed, and fruit after their kind. (Gen. 1:11) The fruit is the vehicle of reproduction. It is new life or offspring for the plant. Christ meant that as Christians we should reproduce. This is a call to disciple others. God has each of us here on Earth to reach out to this lost world and bring others to Him. As we evangelize, He continues to give us more opportunities to witness.

As it is in the believer’s life, so it is with the Church. Christ’s ultimate purpose for the Church here on Earth is to evangelize. Sure, He wants us to worship, fellowship, and grow spiritually; but we will get plenty of chances to do that in Heaven. This is the only chance we have to reach people for Christ, because there aren’t going to be lost people in Heaven!

Jesus uses another metaphor for the Church in Revelation 1:20:

20 “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Once again the imagery points to evangelism. What is the purpose of a lampstand? To shine out the light. In the Bible, light is often a picture of the Gospel. Jesus again in Matthew 6:14-16:

14 “You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your God who is in Heaven.”

Too many times as churches we focus on our lampstand instead of the purpose for which we exist. It is time we realized that our purpose as a church in everything we do is to shine out the light. Everything we do needs to witness to a lost world.

What will happen if we do not bear fruit as a church? The answer lies in verse two: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.” If we do not evangelize as a church we are of no use to God here on earth. Satan tries to make us useless to God. How does he attack the Church?

I believe that Satan will stop at nothing to disable a church, but He has a few favorite methods that I have seen everywhere. The top two are complacency and division.

A church is complacent when it stops caring. When we begin to think that we have all the time in the world to evangelize we stop doing it.

A church is divided when we take our eyes of Christ and focus on ourselves. Then we start to think how we think things should be done in the church and not how Christ wants them done. We become obsessed with the way the money is spent, we try to get on the most influential committees so that we can control them. Not only is this a sin, it renders the Church totally useless to God, and it is only a matter of time before He will take us away.

How can we stop Satan, and render his attacks powerless? The answer is in the text. Jesus shows us two ways we can defeat the two attacks:

4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing.”

First, to avoid complacency, we must abide in Christ. If we are one with Christ, we will feel His true love for the lost of this world and never experience an “I don’t care” attitude. Remember the picture of the lamp: How can it give light unless it is plugged into the source? Our source is Christ. As a church body, whose head is Christ, the most important thing we can strive for is total submission to our authority, Christ himself.

In reality, this will also help us fight division. If we focus on Christ as our authority, we will stop fighting amongst ourselves for control. True unity is not having every member at every function and fellowship, and everyone meeting together at one time. It is not knowing every other member of the church. Let’s face it, for that to happen, we would have to make sure every church was limited to less than 100 members or so. Unity comes when we are all on the same page, when we all abide together in Christ.

The answer Jesus gives us to fight division is obedient love.

9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Fathers commandments, and abide in His love. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.”

To avoid the power struggles in the church that render it useless, we must do these two things: submit to Christ’s authority and put each other first. Christ’s authority is found In the Bible, and in the pastor whom he has place here to lead us. We must follow this leadership, and look out for each others interest instead of our own power hungry desires.

If we abide in Christ, follow His leadership, and love one another, we will resist Satan’s attacks.

So how do we evangelize? There are two ways. One is to add, the other is to multiply. The difference is that between a parent and a grandparent. A parent produces children, a grandparent produces children who themselves produce children. God prefers the later.

16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain...”

The key to correct evangelization is discipleship. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples, teaching them to do the same. We need to grow in Christ, so too do the people we lead to Christ. If we merely see people saved, we have failed in our mission. Christ wants Disciples, not converts. He wants us to pour our lives into others, not a small portion of knowledge that we have memorized as a nifty little presentation of the Gospel.

Here at First Baptist, are we abiding in Christ? Do we have an enthusiasm for the things of God? Heaven forbid that we have the arrogance to schedule a revival and call it done on Wednesday. Let us instead pray earnestly that God will revive our hearts and reach us, the members of First Baptist. We need to regain our first love again, lest we become like the Church at Ephesus, going through the motions with no passion.

Join with me as I pray, “Please, God! Revive us again!”

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