RESET: The Gospel

RESET: The Gospel

Nov 6 will mark for me the 28th year of my first visit to Fruit Cove, Florida.  I came to preach for you the first time with a carefully chosen, and carefully prepared message.  I would never have preached a message like I’m about to bring today.  THIS is outside of my comfort zone.  But I am called by God (and by name, “Timothy, do the work of an evangelist”) (1 Corinthians 15:1-7)

I have said for years that one of the most helpful things I’ve ever learned about ministry came from an older African American pastor I heard once at a conference when I was just beginning in ministry, almost forty years ago.  He told this gathering of preachers I was attending two things that stayed with me throughout my ministry: “The secret of a great message is have an engaging introduction, a stirring conclusion, and keep the two as close together as possible.”  “Gentlemen, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As a younger pastor, I nodded my head in agreement.  His comments came from the Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15, where he said under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, “For I delivered unto you that which was of first importance (or, the main thing): Namely, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and He rose again on the third day.” In our written record called The Bible, this was the earliest formal statement about the resurrection of Jesus.

That was the main thing.  It should be easy, right?  Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get distracted by tertiary, secondary, temporal issues.  Don’t veer off the road.  Don’t die on hills that don’t matter in eternity.  “The way is straight, and the gate is narrow…”

And yet, being in ministry for four decades, I fight continually to keep my eyes on the main thing.  And it’s not just MY need to stay focused on the main thing.  It’s helping the church focus on the main thing, too.  We get distracted by many things, and not just distracted.  We allow these things to become more important than the Gospel.

We drift from what is most important.  It’s not sudden.  It’s gradual. When we drift from the essential thing, the main thing, other secondary things will come in to take the place of “that which is of first importance.”  I’m going to call out 3.  But they are the areas I see over and over again where people take good things and make them ultimate things.

Our Worship preferences (music, style, dress, times):  When our focus is more on what makes me feel comfortable OVER what helps the Gospel progress to our mission field, we are being distracted from the main thing.  Churches still split over disruptions about music:  what songs are we going to sing, and who’s going to sing them, and what kind of accompaniment will it have, and will there be drums, and all of these things that are so secondary to the main thing, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ going forward.  In other words, we can let our preferences over which 3 songs are being sung on a Sunday morning make us angry enough to take our focus off the Gospel of Jesus.

Our Political positions…if 2020 has been a trip down uncharted rapids, we are now approaching the rocks.  Some churches and ministries have already been dashed to pieces on these rocks.  Others are about to be.  Let me say this as clearly as possible:  We are in danger of losing our testimony as believers and our impact as a church in this community if we don’t navigate this season wisely.  What I’m talking about is presenting our political positions and preferences (in and of themselves, nothing wrong with that).  The danger is when our message to the community around us and to those who know us says that politics are more important to us than the Gospel.  Now let me clarify this.  There is nothing wrong with Christians being politically involved.  I hope you are.  I hope you’re listening carefully and learning what you need to learn about how your vote should be cast, because as a Christian you should vote with an informed conscience.  I think I’m right about my political convictions.  But even if I’m right (and I believe I am), I don’t want my political position to keep someone from hearing the Gospel.

What really concerns me is seeing believers who are showing more passion and spending more energy trying to get their candidate elected than to get Jesus into people’s hearts.   The answer to the pain and sin and distress of our time is not going to be an elephant or a donkey.  The answer is a lamb.  The Lamb that was slain.  Folks the animal you vote for is not as important as the Savior you worship!   Let’s not give up the main thing for a secondary priority.

Social issues …The very first conflict in the New Testament church was, at its core, a racial problem.  In Acts 6, we learn that the Hellenistic widows were not being treated as the Jewish widows were.  The early church was a mash-up of Jews, Romans, Greeks, slaves and free people, slave owners, and politicians, Zealots, traitors, uneducated, brilliant, women and men.  White/black issues and skin pigment is never brought up in the Bible as a problem.  The world of that day was very multi-racial and cosmopolitan.  There wasn’t racial prejudice as we define it today.  But the prejudice between Jewish and non-Jewish people was huge.  It was a battle that Paul found himself in the middle of time after time as he sought to plant churches in the world of that day.  But it was clear that Paul saw God’s new creation, which the church represents and is a part of, as a multi-cultural, multi-racial, cross generational, people who accepted anyone, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female.  There was no place in this that allowed for prejudice or ostracizing any person or national or racial group.  But in today’s church, prejudice and racism is tearing fellowships apart and distracting from the “main thing” of sharing the Gospel.

What is the Gospel?  The gospel is the proclamation that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. “But God demonstrated His love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

The “Good News” of the Gospel is not JUST that God loves us, but that He has done something radical to bring us to Himself, and we are made right with Him by having faith in what Jesus did for us, and not our own works.  “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Every religion in the world says, “Believe, then work to gain approval and access, and then you get to God, or Nirvana or whatever they promise.” Only Christianity, the Good News that Jesus came to bring, says “Believe, and then you are justified and forgiven and made right with God, and then obey because that has happened to you.   The Christian life is not obedience school, where you just go to church and try to conform.  It’s a life change, a transformation, a transition to being a whole new person in Jesus.  It’s not just praying a prayer, joining the club, and eating pizza.

1). The GOSPEL is a UNIVERSAL message

It is God’s greatest desire that every man, woman, boy and girl on the planet hear and respond to the Gospel.  (2 Peter 3:9). No person, no race, no nationality, no ethnic group, and no person however hopeless they might seem is excluded from the invitation.  No sin is too deep, no person too far gone to move themselves outside the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

2). The GOSPEL is an EXCLUSIVE message

While it is universal, the Gospel is also exclusive.  It is exclusive in the same way that a doctor giving you a prescription that will cure your illness says, “this is the only medication that will help.”  He or she would be seen as very narrow minded, by the definition of some critics.  But do you want a doctor who would say, “You know there are hundreds of thousands of medications out there, and they were all made by good people.  Just pick the one you feel good about.  One is just as good as another to help you get well.” Now we might applaud him for being open-minded, but he’d be a terrible doctor and should lose his license.

When the Bible says, “there is salvation in no other Name” and that “no one can come to the Father but through Jesus” it’s the same thing in play.  I want that doctor to be narrow.  I want that doctor to be confident in the cure to fix what’s wrong with me!   When I was diagnosed with cancer in the early 2000s, the doctor gave me three options for treatment.  I asked him a simple question:  Which would you do?  He said, “I’d have surgery, hands down.”  I said, “Then that’s what I want.  Schedule it.” “There’s a way that seems right to a man but ends thereof lead to death.”  I didn’t feel like having surgery.  I didn’t like having surgery.  And if left up to me alone trusting what “seemed” right, I would not have chosen to have surgery.  But if I hadn’t had it my choice would probably have led to my death.

There is only one way…only one Who can rescue you.  Only One Who is the mediator between God and man.  That’s Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t matter what you feel; what God’s Word says is true.

3). The GOSPEL is an ESSENTIAL message. (California earthquake)

200,000 plus people have died in the US since March.  How many of those died without ever hearing the Gospel of Jesus?

4). The GOSPEL is a PERSONAL message

You must respond personally for this Good News to be effective for you.  Your parents can’t decide this for you; your wife may love you and pray for you, but she can’t do this for you.  You have to humble yourself, repent of your own sin, and receive for yourself the free gift of God that is forgiveness of sin and eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The word “evangelist” is not a word created in the Bible.  It was actually a political term, that had to do with how news got communicated in the days before newspapers, and internet, and Fox or CNN.  Whenever a new king came into power, the “evangelist” would travel from village to village, little hamlets and towns and burgs, and tribal clusters, and announce that a new king had now come to power.  The message the “evangelist” would carry was called “the Gospel…” “Good news.”

Christian man, woman, young person, when King Jesus began to rule in your life, He appointed you to be an evangelist…you are to go and tell your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even people you don’t like…that a New King has come to rule…a new Kingdom has been established…and His Name is Jesus!

“Do the work of an evangelist!”

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