Pastor, do you want to see more people surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ? Then stop preaching about the Gospel. Preaching about the Gospel does not save. Jesus did not call you to preach about the Gospel. He called you to preach the Gospel and to preach it every week. There is a difference. It’s a difference that makes it important enough for you to continue reading.
Here is a scenario to throw some light on this important issue: We go to church to worship. We sing, we pray, we give and we hear a message. The message may start off with a Scripture, or the Scripture is read during the message. So far, so good. The message continues; it may be a finely-tuned expository sermon from the Psalms or out of Paul’s letters. It could be a topical sermon on marriage, or decision making, using various Scriptures and biblical principles. That’s all good. The format is not really the issue. The issue is the Gospel.
The 23rd Psalm, for example, may be preached verse by verse and even word by word in expository fashion. The hearers will come to understand the historical/grammatical background of David’s Psalm. They may learn how God cares for His people as a good shepherd cares for the sheep. They may learn more of David’s personal relationship with God. They may learn of the many ways God looks after His children. They may learn a lot of things, but will they hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in this message?
The question I ask of you pastor is this: Are you really preaching the Gospel or are you just preaching about the Gospel? Go back and look at your sermons over the last few months. Where in the sermon did you present the sinfulness of the human condition, the holiness of God, the love of God in sending His only Son Jesus Christ, the obtaining of eternal life for believers through the bloody cross of Christ and the empty tomb and the application of that through repentance and faith in a living Lord? Where in your preaching was this specifically done? Pastor I love you, but making reference to the Gospel is not preaching the Gospel. You are doing a disservice to your church and to the Kingdom of God, and it must stop. It must stop for your own soul’s sake. It must stop for the sake of your reward.
I know you love Jesus. I know you believe every word of the Holy Bible. I know you are saved by the blood of Christ and the regenerating power of the Spirit. I know you believe that there is no other name under heaven whereby men and women, boys and girls are saved. I don’t doubt this a moment. But something has happened. The Gospel of Christ has gotten lost in all of our verbiage.
I was a lead pastor for 18 years. I’ve worked in various denominational positions for 13-plus years. I’ve preached a lot of sermons, and I’ve sat and listened to many more. The trend I am noticing is pastors referring to the Gospel many times, but actually preach it just a few. Pastor, when you give an invitation to accept Christ at the close of your message, we who are sitting on the other side of the pew need you to have preached the Gospel first. I find it personally frustrating to hear a very fine message on some topic, with no Gospel presented, then for the pastor to ask a person to accept a salvation they have yet to hear. Either put the Gospel in your message or make the invitation a time to respond to what was already in the content of that message.
Here is the remedy I propose for our failure to keep our preaching Christ-centered. It’s rather simple, but useless if not practiced. Pastor, I suggest when you write your sermon, you go back and look at it with the lens of the major points of the Gospel: Who God is, God’s purpose, who man is, man’s problem, God’s solution and man’s choice. There should be an intersection somewhere in the message for a point of the Gospel. You can start at any point and then work your way around. But the question you can ask as you prepare your sermon draft is this: Where in this message is the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ going to be delivered?
The Apostle Paul wrote: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1–5, ESV).
There are many ways you can do the work of an evangelist, but you are the only one who can put the Gospel in your Sunday message. I implore you to examine yourself and your teaching. Do the work of an evangelist. Preach the good news of Jesus, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
- God will use anyone who will be used by Him.
The festival this past weekend would never have happened if it were not for a Deer Creek public school bus driver by the name of Joe Rainbolt. Joe prayed for years as he saw kids get on his bus for their safety and their souls. Watching through his bus mirror he personally saw the need for change in their life, for them to have the good news of Jesus that he had. Joe’s first prayer was for the salvation of our generation of young people. I know this, for Joe has been telling me this for four years. Joe began praying and then doing the things that needed to be done to get Franklin Graham here in Oklahoma City.
Allow me to expand on this, for there are many, many teens and adults who invited others who need Christ to this event. Because of their invitation, the lives of these were changed for eternity. A simple invite is all it took. What if believers in Christ would do this for their own church? Just invite those they know to come with them to their church. The attendance and impact of their own congregation would potentially double overnight. We should all be more like Philip who said to Nathanael about Jesus to just, “Come and see” (John 1:46).
- Perseverance pays off later, and the payoff is much sweeter.
Joe endured the skepticism of envisioning such an event. He endured the closed doors. He kept on praying and knocking on more doors. He personally set up appointments with community leaders, church leaders, denominational leaders and pastors. Some wouldn’t respond; some were lukewarm about the idea and others were supportive. It didn’t matter to Joe because he was just going to do what God put in his heart. They say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. This pudding is really sweet; about 550 souls sweet, plus the online decisions, plus the Christian community energized, encouraged and trained!
- The BGEA is not about the BGEA.
The Billy Graham Evangelism Association, which put on the Good News Festival, is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They are not about a Baptist Jesus or a Catholic Jesus or any other kind of Jesus. They are about Jesus, the Son of God. Period. The BGEA is not about themselves. They don’t promote themselves. They promote Christ. We all heard this over and over again from Franklin and from his staff in many ways. But they do promote the local church as well. They have come in and trained the members of churches all over Oklahoma City in personal Bible Study skills, prayer, how to share their faith and how to help new believers to grow. That alone may be the greatest and longest lasting imprint they have made. I know in our church, our staff tried to motivate all of our people to go through the Christian Life and Witness Training. Many did and were blessed. Others just didn’t want to. I know this because the BGEA made it available that anyone who really wanted the training could get it, even online.
- The humility of Franklin Graham
I was privileged this year to hear Mr. Graham in three settings. One of these was in conversation and prayer as part of a small group of ordained clergy. What spoke to me, as I reflect on these meetings, especially on the more personal one is the humble demeanor of Franklin Graham. He recognized that God’s use of him is not because he is the son of Billy Graham. He recognized that he is, by the grace of God, a son of God. God, the Father of Jesus Christ is responsible for who Franklin Graham is and what he can do. He knows that what he does must have the power of God behind it, or it will just be another religious event put on by religious people. There is a certain integrity that is refreshing to me. I hate to say it, but we pastors could use more of that in our lives. I think that we have become so enamored by celebrity that we have lost the power of God in the elevation of man.
- The professionalism of the BGEA local and national staff
Our local BGEA staff did a wonderful job. They never took their eyes off the goal and continually labored and did whatever it took to make this happen. The local staff office was helpful, kind and always supportive. They really did bend over backwards to help in any way. The same can be said for the national staff. Their experience brought credibility to the whole project.
My only wish was that, while we were involved in the Festival, we would have had more involvement. Our church was blessed by this event before the event even happened. We are thankful to all who helped this vision of a festival become a reality.
The lead story in the Oklahoma Gazette August 7, 2013 edition is on atheism. It specifically is on atheism’s growth in the Bible Belt. By Bible Belt, Carmen Snyder’s well-written piece referred to Oklahoma. The human interest side of the story lies in the memorable exchange between CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer and Moore resident Rebecca Vitsmun. Blitzer asked if she thanked God for sparing her life in the May 20th tornadoes. Vitsmun’s response? “Actually,” she said, “I’m an atheist.”
The article goes on to give the depressing demographic trend for organized religion and for the growing number of those who don’t affiliate with any religion. It’s not a pretty picture for us who follow Christ and seek to show Him to others.
What interests me in this story is not so much the “what” of atheism but the “why.” Why is atheism increasingly finding a home in the Bible Belt? For Vitsmun, being raised a Catholic, I’ll give it to you in her own words: “I decided it was impossible for the god that I believed in to condemn billions of people in Asia, Africa, and across the world to eternal damnation for not knowing who Jesus was.” Her atheism was awakened by her compassion and sense of fairness.
Now, I’m not a Catholic, and I am not aware of all official Catholic teaching, but I don’t think the Catholic Church teaches what she said. I do know, to some extent, what the foundational document of the Christian church teaches.
The Holy Bible doesn’t teach that God condemns people for not knowing who Jesus was. Of course, this doesn’t mean that some, and perhaps even many people, won’t be condemned for something else, but it won’t be for not knowing who Jesus was.
How could she miss this? Jesus Himself said that He didn’t come to destroy people’s lives but to save them. People’s lives were already in ruin.
More condemnation is not the need of the day. Aren’t we to be about the same thing as Jesus? This is actually what the Bible does teach. Again, how could someone go from this to atheism? Someone who was raised Catholic. Of course it could happen to someone raised Baptist, and it has.
Perhaps we are making it too easy to be an atheist these days. Christians are increasingly painted by society as intolerant hate-mongers. What can we do to make it more difficult for our next generations to turn to atheism?
I believe the words of Jesus have at least a sliver of the answer. Jesus said, “May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me” (John 17:22-23, HCSB). Jesus said that if we are “one” the world will know that God the Father sent Jesus. It’s a oneness that is found only between true Christians. He even gives the parameters of that oneness, and it is deep, tough, full of grace and complete.
Jesus elsewhere said, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, HCSB). Perhaps if we work more at love for one another, through the ups and downs, then people, even our own people will believe in the God who sent Jesus.
Perhaps they will even believe that we are His disciples. It would be harder for Rebecca to fall into atheism when people around her are holding up a safety net of love. The kind of love that Jesus wants us to share all around.