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I am praying for a great response today from the people of God at Southern Heights as each member is challenged to commit to pray, fast, and reach out to 3 friends over the course of the next 28 days.  21 of these days will be committed to prayer, fasting, and spiritual preparation while the last 7 days (beginning on Palm Sunday) will involve actually going to and sharing Christ (and an Easter invite) to those for whom we are praying.

I believe this kind of evangelistic approach has the power and potential to change our church.  We must have each and every person in our pews actively praying, fasting, reading Scripture, and sharing Christ if we ever hope to be a Great Commission Church.  If there is no passion for reaching the lost at home, there will never be a passion for reaching them in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world!

So if you’re reading this, pray for us as we launch our strategy today.

Check out the video component of this strategy at www.findithere.com

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Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)

With these words, written near the end of John’s gospel, John makes explicitly clear his reason for writing his account of the life and ministry of Jesus.  Clearly, he had evangelistic intentions.  Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, John recorded the miracles, discourses, and interactions of Jesus contained in his gospel in order that his readers might believe and be saved.  This has led many scholars through the years to classify the gospel of John as the most evangelistic book in the Bible.

How appropriate that John’s gospel be intimately woven into this year’s spring evangelistic initiative promoted by our Kentucky Baptist Convention.  The “Find it Here” initiative for 2011 will stress the use of intentional, targeted prayer, meditation on John’s gospel and personal sharing of faith to reach our unsaved family and friends in the days leading up to Easter.

Last year, Southern Heights participated in the state-wide “Find it Here” initiative (sponsored by the KBC) along with hundreds of other Southern Baptist churches around the state.  We prayed, strategized, and then canvassed the homes of hundreds of our neighbors in South Lexington with gospel literature and invitations to worship with us.  Along with close to 1,700 other churches from around the state of Kentucky, we were a part of an initiative in 2010 that eventually reached into the homes of over 1.3 million Kentuckians. Reports flowed in from all around the state and eventually we found that there were thousands who responded to the invitations all over the state and many whose lives were changed through either salvation or rededicated lives.

The 2011 initiative has the potential to accomplish even more than last year’s efforts.  The focus this spring will be very different than last year’s focus.  Canvassing, while a valuable tool for reaching our community, is to some degree very impersonal and focused on quantity rather than quality.  This year’s initiative will be much more personal, much more intimate, and much more focused.  The 2011 spring “Find it Here” initiative will challenge individuals to reach the lost with the gospel through the following process:

1.  On March 27th, we will have a final commitment day, on which all members of the church will be challenged to commit to 21-days of prayer and fasting for 3 lost individuals to whom they have access in their daily lives.

2.  Beginning on March 27th, participants will begin the process of daily-prayer for the salvation of their three lost friends.  They will be challenged to fast for spiritual awakening during this time, either daily or for various lengths of time during their 21-day focus.

3.  Also beginning on March 27th, participants will commit to reading a chapter-per-day of the gospel of John (21 chapters in all) and praying that the Lord will create in them the same type of evangelistic passion that motivated John to write with such passionate concern for the lost.

4.  When the 21-day-period ends (April 16th), participants will then take the following 7-day period (between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday) to go to those for whom they have been praying and personally share the message of the gospel while giving their friends a gospel-packet (Bible, audio CD of New Testament, evangelistic tract, and personal invitation to Easter Sunday services) and encouraging them to attend Southern Heights on Easter Sunday.

5.  On Easter Sunday, we will see an amazing harvest as dozens and dozens of individuals for whom we have been praying attend worship with us and hear the life-changing message of the gospel of Christ.

This initiative has the power to launch a great revival in our church.  Not only because it will force participants out of their comfort-zone and into the realm of personal evangelism, but because it has the potential to result in dozens of individuals coming to faith in Christ.  Can you begin to imagine with me what it might be like to have 25 or 30 individuals come to saving faith in Christ on Easter morning?  Even to see 2 or 3 would be an amazing testimony to God’s saving power!

But this initiative will fall totally flat if YOU do not commit to participate.  With your participation, we have the potential to personally reach out to 300- 400 people in our community.   If only a few participate, we will only sow a handful of seeds, but if many will make the commitment to reach their family and friends this Easter, we could see a tremendous movement of God.  If we fail as a congregation to develop an evangelistic burden for our neighbors and our community, then we fail to properly comprehend the real power of the gospel to transform lives and we disobey our Master, who commanded us to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).  If we lack the motivation to reach out to the lost around us then we will most certainly not survive much longer as a church.

So in the weeks to come, pray with me for a moving of God’s Spirit in our midst.  Pray that HE would begin to create a burden within us, embolden our church, and open the hearts of the lost.  Pray that this Easter will be the most spiritually vibrant Resurrection-celebration in many years because of the salvation of many lost family and friends.  Pray with me, that this year at Easter, we will not only preach and sing about the resurrection, but that we will see resurrection power at work in the lives of the lost.

As the lost all around us search blindly for answers this Easter season, let’s be a people who will help them “FIND IT HERE!”

See a helpful video clip provided by the KBC HERE!

Well, it’s been a week since the conference and I have been short on time for blogging, but I did want to come back and mention a couple of items about the convention that were memorable.

The third (evening) session was a treat.  I have to be honest and say that I have misplaced my notes for the sermon by Dr. Richard Harris.  I was there.  I listened intently.  But I can’t remember a thing about the message and I’ve lost my notes.

However, the second evening-session speaker was Dr. Fred Luter, from Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.  Listening to Dr. Luter is always a treat.  I have heard him speak probably 5 or 6 different times through the years and his rhetorical style, his joy, and his passion for the Word of God always make him a blessing to his hearers.  Honestly, you could hand Dr. Luter the daily stock-reports and ask him to read them at a conference and with his style, passion, and charisma, he could make even those interesting.

But last Monday night, he had something worthy to say to ministers and churches about evangelism.  He titled his sermon “What would Jesus do about today’s evangelism crisis?”  and he preached from Matthew 9:35-38.  He began by challenging pastors to recognize that there is a serious crisis in our churches today when it comes to reaching the lost.  He notes that it is a good thing to consult the “professionals” in a time of crisis (i.e. LifeWay, NAMB, our seminaries, etc…) but it would be the BEST thing for us to consult the one, true, EXPERT on soul-winning if we want true direction.  The expert he speaks of is, of course, the Lord Jesus.  Dr. Luter noted that if we consult Jesus, we would find that He was (and remains) CONCERNED about PEOPLE (9:35).  Just ask Lazarus, or blind Bartimeus, or the woman at the well, or the woman taken in adultery, and all will affirm that Jesus’ first concern was for lost, hurting people.  Is that our first concern? If Jesus was concerned enough about you to rescue you from condemnation, shouldn’t we believe that He cares about the rescue of others?

He noted secondly, that Jesus would be COMPASSIONATE towards the hurting people (v. 36).  It was not enough for Jesus to merely notice the brokenness of others or to merely go to them.  He was moved by and responded according to deep compassion for the hurting masses.  Compassionate action is the appropriate response to those whose desperate situation has raised our concern.  Do we really remember what it was like to be lost and without hope in Christ?  He notes that  compassion should follow concern and NOT condemnation, castigation, or chastisement.

His final point emphasized that Jesus sent out a CHALLENGE TO THE DISCIPLES (37-38) concerning the desperate nature of this situation.  Obviously, the challenge here is for pastors and Southern Baptist leaders to see the need, the genuine need to respond with compassion, and then to begin praying, equipping, and sending.  The only way that the evangelistic challenge of our day is going to be met is when God’s people get serious about praying for laborers (are you and your church doing this regularly?), discipling believers to levels of competence in order that they can reproduce themselves (what are you personally doing to disciple another today?) and equipping our people to both recognize the opportunities all around them daily for gospel witness and to take advantage of the ministry opportunities that we offer as a church.

When we begin to DO these things and mimic the master’s evangelistic patterns, we will truly know what to do about the evangelism crisis facing us today.

Great sermon.  Worth listening to over and over again.

Sometimes you read something so good that you just feel like everyone you know needs to read it too!  That’s the way I felt when a friend first posted a link to this article written on 3/4/2011 by Dr. Thom Rainer.  It is worth your time to read it.  I wanted to link it on my blog so that I would always have it close for the sake of reference.  It’s ironic that he write this when he did because just the other day, Rick Howerton preached a phenomenal message at the KBC evangelism conference in which he talked about the need for church leaders to do a better job of protecting the church’s unity from those who always seek to destroy it.  He said “it’s time for those who love Christ’s bride to stop others from bullying her around so much!” (paraphrase)

Both men are right.  Check out Dr. Rainer’s article “Responding to the ‘Great Distraction'” here.  It’s short.  But it’s worth reading.  Thanks Dr. Rainer for saying something that needed to be said but that no-one wants to say!

Earlier this week I was blessed to be able to attend this year’s Evangelism conference sponsored by the Kentucky Baptist Convention.  I have been to many of these through the years and I must say that this was indeed one of the better conferences I attended.  It was a blessing for a number of reasons.  First, the fellowship is always great and I had the opportunity to refresh relationships with many pastor-brethren.  We need this.  Also, on this note, there was a noticeable absence of any rancor in the speakers this year.  No axes to grind, no disputes to settle, no political agendas to advance, etc… and this is unusual in recent years.  I did hear that one speaker in the morning sessions (Evangelist’s Conference) made a strong statement against limited atonement, but that doesn’t bother me.  I know that some of my brethren feel that way and I don’t take it as an insult or a test of fellowship.  It was overall a blessed conference to attend and I was fed spiritually and intellectually in a number of ways.

For those who were unable to attend, I wanted to give a quick rundown of the speakers and sessions.  If you are interested enough in any particular one, you can contact Green Hill Productions (contact@greenhill-productions.com) for DVD or CD copies.  For part 1 of this series, I will briefly cover the Monday afternoon speakers.

Alvin Reid was the first speaker on Monday afternoon. He spoke from Acts 11:19-30 on the subject of “Getting the Gospel.”  Basically, he asked us to look at the church at Antioch and see what they did to be a successful, engaging body.  He spoke of four principles from this text that today’s churches MUST get if they are going to engage our culture with the gospel.

*First, the church must learn to share unchanging truths in new ways (v. 19-20).  He pointed out that if God saw fit to use four different authors, approaches, styles, etc… to pen the inspired gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), then why cannot He use varying methodologies today to convey the timeless message of the gospel.  The message does NOT change, but how we deliver it may.

*Second, the church must learn to focus more on movements and less on institutions (v. 21-22).  When we focus exclusively on the institution, we inevitably lose the movement.

*Third, the church must focus more on life-transformation and less on behavior modification (v. 23-24)  We must be less about adherence to rules and regulations and more about Spirit-filled sanctification and grace.

*Fourth, the church must focus more on sharing Christ from the position of humility rather than entitlement (v. 25-26).  We can no longer assume that the culture is going to listen to us merely because we tell them to; we earn the right and respect to be heard through humility, transformation, and Christ-like service to others.

The second speaker of the afternoon was Steve Hale. Steve is an evangelist with an organization called (aptly) Steve Hale Evangelistic Association.  I have to be honest in saying that I had never heard of him nor had I heard him preach.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  In fact, if there were any one sermon I would recommend pastors get from this conference, it would be this one.  Steve spoke directly to pastors and ministers when he addressed the topic “Confronting Disappointment in Ministry.”  His message hit home with me and I am sure many others there that day.  He took the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) and by highlighting various events in his life, demonstrated how a young dreamer with visions of others bowing down to him ended up instead disappointed, abandoned, confused, treated unjustly, maligned, and betrayed.  Sound familiar to any pastors?  He masterfully spoke to pastors about issues like moral failure, burnout, church division, and broken marriages.  He demonstrated that Joseph found disappointment in the areas of family (loneliness) and friendships (betrayal), but fulfillment in the faithfulness of the Lord who governed his every step as a leader and was working in and through Joseph’s difficulties and disappointments to accomplish His divine purpose (Gen 50:20).  Hale encourages pastors to see their struggles in much the same light and trust God to work through our difficulties and disappointment for His own glory.  Great message.   He encourages ministers to remember that 1) in the midst of disappointment, we must witness!  2) in the midst of disappointment, we must stop asking “why me” and start asking “what next?”  and 3) in the midst of disappointment, we must understand that the light of God’s sovereignty transcends the darkness of man’s scheming.

The final afternoon session was with Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research. His text was 2 Timothy 4:1-5 with an emphasis on the words “do the work of an evangelist.”  I have to be honest in saying that I didn’t take many notes on Ed’s sermon, but not because I wasn’t listening.  In fact, I listened so intently that I put down my pen and wrestled with what Ed was saying.  Some of the highlights that I jotted down are as follows:

*Sadly, in many cases today, evangelism has been replaced by outreach.  There is a difference.  Outreach involves good deeds, invitations, etc… evangelism involves confrontation and the sharing of a controversial message; namely that there is salvation in no other name but the name of Jesus.

*We are called to ACTION; we must DO this work of evangelism, not just outreach.

*We are called to LABOR; we must BE evangelists as leaders.  We cannot lead our people to do what we do not live.

*We are called to do our work in EVANGELISTIC WAYS; everything we do as ministers must be undergirded by a desire to see the lost saved.  Ed argues (I believe rightly) that there is NO GIFT OF “EVANGELISM” found in the New Testament.  Though many use this as an excuse for not being evangelistic, it is unfounded.  Ephesians 4 speaks of the gift of Christ to his church of “evangelists,” but nowhere are individual Christians spoken of as having the gift of “evangelism” while others lack it.  We are all called to obedience to a command in this area.

Following his sermon, Ed spoke to young leaders at a dinner where he shared the findings published in his book “Transformational Church.” It was a helpful talk, and afterwards, I asked him a question about what leverage we have as leaders to move our people toward change in established churches.  I love Ed, but he didn’t really answer my question (sorry Ed! 🙂   The truth is, we have no leverage and in established churches, it takes a LONG time to transform your church in many of these areas.  It takes a LONG time, lots of prayer, lots of patience, and a commitment to a long-tenured pastorate.

More later about the conference…

Read the story HERE. Let’s hope that this comes to pass.  Tom Elliff is an amazing selection to follow Dr. Jerry Rankin’s passionate leadership at the International Mission Board of the SBC.  Southern Baptists would be blessed to have Dr. Elliff lead our international missions organization.  His wide-range of experience and leadership in all walks of Southern Baptist life along with his most recent work with the IMB make him an excellent choice.

Truthfully, this is a much better selection than what I had anticipated and I pray that it comes to pass.

I have enjoyed many of Tom’s writings, which can be found HERE (Tomelliff.com) and was blessed some years ago when, at an SBC annual meeting, I picked up the book that he and his wife Jeannie co-wrote entitled Letters to Lovers: Wisdom for Every Season of Your Marriage (B & H, 2003).  It’s a book I would highly recommend for couples.

I am very excited today as a Southern Baptist pastor, about the future of our IMB under Dr. Elliff’s leadership!

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.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

Congrats to both Chris and Doug on their public professions of faith in Christ as Lord and their subsequent baptism this past Sunday (2/6/2011)!