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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Matt's Messages - It's Our Middle Name

“It’s Our Middle Name”
Romans 1:16
April 30, 2006

I said last week that before we start another sermon series, I wanted to take a few weeks to preach on some concerns I have for us as a church.

Last week, we talked about seeking godly counsel. I’ve noticed some hesitation among us (including me) to give and to receive godly counsel in a humble and happy way. So we talked about seeking godly counsel.

This week, I’d like to talk about sharing the Gospel.

I love it when I hear stories from you about people with whom you’ve shared the Gospel. And I’ve heard a few in the last week or so and that makes me very happy as your pastor.

But I’m concerned that you and I (and I’m including myself in this big-time!) haven’t had many stories to tell about sharing the Gospel recently.

And I want to challenge and inspire us to share the Gospel with boldness.

Because...“It’s Our Middle Name!”

Lanse EVANGELICAL Free Church.

That word evangelical is such a tongue-twister for people isn’t it?

Someone asks, “What church do you go to?”

And you say, “Lanse Free Church.” What do you leave off? The “Evangelical” part. Sometimes, I just say “the one with the playground!”

I love it when people call on the phone and they don’t know that E-word.

“Uh, hello. Is this the Lanse Evangelistic, Evangelellel, uhm Free Church?”

Yes, it is.

Evangelical means “Gospel Oriented.”

It means that we believe in and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It comes from the word “Evangel” which is the Greek word for “Good News” in the New Testament.

Gospel is our “Middle Name.”

And it should be the foundation and the structure and the trim on the building of our church.

“It’s Our Middle Name.” [Whether or not we can say the big E-Word.]

But sometimes, the Gospel gets marginalized.

It can happen to a Christian church.
It can happen to a Christian family.
It can happen to a Christian individual.

The Gospel can get marginalized. Not necessarily denied, but not central like it should be.

It should be our middle name. All of us.

Matt “Gospel” Mitchell.
Blair “Gospel” Murray.
Sue “Gospel” Swisher.
Tina “Gospel” Keller. Etc, etc, etc.

This was true of the Apostle Paul. Gospel was his middle name.

And this is what he says so memorably in Romans chapter 1, verse 16.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

His name was Chuck. And I’ll never forget that moment.

I was a student at Moody Bible Institute. And Moody is at the heart of Chicago, a great world-class city. And cities are full of street-people. And street-people often wander onto campus wanting a handout. And one afternoon, after my classes were over, I was sitting on the Alumni Plaza, enjoying some R&R, when I was approached by a scraggly looking man who made a bee-line for me. His clothes were tattered, his hair was a mess, and I thought to myself, “Oh, no, here we go again. I hate saying ‘no’ to people.” I thought he was after some money.

But that’s not what he was after. He was after God. He said to me (I forget the exact words, something like this) “Can you tell me about God?” Now, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised; it was, after all, the campus of the Moody BIBLE Institute. But here, standing in front of me was a man who wanted to know about God. This was an open door, an opportunity to share the Gospel.

So, after exchanging names, (mine was Matt, his was Chuck) I began to explain that God created us to glorify Him in a continuous, glorious love-relationship, but that we, all of humanity, had all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We had not obeyed God. We had not trusted God. We had not cherished God as God. And because of our sin, we are therefore alienated from God, estranged from God as enemies, separated from God.

And here was the moment—I was illustrating this story with my hands. This hand was God, and this hand was us–separated because of sin. And Chuck leaned forward and grabbed my hands. This street-person grabbed my hands! And he said, “That’s it. That’s what I feel. This is me and that is God! How do I get it like this?” And he forcibly put my hands together.

“That’s it! How do I get it like this?”

I’ll never forget that moment. Chuck wanted to know the Gospel. And I was the person in place to take the plunge. I was the evangel-ist. I was the one called to walk through the open door of opportunity. I had the privilege of telling Chuck about Christ. I got to give Chuck the Gospel.

I think that was one of the first times that I ever experienced the power of the Gospel.

Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Notice why Paul is not ashamed of the good news.

It’s because the gospel is power. It’s God’s power!

And it is not just raw divine power–it’s awesome divine power for a purpose.

The purpose is to save.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

That’s power! Anyone who believes this message experiences the power of God to save them.

It came to the Jews first, and then it came to the rest of us.

But it’s the same power for all of us.

It’s the power of salvation.

There is only one force on Earth that can save. And it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And “It’s Our Middle Name.”

Now how does that work? Look at verse 17.

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Those are theme verses of the Book of Romans. And they should be theme verses of our lives.

The Gospel reveals the righteousness of God [the right-standing with God] that is needed to cover our sinfulness. The Gospel tells us of Christ’s atoning death for our sins. The Gospel tells us that if we repent and believe–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last–is credited to our account.

The good news is that you and I don’t have to save anyone! We don’t have to atone for anyone’s sins. We don’t have to go to the Cross. We don’t have to be resurrected. We don’t have to save anyone including ourselves. The Gospel provides that saving power for those who believe it.

Let me give you another verse for this. 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the Cross (that’s the Gospel!) is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (The dunamis theou.) The Gospel is powerful. It is what people need. Every person.

It’s what Chuck needed.

He said, “That’s it. That’s what I feel. This is me and that is God! How do I get it like this?”

What did Chuck need? Chuck needed the Gospel. He didn’t need me. I can’t save him. But the Gospel can when believed. Because the gospel is the message of the Cross, the word of Jesus Christ, which James says “is planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21). The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.

And it should be our middle name.

But sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes we get ashamed of it.

We think it’s a good thing to talk about at church, but not at home.
We think it’s a good thing to tell our children, but not our co-workers.
We think it’s a good thing to think about during our “quiet-time,” but we forget it when we are out to eat.

Especially when other people are around, the gospel gets marginalized and we end up acting ashamed of it.

But Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...”

This week, I tried to think of what we should be doing as individuals and as a church together to make sure that we are “not ashamed of the Gospel.”

To make sure that the Gospel remains at the center of our church and our lives.

To make sure that the Gospel is our middle name.

And I thought of three things.

#1. LOVE THE GOSPEL.

It starts by our being gospel-centered in our own lives.

Remember this? The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. And the Main Thing is the Gospel.

The Gospel should be the central theme of, the essential message of, of first importance in our lives.

Love the Gospel.

Our leadership here from the board to the worship team has tried to make sure that our worship celebrations, for example, are centered on the Gospel.

We sing about Jesus and His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection every week. We try to keep our songs Gospel-centered to stir up love for the Gospel in all of our lives.

What do you do every week and every day to deepen your love for the Gospel?

The Gospel can be taken for granted. We need to take it deeper.

Remember that little book by C.J. Mahaney, The Cross-Centered Life?” I recommend getting that little orange book out again this week and reminding yourself of how central the Gospel is to your life. And start to follow some of his suggestions for loving the Gospel.

In chapter 6, he quotes John Stott as saying, “The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough to it for its sparks to fall on us.”

And then he suggests 5 ways to draw near to the sparks of the Cross each day.

#1. Memorize the Gospel. Take a portion of Scripture that explains the Gospel in a nutshell and go over it again and again and again and again.

#2. Pray the Gospel. Include the Gospel in all of your prayers. Thank the Lord daily for your salvation. For bringing you to Him. For giving you access to God through the Cross. Remember the Gospel in all of your prayers.

#3. Sing the Gospel. Not just here on Sundays but on Mondays in the truck.

#4. Review How the Gospel Has Changed You. Preach your testimony back to yourself and give the glory to God and His Gospel.

#5. Study the Gospel. Mahaney says, “Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel. The gospel is life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth. It has more facets than any diamond. Its depths man will never exhaust" (pg. 67).

And when we do that, I think we’ll have less and less chance of it being relegated to a back room somewhere and eventually be ashamed of.

Instead, it will be center-stage and our middle name.

Love the Gospel.

It’s the power of God for your salvation!

Unless you aren’t saved yet.

Maybe all of this Gospel talk is foreign to you. Or you don’t really know if you’ve ever put your faith in this message.

Jesus died on the Cross to save sinners like you and me. He paid the just penalty for our sins. And if we put our trust in Him alone, we get His righteous.

He took our sins, and He gives us His righteousness!

That’s the Gospel. And it has the power to save you if you believe it.

To be saved, you need to put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and believe His Gospel and begin to follow Him by faith.

I am not ashamed to say that this Gospel is powerful enough to save you! Today.

Believe the Gospel today.

And Love the Gospel.

#2. The second way to keep the Gospel as our middle name is to PRAY FOR THE GOSPEL.

Now, I already said to pray the Gospel. Here, I mean pray for the Gospel to bear fruit.

Paul asks for that in lots of his books.

For example, Colossians chapter 4, verse 2.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”

Paul asks that we pray for open doors.

Some of those doors will be like Chuck’s. They will open without me ever asking. He just walked up to me.

But other ones need to be prayed open.

Some of you are really good at this. Many of you have taught me a lot about how to pray for the lost.

Persistently taking unbelievers before the throne.

Our Men’s Basic Training encourages each man to pray every day for 2 other men to come to Christ.

Do you have a prayer list of Gospel-needing people that you pray for every day?

If not, what is stopping you?

This week, I ran across this amazing quote from the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon. He was never at a loss for words.

I thought this was inspiring and challenging, and I have to share it with you.

“Those who are short of breath in soul winning will never be successful. If they are not saved after twenty years of prayer, follow them up to the gates of hell! If they once pass those gates, your prayers are unallowable and unavailing, but to the very verge of the infernal pit follow them with your prayers. If they will not hear you speak, they cannot prevent your praying. Do they jest at your exhortations? They cannot disturb you at your prayers. Are they far away so that you cannot reach them? Your prayers can reach them. Have they declared that they will never listen to you again, nor see your face? Never mind, God has a voice which they must hear. Speak to him, and he will make them feel. Though they now treat you despitefully, rendering evil for good, follow them with your prayers. Never let them perish for lack of your supplications.”

And he also said, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

Those are strong words but I don’t think too strong.

We need to pray for the Gospel in lost people’s lives.

And then to keep the Gospel our middle name, #3. We need to SHARE THE GOSPEL with the lost.

And here’s where I think we need the most work.

We aren’t ashamed of the Gospel when it comes to loving it or praying for it.

But when we have to get bold and share it, then it can get marginalized pretty quick.

But Paul says in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

So, we need to share it.

Because without the Gospel no-one gets saved.

Romans 10, verse 13, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then, can they call on the one the have not believed in? (They can’t!) And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? (They can’t!) And how can they preach unless they are sent? (They can’t!) As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (that’s the gospel!)” We must share the gospel. That’s where the power for salvation is.

So, when was the last time you shared the Gospel?

I’ve been very convicted recently of my lack of love for the lost and my lack of boldness in sharing the Gospel with unbelievers out in the world.

Here’s some things I’m committing to do to increase my evangel-sharing. I hope that they’ll be helpful to you.

#1. I’m going to try to see people as eternal souls.

The other day I was up at the Kwik Fill getting some gas, and I had been meditating on this subject, and I noticed the guy pumping my gas and behind the counter. Like I’ve never noticed him before.

Instead of being someone to navigate, I saw him as someone who was eternal. He is going to live forever.

And I prayed for him right there and struck up a conversation. We didn’t get to the gospel this time, but I saw him and that made a big difference.

#2. I’m going to try to find opportunities to serve the lost around me.

Invite lost people over for dinner. When was the last time you opened up your home for an evangelistic get together?

I’m not sure the last time I did it. I have Christians over all the time. Christians are fun! And I love getting together for fellowship.

But we need to open up our home to unbelievers to include them in our lives.

I have a friend who tries to serve the lost in restaurants–especially servers. He says, “We’re going to pray here in a minute. Is there anything we can pray for you?” What a great conversation starter! It’s serving someone by praying for them. And you never know what might come of it.

How can we serve the lost? People think that church is out to get people’s money. And some churches probably are.

But we need to think about how we can spend our money on the lost!

#3. I’m going to try to always have a gospel tract on hand.

Or at least to have a gospel presentation memorized. But I think that a tract is a good idea. And we have a bunch of those in the foyer.

I also think (less importantly) that it would be good for us to always have an invitation to our church on hand. And we’re going to be printing up some nice ones that everybody can carry with directions to church, etc, on them.

I used to do this and always have a tract ready, but I’ve grown lazy about it, and acted as if I’m ashamed of the gospel.

Heather’s grandfather is the best at this that I know. His breast-pocket is always stuffed full with a good Gospel tract. And he leaves them everywhere and hands them out wherever he goes.

Anyone can do that!

#4. I’m going to just take the plunge and say something.

Sometimes in pieces. Sometimes we only get a chance to share a little bit of the Gospel.

Sometimes the whole thing.

I know that what they need is the Gospel. So I need to just jump in and share it.

Did you know that I have a degree in Evangelism?

I actually majored in Evangelism in College.

But I still get scared to do it.

And I’m a pastor! I’ve been in the vocational ministry for 11 years!

I’m not that scared when Chuck comes in off the street and asks.

But I’m scared when I have to talk to someone who hasn’t asked.

But what do they need? What power will save them?

Only the power of the Gospel!

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...”

The professor who taught me the most about evangelism in college was named Dennis Fisher. And Dr. Fisher had a saying that he would use, “When in doubt, whip it out!” When in doubt, whip out the Gospel.

Not, when in doubt, stay silent.

When in doubt, whip it out. And share the Gospel.

Nike would say, “Just do it!”

And last but not least, (#5), I’m going to try to pray that God would give me a heart for the lost.

And I’m praying that for our church as well.

This was a Charles Spurgeon week for me. I was introduced to this quote, as well. And it has really sunk into me.

Spurgeon said, “The Holy Spirit will move them [unbelievers] by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about ...your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘O God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”

I realized this week that I have not been praying like that.

I have not been moved like that. And it’s probably one of the reasons why we have not had a baptism here in the last year.

I’m sorry for failing you by not praying for such a heart for the lost as that for me and for you.

I want Gospel to be our middle name here. Not just on the sign, but in how we love the Gospel of our own salvation, how we pray for the Gospel (for the lost near and far), and how we share the Gospel with those who need to hear it most.

That we would tell people how to get to God.

[I was really helped this week by a message by Jim Donahue on "How To Build an Evangelistic Church" (free .pdf of the outline at this link) from the 2005 Sovereign Grace Leadership Conference. More than anything, it was convicting! But there were a lot of thoughts in that (including the Spurgeon quotes) that made it into this message. I am in Mr. Donahue's debt.]

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