40 By Fall

Last Sunday (April 2) in the morning worship services, I shared a vision for our church I strongly believe is from the Lord.  Here is an excerpt of the sermon:

Before we turn to the Word this morning, I want to do something I have never done before. I’d like to share with you a vision I believe the Lord has given me for our church family. It came together last Tuesday morning as I was simply going about the day. Let me explain how it happened and give some background.

This vision was coming together throughout the week and peaked at our prayer gathering service two nights earlier, last Sunday evening. Incidentally, I am loving our times of prayer gathering, the last Sunday evening of each month, as we gather together for guided prayer and worship. Last Sunday night we had a couple baptisms and a wonderful time of worshipful music and prayer. Our theme was largely that of revival and praying for our upcoming Easter services.

So we gathered together and asked God to open our eyes to see people we can invite, we prayed for God’s power to work mightily through our invitations, and we prayed specifically for our Easter Sunday worship services. The service was fantastic and folks hung around the sanctuary long after we had concluded the service. I would estimate as many as 90% of the crowd was still in the sanctuary an hour after the service concluded.

Part of the service included the baptism of a new couple to our fellowship, Mike and Lyndra Nelson (Mike and Lyndra gave me permission to share their story this morning). They completed the “First Steps” new member class and luncheon two weeks earlier. At the conclusion of the luncheon, Mike shared his desire for baptism. He was raised Catholic and said things were different for him now. As a believer in Christ, he desired baptism and was ready to go. At the time, Lyndra also indicated her desire to be baptized so they both were scheduled for baptism to take place last Sunday evening.

But then all of the next week Lyndra re-evaluated her need for, and desire for, baptism. She had been raised Methodist and had been baptized as an infant. She grew up in the Methodist church and enjoyed the confirmation process of the church. As she reflected on her Methodist background she came to feel that one baptism was enough. She shared with Mike that she would support him and would be there to witness his baptism, but that she herself would not be baptized and was okay if that meant that she couldn’t join the church. She would just be a regular attender with Mike.

So Lyndra emailed me Monday a week ago and shared all of this with me. Michele and I were working together at the church when her email came. I remember sort of sighing and saying to Michele something like, “You know, people just need time. We all need time, time to get together, time to share, to talk, to listen, to pray—it’s just ministry.” Michele and I talked about meeting with Mike and Lyndra that evening.

So I emailed back that I supported Lyndra’s decision and that Michele and I would also love to meet with her and Mike and talk further about the Lord and baptism. I suggested we could meet at a Starbucks or something. You know me—nothing goes better with spiritual conversations than the spiritual beverage of coffee! So Lyndra and Mike were open to meeting and we met not too far from where they live across the river. So we gathered at Starbucks that evening and spent about two hours outside—it was an unusually warm evening for March—and we talked about the Lord and baptism outside of that coffee shop.

We learned that evening that Lyndra really had a difficult week the week before. She and Mike had a few “discussions” over the matter. We’ve laughed about that word: discussions. It’s a better word than arguments. But you see, Mike was all gung-ho about his baptism and couldn’t figure out why Lyndra struggled so. But for Lyndra, it was the feeling that her Methodist background and experience didn’t really seem to matter to anyone and she really questioned why the need for baptism now. So we took some time to share from the Bible and affirmed Lyndra’s background and we prayed together and talked for some time as we enjoyed good coffee and conversation.

Lyndra texted later that she would be getting into her Bible the rest of the week. It was a really good time together: coffee, Jesus, and friends. We left in good spirits and Michele and I continued to pray throughout the week for God to work in and through Lyndra on this issue.

So Wednesday comes around and Mike is in the “Run for God” class and Michele gives him a copy of Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology. She explains to Mike that we go through this book on Wednesdays here in the sanctuary and gives him the book suggesting that he and Lyndra would enjoy it and that there’s a section on baptism. Mike takes the book home and places it down somewhere and before he could explain to Lyndra, she had picked it up and started reading the chapter on baptism.

The next day, I received this email:

Pastor Todd,

I don’t have much time to explain as I’m still at work, but I sure appreciate the theology book that Michele sent home with Mike last night.  It is so thorough and very good at explaining things.  Last night I started reading the chapter on baptism and couldn’t stop until I had finished…  it was just that interesting.  Then I was drawn to the questions at the end as well.

Anyway, I’ve attached a PDF which I would like for you to read if you have time, and then two pics…  the second one is the most important as it is Mike’s Birthday card.  Today is his Birthday!

So here’s the first picture, a picture of the questions from Chapter 49 on baptism.

*1, Grudem

So Lyndra took out a sheet of paper and answered all of the questions at the back of the chapter. I’ll just summarize her answer from question 2 here:

*2, Pdf

Lyndra writes of her assurance of her salvation: “…I know and believe God’s Son died on the cross to forgive me of all my sins…” and she goes on to say, “BUT, as a believer, baptism is necessary for obedience to Christ.” She adds, “This is a rather new revelation for me…so I would like to be baptized with Mike.” Praise God!

Then, because that very day was also Mike’s birthday, she gives him this birthday card:

*3, Card

And on the card, Lyndra writes:

Happy birthday, Mike! I know that both of us have accepted Christ into our hearts, and I believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive all our sins, so we will have salvation…but because God commands baptism for all who believe in Him, I want to share that experience with you on Sunday. Let’s be baptized together, Mike! I love you so much! Lyndra

Amen! So Mike and Lyndra were baptized together. I wish I had a picture of them. They had been married 2 years earlier in an outdoor wedding, casual atmosphere, so they came Sunday evening wearing the same shirts in which they had been wed! Isn’t that wonderful? Baptism was just that meaningful to the both of them: their union with each other through marriage and now their union with Christ symbolized through baptism.

So you see, last Sunday evening with that event and our prayer gathering—asking God to open our church’s eyes to see people we can invite and praying for God’s power to work mightily through our invitations—and there was that video Sunday morning, too, the video of the Moore family and how just inviting people can make a difference for the kingdom. So Sunday evening and towards the end of the day Monday, I really sensed God doing a work in my heart.

And folks, those of you who know me well know that I’m not the sort who frequently talks about special revelations from God or specific vision that I believe God has given our church. But after Sunday evening—along with events that occurred throughout the day Monday—all I can tell you is that by Tuesday morning, last Tuesday morning, I was up and going about my regular routine and a particular phrase kept coming into my head and heart. It was a phrase about our church’s reaching out. It was about all that we have been talking about for the past few months now: making disciples.

Our church’s vision is to “develop generations of God-glorifying Disciples Who Make Disciples from the community to the continents.” We had a special preaching series on this. We have distributed all kinds of materials about disciple-making including a growth guide, how to study the Bible, and a “First Steps” devotional on how to come to Jesus and join the church.

We have this new Sunday school curriculum about making disciples. In fact, the week before that prayer gathering, the personal study in Sunday school was on baptism.

And I was reflecting on how just a little time spent with people over coffee can make such a difference. As we noted often in that preaching series, disciple-making is not just informational it is also relational. It’s having a meal together, having a coffee together. Listening, sharing, weeping, laughing, praying together.

And my heart just began to grow for more of this; more time investing in others to get them to Jesus and then through the baptismal waters. And I wondered how many folks we could reach if we all began really focusing on getting people to Jesus and then getting them baptized. And all I can tell you is that this phrase became foremost in my thinking: “40 by Fall.” 40 by Fall. 40 people coming to Jesus and coming through the baptismal waters by Fall of this year. 40 by this Fall.

It may sound ambitious when you think about how many folks that actually is, but then this is not a really a goal. It is, I believe, a vision from the Lord for our church. I really believe God has emblazoned this phrase, this vision, into my heart: 40 by Fall. It’s not a campaign. It’s not a manmade slogan sent to us from the Baptist leaders at Lifeway. It’s vision. I really believe the Lord wants me to challenge all of us—beginning with me—to reach out, even more intentionally now, getting people to Jesus and then getting them through the baptismal waters.

You know our American church culture is too often defined by dissatisfied members moving from one church to the next. Pastors often refer to this as sheep merely moving from one sheepfold to the next sheepfold. And there are, to be sure, reasons why this happens and sometimes it’s a good thing, but most of us really yearn for new sheep to be born into the kingdom of God; new believers coming to Jesus and then identifying with Christ through baptism, the first sign of obedience to the Lord.

I get excited thinking about God working through our church in the coming weeks! I mean, if we start doing this—and this is biblical; reaching out, getting folks to Jesus and getting folks baptized—if we all raise the bar and really start investing in others, taking time to share a meal or a coffee with others, sitting down on a park bench with others, visiting in the homes of others, telling people about Jesus, helping them to Jesus and helping them to baptism—really getting them connected, what an awesome church our church will be! 40 by Fall. At first I thought, “Lord, that number seems a bit high! Especially relative to how fewer in number we have baptized in recent months.” But then I began to think, “That number may be too low!” But it seems as evidence that this is from God, the number remains 40—a good, solid, biblical, God-sized number for our church family. 40 by Fall.

I shared this vision with our staff Wednesday. I had told no one about it until I was sure it was of the Lord. So I mentioned to Michele before leaving for staff meeting Wednesday. I simply said, “40 by Fall. That’s the vision. I’ll share more later!” Then I went and shared with our staff at lunch. I asked for their feedback and, predictably, they gave their total support.

I envision different folks standing at our baptismal services, introducing people they personally led to Jesus and talked to about baptism. All I am asking is that you stand with me and work together with me to bring this vision to fruition. I want to ask for your amen in a moment, but I want to be clear: God alone gets the glory for what He does in our church. We are His hands and His feet. He works through us all to build His kingdom. We’re just fulfilling the commission He has given to all of us to make disciples.

So let me ask you—40 by Fall—are you willing to stand arm and arm, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, as together we move forward and bring people to Jesus and bring them to baptism—40 baptisms by Fall? If so, will you say, and say it like you mean it, “Amen?” Amen! Thank you so much for allowing me to share this with you. I really look forward to what God is going to do in the coming weeks and months.

#40ByFall

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