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Apr, 2023

Together for Genuine Conversions

So what comes to mind when you think about yourself? What comes to mind when you think about yourself and, and what comes to mind is important because it's, it's kind of what makes you, you, so what are you about? What do you like? What do you not like? What do you think is, is valuable? What do you think is a, a waste of time? How do you spend your energy? How do you spend your money? What, what comes to mind when you think about yourself? What is it that kind of defines who you are? And, and does that even matter? Does it matter what comes to mind? I mean, can't we just, you know, do what we wanna do and, and say what we wanna say and live, how we wanna live and play, how we wanna play and dance, how we wanna dance and just not think that much. Can, can we just not think, can, can we just kind of do life? Absolutely. Yeah, we, we can, we, we can just do life. The problem is deep down. We all know that there is, is more than just doing that and we might push against it. We might ignore it. We might try to go around it. But, but deep down, we all know that there's something more than just going to school and going to work and retiring. We, we know there's something more than just random mumbo jumbo in life and, and then we die in the deepest part of who we are. We, we all know that there is more to this life than just living and dying. We know that we continue our series today together For Good, where we're engaging with the values of a healthy local church and we're doing that because the world is, is full of bad and we want to be together for good. And what kind of good are we talking about? Well, the message today is together for genuine conversions being genuinely converted is the greatest good your soul could ever know. Being genuinely converted is the greatest good your soul can ever know. And when something comes to mind about yourself being genuinely converted is the greatest thing that can come to your mind. What does that mean? Well, let's see if we can find out. We're going to be looking at John chapter three, be looking at verse three through six. It's long after the sun has gone down. It's the dark of night and there's a religious leader named Nicodemus and Nicodemus probably because it was dark, waited until that time so that no one could see him and he goes and finds Jesus. He didn't want anybody to, to know that he went and found Jesus. He, he needed to talk to Jesus and why? Well, he knew there was something about Jesus that was different. He had seen all the other spiritual gurus and the, the rock star preachers, he had, he had seen him come and go. But there was something about Jesus that was different and, and he just had to know what that was. So he went and found him engaged in a conversation with Jesus and Jesus got straight to the point with his first words, John chapter three verse three, Jesus said this to Nicodemus. Truly, truly, I say to you unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was a great religious teacher. He was the religious teacher. In fact, a little later, Jesus even refers to him as the teacher of Israel. If we were to compare him to today, he might be the kind of guy that would be one of the featured speakers at a, a big Christian conference and a large auditorium. He is a significant leader. He's a significant teacher. And what does Jesus have to say to this pronounced religious leader in the life of the church? Jesus says, you must be born again, you must be born again. And that's not a message just for Nicodemus in the dark of night. Back then, it's a message for me and it's a message for you, you and I must be born again. Why? Because Jesus says, if we aren't, we cannot and will not see the kingdom of God. Jesus says, if we're not born again, we will not gain access to eternal life, we will not go to heaven. There's a statistic out there that says that, that 90% of Americans believe they will go to heaven. 90%. And yet, if they haven't been born again, they will not, no matter what they believe. Jesus says you, you must be born again or otherwise, you will be separated from God, separated from all that's good and holy and happy and satisfying forever. So, when it comes to the most important thing that comes to your mind, when you think about yourself, it is not, whether you're male or female, it is not whether you're black or white, it's not whether you're married or single. It's not whether you're Republican or Democrat, it's not, whether you're conservative or liberal. It's not whether you're Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or Catholic. It's not whether you're northerners, southerners. It's not whether you're educated or uneducated. It's not whether it's Carolina or Clemson. When the first thing that comes to your mind, that is the most important thing that comes to your mind when you think about yourself. It is all wrapped up in this. Have you been born again? That is the most important thing that needs to come to your mind. But someone may say, well, what does that mean? Born again? What does that even mean? Well, simply put to be born again, means to have new life. It, it means that you have this brand new spiritual life because things have now been made right between you and God. And the only way things can be right between you and God is, is through Jesus. And why do you need this brand new spiritual life? Because Jesus says, without it, without the brand new life that comes from being born again, you cannot and will not see the kingdom of God. You will not gain access to eternal life. You will not go to heaven. You will be separated from God, separated from all this good and happy and holy and satisfying forever. So this picture of being born again is kind of a big deal. And so Jesus looks at Nicodemus in the dark of night and says, you must be born again, this this guy who, who knew all the stuff about God. He knew lots of things about the meaning of life. Boy, he could quote scripture like crazy. He was a preacher, a teacher. And Jesus says, you must be born again. And how does Nicodemus respond? He says this, well, how can a person be born when he's old? He cannot enter his mother's room a second time and be born candy. Those are fair questions, Jesus, what are you talking about being born again? What does that even mean? How is, how is that even possible? And Jesus gives an answer for six. That which has been born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit, the spirit. Have you ever held a newborn baby? It's a thing. It's a thing and, and what you're doing in that moment and holding that newborn baby, you are holding the natural wonder of what happens when a woman gives birth to a child. It is, it is flesh, giving birth to flesh. But you cannot hold the soul of a brand new Christian. You, you can't, you can't hold that, that new soul in your hands because it is the supernatural wonder of what God does. When He brings new life. The spirit, God's spirit gives birth to spirit. It's supernatural. It's beyond what we can imagine. God. He, he quickens the heart of a dead sinner, someone who's, who's dead in their sin and their trespasses. God. God quickens them. They don't just wake up and go, you know what mom and dad and grandma and granddad? They've been telling me about Jesus. I think it's about time. I started following Jesus. No, that's not how it goes. God quickens a person's heart to the truth about Jesus and that, that dead sinful heart. It, it comes to life and the person responds by repenting of sin and, and following after Jesus, they make Jesus Christ their greatest treasure. They decide their ultimate trust is going to be in Christ and Christ alone. Somebody said, God doesn't make us nice. He makes us new. It's completely different. It's a, it's a change. He, he regenerates us. He gives us new life. He converts us into the spiritual life of a person that begins on the inside. And God does this work on the inside? And how does God do that? I don't know, I, I don't know. God doesn't give us this, you know, quantum physics formula of, of how a person is born again. He doesn't give us this multi level theological equation of, of how a person is born again. But, but God does it, he doesn't give us the specifics, but he just says that he's the one that, that causes a person to be born again. He's the one that, that brings this new life. So if there's no equation and there's no formula, then, then how does someone know that they've been born again? I mean, how, how would you know that you've been born again? Simply put the way that you know, you've been born again is because there is genuine conversion. A conversion has taken place. The word for conversion in the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible. It, it describes a word that means to turn and not just any old turn, it means a U turn. It means you're on your way to Krispy Kreme and you turn around on the road and you go back to, ok, it's, it's a change of direction. You're going in one direction and things change and, and now you're going in the other direction. It is a, a conversion, a change. So spiritually speaking in your life, has there been a change in direction? Has there been a change in direction in your life? Has there been a, a spiritual u turn in your life? Has, has the spirit of God quickened your heart to the truth about Jesus? And you responded to that quickening by repenting and following after Jesus. Have you been born again? Have you been genuinely converted? How would you know, how would you know if you've been genuinely converted? Well, think about it this way. How do you know that you've been born? How, how do you know that you've been born? I mean, if somebody came up and said, hey, how, how do you know that you've been born? Would you say uh well, I mean, my mom was there and she said I was born. So that's how I know I was born. If someone came up and said that to you, would you say, well, tomorrow is my birthday and my family got me this T shirt. It says legends are born in April. So you know, that's how I know that I'm I'm born. You know, I know that no, those, those would kind of be silly responses to saying why you know that you've been born. My dad was born on August 20th, 1935 when it came time for his military service. There were some problems though. His, his birth certificate was incorrect. Something they had not discovered in that time, there was a, a document uh in the state records that was inconsistent. It said my dad was born on August 11th and it also said my dad was female, bless his heart. So, so my dad had to come to Colombia and stand in some government office and jump through a bunch of hoops to get all of his information and documents corrected. But I can tell you what my dad was not thinking as he stood in that government office here in Colombia almost seven years ago. Probably. Now, what he was not thinking as he stood there waiting to get his birth certificate, right? Was I, I, I wonder if I was really born? That didn't cross his mind. Why? Because he was alive. He, he wasn't wondering if he was born because he was alive. How do you know that you've been born? You know that you've been born because you're alive? You're sitting here, you're sitting at home, you're breathing, you're, you're alive. That's how you know that you have been born. How do you know that you've been born again because you're alive in Christ? And how do you know if you're alive in Christ? How, how do you know if if that's actually true, William Farley gives some some really helpful questions just to trigger our minds. Just, just four. The first is this, have you experienced real conviction? I mean, real conviction of sin. Listen, our church will, will never understand how much we should be thankful for how God has used Tammy Adams over the last two decades in the life of our church to make sure that kids don't come to faith in Christ because they think it's cool and their other friend was getting baptized for more than two decades. Tammy has gone out of her way to make sure that there is an understanding of conviction of sin. Everyone wants to go to heaven. 90% of the Americans think they are going to, everybody wants to go to heaven, every man woman, boy and everybody wants to go to heaven. But it is not until there is an understanding of sin that the concept of being born again can even be a conversation because joining the church and getting baptized. Those are just things you do. They're kind of fun things you do. But has there been true conviction of sin? Is there an understanding? There's a holy God and, and you don't measure up and you need to be saved. Second question has something happened in your heart because Christianity is, is not a club, it's not just joining the church is, it's not just being a part of a new organization, something happens from the inside, being born again, being genuinely converted, it starts on the inside. Has something happened to your heart. The third question is Christ more and more beautiful to you is, is Jesus Christ continuing to become your greatest treasure in life or is retirement your greatest treasure? Or is your family or your friends or, or golfing or fishing or hunting or, or sports or shopping or whatever it is? Are those things the real treasure? And I'll see Jesus on Sunday is Jesus Christ the the greatest treasure in your life? And is he getting more and more beautiful? Here's how, you know, at least one of the ways, you know, when the choir sings a song that says my verdict is not guilty and you're not sitting in your pew going. This is pretty. I like this. I hope they sing this again in a few months, but you're sitting in your pew going. Oh my goodness. When I die, I will hear the words. Welcome. Welcome. Is Christ more and more beautiful. Did you gussy up last Sunday? Because Easter is great? Or, or is this Sunday just as great? It's just as wonderful. It's just as fantastic because Jesus is still risen. He's still risen. Indeed. Fourth question has believing in Christ changed. You are, are you a different person? Is, is there a different way you approach life? Has there been conviction? Has something happened in your heart? Is Christ more beautiful? And is believing in Christ changed you. Tho those are some helpful questions when we begin to say, have I truly been converted? Have I truly been born again? Listen again to what Jesus said that which has been born of the flesh, is flesh and that which is born of the spirit, the spirit. Have you been born of the spirit of God? Billy Graham has, has said it in, in such a clear and helpful way. He said this, I can't see the wind, but I can see the effects of the wind. To be born of the spirit of God means that there's effects, none of us are perfect. Ok? But to be born again, to, to be genuinely converted, to be regenerated by God means that the effects of that work of God, they're, they're seen in some way, shape or form in our life. Someone's conversion story is, is their story. It's, it's very different. You know, mine was I, I grew up in the church, you know, I was, I was around the gospel. I, I, I had incredible people that were, that were pouring the truth of God into my life. And so it, it wasn't crazy that I came to faith in Christ. You know, I, I was in an environment where it was being invested in my life. But you know, I have, I have friends of mine that didn't grow up in church. They had nothing to do with the gospel. No one ever told them anything about Jesus and, and long into their twenties and some, even in their thirties was the first time they heard about Jesus. But, but they heard the truth about Jesus and, and they repented and they began to follow Jesus in the same way that I heard the truth about Jesus and I repented and followed Jesus. All of our conversion stories may be different if you have a conversion story. But, but all the conversion stories have the same truth. Augustin put it like this when we find God, it is because He has already found us. If we find God, it is the work of God that already is doing the reason that we're finding to, to be converted as the work of God. God has to do the work of conversion. But if God does the work of conversion, we are overcome that God has set us free and we are overwhelmed that we've been found and we are overjoyed to follow after God to be genuinely converted is to understand that none of us are perfect. We're going to struggle in our faith. All of us will, some of us will have seasons where we do more than struggle. The Bible even uses language like backsliding. So we may even have seasons where, where we do more than just struggle. But to be genuinely converted, means that we never give up on our grip of the beauty of Jesus. And Him being our greatest treasure. We never give up our grip on Jesus being the greatest treasure in our life. And here's what's even more amazing to be born again to, to be born again by the spirit of God. To be genuinely converted means that God will never give up his grip on you. And I promise that grip is more important than your grip. The grip of God never giving up on you is the most amazing truth in reality in your heart and your mind and your soul. What does all this have to do with, with being a healthy local church and, and being together for good? Well, George Barner does lots and lots and lots of surveying on, on life and Christianity and religion in the church. And after after many surveys, he, he pulled together an evaluation of of 15 moral principles. And what he found was when, when looking at these 15 moral principles at the, the vast majority of the population of the United States in particular, what he discovered was there was absolutely no indistinguishable difference between people who claim to be born again and people who claim to not be born again. In other words, what he was saying was atheists and Christians are teaching, teaching the same 15 morals and you can't tell the difference between the two. In other words, there's just no God, it's just morality. In other words, the church kind of doesn't look like church the church doesn't look any different inside than the people that are outside. It's just, it's just morals and how would that even come to be? Well, the reason why is because somewhere since acts chapter two, the church seems to have lost genuine convert and, and we've been replaced with moral people that maybe tack Jesus on at the end of a prayer, we, we wonder, you know, why, why the church seems to be struggling and impacting the society. But again, the reality is, it's not a hard math equation when, when the average church is questionable when it comes to genuine converts. I was at a conference years ago, I think I've shared this before and, and the speaker said, we wonder why our church is, is having such a difficult time evangelizing in our community in, in a, in a small community, especially when, when the guy on the back row of the choir, everybody knows he's involved in five different adulterous affairs. He said, and we wonder why our church is having a hard time ministering in the community. And it's because we aren't functioning as converted, born again people. There are questions surrounding the very evidence of our faith. And if the church is, is low in general conversions, then it will be high and an inability to impact its community. Why? Because what in the world do people need from us? If all we're giving them is 15 moral principles, why would they need to come here because they can get those outside of the church. But through genuine conversions, the church becomes this place that is overwhelmed that their verdict is not guilty. And that becomes the most powerful message we have not just for our own hearts, but for the world because of his precious mom, Thomas Tarrant grew up in church from an early age. He, he heard the truth about Jesus. He heard the truth about hell. He's heard the truth about sin and, and he knew that hell was a real place. He knew that his sin was going to send him there. But he also knew that through Jesus, he could escape hell. He knew that Jesus had died for his sins and that if he followed after Jesus that that he would go to heaven. So one Sunday after church, he went down and, and taught with the pastor made a profession of faith that night at the evening service, he got baptized and he said that that whole experience just created this sense of confidence in him that he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was going to be going to heaven, that he had eternal life. And yet nothing could have been farther from the truth. But he didn't know that at the time it took him 10 years before he discovered the truth. And what happened during those 10 years. Well, he joined the military and this was back in the 19 sixties. And, and he said that for him, his joining of the military, his understanding of fighting for God and country was radical right wing extremism. He, he was fighting for God and country because he's fighting against the blacks and he's fighting against the communists and he's fighting against the socialists and he's fighting against the liberals in 1968. He and another, he and a young woman tried to, to bomb the home of a, a Jewish businessman in Meridian Mississippi. What they didn't know is that the home was being staked out by swat agents. So the whole thing fell apart. Young woman was, was killed in gunfire and, and Thomas, he was shot four times at close range with shot gunfire. By the time he got to the hospital, the doctor said that they doubt he would live 45 minutes. But because of the mercy of God, he miraculously survived. He made it through. He said if there was ever a time to repent and really turn to Christ, it seemed like that would be the moment, but it wasn't because he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He said that was my definition of fighting for God and country. So I, I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. He was sentenced to 30 years in the Mississippi State penitentiary at the time, one of the, the worst prisons, most difficult prisons in the country. And he knew as soon as he walked in that he was going to do everything he could to escape. And it took him six months and he had to recruit two other inmates. But the three of them were able to have a successful escape from prison. But it was days later, maybe a week later, authorities caught up with him and one of the inmates was killed and he was killed because he had relieved Thomas from watch that night. He'd come 30 minutes earlier than he was supposed to, to, to stand watch over the inmates. And because of that switch up, he was killed. Instead of Thomas, Thomas was taken back to prison. He was put in a solitary cell in maximum security area. He knew there was going to be no hope for escape this time. He said it was the lowest point of his life, but still he felt no need to repent and turn to Jesus. He, he still thought he was a patriot and he was doing the right thing for his country. This is what he said. When someone is blind and dead and sin, rational considerations alone can't bring them to life. It takes something more something supernatural. He started reading philosophy while he was in prison, Socrates, Plato Aristotle and, and others. And, and what he didn't realize was that looking back in that time was that God was using that God was, was using this philosophy to help him start looking for truth, the language that he used was, he said in those days of reading, it felt like it was the Holy Spirit's pre evangelistic ambush in his life. Do you have a pre evangelistic ambush in your life? Do you remember that moment? I remember mine was driving back from Myrtle Wod golf course in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with my brother in law and he was confronting me on my salvation, my need for Jesus. And I was giving him fantastic church answers. And he said, now, you, you really don't get this, do you? You, you're not understanding. And I remember that conversation, it was my pre evangelistic ambush. And within a few months, God had saved me. So this philosophy reading caused him to, to start looking for truth, but it wasn't enough. It really didn't scratch his itch, but at least it got him away from that extreme propaganda that was masquerading itself as truth. And can I just graciously say that if we're not careful, it's Christians. There is some extreme propaganda pushed toward conservative Christians that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. So be careful what you hear, what you read, what you believe, what you protest and what you talk about. So the the truth wasn't getting there. So, so he started reading the Bible, started reading Matthew Mark and Luke and John and, and what he didn't know was there was a group of women that were praying for him for two years every week this group of women were praying for him. They heard about his story in the news and they were praying very specifically that he would get saved, that he would be regenerated, that he would be converted and that God would use him for something different than what he had been doing. And here's even better, the woman who started the prayer group who led the prayer group who put the whole thing together. She was the wife of the FBI agent who had captured him in Mississippi. Not long after he started reading the gospels, he, he just became overwhelmed with his sin. His, his conviction was real. He, he knew that things were not right between him and God. And one night in his cell, he got down on his knees and, and he just prayed a very simple prayer asking Jesus to forgive him. And he said, it felt like £1000 had been lifted from his shoulders, something changed inside of him. This is how he described it. I woke up the next day to find that I was now spiritually alive. And God was real to me. I had an immediate appetite to read the Bible, to pray and live for God. And the more I read the Bible, the more I grew and God gave me love for people that I once hated. And he helped me change in many other ways. Miraculously, he was released after only eight years of his 30 year sentence. And from 1978 till today, he's been involved full time in the ministry and the work of the gospel. He said it hasn't always been easy because Jesus promised us it would not be easy, right? But he said the grace of God and the, the work of grace that God began in his heart has never stopped. And then he said, the sad part is though some people don't know that grace, they're, they're like Nicodemus, they're still out in the dark. He said, even, even in the church, they're, they're in the dark and he said this, the road they're on seems right, but it leads to death. But that was his story, right? Grew up in church, did all the right things seemed like he was on the right path, but he never was. He, he said it took him so long to realize that that movement, that experience was based on fear and, and intellect just believing some facts about Jesus. And there was no personal trust. Thomas went on to quote CS Lewis. If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead. Why do we want to be a church that's together for genuine conversions? But partly it's because if, if someone's conversion is not genuine, it makes all the difference in the world and it makes all the difference in the world to come. But why else do we want to be together for genuine conversions? Well, again, let me ask you a question. What comes to mind when you think about yourself? What, what comes to mind when you think about yourself? Because what we want is we want to be a church that we do everything we can to help you. So that with great confidence, although we'll never be perfect with great confidence, you can say when I think of self, what I think of is that I have been truly born again. What I think of is that my verdict is not guilty. What I think of is that I will not lose my grip on Jesus. But even more than that, Jesus will never lose his grip on me in a world full of bad. That that's, that's the greatest, good, a soul can know to be genuinely converted is the greatest good a soul can know. So in this world about let's be together for that good.


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