Whatever became of Conversion?

OPENING

  1. Super excited to be with you and your Revival week.
  1. Greatest of respect for your pastors and the work which is happening here in post-modern/neo-pagan landscape.
  2. 45th anniversary of being born-again and I have been preaching for nearly all of it. Pastored local churches for 35+ years. Pastoring pastors the last 3+ years as the Director of the Florida Pastors Alliance. We have done just about everything that can be done in ministry.
  3. Introduce Tracie, my wife and critical co-laborer.
  1. Met in College in a van going to hold a revival meeting. She was in a College PR Singing Group, and I was a 20-year-old preacher assigned to go with them that weekend. (I wasn’t paid anything but found my everything.)
  2. We’ve been married 40+ years and all those years together in vocational ministry. We have no framework of each other outside of the work of the ministry. We have 3 children, all of whom are in vocational ministry in the local church. So, ministry has become the family business.
  3. BUT…there is nothing more important than this gathering at this moment, right now, to celebrate you all and this church.
  4. Some direction for next couple of nights, as the Holy Spirit leads us.
  1. As you might imagine, American Christianity and Church Life has changed dramatically over the last 45 years of my journey. And as one who has preached and ministered over the course of those years, I have numerous thoughts on this dynamic.
  2. Your pastors love and speak well of you and have told me that the core and backbone of this Church are greatly represented in these midweek meetings. (This is often the case.) So, I will keep in mind that I am speaking to the choir. 
  3. But I thought I might share some of my “musings” with you these few nights.
  4. Have you ever had a crazy uncle come to a family gathering muse about an earlier time? Well, that will be me.
  5. [It is the 50th Anniversary of an important book, a prophetic book, by the world-renowned psychiatrist Karl Menninger. Menninger had been processing for some time up to 1973 of the concept of sin and why ministers were becoming more reluctant to use the word. He was writing on the subject and one day his secretary, who was typing an article, said, “I have not heard anyone in ten years use the word ‘sin.’ What became of it?” It was from that interaction that a best seller was produced entitled: Whatever Became of Sin.]
  1. Menninger predicted the term would be replaced with words like illness, disorder, dysfunction, syndrome, etc. The human condition would be excused as a product of biochemistry, environment, experience, and trauma. He projected that even crime would go unpunished as criminal activity would be justified and minimized as the result of some medical abnormality for which one could not be held responsible.
  2. According to his prediction, the day would arrive when practically everyone would be considered sick and their conduct understandable and pardonable. No longer would there be any culpability for human error, choice, and conduct. Everyone would be innocent, absolved through biology, psychiatry, and humanistic reasoning.
  3. Why start a sermon referencing Menninger’s book? 
  1. For one, he was right, and it became true. Sin has become a culturally taboo word. And there have been consequences to that reality both societally and in the American Church which desperately needs the affirmation of a broken culture.
  2. Menninger rightly saw, if we fail to define our cultural and even church problems rightly, then we will fail to preach and minister the antidote effectively.
  3. Words such as “disease,” “anti-social behavior,” and “lack of moral development” have replaced “sin” as explanations for human behavior.
  4. Some have called it “Symptomatology.” It is defined as “treating symptoms instead of the real problem.” We rush to treat symptoms rather than aiming at the root.
  5. [We have increased violence and either guns are the problem, or video games are the problem, or schools are the problem, or mental illness is the problem; and we label the symptom, oversimplify, and go searching for the band-aids.]
  6. Drunkenness is a disease. Abortion is health care. Even societal sin (Murder, terrorism, trafficking, lying, cheating, stealing) are diagnosed by either economic or racial oppressions and injustices. 
  7. And so, we treat these cultural maladies through secular methods: therapy, counseling, legislation, public policy, and specified programs. (It’s all the world can offer)
  8. (LOUD Disclaimer, I AM NOT diminishing counseling, therapy, public policy, legislation, or various kinds of rehab programs. Tracie and I have seen counselors. Read many helpful counseling books. If you are a counselor, then please know that the Bible makes a place for your skills and call. I believe public policy and legislation matters. Programs, addiction rehab, and other support systems are valid.)
  9. BUT MENNINGER WOULD SUGGEST: Whatever Became of SIN? Because if you lose the vocabulary, if you lose the word, you will lose the antidote for the problem. There is a POWER made available through the CROSS to actually deal with sin. 
  1. And it made me think, “HAVE WE LOST ANY OTHER WORDS OR CONCEPTS”? Are there words and biblical concepts that have evaporated from our vocabulary which have caused us to miss the full blessing and expectation of the Lord? (I think so.)
  2. Here’s the deal, God is able to exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think, but the promises of God are connected to His ways to which we are obedient.
  3. THREE MESSAGES: Whatever Became of Conversion / Whatever Became of Consecration / Whatever Became of Covenant. (Aim is to encourage and strengthen the troops.)
  4. There is a reason, in general, the Church in America is not “abounding” and I believe it is because we have lost some important concepts.

TITLE: WHATEVER BECAME OF CONVERSION

TEXT: ACTS 3:19

(This is the second recorded sermon after the Day of Pentecost, and Peter preached them both. There were four general elements in post-Pentecost preaching:

  1. A declaration that the age of the Messiah has come.
  2. Quotations from the OT, to prove Jesus is that, Messiah.
  3. A review of Jesus’ life, especially the Resurrection.
  4. A clear call to repentance.

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

INTRODUCTION: [1843, Dickens wrote, A Christmas Carol. The classic story of Ebeneezer Scrooge changing from money consumed miser to benevolent philanthropist. While the theology is sketchy, the point is, There is a LOOK a FRUIT to conversion.]

  1. UNDERSTANDING CONVERSION
  1. In our zeal to bring people into the Kingdom and into the Church, I think we have neglected an important biblical concept: Conversion.
  1. In Acts 3:19 we find two words closely linked together and often confused. Both are important, but distinguishable. Repentance and Conversion.
  2. REPENTANCE (METANOESATE): “To change one’s mind” (repudiation) (the imperative or command form of μετανοὲω)
  3. CONVERSION (EPISTREPHO): In Classical Greek, this word means “to turn around,” even “to repel an enemy.” It is also used to express “to pay attention.” In the Septuagint, ἐπιστρὲφω is used as “turning to the Lord”. In Isaiah, it is used to express the cry of the Lord for Israel to “return” to Him. It is the change of loyalties or allegiance. You are changing teams. (The imperative or command form of ἐπιστρὲφω)
  4. Μετανοὲω is used to call a person “to make a decision to turn from his sin” and ἐπιστρὲφω is used to express “to turn to or upon the Lord.”
  5. Now here is where it gets important. When you change teams, you change uniforms right? (If you were once a Seattle Seahawk and were traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars [God help you], you wouldn’t have your old jersey on.)
  6. Paul would use this imagery in the Ephesian letter to take off the old man and put on the new man (like a garment or shirt).
  7. This is the transformative, regenerative work of the Holy Spirit as the effects of sin, dysfunction, and the curse are removed from our lives. We are CONVERTED. We become NEW CREATURES. We’ve been translated from one kingdom to another, light to dark. We are not just the same old people with a brand new coat or dress, we are a brand new person.
  8. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Someone who has never existed before!!!
  9. Interestingly, the word is found 41 times in the NT.
  10. Conversion will undoubtedly look different in people’s lives. No two people’s testimony will ever be the same. But the residual effect of conversion is similar. I call it: AN  INDISPUTABLE UNDENIABLE, ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS CHRIST.
  1. My story of Conversion.
  2. Tracie’s story of conversion, different, but no less profound as it sustained her through years of unimaginable abuse.
  3. Pastor Matt and Crystal’s testimonies. Different, unique, amazing; but no less profound in that the effects of conversion are undeniable.
  4. C.S. Lewis, (Affected by Tolkien’s faith) In his book “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis describes his moment of conversion when he was traveling to visit the zoo one afternoon with his brother. He got in a motorcycle sidecar. He writes that when they left for the zoo, he was not a believer in Jesus Christ, but when they arrived at the zoo, he knew he was a Christian. Different, yet impact undeniable.
  5. John Wesley, Holy Club, Oxford, Missionary, failed, (“I went to America to convert the Indians, but who shall convert me?”) Peter Bohler, “Preach faith till you find it”. May 24, 1738, John’s seeking for the grace of God ended in a meeting house on Aldersgate Street in London. “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.
  6. Luther’s conversion, in his own view, about a year before the posting of the ninety-five theses. He had lectured in the university on the Psalms and St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans. He had an epiphany as he read and lectured on Romans 1:16-17, something happened that changed the entire world.
  7. Augustine, in late August of 386, at the age of 31, a friend, shared with him his reading of the life of St. Anthony in the Desert (who gave his life to Christ), Augustine, (literally a sex addict) was convicted, starts his search. Augustine later told it, his conversion was prompted by hearing a child’s voice say “take up and read”, There he finds Paul’s epistle to the Romans, opens it, and reads it. Augustine is converted. He is instantly delivered of his lifelong addiction.
  8. John Newton (The guy who wrote Amazing Grace), writes of himself: “I sinned with a high hand,” he later wrote, “and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.” He entered the evil slave trade. However, soon he too became a slave and Newton was forced to beg for food to survive. Newton was transferred to the service of the captain of the Greyhound, a Liverpool ship, in 1747, and on its homeward journey, the ship was overtaken by an enormous storm. Newton had been reading Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ and was struck by a line about the “uncertain continuance of life.” He also recalled the passage in Proverbs, “Because I have called and ye have refused, … I also will laugh at your calamity.” He was converted during the storm and was eventually ordained into the ministry.
  9. (Maybe you all can remember these days) My era: Testimony services in church. Usually these were held at the Wednesday night service or Sunday night service. People would stand and testify to amazing stories. Alcoholics instantly delivered. Drug addicts delivered. Various addictions and simply dried up. People working in evil industries, instantly quit and trusted God. Again, each story unique, but the effects of conversion undeniable.
  10. WHATEVER BECAME OF CONVERSION?
  1. Whatever became of the pattern of disciples laying down their nets and walking away from their businesses? What ever happened to the pattern of Saul murdering Christians and then blinded by Christ’s glory and forever changed? 
  2. Do we believe that there is a grace that produces an indisputable, undeniable encounter with Jesus?
  3. [Tracie will tell you that there was a time when we were pastoring that I quit giving altar calls. That was a big deal for me. I was transformed at an altar. The culture of that church was an altar culture. “So why did you stop?” Because I kept seeing people respond with no tears (“Godly sorrow worketh repentance…”), no passion, no genuine remorse, no desperateness; but rather, “Ok, I’ll give Jesus a shot for a couple weeks and see if He can fix me or not or solve my dilemma”.]
  4. Finney reinvigorated the “anxious seat”. People would sit there because they were anxious to get before the Lord.
  5. Spurgeon sent people home and told them to come back in the morning and they could inquire. 
  6. Have we somehow circumvented the moment of CONVERSION? Have we substituted program, counseling, therapy and even legislation for the reality of CONVERSION. Listen, I believe true believers still benefit from counseling, therapy, and good public policy, but have we tried to substitute those things for that which can only be addressed by conversion? And because of that, instead of birthing a church full of wheat, we create churches full of tares?
  1. INDICATORS OF THE CONVERTED (Not Exhaustive)
  1. Practice of righteousness (no ongoing pattern of sin) 
  1. I John 2:29 
  2. I John 3:4 – 9
  3. There is a difference between stumbling into sin and the practice of sin. Can people get snagged, stumble, fooled, ensnared? Yes, hopefully less and less as they mature. But that is not the same as calendaring your sin, two weeks from today at the Hotel.
  4. A desire for devotional practices. A willingness to participate in the ordinances of the Church. Tithing / Giving
  1. Pursuit of Fruit
  1. The desire to be “holy”, to be kind, patient, gentle, longsuffering, loving, and obedient.
  2. Conversion is pursuing the things of the kingdom.
  1. Passion for God’s House
  1. [My parents were not supportive of my commitment to Jesus 45 years ago. It was, in their mind, a phase I was going through. I had to set my own alarm clock to get to church on time.]
  2. Why would someone who says they are converted need to be called continually to make sure they are up and going to church?
  3. There is a zeal for God’s House.
  1. Peace in your heart (inner witness) Lack of fear
  1. TRIGGER WARNING: Covid revealed where we stood as a church. There was no peace, but widespread fear.
  2. “Perfect love casts out fear”
  3. I know “Christians” who are paralyzed by the thought of dying.
  4. [Witnessing to people in the early days of college. People would spit at us. We didn’t care. / Standing in the middle of a football field calling down fire. We didn’t care.]
  1. Perseverance in your journey (Resiliency, Tenacity, Endurance)
  1. Converted people refuse to give up or throw in the towel.
  2. HEBREWS 10:35-39
  3. [I understand, people can and do “fall away”. The Scripture is clear that “names can be blotted out”. But while your conversion story may not be dramatic, you are profoundly changed in your life’s journey.]

CONCLUSION: 

2 Corinthians 13:5

[Jim McAbee’s conversion story]

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