By David Leavell
President, Tennessee Baptist Convention
I’ve conducted many funerals in my 30-plus years of pastoral ministry. I recently experienced something I’ve never experienced before. None of the musical selections planned were religious/worship songs. I’m not a fan of the secularization of funeral services. I believe funerals to be worship services dedicated to the exaltation of Christ. Anyway, in this particular service, one of the songs chosen was a polka song. The deceased lady was from the north and had an affinity for this type of music. As the song began, the family began to be emotional. It triggered many sweet memories I assume. About half-way through the song, the daughter stood to her feet on the front row, she reached her hand out to her younger brother and said, “Get up!” Brother took her by the hand and the two of them embraced and began slow dancing to the polka song in front of the casket! I’ve never been to a funeral where a dance broke out — until this one!
I have reflected upon this event. I’ve thought about the love of children for their mother and the way they chose to memorialize the memory of their mother.
This caused me to do some holy imagining related to the church. The Bible tells me in John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
So, God, in Christ Jesus, has provided everything needed for the whole world to come into a faith relationship with Christ. I love our “whoever believes” gospel. We were in darkness but we can believe and be saved and come into the Light.
That’s good news! It is good news in our churches and it is good news in heaven! Luke 15:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Heaven is having a dance over those who come into the kingdom. Last year, we had 20,302 baptisms among our Tennessee Baptist churches. Heaven is dancing! So should we! We celebrate the good work of God among our network of churches.
People are living in darkness and they are heading to a funeral. But a dance can break out by Tennessee Baptists sharing the good news of the gospel with people headed to the funeral. The John 3:16 Challenge is an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the Kingdom work of sharing Jesus with others. The goal is to share John 3:16, once a week, with a lost person, with the intention of leading them to personal faith in Christ. It is simple. It is something we already know. It is achievable. It is eternal. It could change the spiritual and evangelistic landscape of our great state. It is not a lack of power on God’s part. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. It is a matter of obedience on the part of believers in responding to the call of God.
How do we share the gospel? The gospel is more of a conversation than a presentation. Relationally, engage people and talk about John 3:16. How? The outline offered by author and former pastor Max Lucado is simple.
He loves. God loves you. You are the apple of God’s eye. He created you, made you in His image, and sustains you.
He gave. God sent Jesus to earth to announce and provide for our salvation. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:14).
We believe. “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, we will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10). This is also a great place to incorporate your personal testimony of your conversion experience.
We live. Eternal life is today and forever. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus fills us with His Spirit at conversion and prepares a place for us in heaven. Forgiveness, purpose, direction, security, all of these blessings come to us when we place our faith in Jesus Christ!
This is so simple that a child can understand. It is so significant, that Jesus can change our state from the inside out. As we take the challenge, we will find that God will do a fresh work in our lives as well.
How would the average Tennessee Baptist church change if we began sharing the gospel actively? The angels would rejoice! And, a few dances would break out in our churches! I know Baptists aren’t supposed to dance but this is the kind of dance that the Bible sanctions.
What would happen if our baptistries changed from storage units to obedience centers? What would happen if, on occasion, we kept the water in the baptistry from one week to the next because we were anticipating someone getting saved the next week? A party spirit would begin to invade our fellowships — spirit of joy, a spirit of celebration, a spirit of expectation.
We are walking daily to funerals all around us. Let’s be obedient to the call to share Christ. If we do, some dances will break out every week across east, middle, and west Tennessee! Oh that God would move among us in this way. With three million Tennesseans lost and on their way to a funeral, it’s time for the church to sponsor a party. Let’s dance!