Monday, 4 March 2013

Converted and know it?

My mind has been dwelling much on my own conversion recently and how far away I was from God beforehand even though I attended Church, had been baptised and confirmed, helped lead the Church Youth Club and was a Sunday School leader! Until the moment God became as real as those of my own family I was not the least use to Him. But once he stepped out of the shadows then my life changed. In the words of Archbishop William Temple: "Unless a man (or woman of course) is converted and knows it, he is not the slightest use to God." It was only as God became real in my life that I started to serve Him in whatever way I could.

It reminds me of the story of Charles Spurgeon who became one of our greatest preachers. Here it isSpurgeon was converted Jan., 1850, at the age of 15, at Colchester; gave his first Gospel address at Faversham when he was 16, and for thirty years declared almost weekly, to audiences numbering five or six thousand, the glorious Gospel of the blessed God; millions of his sermons have been scattered in all parts of the world. He quietly passed from Mentone to Heaven, Sunday, January 31, 1892. Here is his description of what happened in his own words:

"I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, when I was going to a place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a court and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there might be a dozen or fifteen people. The minister did not come that morning: snowed up, I suppose. A poor man, a shoemaker, a tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say. The text was, 'Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.' He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter.

"There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in the text. He began thus: 'My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, "Look." Now that does not take a deal of effort. It ain't lifting your foot or your finger; it is just "look." Well, a man need not go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man need not be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; a child can look. But this is what the text says. Then it says, "Look unto Me." 'Ay,' said he, in broad Essex, 'many of ye are looking to yourselves. No use looking there. You'll never find comfort in yourselves.' Then the good man followed up his text in this way: 'Look unto Me: I am sweating great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hanging on the Cross. Look: I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend; I am sitting at the Father's right hand. O, look to Me! Look to Me!' When he had got about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes, he was at the length of his tether.

"Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say  with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. He then said, 'Young man, you look very miserable.' Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made on my personal appearance from the pulpit before. However, it was a good blow struck. He continued: 'And you will always be miserable — miserable in life and miserable in death — if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.'

"Then he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist can, 'Young man, look to Jesus Christ.' There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that moment and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the Precious Blood of Christ."

Pondering my own experience and Spurgeon's - and many others - the question naturally arises, "how many people in church are worshipping week in and week out and have never been truly converted to Christ?"  If it happened to me there is a good chance it is happening to others. Obviously you must not judge others on this as you may get it wrong, but I have been around people long enough and I know my own heart well enough to guess that there are fairly significant numbers.

Jesus knew something of this experience himself i.e. a preponderance of religious rather than true believers. He always said of his own ministry that he was sent first to the lost house of Israel, and for three years he preached and taught mostly within it, amongst the 'chosen people' of God. Why? Because there is no one so lost sometimes who thinks they are safe.

He also spoke about the presence of weeds among the wheat of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:24-30). How many weeds are there in the church today? After three years of ministry however Jesus began to look further afield and the emphasis of his mission began to change. In his last command he ordered the disciples to go "make disciples of all nations". Although the work was to "begin in Jerusalem (and) all Judea"  (Acts 1:8) the time was coming when those outside would be more receptive than those inside who refused to come to Christ for salvation and life.

Maybe that time is coming again when the Church as we know it, has had enough of hearing the gospel and not responded so we need to take it somewhere else? Maybe - as Jesus instructed - the dust needs to be shaken off our feet and the message of the gospel taken out to more receptive listeners?

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