Bringing Life Back to Our Town (Signs Series, Sermon Manuscript)

The main road through Chatsworth is dedicated to G.I. Maddox.  Do you know who G.I. Maddox was?  The following statements are excerpts from the bio of G.I. Maddox as it appears on the Georgia Agriculture Education Hall of Fame website.
Mr. G. I. "Shorty" Maddox's love of teaching agriculture was exceeded only by his love of students. After eight hours in the classroom, he visited his students' homes and farms, applying and reinforcing principles taught in the classroom.
He taught at Murray County High School for 34 years.
Many of Mr. Maddox's students were elected state FFA leaders, including a state FFA president. Several students received national FFA recognition, including the American Farmer Degree. Chapter members showed more cattle at the Atlanta Steer Show than any other chapter as long as the chapter exhibited. One of Mr. Maddox's major contributions was the establishment and operation of the Murray County cannery, which was named in his honor in 1981. The facility processed home breads, cakes, meats, and other products. During World War II and the Korean War, many of these products were sent to those serving in the armed forces.

Mr. Maddox was instrumental in assisting families in establishing college education funds through student participation in the Atlanta Fat Cattle Show and feeder calf sale. Many students earned enough money through the sale of their show animals to pay a major part of their college expenses.
G.I. Maddox was a man that involved himself in the community in such a way that he brought marked change to people’s lives that had long lasting results.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 13:6-9 about a fig tree of which the vineyard owner had given up any hope that it would bear fruit.  He commanded the vinedresser to cut it down.  If a tree did not produce in three years it was deemed worthless and in need of replacement.  Yet the vinedresser asked for the grace of a year in which he would change the conditions of the soil.  If after a year the tree remained barren it would then be cut down.
The parable of the barren tree seems like an odd story without much spiritual significance.  What’s the point?  Here are some important elements to notice in the story:
  1. In context, the barren fig tree image is not uncommon in the Bible.  It generally refers to Israel and is a symbol of her fruitlessness and impending season of judgment (Jeremiah 8:13; Mark 11 and 13). 
  2. The vinedresser identifies that the problem may not be with the tree.  The problem may rest in the soil.  He seeks to change the conditions of the soil to give the tree a chance to respond.
  3. The grace of the year works in conjunction with work to change the conditions of the soil.  The parable ultimately implies that given the new conditions the tree is expected to fruit, if it does not it will ultimately be lost.
  4. The conditions of the soil may be changed, but ultimately the tree must respond.  Notice the context in 13:1-5.  Jesus was telling the Jews who were listening to Him that now was the season of change or judgment was coming.  

Do you know what G.I. Maddox did?  He changed the conditions of the soil in the lives of people.  By involving himself in lives G.I. Maddox helped to change a community that could have otherwise been lost.   What I admire about him is that he was a well educated man who did not only have ideas, but he went to the places where those ideas needed to be applied.  He did not only identify what needed to change in his community, he went out and changed the soil.  G.I. Maddox applied himself.
Jesus gives us several metaphors to describe His followers and their work in the gospel.  Two of the most popular are salt and light.  We are to enter situations and become agents of change.  In this parable (Luke 13:16-19) we become manure.  It seems less than flattering.  Yet there is an important principle here about the potential of manure to change soil and bring about change:
  1. Manure contains enzymes, microorganisms, and nutrients that when added to the soil stimulate growth in the plants that pull from it.  Eugene Peterson calls manure, “the stuff of resurrection.”
  2. It takes time for manure to work.  Real change does not come instantaneously.  It must be nurtured.
  3. There is nothing glamorous about manure.  Bringing about change in lives and communities is no easy task.  It takes getting involved in the dirty aspects of life.  Many of the strategies of the contemporary church are attractional in nature.  We are trying to make the church attractive enough for people to want to come in.  This may work to some extent, but to really penetrate the lostness around us we must realize what we must do is not attractive at all.  It is going to be dirty work performed in grace over a long period of time.
  4. For manure to be life giving it must be applied.  The only way manure makes change is if it is worked into the soil.  The church will not positively impact the community unless it becomes a part of the soil.
This is what we are, manure.  We are the stuff of resurrection.  The church was never designed to simply exist in a community.  The church was designed to change a community.  After all, the church is supposed to be an expression that indeed the gospel is working in a community.  If the church effectively sows the gospel into the soil of the community resurrected life will begin springing up all over town.
Yet if the church becomes isolated and institutionalized it not only separates itself from the surrounding community but in so doing takes something incredibly life giving out of the soil.  Somehow we must do what G.I. Maddox did and what Jesus commanded us to do.  We cannot simply exist in a world of proclamations, instruction, and ideas.  At some point we must do the dirty work.  We must be applied manure and get out into the soil if there is to be any chance at new life.
Randy White writes a book about missions in the inner city entitled Encounter God in the City.  He gives us some great principles from which I want to glean, that help us not only become aware of what is going on in our town but help us to apply ourselves to it.
Questions of Observation:  These are questions we need to be asking that will help us begin to identify the story of our town and the places to which we can apply ourselves.  Ultimately this is the exercise of this series about looking at the signs.
  1. What are the influential institutions?
    • Here we are asking questions like where are the schools?  How many are there?  How do they represent the surrounding community?
    • What sorts of businesses are in the area?  Are there more quick cash stores than banks? 
  2. What are the perceptions/or problems of these institutions?
    • What are people in the community saying about these places?
    • Who uses them and why?  
    • What do the places people gather in certain sections say about those sections of town?
  3. What are our relationships to these institutions?
    • Do we have people who work in these places or hold memberships?
    • Do we involve ourselves as a church with their events?
    • Do we use their facilities?
    • Do any leaders, managers, or owners attend our church?
There are four major sectors that make up the soil of our city:
  1. Local Government
    • How does the community relate to the local government?
    • What are the perceptions?
    • What are the experiences of the community with the government?
      • Is trash being picked up?
      • Are public facilities in disrepair?
      • What are the zoning laws and how do they impact surrounding neighborhoods?
      • What is being said in the newspaper?
  2. Private Sector/Labor
    • What industries drive the town?
    • What are the employment opportunities?
    • What is closing?
    • What is opening?
    • How are people equipped to work?
  3. Education
    • What are the educational opportunities?
    • What schools are in the area?
    • Where are the schools?
    • What is the reputation of the schools?
    • How does the school represent and impact the surrounding community?
  4. Churches/Places of Worship/Ministries
    • What are the other churches in the area?
    • Is there a predominant theology or set of core beliefs?
    • How does the community perceive the churches?
    • Is there an organized non-Christian presence in the community? 
    • What is the history of religion in the community?
So how do these questions relate to us as a church?

An effective strategy for making disciples in our town will demand that we take the time to learn the story of our town from these perspectives.  Investing ourselves in answering these questions is imperative to our strategy.  When we take the time to learn the story of our town perhaps we will begin to see:
  1. We do not need to start a “Christian” version of something or even start something new as much as we need to realize that the institutions of the community are the soil.  The existing institutions are the vehicles of the message.  They already influence every life of every person in our town.
  2. We need to evaluate our personal involvement in the institutions.
    • Who works where?
    • Are we equipping and encouraging our members to make disciples where they work?
    • Are we encouraging and equipping our members to work?
    • What are the connections we have with leaders and influencers in the institutions?
  3. We need to engage in intentional partnership.
    • What can we do as a church to connect with the various sectors of our city?
    • What can we do to make our church (people and ministries) a place in which the various sectors of our city intersect?
    • How can we create a climate of connectivity with Chatsworth and Dalton at Liberty?
  1. Engage the problems in our town with long term solutions that not only change the soil but give people a chance to change.
    • Instead of simply doing things that ultimately ignore the real issues, do things that will consistently involve us in changing the issues.
    • A tent revival or a crusade in town is exciting for a certain audience, but is the audience we are trying to reach going to attend?  Are there any long term “soil” changes that take place if we only choose to use revivals, crusades, etc.?  I am not saying that churches should not hold revivals, crusades, concerts, or other events.  What I am saying is that we must think of ways invest ourselves beyond them.
    • I have heard several times in only a few weeks about how great VBS is at Liberty.  I have also heard that the Hispanic population comes to our campus for VBS week each year, but does not return.  How can we invest ourselves beyond VBS?  What can we do to consistently engage this population of our town?
In order to bring life back to our town we must realize:
  1. There is something in us (enzymes, microbes, etc.) (gospel witness, testimonies, life lived in Lordship) that is the “stuff of resurrection.”
  2. It takes time for change to happen.
  3. We must get into the soil.
  4. There is nothing inherently desirable, glamorous, or enticing about what we must do.    An attractional strategy will not ultimately change the soil of our town.  We cannot think only of how we can get people to come to the church building.  We must think far beyond it.  It will take doing the dirty work for  a long time to change the soil of our town.


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