From the SBC President's Address to the SBC Executive Committee on September 18, 2006
During the Christmas season, an elderly lady decided that it had become too difficult for her to get out and buy gifts for all of her children and grandchildren. Wanting to continue to be a financial blessing to them, she decided to send money instead of buying gifts. She purchased Christmas cards for all the children and grandchildren and wrote a Merry Christmas greeting as well as the phrase which she included instructing them to "buy your own present this year."
She mailed the cards hoping that this would be an acceptable alternative. However, in January as she was cleaning up her desk, she was horrified to find the checks which she had written to her children and grandchildren. It came to her realization that she had sent out Christmas cards with the instructions for her family to buy their own gifts without including the money for them to buy the gifts!
I believe that we have done the same, spiritually, to our world. We have, in essence, told them to fill the voids in their lives any way they can. Without the Holy Spirit-empowered witness of revived people in revived churches, we have failed our world. We have allowed the enemy to steal our power, thus stealing our witness.
Let's turn to Ezekiel 37:1-14 where we see another horrible battlefield.
The scene is one of complete and utter desolation. No activity is visible anywhere on the landscape. Life is so far removed from the scene that the wind has even blown away the smell of death. Broken spears, wheel-less chariots, rusty swords, and many bones litter the battlefield. The bones are everywhere — they have been bleached by the sun and blasted by the blowing sand. At one time this valley rang with barked military commands. It thundered as the footsteps of soldiers moved into position opposite each other. But now ... silence. The only thing moving is a tattered regimental standard dancing in the wind on the end of a lance.
Suddenly, a man appears looking out over the valley. He, too, is motionless and silent, awed by the lack of life. Then a voice — a voice which at the same time sounds like both thunder and a whisper — breaks the silence and asks the question, "Son of man, can these bones live?" (v.3). Can springtime come when the white death of winter covers the ground?
The kingdom established by David has been destroyed. The bones in the valley represent Israel scattered by its conquerors, the hopes of its people destroyed. If they could have returned from exile to their home country, they would have seen the desolation they felt in their hearts. It was a time of despair.
The question addressed to Ezekiel about Israel is not a question reserved exclusively for the fate of nations. It is a question we ask when something dear, something valuable in our life dies. It is a question for a nation which has lost its moral anchor.
This also is a question for our Convention. Many people have written our Convention off. Many believe it is an archaic, bureaucratic entity which has lost its effectiveness and relevancy.
Listen to me, and listen to me well. I thank God that we had men who stood strong for the Word of God over the years. The battle of inerrancy was one of extreme importance. If it had not been for the battle which was fought and, by the way, won, we would not even be discussing the issues we discuss today.
However, many of us have tunnel vision if we think that is the only issue of importance. The issue which we must deal with now is not just inerrancy, but it is relevancy. Are we relevant in our ministries, our understanding of culture, and in our ability to relate to this world? "Can these bones live?" is a question of relevancy and effectiveness, and to put it spiritually, it is a question about renewal and revival. We must be right and relevant.
Can These Bones Live?
Does a chance for new life exist? It was the question of the exiles after the fall of Jerusalem, and it is our question any time failure, death, disappointment, or sorrow invades our lives.
Most of us know what it means to fail. We know what it means to be disloyal to that which we hold most dear. We know what it means to turn away from our faith and our Lord, failing to live up to commitments we once made.
Think back to when God made Himself known to you for the first time in that powerful, captivating, undeniable way. Think about that instance when God was so real that He burst into your life so powerfully that you felt that you could touch His face. A pure, unblemished love of God controlled everything you did. It burned in your heart and guided your thoughts. It led you through more than one of life's storms.
But when did the fire start to go out? When did you come to the realization that something else now takes first place in your life? When did you realize your faith had grown cold and empty? Now you need to know the answer to the question, "Can these bones live?" You need to know if the dying embers of an unused faith can be stirred to flame again.
Can revival come? Is it really possible?
Answering the Question
How do you respond to the hard questions of God? Before you answer too easily, remember the awful night of Gethsemane and the struggle of Jesus. We need to be sure that we don't make faith sound too easy. For when we do, we know we are wrong. It was not easy for Him, and we are not above our Master.
The answer is not within us. But if we listen, maybe we can hear the word of the Lord. Maybe in His Word we can find the answer. But how can we expect to hear the Word of the Lord when our faith is at low ebb? How can we expect to hear God speak in our loneliness and despair when we feel cut off from all hope? Did Ezekiel expect to hear the Word of the Lord in that valley of death, that wilderness of life? Why should the Word of the Lord speak in a place such as that? There were no ears to hear, no life to respond. Why didn't He send Ezekiel to the Temple or to some other appropriately religious place? Why didn't He send him to throngs of people? Speaking the Word of the Lord in that place was like a television network putting its top-rated show on the air at 3:00 a.m. Who is there to see the show? Who was there to hear the Word?
The testimony of Scripture is that God does indeed speak His Word in the valley of death and the wilderness of life because that is where the people are who most need to hear it. It's in the valley of death and the wilderness of despair where we need to know that dry bones can live again.
Hear the Word of the Lord, not new philosophies, clever teachings, or personal opinions. Jesus Christ is mighty to save. He who conquered the grave can change your life. The One who lives again can make you live for the first time. He can give you new life for today and every day. He can provide courage and perseverance to face the shadows which are darker than the night itself. He can replenish your strength even when you are in the wilderness. He will hold you up even when you feel you can't go on.
I believe that the One who conquered the grave can bring new life back to our Convention and to our churches. I am asking that our Southern Baptist Convention beg God to send His reviving Holy Spirit to:
• Transform our churches;
• Bring us to true repentance and confession;
• Energize our evangelism; and
• Unify us in a cooperative mission task.
Our dried bones can live again! It is the Word of God through Ezekiel in the valley of death. It is the message of the entire New Testament. It is the promise of faith in Jesus Christ.
You ask, "Can these bones live?" And I say to you, "Hear the Word of the Lord. Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is life."
Do you remember the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14? It says: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Did you hear the latter part of that text? The results of revival — God will hear our prayers, forgive our sins, and heal our land. He is the only One who can make the bones live again. That is what revival is all about!
Revival ... Renewal ... Relevancy. These are the three "Rs" for today's SBC!