While I'm sure it's possible to live in this country and avoid the name, it's also unlikely. It's tossed around too much. The name of Jesus is used as profanity, as the punch line of a joke, as justification for our actions, as a source of condemnation, as a blessing, as a curse, as a child's name, as a representation of all that is good and holy, as a synonym for lunacy and foolishness—I'd say it's a very popular name.
Over dinner with a friend the other night we began discussing evangelism—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and she made a comment that really struck me, she said, "They've heard about Jesus, most of them have heard all their lives, now they need to see Him."
For those of you who don't know, I live in East Texas. There are thirty baptist churches in my town. Add to that a dozen Methodist, a handful of non-denominational, a few Church of Christ, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Bible Churches, and I'd say we've got a fair amount of representation for the name of Jesus in Henderson, TX. With that many churches, and exponentially more individual members, a population of merely 11,000 people (such as Henderson has) should be Gospel-saturated, don't you think?
Now, I'm going to be really honest with you, I don't make a very good East Texan. I was not born here, Southern/Republican/Texas pride does not flow strongly through my veins, and I do not see the world through Red, White, and Blue eyes. I struggle with a lot of things living here, but my biggest struggle of all is summed up in those simple words from my friend.
They have heard, but they need to see.
I have told you before that I am very Calvinist-leaning in my understanding of Scripture. Since making that confession I would say the biggest question that I have been presented with is (in a nutshell): If you believe in unconditional election then what incentive do you have to evangelize?
This bugs me on several levels. One, I feel like it puts the emphasis on results rather than motive. If I believe that the salvation of others in contingent upon whether or not I evangelize, and therefore my incentive to evangelize is to save others from hell by sharing the Gospel and winning them for Christ, then I run the risk of A) Measuring my success in terms of results, and B) Boasting in that success as if it were my accomplishment rather than God's. Both of these are slippery slopes. If I measure my success in terms of results, then I become results-driven, so either I am an evangelical super-star or a complete loser. By this model, Isaiah was a loser, as was Jesus. Jim Jones, on the other hand, was a super star. Likewise, if I see success (ie. conversions) as my success rather than God's, then I am taking on the responsibility of changing hearts. Here's what I mean:
I set out to convert, using my knowledge and my words and yes the Spirit's leading, but my obedience to the call. And then I pour Scripture and prayer and hope (and maybe a little propaganda) into this person's life. We share, we laugh, we cry, we scream, and then comes the moment of truth, when I lead this person in a prayer and they accept Jesus into their heart and surrender to Him and begin to walk the Christian walk, and I give them lots of books and maybe some test-a-mints, and a Lifeway gift card and I invite them to come to church with me, and I begin to disciple this person by telling them to "Follow me," and angels rejoice and a rainbow appears in the sky and unicorns run around us and a general sense of warm fuzziness overtakes us both. And this person thanks me, and I smile (humbly) thinking of the illustration I recently heard about rescuing someone from a burning building, and what a beautiful example that was of leading someone to the Lord, and saving them from eternal hell fire. Woohoo. Fist pump. Thank you, Jesus.
Sorry, I get a little carried away when unicorns are involved. My point, sarcasm and smart alecness aside, is that we make ourselves way too important. God does not need us, nor has he given us an equal role in the carrying out of his sovereign plan.
With all of this in mind I am now pondering the "what", the "how", and the "why" of evangelism. What is it, how should it look, and why should we do it? Now, I'm stepping out on a limb here, and daring to think out loud, in hopes that we will generate some discussion today. Read, think, and pray before you pick up your stones.
So, what is it...
Evangelism, in a nutshell, is sharing the Gospel, right? The hang up comes when I step back and realize that the Gospel has been shared, and though many have yet to grasp it and understand it and fall in love with it, it has still been proclaimed. The words have been spoken. But talk is cheap. If you tell me you are passionate about ending extreme poverty, I might respond with admiration for your bleeding heart. I might even vow to get involved. But, if I see you making sacrifices, giving up things you love, devoting your time and energy and resources, to the cause you've claimed to love, that's going to spark more than admiration in me. It's going to spark curiosity. Why would they do that? I will begin to think that this is more than an empty cause, this is something you truly believe in, and that kind of belief is infectious. And I know I'm dancing around the cliche so I'll just say it, actions do speak louder than words. There are not words that can fully convey Jesus to someone. We have to live the Gospel in order to really proclaim it. Which brings us to the "how".
We are here to love, as Christ did, and to point others toward Him, not toward ourselves. Hearts are his job, results are up to him, our job, our blessing, our privilege, is to continue the work that he started— to build relationships, to encourage, rebuke, and disciple one another. To feed the hungry, to help the needy, to reach out to the marginalized. To love big, to love passionately, to love in spite of. To be taken advantage of, to be under appreciated, to be persecuted. To abandon our rights and causes, to be champions of grace, to be servants of people. Our invitation should never be, "Follow me", but rather, "Follow Him". I believe we do this by first, setting down our agendas. Success isn't about the number of converts, because our success isn't about anyone but ourselves. Say this with me, "We are not responsible for anyone but ourselves." So the idea that our help has to be coupled with a sermon and a commitment to good, clean living, and an appropriate level of gratitude shown by the recipient, is (well intentioned) self-centered propaganda. There is a time to speak, and there is a time to shut up and serve, but the motivation behind each should be the same: love.
So why do we do it?
If we really can't change hearts, and it's all predestined, why wouldn't we just spend all of our time behind closed doors, praying and praising God? Why even bother with the rest? If you're asking that question (not just trying to make a point, but really wondering) then you haven't experienced the fullness of life in Christ. We share the Gospel because it spills out of the abundance of our hearts. We share the Gospel because it cannot be contained inside of us, it has to flow out! We share the Gospel because for whatever reason we are the tool that God has chosen to use to spread the message of Jesus Christ. We share the Gospel because that is part of this eternal life that we experience in Jesus. We share the Gospel because God, in his infinite grace and mercy, allows dirty little creatures like you and me to have a role in all of this, when he could just as easily bring us home at the moment of conversion and be no less just for doing so!
And so we set out to serve others. No longer are we focused on the results, instead our mission is simply to love, and we quickly realize that this takes on many different forms. But soon relationships begin to develop, and opportunities present themselves, and questions arise, and we begin to notice little moments when the Spirit is moving in and around us, and guards are let down. But there is no defining "moment of truth", just a progression of life. There are ups and downs, good days and bad, two steps forward and ten back, but through it all there is growth. Ours and theirs. Then comes a day, after months or maybe years, when some of those we've served are now serving along side us. And we praise God, together, because we know that even the setbacks and the "failures" have somehow brought Him glory. We're no longer concerned with understanding the "how", we just surrender to the "why". And through it we begin to see what silly little creatures we are for creating such complexity, when really, in the end, it's simple: Surrender to the Spirit's current, and God will move the mountains.
Woohoo. Fist pump. Thank you, Jesus.