On Evangelism

“I had a dream the other night, a powerful and interesting dream and
the really frustrating thing about it is that I can’t remember what it was
about. I had a flash of it as I woke up, enough to make me think how
extraordinary and meaningful it was; and then it was gone. And so, to misquote
T.S. Eliot, I had the meaning but missed the experience.

Our passion for justice often seems like that. We dream the dream of
justice. We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world
where things work out, where societies function fairly and efficiently, where
we not only know what we ought to do but actually do it. And then we wake up
and come back to reality. But what are we hearing when we’re dreaming that
dream?”

                                                                 – from Simply Christian by N.T. Wright

An Introduction.

When I hear, speak or in any way
encounter the word ‘evangelism’ a host of thoughts, emotions and pictures come
to my mind. Thoughts of insecurity and inadequacy, emotions akin to my old
friend “fear of man”, pictures of angry and skeptical faces of tapping
strangers on the shoulder, stepping on their toes and leaving them unsatisfied.

And let us notice that, aside from
being the eternal obligator, Jesus is nowhere to be seen.

Now this could be an exposition about
how we need to see evangelism as more of a “gift giving” than a “here are my
beliefs, I hope you don’t choke on them as I shove them down your throat”
experience but today I choose another path. Let’s look at Jesus.

The reader will be reminded, as I have
been several times before, that the word “evangelism” is not mentioned at all in the
Bible. So where does the idea come from? Without giving a concrete definition
of the word, which a better writer/exegesisist would do let’s just say it comes
from God. Evangelism as an idea of outreach, as an idea of spreading the
Gospel, the Good News of the Lord, stems from the fact that our God is one who,
from the beginning, has been in the business of growth. He made plants, animals
and people, all of which grow. He promised Abraham that he would grow him into
a nation, a promise that passed down through his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob
all the way down through Joseph to our friend Jesus who built his church on a
rock and poof! the church.

 

The Church.

Ah, the church. The Body and Bride
of Christ in the world. The Church! The church in whom Jesus has made his
fullness known to the world, in whom God has revealed his manifold wisdom. Ah,
the church. And before I begin to judge too much (where “too much” is any small
amount at all) let us look at Jesus.

One is surprised at how few and
far between in the gospels is Jesus found preaching and preaching alone. More
often than not his teaching comes with healing, whether it be physically, mentally,
socially, spiritually Jesus always seems to want to get all this healing stuff
out of the way so people will just start listening to him! After all, the Good
News is the meat, the substance of Jesus’ mission, his reason for compacting
himself into this tiny, dying, vulnerable vessel we know as a body, right?

Right. Right because the Good News
is what Jesus came to preach.

 

BUT.

The Good News and the healing, the
setting right of what has spun out of control since the beginning of time,
they’re the same thing. The Apostle Paul says that we have been given a
ministry of reconciliation; Josh Harper would call it a ministry of Shalom; and
our Lord himself calls it the Gospel.

Evangelism as invitation is
correct. Completely correct. But what are we inviting our friends, our family,
our neighbors, coworkers and classmates into? The Church.

 

The Church (cont’d.).

For a while now I have been
convicted and convinced that the state of evangelism in the church (i.e.
evangelism, the lack of success in) is directly correlated, and most probably
caused, by the state of our Church, the aforementioned Body and Bride of
Christ. The timeless cry of our Lord is, “How can they call on the one who they
have not heard?” and I am going to go out on a limb and post a corollary to the
question: “How can we invite others to something we do not know?”

Even taken on a simpler, more
superficial level, can we ask ourselves how others can be drawn to Jesus if we
are living lives of scarcity, constant sorrow and depression and tiredness? On
the bright side of this (and it is always bright where light is), people DO
come to seek and to know Jesus and praise the Lord, for it is a miracle that
they do. But the church, the church that is split on bipartisan lines, on
issues of health and wealth, on issues of social justice and social welfare,
what of the church?

We have been given a ministry of
reconciliation, a call to Shalom, to wholeness, to peace, to healing and yet
another question is, can this happen in the world, which does not know who or
what it worships (though there’s no question that it worships something), when
it has yet to happen in the Church, which claims to know God and to be known by
Him?

Acts 2 paints a seemingly
Kinkade-esque picture of spirit filled community. No, I don’t mean
Kinkade-esque as in ugly (sorry if you like his stuff), but as in ideal or
emanating an unrealistic quality. However, with deeper study we find a
community set within the bounds of an oppressive political system, in a
socioeconomic class that most of us are unfamiliar with (i.e. one where there
is need) and likely persecuted by the popular religious structure of the day.
But there is joy, there is joy(!) and, yes you guess it, there is evangelism.

“And the Lord
added to their number daily those who were being saved.” In this simple line,
not even a whole verse, God gives us a hint of what evangelism needs to look
like.

A movement.

In Ephesians, we are told, and
I’ve said this before, that the church is the fullness of Christ, and that the
manifold wisdom of God is to be made known through us. Included in this is the
promise that we have been raised with Jesus over all of the powers and authorities
in the heavenly realms and that the dividing walls of hostility have been
breached, nay, decimated in light of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus,
in what I’m sure was a very awful and awesome example of public speaking spoke
this from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, preaching what some might call
his mission statement:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In the Old Testament, God desired
that Abraham should be a pilgrim, a wanderer in this life because he was rooted
in the next. In the New Testament, Jesus calls those who would follow him to
leave their nets, their families, their livelihood, their old identities to follow
him. The result was that they followed Jesus where the Holy Spirit of God would
lead them. Is it such a reach that God might be calling the church to do the
same?

Often I will ask myself, or I will
hear someone ask why God seems so far away, why a God who is everywhere and who
loves us so much would be silent. But is this really the case? Perhaps God
seems far because we have chosen not to follow. But praise the Lord that there
is Grace. He is never far away, perhaps He is out of sight, but rest assured he
is waiting around the corner for us to just make that one decision that is holding
us back.

The Kingdom
of God is not planted in this world
and as a result may sometimes seem to be moving. This is not an illusion. We
would be mistaken, I think, if we believed that God calls us to just say his
name (though that is often enough) without being people of peace, bearers of
peace proclaiming peace upon the houses of our neighbors and hoping and praying
that it will stay with them.

At IV Large Group Josh Harper gave
a moving account of how God’s people, his church, played an integral part in
the civil rights movement almost half a century ago. How it was a movement
marked by prayer, led by Jesus through the Reverend
Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights movement was not only characterized by
prayer but also by hope. In hope that the power of God might change what human
minds and hands could not and had not for centuries, thousands of people
marched and protested and petitioned and prayed and… And the rest is history.
Before hearing this analogy I’d struggled a lot with what it meant to be placed
at the right hand of Jesus above all the powers and authorities in the heavenly
realms. But there, in that movement of the Lord and his people, to the glory of
God and the praise of His name, it is illuminated, perfectly clear and deeply
moving.

The formula for the success of the
Civil Rights movement was simple. People saw the injustice, people remembered
God’s heart for love and the oppressed, people prayed and acted in the Spirit,
and God moved. Satan fell, the power of God was made known to the powers and
authorities not only on earth but in the heavenly realms as well. In short, we
represented and evil got served.

The call is by no means simple,
but it is even further from impossible. Evangelism is the word of the day, but
it needs to mean so much more than it does now. It needs to mean change,
revolutionary, groundbreaking, earthshaking, boundless change.

Can we be people rooted in the
movement of the Lord? Can we be scientists, doctors, businessmen, teachers,
politicians, retail associates, engineers, academics who seek the healing of
the entire world? The thing is, there are already people out there who seek
just that, people without God who have heard the echo of His voice in their
heads and their souls. They worship what they do not know. Can we join them and love them, come along side them in their passion but with an energy that hopes and is
not daunted by the seeming invincibility of ‘the system’? What light! The hope
is that they might know Jesus not because we handed them a track but because
we, we people who work and toil and laugh and grieve alongside them in our
mission of Shalom, because we are too bright to look at. That they would know
Jesus because they are blinded, not because they are dragged kicking and
screaming, biting and scratching into the faith out of a fear of hell or
because we play fun board games.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and
requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the
saints.
    Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me
so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am
an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

 

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~ by justinhong on October 30, 2006.

20 Responses to “”

  1. but i like board games.

  2. did you write all of that???wow, YESthe good news (freakin’),the kingdom of god,the year of Jubilee,the Holy Spirit,the dreaming of dreamsJesus is wrecking my life, for good.

  3. amen brogood junx… i wish more people at LG during Harper’s talk would understand and get excited about what he was talking about… i’m glad you are rearticulating/redigesting/processing it

  4. sweet.

  5. so loooooong!i’ll read it tomorrow when im bored at work. oh my.

  6. justin i’m a slow reader. i’m on “A Movement” right now. need to get away from xanga asap so i’ll be back to finish reading this..

  7. this is so good. please, please go read this in a church somewhere. read this at CCIC when you get back. it needs to be heard. like you said, the Church cannot invite people to be what we ourselves do not know. before they can be told, we must be told.

  8. =)this makes me happy! what would it look like, if we began to not only proclaim but to LIVE in the reality of God’s kingdom, here on earth?to become the FULLNESS of CHRIST… to the PRAISE of his GLORYlet it begin with us, my friend

  9. justin i read it and im like, so moved im crying at work. i feel like i always cry reading xangas at work. that is so lame.
    seriously though. i love that youre my coach 🙂

  10. Beautiful, my friend. Thanks.

  11. yeah bro. yeah. i want to be captivated (in awe). i want to experience the fullness of the Church. and i want to go. thanks for sharing.

  12. i finished reading justin!! thank you. for this entry =) thank God that there is much excitement in the calling that He’s laid before us.

  13. amen bro. just one thing, and this I believe you already know better than most: it is strange to me how often we come across stories and messages such as these, and we get so fired up at spreading the gospel in the way it was meant to be spread, yet we honestly do not know what it is we are actually sharing. as you say, “we cannot invite people to what we do not know.” and more often than not, we end up thinking we need to change(force!) the way we live and the way we walk as Christians in order to make this (misunderstood) gospel known.but that’s just it isn’t it. by desiring to change the world it seems we are like everyone else with good intentions. but as Lewis puts it, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” the gospel has become connected with changing the way things suck here. and not that that’s in any way bad or misled, but the wisdom of the world wants to change things here, and we forget that the gospel was not meant to save anyone for earthly living, but to open the eyes and hearts of the broken and oppressed to understand the great Love of our Jesus. and i’m finding that’s simply what it comes down to: to be loved by Christ and to make His love known. and the craziest thing about it is, it really just means being loved by Christ, because when we understand God’s deep love for us, the gospel transforms through us and becomes so much clearer. after all, we don’t believe we can change the way we live all by ourselves do we? well, yes, it gets the job done. people get saved. but faith is so much more than just saving isn’t it?thank God for grace.

  14. uhhhhhhhhhh justin. that is LONG. i dont want to read it!!!! cry.

  15. AMEN.

  16. i like it

  17. dang it, it actually did live up to the hype

  18. i read it! =)

  19. p.s. i hate thomas kinkade as well… he’s a filthy crook who makes bad art!

  20. i’m inspired! it’s going to take me more than one reading to fully understand everything! an important thing i got out of urbana and also out of ur words, is to be rooted in the movement of God, as i was telling u earlier. i’m excited that what i want to do later on perfectly parallels w/ God’s desires for me! anyways, i like thomas kinkade. i randomly thought of an idea of how to connect my future aspirations of working with art history with fulfilling God’s call for me, which i specifically don’t know yet but i know it’s gonna be good. :] i know this new year’s gonna be great!i saw a “justin ave” sign and i was gonna take it, but i thought…going to jail just so that my sgl could be temporarily happy? not worth it. sorry.

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