Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Gospel Unleashed

I just put this up at SBCImpact blog and thought some of you might like to see it here.

I sat, just a year and a half ago, with some of the most experienced apostles of our age. They had each been used by our Lord to change whole societies, impacted nations, and discipled hundreds who have in turn reached thousands for the Kingdom. I was eager to impress them, to be accepted, even admired by this group of men. I told a story of my going to a remote village, sharing powerful Bible stories, and moving hardened Muslim villagers to tears. I completed my story and took another bite of lunch expecting approving nods. Before the bread had reached my mouth a hand came across the table and slammed down into the middle of it. ‘Where was the Gospel?’ a man catty-corner across the table cried. ‘I didn’t hear the Gospel in that story!’ ‘Um…. what?’ I replied more than a little alarmed. He went on, ‘The Gospel! You want to tell stories to get people ready for the Gospel, to changed them, but ONLY the Gospel can change them. They can not change until you proclaim the Gospel.’

These words have deeply impacted me and the ministry the Lord has given me. We do over $250,000 of aid work each year (thank you to all who give to human needs funds and the Baptist Global Response). We serve others and I would dare even to say we love others well. But we accomplish nothing until we get to the truth of the Gospel. There is nothing more important. Yet, as I look around at our ministry and so many others like me I see us stopping short again and again. We seem to have so many messages to give. It seems that we have so much truth to share but when it comes to sharing the Gospel itself talking about it doesn’t come naturally. Just yesterday I lamented to a friend that sharing the Gospel would never be a natural thing since it is in fact a supernatural act!

But yesterday put action to my words here. I have been working in the remote village of Anfalas for several years. There, down on a desolate plain over looking Mordor is the poorest village in the poorest country in Middle Earth. Four years ago we saw two couples baptized there and their faith in the face of persecution and trial has been inspiring. But there has been a man there who has puzzled me. His son was miraculously healed 5 years ago. His daughter was likewise healed a couple of months later. He has heard much truth and has seen more of the power of God move in his village and his life than many of us will ever hope to witness. But he would not become a follower of Jesus. He could not because he was an alcoholic. Now, you might say that God could move in his life anyway, he perhaps should become a follower and then worry about giving up alcohol. I agree, but he could not. He knew what becoming a follower of Jesus would mean, he counted the costs and he was unwilling to give up the alcohol or face the persecution of his Muslim community. I saw him for the first time in two years yesterday. We had just prayed for a man with kidney stones and coming out of his house I was greeted by the former drunk. I did not at first recognize him. After greeting him and talking with him for a few minutes I realized that this was the drunk. Except, he was not drunk and had not been drunk for a long time. His face was relaxed, fleshy, and even joyful. His countenance could not be explained solely on the basis of his sobriety. He was a true follower of Jesus and the Spirit on him and in him was evident. He was not afraid to speak of his faith or the divinity of his savior in the presence of the community. We went and sat down to tea in Kili’s house and he told me of his experience.

He knew that Jesus was the truth. He had come to the end of himself and found that he had nothing left. He would not say, I think, that he ‘chose’ to follow Jesus. I don’t believe that he believes he had any ‘choice’ at all. (No, I am not a Calvinist for those wondering). For him there was a long crooked road that led to death and he had followed it almost to the end when he took the only road left to him that did not lead to eternal destruction. I think salvation is always like this but it is very rare to find someone who sees it so clearly. I asked him who Jesus was and he simply said that He was God. He was his God and he would follow him regardless of the consequences. There have already been quite a few consequences. He has been brow beaten and persecuted by the local mullah and his neighbors. He is standing very firm. His wife is overjoyed and can’t wait for them to be baptized together. Oh, and he has a job. He is the accountant for the county government office. How is that for an old alcoholic who hasn’t been able to keep a job for years upon wasted years?

The Gospel is a beautiful thing. When I asked my fellow workers about it they often can not tell me what it is in just a few words. But we must learn. We must strive with everything we have to understand it and explain it as simply and clearly as we can. It is ‘good news’. Now, I know that some people begin their presentation of the Gospel by explaining that there is bad news. We are sinners. Man is by his own foolishness separated from Almighty God. We are a cursed and suffering people. May I say that I have stopped describing this as bad news. It is not. My sister in law went to the doctor a few years ago with chronic back pain. He told her there was nothing wrong and that she would have to ‘live with’ the pain. She did not hear this as good news. She cried for a week. No, the ‘nice’ guy delivers no good news by telling the divorcing couple that they are fine, the alcoholic that God loves him just as he is, nor the homosexual that there is nothing wrong with him. The good news is that all of us ‘feel’ terrible but we were not meant to. It is indeed good news that you are not supposed to be hopeless, helpless, powerless, and joyless. The multitude of addictive behaviors driving you to break every loving relationship you have ever had is not the way you were meant to be. The good news is that God has made a plan and paid a horrific price to rescue you and restore you to His Kingdom. And His Kingdom has come. It is here. It was made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross and transferred bodily to you now by the power of His resurrection from the dead.

This is what we must be about proclaiming. This is the only message that makes a difference to those we have been called to serve. We must never stop short by giving good advice or providing moral guidance. People do not need to be moral, they need Jesus. Let us love them truly and sacrificially. Let us tell the world that we have one message and it is that God’s Kingdom has come and you are all invited. Let us tell them of Jesus clearly and unashamedly. When we can do that we will see many more broken people made whole and stand up as beautiful witnesses to the power of our Lord.

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