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“[John] said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:23-27).

Sal Mattson appropriately died on Good Friday. His legacy is partly captured in the University of Tennessee campus newspaper:

Campus evangelist passes away | The Daily Beacon

If you have not watched (I know the video drags quite a bit but it really is worth watching)  and read the links above, what I say next won’t have near the impact that it should. At least not the impact it had on me.

My brother attended Sal’s funeral. He described it as a joy-filled celebration despite Sal living only 53 years and leaving behind a wife and 5 children. There was much rejoicing over Sal’s homegoing and His Savior. The stories told there magnified what we learn from the links above. He gave his life to preach the Gospel from a sidewalk on the rabidly secular campus of a state institution of higher education. What we might not know is how he was treated by those he ministered to. His eulogists’ shared how Sal was often reviled – cursed, mocked, and even spat on. But he never uttered a harsh word, instead, we are told, he looked lovingly at his nemeses and kept pleading that they hear and believe.

One such account symbolized his self-denying, cross-bearing pursuit of rejecting everything that might hinder knowing and following his Savior. I paraphrase:

“One day a group of students was particularly cruel to Sal, saying and doing terrible things. Profanity laced names were thrown his way and objects were hurled in his direction. One of the group was convicted enough about this injustice that he returned to apologize for the group. And he did. Sal’s response? ‘Thanks, but it’s OK. Let’s talk about your salvation.’ The young man soon professed Christ and returned often to visit Sal as he continued to stand and preach to an unwlecoming audience. The boy sometimes stood by his side in an attempt to deflect the insults and harassment.”

Sal was so committed to evangelism that the weekend before his transition, weighing only about 70 pounds and moving in and out of consciousness, he telephoned his father-in-law to share the Good News. I’m sure that the man’s profession of faith was a very powerful and meaningful going away present for the dying evangelist. Think about it – the last task Sal Mattson accomplished was to share the Gospel and hear a loved family member say “yes” to Jesus.

And when was the last time we told someone about our Savior? Would that be the most important thing on our mind as we were wasting away with cancer and our death imminent?

I wish I were more like Sal Mattson than I am. Really, I desire to be more like Jesus – for He truly is the ultimate example for Sal, for me, and for you. So often we sit in our comfortable pews, we serve on our committees, we attend our Bible studies and “Christian concerts,” we blog, we give back a portion of God’s provision, we pray, we read our Bible…we do most of “the right things.” But do we give ourselves? All of ourselves…like Sal did. To Jesus and others, that is. More importantly and clearly, do we give like Jesus did? 

So I think it only fitting we conclude this tribute to Sal and his Savior with Christ’s own words. I think they are quite appropriate:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Please know we can only live like Sal did, and like Jesus wants us to, when empowered by Him and His Word and not through self-effort alone. We must be compelled by loving Christ because we know He first loved us, and how much that cost. So, in the end, it is not Sal or us who gets the glory…it’s the Savior. And I’m convinced Sal would have it no other way.

…a continuation of the previous post . 

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

Fifth, our going and making disciples is vitally linked to Christ’s presence with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. This leads to a critical and profound question: Do we go because of His presence or do we more fully experience His presence when we go? I would answer, “Yes!” His presence in us compels us to go and share and disciple. But, simultaneously, the more we do these things the more, it seems, we experience intimacy with Him. What a beautiful continuum: We go because He is in us, in our going we experience a greater sense of His presence, and this intimacy and fellowship with our Savior motivates us even more to go and disciple. Understand, He goes both before us and with us as we live out His commission to see true Gospel transformation. “The LORD your God is with you. He is mighty to save…” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV). It is good for us to be reminded of Moses’ words in Exodus 33:15 (NIV): “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us…”

Number six is that the tactical process to deploy the Gospel to all nations is found first in the word, “Go.” This could be translated “as you go” – as you go to the store, to work, to church, on vacation, etc. This denotes a lifestyle of leaving the fragrance of the Gospel as a trail-finder everywhere we journey. Another feature in the game plan for expanding God’s kingdom is that the spread of the Gospel starts at home (Jerusalem) and moves out (until it reaches the ends of the earth). Let’s not gloss over this. We all have a Jerusalem (work, family, neighborhood, circle of friends, etc) and we are called to go there first. The harvest is ripe in our own sphere of influence. Although we are to promote global missions we are not to do so at the expense of the harvest outside our front door. I would even venture to say that one of the greatest mission fields in America can be found in church pews on Sunday morning. 

And last, although not explicitly mentioned in these two texts, I believe that prayer must undergird all going and making of disciples in the name of Jesus. Although this includes praying for missionaries it also means that we must have prayer-saturated lives in order to most effectively carry out the command to spread His life-transforming Good News. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 4:2-6 is pivotal on this point. In the context of sharing the Gospel, Paul taught the church at Colossae to devote themselves to prayer and even asked that they pray specifically for him as he sought opportunity to articulate the Good News. This more than suggests that we need to pray for ourselves and others as we seek to make this mandate a Great Commission (not omission) in our lives, the lives of others, and throughout the church universal. 

So I will leave you with the words of Jesus Himself. Words that, when combined with the texts we have studied, should give us a sense of urgency to go, share, and make disciples for His glory: 

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38). 

May each of us fervently and consistently pray this prayer and know that we are undoubtedly one of the laborers called to go, share, and disciple in the field where God has placed us. May it never be said that we are the omission in The Great Commission.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

These passages are so familiar to most Christ-followers that we have become numb to their significance and relevance. So I’d like to visit these passages with the idea of showing how many (myself included) have become desensitized to Christ’s command to go to all the world. I think you will see along the way why so many have called our reaction to this mandate as “The Great Omission.” 

First, let’s see that this was a personal dictate. Jesus didn’t say, “they will go.” No, Jesus “came near” (HCSB) to them and said, “[You] go!” Can you envision the scene? He huddled with them to lay out them the game plan for the expansion of His church and kingdom. And it was a personal command. They, and us by extension, are summoned to go. This is not to overlook that we are called to go in community and as the church universal, but it’s so easy to just write a check to a local or foreign missions group (and I praise God for them) or consider the church where we give a portion of the money God has generously given us to be a “missions-minded” church. But this does not exempt any of us from personally going and making disciples. We must not let our giving to (or praying for) missions replace the individual “good news journey” that’s to be an integral part of our daily lifestyle (more on that later). 

Second, this command is to be done with His power. It is His authority that makes our going come alive. It is not our own power that we go with. As ambassadors of Christ we go with His Kingly approval and authority. We must not think that there is anything else but His boundless energy that brings life-changing transformation to those who hear His Word. Though often times weary and weak in our calling to go and tell and train, we must be dependant upon Him and rely on His limitless resources to empower our going and sharing. If it is from us or about us, it is ultimately destined to fail. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 

Third, we see the purpose of our going. We are to make disciples not just “converts.” Our goal (as is His) is to see people radically transformed by the Gospel. This is not just about counting those that raise their hands during an invitation, pray a scripted prayer, are baptized, or become “church members.” This is about people fully embracing His calling to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) and “take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow (absolutely surrender to) Jesus (Luke 9:23). This is where evangelism and discipleship must merge (as if they were ever designed by God to be different, segregated functions).

Which leads us to the fourth point – the practice that is part of making disciples. This practice is a lifestyle of obedience. Disciples, according to Jesus, are to observe all (not some) of His commands. They see Him not just as Savior but as Master and Lord of all aspects of their lives and being. Discipleship is not just intellectual assent to who Christ is but also capitulation to His Lordship and obedience to His commands. As John Calvin once said, “We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone.” This, in a sense, is an extension of the 3rd point. But, given the cultural landscape (Watchman Nee described American Christianity as “three thousand miles wide but only one inch deep”) we can’t overemphasize that our call is to see people drawn to the light of Christ and live in it. And this synergistically leads to multiplication and exponential growth in going and making other disciples. 

…to be continued in the next post.

*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.  

I’m always amazed when I consider what the early church did without. How, for example, was the early church able to function without ecclesiastical hierarchy? I can find no popes, bishops, presidents, vice presidents, or directors mentioned in the book of Acts; and while congregants trusted the leadership of the apostles, they didn’t seem to require a complex organizational chart to know who was responsible for what. Further, I see little proof of any committee that “organized’ the events at Pentecost (Acts 2), and I’m astonished by the absence of a “Committee on Committees” to oversee each house church’s evangelistic efforts and to keep all groups in check. When I heard of one modern church that named a Minister of Conflict Resolution, I thought, I bet Peter never considered appointing one of those! Soon after, I found myself wondering how the early church managed to win any souls for the Lord without modern “helps” in place. What I discovered changed the way I think about evangelism. 

Devoid of top heavy structure, the early church seemed to rely on an abundance of supernatural gifts and spontaneity to bring people to Christ. They didn’t need business administrators and marketing and advertizing campaigns. No one printed informational fliers and advertizing slicks to draw new people in. Congregants were unconcerned that they would run over budget or need to get the masses to pledge funds for an upcoming building program or to secure construction loans. They didn’t worry about the color of the carpet or whether or not stained glass would be most appropriate. Instead, they trusted God to provide for their needs and to draw people to Himself. 

One would think that the early church would need some type of church growth program to make sure they were on track for global evangelism. But they didn’t think to survey the crowds in the street that had gathered to celebrate Pentecost, and they weren’t particularly concerned with the advice of the latest pop-psychology guru or the throng’s “felt needs.” In fact, the early believers didn’t consider a seeker sensitive approach at all because they realized that “no one seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Given their lack of sophistication, then, one would predict only church growth futility among the first circles of believers. Instead, exponential growth quickly made Christianity a force to reckon with on the world stage. 

But what did the early church do without technology and media? There was no television, radio, God Tube, e-mail, tapes, DVD’s, or MP3’s to use to help new believers get connected and to grow in Christ. In fact, communicating the gospel used to happen primarily via personal relationships in which the Jewish Scriptures and some poorly circulated letters were shared (See Romans 10:17). The early church did without big-screen televisions. Yet even without high definition pictures and quality surround sound, people grew infatuated with the pure gospel and dedicated themselves to life-style evangelism.  

Many modern believers consider church without entertainment antiquated, yet the early church went without. Thespians, comedians, performers, and paid musicians are so commonplace now—worship and music style of a church ranking among the top three reasons that contemporary folks choose a church. No one within the original group of believers, however, had the creative vision of using a rock band called “Peter’s Call” to draw an amusement-infatuated crowd. Surprisingly, the early church cared little about crowd-pleasing; a fact highlighted by their obvious lack of Starbucks coffee and donuts to help congregants begin their day. But in spite of the early believer’s adherence to the archaic concept of drawing people to Christ through a culture of Christ-centered community, neighborly love, and the communication of transforming truth, the early church exploded with growth!  

Acts 2:40-41, 47 reports, “With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The Lord was adding to his church by the thousands and doing so daily! Amazing! Obviously the church of Acts was prospering without all of the ministry tools to which we have become so accustomed and dependant. 

The tools that the contemporary church uses are not inherently wrong or unscriptural (and may, when rightly used, be helpful), but the early church’s approach was quite simple and had few moving parts. Listen to the description of their message:  

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:36-38). 

The early church had the supernaturally and exponentially powerful combination of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit at work on their side. I believe we are also capable of thriving in our modern churches should we choose to seek an extra measure of both and relinquish a few of our trappings in the process. It may be that many of our outreach tools have become a very poor facsimile for what we must promote and pursue: Jesus Christ. We must remember that the message our churches should send is that He is all we really need.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:9).

Bible-thumping on Bourbon Street at night barred by ordinance

Have you ever been to the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana? I have on several occasions. Many a business conference has taken me there due to the city’s bizarre drawing power. Bourbon Street is central to the city’s pull on tourists and social rubberneckers. Why? Because, after traveling a large part of these United States, it is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Sodom and Gomorrah in America (Las Vegas and Key West are a pretty close 2nd). Bourbon Street can be likened to observing a hedonistic car crash – even the purest of heart have difficulty keeping their gaze from the titillating and ostentatious sinfulness and drunken revelry. And the air reeks of the musty, dark odor of voodoo shops, “adult” venues, and alcohol induced vomit.

So what is the city’s answer to the environment that has encouraged the ruin of many lives and souls? Ban the Bible. Never mind the first amendment – let it be noted that every lifestyle known to man (civilized or not) is vociferously promoted and proclaimed on that street. It will both amaze and frighten you. But no Bible…no evangelism? Why don’t we just let the place melt into a pillar of salt? Because God apparently doesn’t want that. And the Bible suggests this.

The most amazing thing to me about the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah is God’s patience and grace, not His eventual devastation of that perverse and vile city. Read the story for yourself. You can find it in Genesis 18–19. We all know about the judgement and destruction that marks the end of the saga but often forget that Abraham sought God’s mercy on that scandalous town. And God did relent until it became obvious that the townsfolk would not repent. For there weren’t even 10 righteous men to be found there. But I want to leave you with the part that, as I mentioned before, most impressed me – God’s patience and grace. Maybe they should influence the way we view places like New Orleans and the sad and hopeless people who endlessly and godlessly party on its streets:

“The men turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people who are in it? You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” The Lord said, “If at Sodom I find 50 righteous people in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham answered, “Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord-even though I am dust and ashes- suppose the 50 righteous lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” He replied, “I will not destroy [it] if I find 45 there.” Then he spoke to Him again, “Suppose 40 are found there?” He answered, “I will not do [it] on account of 40.” Then he said, “Let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak further. Suppose 30 are found there?” He answered, “I will not do [it] if I find 30 there.” Then he said, “Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord, suppose 20 are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy [it] on account of 20.” Then he said, “Let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak one more time. Suppose 10 are found there?” He answered, “I will not destroy [it] on account of 10.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, He departed, and Abraham returned to his place” Genesis 18:22-33, HCSB).

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith…” (1 Timothy 4:1).

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the falling away comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

As disheartening and shocking as it is, this USAToday article is a must read. It paints a very tragic portrait of the secularization and “lostness” of the country in which we live. And it breaks my heart. Read for yourself:

For many, ‘Losing My Religion’ isn’t just a song: It’s life

This piece reveals a vivid and ugly picture of the practical atheism that is pandemic in America. These unbelievers are euphemistically labeled as “apatheists.” The Bible would describe them asseparated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of [God] and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). 

Some snippets and statistics from this troublesome article:

“The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal,” says Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.

“We live in a society today where it is acceptable now to say that they have no spiritual curiosity. At almost any other time in history, that would have been unacceptable,” Budde says.

“This is a disaster for Christians, says Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, “If you’re not worried about heaven, you won’t notice or care if Jesus is essential your salvation. You’re not thinking about any consequences,” McConnell says.  

Here are some appalling numbers, figures that should launch us into an impassioned crusade of Gospel proclamation and disciple-making that Jesus mandated in His Great Commission:

•44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19% said “it’s useless to search for meaning.”

•46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

•28% told LifeWay “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.” And 18% scoffed that God has a purpose or plan for everyone. 

To further accentuate the dire nature of these numbers, hidden beneath these statistics are those who believe in God (or religion) but not the God of the Bible. These include various religions and belief systems outside of and even opposed to traditional Christianity (Islam, Buddhism, etc.).

Do we see these folks? Clearly they are all around us. We can find them where we work, at the store, in our neighborhood, and maybe even at church. USAToday makes it crystal clear they can be found everywhere in our culture. But are we really looking for them? This should serve as a siren’s warning and a powerful motivator to all who claim the name of Christ and profess to follow Him. Do we care? Do we care about those who don’t care, those who give no thought to the things of God and eternal matters? Do we love Him, and them, enough to tell them the truth and share with them the hope and joy found only in Jesus? I pray we do. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). And folks, that means us!

As uncomfortable as it is, I must close with a warning from the Apostle Peter. Why? Because it is the Word of God. It is true and must be said. Take heed, God has spoken and it will come to pass. Therefore, if you aren’t trusting and resting in the assurance and hope that is found only in surrendering by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, I plead with you to look at Him and look to Him, admit your sin, and cast yourself upon His mercy.

“…by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:1-8).

We just returned from a vacation in Rome, Italy. Since then we have often been asked, “What did you do in Rome?” I’ve been sarcastically responding, “We did as the Romans do.” Which begs other questions like: Where did this saying come from and what does it mean? Additionally, what is the spiritual application for us?

This saying is originally attributed to St. Ambrose in 387 A.D. Here’s the story behind it: When St. Augustine arrived in Milan, he observed that the Church did not fast on Saturday as did the Church at Rome. He consulted St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” The use of the proverb in English isn’t recorded until much later – well into the Middle Ages.  The comment was changed then to “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done.” Later Robert Burton used a variation of the phrase in his Anatomy of Melancholy. This work was first published in 1621. Burton makes oblique reference to the saying, without using it explicitly when he writes: “…like Mercury, the planet, are good with good, bad with bad. When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done, puritans with puritans, papists with papists.” Eventually it became, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

And its meaning? Essentially, it is polite, and possibly also advantageous, to abide by the customs of a society when one is a visitor. It does not suggest compromise of beliefs or values but implies being flexible to certain ways of doings things that are common or unique in a particular culture. Today missiologists are involved in a practice called ethnographic research which is defined, per Wikipedia, as: “a scientific research strategy often used in the field of social sciences, particularly in anthropology and in some branches of sociology, also known as part of historical science that studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their ethnogenesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture.” For the purposes of evangelism, it is the study of a culture, and its people, so that the presentation of the Gospel can be adapted (not compromised) based upon the societal nuances and customs of a certain people group.

So what is the application? Let’s look at Paul’s thoughts on this in his letter to the church at Corinth:

“For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.  For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1
Corinthians 9:17-23).

Paul here is saying that he is willing to adapt to particular styles and customs, as long as they do not compromise the purity of the Gospel or his being “under the law of Christ,” in order to facilitate the proclamation of the Gospel. With this in mind, let’s take note of some key points that should impact the way we engage those of different backgrounds with the Good News of Jesus:

  • We are stewards of the Gospel. This is of great significance and worthy of our full attention. What a great responsibility this is!
  • Our Gospel commission demands that we have a servant posture towards all. Adapting to cultural differences in deference to our own style preferences amplifies our message.
  • The goal of “doing as the Romans do” is that we might reach (win) some for the glory of the Gospel, not for the sake of adapting alone.
  • Our efforts are for the sake (glory) of the Gospel, and the God of the Gospel, not personal acclaim or gain.
  • The Gospel we proclaim is a message of unfathomable blessings – which gives us an even greater impetus to share and share in the context of our audience’s culture.

So what is your “Rome?” Is it your neighborhood or “the hood” in your city? Is it a foreign land or a co-worker that speaks in broken English? Wherever it is, may we put our prejudices and preferences aside as true servants of Christ. And go with the pure Good News, for the sake of the blessed Gospel, and for the glory of the God of the Gospel.

The title of this post is an actual quote from a mega-church pastor in Minnesota. I’m not making this up. Really. Here is the link that my good friend Don sent me about this church’s attempt to “contextualize” (sometimes defined as snycritizing the world’s methods with the Gospel – something that has plagued the church since its origin) –

To further verify the authenticity of this shameless outrage, here is the complete article (I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve taken this out of context):

Church lures worshippers with TVs, Nintendo

ELK RIVER, Minn.– “The Crossing Church in Elk River has many seats to fill Easter weekend and they have a very unique way of doing it. They are bribing people with 3D televisions and Nintendo 3DS portable video game consoles.

“I have no problem bribing people with crap in order to meet Christ,” Pastor Eric Dykstra said.

The bribes maybe working. While other churches are struggling with attendance Crossing has grown from just 200 people to more 3,000 in just six years.

There is hope their $8,000 giveaway this weekend will bring in more. But Dykstra says the prizes are more than just gimmicks. They are tools to get people in the door.

“It’s awkward to say ‘hey come to my church.’ It just feels weird and you don’t want to twist somebody’s arm so to kind of alleviate some of that weirdness what we’ve done is said hey if you bring your friend to church they might potentially win a 3D television, a 3DS or a 3D movie ticket package,” Dykstra said.

Dykstra expects between 5,000 to 6,000 people to attend their Easter worship service.”

Are we shocked? I don’t think we should be at all. So this is what “church growth” has come to? Of course it is. This example is just more avant-garde than most. Many institutional churches are subtly luring folks with something other than Christ, the cross, and His Word. If these are the tools being used to attract people I’m curious what they do to keep them…a new car? If so, I’m signing up!!! Let’s be honest, most Americans prefer earthly “crap” over the cross – especially when they are called to take one up daily and follow Jesus to death (Luke 9:23).

Ok, I know this is an extreme case but it is also one that should raise our spiritual antennas. Without giving detailed examples (I’m resisting the temptation to do so), do we not see more of this dangerous trend the Americanized (and consumerized) version of the 21st century visible church? Think about it! What do many churches use as methods and tools to attract the masses in the name of a “throw enough against the wall and some of it will stick” evangelistic philosophy? Have we not grown many “churches”  with something other than the power of the Word, the cross, and the unction of the Holy Spirit? Actually, the better question may be: “Have we programmed Jesus and His Spirit right out of the way we proclaim the Gospel, experience authentic church growth, and do discipleship (which has become a forgotten practice, by the way)?

Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Now I know that this quote primarily refers to the manner and power of His death but, forgive me, I am inclined to spiritualize this verse based upon our subject. At the risk of upsetting most all theologians and Greek scholars, let me radically (and, to the purists, probably incorrectly) paraphrase this statement for my purpose here as, “If the church lifts up Christ above earthly things, God (not us) will draw men to Jesus and His saving power.”  OK, that is not exactly what Jesus may have had in mind, but is it not the truth? Paul, with his ubiquitous missional mindset, seemed to think so when he said:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Should this not be our focus? Or should we just give earthly “crap” away or water down what the church and the true Gospel is really about in the name of the greatest treasure imaginable, Jesus, and call it evangelism and church growth? Which do we think would most glorify Him?  Which would we think be of the most kingdom value? The church, after all, is not just a place for a wonderful family time or entertainment that is a poor facsimile of the world’s offerings. Nor is the true Gospel exclusive of Christ’s lordship.

Back to the TVs and video game consoles this pastor thought to be suitable tools to “bribe people” to come to a service. My always insightful friend Don (and the original source of this blog), reminding me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:20, made this sage comment: “After you get the new flat screen TV, you have to give it to the poor” (Mark 10:21). I wonder if that scriptural principle was considered in this “church growth methodology” (a concept which I find to be somewhat oxymoronic). Amen, Don – your treasure is in Heaven! And so is mine – His name is Jesus.

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison– that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3-4). 

Before we start thinking that in the previous verse (4:2) Paul is seeing prayer only as a tool to have our personal wants and needs met, he now gives us a great priority in our praying; for the gospel to be spread. A dear friend of mine and faithful follower of Jesus once told me, “I don’t really get it but when I pray amazing things happen. When I don’t, nothing does!” Not being able to completely understand and certainly not adequately explain the nuances of the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, I will leave this text as is. Paul calls each of us to pray for open doors for the God’s word and clarity in declaring the message of Christ our Savior. Which causes me to wonder: When was the last time we have done this? And when was the last time we heard a public prayer that was a cry to God for the advancement of the gospel message in powerful clarity? 

In language we can all identify with, it was not uncommon for Paul to describe opportunities to share Christ as an “open door” (see Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; 2 Corinthians 2:12). Being that these opportunities are precious, Paul says we should beseech God that the doors of evangelism be open wide. One of the great purposes in prayer is the privilege of looking to God for the spread of His kingdom. Jesus, in the model prayer, said to His Father, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). In His divine plan God has decreed that our prayers would be instrumental in reaching a lost world with the message of Jesus’ redemption and hope. This is why we see Paul asking for the church to lift its voice to their Lord and ask that He grant His sovereign leadership in the proclamation of the mystery of Christ and the empowerment of His messengers (see 2 Corinthians 1:11). 

Paul also sees prayer as necessary given the spread of the gospel and the preaching of the true message of salvation in Christ have obstacles. Paul is in chains because of his mission of hope. He knew prayer helps to fortify us as we swim against the broad, strong current of a culture that is destruction-bound (see Matthew 7:13-14). There is conflict and resistance in our crusade to proclaim the name of Jesus because, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This why Paul here describes the message we share, the good news of Jesus as, “the mystery of Christ.” Those who are spiritually blind, deaf, and dead in their trespasses and sins naturally erect barriers to the message of the gospel. Our prayers are involved in unleashing the power of God in overcoming these challenges. 

But Paul doesn’t want our prayers to open doors for just any kind of word being spoken about Jesus. It is not a false gospel that we should pray to be spread. Paul wants the mystery of Christ to be clearly and rightly proclaimed. In our contemporary Christian culture we hear and see many things called “the gospel.” But much of it is false, misleading, and deceptive. With the goal of increasing their own followers, many distort the pure truth of God’s message of salvation into an ethnocentric, therapeutic, and carnal journey of self-discovery and self-enrichment. But following Jesus is about dying to self, bearing the cross, sacrificing, loving indiscriminately, and serving selflessly. It is about treasuring Him above all things. This is the type of gospel Paul wants our prayers to plead for; one of clarity, power, and biblical truth. 

Again, I do not totally understand why God has chosen to use our prayers in His sovereign act of grace in saving sinners. I do know that, in the end, His redemptive work is accomplished by His own power alone and due to no merit or effort on our part (see John 1:12-13). Yet we are called to pray for open doors for the spread of the gospel in clarity and truth.  Based upon His word, we are to be just as persistent, watchful, and thankful in our prayers for Christ-exalting evangelism as we are for our own personal needs and wants (see Colossians 4:2).

Is this our prayer? How often do we passionately plead with God that His clear message of the gospel be proclaimed and doors be opened for His truth? I know for me, it’s high time that evangelism be put at the top of my prayer list, that I pray for the lost to receive the message and it be confirmed in them by the Holy Spirit. It’s also time I pray more often for those whose “beautiful feet” share this greatest of all messages (Romans 10:15). May we also pray that God would use us as well, that we be His faithful instruments in the expanse of His kingdom and the calling of the Great Commission (see Matthew 28: 18-20). That as we go doors will be opened. And that our going will be saturated in His authority, presence, and power.

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