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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.

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:7-17).

I write a blog. God be praised, will probably be hit nearly 14,000 times this year. I pray it is a platform for the sweetness of grace and the strength of truth. Both are necessary. I also read a lot of Christian blogs and realize it is so easy for this medium (or any other) to slant in either direction. There are times we should be “prophets” (as in exhorting) but do so with grace. At other times we need to be encouragers while never compromising the truth. It’s a  difficult balance and one can only discern the difference based upon what is in the communicator’s heart. I pray my motives are compelled by the objective truth of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12) and my convictions are shared with both sweetness and strength. And when I fail to do this, I ask God and my readers to forgive me.

I find, however, some (it is the minority) of what I read (and maybe write) to be angry and incendiary in tone. In the name of, “This is my prophetic gift” or “This is motivated by the Spirit,” too much of what I read seems to be an attack and intentionally (or subconsciously) malicious. Frequently I find “grating words that come from gaping wounds.” And they seem to be derived from professing Christ-followers and directed at the institutional church. Yes, I have major issues with the abuse and misdirection that can be found in the organized church and I have been quite vocal about what I see and hear that doesn’t line up with Scripture. And what I say may be spot-on and even painfully truthful. But if written with a spirit of vengeance or self-absorbed anger it can be both unhealthy and unholy.

Both grace and truth are part of the proclamation of the Gospel and a true exposition of the Scriptures. But when it is building up? And when is it tearing  down? God’s Word consistently affirms that our motive should be to build up, even if, on the surface, it appears harsh or overtly critical. Tearing down, in and of itself, more reflects the style of the world and the flesh than God-inspired, love-compelled edification. Here are but a few examples of the Bible’s clear message that our ultimate goal for Christ’s church, in all communication, is to be building it up and not tearing it down:

  • “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit,  strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 4:12). 
  • “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord
    has given me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Corinthians 13:10).
  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who      hear” (Ephesians 4:29).  
  • “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for
    building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

In Ephesians 4:7-17 Paul indicates there are certain benchmarks that allow us to know if we are building up instead of tearing down. Let’s restate some of them and ask ourselves; Are these things the impetus behind what I say or write?

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry…

…[to] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…

…to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…

…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

…[so that] each parts working properly, [which] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” 

I know, for me, this is worth pondering and praying over. Because I believe God would have us to communicate with the sweetness of grace and the strength of truth but do so with graciously building up His church as our ultimate motive.

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