I began this year with a desire to be a better personal evangelist. By God’s grace, I’ve preached the gospel each Sunday I’ve been in the pulpit. But I don’t want my evangelism to be limited to the pulpit; I want to do the work of an evangelist as well. More, not less, proclamation is needed.
So, what’s happening with that desire? Well, I think I’m learning (again!) two vital lessons.
First, desiring something ain’t the same thing as doing something. Not by a long shot. And while I know that sounds like a rather obvious thing to say, in my case it needs saying. Desire has to be translated into specific plans and actions. I’m looking up nearly 30 days after expressing that desire and only once have I personally shared the gospel with someone. Aaaargh!!!
Second, I’m learning again that faithful evangelism requires putting to death the fear of man. Will I ever stop having that halting tightness in my chest? Will those hesitation-inducing thoughts of rejection and offense ever fade away? You know, probably not. I’m likely to always feel some hesitation and some fear of man when it comes to evangelism. But what am I going to do? Not share the greatest news the world has ever received? No. I’m going to remember Romans 1:16, Philemon 6, and Hebrews 10:38-39, and other such texts which encourage, admonish, promise, and guide.
By God’s grace, that’s what happened yesterday on the flight from Memphis. I drove to the airport around 5:30am. Memphis still slept as sputtering rain fell. The route back to the airport placed me on I240, so I had one last opportunity to let the Mustang run hard. She bossed her way from lane to lane, leaving the traffic behind like Secretariat completing the Triple Crown. I eased her into the parking lot at Budget Rental Car, feeling that the company’s name didn’t do justice to this fine machine and feeling sad for riding the Mustang hard and putting her away wet in the morning rain.
Security was easy at the Memphis airport. I dutifully boarded with the other sleepy passengers, quickly put my bag in the overhead compartment and took my seat. A few moments later a young woman asked to take her seat next to me. She carried a large bag (suitcase for the shoulder), a breakfast container and drink, and her iPad with ear phones dangling. I began reading my morning’s devotional on my iPad, secretly hoping I wouldn’t have a conversation but enough peace and quiet to read. Also heard the soft “good morning” of fear of man.
Before long I heard the announcement to turn off all electronic equipment. Still not sure why electronic gadgets cause so much trouble for pilots, I complied. Turned on the overhead light to read my book. But the yellow tint in the dark cabin was useless even when she graciously tried to turn her light in my direction as well. Nothing left to do, we began to talk. Two minutes into the conversation I knew this was an opportunity, but I wasn’t making a commitment. Maybe she was already a Christian? Maybe she would be like so many other passengers who complete the pleasantries and prefer sleep? Maybe the sun would come up or the cabin lights brighten and we’d silently expect the other to turn to their electronics? So many maybes.
But none of those things happened. Instead, she began to talk. Told me of her children. Showed me pictures the first chance she got. Told me the story of meeting her husband. Funny that. He asked a question that changed her career path, which path she retraced with genuine excitement. Told me she was headed to a major city to attend a trade show. Seemed disinterested after I said I had just come from Memphis, preaching at a conference and church. She recounted how she had “grown up in the church” until age 16 when she checked out. Had a couple children out of wedlock and now feels judged whenever she attends a church. That’s partly because she now has four children, her husband has to work most Sundays, and showing up alone with the kids seems to conjure “poor single mother” stereotypes and treatment from church folks. So, instead, she brews her coffee at home and spends Sunday morning watching G. E. Patterson, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. She’s given up on visiting churches, much to the chagrin of a girlfriend who is a serious Christian and keeps offering to accompany her to a church–any church.
By this time we’re landing and the sleepy voice called “fear of man” has fully awakened and he’s giving me every reason why I should just chalk this up to “the time not being right.” After all, we’ve done that a number of times before, he and I.
But we land and have to wait several minutes before we can taxi to our gate. I hear the Lord saying, “Tell her.” I feel inconvenienced by the Lord. I know I need to repent. And so I ask her, “Would you say you know what the gospel is?” She replies without offense and as if we’re old friends now (I remember how often I’m surprised by the fact that my worst imaginings rarely come true when I do share), “No, I can’t say I do. I mean I probably know parts from when I used to go to church.” That saddens me because if she really does watch as much religious broadcasting as she says, it means Jesus isn’t being broadcast as clearly as we’d hope. So I suggest to her that there’s one absolutely crucial thing she should look for in a church: the gospel. Then I ask, would you mind if I took just a couple minutes to explain to you what the gospel is?
She says, “Sure.” We then walk through God-man-Christ-response. I keep glancing to be sure she understands and to take note of any important reactions. When I’m done she says, “I don’t think I have ever heard that before. At least not that clear and simple.” We talk a little more and I gently press her on responding to this news and finding a church where that’s what comes through clearest of all from the pulpit, in conversation with others, and in how folks treat one another.
She sits up with new purpose and says she’s going to look for that kind of church. I recommend Fellowship Memphis among others. She makes a note as we hear the light chime notifying us it’s safe to unbuckle our seat belts, carefully open the overhead compartment because items may have shifted during the flight, and shuffle to our next gate. As we leave the plane she says again, “I’m going to go check out that church.” I say again, “Remember the gospel.” Then we disappear to our respective gates.
I may never see her again, but I believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. Now to share this news more often than once in 30 days! Pray for me please.