Friday, June 22, 2007

What a Joy!

A good friend of mine recently made an interesting observation. He told me that I often write about the "how" and the "what" of evangelism; but I rarely write about the "why" of evangelism. In other words, I write about how to do evangelism. I write about what happens when I do evangelism. But I rarely talk about why I do evangelism. It was a very profound and accurate observation my friend made.

It's late. It's quiet. So, indulge me, if you will, as I think aloud while my fingers move across the keyboard. Why do I do evangelism? Why am I an evangelist?

Before I share what is really on my mind, let me begin by stating the obvious, lest anyone conclude that I think evangelism is about me. It's not about me. It's about Jesus Christ and the people He wants to save.

I am involved in evangelism because my God has commanded me (and every other believer) in His Word, to preach the gospel to lost souls (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15). I am involved in evangelism because I want to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). I am involved in evangelism because I want to be an imitator of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus had/has compassion for people, and so should I (Matt. 9:36). And I am a worker in His harvest (Matt. 9:37-38). God has given some as evangelists (Eph. 4:11). It took me fifteen years to realize that I am counted among the "some." God is still showing me what that really means.

So, now that I've given you, the reader, a theological answer to the question, allow me to give you a more personal answer--one that meanders back and forth across the fine line separating the natural and the spiritual. Why am I an evangelist? For the joy.

I remember the first time I stepped onto a stool to open-air preach. My team consisted of me, my wife, and my youngest daughter. I was so scared that it took me an hour just to get up enough courage to send my wife and daughter out to gather a crowd for me. Within minutes, a group of 40-50 people, mostly teenagers, were gathered around me. Having spent four days in South Central Los Angeles, during the riots of 1992, at that moment I would have taken the riots over standing atop that stool.

My knees shook. My voice cracked. My memory seemed to connect and disconnect on its own, with absolutely no regard for my nerves. However, I survived. And I preached the Law and the Gospel to a crowd of unsaved people. When I finished preaching and stepped off the stool, instead of dissipating, the crowd drew closer. They wanted to hear more! Granted, it doesn't always happen that way. But it did that day.

What a joy it is to preach the Law and the Gospel, in the open-air! Am I a little nervous each time I step onto the stool? Yes. Do I experience the fear of the unknown and the fear of man when I open-air preach? Yes. But what a joy it is to feel the electricity in the air. What a joy it is, even through a crowd of hecklers and scoffers, to notice every once in a while, a few heads in the crowd nodding in agreement with what I am saying.

What a joy it is to have a front row seat and watch as the Law of the Lord, rightly applied, does its work on the hearts of arrogant, unregenerate people who, up to that moment, had placed all of their trust in their own intellect. What a joy it is to feel the almost peaceful stillness in the air as people cling to the message of the cross and God's amazing grace.

"Does that concern you?" It's the question I most often ask people once I have taken them through the Law and brought them to the understanding that if they were to die at that moment and stand before the holy and righteous God, He would find them guilty of breaking His Law and sentence them to eternity in Hell. "Does that concern you?"

"Yes." It is the most common answer I receive. What a joy it is to watch as hearts that were as hard as bricks only minutes earlier, melt like wax. The arrogant and confident facade is stripped away to expose a person filled with uncertainty who can no longer, with any intellectual integrity, put any confidence in their own flesh. Oh, what a joy it is to hear someone say, "I don't want to go to Hell."

Tears. It is not uncommon to see the eyes of the person with whom I am speaking well up with tears as they hear what God did so that, if they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, they will not have to spend eternity in Hell. What a joy to see a look in people's eyes that says, "Is it really possible that God loves me that much? Did He die on the cross for me?"

"You mean He is still alive?" I will never forget the evening when a young man asked me that question. I had taken him through the Law and I had begun to share the gospel with him. When I began to talk about the resurrection of Christ, he stopped me, leaned forward with eyes opened wide, and asked, "You mean He is still alive?"

I could feel my pulse quicken as I tried desperately to hide my shock. I was sharing the gospel with someone who had never heard about the resurrection of Jesus Christ! What a joy it was to be the first person to tell him this wonderful news. I love it when people tell me that they have no idea what God did to provide the only way for man to escape His holy wrath. In those instances, God allows me to plant the very first spiritual seeds into the soil of that person's heart. What a joy!

Most of the time (as the above picture indicates), evangelism is simply a lot of fun. I get to meet interesting people from every conceivable walk of life--young, old, and everywhere in between. Every time I engage a stranger in conversation and get past "hello," I prove that it only takes a few moments (not days, weeks, months, or years) to establish a relationship with a person. (Another word for "relationship" might be "rapport.") More often than not, if I am friendly with people, they are friendly with me. Even if they do not like what I have to say, they enjoy the conversation. What a joy it is to serve God by refuting the negative misconceptions many people have about Christians, by simply being nice to people and caring enough about them to warn them about the wrath to come and to share the gospel with them.

"No one has ever talked to me this way." What a joy it is to hear a person say that. Sadly, it is not uncommon to hear this statement uttered by people who regularly attend Christian churches. Many such people are teenagers that hang out at malls on the weekends who admit that they are regular participants in "youth ministries." They've heard about Jesus, but no one has ever told them about the consequences of their sin and the dangers of false conversion. What a joy it is to use the Law of God to help someone see that they are not a Christian, without ever having to point an angry finger at them and say, "You're not a Christian." It's a joy to see people come to that realization through the honest assessment of their own lives, as their consciences are pricked by the Word of God.

"That was amazing. My church should be doing this." What a joy it is to meet other genuine followers of Christ, on the streets. Whenever I open-air preach or engage in one-to-one conversations on the streets, it is not uncommon for me to be approached by Christians who happen to be in the area. Typically, the first words out of their mouth are, "Wow! I've never seen anything like that!" Now, keep in mind, they are not talking about me. They are talking about what they had just seen and heard.

What a joy it is to be able to encourage other Christians to actively engage in evangelism--to assure them that if I can do it, they can do it. In the end, we do what we care about. And if we care about unsaved people dying and going to hell, we will do whatever we can, whenever we can, to reach them with the Law and the Gospel.

I try to keep an ample supply on hand of Ray Comfort's CD messages, Hell's Best Kept Secret and True and False Conversion. I give these away to Christians and professing Christians (false converts) whenever I have the opportunity to do so. Then I encourage Christians to give the CD's to their pastors--the hope being that, if they are not already, their pastors will engage in, teach, and encourage others to be involved in biblical evangelism.

I thank God for those among the present generation who get it! What a joy it is to teach teenagers how to share their faith. I teach a 10-week Way of the Master class each semester, for junior high and high school students who are homeschooled. It's an absolute blast to see kids go from being introverted and fearful when it comes to evangelism, to sharing the Law and the Gospel to groups of people of all ages, at the mall and on the streets.

It's a joy to watch Josh or Brianna approach a group of people with the confidence of a seasoned street cop and jump right into a conversation. It's a joy to see people clinging to their words. It's a joy to watch them grab the arm of someone less confident and say, "Come on. Let's go talk to someone."

It's a joy to see Lindsey's confidence grow each time she goes out with us. It's a joy to see the Lord take her knowledge of God's Word and put it to use in evangelism.

It's a joy to watch Brandon M. pull out his deck of cards and break the ice with a group of people, by doing some sleight of hand.

It's a joy to hear that Brandon D. took what he learned in the class and put it to use on the Island of Fiji, with the Lord allowing him to see someone make a profession of faith, for the very first time.

It's a joy to watch my three girls--Michelle, Marissa, and Amanda--all step out of their comfort zones and engage in conversations or hand out gospel tracts.

It's a joy to watch young people like Spencer open-air preach for the first time.

It's a joy to encourage a young man like Anthony who open-air preaches on his public high school campus.

It's a joy to receive e-mails from young people like Rebecca (pictured to the right)--young people who desperately want to reach the lost with the gospel. It's a joy to hear and feel the excitement in their voices when they share their adventures in evangelism. Their words jump off the computer screen and warm my heart. It's a joy to be able to encourage them, even though they may be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

But it is not only people in this present generation who are beginning to see the light. One of my dear friends and brothers in Christ, Mike, is a good example. Mike's a big guy, with an even bigger heart. For several months, now, Mike has been coming out and participating in street evangelism. Mike loves the Lord and he knows God's Word; but he lacked confidence in the area of starting conversations. Just recently, Mike had a significant breakthrough. What a joy it was to see the smile on Mike's face as he shared that he now feels more confident approaching people and initiating conversations. In fact, the evening when this breakthrough happened, the entire team rejoiced with Mike.

"Tony, can I ask you something?" One of the great joys of evangelism has nothing to do with evangelism. It is such a joy to be able to spend time with another believer, working together as partners in evangelism. It is not unlike sharing a patrol car with a partner. So often, whether I'm with someone I work with on a regular basis, or I'm with someone I'm meeting for the first time that day, the other person will say, "Tony, can I ask you something?"

While my partner and I are walking down the street, or walking through the mall, looking for someone with whom to share the gospel, our conversation often turns to personal and spiritual matters. Some of the best counseling and discipling opportunities I have ever had have been during these quiet walks.

During the last couple of years, I have come to realize that an essential element has been missing from most evangelical discipleship programs and models. It's evangelism.

I have experienced more "Acts 2" church life in the context of evangelism, than in any other kind of fellowship and/or ministry. When I'm out with a team or a partner witnessing, we spend time in mutual accountability. We spend time in prayer. We worship together as we thank and praise God for His faithfulness, protection, and presence. We study the Scriptures together as we talk about doctrine and its application in our lives. Occasionally we'll break bread together--enjoying a meal. Sometimes we'll experience mild persecution together. (I use the word "mild" because, by and large, the American church has no idea what persecution is.) But more often than not, we are having favor with all the people (Acts 2:47). And, together, we're doing the godly work of trying to add to our number "day by day those who [are] being saved" (Acts 2:48). What a joy it is to see the Church be the Church, for the glory of God!

Yes, all of the things I have mentioned are part of the joy I find in evangelism. But the greatest joy of all--something I don't see every day because "the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:14)--is being allowed to watch the Lord do His greatest work--drawing a sinner to Himself, through repentance and faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

It is during these rare, miraculous moments that I am reminded of how small and insignificant I am. I am but a herald of the King. As I write this, I find it difficult not to weep because I cannot help but to reflect on the goodness, majesty, and sovereignty of my great God and King. Watching a person pass from darkness into light, from death into life, is the most vivid reminder I have of the fact that I was once blind, but now I see. The great and mighty God who is saving the person standing or sitting in front of me is the same great and mighty God who saved me!

What a joy! Oh, what an incredible, undeserved, and wonderful joy it is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ by bringing His gospel to a lost and dying world! What a joy it is to love strangers in this way. What a joy it is to love and fellowship with my Christian brethren in this way. What a joy it is to be so very blessed while, at the same time, be so utterly unworthy of the blessing.

I wanted to share my joy with you, the reader. I hope I have succeeded in doing that. I want you to know that the joy I have in my heart can be your joy, too (if it's not already). And I want you to know that I will do whatever I can to help you discover this incredible joy--the joy of evangelism.

To my friend and brother in Christ who encouraged me to write this article, thank you. I think I understand, now, why you wanted me to write it. You've been trying to get me to say something--to admit something to myself and to others, without apology. I can do that now. I can say it without apology, and without boastful pride. (Again, it's not about me. It's about Him.)

I am an evangelist. What a joy! Thank You, Lord! To You, and to You alone, be all the praise and honor and glory! Amen.


Jim Baxter said...

Tony, as you know, the LORD has given me a unique interest in sharing the Good News. It is formed around the Lord's answer to His own question, "What is man...?"

Most people think the only qualification for Heaven is to die.

An important part of our joy is to fill the void of their ignorance: they must choose Jesus. As His witness, we give them that choice.

Thus, part of their joy is to know their own identity in Him is as earth's Choicemaker!

Q: "What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son
of man that You visit him?" Psalm 8:4
A: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against
you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing
and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and
your descendants may live." Deuteronomy 30:19

Q: "Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that you are mindful of him?" Psalm
A: "And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose
for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the
gods which your fathers served that were on the other
side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose
land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will
serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Q: "What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is
born of a woman, that he could be righteous?" Job 15:14
A: "Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He
teach in the way he chooses." Psalm 25:12

Q: "What is man, that You should magnify him, that You
should set Your heart on him?" Job 7:17
A: "Do not envy the oppressor and choose none of his
ways." Proverbs 3:31

Q: "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son
of man that You take care of him?" Hebrews 2:6
A: "I have chosen the way of truth; your judgments I have
laid before me." Psalm 119:30 "Let Your hand become my
help, for I have chosen Your precepts."Psalm 119:173

Agape' Jim
vincit veritas
semper fidelis

Anonymous said...

Chaplain Tony, I'm glad you wrote this post. I needed to see it, because last night I asked God again why you're doing this. You know enough about my background to know I struggle with trust issues.

I also have no joy.

It's hard for me to listen to things from Christians because it's like they're obligated, almost like robots, to tell you about their faith but you can tell they don't know what they're talking about.

You have sent me Scripture with your answers, which I can read for myself what I needed to see, but no one has ever been able to piece the answers together with Scriptures, and I was headed down a path of spiritual death, but I didn't know how to find my way out.

Last night I really did ask God why you do what you do. I never expected He would answer it though. I'm amazed that He heard me ask Him, and provided me an answer today.

No one has ever taken the time to show me the things about God's word that you have. My questions and issues are complicated but you were neither afraid of my hardened heart, nor were you weak that you wouldn't be beating around the bush with what really needed to be said.

What timing.

I've learned a whole lot from you and thank you for loving God enough to reach out to people like me when no one else could. When I Googled the key words I did a while back, God had to of deliberately let me find your ministry.

Though I don't have joy right now, there is the hope and a glimmer of that joy that I couldn't see before. It's something I can reach because I'm just taking one thing at a time and trusting God will mold me the way he wants.

You're a blessing. It's also an encouragement to read about how your family is involved and the love you have for them.

Now I know why you do what you do, and it's so cool God had you write that after I asked Him about you. (Still working on not analyzing everything but I'm not there yet!)

Anonymous said...

If we are saved from wrath of God we would be selfish if we didn't tell others the bad news & the Good News. It's like watching people screaming from a burning building while your sitting in the fire truck listening to music while people are about to perish. Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself, be sure of that" Understanding this was a turning point toward evangelism for me. Understanding that I had a life saving message that would last eternity but I was too afraid to share it because I worried to much about what people would think or say was a horrible way to think. Instead, I needed to get informed. I needed to examine myself (2 Corinthians 13:5) and get into fellowship with likeminded individuals. Thanks Tony for being one of them. There is a human responsibility to share the gospel. I hope that others who are reading your blogs will realize that we must pull people from the flames because after our time is up we wont be able to witness to a non-believer ever again. Sincerely, fourbyfourblazer

Jerry Parker said...

Well said Tony, what an honor and privelege and joy it is to serve Jesus! It's sad that witnessing is almost completely neglected in the church today. I can't be judgmental, because like you, it's been neglected in my own life until the last couple years. I believe God is doing a work mobilizing His church. May His kingdom come, may His will be done!