First, embrace, immerse yourself in and come to love biblical theology. A robust theological framework will support the weight of any questions you encounter as well as any doubt you may have along the way. Too much of American evangelicalism is rooted in emotional manipulation, guilt and church growth techniques. As a result, we have millions of people who have “prayed the prayer” but have no idea of what a personal relationship with God is really like and somewhere along the path strewn with broken promises, they simply gave up. They wanted to avoid hell but the concept of walking with God remains far from them and their real desires. Because of this tragic outcome many people are unsure and full of questions so it’s imperative that we be a people who love God with our mind by having a theologically robust framework and worldview. People are drawn to such people because they know they will tell them the truth and love them as they process through their questions. If you would like to grow in this area, Leo and I will be teaching a midweek class in the fall entitled How God Changes People: A Theological Perspective where we will walk through a theological framework from conversion to glorification. Good theology takes us to places our willpower and desire never will.
Second, love lostness. If you look at Luke 15 it begins with the these words, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Read those two sentences again and then ask yourself, “Are real sinners drawn to me? Do people who are far from God want to be around me? Do they find my life interesting for reasons they can’t always explain? Do they feel loved by me in ways that engage their heart? When we love lostness this happens. When I say “love lostness” I mean learn to be comfortable around people who do not have a relationship with God while being yourself. Don’t look at them and think, “Why didn’t they plan their life better? Don’t they know retirement is a real need? Why does she drink wine?” When we love lost people we can be around them as people and not as a project. There is a line in an old Kid Rock song that says, “For the shots of Jack and the caps of meth, the half pints of love and the fifths of stress.” I know what each of those words refer to and I know people who struggle to this day with the realities they represent. Many of them call me their pastor and yet they have never darkened the door of our church. If you asked them about me they couldn’t tell you much beyond, “That guy loves me and he talks to me every time he sees me.” Love lostness.
Thirdly, to get out of the lifeboat I would say we need to embrace our responsibility. Evangelism is not a spiritual gift and people who tell you it is are liars. Evangelism is a command and it applies to all Christians because each of us is to be involved in making disciples. Earlier I said that I love lostness and I do but I don’t celebrate it or the behavior of lost people. I don’t think it’s funny, cool or any other skinny word we use to describe things we enjoy. It’s sad because everybody that doesn’t know Jesus goes to hell and if we really believe that and we don’t find ways to show and share the Gospel with these people then their blood will be required on our hands when we stand before God. This is what Ezekiel 33:1-9 tells us about our responsibility to sound the trumpet so I sound it as often as I see the opportunity. I am not out to be noticed, different or distinguished. I simply want to be obedient. As Paul says in I Corinthians 14:8, “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” Our culture thrives on uncertainty, fuzziness and non-discerning tolerance which are all the garbled indistinct sounds of an out of tune bugle.
Fourth, I would say we should be Gospel fluent. What I mean is that we should be able to fluently speak Gospel truth to any context in which we find ourselves. This happens when we can contextualize the Gospel in different situations so that our hearers taste and see that the Lord is good. It looks different in almost every situation but last week I was having lunch at Pablo’s with a friend and I said to our waiter, “Hey, at the end of my day I pray back through my day and for the people I’ve met that day. Now that I’ve met you I am going to pray for you tonight so what can I pray that would be meaningful?” He hemmed and hawed for a minute and then he said, “I lost four hundred dollars on the Astros game last night. I’m working a double shift today so pray that I can make that money back.” What he didn’t know was that someone had given me the old Pentecostal handshake earlier in the week where they palmed off a hundred bucks on me for no reason whatsoever. Remembering I had that on me I reached in my pocket and before I could get it out my friend had thrown a Benjamin out on the table. I counted out five Jacksons, piled em up and handed them to our waiter and said, “Here, this is half of what you lost. Don’t go out and place another stupid bet!” The kid whispered, “Jesus Christ!” To which I said, “That is exactly who has so worked in our hearts that we don’t love money as much as we could so we are glad to help you out.” It took him a few seconds to get his bearings and then he fumbled some words out. This is what happen when we set the Kingdom down. No, being Gospel fluent doesn’t mean we go around giving money away. It does mean that we are always asking the Holy Spirit what would communicate the Gospel to this person before me? Often times I ask people simple questions and then follow the natural contours of the conversation wherever it goes. Don’t live in fear that you are going to screw anything up. Remember, God tells his story through people and you are His people so open your mouth and let the Story come out through your personality, gifts and abilities. When you do that then God is fully represented and the fullness of the Gospel is experienced.
For the record, there is another waiter at Pablo’s who’s dad is in prison and if you are looking for a good meal there then get the Drew’s Smoke Plate and an unsweet iced tea. Absolute manna!
These are just a few of the ways we can combat a lifeboat mentality and move more towards ark thinking. Don’t beat yourself up if you realize that you are in the lifeboat. Just pick one of these four things and start making that a part of your life. We are all the medium through which the Message finds expression!