Do the Work of An Evangelist: Evangelism As Though Conversion Were Supernatural
Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors
Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Supernatural in Ministry
When we talk about evangelism, we’re immediately in tension, which is common in Scripture. If you think about it, there are all of these poles that Scripture commands us to stay on. One of those is humility but then we’re also told to be confident. We’re told to seek God’s power, but it comes through weakness. We’re told that we are to have godly ambition, but we’re also to be content. Scripture speaks of God’s sovereignty, but our responsibility as well. And this idea of evangelism is the same. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul says to Timothy — who by nature it seems was quite timid and needed encouragement constantly (sounds like a pastor, right?) — “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). So we’re told to do the work of an evangelist. But wait a minute, Jesus saves. So we need God’s help here because this tension is not going away.
I was reflecting upon Ephesians 2 as we were praying before, and I just thought about how we can possibly help dead people become alive? The answer is we can’t, but God can. So let’s pray and get into this wonderful text.
A Message Received, a Message Shared
Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to turn to Acts 16:1–34, and I want you to read those verses silently. I love what we just did with prayer. A lot of conferences are just noise, noise, noise. A lot of our church services are just noise, noise, noise. We never take time. There’s no silence, there’s no reflection. And we want to build that in right now again. So read that silently. When you’re done, look up at me and we’ll go through this wonderful text together tonight.
A few years ago, we got our first facility as a church and we opened that new chapter in the life of our church. We had just turned 10 years old. This was, I think, five years ago now. We got this building and the very first sermon series was a series on the Book of Acts. I remember just kneeling down and praying that God would help us to outgrow the facilities that we were meeting in, and that he would fill it up with unbelievers that were coming to know Jesus. He’s been faithful to do that. That series when we studied the Book of Acts was transformative in my life. And I was thinking about the idea of the author of the Book of Acts and how we know that Luke wrote the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, and how they kind of go hand and glove.
What I think Luke is doing, though he’s really concerned with a lot of things obviously, is that he’s really trying to show us what happens when people meet Jesus. I mean, there are a lot of other messages to the Book of Acts, but one thing Luke does do is show us what happens when people meet Jesus over and over and over again.
In his Gospel, he’s really concerned with the life and death of Jesus. In the Book of Acts, he’s concerned with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, he’s concerned about how the gospel is accomplished, that Jesus lived a perfect life and died a brutal death for us. And in the Book of Acts, he’s concerned with how the gospel is to be proclaimed through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of the local church. His whole point, as I have wrestled with, is that Luke is telling us a message that has been received in grace is to be shared.
It’s so simple but so challenging. He shows us the beginnings of what happened, how a small little insignificant sect became the most dominant religion in the Holy Roman Empire in just a few hundred years. And what his book does is it challenges us to not just settle for church, to not just settle for wonderful worship and great Bible teaching, but that we would be concerned about the lost. That it would bother us, not just offend us when we see the halftime show at the Super Bowl — although we should be offended — that the people who are performing don’t know Jesus and that we would be concerned. Luke is a doctor. He’s not a flaky artist. He’s not an ivory-tower intellectual. He’s writing for unbelievers. He’s trying to make a case, I believe, in both of his volumes for thinking people to believe in Jesus.
The Gospel for Skeptics
In Luke Chapter 1:1–4, he says he compiled stories, he talked to eyewitnesses and he wrote this orderly account for his friend Theophilus. Now, we don’t know who this guy was. Some say he wasn’t a real person. I tend to believe it was actually his buddy who was unconverted but interested. It’s a very formal greeting he gives to “most excellent Theophilus.” This was when you would write a letter to someone who was learned in that day. So this is a guy who’s smart and probably intelligent and going to listen to Luke. He’s heard all these stories that Luke’s told and now he’s writing it down for his buddy. And his message to his buddy is simple: these guys have seen something like an event that has happened that has changed human history. They’ve seen something. They’ve experienced something. So the Book of Acts starts with the resurrection.
We know the gospel story is that Jesus was born without sin, that he lived his life perfectly. He died a brutal death. He didn’t just seem to be dead, he wasn’t asleep, he didn’t pass out. He was dead, dead dead, really dead, for three days dead, and God breathed life into his body, and Jesus who was dead came back to life. Now, the resurrection was a fairly supernatural event, would you agree? It’s fairly important to our faith. The resurrected Jesus comes back to the disciples who are thinking he’s going to come back and set up a political kingdom and give everybody their guns back and everything is going to be set up. No, Jesus says, “I have a different kingdom. I have a different mission.”
He told them at the end of Luke to wait in Jerusalem, that they would be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). And he says in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses and you will go” — and this is the outline of the Book of Acts — to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.” That’s the outline of the book. And the Holy Spirit is with these apostles, these men that God had called and they go out and do extraordinary things under his power.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit not only empowered the early church, he went ahead of them. He was working before they got there. And so you see these little nuggets in the Book of Acts, and we’ll get to this one in a second. You read it. Acts 16:14 says that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. Acts 13:48 says that as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And then I think one of my favorite verses and a verse that I have drawn much encouragement from is in Acts 18. The Lord comes to Paul one night in a vision. I’d like to get one of those one time, how about you guys? That’d be cool. We may not think it’s cool if it actually happened, but seems like it would be cool. Jesus says:
Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent (why?), for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you (and then he says this), for I have many in this city who are my people (Acts 18:9–10).
And so Paul, who was either thinking about leaving because of the persecution or the fact that Crispus had just become a Christian and he was influential and he thought, “I can hand this deal and the influence to him.” We don’t know. He was thinking about leaving. Instead, he stayed a year and six months teaching the word of God among them because God already had people that were going to believe in the message that Paul was preaching. The apostles did evangelism empowered by the Spirit and confident in the electing love of God in Christ.
Now we have diverted from this as a contemporary church, modern church, whatever you want to call it. I was thinking about all the ways that we have done evangelism non-supernaturally. There are many and we’re all guilty, so we’re not pointing fingers at anybody but ourselves. But I came up with some different ways to talk about this.
I’ll call the first one attractionalism. Now, every church is attractional. Jesus did attractional ministry. This is an attractional conference. I’m not against being attractional, but attractionalism is when we think that we can use the stage, our excellence, our persuasion, and our cultural connectivity alone to move and persuade dead hearts.
It’s interesting, they’ve done these studies with Billy Graham over the years with people who make professions of faith. The Billy Graham Association did a wonderful job of following up with people in trying to connect them to local churches. And every time these statistics would come back on people who made professions of faith versus people who were actually connected to a local church, they never were able to get above 10 percent of people who made a profession of faith and actually followed through in a local church. In other words, 90 percent of people who said, “I’m going to follow Jesus,” and waited for the last word of George Beverly Shea’s song to come forward, 90 percent of those folks could not be found. Churches today are literally taking a video at the end of services when they ask people to raise their hand and say, “I want to meet Jesus,” and they count the hands, and then they pronounce all those people saved and put it in their bulletin on their website. It’s attractionalism.
Then there’s legalism. I remember when I became a Christian, I made this vow, and nobody told me to do this. I was my own worst legalist. I said, “I am not going to bed any time for any reason until I share the gospel with one person at least — preferably two, but I’ll take one.” I was going to school and I was in college and I was working, and I had worked all day long and studied, and I remember getting in my bed and thinking, “Oh, this bed is more comfortable than it’s ever been in my life.” And as soon as my head hit the pillow, I remembered I had not shared Jesus with anybody.
So what did I do? I got up and I put my clothes on and I went to the parking lot where all the teenagers hung out, and I found some dude and I said, “Bro, do you know Jesus?” And he was like, “No.” And I said, “Well, would you like to?” And he was like, “No.” And I was like, “All right, I’m out. I’ve done my part.” See, guilt and being motivated by that legalism doesn’t produce the kind of stuff we see in the Book of Acts.
Individualism is where people meet Jesus but they’re never connected to a local church.
Culturalism is when we say, “Let’s just hang out near sinners. Let’s just go to the coffee shop and grow our beards out.” No offense to bearded guys. It’s just hanging out with people and understanding how the coffee is made and understanding how the beer is brewed, and the thought is, “Let’s just kind of be around and we’ll get the vibe of the culture and they’ll see that we’re cool and that we are relevant.”
Relationalism is just basically where we kind of hang out with people year after year, the same people, and we’re building relational rent and we’re spending all of our time with them. They’re not responsive to the gospel, and meanwhile, there’s all kinds of other people that we could be talking to, but we got to hang with this one or two people that we think God has called us to just hang with, even though they’re resistant. This doesn’t produce what we see in the Book of Acts.
The Way Forward in Evangelism
We neuter evangelism of its supernatural element when we’re motivated by technique, guilt, numbers, and cultural coolness. Though many people might make decisions, they don’t last. So here’s what this text does. It shows us how we do this thing.
I remember reading the Book of Acts and thought, “That’s what I want. I don’t want church life as I see it. I want to see what’s going on there. I want to experience that.” How does that work? Well, let’s just walk through it. There’s several things here. One of the things I noticed right up front is that I love how the Holy Spirit strategically plucked disciples out of non-Christian families. Do you see that with Timothy? Now we know that his mother and his grandmother were believers, but we’re pretty sure his dad wasn’t, right? We learned that in the first couple verses and in 2 Timothy 1:5.
This happened to me. I wasn’t a believer. None of my family were Christians. My mom was a nominal believer, but God just kind of plucked me. I didn’t know Bible verses. I had to ask the nerdy kid at school who brought his Bible to school. I was watching football games and I’d see this JN 3:16 behind the goalpost. I didn’t know what it was. So he explained to me. He was the first one to explain John 3:16 to me. I started coming to church. I’ll tell you my testimony a little bit later. I didn’t know any of the stories. I was fascinated. All the church kids were bored because they had heard these. I was just on the edge of my seat. I don’t know anything. This is how God does it.
I heard about a pastor up in this area actually. He has now grown a very large church. He would go out. He was a nightclub guy. One night, he goes out to do a smoke break, and someone shares Jesus with him. He meets Jesus. Now, he has a church of thousands up here. This is what God does. I’m all for kids growing up in Christian families. I have four kids. I want them to be Christians, to love Jesus and to love the church, but God just kind of likes to pick people out of the blue. He likes to choose somebody you wouldn’t expect, right? Maybe this was Timothy.
The Holy Spirit and Evangelism
Acts 16:3 tells us something about evangelism. It’s going to sound like I’m going to betray what I said earlier. Paul says he wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places for they knew that his father was a Greek.
The Holy Spirit leads us to appropriately contextualize. There are times when the methods by which we do evangelism or church or preaching need to be adapted to fit the audience. In Acts Chapter 13, Paul is preaching to a bunch of Jews. He uses a bunch of Old Testament references, doesn’t he? In Acts 14, he’s talking to the Pagans in Lystra. They don’t know Bible verses. So what does Paul do? He says, “There’s a God who gives you rain and grows your crops. Worship that creator. You’re the creation. He’s the Creator.” He gets in Acts 17, and he’s with the intellectuals at Mars Hill, and he reasons with them. He quotes two popular top-40 singers, basically, right? It was basically him quoting two actors that said something famous, and then he brings it into his gospel message. If you are not wrestling with contextualization issues, you are not a New Testament church. You’re not.
You have to wrestle with these things. Gospel progress is hindered through many of our churches under contextualization. Now, you can over-contextualize. You certainly can. I was a part of a church and we had bought into the Willow Creek philosophy, which they have now abandoned, which said that you cannot do evangelism and discipleship in the same service. You can’t do it. Well, Paul and Timothy disagree. Look in Acts 16:4. They went on their way through the cities and they delivered to them to observe the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. Do you remember the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? It’s not exactly seeker-sensitive stuff there. So what happens? The church gets offended and we lose cultural coolness? No, the churches were what? In Acts 16:5 it says they were “strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.” The Holy Spirit unites evangelism and discipleship. The gospel message, when rightly preached, draws the unbeliever and grows the believer.
The Holy Spirit also set up divine promptings. This is one of my favorite texts because it just rings so true to my experience. In Acts 16:6 they’re forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. In Acts 16:7, they tried to come to Mysia and tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them. So passing by Mysia, they went to Troas. And a vision comes to Paul in the night. In Acts 16:9 it says that a man of Macedonia was standing there urging him, “Come over to Macedonia.” So what does Paul do in Acts 16:10? It says that when he saw the vision they immediately sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that God had called them to preach the gospel to them.
It took all of those steps for him to figure out what he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to go. He couldn’t go here and he couldn’t go here, and then all of a sudden this vision happened. The word “concluding” means to put it all together. He used his brain. So the Holy Spirit and promptings are not apart from your brain, okay? You’ve had this happen when you’re preaching, right? You’re preaching and it’s not in the notes, but you say it and there’s unction behind it. Or maybe you don’t feel anything and then three people come up and say, “You were preaching to me. You were talking to me.” I always say, “That wasn’t me talking to you. That was God talking to you.”
Some of you experienced that maybe in missions. We were hell-bent to bring heaven to Western Europe. We thought this is what we were supposed to do. I was making trips, connecting with these guys, and I just knew that’s what we were supposed to do as a church. We honestly focused on North America too much and we were going to Western Europe. And then the earthquake hit in Haiti and it wrecked a bunch of people in our church. We said, “We have to go. We have to go to Haiti.” And I get to go next month and open this wonderful building right at the edge of the tent city, and God is doing amazing things there. Why? Because the Holy Spirit intervened through some guys in the church and in my heart.
You’ve seen this in personal evangelism, haven’t you? I remember when I first started sharing Jesus I would just talk to anybody about Jesus. I remember following this guy into McDonald’s. We were in the parking lot, and I followed him into McDonald’s and he was listening. I wasn’t stalking, he was listening. God was in this deal. He was standing there and I was talking to him, and he was kind of dancing around. I was like, “Are you under conviction?” He goes, “No, I have to go to the bathroom.” I was like, “All right, you go. I’m coming in. We’re going to keep talking.” So I followed him in the bathroom. I lie to you not. He got done, and we knelt on the floor of the bathroom, and that guy met Jesus that night.
I mean, you’ve seen these promptings at work. This is normal Christian life, people. Now, I don’t mean it’s always going to be obvious and you hear a voice that says, “Go to that grocery line because that lady is there.” I don’t know, I don’t think it ever is that clear, but those promptings, that divine guidance is available. God in his sovereignty sometimes withholds that because we would be way too prideful if it happened all the time. But he will speak to you. Sometimes it’s just that you’re out somewhere. I was just out. I just happened to be outside and my neighbor walked up, and he had just moved in and he didn’t know anybody. We struck up this conversation. It turns out he’s a pastor’s kid. And it turns out he doesn’t know Jesus, but he was really interested in the fact that I’m a pastor and I’m normal. So we’re building a relationship.
I want to say this with all humility. When’s the last time you were prompted that way toward the lost? When’s the last time you had an agenda over here and God just said, “Take some time here. Tarry here” You might say, “Well, I’m a busy pastor. I have a routine. I have a schedule I have to keep.” I understand, but are you available to that still, small voice that is prompting?
Divine Appointments in Macedonia
They went to Macedonia where the Holy Spirit brings divine appointments. There wasn’t a synagogue there. There weren’t enough godly men. So Paul goes by the water, the place of prayer. He meets Lydia, who’s an Asian woman. She’s from Thyatira. She’s probably wealthy because she sells purples based in Thyatira. She has a house in Philippi. She’s essentially kind of a CEO in the fashion industry. She’s got it together. She is not just connected to her success, but she was also a pagan who had become a God fearer, meaning she had basically become a Jew, culturally and theologically. She was spiritual, but she was unsatisfied. She was religious, moral, successful, and empty. What does Paul do? He has a Bible study. And what does the Lord do? He opens her heart, and she begins to pay attention.
I can imagine her going, “I’ve heard about this law and I’ve heard about the substitutes and I’ve heard about the requirements, and now it all makes sense. All that stuff was talking about Jesus.” She is the first convert.
A Power Encounter with Demonic Presence
Then the second divine appointment comes in Acts 16:16–18. Have you ever had any of the weird stuff like this in your church? It says:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days.
I mean, how would you like that during every sermon for a few weeks, somebody mocking you? And it’s somebody who has had some success predicting stuff, so people are paying attention to her. It says Paul became “greatly annoyed”. Isn’t that great? It’s okay to be greatly annoyed. The Bible just said so. Paul said, “Imitate me.” That’s bad exegesis, don’t do that. It continues:
Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour (Acts 16:18).
She’s Greek, she’s a slave, she’s out of control spiritually, and she’s tormented by demonic spirits. Maybe she went into slavery because her parents didn’t know how to handle her. I mean, we don’t know what to do with mentally ill people now, but what in the world did they do when people had mental illness issues and demonic issues then? Who knows? How does Paul deal with her? A Bible study? No, it was a power encounter. He says. “Come out.” She was mocking them, saying, “These are servants of the most high God!” She’s saying, “These guys are just like all the other guys who talk about all the other gods.” And she is supernaturally converted. Her master incite a race riot because the revenue stream is dried up. And so they get thrown in jail.
A Jailer Converted
Acts 16:25–27 says:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
That would’ve been less painful than what would’ve happened to him, because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But then Acts 16:28–30 says:
But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
This guy was an ex-Roman soldier. They gave these kinds of jobs to those kinds of guys. He was a blue collar guy, an ex-military man who tortured people for a living. He had a fairly hard heart, I would think. What happens? He has never seen anybody suffer well. He’s never seen anybody sing while they’re suffering. How long did they sing? How long did it take? We don’t know. He’d never seen anybody not repay evil for evil, but these guys were loose and they weren’t trying to kill him?
All right, let’s recap. There is a rich, older, Asian, single woman; a young Greek, demon-infested, teenage girl; and a mean, gruff, Roman prison guard who has spent years torturing people. There’s your core group for the church at Philippi. Some of you church planters are like, “Man, my core group, I don’t know if it was this bad.” This is the only church that Paul did not have a rebuke for in the New Testament. This is the only church that generously gave their finances so freely that literally the gospel could come to us. We stand on their shoulders.
Remembering the Grace of God
Do you remember when you were converted? Isn’t it great that we just get a glimpse of what happened with these folks, which can remind you of your own conversion? My dad was a blue collar guy. He was a hard worker. He was an excavator. He put in roads and dug sewers, and then on the side, he built houses. So he would work, and then he would come home and work. His motto was, “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.” So I was always working. To be honest with you, I kind of got burned out at about six years old on work. I was just kind of done with it.
About that time as well, I started getting interested in sports. And what I would do is when dad would come home, I would find a way to go out the back door so I could go play with my friends because I didn’t want to have to work, and that’s really all my dad did. So if I wanted to spend time with my dad, I had to work. Dad and mom weren’t doing well, and dad ended up leaving when I was 12. At about 13 and a half, I got larger than my mom physically, so I pretty much did whatever I wanted to do because dad really wasn’t in the picture. I was out three or four nights a week partying, causing all kinds of havoc. This is when I really fell in love with me, and I loved me some me.
I loved being deceitful. I loved being able to lie to somebody right in their face and them not know it. I loved getting drunk. I loved getting high. I loved hiding the fact that I was drunk and high. I love cheating. I was a thief. I didn’t like to work. My work ethic was horrible. So every shortcut I could take, I did. I loved sin. I didn’t just like it, I loved it. I daydreamed about it. I had dreams at night about it. I loved using girls sexually. And then heaven week happened. In football, we would call it hell week when we would have three practices a day. It was awful. But heaven week happened for me. I was an athlete. I was in high school. It was the end of my junior year. I got suspended from the football team because we beat a team that got us a spot to go to the playoffs, and we all got drunk and crazy. We all got suspended from the football team the next week, which meant now we’re probably not going to get to go to the playoffs. And guess who the ringleader was of all this partying? It was me as usual.
That week, a kid smarted off to me on the way to class and I laid hands on him in a very unbiblical manner. So now I was suspended from school, suspended from football, and I was staring at a pink wall in school suspension. That night my girlfriend called me and said, “I’m late.” And I was like, “What’s new? You’re always late.” She says, “No, no, no. I’m late, as in, I think I’m pregnant.” I was 17. And everything I trusted in, my reputation, my sports, this relationship with this girl, and my future was just like, “Ugh.”
A Turn to Grace
There was one guy who was a graduate assistant on the football team, a pastor’s kid who had rebelled and was a mess though the Lord had captured his heart, who said, “Man, why don’t you come to church with me?” I thought, “Number one, I don’t even know what you people are talking about. And number two, you guys don’t want me. I’m a mess. Church is for people who have it all together. Church is for people who know Bible verses. Church is for people who’ve cleaned up their act. And I’m none of that.” Now, I didn’t say that to him, but that’s what I was thinking. And when you invite your friends to church who don’t know Jesus, that’s what they’re feeling.
But I came to a youth group and I didn’t even know that kind of thing existed. I started coming kind of consistently on Wednesday nights. I was still living crazy, doing my own thing, but I kept coming back and I kept coming back. He said, “Hey man, why don’t you start hanging out with us more and instead of going and doing whatever you do on the weekends?” And he knew what I did on the weekends. So I started hanging out with these guys and I noticed something about them. They were like me, but they weren’t like me. They liked sports and they liked the kind of music I liked, but they didn’t cuss like sailors. They didn’t talk about girls as objects, and they didn’t use every chance they could get to escape reality. They didn’t do any of that stuff. But they were fun and they made me laugh. I sometimes forget to tell this. The girl wasn’t pregnant. So I don’t have a 30-year-old son running around. But that all came to bear.
I quit the basketball team and a lot of guys quit the basketball team because they didn’t like the coach. So the church basketball team could literally beat the high school basketball team. They had a big church league deal. Have you guys ever played church league basketball? That’s one of the most unholy places ever. You get a bunch of pastors out there with all their frustrations, fowling people and setting picks.
I was actually being recruited to another church, and you’re supposed to go to church and you’re supposed to participate in Sunday school or whatever. All these guys were saying, “Listen, we know the rules. Don’t worry about it. We just want you to play on our team. But at this church I was going to, this youth group, the coach caught me, and he was my old teacher, and he said, “Hey, Darren, I don’t know if anybody’s asked you, I don’t know if you’re interested, but if you would like to play on our basketball team that would be great, but you need to know something. We keep the rules and you have to come to church.” I thought, “Huh, I kind of like that.” And I thought, “Well, I’ll do you one better, buddy. I’m going to buy a Bible so I can understand what the heck you people are talking about.”
No joke, I bought a King James Bible because that’s what our church used. I had never read anything but Sports Illustrated, specifically one certain edition that didn’t have a lot of words. I didn’t have any knowledge of fine literature. I was a dumb jock. When I would be asked to read out loud, I would pause and read one word at a time. I couldn’t go to the next word. I hadn’t read enough.
So I bought a King James Bible, and I just started reading it. You know the King James, every time he talks about self-control, it uses the word “sober-minded”. Every time I saw “sober”, I thought, “I need to be sober.” So I was highlighting sober passages out of context all throughout the Bible. I would read my Bible and I would put it — this’ll date me — on my waterbed, and I would kneel and read my Bible. And somewhere between February and April of 1988, I was changed, and my desires were different, and I’ve never been the same. Immediately, I said, “God, if you will use me. I mean, I don’t know anything. I’m trying my best.” And I started talking to people about Jesus.
Do you remember when you were converted? Some of you may think, “Oh, I don’t have the drugs-to-Jesus testimony. Mine was so boring. I was a six year old.” Listen, when a dead heart comes alive, there is no greater miracle. I don’t care how old you are.
I started experiencing what I read in Acts 16 about these promptings and this affirmation that all kinds of different people that were not like me could hear the gospel through me. I didn’t have to have their story. I mean, certainly I connected with people who were like me, but the gospel was for all people. And I began to tell people about Jesus. And then I got in ministry, and I got educated, and then I got a doctorate degree, and then I planted a church. And then I got busy because I have four little kids. And then we got a lot of church people, and there are a lot of Bible studies to teach and there’s a lot of stuff to do.
What happened to me and is probably happening to you is that you forget. You forget about Lydia, you forget about the jailers, and you forget about the confused young people, and you go about ministry and you go about church work, and you get busy. It’s every pastor’s guilt. You think, “I wish I could spend more time.” You know what? We can. We really can. That’s one of the cool things about being a pastor. You kind of have control of your schedule a little bit. You really can. You can make choices about your free time. I wonder if you would have the courage to do that. We have great excuses why we don’t. We have wonderful leaders to train, Bible studies to teach, and sermons to prepare for.
But I would submit to you, take time just to say, “Lord, I’m your witness. I’ve seen something. I’ve experienced something. I will never be the same. And because of that, Lord, I have to believe you want to use me to talk to people about Jesus. I have to believe that you are sovereignly guiding me where to get gas, or where to go eat, or what grocery store to shop at. Maybe I have moved into this neighborhood, or that kid is on my kid’s team for a reason. I have to believe, God, that you’re in this thing. And you’re doing this, not just so that I can have sermon illustrations. You’re doing this because there are people in this city that are yours. And the secondary means by which you cause people to come to you is me sharing the gospel with them.”
So I’m going to pray like Spurgeon: “God, I pray for the elect, and I pray that you would elect some more.” Friends, the world is not getting lighter. The drift is not toward Christ. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Our mega churches are growing, and a lot of your churches are growing, but if we’re honest most of that growth is just transfer growth. We’re just swapping sheep, even in our own church. It happens so subtly. Here’s how it happens: when evangelism is lost in the heart of the pastor and the leaders. By God’s grace, maybe tonight he could reignite it. May it be that we would read texts like these and be astonished again, and when we see a conversion in Scripture we would think of our own, that it would bring us to tears when we think about how dead our hearts were and how he made them alive — not because we’re good and great, but because Jesus is good and great. He saves sinners.
So men and women, here’s my challenge to you. Don’t live beneath your privilege. You were not made just to hang out with Christians all the time. You were not made just to do church work. God has a great calling on your life. You’re a witness. He put you in the neighborhood. He put you in a city for a reason. It’s going to cost you. It’s going to tap into your free time. It’s going to ruin some of your church parties. It’s going to jack up how you coach your kids’ little league team because you’re not going to be able to worry about wins and losses. But he’s put people around you that are his. Have confidence. Do the work of an evangelist, and realize that only Jesus can save and he wants to use you.