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January 15, 2018

Priorities Series: Evangelism – It May Be Easy to Preach and Teach, But …


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NOTE FROM LUMINEX: This is the second entry in an 8-week series on Priorities. Today’s focus is Evangelism. Enjoy!

As a pastor I found Evangelism easy to preach and teach. But living evangelism out in my daily life – well that was entirely different.

It’s a truth that hit me hard on two related occasions.

The first occasion occurred one Easter season following some months of dealing with severe vocal difficulties. As part of my Easter message I shared a favorite story from Margaret Sangster Phippen. She had written that in the mid-1950s her father, British minister W. E. Sangster, began to notice some uneasiness in his throat and a dragging in his leg. When he went to the doctor, he found he had an incurable disease that caused progressive muscular atrophy. His muscles would gradually waste away, his voice would fail, and his throat would soon become unable to swallow. Sangster threw himself into his work in British home missions, figuring he could still write and would have even more time for prayer. “Let me stay in the struggle, Lord,” he pleaded. “I don’t mind if I can no longer be a general, but give me just a regiment to lead.” He wrote articles and books, and helped organize prayer cells throughout England. “I’m only in the kindergarten of suffering,” he told people who pitied him. Gradually Sangster’s legs became useless. His voice went completely. But he could still hold a pen, shakily. On Easter morning, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter. In it, he said, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’ – but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”

The thought of having little or no voice dashed through my mind on several occasions during my voice-troubled period when I had difficulty finishing a sermon or singing the music. Not to be able to sing or preach was not a cheery thought, to say the least. I knew that not being able to shout, “He is risen!” would be devastating. So this Easter I was extremely grateful for my voice and the healing I had experienced. But I was also struck deeply by Sangster’s haunting phrase: “…it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”  I became, as a result, more deeply committed to use the words I do speak to more clearly and loudly share the Gospel, and not to waste any words or opportunity do so.

That’s why, many months later, after the second occasion I was so disappointed in myself and so pained in heart. A new neighbor, a young man, moved into the house just down the street at the end of the summer.  You know how it is – the fall was busy and then winter set in and, well, I had good intentions to welcome him to the neighborhood – but I never did. I didn’t even learn his name. Before the next summer – at age 44 – he died, alone, in his house; he had been dead for a couple of days before anyone became aware of it. And I, the rededicated preacher, had not even introduced myself, let alone my Savior. This young man may have been a Christian – but then again, maybe not. I’ll never know. But I had been brought up short – I had to ask myself, “Do I really want to shout ‘He is risen?’”  And not just from the pulpit – but where I live and walk and recreate; anywhere, everywhere I am? I still shudder when I recall this incident.

It was then that I recognized I was not unique or alone – that many of us find evangelism easy to preach and teach but living evangelism out in daily life – well that is entirely different. The simple truth is that all the preaching and teaching is for naught if we church leaders do not live and ‘shout’ the Gospel. WE cannot expect those who follow us to do it if we do not. How we ultimately do it may vary – but we must do it. For we really do hold in our voices the power of life and death, because the gospel we shout is “…the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes…Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” That someone must include you and me.

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