evangelism

What is a rubber dummy?

“What in the world is a rubber dummy?”

 Jen is a computer programmer. She had been describing the process of developing a new commercial program. “Then,” she had explained, “when I think I’m all finished, I have to use a rubber dummy.” That’s when I interrupted her. “What in the world is a rubber dummy?”

 “When I think I’m finished with the whole program, I have to make sure other people know what it’s all about and how to use it. I look for the least computer literate person. He or she becomes my rubber dummy. If I can explain things so that person understands, I can consider my job complete.”

 It seems to me there are many times when God works like this. He brings us into what he is doing, not because he needs us, but because he wants us to see and understand what is happening. We become God’s rubber dummies. For example:

 I was at Lighthouse of Hope camp in Russia’s Central Black Soil Region as part of the discipleship process for a group of teenagers who had recently given their lives to Jesus Christ. In our first meeting together, I wanted to give some of them the opportunity to verbalize the commitment they had made.

 “Who wants to come up here and tell . . .” I hadn’t even completed the sentence before the figure jumped from the front row of seats and bounded onto the platform next to me. Not saying a word, she stood there looking at me with a knowing smile. I recognized her from photos of previous camps, but must have looked confused because she said, “Don’t you remember?”

 

I was still confused. Remember what? “The picnic table.” The picnic table! It came flooding back to me.

 Two years before this, while visiting the same camp, I had been called off a construction project to fill in for another speaker who had been delayed. Since that had been an evangelistic camp, I probably challenged the kids to talk to their counselors about what it meant to follow Christ. I had finished up, spent a few minutes talking to people around the campfire, then headed back to my room at the Center.

 Suddenly Irina, one of our interpreters, came running to me. “David, you have to come with me. Right now!” After a long and hard day, I was ready for bed, but had learned to trust Irina ‘s judgment. I followed her back toward the campground where she led me to a group of girls sitting around a picnic table.

 Irina looked at the girls, who all seemed to be studying their hands in their laps or the top of the table. “Tell him,” she demanded in the Russian way. Hesitantly, one by one, six teenage girls told me that they had just invited Jesus Christ into their lives.

 Wow! I didn’t quite know what to do. I asked them each to tell me about the experience, then sat with them for the next couple of hours, no longer concerned about getting to bed early. We talked about the decisions they had made, and what they meant in practical terms. I encouraged them. We prayed together.

 Jump ahead two years and I was back at the discipleship camp, looking at this young lady, Masha, and picturing her sitting at that picnic table. “You.” I said in English. Masha understood and nodded at me. And before I knew it, she had turned to the whole group and began telling them what happened to her and how she had grown in Christ in the two years between that picnic table in this platform. What an amazing start to a week of helping these new believers walk with their Savior.

 I was God’s rubber dummy! He certainly didn’t need me there, either when Masha came to know him or when she gave her testimony to the other campers. In both cases, he arranged the circumstances and actions to extend his kingdom and to bring glory to himself. He further arranged things to make sure that I would understand what he had done and how he had done it.

 I guess I don’t mind being a rubber dummy in circumstances like this. I’m also somewhat of a storyteller. And what happens when you combine a rubber dummy and a storyteller? Well. . . You get something like what you’ve just read.

The Nature of World Evangelization

As I’ve had the opportunity to teach about missions over several decades, I’ve tried to include this expanded definition as often as possible. This brief definition, which I’ve borrowed from Ed Dayton, helps us get a better grip on the entire process of what Dayton labeled world evangelization, and we in Mandate generalize as missions.

As we begin, here is the entire quote, an introductory sentence followed by three steps toward world evangelization.

Because world evangelization is a task, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal of that particular task.

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

Dayton was brief, but we’re not going to be so restricted. I’d like to take his three main points and, over the course of the next three weeks, expand on each. Let’s get started with:

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

Good news is an oft-used English translation of the word gospel. In our English Bibles, the two terms are relatively interchangeable. If we ask an average group of American churchgoers to define gospel, though, they’ll probably talk about personal salvation, repentance and forgiveness of sin, etc., and they will not be wrong.

The Bible.org website puts it this way:

The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement (John 3:16, Romans 5:8-11, 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, Titus 2:11-14).

Looking at Jesus’ own words in the books we label the Gospels, He often ties the words good news or gospel with the phrase kingdom of God (as in Matthew 4:23, 9:35, and 24:14). This seems to come into play when Jesus taught about the two greatest commandments, as in Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We can say from both of the previous illustrations that the gospel contains a vertical relationship (with God) and a horizontal relationship (with the world around us). Ideally, the good news begins with the inner change brought about by transferring our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ, which we call salvation. It continues with a renewing of our inner selves and a process of growth to become like Christ, which we call sanctification. It should then touch those around us through our lives and overt testimony, hopefully beginning with our immediately families (as seen time and again in the book of Acts), and extending from us to touch and improve our own society and, ultimately, the world. This might be summed up in Paul’s words from Ephesians 2:10, “. . . we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

That is the good news we must communicate to those who have not yet heard, and communicate it repeatedly even to those who have.

Don't Drop the Ball!

I was listening to a Christian radio station when a woman phoned in to share what she considered an exciting spiritual experience. She had driven into a gas station with Christian music flowing from her radio and through the car’s open windows. Another woman, also getting gas, commented on the song playing, then mentioned missing church and wondering if she should find and attend an area church. The first woman thought that was a good idea, said “God bless you,” finished filling her tank . . . and drove off.

Back to the on-air testimony. This woman was excited for the contact and hopeful that God would work on the person she had met. That was it.

Please think with me through this.

This woman made a contact. She connected with another person. She recognized a spiritual need. She heard the second woman acknowledge her need and open the door to talking about it.

Then she drove off without taking any direct action to meet that spiritual need!

She could have asked if the second woman knew Christ – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have asked why the second woman stopped going to church – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have recommended some churches in her area – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have invited the second woman to attend her church – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have exchanged contact information for personal follow-up – SHE DIDN'T.

What upsets me about this story is how much it seems to represent the church as a whole these days. We see, or at least know about, so much spiritual need around the world. But we don’t do anything to directly meet that spiritual need.

I have talked to too many Christians who explain that God did not call them to be preachers, or evangelists, or counselors. Their responsibility (or so they say) is to live good lives and assume that others will see and that God, Himself, will then intervene to bring people to Himself or to solve their problems.

That is a spiritually comfortable philosophy of non-involvement.

It is also against everything we read in the Bible.

The Bible tells us that all who follow Christ should follow all His teachings. This would include His words in Matthew 28:19 “Go into all the world and make disciples among all nations. . .” and Acts 1:9, “You will be my witnesses . . .”

If we are to follow His teachings and His example, we would do well to pay attention to Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

And let’s not forget 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Not everyone who follows Christ has the blend of spiritual gifts to be a preacher or a cross-cultural missionary or an evangelist. But every Christ-follower knows what happened to him or herself when they began their journey with the Lord. The least we can all do is, when given an open opportunity to share our own story with others, to do just that.

I enjoy baseball. My playing days are long gone, but I still enjoy watching the game. I understand how errors happen, especially when a fielder is attempting a difficult play or in a tense situation.

Sometimes – and we’ve all seen this – it's an easy play. The ball might be popped up by the batter directly toward a fielder. He knows what to do. He’s practiced this. He positions himself under the ball, waiting for it to drop into his waiting glove. It hits his glove . . . and then the ball falls to the ground. This might result in no more damage than to the fielder's personal statistics. Or it could lead to a runner on base or a run scored. It could end up as a loss for his team. Because he dropped the ball.

God gives us easy pop-ups, as he did for the woman whose story initiated these thoughts. Faced with an opportunity to bring the second woman to a higher spiritual level, she let it go. She dropped the ball.

If you have the opportunity, please don’t drop the ball.

Inroads to Islam

    Islam was born in the deserts of Arabia over 1300 years ago.  As a new religion it poured out like a tidal wave, engulfing the Middle East and North Africa, washing over Southern Asia as far as Indonesia and even crashing on the shores of Western Europe.  Instead of the church breaking down its gates, it looked for a time as if Islam would sweep Christianity from the face of the earth.

    Although Islam’s expansion slowed, stalled, and even receded from Europe, it seemed to stand as a unyielding fortress against the church.  As the church rediscovered its own mandate to spread the gospel, some missionaries labored for years in Muslim countries, seeing only a handful of converts, if that many, in their lifetimes.  That became the normal experience.  Christians did not really expect Muslims to come to Christ.

    Then some Christians began asking the right questions. Instead of why don’t they understand?, the better question became if Muslims are not responding to the offer of salvation as we were presenting it, might there not be a better way to make that presentation? One such movement of questions began in Bangladesh, where one missionary couple began seeing Muslims convert to Christianity.

    As other missionaries followed this lead, they saw more Muslims come to Christ in Bangladesh over the following ten years than all who had converted in the previous 100 years!  What started as an innocent question to a missionary decades ago has become the basis for most modern ministry to Muslims.

    As I traveled in Central Europe some years ago I met a Bulgarian pastor.  During our conversation he took out some photos of a preaching point outside of his own pastorate.  He explained that this was over an hour's drive from home, but he traveled there weekly because he was planting a Muslim convert church among ethnic Turks.  In amazement I looked at him and blurted out, "I've never heard about this."  He simply smiled and replied, "I know, and that's the way it should be."  He didn’t want to draw outside attention to this ministry, because he didn't want to draw Muslim --  or Christian -- opposition.  At the time I talked to him, he had over 70 converts already organized into a functioning church.

    Over the past 50 years the church has taken another look at Islam and realized that it is not as solid and forbidding as once thought. Today there are more missionaries than ever working among Muslims.   Patrick Johnstone wrote in Operation World, that recent years "have been a time of more Muslims coming to Christ that ever before in history.  These are the beginnings of what we believe could be a flood -- if it is to be demonstrated Jesus is Lord even over Islam."

    I personally believe today’s militant Islam is, in part, a reaction to the success of the gospel in penetrating the gates of this stronghold. We can react with fear or make it a political issue, but then we lose sight of the fact that this is an example of the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

     The gates, walls, or whatever represents this world’s strongholds of resistance to the kingdom of God cannot stop the truth of the gospel carried by those who faithfully follow and obey Jesus Christ.

Please note: As we present this series of examples of the church triumphant, you might have noticed that we are not sharing specific names or places. This is a conscious effort to protect real people who might still be at work in these situations. If you would like to know more details, you may contact Mandate directly on our comment page.