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Rehabilitating the Word ‘Evangelism’

We can be evangelists for our computers or the latest tech, but talk about your faith in the wrong place these days and you might get arrested. Evangelism and evangelists have fallen on hard times in America. Whereas Billy Graham was one of the most esteemed men of his day, we tend to thin…
By Seth Barnes

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We can be evangelists for our computers or the latest tech, but talk about your faith in the wrong place these days and you might get arrested.

Evangelism and evangelists have fallen on hard times in America. Whereas Billy Graham was one of the most esteemed men of his day, we tend to think of evangelists as charlatans in cheap suits. The word "evangelism" sticks in a lot of people's throats like a bone. We've seen it all and we've grown cynical.

Most young Jesus-followers want nothing to do with evangelistic activities. The social gospel is where it's at these days. We're good with loving people as Jesus did, but not so good with preaching the kingdom as he did.

The idea of evangelism is biblical – it's God's idea. It's the first phase in the discipleship process – a get-to-know you time. We just may need a little help in understanding why God likes it more than we do.

In that regard, it may be helpful to think back to a time when you felt lost. Have you ever felt so lost that you started to panic? You had no point of reference to get where you were going and it was scary.

Once a friend's three-year old son went missing. We couldn't find him anywhere. Finally, my wife, Karen, figured out that he thought his mommy had gone to the grocery store, so she headed that way. Sure enough, there he was, a little boy walking along a big road, trying hard not to cry, doing his best to find his mom.

As Jesus describes it, God's kingdom is a place where lost things are found. He says it's like finding a hidden treasure or a valuable pearl.*

You have to have felt lost to get the power in his metaphors. As we realize we were lost and he has found us, we understand the treasure we are in his eyes. And having grasped our belovedness, we can join him in helping others see themselves that way too.

We were born to be with him and bring others into his presence. He reconciles us in our broken state to himself and asks us to invite others to the party. He wants us to think and to dream about this – it's a passion of his that he wants us to share.
 
And as we share this dream of his, we see what an incredible thing it is to partner with God. We see how wonderful it is to help a person see that God loves them.

If you've experienced it, it may have been the high point of your life. God longs for us to join him in touching the world with his love. It's his dream. To join with God in helping others experience his love is a privilege that we we need to grasp. It's a purpose to which we must commit.

That's evangelism.

I think you have to have experienced the sense of utter despair that comes when you feel utterly lost and abandoned by God. You have to have felt God's embrace rescuing you from that place.
 
The truth is that people all over the earth feel ugly, forgotten, and estranged from God. The Bible calls them "children of wrath," and that's how they feel – at odds with themselves and the God who made them, living in a scarred and forgotten place.

They need someone who will help them find their bearings again. There are few feelings that can match the feeling of helping a lost person find his way back home.

        * Matthew 13

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