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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–We need some good news today, don’t we? We may be facing the worst disaster our nation has ever encountered. Thousands may be dead, and hundreds of thousands homeless, financially ruined and emotionally broken.

So what could possibly be good news today? It could also be that the good news of the next great movement of God’s Spirit is just around the corner. The horror of the hurricane on the Gulf Coast has not been the most shocking thing we have seen. The most fearful thing of all has been the force-fed look that America has been given into a culture devoid of God’s plan and God’s blessing. The chaos, violence and looting should not really surprise us. This is the fruit of where America has been heading for a long time. But God has often used times like this to awaken His people and a lost world to their need of Him. Desperation can drive us to God. And just maybe America is beginning to get desperate.

The good news is that the greatest opportunity we have had in our lifetimes to share Good News, to be good news is now right before us. Perhaps God will wait to see what we will do with “the least of these” before deciding whether to send a great awakening. Bottom line: It is time for the church to finally stop focusing on whether we like the music, whether we agree with the pastor, whether we have our needs met, and decide that the church is not about “we.” The church is not a social club. The church is a rescue mission. And it is time for the church to be the church again!

How can we do that right now? Well, that brings up more good news -– Jesus is coming to your door! He’s on the way right now. Listen to Him:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35).

Never have there been so many strangers headed to our churches and our homes. What will we do when Jesus shows up in the form of a tired, flood-ravaged evacuee? Oh I know — there are so many dangers and logistical problems associated with housing these people in our churches and homes. In my role at the North American Mission Board I am struggling with those problems right now: How do we check out those coming into our homes? What if some have criminal backgrounds? How do we pay for all this? How will the children go to school? And what about liability for our churches? But that doesn’t change one fact -– Jesus is on the way –- and He is a stranger in need. If I turn Him away, what will I tell Him when I see Him in heaven? “Sorry, I was afraid I’d be sued?”

We won’t do that! I believe Southern Baptists are ready to be good news to these devastated people. How do we do it? Every local church and every Southern Baptist can help. Many churches are already taking in people. Many of your state conventions have wonderful strategies in place. Call them and ask how you can be a part. And at NAMB, we are announcing a national strategy to assist all of you and your churches as we love and care for these people together in the many months ahead. Look for this at www.namb.net and be praying for all that is already underway. I wish all of you could come to NAMB and see the Disaster Relief Operations Center at work. It is amazing! I have never been so proud to be a Southern Baptist.

In A.D. 260 a plague swept Europe. Many fled the cities and left their own sick family members in the streets. But not the Christians. They took in strangers, ministered to them and loved them. Dionysius wrote, “… they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains.” And because of it the movement of Christ-followers spread faster than a plague! Maybe we are on the verge of it happening again.

The Lord is not asking us to die for strangers today, but to live for and with them. And the wonderful thing about that is that they stop being strangers and become friends –- friends with whom we can share the Good News. This is our chance. This is our time. Come on Southern Baptists, let’s make evangelism good news again!
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board

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  • John Avant