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FIRST-PERSON: The ministry of amiable nicks

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–The other evening, we headed north to Milwaukee to take in a Cubs game at Miller Park, and something strange happened: The Cubs won. I was wearing an old Cubs jersey, bought for $2 at a thrift shop, and I wondered if I might be assaulted by inebriated, bratwurst-engorged Brewers fans. But the evening was a joy –- in a beautiful park with friendly people.

One experience stands out -– hearing the intro music for Brewers outfielder Gabe Gross. Apparently the players can pick the theme song they want played over the P.A. system when they walk up to plate. Most of it was pop, rock, R&B, and rap (no opera, jazz, madrigal, new age or country, so far as I could tell). But Gross’ choice was both familiar and arresting: it was “Blessed Be Your Name” by Beth and Matt Redman. As in “Blessed be the name of the Lord …” No kidding.

When I got back to Evanston, I checked this out on the Internet. Sure enough, Gross was an outspoken Christian from Auburn University. And, of course, he was taking his hits in the blogosphere. For instance, somebody calling himself “Smoove D” wrote the following:

“I was at the game tonight, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when Gabe Gross came up to bat. It sounded like some kind of Christian rock [mess]. Does anyone know what it is? I couldn’t make out any of the words other than what I thought sounded like ‘Jesus.’ I know the players pick their own music, meaning I like Gross a little less now.”

Smoove D was taken aback by the response he got from folks pleased with Gross’ choice. For example, apostrophe-challenged “MBrewCrewOnWinTrack” wrote back:

“Praise the Lord! I love that in [Gross]…. Get over it. I respect him and like him more now if that is what it was! He has his convictions and you have yours. If it motivates him … fine. I would pick the same thing if it inspired me and is what I chose for my introduction just like closer’s come in the game to heavy metal, rock and some gangsta rap bands! Good for him!”

The music segment was a little thing, perhaps 10 seconds long, but it made a difference. You might say it was a slight razor nick on the prevailing secularity. Not a full-framed apologetic for the Christian faith but a good word for the Lord where many have forgotten the Lord, and where many of those who know the Lord have forgotten to say so.

The next morning in our hotel room, I was reminded of the devil’s program of nicks. Sharon and I were sharing the Gideon Bible when we discovered stickers pasted therein by some vandal: One read “No Gods. No Masters,” the other, “Keep State & Church Separate.” They were small stuff, but they could nick the spirit. Of course, given our background, they only stirred our resolve and provided material for preaching, teaching and writing, but imagine the impressionable non-believer turning to this copy of the Word, hoping to find direction or solace. Maybe the stickers would cause him to wince and close the book.

The devil does this sort of thing all the time: little digs in movies, tiny slices on magazine covers, wounding words in conversation, all meant to diminish the honor and influence of biblical Christianity.

It got me to thinking about our own spiritual warfare. We often frame it in terms of wielding the sword of truth, slaying the dragon of mendacity, and charging the gates of hell. Amen! But we shouldn’t discount the toll that paper cuts and pin pricks can have on the morale of those serving or enabling the enemy. If a 10-second music clip can send Smoove D huffing and puffing to his keyboard, so can a bowed head and brief prayer before a restaurant meal, a church T-shirt on a movie patron, and a reference to the mercies of Jesus in a television or newspaper interview.

Of course, it’s more gratifying to cast these small acts of witness in a positive light. We’re just living out our faith, hoping that the fragrance of our message and its manifestations will be intriguing and enticing. But there are many who are far from eager to be touched by warm demonstrations of Christian piety. They’re tough guys who need some Gospel discouragement before they’re ready for Gospel encouragement. They need holy irritation before they turn to holy consolation.

In that vein, our church took to the streets, or more precisely the street, one Sunday afternoon recently. Having discovered that at least a dozen Evanston streets were named for serious, 19th-century Methodists, we decided to visit them one by one, letting the residents know about their namesake’s Gospel convictions. We started on Hinman Avenue, named for Clark Hinman, the first president of Northwestern University. (Unfortunately, he died before the first class was held.) On our flyer, we ran a quote from one of his sermons, and, for good measure, we made reference to excerpts from John 1:14 (in Greek) and Philippians 4:8 (in Latin) on the Northwestern seal.

We didn’t expect full-scale revival to break out by supper, but we did hope to plant some seeds for inquiry. The response was warm since many Evanstonians are history buffs who are proud of their local university. But I know there was some offense in what we were doing. By quoting Hinman on the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, we were sure to trouble a number of our neighbors. And I couldn’t help think of the relative affluence of Hinman Avenue, filled with grand homes not far from Lake Michigan. One can build a satisfied, secular worldview around firm possession of expensive real estate cooled by lake breezes and massive trees within easy walking distance of university lectures, dozens of fine restaurants and rail service to the splendors of Chicago.

It can be such a comfortable, godless existence. At least, that is, until some Southern Baptist shows us to give your insular materialism or vague “spirituality” a nick.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and distinguished professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Reprinted from the Illinois Baptist newsjournal, online at www.ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist.

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  • Mark Coppenger