Extending Gospel Ministries Starts with Us
Partners with the President with Alex Mandes and Greg Strand
Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin interviewed Greg Strand and Alex Mandes about what might hurt our witness and how we can refocus our attention to Jesus and His gospel. You can watch the full interview here.
During my pastoral ministry, when I would preach in church each Sunday, a small note sat on the pulpit. The note had a simple phrase from John 12:20-21 that read, in short, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” It acted as a reminder for me: point people to Jesus.
“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus” (John 12:20-21, New International Version).
Before this moment in the Gospel of John, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. As you might expect, a story about a man rising from the dead caused people to spread the word like wildfire. Everyone wanted to come meet Jesus. But now it wasn’t only the Jews and the Samaritans that wanted to see Jesus, the Greeks had heard His good news and had come, interested in seeing Him for themselves.
It’s likely these curious Greeks heard many other stories about Jesus as well. Perhaps they heard stories of His other miracles; healing the sick; raising the paralyzed to walk; making the blind to see. But stories are stories; the Greeks, like all of us, were hungry to see Jesus in the flesh, to confirm who He truly is, to verify that this Jesus is, indeed, everything they’ve heard about.
On January 6, many people across America heard a different story about Jesus. They saw people carrying “Jesus 2020” flags alongside a violent entry into the Capitol building, the destruction and theft of property and brutal treatment of security and police.
Is this who followers of Christ really are? Is this who Jesus really is? Is this what He wants?
God’s heart for the lost and the broken
In Luke 19:1-9, we learn that someone else wanted to see Jesus—Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector and sinner. Desperate to see Jesus, he climbed a sycamore-fig tree in Jericho to get a glimpse of Him because he was too short to see over the crowds. Jesus, of course, doesn’t walk by and ignore Zacchaeus. He sees this short man in a tree and invites Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house, something Zacchaeus gladly welcomes.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way” (Luke 19:1-4, NIV).
In this story, what moves me most is how Jesus responds to Zacchaeus after the crowd grumbles about Jesus having “gone to be the guest of a sinner.” After Zacchaeus tells Jesus he will give half his possessions to the poor and pay back those he has cheated, Jesus says:
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10, NIV).
God’s heart is not for earthly political establishments to be created in His name. It’s not to attack our enemies or overturn the government. Even when He walked the dusty trails of Judea, Jesus’ disciples and the crowds wanted Him to overthrow the established political order and become a military messiah.
I am so thankful that Jesus had something better in mind, as we see in the gospels. God’s heart is for the broken and the lost, to save the sinner and reconcile them to Himself. If we want to see Jesus, we must be eager to see this Jesus; the one true God who came to seek and save the lost. There is no other.
As the people of God, we are entrusted with this good news. We are all broken and lost sinners in need of a savior. Jesus is that savior. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, we are in the midst of a spiritual battle, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV). As evangelicals, we unashamedly proclaim this good news to all people, and this beautiful treasure does not stop there but is revealed by how we live it out.
As a movement, the EFCA established this heart posture in Article 8 of our Statement of Faith:
We believe that God's justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with Greg Strand, who oversees EFCA’s theology and credentialing, and Alex Mandes, who leads in the All People Initiative, about the things that can turn our eyes away from Jesus and how we as a church can share the gospel and live out our faith. Please take a moment to watch the video:
How we can see Jesus
My friends, this is a disciple-making moment. We must not be swept up in the rancor, malice and hate that is increasingly attached to the term “evangelical.” If people want to see Jesus, they should turn to His Church and if they turn to His Church and see anger and strife and vitriol and conspiracy theories against others that aren’t like them, they are not seeing Jesus, the Good Shepherd seeking the lost, the sinner and the marginalized.
Allow me to recommend how we can look to Jesus and effectively share His gospel. First, it must start with us. Shortly after the events on January 6, I released a call to prayer. On that weekend, I prayed and fasted, trying hard to focus on Jesus. Now, I’m not one to sit for long periods of time; I’m high energy and like to be moving. But I felt compelled to sit in the stillness and seek Jesus. It was not easy, but it was worth it. I encourage you join me in doing the same, seeking Jesus in prayer and fasting.
While you’re in prayer, reflect and ask God to search your heart on what might be pulling your eyes away from Jesus. Ask questions like: Where is my affection? Who am I looking to for direction? Where am I not pointing others to Jesus? When we look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd who came to seek and save the lost, we can step out in confidence and tell others about Him and what He has done for us.
Soon, we will have the opportunity to seek Jesus in the Psalms. On February 3-4, 2021, the EFCA’s Theology Conference will convene with the theme “The Psalms: The Undershepherds’ Shepherd.” From Christian living to Christian preaching to Christian lament (something we can all relate with after last year), six speakers will unpack how the Psalms reflect the heart of God and encourage us in our pain and sorrow. Though this will be a virtual event, I encourage you to invite others and find safe, socially distant ways (like video calls) to connect with each other, to build relationships and encourage each other in His Word.
So many things can steal our attention away from Jesus—politics, economics, relationships, prestige and power and self-preservation, among others. Recently, political idolatry hit a tipping point, damaging our witness to a watching world. So, with renewed intentionality I will continue to dialogue with EFCA leaders to determine how we can more effectively extend gospel ministries in ways that will both declare and demonstrate the heart of Jesus. Together, we can set our eyes on nothing else but Jesus' beautiful face.