"Don't dillydally, don't load up on video clips and music, don't trust the power of your community service programs, don't rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel.
Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting in some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we've gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples." (Jared C. Wilson, p. 193 in Gospel Wakefulness)
What an altogether perfect word for what we're doing in Christian circles these days: dillydally.
We eat up the facebook snippets, read the books, tweet the deets, post the newest viral explosion and search for songs with the most emotional moving typeface. No one is immune. We all seem to love knowing the good news. We love the controversies created by differing doctrines and debating the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. We love to throw down the name of the newest book or sermon or method of sharing the gospel to prove we're keeping up with the Christian Joneses. I don't know why we do it, but I do know that dillydally is an altogether perfect word for all the acrobatics we use to get around preaching the gospel.
Wilson quotes 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (emphasis mine) before the excerpt above,
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
Paul writes about the way the gospel came to the people in Thessalonica - in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. I can't speak to what kind of theatrics surrounded their speech, but it's pretty clear that the gospel was explicitly shared with the people. Paul makes it sound like this is obvious - to preach the gospel in word - but we are not so sure these days (the shorter the Sunday sermon the better - seriously, what newcomer wants to listen to a stranger ramble on and on and on about blood and sacrifice and propitiation?).
But how can people believe the gospel unless they've heard the gospel? Explicitly, unashamedly preached with full conviction. The conviction piece is important because our role is not to convince another of the gospel's merit, but to fan the flame of our own conviction that gospel is true. Wilson writes, "My brother, pastor, don't worry about bringing the heat. Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself to full conviction." I like that: just be hot.
Yesterday, I was reading Gospel Wakefulness poolside and a man asked, "What are you reading? Like, what's it about?"
A little sun-weary and caught off-guard, I fumbled before I found, "It's a book about the gospel... about waking up to the reality of what Christ did on the cross for those who believe."
"Oh, yeah, I believe that," he said, "I used to be really bad, like drinking and smoking and s---, but it was f----- up. I mean, I was hospitalized and I been sober since I got out. They gave me these new meds and I'm like s--- this is living. I mean, I can go out to the forest and be like, that's a f------ tree. It's like what I thought was normal was really screwed up. I mean, I feel like I'm finally awake after a life of hearing voices and s---. Like schizophrenia and all that s---. So, yeah I got out on Monday and it's been f----- awesome."
"Wow, that's really crazy." I didn't really know where this was going, but I was stationary on a lounge chair and it seemed like as good a place as any to discuss what is/isn't the gospel and how it relates to his hospitalization. "So, do you think it's the medication or something spiritual that happened?"
"Oh, yeah, totally that medication. It's crazy - the doctors had me on all kinds of s--- growing up and I was f----- up bad, but I just thought it was normal. But, seriously, there's no side effects to this drug I'm on. I sleep for 5 hours and I'm like gettin' s--- done before I go to work at 9 am!"
"Well, what this book is really talking about is the gospel (the good news) that we read about in the Bible. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve for our sins so that we can be free. He took on all our messes on the cross and gave us relief and joy in this life and forever in eternity with Him--"
"Yeah, I believe that."
At this point, I'm thinking 1) I should really brush up on my 'how to share the gospel when caught off guard in a lounge chair' skills and 2) does he really believe that?
"Yeah, it's like everyone believes," he went on, "You know, in a higher power. I mean, I believe Jesus is in all of us. Don't you believe that?"
I won't give you our whole conversation, but this guy was persistent, inquisitive, and interested. Granted, the situation was less than ideal - laying on sweaty plastic lounge chairs in bathing suits - but I suppose this is what it means to "always be prepared to give an answer."
I asked him some hard questions, mentally thanking Tim Keller for all those chapters in Reason for God that wrestle with doubts. We bantered back and forth and I was careful to not blink an eye with all his cursing. I'll confess I got kind of casual with my language, as we talked about who would populate heaven. He told me, "Well, I mean the good people. Like I believe we all put out vibes. I mean, if you're a b---- you're not going to be in heaven, but if you're good you will."
"But who determines who is good and who is a b----? I mean I might think I'm good according to my standards, but someone else might think I'm a b----... so who's going to heaven?"
More than ever in that conversation I needed explicit words. I did not need games or videos or pictures. I needed to speak the good news of the gospel into the chaos of crowded beliefs Joseph had assembled. And even when I spelled it out in all it's offensive glory, Joseph persisted with more questions and stories about his life.
I told Joseph about church on Sunday and he said he would come. He said it didn't even matter how early because the medication has him up by 5 am.
I pray he does come and I pray my pastor preaches the gospel because I need it just as much as Joseph.
Because we are all on the verge of destruction by dillydally... the painful beat around the bush game of kind of the gospel. We are all in danger of believing and speaking and hearing a gospel that is less than Jesus' words on the cross, "It is finished" and less than the glorious result of his work.