Evangelical, Evangelist, and Evangelism. They are words with mixed emotions today, yet they may be precisely what the world needs at their root meaning. In its worst usage, the term evangelical is often hurled by the political left to depict a category of white males with a Christian background who voted for President Trump. Of interest, though, one Gallup study found that 61% of Non-Hispanic Blacks identified as Evangelical compared to only 38% of Non-Hispanic Whites. So an honest consideration of these terms must press further down than surface political rhetoric.
But even within professed general Christian subgroups, there appears to be debate over the help or hindrance of evangelicals. In one recent high profile podcast, the host rightly pointed out the problems with some specific individuals wearing the name evangelical. However, he was slow, even avoidant at times, to shine the light on the glory of these ancient terms. It seemed that he was not only cautious toward the title in question but also conveyed the idea that those who walked with evangelism as a priority in their lives were somehow less enlightened than more advanced thinking Christians. On a personal note, a few months ago, I was criticized by someone in this progressive camp as being a mere evangelical because I was not cheering for his chosen social issue of the day. Because I refused to jump on his societal bandwagon, I was labeled among the problems of America and the world today. For him, my prioritizing evangelical above social was a profound problem.
But maybe without straying too much, it would seem logical to step back and calmly research academically what these terms mean instead of allowing the latest social talking head to define them. In short and at root, the terms combine two Greek words conveying the idea of good news. Thus, an evangelical believes and stands on this good news. An evangelist is someone who announces this good news, and evangelism is the act of announcing that good news.
Religion brings a burden. Jesus and his work bring hope. This hope is precisely what all these words convey. On a very primordial level, all of our issues are connected to a brokenness in our hearts, our lives. The answer to that is somehow found in God and not us. The answer is found in the good news of what God did for our hearts in Jesus Christ. The hope is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which brings forgiveness and healing for our sins. The good news is that we can be healed from the brokenness of sin. Then, the picture gets better. Because I can have peace with God and myself, I can also have peace with the world around me. Is that not what we are looking for?
In one of the earliest occasions of this word, the Apostle Paul noted that he was not “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Here, the gospel is simply the English compound of the two Greek words depicting Good News or (Yuanghelidzo) – or Evangelism. The power of that statement is seen in the mysterious reality that somehow, the Jews and Gentiles of the first century were united and found peace with God and among themselves.
Their peace came not from politics, more excellent education, more money, or social enlightenment. Instead, the change in their heart came because of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. That was the good news, the gospel, the evangelism. That is what changed them and can change the human heart today.
So, yes, I am an evangelical and hope you will be one someday yourself.
How has this word touched your life?
Ukraine? How do we respond to the Russian invasion that has gone on for almost two weeks now? By this, I do not mean governmental, political, or economic responses. Instead, the question has to do with our own hearts. Maybe it depends on the generation or location. Since the war began, I’ve not heard too much from younger adults in their early 20s. Perhaps this is because it is occurring on the other side of the globe. Out of sight, out of mind to our present context some would say.
For me though, I grew up in the latter part of the Cold War, so my connection is a bit heightened. I remember being in college when the Berlin wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. So, the knowledge of an aggressive Russia triggers emotions.
More importantly, during a ten-week foreign internship in 1993, I spent just over a week in Ukraine, so I have personal connections there. In addition, through other ministry contacts, I am aware of Christian leaders in the country. On the other end of the storyline, I lived in Moscow, Russia, from 1994 to 1996, helping establish a Bible college, and have many beautiful memories from that time and know people in Russia who do not support the actions of Putin and other Soviet-era leaders who want to take over Ukraine.
But across the world, the public chatter is growing much more vocal. Maybe it’s the constant media. One of the differences between the Viet Nam war and all previous wars is the amount of continuous media coverage that comes into American homes on the nightly news with more graphic images than ever before. Today, with our media technology, anyone with a cell phone can record and shoot to the world at any time. So, these videos and reports from Ukraine are sometimes happening in real-time, which conveys raw information and sometimes very intense emotions.
So, for us, who are not actually on the ground there, how can we respond? There are some great and growing options to send humanitarian aid. Two of those are with Impact Ministry Group and Marked Men For Christ in which you can go to the site and click to designate for Ukraine. Physically, though, there is little more. On the other hand, as a child of God, there is indeed so much more we can and must do. In truth, for those who call themselves followers of Christ, there is the essential thing that can and must be done, we must pray.
When I think of prayers in the Bible, one of the first appeals that come to my mind is a prayer we know as the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 23 is one of the most widely referenced and partially quoted prayers within and without the church. With a bolt, it flies out of the shoot with the opening line of, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . .” and is further carried with the powerful image of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
The text is a recording of prayer deep within the soul of King David as he acknowledged that despite everything, God will bring deliverance. We don’t know if the context was one of him fleeing the mad King Saul, or possibly, this was even more personal as some believe that David offered up this praise and plea when his son, Absalom, tried to usurp the Kingdom from David and take his life. Whatever the historical specifics may be, we see in this prayer David reaching up to God and finding hope despite what was quaking around him in the present.
Yes, we can still today reach back some three thousand years and find hope for today. But the real and ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is found in John 10:11 where Jesus addresses all our tensions with the proclamation that he indeed is the one and only Good Shepherd. It was Jesus who faced the final and greatest enemy, death, and triumphed over it and Satan on the cross and his resurrection on the third day. His resurrection demands proof of his divinity and thus we have assurance of His future return with the final judgment, and reward. As David trusted in the God of all creation, we too, lift our voices with praise and prayer today knowing that Jesus, the Divine Son of God, will hear us.
-Like so many occasions in so many places of the past, I recite in faith, David’s prayer of Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
-From David’s prayer, I offer up my brief personal and present additions . . .
“Lord, I declare before all creation that you, and you alone, are the true shepherd. Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Trump, and other governmental leaders are not the true shepherd and the power they wield is only given by you. To you, and you alone, I ask that you bring divine help to the suffering not only in Ukraine but to all who call out to you.
Jesus, the valley of the shadow of death is very real in Ukraine today. I ask that you use your rod and staff to confuse and confront those who are set against you and set toward evil and violence. As David prayed for the confusing of the enemy in 2 Samuel 15:31, we pray that you will bring to nothing those who are bent on violence. I ask that you bring miracles and wisdom to those standing against evil.
Lord, David spoke of hope, of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. He spoke that even though he was separated from the tabernacle, from the Arc of the Covenant, which was still in Jerusalem. David spoke of hope because his hope was in you.
I pray for those in Ukraine suffering in ways I cannot imagine. I pray for those in Russia who do not agree with the aggressive actions of Putin. I pray for those who live near the DMZ in North and South Korea, for those in Cuba, for those in China and Taiwan. I pray for the people of Honduras who are now under communist rule. I pray for the poor in Mexico, Central America, Africa, and in the lower reaches of rural America and the slums of US and international cities.
I pray that you will bring the final and ultimate victory. As we wait for your complete judgment and renewal of all things, give us strength to carry on in trust. Above all, I pray for open hearts and that they will see your grace and power. I pray that through the chaos right now, you might be glorified, and people might come to know you.
Yes, Jesus, I pray that you would be the shepherd to those who call upon your name.
In Your Holy Name, Amen”