Evangelism isn’t something we talk about much in liberal church circles. It’s a strange word with a variety of meanings. Evangelism actually means the same thing as Gospel. It comes from an old Latin word evangelium and translates as “good news”. So, to evangelise is to spread the gospel – to share the good news.What possible reason could there be not to share good news? To share good news is to give hope, peace, and fulfillment to people. So, I practice evangelism everyday – or at least I mean too.
The word Evangelical has come to take on many varying definitions and opinions. It has become a denomination of sorts and no longer means what it once meant – to share the good news of the salvation from sin.
In Mark 1:14-20, after John was arrested, Jesus found himself ready to switch from living with John’s teaching and John’s baptism to his own. He was, in a sense, like a disciple of John – He was baptised by Him after all and praised his place among mortals and prophets alike. But John was gone now and Jesus couldn’t do this alone. So he walked along the shore and met two men, Simon and Andrew. Simon would later be given the name Peter, from the Greek Petros which means “the rock”. Simon would become the rock upon whom Jesus built his church – making a line of succession from John through Jesus to Simon called Peter. This makes the lineage from Old Testament prophetic tradition to the Church flow through Jesus directly.
Jesus walked up to these two men, Simon and Andrew, and told them to drop everything they were doing and follow him – So these guys just dropped their nets and follow him! The Spirit must have come and changed their hearts because who would do that? Who would walk away from their life to follow a stranger? Furthermore, who would want to go fishing for people? What is that even supposed to mean? I can hear Andrew and Simon saying to each other “who is this guy shouting nonsense at us from the shore?” The Bible must leave that part out.
The important thing is that over and over Jesus calls us to leave things behind so that we may follow him. Immediately after he picked up Simon and Andrew he walked a little way down the shore and did it again! He yelled out to two more people who also left their nets, and even their family, behind to follow this stranger.
I usually like to think that when Jesus talks to the disciples it’s the same sort of thing He would say to me. The disciples are so perfectly human that they show us how to interact with the Christ – by success and by failure. So when Jesus told Simon and Andrew that he would make them fish for people, I hear Him speaking to me as I choose to follow Him. So I better figure out what that means!
Frances Ellen Watkins wrote a poem called Fishers Of Men. It is about a dream she had, what sounds to me like a prophetic dream. I’d like to take a look at what she has to say.
I had a dream, a varied dream:
Before my ravished sight
The city of my Lord arose,
With all its love and light.
The music of a myriad harps
Flowed out with sweet accord;
And saints were casting down their crowns
In homage to our Lord.
My heart leaped up with untold joy;
Life’s toil and pain were o’er;
My weary feet at last had found
The bright and restful shore.
Just as I reached the gates of light,
Ready to enter in,
From earth arose a fearful cry
Of sorrow and of sin.
I turned, and saw behind me surge
A wild and stormy sea;
And drowning men were reaching out
Imploring hands to me.
And ev’ry lip was blanched with dread
And moaning for relief;
The music of the golden harps
Grew fainter for their grief.
Let me return, I quickly said,
Close to the pearly gate;
My work is with these wretched ones,
So wrecked and desolate.
An angel smiled and gently said:
This is the gate of life,
Wilt thou return to earth’s sad scenes,
Its weariness and strife,
To comfort hearts that sigh and break,
To dry the falling tear,
Wilt thou forego the music sweet
Entrancing now thy ear?
I must return, I firmly said,
The strugglers in that sea
Shall not reach out beseeching hands
In vain for help to me.
I turned to go; but as I turned
The gloomy sea grew bright,
And from my heart there seemed to flow
Ten thousand cords of light.
And sin-wrecked men, with eager hands,
Did grasp each golden cord;
And with my heart I drew them on
To see my gracious Lord.
Again I stood beside the gate.
My heart was glad and free;
For with me stood a rescued throng
The Lord had given me.
The beauty of salvation, which opens our eyes, which saves us from ourselves, is so miraculous that it must be shared. We must all fish for people, we must all be evangelists. Evangelism does not have to mean creeds and denominations, it is not defined by any one belief. We can help rescue people from themselves and from the hardships of this world. We can turn away from our pearly gates, and reach instead back into the world which suffers. Evangelism can be mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in a world in such dire need of them all.
The way we live our lives is a huge part of how we share the gospel. One sure fire way to help transform the world is to be transformed ourselves. We must allow Christ to work through us for the benefit of all. And through that we will evangelise, we will share the good news. But evangelism doesn’t just mean living a good life it can also mean talking, preaching, and teaching. However we do it, We bring people closer to salvation – to being saved by God’s love from the dark sides of life. Because coming close to God, no matter which path you may take to get there, makes you a kinder and humbler person.
Evangelism does not have to be pushy, it proves itself. They will know we are Christians by our love. It is loving to want to share the hope of peace and a world of kindness with everyone you meet. To me this is just common sense. How could you do anything else?
There was a time in my life when I was in the pit of despair. I saw no goodness – there was no light in the darkness. I have found in God what this world never gave me. I once was lost and now I am found – and I would not dare keep that to myself when others are lost as well. So, though I may use the word very differently than most, I am happy to call myself an evangelist. Because I want to always and in everything I do encourage people to seek God and be saved. Saved from spiritual sickness. Saved from loneliness. Saved from a life of self harm. Saved from a life of harming others. Saved from a life lived in fear of judgement. Saved from the selfishness which inevitably arises out of all these things. Because salvation is real and it can heal the world and we must share it.
So, my friends, I encourage you to think about Simon and Andrew. Think about James and John. The call to leave behind the ways of this world and dedicate ourselves to another kind of world – the Kingdom of Heaven, is not just for those fishermen of old. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Paul addressed the church in Corinth. He encouraged them to leave behind their families and their possessions to follow a greater cause
Think about The Christians in the church in Corinth Paul was speaking to in his letter. He was giving words of encouragement to his disciples there. He encouraged them to completely change their lives. He thought Jesus was coming back next week and so it was a no brainer for him to drop your proverbial nets and get on board. While Paul was wrong and 2000 years later Jesus has still not returned, truth remains in these words. Sometimes living a gospel life means changing the very way you live your life. I try not to imagine when Jesus will come back, because he told us himself that we can not know the hour of his return. But I do try to let go of those things life here on earth teaches you and pick up a new way. Learning to live as Christ lived. Learning to live as Christ taught. Learning to live as Christ guides even today.
So cast down your nets. Go fish for people. The Christian life happens in every moment. We must live as fishers of people if we want to help save the lost and oppressed from the burdens of sin – selfishness, despair, resentment. Believe me when I say you will come to know yourself and God better in the process. Do not hide your light under a basket, sisters and brothers. For our world is lost, our nations and our communities are full of sadness and dysfunction.
We often speak of eternal salvation, but Jesus does not have to wait for death to save us. Christ can save us now. Christ can save this world now. But Christ waits for us to get there on our own. The work of salvation is one we partake in. God gives us free will and wants us to use it. The more we encourage others the more we grow. The gospel is a message of hope and compassion. True compassion for the brokenness of the world means an active role in how the kingdom of heaven is realised. The good news is meant for the whole world, and you and I both must share it. Share it and see joy grow. Share your faith, not your list of beliefs, but your faith. Share your love, not just with your family but with your enemies too. Share the good news in every moment and be one piece of this world that shifts to God and makes things better for everybody.
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