Have you ever been prevented from speaking about Jesus, the gospel, or the Bible?
Recently I was asked to conduct a wedding service for an attractive, young, highly successful, and secular couple. I was delighted as we’ve known each other for many years.
We had several premarital counseling sessions and I had given them some Christian books on marriage and love. Each book had been well received, eagerly read, and the principles had been implemented in their relationship. We prayed at the conclusion of each session. I had hopes that this lovely young pair was glancing in Jesus’ direction.
So far so good . . . As we planned the wedding service, though, the couple politely and kindly told me they didn’t want a Christian wedding service—not even a prayer of blessing in the service. They felt that because they weren’t Christians, it would be hypocritical of them and unrepresentative of their values to have a Christian wedding. (Actually, in their past they had been “burnt by religion,” but that’s another story.)
When they shared this news, I was both initially disappointed and inwardly respectful of their integrity. On another level, however, I was silently panicking! My mind suddenly was bouncing with questions like: How can I talk about love but not about Jesus? How can I speak on commitment, dedication, faithfulness, the beauty of an enduring, growing relationship without Jesus being in that conversation?
In a few moments, this highly anticipated event suddenly became the most challenging wedding I’ve conducted in 30 years of ministry! Was I to be censored and prevented from talking about Jesus at this unique opportunity?
But are there times when we silence or censor ourselves?
On a recent Monday, an intelligent, young, and dedicated Seventh-day Adventist engaged me in a conversation. He studies at a major public university and lives in one of the great, progressive European cities. While the city is loaded with architectural beauty, a rich and inspiring Reformation history, and opportunities for all things secular; living a faithful Christian life isn’t easy in that environment.
We began with catching up since we last met and quickly progressed to discussing a worship service we had both attended the previous weekend. He was troubled.
“Where was Jesus in the sermon?” he asked. “Where was the Bible in the sermon?” He was disappointed.
Knowing a little of his circumstances, I heard the words he didn’t speak. “While I have a daily Biblical devotional and live every moment prayerfully with Jesus, I need a Jesus-focused Biblical message to sustain me through this week. I’ve contemplated the sermon for 48 hours and there’s still a void. A week is a long time to wait. I need a Biblical Jesus gem, and I didn’t get it in the sermon!”
For some reason, the experienced preacher had chosen to quote extensively from non-Biblical sources and on topics only tangentially connected to Jesus.
For this young adult, the pastor had effectively and needlessly censored himself.
Recently, I stood on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone and, using military-grade binoculars, looked through haze into North Korea—a country where Jesus, His lovely gospel, and its sharing are outlawed. There, the cruelest, hungriest prisons and/or a merciless death await the stewards of Jesus’ grace. Meanwhile, 25 million people live in that very isolated, Christless regime, with seemingly perpetual famine and Kim Jong-un as their only “legal” worship option.
In all communities, even countries with so-called religious freedom in their constitutions, there can be forms of censorship that can be used to silence the preacher God has called. We can be silenced by many things: laws, politeness, our fears, political correctness, or societal expectations—even from people we admire and love. And we can even silence ourselves!
If I’m candid, there are times when I can feel discouraged. Every honest pastor knows that ministering can be a bruising vocation. At those times it can be easiest to default to silence.
In those difficult, awkward moments, I’m teaching myself to remember the wonderful privilege it is to proclaim Jesus and His eternal gospel—freely, fully, joyfully, fearlessly, and lovingly!
Oh, to be like the apostle Paul who couldn’t be silenced by shame, ridicule, imprisonment, chains, shipwreck, beatings, stonings, or imperial decrees: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16, NIV).
In this issue’s lead article Steven Thompson offers a masterful, well-paced exegesis of 2 Peter 2:1–8. Don’t miss it! Pondering and applying the seven salient points will not only revitalize your communication of the gospel, your whole ministry may be transformed!