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No more sparklers!

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No more sparklers!

Jacques François

Jacques François, MA, serves as pastor of the New Life Adventist Church, Louisville, Kentucky, United States.

 

It proved almost impossible for me when I was young to contain my excitement when the Fourth of July rolled by each year. Excitement and apprehension battled in my stomach as I looked forward to the festivities. Excitement because of the mini explosions caused by smoke balls, bottle rockets, firecrackers, Roman candles, artillery shells, and jumping jacks. Apprehension because I always hoped that this would be the year that I could graduate from sparklers to the louder fireworks that were available in the arsenal.

Every year, my mother faithfully purchased sparklers for the children to enjoy. When we were very young, the sparkler was more than sufficient to quench our thirst for opulence. As we matured, our hearts panted after what we called “real firecrackers.” We begged my mother to upgrade the stockpiles of sparklers that she saved every year and give us more variety to choose from. One year she finally relented and purchased quite a number of cherry bombs.

My nephew and I (we were like brothers because we were the same age) were really excited about this new development. Immediately we went to work. The evening started with lighting one cherry bomb at a time. Because our street was littered with empty beer bottles that were tossed carelessly aside, we decided to light the cherry bombs in the bottles to see whether they would explode. To our satisfaction, they did. After blowing up a few bottles, we got the ultimate idea. We decided to stuff many empty bottles with cherry bombs and then squeeze as many of those bottles as we could into our mailbox. After packing the mailbox with these makeshift bombs, we lit them, slammed the mailbox door closed and ran as fast and as far as we could. After a few moments, we heard a tremendous boom! When we went to inspect the mailbox, it was completely disfigured. There were holes everywhere, the door was thrown violently across the street, and the blast was so intense that it blew our plastic mailbox right off the post!

This act was, of course, extremely dangerous. I dare not put into words how my mother responded.

The gospel explosion

Cherry bombs are explosive; so is the gospel. The gospel causes explosions so intense that it mangles the kingdom of Satan and unhinges sin’s power base. Paul in Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”*

The word “power” comes from the Greek word dynamis, from which we derive the English word dynamite. God has put a stick of dynamite in our hands to obliterate any obstacle to eternal life that the enemy puts in humanity’s path. God knows that we cannot impose this type of carnage with a sparkler. Like dynamite, the gospel blows things up. When the gospel is unleashed, it leaves in its wake a “race” of people who have experienced the saving grace of God. Sin’s stronghold is diminished, flames of Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 1:17) are kindled, and the restoration of God’s image is implanted in His creation.

Pentecost inaugurated an unprecedented season of courageous gospel preaching. That morning found 120 members of the Jerusalem church in earnest prayer. After the Spirit of God poured Himself on the church, the gospel was preached with clarity and, when the dust settled, 3,000 people were added to the church rolls.

I must point out that Peter was not alone in preaching that day. The Holy Spirit fell on everyone in the upper room (Acts 2:2, 3). Verse 4 iterates “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Verse 11 expands this notion when it says, “we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” In a high-octane church, the preacher is not the only who proclaims the gospel. Everyone is given a treasure chest of gospel dynamite. The gospel was detonated during Pentecost, and 3,000 individuals were extracted from the grip of death. As my nephew and I ignited our cherry bombs on the Fourth of July and shoved them in my mother’s mailbox, so God’s people ignited their explosives on the day of Pentecost, shoved them into sin’s abyss, and it was blown off of its foundation.

Set it off

Every year, we stood waving the sparklers in a circular motion until the fire was extinguished. This was cute but inconsequential. My mother gave us the sparklers because they were safe and they did not cause any damage. The bombs, on the other hand, massacred the mailbox. The force of the blast left it devoid of further value. There was something that the sparklers and the cherry bombs had in common, however. While the sparklers and the cherry bombs had differing physical makeups, in order for any effect to take place, both had to be aroused with fire.

The gospel contains capabilities that can annihilate anything in its path, but it needs fire to unpack its destructive nature. Without the flame of Holy Spirit, preaching the gospel is of none effect.

I must make a bold statement—the gospel was designed to be preached! If we look at our high-octane commission, you will notice that the first two parts specifically tell us to preach, whereas the third part tells us to teach. Whenever the Bible discusses the presentation of the gospel, it always does so in the context of preaching. God designed the gospel to be transformational, not just informational.

When I was a student at Florida State University (FSU), all students received free tickets to go to the home football games. My reality was astronomically different in class than it was at a football game. In class, I sat, listened, recorded what the instructor had to say, and took advantage of opportunities to ask questions. The interaction between the teacher and me was structured, limited, and designed to teach me something that I did not previously know. However, at the football game I was emotionally attached to the outcome of the game. When FSU struggled, fell behind score-wise, and eventually lost, I was tense, apprehensive, mad, and/or sad. When my team performed well and eventually won, my mood was quite different. I was happy, overjoyed, and proud. You could hear the boom of our roars and shouts as we cheered our team on. In class I had an intellectual interaction with my studies. At the football game, I had an experiential interaction with the outcome of the game. I am not promoting emotionalism. I am advocating that preaching allows the hearer to experience the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Greek noun for “gospel” is euangelion and is translated as “goodnews” or “gospel,” but it has a rich history. When kings went to the battlefield for war, dispatched messengers would bring news to the citizens of the out-come of the battle. Sentinels would stand on top of the city walls awaiting the tidings of the messenger. The messenger would approach the city in a specific manner that would indicate whether the king won or lost. If the messenger demonstrated that the king won, the sentinel would cry with a loud voice: “Euangelion! Our king won!”The inhabitants of the city had an emotional stake in the outcome. If their king lost, they would be enslaved or destroyed by the opposing king. The citizens shouted just as they would have if they were on the battlefield with their king’s army. The fact that our King won the battle should make us rejoice more than we would if we attended a football game and watched our team vanquish our adversary.

Tailor-made

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent me heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind, 

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18, 19) 

When we examine the ministry of Christ, it is easy to notice the clinical aspect of His miracles. He was a dermatologist, because He restored the leper’s smoothness of skin. He was an ophthalmologist, because He restored sight to the blind. He was a hematologist, because He cured the woman with the issue of blood. He was an orthopedist, because he healed the paralytic. According to the text, Christ was anointed to preach, and the gospel was tailor-made to address the spiritual, social, and sensational aspects of the human condition as well. God retrofitted the gospel to heal broken hearts, give liberty to the captives and the oppressed, counteract spiritual blindness, and offer hope for the future. The gospel paves a highway to salvation.

This is precisely why the gospel is dynamite: because it blasts through rocks and structures that impede the progress of the sinner to have transformation. What good is a stick of dynamite if fire is absent to kindle it? What good is the gospel if the preacher is not available to thunder it from the mountaintops? As the inferno of preaching burns, it ignites the dynamite of the gospel and shatters all obstacles in the way of the salvation of man.

Paul in his missive to the Roman church says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,

Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ ” (Rom. 10:14, 15)

The gospel speaks through the medium of preaching. The preceding passage presents dominoes that fall one by one. The domino that initiates the falling of the other dominoes is the Spirit-filled preacher! When I was pursuing a master of arts degree in pastoral studies, one of my professors asked a question in class: “How does the gospel receive a hearing?” I am possibly over-simplifying the answer, but according to Romans 10:14, it is through preaching.

According to Scripture, “John the Baptist came preaching” (Matt. 3:1); “Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14); the disciples “preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20); the apostles “preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2); and Jesus told us in the gospel commissions to preach (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47).

Not the pastor only

A great and unfortunate misconception that exists in the body of Christ is that the preaching of the gospel can be accomplished only through the words and energy of the pastor. The pulpit stands as the pastor’s greatest leadership tool, but the pulpit should not serve as a cage for the gospel. God designed the gospel to leak into the highways and the byways, the streets and the mountaintops.

Take a glimpse at the book of Acts where the prayer assembly mobilizes to pray in chapter 1 verses 13–15. One hundred and twenty people pack the upper room with their prayers and supplications. When the sound of the rushing, mighty wind filled the house where they were praying, cloven tongues of fire sat upon each of them in Acts 2:3. Verse 4 continues with the fact that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. In verses 8 and 11, every person heard the wonderful works of God in their own tongue. Up to this point, Peter has not stood to preach. The gospel was preached by everyone who was endowed with the Spirit of God.

Allow your holy imagination to picture a moment when every member in your church goes looking together for the masses in the community and begins to preach the wonderful works of God to the residents. All the pastor has to do is extend the altar call like Peter did and give the invitation to repent, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, to receive remission of sins, and to accept the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). Picture the type of energy and heat the proclaimed gospel will generate and how the community will be impacted. What would it be like to claim entire street corners, blocks, neighbor-hoods, cities, countries, and continents for Christ through this intentional and aggressive form of evangelism?

The world does not need another homiletician or theologian. The world craves bold individuals who are unafraid to open their mouths and declare the magnificent good news of Jesus the Christ! God needs every hand on deck to accomplish the greatest commission ever given to humanity. The most basic meaning of preaching is proclaiming. Everyone, even without a theological education, can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Just ask the leper of Galilee (Mark 1:40–45), one of the ten lepers who was healed between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11–19), the man healed by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2–15), and the woman at the well (John 4). Only one prerequisite preceded the preaching of the gospel in all of the mentioned cases: each person experienced the goodness of Jesus Christ.

Choose a community and attack it with your army of believers like the 120 did on the day of Pentecost. Unleash each member to proclaim the gospel to everyone whom they encounter in the community. Publish the gospel from house to house and from apartment complex to apartment complex. Visit parks, recreation centers, and grocery stores. Take the community by storm. Ask God for holy boldness—and preach the gospel, for there is, indeed, dynamis in the proclaiming of the good news.

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*  All Scripture is from the New King James Version; emphasis added.

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