JACKSON, Tenn. – April 4, 2003 – The dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, called on Christians to share the gospel of Christ with the same intensity and force used to rescue former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch.
|Thom Rainer challenges Union students and faculty to be more aggressive evangelists.|
“Jessica Lynch was rescued – injured, but alive and well,” said Thom Rainer during an April 2 address to more than 1,000 students and faculty at Union University. “Can you imagine the courage it took to go in and save her life? The resources? One life is that important temporarily and one life is that important eternally.”
American Special Forces led a team of Marines, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and Air Force pilots on a rescue mission to save Pfc. Lynch. Lynch had been held captive by Iraqi soldiers since March 23 when members of the 507th Maintenance Company took a wrong turn in the desert and were ambushed.
Rainer, a noted expert in church growth and evangelism, compared the mission of Christians to that of the soldiers who rescued Lynch. He also spoke to approximately 250 pastors gathered on campus for the university’s PreachingPoints Conference.
“We are called to build God’s house,” Rainer told the students. Referencing Haggai 1:1-8, Rainer noted that God’s call to rebuild his house was uttered in 520 B.C. “God said, ‘I want you to rebuild my house.’ He speaks to each of us who have received him and tells us to build his house by seeing God’s people added to it, by going to share the message of salvation.”
Relating the passage to the New Testament, Rainer referred students to Acts 1:8 where God says, “Go build my house.”
Rainer related a chance encounter with former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman on an airliner as an example of witnessing moments.
“I got on that plane and all I wanted to do was sleep,” Rainer said. “But God reminded me about a promise I had made to a friend that I would share Christ each week. We would ask each other, ‘With whom have you shared the love of Christ in the last week?’”
Rainer said after he found his seat he felt a large presence behind him – it was the hulking Foreman. Noticing Rainer’s book, Foreman asked the seminary professor if it was a Bible.
“I said it was and he said, ‘Keep reading it,’” Rainer said. “I did what I was told.”
Later, another man sat down beside Rainer and struck up a conversation about the Gospel of Christ. “Eventually I asked the man if he wanted to become a Christian and the man became very antagonistic,” he recalled. “I backed off but George leaned over the seat, told the man to shut up and to listen to the Gospel. He did.”
Rainer said there were three obstacles to sharing the gospel of Christ – conflict, comfort and commitment.
“In Haggai the people said it was not time to build the house,” Rainer said. “They had opposition on the outside and division within. They had never done it this way. Have you ever been reticent to share the love of Christ because you fear opposition?”
Fear, Rainer said, was the reason the Jews didn’t build the house.
“Comfort is another obstacle,” he said. “When the King of Persia allowed them to return, he allowed them harvest trees for the temple, but they used them for homes. They were more concerned about not getting out of their comfort zone than they were about building God’s house.”
“God says don’t get too comfortable,” he said. “Don’t get too complacent.”
Rainer said a good way to avoid complacency is through mission work. “If you don’t go far away to a mission field, there is a mission field here – dorm mates, neighbors, family.”
Rainer also cautioned the students to remember their commitment to Christ. “The Bible tells us that those in Haggai’s time were doing a lot of good things but they were not doing their best,” he said. “They did things that were not mandated by God.”
“Don’t let the good replace the best,” he challenged the students.
“Jesus told us to go and be his witnesses,” Rainer said. “When we are called upon to tell the Good News, God does not say, stay. He says go. You know what a precious possession has been given to you. Don’t you dare withhold it from others.”
by Todd Starnes
Director of University Communications