When Chuck Lawless was in the seventh grade, he said God “in his grace” put in the desk beside him a “completely out-of-control, obnoxious, rude, tactless, in-your-face 12-year-old Pentecostal preacher.”
Lawless had never been told about God and had never seen the inside of a church.
“Every day my seventh grade year he told me about Jesus, so much so that I skipped school some days,” he said of his classmate. “He would do things like meet me at the classroom door at 7:30 a.m. and say, ‘Chuck, it’s a good thing you lived through the night, because you would be in hell right now.’”
Grateful he was ‘still breathing’
When you hear the gospel that way, you don’t sleep very well, Lawless told those present at the State Evangelism Conference at Lakeside Baptist Church in Birmingham on Jan. 30. “I would wake up and say ‘thank you’ — to a God that I didn’t know — that I was still breathing,” he said.
So one day he went to church just so he could tell his classmate that he had been, so the guy would get off his back. And when Lawless did, the Holy Spirit moved in his heart, and he decided to follow Jesus.
Then Lawless started sharing Jesus the same way his classmate had shared with him.
“The only way I knew how was the way I had been told,” he said. “I would tell a wall about Jesus, equally obnoxiously.”
‘Can’t help but talk’
And Lawless — now dean of doctoral studies and vice-president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina — said even though he’s a professor of evangelism and missions, there are days when he still longs to have that zeal again.
Preaching from Mark 1, 5 and 6, Lawless said followers of Christ should be marked by the way they can’t stop talking about what Jesus has done, just as those who experienced his miracles gave glory to God in the pages of Mark.
“When Jesus comes on the scene and you’re amazed at His teaching, you’re amazed at His power, you’re amazed at who He is, you can’t help but talk about Him,” he said.
When Jesus shows up and flips life upside down, “we go out and talk about who He is, and somebody somewhere will be changed too,” Lawless said. “When you get filled with amazement again, you’re going to go talk about Him.”
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said for each believer present, “At some point in your life, someone told you about Jesus, someone introduced you to Jesus Christ and your life has never ever been the same, and it’s all because you had an encounter with Jesus Christ.”
For anyone to have an encounter with Jesus Christ is life changing, Luter said. Preaching from Mark 10:46-52, he said the story of Bartimaeus illustrates that.
He pointed out Bartimaeus’ condition — that he was blind, and that because of that he was limited in what he could do.
“I believe the physical condition of blind Bartimaeus is an example of mankind and our society today,” he said. “That is, mankind is spiritually blind. … If only mankind could see that Jesus is the answer for the world today.”
‘Keep on keeping on’
But even though Bartimaeus didn’t have eyesight, he had insight, Luter said. He was ready for a change, and when Jesus was nearby, Bartimaeus cried out to Him.
“Some people aren’t ready to change,” Luter said. “Some people are just comfortable in their condition. Some people are comfortable in their sin.”
But Christ’s followers are commissioned to share the gospel and let God do the work.
“So let me encourage you this morning — don’t give up. Keep on keeping on. Do all that we have to do and hopefully somebody will be ready so they can be changed like Bartimaeus,” Luter said.
‘The gospel the world needs’
Mac Brunson, pastor of Valleydale Church in Birmingham, closed out the conference with a message from 1 Peter 3, noting that the sufficiency of Christ above everything else is “the gospel the world needs.”
That’s the gospel that Peter rehearses for his letter’s recipients, and it’s the gospel that followers of Christ should rehearse to themselves every day, he said.
From there, they should share it with family, friends and neighbors living in a society with a lot of brokenness, Brunson said. “I’ve found that if you’ll just preach the gospel, people will get saved. They’re hungry for it. They want to know is there something that can save me and fix me.”
Daniel Wilson, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said his team’s prayer “was that this would be a very sweet-spirited conference where people would leave refreshed in their ministries.”
“We wanted every person to go home remembering that they are not alone but are part of a loving and caring family called Alabama Baptists,” Wilson said. “I feel like God honored our prayers and enabled us to have a conference that inspired and celebrated our people in their evangelistic efforts.”
Also during the conference, the praise team of Lakeside Baptist Church and Chris Diffey, minister of music and worship, led music.
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