By Dr. James Emery White, Crosswalk.com
Most of us are familiar with the concept of urgency. It has to do with something that needs immediate attention because of its gravity. One of the challenges facing evangelical Christianity is that we do not seem to feel it is urgent to reach people for Christ. This despite an explicit effort from Jesus to generate such urgency:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’” (Luke 16:19-28)
Either Heaven or Hell
When we die, we face either heaven or hell. While the great and final judgment was yet to come for both men in Jesus’ story, it’s clear that immediately upon our death, the fate of our lives is not only sealed but the verdict of that inevitable judgment is set in motion.
The beggar Lazarus was by Abraham’s side which, along with the concept of paradise, is mentioned in the Talmud as the home of the righteous—the place where the righteous dead go to await their future redemption and vindication. The rich man was in hell (in the original Greek, hades) the place where the wicked dead go to await their final judgment.
And the chasm between the two cannot be crossed.
We do not often let our thoughts travel to such realities. It is uncomfortable. Even chilling. But one person in Jesus’ story had it envelop every fiber of his being: the man in hell.
To such a degree that he experienced a remarkable change in priorities. As I once heard someone observe, five minutes in hell made the rich man a flaming evangelist. Why? Because suddenly he knew it was all for real.
And once he knew this, nothing mattered more than warning those he cared about. He knew that hell was not a figment of someone’s imagination. It was real, and real people go there for eternity. And the man in hell knew that it would take someone going to them, talking to them, making it clear to them.
Hell has a way of making that clear.
Meeting Needs, and Realizing What Produced Them
We must realize that our friends, our family members, that person in our neighborhood, the person we work with who does not know Christ is in real trouble. We must not see the needs of the world solely in terms of food and clothing, justice and mercy, shelter and companionship.
We must see those needs, to be sure, and meet them—but we must see beyond them to the fallen nature of a world and humanity that produced those needs. We must see eternity waiting to be written in their hearts.
I know of a ministry to young male prostitutes working the streets of Chicago that offers food, shelter, counseling, and an array of other social services to help men move out of that degrading lifestyle. Most of us would think that is more than enough, that the greatest issue had been addressed. But not John Green, the founder of Emmaus Ministries, who said, “We do violence to the poor if we don’t share Christ with them.”
And he’s right.
Live with Urgency, Not Passivity
It is difficult to imagine passivity regarding those who have yet to embrace the Christian faith. The Scriptures do not simply speak; they thunder:
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Passivity was not the model of Jesus.
He went into the world. He spent time with those who were far apart from God. He reached out relationally, built friendships, went into their homes, attended their parties, broke bread at their tables.
His was a life of urgency.
And we are called to the same.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Pixelheadphoto
Adapted from James Emery White’s Christ Among the Dragons, available as an eBook here.
John Green, quoted in an unsigned editorial, “The Greatest Social Need,” Christianity Today, Jan. 19, 2009, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.