N.C. pastor, Gilbert, shares ABCs of the Gospel
By Norm Miller
November 9, 2004
RAYTOWN — Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., addressed attendees at the 170th meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention in Raytown, Oct. 25-27, saying many Southern Baptists have lost the big picture of the purposes of God.
Preaching from Luke 24:44-47, and using an alphabetic outline, Gilbert used letters “A” through “E” to dispel what he says is an “us and them mentality” regarding the Gospel that pervades the lives of too many churches in the United States.
“God not only loves us – he loves them,” said Gilbert, meaning that them refers to the rest of the world. He said most churches in the West no longer see or understand that God has a plan for reaching the rest of the world with His Gospel.
Illustrating his point, Gilbert asked what is the most important part of a jig-saw puzzle. While many agreed it was the corner pieces, Gilbert opined the most important part is the picture on the box top.
“If you don’t have the box top, you don’t know what you’re doing,” Gilbert said.
“I believe the church of Jesus Christ, especially in America, has lost insight to the box top of the purposes of God.”
The big picture of God’s purposes become apparent in verse 46, where Jesus said repentance and forgiveness in His name should be proclaimed to “all nations,” the word all referring to the letter “A” in Gilbert’s outline.
The Greek word, ethnos, translated nations doesn’t mean countries on a map, Gilbert said. The Greek word ethnos signifies ethnic groups — people groups in missiological parlance.
“It’s not just about color of skin; it’s not just about language; it’s not just about food; it’s about what makes us, us, and them, them,” he said. “The Bible says the Gospel is not just for us; it is for them.”
Gilbert said he prayed for God to convict those Christians who read the Bible so ethnocentrically that they have “missed the big picture of the purposes of God.”
Noting that God’s desire for all the world to know Him pervades the entire Bible, and that Christians so easily miss that theme, Gilbert cited part of Psalm 46:10. “‘Be still and,’” Gilbert started the verse. The crowd finished, “‘and know that I am God.’”
Gilbert said the crowd recalled only the first half of the verse because they were American Christians. He recited the second half: “‘I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth.’”
About 800 million people live on the North American continent in a world of six billion inhabitants, Gilbert said. “But Jesus wants to be worshiped by,” and the crowd joined Gilbert in finishing the phrase, “all the people of the earth.”
Continuing his alphabetic outline, Gilbert noted verse 50 and said God has “blessed us to make us a blessing.”
“Now it’s up to us to take what He’s given us and do what’s always been in the heartbeat of God,” Gilbert said, referring to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all people.
When Jesus said: “‘You are witnesses of these things,’” Gilbert said Jesus was unfolding God’s plan of world-wide evangelism to the church – the “C” of Gilbert’s outline.
God has no plan to tell the world about Jesus any other way than through the church, Gilbert said.
Interlacing his fingers and then folding his hands, Gilbert recited a familiar child’s poem: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors. See all the people.” The poem is cute, said Gilbert, but it’s “terrible theology.”
“If you want to see the church, you’ve got to look at the people,” he said.
“And what’s God’s plan to tell the peoples of the world that Jesus is Messiah? … What’s His plan for Him blessing you and to make you a blessing?” Gilbert asked.
God’s plan is for “you, one of those little wiggley fingers, to be willing to go anywhere and do anything He asks you to do,” Gilbert said.
“God does His work not through buildings with steeples … not a state convention, not even the International Mission Board. He does it through His church,” he said.
Referring to the letter “D,” Gilbert asked, “What does God want you to do? God doesn’t want you to do what I do. God wants you to do what He wants you to do.”
When he became pastor of Calvary, Gilbert discovered the church had a missions partnership with Cuba. The request had come from Cuba for a farmer who possessed a unique set of agricultural skills and commensurate knowledge.
To Gilbert’s surprise, there was a farmer in the largely white-collar church who had the precise training, skills and experience needed in Cuba. And only he could do the job.
When asked about going to Cuba, the farmer began to cry, saying, “‘Did you know that my father and grandfather regularly prayed for Cuba?’ recounted Gilbert. ‘And I grew up as a little boy praying that the Gospel would go to Cuba. There’s nothing that would be more fulfilling to my heart than to use my skills to help build a relationship with Cuba.’”
Gilbert said some of the pastors in the audience were “sitting on the opportunities of the ‘farmers’ in your church. … But they’re waiting on you to tell them that it’s about more than your street corner.”
Using the letter “E,” Gilbert said God wants “everyone … all of His church involved in taking the Gospel to all of the peoples, all of the ethnos of the world.”
For those who aren’t exactly sure how to do that, Gilbert suggested, “You can watch the evening news and not be nearly as concerned about the price of oil as to whether they worship Jesus” in the countries depicted. “You could start praying through the evening news.”
Praying that a “spirit of brokenness” would pervade his listeners, Gilbert challenged them to go anywhere and do anything for God’s glory, because “Jesus deserves to be worshiped by all the ethnos.”