Failure to reach cities linked to Colo. shooting, pastor says

by Matt Sanders, posted Monday, May 03, 1999 (20 years ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--The murderous rampage that took place in Littleton, Colo., can be traced to Christians' failure to follow God's strategy to change society by changing the lives of people who live in cities, a Chicago pastor said at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Urban evangelism is not just another box on NAMB's (North American Mission Board) chart," said Charles Lyons, pastor of Armitage Baptist Church. "It is the Holy Spirit's strategy.

"I believe with all my heart that what happened in Littleton is directly linked to our failure to follow the Holy Spirit's strategy," because "all cultural trends flow from the hilltops of urban centers in the world," he said in an April 21 chapel message.

Lyons issued an impassioned call for students to join in urban evangelism efforts, a call he has made often in recent years to other groups.

God is urbanizing the world through means including political upheaval, famine and war, Lyons said.

"Why would God move masses of people to what we call urban centers?" he asked. "There is only one thing on God's heart, and that is the rescue of sinners. If he is moving masses of people to urban centers, it must be that he is doing so in order that it will be easier for us to reach them."

American cities are attracting people from around the world, Lyons added, but churches are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to minister to them.

"Churches within a mile of where we sit right here cannot reach the people across the street from the church building," he said.

Using first-century Ephesus as a comparison, Lyons noted that where God is at work, Satan is working against him.

"If God is moving people to the cities ... and if Satan has one plan and that is to thwart the purposes of God ... then Satan's powers have centered themselves in these centers of population," Lyons said.

Lyons pointed out the demonic forces that the Apostle Paul faced when he entered Ephesus for the first time as recorded in Acts 19. He entered the city with nothing but the Holy Spirit and the truth of God.

"Why did it work then and it doesn't work now? Why are whole denominations failing to impact cities?" Lyons asked, adding that Acts 19 is not just a record of Paul's experience but a model for "impacting cities."

Verses 11 and 12 record that exorcisms and miraculous healings were performed by Paul, which Lyons called the "power of God manifested," one key to evangelizing a city. From verse 17, Lyons noted a second key: "the name of the Lord was magnified" as a result of the manifestation of God's power.

Lyons recalled an Easter Sunday when homosexual activitists tried to disrupt a worship service at Armitage. Each time one of the activists tried to disrupt the service, Lyons told the congregation to stand and sing. As the ushers escorted the screaming activists out, the church sang.

"On that resurrection day in the heart of Chicago, Satan tried to take over," Lyons said. "The resurrected Lord stood up and said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. This is my turf and you do not rule and reign.'"

The activists, who had been invited to the church by church members, were told they could return to the service if they did not disrupt it, but they refused the offer.

Quoting Acts 19:20, Lyons said that "the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing."

Lyons defined "prevail" as winning the battle in the heart of a person. He said that after the incident a homosexual man who was the lead psychologist of a Chicago school district came to church and accepted Christ.

"How do you salt and light a school system with half a million people in it? Win one of the homosexual psychologists to Jesus," Lyons said.

Lyons called on Christians to follow the example of Christ who did not "commute" to earth each day or ascend "after supper every night."

"He wrapped himself in flesh, and he moved into the neighborhood," Lyons said.

"He did not come thinking there might be a threat," Lyons continued. "He came to lay his life down. He knew he would die, he came to die. He didn't move to Pluto; he came to where the action was. He came to where the sinners lived."

Lyons said that God wants Christians to be like Jesus and move to where the sinners are.

"As long as we try to live convenient Christianity, cultural Christianity, as long as we look for esteem and position, and as long as we have a price tag, we will not get the job done," he said.

"But if we come as servants, ready, willing to die to self, to die to name, fame, position, influence, God might be able to use us," he added.

"If you want to be on the cutting edge, if you're contemplating ... where might I serve, you ought to lay your life on the altar and say, ‘Lord, I'll go wherever you want me, and that includes any major city in this world,'" Lyons said.

The pastor ended his sermon by telling about a Christian rap concert his church held on the street outside the church after Vacation Bible School. About 40 children responded to the altar call. The next morning, he was told that three children who had been taken home on the church bus after the concert were shot in a drive-by shooting.

He remembered searching through the invitation cards until he came to the name of Tony Russell, a 12-year-old who was killed in the shooting just minutes after accepting Christ.

"I was so glad that we were in the right place at the right time," Lyons said. "I was so glad the power of God was manifested and Jesus was magnified.

"I was so glad the deacons didn't say, ‘We've never heard of rap before. We can't do that.' I was so glad the people didn't say, ‘We're tired. We can't drag all those chairs out there at 9:30 on Friday night.' I was so glad Jesus' good news still gets the heart of 12-year-old boys who are minutes from death.

"I invite you to be a part of what God is doing in this day in this time."

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