A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals: The Union University Pulpit (2013)

In March of this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the campus of Union University, speak in their chapel, and visit with students. Union is known far and wide as one of the “good to great” stories of the Baptist Colleges and Universities over the last two decades thanks to the steady and visionary leadership of David S. Dockery and his capable and well-regarded team.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to this is the quality of students that have graduated during the Dockery tenure. Without question, when I meet a student at Southwestern Seminary and discover they studied at Union, I know I have found a well-informed, academically capable individual who, while able to engage well the intellectual arguments of the day, still has a heart for the Lord and for people around the word. The ability to produce, in such steady droves year after year, students of such caliber is truly remarkable. I can only hope many more Unionites will come and study with us here in Fort Worth.

Yesterday, I received a copy of the most recent Union University Pulpit journal containing sermons from a variety of speakers over the course of this year. A few months back, Joshua Moore, director of church relations, asked if they could include my sermon in this issue, and I was eager to help prepare it for publication.

My sermon is titled “A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals” from Romans 15:17-21.

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
(Romans 15:17-21 ESV)

Here is a portion of my introduction and a link to the full transcript follows:

The word ambition in our 21st century, especially American, culture gets thrown around and used in many ways. For those of us who are seeking to follow God and are concerned with godliness and holiness, oftentimes the word ambition gets shuttled aside as a bad thing—a self-seeking thing or a selfish kind of thing. But Paul used the word ambition here in Romans 15 by harnessing it and putting it in its proper context and direction.

I’m 38 years old. Soon I will turn 40 and I do not know if this is the way it is with you but every time I come up on a new decade I think a lot about what did I do in the last decade and ask, “Have I really done anything?” and “What do I want to do in the next decade?” I went through this when I was in my twenties in college. What do I want my twenties to be known for, or my thirties, or my forties? I’ve been thinking a lot about this and ultimately asking myself the question, “If you had to boil it all down, what is the most important thing to me? What am I all about? What is my driving ambition?”

There are really two ways to figure this out, two tests. Test Number One, I can ask others who know me what they think I am all about. Or I can look inwardly, Test Number Two, and ask myself some questions …

If you really want to know me and truly get to people at Southwestern who do know me, aside from the Downton Abbey exterior and the green socks and all these other silly things, I hope that at the core you will see that I am doing what I am doing because I am passionate about seeing people going out to the ends of the earth and knocking on the doors of people who have never heard the gospel or the name of Jesus Christ in their entire lives. They don’t have access to it, they have never seen a Bible, they have never heard its words, and to them we are taking the gospel for the very first time. Whatever it takes to see that accomplished, at the end of the day, is what I am all about.

What is at the core of your heart if you peeled away the layers? Ask those who know you the best. If you ask yourself the why question enough times, what is at the core of your heart?

What I want to show you here in this passage, Romans 15:17-21, is the Apostle Paul’s ambition and that this is not just reserved for Paul, it is an ambition to be shared by all evangelicals, all Christians, all people who love the name of Christ. Whether you ever leave this country and become a missionary or not, this should be the ambition, this should be the core of who we are. So let’s see if Paul’s argument is convincing to us.

Here is a PDF of my full transcript of the March 8, 2013 message, “A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals.”

The audio recording of my message is available here and video is available here.

To receive a printed copy of the Union University Pulpit 2013 contact the fine folks in the Office of University Ministries at Union.