In this day of impersonal communication, the story of "The Gospel Blimp"--a satirical look at a church that substitutes using a blimp and mass media for relational evangelism--might be good for us to remember.
And as to social media, well, let's remember that it is supposed to be SOCIAL, with interaction, not mere blasting platforms. Agreed?
Does Your Church Have A Gospel Blimp? by Joe McKeever
In 1960, Joe Bayly wrote an entertaining little volume of 85 pages about a group of well-meaning church members who decide the way to reach their unsaved neighbors would be to float a Scripture-carrying blimp above the city and bombard the citizens with gospel tracts.
My copy of “The Gospel Blimp,” which I have kept all these years, was produced in the book’s 7th printing. I seem to remember a gospel film (the inexpensive kind made to be shown in churches back in the day) was made on the book.
I’ve not heard a thing of the book or the story in decades, but Dr. Bayly’s point was so timeless, it still applies today. The story (sort of a parable, I suppose) needs to be dusted off and retold.
See what you think.
The blimp idea got started when this little cluster of friends from a conservative evangelical church were enjoying a barbecue in George and Ethel’s back yard and began discussing their next-door neighbors. It was obvious they were unsaved because they were drinking beer and playing cards. Someone pointed out that they attend a liberal church, and this just a few times a year. As a plane went overhead, a fellow named Herm remarked that if that aircraft had been carrying a message such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” the lost neighbors would have received a witness since they also had glanced in its direction.
One thing led to another and the idea was birthed to buy a blimp and have it trail Scripture messages across the sky for citizens to read. They formed a non-profit, got themselves chartered, organized a board with officers, and made Herm, the fellow with the idea, its executive. Soon, Herm resigned his job and went full-time with International Gospel Blimps, Inc.
Someone had the idea of tying gospel tracts with colored cellophane tape and bombarding the neighborhoods with “fire bombs” from Heaven.
A project like this naturally would require a great deal of money for maintenance, a hangar for the blimp, and salaries for the pilots and the executive. Fund-raising quickly took a great deal of time and energy from the organizers.
Within weeks, the board members began devoting all their spare hours to this project. In order to keep the blimp running, to tape the fire bombs, and to raise money, they missed their kids’ little league ball games, had to turn down invitations from friends to go out for pizza, and gave up all their evenings at home.
Soon, they added a loudspeaker to the blimp so Herm could preach short messages across the city while dropping firebombs and dragging the Scripture du jour through the sky. When the sermons began invading their homes, citizens rose up in protest. The police chief came close to arresting them for disturbing the peace, but backed off when they agreed to dismantle the speakers.
Meanwhile, Herm, the executive, began devoting less and less time to the actual day-to-day running of the Gospel Blimp ministry. He roamed far and wide to raise money and make public appearances. Gone from home so much, his wife eventually filed for divorce, particularly when she learned the primary reason for his long absences. The board, however, decided that Herm was so valuable to the ministry they could not dismiss him. After all, it was only her word against his. So, they went forward.
And what about the unsaved neighbors who were the impetus for all this blimpness in the first place? A few times, when they knocked on George and Ethel’s door to see if they wanted to come over or accompany them on a little fishing trip, they found them away from home or too occupied with the blimp business.
George and Ethel were the first couple to drop out of the Blimp ministry, feeling that it had somehow gotten off course and was taking too much of their time with only miniscule results.
Some of the high-powered executives with whom Herm played golf (a lot of golf!) talked him into added commercial messages to the blimp in order to increase its acceptance and generate more funds. Soon, the blimp sports religious messages saying “I am the way” and others saying, “The American way is the best way.”
On the third anniversary of the original cookout where the blimp idea had surfaced, George and Ethel invited over their friends who were still heavily involved in the work of the IGBI. In their back yard, they introduced their neighbors, the ones whose salvation had been the original impetus for the blimp business. They had come to know Christ and George and Ethel thought the blimp board needed to know how that had happened.
The board members were ecstatic. “Which firebomb did God use to reach you?” “Was it one of the Scriptures we trailed?” “Was it one of Herm’s sermons?”
None of that. In fact, they said, that infernal blimp had driven them batty.
What had happened was that after George and Ethel had pulled out of the blimp ministry, they had time to get to know the neighbors. When the wife went into the hospital, Ethel would visit her, take flowers from the garden and sit with her. She would read to the woman and they would talk about Jesus.
Meanwhile, they invited the husband over for evening meals. He sat in on family devotionals when George read the Bible and prayed. Neither the man nor his wife had ever met anyone to whom Jesus Christ was real.
The husband told the backyard group, “There’s something else. Any of you guys ever spend two weeks keeping house with the wife away?” His house had been filthy.
“Ethel came in the day before my wife came home and gave that house the going-over of its life.”
The wife added, “Yes, and for a month after I got home she wouldn’t let me do a stitch of washing or ironing. Took all our dirty clothes home and did them.”
In the silence that followed this testimony, one of the board members ventured that now that the neighbors were saved, they would surely be interested in joining the blimp ministry.
“Sorry,” the new believer said. “George and I are going bowling with the guy across the street.”
Joe Bayly gives his interpretation of this modern-day parable in the final chapter. “The little city where the Gospel Blimp was conceived is the world, our latter twentieth century American world, in which Christians work and play, raise children, buy automobiles and face the devil.”
Our next door neighbors, Bayly said, may be down the road or across town. They may drink beer and play cards but they may just as well attend the symphony and lead the local civic club. “Some of them may even sit near us on Sunday morning.”
The Blimp? Bayly says, “Why the wonderful Gospel Blimp is every impersonal, external means by which we try to fulfil our responsibility to witness to our neighbors. Gospel programs over the radio, messages on billboards or in tracts; these are some of our blimps.”
“These are poor substitutes for personal communication of the gospel, the sort of witnessing we glimpse from afar in the New Testament.”
What do you think of "THE GOSPEL BLIMP" story?
More Muslims Have Converted to Christianity in Last 14 Years than All of 14 Centuries of Islamic History!
Sometimes as Christians, we can get down and defeated. It seems that everywhere, Satan is winning. Fear. Terrorism. ISIS.
But what we see on the news is not the full story.
Note the following quote from a Christianity Today article on ISIS Undermining Islamic Faith.
"Muslims frightened by the inhumane acts by the ISIS, which the militants claim they are doing in the name of their god Allah, are now questioning their very own faith, and presumably considering to leave it, CBS News reported on Friday.
This is backed by testimonies from missionaries working in the Islamic world who noted that more Muslims have converted to Christianity in the last 14 years since the devastating Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The number of converts in the recent period, they said, is greater than during the entire 14 centuries of Islamic history."
So do not despair! God is at work in the world, and he has already won the victory through Jesus Christ. Could it be God's plan to use the horrors of ISIS to bring Muslims into the fold of Christ? That is the essence of the gospel--God taking the worst that sin has to offer in death and the cross, and creating resurrection and new life from it. Praise God for what he is doing in the Muslim world!
How do you see God at work in the Muslim world?
RISK MANAGEMENT - What a Boring Way to Live; We Are Called to take Risks for God! (Esther 4:12-16; sharing our faith)
RISK MANAGEMENT - Sermon Illustration
In this slide, you can see a definition of "risk management," and some of the things that go into this practice and mindset - Identify, Analyze, Action, Monitor, and Control. Some approach their lives and their faith as a type of risk management--seeking to not even do or say anything that puts them at risk for God.
But is this how God calls us to live? In the book of Esther in the Bible, Esther is a queen and--unbeknowst to her husband--a Jew, married to the king of Persia (modern day Iran). There is an evil plot that has taken hold, whereby all of the Jews could legally be killed by their enemies and all of their belongings confiscated. And Queen Esther's cousin, Mordecai, calls upon her to seek to save her people.
She at first responds cautiously, indicating why she cannot do this. Note the response from her cousin:
"12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?'” --Esther 4:12-14
What would Esther do? Would she risk her position and her life to save her people? Note what Esther says:
"15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” --Esther 4:15-16
Esther was willing to take risks to save people and please God. In fact, the very reason that she had the position that she did was so that she would be in position to TAKE this kind of risk to save others. What are we willing to risk to save others and please God? Our jobs? Our lives? An awkward conversation? Are we willing to risk ANYTHING? Or will we just keep quiet...and let our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our children, our parents all risk losing their salvation?
It is risky, to not risk for God. (Or it is risky, to not risk saving others for God.) Think about what we risk missing out on by keeping silent . . . and what we and others have to gain by speaking out.
What other passages and/or illustrations about risk can you share? How else could this illustration be applied?
A Labor of Love - Ulfilas, Missionary, Spent 30 Years CREATING the Gothic Alphabet and Translating the Bible for the Gothic People
Before Jesus went to the cross, John's gospel tells us that Jesus washed his disciples' feet. While his disciples initially objected to this, Jesus did this to teach them about service. He said, "14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 1:1, 14-15).
While it is implied in the passage, the opening verse of John 14 makes it clear why Jesus washes his disciples; feet--because of his love for them. In setting the scene for the foot washing, john says, "1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end . . . . " His washing of the disciples' feet was an act of love--that pointed to the larger act of love that he would show through through his death on the cross--which he was calling them to imitate.
Love and service go together. Without love, we are unlikely to serve very long or with a very good attitude. And love without service is hollow sentimentalism at best, or at worse, simply non-existent. Jacob served 7 years for Rachel--was fulled into marrying Leah instead--and served another 7 years to be able to marry Rachel. And yet, the time passed for him as if it was nothing.
One of the great stories of love and service in Christian history is found in the story of Ulfilas. Ulfilas' parents were apparently captured by the Goths--East Germans--and he was raised among the Goths. After moving away once he had grown up, Ulfilas was appointed as a missionary bishop to the barbarian and warlike Goths. And in his missionary efforts, Ulfilas spent SEVEN YEARS creating an alphabet for the Goths (a previously illiterate people) and translating most all of the Bible into that language so that he might share Christ with them. It was said that he translated the whole Bible from Greek into the Gothic language that he had created except the book of Kings, due to its violent narratives which he did not want to encourage in the warlike Goths.
What could motivate someone to serve a people by actually sitting down and INVENTING an alphabet and translating nearly the whole Bible for a people who once apparently captured/enslaved his parents? Only love. The kind of love that Christ showed for us. As Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28).
And if we are to reach people for Christ, we too must have love in our hearts for them. True love. If it is not a labor of love, then we likely will not last seven years. Probably not seven months. Maybe not even seven minutes! But if we love those we are reaching out to? Well, like Jacob and Ulfilas and Christ--the time will pass quickly!
What do you think of Ulfilas' love and sacrifice? What other stories like this do you know?
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Dr. James Nored is a preacher, evangelist, writer, and missional leader. He currently preaches and helps lead the church into mission at the Fairfax Church of Christ in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.