The Real Deal (by Scott Newton)

What’s the only thing better than McDonald’s? Yes, I know it’s a stereotype for the American to talk about McDonald’s, but let’s be honest: those fries are probably golden because they’re dipped in gold. Oh right, the answer to the question: the only thing better than McD’s is… the McD’s monopoly game! It’s the only time fundamentalists are allowed to gamble. Oh, I know you say it’s not gambling, but when you triple your money spent the Golden Arches in a month, you might as well be in Vegas.

I remember the first year I saw this phenomenon. I was 12 years old, and couldn’t believe that you could buy McDonald’s fries, and with the fries came the chance to win MORE fries! And a stereo system. And a car. And a million dollars. My siblings and I began frantically pooling our little monopoly stickers, just knowing that something big was coming our way.

One Sunday after a church service, we had to drive a few hours to get home, and we picked up some McDonald’s to eat in the car on the way. My brother peeled off his stickers from his drink, and his eyes got big. “Did you win something?”, we all wanted to know immediately. He told us that he had Illinois Ave: the one missing piece from the red set. Which was worth… drum roll… $25,000!!!

The van went nuts. Within minutes, plans had been made to dispose of every dime. Bills would be paid (we were good children, obviously we’d help out), four wheelers would be bought (not THAT good), and maybe even a little college fund started. Maybe.

We pulled up to the house still floating on air. My brother ran to his room to retrieve the game board, stick on the missing piece, and call the number to claim our fortune. Our collective stomach lurched when we heard him cry from the room “No! It can’t be!”.

But it could be. He had mistaken which piece was missing. To this day when I play Monopoly I refuse to purchase Kentucky Ave for the grief it once caused me.

There was excitement. There was noise. There was dancing. There was celebration. But there was really nothing there at all: it wasn’t the real deal.

Bring on the Noise, Bring on the Hype…

This last Sunday, I got to witness one of the best examples of the difference between the real deal and mere hype. It started on the drive in, when I turned on the radio to the only ‘Christian’ station in Barcelona. I knew it had major doctrinal problems, but it’s good Spanish practice.

The preacher spent 20 minutes talking about how God has given us victory, and all we need to do is declare that victory. That God WANTS to bless us, but we just fail to unlock His blessings because we don’t have enough of that magical cosmic fairy dust: Faith. Don’t have a job? Declare victory over your life in the name of Jesus! Things rough at home? Declare victory in the name of Jesus! Spiritually oppressed? Declare victory in Jesus’ name!

His sermon was peppered with ‘Aleluya!’, and ‘Gloria a Dios!’. Noise? You’d better believe it. Applause? At every break! Substance? Not really.

What a relief to come into the house of God and worship with other believers, to listen to the Word actually preached in context, with Jesus and His glory at the center, instead of my felt needs; doctrine that revolves around God and not fallen man.

Almost immediately that relief was shattered as we started the worship service, and a new lady began to sway to the music, then to dance, then to shake. An usher came and quietly asked her to step out to talk, and she went into full spasms, barely able to keep her feet as he pulled her toward the door.

Later I found out that she cursed the pastor “in Jesus’ name” as he tried to explain the church’s position on these outbursts.

Sadly, what this woman was doing is what passes for Evangelical Christianity in much of Spain. Nearly every time I am asked what I do here in Spain, and I reply that I am a pastor, I am asked something like, “Oh, so you jump and dance and fall down and speak in gibberish?”. It’s pretty obvious it’s not the real deal to everyone.

And the Truth Will Make You Free…

Then something amazing happened. Something REAL happened. A friend of mine named Pedro stood up to give his testimony before the church, as he is a candidate for baptism in the coming weeks. Pedro is Portuguese, and the first Sunday he attended the church, I heard him talking to another friend, who said “you should talk to Scott, he grew up in Portugal!” I went over, introduced myself, and asked him where in Portugal he was from. He smiled, and told me it was a little town I’d never heard of called Ladoeiro. He had good reason to think this, because Ladoeiro has maybe 300 people, and one traffic light that only turns red if someone goes through town driving over the speed limit.

I was gobsmacked. See, I knew this little town, because my parents have a youth camp in this tiny remote corner of Portugal, not 3 km away from Ladoeiro. His gob was equally smacked.

I knew something real was happening. I wasn’t sure just what exactly it was, but it was REAL.

So Pedro began giving his testimony, and he shared how he had lived like a typical Portuguese young person: sex, drugs, clubs, girlfriends, etc. He spoke of how he typically used the internet for pornography, but somehow one day he came across a link talking about the Bible, and fascinated, he read it. He then went home, asked his grandmother for her Catholic Bible, and starting reading in Genesis, not knowing how or where to start, but just kept reading and reading until he came to faith in Jesus Christ. REAL. He spoke of the passage in Matthew 3 about the coming Messiah and the threshing floor, burning the chaff. He said, “I’m not real sure I know what it means, but I know something from God burned up all these wrong desires in my life”. REAL. He spoke of his live-in girlfriend, and how he broke up with her because he knew the relationship was wrong now. REAL. He spoke of his friends who have deserted him. He spoke of his masters degree in cinema, and how he had lost his job since coming to Christ. And then he said, “I lost my girlfriend, my job, and my friends. But I gained Christ and His church, so I’m happy.” REAL.

Pedro isn’t wealthy, overcome with emotion, hasn’t had any major diseases healed… In fact, from the world’s perspective, he’s worse off. There’s not a lot of flash and bang, no prosperity falling from the heavens, but there is something REAL.

Real Things Really Work…

This is a long post, so I’ll wrap it up with some of the implications from this real deal.

  • The Gospel works in Europe. This should be obvious, but it’s not to some people. Many think that because Europe is so postmodern, so anti Christian, wealthier than many parts of the world, that it just doesn’t work here. While we have been in this church learning language and preparing to start new ministries, we have seen the simple preaching of the Word bring conversions, baptisms, and many new people added to the church. I could tell you of other friends’ ministries in Madrid, Sevilla, and other cities in Spain that are seeing God work in great ways, and we are absolutely confident that He can and will use us in the same way. He promised to build His church from every tribe, nation, and kindred, and He’s always as good as His Word.
  • The importance of reaching major cities: Many have asked me why I decided to come here to Barcelona instead of Portugal where I was raised, and I have always tried to stress the importance of going to major confluences of people. A cosmopolitan city like Barcelona or Madrid is a magnet, especially for young people of the entire region. What I want people to know is that going to a large city is does not have to mean abandoning smaller areas, but should help toward reaching those areas by the most powerful evangelism tool: training men. Pedro is learning much about the Word, and has expressed a desire to teach and preach it. Who knows where God will place him in the future, but his little town in Portugal has already been influenced for the Gospel! My father talked to one of their mutual friends in the area, and all he could talk about was the change that had been made in Pedro’s life, and how everyone knew he was different. When Pedro went back to visit family, he brought them with him to my parents’ church to hear the Gospel, and when he is baptised here in Barcelona next month, they plan on being in the service!
  • The importance of internet and media: People are more connected every day, and that’s not a trend that looks likely to reverse itself. According to the latest statistics, 50% of Spanish children under the age of 12 have a smartphone. Not teens, children. The way people get information, read material, and consume information has radically changed, and it presents (along with all the challenges) a great opportunity to disseminate the Gospel. The front door to any church or ministry in Europe is their webpage. Pedro’s experience is not unique, and we hope to see God use us to produce quality Bible-centered materials to impact the world with the Gospel. Furthermore, I really believe this is a tremendous avenue for Christians who are gifted in this area but not full time pastors/missionaries to be used in amazing ways. I am trying to learn how to develop things like streaming video feeds, quality audio podcasts, video production, QR codes, graphic and website design, etc, but when other Christians are able to pitch in and take that load off of missionaries, they can spend more time in sermon prep, counselling, and life on life discipleship. Media missionaries wanted!

I’m so glad I get to spend my life working for Christ, His Kingdom, and His Gospel. Keep the noise, keep the hype.  I’ll take the real deal. 


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