The Purpose of This Blog

In response to the challenge by the Southern Baptist Convention that churches take on the task to share the gospel with unengaged unreached people groups, the missions team of Harmony Pittsburg Baptist Association felt the need for a way to focus prayer on the task. This blog is intended to facilitate prayer for those contemplating their role in fulfilling the Great Commission. This on-line prayer guide may prove useful to those exploring a call to missions involvement as well as to those who have sensed a call to pray for those who will go to the front lines.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Understanding Prayer

I just bought a new smartphone.  Already I miss my old phone.  Using my old phone was easy because I was so familiar with it.  I don't really understand how my new phone is set up to be used.  Not understanding how something works always makes using it more difficult.  Sometimes we get frustrated and give up.  Sometimes we figure out a way to do what we need to do in our own way.  But if I will take the time to learn and understand the way my phone is to be used, I will be able to do much more than I could before or than I could in my own way.

Prayer can be difficult if we don't understand how it works and what it is all about.  For example, I suppose the most common view of prayer is that of asking-and-receiving.  In fact, there is quite a bit of Scripture to support this view (e.g., Psalm 50:15; Jeremiah 33:3; Matthew 7:7-8; John 16:24).  But anyone who has prayed very much will testify that we don't get everything we ask for.  There are various reasons for which the Lord may justifiably deny our requests, not the least of which is when what we desire is contrary to His will (1 John 5:14).  Someone I know said she wasn't going to pray anymore because God was going to do what He wanted to do anyway.  To a small degree she was wrong because there are some things God will do when we pray that He won't do if we don't pray (James 4:2b).  But to a large degree she was right.  She just didn't understand what prayer was all about. 

Prayer is not about getting our will done in heaven but about getting God's will done on earth (as S.D. Gordon taught in Quiet Talks on Prayer).  Jesus said to pray, "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).  Why God chooses to work through the prayers of His people is debatable, but the fact that He works this way is undeniable.  Regardless of any other reasons involved, one benefit of this arrangement is that it connects us to God more surely than anything else could.  In fact, it would not surprise me if it turns out that God designed prayer primarily as a way for us to truly know Him by spending time in His presence.

As we pray, let's not just present God with a list of petitions.  Let's spend time in His presence, getting to know Him, hearing His voice, becoming familiar with His ways, and discerning His will so that we may pray as we should.  After all, it is His plan to extend His glory to all nations.  We just need to follow Him.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


The denomination that I am part of is not known for its prayer life.  It is known mostly for its emphases on the Bible and on evangelism and missions.  It's not bad to major on the Word and the work, but both of those activities tend to be ineffectual apart from prayer.  That last statement would receive hearty amens from all my fellow Baptists because they know what the Scriptures teach about the necessity of prayer.  However, knowing the theory well has not translated into following the practice well.  More than one pastor has found attendance at the church's mid-week meeting dwindling when he tried to eliminate the Bible study in favor of a true prayer meeting.

Why do so many of us find prayer so difficult?  And finding it difficult, do so little of it?

One reason of course is that the devil does all he can to keep us from praying.  He has nothing to fear from what we do in our own strength and cleverness.  He knows far too well the real damage to his realm that the King of kings can inflict.  He will use his bag of tricks to distract us, discourage us, and divide us so that either we won't pray or that our prayers will be disqualified (Matthew 5:23-24).

Another reason is that our "flesh" resists praying.  Our natural self is "anti-matter" to matters of the Spirit (Romans 8:7).  Prayer is decidedly un-natural.  One way of understanding Adam and Eve's eating of the fruit is that they were looking for a way that they could gain knowledge without having to depend on God.  We have inherited this drive for independence.  I wonder if God sees us as we often see babies crying, "I can do it myself!" and then making a mess of things.  Humbling ourselves to depending on God goes against our grain.  No wonder we find prayer difficult.

Finally, there is a practical reason for a tendency to prayerlessness.  Not seeing answers to prayer leads one to question its value.  We might think, "What good does it do to pray?  I tried praying and nothing happened."  Such a thought reveals faulty understanding of prayer.  If we see God as being like the genie in Aladdin's lamp, we are sure to be disappointed.  But now we have a real problem because the best way, perhaps the only way, to learn to pray is by praying.  What a "catch 22"!

We must become a praying people.  We are either praying or sinning (1 Samuel 12:23).  Pray today that Jesus would teach us to to pray (Luke 11:1).  Pray that the Spirit would help us to pray (Romans 8:26-27).  The Nike corporation might say, "Just do it" but the Father tells us, "Just pray!"  We cannot extend His glory to the nations without prayer.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rad GC -- Teaching

The Great Commission gives us a plan as well as a purpose.  We have not been left to our own devices to reach the goal of discipling the nations.  The only hope for fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation is to do it Jesus' way, not the way that seems best to us.  In the book Radical, author and pastor David Platt helps us better understand what Jesus' way is.  Having looked at going and baptizing, today we consider the step of teaching.

Platt corrects a couple of misconceptions we have about what Jesus meant by teaching.  First of all, Jesus was not thinking about our modern method of classroom instruction.  Platt writes, "Classrooms and lectures have their place, but this is not the predominant kind of teaching we see in Jesus' relationship with His disciples."  The disciples enjoyed a constant dialogue with Jesus whenever they wished and wherever they were.  It was the natural, conversational flow of a relationship.  Secondly, because of this casual style, anyone and everyone can be a teacher.  Platt explains:  "Scripture clearly speaks of a spiritual gift of teaching and identifies specific leadership roles in the church that are tied to the teaching of God's Word.  Therefore, we assume that teaching is a task relegated to only a few.  But while we should certainly acknowledge and affirm gifted teachers given by God to the church, Jesus' command for us to make disciples envisions a teaching role for all of us."  As He did with the plan of salvation, when God wants something for everyone, He makes it simple enough that anyone can do it.

The kind of teaching Jesus had in mind was more like how a parent teaches his or her children.  As life presents various situations, the parent explains the ideas or coaches the skills that the child needs.  Values are modeled as well as taught.  Outside the home, teaching in New Testament times typically followed the apprenticeship model.  In MasterLife Avery Willis described the apprentice model of teaching as consisting of the following steps:  I do it; I do it and you watch; we do it together; you do it and I watch; then you do it on your own.  A more recent form of this approach uses the acrostic MAWL to state the teacher's actions: Model, Assist, Watch, Leave.

It is important to note that Jesus' method focuses on behaviors.  He didn't say merely to teach them all things; He said to teach them to observe (keep, obey) all things.  Behavior reveals belief.  Everything we do is based on some idea or value we hold.  We may also affirm a lot of other ideas, but what we truly believe, we do.  As Jesus' disciples, we must practice what we preach.  In Jesus' parable about the wise and foolish builders, both types heard the word, but only the wise put it into practice (Matthew 7:24-27).

David Platt points out a further advantage of using the relational, dialogue, apprenticeship method: the disciple maker also benefits.  He writes, "This raises the bar in our own Christianity.  In order to teach someone how to pray, we need to know how to pray.  In order to help someone else learn how to study the Bible, we need to be active in studying the Bible.  But this is the beauty of making disciples.  When we take responsibility for helping others grow in Christ, it automatically takes our own relationship with Christ to a new level."  Any Bible teacher knows that he learns far more than the students he teaches.  So will any follower of Christ who is willing to be a reproducer and not just a receiver.

Let's ask the Lord to use us today to pass to someone else what He has taught and is teaching us.  Let's continue to do that until we reach the nations with the gospel.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rad GC -- Baptizing

In Radical, David Platt analyzes the Great Commission for its implications with regard to modern missions.  Today, we consider his understanding of the importance of "baptizing" in the way missions should be done.  Although he sees baptism as "the clear, public, symbolic picture of the new life we have in Christ," he puts more emphasis on how baptism "pictures our identification with one another in the church."  He writes, "Baptism unites us as brothers and sisters who share the life of Christ with one another."  The part baptism plays in disciple making is that new believers are brought into the body of Christ and see the life of Christ in action.  As they see the love of Christ shared before their eyes, they absorb this new way of life and make it their own.  Christianity is more caught than taught.

This lesson repeats the emphasis of yesterday.  The relational element is crucial.  Jesus ate, slept, traveled, worked, and laughed with twelve men every day for at least three years.  They saw not only His actions, but also His reactions.  They remembered His words and reproduced His ways.  If Jesus the Master Teacher made disciples this way, what makes us think we can achieve the same results with much less investment?  A few classes meeting a couple of hours a week won't approach the level of commitment and results that are needed.  People need a model.  The old saying goes, "What you do speaks so loud that I can't hear what you say."  Our children do what we show them, not what we tell them.

When Avery Willis taught the principles of discipleship in MasterLife, he demonstrated the power of multiplication in the number of disciples that could be made by doubling every year.  Two becomes four, four becomes eight, and so on until it becomes possible to disciple the population of the entire world in 33 years.  As he said, "Anyone can count the number of apples on an apple tree, but no one can count the number of apple trees in an apple."  But he also showed what happens when our disciple-making is half-hearted.  One-half doubled becomes one-fourth, one-fourth becomes one-eighth, and so on with continuing decline in each succeeding iteration.

I heard an evangelist say once that he liked to be around new Christians because their zeal renewed him.  He also said, "Most new believers have to backslide for six months before they can fit in to the average church."

What kind of environment do our churches offer new believers?  Let us pray that as they are baptized and brought into the body that they will find all they need to attain "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).  Let's pray that they will see modeled in us a passion to take the gospel to the nations.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rad GC -- Going

In Radical David Platt interprets the three phases of the Great Commission in his own way.  Although the end in mind is definitely that of making disciples, as he shows, the three participles -- going, baptizing, and teaching -- are the means by which multiplied numbers of peoples come to enjoy God's grace and to extend His glory. 

Take "going" for instance.  Platt writes:  Disciple making is not a call for others to come to us to hear the gospel, but a command for us to go to others to share the gospel.  ...  Disciple making is not about a program or an event but about a relationship.  As we share the gospel, we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples.  Sharing the life of Christ.

In my seminary days, I heard my evangelism professor make the same point:  "Jesus never commanded the lost to come and hear; He commanded His disciples to go and tell."  When Jesus said "go," it implied arriving in the presence of another.  There was no electronic communication in that day.  There was no virtual reality.  Personal presence led to personal relationship, and through that relationship the love and life of Christ would flow.

I believe it was Ralph Neighbour, Jr., who said, "It is hard for a man to believe that you want to share eternity with him in heaven when you won't share a meal with him in his home."  As believers, we must take the gospel to the lost in their space, even if they are at the ends of the earth.

Jesus left heaven to come to us.  Let's pray that we will leave our homes to take the gospel to the nations.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Radical Great Commission

According to David Platt in Radical, Jesus gave His disciples a plan as well as a purpose.  He not only told them what to do but how to do it.  His plan makes it possible for any follower to impact the world.  Perhaps our failure to do so stems from our failure to do things His way.

Here is how Platt describes our approach:  "If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes.  We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations.  We would get the biggest names to draw the biggest crowds to the biggest events.  We would start megachurches and host megaconferences.  We would do ... well, we would do what we are doing today."  Our "contemporary strategies" revolve around "performances, places, programs, and professionals."  Jesus' strategy relies on ordinary people who will think, love, see, teach, and serve like He did.

Platt shares, "The more I read the Gospels, the more I marvel at the simple genius of what Jesus was doing with His disciples.  My mind tends to wander toward grandiose dreams and intricate strategies, and I'm struck when I see Jesus simply, intentionally, systematically, patiently walking alongside twelve men.  Jesus reminds me that disciples are not mass-produced.  Disciples of Jesus--genuine, committed, self-sacrificing followers of Christ--are not made overnight.  Making disciples is not an easy process.  It is trying.  It is messy.  It is slow, tedious, even painful at times.  It is all these things because it is relational."

While I was serving in South America, we were seeing many professions of faith to our preaching.  However,  numerical church growth was hampered by the high percentage of those who "fell away" in spite of the fact that most churches required a series of classes before baptism and church membership (some for as long as six months).  My mission agency did a continent-wide study to figure out a way to "shut the back door."  They concluded that our follow-up plans were ineffective because they were too "academic."  We needed an approach that was more relational.  I guess it had not occurred to us to do it Jesus' way.

One heart revolutionized by Christ can start a worldwide revolution by touching one heart at a time.  If we are contagious, we spread the disease to others who also spread the disease.  Let's pray that we will spread a good infection.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Global vs Local

"People are just as lost in the United States as they are in India."  "The United States has the fourth highest number of lost people of all the nations in the world."  I have heard statements like these on more than one occasion.  The owners of these sentiments are usually expressing the point of view that American Christians should take care of America first.  They object to international missions with the question, in David Platt's words, "What about the needs here?"

Platt calls this objection a "smoke screen."  In Radical he writes, "They [objections like this one] are smoke screens because most of us really are not very concerned about the needs right around us.  Most Christians rarely share the gospel, and most Christians' schedules are not heavily weighted to feeding the hungry, helping the sick, and strengthening the church in the neediest places in our country."  In other words, the person who expresses such an opinion is usually showing a disproportionate defensiveness to cover up a hard heart.  He doesn't want to expend himself for the nations because he doesn't want to expend himself at all.

It is not a question of who is more lost because the same terrifying destiny awaits any lost person.  It is not merely a question of numbers.  It is a question of access to the gospel.  In the United States there is an abundance of churches, Christian media, and neighbors who are believers.  But at least one-fourth of the world has little or no access to any of those resources.  When I resigned my pastorate to go to South America, there were over a hundred applicants wanting to take my place.  When God led me to return to the states, no one took my place.  A missions spokesman once asked the disturbing question, "Why should anyone get to hear the gospel twice before everyone gets to hear it once?"

As stated in earlier posts, the debate over global versus local is a false dichotomy.  It is not "either-or" but "both-and."  The Apostle Paul who said, "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known" (Romans 15:20 NIV) also said, "I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel" (Romans 9:3 NIV).  His missionary zeal and his concern for his own nation were one and the same passion.

In prayer today, let's ask God to help us to overcome any and all forms of self-deception.  Let's ask Him to help us eliminate any and all excuses based on false thinking.  Let's ask Him to use us both at home and for the nations.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Missions Roles: Which One?

Praying, sending, going -- which role does God want each of us to play?  Each of us must discern what He is calling us to do.  Or do we?

In his book Radical, David Platt argues that the idea that missions requires a special call from God is a mistaken notion that makes missions "an optional program" for a faithful and passionate few.  This view reduces God's command (for all) to a calling (for a few).  He writes, "Each follower of Christ in the New Testament, regardless of his or her calling, was intended to take up the mantle of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth."  According to Platt, we tend to take the privileges of Christianity as being for all while taking the obligations of Christianity as being for a few.

Are we all supposed to move overseas?  Platt says the very question shows our faulty thinking:  "We have created the idea that if you have a heart for the world and you are passionate about global mission, then you move overseas.  But if you have a heart for the United States and you are not passionate about global mission, then you stay here and support those who go.  Meanwhile, flying right in the face of this idea is Scripture's claim that regardless of where we live--here or overseas--our hearts should be consumed with making the glory of God known in all nations."

Platt shows on the basis of the Creation Account (Genesis 1) that God has a two-fold purpose for His people: to enjoy His grace and to extend His glory.  The first comes from the fact that the first words God spoke to His human creation were in the form of a blessing.  The second comes from the command that followed to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion as His agents.  Like Cornell Goerner who I have written about earlier, Platt sees this purpose as the key to the whole Bible: "In every genre of biblical literature and every stage of biblical history, God is seen pouring out His grace on His people for the sake of His glory among all peoples."

God is not asking us to play a role.  He is asking us to refocus our lives on His purpose.  Missions is not just a program to do; it is a purpose to live.  In Platt's words, we are "to spend all of our lives for the sake of all of God's glory in all of the world."  That means praying, sending, and going.  We don't have to choose just one.  We can't choose just one.

Let's pray today that all the church will do all we can so that all may know.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Missions Roles: Going

"We are already commanded to go.  It takes a call from God to stay."  Some missions spokesmen have used that logic in reply to those who say they don't "feel" called to go as a missionary.  There is truth to it.  The Great Commission does tell us to go.  Jesus told all the disciples present on the night of His resurrection that they were sent just as the Father had sent Him (John 20:21).  If the Bible says, "Go," then we should move in that direction unless the Spirit prevents us.

In my formative years, as my classmates and I were seeking the Lord and His will for our lives, I often heard someone say, "I'm afraid to surrender completely to the Lord -- He might send me to Africa!"  What most of us discovered was that the decision to surrender our wills to His, even if it meant going to Africa, brought a breakthrough to spiritual freedom and to greater clarity about what God really wanted us to do.  There had to be a willingness to do whatever the Lord asked before we could clearly hear His call.  Jesus said, "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God" (John 7:17 NKJV).  Once we get our will out of the way, His will becomes clear.  The greater includes the lesser.  When we can truly say with the hymn, "Wherever He leads, I'll go," our hearts will finally be in harmony with His.

The fear of surrender is rooted in the flesh's resistance to His will:  "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.  So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8).  Our old nature, the sinful nature we all have without Christ, wants its own way as surely as Adam chose his own way over God's.  The tactics the flesh uses to avoid God's will can be subtle and ingenious.  I have heard Avery Willis use the illustration of how as a child he would figure out how far his mother's voice would carry and then go just a block or two further to play with his friends; that way he would not hear her when she called him to come in and he could honestly say to her, "But I didn't hear you when you called me!"  In my previous posts about Jonah, I told about my own resistance to missions by avoiding the seminary chapel services that were dedicated to missions. I wonder how many Christians allow the fear of missions to rob them of the joy of complete surrender.

It is clear that many who should go are not going.  No general would arrange his forces the way Christian workers are currently serving.  In general terms, the American church keeps more than 95% of its resources at home to reach what is less than 5% of the world's population.  Our churches are stocked with multiple staff members while 3,800 people groups around the world have no one to tell them about Jesus.  Someone is not doing what God wants them to do.  Let's make sure that that someone is not us.

Let's pray until our will is completely surrendered to His will.  Let's pray to go until He says to stay.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Missions Roles: Sending

Sometimes I sit in amazement as the credits for a movie roll by.  I find it almost unbelievable how many people it takes to make a movie, most of whom are never seen on screen.  There are set designers, wardrobe personnel, make-up and hair artists, carpenters, electricians, cameramen, and others whose titles are an enigma.  But there are also caterers, drivers, accountants, personal assistants, and insurance agents.  Then there are all the people involved in sound, special effects, editing, lighting, and computer animation.  As the names roll by, sometimes four and five columns across for minute after minute, I think that there are even more people whose names do not make the screen.  It takes a lot of people to make a movie.

It takes a lot of people to do missions.  Most of them will never go anywhere.  It is true that the initial surge of spreading the gospel beyond Jerusalem came about as the church was scattered because of persecution (Acts 8:4).  Most of the church, except the apostles, went everywhere sharing the word and wound up reaching Samaritans and even Gentiles in Antioch.  But if we take "missions" in its etymological sense of being "sent," its true beginning was at Antioch when the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2).  The church took their two best leaders and "sent them off" (v. 3).  Two went (not counting John Mark) but most stayed.  The missionary journeys of Paul and his companions are the God-given example of the implementation of the Great Commission.  The model clearly shows a few going but most supporting.

I have been guilty of preaching as if anyone who does not become a missionary is disobeying the Lord.  I do believe that many who should go are not doing so.  But my guilt lies in not appreciating the importance of those who support and in not understanding how many people it takes to support in relation to the number who go.  In addition to praying, someone must give, lots of "someones."  Others will help with logistics, and still others will work to keep the home base strong (including the work of calling still others to go).  In an army, all are trained and ready to fight, but for every fighter on the front lines there are many others who work in supplies, care for the wounded, cook food, transport materiel, and do all the other things necessary for the fighters to be effective.  These behind-the-lines soldiers may not win many medals but without them the army would not win many battles.

What cannot and must not happen is for those who do not go to remain unengaged in the effort.  In my lifetime, America has been involved in several undeclared wars: Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and others.  In none of these have the American people been asked to sacrifice.  We watch the war on the news, but our daily lives go on as if nothing was happening.  Our modern approach would never have won World War II.  The whole nation was engaged in the struggle to defeat a real threat to freedom.  For example, I did not know until watching a documentary recently that not a single automobile was made during the years of the war.  All the production went for tanks, personnel carriers, and airplanes.  We will not win the world to Christ unless the whole church becomes engaged in the effort, doing without luxuries and even some necessities so that the "soldiers" will have what they need.

We may not all go, but we must all be involved in some way.  Let's pray today asking God what sacrifice we should make so that the name of Jesus will be known and trusted by all peoples, tribes, and languages.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Missions Roles: Praying

Years ago I read a story about a 19th century missionary to Africa named Hotchkiss.  He was to preach at a certain village but was delayed in his departure by ministry matters.  Walking to the appointment, he realized that he would not arrive at the agreed upon time if he took the usual route.  At one point in his journey, he saw that he could save a lot of time if he cut across the open grassland instead of following the tree line.  Abandoning the trees would expose him to attack by the grazing animals, but he decided to risk it.  Sure enough, in the middle of the meadow, a rhinoceros took exception to his presence and charged.  Hotchkiss had no way of escape.  He was totally exposed and could not outrun the rhino.  He collapsed to his knees, too scared to even pray.  He shut his eyes to brace himself for the impact which never came.  When he looked up, the animal was gone; only the hoofprints remained.  Rejoicing, he went on his way and kept his preaching appointment.  The episode made a great entry in his journal.

When Hotchkiss returned to the states for furlough, he often told the story during his rounds of deputation.  At one of the churches, a man approached him after the message and questioned him about when the near-attack had occurred.  He wanted the specific day and time.  The man distinctly remembered being awakened one night with an overwhelming sense that the missionary was in danger.  He had gotten out of bed and interceded for him fervently until a feeling of peace let him know that the danger had passed.  The man had noted the date and time in his prayer journal.  After consulting both journals and allowing for the difference in time zones, they realized that the man had been praying at the exact moment that Hotchkiss had been in danger.  Amazing.

Since I first read this story, I have heard and read others that conveyed the same idea although the situations differed.  I have come to realize that, in a way, intercessors have a spiritual presence on the mission field.  I myself have had experiences where I have preached in different places.  In one place the message would have greater impact than in the other.  Same messenger, same basic message, but often I would get a letter by which I could see that someone in the states was praying for me at the time I was preaching the more effective message.

I have been guilty of challenging people to do more than "just pray."  There is no such thing as "just" praying.  Without prayer we cannot do anything because without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Ministry that does not grow out of prayer in the Lord's presence remains barren.  Labor in our own strength is drudgery, but how great is our rejoicing when we see Him work.  If a man works without praying, he gets what a man can do, but if his work grows out of prayer, he gets what God can do.  It is true that we must do more than pray, but we can do nothing until we have prayed.

Let's pray today that the Lord will teach us to pray and help us to pray as we should.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Missions Roles

Unless someone goes, there is no missions.  But equally true, unless someone sends there is no missions.  And in all likelihood, unless someone prays, there is no missions.  All of these actions are valid responses to the Great Commission.  Not everyone can or will go, but someone must.  Someone must also support.  The story goes that when William Carey acceded to go to India, his words to his comrades were, "I will go down into the well if you will hold the ropes."

The Apostle Paul appealed to the Roman Christians for their support for his journey to Spain:  "How can they preach unless they are sent?" (10:15a).  He also asked for their prayers: "I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me" (15:30).  He would go if they would "hold the ropes."  In his previous journeys he had enjoyed the support of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26; 15:40; 18:22-23) with some help from Philippi (Philippians 4:15-16).  He especially valued prayer as shown by his frequent requests (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

Praying, supporting, going -- each of these actions shows obedience to the command to evangelize the nations as long as the praying is not for our own concerns, the supporting is not for our own causes, and the going is not for our own convenience.

In the coming days I will examine these roles further.  Will you begin now to pray about what role the Lord would have you to play?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lost: The Real Question

The question "Will those who never have the opportunity to hear about Jesus be lost forever?" has a disturbing answer: YES.  Knowing that there are millions of men and women made in God's image on their way to "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41) should haunt our waking thoughts and chase away our sleep.  But there is another question that hits closer to home:  What will God do to me if I don't do what He asks to warn them and tell them how to be saved?

The prophet Ezekiel received a chilling warning with his call: "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered you soul" (3:17-19 NKJV).

I have never heard or read an explanation of what the phrase "his blood I will require at your hand" means.  In New Testament times, a soldier who allowed a prisoner to escape served the sentence that the criminal had received, even if it meant death.  In our day, the laws prescribe punishment for negligence.  If reasonable precaution could have prevented the harm that befell another, the negligent party is liable for damages and perhaps imprisonment.  If we fail to do what we can to warn others of the danger that awaits them, if we fail to tell them that there is a way to eternal life, if we fail to obey God's command to preach the gospel to the nations, what will God do with us?  Why doesn't our accountability before God stir us to greater action?

A speaker at an evangelism rally told of being in a large warehouse store when an announcement of a lost child went out over the speakers.  Immediately, all the doors were shut and every employee dropped what they were doing to search for the child.  After several long minutes, the news came that the child had been found.  A cheer went up that could be heard throughout the building.  The speaker posed the question that we all wonder about: why do we not get as concerned about those lost spiritually as we do over those lost physically?

As we pray today, let's ask God to press upon our minds and hearts the plight of those without Jesus.  Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, says, "If you were standing by a cliff over which 1.7 billion people were falling to their death, wouldn't you do something?"  Let's ask God what He would have us do.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lost: The Only Hope

Since the creation of Adam, God's usual way of working in our world is through a person.  We were created to be His agents in this material world.  We are uniquely made: out of the dust (material) and animated by His breath (spirit).  We are a link that facilitates the work of the spiritual world in the material world.  When God gave mankind dominion (Genesis 1:26), He revealed His desire to accomplish His work through the creatures that bore His image.  Every story in the Bible that shows a man of God doing the work of God confirms this pattern.  For example, God told Moses, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey ... So now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:7,8, 10 NIV).  Truly, it is God who redeems Israel from Egypt, but He uses Moses to do it.

This pattern -- God choosing to do His work through people -- is consistent throughout the Word.  It can be seen as a rule.  Thus Amos says, "Surely, the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets" (3:7).  Similarly, preachers of yesteryear used to say, "When God gets ready to send revival, He sets His people praying."  And such a rule would explain why Jesus saw that the only solution to the challenge of the size of the harvest was to pray for more workers (Luke 10:2).

Apparently, when God commissioned us to disciple the nations, He intended to achieve His purpose through us and not without us.  I have sometimes wondered why God did not use angels to carry the message to the world.  After all, angels usually command more respect from those who see them, and they seem to be more faithful than we are in obeying God's commands.  But the commission has been given to us mortals, and though we cannot do His work without His enabling, He has chosen not to do His work without our obedience.

The role we are to play is clearly illustrated in the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10).  If ever there was a pagan who was a sincere seeker after God, it was Cornelius: devout, God-fearing, generous, and a man of prayer.  But his sincerity could not save his soul.  An angel appeared to him, but note that the angel did not tell Cornelius how to be saved.  Angels have not been commissioned to preach the gospel. The angel told him to send for Peter.  At the same time, God was working on Peter.  Through visions He was freeing Peter from the false beliefs that hindered God's use of him.  God brought salvation to the house of the sincere seeker, but He did it through His empowered agent.

This story shows us the only hope for those seeking God's salvation: the message must get to them through human instrumentality.  In our day, it might be through radio, internet, or print.  But usually it will be through personal contact of some form.  I heard a Cambodian tell a story of a woman whose entire family was wiped out in that country's bloodbath in the seventies.  Disillusioned that Buddha did not heed her cries, she prayed, "If there is a God, help me."  Her mind heard a response: "Go west."  She made her way across the country, eventually finding a refugee camp across the border in Thailand.  It "just so happened" that Christians ministered in that camp, and there she heard the gospel and found God by believing in Jesus.  God got her and the messenger together just as He has been doing since the days of Peter and Cornelius.

What does God do when there is no one to work through?  Ezekiel 22:30-31 gives us the answer: "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done."  Could it be that there are some who could be saved if someone were in the gap, but they won't be saved because no one responded to God's call?

The only hope for the sinner is for someone to reach him with the gospel.  Let's pray today about our part in standing in the gap.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lost: Is There Any Hope?

The human mind recoils at the thought of thousands of millions of men and women in eternal torment for not believing in a Savior that they never heard of.  How can they be guilty if they never had a chance?  In desperation men have sought ways that those who were not reached with the gospel might not perish.  Four approaches have been suggested.  Two would save everyone; two would save many, but not all.

Some have reasoned that all will eventually be saved because God is good.  A good God, they argue, would not let people suffer like that.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it makes God not good, but sadistic.  Why would Jesus have to suffer the death on the cross if the Father was going to let them "off the hook" anyway?  Others make the point that since Christ died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) then all will be saved (or perhaps it would be better to say they have already been saved).  But if everyone eventually makes it to heaven, why did Jesus teach that there are two possible eternal destinies?  And why would He command us to preach the gospel to the nations?  Preaching is pointless if they are going to be saved anyway.  The thousands of missionary martyrs died in vain if the peoples they hoped to save were going to make it whether or not they went.

Some would admit that the gospel does make an eternal difference and that not all will be saved.  Still, they have suggested that there are many who will make it to heaven even if they never get to hear about Jesus.  One line of thought goes like this: many who do not hear the gospel will be saved because God is just and He will not condemn the sincere seeker after truth.  The Bible tells us that God has not left Himself without a witness in any culture or location in the world.  Creation, history, and conscience all point men everywhere to God (Romans 1:20; 1:18; and 2:14-15, respectively).  Since we are saved by faith, logic suggests that someone can be saved by sincerely believing in the highest revelation he has received.  However, we all know that sincerely believing something does not necessarily make it true.  Paul's thesis was that men have enough revelation to realize their condemnation and need of a savior.  The truth is that none of us lives up to the highest we know.  We all violate the standard of our own consciences, not to mention God's standards.  We are self-condemned and fall short.  We need a savior.

The second attempt to reason a way out of the predicament of the lost who never hear of Jesus goes like this:  "All of us are sinners.  We do not go to hell because we are sinners but because we reject the salvation offered us in Jesus.  Since those who never hear of Jesus have not technically rejected Him, they will not be condemned."  The logic of this position breaks down when we realize that such an explanation makes bad news out of the good news.  In other words, we do people a disservice by preaching to them because once they have heard the gospel they become condemned if they fail to accept it.

All of these efforts to find hope for the unreached are contradicted by the clear teaching of the Bible.  There is no other Name (Acts 4:12), there is no other foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), there is no other mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) than Jesus.  He Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6).  To suggest that there is another way makes Jesus to be either deceived or a deceiver.

The only hope for the nations is to hear about Jesus.  Our prayer today should be the one Jesus told us to pray: that laborers would be thrust forth into the harvest.  But let us not pray that others would go, but that we will go if He tells us to.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


A question that anyone who takes the Bible seriously sooner or later asks himself is, "Will those who never hear about Jesus be condemned to eternal punishment?"  If we truly take God at His Word, the answer, regrettably, is yes.  That is the short answer.  The full answer will take longer.

We need to remember that the condemnation for sin is universal.  "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," Paul writes in Romans (3:23).  The same thought is found in his epistle to the Ephesians: "... we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others" (2:3).  All humanity are "children of wrath" not in the sense of "beings who express wrath" but as "beings under wrath."  Every person on the planet suffers the same disease, sin, and faces the same prognosis, death (Romans 6:23).  The only hope is to believe, the only way to believe is to hear, and the only way to hear is for someone to tell, and the only way for someone to tell is for them to be sent (Romans 10:14-15a).

All humanity is condemned, justly, for three reasons.  First, we are condemned because of our relation to Adam.  "Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men" (Romans 5:12).  The fall places us in the default position of condemnation.  We are born in the enemy camp.  This position is soon confirmed by our own choice to sin when we know what we ought to do but choose what we want to do.  We are sinners by nature.  We do not become sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.  Just as birds fly and fish swim because it is their nature, so all people sin because it is our nature. Parents do not have to teach their children to be self-centered or to lie for self-advantage.  It comes naturally.  We are condemned in Adam to a life of sin with all its consequences.

Second, we are condemned because of our rebellion against God.  "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6).  Sheep are not known for having an unruly nature, but its appetite for grass will lead it off from where it is supposed to be.  Its perpetual tendency is to move away from the shepherd in seeking to satisfy its own desires.  Left to themselves, they get lost.  Like sheep, we may appear to be domesticated, but in reality, our selfish appetites lead us away from God.  We choose our way rather than God's way.  Quietly or defiantly, we rebel against the lawful Sovereign of the universe.

Third, we are condemned because of our rejection of Christ.  John writes, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (3:18).  We can understand that a condemned prisoner who rejects a pardon from the governor will suffer his punishment.  A shipwreck victim who refuses to get in the offered lifeboat will drown.  What we find more difficult to accept is that John indicates that they are condemned "already."  It is not just rejection of Christ, but failure to accept Him that confirms us in the condemnation that is already ours.

Without a Savior, all are condemned, lost both now and for eternity.  If that fact bothers us, and it should, then we should pray, asking the Lord what He wants us to do about it.

Monday, February 6, 2012


I attended two worship services at two different churches yesterday, and both of the sermons were on the topic of making right choices.  The texts and the approaches were different, but my mind made the connection because I had already been thinking on the subject.  Maybe the Lord is telling me something.

God has given us the responsibility of making decisions that have real consequences.  Philosophically, there is always a debate between freedom and determinism.  Theologically, we speak of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  Are we merely playing out strings of cause-and-effect with only the illusion of making a difference?  If so, why does God judge us for the decisions we make?  Could it be that one of the ways that we have been made in God's image (for He is the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover) is in the ability to initiate new sequences of causation?

Our lives consist of a series of choices, both our own and those of others.  Others made decisions that have affected where and when we were born, our genetic makeup, our cultural mindset, and our set of opportunities.  Out of those conditions, we have become who we are today because of the choices we have made: who we married; where we went to school; the careers we have pursued; the purchases we made; the people we have associated with; the ways we have spent our free time.  My body is in the shape it is today not only because of genetics but also because of my choices about diet and exercise.

We are affected by the decisions of our society.  If our nation goes to war, we have decisions to make.  If our culture departs from God, we have decisions to make.  If our church or convention takes actions that are not aligned with God's will, then we have decisions to make.  We must beware of allowing culture too great an influence on our choices.  In spite of the set of circumstances surrounding us, we can still make the choices that will draw us closer to God.

The first time I heard someone say, "You are as close to God as you want to be," I rejected the idea.  Then I thought of times when I chose to hang out with friends rather than spend time in prayer or to watch TV rather than study the Word.  How often had I chosen what would please me rather than what would please Him?  Every choice I make either leads me closer to or further from Him.

I cannot change the decisions I have made.  My choices today will not alter my past but they will determine my future.  Joshua challenged the children of Israel, "Choose you this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15, italics added).  The choices I make today will either bring me into fuller compliance with God's plan to reach the nations or will take me further down the path of following my own plan.

Let us choose today to follow Him to the ends of the earth.  Let's tell Him so in prayer.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Mission Parable

I have borrowed the following parable from a friend's blog.  Guy Muse, missionary to Ecuador, wrote a blog called The M Blog ( that I encourage you to check out.  Hopefully, he will return to blogging soon.

Once upon a time there was an apple grower who had acres and acres of apple trees. In all, he had 10,000 acres of apple orchards.
One day he went to the nearby town. There, he hired 1,000 apple pickers. He told them:
"Go to my orchards. Harvest the ripe apples, and build storage buildings for them so that they will not spoil. I need to be gone for a while, but I will provide all you will need to complete the task. When I return, I will reward you for your work.
"I'll set up a Society for the Picking of Apples. The Society -- to which you will all belong -- will be responsible for the entire operation. Naturally, in addition to those of you doing the actual harvesting, some will carry supplies, others will care for the physical needs of the group, and still others will have administrative responsibilities."
As he set up the Society structure, some people volunteered to be pickers and others to be packers. Others put their skills to work as truck drivers, cooks, accountants, storehouse builders, apple inspectors and even administrators. Every one of his workers could, of course, have picked apples. In the end, however, only 100 of the 1,000 employees wound up as full-time pickers.
The 100 pickers started harvesting immediately. Ninety-four of them began picking around the homestead. The remaining six looked out toward the horizon. They decided to head out to the far-away orchards.
Before long, the storehouses in the 800 acres immediately surrounding the homestead had been filled by the 94 pickers with beautiful, delicious apples.
The orchards on the 800 acres around the homestead had thousands of apple trees. But with almost all of the pickers concentrating on them, those trees were soon picked nearly bare. In fact, the ninety-four apple pickers working around the homestead began having difficulty finding trees which had not been picked.
As the apple picking slowed down around the homestead, Society members began channeling effort into building larger storehouses and developing better equipment for picking and packing. They even started some schools to train prospective apple pickers to replace those who one day would be too old to pick apples.
Sadly, those ninety-four pickers working around the homestead began fighting among themselves. Incredible as it may sound, some began stealing apples that had already been picked. Although there were enough trees on the 10,000 acres to keep every available worker busy, those working nearest the homestead failed to move into unharvested areas. They just kept working those 800 acres nearest the house. Some on the northern edge sent their trucks to get apples on the southern side. And those on the south side sent their trucks to gather on the east side.
Even with all that activity, the harvest on the remaining 9,200 acres was left to just six pickers. Those six were, of course, far too few to gather all the ripe fruit in those thousands of acres. So, by the hundreds of thousands, apples rotted on the trees and fell to the ground.
One of the students at the apple-picking school showed a special talent for picking apples quickly and effectively. When he heard about the thousands of acres of untouched faraway orchards, he started talking about going there.
His friends discouraged him. They said: "Your talents and abilities make you very valuable around the homestead. You'd be wasting your talents out there. Your gifts can help us harvest apples from the trees on our central 800 acres more rapidly. That will give us more time to build bigger and better storehouses. Perhaps you could even help us devise better ways to use our big storehouses since we have wound up with more space than we need for the present crop of apples."
With so many workers and so few trees, the pickers and packers and truck drivers -- and all the rest of the Society for the Picking of Apples living around the homestead -- had time for more than just picking apples.
They built nice houses and raised their standard of living. Some became very conscious of clothing styles. Thus, when the six pickers from the far-off orchards returned to the homestead for a visit, it was apparent that they were not keeping up with the styles in vogue with the other apple pickers and packers.
To be sure, those on the homestead were always good to those six who worked in the far away orchards. When any of those six returned from the far away fields, they were given the red carpet treatment. Nonetheless, those six pickers were saddened that the Society of the Picking of Apples spent 96 percent of its budget for bigger and better apple-picking methods and equipment and personnel for the 800 acres around the homestead while it spent only 4 percent of its budget on all those distant orchards.
To be sure, those six pickers knew that an apple is an apple wherever it may be picked. They knew that the apples around the homestead were just as important as apples far away. Still, they could not erase from their minds the sight of thousands of trees which had never been touched by a picker.
They longed for more pickers to come help them. They longed for help from packers, truck drivers, supervisors, equipment-maintenance men, and ladder builders. They wondered if the professionals working back around the homestead could teach them better apple-picking methods so that, out where they worked, fewer apples would rot and fall to the ground.
Those six sometimes wondered to themselves whether or not the Society for the Picking of Apples was doing what the orchard owner had asked it to do.
While one might question whether the Society was doing all the owner wanted done, the members did keep very busy. Several members were convinced that proper apple picking requires nothing less than the very best equipment. Thus, the Society assigned several members to develop bigger and better ladders as well as nicer boxes to store apples. The Society also prided itself at having raised the qualification level for full-time apple pickers.
When the owner returns, the Society members will crowd around him. They'll proudly show off the bigger and better ladders they've built and the nice apple boxes they've designed and made. One wonders how happy that owner will be, however, when he looks out and sees the acres and acres of untouched trees with their unpicked apples.

Original version appeared in Let's Quit Kidding Ourselves About Missions, Moody Press. © 1979 by The Moody Bible Institute. Edited and revised by Howard Culbertson.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Reluctant Missionary -- Why?

It would be a mistake to say that Jonah's preaching was successful beyond his wildest dreams.  It was successful beyond his wildest fears.  When the whole city repented at his message and the Lord relented from their destruction, Jonah was not happy.  In fact, he became angry.  Here's how The Message paraphrases the opening of chapter four:

"Jonah was furious.  He lost his temper.  He yelled at God, 'God! I knew it--when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen!  That's why I ran off to Tarshish!  I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn you plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!  So, God, if you won't kill them, kill me! I'm better off dead!'"

Most preachers fantasize about having the kind of response to their preaching that Jonah had, but not Jonah.  Why did he want the Ninevites destroyed?  Commentators usually point to Jonah's nationalism as a lesson in prejudice. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a nation known for its aggression and brutality.  They were feared or hated by all the nations who stood in their path of conquest.  Jonah knew what they would do (or had done, depending on when the book is dated) to the Northern Kingdom.  They would be pitiless, so why should he pity them?  Jonah "pre-judged" an entire people, condemning them in whole without thinking of them as individuals.  We do the same with our racial or class prejudice and with our ethnocentrism.  We view entire groups as inferior or less worthy without regard for the character or abilities of individuals.  We follow Jonah in preferring that God would punish them rather than bless them.

I believe the Lord wants us to see that there is more to Jonah's anger than just prejudice.  If prejudice were the whole of the explanation, the story could have ended with Jonah's outburst and God's explanation of concern (see the last verse).  Why did God deem it necessary to take Jonah through the experience of the plant that shaded him and then died?  What was He showing Jonah and what does He wish to show us? He shows us that at the root of Jonah's anger is a self-centeredness that was more interested in his own comfort than in the welfare of thousands of innocent others.  The one factor that more than any other keeps Christians from doing our part in evangelizing the nations is unwillingness to disturb our preferred lifestyle.  We are more concerned about our own welfare than we are about the passion of God to reach the lost.

Something must happen to end our stubborn willfulness.  One of the events that led to the Lord's revealing to me my resistance to the call to missions was hearing a sermon by Charles Stanley on "The Problem of Brokenness."  He uses Jonah as an example of a man who refuses to humble himself in submission to God.  God is not just using us to get a job done (bearing light to the nations); He is also molding us into Christlikeness in the fashion of Philippians 2:5-11.  If the Lord of glory was willing to humble Himself and give up His rights, how could I do any less?

As we pray today, may we humble ourselves before Him.  May we confess that our failure to join Him in reaching the nations is a symptom of self-centeredness.  Let us ask Him to do whatever it takes to bend our will to His.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Reluctant Missionary Part 5

"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time ..." (Jonah 3:1 italics added)

I can't remember how many men I have counseled over the years who have told me that in their youth they sensed a call to ministry but for various reasons did something else.  It has been more than just a few.  All of them expressed regret, feeling that it was now too late.  My feeling in every case was that if the memory of the call still stirred them, then God was still calling them.  It is never too late to do the right thing.

It is true that some opportunities come only once.  When the children of Israel refused to enter the Promised Land the first time, Moses told them the consequences of their disobedience.  Then some of them said, "Well, if that's the case, then we will go up."  Moses warned them that God would not be with them.  They went up anyway and were defeated (Numbers 14).  In that case, failure was final, but God is more persistent than we might imagine.  He is patient, very patient.  An eternal perspective has that effect, I suppose.

After praying to get his heart right with God, Jonah heard from the Lord again.  The call was still there.  God had not changed his mind.  Jonah had not forfeited his opportunity.  He was being given a second chance to join God in His mission to the people of the world.  It was not too late.  When people have told me, "It's too late for me to be saved," I always tell them that if they are still bothered about their salvation, if it is still on their minds and hearts, then God is still wooing them.  If it were too late, they would not even think about it.  Our Lord is the God of the second chance.

Just as the call to salvation persists, so does the call to service.  If God is still putting a concern for the lost of the nations on our hearts, it is not too late to obey.  Our obedience may not look the same as it would have if we had responded earlier.  Those specific circumstances are gone forever.  But there is one thing that will be the same.  the first step will be the same as the one we could have and should have taken back then.  That step is to say yes.

Let's pray today that we will not let what might have been keep us from what can be.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jonah: The Reluctant Missionary Part 4

Jonah and the Lord are in a contest of wills.  It is God's will that Jonah preach to a people not his own.  Jonah doesn't want to.  Jonah knows what God wants him to do, but he would rather follow his own desires.  How far will Jonah take his resistance?  How far will God go to get His man on mission?  I believe it was my dad who told me when I was a teen-ager, "I can't make you do anything, but I can make you wish you had."  He told me he learned that lesson in the army.  I doubt that Jonah had even an inkling of what God was prepared to do to get his participation in the plan.

God doesn't always use such extreme measures as He did with Jonah to get us to do His will.  Sometimes His punishment is to let us have our way (with all the consequences that that choice entails).  We can't know for sure what God will do if we ignore His call to the nations, but we can see through Jonah's example what resistance to God's will brings us to: self-destruction.  In his showdown with God, Jonah preferred to be thrown into the sea in the middle of a raging storm rather than to repent of his self-will.  He would rather have died than do what God wanted him to do.  He shows us that to choose our way over God's leads in the end to disaster.  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25 NKJV).

How many parents have endured the anguish of seeing a child ignore their wisdom to pursue a course of action that leads to pain and suffering?  How many teachers have experienced the frustration of seeing a student waste his life by making choices he/she was warned against?  How many pastors have watched their clear teaching of the Bible be ignored by church members who pursued their own desires to their detriment?  Any time we choose our way instead of God's way we have chosen the path of destruction.

But there is a further lesson.  In a spiritual sense, Jonah shows us what we must do.  We must die.  We must die to self.  Jesus was clear that this kind of death is not optional for His followers (Luke 9:23-24; 14:25-26; John 12:24-25).  The apostle Paul (Galatians 2:20) shows us what the Lord can do with a life that has died to its own willfulness in order to follow His bidding to the nations.  What keeps us from doing whatever it takes to carry the gospel to the 3,800 unengaged unreached people groups?  Is it not our preference for our own comfort and pleasures?  Or perhaps it is a stubborn persistence in our own way of thinking that refuses to acknowledge God's desire for His name to be known among all peoples?

How long will we continue to ask God to bless our way instead of asking Him to use us in His way?  As we pray today, we will choose one or the other.  Let's be careful what we pray for.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Reluctant Missionary Part 3

Unintended consequences.  I seem to hear that term more often these days.  Usually, the writer or speaker is referring to some good deed that has negative side effects.  In missions, our efforts to help people, especially with their material or physical needs, can foster a dependence that is unhealthy for the people in the long run.  Early missionaries discovered "the hard way" that some people would profess to follow Jesus for the economic advantage it gave them.  When missionaries had to withdraw their support, the people went back to their former ways.  What was meant for good had undesirable and unintended consequences.

The story of Jonah illustrates that our failure to join God in His mission to the nations can also have unintended consequences.  When God sent the storm to get Jonah moving back in the right direction, it wasn't just Jonah whose life was at risk.  The lives of his shipmates were also in danger.  The cargo was thrown into the sea so that its owner suffered financial loss.  The crew was faced with the dilemma of killing a man to save their own lives.  Jonah's rebellion did not affect just himself; it affected the lives of others around him.

Our decision to join God in reaching the nations (or not join Him) affects not only ourselves but also our families, friends and churches.  When my wife and I were in the process of making the decision to go as missionaries wherever God might send us, one of the concerns we had was the welfare of our children.  We wondered about the quality of medical care in other countries.  We worried about their schooling.  We debated the effect of growing up in another culture on their social development.  God graciously answered all our concerns.  But now I think, "Why didn't we worry as much about the impact a decision not to go would have had on them?"  Who knows what could have happened to them if we had stayed in the states?  They could have succumbed to evil influences here just as easily as over there.  And what kind of role model would we have been if we had disobeyed the clear call of God?  How could we have helped them find God's will for their own lives if we were not obeying His will for ours?

When churches consider getting serious about missions, they often think about the impact the effort will have on their finances.  But they don't usually think about how failing to join God where He is working will impact the spiritual development of the people.  When the church fails to take risks in following God, the people learn to be calculating and selective in how they personally follow God.  What "storms" have we suffered because as a church we have focused more on ourselves than on the peoples of the world whom God wants reached?

Instead of thinking, "What will it cost us to go?" we should be thinking, "What will it cost us if we don't go?"  Instead of thinking, "What will happen to me?" we should think about what might happen to those we love.  Try praying about that.