Finishing the Task

5% of the world’s population lives in North America and yet 91% of Christian workers minister to the North American people.  For every $100 given in charitable contribution to Christian causes, 5 cents goes toward financing pioneer mission work among unreached people.  This is an imbalance that can be tolerated no longer.  When 70 million people are on the brink of starvation and half of the absolute poor do not live past age 5, something is wrong.  The church is not reflecting Christ, which includes compassion.  We’re called to light in the darkness, not light in the lightness!

How shall we respond?  That the task is just too overwhelming for us to attempt?  Here’s the truth: what seems impossible to man is exactly what God wants to do!  And what God wants to do is have His glory spread throughout the whole world as the sea covers the earth (Habakkuk 2:14).  Completing the task means victory; the enemy destroyed!

When we pray “Our father in heaven, hallowed by your name.  Your kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re asking God to bring out completion of the task.  It’s not about taking us away to the place where His kingdom and will are being done, but rather to make His kingdom and will be done here.

As we stop allowing the things of this world and the flesh to compete for our affection and delight ourselves in Him, the things that are big deals to us become smaller, and what is a big deal to Him becomes a big deal for us.  He places the desires in His heart in our hearts.  That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says ask anything and it will be given to you.  That’s not about prosperity gospel.  That’s about us asking for what God already wants to give us because we’ve asked of Him what is on His heart.

If we want the glory of God to spread across the earth like the sea, we’ve got to bring balance to our efforts.  Oswald J Smith stated, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice when there are those who have yet to hear it once?”  Here’s the deal:  90% of the current distribution of missionaries is targeted toward people who have already been reached.  73% of that is toward areas already considered Christian.  To the five major non-Christian religions, 3.8% are toward unreached tribal areas, 0.6% to unreached Hindu, 0.6% to unreached non-religious, 3% to unreached Muslim, and 1.5% to unreached Buddhist.

But what are we talking about when we say “missionary” and “evangelism”.  There’s different levels to this.  At the level we’ll call E-0, there is absolutely no barrier to the gospel.  This level of evangelism is targeted toward people who grew up in church and understand the message; they just need to commit.  E-1 evangelism is aimed at people who are not in the church but live in the same culture as people who do.  This level is most effective toward people like you.  E-2 crosses a language or cultural barrier and requires someone to go to the people.  E-3 is the hardest level, involving radically different language and culture and can often be met with hostile resistance.  Not only is it the hardest but it is the most needed level of work. So let us separate the terms “missionary” and “evangelism” so that the former represent E-2 and E-3 work and the latter E-0 and E-1.

Church-planting is the key to finishing the task, and that’s only going to happen when we take the Great Commission seriously and actually go make disciples.  The churches need to be viable, indigenous, and reproducible.  That is our essential task.  The strategy the missionary must employ is one of gradual shrinking.  The authors of Perspectives propose a four stage process:  1) Pioneering, where we go to learn and bear the load of all the work to be done.  2) Parenting, where we begin to disciple and model roles within the church.  3)  Partnership, where the missionary hands over roles and allows nationals to make decisions.  4)  Participant, where the missionary only comes by invitation and allows the new church to begin the process themselves.

You know, it’s interesting that “believer” and “Christian” are only in the Bible a few times, but “follower” is there 269 times.  We’ve reduced following Jesus to praying a prayer and declaring a person fit for heaven.  We need to be less concerned with people making “decisions” for Christ and more for people becoming disciples of Christ.  Praying a prayer is not in the Bible.  Jesus told the people to be saved they had to follow Him.  They had to be willing to forsake their jobs, families, and lives.  But these days, we treat Jesus more like a janitor who comes in to clean things up for us rather than a king who is worthy of everything we have.  James Hudson Taylor said, “The great commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.”

If we want to be part of finishing the task, then we’ve got to develop strategies and devote our resources and lives to the places that have not heard it.  While we anticipate the second coming of Christ, some people haven’t even heard of the first!  Paul, in Romans 15:20-21, made his purpose clear; ours should be no different:

“…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”

The imbalance in our efforts must be dealt with.  If we really study history, we will see the results of peoples and nations keeping the blessings they receive for themselves.  What happened, you ask?  Those nations had to lose their blessing in order for the remaining nations to receive it.  Through us or in spite of us, God will continue to take the gospel to the nations.  We are to be salt and light.  These things are only effective when spread out, not contained within a small area.  I like how John Zumwalt said it:  “We’re not called to be the salt lick of the earth, but to be sprinkled and spread out.”  God uses ordinary people who do not love their lives in the face of death. Are the peoples at the ends of the earth worth it to us?

Finishing the Task

Unleashing the Gospel

This is a long one, folks. And perhaps the lesson that has left the most resounding impact on me. In many instances, I could not have better said statements, so once again, I do not attribute this work to myself, but to Marty Brown and Floyd McClung. I just organized it. Included in this post is a ~10 min video of the remarkable power of the gospel. Please do not read and “like” this post just for the sake of doing so. I pray it will cause you to truly think and pray on your purpose.

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The apostles were dedicated in obedience to this task. The motive was always about the glory of God. We can be driven today by humanitarian needs or stories of the people and how we “fell in love with them”, but those can’t be the primary reasons we go. We go for God’s glory. Don’t hear me wrong—human needs and people are important, but God’s glory is supreme.

With a motivation such as this, the apostles were bold in their witness. What does the word “witness” mean? A witness is something you ARE much more than something you say or do. You LIVE the gospel as well as proclaim it. By public testimony in the face of hostility, ordinary people like you and I can accomplish far more than merely affirming the truth of Christ. Why? It establishes the value of Christ in our lives. And to fulfill His plan of spreading the gospel, He will ask us to publicly display our witness at some point in each of our lives.

How did the gospel spread in such an accelerated manner as it did in Acts? Through the persistence, boldness, and faithfulness of the apostles in fulfilling the Great Commission. How is the gospel unleashed? Through the church. We are Plan A and there is no Plan B. Within the church, God charged two entities with the responsiblity: the local church and the called-out teams. In Acts, you see the church of Antioch as a so-called home base for Paul and Barnabus. Paul’s church-planting team grew out from this and became an autonomous entity, yet still related to the church. If we follow this model, then it is the purpose of the called-out team to plant reproducing churches where there are none. It is not their responsibility to evangelize every individual in an area. The job of the local church is to evangelize, edify, and equip the population. It is the church that unleashes the gospel and it is the church that we must go to establish.

In the context of these definitions we can more accurately call an unreached people group one in which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize that people group. It is the goal of the called-out team to be involved in church planting. This is the rapid multiplication of healthy indigenous churches in a specific people group that plant reproducing churches of their own. These churches must be indigenous and be led by ordinary people empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is who will maximally and effectively reach the people around them.

There are many barriers to this pursuit. One writer likens the barriers to a wall and a canyon. The canyon represents a barrier of conversion and acceptance. The problem with many modern missions is that when we go in, we’re not accepted. The mentality of the local people is that we are there to westernize them; to become Christian would be to strip them of their culture and heritage. This is not at all what God intends! God deserves praise and worship in every unique way He ascribed when He made the nations. Look no further than the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 for evidence that any attempt to change a people is wrong! The devout Jews wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. The disciples said that should not be, as they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit too. When we go to unreached areas, the model should be “become like…remain like”. We should make every attempt to become like, and understand, a people, in order that they may remain like they are, as God made them.

The wall represents a barrier of communication and understanding. A people will not connect to God being their God unless He is speaking to them in their native language. The effort it takes to translate is large and time-consuming. And it cannot always be word-for-word because of strong cultural differences.

 

What comes to mind with the word “passion”? Does it invoke a deep emotion? Does it describe a romantic situation or a strong drive toward something? In fact, the origins of the word define it in terms of suffering. So we could say that passion is whatever a person is willing to suffer for.

Suffering indicates there is value in Christ worth dying for. Just a few of the Scriptures that reference this idea include:

1 Corinthians 16:9 – for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

1 Peter 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

John 15:18 – [Jesus speaking] If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.

Matthew 24:9 – Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

The ultimate purpose in suffering and martyrdom is to advance the cause of Christ on earth, resulting in more glory given to God. When Christ’s servants willingly identify with their Master in the depths of suffering and the pain of death for the cause of Christ, God’s truth triumphs, Satan’s power is broken, God is glorified.

How about when you hear the word “apostle”? Perhaps the first followers of Jesus, including the disciples and Paul? Generally speaking, an apostle is one who is sent, or is a messenger. So then apostolic passion would be defined as the deliberate, intentional choice to live for the worship of Jesus to the nations. It is being committed to the point of death to the spreading of His glory. It is being on fire for Jesus, dreaming of the whole earth being filled with His glory.

What does it take to have this kind of passion? First, you need complete abandonment. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” American Christianity wants the fruit like Paul’s ministry without paying the price for it. God’s praise among the nations must be all-consuming. Die to self. Be crucified with Christ. Boldly pray for God to reveal any selfish ambition and abandon it.

Second, you need focus. Acts 20:24, Paul speaking:

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Later on in his letter to the Romans, Paul says

“by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.” This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” (Romans 15:19-24)

Did you catch that? Paul wanted to visit the Romans on the way to Spain. Think about the historical timeframe. No new world (aka the Americas) had been discovered. Paul quite literally was laser focused on going to the ends of the earth, as they knew it then. We waste a lot of time in good ministries. But the focus is clear: God calls every people to Himself.

Third, you need to be deeply rooted in prayer. Prayer walking is one of the most pivotal moments in missions, whether that is through your neighborhood or in a city of a million people in South Asia. Isaiah 62 describes how at all hours people were set on the walls of Jerusalem to pray unceasingly:

“On your walls, O Jerusalem,
 I have set watchmen;
 all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.
 You who put the Lord in remembrance,
 take no rest, and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
 and makes it a praise in the earth.”

We can pray one minute a day in a quiet time in the morning and God will love us no less. But you will not survive in the hard times—particularly in areas where Jesus is not known or worshipped—without intense, unceasing prayer. One modern-day apostle described life without constant prayer like sending a soldier into battle without weapons; you would certainly be killed.

Fourth, you need the right frame of decision-making. Let’s face it, the American Dream can ensnare us without any effort. Oh we may use the excuse for why we don’t act that we’re waiting to hear from God, but all the while we live to make money, provide ourselves a future, to dress and impress, and have fun. In Acts 20 and 21, Paul describes his urgent desire to go to Jerusalem, despite every warning from the Holy Spirit of what awaited him and the disapproval from close friends. Why did he decide to go anyway? Because the greater priority for him was the glory of God.

Maybe we don’t hear from God like we think we’re supposed to because we don’t have this as our priority. It’s only from that standpoint that we can accurately hear God say “go” or “stay”. With this kind of passion, you are no longer about getting and gaining but rather spreading and proclaiming. You are not afraid of loss. You dare to even believe it a privilege to suffer and die for the spread of God’s glory. Your reward awaits you at the throne of your Creator. So let us live with apostolic passion and not waste our lives! Only those who have died in Christ are unafraid of death.

Unleashing the Gospel

Mandate for the Nations

Today we’re going to dive into the Great Commission.  But before we look at the actual text, let’s look at history again.  Remember, the Bible is not just a historical account; it is a heart account of what God is doing to overcome evil, redeem people, and receive glory.

Many accounts describe this.  Abraham’s blessing in Genesis 12:1-3, which we looked at the first week.  God told Abraham, “I’m blessing you so you can bless others.”  God raised up Joseph to be a witness to the Egyptians in Genesis 41:37-41, 56.  He recruited Moses to convince the Midianites, starting with his father-in-law, of God’s authority (Exodus 18:9-12).  He appointed Daniel to influence the Babylonian empire (Daniel 6:26-28).  He drafted the psalmists to describe how the Great Shepherd pursues us (Psalm 23:6) and to sing of His global mission (Psalm 67).  And He sent His Servant to achieve the world’s salvation (Isaiah 49:6).

God has mandated us to carry out His purpose.  To live under a mandate is to be entrusted with a task of lasting significance.  In Matthew 28:18-20, we are commissioned to join God:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are several pieces to this.  First, we have a Savior who has all authority to give us this mandate.  He expects obedience.  If want to see some examples of this authority, study Revelation 5:1-14, Daniel 7:9-14, and Psalm 110.

Second, is the statement of making disciples of all people groups.  We know that the original word did not mean nations in the sense of geo-political borders, but rather this sense of ethnicity.  We define an “unreached people group” as a people group where there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people.

Third, we are to baptize and teach them all that He has commanded.  This has to do with proclaiming allegiance and growing obedience to Christ.  The idea is to bring up a new believer in the ideas of prayer, reading the Bible, and following other key spiritual disciplines.  Then by their growth, they can in turn being making disciples of their own.  In other words, it’s not to prepare fully trained and taught followers, but rather to plant a church that can begin to reproduce churches themselves.  Ordinary people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, must lead them.

And lastly is referenced to carry this task out until it is finished.  Jesus said He’d be with us always.  And that an end is referenced signifies that idea that the task will, in fact, be completed.

Each of the gospels and Acts underline this mandate.

Mark 16:15-16 – And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Luke 24:46-49 – “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

John 20:21-23 – Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Acts 1:8 -But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Israel did not understand the original commissioning as given to Abraham.  Christ illustrated their failure with a parable.  He described a man who planted a vineyard and left some people to work the land.  When the time came for the harvest, he sent a servant to the workers, but they beat the servant.  So he sent another and they killed him.  Finally, he sent his son, thinking surely they would respect his own flesh and blood.  But they killed him and threw his body out.

Will we, the church, fall into the same trap?  Our mandate is clear from our Savior who has all authority to give it.    The job is not done because Christ has not yet returned.  How will each of our lives count for eternity?  What is it going to take in each of our lives to understand this not as an obligation, but as a privilege?  God is more sovereign than we think He is.  We are more responsible that we think we are.

Mandate for the Nations