We set aside this day each year to reflect on the things we are thankful for. This morning, God gave me a special perspective. Well, really, this has been an on-going paradigm shift for me over the last year and a half. But it is worth telling and retelling and telling again. Today, and every day, I am thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a God who loved me and knew me before I was born. There is a God who chased me and saved me even while I was still His enemy. There is a God who gives me His Holy Spirit that I may understand and be spurred to walk in His ways.
Yet I am reminded this morning of how millions of people do not have access to the Gospel. They have never heard of the name Jesus Christ. They have no understanding of the joy of His salvation. And how many thousands upon thousands of people die each day and plunge into an eternal hell because we, the Church, have decided it is not our job to go and tell them the Good News? In a recent conference on discipleship, I learned that in a tiny state in India alone, the death rate is 5,000 people per day. The Christians make up less than 1% of the population, which means that some 4,990 people go to hell each day. This is not acceptable.
Between the time Christ ascended with His final commandment–to go, baptize, and teach–and today, we have moved from a people who sold themselves out for the sake of the Gospel to making the Great Commission someone else’s job. It’s become the role of pastors and those “called” to be full-time missionaries. We even twist Scripture itself, at times, to convince ourselves that it is not our responsibility. Is God unfair then? It’s not their fault if they were never told, and after all, Scripture says that everyone can look at Creation and see that there is something out there that’s bigger than them. This makes our message all the more urgent. We have to go and tell them what that something is!
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14-15
When we do read the Bible, we make it too much about us. What is God doing for me lately? We have no idea what suffering and persecution is really like here in the States, so when we see stories like that in the Bible, we assume they are about our personal problems and how God will help us face them. God and me. When really, I am convinced, these are not about our issues but honest-to-goodness hate and violence and suffering that is caused because we proclaim the truth of Christ. The lines have been blurred between what we consider sufferings in life are to what suffering for the Word is. The former is quite subjective depending on where one is in the world; the latter has only one model: Christ. Our biggest “persecution” is risking offending someone! Our biggest worries are thinking we’re not learned enough or that we’ll say the wrong thing, perhaps. But God’s Word assures us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirt and He will give us the right words to say. We have a “piece” of God inside us! Why should we not then have boldness and courage?
And we need to be ready at any time. That’s why it is so important for us to be in the Word daily. Not only to guide our own lives, but to be ready to teach it to the next person. We’re not sponges to absorb and horde the Word. We learn it to teach it. It’s not someone else’s job to do it, just because they have the title of minister. “Ministers” equip. We are the ministers. We all have spheres of influence where God has put people in our lives whom He wants us to share the love of Christ with. And that person has a sphere of influence we don’t have, so he goes and teaches the Word there. And the Word multiplies. To be a disciple of Christ is to make disciples. This is the message God is teaching me. If we live our entire lives and never have spoken the truth of the Gospel and lead someone to faith and obedience, then we have not been obedient. And I can’t imagine how many “Christians” will find themselves before the throne one day hearing the words spoken in Matthew 7:21-23. I don’t say that in judgement; I say that as someone whom this Scripture scared to death and caused to realize my own disobedience.
All authority was given to Christ, and when he proclaimed that power, he gave a command:
“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.” Matthew 28:18-20
15 years after giving my life to the Lord, I’m just now realizing that I never really have. I’ve succumbed to living a “cultural Christian” lifestyle where I grew content to be fed the Gospel and determined that my affluence was a reward for the obedient life I was living. Nothing could be more further from the truth. The things I am blessed with today have been holding me back, rather than be used to bless others with the Gospel. The society I live in has made me numb to what suffering for Christ really means. And the Church–whether intentionally or not–has convinced me that His story was all about me.
I’m dissatisfied with this state of mind and being. I’m intolerant to the notion that it is someone else’s job. And I’m sick of my own cowardice and timidity. The cost is great. There is a recurrent theme Scripture shows us nearly every time the command to be like Christ is given. The more we are like Christ, the more we are going to suffer as He did. So, if I’m not suffering, by extension that means I’m not being obedient. We will share in the glory of Christ provided we suffered like Christ because we were being obedient. (Romans 8:17) Because if I was proclaiming the Truth of the Gospel like I am supposed to, Scripture is clear the results:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” John 15:18-20
The reward is greater than the cost. All for the glory of God! This is what the Word is about; this is what we spend our lives pursuing. This is why we suffer. This is why we make disciples. All for the glory of God!
I’ve ranted enough in this past year and it occurs to me that I speak nothing to how I’m going to change things in my life. It does no good to gripe but do nothing. There is a great sense of God moving this return to disciple-making through the Church. I pray that it begins with me. So this year I’m taking a step. I’m committing to find at least one person whom I can disciple. I made a list of ten or so guys in my life and am asking God to give me the opportunity to spend regular time with at least one of them, to walk alongside, share in my journey, and teach obedience to the Word. Even as I still learn myself what all that means. No more excuses, no more waiting for the perfect time, no more considering it someone else’s job. There is a high cost to following Jesus and I am just now beginning to understand it, accept it, and even desire it. For He is worthy of it. Christ had something to say about the cost:
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” Luke 9-57-62
Jesus is not waiting on conditional obedience of the command to follow Him into the world and proclaim the Gospel. It may cost us our homes, our relationships, and everything we’ve established for ourselves. The Bible describes a a rich young ruler whom Jesus asked to sell everything in order to be obedient. He walked away saddened. Right after that was a man named Zaccheus who did the same but was filled with joy! I want to be like Zaccheus. I don’t think the Word says everyone is called to sell everything, but the question on my heart is am I willing to if He does? He’s asking for no more than He gave Himself. And nothing worse can happen than what He endured for us. Does that not make Him worthy? I believe it does. So, to Him who sits on the throne be all blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might. Amen.