I have a new message that is burning in my heart. This “new” message is actually however an “old” message (to borrow language from John the apostle: see 1 John). In fact, most self-identified followers of Jesus are familiar with the passage this comes from. It has famously been called “the Great Commission.” Sadly, however, it is often “The Great Omission” in reality and practice. For others it is simply taken as “The Good Suggestion” or even worse, something that some believe should not be practiced at all. This passage also gets discussed, debated and philosophized about all the time. But I don’t believe the issue is understanding it. The issue is actually obeying it. And it seems to me, there is becoming less and less actual action, wholehearted commitment, passion, serious-minded effort and intentionality being put into it by the majority of self-professing Christians. That’s not a condemnation; simply a general observation. However, there are wonderful exceptions to be sure!
Yet, it is embarrassing but true, that many congregates couldn’t even tell you what missionaries or mission organizations their own church “supports,” let alone ever prays for or is informed about. I was once given 30 seconds at a popular church to share about the mission organization I am with. 30 seconds! And that was actually “generous” and an exception I was told, because at that point the partnership was not yet official. I was however assured that once it became official I would have a whole 5 minutes next time I come back! I was then more grieved to find out that the mission committee of this church rarely gets any time during a service to share about missions. They themselves informed me that at least 80% of the people would have no idea what missionaries their own church supports. That is tragic.
I pastored a church for six years. So I have been on the other end of this and it’s true that you get inundated with requests from missionaries or mission organizations. And you can’t partner with them all. But I think it is good to count it a privilege, responsibility, priority and of utmost importance for our congregations to hear personally from those supported (and even others) and encouraged to get involved and give above and beyond. I know it was good for me as a a pastor to continually hear from others about how God was working around the world…and healthy for our congregation to hear from others outside of myself and our own “little world.”
But I also know from talking to “supported” missionaries or now being on this end of things myself, how you often feel like an “intruder” “nuisance” “burden” or “forgotten” completely by many churches that are partnering with you or you approach. I thought being a pastor could be lonely at times, but in some ways this role can be even lonelier. Missionaries ought to be the hero’s of the church; not the forgotten one’s of the church!
My heart longs to have a strong partnership with churches. I envision ServeNow simply being an avenue for the church here to fulfill the Great Commission there. We get story after story, week after week of real people’s lives being touched and transformed by the Gospel. Imagine churches partnering with us and being able to share those stories with their congregation! What encouragement it could bring! What hearts it might stir for missions and to service!
In fact, that was one reason I joined ServeNow. I got tired of preaching sermons week after week but then seeing so little corresponding action despite tremendous potential. Then I saw how many people ServeNow was reaching with so little staff or resources. They weren’t just talking about serving; they were serving. They weren’t just talking about going; they were doing. They were reaching more people in one week than I fear many churches are reaching in one year! For example, in just our third full year of existence this year, we served in some specific way close to a quarter million people! And when you average all the costs together, you know what it cost per person? $5. How many churches can say that? In fact, when I look at the millions of dollars churches pour into themselves internally and building wise each year my heart breaks.
We have a mission’s problem. Sure, churches and people are giving to missions. Sure, there are “mission conferences” and groups going on “mission trips.” But my question is whether this is really one of the main core priorities; the heart-beat and passion of the church? Not just in theory or principle or leadership; but practice and reality by the people? It’s not about how many come and sit in our pews for services; but how many are sent out and go forth as disciples making more disciples.
Yes, the church is for believers to gather together in Jesus’ name and be encouraged and exhorted. But the “gathering” is for the purpose of then “going.” We are to “be” disciples in order to then “make” disciples. And this is not to be limited to just our community, city or country. I hear many people say things along the lines of “we have enough problems here in our own country; so why should we go or give to problems in other countries?” Yet, my bible records Jesus saying “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16). My bible says that yes, we are to START right where we are at and be a witness there; but it’s not to STOP there (Acts 1:8). My bible records Jesus saying to go into ALL the world; and preach the Gospel in ALL nations (Matthew 28:18-20). And my bible records that around the throne in heaven will not just be people like us from our community or country but every tribe, tongue, nation and language (Revelation 5:9).
By the way, did you know 25% of the world, a quarter of the world’s population, still lacks their own bible or scripture in their language…let alone basic discipleship material? There is still a lot of work to do! We have so much light here while much of the world lies in almost, if not, complete spiritual darkness. We indulge ourselves; while others are suffering from hunger (both spiritually and physically). I encourage you to get the book Pray the World and there you will read of (and can pray for) the tremendous need within each country of the world today!
Yet my fear is that we are getting more and more internalized, isolated, complacent and comfortable. I fear our vision for ALL the world is being limited to just our own communities or country. I fear our passion and compassion for ALL people is being reduced to some people, some of the time. And I fear we are being gripped by fear and anxiety in regard to what we see happening the world and so we are retreating in timidity at a time when we need to be bold and courageous like never before!
I am amazed over how fearful people are right now to travel anywhere. May I remind you however there is a Proverb that says this: “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” (Proverbs 22:13). You can find an excuse to not do anything or anywhere. But most of our fears while being “real” are really irrational. You have a much higher chance of being killed in a car accident on the way to the airport for example, than being killed in a plane crash. Notice according to this Proverb that some of our fears can actually be excuses for our laziness. Plus, didn’t Jesus say this: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31). Perhaps we love our own lives more than God; or care about our own earthly life more than others eternity. We need God to move in our hearts with a compassion for people and passion for him that is greater than any of our fears or laziness!
In fact, I think we are losing our passion and power for missions partly because we are praying so little. Last year, I read a book by Edwin Orr about Spiritual Awakenings in Asia and he made the point that revival and missions are always linked together. Where there is revival, there is a mission movement. Where there is no revival, there is little mission. And always linked to revival are people who are praying. Where God’s people pray, revival occurs. When God’s people don’t pray revival doesn’t happen. The greatest need we have today is revival. But before revival, comes a people who agonize and travail in prayer. After revival comes a passion for missions. The lack of real prayer is the reason for lack of revival. And the lack of missions is a symptom of the need for revival and thus to pray. We are so distracted by so many other and lesser things.
I also believe the hang-up in regard to the Great Commission is contained in just a little two letter word found in that passage: “Go.” But before I elaborate on that, it is important to note what is said before that and after that because it contains two truths we need to give us the confidence and assurance to go!
The first truth Jesus reminds and encourages his disciples is this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is saying, listen guys, I am Sovereign over all! I possess all power over every power. No demon in hell, no opposition or scheme from man can thwart my purposes! I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18). And it is in my Name, this authority; that I am sending you out in! You shall overcome all trials, all demonic opposition, all persecution, all struggles and setbacks, because I have overcome! You serve a living, risen, sovereign Savior!
Our problem is we forget this or do not really live our lives in light of this reality. In fact, God’s Sovereignty is something that has sadly been reduced to a constant debate and division between Calvinists and Arminianists rather than a truth that was meant to comfort us, embolden us and motivate us to go forth in the confidence and authority of His Name!
Jesus told us that basically everything would collapse and fall apart around us in the last days (Luke 21:5-36). But He told us not to let our hearts be troubled or be afraid (John 16:33). Why? Because He has overcome the world! He has commanded us to be careful lest our hearts be consumed and gripped by fear and anxiety (Luke 21:31). He has promised us His peace; a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). A peace resting in the fact that He is Sovereign over it all and in the midst of it all! God himself has said everything that can be shaken (removed) will be (Hebrews 12:25-27). Why then does what is happening around the world take us by surprise as if something strange was happening?
The problem of many self-identified “evangelicals” is that they are more focused on their fears than the faithfulness of God. They are more concerned and passionate about politics than prayer, missions and evangelism. They are more rattled by all the chaos and changes than at peace in and focused on the unchanging character of God! Does not scripture say in Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”
We need reminded afresh (and need to rest in) the Sovereignty of God! We need to get our eyes back on (fixed on) Jesus, not the world around us. We need to set our minds on eternal things not earthly things; things above, not things here below (2 Corinthians 4:18, Colossians 3:1-3). As one hymn puts it: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
Secondly, after Jesus says “Go” he assures his disciples of this: “And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the ages.” (Matthew 28:20). Lest we think this was just a promise to his original disciples, notice the last part of that verse: “to the very end of the ages.”
We love to quote that verse or one’s similar to it, such as how scripture says the Holy Spirit “will never leave us or forsake us.” (Hebrews 13:5). But notice the context in which Jesus spoke this in Matthew 28. The context was “as you go…I will go with you.” “As you obey…I will be with you.” There is something of the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit that is unique and only experienced as we actually obey and go. As we go, he “helps” us. As we go and face trials, he “comforts” us. As we go, he “guides us.” As we go, he “provides” for us. As we go, He “empowers” us and “fills” us.
Consider the following stories from Scripture.
Abraham we are told in Hebrews 11, went even though he didn’t know where he was going! But as he went God led him and fulfilled his promises to him.
Jonathan, the son of Saul. There is a story in 1 Samuel 14, where the Israelite’s and Philistines are at a standstill in a battle. Jonathan one day, finally has enough of nothing happening so he turns to his armor bearer and he says: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” And you know what happens? As they GO, God sends an earthquake that causes panic in the enemy camp and there is finally a breakthrough in the battle causing it to move on and forward from there!
David, the second king of Israel. As a young boy tending sheep, he is sent to see how his brothers are doing in battle and take them provision. When he arrives however, all of Israel’s best, strongest, most trained warriors are shaking in the boots, because a giant named Goliath is mocking and taunting them. But you know what David says? He says to King Saul: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” (1 Samuel 17:32). And so he goes.
And then he gives an inspiring speech when he faces Goliath. He informs Goliath that while he may come against him with sword, spear, skill, age and experience; he is coming against him in the name and power of the Living God of Israel! (1 Samuel 17:45-47). Yet David didn’t just give an inspiring sermon that day. I LOVE verse 48 because it says, “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” David was a man of action not just words and inspiration.
There is another story in 2 Kings 7. An enemy has laid siege to the town of Samaria. There is famine in the city. In fact the situation has grown so horrible, so desperate, that parents were eating their own children! But verses 3-4 tell us that: “there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” Well, as they did that, as they got up and went, it says, “when they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army…”
Think about this! Four men with leprosy, four outcast men, put an entire army to flight, ended a siege and famine, simply because they decided to GO!
And lest we think these are just nice bible stories, I could cite story after story of similar things happening today through ordinary people who go in the extraordinary name and power of Jesus!
For example; there is a pastor in India we are now partnering with who was an orphan himself. A few years ago this burden to do something to help orphans grew so intense that he couldn’t push it aside anymore. But he had no resources and the church he pastored didn’t have much either. However, he challenged his congregation and stepped out in faith by starting to bring in a few orphaned kids with the little help his congregation could afford. Well, God connected us to him and his ministry and now there are 13 kids that we seeking sponsors for to help provide for their needs! But the point is God is providing as he is going.
There was another pastor I met in one of the worst slums I have been to in India. His brother in law told him about this particular slum and the need that was there. It is predominantly a Muslim and Hindu community with no real Christian influence. So he simply up and moved to start ministering there. He started by gathering some of the kids together teaching them songs and bible stories. And while he began with just a handful, 7 months later when we showed up, there were about 50 kids there to greet us! And as they sang worship songs, that slum suddenly was transformed into the most beautiful place on earth. Circumstantially it was like a sliver of hell on earth as we were walking through it; but spiritually it was suddenly like a piece of heaven on earth because God’s presence was there in a special and unique way. And now a home fellowship has started in that slum with some families who are being drawn to Jesus by His Spirit. That pastor is having an impact because He decided to simply GO.
Or lastly, consider our partner in Uganda who is the oldest of 14 kids. His father died while he was only about 21 years old. So he essentially became a father to the rest of his siblings and became the pastor of the small church his dad had started. Around the same time they took in 3 orphaned kids (what’s 3 more if there’s already 14!). But fast-forward 30 years later. That church of about 20, is now a church of 700. Three orphans have turned into 3,000 orphans in 8 different locations!
See, God can do immeasurably more than all we could think or even imagine…if we will just GO in faith and obedience (Ephesians 3:20-21).
No, it won’t always be easy. Yes, we will face our share of trials, discouragements, disappointments, opposition, persecution, struggles and setbacks. But God is Sovereign, and we have the assurance of His Spirit being with us always, everywhere we GO, and even to the very end of the ages!
There is a saying that goes like this: “If not us…who? If not now…when?” That’s a good question to ask individually and collectively as a church.
My prayer is that we each respond as Isaiah did when he caught a glimpse of the holiness of God and heard the calling of God to go. He said: “Here I am, send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-3). God is still asking that question from heaven. The question is can anyone hear him from earth? Will anyone respond and avail themselves fully to God? As D.L.Moody liked to say (although the actual quote is from someone else): “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.”
Go. Go in His name. Go forth in His power. Go forth in faith. Go forth in confidence in the Sovereignty of God and assurance of His Spirit being with you. Go forth trusting he will provide and guide you. Go!
P.S. please take time to pray for and even drop a quick note of encouragement to those who have gone out into the mission field. They need your prayers, support and encouragement more than anyone.