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MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 21, 2003

(A concluding message in a series on the mission of Christ’s church)

 

            This marks the final message in this series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church.  There are many reasons why the church needs to hear 17 messages on this one topic.  Listen to some statistics that point to one of those reasons.  The church of Christ has been given the Great Commission by Jesus and has been equipped with supernatural power to GO and to send well-equipped messengers to take the gospel locally, regionally, nationally and internationally so that others can hear it.  That commissioned and equipped church spends 96.8 cents of every dollar on itself in ways that are not directly related to missions.  The church is, as we have seen is an intrinsically, essentially, foundationally missionary organism spends about ninety seven percent of all the money God has given us on ourselves. 

We spend 2.9 cents of every dollar on the 2.6 billion people who have heard the gospel and have up to this point rejected Christ through unbelief.  So we spend about three percent of God’s money on people who have heard (and in some cases need to continue to hear) the message but have said, “no thank-you.”  Finally, we spend the almost statistically insignificant amount of 1/3 of one cent of every dollar on the 1.6 billion people among the approximately 10,000 people groups who have never heard the gospel and have never had one chance to respond.  These figures were quoted to me through another publication from The World Christian Encyclopedia published in 2001 and those figures, even if they are even close to accurate, tell us that the church is not being remotely faithful to Christ and his command to take the gospel to the nations.

            When we began this series we said our goal was not simply that we would be more missions conscious, as if missions were one of many important aspects of our individual and corporate ministry.  The church should, we said see ourselves as a treasure house, filled with the riches of the gospel in a world that is impoverished.  We should see ourselves as a mobile food pantry, bursting with the bread of life through the gospel in a world that is starving to death.  Finally, we should see ourselves as an army Special Forces unit boldly moving into enemy held territory, scorning any risk to free those who are held captive by the power of sin and death. That’s how we should view ourselves if our sense of identity is biblically defined.

All of that has several implications for a church body that is preparing to spend, Lord willing, $1.9 million of God’s money on a new ministry expansion.  First and foremost, it means that this proposed facility MUST, MUST, MUST be seen as a militant base of operations to send out into the world God-called, Christ-exalting missionaries who will GO with the gospel to these unreached people and will be part of a Holy Spirit led corrective to this atrocious global injustice.  We MUST, MUST, MUST see the money we give to this building as an investment in God’s global kingdom as we by God’s grace build a more adequate equipping and sending station for local, regional, national and international evangelism as we work to plant churches here in the Twin Ports and to the nations.  If this proposed building ends up being a monument to the horribly ingrown, near-sighted, self-indulgent, transfer-growth dependent North American way of doing church, then it will not honor God, should not be built and we should want no part of it.

There are several reasons why we in the church are so much more impassioned about ourselves than we are for the lost outside our walls.  We have looked at five major reasons we are not more zealous for the cause of Christ and each one of those reasons is rooted in a biblically anchored understanding of the church.  That is, a healthy individual and a healthy church will by its Holy Spirit-indwelt nature be a vital witness for Christ.  We saw that this is simply what is to be expected from a person or church that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of being witnesses to Christ.  I will quickly go over each of these reasons for our lack of passion for the lost. These were treated in far greater detail earlier and those more detailed messages are available if you want them. The first reason we discussed as to why we as individuals and a church are not zealous for the greatest cause is because we don’t treasure the gospel ourselves as we should. 

Individual believers and churches that live their lives filled with condemnation and defeat—who are not regularly enjoying the liberating, love-inducing effects of the cross and the gospel message will not treasure the gospel as they should.  Those people and churches are going to have a hard time getting excited about passing on to others what hasn’t made much difference in their own lives or churches.  If your life has not been and is not regularly being transformed by the gospel, constantly reaffirming to you what a great treasure it is, that it truly is “the power of God for salvation” you will probably not be terribly impassioned about giving it out to others.  And you certainly will not be impassioned about leaving your comfortable North American life to go an unreached people group if you don’t deeply treasure the gospel. My observation is people who are the most zealous for evangelism and missions tend to be those whose own lives have been most radically impacted by the message of Christ.  If you’re not zealous for missions and evangelism, it may be because the gospel hasn’t made that much difference in your own life.  In a few weeks, Lord willing, we will be addressing the most basic, important, but seldom discussed reason why so many people sitting in church don’t see God at work in their lives.

A second reason for a low ebbed passion for the greatest cause is because we just don’t care all that much about the plight of lost people.  We don’t see the person in need of Christ here and overseas as Christ does.  Our worldview about others is shaped more by the self-centered—take-care-of-your-own mentality, than it is by what Jesus taught.  So we often don’t grieve for the plight of lost people except those in our immediate family.  Beyond that, we don’t have all that much concern about the utter futility of the lives of lost people.  They live in the world but their minds are so darkened by sin, they aren’t even asking the most important questions about life.  They are held captive to the power of sin—they are manifestly deceived about who they are and who God is and they live in the chains and shackles of sin, which ruthlessly hold them fast, and they are so blind they don’t even know they are in prison.  Finally, they are on a one-way road to hell—a real, biblically defined, Christ-created hell that will be more tortuous than words can communicate and they will be there for eternity.  So, its going to be worse than we can possibly imagine for far longer than we can possibly conceive and people all around us are blinded, tied up and mercilessly packed into this world’s satanic shipping crate--destination: HELL.  And too often we just passively watch them as they mindlessly dive headlong into the eternal fire.  How are we going to have God’s passion for the lost if we don’t have His burden for their spiritual condition?  We said we must think much more than is currently in vogue in the church about the reality and horror of hell if we are to have a biblically shaped worldview and have God’s passion for the lost.

A third reason for our apathy toward the greatest cause is because, as we saw from Matthew chapter 10, we are not willing to be hated and persecuted by the world.  Jesus told his disciples as he was preparing them for a short-term missions trip in 10:22, “and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  There is in the church today in North America a passion to make the gospel message more accessible to the culture and some of the expressions of that have been laudable.  But we must never be so naïve as to think that as long as we communicate with sinners with “precious moment” eyes of love and great patience and with the highest level of wisdom and discernment that by doing that we will prevent them from hating us.  Jesus assures us that we cannot hate-proof ourselves and still be faithful witnesses.  That’s not an option. They will hate us because they hated Jesus and if we are faithfully showing them a biblically faithful Jesus with our lives and with our message they will hate us.  That’s not a license to be careless in our words or testimony and certainly not an excuse to be arrogant or rude, but we must know that the world will hate us because Jesus says the world is predominantly made up of Christ-haters.  And even with all our post modern efforts to make the gospel more accessible to the sinner we still know intuitively that if I am faithful to tell sinners the truth about God and their soul they will, in perhaps some “Minnesota nice” way, still hate me.  And so the fear of man shuts our mouth because our flesh would rather walk on burning hot coals than to have someone, somewhere hate us. 

We looked at several ways Jesus said we should over come this fear of man in Matthew chapter ten.  We said we should live with an eternal perspective, knowing that one day in eternity those who tell the truth will be vindicated by the truth.  The cold shoulder and the disgusted look we get from the world today is not the final verdict on us.  Truth will in eternity be vindicated and Jesus tells us we are to draw strength from that.  We are to develop a healthy fear of God knowing that the worst a human can do to us is kill us but God can “throw our body and soul into hell."  John Calvin, who did his share of thinking about hell, said that verse makes one’s hair stand on end.  It should have that impact on us.  As we think about heaven and hell the result will be that the hatred of the world, though it will still wound us, will also contribute toward our joy.  And one reason is because the scars from those world-hated wounds will mark us as those who belong to Jesus who still bear his scars.  We are now and will be in eternity able to have sweet fellowship with Jesus as we see in our own world-inflicted scars, a pale reflection of Christ’s. 

Jesus says another reason we don’t need to fear being hated by the world is because of the intensity of God’s sovereign providence over our circumstances—“not one [sparrow] will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”  If God is sovereign over the billions of sparrows in this world then how much more will he carefully control how much hatred is shown his children?  You can be assured that whatever hatred from the world you receive as you are faithful to Christ has first passed through the loving and sifting hands of your Father who will make all the hurt you receive work for your good and not evil.  We can count on that.  In this same context of being hated by the world, Jesus says in 10:32-33, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.    From John chapter nine we saw what Jesus means by those words “acknowledge” or “confess” and “deny.” We saw from that text that to confess Jesus is to confess him openly and publicly.   On the other hand, denying Christ includes far more than doing what Peter did when he openly and publicly denied Christ.

We saw that we deny Christ each time we remain silent about Jesus when we should speak of him.  If someone asks you why you don’t go to happy hour and get drunk like the rest of the office on Friday afternoon, you are denying Jesus if, as followers of Christ all you say, “Well, I’m just a morally conservative person” or, “Well, I was just raised with a different set of values.” Those statements may be good starting places to interact, but if that’s all they take away from you, we saw from John nine that you have just denied Jesus.  We deny Jesus because we don’t want to be hated by the world, but we must remember Jesus’ sobering words in Matthew 10:33, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.   We must allow a healthy fear of God and an eternal perspective to overpower our sinful, Christ-denying fear of man.  One reason we refuse to carry out God’s mission is because we are not willing to be hated by the world.

A fourth and the most important reason we are not impassioned for the global spread of the gospel is because we are not impassioned for the glory of God.   We saw that God’s main motivation for missions and evangelism is that he might be glorified as sinners and cultures and peoples show His infinite worth by casting down their counterfeit gods and becoming genuine worshippers of Him.  Psalm 96:3-4 says, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among the peoples!  For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.”  God wants his supremacy over all gods to be declared—here and to the nations.  Romans 15:8-9 shows us this central element of God’s heart as it relates to the mission of the church.  Paul says, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.  As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing to your name.”  God wants to save the peoples of the earth to display his glorious character—his TRUTHFULNESS in fulfilling the promise that he would through Abraham “bless all the families of the earth.”  He saves sinners to show his MERCY and to be glorified for showing his mercy to people who deserve nothing but his holy wrath. 

If we are to be impassioned as we should be about the mission of the church we must be passionate about the glory of God being spread here and to the nations through the gospel.  We saw that this passion doesn’t just drop out of heaven onto us; we must fight the fight of faith to get this passion for God’s glory and to maintain it as the controlling passion of our lives.  We saw that the reason this fight is necessary is because the sinful flesh within us continues to try to pull us back to the wicked pattern established in the fall where Adam and Eve chose to worship themselves rather than worship God.  There is in us this self-worshipping flesh that works against the Spirit’s desire to bring honor to God.  That means that to the degree this self-exalting flesh is in control, we will not have a God-honoring passion to exalt Christ here and to the nations.  We saw that we must mercilessly kill those self-worshipping desires to keep them from draining off our zeal for God to be worshipped.  We must also fight for a zeal for God’s glory by persistently asking Him for a greater zeal for his glory to be seen here and to the nations.  God wants us to be zealous for his glory far more than we want it, so we should ask him for it and he will give it to us according to his will for us. 

We should also fight for it by warming our lukewarm hearts around the furnace of God’s glory—his word.  Our view of God and our desire for him to be honored are shaped and intensified by studying God’s redemptive plan traced out in the bible as well as specific texts like Isaiah 48:11 where God says, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.”  Isaiah 43:26, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”  Ephesians 1:5-6, “he [God] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” The bible is a nuclear fireball of God’s glory and ground zero, where the fire burns hottest, is in the truth of the gospel.  As we more and more internalize the simple message of the gospel the critical mass necessary for a nuclear zeal for God’s glory will collect in our hearts.  The message of the cross which we sang in our choruses this morning should become more and more precious to us and impel us to spread it to others for the glory of God.  In a human history filled with God’s utterly perfect, glorious works, Calvary’s cross is the highest, most manifest expression of his glory.  As we more and more center our lives around that, we will find ourselves more and more willing and anxious to share that cross-centered message with others.

Finally, we fight for a zeal for God’s glory by warring against the lies of this world that would rob that zeal from us.  Lies like “I will get more joy if I live for myself than if I live for God.”  We must never believe that God’s will for us is ultimately anything other than our joy and our joy is fueled as we obey God.  We saw from First Peter 1:8 that this joy is an inexpressible, profound joy and in Philippians 4:4 we saw that God commands us to have this joy.  Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, rejoice.”  The world’s self-centered pursuits, though they deceitfully promise joy to the believer, in fact only choke us off from God who is the source of our joy.  Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Joy is the flower that blossoms out of the root of God’s grace.  It is a natural outcome of the presence of God’s saving grace.  We must be impassioned about the joy-filled pursuit of God and his glory if we are to be rightly impassioned for the greatest cause.

One last reason why we are not impassioned about the mission of the church is one we looked at two weeks ago.  That is, our hearts are given to shortsighted and self-centered parochialism.  Our sinful, fallen tendency is to care more about things that are close to us than things that are far away.  We tend to look at this world through our eyes and not God’s and that always brings apathy about people who live far away and God’s glory being seen far away.  Frankly, God is just as concerned about people who don’t speak English, do not have white skin and who have radically different cultures as he is about us.  We must war against the lie that says God’s saving activity revolves around me and my neighborhood if we are going to be impassioned about the greatest cause.

Finally, as Chad preached last week, the bible calls us to give priority to those ethnically, linguistically, culturally distinct groupings of people who have never heard about Jesus and who will never hear about him unless someone is sent to tell them.  If we are motivated by a passion for God’s glory, we will generally be more powerfully motivated to see his glory revealed by the creation of a new, first-born set of God-worshippers among peoples where none now exist, than among peoples who already have heard and have an established indigenous church to tell them about Jesus.

There are doubtless more than these five reasons why we are not more impassioned about the mission of the church.  But whatever our own reasons may be, the message of the entire bible to us—through God’s redemptive plan beginning in Genesis chapter three and culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ—the message to us through specific texts like the Great Commission and the message to us through the supernatural equipping Christ has given to the church in the Holy Spirit—those things all utter one, singular message to believers who are apathetic about that for which God gave his Son and that message is—repent of this godless and hideous sin of omission.  It is rightly said that the Great Commission in the church today is tragically far too often the Great Omission.  We must repent of not being impassioned about what impassions God.  Repent of not living out one of the main purposes of your life and denying the primary function of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Repent of shortsighted parochialism that causes us to live like we are the only ones on the planet.  Repent of indifference to lost people.  Repent of the mouth-stopping fear of man because Christ will also shut his mouth about us to the Father. Repent over not treasuring the gospel that cost God his only Son.

In a church like ours if we were healthy, there should at any one time be a significant number of new converts being won by believers—we are seeing almost none of that occurring now.  In a church like ours if we were healthy, there should at any one time be several people who are at some part of a process that will culminate in them leaving their jobs and their middle class lifestyles and going out to the mission field to minister in areas where they have been gifted and called.  In the last two weeks a man in our church came into my office and said in so many words, “I am leaving the marriage-sapping, family-depriving, God-insulating corporate America to be obedient to the call of God on my life to be a missionary.”  If we as a church repent of our godless indifference, he will be the first of many more. 

Where are you today?  Have you ever seriously prayed about risking your relationships and/or leaving all to follow Jesus?  There are a thousand self-centered firewalls we have put up to keep that from happening.  Me, I have no skill that would be helpful in the mission field.  Me, I can’t leave my mother—she’s sick.  Me, I can’t take my wife and kids to another culture.”  Or, on a more local level, “If I share my faith with my neighbor—he might not ever speak to me again and that would be really awkward.”  Have we scrutinized those pitiful, fleshly self-centered objections in the light of the truth of Scripture?  The truth is simple on this one—If Jesus is Lord of our life, then we must listen for his call—we must obey his prompting—we must have his heart so that we can be used for his Name here and to the nations.  May God give us the grace to, for the joy set before us, hear and follow Christ.

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Page last modified on 9/21/2003

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